Baked Brie with Maple, Brown Sugar, and Green Apples

Thanksgiving is next week and no doubt you are beginning to think about your family gathering and menu. This is a low stress, easy, and elegant appetizer that I love! It is a recipe from my friend Kelly and after trying it at her house I got the recipe and tried it out at home. It is now one of my go to ideas for serving a warm appetizer at any family gathering. Enjoy!

Baked Brie with Maple, Brown Sugar, and Green Apples

Ingredients:

1 wheel of brie cheese, rind left on

2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

2 Tbsp. light brown sugar

1 large green apple, thinly sliced

Crusty bread, extra apples slices, and/or crackers for serving

Directions: Preheat oven to 375. In a small baking dish place the brie cheese. Mix syrup and sugar together in a small bowl and pour mixture over the brie. Sprinkle the green apples on top and on the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes. You will know it is ready when the cheese is hot and bubbly on the inside. Serve warm with bread, apples, and/0r crackers for dipping.

An easy fall appetizer perfect for your Thanksgiving feast. I like make small cut into the brie  so people know they can dig in! No one wants to be the first to but it open.

An easy fall appetizer perfect for your Thanksgiving feast. I like to make a small cut into the brie so people know they can dig in! No one wants to be the first to open it!

Creamy Potato Soup

The wind is howling outside and the winter is sneaking up quickly in the Chicagoland area. Good news for Bravo TV as I will help increase their viewership now that I am becoming a winter couch potato. Bad news for my BOB stroller and running shoes which won’t be seeing much action I’m afraid until Spring. What I like best about cold weather is the excuse to stay in and cook comforting soups and stews. That sounds a bit nerdy, but it’s true. You have to try this Pioneer Woman soup. It is highly rated online and uses easy to find ingredients. Your family will love it. This soup, crusty bread, and a simple salad makes a satisfying winter dinner any night of the week.

Creamy Potato Soup

Ingredients:

6 slices thin bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 carrots, scrubbed clean and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
6 small russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon Cajun spice mix, plus more if needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
1 cup grated Cheddar

Directions: 

Add the bacon pieces to a soup pot over medium heat and cook until crisp and the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon from the pot and set it aside. Pour off most of the grease, but do not clean the pot.

Return the pot to medium-high heat and add the carrots, celery and onions. Stir and cook for 2 minutes or so, then add the diced potatoes. Cook for 5 minutes, seasoning with the Cajun spice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Pour in the broth and bring it to a gentle boil. Cook until the potatoes are starting to get tender, about 10 minutes. Whisk together the milk and flour, then pour the mixture into the soup and allow the soup to cook for another 5 minutes.

Remove about half of the soup and blend in a blender or food processor until completely smooth. Pour it back into the soup pot and stir to combine. Let it heat back up as you taste for seasoning, adding more of what it needs. Stir in the cream, then the parsley,

Serve in bowls garnished with the grated cheese and crisp bacon pieces. The soup can also be frozen.

Link to the recipe: Pioneer Woman’s Potato Soup

 

Comfort in a bowl- potatoes and vegetables sautéed then blended into a creamy soup then finished with cream and topped with cheddar and bacon bits.

Comfort in a bowl- potatoes and vegetables sautéed then blended into a creamy soup then finished with cream and topped with cheddar and bacon bits.

Fillet of Beef Sandwiches

How can you improve fillet of beef? It’s hard to find any meat that tastes better than fillet of beef.  I typically reserve it for a holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving because of how much the meat costs. But here is a great way to cook this wonderful tenderloin for mini steak sandwiches that are out of this world. You can make enough for four people and still have enough money to buy groceries come Monday morning. This meat does not allow much prep or cooking because it is such high quality and you don’t want to handle it too much! It will literally melt in your mouth. In my family, eating fillet of beef creates an “oh Fey” moment which refers to “What About Bob’s” magical scene where Bill Murray feasts on Dr. Leo Marvin’s wife’s amazing meal. Here is the link if you need a laugh. 

Fillet of Beef Sandwiches

Sauce:

1/4 pound creamy blue cheese
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Fillet of Beef:
1 1/2 pounds whole fillet of beef trimmed and tied (butcher will trim and tie it for you. Just ask!)
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

To Assemble: 

8 small dinner rolls

1 bunch arugula

2 Tbsp. room temperature butter

 

Directions: For the dressing, mash the blue cheese with a fork and blend with the sour cream, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.

To make the sandwiches, cut each roll in half. Spread 4 of the slices thickly with the dressing. Top with slices of beef and arugula and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread the rest of the slices of bread very lightly with butter and place, butter-side down, on top of the beef. Makes 8 small sandwiches.

To make the Fillet of Beef:
Preheat oven 500 degrees F.

Melt 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.

