Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cajun Chicken Pasta (Chili's Copycat)

If you like Chili's Cajun Chicken Pasta, you'll love this copycat version! Cajun spiced chicken is sliced and nestled in creamy Alfredo sauce - weeknight friendly and crowd pleasing.

Occasionally, we order Chili's take-out. It's convenient and frankly, darn tasty! I'm a total sucker for their chips and queso (my copycat version here!) but occasionally venture beyond the carb & cheese bonanza and order a dignified meal. Like cheesy pasta. Ha!

Their Cajun chicken pasta has been on the menu for years - and for good reason! It's tasty! My Chili's is now charging $11.29 for a bowl of this pasta and you can make it for the entire family for much less than that. And, it's quick and easy for a weeknight!

Not a fan of spice? Just decrease the Cajun seasoning - it'll still have loads of flavor. 

Chili's Copycat Cajun Chicken Pasta
8 ounces dried penne pasta
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to directions on box. Drain and set aside.

Place the chicken in a gallon sized resealable plastic bag. Add Cajun seasoning, seal, and shake to coat chicken evenly.

In a skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add chicken and saute, turning occasionally, until cooked through. Remove from skillet and thinly slice.

In a separate skillet, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk until smooth and bubbling, about 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in heavy cream and let cook until thickened and smooth, another 5 minutes. Stir in lemon pepper, black pepper, and garlic powder. 

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir well. 

You can either add the cooked chicken slices right into the pasta (what I did) or top each serving with it. 

Serve with chopped tomatoes and shredded Parmesan on top. 

Source: adapted from

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cheesy Taco Stuffed Poblanos

I'm BACK!!

This summer has been especially wild and I can count on one hand the amount of dinners I cooked at home over the last 2.5 months. This humble blog is my hobby, born entirely out of my love for cooking and new recipes, so it sorta comes to a screeching halt when I don't have time to spend on cooking. My last major summer activity ended last week and I have loved being in the kitchen the last few nights.

These stuffed peppers was one of the few meals I made over the summer and man, were they are a hit! Mild poblano peppers are the PERFECT vehicle for taco meat and cheese. They are so tasty you won't miss the carbs!

Summer may be winding down but we have plenty of grilling weather left so crank up the grill and treat yourself to a plate of these. They aren't spicy - I promise - just flavorful and delicious.

Cheesy Taco Stuffed Poblanos
8 large poblano peppers
1 pound ground beef
8 ounces shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons taco seasoning + 1/2 cup water

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef until cooked through. Drain any excess fat. Stir in the taco seasoning and 1/2 cup water. Simmer until the water has fully absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside.

Carefully cut the top off each pepper so it can be put back on the pepper like a cap. Be careful to not cut into the pepper.

Remove and discard the seeds and membranes from inside the peppers and the cap.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and lightly grease the grates.

Divide the cheese and meat into 8 equal portions. Layer the cheese and meat inside the peppers, ending with a layer of cheese. Put the cap back on each pepper and secure with toothpicks.

Grill the peppers, rotating every 5 minutes or so, until the exterior is well charred, the cheese is melted, and the flesh is soft.

Source: See Aimee Cook

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meyer Lemon Butter Burgers

These burgers are my FAVORITE burger recipe to date! The Meyer lemon herb butter is stuffed inside the patty before grilling. While it cooks, the butter melts throughout the patty resulting in the most flavorful and moist burger you'll ever taste.

Burgers are perfect for weekend BBQ's for a reason: they are inexpensive, fast, and crowd pleasing -  which means they are also perfect for a busy weeknight! The butter, nestled into the burger patty, sends these burgers over the top - so much that you'll likely never grill burgers without it again. The lemon lends a bright fresh taste, perfect for a summer dinner. It's like a pop of unexpected flavor! Whip up the butter the night before, leave it in the fridge to chill, and it'll be ready to go the next day. Easy peasy.

Can't find Meyer lemons? No worries! Just use regular lemons.

