Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spaghetti Pie

The recipe that I'm sharing with you today is pure comfort food. I just don't know if it gets any better than spaghetti pie. What's so great about this recipe (besides the fact that it is scrumptious, of course) is that even though it looks fancy and complicated, it really couldn't be simpler to prepare. It doesn't take any more time than a traditional lasagna, and I think it's just as tasty.

I changed the recipe quite a bit. Instead of using eggplant, I used a combination of green pepper, onion, and mushrooms. I also used shredded cheese rather than fresh mozzarella. All of these changes are reflected below, but just know that you could fill this puff pastry crust with absolutely any combination of pasta, sauce and cheese and you'd be in for a treat. This dish is simple enough for a family dinner but impressive enough for company. I will definitely make it again!

Spaghetti Pie
source: seen on Lindsey's Kitchen, adapted from Food Network

1 pound Italian sausage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
8 ounces sliced mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 cups jarred marinara sauce (a full jar)
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
8 ounces spaghetti noodles
1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese (4 cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 (17 1/4-ounce) package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.

2. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the sausage is almost cooked through. Add the green pepper, onion, and mushrooms and cook until vegetables are crisp-tender. Add the garlic and saute about 2 minutes longer.

3. Stir in marinara sauce and crushed red pepper flakes and heat through.

4. Meanwhile, add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring constantly, until pasta is very al dente. Drain. Toss the pasta with the sauce mixture. Add the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses and toss to combine. Cool completely.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out 1 pastry sheet on a floured surface to a 13 1/2-inch square. Roll dough around rolling pin and transfer to a 9-inch springform pan by unrolling the dough onto the pan. Allow the excess pastry to hang over the rim. Press the pastry sheet gently into the sides of the pan to ensure the dough won't break when you spoon in the the pasta. Fold creased pieces of the dough flat against the side of the pan. Spoon the pasta mixture into the pan. Place the second pastry sheet atop the pasta filling. Pinch the edges of the pastry sheets together to seal. Trim the overhanging pastry edges to about 1 inch. Fold the pastry edges in to form a decorative border. Cut a slit in the center of the top pastry to allow the steam to escape.

6. Bake until the pastry is brown and puffed on top, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let stand for 20 minutes. Remove the pan sides and serve.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

When I was paging through cookbooks last week trying to decide what I wanted to bake, these cookies caught my eye immediately. They grabbed my attention mainly because of all the chocolate, and chocolate is something that the baby and I just can't get enough of these days. They sounded really simple to make, too, which is always a plus.

These cookies contain no eggs, and they call for confectioners' sugar rather than granulated, so their texture is really light and airy. They have great chocolate flavor without being too rich, which makes it especially hard to eat just one. We loved these cookies, and they were so delicious that I just had to let Andrew try one. He seemed to enjoy it, as I knew he would:

I'm pretty sure these cookies will be making their way into my Christmas packages (yes, I'm already thinking about Christmas. I'm one of THOSE people). They're such a sweet, delicious, irresistible little treat!

Chocolate Truffle Cookies
source: The Taste of Home Baking Book, recipe also found here

1 1/4 cups butter, softened
2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chocolate sprinkles

1. In a large bowl, cream butter, confectioners' sugar and cocoa until light and fluffy. Beat in sour cream and vanilla. Add flour; mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

2. Roll into 1-inch balls; dip one side in chocolate sprinkles. Place, sprinkled side up, 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

3. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes or until set. Cool 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Yields about 5 1/2 dozen cookies.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Banana Nut Pancakes

Ohhh, you guys. You have got to try these pancakes. Soon. Like tonight. Scrap whatever dinner plans you have and make these instead. In fact, I just might do that myself. I think I could eat these pancakes every day.

We had these banana nut pancakes for breakfast yesterday morning, and they were heartily enjoyed by all three of us. Andrew ate an entire pancake by himself, and I think he would have tackled a second one if there'd been any more. But, sadly, there weren't. We ate all of them.

The creamy, sweet topping on these pancakes is so delicious that it makes butter absolutely unnecessary. I did, however, drown my pancakes in maple syrup (as you can see), which was delicious with the rest of the flavors. (I can't get enough maple syrup lately. This is particularly amusing to me since I didn't even really like maple syrup before I got pregnant. Cravings are weird.) Next time, I'm doubling this recipe for sure.

Banana Nut Pancakessource: Taste of Home 2000 Annual Recipes, also found here

3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup whipped topping
1 cup pancake mix
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 medium ripe banana, mashed
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Mix in whipped topping (mixture will be stiff); set aside.

2. In a bowl, combine pancake mix and sugar. Beat egg, milk and oil; add to pancake mix and mix well. Fold in banana and pecans.

3. Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a lightly greased hot griddle; turn when bubbles form on top of pancakes. Cook until second side is golden brown. Serve with cream topping. Makes approximately 8 pancakes.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Weekly Meal Planning

Big changes this week in Meal Plan Land: I'm doing away with my nightly categories. While cooking with categories definitely helped me reign in my recipe selection, I often found it a bit too limiting. Lots of the things I scheduled every week (pasta, soup, burgers) will undoubtedly still show up on my menu frequently. But this gives me some much-desired leeway in the meals that I cook, which is very appealing to me right now.

I'm still going to do Burgers and Fries Friday, but I'm also giving myself permission to skip a week or two (or more) if I want to and make something else for dinner instead. These days I'm all about taking the pressure off myself.

Monday: Chicken taco pizza We ate spaghetti pie leftovers. Well, Joe did; I stuffed my face during a work potluck, so I wasn't really hungry. I ate a bowl of cereal for dinner.

Tuesday: Stuffed pizza rolls, mozzarella sticks. I can tell you right now, Andrew and Joe are going to be all over this meal. Since we didn't eat the chicken taco pizza Monday night, I gave Joe a choice between that and the meal that I'd scheduled. He chose the taco pizza, much to my surprise. I'll be moving the pizza rolls and mozzarella sticks to next week's menu, because it sounds so delicious to me.

Wednesday: Dinner with friends at a local fondue restaurant

Thursday: Our favorite chili (by Joe's request), Mexican corn bread. Normally we eat our chili with grilled cheese sandwiches, but this corn bread recipe sounds too delicious not to try.

Friday: Chili mac and cheese, our favorite way to use up chili leftovers. I can't even begin to describe how good this is.

Saturday: Three packet pot roast, parmesan knots

Sunday: Southwestern shepherd's pie. Joe and Andrew are both huge fans of sweet potatoes, and would tell you that I don't cook with them nearly enough -- usually just in a casserole for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love this twist on shepherd's pie that uses sweet potatoes as the topping, and I can't wait to try it.

Weekend Breakfast: Pot roast hash and eggs. We'll have this Sunday morning, using leftover pot roast from Saturday night's dinner.

Baking: Cinnamon caramel corn with pecans and white chocolate. I've been drooling over this one for a few weeks now and thought it was high time I tested it out for this year's Christmas packages.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Burger and Fries Friday: Bacon Patty Melts with Special Sauce

This week's burger is another one inspired by my time at the Waffle House. That's where I was first introduced to the melty deliciousness that is the patty melt. I had a regular customer who used to order a bacon patty melt whenever he came in, and when I served it to him I'd watch him mix together his own little sauce for it, using mayonnaise, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce. Then he'd pile the sauce on his burger along with a bunch of pickles and eat the sandwich in huge, messy bites.

That sauce looked delicious, so I decided I'd try it at home. In a moment of inspiration, I chopped up some pickles and put them directly in the sauce, and what do you know? It's an amazing concoction. I've served it on our homemade patty melts ever since.

I use white bread for our melts, since we wouldn't go through an entire loaf of rye. Other than the sauce and the bread, my patty melt is pretty traditional: a seasoned beef patty, topped with caramelized onions, melty American cheese, and a couple of slices of bacon, served on butter-grilled bread. I think the sauce really adds something different to the burger, a salty, tangy, slightly sweet element that really works with the rest of the flavors.

Bacon Patty Melts with Special Sauce
source: Cassie

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Wocestershire sauce
1 deli pickle, finely chopped

8 strips of bacon
4 beef hamburger patties
Hamburger seasoning
1 large onion, chopped
8 slices of white bread
8 slices of American cheese

1. To make the sauce, combine mayonnaise, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and chopped pickle; refrigerate.

2. To make the burgers, fry bacon to desired crispness in a large skillet. Remove to paper towels to drain. Season burgers with hamburger seasoning and fry in bacon grease to desired doneness.

3. While burgers are cooking, cook onions in butter over medium heat until softened and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Butter each slice of bread. Top each with a slice of cheese, and cook over medium heat on a griddle until lightly browned and cheese is melted. Top 4 slices of bread with a burger patty, a quarter of the grilled onions, and 2 slices of bacon. Slather some of the special sauce on the other 4 slices of bread and make sandwiches.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

BBQ Shrimp over Buttered Noodles

Finally, I'm back with a new recipe to share with you! It seems like lately I've been cooking household favorites that I've already posted -- or cooking nothing at all. But I'm trying out quite a few new recipes this week, so hopefully I'll have some yummy things to post!

This recipe for BBQ shrimp over buttered noodles is definitely yummy. And I promise you, that's not just my BBQ craving talking. This was really, really good. I loved the smokiness of the bacon paired with the sweetness of the shrimp, and it worked perfectly served over silky buttered noodles. The best part, aside from the fact that I already had all of the ingredients on hand? This meal only took about 20 minutes to prepare, start to finish. And that is definitely my kind of weeknight dinner.

