Heat Up

winter minestrone

hot & hearty

So far it would seem 2014 is only about one thing. Care to take guess, people? No? Well, I’ll just tell you.

It’s cold. Cold, cold, cold.

But fortunately, that means we’re smack-dab in the middle of soup and grilled cheese season. And you simply can’t have soup and grilled cheese season without a hot bowl of soup. Duh.

Normally I prefer my grilled cheese with tomato soup, but as any 6 year old will tell you, pretty much any hot bowl of soup is perfect for dunking your sandwich. This hearty minestrone uses a healthy portion of winter vegetables, tomatoes and beans to create a grilled cheese worthy soup – that tastes just as good on its own. It also doesn’t take too long to go from stockpot to soup bowl so you can eat up and heat up in no time.

Winter Minestrone
1 medium onion, chopped
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with basil, garlic & oregano
1 small butternut squash, cut into small cubes
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 15 oz can of navy beans, rinsed & drained
½ to 3/4 cup of ditalini (or other small pasta)
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

In a large stockpot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, 3/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes (including juice) and simmer until thickened, about 8 minutes. Add the squash, carrots, beans and 6 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the pasta and simmer until tender.

Right before serving, stir in the grated Parmesan. Ladle into bowls and then eat along with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Putting on My Suit and Bow-tie Pasta Salad

broccoli, grape & bow-tie pasta salad

let me show you a few things

Summer cooking should be easy. And nothing is easier than this pasta salad.

Well, except for ordering take out. Although that still requires some effort. Answering the front door is hard you guys, just about as hard as figuring out what to tip the delivery guy. For that matter, why are you even ordering food when there’s a fridge full of perfectly good ingredients in the very next room? Get off your lazy duff and go make some dinner!

See, that’s the kind of conversation I have with myself on a weekly basis. If I only were able to motivate myself like that for other things, like going to the gym or cleaning out my junk room. Oh, I know: because those aren’t nearly as fun as cooking, or eating. It’s the eating part that really persuades me.

Broccoli, Grape & Bow-tie Pasta Salad
8 oz of bow-tie (farfalle) pasta
2 broccoli crowns, cut into small pieces
2 cups of red seedless grapes, halved
½ cup of mayonnaise
1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
1/3 cup of diced red onion
1 teaspoon of garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
½ cup of chopped pecans, toasted

Cook the bow-tie pasta al dente, and then drain.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mayo, red wine vinegar, red onion, garlic salt and pepper. Add the hot pasta, broccoli and grapes, and toss to combine. Cover and chill at least 3 hours.

To toast the pecans, heat your oven to 350º. Place the pecans in a shallow baking dish and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until lightly toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through.

Stir in the toasted pecans right before serving. And then eat.

Zucchini Linguine

roasted vegetable linguine

pasta party

My summer romance with zucchini is heating up again. I think corn is starting to get jealous.

This time I’ve roasted some zucchini slices along with fresh asparagus and combined them with stewed tomatoes to make a very rustic sauce. (It would have been more rustic if I used fresh tomatoes too. Oh well. Next time.) I then tossed the sauce with linguine for a truly summer-y supper. It’ll fill you up but not in that heavy-brick-in-the-stomach type of way that’s not very fun to have on a warm evening.

Roasted Vegetable Linguine
2 small zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced ½ inch thick
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed & cut into 2 inch pieces
1 small onion, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon of cracked red pepper flakes
1 14.5 oz can of stewed tomatoes
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
½ cup of grated pecorino romano cheese plus more for garnish
½ lb of linguine
Handful of fresh basil, chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt

Heat your oven to 425º.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Toss the zucchini and asparagus with a tablespoon of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with sea salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 20 minutes.

Heat another tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Increase to medium-heat, add the stewed tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.

Cook the linguine until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of cooking liquid and drain. Add the linguine to the skillet with the sauce. Add the roasted vegetables and a little of the reserved cooking liquid (more or less depending on how thick you want the sauce) and toss to combine. Garnish with additional cheese and basil, and then eat.

Creamy, Dreamy Fettuccine

fettuccine with creamy red pepper & goat cheese sauce

supper’s ready

Mac and cheese is something we all know and love. I’m all for making the traditional stuff, when I have the time. But I’m also okay with the stuff from a box, usually because it’s quick and easy, and I got home late from work and I’m starving and just want to eat already. But there are other options that are just as fast. Like making a simple sauce from roasted red peppers and goat cheese, then tossing it with fettuccine. It’s got the lets-eat-already quickness that I need with the rich, homemade taste that I want.

