Friday, September 28, 2012

Jalapeno Popper Wontons

I absolutely love my in-laws, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to say that. Not only are they a fabulous, fun group of people, they're also very good (and creative) cooks. They are definitely my sort of people. I always look forward to holidays with them, because I know the food is going to be just as fantastic as the company.

When we got together for a Labor Day cookout recently, Joe's grandma and cousin were on the same page when it came to their appetizer offerings. Joe's grandma made an incredible jalapeno popper dip, and his cousin walked in with a casserole dish full of jalapeno popper wontons, announcing, "If you want any of these you'd better get them now, because I ate five of them on the drive here." Once I tried one, I could see why: They were absolutely delicious and addictive. So addictive that I had to make my own version of them at home.

Now, I'm sure there are a lot of recipes out there for these, but here's what I did. I decided to fry my wontons rather than bake them (like Joe's cousin did), because I like a really, really crispy texture. For the filling, I used cream cheese, shredded cheddar, and fresh jalapenos, and I sprinkled the wontons with coarse salt when they were finished frying. I thought about adding bacon to the filling, but in hindsight (I can't believe I'm saying this...) I'm glad I didn't. I think the bacon would have made them too heavy.

With the measurements below, I had enough filling to make an entire package of wontons. They take some time to make, it's true, but to say they're worth it would be a massive understatement. These wontons are a perfect football snack, a real crowd-pleaser, and I know I'll make them over and over again.

Jalapeno Popper Wontons

1 package refrigerated square wonton wrappers
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
3 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Vegetable oil for frying
Coarse salt

1. In a bowl, combine cream cheese, jalapenos, and cheddar cheese. Arrange wontons in a single layer on a baking sheet.

2. Add 1 teaspoon of the filling to the center of each wonton (don't overfill them). Dip your fingers in a bowl of water and run your wet fingers around all edges of each wonton. Fold the wontons over the filling, pinching the edges to seal to make a triangle and removing any air bubbles.

3. Fry wontons in batches in hot oil until browned and cripsy. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with coarse salt. Serve warm.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Vanilla Bean Chocolate Chip Muffins

My younger son is a muffin nut. The child has never met a muffin that he didn't like. He asks for them all the time, and it's gotten to the point where nearly every time I head towards the kitchen, he's trailing after me asking, "You makin' me muffins, Mama?" He recently asked me to make him some vanilla muffins, and since it is impossible for me to resist the big brown eyes and sweet little voice of my baby, I gave in.

Loaded with vanilla beans, vanilla yogurt, and vanilla extract, these muffins are absolutely bursting with flavor. The milk chocolate chips of course work perfectly with the vanilla, and the muffins themselves have a light and fluffy texture. I served both of the boys a warm muffin with just a bit of butter melted over the top, and they were very happy little guys. Hopefully these muffins will quell Will's muffin mania for a couple of weeks -- but I doubt it!

Vanilla Bean Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
2 tablespoons vanilla yogurt
1 cup milk chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In separate bowl, whisk the egg, butter, milk, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, and yogurt. Fold into the flour mixture. (If the mixture's too dry, add a little bit more milk or yogurt.) Once the batter is fully combined, stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Fill each tin two-thirds full. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until the muffin tops are golden.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta

So, if you follow me on Instagram and/or Twitter you already know this, but...I started running back in August. I'm on week six of a Couch to 5K program, and I'm loving it. No one is more surprised by this than I am! I'm not a gym girl, so I decided to give running a shot as a form of exercise, and it's just perfect for me. It doesn't take too long, I can do it independently without feeling like people are staring at me, and I'm building up endurance and pushing myself to do more and go further on a gradual but consistent basis. It feels great! I have a long way to go and I'm super slow, but I'll get there.

I'm also burning some calories, which means that I can occasionally indulge in meals like this one. I mean, with an entire block of cream cheese, a pint of cream, and ham and bacon, this is far from healthy eating. It is, however, absolutely delicious. A little bit goes a long way, too, so you'll have leftovers for at least a couple of days -- and when the leftovers taste this delicious, you won't mind eating them at all. I think I may actually prefer this recipe to traditional chicken cordon bleu. The weather is getting a little chillier now, which is the perfect excuse to try this hearty, comforting pasta!

Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta
adapted from Chef in Training

1 pound penne pasta
2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups shredded swiss cheese, divided
2 chicken breasts, cooked and diced
4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
3/4 cup diced ham
1 tablespoon olive oil or melted butter
1/2 cup Italian-style bread crumbs

1. Cook pasta according to its package's directions. Drain.

2. Heat cream cheese on stove over medium low heat until melted. Stir in heavy cream. Stir until completely combined. Add onion powder and garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in 1 cup of cheese until it's melted and smooth.

3. In a greased 9 x 13-inch casserole dish, layer noodles, chicken, bacon and ham. Pour the sauce over top. Sprinkle top with 1/2 cup cheese. Stir together olive oil or butter and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top of the cheese.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes until hot and bubbly.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Three Delicious Mexican Sides

I have three delicious recipes to share with you today. I think it's apparent by now how much I love Mexican food, but I always struggle with what, if any, side dishes to make to go along with my quesadillas/tacos/enchiladas/burritos/etc. My default choice is always this Mexican sour cream rice, which my entire family loves, but I've been wanting to branch out for a while. Here are three side dishes I've tried recently that I think would be perfect with any Mexican-themed meal.

I'm a huge fan of the rice served at Mexican restaurants, but I've never been able to duplicate it successfully at home -- and forget trying the packets from the store, which don't even remotely come close. This recipe for Mexican rice is as close as I've ever come to the flavor of Mexican restaurant rice. It has just the right texture and almost the perfect flavor. I did think the tomato flavor was just a little bit too strong, so I've reflected a reduced amount in the recipe below.

I've seen recipes for elote (Mexican streeet corn) all over the internet for a long time now, so I finally decided to try it. I'm only sorry I waited so long to try it! My family all loved this corn. The salty, pungent cheese was perfect with the sweet corn and the creamy sauce.

And finally, I'm not trying to be bossy, but I'm going to tell you right now to TRY THIS BREAD. You need it in your life. It's basically a Mexican version of garlic bread, kicked up a few notches with some sour cream and cilantro. It's so good, I just...I can't even. There are no words.

The next time you're making a Mexican meal, try one (or some, or all) of these recipes out. I think you'll really like all of them!

Mexican Rice
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 cup of long grain white rice
2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 tablespoon of lime juice, from about 1 lime
2 teaspoons cumin
Salt to taste

1. In a medium-sized pot, add rice and chicken broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir. Cover the pot, lower the heat to low and simmer for 17 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and keep the pot covered for 5 more minutes.

2. While the rice is cooking, heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook the onions in the hot oil for 10 minutes, until translucent and starting to brown. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the tomato paste and cumin and cook for another minute or two. Mix in hot, cooked rice and lime juice. Mix until well combined. Season to taste with salt. Serve immediately.

adapted from Our Best Bites

4 ears corn
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup crumbled cotija cheese 

1. Cook corn by method of choice. While it’s cooking, combine mayo, sour cream, lime zest, lime juice, chili powder, and pinch of salt. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

2. Grate cotija cheese with a fine-hole cheese grater and place on a plate.

3. When corn is finished cooking, immediately spread sauce all over it and then roll corn cob in grated cheese. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing and extra chili powder or cayenne sprinkled on top if desired.

Mexican Cheesy Bread
Cassie Craves recipe

4 bolillo or hoagie rolls, split
4 tablespoons butter, softened
4 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

1. Slice rolls in half and place cut side up on a baking sheet. Broil until toasted.

2. Combine butter, sour cream, cheese, garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper, and cilantro. Slather the mixture on toasted rolls, edge to edge, and return to broiler until the topping is heated through. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nutella Cheesecake Crescents

I'll be honest: I just don't buy the idea of Nutella as a healthy breakfast food. I know it's made with skim milk and all that, but the fact that it is basically a chocolate-hazelnut spread definitely makes me consider it more of a dessert. It should be noted, however, that just because I don't think of Nutella as breakfast food doesn't mean I won't eat it as breakfast food. That's where these Nutella cheesecake crescents come in.

