One-Pan Four-Cheese Sun-Dried Tomato & Spinach Pasta Bake

Finally! A dish so incredibly delicious, and is meat-free so you can plan it for Meatless Monday!

The recipe fell into my lap courtesy of Half-Baked Harvest.  Here’s my finished result–read the recipe and scroll down for my personal tips, and then you gotta go make this yourself.

IMG_3519Tips:

1.  Skip adding the 1/2 cup of wine.  Add an extra 1/2 cup of broth, and then go drink the wine.  There is so much flavor in this dish, you don’t need the wine.

2.  If you like basil, double or triple the amount the recipe calls for

3.  I wasn’t paying attention and did the steps out of order.  The recipe suggest you combine all the dry ingredients (except pasta) and sort of mix it together and then add the rigatoni.  Instead, I dumped the pasta into my pan and then layered all the ingredients in order on top of the pasta–it worked just fine.

4.  As the recipe author points out, you can take liberties and add Italian sausage or your other pantry favorites: artichoke hearts, black olive, cannelini beans, and roasted garlic!

 

This recipe is good enough to make every week.  Try it!

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Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why she has hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.

 

 

I <3 Garlic and You Will, Too.

keep_calm_and_love_garlic_mugs
I have a love-love relationship with garlic, in that I love it fresh and I also love it roasted. I put it in nearly every dish I make and I’m about to make a case that you should, too.
Roasting garlic is not only simple to do, but roasting mellows the bite of raw garlic and adds savoriness to any dish.  Plus, garlic can also be good for you!  It’s known to boost our immune systems and contribute toward improved cardiovascular health as well as generally reducing exposure to vampires, thereby potentially extending your lifespan so that you have even more time to enjoy (what else?) garlic.
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No vampires were injured in the taking of these photos (this time).

I roast at least one head of garlic almost every Sunday for use throughout the week.  Instructions are thus:
1) Trim ends of cloves by placing head of garlic on it’s side and using a knife to slice the tips off, exposing a little bit of every clove.
2) Place head of garlic root side down in a casually formed “bowl” of tin foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper.
3) Close the pouch of tin foil over the head of garlic and place in oven. Usually “low and slow” is the best strategy, but you can throw it into an already hot oven anytime there is space for it.  Perhaps 45 minutes at 450 degrees, or 90 minutes at 350 degrees F.  You’ll know it’s ready when you open the foil and the garlic cloves have a browned, roasted, almost caramelized look to the tips and the cloves squish out when you apply pressure to the outside with your fingers. Squeeze all those cloves out and use immediately or refrigerate for another day.
4) When ready to use, place on cutting board and use the flat side of your knife to smoosh your soft roasted garlic clove(s) into mush, and then chop up as finely as you need it.
Uses for your new roasted garlic skill set:
> add to homemade salsa
> add to any hot or cold dip for chips–artichoke, spinach, Lipton Onion Soup mix dip
> add to home cooked chili or stew
> add to any pasta dish, especially one with jarred red (or white) sauce
> add to your baked pasta or to any casserole
> add to your au gratin potato dish
> add to your homemade or take-and-bake pizza
> mix into your meatloaf
> roasted garlic and mushroom risotto
> as a topping on your baked potato
> roasted garlic mashed potatoes
> roasted new potatoes with garlic
> macaroni (and roasted garlic) and cheese
> caramelized onion and garlic grilled cheese
> garlic bread or cheesy garlic bread
> naan with roasted garlic
> roasted garlic fried rice
> garlic & parmesan steak fries or tater tots
> roasted garlic & parmesan chicken wings
> roasted garlic and mushroom risotto
> cheese & roasted garlic quesadillas
> roasted garlic & asparagus, whole mushrooms or any other vegetable
> stir fried roasted garlic and fresh green beans, haricot verts or other vegetable
> garlic butter, on anything and everything
Did you know there’s even such thing as garlic ice cream?  The Stinking Rose–a legendary restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach and just a ten minute walk from the Embarcadero–is known to include garlic in every single item on the menu.  This restaurant alone goes through over three thousand pounds of garlic every month!  These are my people!
Not to mention the divinity that is a good garlic festival.  They’re all over the place every summer!  The must-see garlic festival in Arizona these days is at Queen Creek Olive Mill, but attending the Gilroy Garlic Festival is on my bucket list for sure.  I am so glad this is finally a thing.

