Butternut Baked Ziti

It’s officially fall in Philadelphia.  The leaves are turning, frost is on the ground in the morning, Uggs are pulled on over skinny jeans… and pumpkin is everywhere.  While everyone is grabbing their PSL’s this pumpkin season, I’m looking at the less popular fall favorite of mine:  Butternut Squash.  I’m a sucker for the underdog.

I’ve tried out Butternut Squash a few other times, one of my most interesting in the post Butternut Squash Tacos.

Anyway, had to share this butternut recipe with you, it’s warm and comforting and feels like fall.

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The thing about this recipe that is different for me, is that it’s actually pretty complicated compared to my normal posts.  Don’t be intimidated though, the recipe isn’t difficult… the steps are easy, it’s just that there’s a lot of them.  To keep yourself from getting overwhelmed, I recommend roasting the squash while you cook the rest of the meal, and it will break it up pretty nicely for ya.  Another tip, I also ALWAYS try and wash dishes/spoons, etc while I am cooking, so I’m not left with a bunch of pots and pans and cutting boards in the sink.   Continue reading

Green Olive Pesto Pasta

Green Olive Pesto Pasta

I absolutely love PESTO.  I think the best thing about pesto is that there’s practically a million ways you can use it and even make it.  That’s the thing that gets me… there are so many different combinations to try, how will I ever feel like I’ve found the best?!  A few months ago, I was reading my cooking magazines and found this awesome guide for mixing and matching your own pesto.  I have to share it with you… it’s crazy how many different types you could try and also get super creative with it!  (Mix-Match Pesto!)

Let me break it down for you… here’s what you need to make your own perfect pesto:

1.  Nut or Seed (almonds in this case)

2.  Add your base (olives and parsley)

3.  Choose your seasoning(s) (garlic and pepper)

4.  Pick a cheese (Asiago!)

5.  Finish that pesto! (more cheese!!)

I can’t wait to try a few others… I have already made another one with this gorgeous heirloom tomato and fresh mozz pizza the other night… whoa!

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YUM!  I’m hungry for that again…

Okay but really I have to share this crazy pesto recipe with you.  It was so easy to make and it was creamy, delicious, and just all around awesome.  Enjoy!

Green Olive Pesto Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Campanelle Pasta (or other pretty shape!)
  • 1 1/4 cups (6 oz) Pitted Manzanilla Olives
  • 1/2 cup Sliced Raw Almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup Fresh Flat-leaf Parsley Leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper 
  • 1 large Garlic Clove
  • 2 tablespoons Water
  • 1 teaspoon White Wine Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) Grated Asiago Cheese

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to the directions on the box.  Drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.  
  2. Put the olives, almonds, parsley, pepper, and garlic in a food processor.  Pulse until coarsely chopped.  With the processor on, add 2 tablespoons of water and 1 teaspoon of vinegar through the chute, processing until the mixture is finely chopped.  
  3. Combine pasta, 1/4 cup olives, sliced almonds, flat-leaf parsley leaves, black pepper, and garlic in a food processor; pulse 3 times or until coarsely chopped. With processor on, add 2 tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon vinegar through the food chute, processing until mixture is finely chopped.
  4. Combine pasta, the reserved liquid, and the olive mixture in a large bowl and toss well.  Sprinkle with extra cheese and serve immediately.

Recipe slightly adapted from:  Cooking Light

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Spinach Colcannon & the Kerrygold Holiday Contest

Back when I worked at Trader Joe’s, I was introduced to Kerrygold Butter.  At first, I didn’t understand why or how one butter could be different from another… but then I tasted it.  Wow.  Kerrygold uses milk from grass-fed cows to produce extra creamy, sweet, and rich butter.  You can absolutely taste the difference.  One of my co-workers from Trader Joe’s, Will, is obsessed with Kerrygold.  When I started my blogger partnership with them, I immediately thought of my friend Will and his love for this special butter.

Will- this recipe is for you!

This version of mashed potatoes isn’t just your normal Thanksgiving style smashed Yukons with some milk and butter.  This recipe was inspired by the Kerrygold butter itself- it is my version of the classic Irish dish Colcannon.  Typically, Colcannon is a mashed potato dish made with cabbage and loads of butter.  In this recipe, I used crumbled bacon, scallions, and in place of cabbage I used tons of fresh baby spinach.

