Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Carbonara with Seared Scallops

Just in time for Valentine's Day! Make this restaurant quality dish at home in minutes (and a whole lot cheaper!).

Let's be real. There are few things less drool worthy than a big bowl of pasta carbonara. Pasta is tossed with copious amounts of crispy bacon bits and coated in a sinful cream sauce. Since my husband believes meat is a must, I paired mine with seared scallops - making it the ultimate weeknight splurge!

Man, I love scallops. And pasta. And cream. And cheese.

This would be an easy (and impressive!) Valentine's Day dinner to whip up this weekend. Or just a "I barely survived the workday and need a bowl of pasta" dinner. Not that I ever have those nights.

I use a pound of bacon because, well, bacon, but feel free to cut back if you're not as fanatical about it as I evidently am. 

Carbonara with Seared Scallops
1 lb spaghetti
1 lb thick cut bacon, diced into small pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lb sea scallops, beard removed and patted very dry
1 tablespoon butter
3 eggs
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
3/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain, reserving a cup of pasta water, and return the pasta to the pot. Put the lid back on to help keep it warm.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan or cast iron skillet, fry the bacon pieces until crispy. Remove to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel and return to the stove.

Add the vegetable oil to the pan and bring to a high heat. Salt and pepper both sides of each scallop. Once the oil is shimmering, add the scallops to the pan, making sure they are not touching. Let cook for 2 minutes or until there is a nice deep sear on one side. Carefully flip and add the butter to the pan. Cook another 90 seconds or so, spooning the melted butter over top of each scallop to help them finish cooking.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, Parmesan, cream, and lots of salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle the mixture into the pot of hot drained pasta, mixing well with tongs. Add the crispy bacon, salt, and pepper and mix well. Add small amounts of the reserved pasta water, if needed, to thin it out.

Top each serving with 3-4 scallops nestled on top. Serve immediately.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Warm Lemon Pudding Cake

The perfect mix of pudding and cake - served hot! The lemon fan in your house will LOVE this easy dessert!

My husband is a huge lemon fan so I'm always on the hunt for new lemon flavored desserts to try. A friend passed this one on and we've been making it for years! We especially love it during the winter months when a warm dessert is even more appealing. Yeah, it's not the most photogenic dessert but I promise it's absolutely delicious.

This dessert is easy thanks to some store-bought helpers, such as boxed cake mix and packaged lemon pudding mix. Pair those items with some pantry/fridge staples and you can quickly whip it up. It makes an entire 9x13 pan and is very rich so a little goes a long way. This is perfect for potlucks, family gatherings, or company!

Warm Lemon Pudding Cake
1 (15.25 ounce) box yellow cake mix + ingredients needed for cake
2 (1 ounce) boxes instant lemon pudding mix
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup water
2 cups cold milk
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly spray a 9x13 baking dish.

Prepare cake mix as directed on package and pour the batter into the reserved baking dish.

Pour the milk and water into large bowl. Add the dry pudding mixes and sugar and whisk 2 minutes or until well blended. Pour over the cake batter and gently swirl with a fork mix together a bit.

Place the pan on a rimmed cookie sheet to catch drippings and bake 55 minutes to 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes and then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Spoon into serving dishes and serve warm.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Spicy Thai Steak Coconut Curry Noodle Bowls

The perfect meal in a bowl! Creamy coconut-curry noodles are topped with carrots, cabbage, and thinly sliced steak. Start to finish, you can be enjoying this dish in 30 minutes!

I am a noodle addict! When I menu plan, the noodle based dishes are always the ones I'm most drawn to (unfortunately!). Who doesn't love a carb based meal? Noodles don't always have to be used in Italian based meals; they are also delicious in Thai dishes! This noodle bowl is not at all authentic, but it sure is tasty!

The noodles are coated with a gorgeous curry-coconut sauce (that I could eat just on it's own!) but then you throw in some matchstick carrots, crunchy cabbage, and thinly sliced steak. Have some spare veggies sitting around the produce drawer? Throw them in too! Cut them into bite size pieces and stir fry alongside the carrots until your desired doneness.

Spicy Thai Coconut Curry Noodle Bowls
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon grated or minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons green curry paste
1 (14 ounce) can light coconut milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce

For the bowls:
8 ounce package lo mein noodles
1 tablespoon oil
3/4 lb sirloin steak, thinly sliced into 3 inch pieces
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
10 ounce bag thinly sliced cabbage (cole slaw mix)
2 green onions, thinly sliced

First, soak the noodles in a bowl of hot water for 25 minutes. Drain and rinse.

While the noodles soak, heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots and ginger and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, sugar, chili garlic sauce, fish sauce, and soy sauce. Simmer 15 minutes - it should thicken a bit.