In this recipe, crescent rolls are wrapped around Nutella and cheesecake filling for a sweet breakfast treat. The original recipe calls for them to be turned into twists, but my crescent rolls weren't agreeing with me that day and the whole twist thing didn't happen. I just molded them into breadstick-like shapes, which worked fine and was much less fussy. The filling is sweet and creamy and rich. They're definitely best served warm right out of the oven. The boys went nuts over them, and the adults thought they were delicious too!

Nutella Cheesecake Crescents
adapted from Inside BruCrew Life

2 cans refrigerated crescent rolls
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons Nutella

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla until creamy. Unroll the crescent rolls and separate into triangles. Press two triangles together to form a rectangle. Spoon a large tablespoon of Nutella down the right side of the center. Repeat with a large tablespoon of cheesecake filling down the left side of the center. Fold the edges of the rolls over the filling. Press the seams together at the middle and the end. Flip the roll over so that the seam is underneath. Press together any seams that come undone.

3. Bake for 11-13 minutes, or until light brown. Let cool slightly on a wire rack before serving.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Chicken and Pesto Twice Baked Potatoes

I'm having a serious case of the Mondays. Yesterday I had a terrible allergy flare-up, so I was stuffy and miserable and sneezy and by bedtime I could bear it no longer, and I took a nighttime decongestant to help me sleep. You know how those things are. They help you sleep, yes, but the problem is you still feel half asleep for the entire next day. I never learn my lesson. But hey, at least my allergies aren't flaring up anymore!

I have no good segue into this recipe, but I just had to tell you about my moment of stupidity. Let this be a warning to you: Don't take a nighttime decongestant if you have to be productive the next day.

On to the potatoes, yes? I rarely make twice-baked potatoes, because I just don't have an hour and a half to make dinner during the week. I decided to give these a whirl one weekend, though. What I love about them is that, with the addition of chicken, they're actually a main dish in one neat little potato package. The flavors are great, and the filling is nice and creamy (sometimes it can be too dry). Add more liquid than you think you need, because the potatoes can really soak it up. My boys thought these were really fun, and my husband enjoyed them too, so they were definitely a winner in my house.

Chicken and Pesto Twice Baked Potatoes
adapted from Sunny Side Up

2 large Idaho baking potatoes
Olive oil and kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup half and half
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup prepared pesto
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded

1. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper.

2. Scrub the outside of the potatoes really well, then pat dry with paper towels, prick each potato with a fork 6-8 times, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle each potato with about a teaspoon of oil and use a pastry brush to evenly distribute over surface then sprinkle with kosher salt. Flip the potatoes and repeat on the other side. Bake for an hour to an hour and a half, or until they are tender when pricked.

3. When the potatoes are close to being done, heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute for 3 to 4 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the half and half and broth. Stir well and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. After the sauce has simmered, add the pesto and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

4. Once the potatoes have finished baking, cut them in half lengthwise. Carefully scoop out the insides, leaving a thin shell around the edges, then return the shells, open side up, to the baking sheet. Place the potato guts in a bowl. Use a fork to slightly mash the potatoes. Pour the sauce into the bowl with the potatoes and stir to incorporate. Taste again for seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste. If the mixture's too dry, add more half and half or chicken broth. Add the cooked shredded chicken and stir.

5. Fill the potato shells with the filling, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese, and return them to the hot oven for 10 minutes, switching to the broiler for the last minute or so if the cheese hasn’t yet started to turn golden brown.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Creamy Baked Ziti

I love September so much, you guys. I know I'm not alone in this. It's just such a magical month, a time of fall decorations and sleeping with the windows open and the return of hearty, rich dinners like this baked ziti.

Unlike most baked zitis, this one doesn't use ricotta cheese. Instead, it uses a combination of sour cream and cream cheese. It's not traditional by any means, but it's so delicious that I highly doubt you'll mind that in the least. The sour cream and cream cheese together make the ziti so creamy and provide such a tangy, irresistible flavor. It's a creamy, cheesy delight, and I think you should definitely make it for dinner this weekend.

