A New Squash Appreciation

When I was a little girl and was given squash for dinner, I had a couple of different ideas on how to handle this undesirable vegetable.  None of them included eating it.  I either dropped it on the floor for the dog to eat, left it on my plate until it was much to cold to eat or my favorite was to mix it with cranberry sauce and pretend I was eating peanut butter and jelly.  I said it was my favorite idea, just not a good tasting one.

Over the years, I tried in vain to acquire a taste for it.  I would think I liked the way it was prepared but when I ate it or tried to make it myself it had that same appeal that it had when I was a child.  I felt I would never grow to like squash, in any form.

Lately, however, I have been venturing out and a desire for different types of squash is burning.  I have had it pan-fried in hash and roasted in soups.  When I was at the market the other day, I went totally out of the box and picked up a spaghetti squash.  I didn’t even know how I was going to prepare it, but I knew I was going to do something!

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Imagine the odds when a couple of days later I came across this recipe from Half Baked Harvest’s blog for Roasted Garlic Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Boats.  I immediately went out, bought my ingredients and prepared my version of her recipe.

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I was totally amazed!  This had everything I loved about lasagna but was made with squash.  Could it be?  Could I actually have found a squash that I really loved?  I think the answer was a big yes.  I can’t really call this a healthy meal because of the cheese in it, but I do have to say it’s slightly better than eating a dish of lasagna.  Squash versus pasta equals a healthy alternative, so we have a partial win with this one.

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To make this easier if you’re in a pinch you can always use your favorite jarred sauce and for the cheese sauce, just layer parmesan and mozzarella cheese as you would in the traditional recipe.  If you do have the time however, go all out and do it as the recipe states.  It is so worth it.

Take it from a former squash hater.  This is one recipe you’ll keep!

Dinner for one

There are all forms of entertaining.  Of course there are the big parties, dinners and events.  There are also smaller and more intimate settings when you have another couple over or it’s a special dinner just for the two of you. You plan, you do the shopping, the preparation and then hope everyone oohs and ahhs.  It’s validation for the work and time you put into it and you go to sleep thinking everything was worth all the effort.  But have you ever thought of putting that same effort into a dinner for one?

What do people do when they eat alone?  I know when I was single and just starting out, dinner usually consisted of a bowl of cereal or a bag of popcorn.  I never thought of making an effort for myself.  I’m going to assume that a lot of single people have the same way of looking at things as I do.  We just do whatever is the easiest.

Tonight however, I changed my mind about things.  My husband was going to play cards with the guys and I was going to be alone for the evening.  In the past I would have eaten something I could just grab.   Not that there is anything wrong with a bowl of cereal or grabbing what ever is in the refrigerator at the moment, but I decided with the lifestyle changes we are making in our home I should make the effort and do the same for myself as I would anyone else that would be eating dinner in my home.  I was going to make myself a real dinner.

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I was inspired by a recipe in Bon Appétit that sounded so good, but my husband wasn’t as excited about this meal as I was.  It calls for adding lobster to pasta.  What was I thinking?  Doing something with it other than boil it and dip it in butter?  It was the perfect opportunity to try this…and I’m so glad I did!   Not only was this very tasty, it was also relatively easy.  The lobster was still tender and sweet with a nice spicy complement from the pasta and sauce.

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You could of course do this meal for your guests and still get the oohs and ahhs.  They won’t know how easy it was or that most of it could be done in advance.  Or you could wait until that one night when you’re sitting all alone and don’t want a bag of popcorn for dinner.  Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy your own company.  It’s worth the oohs and ahhs you’re going to give yourself.

 

Smokey Chicken Stuffed Shells

It seems like I’ve been out of commission for a little while, although it’s only been a week.  I have no excuse except the cool crisp air has made me want to go to bed earlier.  It’s darker in the morning when I wake up and darker in the evening so my evenings feel shorted.

What is great about this however, is I love the Fall!  I want to have a fire in the fireplace, wear sweaters and cook comfort food.  I’m seriously ready to wear jeans and boots but living in the south I feel ridiculous doing that now….especially when everyone else is still wearing shorts and flip-flops.

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The one thing I can do when it’s colder in the evening is make a satisfying dinner that makes the soul warm.  That usually involves some form of pasta because I am apparently a carb freak, but in trying to make it semi healthy, I have adapted this recipe so I don’t feel so guilty.