I've adapted the recipe below to serve two (and a half), but I've also linked to the original, which serves six. Joe and I both really enjoyed this (Andrew liked the noodles, and he loved licking the BBQ sauce off the shrimp), and it will be a repeat in our house for sure. With a simple salad and some crusty bread on the side, this was the perfect weeknight meal!

BBQ Shrimp over Buttered Noodles
source: adapted from Taste of Home's Busy Family Cookbook; original recipe here

8 ounces angel hair pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
6 bacon strips, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 10-ounce package frozen medium shrimp, thawed, peeled and deveined
1/4 to 1/2 cup BBQ sauce (I eyeballed it and, as always, used Sweet Baby Ray's)

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels; drain, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings. Saute onion in the drippings until tender. Add garlic and shrimp; season with salt and pepper and cook and stir until shrimp are no longer pink.

3. Return bacon to the skillet. Add barbecue sauce; cook and stir over medium heat until heated through. Drain pasta and stir in butter, parsley, and parmesan cheese until butter is melted. Top with shrimp mixture. Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese, if desired.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekly Meal Planning

Short and sweet this week, as we're leaving soon for the zoo (hoping and praying that the rain holds off).

Last week's meal plan was a big ol' FAIL for the most part. My husband has been on vacation, and we've been doing lots of fun family-type things, so I'm finding it nearly impossible to do anything productive -- and that includes cooking. Hopefully this week I'll do better!

Monday -- Soup or Casserole: French onion soup, roast beef panini. This was on the menu last week, but we ate leftovers instead, so we're having it this week. I really, really want to eat this meal.

Tuesday -- Pasta: BBQ shrimp and buttered noodles, salad, crusty bread. The BBQ is back, baby!

Wednesday -- Free Night: Sausage-stuffed baked apples, salad Unexpected guests showed up (with a beef roast!) so we ate that along with some mashed potatoes and broccoli. I'll be moving this to a later menu, because it just screams fall to me.

Thursday -- Quick and Easy: Grilled cheese sandwiches, steak fries, pickles. Joe will probably request that I put ham on his sandwiches, but it'll just be straight-up American cheese for Andrew and me. (Why yes, sometimes I do like to eat like a three-year-old, why do you ask?)

Friday -- Burgers and Fries: Patty melts with special sauce, steak fries. I know, I know, buttered bread and melty processed cheese and fries two nights in a row -- but that's what the baby wants, and I must indulge him.

Saturday -- Regional or International: Arroz con pollo, cheesy drop biscuits (with Spanish olives folded into the batter) It was Joe's grandma's birthday, so we went out to dinner with his family. I'm definitely coming back to this one sometime in the near future, though. FOR SURE. It sounds so delicious.

Sunday -- Comfort Food: Spaghetti pie, salad

Weekend Breakfast: Banana nut pancakes and bacon

Baking: Chocolate truffle cookies
. Also, pumpkin pie snickerdoodle bars. I didn't get to make these last weekend because we were really busy, so now I have to make them as soon as possible. I can't stop thinking about them. It's not really fall to me until I've cooked with pumpkin!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Scrambled Eggs in Potato Nests

Sorry for the craptastic picture, folks. The morning light in my kitchen is kind of wonky, so sometimes it's hard to get good pictures of all the yummy breakfasts we've been eating lately.

I made this cute little take on "birds in a nest" last weekend for breakfast, and it was heartily enjoyed by all -- including Andrew, who's never really been a huge fan of scrambled eggs (he'd like his eggs fried hard, thank you very much, and do not skimp on the black pepper). They tasted great and were really easy to prepare. I had two issues with this meal, though: It dirtied a lot more dishes than I like to deal with on a Sunday morning, and the hashbrowns didn't get as crispy as I would have liked. If I make these again, I'll mix a small amount of vegetable oil in with the hashbrowns, just to help them get a little bit crispier.

Those two things aside, though, this was a flavorful and fun weekend breakfast. Plus, it was a great way to use up some of the chives from my herb garden before the frosts come and kill them off for the winter.

Scrambled Eggs in Potato Nests
source: adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

2 cups refrigerated hash brown potatoes
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon snipped fresh chives
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet; set aside. In a large bowl, stir together potatoes, the 2 beaten eggs, 1/2 tablespoon chives, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Shape mixture into 6 equal-sized mounds on prepared baking sheet. Press the back of a tablespoon into each mound, making a nest. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned and set.

2. Meanwhile, beat together the 6 eggs, milk, 1 teaspoon chives, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. In a 12-inch skillet, melt butter over medium heat; pour in egg mixture. Cook over medium heat without stirring until mixture begins to set on the bottom and around edge.

3. With a spatula, lift and fold the partially cooked egg mxiture so that the uncooked portion flows underneath. Continue cooking over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until egg mixture is cooked through but is still glossy and moist. Remove from heat.