Creamy Baked Ziti
adapted from mocha me

1 pound dry ziti pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound lean ground beef or Italian sausage
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
2 26-ounce jars of your favorite spaghetti sauce
8 ounces sliced provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, divided

1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add ziti pasta and cook according to package directions; drain and return to pot. Add butter and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and stir to combine.

2. In a large skillet, brown the onion and ground beef or sausage over medium heat. Drain excess fat. Add garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add spaghetti sauce and simmer until slightly thickened. Taste for seasoning and season with salt and pepper (and any additional seasonings you like).

3. Stir together cream cheese and sour cream in a small bowl.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Add about 1 cup of the sauce to the bottom of the dish and spread evenly. Layer as follows: half of the ziti, the provolone cheese, the sour cream/cream cheese mixture, half of the sauce mixture, remaining ziti, mozzarella cheese and remaining sauce mixture. Top with remaining 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.

5. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes in preheated oven on top of baking sheet. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Skillet Penne with Chicken and Broccoli

I don't have a lot to say this morning. I'm still trying to recover from a trip to Kings Island yesterday with my kids. Going to an amusement park with kids is fun, but also absolutely exhausting. I have a new appreciation for what my parents must have gone through when they took my brothers and sister and me!

So, today: a meal that speaks for itself. I absolutely love meals like this. The ingredients are so humble, but the flavor is just outstanding. The pasta soaks up the rich broth, which packs it with delicious flavor. This meal is also pretty healthy, and since it all cooks in one pot, the clean-up is a breeze. My kids loved it, and so did Joe (after he squirted it with about half a bottle of Red Hot; I swear, that man puts hot sauce on everything!). I may need to make this tonight, because I certainly don't have the energy for anything more involved!

Skillet Penne with Chicken and Broccoli

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups water
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
8 ounces penne pasta
8 ounces broccoli florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, plus extra for serving

1/ Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken in a single later and cook, without stirring, until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Stir chicken and continue to cook until nearly cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm.

2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter to now-empty skillet and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and oregano and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in wine and simmer until nearly evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in water, broth and penne. Increase heat to medium-high and cook at a simmer, stirring often, until penne is nearly tender, about 12 minutes.

3. Stir in broccoli and cook until penne and broccoli are tender and sauce has thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in chicken, along with any accumulated juices and cook until warmed through, about 1 minute. Off heat, stir in Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Triple Layer Mocha Brownies

Is it just me, or do four-day work weeks always seem longer than regular work weeks? I love a good holiday weekend to be sure, but the four days of work preceeding or following it always seem to drag on and on. So I'm definitely glad it's Friday, because I'm ready for the weekend for sure. I'm definitely feeling tired today. Granted, this could have something to do with the fact that I had two glasses of wine last night then stayed up past my bedtime giggling over the corny joke app on my phone (Q: What does a vegetarian zombie eat? A: Graaaaains. Come on, that is comedy cold, people!), but I'm tired nonetheless.

I've already enjoyed my customary cup of coffee this morning, but I think I could use another one...or maybe one of these brownies. There's coffee in every layer, so I think one of these would be enough to propel me through the rest of the day.

These brownies are absolutely delicious: dense and chocolaty with the perfect coffee flavor. Coffee and chocolate complement each other so well, and it just doesn't get better than these brownies.

Just for fun, leave me your favorite corny joke in the comments!

Triple Layer Mocha Brownies
adapted from The Curvy Carrot

For the brownies:

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons strong brewed coffee, cooled
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the coffee buttercream:

1 tablespoon strong brewed coffee, cooled
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

For the chocolate-coffee ganache:

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon strong brewed coffee, cooled

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. To make the brownies: In large mixing bowl, beat the sugar, eggs, vanilla and coffee. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; add to batter and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into a greased 8-inch square baking pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

3. To make the coffee buttercream: In the bowl of your standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer), beat the coffee, cream, and butter on medium speed. Add powdered sugar and mix until smooth. If the mixture is too thin, add more powdered sugar in 1/2 cup increments. If it's too thick, add more coffee until it reaches the desired consistency. Spread the frosting evenly over the cooled brownies.

