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Loaded Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Nothing better than a pasta salad full of vegetables and NO MAYO for a pool party. The peppadew peppers are the best sweet and spicy addition, don’t skip them!

Loaded Lemon Pasta Salad – Serves 8-10

INGREDIENTS

THE SALAD:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked al detnte
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
  • 1 can black olives hearts, cut in 1/2
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in 1/2
  • 4-5 Persian cucumbers
  • 1 bag baby spinach
  • 10-15 peppadew peppers
  • 6 green onions, chopped green & white parts
  • Feta Cheese, crumbled

THE DRESSING:

  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons champagne vinegar (or red/white wine vinegar can be used)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 salt & 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

INSTRUCTIONS

Make Dressing: Put all ingredients (except olive oil) in a blender. Turn blender on low and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Set aside.

Cook Pasta: Cook pasta according to directions, making sure not to overcook. Drain immediately and add to large bowl. While warm, toss with a little of the dressing to coat so it will absorb the flavors. Add spinach to warm pasta to wilt slightly. Let cool for 10 minutes. Add rest of the ingredients, toss with more dressing (to your liking) and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if needed. Place in the refrigerator  for a few hours for the flavors to develop. Serve cold or room temperature.

 

Pasta with sausage, butternut squash, kale, caramelized red onion & walnuts

This recipe is for the butternut squash lover. The sweetness from the squash with the spicy sausage and crunch from the walnuts, is the perfect combination of textures and flavors. Goat cheese on top, would also be a tasty addition.

INGREDIENTS

  • large butternut squash, cut into small cubes
  • tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, for seasoning
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, mild or hot
  • red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 pound orecchiette, mezzi rigatoni, 0r small pasta
  • large cloves garlic, minced
  • cup chicken broth
  • bunch tuscan kale or regular kale, stems removed
  • tablespoon chopped sage 
  • 1/2 cup white wine 
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Fresh Parmesan
  • tablespoons Toasted walnuts

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Toss butternut squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and the nutmeg. Roast until butternut squash pieces are tender and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add sausage and sauté until cooked through. Remove and set aside.
  3. Add the sliced red onions and a tad more olive oil, if needed, to the same pan and cook until caramelized, about 20-30 minutes, on medium-low heat.
  4. In the meantime, heat a pot of water over high heat until boiling. Salt water generously. Cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente.
  5. Add garlic to the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the kale, sausage and sage to the pan.
  6. Add white wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and reduce, about 10 minutes.
  7. Turn heat to low and add the heavy cream. When the pasta is al dente, add it to the pan with the sauce. Add the roasted butternut squash.
  8. Loosen sauce with pasta water if needed. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and walnuts.

Shrimp pad thai

I can’t seem to satisfy my cravings for Asian food!! One of my favorites is Pad Thai with just about anything in it and on the spicy side. This recipe is fabulous and not nearly as oily as most restaurant versions.

Preparing this dish moves pretty quickly. Get everything prepped while your noodles are soaking.

A few tips on ingredients:

  • If you don’t have Thai chilies – use a jalapeno or crushed red pepper flakes
  • Use good fish sauce – it makes a big difference. My favorite brands are Tiparos (Kroger, $2) & Red Boat 40°N (Asian store, $5)
  • Palm sugar can be found at most Asian grocery stores. Light brown sugar is a great substitute.
  • Try chicken or tofu if you don’t have shrimp!
  • Don’t oversoak the noodles – you want them to have bite so they can absorb the sauce when cooked.

Recipe adapted from Food52.com

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
  • 8 ounces dried wide rice noodles
  • 2 eggs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3 thai chilies whole
  • 6 green onions, sliced 1 inch long
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • small handful peanuts, chopped
  • small handful cilantro, chopped
  • lime wedges

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, 2 tablespoons oil, and tamarind concentrate. Stir until sugar is dissolved and set aside.
  2. Soak the rice noodles in hot tap water for about 20 minutes, or until they start to soften but not fully tender. Drain and set aside.
  3. Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil under high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the shrimp start to turn pink with browned edges. Remove shrimp and set aside.
  5. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to skillet. Add garlic, shallot and thai chilies. Cook over medium heat and stir continuously for about 1 minute. Add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until scrambled, about 30 seconds. Add the rice noodles and green onions and toss with tongs to combine. Pour the tamarind/fish sauce mixture over the noodles and increase the heat to high, continuing to toss the ingredients with the sauce.
  6. Add 1/2 of the chopped peanuts and cooked shrimp. Toss noodles for about 2 more minutes. Add bean sprouts and cook for 30 seconds. Dish out onto hot plates and top with remaining peanuts and garnish with cilantro.