Place beef on a baking sheet and pat the outside dry with a paper towel. Using a pastry brush coat the beef with the melted butter. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes at 500 degrees F for medium rare.

Remove the beef from the oven, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes before slicing.

slightly adapted from 2001 Barefoot Contessa Parties!

IMG_4152

All the things I love in one bite.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Carmel Brownies

Who doesn’t like a chocolate brownie-especially one that has carmel in the middle. I am a chocoholic. Just ask my husband, the empty bowl of Halloween candy sitting by the door, and the extra chub on my booty….sorry TMI.  I can’t help myself. With these brownies, I like to cut them in little pieces and pop them in my mouth every time I get a chocolate craving. I don’t make them often, but when I do, they disappear shockingly fast. The recipe is great for bringing people meals because you can make them a day in advance and the keep them in the refrigerator before serving. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Caramel Brownies                                                                                 (modified from the amazing Knock You Naked Brownies from the Pioneer Woman)
Ingredients:
1 stick butter, melted, plus more for greasing
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1/3 plus 1/2 cup evaporated milk
One 18.5-ounce box German chocolate cake mix or chocolate fudge cake mix
60 caramels, unwrapped
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-by-9-inch baking pan. Cover the bottom with a piece of parchment paper so you can easily get then brownies out after they set.

Begin by pouring 1/3 cup evaporated milk into a bowl with the cake mix. Add the melted butter. Mix the ingredients together.

Divide the dough in half down the middle. Press half of it into the bottom of the prepared pan to make the first brownie layer. Bake until slightly set, 8 to 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and set aside.

While the brownie layer is baking, in a double boiler (glass bowl set over a bowl of simmering water) combine the caramels and the remaining 1/2 cup evaporated milk. Stir occasionally until the caramels are totally melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour the caramel mixture over the first baked layer, spreading so it’s evenly distributed. Sprinkle the chocolate chips all over the top.

Next, on a clean kitchen counter press the remaining dough into a square shape slightly smaller than the baking pan. Carefully set it on top of the chocolate chips. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the brownies cool to room temperature. Cover the pan and refrigerate the brownies for several hours to allow them to set.

When you’re ready to serve sprinkle generously with the powdered sugar and cut them into large rectangles before removing from the pan.

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Some stores have caramels already unwrapped for baking. I could not find them so Maya was my “candy unwraperer”

All the things I love in one bite.

All the things I love in one bite.

Again, another Katie modification! I could to find German Chocolate ale mix so I used chocolate fudge this time around.

Again, another Katie modification! I could not find German Chocolate cake mix so I used chocolate fudge this time around.

Step one! You can focus on melting the caramels while this first layer bakes.

Step one! You can focus on melting the caramels while this first layer bakes.

Step two! The caramel should be smooth and silky.

Step two! The caramel should be smooth and silky. “Low and slow” is a good method for melting caramel.  Low heat and letting it slowly melt while stirring constantly. 

Step three! Make sure to press the square on the counter first then transfer it to the pan.

Step three! Make sure to press the square on the counter first then transfer it to the pan.

Roasted Pear Salad

Fall is in full swing and if you are like me, you are always looking for a new and seasonal side dish. This is a show stopping salad that is surprising simple to make. I made this for some friends that came over for dinner and I paired it with mini fillet of beef sandwiches with blue cheese sauce. I will post the beef recipe this week because it was fabulous dinner combo. Entertaining for dinner can be daunting, but I find Ina Garten’s recipes approachable yet elegant in presentation. This one is no different. Enjoy!

Roasted Pear Salad

Ingredients:

3 ripe but firm Anjou pears
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)
3 ounces coarsely crumbled sharp blue cheese such as Stilton
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup apple cider
3 tablespoons port (I skipped this!)
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup good olive oil
6 ounces baby arugula
Kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Peel the pears and slice them lengthwise into halves. With a small sharp paring knife and a melon baller, remove the core and seeds from each pear, leaving a round well for the filling. Trim a small slice away from the rounded sides of each pear half so that they will sit in the baking dish without wobbling. Toss the pears with some lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Arrange them, core side up, in a baking dish large enough to hold the pears snugly.

Gently toss the crumbled blue cheese, dried cranberries, and walnuts together in a small bowl. Divide the mixture among the pears, mounding it on top of the indentation.

In the same small bowl, combine the apple cider, port, and brown sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the mixture over and around the pears. Bake the pears, basting occasionally with the cider mixture, for 30 minutes, or until tender. Set aside until warm or at room temperature.

Just before serving, whisk together the olive oil, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of the basting liquid in a large bowl. Divide the arugula among 6 plates and top each with a pear half. Drizzle each pear with some of the basting liquid, sprinkle with salt, and serve warm.

From Back to Basics Cookbook by Ina Garten 

Pears roasted in apple cider and topped with crumbled stilton, walnuts, and cranberries.