4. Spoon a small amount of egg mixture into each potato nest. Sprinkle cheese over eggs. Return to oven; bake about 2 minutes or until cheese melts. If desired, garnish with chives. Makes 6 "nests"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grilled Banana Sundaes

One of the things I'm definitely going to do next spring and summer is experiment with more grilled fruits. Earlier this summer I made pork chops with grilled peaches, and I absolutely loved the extra flavor and sweetness the grill gave the peaches. When I saw a recipe on the Better Homes and Gardens website for grilled banana sundaes, I was instantly intrigued. Since bananas are so soft, I had my doubts about how well they'd hold up to grilling -- but much to my surprise, they actually held up very well. The warm bananas had a velvety texture, and grilling them gave them such an interesting depth of flavor. They were the perfect pairing for spicy caramel sauce and cool, creamy vanilla ice cream.

We liked these sundaes a lot, and I think I'll make them frequently when we start grilling again next spring. We don't typically do dessert during the week, so this was a nice mid-week treat for us. The original recipe suggests topping the sundaes with toasted coconut and sliced almonds, but I used semi-sweet chocolate chips and peanuts instead -- both because I had them on hand, and because I thought they'd be the perfect toppings. They were. What a yummy treat!

Grilled Banana Sundaes
source: slightly adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

2 large firm bananas
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 teaspoons orange juice, divided
1/2 cup caramel ice-cream topping
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Vanilla ice cream
Optional toppings: semi-sweet chocolate chips, honey-roasted peanuts, toasted coconut, sliced toasted almonds

1. Cut bananas in half lengthwise, then cut each piece in half crosswise. Stir together margarine or butter and 1 teaspoon of the orange juice. Brush mixture on all sides of banana pieces.

2. Place bananas directly on the grill rack over medium-hot coals. Grill, uncovered, for 2 minutes; turn over and grill for 2 minutes more or until heated through.

3. Meanwhile, in a heavy, medium skillet or saucepan combine the caramel topping and the remaining 1 teaspoon orange juice. Heat on the grill rack alongside bananas directly over the coals, or on a stovetop, until bubbly, stirring frequently. Stir in cinnamon. Add bananas and stir gently to coat.

4. To serve, scoop ice cream into dessert dishes. Spoon sauce and bananas atop ice cream. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and peanuts, if desired.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Worcestershire-Glazed Vegetables

Last week, we did something that Joe absolutely dreads doing every fall: We put the grill away for the year. But before we put it away, we said goodbye to the grilled foods of summer in style: with gorgeous T-bone steaks, velvety baked potatoes, grilled banana sundaes (I'll share the recipe tomorrow), and these vegetables.

This vegetable medley, a mixture of zucchini, mushrooms, pearl onions and garlic, is one of our favorite pairings for steak during the summer months. It's a delicious side dish, and equally as yummy piled directly on top of the steaks themselves. The vegetables are already rich and earthy, but the Worcestershire sauce really adds something special and makes them unbelievably flavorful. You could absolutely cook the vegetables on the grill in foil packets, but I like the caramelization they get in a saute pan.

Worcestershire-Glazed Vegetables
source: Cassie

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium zucchini, sliced into half-moons
5 ounces button mushrooms, stemmed
1/2 cup pearl onions
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1. Melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add zucchini, mushrooms, and onions and cook until vegetables are tender. Add garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and red pepper flakes; cook and stir one minute.

2. Add Worcestershire sauce to vegetables. Reduce heat to low and cook until the sauce thickens and coats the vegetables.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Weekly Meal Planning

You'll notice a couple of changes to my meal plan this week as far as the categories go. Now that it's fall and we've put the grill away (while Joe hummed a funeral dirge), I'm changing Wednesday's category to "Free Night." This gives me a little bit of wiggle room to make something that sounds good but doesn't fit anywhere else on the menu, to force Joe to eat leftovers so they don't go to waste, or to not cook at all -- something that is starting to sound more and more appealing to me the further I progress in this pregnancy.

The second change is on Monday nights. The new category will be "Soup or Casserole," since we don't typically eat a lot of salads during the winter months (although we really probably should). I like the idea of preparing a casserole on Sunday and popping it in the fridge, then putting it in the oven when I get home from work on Monday and using the time I'd normally be cooking to just relax and play with Andrew.

I know I've said this before, but we are definitely entering the seasonal realm of MY KIND OF FOOD. And I'm totally not watching my caloric intake at this particular point in time, so I'm definitely going to indulge in some hearty, rich foods this season. You may feel your pants getting tighter just visiting my site. Fair warning.

There's not a whole lot of new stuff this week. I'm feeling the need for some tried-and-true household favorites. (And that also means, only one cookbook recipe this week. I don't know if I'm going to make it in time. Like Lisa, I may need to extend my goal to two years!)

Monday -- Soup or Casserole: French onion soup, roast beef panini. I'll leave the bread off the soup, so this meal will be like a deconstructed version of a French dip sandwich. Yum! We ate leftovers. Of which there were plenty.