Fettuccine with Creamy Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Sauce
– 1 small yellow onion
– 3 cloves of garlic
– 1 7oz jar of roasted red peppers, drained & chopped
– ½ teaspoon of Italian seasoning
– ¼ cup of low-sodium chicken (or veggie) stock
– ¾ cup of crumbled goat cheese (or feta)
– ½ lb of fettuccine
– Salt and pepper
– Olive oil
– Small handful of parsley, roughly chopped
– Sliced grilled chicken (optional)

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the red peppers, Italian seasoning and pepper to taste, and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Place the mixture into a food processor along with the chicken stock and goat cheese. Process until combined and smooth, about 30 seconds. Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine according to the directions. Drain and then toss with the sauce. Stir in the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Plate, add a few slices of grilled chicken and eat.

Bow-tied Butternut

roasted butternut squash pasta

pasta squash’d

Okay, I know everyone’s thinking: Really? Two days before Thanksgiving and this guy gives us a pasta recipe?

Yes really. Because have you ever fried sage leaves? How about pasta? Do you know what happens? The soft and fuzzy sage leaves turn dark green and crisp up. The pasta turns golden. Combined with roasted butternut squash, something magical and autumnal happens. (Yes, also still using that word.) You might think this dish would be complicated, but the hardest part is peeling and chopping the squash. In reality, you just roast and pan fry everything together.

Pan-Fried Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash & Sage
– 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed & cut into 1 inch cubes
– 1 small yellow onion, diced
– 3 cloves of garlic, minced
– 1 bunch of sage leaves
– ¾ lb of farfalle pasta (aka bow-tie)
– ½ cup of pine nuts
– 1 cup of grated Parmesan
– Salt and pepper
– Olive oil

Heat your oven to 375º.

In a large bowl, toss the butternut squash, onion and garlic with a drizzle of olive oil. Mince half of the sage leaves and add to the vegetables. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture in a thin layer on a baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes, or until the squash is tender and just starting to brown. Stir once during roasting.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the farfalle and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.

As the squash finishes roasting, add 2 tablespoons of oil to a large, high-sided pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the remaining sage leaves and fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or just until they begin to shrivel. Remove from the oil, lightly salt and then crush with the back of a spoon.

Next add the pasta and roasted squash mixture to the pan. Add the crumbled fried sage leaves and cook, stirring frequently, for about 6 minutes, or until the pasta turns golden and slightly crisps on the edges. Stir in the pine nuts and cook another minute. Off the heat stir in the Parmesan, season to taste with additional pepper, and then eat.

Pumpkin to the Mac

pumpkin mac & cheese

pump’d up

Earlier this year when it was cold and dark outside, I made mac & cheese with cauliflower as a secret ingredient. Now that we’ve come full circle – seriously, I hate daylight savings time – I’ve made mac & cheese again, this time with pureed pumpkin hidden amongst the cheesy goodness. Will you taste the pumpkin? That depends on the power of your taste buds. But either way, there’s nothing more comforting than a hot plate of cheesy macaroni on a chilly night.

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
– 3 cups of elbow macaroni
– 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
– 2 tablespoons of flour
– 2 cups of milk
– ¾ cup of pumpkin puree
– 4 oz (1 cup) of shredded Colby Jack cheese
– 4 oz (1 cup) of shredded Gruyere cheese
– 2 oz (½ cup) of grated Parmesan
– ¼ teaspoon of salt
– ⅛ teaspoon of pepper
– Pinch of ground nutmeg
– ¼ cup of breadcrumbs

Heat your oven to 375º.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the elbow macaroni and cook 1 to 2 minutes less than the directions. Drain and set aside.

While macaroni cooks, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until dissolved. Slowly whisk in the milk and let cook until thick, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the pumpkin. Remove from the heat and mix in the cheeses, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir until smooth.

Combine the cheese sauce with pasta and then pour into a lightly greased baking dish. Top with the breadcrumbs. Bake until golden and bubbling, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly and then eat.

Make Room for Mushrooms

mushroom & herb orzo

or, thyme is orzo side

You always need a good side dish to fill out your plate, right? This mushroom & herb orzo went perfectly with my pork florentine the other night. But you could also just toss some cooked chicken in with it, and then you’ve got yourself a simple supper. I was thinking some additional veggies might be good too, like roasted butternut squash or sauteed zucchini. It’s fall, use your imagination!

Mushroom & Herb Orzo
– 1 cup of orzo
– 1 tablespoon of butter
– 1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
– 1 8 oz package of sliced white mushrooms, roughly chopped
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced
– ¼ cup of Marsala wine
– 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped sage
– 1 teaspoon of freshly chopped thyme
– ½ teaspoon of cracked red pepper
– Handful of Italian parsley, chopped
– Garlic salt
– Salt and pepper
– Olive oil

In a large skillet, heat the butter and a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until soft, about 6 minutes. Season with garlic salt and pepper, add the minced garlic, and cook another minute. Add the Marsala wine and let everything simmer for about 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been reduced.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.