Healthy & Hearty Spaghetti with Meatballs

I’ve been working a lot and traveling a lot the past few months. Meaning I’ve been eating a lot of fabulous foods and treating myself to things I would typically pass up at home. Pastries. Potatoes. Pasta. Time to get back to the healthy meals. Luckily, this meal feels like a treat.

I admit, I was skeptical these meatballs from the yummy Rocco Dispirito would actually be satisfying. Considering he reduced the calories from 1200 to 350, the meatballs are surprisingly moist and tender, full of flavor and the tomato sauce is rich and hearty. I’m sure the original version of his Mama’s Meatballs are delicious… but I’ll take these and feel less guilty about dessert.

The weirdest ingredient in this recipe is the puffed kamut. It’s a brilliant replacement for breadcrumbs… and I’m thinking it could make a cool replacement in rice krispy treats… but I’ll tackle that later. You can find it at Whole Foods, Sprouts or most any health food store. I prefer to blitz it in food processor into coarse crumbs for this recipe.

If you really want to take this to the ultimate in healthy meals… skip the pasta and substitute spaghetti squash, one of my favorites.

Healthy & Hearty Spaghetti with Meatballs

INGREDIENTS

  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced small
  • dried red chili flakes
  • 1 cup reduced sodium chicken stock
  • 28 ounce can Cento tomato puree
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano
  • 5-6 leaves fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 medium eggplant (halved lengthwise)
  • salt & pepper
  • 6 ozs ground turkey breast
  • 4 ozs lean ground beef (93/7)
  • 2 ozs lean ground pork
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 oz parmigiano-reggiano, grated
  • 2 cups puffed kamut cereal (Arrowhead brand)
  • 6 ozs spaghetti (kamut or brown rice)

DIRECTIONS

Make the sauce: In a large saucepan heat olive oil. Add half the garlic and half the onion and a pinch of red chili flakes and cook over medium heat until tender, about 2 minutes. Add half the chicken stock, tomato puree, diced tomatoes & herbs. Simmer over low heat for an hour.

Make the eggplant puree: Preheat the broiler. Meanwhile, using the tip of a knife, score the eggplant deeply and sprinkle with salt. Place the eggplant cut-side up and cook under the broiler until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the eggplant from the broiler and place on a plate and microwave on high until tender, about 3 minutes. Let cool.

Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, add the meats and mix gently to incorporate. Place the egg white, ¼ cup chicken stock, ¼ cup onion, 1 clove garlic and parsley in a blender and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the mixture to the bowl with the meats, add the cheese and crumble the kamut in with your fingers. Sprinkle with salt and chili flakes.

Scoop the eggplant pulp out of its skin and let any excess water drip off. Measure out 1/2 cup of the pulp, and then lightly chop and add to the meat mixture, folding in to incorporate. Make each meatball a heaping tablespoon and form into balls with your hands. Should make around 16 meatballs.

Heat a few teaspoons olive oil in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add half of the meatballs and cook until lightly browned on one side, about 1 minute. Roll the meatballs on the other side and brown evenly, about 2 minutes. Remove the browned meatballs from the pan and add more olive oil if needed. Repeat the browning with the rest of the meatballs. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer very slowly for an hour.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a simmer and then add 1 tablespoon of salt. Drop the pasta in the water and cook per manufacturer’s instructions. Place 4 meatballs each on 4 plates, and then add the spaghetti to the remaining sauce in the pan with 1/2 cup of the pasta water and cook until the sauce holds well on the pasta. Evenly distribute the pasta to each of the 4 plates.

Truffle Brie Macaroni & Cheese

I’m not a huge fan of the traditional comfort foods… mashed potatoes & gravy, pot roast and meatloaf are easy to resist. For me, comfort food is creamy lemon & pea risotto, beef bourguignon and cannelloni!

When my sweet friend (also fabulous baker & fierce soccer player), Marisa, was recovering from ACL surgery she requested comfort food. So I made what has to be the #1 Comfort Food: Macaroni & Cheese. I’ve since changed my mind about this favorite dish – add some truffle brie to macaroni and cheese and I’ll eat it. Happily.