Meyer Lemon Butter Burgers
6 tablespoons butter, room temp
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon fresh Meyer lemon juice or regular lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated Meyer lemon peel or regular lemon peel
1.5 pounds ground beef (preferably 15%)
Hamburger buns
Toppings: sliced cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, etc.

In a small bowl, mix together the butter, all the herbs, lemon peel, and lemon juice until well combined. Season with salt and pepper. Measure out 1/3 cup butter and transfer it to a sheet of plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap as aid, form the butter into a 3 inch log. Wrap to seal and place in the fridge until firm (if making this at the same time as the burgers, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes).

Divide the meat into 4 equal parts. Form each piece into a ball and, using your thumb, make a deep wide indentation in the center of each ball.

Slice the butter into 4 pieces and flatten them slightly. Press a butter piece into the indentation on each patty and seal the meat around the butter, completely enclosing it.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and oil the grates. Sprinkle both sides of the burgers with salt and pepper and grill until cooked through, 4-6 minutes per side. Spread the remaining butter on the cut sides of the buns and grill the buns until slightly charred, about 1 minute per side.

Source: Bon Appetit magazine

Friday, June 20, 2014

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake (Nothing Bundt Cake Copycat)

There's a reason why Nothing Bundt Cake stores are nationwide - they are amazing! By far the moistest and more intensely flavored bundt cake I've had to date. I finally found a recipe that is a dead match for the real deal, which is perfect for someone who no longer lives in the same city as a Nothing Bundt Cake. The richest, moistest, most delicious chocolate bundt cake you'll ever make. Load it up with homemade cream cheese frosting and you'll think you've died and gone to heaven!

While the big cakes are delicious, I'm a fan of the bundlet - I love having my own mini-bundt cake to enjoy. I made a huge batch of these bundlets to test out and brought the best ones to work for sampling. Over the years I've brought tons of goodies to work and these were hands down the most quickly devoured of them all.

Make this and I promise people will be begging for the recipe. It's that good!

This recipe can be used for a large bundt cake pan or baby bundts. Directions for both are below. 

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cake
For the cake:
1 box chocolate cake mix (I used Pillsbury Moist Supreme Dark Chocolate but any version will work)
1 box instant chocolate pudding
1 cup sour cream
4 large eggs
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1.5 cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the icing:
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
3-4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a bundt pan or mini bundt pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, eggs, water, and oil with a beater. Once well mixed, blend in the mini chocolate chips. 

Pour the batter into your bundt pan or, if using a mini bundt pan, spoon the batter about 3/4 of the way full in each cavity. For the regular bundt pan, bake for 45-50 minutes. For mini-bundts, bake for 15-20. Remove from oven and let cool for 20 minutes before removing from the pan. 

In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla and then gradually add powdered sugar until desired consistency. Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag or ziplock, cut off the corner, and pipe onto the cake(s) before serving.

*It tasted best the next day so if you have time, cover the cake(s) well and store in the fridge overnight. Frost right before serving. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Grilled Maple Chipotle Pork and Smoked Gouda Grits

Smoky, sweet, and spicy! This dish is impressive enough for company but easy enough for a weeknight meal. One bite and you'll be putting it back on the menu over and over again.

I'm sure I've mentioned a million times how much I love grilling. The taste of food fresh off the grill is something that just can't be replicated in the kitchen! But more than that, a grill means less dishes, a cleaner kitchen, and quick cooking. While I grill year round, my grill gets multiple uses during the summer months. I just combed through the recipes I have waiting to be blogged and 100% of them are meals that I grilled!

You could easily make this dish in the kitchen if needed though I think grilling the pork ramps up that smoky flavor and pairs so well with the BBQ sauce. While your pork grills, you can whip up the cheesy grits and have dinner on the table in 20 minutes! If you're sensitive to heat, scale back the chipotle pepper. Even a teensy bit will add a huge dose of smokiness that you will love so don't cut it out completely.