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Leaves are changing color, nights are cool and despite the fact that your neighbors are still wearing flip-flops, you can still enjoy the Fall with comfort.  That will include a satisfying dinner.

So turn up the air, put on a sweater and enjoy!

Smokey Chicken Stuffed Shells

Course Entree
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 4 links chicken sausage ( I use the garlic and roasted red pepper from Whole Foods)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed chopped basil
  • 1/2 cup chopped fire roasted tomatoes, drained
  • 1 12 ounce package jumbo pasta shells, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 ounces chopped roasted red pepper, drained
  • 4 ounces chopped fire roasted tomatoes, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Instructions

  1. Remove the chicken sausage from casings and cook over medium heat, breaking into small bite size pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Add onion, garlic and paprika and cook for 2 more minutes. Add tomatoes and basil, mixing in well and set aside.

  2. Mix together ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, beaten egg, Add chicken mixture and combine well.

  3. Stuff cooked shells with chicken and cheese mixture and place in a baking dish.

  4. Bring the oil to medium heat in a saucepot. Sweat the onions until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sweat until fragrant, about one more minute. Stir in the peppers and tomatoes. Simmer for 5 minutes. Working in batches, process the sauce on high in a food processor until smooth. Return the sauce to the pot, reduce the heat to low and whisk in the cream. Remove the heat an stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

  5. Pour sauce over pasta shells and top with grated parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbly and hot.

  6. Serve immediately.

Dinner Made Easy

Like many people, my husband and I try to watch what we eat.  We never buy processed food and for the most part,  I shop the perimeter of the grocery store.  But with our schedules it makes it hard to do all the time.  Sometimes I get home late, or Peter does.  Let’s face it, there is just ever enough time in the day to do all we need, much less make a healthy meal all the time.

This is what I call a compromise.  It was quick and easy, but semi healthy and so tasty!  It really all began because I wanted Haricot Verts or what is known as French green beans.  It almost became an obsession, I was thinking about them so much.

I had a nice fish dish planned but then my crazy week began and I just didn’t have the time I thought I was going to have.  I had to come up with a new game plan.

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This was so easy to put together, didn’t take any time at all and the nice thing is, you can modify it however you would like to fit your own tastes.  It really makes for a great, but easy dinner.

So the next time you come home and need a quick meal.  Try this because you’ll love the taste and not feel guilty.

Happy eating!

Roasted Caprese Pasta

Sometimes, even though it’s the middle of a hot summer,  I want some comfort food.  Although I love grilled veggies and fruit, salads and fish, there comes that time when I just want a dish of pasta.  Typically this time of year is just too hot for that.

We had two weeks of high temperatures and humidity and just when I thought I was at the breaking point we got a cool day.  Well, if you can call 79 degrees cool.  But it was the break I needed and that craving of pasta came crawling back into my brain.

I didn’t want a heavy pasta dish because it was after all still summer.   And then it hit me….. fresh tomatoes from the garden, homemade sausage and mozzarella from our trip to NYC,  with fragrant basil from my herbs..  My version of a caprese pasta was born.

it was substantial enough to meet my requirements of comfort food and yet light enough to still follow the rules of summer eating.  I felt like I had wrapped up in a comfortable sweatshirt and it made me happy.

We all need a break sometime, even if it’s about the weather.  Take advantage of it next time you get one.  You’ll be glad you did!

Roasted Caprese Pasta

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 6 Large heirloom tomatoes, seeded and rough chopped
  • 1 Large clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 pound pasta of your choice (you can use any type you like best)
  • 1 small onion or 1/2 large onion, sliced thin
  • 5 links grilled sweet sausage, sliced
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced
  • 6 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 20 basil leaves, chiffonade (chiffonade is when you roll the leaves up together and slice)

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees F.

  2. Toss chopped tomatoes and garlic with 1/4 cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper. (you could add red pepper flakes at this time if you want it spicy)

  3. Place on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until slightly charred. Set aside.

  4. Heat pasta in salted water according to package directions. Make sure the water tastes like sea water. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.

  5. Place sliced onions in a pan with 1 tablespoon oil and cook slowly over medium low heat until caramelized and slightly browned.

  6. Return pasta to pan and add sliced sausage, roasted tomatoes, diced mozzarella, caramelized onions, chopped sun-dried tomatoes and reserved pasta water. Stir everything together until well combined. Add basil and stir again to combine. Taste for seasonings.

