Monthly Archives: December 2011

Pasta salad a la you.

I LOVE pasta salad. LOVE it. A few weeks ago, I decided I needed to make a batch to snack on during the day, so I decided to poll some of my friends on Facebook: “Best pasta salad you’ve ever had. Ready… GO.” I loved all the variations they came up with! Pasta salad’s endless versatility is one of its many virtues.

My friend Mandy suggested penne, hard salami, mozzarella, & Bernstein Italian salad dressing.

Lauren said orzo, kalamata olives, feta, red pepper, cucumber, & a lemon/EVOO vinaigrette.

Joy submitted “penne mixed with pesto, spinach mixed with ranch/milk, feta, tomatoes, & olives.”

Momo flattered me by saying my pasta salad recipe was her favorite. Isn’t that nice of her?

Stephanie said “orzo with lemon, olive oil, garlic, parsley, and STUFF. Whatever veggies you have on hand. Various parts of animals! STUFF. And CHEESE, Gromit!”

Thanks to a weird olive allergy (just the whole olive, not olive oil…don’t ask) & fear of Listeria while pregnant, olives & deli meats (sorry Lauren & Mandy) were out. But Stephanie’s comment — combined with all the other delicious suggestions — got me thinking. Can you really go wrong with pasta salad? I submit that the answer is NO!

My “usual” pasta salad recipe — the one I bring to parties & barbecues — is generally rotini, Good Seasons Italian dressing mix, tomatoes, feta, & parsley. Maybe a little Italian seasoning sprinkled in. But guess what? I don’t like tomatoes! So this time, since it was just for me, I subbed in red peppers. This is how I made it… do it your own way!

  • 1 pkg. Ronzoni Garden Delight pasta
  • 1 packet Good Seasons Italian dressing mix, prepared according to the packet directions but with a little less water
  • diced red peppers
  • crumbled feta
  • parsley
  • Italian seasoning
  1. Prepare the pasta as directed, then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking & cool it off.
  2. Meanwhile, marinate your red peppers (or whatever crunchy veggies you’re using, like onions) in the dressing for awhile to get rid of that “raw veggie” crunch. You may even want to do this an hour or two before you start with the pasta. This was a great tip from my friend Carolyn!
  3. When you’re ready, toss the pasta with the dressing mixture. Then toss in your other tasty “STUFF,” as Stephanie said, until it tastes perfect.

What’s your favorite pasta salad?


Filed under Recipes

Pasta with broccoli & chicken in creamy tomato sauce.

My family just came to visit, & after a week of dining out, I was having serious grocery list writer’s block. What to make this week? Especially with Christmas falling in there too? Fortunately, I recalled one of our old favorites that I haven’t made in forever. We call it “Pink Sauce Chicken.”

(Admittedly, this is one of the least flattering photos imaginable. I’m beyond excited about the light scoop My Husband The Generous is “surprising” me with on Christmas!)

So you’re asking, “If it’s one of your favorites, why haven’t you made it in a long time?” The answer is that I got it from the Kraft Food&Family magazine, & they had the nerve to stop making one of the key ingredients. That’s the trouble with semi-homemade: you’re limited by the available ingredients.

But after like 15 minutes of standing in the salad dressing aisle with The Munchkin contentedly munching on a cookie in her green racecar cart (thank you Publix!), I found the substitute. & Pink Sauce Chicken never tasted better!

  • 6 small boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • Lawry’s 30-minute Marinade in Tuscan Sundried Tomato*
  • 8+ oz. uncooked short pasta (the recipe calls for bowtie)
  • up to 4 cups broccoli florets (we do more pasta & less broccoli)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups jarred marinara sauce
  • 4 oz. Neufchatel cheese, softened
  • parmesan, to taste

* The recipe originally called for Kraft’s Roasted Red Pepper Italian dressing. The 30-minute Marinade does a great job, but has a little less liquid in it, so you need to watch that your chicken doesn’t scorch. If you can’t find the 30-minute Marinade, look for an Italian dressing with roasted red peppers relatively high on the ingredient list.

  1. Marinate chicken in some of the 30-minute marinade for — you guessed it — 30 minutes.
  2. Cook pasta as directed on package, adding broccoli for last 3 minutes (for frozen, last 4 or 5 minutes) of cooking time.
  3. Meanhile, heat 3 Tbsp. of the marinade in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic & heat until fragrant.
  4. Add chicken; cook, covered, 5 min. to a side or until done in the middle. You may need to add more marinade/dressing to keep it from burning.
  5. Drain pasta mixture; return to pot & set aside. Cover to keep warm.
  6. Add pasta sauce & Neufchatel to the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until cheese is melted & mixture is well blended.
  7. Coat chicken in sauce, remove from skillet, & keep warm.
  8. Add sauce mixture to pasta mixture in pot; mix well. Transfer to 6 pasta bowls.
  9. Cut chicken across the grain into thick slices. Fan one breast half over the pasta in each of the bowls.
  10. Sprinkle liberally with parmesan cheese.