Spinach Colcannon made with Kerrygold Butter

Ingredients:

3lbs Russet Potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt

8 Tablespoons Unsalted Kerrygold Butter, plus more for serving

3 slices Bacon, cooked and chopped or crumbled

1 6-oz bag of baby Spinach

3 Green Onions, chopped

1 cup Skim Milk

Sea Salt, Fresh Ground Black Pepper, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder to taste

Directions:

1.  Put the chopped potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water.  Add 2 tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil.  Boil the potatoes for about 15-20 minutes or until they’re fork tender.  Drain.  Put the potatoes back in the pot.

2.  In a glass measuring cup, heat the milk in the microwave about 30 seconds at a time until warm.  Meanwhile, start to smash the hot potatoes with a fork or a potato masher.  Add the butter, a tablespoon or two at a time, mashing into the potatoes.  Now, pour about half of the milk into the potatoes and stir.  Add the chopped bacon, spinach, and green onions.  Stir.

3.  Add more milk if the potatoes are too thick.  It’s all about how you like them to taste!  Add sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder starting with 1/2 teaspoon of each.  Add a sprinkle more until you like the way it tastes.  Serve hot with a pat of butter on top.  Enjoy!

Click here to check out Kerrygold Butter and Cheeses!

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And for your holiday season enjoyment… check out this ah-may-zing song about… you guessed it!!  Colcannon!  Hilarious.

Buffalo Chicken Lasagna

One of my all-time favorite stories about Dave’s horrendous spelling, is that he once spelled “Lasagna” “Liggisana”.  Every time I see the word I say it the way he spelled it.  It just cracks me up.  I literally can’t think, spell, or say the word “Lasagna” without thinking about him.  I love it… too funny.

I suppose the reason for my inspiration to try a Buffalo Chicken Lasagna was perhaps because that Liggisana spelling Dave was in the back of my head telling my subconscious to make a new Buff Chick creation… they’re his favorite.  First we tried Buffalo Chicken Dip which is a classic in our house.  Then we did some Buffalo Spiced Peanuts (yum!), my favorite- Buffalo Stuffed Baked Potatoes, and a new hit- the Buffalo Chicken Soup.  We’ve got a whole lotta buffalo goin’ on over here.  This Liggisana takes our Buffalo Chicken loving to a whole new level.  

The inspiration for this recipe took me to googling some yummy treats.  My favorite out of the few that I found came from one of my go-to healthy recipe bloggers, Prevention RD.  I have saved so so many of her recipes, they are out of this world.  

Check out the recipe for the lasagna below, but also make sure you read my notes afterwards… my lasagna didn’t turn out as perfect as Nicole from Prev. RD’s did!  I think I need to read up on some “do’s” and “don’t’s” on Lasagna… hmmm……

Buffalo Chicken Lasagna

Ingredients:

1 lb White Meat Chicken Breast, cooked and cubed (I boiled mine)

3 cups Low-Sodium Marinara Sauce

1 cup Frank’s Hot Sauce or Buffalo Wing Sauce

1/3 cup Water

15oz Fat Free Ricotta Cheese 

2 Large Eggs

1 teaspoon Kosher Salt

1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Cayenne Pepper if desired

16 Whole Wheat Lasagna Noodles, uncooked

9 slices Pepper Jack Cheese

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

2.  Combine chicken, marinara, wing sauce, and water.  In a separate bowl, combine ricotta cheese, eggs, salt, pepper, and cayenne if using.

3.  Spray a 9×13 inch pan with cooking spray.  Spread enough sauce to coat the bottom of the pan.  Arrange 4 noodles over the sauce before spreading more sauce, then a layer of the ricotta mixture.  Add another layer noodles and of sauce repeating the process until you end with a final layer of sauce.

4.  Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight or bake immediately for one hour.  Uncover and place the pepper jack cheese slices on top.  Bake an extra 8-10 minutes uncovered so the cheese gets nice and melty.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving to firm up so you can get nice slices.

Recipe barely adapted from:  Prevention RD

Sauce on the right, ricotta mixture on the left.

Sauce on the right, ricotta mixture on the left.

Layered and baked!

Layered and baked!

Gotta love the lasagna cross-section shot

Gotta love the lasagna cross-section shot

Served these babies with a plate full of Ceasar Salad- the creamy dressing was a nice compliment to the spicy sauce.