Pears roasted in apple cider and topped with crumbled stilton, walnuts, and cranberries.

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Sweet Corn Soup

I had some dark times while recovering from the stroke I had during my eighth month of pregnancy. The hardest part of the recovery was dealing with stress and anxiety around losing my eyesight and learning to adjust to light sensitivity, extreme fatigue, and loss of vision in the midst of adjusting to having a newborn and caring for a 14 month old. Typing it all out even now makes my heart race. Looking back, I would not be where I am today without my faith, caring doctors, and close friends and family who literally carried me through each day.

Bob Pastor is a family friend who lives in Arizona. He had recovered from surgery to remove a tumor behind his eye and could relate to my light sensitivity, loss of vision, strange brain issues, and depressed feelings. Over dinner one night in Arizona, I shared my struggles with him because he could relate to every little detail that most people could not. He encouraged me saying things would get better and that my brain would continue to heal. I will never forget his words to me and I think God knew I needed someone who could relate to my situation and could provide me confidence that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

In addition to his skills as a counselor (!) Bob loves to cook like me and he passed this recipe along. He made his version of this soup, and I took a stab at it myself. Isaac said it ranks in my top 5 soup recipes. I’ll take it! Give this a try for your family and don’t tell anyone if you cheat and use frozen corn. I used it because I lack extra time these days, and it turned out flavorful, rich, and creamy.

Sweet Corn Soup

Ingredients:

¼ pound butter                                                                                                                                                        1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced                                                                                                                                  3-4 small fingerling potatoes or small baking potatoes, chopped into one inch pieces                                                                4 cups corn kernels (from 4-6 ears or shhh….frozen corn)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock                                                                                                                      1/2 cup dry white wine
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ lime
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Chopped chives, for garnish                                                                                                                                For the croutons: 2 Tbsp. Butter, 2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 2-3 cups cubed day old french bread, salt

Directions:                                                                                                                                                 1. Melt butter in a medium stock pot over medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic until onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add chopped potatoes and sauté about 5 minutes. Add 4 cups corn kernels and cook about 5 more minutes. Pour in the wine and deglaze the pot, scraping off brown bits off the bottom, about 5minutes. Pour in the stock and increase heat to medium-high until boiling. Lower heat and allow to simmer about 25 minutes, until potatoes are cooked. Transfer 2/3 of the soup to a blender and blend until smooth. Add a little water or stock if it’s too thick to blend. Pour blended soup back into the pot and bring heat up to medium. Stir in cream and simmer until soup thickens, 10-15 minutes more.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. For the croutons, add olive oil and butter into a non stick frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the cubed bread and allow to brown until light brown. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with salt.

3. To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, chives, croutons, a squeeze of lime, and freshly cracked black pepper.

Adapted from a recipe in the WSJ from chef Gavin Kaysen

 

The taste of sweet corn is the highlight of this decadent and creamy soup. No one will suspect you used frozen corn!

The taste of sweet corn is the highlight of this decadent and creamy soup. No one will suspect you used frozen corn!

Prosciutto Wrapped Halibut with Roasted Vegetables

Welcome in the fall with this wonderful fish dinner. It felt strange eating such an elegant dinner on a Monday night, but Isaac and I waited for the kids to go to bed and popped open a bottle of our White Rock Wine that was just delivered. With Maya belting out the Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round from her crib upstairs and Georgia banging her bottle against the crib railing while trying to climb out, we managed to create a pseudo date night. This fish is outstanding. The salty prosciutto is the perfect compliment to the flaky mellow flavor of halibut. The roasted vegetables become almost sweet after caramelizing in the oven with olive oil and garlic. This menu works for a dinner party or a simple yet elegant dinner for two. Thanks again to Ina Garten for a wonderful dinner idea.

Directions:
2 cups peeled, seeded, and (1/2-inch) diced butternut squash (Store bought pre diced!)
2 cups peeled and (1/2-inch) diced Yukon Gold potatoes (2 medium)* I left this out
2 cups peeled and (1/2-inch) diced parsnips (3 parsnips)
2 cups peeled and (1/2-inch) diced carrots (6 carrots)
Good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
6 (8-ounce) skinless fish fillets such as striped bass or halibut
6 thin slices prosciutto di Parma
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Lemon wedges, for serving

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. For the vegetables, place the butternut squash, potatoes (if using), parsnips, and carrots on a sheet pan and drizzle with 1/3 cup olive oil. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and toss together. Spread out in a single layer and roast for 30 minutes, turning once during cooking. After 30 minutes, toss with the garlic and roast for another 10 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender and starting to brown.

Meanwhile, line another sheet pan with aluminum foil, and place a baking rack on top of the foil. Brush the fish fillets on both sides with olive oil and season them liberally with salt and pepper. Wrap each fillet with a slice of prosciutto to form a wide band around the center of the fillet, overlapping the ends on the skin side. Arrange the fillets on the rack with the prosciutto seam side down and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until barely cooked.