Tuesday -- Pasta: Chicken alfredo with broccoli. I use jarred sauce, frozen broccoli, and half a rotisserie chicken, which makes this thoroughly semi-homemade. But it's delicious and ridiculously easy -- a winning combination in my book!

Wednesday -- Free Night: Baked chicken taquitos with creamy lime cilantro dressing, Mexican sour cream rice. As a bonus, both the taquito filling and the dressing can be prepared the night before, so Wednesday should be pretty low-stress for me. I'll use the other half of Tuesday night's rotisserie chicken for the taquito filling to save even more time.

Thursday -- Quick and Easy: Taco joes, Southwestern salad with leftover lime cilantro dressing. For the salad, I just combine iceberg lettuce with corn, black beans, shredded cheese, and homemade tortilla strips. If you're Joe, you add some jalapenos too. If you're me, you stay far away from those so as to avoid the ridiculous heartburn that will surely follow.

Friday -- Burgers and Fries: Guacamole bacon burgers, steak fries. Wow, Mexican food three nights in a row! Can you guess what I'm craving? (Besides Red Robin, which is where the inspiration for this burger came from.) We went to get Andrew's hair cut (his first, my baby is growing up, *SOB*) and ate out afterward. Stay tuned, though -- I will be making this burger soon!

Saturday -- Regional or International: Chicken cacciatore risotto We spent the day at an outdoor festival stuffing our faces with French fries, hot dogs, and spiced nuts (a delicious-sounding combination, I know), and by the time we got home I didn't feel like cooking and neither of us felt like eating. I was really look forward to making this, so I'll be sure to move it to a week in the future.

Sunday -- Comfort Food: Meatloaf, individual potatoes au gratin, green beans. Jessie swears by this meatloaf, so I thought it was high time I gave it a try. It sounds absolutely delicious. After a long day at the zoo (and much unhealthy food consumed), I once again didn't feel like cooking. We weren't really hungry for anything heavy, anyway, so we ate sandwiches and potato chips.

Weekend Breakfast: Egg, cheese, and tomato bagel breakfast sandwiches. I'll probably fry up some bacon for Joe's sandwich, too, just to satisfy his carnivorish tendencies.

Baking: Wait for it...pumpkin pie snickerdoodle bars. Do those not sound like the best thing ever? My mouth is watering already -- I can't wait to try them! Sigh. No time to make these this week, either. But I will be making them very, very soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Burger and Fries Friday: Manchego-Stuffed Pork Burgers

This week's burger is unique, flavorful, and absolutely delicious. It comes from a recent issue of Food Network Magazine, and as soon as I saw it, I marked the page. Given my love of burgers, I thought this one would be right up my alley -- and it was.

Joe hates black olives, but pimiento-stuffed Spanish olives are one of his favorite foods in the world. Since the flavor of Spanish olives features prominently in this burger, I knew he'd like it too -- and I was right. Usually when I make burgers, I only use a pound of meat, but I still separate the meat into four patties. Most weeks, only three of the burgers get eaten -- I eat one, Joe eats two -- and usually the fourth is wasted. (Sometimes Andrew eats a few nibbles of it, but he's not too crazy about the texture yet.) Tonight, though? Joe ate three burgers. So I know that he really, really liked this one.

I followed the recipe exactly, except I cooked the burgers inside, only used one pound of meat, and added some chopped flat-leaf parsley to the meat mixture to add a little bit of freshness. This one was definitely a hit in our house!

Manchego-Stuffed Pork Burgers
source: adapted from Food Network Magazine, August/September 2009

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup pimiento-stuffed Spanish olives
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 pound ground pork
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (go light on the salt; the olives are pretty salty on their own)
1/4 pound manchego cheese, broken into bite-size pieces
4 rolls, split
Pimientos, tomato, red onion, and/or lettuce for topping, if desired

1. Place the vegetable oil, olives, garlic, oregano, chili powder, paprika, coriander, cumin and allspice in a food processor; pulse until smooth. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and the parsley.

2. Mix the pork into the olive mixture; season with salt and pepper. Shape into four patties. Make a deep pocket in each; stuff with some manchego, then close the patty around the cheese.

3. Preheat a small amount of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook burgers until cooked through.

4. Brush the cut sides of the rolls with the remaining 1 tablespoon mayonnaise; broil until lightly toasted. Serve the burges on the rolls with your choice of toppings.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Baked Chicken Meatballs with Peperonata

This is yet another awesome recipe I found on Epicurious. Both Joe and I absolutely loved these meatballs. Soaking the bread in the milk kept the meatballs unbelievably moist, and the pancetta provided such a nice saltiness. The peperonata was delicious in its own right, too, a nice balance of salty and tangy and sweet, and it was the perfect pairing for the meatballs. I'm not going to lie, the pasta that we served this over? It's Pasta-Roni's butter and garlic flavored angel hair pasta. But it was absolutely delicious with this, and I do think this meal needed some kind of pasta to round it out. (And no, no one paid me for that plug; we just happen to be gluttons for Pasta-Roni.)