Served these babies with a plate full of Ceasar Salad- the creamy dressing was a nice compliment to the spicy sauce.

So as I fairly warned you earlier… mine did NOT turn out as gorgeous and perfect as I’d liked it to.  Lasagna failures is a common topic in my foodie magazines, so I don’t feel that alone… right?  I’ve done some research and figured out I have a few problems that I’d love to tell YOU about so you don’t make the same mistakes that I have.

First of all… silly little me… all this time I thought my big pyrex was 9×13… it WASNT!  My dish was way too long for this lasagna.  I just couldn’t figure out why it didn’t stack right!  That’s why.  DUH.  I really shouldn’t have told you that, it’s really embarrassing.

One of the KEY tips that will help make your lasagna perfect and not dried out… is the sauce.  Make DOUBLE if you’re worried.  Have extra on hand.  Spreading the sauce on the bottom is key.  Even more key?  The sauce ontop.  You want this sauce to completely coat every inch of pasta on the top of the stacks.  This is what will keep the lasagna noodles from drying out.  

Also, I’ve commented on the original recipe at Prevention RD, and she highly recommended the refrigeration process before baking the dish.  I’ll try that next time!

Roasted Grape Tomato, Garlic, & Poblano Ragu

I feel like I’m living in an episode of Seinfeld or Friends.  You know… when something happens and then something else happens and then a third thing happens that somehow ties it all together.  I’m pretty sure some recent events are really just my subconscious is trying to tell me that I’m losing my mind.  Literally.

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I’ve always had this panic thing where I really think I lose my cell phone and once I start the panic mode, I find it under my leg in my seat in the car, in a fold in a blanket, or under the dog.  This happens like, literally all the time.  At least once or twice a day.

What’s going on with my recent misplacement of really important belongings isn’t this panic-mode.  It’s real.  I don’t know what’s going on (with the exception of me losing my mind)… but in the past two weeks I have somehow managed to misplace not one but TWO jackets, leave my car keys in my Mom’s car, and forget my purse in a restaurant.  WTF?!

Rather than just thinking I’m a moron, I’m going to take this as a sign that I need to take a step back and relax.  Take a minute and breathe and STOP LOSING ALL OF MY CRAP!

In an attempt to go back to my normal routine, I decided to make dinner last night.  It’s been rare since Dave and I got engaged… life has just been too crazy and busy to make fun dinners.  I was inspired by the surplus of Grape Tomatoes in the house and wanted to try to make my own tomato sauce.

This sauce is so good… I almost could not believe myself.  Don’t leave out the roasting of the veggies in this recipe… it gives the sauce such a rich flavor.  It’s very easy to do!

Roasted Grape Tomato, Garlic, & Poblano Ragu

Ingredients:

1.5 pints Grape Tomatoes

1 Head Garlic

1 Poblano Pepper

8oz Lean Ground Beef

1 Green Bell Pepper

1/2 Large Sweet Onion

1 can Diced Tomatoes 

1/4 cup Fresh Basil Leaves

1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder

1/2 teaspoon Onion Powder

1/2 teaspoon-1 teaspoon Sea Salt

1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

1/8 teaspoon Cumin

1/2 teaspoon Dried Parsley (or 1T fresh)

Directions: 

1.  Roast the Veggies:  Preheat the oven to 400.  On a baking sheet COVERED with foil and prepared with cooking spray, spread the tomatoes.  Put the poblano on the sheet too.  Cut off the tip of the garlic exposing the tops of the cloves.  Wrap the garlic in a small piece of foil and pour a few drops of Olive Oil in and close.  Put the foiled garlic on the baking sheet too.  Either drizzle or spray the tomatoes and poblano with just a bit of Olive Oil, sprinkle with salt, and pop in the oven for 30-40 minutes.  Flip the poblano halfway through and remove if the skin becomes charred.

2.  Cook the meat:  While your veggies are roastin’, cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat.  If frozen, scrape into small pieces or chop if fresh.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  Remove from pan.

3.  Cook the veggies:  Chop the pepper and onion and saute with cooking spray in the same pan the beef cooked in.  Cook for 5-10 minutes then set aside in the same bowl as the beef.  

