I'm just a busy wife and mom who loves to cook (and hates to clean up afterward), balancing the many hats I wear and trying to look cool, calm, and collected while doing it...

Oh, and I rarely measure anything when I cook, so consider yourself warned. Love good food. Try new things. Eat to your heart's content.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Keepin' It Simple (Caprese Pasta)

Tonight's dinner was about as simple as simple can be. It only took about as much time as it takes for water to boil and pasta to cook, and it was good!

After being a bum most of the day, I realized at about 5:45pm that I hadn't done any of the dishes from the day before... it happens. Frequently even. So when I started cooking at 6:25 I figured we'd be eating at 7:30. But nope, this recipe was prepped, cooked and eaten well before 7:30 rolled around.

It's food like this that *almost* makes me think I could handle being a vegetarian... but then I think about bacon. Which would be good in this. What isn't bacon good in?!

I love keeping it simple. Sometimes, that's just the best!

Caprese Pasta
1 Pkg. Angel Hair Pasta
6 Tbsp. Butter
4-5 Cloves Garlic, pressed
5 Roma Tomatoes, diced
10-12 Large Fresh Basil Leaves (Stacked on top of each other, rolled like a cigar, and thinly sliced cross-wise)
A couple handfuls of Parmesan Cheese
Fresh Mozzarella (I used the mini balls)
Salt and Pepper, and a drizzle of Olive Oil

Cook the pasta... While it's cooking, dice/chop, the tomatoes and basil, and melt butter in a skillet and add the garlic to cook it (but watch it, as garlic browns very quick).

Drain the pasta (never rinse it!) and put it back in it pot. Add the salt and pepper, tomatoes, and basil. Then pour the butter garlic mixture over it, and add your Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, mix,  and add the mozzarella last, so it stays in it's cute little ball shapes without melting too much...

And that's it. See... simple.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Really Soup-erb Knockoff! (Zuppa Tuscana)

Who DOESN'T love the Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden?! It's seriously one of my favorite soups. Ever.

While stalking people I know on browsing Pinterest, I came across this recipe for that glorious soup, and decided to try it, and make it my own by using slightly different ingredients.

It's so similar to Olive Garden's version, but I'm sure it's slightly better for you, as I used Fat Free half and half... not that it's healthy by any means. But it's hearty, and really, it's the heart that counts. Amiright?

Knockoff Zuppa Toscana
5-6 Italian Sausage links, casings removed (I used mild so my kids would eat it, but hot is great too.)
4 slices Thick Cut Bacon, cut into thin slices (so they'll be like bacon bits when they cook.)
1 small Onion, finely diced
4-5 cloves of Garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press.
4-5 small/medium Russet Potatoes, washed very well, with the skins still on.
1 32 oz. box Chicken Broth
2 cups Fat Free Half and Half
3 cup Kale, washed very well, main stems/veins removed and leaves torn into bite sized pieces.
1/2 tsp. Fresh Parsley, chopped
About 1 Tbsp. butter
Salt and Pepper
Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Red Pepper Flake (Optional)

In a large pot, cook the bacon and sausage until sausage is crumbled well and browned and bacon is crispy.

Add the onion and garlic.

Thinly slice the potatoes. If you have a mandoline that would be great. I used the Simple Slicer from The Pampered Chef, and it was so much quicker than trying to hand slice 5 potatoes thinly and evenly.

Add the potatoes to the pot, along with salt and pepper.

Add the box of Chicken Broth, and the FF Half and Half, and stir until it's all combined.

After it's come to a good rolling boil, let it cook until the potatoes are tender. You'll probably want to add a little more salt now too, since potatoes will absorb a lot of salt while cooking, taking it from the rest of the soup.

When the potatoes are all cooked through, and the broth looks has thickened a little, it's time to add the Fresh Parsley and Kale.

Now is when I add the little bit of butter, and about 2 Tbsp Parmesan. Cook until the kale is just slightly soft.

Top with more Parmesan and sprinkle of red pepper flake, and serve with fresh french bread.

This could easily serve 6, probably 8, depending on the hunger level of your crowd. I have no idea if it freezes... if you try it let me know if that works.

Happy Eating!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Easy Tortilla Soup

Just a quick post for tonight... I'm still working on another one, hopefully to be posted tomorrow.

Easy Chicken Tortilla Soup
2-3 boxes store-bought chicken stock (I use organic, only because it doesn't have any MSG or other preservatives)

1 medium onion,diced

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

Juice from 1 lime

1 bunch cilantro, chopped (Cilantro can be strong for some people, so add as much as you like according to your taste)

1 4 oz can diced mild green chilies, undrained

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained

2-3 cups rotisserie cooked chicken, shredded in to bite sized pieces (Or about a pound of boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size chunks)

dash of salt and pepper

Toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, diced avocado, and tortilla chips of course!