  7. Top with grated parmesan if desired and serve immediately.

Lobster Mac and Cheese

There are those days where nothing seems to go the way you want them to.  Sometimes the world is caving in around you and all you want is a good book, a blanket, probably a glass of wine and that comfort food you always turn to in times of trouble.  For me, that comfort has always been macaroni and cheese.

It was always one of my favorite meals when i was little.  Maybe because I didn’t like a lot of what my mom would cook, but this was one thing that I really did.  When I went off to school, I didn’t cook myself, so when I wanted to feel like I was home again, I would make that mac and cheese in a box.  Economically delicious, with that touch of home that I needed.

So last weekend, I was seriously thinking macaroni and cheese when my husband suggested we buy a lobster for dinner.  Of course I always love lobster, but I wanted my comfort food.  And then the light bulb went off over my head and I realized I could have my cake and eat it too, or in this case make Lobster Mac and Cheese.   It was delightfully decadent and comfy all at the same time.

There is nothing better than a good book, a blanket and a glass of wine to make me feel better.  Oh yes…and a nice bowl of Lobster Mac and Cheese.   It’s just like a big hug from your mom, telling you that everything will be okay.

And it will.

Lobster Mac and Cheese

Prep Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 2 pound lobster or two 1 1/4 lb lobsters
  • 1 pound penne or pasta of your choice
  • 1 quart heavy cream
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 cups Gruyere cheese, plus more for topping
  • 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • Hot sauce (to taste, I use Frank’s Hot Sauce)
  • Worchestershire sauce, to taste
  • 1/2-1 cup crushed potato chips

Instructions

  1. Cook lobster(s) in boiling salted water approximately 10 minutes. Remove lobster and reserve 1 cup of the water. Discard the rest of the water and allow lobster to cool to room temperature, remove shell and chop lobster meat into large chunks. Set aside.

  2. Add enough salt (I usually add about a palm full of salt) to 10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to directions. Drain and set aside.

  3. In the same pot, add the heavy cream. the crushed garlic and the reserved water.. Bring to a simmer and add Gruyère cheese and Dijon mustard, stirring until cheese is well blended. Add cheddar and parmesan and continue stirring until all cheeses have melted and are blended with the cream. Add hot sauce and Worcestershire, adding more for personal taste. Season with salt and white pepper. (you can use black pepper but I don’t like to see the specks in this dish) Add pasta and remove from heat. Let rest for 10-15 minutes. Remove garlic and add lobster meat, stirring to mix.

  4. Place in either a casserole dish or individual au gratin dishes and top with more cheese and crushed potato chips. Heat in oven until bubbly, approximately 15-20 minutes.

  5. Serve immediately.

Chicken Bang Bang

It all started with a little fillo cup appetizer filled with chicken, scallions and a kicking peanut sauce.  I’ve made these many times and from what I’ve heard,  always gotten great reviews.  I think it’s because the flavor combination is crunchy, creamy and spicy all in the same bite

The other day, my friend Karen and I were discussing lunch ideas for a couple of things she was working on and my little appetizer cup came up. She mentioned that it was too bad that it wasn’t a meal.

That made me think.

I thought it was a great idea.

It can now be considered an entrée.

And that is one reason I love cooking and you should not be afraid of it.  You can take an idea from one little thing and turn it into something that is completely different and yet, still so incredibly good.  All it takes is a thought, a conversation or a suggestion and you can run with it and make it your own. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t turn out well.  Make it again or change it.  It’s all about trying new things.

You could even change this recipe.  Try shrimp with it, thicker noodles, different vegetables or spices to increase the heat a little…whatever you like to make it your own.  Just don’t be afraid.

Send me pictures and let me know what you did.  I would love to see the ideas that you come up with!

Happy eating!

Chicken Bang Bang

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 10 wonton wrappers, cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil plus 2 tablespoons
  • 8 Tablespoons smooth peanut butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, grated (easier to do if frozen)
  • 4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 sirracha or tabasco (can add more for extra heat)
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced very thin
  • 1 small bunch of baby bok choy, chopped
  • 1/2 package angel hair pasta or sesame noodles
  • 1/4 (or more) cup pasta water
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely sliced on a diagonal to make sharp spikes

Instructions

  1. heat vegetable oil in heavy duty pan over medium high heat. Fry wonton wrappers in hot oil until golden brown. Remove, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

  2. Combine peanut butter, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, soy sauce and sirracha and mix until you have a smooth sauce. Set aside.