This took quite a bit of prep time, but it was definitely worth it. This was a flavorful, satisfying supper, and it will be going into our regular rotation for sure. I made the full recipe, and the leftovers were delicious piled on a sandwich for lunch the next day.

Baked Chicken Meatballs with Peperonata
source: Epicurious

For the peperonata:

3 red bell peppers, cut into strips
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons drained capers
1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

For the meatballs:

3 slices Italian bread, torn into pieces (1 cup)
1/3 cup milk
3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large egg
1 pound ground chicken
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon tomato paste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds.

2. Toss bell peppers with 1 tablespoon oil, then roast in a 4-sided sheet pan in lower third of oven, stirring occasionally, until tender and browned, about 35 minutes.

3. Stir together capers, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in a medium bowl and set aside.

4. While peppers roast, soak bread in milk in a small bowl until softened, about 4 minutes.

5. Cook pancetta, onion, and garlic in 1 tablespoon oil with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Cool slightly.

6. Squeeze bread to remove excess milk, then discard milk. Lightly beat egg in a large bowl, then combine with chicken, pancetta mixture, bread, and parsley. Form 12 meatballs and arrange in another 4-sided sheet pan.

7. Stir together tomato paste and remaining tablespoon oil and brush over meatballs, then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

8. Toss bell peppers with caper mixture. Serve meatballs with peperonata.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Zucchini Casserole

There are some dishes that just don't photograph well, and casseroles are included on that list -- as I learned over the weekend, when I was trying to take a decent picture of this zucchini casserole. So the picture may not look very appetizing, but I hope you don't let that deter you: This is one delicious casserole, and it's my favorite way to eat zucchini. I like this even more than I like zucchini bread, and that's really saying something.

This is my Aunt Mary's recipe, and I've been eating it ever since I can remember. I make it now exactly the same way the recipe is written, because this casserole doesn't need a single change in order to be delicious. It's creamy and buttery and flavorful and pretty much the very definition of comfort food. Not the healthiest thing in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but it's really hard to care about that once you've tried it.

Zucchini Casserole
source: my Aunt Mary

3 medium zucchini, sliced into half-moons
1 cup carrots, shredded, sliced, or chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 box stuffing mix for chicken
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Boil carrots and zucchini until vegetables are fork-tender. Meanwhile, prepare stuffing mix according to package directions, then stir in melted butter.

2. Stir together cream of chicken soup, sour cream, and black pepper in a large bowl. Add zucchini, carrots, and onion to sauce mixture and stir to combine.

3. Pour into a greased baking dish and top with stuffing. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Weekly Meal Planning

free logo designI know it's not "officially" fall yet, but the fact that it's September now is enough to make me want to get out my sweaters and light our pumpkin-scented candles and beg Joe to build a bonfire in the back yard. Plus, it's really starting to feel like fall around here. Fall is my favorite season for many reasons, and chiefly among those reasons is the food. Hearty soups and comforting casseroles, apples and pumpkins, CHILI -- it's my kind of food, and I'm definitely ready for it this year. As you can probably tell, my menu for the week reflects that.

Monday -- Soup or Salad: Since it's Labor Day, we'll be grilling out with Joe's family like we do every year. We'll be having a feast of hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, pasta salad, fresh fruit, homemade ice know, all the traditional cook-out goodies. We'll be saying goodbye to summer in style, and will mostly like be way too full to eat anything substantial for dinner.

Tuesday -- Pasta: Zucchini alfredo, parmesan knots (because we eat garlic bread way too much and I need another recipe in my arsenal)
The baby had croup and we were too exhausted to cook anything. So fast food was the solution, unfortunately. I will be putting this meal on the back burner, though, because I really want to try this pasta.

Wednesday -- Grilling: Steaks, baked potatoes, Worcestershire-glazed vegetable medley, grilled banana sundaes. This is probably the last time we'll be using the grill before we put it away for the year, so we're being pretty traditional this week and eating our favorite grilled meal. Plus dessert! I'll be sure to share the vegetable medley recipe -- it's so simple and flavorful and one of Joe's favorite ways to eat vegetables.

Thursday -- Quick and Easy: Crispy chicken wraps, potato chips. This is one of our favorite go-to meals. I just buy a package of fried chicken tenders from the deli counter, then heat them in the microwave and wrap them in four tortillas along with some shredded cheese (we usually use colby), shredded lettuce, and ranch dressing (for me) or buffalo wing sauce (for Joe). Quick, easy, and absolutely delicious.

Friday -- Burgers and Fries: Manchego-stuffed pork burgers, Spanish rice (-a-Roni. Cut me some slack, it's Friday!)