While the vegetables and fish are roasting, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium-size saute pan. Add the rosemary sprigs and cook over low heat until the rosemary leaves are crisp and the butter begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Discard the rosemary, stir in the lemon juice, and set aside.

To serve, place the fish on a platter or individual plates, spoon the rosemary butter on top, and surround with the vegetables. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve hot. The recipe serves 6 yet is easily adjustable for 2.

2008, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, All Rights Reserved

I used a major short but and bought pre chopped sweet potatoes for this dish. The vegetables will be soft and sweet a sty after roasting with the olive oil and garlic.

I used a major short cut  and bought pre -chopped sweet potatoes for this dish. The vegetables will be soft and sweet after roasting with the olive oil and garlic.

Why no pic of the finished product? Good question. I took a pic of the dish with my phone on Monday and now the photo has vanished. I have two good guesses of who may have deleted it. They both are under two years old and played with my phone this Saturday at the post office waiting in line for our passports. Desperate times called for desperate measures. So please take a pic for me if you make this recipe at home!

 

Mexican White Queso Dip

This weekend as most people in the Chicagoland area were watching the Chicago Cubs, I was watching USA play Mexico in soccer. Isaac bought Mexican beer and I made White Queso Dip. I would recommend this for any sporting event you will be hosting over the next few months. As is the case in my house, there always seems to be an “important” game on….having good food to munch on helps me to stay interested in watching!

Mexican White Queso Dip

Ingredients:
1 lb block of white American cheese (from the deli, get a good brand)
1 cup half and half
2 tablespoons diced jalapenos
2 tablespoons diced green pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon cumin
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper
1 dash chili powder

Directions:
In a double boiler on low heat add the cheese and some of the half and half. Stir mixture until cheese begins to evenly melt, adding half and half to result in the consistency you desire. Add diced jalapenos and diced green peppers to mixture, according to your preference. Add the spices. Start with the cumin and black pepper. Add red pepper gradually, tasting along the way. A little goes a long way, so be sure you don’t make it too hot. Add a pinch of chili powder, and serve hot with tortillas or chips. Leftovers can be microwaved (add more half and half or water to keep consistency). Don’t worry about yellowing from day to day (due to spices/cheese), it will be good for 4-5 days.

adapted from food.com
this was a highly rated 5 star recipe on this site.

A double boiler is just a saucepan of simmering water with a glass bowl on top. This helps the cheese melt slowly. Watch carefully and stir constantly to reach desired texture.

A double boiler is just a saucepan of simmering water with a glass bowl on top. This helps the cheese melt slowly. Watch carefully and stir constantly to reach desired texture.

Nothing better than chips and a good creamy dip! Make this dip as spicy or as mild as you please by adjusting the amount of red pepper and jalepenos.

Nothing better than chips and a good creamy dip! Make this dip as spicy or as mild as you please by adjusting the amount of red pepper and jalapenos.

Soccer (fútbol) buddies.

Soccer (fútbol) buddies.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Fall is here and I took out all my fall decor to psych myself up for cooler temperatures ahead. By fall decor I basically mean an one orange wreath, one fall pillow, and a jar of candy corn. I hope to continue to add to my fall decor the longer I am an adult. Maybe by the time I turn 40 I’ll have more to decorate with for the four midwest seasons. Every year I decide I will shop the day after Halloween and buy tons of decor on sale. And every year I don’t feel like spending any more money on fall things when November comes.

My friend from church brought these divine cookies today to bible study and of course I couldn’t stop eating them. My friend Carrie is the one who got me hooked on eating pumpkin flavored goodies during fall so I always think of her, my fellow sweet lover, when I see a pumpkin dessert or see the Starbucks sign introducing the pumpkin spice latte. Hope you enjoy them!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup jarred pumpkin

1 cup chocolate chips

Directions: Cream together butter and sugar. Add: 1 egg, vanilla, flour,  baking powder,  baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, pumpkin, and chocolate chips. Mix to combine into dough. On a cookie sheet place dough in small balls. Bake at 350 for 15 min. Makes about 2 dozen.

*Baker’s Tip! “These are the only cookies I’ve ever had that taste better the next day than they do when warm – which stinks because your house smells so good when making them.”

Hello fall! I have read Libby's brand jarred pumpkin is the best in terms of taste and consistency. http://www.amazon.com/Libbys-100-Pure-Pumpkin-29-Ounce/dp/B003G2JMNU

Hello fall! I have read Libby’s brand jarred pumpkin is the best in terms of taste and consistency. http://www.amazon.com/Libbys-100-Pure-Pumpkin-29-Ounce/dp/B003G2JMNU

Green Machine Smoothie

Here’s a fun smoothie recipe that is very sweet and full of fruits AND vegetables. Your kids will never know the difference. If you are like me and want my kids to get enough fruits and vegetables yet give them goldfish and crackers all day to keep them happy and quiet in the car, then try this out. They will drink it and you will feel a little better about their snacking habits.