Psst - No one can ever use an entire can of chipotle peppers at one time! So, after you use a couple peppers for this recipe, add a pepper + sauce to each compartment of an ice tray. Stick in the freezer until solid, crack and remove from the tray, then store frozen cubes in a freezer bag until you need a chipotle pepper & sauce again. Just thaw what you need!

Grilled Maple Chipotle Pork and Smoked Gouda Grits
For the pork:
1/2 cup barbecue sauce of your choice
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced *see note above
4 boneless pork loin chops
salt and pepper to taste

For the grits:
4 cups milk
2 cups quick cooking grits
2 cups shredded smoked Gouda
3 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Whisk together the barbecue sauce, maple syrup, and minced chipotle peppers. Pour half in a small bowl and reserve the remainder for serving.

Salt and pepper both sides of the pork and and grill, covered, 9 minutes on each side or until 155 degrees at the thickest part, basting with half of the BBQ sauce mixture during the last 5 minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring 4 cups water and 4 cups milk to a boil in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in the grits, salt, and pepper. Cook, whisking often, 5 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat. Whisk in the smoked Gouda and butter until well combined. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place a piece of pork on a mound of grits and ladle with reserved BBQ sauce mixture over top.

Source: adapted from Southern Living Magazine

Friday, June 13, 2014

Honey Raspberry Chicken Skewers

Sweet, sticky, and super easy! These chicken skewers are sure to please even the pickiest eaters in your family! Perfect for a quick weeknight meal or a weekend gathering around the grill. Best part? It uses pantry staples you likely already have on hand.

I'm a big fan of the grill. Not only does it keep my kitchen cool, grilling also means less dishes! I'm a year-round griller but I definitely ramp up during the spring and summer months when the fresh produce is begging to be grilled. And if I'm grilling veggies, I might as well grill the entire meal!

Chicken is probably a staple on most of our menus regularly and who isn't looking for a new way to prepare them? These are so simple. Throw them in the marinade the night before, come home from work, thread them on the skewer, and whisk together the easy glaze while they grill.

20 minutes, start to finish. My favorite!

Honey Raspberry Chicken Skewers
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-3 inch cubes for skewers
salt and pepper, to taste
For the marinade:
1/2 cup raspberry jam
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper
For the glaze: 
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons raspberry jam

Salt and pepper the cubed chicken and place in a large ziplock bag. In a small bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients. Pour over the chicken, seal, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

Whisk together the honey and jam and set aside.

Heat your grill to medium-high heat and oil the grates. Thread the marinated chicken onto skewers and grill for 5 minutes, or until one side is browned with good grill marks. Brush on the glaze and flip. Cook another 5 minutes, brush on the glaze, and flip again. Check for doneness; the juices should run clear and the chicken well browned on all sides.

Remove from heat, brush on any additional glaze, and serve.

Source: The Plaid and Paisley Kitchen 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Southern Eggs Benedict with Tomato Gravy

A delicious southern inspired twist on the traditional brunch favorite! Fluffy biscuits topped with crisp bacon, poached eggs, and tomato gravy. This tomato gravy takes this breakfast over the top!

One of my favorite restaurants in Asheville is Early Girl Eatery. Their food is fantastic and very reasonably priced. Last year, I tried their eggs Benedict and it was covered in this delicious tomato gravy that was absolutely amazing. It's taken me an entire year to make it at home, which is really inexcusable. One bite will leave you wishing you had doubled the recipe!

While a classic eggs Benedict uses an English muffin, ham, and hollandaise sauce over top, I thought the tomato gravy paired better with a southern twist, thus the biscuit and bacon. This was the perfect breakfast for dinner - especially when served with my easy restaurant style skillet breakfast potatoes!

You can use your favorite biscuit recipe or just pick up a can at the grocery store. 

