Happy Birthday to Me – Asparagus and Mushroom Carbonara

It’s my birthday so I can eat whatever I want, right?!  Duh.  Of course I can.  Calories don’t count on your birthday.

Today has been an awesome day filled with amazing friends.  From my staff who decorated my office with balloons and streamers, to my co-workers who conspired with them to schedule an important meeting (scheduling it a week ago so I wasn’t suspicious!) only to surprise me with cake, to all the texts,  phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, and topped off with a quiet, cozy night at home with my hubby this girl is feeling super loved!

Some people may think I’m weird for making my own birthday dinner but you know me, I love to cook!  AND I got to stay in my yoga pants, bonus!!

So what did I choose as this year’s birthday dinner?  One of my absolute favorite pasta dishes of course, carbonara.  With the addition of in season asparagus and my favorite go-to ingredient, mushrooms, it was the perfect, creamy, comforting meal to celebrate!
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Asparagus and Mushroom Carbonara

1 shallot, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ lb. asparagus, sliced into bite-sized pieces
8 oz. mixed mushrooms
12 oz. spaghetti
Kosher salt
2 oz. proscuitto, finely chopped (about ¼ cup)
½ tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
⅓ cup grated Pecorino plus more
2 large egg yolks, beaten to blend
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over high heat. Working in batches, add shallots, garlic, asparagus, and mushrooms and cook, tossing occasionally, until charred in spots and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes; transfer to a plate and set aside. Wipe out skillet.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente (about 7 minutes). Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in same skillet over medium heat. Add prosciutto and cook, stirring often, until slightly crisp, about 4 minutes. Add pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Immediately add ½ cup pasta cooking liquid to keep pepper from burning; reduce heat to low and gradually add butter, swirling skillet and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until a thick, glossy sauce forms. (Taste as you go and switch to hot water once sauce is adequately seasoned.)

Add pasta to skillet and toss to coat. Add Pecorino; toss to combine. Remove from heat; mix in egg yolks. Add reserved veggies; toss, adding pasta cooking liquid (or hot water) as needed to thin sauce.

Serve pasta topped with more Pecorino.

Adapted from a recipe by Philip Krajek, Rolf & Daughters, Nashville – Bon Appétit Magazine, September 2013

It’s Not Delivery – Curry Chicken Pizza

Ugh, Monday.  And tax day.  That’s should be against the law or something.  That’s a lot of “ugh” to handle at the beginning of the week!  And I don’t know about y’all but taxes were brutal this year!  Oh the joys of self-employment.:)

Making it through this day, or any rough day, calls for pizza.  Pizza is comfort.  Pizza is joy.  Pizza is one of my favorite ways to mash up some of my favorite flavors and create something new and exciting.

I can’t take all the credit for this one though.  We recently went to a pub/sports bar in Clarksville and got super excited about a curry chicken pizza on the menu.  We ordered it with high expectations and ended up pretty disappointed.  It was good but not as good as I knew it could be.  No worries though, I decided to take to the kitchen and put my own stamp on it.  Success on the first try!!

This pizza comes together quickly thanks to a prepared pizza crust.  It is also very budget friendly for me (I need that after tax day!) because all the ingredients for the sauce are some of my pantry staples.  Pizza is very forgiving so take a look at what you have in the cupboard, think about your favorite dishes, and get creative!

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Curry Chicken Pizza

1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
1 cup caramelized onions*
1 small red bell pepper, diced
Mozzarella cheese
1 prepared pizza crust (or homemade if you have the time)
1 5oz. can tomato sauce
Splash of chicken stock (I always have a box of stock open in the fridge, water also works fine)
2 Tablespoons red curry paste
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
Pinch of sugar
Salt & Pepper
Cilantro

Preheat a pizza stone or cookie sheet in a 400° oven.

In a small saucepan, combine tomato sauce and next 6 ingredients (through S&P). Bring to a simmer and cook until sauce is fragrant.

To assemble pizza, spread sauce in a thin layer over prepared dough (use as much or as little as you like, depending on how saucy you like it), add shredded chicken, onions, bell pepper and top with shredded cheese. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until desired browned bubbliness.