  3. Cook pasta according to instructions and set aside.

  4. Heat oil in a saucepan. Add red peppers and bok choy and toss for 1-2 minutes until heated through but still tender crisp. Set aside.

  5. Pound or filet chicken breasts so that they are about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick. Season chicken well with salt and pepper. In the same pan, cook chicken on medium high for 2-3 minutes on each side. Let rest for 10 minutes and slice.

  6. Add peanut mixture to pasta. Add chicken and then vegetables on top, add scallions and fried wonton strips.

Lobster Linguine with Lemon and Basil

On most weekends, sitting over breakfast, my husband and I look at each other and ask what we’re going to have for dinner.  It was no different this past Mother’s Day Sunday.  My children were not here to cook for me, and I didn’t want to go out for dinner.  My only other options were to have my husband cook dinner which probably would have consisted of steak on the grill, or to cook it myself.  I obviously decided to cook it myself.

The nice part of cooking for yourself on Mother’s Day is that you get to choose what you want.  And my husband got to do the shopping.  I wish everyday was like that!  Anyway…it was cold for May 12th so we were thinking of something comforting, but I really wanted lobster.  I could have done Lobster Mac and Cheese, because let’s face it…that is the ultimate of comfort foods.  However, we were trying to go a little healthier so it was crossed off my list of choices.

And then it hit me.  I had seen a recipe for a shrimp and pasta recipe that had previously caught my eye.  I could adapt it and use the lobster.  And so I did with some minor experimental changes.

And it was good.

You can use shrimp if you prefer but I think the lobster added a bit more richness to it.   You can also cut out the butter and wine to make it even more healthy if you choose.  This is one of those recipes you can add and subtract to make it your own.  Experiment a little,  I think this is one of those dishes that will always come out tasting yummy.

So the next time it looks like you might have to cook your own celebration dinner…..embrace it.  You’ll be glad you did!

Lobster Linguine with Lemon and Basil

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 1 2 lb lobster
  • 6 ounces linguini or fettuccine
  • small palm of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup red, yellow and/or green bell pepper strips
  • 1 cup fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • shredded lemon peel from 1 large lemon
  • 8 shredded lemon peel from 1 large lemon
  • 1 large lemon, juiced
  • 1/8 cup basil, chiffonade (this is when you take several basil leaves, roll them and slice)
  • lemon wedges (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cook lobster in a pot of boiling water for approximately 7 minutes

  2.  Remove lobster meat from shell and chop into bite size pieces. set aside.

  3. Cook pasta according to package directions.

  4. In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter and olive oil together. Add pepper strips and stir about 2 minutes, or until tender crisp.

  5. Add asparagus and garlic and cook an additional minute. Salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Add wine to mixture and stir.

  7. Add lobster, green onions, lemon zest and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

  8. Add pasta and basil ciffonade

  9. Transfer to serving plates and garnish with lemon wedges and more basil if desired.

Roasted Fennel and Sausage Orecchiette

Pasta has always been one of my favorite go-to comfort foods.  it’s probably not the best thing for my diet, but on a cold night there is nothing better.  For someone like me, however,  the basic tomato sauce can be a bit boring so I’m always trying to find something that ranks a little higher on the taste thermometer.

I think I found something.

This had everything I was looking for…ingredients that could stand alone individually on flavor, lots of color and it was not your typical spaghetti and red sauce.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to go over with my husband…he is after all, a sauce man and you typically cannot change is mind.  The pressure was on…..

I adapted this from Giada’s cooking show.  One of the things I changed was the sausage.  You can use whatever sausage you like but I opted for a sausage made at Whole Foods.  Chicken sausage with red peppers and garlic..  One of their best in my opinion with a lot of zest and flavor.  And for me, I roasted the fennel just a bit longer than the time given, only because I like mine a bit more charred.

The aroma when cooking this meal was amazing, the colors were beautiful and the taste was so flavorful.  I don’t think my husband even realized there wasn’t a sauce.  I must have changed his way of thinking because he went back for more!

I love this meal and I think you will too.  Pair it with a nice salad and some crusty bread and you’ve got a comfort food that your guests will all enjoy!

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