Green Machine Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 (6 oz) container low fat plain yogurt

1 cup red grapes

1 banana, peeled

1 granny smith apple, cored and chopped

1 1/2 cups baby spinach (about 3 oz)

1 cup orange juice (I used fresh squeezed, but either will work)

Directions: Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Add more orange juice if needed to make consistency you desire.

Note: If you would like a colder smoothie, try freezing the grapes and banana ahead of time.

Thanks for the recipe Nana! My mom is queen of reading food magazines and cutting out recipes she thinks I would like.

Maya and I enjoying our green smoothie on the porch. She is suddenly always ready for a photo shoot.

Maya and I enjoying our green smoothie on the porch. She is suddenly always ready for a photo shoot.

Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce

If you are like me, you would love to have your kids eat more vegetables. I try not to force it at my dinner table, but it is obvious my girls don’t like them! I see some kids pounding cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers and think, “where did I go wrong?” Serves me right for thinking I was “mom of the year” by homemaking Maya’s baby food and thinking she would be a good eater. Pride comes before a fall I guess. So if you are a mom like me, try this awesome sauce my mom gave to my girls that has lots of vegetables “hidden” inside. My girls ate it up and kept asking for more. I guarantee your kids will like it. And if not, no judgement from me…..

Thanks for the recipe Nana!

Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 1/2 – 15 – ounce can petite diced tomatoes
1 6 – ounce can tomato paste
2/3 cup water
1 cup grated cauliflower
1 cup coarsely shredded carrot
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound bowtie pasta
3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
Cracked black pepper, olive oil and Italian flat leaf parsley or basil for garnish

Directions: In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic; cook and stir 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, the water, cauliflower, carrot, Italian seasoning, salt, fennel seeds and red pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Pour contents carefully in a blender and blend until smooth. Return sauce to the saucepan over low heat until you are ready to serve.
Meanwhile, cook and drain bow tie pasta according to package directions.Serve cooked pasta topped with sauce and a dollop of ricotta cheese. If you like, garnish with black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and parsley or basil.
tip * To grate cauliflower, use the large grate on your box shredder.

Serves 6.

modified from Midwest Living 

Tomatoes, cauliflower, and carrots are "hidden" in this kid friendly pasta sauce

Tomatoes, cauliflower, and carrots are “hidden” in this kid friendly pasta sauce

 

 

Baked Pastina & Chicken

An acquaintance stopped me at the gym this week and said she heard about my blog from a friend and had been reading it and trying some of the recipes. How sweet! That was music to my ears. I created this website is to give good recipes and ideas to friends and family. It’s fun to hear that people enjoy it. If you have pickey kids, this is a good dish to try. It is pasta, chicken, vegetables, and cheese. Nothing crazy but really good. Even this pickiest of dinner guests…..you know who you are……approved of this meal! Enjoy!

Italian Baked Pastina & Chicken

Ingredients:

1 cup pastina pasta (or any small pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cubed chicken breast (1-inch cubes)
1/2 cup diced onion (about 1/2 a small onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish

Directions: 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain pasta into a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic, stirring to combine, and cook until the onions are soft and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Put the chicken mixture into the bowl with the cooked pasta. Add the canned tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Place the mixture in a buttered 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking dish. In a small bowl mix together the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta mixture. Dot the top with small bits of butter. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Recipe from Giada on Food Network 

The olive oil, parmesan, and butter will make the top of this dish golden brown and bubbly.

The olive oil, parmesan, and butter will make the top of this dish golden brown and bubbly.

Gotta love a one dish dinner. I served this with a salad and garlic bread.

Gotta love a one dish dinner. I served this with a salad and garlic bread.

Peach and Raspberry Crisp

Summer dessert time. Please make this when you get a chance. It will smell your kitchen up with a buttery scent and satisfy any sweet tooth. Summer is the time to make anything with fresh peaches. I am a big crisp fan for three simple reasons. 1. I can throw the dessert together quickly. 2. After it cooks, the crisp can sit out on the counter for a while and cool during dinnertime. 3. Me and exact measurements have a hard time getting along. Crisps are very forgiving and they always turn out amazing. I had some friends over this week for wine, dessert, and hot tubbing. Other than ending the night picking up Breyers ice-cream I spilled all over my kitchen floor and fridge, it was a very fun and successful night. As my husband reminds his clumsy wife on a daily basis, “Katie, you need to SLOW DOWN and stop being so spastic.” I will keep trying….