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Reindeer cookies.

The Munchkin has been looking forward to making these for DAYS. & they turned out just as great as we hoped they would!

I had originally thought to do spice cookies, but The Munchkin said peanut butter, so that’s what we did! Lucky for us, Bakergirl had already made delicious peanut butter reindeer cookies! Hers are for mini reindeer, but I had full-sized “features,” so I made them full-sized. It yielded 18 cookies instead of 40.

  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3 Tbsp. milk
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • scant 3/4 tsp. salt (I felt it was plenty salty from the peanut butter)
  • pretzels (I think chocolate- or yogurt-covered pretzels would “stick” better)
  • green M&Ms
  • red Cadbury Christmas Mini Eggs (or you could use peanut M&Ms, but I’m kind of obsessed with the Cadbury Mini Eggs, so we’re using those)
  1. Preheat your oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Cream together first 5 ingredients in your electric mixer. Add egg & beat until just blended.
  3. (Optional: combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl.) Add to the wet ingredients & mix until just incorporated.
  4. Roll into 2-inch balls. Pinch one end between your thumb & forefinger for the “chin.” Then flatten between your palms. Place them on your prepared cookie sheet; I fit 9 on a sheet to keep them from spreading.
  5. Bake 9 minutes or until set in the middle & just starting to brown.
  6. Remove from the oven, & immediately (carefully!) press the pretzels in for antlers. Do this for all of the cookies right away; the pretzels don’t stick as well as the other “features.”
  7. Let your kitchen helper help you press in M&Ms for eyes (M side down, of course) & a Cadbury Mini Egg for a nose.

I was amazed at how good The Munchkin got at decorating these!

Her first attempts were rather… Picasso-like…

But by her 6th one, everything was in its proper place!

Who knew that cookie decorating could teach a two-&-a-half-year-old anatomy?
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Filed under Holidays, Recipes

Healthy & Festive Holiday Party Appetizer.

Need ideas for something a little outside the box to bring to your Christmas party this weekend?

My friend Bethany made this for a Christmas recipe exchange a few years ago, & I think I probably ate half of it on my own. It’s tasty, healthy, & festive-looking!

For each tree (16 rounds), here’s what you need:

  • 1 can crescent rolls
  • 4 oz. cream cheese (I use Neufchatel), softened*
  • 1/4 cup sour cream*
  • 1/2 tsp. dried dill weed*
  • 1/16 tsp. (just fill the 1/8 halfway) garlic powder*
  • assorted veggies in various shapes to “trim your tree”

* If you’re not a fan of dill, you can substitute 4 oz. Garden Veggie Cream Cheese plus 1/4 cup sour cream

  1. Preheat your oven to 375. Line a cookie sheet with parchment. Unwrap your crescent rolls, but do not unroll. Cut each of the 2 sections into 8 slices to get 16 slices total. (This was when I realized my knife needed sharpening. You may need to reshape your rounds to make them…er… round again.)
  2. Place your slices cut side down on the parchment to form a 5-row triangle & a single one at the bottom for a “trunk.”
  3. Bake 11-13 minutes or until golden.
  4. Combine cream cheese, sour cream, dill, & garlic powder in a small bowl. Spread over the tree (not the trunk), leaving a border around the outside to make it easier for people to pull some off. (Once the edge pieces are taken, people tend to get the general idea, so you don’t need to top each round individually.)
  5. “Trim your tree” with your veggies. Tip: start with your “greenery” (broccoli or snipped green onions). Then do the “star” (yellow pepper) & “garlands” (red pepper slices), & fit everything else around that. Don’t feel bound to the veggies I chose; go with what you love!


Filed under Holidays, Recipes

Festive (& easy!) headbands for the holidays.

This is the first crafty thing I’ve made in months. Please at least act surprised. But it was easy, inexpensive, & turned out beautifully!

I was inspired by this holly headband I found on Pinterest, but alas, not having green felt or her super-spiffy handheld sewing machine (or any sewing machine!), I decided to use some candy-cane-striped ribbon I had on hand from last year to make these beautiful peppermint roses.