Southern Eggs Benedict with Tomato Gravy
2 biscuits, warmed
8 slices thick cut bacon
4 large eggs, poached {a good tutorial here}
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups tomatoes, chopped 
1 cup onion, finely diced
2.5 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat the olive oil to medium high. Add the onions and saute until softened and translucence. Sprinkle the flour over top and whisk, letting cook, until a lightly browned roux is formed. Add the chopped tomatoes, basil, thyme, sugar, salt, and pepper. Simmer on low for 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are broken down.

Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with foil and arrange the bacon slices on top, being careful to not stretch them out too much. Place the baking sheet in a cold oven, shut the door, and turn the oven on to 400. Let bake for 15-20 minutes or until browned and just starting to crisp. Remove from oven and transfer the pieces to a paper towel lined plate.

To serve, split the biscuits open and top each half with 2 slices of crisp bacon, a poached egg, and a generous ladle of tomato gravy.  

Source for the tomato gravy: slightly adapted from Early Girl Eatery

Monday, June 2, 2014

Skillet Breakfast Potatoes

The perfect accompaniment to any breakfast dish is a big pile of skillet fried potatoes. This version is just like the kind you find at your favorite breakfast spot - and couldn't be easier!

Most breakfast restaurants here give you a choice between potatoes or grits. I can not begin to tell you how difficult this decision is! I love grits... but I also love restaurant style breakfast potatoes. Until now, I hadn't completely pulled off restaurant quality potatoes at home so I typically skipped the grits (which I know how to make!) and went with the potatoes. Now, thankfully, I know how simple they are so I can whip them up anytime!

These potatoes so simple; the key is parboiling your potatoes prior to cooking. This ensures the potatoes are tender and cooked through inside and crispy and delicious outside. I also think a cast iron skillet is the way to go!

Potatoes are the perfect vehicle for adding loads of flavor. Toss in whatever fresh herbs you have on hand along with plenty of salt and pepper. And if you're my husband, you'll pile on fresh grated cheese, too :)

Wanna kick it up a notch? Fry some bacon first, use the grease to fry your potatoes instead of oil, and add the crumbled bacon back into your potatoes before serving.

Skillet Breakfast Potatoes
4 cups red potatoes, diced
1 cup chopped onions
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the diced potatoes and boil for around 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, diced potatoes, rosemary, thyme, parsley, paprika, salt, and pepper.

Saute until the potatoes are crisp and browned. Taste and add additional seasonings if desired.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Crispy Margarita Chicken Tacos with Strawberry Avocado Salsa

These tacos are loaded with crispy chicken bursting with margarita flavor, sweet strawberries, and creamy avocado. The perfect summer meal and a great way to use some of the season's best produce!

Remember those Texas flour tortillas I posted a couple of days ago? Do me a favor and whip up a batch of those for these tacos - we're talking flavor. explosion. and good tortillas make a world of difference!

Margaritas are basically tequila and lime juice; two ingredients also perfect for marinating chicken! The chicken has a bright fresh flavor and a crispy texture. No frying necessary; just toss them in the oven and save the mess and calories.

The salsa is easy and quick, especially since strawberries are plentiful right now, and just screams summer to me. If you have any leftover, it's also delicious with chips!

Marinate the chicken the night before and you can toss together this meal in no time when you get home from work.

Crispy Margarita Chicken Tacos with Strawberry Avocado Salsa
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
8 taco sized flour tortillas
Cilantro, chopped, for topping
3 cups panko
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
zest of 3 limes
1 teaspoon ground cumin

For the marinade:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup tequila
1/4 cup lime juice
zest of 2 limes
1 teaspoon ground cumin

For the salsa:
1 avocado, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/4 red onion, chopped
6 large strawberries, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the marinade ingredients in a gallon sized ziptop bag. Slice the chicken into strips lengthwise and add to the marinade. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours but no longer than 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 and lay a wire rack on a baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine the panko, flour, lime zest, and cumin in a shallow dish. Remove the chicken from the marinade and coat each strip in the panko mixture, making sure all sides are well coated. Transfer each strip to the prepared wire rack. Once all are coated, spritz the chicken with cooking spray. Bake for 10 minutes, flip, then cook an additional 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the avocado, tomato, strawberries, and onion in a bowl. Add the lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Wrap your flour tortillas in foil and place in the oven the last 4 minutes of cooking to warm through. Top each tortilla with strips of chicken, mound of salsa, and chopped cilantro.