Saturday -- Regional or International: Lasagna, leftover parmesan knots. Joe's favorite meal, for the first (of many!) times this season. I'm looking forward to this dinner probably even more than he is, since pretty much anything containing red sauce = love to me right now.

Sunday -- Comfort Food: Biscuits over creamed chicken. One of my mom's specialties, and one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. I'm craving it fiercely this week.

Weekend Breakfast: Scrambled eggs in potato nests, sausage links

Baking: Vampire cupcakes, in honor of the True Blood finale on Sunday night. I'm sad my favorite show is ending for another season, but I'm so excited to make these cupcakes! My stepmom and stepsister, who come over every week to watch the show, are just going to love them. I'm also making my version of roasted red pepper dip to serve with pita chips (the finished product is more orange than red, but you get the idea -- you'll also get the recipe next week) and I might try my hand at these mini Texas sheet cakes, too (since most of this season took place in Dallas -- how clever am I?). It should be a fun evening!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Burger and Fries Friday: Cowboy Burgers

I'm sharing this week's burger tonight in enough time for you to add it to your Labor Day menu, which you should definitely do. I knew Joe would like it, since A.1. Sauce is one of his favorite things ever, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I'm more of a Worcestershire girl myself. I do, however, love pretty much anything containing caramelized onions, which was definitely the part of this burger I liked the most. As a wink and a nudge to Jessie's rodeo burger, I added some sliced banana pepper rings to our burgers, which only enhanced the flavor -- and added a nice crunch also. This burger would be perfect for a cookout; I'm definitely going to make it for our next one!

Cowboy Burgers
source: adapted from Kraft Foods

4 hamburger patties
Hamburger seasoning
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon A.1. Original Steak Sauce
4 hamburger buns
1 tomato, sliced
Banana pepper rings
4 slices American cheese

1. Season burgers on both sides with hamburger seasoning. Heat grill or large skillet over medium heat. Cook
burgers 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through.

2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; cook and stir 10
minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Stir in steak sauce.

3. Fill buns with tomatoes, burgers, cheese, onion mixture, and banana peppers.

Buffalo Chicken Minis

There's nothing fancy or complicated about these cute little sandwiches. The picture doesn't even look that exciting. All I can tell you is that these are a delicious choice for a quick and easy weeknight dinner. We ate ours with leftover pasta salad, so I think the entire meal took me about five minutes to prepare. And as a bonus, these are really yummy and sort of addictive. I'll definitely be making them again!

Buffalo Chicken Minis

source: adapted from Macaroni and Cheesecake, who got the recipe from Pennies on a Platter

1 rotisserie chicken (or 4 chicken breasts), shredded
3/4 to 1 cup hot sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
12 mini-buns
Ranch dressing for topping, if desired

In a medium saucepan, heat hot sauce, butter, and water. Add shredded chicken and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat until heated through. Serve on mini-buns and top with Ranch dressing, if desired.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Creamy Pasta Salad with Cheddar and Grapes

It seems like I've been making pasta salad a lot lately. Last week I shared my pesto pasta salad with you, today I'm sharing a new recipe I recently tried, and tonight I'm making my traditional pasta salad for a baby shower/potluck at work tomorrow. It's basic, but delicious, so I'll probably share that one with you too. At least I'm giving you options for your Labor Day festivities, right?

And speaking of Labor Day...The pasta salad I'm sharing today is definitely the one I will be serving at our annual cookout this year. I saw this recipe on Deborah's blog a few weeks ago and was instantly intrigued by the flavor combination. Cheddar cheese and grapes? It sounded so unusual, I just couldn't resist giving it a shot.

This is an awesome pasta salad. It's flavorful and creamy, and much to my surprise, the flavors all worked perfectly together. If anything, it could have maybe used a little less vinegar -- but then again, the pregnancy has probably just made me extra-sensitive to that flavor. I left out the ham, but I'll definitely add it when I make this for Labor Day; I'm sure it's just delicious in this. It was a big hit in our house, and we're having the leftovers with dinner. Since Deborah says this salad tastes even better the next day, I'm really excited to eat it again tonight!

Creamy Pasta Salad with Cheddar and Grapes
source: seen on Taste and Tell, adapted from

1 3/4 cups farfalle pasta
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons prepared Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
2 cups diced ham (omitted this time, but I'll use it next time)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 1/2 cups diced sharp Cheddar cheese

1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente. Drain, and rinse in cold water.

2. In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, sour cream, cider vinegar, mustard, sugar, black pepper, dill weed, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, combine pasta, grapes, ham, green onions, and cheese. Toss with dressing. Cover, and chill overnight or for at least 6 hours.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Skillet Lasagna

My latest craving -- they're changing so frequently these days it's hard to keep track -- has been for anything containing red sauce. One of my husband's constant cravings is for lasagna. And Andrew loves anything that involves tomatoes. So this skillet lasagna fit our menu this week perfectly.