Peach and Raspberry Crisp

Ingredients:

4 to 5 pounds firm, ripe peaches (10 to 12 large peaches)
1 orange, zested
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 cups plus 2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 pint raspberries
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, diced

Directions: 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the inside of a 10 by 15 by 2 1/2-inch oval baking dish. Slice the peaches into a medium dice and place them into a large bowl. Add the orange zest, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons of flour. Toss well. Gently mix in the raspberries. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. If there is a lot of liquid, add 1 more tablespoon of flour. Pour the peaches into the baking dish and gently smooth the top.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, oatmeal, and the cold, diced butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the butter is pea-sized and the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle evenly on top of the peaches and raspberries. Bake for 1 hour, until the top is browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm.

This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten. You can find the recipe here on the Food Network Website.

Juicy in season peaches, delicate and sweet raspberries, orange, and sugar. It's hard not to sample this while making it!

Juicy in season peaches, delicate and sweet raspberries, orange, and sugar. It’s hard not to sample this while making it!

It may look like a lot of topping, but it will shrink down and melt into the crisp while baking.

It may look like a lot of topping, but it will shrink down and melt into the crisp while baking.

This beautiful crisp is begging for a scoop of good vanilla icecream.

This beautiful crisp is begging for a scoop of good vanilla icecream.

Accidents happen and that's ok...That's what ELMO says so I'm sticking to it.

Accidents happen and that’s ok…That’s what ELMO says so I’m sticking to it.

Tequila Lime Chicken

Here is yet another option for grilling this summer. This is chicken you can let sit and marinate while you go about your day. When you are ready for dinner, simply take it out of the marinade and grill it up! I served this with a fresh green salad and a big fruit salad. Another side option would be onions and peppers tossed with oil, salt, and pepper and wrapped in tin foil and grilled. I learned this side from my friend Carrie and it is delicious. I love using the grill as much as possible so I can leave the oven off and sit in the back yard while my food cooks. Enjoy and happy grilling!

Tequila Lime Chicken:

Ingredients
1/2 cup gold tequila
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (5 to 6 limes)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)- I use the Mariano’s fresh squeezed OJ. It’s the best!
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 minced fresh jalapeno pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Directions:

Combine the tequila, lime juice, orange juice, chili powder, jalapeno pepper, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken breasts. Refrigerate for at least two hours. Heat a grill and brush the rack with oil to prevent the chicken from sticking. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade, sprinkle well with salt and pepper, and grill them for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn the chicken and cook for another 10 minutes, until just cooked through. Remove from the grill to a plate. Cover tightly and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

You could also use boneless skin on chicken breasts to add more flavor and keep the chicken moist. Make sure your grill is hot and you oil it before putting the chicken on the grill.

You could also use boneless skin on chicken breasts to add more flavor and keep the chicken moist. Make sure your grill is hot and oil it before putting the chicken on the grill.

 

Who said chicken was boring? Look at all that char  flavor? I like to drizzle rest lime on my finished product.

Who said chicken was boring? Look at all that char flavor. I like to drizzle lime on my finished product. Kuddos to the grill master at my house! 

Perfectly grilled Mahi Mahi with fresh citrus and zesty marinade.

Grilled Mahi Mahi

Summer is the time to grill! I suggest giving fish a try. It is healthy and easy to cook as long as you follow a few rules. Here are a few:
-Make sure your grill is clean so the fish does not stick to it.
-Before placing the fish on the grill, be sure to add vegetable oil to your grill.
-Let fish rest before you serve it. It will continue cooking when it comes off the grill.
-Always buy fish that looks fresh. How do you know if it is? It should not smell “fishy.” Believe it or not but fish looks tired and dull in color after it is past its’ prime. If fish looks vibrant in color and the flesh looks taught and shiny, than it is good to go!

This is a recipe from Eva Longoria and I could not wait to post it. I served it with rice, beans, and fresh pineapple.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice (from about 1 lime)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 (7 to 8-ounce) mahi-mahi steaks, about 1-inch thick
  • Canola or vegetable oil, for greasing the grill grates

 

Place the soy sauce, orange juice, ketchup, honey, lime juice, garlic, basil, oregano, and pepper in a small bowl and whisk until the honey is completely dissolved. Pour the marinade into a re-sealable plastic bag with the fish and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 to 45 minutes.

Toss the tomatoes, scallions, black beans, cilantro, jalapeno, and the lime juice in a medium bowl. Add some salt to taste and set aside to let the flavors develop.

Oil your grill grates with oil to help prevent sticking. If using a gas grill, preheat the grill to high. Grill the fish for 5 to 6 minutes on a side, turning carefully using a turner large enough to support the entire piece of fish, until browned, firm and flaky. Serve with the black bean salsa and lime wedges.

With this fish, I served black beans and white rice.

The Best Black Beans from Allrecipes.com-try this one out!