Garnish with cilantro, slice and devour!

*For the caramelized onions, slice one small onion thin.  In a pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until fragrant.  Reduce heat to low, add salt & pepper and cook until brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes.

Source: Ruth’s Table

Pantry Staples – Greek Marinade

Spring has finally sprung!  The sun is shining.  The birds are singing. My eyes itch and I’m sneezing my head off.  Darn it, I’m still going to enjoy the beautiful weather!

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Now that the weather is nice I start craving all kinds of spring/summer foods.  I want to be grilling, eating veggies, and making all kinds of fresh salads.  BUT I don’t want to spend a lot of time in a hot kitchen.  Give me quick and easy and I’m a happy camper!

My biggest tip for putting together a quick and easy dinner is to make sure you keep your pantry stocked with a variety of things to throw together a meal quickly and with very little effort.  One of my favorite, go-to pantry marinades is my Greek Marinade.  I use it on chicken, shrimp, veggies, fish.  It is so versatile and easy to put together!  Pair some chicken with a quick side dish of veggie couscous and you’re set.

For marinades I almost never actually measure ingredients.  Once you’ve done it a time or two you’ll get it just the way you like it.  My rule of thumb for a marinade is pretty simple: 2 parts oil, 1 part acid, salt & pepper, herbs and spices of your choice.  The best method though is just to taste it.  You know what you like. Trust your instincts!

Greek Marinade

Olive oil
White balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
Zest and juice of one lemon
Salt & pepper
Greek seasoning blend (the brand I use has onion, garlic, oregano, mint)

Put all the ingredients in a mason jar and shake it up. Marinate your choice of protein or veggies for about 15 minutes.

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Other variations:

Asian-olive oil, a dash of sesame oil, orange juice, rice wine vinegar, Sambal Olek (instead of pepper), soy sauce (instead of salt), garlic, ginger, honey

Southwest-olive oil, lime juice, red wine vinegar, salt & pepper, cumin, chili powder, garlic, cilantro, splash of tequila

Greek Grilled Chicken and Veggie Couscous is one of our regular rotation meals.  It’s super simple, comes together in about 25 minutes, and is light and healthy.  You can have dinner on the table with very little fuss, very few dirty dishes, and can be back to enjoying the warm weather and extra hours of sunshine in no time!

Greek Grilled Chicken and Veggie Couscous

For chicken:
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
Greek marinade

For couscous:
1 box couscous, cooked according to package directions
Olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
2 medium zucchini, cut into rounds
Grape tomatoes, halved if they’re really big
Garlic
Salt & pepper

For sauce:
1 cup greek yogurt or mayonnaise
1 cup feta cheese
Juice of a lemon
Parsley, chopped
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Put the chicken in the marinade while you’re gathering your other ingredients, about 15 minutes. Preheat a grill pan over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the chicken and grill 2 minutes per side until you have some nice grill marks. Pop in the oven for about 10 minutes to finish cooking. Remove chicken when done and let rest a minute before serving.

While chicken is in the oven, preheat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil and onion, saute until translucent. Add the zucchini and cook for a minute or two until it starts to brown a little. Add garlic and saute about 30 seconds until fragrant. Turn heat down to medium and add tomatoes and cook, stirring for another minute or until they start to pop and release a little liquid. Add the couscous, salt and pepper and toss together.

For the sauce, mix all ingredients together and serve with chicken and couscous.

To serve: top the vegetable couscous with a chicken breast (sliced to make the presentation pretty) and a tablespoon of the sauce. Garnish with a little chopped parsley and lemon zest if you want.

Source: Ruth’s Table

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Meatless Monday – Farro Risotto with Balsamic Mushrooms

I decided several years ago that I was going to give up meat for a month. I was doing it as a part of a fast with my church that asked us to give something up to refocus. I decided on meat and to focus on regaining control over my health. I’ve always been a lover of vegetables and meat is often an afterthought when I’m just cooking for myself so I thought it would be a breeze. There was only one problem. The first week of our fast included Memorial Day! How on earth did I miss that?! It also happened to be a weekend we were in Ohio celebrating my sister-in-law graduating so we were hosting a cookout! Seriously, I’m not sure how I made it but by the grace of God I did.

