Creamy bacon bow-tie pasta with Brussels sprouts

You know what’s weird? My lack of bizarre pregnancy cravings.

Where I spent last time constantly fantasizing about Coke Slurpees, chips and spicy salsa, frosted lemonades from Chick-Fil-A and jalapeno poppers (something I rarely eat in “real” life, by the way), this pregnancy has been strangely devoid of oddball snacks.

I mean, I’m eating fish. And vegetables. And salad. With the help of my anti-nausea medication (which I’m still taking at 30 weeks), nothing feels disgusting or off-limits.

Even Brussels sprouts.

I love these leafy greens when I’m not expecting, and they’re something Spencer and I have in weekly meal rotation. But vegetables while I was pregnant with Oliver were . . . a no-go. Like, at all. I think I subsisted on processed carbs the whole nine months, favoring bagels and potato chips over anything that could be even vaguely considered healthy.

I mean, I’m not complaining. By keeping these cravings in check, I’ve only gained half the weight so far that I did with Oliver. Though I started 30 pounds heavier, so . . . I’m pretty much breaking even?

Still.

weeknightI haven’t been the best about making home-cooked meals lately, but I requested a new cookbook for Christmas and Santa obliged. The Weeknight Dinner Cookbook by Mary Younkin (of BarefeetInTheKitchen.com) is inspiring, and each of the five meals I’ve made so far have been big hits. I love that it features easy-to-find, familiar ingredients used in new ways, and it is — true to its title — all about quick, from-scratching cooking on busy nights.

That’s what we need. Desperately.

Meals are categorized according to how long you’ll need before having them ready: 15 to 25-minute meals; 30 to 45-minute meals; 5 to 10-minute prep (slow cooker meals, for example, or meals you just throw in the oven); plus quick desserts, simple sides and condiments/spices. I’ve found Younkin’s timing to be very accurate, unlike the “30 minutes to the table!” nonsense recipes that don’t account for the hour it takes you to slice, dice and prep everything. Big pet peeve.

The variety of meals is pretty awesome. There are plenty of Mexican-inspired dishes (Younkin lives in Arizona), complete with green chiles, but Italian, Asian and good ol’ American meals pop in there, too. The offerings are a good mix of seafood, pork, chicken and beef, as well as vegetarian sides and pastas. A little something for everyone.

The Bow-tie Pasta with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts is easy and awesome. You could throw in some onions and mushrooms, too, but we made this one as instructed and loved it. The caramelized Brussels sprouts — cooked down with the bacon fat — made my mouth water. The author notes that you could substitute asparagus for the sprouts, if your family favors one over the other.

Full disclosure? I used an entire pack of bacon here (about 12 strips), double what the recipe calls for. But I think this is acceptable because the leftovers were amazing and protein-packed, especially since I went ahead and boiled the entire box of pasta. So did I double this recipe? Informally, yes. But you’ll want to double it. Trust me.

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Creamy Bow-Tie Pasta with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts

Recipe from The Weeknight Dinner Cookbook by Mary Younkin

 

6 strips bacon, cut in 1/2-inch-wide strips, about 1/3 lb
1 lb Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved
8 oz bow-tie pasta
1/2 cup cream (or half-and-half)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup shredded Asiago or Parmesan cheese (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While the water is heating, prep the bacon and Brussels sprouts. Cook the pasta until it is tender but still a bit firm, about 12 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, warm a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and let it cook for 2 minutes, then add the Brussels sprouts. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until the bacon is cooked through and the Brussels sprouts have browned. Transfer the bacon and Brussels sprouts to a plate. Drain the grease, leaving a teaspoon or so of grease in the skillet.

Place the skillet back over medium-high heat. Scoop 1/2 cup of pasta water out of the boiling pasta pot and carefully pour into the hot skillet. Use a flat spatula to scrape up the brown bits and deglaze the pan. Add the cream, salt and pepper to the skillet and stir to combine. Lower the heat to medium and let the sauce simmer for 1-2 minutes, until it thickens slightly. If the pasta hasn’t finished cooking yet, move the sauce off the heat until the pasta finishes.

Drain pasta well and add it to the skillet with the sauce, stirring to coat well. Add the Brussels sprouts and bacon to the skillet with pasta and stir to combine. Taste and adjust salt, if needed. Sprinkle with cheese before serving, if desired. Enjoy!

 

 

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Brown butter cinnamon apples with walnuts

Cinnamon apples

I don’t always have my stuff together.