While the sauce simmers, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok over high heat. Add the steak and cook on each side about 1 minute. Remove and set aside. Add the carrots and cook about 2 minutes. Add the drained noodles to the carrots and stir fry about a minute. 

Add the noodles/carrots to the Dutch oven and, using tongs, gently mix util the noodles are coated well. Add the steak and allow to heat through. 

Top each bowl with a scoop of cabbage and green onions. 

Source: sauce recipe adapted from Pinch of Yum

Monday, February 1, 2016

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

A Texas staple! This Tex Mex comfort food favorite is loaded with chicken, tortillas, spicy tomatoes, and loads of cheese. A cream soup-free version that is easy to whip up!

Not long ago, I realized that I was completely missing a Texas favorite in my recipe index - King Ranch Chicken Casserole! This casserole is a favorite of most Texans, though it's typically made with cream soup, which I avoid. Making it from scratch is still super easy and tastier, in my opinion.

If you've never had it, think of it as similar to chicken enchilada casserole. Layers of corn tortillas, chicken, and tomatoes are baked together in a creamy cheese sauce. The spice is very mild; if you like spicy, toss in a can of chopped green chiles along with your Rotel tomatoes.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole
15 corn tortillas
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, and minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin'
2 (10-ounce) cans Rotel diced tomatoes & green chilies
5 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream
3 cups chicken broth
1.5 pounds boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4.5 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 450. Spread the tortillas on 2 baking sheets, not overlapping, and coat both sides with cooking spray. Bake until slightly crisp and browned, about 12 minutes. Cool slightly and then break into bite sized pieces. Repeat, if needed, until all 15 tortillas are baked. Put aside 3 tortillas worth of pieces for the topping.

Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, jalapenos, and cumin and cook until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in the Rotel tomatoes (and their juices) and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the cream and broth, bring to a simmer, and cook until thickened, 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cubed chicken and cook until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. The chicken should be slightly underdone.

Remove from heat and stir in 3.5 cups of the cheese and cilantro until the cheese has melted.

In a 9x13 pan, scatter half of the tortilla pieces on the bottom. Spoon half of the filling over top. Scatter the other half of the tortillas pieces over top of the filling layer and then spoon the rest of the filling over top. 

Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until bubbling, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle the reserved 3 tortillas worth of pieces over top followed by the remaining 1 cup of cheese. Return to the oven and bake another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Grapefruit and Sugar Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

A marinade of grapefruit, brown sugar, and spices create a delicious caramelization on this roasted pork tenderloin! Take advantage of peak season grapefruit this winter!

Are you a grapefruit fan? I like grapefruit in things, but not necessarily on it's own. My mom would often eat it sprinkled with some salt! Grapefruit actually pairs best with something a bit salty and savory as it brings out the subtle sweetness it contains. Which makes it a perfect accompaniment to meat!

Even if you don't love grapefruit (my husband doesn't), I think you'll still love the caramelization and flavor this marinade has. It does not have a heavy grapefruit flavor (though the accompanying sauce certainly does, the pork is still delicious without it).

Grapefruit & Sugar-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin
2 grapefruit, 1 pink or red and 1 white
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 (1.5 lb) pork tenderloin
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450.

First, zest and supreme the grapefruit. Add the zest, grapefruit segments, brown sugar, paprika, cumin, fennel, cayenne, garlic and a pinch of salt to a food processor. Puree until very smooth and transfer to a large bowl. Add the pork, toss to combine and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Place a wire rack over a foil lined baking sheet. Transfer the pork to the rack and pour the remaining marinade in a small saucepan. Bake the pork until slightly caramelized on the outside and measuring 140 degrees, 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the reserved marinade to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-high and boil gently, stirring often, until reduced by half, about 12-15 minutes. 

Let the pork rest 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with glaze. 

Source: adapted from Saveur

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

All the flavors of a loaded baked potato - in soup form! This creamy, thick soup is warm, hearty, and weeknight easy!

Anyone else loving that we've been forced to stay home a few days? Charlotte got mostly ice but enough to shut things down for the weekend. However, by next weekend it'll be nearly flip flop weather again so we certainly can't complain! Unfortunately, our neighbors to the north may be digging out a bit longer than that.

Winter weather has been a roller coaster so far this season so anytime I see low temps in the forecast, I don't waste a chance to make a cold day meal. You know those things you only want when it's frigid outside? Soups, stews, casseroles, etc. We had this soup recently and I couldn't wait to share it!

This soup is quickly done on the stove top with very little prep work so it's weeknight easy. It's very thick - you will question yourself at first but stay with me, the potatoes really thicken it up. So much that you may want to add more broth or milk to thin it some. I liked it super thick but Jason thinned his out a bit.

Don't be tempted to mix the bacon into the soup - nobody likes limp bacon. Save the crumbles to serve on each bowl so it holds the crispiness.