In a dutch oven or stockpot, combine all ingredients except for cooked chicken and cilantro. Bring to a boil. Cook until the veggies are tender, then add the chicken and cilantro, and continue at a boil until the chicken is hot. (If you're using raw chicken instead of rotisserie, put it in in the beginning and let it come to a boil with the rest of the ingredients.) Top with your favorite toppings and enjoy! 

(** Tonight I also added about four carrots and three celery stalks, chopped, about 3 Tbsp chopped green bell pepper, and about 1/2 tsp. dried oregano. You can also use any kind of broth/stock you have on hand... tonight I used beef and veggie stock, and it came out tasting as if I mixed albondigas soup with chicken tortilla... it was SO good! Oh and I also fried the tortilla chips up myself. It really does make a difference.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Homemade Bread... (using yeast!! *gasp*)

UPDATE: This bread is good right out of the oven... but hard as a rock and brick-like the next day. I suggest eating it quick. Otherwise it's gross! Next time I try making bread, I'll be using a better recipe for sure. :/

Last week the igniter went out in our oven. Eight days later, it was fixed. In those eight days, I don't know what came over me, but all I could think about was wanting to bake something. (So today I baked cookies two ways, then made dinner in the oven, and now this...)
I am not a baker. Probably because it takes measuring ingredients out, and if you don't get the chemistry right, things just don't turn out. Cooking is much more forgiving than baking, in my opinion, which is why i usually stick to that, and bake only on the very rare occasion, like holidays and birthdays. That, and I'm lazy.

Even more rare than me baking, is me using yeast when baking. It scares me. Scares me to the point where we had frozen rolls when I hosted Thanksgiving this year, which is just plain wrong. In fact, this is the very first recipe in which I've EVER used yeast. I don't know why it scares me, but it does.

Today I might have conquered my fear.

I baked bread.

While browsing Pinterest I came across a recipe for soda bread which led me to a blog where I got the original idea for this Easy Little Bread. This blogger stated that if you are afraid to use yeast, then this is a perfect recipe to start with. And it looked so very simple with only eight ingredients.

I did change it up just slightly, by using two cups of white whole wheat flour, instead of one cup AP flour and one cup whole wheat flour, and I only guessed on how much honey I added, but I'm sure it was more than one Tbsp. I also added about a 1/2 Tbsp of butter to the dough, brushed the top with melted butter in the last 4-5 minutes of baking, and did not put it under the broiler. The broiler is another fear of mine. But we'll save conquering that one for another day...

I can tell you it smells delightful as it bakes. I can also tell you that it is the most unattractive loaf of bread I've ever seen. Ever. It makes Sloth from The Goonies look attractive. That's how ugly this thing is. It's simple, dense and crumbly.

But it is good. With butter all over it while it's warm. And homemade strawberry jam from your neighbor (Thank you Deanna!!).

See, it is what's inside that counts.

Oat-Wheat Bread (For Beginners)

1 1/4 cups warm water (105-115F)
2 tsp active dry yeast (or one packet)
1 Tbsp honey
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
2 Tbsp butter, melted (1 1/2 Tbsp for coating the pan, 1/2 Tbsp to add to the dough) + extra for brushing on top
Preheat the oven to 350F, with a rack in the middle.

In a small bowl, add the yeast into the warm water and stir until the yeast dissolves. Set aside... the yeast will activate within 5 - 10 minutes. It will all of a sudden move... not quite fizz, but you'll know when it happens...  Then stir in the honey.

Meanwhile, mix the flour, oats, and salt in a large bowl. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir very well (I used my hands, hence the lack of pictures). The dough is very dry. Add the butter toward the end of stirring, and this will help get the last dry bits incorporated.

Brush a 9 in. loaf pan very generously with the melted butter. Put the dough into the pan and pat gently to disperse it evenly. Cover with a clean, slightly damp cloth or paper towel, and set in a warm place for 30 minutes, to rise. It's not going to rise much. Just enough to kind of fill in the pan a bit.

Bake the bread for 35-40 minutes, until golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan.

Remove from oven and spread or brush more melted butter on the top. Put it back in the oven for 4-5 more minutes.

Remove from oven, and turn the bread out of the pan right away onto a rack (so it doesn't steam in the pan).

Serve warm, with butter (and jam!).

Makes 1 loaf.