During that time I learned a lot of new techniques and recipes and how to adapt them so that my meat loving hubby would enjoy them too. Over the years I’ve tried to make it a habit of making the majority of our meal vegetables while keeping our meat consumption reasonable. I even thrown in the occasional meatless meal that is still packed with protein. With the increased availability of a lot cool grains and exotic veggies that makes things super easy!

One of my favorite things to make, especially when I’m going meatless, is risotto. A lot of people think risotto is difficult to make but really you can have dinner on the table in about 30 minutes start-to-finish. The only thing risotto requires is a little patience. It isn’t a meal you can just pop on the stove and walk away from. The repetitve stirring is very therapeutic after a long day though, trust me.:)

I have recently discovered a love for farro. It has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture which make it a great option for meatless meals. It’s a great source of fiber and protein so it will fill you up and you won’t even miss the meat! Throw in meaty mushrooms and you’re all set!
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Farro Risotto with Balsamic Mushrooms

1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup farro
1/2 cup dry white wine (a big glug)
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
Bay leaf
Mixed mushrooms (I get a package that includes cremini, oyster, and shitake)
Thyme
Parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Asiago cheese

In a medium saucepan, heat vegetable stock, water and bay leaf until just below a simmer.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add one tablespoon olive oil. Saute shallots and garlic for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add farro and toast about 30 seconds. Add wine and stir until absorbed. Reduce heat to medium and add one ladle of stock. Stir off and on until liquid is absorbed, add another ladle of stock. Keep repeating until farro is tender and creamy. This will take 23-25 minutes. I always set a timer and taste for texture starting at about 20 minutes.

Finish with thyme leaves, parsley, one tablespoon butter, salt & fresh cracked pepper, and grated Asiago.

For the mushrooms, heat olive oil in a pan over medium high heat (I use a cast iron pan so they get nice and brown). Lower heat to medium. Add butter, sprig of thyme, and mushrooms. Leave them alone for a minute so they start getting brown and a little crispy. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar and cook another 30 seconds until balsamic is a little syrupy. Season with salt & pepper. Remove thyme sprig.

Serve risotto topped with mushrooms and lots of shaved asiago.

Serves 2.

Source: Ruth’s Table

This is a perfect “fancy” dish to impress a date. I can’t wait to make this for my hubby on our next date night in!

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Y’all, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is the best crock-pot recipe I have ever created.  Whoa!

Maybe it was so delicious because it’s 20 degrees and snowy outside.  Or maybe it’s because I love cajun food.  Or maybe it’s because I love coming home to dinner already done so I can stuff my face.  If I’m being honest it’s all those reasons!

If you take a look back you’ll remember that I absolutely love things like etouffe, beignets, and bananas foster. I love to spend time in the kitchen creating authentic meals but there just isn’t time to do that on a week night. That’s where the crock-pot comes in! I have to say I’m impressed with the depth of flavor that’s achieved in this slow-cooked version of another one of my favorites.

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Chicken, Andouille, and Shrimp Jambalaya

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 large onion, chopped
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 5 oz. can tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 Tablespoons creole seasoning (I use Zatarain’s)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending on how spicy you like it
20 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced and seared in a skillet and drained
To serve: white rice, parsley, hot sauce

In the bowl of a crock-pot, layer onions, bell peppers and chicken breast. Add diced tomatoes and next 7 ingredients (through cayenne) and cook on low 8 hours.

After 8 hours, remove lid and find and remove the bay leaves. Shred the chicken. Add shrimp and andouille and cook on high, uncovered for about 25 minutes (I did this while the rice was cooking). Serve over rice with a sprinkle of parsley and a few dashes of hot sauce if you choose.