Loaded Baked Potato Soup
8 slices bacon
5 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3.5 cups milk, plus more if needed
1 lb russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 green onions, thinly sliced (plus additional for garnish, if desired)
1.5 cup shredded cheddar cheese (plus additional for garnish, if desired)
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper, to taste

On a foil lined baking sheet, spread out the slices of bacon. Place in the (cold) oven, turn the oven temp to 400, and set the timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, remove the pan, allow to cool a few minutes, then crumble and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour and cook for about a minute, or until light brown. Slowly whisk in the milk, about 1 cup at a time. Continue whisking until slightly thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the diced potatoes and green onions. Stir frequently as it comes to a boil.

Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring often to avoid sticking, until the potatoes are tender, 20-25 minutes. Stir in the cheese, sour cream, and a decent amount of salt and pepper (to taste). Add more milk (or even chicken broth) to thin out, if needed.

Serve each bowl topped with a healthy serving of reserved chopped bacon and garnishes, if desired.

Serves 4. 

Source: adapted from Center Cut Cook

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Homemade SpaghettiOs

This homemade version of my childhood favorite canned pasta with meatballs is 100x better than the kind found in the pantry!

This is my second time attempting homemade SpaghettiOs. I admittedly loved the canned stuff as a kid/poor college student but just couldn't buy it anymore. I desperately wanted a relatively easy way to fill my SpaghettiOs void! The first time flopped; my meatballs fell apart, my sauce was thin, and I was incredibly frustrated by the end.

Couple years later, I found the courage to try it again thanks to everyone's favorite America's Test Kitchen. Is there anything they can't do?

This time was a huge success! I desperately wanted to hoard the entire pot for myself but finally relented and let my husband enjoy it, too. It was relatively easy - took only 1 pot and about 45 minutes, much of which is hand's off. The use of an immersion blender shaves tons of time and hassle - you should definitely invest in one (they are around $15 and take up very little space!).

You could make your own pesto... but in this recipe, it's hardly worth the effort. Save the homemade version for dishes that let it shine!

Homemade SpaghettiOs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3.5 cups chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
8 ounces meatloaf mix (50% lean ground beef & 50% ground pork)
1/4 cup basil pesto
1/4 cup panko
salt and pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) ditalini

In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth and tomatoes with their juices. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl mix together the ground meat, pesto, panko, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Pinch off heaping teaspoons of meat mixture and roll into small, 3/4-inch meatballs (there should be around 32 total).

Remove the pot from heat and puree the soup using your immersion blender. Once the soup is smooth, move the pot back to the burner and bring it back to a simmer. Stir in the pasta and carefully add the meatballs. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until the pasta is tender and the meatballs are cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Be careful when stirring to avoid breaking apart the meatballs.

Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and carefully ladle into bowls.

Source: adapted from America's Test Kitchen

Friday, January 8, 2016

(Easy!) Chicken Cordon Bleu

The easiest way to enjoy homemade chicken cordon bleu - without canned soups! Chicken, ham, Swiss cheese, and breadcrumbs are layered, baked, and topped with a sinful Parmesan-Dijon Cream Sauce.

With nearly 600 recipes shared - and many more attempted, failed, and not shared - it seems like I've tried my hand at making most "standard" meals. Just recently, I found myself making not one but two different dishes that are fairly mainstream but never made at home! The first of those was chicken cordon bleu.

We were recently at a church dinner and on the menu was chicken cordon bleu. I rarely order it out but knew I liked it,... however, I completely underestimated my husband's reaction. I'm quite confident that he licked his plate (and maybe mine?) while everyone was listening to the speaker upfront. It was a huge hit! I made a mental note that if I hadn't made it before, I must soon! Later that night, I combed the archives of the blog and realized I had never made it!

The church chef had put some work into his version and it was absolutely delicious. But he's a trained chef with a staff... and I'm tired, hungry, and lazy. Thankfully, this easy version is just as delicious as the more complicated version - and my husband was in heaven!

If you've never had chicken cordon bleu, you're in for a treat. You're just layering thin chicken breasts cutlets, deli ham, and Swiss cheese in a baking dish. Top it with some breadcrumbs and bake. Right before it's done, whip up a super easy Parmesan-Dijon Cream Sauce to spoon smother it in.

Y'all, it's so good.

Chicken Cordon Bleu
For the Cordon Bleu:
3 large, thick boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half length-wise (to make 6 total thin chicken breast cutlets)
12 slices deli ham
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 pound thinly sliced Swiss cheese

For the Parmesan-Dijon Cream Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules (or 1 bouillon cube, crushed)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 350.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and melted butter. Set aside.

Place the cut chicken breasts in a single layer in the prepared baking dish. On top of each piece of chicken, layer 2 slices of ham followed by slices of the Swiss cheese. Try to make sure as much of the chicken is covered in cheese or ham. Sprinkle the prepared bread crumbs over the chicken pieces.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked, the cheese is bubbling, and the bread crumbs are golden brown.