As much as I’d love to be the sort of person who preps meals for the week on Sundays, moving deftly through the kitchen wielding a knife and storage containers, it just never seems to happen. I can’t blame being busy for this; I mean, we’re all busy. The truth? I just don’t make the time.

In an effort to attack our grotesque grocery bills, though, I’m trying to get better about meal planning — and limiting the number of dinners and lunches we eat out. I started keeping a budget sheet at the beginning of September just to get an idea of where our funds are going, and it’s definitely been enlightening.

Apples

Where am I going with all this? Using up. Consolidation. Waste not, want not. When Spence grabs the big bag of apples at the grocery store for $5, I look at them warily . . . because until recently, most of them went into the garbage. They’d go bad before we’d have a chance to eat them — and having to toss money (er, food) into the trash feels awful.

I noticed quite a few of the apples on our kitchen table were getting to the end of their shelf life yesterday . . . so I did what any budget-conscious lady would do: I hurried up and cooked them. With a little inspiration from the Food Network, I whipped up some pan-fried apples that tasted delicious and soothed my guilty conscious.

Spencer happily declared that they “taste like fall,” too, so there’s that.

You know I’m all about that.

This dish comes together quickly, uses ingredients you probably already have on hand and would be a great alternative to a more traditionally sugary dessert. The result is a warm, tasty side — but if you’re feeling bold, you could certainly add brown sugar or up the amount of walnuts. Despite all that butter in there, I was trying to err on the side of healthy.

You win some, you lose some.



Brown butter cinnamon apples with walnuts

Ingredients:
Six medium red apples, cored and diced
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Pinch of salt

In a medium-sized skillet, add butter and cook over medium-high heat until melted. When the butter turns a golden brown (about 5 minutes), add apples, cinnamon and vanilla. Cook apples until softened but still firm, about 10 minutes, and add chopped walnuts. Cook together an additional 3-5 minutes until apples are fork tender. Serve immediately; refrigerate any leftovers. Serves 4.


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Slow cooker steak and veggie soup

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We’re all about quick, filling eats around here.

Preparing for the big move this weekend has meant our dinners are a little . . . unusual here at the Johnson residence. We spend most after-work evenings taking carloads of stuff to the new house, where we scrub and sand and shuffle before eventually pouring ourselves home around 10 p.m. Sometimes we meet at the apartment, eat first and head over. Other times we go straight to the house . . . where we lack food. Unless you count Fig Newtons and diet soda, which I don’t.

So all that has translated to oddball concoctions, like boxed mac and cheese with a ham steak added in, or take-out. Not great for the waistline, but definitely helpful for a tired couple trying to bring order to their universe. It’s so much easier to grab Chick-Fil-A than it is to dirty pots and pans and labor over a hot stove. (I haven’t packed up the kitchen yet, by the way. Just don’t have the stomach for it.) (See what I did there?!) (Okay, sorry. Sorry.)

But we’re trying to stay healthy. When our home isn’t in an uproar, Spence and I have gotten into the habit of cooking big meals on Monday evenings so we have leftovers for lunch throughout the week. The slow cooker has been our best buddy.

Regardless of the weather, I’m a big soup girl — filling, inexpensive, made in bulk. On our list of meals that provide ample leftovers for two hungry adults is this steak and vegetable soup, concocted from a recipe shared by my good friend Sandy. Bonus? It ain’t bad for you. And that’s important, too.

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It’s one of the first recipes of our young marriage happily added “into the rotation,” and we usually make it once a month. Thrown in a slow cooker before work, it requires about 10-15 minutes of prep for a gigantic serving of soup ready when you get home. It’s simple, flavorful and built largely by ingredients you may already have — and even uses canned vegetables! Especially fantastic when you’re moving the contents of your pantry. Six less cans to haul is a good thing.

You can add to this, take away from it, throw in some other veggies, add spices to your heart’s content. My favorite recipes are becoming ones I can play with, and this steak and veggie soup? It’s where it’s at, friends. Totally buildable.

Could you use fresh vegetables instead of canned? Maybe. I’ve added fresh celery to supplement the canned veggies, but I think the texture of the canned vegetables actually works well in this soup. Because it’s cooking all day, you’d think they get extra mushy — but they don’t! Soup magic? I don’t know.

Whatever it is, it’s good.

(P.S. Do not drain your canned vegetables before adding them to the pot; the water makes up part of your liquid. If you like your soup soupier, add an additional 1/2 cup of water. If you prefer more of a stew, prepare as follows.)