Source: Ruth’s Table

Happy Hour – Spiked Mexican Hot Chocolate with Chartreuse Marshmallows

I am obsessed with marshmallows. It’s a little obnoxious actually. Just ask my husband. I eat them straight out of the bag. If I see them on a dessert at a restaurant I will always order that dessert. When I make a cup of hot cocoa it’s really only because I want a cup full of melty marshmallows. Growing up, I had to have smores every time we lit a fire. There is a candy company here in town that is famous for their marshmallows. It just so happens it’s close to the Farmer’s Market so I go there way more than I should.
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A couple years ago, on a trip to San Antonio in the fall, I discovered the joy of spiked hot chocolate and marshmallows. They changed my life. No joke. It probably helped that we were sitting at our favorite San Antonio bar (for like the third time on that trip), completely immersed in the local atmosphere, but I will forever remember those marshmallows.

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Esquire Tavern, San Antonio, Texas

I won’t lie, it has taken me a few absolute failures to master the art of the marshmallow. They really aren’t that complicated but I’ve been impatient with them more than once. I also recommend making a regular old marshmallow a time or two before you try to get all gourmet. Trust me. I’m speaking from experience here. :)
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I can honestly say that I’m always very proud of myself when I plop one of these big, fluffy marshmallows on top of a big mug of hot cocoa.

Spiked Mexican Hot Chocolate with Chartreuse Marshmallows

Hot Chocolate
4 cups milk
1/4 cup Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch (optional thickener)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. chipotle powder or chili powder
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cayenne
Shot of tequila

Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan.  Heat over medium heat until simmering, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and serve with marshmallows.

Chartreuse Marshmallows
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 oz. Green Chartreuse
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray

Combine the gelatin with 1/2 cup of the cold water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, the granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. When the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment to low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla and Green Chartreuse during the last minute of whipping.

While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows:

Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use. When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel or knife dusted with the confectioners’ sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Source: Marshmallows adapted from Alton Brown, http://altonbrown.com/homemade-marshmallow-recipe/
Hot chocolate adapted from Gimme Some Oven, http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/mexican-spiced-hot-chocolate

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Now that is how you own a Monday!

Pie in the Sky

I grew up in a small town, Fletcher, Ohio. Well, it’s considered a village actually. Go ahead, look it up on a map. It’s there. Straight up I-75 between Dayton and Toledo. It’s one of those towns you’ll miss if you happen to blink. Unless of course you get stopped at one of the two traffic lights where you’ll enjoy a view of the post office and funeral home. If you take a left you’ll pass the Methodist Church on your way out to the grain elevator. Every time I have a chance to visit I know I’m home when I see that grain elevator.

I have many fond memories of growing up in this little piece of the Midwest. When I graduated from high school and moved to the big city for college I pretty much ran and never wanted to look back. The older I’ve gotten the more I realize how important that town and it’s people were to shaping me in to the woman I’ve become today.

Many of my fondest memories revolve around church and community gatherings.  I would always look forward to serving Thanksgiving dinner with the youth group at church or gathering with the neighbors at the firehouse for the monthly fish fry.  I miss those small town traditions.

One of my most favorite parts of those gatherings were the pies that all the town ladies would make. Sugar cream, Dutch apple, peach, lemon meringue, pecan. Nothing says comfort and tradition to me like a big slice of pie!

As we near the holidays I’ve found myself getting really nostalgic.  In light of all the scary things happening in the world all I want to do is cling tight to tradition. Let’s not forget all the things we are thankful for this season.

Today I am most thankful for my supportive husband. AND it happens to be his birthday so I made his favorite pie!

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Mom’s Pecan Pie
3 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 frozen or refrigerated pie crust (or homemade if you have time)

Preheat oven to 350.

Whisk all ingredients but pecans together. Stir in pecans. Fill prepared pie crust. Bake for 40-50 minutes until center is almost set (cover with aluminum foil if crust and pecans start to get too dark). Remove from oven and cool completely, 2-4 hours, before serving.

Source: Mom’s recipe book (I think she got it from a Betty Crocker cookbook she’s had for as long as I can remember)