IMG_2610If you do it right, everyday is a garlic festival.

Peace. Love. Garlic.

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Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why she has hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.

 

A Less Traditional Holiday

One of my favorite movies during the holiday season is- A Christmas Story. Remember when the dogs came through the house and ate the turkey? I love that the family then went on to celebrate their holiday dinner regardless… even if it was in a less traditional way at a Chinese restaurant! I don’t remember many untraditional holiday meals in my house growing up. My mother is an amazing cook. But I do remember a few. We ordered pizza from time to time. And now that I have my own family… I’m not as talented in the kitchen as my mom is. I love when our favorite restaurants have holiday menus. I can take the kids and celebrate without having to worry about dishes or cooking. They can start to associate the holiday season with time together around the table with me. It doesn’t really matter if it’s our table or not. The point is… we’re spending time together!

My kids love Denny’s. And I love Denny’s coffee :) Denny’s Season’s Favorites menu is now available and we’ll absolutely be creating new family memories around the table! I’m not a huge fan of Red Velvet but you might be! Be sure to try out the Red Velvet Pancake Puppies or new Red Velvet Milkshake! Do you love pumpkin? I do! There’s plenty of pumpkin in the new pumpkin pancakes! I’m most looking forward to the new Pumpkin Coffee! I’ll be sure to let you know if it’s available in the home brew varieties. You all know how much I love making Denny’s coffee at home! I’m planning on kicking off November with a nice fall holiday meal… The turkey and dressing dinner! It’s served with turkey breast, gravy, stuffing, cranberries, 2 additional sides and bread. The kids love the coziness of a turkey dinner :)

Vice President of Denny’s Marketing, John Dillon, says  “We believe that time spent at the table should be about making memories and being with your loved ones, which is why each year we strive to offer a hassle-free holiday celebration that combines the festive flavors our guests know and love, with the same value and variety that we provide every day.”

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The Season’s Favorites menu is only around for a limited time. Be sure you stop in your local Denny’s before it’s gone!

xo

Kelly

 

Disclosure: I’m a paid ambassador of Denny’s. This really excites me, because Denny’s was one of my first real jobs as a teenager! You can check out my first post in this series all about my real, authentic, love of Denny’s here. I’d never share about something I didn’t truly feel fondly about! xo -Kelly

That One Time That I Passed on the Fries…

Fries. I. Love. Fries. I love them plain. I love them with ketchup. I love them with beer. I love them with soda. I love them with burgers. I love them alone. I. Love. Fries.

In case you were wondering…. Denny’s has amazing fries. I took the kids to a Denny’s event last week and not only did they order fries… but we ordered jalapeno buttons! Deep fried slices of jalapenos! Oh. Yum. But… I digress. This is about that one time I didn’t order fries. It’s true! I ordered fruit! How novel!

This summer Denny’s launched a few new menu items! My favorite? The chicken salad sandwich! So much so… that I’ve tried to recreate it (scroll down for the recipe). I think I got pretty close to the Denny’s version… but I’m so lazy… I’d rather just head to my local Denny’s and order it! The Denny’s version is made from scratch with roasted, seasoned chicken and served on toasted 7-grain bread. It’s amazing.

Below… you’ll find my own recipe. Let me know if you try it out!

chicken salad

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boiled chicken cut up into little cubes
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup red grapes cut in half
  • ½ cup of chopped almonds (or walnuts if you prefer)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Instructions

Add the chopped chicken to a large bowl along with the celery, grapes, chopped almonds (or walnuts), mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Stir them all together until all the ingredients are evenly combined. Chill. Then eat! Yum!