When the chicken is almost done, make the sauce. In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Once melted, whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 1-2 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk while quickly whisking. Whisk in the bouillon granules, salt, and continue whisking over medium heat until the mixture begins to simmer and thicken, about 3-5 minutes. Once the sauce has bubbled and thickened, remove from heat and stir in the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and Parmesan cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted.

Serve each chicken cordon bleu portion with warm sauce.

Source: Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Cheesy Sausage Tortellini

30 minutes, one pan, and super tasty! You're just 7 ingredients away from a new family favorite.

I adore quick and easy weeknight meals, but not if it's at the expense of flavor! After a long day of work, I rarely want to walk in the door and make an elaborate dinner - and I'm assuming you're the same, too! With very little hands on time needed, this dish is perfect for long days. Bonus: it was a huge hit! My husband, especially, loved it.

You simply brown sliced sausage, saute it in garlic for extra flavor, and then let it simmer with tomato sauce, cream, broth, and store bought tortellini. Once the pasta is cooked through, it's ready to serve!

It's creamy, cheesy, and smoky - what more do you need?

Cheesy Sausage Tortellini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb smoked sausage, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
9 ounce package refrigerated or frozen cheese tortellini (no need to thaw)
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the sliced sausage (being careful to not overlap) and cook until well browned, about 3-4 minutes a side. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the broth, tomato sauce, heavy cream, and tortellini. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 12 minutes or until the pasta is tender and cooked through. 

Serve hot.

Slightly adapted from Kevin and Amanda

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Crockpot Tuscan Chicken Stew

A healthy, hearty, and super easy stew that's bursting with flavor! Pull out the crockpot and let it do all the work for dinner tonight!

We have been enjoying gorgeous warm, spring-like days here in Charlotte. Just this weekend, we've seen the temps drop enough to require sleeves outside. I'm not sure the cooler temps are here to stay but it has given me a chance to make some warmer "winter" dishes. Nobody wants stew on a nearly 80 degree day!

But when the temp drops? You want something warm and comforting for dinner. And if it's waiting on you at home, that's even better! I actually rarely use my crockpot - I complain each time that the flavors just aren't as bright - but this dish really is stuffed with flavor. Feel free to up the veggies or throw in additional ones you have on hand, too!

Crockpot Tuscan Chicken Stew
2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of visible fat
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (14.5 oz) fire roasted tomatoes
12 baby potatoes
1 3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons white wine

30 minutes before serving:
1/4 cup water
2.5 tablespoons cornstarch
4 teaspoons dried Italian seasonings
3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
salt, to taste

Place chicken, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, canned tomatoes and their juices, potatoes, chicken stock, tomato paste, and white wine in crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours. 

After cooking 6 hours, carefully remove the chicken with tongs to a cutting board. Dice the chicken into bite size pieces and place back in the crockpot along with the Italian seasonings and balsamic vinegar. In a small bow, whisk together the water and cornstarch until there are no lumps. Add to the crockpot, stir well, place the lid back on, and let cook another 30 minutes.

Taste and add salt, if needed. Serve with bread.

Source: adapted from Sweet Peas and Saffron

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Creamy Stovetop White Cheddar Mac and Cheese

The creamiest, cheesiest mac and cheese you'll ever taste! This quick and easy stove top version can be ready in 20 minutes and is perfect as either a splurge worthy dinner or tasty side dish!

I have a hard time turning down a good mac and cheese - sometimes I channel my inner 5 year old and order it simply as my meal! While I'm an equal opportunity mac and cheese fan (I'll even eat the - gasp - microwave in a cup kind when a craving hits!), super creamy versions are my favorite.

I've made this recipe several times (including this summer with my children's chef camp - they inhaled it!) and I will warn you that it doesn't reheat well. You really need to serve it almost immediately or it begins to break apart and become gummy and grainy. The upside is that it only takes 20 minutes so you can easily whip it up just a few minutes before dinner is served.

Creamy Stovetop White Cheddar Mac & Cheese
16 oz pasta, any shape (cavatappi is my favorite)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
16 oz sharp white cheddar, shredded (do not use pre-shredded)
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Once the butter melts, whisk in the flour; cook for 1 1/2 minutes, whisking constantly. 

Reduce heat to medium and gradually whisk in the milk and heavy cream until no lumps remain. Continue cooking, whisking often, until the sauce thickens and bubbles. 

Reduce heat to low and slowly add the cheese, whisking until melted and smooth. Add the salt, mustard, black pepper, and cooked pasta; stir well. Cook another 1-2 minutes or until the pasta is well coated and hot.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed. 

Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Creamy Tomato Chicken Pasta

Chicken sausage, tomatoes, cream, fresh spinach, basil, and cheese: all the makings of a big bowl of yum. This delicious meal is weeknight friendly and super easy!

Can you believe we are *thisclose* to Christmas? Every year, I decide I'm going to be on the ball: decorate the house, bake for the office, make homemade gifts, ship the presents home in plenty of time, and order cards to send out. And every year, the first Sunday of Advent arrives on the heels of Thanksgiving and I find myself in a race to the finish line. This week and next week, in particular, are crazy busy with work related events to attend and host. And that list above? Not a single thing done!

All that to say - I get it. Pinterest has blown up with adorable baked goods, fancy kids crafts, and professional looking decorations and I'll be lucky to ship my presents out on time!

This pasta is for the rest of us - the people barely holding it together this holiday season. It's so easy you won't find yourself wishing you had just thrown in a frozen pizza when you got home. It's absolutely one of our favorite pasta dishes!

I typically use sundried tomato chicken sausage but you can use any variety you like.

Creamy Tomato Chicken Pasta
1 pound pasta (I love spirals!)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
1½ cups half and half
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
1 8-ounce bag baby spinach, coarsely chopped
2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish

Cook pasta in a large pot of well-salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta water, and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and tomato paste and continue cooking for an additional minute. Add the chicken sausage, using a wooden spoon to break up the pieces. Cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the sausage is completely cooked through. 

Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in the half and half and Parmesan. Simmer lightly, stirring frequently, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. Add the spinach, tomatoes, and basil and stir to combine, using the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce if needed. 

Top with extra Parmesan and basil and serve.

Adapted from Cook Like a Champion

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sausage and Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash

Sweet acorn squash is packed full of rice, sausage, mushrooms, and herbs. This sweet and savory dish is warm, filling, and perfect for a cold winter day.

I love all squash but think acorn may be my very favorite. I love that you can practically turn it into dessert by loading it up with brown sugar and butter, or stuff it full of rice and sausage and make it an easy dinner! The sausage makes this a simple "all in one" meal for the meat eaters in your life but without the sausage, it'd also make a great side dish (especially at a holiday function).

If you haven't already had your fill of squash, don't miss your chance this year!

Sausage & Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash
3 acorn squash
1 lb mild Italian sausage
8 ounce mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon ground thyme
1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400.

Carefully slice each squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves skin side down on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 50-60 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile, in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage until nearly cooked through. In the last couple of minutes of cooking, add the chopped mushrooms and ground thyme. Continue cooking until the meat is no longer pink and the mushrooms are softened. Add the rice, stir well, and cook 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and stir to ensure all rice is submerged. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.

Once squash is cooked, remove from the oven and reduce heat to 350. Scoop the cooked mixture into each half, filling as much as possible. Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Serve hot.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Creamy Shrimp Pasta

An easy 30 minute meal! Sauteed shrimp is tossed with penne pasta, tomatoes, and a creamy herb sauce. Elegant enough for company but quick enough for a weeknight!

Last night we had that conversation that many families probably do, especially after a long workday. Should we just grab something quick? Or cook what we were planning? After weighing the various drive-through options, I realized that I could just cook dinner in about the same amount of time and it'd be 1) cheaper 2) healthier and 3) way tastier. Plus I wouldn't have to put my shoes on :)

This pasta is just like one of the meals I made last night - quick, easy, and delicious.

Creamy Shrimp Pasta
1 lb penne pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup bottled clam juice
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, add the oil to a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the shrimp, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp is pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the tomatoes, 1/4 cup basil, 1/4 cup parsley, and red pepper to the skillet and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the wine and simmer another 2 minutes. Add the clam juice and cream. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 7-8 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.

Add 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, the cooked shrimp, the drained pasta, and the remaining basil and parsley. Toss well and season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle with remaining cheese and serve.

Source: adapted from Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites by Giada De Laurentiis

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Walt Disney World: A Week's Worth of Food (including Food & Wine Fest 2015)

We recently returned from what has become our annual fall trip to Walt Disney World! The fall typically means lower crowds, temps, and humidity, and it also means Food and Wine Fest!

This year, the whole "lower temps" didn't fly - we experienced record breaking heat all week but we did not face torrential rain or heavy crowds so 2 out of 3 isn't bad!

Our group consisted of my family, including 4 individual family units, and some meals were all together and some were just me and Jason.


Morimoto Asia located at Disney Springs

The restaurant was very full and did not seem to be taking walk-ups that night, though they did have someone outside showing off the menu. We were seated on the 2nd level at a large round table. This was the view from the table:

This restaurant is simply gorgeous. Sleek, modern, and even though we all "cleaned up" for dinner, I felt a bit underdressed! 