Source: slightly adapted from How Sweet It Is

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Flour Tortillas (Texas Style!)

In Texas, we're serious about our flour tortillas. We even have our own version! Ours are thick, slightly chewy, and very soft. Different than a traditional Mexican version and worlds away from the version found near the canned enchilada sauce in your local grocery store. These tortillas could not be easier - just 5 ingredients counting the salt! And salt hardly counts as a real ingredient :)

When you move away from home, you realize there are things you always took for granted. Like, quality flour tortillas. In Texas, just about every big grocery store has fresh tortillas being constantly made. There is literally an employee cranking out fresh made hot flour tortillas so you never have to resort to buying the thin mass produced packaged versions. Also in Texas, every Tex Mex restaurant has fresh tortillas made in house during dining hours. Even the fast food-ish spots often have the tortilla person on "display" when you come in the restaurant.

That doesn't exist here in North Carolina. Or, at least I've yet to find it.

I grew up on those thick flour tortillas brought to the table alongside your chips and salsa. And I learned early that they are amazing when spread with butter (also brought out with the tortillas) and a sprinkle of salt. You roll it up and inhale it. And then have another, or four. Healthy? Hardly. Tasty? You betcha! After all those tortillas and chips, I was rarely still hungry when my meal arrived!

Homemade tortillas are much simpler than you would imagine. This batch took me just a few minutes to toss together and the results are completely worth the effort! Perfect for tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, or rolling with butter and salt :) Most of the time is waiting on it to rest so you can easily whip up a batch while cooking the rest of the meal.

Texas Flour Tortillas
2 cups all purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3/4 cups warm milk

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and oil. Slowly add the warm milk and stir until a loose sticky ball is formed.

Knead for 2 minutes on a floured surface - the dough should be firm and soft. Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 20 minutes.

After the dough has rested, break it into 8 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball in your hands. Place the rolled pieces on a plate - not touching each other - and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 10 minutes.

After the dough has rested, place one dough ball at a time on a flour surface, pat it into a 4 inch circle, and then roll with a rolling pin from the center until it's thin and about 8 inches in diameter. Don't overwork the dough. Keep the rolled out tortillas covered until ready to cook.

In a dry skillet heated on high, cook each tortilla about 30 seconds on each side. It will bubble and puff up a bit when it's done. Keep the cooked tortillas covered until ready to eat.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge wrapped tightly in foil or plastic.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Grilled Asparagus and Lemon Feta Quinoa

Simple grilled asparagus is paired with zesty feta and lemon quinoa making this easy dish the perfect summertime side!

Asparagus is hand's down our favorite vegetable so we eat a lot of it when it's in season (and cheap!). I've made it every way possible but still reach for the grill when it's time to prepare it. There is something about that smoky char flavor, and there is no easier method!

The quinoa is delicious on it's own but is especially flavorful when combined with the fresh-from-the-grill flavor of the asparagus. You can toss the quinoa together in advance if you're preparing for guests or a picnic and just add the asparagus after grilling. It's light, fresh, and tastes like summer.

Happy grilling!

Grilled Asparagus & Lemon Feta Quinoa
1 cup quinoa
2 bundles asparagus
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest

For the dressing:
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Rinse the quinoa, place in a small saucepan, and add 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Drain any excess water and set aside to cool.

To prepare the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, soy sauce, and lemon juice. Pour the dressing over the cooled quinoa and add the feta and parsley. Toss to combine.

Meanwhile, heat your grill to high and trim the asparagus. Drizzle olive oil over the asparagus and make sure each piece is well coated. Season with salt and pepper. Place the asparagus directly over the heat on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until well marked on all sides but not burnt, 6-8 minutes.