Perfectly grilled Mahi Mahi with fresh citrus and zesty marinade.

Perfectly grilled Mahi Mahi with fresh citrus and zesty marinade.

Go To Authentic Marinara Sauce

My husband does a golf league every Tuesday after work in the summer. I made this last night and texted him a picture to tease him and let him know the girls and I were enjoying a good dinner! He came home starving and finished it off….along with a bowl of cereal and an ice cream bar. He still eats like a ten year old. Given that he is in his thirties, I guess that’s just the way he is and I should be happy that at least the likes my cooking. Anyone who is busy but wants a good meal at home needs to bookmark this recipe. With a few quality ingredients, this sauce comes together in no time, and it is versatile. Last night I mixed it with penne pasta and my girls ate it up.

Go To Authentic Marinara Sauce

Ingredients: 

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 35-ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes, seeded and lightly crushed, with their liquid
kosher salt
red pepper flakes
10 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
freshly ground black pepper

Directions: 

Heat the oil in a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Pour garlic in and allow to brown lightly, about 2 minutes.

Pour the tomatoes and their liquid into the oil. Bring to a boil, and season with 1 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes. Lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer, and cook, breaking up the tomatoes with a whisk or spoon, until the sauce is chunky and thick, about 20 minutes. Stir in the basil about 5 minutes before the sauce is finished. Taste the sauce, and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Adapted from Lidia’s Italy 

Marinara is a quick sauce that simmer while you can cook the pasta and finish dinner. I like to pour the cooked noodles directly into the saucepan and toss before dishing it out in bowls.

Marinara is a quick sauce that simmer while you can cook the pasta and finish dinner. I like to pour the cooked noodles directly into the saucepan and toss before dishing it out in bowls. A little starchy pasta water helps to thicken pasta sauces.

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San Marzano plum tomatoes come from Italy and are sweet and have low acidity. I keep a can of these in my pantry and most all markets carry them now.

Roasted Grapes and Pears with Vanilla Ice-cream

I made dinner for my parents and my in-laws this week and served this for a quick and easy dessert. If you are looking for a way to get your kids involved in the kitchen, let them help you by pulling of fthe grapes from the stems and placing them in the pie dish. It is an easy project and you can assemble the sauce and cut the pears while they do it. The beauty of this dessert is that it roasts while you are eating dinner. The timer will ding when you are finishing up dinner, and dessert is on the table in no time.

Roasted Grapes and Pears with Vanilla Ice-cream

Ingredients:

2 cups seedless red grapes
1 cup sugar
⅔ cup moscato, or other fruity white wine
2 lemons, juiced
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tablespoons apricot jam
2-3 Bosc pears, firm but ripe

Vanilla Ice cream for serving

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place the grapes in an 11 x 7 inch baking dish. I used a round pie dish. Combine the sugar, lemon juice, Moscato, vanilla, and apricot jam in a bowl and stir until blended. Pour over the grapes. Cut the pears in half through the core and remove the cores and seeds. Nestle the pear halves, cut side up, into the grapes.

Bake until the pears are tender and the liquid around the grapes is thick and syrupy, about 50 minutes. Remove the pears and let stand for about 10 minutes. Serve them with some of the grapes and their liquid spooned around them. Serves 6.

Recipe adapted from Lydia’s Italy

 

Easy prep makes this dessert a cinch to pull together.

Easy prep makes this dessert a cinch to pull together.

My helper. Maya pulled the grapes off the stem and put them into the baking dish. This is a good recipe to get your kids involved.

My helper. Maya pulled the grapes off the stem and put them into the baking dish. This is a recipe kids can help you assemble.

Spoon there roasted pears, grapes, and sauce over vanilla bean ice cream. It tastes fabulous.

Spoon there roasted pears, grapes, and sauce over vanilla bean ice cream. It tastes fabulous.

Want something extra special? Pour limoncello in shot glasses for your guests to sample. My parents shipped this back from the homeland.

Want something extra special? Pour limoncello in shot glasses for your guests to sample. My parents shipped this back from the homeland. I keep it chilled in the freezer.

 

Tuscan Sausage Barley Soup

I have come to accept that I am a thirty year old mom. The moment hit me when on a road trip this weekend with my husband, two baby girls, and my in-laws. While at the hotel quietly enjoying soft conversation and a glass of white wine while the girls were sleeping in the adjoining room, I become unnerved and bothered by the 20 year old baseball players partying across the hall. What made me snap? Maybe it was the thought of my one daughter waking up to the noise and then waking up the other one and having to sooth them back to sleep. Maybe it was a hint of jealousy that these boys could enjoy their Friday libation in the hotel room and laugh as hard as they wanted. Whatever it was I became the 3o year old mom who walked across the hall, knocked on their door, and had to tell them to shut up. When they saw me in my pajamas through the peep hole, they all started shouting, “Oh no we are getting in trouble!” I guess I should embrace my thirtieth year, my mom status, and realize that it’s ok to get excited about 2 babies sleeping and enjoying a glass of wine over whispers in a Holiday Inn Express. Maybe it’s ok to get excited that I found a great one pot meal for my weekday cooking, one that my daughter actually ate. And maybe it’s ok to realize that my daughters’ sleep necessity is now the key to my happiness, not crazy Friday night party sessions. If you fit in the mom category like me, give this warm and welcoming soup a try. I hope your kids enjoy it too!