4.  Make the sauce:  When the tomatoes are a little browned ontop and nice and soggy looking, remove them from the oven.  Unwrap the garlic and let cool.  Cut the poblano in half and scrape out the seeds.  Scrape off the skin too, if possible.  Chop half of the pepper and reserve the remaining half for another use.  Using the back of a spoon, press the bottom end of the garlic until the cloves slide out.  Place the chopped poblano, 1/2 of the garlic cloves, and all of the tomatoes in a blender with the rest of the seasonings, the can of diced tomatoes, and fresh basil.  Blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.  

5.  Eat the Sauce!  Combine the tomato mixture from the blender with the beef, pepper, and onion.  Heat in a medium saucepan over medium heat until warm.  Serve over spaghetti and top with a little bit of fresh parm.  Enjoy!

Everything in the blender and ready to whirl!

Everything in the blender and ready to whirl!

Cookin' up the pepper and onion.

Cookin’ up the pepper and onion.

Sauce!

Sauce!

The sauce all ready to go

The sauce all ready to go

beautiful!

beautiful!

So delicious.

So delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Mozzarella & Fig Pizza

It’s all about new obsessions.  Fall is here and the world (including myself) is obsessed with pumpkin.  Pumpkin lattes, pumpkin martinis, pumpkin soup, scones, bagels, raviolis, etc etc etc.  Like I said… I’m all about the pumpkin too… but let’s get a little more creative than that…

Personally, I have a few new obsessions brought on by the fall season already.  The first absolutely has to be this watch:

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… I’m in love.

I’m also preemptively calling the new movie Gravity a new obsession.  I just have a good feeling about this one.

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I’d say my most important new obsession however would have to be my discovery of homemade pizza.  My mind was absolutely blown away by making my first very own homemade pizza.  (In case you missed it)  I look at pictures of it and am craving it every day since.  Oh my godddddddddddddddddddd…………….. yum!

MMMMMMMM!

MMMMMMMM!

Today I decided to combine my new infatuation for homemade pizza with an old obsession of my dear friend Ricki- FIGS.  Ricki and I have been friends since we were 6.  We have grown up together and have been friends for 21 years!  Pretty cool, right?  I can’t eat figs or dates without thinking of her, and because of her obsession with figs- I dedicate this recipe to her!  She absolutely loves them… and so do I now too!

This recipe uses fresh mozzarella, pre-made pizza dough, some sliced fresh figs, olive oil, basil, grated parm, and lots and lots of garlic.  What could be better?  I decided to use just the basic garlic/olive oil sauce on the base of this pizza to bring out the delicate flavors from the figs and mozzarella.  Top with some fresh basil, another drizzle of olive oil and call it a night!

Fresh Mozzarella & Fig Pizza

Ingredients:

1 Prepared Pizza Dough, raw – I like Trader Joe’s!

2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1-2 Tablespoons Crushed Garlic- I use Gourmet Garden Herb Tubes!

1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper, Sea Salt, and Black Pepper

4oz Fresh Mozzarella, thinly sliced

8 Fresh Figs, thinly sliced

2 Tablespoons Fresh Basil, sliced

1 teaspoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt

Directions:

1.  Let dough stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2.  Place a pizza stone or heavy baking sheet in the oven.  Preheat to 500, keeping the stone or baking sheet in the oven.

3.  Roll dough as large as possible (14 inches or so), on a floured surface.  Piece entire surface with a fork.  Carefully remove the stone or baking sheet from the oven and arrange the dough on the surface.  

4.  Spread the Olive Oil and Crushed Garlic over the pizza crust.  Sprinkle crushed red pepper, sea salt, and black pepper over the oil.  Now, distribute the fresh mozzarella and fresh figs all over the pizza.  

5.  Bake at 500 for 10-12 minutes or until the crust is browned and crisp.  Top with the 2 Tablespoons of sliced fresh basil and sea salt.  (Crushed red pepper an an extra little drizzle of EVOO optional!)

Now get ready for some serious food porn!  It tasted as amazing as it looked.  Next time, I’d love to add some prosciutto, dressed arugula, and a balsamic drizzle!  🙂

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What are your fall obsessions?  Please share!

Fettuccine w/ Cauliflower Pesto

One of my favorite memories when I was little would have to be when my Mom would let my sister Melissa and I put food coloring in our mashed potatoes.  We could choose any color and do it ourselves.  Any of you  who know my mom probably don’t find this surprising.  Mom LOVES color.  She even has a Pinterest Board called “Rainbow” which I just love.  It’s obvious where I come from.