 

Disclosure: I’m a paid ambassador of Denny’s. This really excites me, because Denny’s was one of my first real jobs as a teenager! You can check out my first post in this series all about my real, authentic, love of Denny’s here. I’d never share about something I didn’t truly feel fondly about! xo -Kelly

Recipe: Roasted Green Tomatillo Salsa

Newsflash: I do indeed make recipes which do not involve a slow cooker.  This is one of them.  I love my green salsa recipe and you will too.  Or scroll down to the bottom for a red salsa recipe which doesn’t taste “dumbed down” but is so full of shortcuts it’s embarrassing.

One nifty trick I learned from the Food Network is that you can turn your salsa into enchilada sauce by sautéeing it with a little flour (I’m simplifying–if you take that literally as the one step to make enchilada sauce, you will be a very dissatisfied, hungry person in the end).  But with that knowledge there are more ways to use this recipe–which is why I make a triple batch most of the time, because if I’m going through the trouble to roast vegetables and get the heavy blender down off the top shelf then I want to make it worth everyone’s while.

I’ve separated the ingredient lists into those for “roasting” and those “used raw”.  Partly because that’s how I remember what to buy at the supermarket without a written list and partly because I don’t have a single photo with all ingredients.

salsa 1Saturated with olive oil, salt the silent killer, and freshly ground black pepper.  Let’s do this.

Ingredients for Roasting:

  • ~1lb tomatillos, husked (one pound is about 1/3-1/2 the capacity of the baggie from the dispensers in the produce department)
  • 1 yellow (or white) onion, chopped into thick pieces or wedges
  • a couple gloves of garlic (yeah I used like ten cloves of garlic here)
  • 1jalapeno pepper, to taste.  Or three.  I used three.

Roasting Instructions:

  1. Organize ingredients on baking pan.  Drizzle with olive oil.
  2. Sprinkle with salt the silent killer and black pepper.
  3. Broil at 500° for 6 minutes.  Keep watching, it could take one or two more minutes before things start browning.  Then remove from oven.

 

Raw Ingredients:

  • one bunch cilantro, roughly chopped (some stem is okay)
  • one bunch green onion, sliced into thick pieces (your blender will pulverize them, so no need to spend the time to slice them shorter)
  • juice of one lime

salsa 2

Instructions:

  1. In a blender*, layer roasted tomatillos, onion, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, green onion & lime juice.
  2. Set blender to pulse, being mindful that a chunky salsa is sometimes preferable to a completely smooth, pureed salsa.
  3. It may require more than one batch in your blender–try to divide the ingredients so that a little of everything is in each batch, and then combine the mixtures.

*I used the Ninja Ultimate Blender for this recipe.  I included the top blade, which is what powers through chunky ingredients like the tomatillos.  This meant that my mixture spent less time at the bottom of the pitcher getting pureed and resulted in a slightly chunky salsa–which is ideal.  I will never use a regular blender again for this recipe.

 

salsa 3

salsa 4

Footnotes:

  1. If you’re a tomatillo novice: you’ll find them in the produce section, usually around the jalapeno and bell peppers, although tomatillos are not spicy.  They look like small green tomatoes covered in a papery thin, green husk.  They’ll roast more evenly if they’re all the same size.  Also, be aware that sometimes there can be dirt on tomatillos which can be rinsed off, but if a tomatillo has black specks which require scraping off, that’s mold.  And mold is no good.
  2. The recipe calls for a jalapeno, but you could use any pepper.  If I’m making salsa just for me, I use habanero or ghost peppers.  You could use a serrano, too.  I suggest starting with a jalapeno and see what you think.
  3. Before juicing your lime, nuke it in the microwave for fifteen seconds.  It loosens up the juices inside.  Thanks for the tip, Rachael Ray.
  4. If you have a Ninja Kitchen blender, use it for this recipe.  I’ve made this recipe for years using my regular blender (food processor works, too) and it does the job, but this recipe is just made for that dual blade on the Ninja.  So efficient.  It works like a dream.

salsa 5MOAR CILANTRO!