Our waiter was AMAZING - the best of the week, really. He was personable, knowledgeable, and very funny. We also noticed lots of suits around, giving instructions to staff and taking care of guests. By far the best service oriented restaurant we dined at all week. I hope they keep it up!

We chose this spot because it was new (I always want to try the newest!) and it was reasonably priced, especially in comparison to other Disney Spring spots. The menu looks delicious, though the sushi offerings were a tad limited and boring. Didn't stop us from trying it!

Shrimp tempura:

Spicy tuna:

It was fresh and tasty, though nothing unique. 

We all ordered different entrees, and I snapped pictures of most but the restaurant was dark and some did not come out post-worthy. 

Duck Ramen (totally wish I had ordered this!):

Thai Basil Fried Rice:

Black Pepper Steak:

Other dishes included Orange Chicken, Dumplings, Miso Soup, and a kid's meal.

Let me talk about this kids meal a bit. First of all, the kids menu is really cool and folds into origami. Also, kids meals come with bubble tea - my niece ordered strawberry flavor. She chose mac and cheese as her meal and it was a generous portion. She finished with about half left and my sister took a bite. Y'all. This mac and cheese is AMAZING. We passed it around the table and fought over who would get to finish it off. This was not the blue box! 

If/when we return, I'll be ordering a side of that mac and cheese to go with my sushi ;)

All in, this was one of the least expensive meals of the week (including counter service!) but the best service, tastiest food, and nicest atmosphere. We are fans of Morimoto Asia! 

Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom

This breakfast was doomed from the beginning, really, but we tried to give it a fair shot. We ordered online the night before which proves to be a huge time saver. Instead of funneling past the ordering kiosks and waiting impatiently behind people who don't know how to work a computer, we just went straight to a cashier to pay. 

The restaurant itself is very large and cavernous inside. I see why some people refer to it as a big cafeteria  - the ballroom certainly feels that way some. Since there were 8 of us, we ended up finding tables in the Rose Gallery, which is obviously the least desirable spot in the restaurant. 

The walls are lined with large oil paintings and the centerpiece is a music box, of sorts.

Drinks are all self serve so you can collect your drinks + silverware while you wait. Drinks include coffee, hot chocolate, hot tea, soda, OJ, etc. Our food was out very quickly, thanks to the online order. 

All meals come with a pastry tray to share around the table. It included a variety of items like muffins, croissants, etc. Our tables had no issue polishing them off (we received 2 trays for 8 people).

Kids Meal - Fifi's French Toast:

Obviously a small portion but between that and the pastry tray, it was plenty for me. Admittedly, I'm not a huge breakfast eater.

Eggs Florentine:

They said this was pretty good - the bread was flaky and the portion decent. No one seemed to like roasted tomatoes so those went to waste.

Open Faced Bacon and Egg Sandwich:

This had such potential and yet... crashed and burned. The eggs, which are supposed to be poached, were hard boiled. The bread is a bit hard already so the poached egg is supposed to soften it. That doesn't work when it's 2 hard boiled eggs sitting on some hard bread. He sort of ate it in layers.

The real winner in our group was the Croque Madame, which I did not get a picture of. It was amazing! So good, in fact, that my sister and her family made a reservation for a few days later just to enjoy it again. 

Would we dine there again? Maybe, it we didn't rely on Disney bus transportation and got the relaxed Main St pics on the way and out in time for rope drop. I would not pay the prices for a breakfast after park opening.

Cinderella's Royal Table at Magic Kingdom

It had been years since I've eaten at the castle! We usually dine at Akershus (Epcot) but the price difference between the two was so small, we had to go with the castle this trip. 

You start by lining up to meet Cinderella. Once your picture is taken, you hang out until your party is called. Then you climb the spiral staircase (or take the elevator) up the dining room. 

The restaurant is quite small inside and tables are pretty snug. It's very pretty inside!

We had great service here, too, which I know is not always the case. Our waitress was friendly, prompt, and very helpful. After bringing us drinks,they brought out a tasting plate to share. 

It had salad, cheese, flatbreads, and hummus. All delicious! 

The menu is a fixed price meal with about 6 entree options and 3 dessert options.

Salmon served over a jalapeno cornbread cake:

Slow Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Fingerling Potato Confit, Forest Roasted Mushrooms, Minus 8 Crispy Watercress, and Pork Demi:

Slow-braised Beef Short Rib, Parsnip-mashed Potatoes, and Wilted Spinach:

All the entrees were a hit - I thought the food was fantastic and beautifully presented. Even my niece had difficulty getting up from her meal to greet some of the princesses! This ended up being some of the best food we had all week.

Gus and Jaq's Favorites - White Chocolate-Jasmine Tea Mousse, Lemon and Lime Curd with Honey-Oat Crisp:

Our Signature Dessert - Flourless Chocolate Cake with Caramel Hazelnut, Meringue, and Berry Compote:

In addition to Cinderella, we saw Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, and Jasmine while we ate. 