We liked this a lot, and it will definitely be repeated in our house. It has all the flavor and feel of a typical lasagna, but it comes together so much more quickly. This is right up there with lasagna soup for my favorite alterna-lasagna recipe.

I added a couple of things to the recipe, which are reflected in purple below, but I'll make even more changes when I make it again. Joe and I both thought the red sauce was a little bland, so I think next time I'll use jarred spaghetti sauce instead of just plain tomato sauce to add some more flavor. I also couldn't find pre-packaged meatloaf mix at the store, so I used a full pound of ground beef, but I definitely missed the pork component. Additionally, I think this could use a little bit more red pepper, so I'd increase that ingredient to probably about 1/4 teaspoon.

This is perfect for a quick and easy weeknight meal, and it's pretty delicious to boot. Thank you, Donna, for sharing this recipe!

Skillet Lasagna
source: adapted from My Tasty Treasures, originally from Cook's Country

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I'd increase to about 1/4 teaspoon)
1 pound meatloaf mixture (8 ounces ground beef, and 8 ounces ground pork)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
8 ounces curly-edged lasagna noodles, broken into 2-inch lengths (10 noodles)
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce (I'd use jarred spaghetti sauce instead)
1 ounce parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
8 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Pour the tomatoes with their juice into a quart measuring cup. Add enough water to the tomatoes to measure 4 cups.

2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until softened,about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the meatloaf mix and Italian seasoning and cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

4. Sprinkle the noodle pieces evenly over the meat. Pour the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce over the pasta -- don’t stir. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.

5. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Dot heaping tablespoons of the ricotta over the noodles. Cover the skillet and let stand off the heat for 5 minutes.

6. Sprinkle with the basil and mozzarella and serve, passing the extra Parmesan separately.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Snickers Cookies

Most of you have probably visited Donna's blog, right? If you haven't, go ahead and click on over. I'll wait.

I love Donna because of her ah, um, unique and hilarious take on food and her awesome personality, which shines through so brightly in all of her posts. Not to mention the fact that her food always looks so amazing! I've bookmarked about a million recipes from her site to try, and this recipe for Snickers cookies is one of the ones I've been most excited to make. And I have to say, with all honesty, that these are probably the best cookies I have ever made. They taste exactly like peanut butter blossoms, but with the added bonus of a chocolatey, peanutty, caramely center. See?

Oh. SO GOOD. If loving these cookies is wrong, I never, ever want to be right.

What's awesome about these is that the dough requires chilling time, so I was able to start them on Saturday night after Andrew had gone to bed and finish them up the next morning. They were so easy to make and baked up absolutely perfectly. My stepmom, stepsister, and dad all raved about them, not to mention Joe and Andrew, who devoured them with gusto.

And now it's Tuesday, and there are only three cookies left. From a batch of 35. And I'm sure they'll be gone by the time I get home tonight.

It's dangerous for me to be in possession of this recipe.

Snickers Cookies
source: My Tasty Treasures

1 bag Snickers miniature candies (I used half a bag of regular Minis, and half a bag of dark chocolate Minis)
2 sticks softened butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs
1 teapoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Hersheys kisses, or any milk chocolate

1. Combine butter, peanut butter, and sugars using a mixer on medium to low speed until light and fluffy.

2. Slowly add the eggs and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Mix in flour, salt, and baking soda.

3. Cover and chill dough 2 to 3 hours up to a couple of days.

4. Remove dough from fridge. Divide dough into 1 to 2 tablespoon pieces and flatten.

5. Place a Snickers Mini in center of each. Form a ball around the Snickers Mini, taking care to cover it all.

6. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Adjust time as needed if using more than 1 tablespoon dough. (Mine took about 15 minutes.) Let cookies cool 1 to 2 minutes then remove to rack to cool completely.

7. Drizzle melted milk chocolate over each cookie in a zig zag pattern.

Artichoke Bread

I've had my eye on this bread for quite some time now, and I finally got the chance to make it last night. I'm so glad I did, because it was absolutely delicious! The artichoke topping is incredibly creamy and flavorful and pairs so perfectly with the crispy bread. It reminded me a lot of hot artichoke dip. I followed Megan's suggestion and sprinkled some chopped parsley on the top, and I loved the freshness it added. I don't really know what else to say about this bread; it was simply amazing and will definitely be repeated in our house!

Killer Artichoke Bread
source: Megan's Cookin', who got it from Smoky Mountain Cafe

1/4 cup butter

3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (I used colby because I had it on hand)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 French bread loaf (I used half an Italian loaf I had left over from a previous meal)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the artichoke hearts, cheeses, sour cream, and salt and pepper. Stir to blend. Remove from the heat and cool.

2. Slice the bread lengthwise. Spoon the artichoke mixture evenly onto the bread. Broil until cheese has melted and bread is hot. Top with chopped parsley and cut into slices.