If you can’t find the truffle brie substitute regular brie and add some truffle oil.

INGREDIENTS

For the breadcrumbs:

  • 1/2 loaf ciabatta bread (or any bread you have on hand)
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the cheese & pasta:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 2 ounces Marscapone cheese (or cream cheese)
  • 1 pound grated Sharp Cheddar
  • 1 pound grated Monterrey Jack
  • 4 ounces Black Truffle Brie OR 4 ounces plain Brie + 3 T truffle oil
  • 1 pound cavatappi pasta (or elbow)

DIRECTIONS

For the breadcrumbs: Cube your bread into medium size squares and put it in the food processor for a couple pulses. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tbsp oil in large skillet overt medium heat. Add garlic and saute for about 1 minute. Add bread crumbs to skillet an stir until crumbs are slightly toasted – about 5 minuets. Set aside.

For the cheese & pasta: Cook the pasta 2 minutes LESS than the al dente package directions. Please salt your water very well so the pasta has flavor. Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan heat butter and olive oil until melted over medium high heat. Next, whisk your flour into the butter and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Slowly add cream and milk whisking in between to make sure there are no lumps. Bring mixture to a simmer and whisk until desired thickness (close to pancake batter). Remove from heat. Add grated cheese & marscapone and mix until melted. Season with salt & pepper. If using truffle oil – add this to the cheese mixture.

Stir in drained, cooked pasta to the cheese mixture. Transfer to a baking dish and top with sliced brie cheese & then sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Cannelloni

Making this dish is a very nostalgic process for me. The smell of it baking takes me right back to my mom’s kitchen.

This was never a weeknight dish but rather a very special Sunday dinner. Last year it was our big Christmas Eve meal and I wouldn’t be upset if we adopted it as an annual tradition. But with 3 daughters who love to cook, my parents are forced to be guinea pigs to our ever evolving holiday menus.

Making this dish is a process, but so worth every effort in the end. So go to the trouble and make a double batch (it freezes beautifully). To make is easier, the filling and the Salsa Di Pomodori can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for a few days.

Saute the beef & spinach filling. Set aside until ready to prepare the rolls. If making ahead don’t add eggs until ready to use.

Classic Besciamella sauce. Should be made right before you are ready to prepare the rolls.

Salsa Di Pomodori (red sauce). This can be made up to 2 days ahead. It’s best when cooked at least 2 hours.

Roll a tablespoon of filling for each roll and line up snuggly in a 9×13 pan.

Top the rolls with the bechamel sauce first.

Then cover with the red sauce and try not to mix the sauces. Top with parmesan cheese. They can be frozen at this point.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, or until bubbly. If made ahead, bring to room temperature before baking (about an hour).

INGREDIENTS

Meat filling:

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 10oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 pound ground round
  • 5 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • salt and pepper

Heat oil, add onion and garlic and saute until limp but not brown. Add ground round and brown. Drain off fat. Add spinach and cook until moisture is gone. Remove from heat and add, cheese, cream, eggs, oregano, salt and pepper.

Salsa Di Pomodori (red sauce)

  • 2 tablespons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 28 ounce can whole Italian style tomatoes, crushed by hand (I prefer Cento brand)
  • 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • pepper, to taste

Heat oil, saute onions, garlic, add remaining ingredients and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours, partially covered. May need to add water if it gets to thick.

Besciamella

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Melt butter, add flour, cook stirring constantly. Pour in milk and add cream slowly and add cream slowly. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until thick. Add salt and set aside.

DIRECTIONS

To sssemble:

Cook lasagna noodles according to box. Drain, rinse and lay on towel. Let cool slightly and cut each noodle in half.

Pour a thin layer of salsa di pomodori into baking dish. Fill each 1/2 lasagna noodle with 1 tablespoon of meat filling. Roll over and place seam side down in baking dish. Lay side to side in one layer. Spoon cream sauce on top then salsa di pomodori over that. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 375 until bubbly. let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Rice Noodle Salad with Shrimp and Vegetables (Bun Tom Xao)

This meal is one I crave often – especially in summer months. My favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Dallas, Vietnam, serves my favorite bun with pork, shrimp and an egg roll chopped up in the bowl of noodles. I like some extra heat so I add 2 Thai bird chilies to the Nuoc Cham (the sauce you pour over the salad).

This is such an easy summer meal that is light and full of great veggies. Give it a try – it’s much easier to prepare than you may think.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and cleaned
  • 3 tablespoons Asian BBQ sauce (or hoison)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 8 oz. dried rice vermicelli
  • 2 cups washed and shredded romaine, red, or green leaf lettuce
  • 2 cups fresh, crisp bean sprouts
  • 1-1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and julienned cucumber
  • 1-1/2 cups carrots, julienned
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup roughly chopped or small whole mint leaves
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup roughly chopped or small basil or Thai basil leaves
  • 2 Tbs. chopped roasted peanuts
  • 12 sprigs fresh cilantro
  • Nuoc cham (recipe below)

Nuoc Cham

  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Thai bird chile, seeded and minced

DIRECTIONS

For the Nuoc Cham: Stir all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside until ready to use. The sauce keeps for two weeks in the refrigerator.

For the noodles: Cook the rice noodles for 4 minutes in a large pot of boiling water. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water until noodles are cool. Let drain for 30 minutes. Can be kept at room temperature for up to 2 hours.

For the shrimp: Toss shrimp is bbq sauce and garlic. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in nonstick skillet. Saute over medium high heat for 2 minutes per side.

For the vegetables: Divide the lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber,carrots, mint, and basil among four large soup or pasta bowls. If working ahead of time, cover each bowl with damp paper towels and refrigerate.

Fluff the noodles with your fingers and divide them among the prepared salad bowls. Put the cooked shrimp on the noodles and garnish each bowl with the peanuts and cilantro. Serve with a side of nuoc cham (about 1/4 cup per serving). For an little extra kick – add a small squeeze of sriracha to the top.

Acorn Squash and Sweet Potato Ravioli in Pineapple Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Making ravioli is easy when you don’t have to make the pasta. These beautiful little pillows are savory, delightfully sweet and very easy to make thanks to premade wonton wrappers.

I used Pineapple Sage as I had a ton of it in my garden and I had no idea what to do with it… but regular fresh sage will be just as wonderful.

Your efforts will not go without reward (these freeze VERY well and make about 4 dozen)… well worth the time to make them… and enjoy for a few months.

I served the ravioli as a side with an apple cider brined pork chop finished with a shallot cider pan sauce (recipe to come soon and may be the best thing I’ve come up with on the spot). These beauties would also be very impressive as an appetizer for the holidays.

Note: Wonton wrappers are found in the freezer section of most grocery stores.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 small to medium acorn squash (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 sweet potato or yam
  • 1 tablespoons dark molasses
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup crème fraiche (substitute: cream cheese)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 package round Wonton Wrappers (usually found in the freezer section)
  • Flour, for dusting board
  • 4 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 ounces Parmesan, for grating

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut squash in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Season with salt and pepper. Place cut side down on a roasting pan. Scrub outside of sweet potato, pierce with fork in several places and place on roasting pan with acorn squash. Cook in the oven until very soft, about 1 hour.

Let cool to room temperature and scoop out flesh into a large mixing bowl. Mash with sweet potato until well combined.

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat until it begins to brown. Immediately remove from heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon molasses and all the vinegar. Add to squash and sweet potato with crème fraiche, Parmesan, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper and mix well. The recipe can be made ahead to this point. Cover well and refrigerate 4 hours or up to 2 days.

To fill the raviolis: Put 1 tablespoon squash filling in the center of a wonton wrapper. Leave a 1/2-inch border all around the filling. Moisten borders with water and fold in half. Press all the air out and seal firmly by pressing all around with fingertips. Lay raviolis out to dry on a lightly floured board or baking sheet and lightly flour the tops. Repeat until you run out of wrappers and/or filling.

To cook, boil in lightly salted water until tender, about 3 minutes. Reserve 2 ounces of the cooking water.

Uncooked, filled raviolis may be used immediately or frozen for 2 months. Lay them out on sheet pans and place in freezer until frozen. Transfer to plastic bag.

For the Sage Brown Butter: While raviolis are cooking, in a large saute pan, melt the butter with the sage and a pinch of salt until it foams and becomes light brown. Reserve.

On medium heat toss the cooked raviolis in the sage butter then transfer to a serving platter or dishes. Finish with a generous grating of Parmesan cheese.