Transfer the quinoa to a serving platter and arrange the asparagus over top. Sprinkle with lemon zest before serving. 

Source: adapted from Green Kitchen Stories

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chicken Spaghetti

Chicken spaghetti is a classic Texas dish of spaghetti, creamy cheese sauce, shredded chicken, tomatoes, and chiles combined and baked into a big dish of comfort food. Some Texans reach for canned cream soups to make theirs but a fresh made sauce is simple, healthier, and much tastier! This version kicks it up a notch by blackening the tomatoes, chiles, onions, and garlic prior to baking and is our favorite to date!

I can't believe I've been blogging for 4 years and have yet to share a chicken spaghetti recipe! In Texas, this is the dish you bring to a church potluck dinner. Or to a family who recently brought home a new baby, or to someone recovering from surgery. This is the dish you make when you want to invite a boatload of good friends over and you need to serve something easy, comforting, and universally likeable.

If you've never had it before, or if you've never had a version that didn't use canned condensed soup, give this version a shot! I think you'll soon find it in your regular rotation of favorite meals. We fought over the leftovers at our house!

Chicken Spaghetti
8 ounces spaghetti
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, and halved lengthwise
4 cloves garlic, left whole
1/2 yellow onion
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, plus more if needed
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnishing
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
salt and pepper
4 cups shredded cooked chicken

Lightly spray a 9x13 inch baking dish and line a baking sheet with foil. Set both aside.

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions. Drain, rinse, and place in the prepared baking dish.

Meanwhile, turn the broiler on high and adjust the top rack to be 6 inches under the heating element. Place the grape tomatoes (skin side up), jalapenos (skin side up), garlic cloves, and onion on the prepared baking sheet. Broil for 5-7 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and beginning to blacken. Remove from the oven and, when cool enough to handle, dice the tomatoes, jalapenos, garlic, and onion.

Turn the oven temperature down to 350.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour until well combined and slightly browned, about 30 seconds. Slowly pour in the milk and cook, whisking often, until the sauce thickens, about 3-5 minutes. If it gets too thick, add a pinch of milk.

Once the sauce thickens, turn off the heat and slowly stir in 1 cup of cheddar and 1 cup of Monterey Jack, a little at a time, until melted and well incorporated into the sauce. Once smooth, stir in the chopped vegetables, cumin, cayenne, cilantro, lime juice, shredded chicken, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Pour into the baking dish over top of the cooked spaghetti and combine well (tongs are especially helpful for this step). Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup cheddar and 1 cup Monterey Jack over top.

Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until brown and bubbling. Garnish with cilantro before serving.

Friday, May 16, 2014

One-Pot Creamy Herb Pasta and Meatballs

This creamy pasta is delicious and perfect for a weeknight meal! Takes about 30 minutes start to finish and everything - including the noodles - is done in one skillet. Family friendly comfort food at it's finest!

The truth is that I would gladly eat pasta every night of the week. When I plan our menu I try to keep it varied with several different proteins, a rice based dish, and one pasta based dish. Probably the hardest part is deciding which pasta recipe I want to make!

I put this dish on the menu awhile back and remembered why we loved it so much the first time. The first picture was awful, and this one isn't much better, but don't let that scare you! It's SO tasty, quick, and will disappear within minutes! And, unlike most pasta dishes, you don't have to boil the noodles separately and dirty up a second pan (or wait on water to boil - which always seems to take forever!).

One-Pot Creamy Herb Pasta & Meatballs
1 pound ground beef (preferably 90%)
1 package garlic and herb Boursin cheese
salt and pepper
EVOO or vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3.5 cups low sodium chicken broth
8 ounces dried egg noodles
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives

Combine the beef, 5 tablespoons Boursin cheese, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl and knead gently until just combined. Form the mixture into 1 inch meatballs. 

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook the meatballs until well browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a plate and pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pan.