I love tomatillo salsa.  The tartness of tomatillos is so appealing, and I love experimenting with different spicy peppers.  If this all sounds fine and good to you but you just don’t have the time or inclination, I give you permission to forgo this recipe and try out my go-to recipe for red salsa which is laughably easy but still tastes like it’s homemade.

You don’t get pictures of this one.  It’s too easy.

You need:

  1. Two cans Ro*Tel Tomatoes & Green Chilies (found on the shelf with other canned, diced tomatoes)
  2. One bunch cilantro, washed and the bottom stems cut off (some stem is okay, just not the thicker, woody stems at the bottom)
  3. One bunch green onion (scallions), roots cut off and the rest roughly chopped into smaller pieces
  4. One jalapeño, stem removed, roughly chopped
  5. Juice of one lime

Put all ingredients into your blender on pulse until you’re satisfied with the consistency.  Add salt and black pepper to taste.  You’re welcome.

rotelThey did all of the hard work for you.

 

Link to your favorite salsa recipe in the comments, or if you have a favorite brand of salsa that you don’t just tolerate but you love, share that too!

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Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why they have hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.

m4s0n501

Slow Cooker Chicken Gyro Bowls

Earlier this month I found something new and tasty-sounding try on BettyCrocker.com: Slow Cooker Chicken Gyro bowls.  Greek food (“Greek food”, as I assume Greek cooks would be offended if I thought this was true Greek food–it’s tasty, though) at home which doesn’t involve something complicated like buying lamb, or owning a vertical rotisserie attached to a broiler–imagine!

One of the reasons this recipe intrigued me (beyond it calling for the use of a slow cooker, for which you already know I have a weakness), is that it calls for pre-packaged flour tortilla “bowls” as a shortcut instead of making or finding pita bread.   I don’t typically endorse any brand of product–despite including photos of the actual ingredients/brand names that I use in a recipe–but as far as I know Old El Paso is the only maker of these soft flour tortilla bowls, so I suppose I’m not endorsing them so much as informing you that this product exists and can add to the convenience of this meal.  (That link takes you to Amazon, because Old El Paso’s website doesn’t finish loading when one navigates to the product’s page.)

 

gyro bowls 1Recognize that micro-plane? I used it to grate garlic cloves this time, but I sold you on this tool way back when.

 

Ingredients for Chicken Mixture

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • juice of half a medium-sized lemon
  • 1/3 cup of water

gyro bowls 6Yeah, it doesn’t look pretty.  Trust the process.

Directions

  1. Put everything in your slow cooker.  Don’t forget your Crock Pot Condom.
  2. Six hours on low, or four hours on high.  Something like that.
  3. Upon completion of cooking, use metal tongs to shred and stir.  Throw in some extra red wine vinegar if it looks dry.  Mine did, so I did.

 

 

gyro bowls 2You can find the Stand N Stuff flour tortilla bowls in the Hispanic foods section at your grocer.

Ingredients for Tzatziki Sauce

  • 16oz plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 English cucumber (peeled, seeded, diced) (also see photo below)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, grated or finely minced
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

gyro bowls 3Pro-tip: After peeling the cucumber use short strokes with it on your grater, instead of dicing by hand.

 Directions for Tzatziki Sauce

  1. Combine all ingredients except olive oil.
  2. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the top.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

gyro bowls 4Two words: YUM!  (Okay–just one word.)

Finally:

  • Prepare sliced red onion, halved grape tomatoes, and feta crumbles to top off gyros.
  • Fill tortilla bowls with chicken, add a few tablespoons of Tzatziki sauce and condiments.
  • Enjoy!

gyro bowls 7

Footnotes:

»  I definitely suggest to avoid low-fat feta cheese crumbles–with the fat goes the flavor, and then the calories which remain are totally worthless because there’s no taste anymore.

»  The Tzaziki recipe calls for just a teaspoon each of dill & oregano but I didn’t find that to be nearly enough.  I probably put a tablespoon of each in my recipe before it finally tasted right.

 

This dish is a tasty one, plus fun for each family member to assemble for him- or herself.

Enjoy!

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Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why they have hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.