My friend Tamara had just taught me a few months ago how to make these kinds of fabric roses, & trust me, they are SO easy. If I can do it, you can. I promise. Plus, I even remembered to take pictures to have a photo tutorial for you! (You can act surprised again.)

What you need for your holiday headband:

  • a headband (this perfect red sparkly girl-sized one came in a pack of 5 different colors by Goody for less than $5 at CVS, or for girls with less hair, you could use elastic or make the roses small & do a clippie instead)
  • several feet of 2-inch-wide holiday ribbon, wire removed, or fabric
  • glue gun
  • some felt
  • scissors

How to make it:

  1. Take some of your ribbon (no need to be exact… the large rose was almost my armspan; the small one, maybe a little over a foot) & tie a single knot an inch or two from one end. The knot is your rose’s center & the extra inch or two will serve as sort of a “handle” to give you as few glue gun blisters as possible while making your rose.
  2. Hold your “handle” in your non-dominant hand. With your other hand, fold your ribbon in half lengthwise (make sure the pretty side is out, of course) & start to twist it. You’ll keep twisting as you go.
  3. Dab some hot glue on one side of your knot & very carefully wrap the twisted ribbon around it. Keep going around in a circle, dabbing hot glue every quarter-turn or so, so it becomes a spiral.
  4. Continue until you either are almost out of ribbon or feel your rose is big enough. Make an extra-good dab of hot glue for your last one, leaving an inch or two. You should have 2 end bits sticking out the back now.
  5. Cut off your “handle” as close to the knot as you can without injuring anything.
  6. Twist the end bit behind & secure with some more glue.
  7. Repeat until you have as many roses as you want in the sizes you want (try to make them all slightly different sizes).
  8. Now cut some felt circles to be just smaller than your roses. You want it to give the whole rose some structure & stiffness, but you don’t want it to be visible from the front. Glue them to the back of each rose.
  9. Arrange the roses how you want & dab glue on the outsides of the roses to secure them where they join. Then figure out where you want them on your headband (beginning an inch & a half to two inches above the top of the ear is usually your best bet) & put a line of hot glue on the headband, then stick it to the backs to your roses.
  10. Cut a strip of felt a half inch or more wider than your headband that will still be invisible from the front but also touch all of your roses (the example below is a little sparse on the coverage of the small rose on the right). This strip of felt is what keeps everything together, so glue it on WELL. I started with a line of glue along the headband, then securing with another line of glue to the left & one to the right.
  11. Let her show it off at your next holiday party! Maybe even make one for yourself to match!

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Filed under Crafts, Holidays, Tutorials

{Secret Recipe Club} Fried Chocolate & Banana Ravioli.

This month I got the privilege of perusing a fabulous blog Tea & Scones. Margaret posts so many amazing dishes that it took me longer to narrow down what I was going to make this month than it did to actually make what I finally chose! So what did I choose?

Anyone who’s been around here knows my weakness for Nutella & banana sandwiches. Add something Giada came up with that I can make with The Munchkin, & deep-fry it, & you get perfection. Also known as Giada’s Fried Chocolate & Banana Ravioli.

  • 3/4 cup bananas, quarter-inch dice*
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 20+ wonton wrappers (original recipe called for 16, but there’s plenty of filling for lots more)
  • 1 egg, beaten (if your kitchen helper is as “helpful” as mine, water would be a less salmonella-infested choice)
  • Nutella
  • vegetable oil, for frying

*The recipe says 1 medium banana, but it’s better to have 2, because your kitchen helper might have to steal some of it.

Probably better that way, because it’ll balance out the vast amounts of Nutella she’ll pilfer while you’re making your ravioli.

  1.  In a small bowl, combine the banana, brown sugar, & walnuts.
  2. Brush 2 edges of the wonton wrappers, then put a small amount of the Nutella (as much as I love Nutella, I found that less is more here — like 1/2 tsp.) in the center of each. Then top with a less-small amount (1 tsp. or so) of the banana mixture, taking care not to overfill.
  3. Fold the corner over to make a triangle & seal the edges, then refrigerate for 15 minutes. (We kind of skipped the refrigeration part & were fine, but I’m sure it works great.)
  4. Heat about 3/4 inch of the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot (I used my Le Creuset braiser) to 375 (or if you’re like me & don’t have a candy thermometer, follow Margaret’s handy-dandy tip & see if a cube of bread will brown in 2 minutes).
  5. Fry the ravioli a few at a time for about a minute a side. Place on paper towels to drain.
  6. Serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Tasty, tasty! Thank you, Margaret!
Secret Recipe Club


Filed under Recipes