Tuscan Sausage Barley Soup

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 Italian sausage links, casings removed
1 cup pearled barley
8 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 medium leek, thinly sliced
1 Parmesan cheese rind, optional
1 dried bay leaf
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped chives (for serving)

Directions: 

In a 5-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon into small pieces, until brown, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked sausage and reserve.

Add the barley and cook stirring constantly until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes. Add the broth, carrots, fennel, leeks, cheese rind if using, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the barley is tender, about 35 minutes.

Remove the Parmesan rind and bay leaf, and discard. Season the soup with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the cooked sausage and chopped chives.

Adapted from Tuscan Barley Soup from Giada Di Laurentiis

Barley is a super food because it's high fiber content and ability to aid in lowering cholesterol. It tastes like a hearty rice.

Barley is a super food. It is high in fiber and has the ability to aid in lowering cholesterol. It tastes like a hearty rice and goes well in many soups and stews. 

 

I buy real parmesan reggiano cheese. It's expensive but I can't stand the fake stuffl Plus, you can save the rind to use in soups and stews. It adds a wonderful richness and the cheese slowly melts into the soup.

I buy real parmesan reggiano cheese. You know it is real by the writing on the rind. It’s expensive but I can’t stand the fake stuff. Plus, you can save the rind to use in soups and stews. The rind adds a wonderful richness and the cheese slowly melts into the soup.

Jenny’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last Friday my mom, sister, niece, and I cooked and served dinner at the new Ronald McDonald house in Winfield. It was rewarding to cook for thankful families who were in need of much encouragement and help. I was reminded to keep my life problems in perspective and to remember how quickly circumstances in life can change. We made stuffed pasta shells, italian salad, garlic bread, and homemade chocolate chip cookies.

The smell alone of the cookies will draw people out of wherever they are in the house to find out what’s in the kitchen. One extra and necessary step in this recipe is browning the butter before adding it into the dough mixture. The texture of the cookies are soft and chewy and the butter gives it an almost nutty flavor. This is a must try recipe from the great baker Jenny Moo. Thanks for sharing Jen!

Jenny’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.
Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl.
Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated.
Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny.
Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
Using a tablespoon, scoop out as much cookie dough as necessary to make the size of cookies you desire.
Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 9-11 minutes.
Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; and allow cookies to cool.

This recipe is adapted from Cooks Illustrated

 

Chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven.

Chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven.

The cooking crew at Ronald McDonald house.

The cooking crew at Ronald McDonald house.

Quinoa Vegetable Soup

Happy 4th of July! My head is pounding and I am sore from running a four mile “Freedom Four” run in Glen Ellyn. This run reminded me I need to start training for the half marathon I am running in September. My legs felt like tree trunks and I happily let lots of kids and seniors pass me this morning without any fight. But, I do feel much better about indulging at the 4th of July BBQ this afternoon at my parent’s house. On Monday, if you are looking to jump start a healthy week of eating to make up for the burgers consumed today, add this “Meatless Monday” soup to your dinner menu. It’s hearty and healthy and full of wonderful protein.

Quinoa Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:

1 onion, chopped fine

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 tsp. canola oil

salt and pepper

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbsp. paprika

2 tsp. ground coriander

1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

6 cups vegetable broth

1 lb. red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

1 cup frozen corn

2 tomatoes, cored and chopped coarse

1 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup minced cilantro

1 avocado, halved, pitted, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

8 oz. queso fresco

Directions: Combine onion, pepper, oil, and 1/8 tsp. salt to a dutch oven. Cover and cook over medium-low heat stirring occasionally until softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in garlic, paprika, coriander, and cumin and cook about 30 seconds. Stir in broth and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir in quinoa and continue to simmer for 8 minutes. Stir in corn and continue to simmer until potatoes and quinoa are tender, 5-7 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and peas and let heat through, about 2 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish individual bowls with avocado and queso fresco before serving. Makes 6 servings. This recipe is from Cooks Illustrated Best Recipes and Reviews 2013.

 

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Spoonfuls of vegetables never tasted so good. Get your daily 5 servings here in one bowl.

My red, white, and blue cheerleaders at the Freedom Four run in Glen Ellyn.

My red, white, and blue cheerleaders at the Freedom Four run in Glen Ellyn.