4. To make the ganache: In a small saucepan, heat the coffee, cream and the chocolate chips over low heat, stirring frequently, until smooth and slightly thickened. Let cool to room temperature before frosting. Once smooth, frost the brownies with the chocolate ganache.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Crunchy Black Bean and Spinach Tacos

If you're looking for a different and delicious twist on tacos that's slightly healthier than the norm, here's your recipe! I mean, yes, the tacos are still fried in oil -- but they're loaded with black beans and spinach, so I'm of the opinion that all of the good proteins and vitamins in those ingredients outweigh the whole "fried" thing.

I'll be honest: These tacos took a bit of work; they're not nearly as easy to put together as they look. Obviously combining the ingredients was a cinch, but frying them was challenging. The filling wanted to come out when the tacos were flipped, and they had to be fried in batches, meaning that the oil temperature had to be regulated. It was all a little messy, but the delicious result was completely worth it. (If you don't want to mess with it, you could always use hard taco shells, but the flavor of the fresh tortillas is really so much better.)

These tacos are endlessly adaptable, and I have a feeling once I get the method down, I'll find them really simple too. Joe and I both really enjoyed them, so I'll definitely be making them again!

Crunchy Black Bean and Spinach Tacos
adapted from Endless Simmer

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
Half of a red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt to taste
3 cups baby spinach leaves
1 1/2 cups pepper-jack cheese
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
8 corn tortillas
Salsa, sour cream, avocado, etc. for serving

1. In a small saucepan, heat one tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Stir in black beans, cumin, chili powder, and spinach leaves and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the mixture is slightly thickened and the spinach is wilted. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste. Mash lightly with a fork or potato masher.

2. In a large, non-stick skillet or cast iron skillet, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil (more, if needed to coat the pan) and heat over medium-high heat.

3. Add one corn tortilla at a time and let each get hot in the oil for a few seconds. Then add about 1/4 cup of the bean filling to one half of the tortilla. Top with a sprinkle of grated cheese.

4. Using a spatula, carefully fold the tortilla over so it forms a shell. Press down lightly on the tortilla so it holds its shape.

5. As the first tortilla cooks, move it to the side and do a second one. Depending on the size of your pan, you should be able to get 2 or 3 tacos at once. When flipping the taco to cook on the other side, use a spatula and flip the taco toward the fold so the filling doesn’t fall out.

6. Cook each taco about 3 minutes per side, or until they're nicely browned and crispy. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve with desired taco toppings.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vegetable Tortellini Bake

This is one of those recipes you can modify to include whatever vegetables you have on hand, and it's going to be delicious. In my case...well, I used pretty much All The Vegetables: zucchini, summer squash, bell pepper, carrots, peas, mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes. Since my boys love pasta so much, I thought I might as well sneak a ton of veggies into the sauce so they'd eat them along with the tortellini. Success! I'm telling you, that method rarely fails.

I adapted this pretty heavily from Better Homes and Gardens. Their method, to me, just seemed needlessly complicated. In addition to upping the amount of veggies, I also removed the chicken called for in the original recipe (this dish doesn't need it; it's hearty enough), used half whole-wheat tortellini, and added pesto to the sauce. The result was a hearty dish that somehow doesn't seem heavy, and one that's healthy and delicious too.

Vegetable Tortellini Bake

2 9-ounce packages refrigerated cheese tortellini
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini, sliced into half moons
1 medium summer squash, sliced into half moons
6 ounces button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
1/4 cup pesto
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13 x 9-inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Cook tortellini in boiling salted water; drain.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet. Add carrot, onion, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, and bell pepper and cook until vegetables are fork-tender. Add garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the milk and chicken stock to the vegetables and heat until bubbling. Add cream cheese and stir until melted. Add pesto and stir until fully combined. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.

4. Add the cherry tomatoes and the sauce mixture to the reserved tortellini and stir to combine.

5. Pour mixture into prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbling.