Friday, May 23, 2014

Recipe Rewind: Rigatoni with Grilled Peppers and Onions

Memorial Day cook-outs are all about The Meat. We know this. BBQ chicken, brats, burgers, hot dogs...We load the grill up with all of it, and we go for it

But may I suggest that, this year, you leave a tiny bit of space open for some bell peppers and onions, and make this pasta dish to go alongside all of The Meat? I promise you won't be sorry.

I first made this pasta years ago, and it was long overdue for a reappearance here. This is one dish that's every bit as delicious as it is gorgeous. It's hearty enough to serve as a vegetarian main dish, but it's also a perfect side dish. The flavor of the grilled peppers and onions, especially in combination with the basil, is just fantastic. 

This is perfect summer food: It's healthy, simple, and oh-so-satisfying.

Rigatoni with Grilled Peppers and Onions
from Real Simple
2 medium red onions, sliced into rings
2 large sweet bell peppers, cut into quarters
Olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper
12 ounces (4 to 5 cups) rigatoni
1 bunch spinach, stems trimmed, or one 5-ounce package
1 cup (about 3 1/2 ounces) grated Parmesan
3/4 cup basil leaves, thinly sliced

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high. In a large bowl, toss the onions, bell peppers, oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Grill, turning occasionally, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into bite-size pieces.

2. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta, and return the pasta to the pot. Add the grilled vegetables, spinach, the reserved pasta water, and 3/4 cup of the Parmesan to the pasta and toss to combine. Top with the basil and the remaining Parmesan before serving.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chicken Parmesan Ravioli

It's just a fact that some of the best meals I make are afterthoughts -- things that I throw together only with ingredients I happen to have on hand. Inevitably, those meals are uncomplicated and prepared with straightforward ingredients, and my family always loves them. 

This chicken parmesan ravioli is a perfect example of that type of meal. I had a bunch of random ingredients on hand that I'd purchased for a dish I never got around to making -- so I made this with them instead. Breaded chicken nuggets, cheese ravioli, tomato sauce, and some chunks of fresh mozzarella and chopped basil tossed in at the end...I think I liked this version better than classic chicken parm, and judging by the way my family inhaled it, I don't think they had any complaints either.

Chicken Parmesan Ravioli

1 pound chicken tenders, cut into chunks
1 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
Vegetable or canola oil for frying
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1 package frozen cheese ravioli
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into chunks
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade
Shredded parmesan cheese

1. Place the breadcrumbs, flour, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese in a plastic freezer bag. Dip the chicken chunks in egg, then add to the bag and shake to evenly coat. 

2. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Fry the chicken in batches until crisp and cooked through. Remove to a baking sheet and place in a warm oven while you prepare the rest of the meal.

3. Meanwhile, heat the spaghetti sauce over gentle heat in a medium pot. Cook the ravioli according to package directions; drain.

4. Return the ravioli to the hot pot. Add the heated sauce, the reserved chicken pieces, the chopped mozzarella, and most of the basil. Stir gently to combine.

5. Sprinkle each serving with additional basil and parmesan cheese.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sriracha Beef Tacos

As much as I love to cook, I frankly just don't have the time or the energy lately to make dinners that take a lot of time. The Cassie of Spring 2014 is giving the side eye to the Cassie of Fall 2013 (the girl who made chicken noodle soup completely from scratch and bolognese sauce for days) and wondering just who the heck that girl was, and how the heck she had that much time. Cassie of Spring 2014's days are filled with work deadlines and soccer games and tee-ball games and a multitude of social activities that I am committed to, whether I like them or not. So dinner's gotta be easy. And fast.

These tacos take about 15 minutes to make, start to finish, so they fit into my current food philosophy perfectly. They're just ground beef tacos, yes, but they're taken to a completely new level with the addition of sriracha (one of the world's best ingredients, in my opinion). The sriracha is spicy, but ranch dressing and avocado provide just the right amount of cool creaminess to take the edge off. They're fabulous and simple, and a fun and delicious take on taco night.

Sriracha Beef Tacos
adapted from A Taste of Home Cooking and originally from Sweet Beginnings 

1 pound ground sirloin
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion , finely chopped
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons sriracha, divided

1/2 cup ranch dressing
8-10 flour tortillas
Shredded cheddar cheese

Chopped tomatoes
Shredded lettuce
Sliced avocado 

1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onions and cook for 1-2 minutes, until softened. Add sirloin, stir to combine, and cook until browned. Add water, chili powder, cumin and 1 tablespoon sriracha to the meat mixture. Stir, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.

2. While taco mixture finishes cooking, combine ranch dressing and remaining 1 tablespoon sriracha in a small bowl. Set aside.

3. Warm flour tortillas; spoon taco mixture into tortillas and top with cheese, tomato, lettuce, avocado, and sriracha ranch sauce.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bagel BLTs

Can we all agree that it's pretty hard to improve upon a BLT? I mean, it's a classic for a reason, am I right? That being said -- I still find it fun to make new and different versions. So when I saw a bagel BLT in a recent issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray, I had one of those immediate I need that nowwww!! moments. I think we had these for dinner the very next night. 

Let me tell you guys, this is an absolutely delicious take on the BLT. Garden veggie cream cheese is one of my favorite food items in the world (I've been known to spread it on Ritz crackers and call that dinner), and it works so well on this sandwich -- with the bacon, in particular. Something about the creamy cheese and the crisp, salty bacon is just absolutely perfect. 

And, with only 5 ingredients and 15 minutes of cook time? I. am. smitten.

Bagel BLTs
adapted from Rachael Ray

12 slices bacon
4 bagels, split and toasted
Garden vegetable cream cheese 
8 lettuce leaves
4 slices tomato

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the bacon on a broiler pan; bake until crisp, 15 minutes.

2. Slather each side of the bagels with a thin layer of the cream cheese. Top each bagel bottom with three slices bacon, two lettuce leaves, and a slice of tomato. Season with salt and pepper and add the bagel tops.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Grilled BBQ Chicken Sandwiches with Brown Sugar Grilled Onions

If there is one thing that our incredibly long winter did to me (aside from making me curse a lot more than usual and start dreaming about moving to a warmer place), it made me pine for grilled foods of all kinds. Pretty much the second that the weather finally turned warm for good, Joe replaced the grill's propane tank, and we started cooking outside more often than not. We have been grilling All The Things, and these sandwiches are one of our recent favorites.

I had a craving for BBQ chicken sandwiches with pickles, and then I thought, why not add some onions to those sandwiches? And why not coat those with brown sugar and grill those, too? And why not add tons of cheese and, also, why not butter the buns and grill those as well? Sometimes I love the way my mind works. 

Grilled BBQ Chicken Sandwiches with Brown Sugar Grilled Onions

4 chicken breasts
1 cup Italian dressing
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 1 orange
2 teaspoons chili powder
BBQ sauce

1 large sweet Vidalia onion, sliced into thick rings
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

4 sandwich buns
Sliced pickles

1. In a large food storage bag, combine the dressing, Worcestershire, orange juice, and chili powder. Add the chicken, close the bag, and toss to combine. Marinate for 1 hour, up to overnight.

2. Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Toss together the onion rings, olive oil, brown sugar, and salt and pepper in a bowl.

3. Add the chicken and the onions to the grill. Cook until the onions are tender and charred and the chicken is cooked through. Brush both sides of the chicken generously with BBQ sauce.

4. Top each of the chicken breasts with a pile of the onions. Add 1/4 cup cheese to each breast. Close the grill and let the cheese melt.

5. Butter the buns and add them to the grill, cooking until crisp and fragrant. Serve each chicken breast on a bun with pickles and mayonnaise.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Restaurant-Style Salsa and Queso Blanco Dip

Monday is cinco de Mayo, and there is one thing I know for sure: I am going to be ready for a margarita at the end of it. Bright and early Monday morning, I'm chaperoning Andrew's kindergarten class field trip to the local science center. I'm sure it will be fun, and also that it will be stressful. I will definitely be ready for a siesta instead of a fiesta by the end of the day.

When I was looking through my saved Mexican recipes (and there are a lot of them!), searching for something to share to celebrate this fun holiday, it didn't take me long to settle on these two. This is the best restaurant-style salsa I've ever tried, and this is the best queso dip I've ever made. And I firmly believe that they are both required elements of any good Mexican spread.

The salsa is spicy, with awesome tomato flavor and the perfect texture and consistency. The queso is...Well, there are just no words to describe the queso, really. It's incredible. I'm telling you, you're going to love both of these recipes -- especially if you eat them together over tortilla chips. Mmm.

Restaurant-Style Salsa
from The Pioneer Woman 

Two 10-ounce cans diced tomatoes with green chiles
One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 whole jalapeno, quartered and sliced thin, with seeds and membrane
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 lime, juiced

1. Combine the diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, cilantro, onions, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, salt, sugar and lime juice in a blender or food processor.

2. Pulse until you get the salsa to the consistency you like, about 10 to 15 pulses. Test seasonings with a tortilla chip and adjust as needed.

3. Refrigerate the salsa for at least an hour before serving.
Queso Blanco Dip
1 1/4 (1.25) pound block white American cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup diced green chiles, from a can
2 pickled jalapenos, chopped
1 ounce pickled jalapeno juice
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup cold water
1. Toss all ingredients into a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 5-7 minutes, stopping to stir after every minute. The mixture might seem watery during the first few stirs, but should come together as a nice runny dip after all the cheese is melted.

2. Serve immediately as a dip with tortilla chips.