Add the sage, thyme and cracked red pepper to the skillet and cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Off the heat, add the orzo, parsley, a large drizzle of olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir until combined.

Plate (possibly with a fantastic pork dish) and eat.

On the Lighter Side

light macaroni salad

get a side of this

Every good piece of grilled meat needs a good side dish. Otherwise, it might get lonely sitting there on your plate. I love potato salad, but macaroni salad is pretty tasty too, and I think a little under-rated. Here’s a fresh update on the classic mayonnaise-covered variety usually found at cookouts and company picnics. But instead of mayo there’s plain Greek yogurt and a bunch of fresh vegetables. You won’t miss the mayo at all. I promise. A note: the recipe below is a smaller than usual, probably good for 2 to 3 people. If you want more, simply double the ingredients.

Light Macaroni Salad
-½ lb of elbow macaroni
– 1 cup of Greek yogurt
– 2 tablespoons of olive oil
– 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
– Juice from 1 large lemon
– 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped chives
– ½ pint of grape tomatoes, quartered
– ¼ of an English cucumber, diced
– 1 large carrot, shredded
– Handful of dill, finely chopped
– Salt and pepper
– Cracked red pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or according to the package. Drain and rinse with cold water until completely cool. Place in a large bowl.

In a food processor, combine the yogurt, olive oil, minced garlic, lemon juice and chives. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cracked red pepper. Pour the dressing over the macaroni and mix. Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and dill and mix well. If necessary, season with additional salt and pepper.  Serve immediately or let chill in the fridge.

Whole-y Fettuccine!

hey alfredo

So, I’m no health nut. This shouldn’t be a shock to people who know me. But I do think I could eat a bit healthier now and then. That’s what prompted my resolution to eat more veggies this year. And, it’s why I’ve (insanely) decided to give up some of the foods I love for the next 40 or so days. I’ll spare you the laundry list, but it’s going to force me to get a little creative with my meals. Take this fettuccine alfredo, for example. You could use whatever kind of pasta you prefer, but I used 100% whole wheat fettuccine. Is it really that much better than traditional fettuccine? I’m sure we could debate about that all day. But putting more whole grains into my body doesn’t sound like a bad thing. So I did. Plus, that whole wheat pasta went really well with this quick (and light!) alfredo sauce. It’s so easy, too. You can make the sauce in the time it takes to cook the pasta, and just toss it all together.

Fettuccine Alfredo
– 12 oz of whole wheat fettuccine
– 1 ½ tablespoons of unsalted butter
– 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
– 1 teaspoon of lemon zest
– 2 teaspoons of flour
– 1 cup of 2% milk
– 2 ½ tablespoons of Neufchatel (or low-fat cream cheese)
– 1 cup of grated Parmesan, plus more for topping
– 2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for topping
– Salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fettuccine and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a medium pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and lemon zest and cook until the garlic is slightly soft, about 1 minute. Add the flour and cook, constantly stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, ¾ teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of pepper and cook, whisking constantly, until sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Add the Neufchatel and Parmesan, whisk until melted and the sauce is smooth. Stir in the chopped parsley.

When cooked, drain the fettuccine and return it the pot. Add the sauce and gently toss until combined. Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Plate, top with Parmesan and parsley, and eat.

Just Caul(-iflower) It Mac and Cheese

there's cauliflower hidden in there ... i promise

My resolution to eat more veggies is in full swing. Well … partial swing, because I’m still using cheese to ease myself into it. Lots of yummy cheese. Boston finally (sadly?) had a snowy weekend, so I thought mac and cheese would be a great way to combat the blustery weather. But this easy version has cauliflower hidden in the sauce, so it’s a slightly healthier option. I bet if you served this to someone they’d never even know it. It can be your little secret.

Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
– ½ head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
– 4 cups of cavatappi pasta (or whatever pasta you like)
– 1 large egg
– 1 ½ cups of light cream
– ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
– Pinch of nutmeg
– Salt and pepper
– 2 ½ cups of sharp cheddar, shredded
– 1 cup of Parmesan, grated & divided in half
– ½ cup of breadcrumbs

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower and cook until almost falling apart, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to a bowl. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of liquid, drain and set past aside.

While the cauliflower and pasta are cooking, whisk the egg, cream, cayenne and nutmeg together in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In the same large pot, add the cream mixture and the cheese, and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the cheese melts and the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the cauliflower. Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth (or use an immersion blender right in the pot). Add the reserved pasta liquid and blend until creamy.

Toss the pasta with the cheese sauce, season with additional salt and pepper, and transfer to a baking dish. Top with the remaining ½ cup of Parmesan and breadcrumbs. Bake for about 10 minutes in a 450ºF oven, or until the breadcrumbs brown. Let cool for a few minutes and then eat.

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