Directly from the Rainbow Pinterest page... don't you wish these existed, I do!

Directly from the Rainbow Pinterest page… don’t you wish these existed, I do!

Remember how gross these were??

Remember how gross these were??

Some fake colored food looks gross like the ketcup, but this Ice Cream is calling my name!

Some fake colored food looks gross like the ketcup, but this Ice Cream is calling my name!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mom didn’t let us color our taters because it was more fun of course, she did it because it made us eat our dinner!  Another favorite trick for this was Mom’s veggie dipping sauce.  The magical sauce made from fat free sour cream, a little bit of mayo, parm, garlic, salt and pepper made my sister and I eat all of our green veggies every night.

What kind of tricks do you use to get your kids to eat right?  What do you remember your mom doing?

Today’s trick is my new favorite way to get Cauliflower into the mix… and it’s not cauliflower mash- that’s just so 5 years ago.

Fettuccine w/ Cauliflower Pesto

Ingredients:

1 small head or 1/2 large head Cauliflower, trimmed, cored, and cut into chunks

3 cloves Garlic

1/8 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes (large pinch)

1/2 cup Almonds, toasted and cooled

2oz Parmesan Cheese (plus more for serving)

1/2 jar Sun-Dried Tomatoes, chopped (I used trader joe’s which are strips, packed in oil.  Make sure you rinse the oil off very well)

1 Tablespoon Drained Capers

3 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley

1/3 cup Olive Oil

1/2 – 1 teaspoon White Wine Vinegar

1lb box of Fettuccine (I used whole wheat)

Directions:

1.  Prepare pesto.  Pulse 1/2 the cauliflower chunks in a food processor until it looks like couscous.  Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the second batch adding to the bowl when done.  You should have 3.5 cups of fluffy cauliflower bits.  

2.  Pulse the garlic, pepper flakes, almonds, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and parsley in the food processor until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs.  You may have to stop a few times and stir.  Add to the bowl with the cauliflower.  Add the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar, a few pinches of salt, and stir until combined.  Taste and adjust seasoning, adding vinegar if necessary.  I had to add salt and some black pepper.  

3.  Cook the pasta.  Heat a very large pot of highly salted water and bring to a boil.  Add pasta and cook until al dente (check box for timing).  When you drain the pasta, reserve a cup or so of the cooking water.  

4.  Assemble the dish!  Toss the hot pasta with the cauliflower pesto and half of your reserved pasta water.  If the pesto looks too thick, add more pasta water.  Top with some additional Parmesan cheese when serving.  Enjoy!

Recipe barely adapted from:  Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

This is what your cauliflower should look like after you pulse it in the food processor.

This is what your cauliflower should look like after you pulse it in the food processor.

Now it's time to mix the rest of the ingredients.

Now it’s time to mix the rest of the ingredients.

Not going to win any awards for being the prettiest, but here is the pesto mixed together and ready to be added to my hot pasta or some crusty bread.

Not going to win any awards for being the prettiest, but here is the pesto mixed together and ready to be added to my hot pasta or some crusty bread.

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Cauliflower Pesto

This pasta had so many tasty flavors and textures.  I just loved the crunch from the bigger pieces of almonds that wouldn’t pulse any smaller.  Along with the nutty taste from the almonds and olive oil, the sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and parm cheese left little room for the pasta to taste like cauliflower.  It all just worked so well together that you would never know there was a whole head of cauliflower in there!

While I rarely cook for enough people to make an entire box of pasta, I did cook enough to have some leftovers.  Dave and I enjoyed this pasta without reheating it the next day for lunch.  We also took Deb’s advice and saved some of our large batch of Cauliflower Pesto and spread it on top of some cut up crusty bread the next day.  What a great use of leftovers!

I’m so loving Deb’s Smitten Kitchen cookbook.  Here are a few more of her recipes that I’ve tried out so far…

Sweet and Sour Brisket

Sweet and Sour Brisket

Shaved Asparagus Pizza w/ a Cauliflower Crust

Shaved Asparagus Pizza w/ a Cauliflower Crust

Berry Coconut Macaroons

Berry Coconut Macaroons