We would definitely dine here again - it was a wonderful experience! 

Flying Fish on Disney's Boardwalk

Flying Fish has been raved about for years by some of my Disney foodie friends so I was so excited to try it! We were seated almost immediately; the decor is whimsical and open, with views of the kitchen. I was also surprised at how small the space really is! They are about to close for a major rehab so it'll be interesting to see what changes. 

The menu is quite limited with an obvious lend to seafood. The menus I found online actually had several dishes that were tempting but the menu we received that night did not look as appealing. Anytime you visit a chef driven restaurant, it's good to know that the menu changes frequently so don't get your heart set on something you see online!

Appetizer: Artisanal Cheese Board - it came with 5 generous samples plus Fig-Almond Torta, Honeycomb, Raisins on the Vine, and a black mission fig, Currant-blasamico, sweet onion Compote Agrodolce. I neglected to steal the accompanying card with the names of the cheeses on it. 

I've never met a cheese I didn't like but the others at the table thought they were all quite strong in flavor, even the mild cheese. In all honesty, I could have eaten this as my meal and been completely content. 

Appetizer: Creamy Crab Bisque 

I did not taste this but the person who ordered it said it was delicious! 

Appetizer: Chef's Special Thunder Appetizer - Heirloom Beets, Fresh Goat Cheese, Spiced Pecans, Citrus Supremes, Pecan Vinaigrette 

This salad was gorgeous! Mom ordered it and said that while delicious, the goat cheese was very strong - and she is usually a big fan of goat cheese. Very tangy! They were generous in the amount but it became overpowering. Otherwise, a delicious salad.

Appetizer: Signature Crab Cake

This got high marks as well! Lots of crab, generous size, and very flavorful. Who doesn't love a crab cake?

Entree: Our Chef's Special Thunder from the Sea - Oak-grilled-Citrus-scented Day-boat Swordfish, Warm Salad of Heirloom Beans, Spicy Radish, Snow Peas, Vidalia Onions, Tiny Tomato, Applewood Bacon-Mustard Dill Vinaigrette

Jason ordered this, and enjoyed it, but said it was not his favorite meal of the week. We all had fun trying to figure out what vegetable was what - I've never tasted a cooked radish and it totally threw me off! 

Entree: Grilled Sea Scallops

This was served over a delicious bed of risotto and topped with crispy prosciutto. I was set on ordering their signature dish but immediately was jealous of this one. I adore scallops and it was perfect paired with creamy risotto! 

Entree: Flying Fish Cafe's Idaho Potato-wrapped Snapper - Creamy Leek Fondue, Veal Glace de Viande-Red Wine-Cassis Butter

I'll be honest... I didn't love this. The sauce was delicious, and the leeks were unique and flavorful, but the fish was dry and nearly tasteless. Though I suppose that's why they serve a rich sauce alongside it, I was hoping for some sort of seasonings or salt or anything going on inside the potato coating. I'm glad I tried it, though! 

We were stuffed and did not partake in dessert. All in all, it was a nice meal. The waitress was a bit slow and somewhat cold but efficient enough. The restaurant is lovely inside and you can't beat the Boardwalk location for entertainment after dinner. That said, I won't be racing back and it doesn't really rank among my favorite signature spots at Disney.

Food and Wine Fest 2015: Epcot

I've shared several years worth of pics and reviews of booth offerings for Food and Wine Fest and this year is no different. While the festival has ended for the year, many of the same items return year after year. There are some dishes that I want each and every year and others that we know to skip. I always try to hit some new options!

All items range from $4-$7 each and are tasting portions. 3-4 bites, typically, which doesn't sound like much but you'll be surprised how full you get! You'll also be surprised how broke you'll be... thank goodness for that Magic Band charging - we just pretended it was monopoly money.

New Zealand: Seared venison loin with wild mushroom marsala sauce and kumara dumpling

This was a decent portion for the price and very tasty! 

Mexico: Chilaquiles de pollo: Corn chips layered with seasoned chicken, queso fresco, sour cream and cilantro

I realize that this is similar to dishes I make at home but in my defense, I was starving and just wanted something tasty to eat. It was actually really good and a generous portion.  

Australia: Grilled sweet and spicy bush berry shrimp with pineapple, peppers, onions, and snap peas

A tad spicy for my mom's taste but very flavorful. It had 3 large shrimp so not a bad deal!

China: Mango Green Tea at Joy of Tea

I know that Joy of Tea is a permanent fixture in the World Showcase but I want to mention that their drinks are SO GOOD and way cheaper than a tasting portion of something at a Food and West Fest booth. I dream about this mango tea... especially on a hot day! A full size drink is around $4. Cheaper than Starbucks!