Cook the onion in the remaining fat until browned, about 6 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook until golden, about 1 minute. Add the broth, noodles, and wine and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often, until the pasta begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer, covered, until the meatballs are cooked through and the noodles are al dente, about 4 minutes. 

Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining Boursin cheese and chives. Season with salt and pepper. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sausage, Spinach, and Cheese Stuffed Shells

These shells are brimming with sausage, spinach, and cheese and so easy to make! Simple enough to make for a weeknight but also perfect for freezing ahead of time! This recipe makes 2 pans so it's perfect for a hungry family or for freezing for later.

When I was in the throes of my crazy work hours I had this brilliant idea of using the weekend to cook, prep, and freeze meals for the coming week. What I didn't realize is that I would be 1) working almost every weekend and/or 2) so exhausted that all I wanted to do was sleep. But before I came to that realization, I did make a couple of dishes that I stored away for later. And this was one of them!

{which is also why you're looking at a pre-baked picture!}

I actually shared this recipe 4 years ago and it was a winner then and a winner again in our house. Who doesn't love stuffed shells? These are delicious! I also love that they have built in portion control. Because I may or may not struggle with portion control...

This recipe makes enough for a 9x13 pan PLUS an 8x8 pan. Which means that unless you have 4 hungry teenage boys living at your house, you can freeze a pan for later!

Sausage, Spinach, and Cheese Stuffed Shells
1 (12 ounce) box jumbo pasta shells
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1 (9-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 (32 ounce) jar tomato sauce with basil

Bring a large pot of water to boil and lightly salt. Add the shells and cook according to package directions. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain on paper towels.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Beat the egg lightly in a large bowl. Stir in the ricotta, spinach, 1/2 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, salt, pepper, and sausage mixture until well blended. 

Preheat oven to 350. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 and 8x8 baking dish. 

Stuff each shell with about 2 tablespoons of filling and arrange them in a prepared baking dish. Dollop remaining tomato sauce over top.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining Parmesan, and bake uncovered an additional 10 minutes. 

If freezing: don't bake. Instead, once all the shells are arranged and dolloped with sauce, wrap the pans tightly in plastic wrap followed by foil. When ready to cook, defrost in refrigerator until thawed. Remove the foil and plastic wrap; discard the plastic wrap and place the foil back on the pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan, and bake uncovered an additional 10 minutes. 

Source: adapted from Redbook Magazine

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookie Bars

These cookie bars are one of our FAVORITE desserts - they can be mixed together in less than 10 minutes using items you likely always have on hand. The result is a buttery sugar cookie bar that will disappear in no time!

So, my life has been insane lately and while things have slowed some, they are still pretty darn busy but most of the 80 hour weeks are finally behind me! During that time, we ate out every.single.meal. And by ate out, I mean that I drove my half comatose body through a drive through and ate it on the way to bed. I've so missed my kitchen and am glad to have been back cooking a couple of times a week.

I hope I didn't lose too many of you! :)

These bars are my go-to when we get a hankering for something sweet. I always have the ingredients on hand and it mixes up just as fast as a box mix. I used chocolate chips this time but have used M&Ms in the past. Add whatever you have on hand! They are moist, buttery, and delicious.

Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookie Bars
1 stick butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 and lightly spray an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray.

Slice the butter into 1 tablespoon pieces and add them to a large mixing bowl. Microwave in short bursts, stirring often, until melted. Remove from the microwave and stir in the sugar. Let cool for 3 minutes before beating in the egg and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add this to the wet mixture and blend well. The mixture may be thick so use your hands to mix if needed.

Press the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes. Pull from the oven and add the chocolate chips over top, using as many as you prefer. Gently press them into the dough.

Return to the oven and bake for 10-12 more minutes, or until the top is set and the cookies don't wiggle when you shake the pan back and forth.

Cool completely in the pan before slicing. Yield 9 cookie bars.

Source: adapted from Stephanie Cookies

See Aimee Cook

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