China: Beijing roasted duck in steamed bun with hoisin sauce

This was SO GOOD. Incredibly flavorful, not fatty, and tender. Between this and our dinner at Morimoto a few days earlier, I've realized we don't eat near enough duck. Several of us grabbed this dish because nobody wanted to share! 

China: Gaoli beef slider 

The sauce on this was very good! Good portion size, too. 

China: Black pepper shrimp with Sichuan noodles

Nothing mind-blowing but tasty!

Africa: Buttered chicken with micro cilantro and naan bread 

I'm fairly obsessed with butter chicken so I had to see how this compared. Must admit, it was good! Quality chicken and a full size piece of naan underneath. I make it at home, so it's obviously not overly unique, but it was a guaranteed hit for me.

Japan: Teriyaki gyoza bun: Steamed bun filled with chicken, vegetables and sweet teriyaki sauce

I did not taste this but my mom said it was a great portion size and very tasty. I'm always fascinated by these steamed buns!

Japan: Miso Udon: steamed shrimp, vegetables, and noodles in a spicy broth

It was way too hot for soup but my mom can't pass up a miso soup! She said it was very good and full of veggies and shrimp.

Brazil: Crispy pork belly with black beans and tomato

The pork belly was well cooked and the black bean puree was very flavorful!

Between the 8 of us, we noshed on a lot more but since you're stopping along the way, standing at different booths, and hovering over trash cans, I wasn't always ready with a camera when others got their dish. 

All in all, it was another great year! We opted to not do any special events this year since we were traveling with others and I really didn't miss them - especially given how pricey they have gotten. 

Capt. Cook's at Polynesian Resort

Following a morning at Magic Kingdom, we stopped into Capt. Cook's for lunch before renting a SeaRaycer. I think Capt. Cooks is one of the best counter service restaurants in all the World!

Their menu is somewhat unique (ie, not just hamburgers and chicken tenders) though their ordering process is quite slow, especially when there is just 1 register. The last time we dined there, they had computer kiosks but those are gone now and you have to wait in line to order behind the people trying to get an in depth explanation on how the refillable mugs work.

You're given a pager and just grab your meal once it's ready. They are very quick!

Pulled Pork Nachos - topped with onions, cheese, spicy mayo, tomatoes and pineapple salsa

This is a huge portion of nachos topped with a generous amount of tender pulled pork. The queso, mayo sauce, and salsa are all delicious, too. The chips are like homemade potato chips, not tortilla chips. And for about $8, it's a good deal!

Big Kahuna Sandwich - turkey, ham, salami, roast beef, Swiss, lettuce, tomato on focaccia with red pepper spread and chips

This is a huge sandwich! Loaded with meat, very flavorful, and a fresh. He was able to swap the chips for fries.

If you're near the Polynesian, you should stop in for a quick bite! you can also get a Dole Whip or Mickey Bar while you're there ;)

'Ohana at Polynesian Resort (dinner)

We came back that night for our last big family meal before everyone headed home. 'Ohana has been a family facoirte over the years and thankfully, we had another great experiecne this year!

We were seated quickly after checking in adn noticed there were lots of empty tables throughout. I had a difficult time finding a reservation so I have to wonder if they've lower seating capacity for some reason. In contrast, Kona was crammed with people!

Our waiter took awhile to get to our table so I was afraid things were going to go down quickly but once he arrived for drink orders, he remained consistent in delivering food and checking in.

'Ohana is a scaled down Brazilian steakhouse.

The host/hostess brings a loaf of pineapple coconut bread to the table when you're seated. We joked that the reason they do this is so during the 10-15 minutes you sit waiting on a waiter to greet you, you fill up on the (cheap) bread and eat less shrimp!

Once the waiter arrives, the food begins to come out. You start with a platter of honey coriander wings & pork fried pot stickers:

These are both very good! Our party quickly finished off the plate and requested more. The pot stickers were my favorite!

Also brought out, mixed green salad and noodles in teriyaki sauce and stir fried veggies:

These are delicious as well! It's hard to not fill up on the noodles - but better stuff is coming!

The waiter then brings around skewers of meat: spicy grilled peel and eat shrimp, sweet and sour chicken, and szechuan sirloin steak. 

I found the chicken quality to be questionable, and really preferred the pork loin they used to have, but that just meant I had more room for shrimp and steak.

Dessert is a sinful bread pudding with banana caramel sauce:

Right before dessert, Wishes went off and we had a clear shot from our table. A lovely way to end a great week! 

There is no secret as to why 'Ohana is a hit - they have entertainment (lady on a ukulele), kids games, view of the fireworks, and all the (delicious) food you can put away. I'm thankful we got a table!

This trip, we also dined at Olivia's (breakfast and lunch), ABC Commissary, Hangar Bar, and Boma (breakfast) so if you have any questions about one of those, feel free to ask! 

See Aimee Cook

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