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Slow cooker steak and veggie soup

Ingredients:
1 lb. stew beef (or chuck roast)
1 large can (28 oz.) tomatoes, crushed
1 can (14.5 oz.) cut green beans
1 can (14.5 oz.) sliced carrots
1 can (14.5 oz.) sliced potatoes
1 can (14.5 oz.) of corn
1 can (4 oz.) mushrooms
1 packet of onion soup mix
1 cube of beef bouillon, dissolved in 1 cup of hot water
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp chopped onion, dried
2 tbsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop beef into bite-sized pieces and layer in the bottom of a slow cooker. Add crushed tomatoes, covering the beef. Add green beans, carrots, potatoes, corn and mushrooms WITH liquids, stirring gently. Add beef bouillon dissolved in water with onion soup mix and bay leaf. Flavor with Italian seasoning and chopped onion, plus salt and pepper to taste. Stir. Cook in slow cooker on low for 8-9 hours, then remove bay leaf. Serve and enjoy!


When the box just ain’t working: homemade Hamburger Helper

Homemade Hamburger Helper


Hamburger Helper. Who’d have ever thought we’d have a craving for Hamburger Helper?

But it struck without warning on a Thursday night: one hungry pair of newlyweds with a package of ground beef, some dried pasta and a dream.

After pawing through our messy pantry for a good five minutes yielded nothing akin to the salty, savory, weirdo Hamburger Helper mixes of my youth, we turned to our trusty friend: the Internet. A quick search for a homemade version led Spencer here, and what a glorious find it was.

This recipe is fairly quick, very easy and customizable. Because we’re apparently into spicy food now, we couldn’t resist adding fire-roasted tomatoes and green chiles. The fun thing about this recipe? You can move the flavor profile into anything that suits you, though I have to say this version tasted similar to — but better than, perhaps — the original.

Whether you’re simply lacking the box or prefer to cook from scratch, any lover of Hamburger Helper will heartily dig into this dinner. And if you don’t have ground beef on hand? Use ground turkey or ground chicken . . . anything you have, really. You’ll make it work — and everyone will love you for it.


Homemade Hamburger Helper


Homemade Hamburger Helper
(with a kick)

Adapted from farmgirl gourmet


Ingredients:

1 lb ground beef (I used a 90/10 mixture)
Cooking spray
2 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups hot water
2 cups elbow macaroni
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes (optional)
2 green chiles, diced (optional)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, or 4-6 slices American cheese

Instructions:

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray and add the ground beef. Brown until cooked through and no longer pink. Discard any fat. Add the pasta, tomatoes, milk, water and spices and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and turn the heat down to simmer. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Add the cheese and stir to combine. Serves 4-6.


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Buffalo chicken meatballs stuffed with feta — all the flavor, less of the mess

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It’s Friday, friends! And I want to talk to you about meatballs. I’ve never been overly fond of them, honestly, but that’s probably because I never found the right ones.

These? These are the right ones. They’re spicy and easy to make and absolutely delicious. They’re a little weird, maybe, but sometimes weird is good.

Sometimes it’s very good.

The idea of sticking feta cheese into ground chicken with ranch dressing mix and a host of other spices? Well, I wasn’t completely sold. But I did know I needed an impressive appetizer to bring to a friend’s appetizers-only New Year’s Eve party, and I knew I’d better bring some protein because seriously, we cannot live on chips and salsa alone.

Enter this recipe for feta-stuffed Buffalo chicken meatballs, which may go down as one of the more popular dishes I’ve ever brought to a gathering. Even more popular than, say, my most popular food item of all time (and the dessert for which I am proudly known): Key lime cupcakes.

It’s all the flavor of a Buffalo chicken wing . . . in an easy-to-grab meatball.

Genius.

I made these in between work and running out the door — and felt too harried to take “real” pictures, sadly. But Iowa Girl Eats has plenty, and mine looked just like the pictures. That never happens.

If I’d had half a mind to document them later, I could not . . . because all 32 were gone by 8 p.m. I doubled the recipe and it yielded the perfect amount, and I would make these again in a heartbeat! If you’re a fan of Frank’s RedHot (which, c’mon — I don’t do spicy and even I love it!), you’ll love these. My husband hails from Western New York, so we’re all about the Buffalo flavor around here.

Just add celery.


Feta-Stuffed Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

Recipe from Iowa Girl Eats

Makes 16 meatballs

Ingredients:
1 lb ground chicken breast
1/4 small red onion, grated or minced
2 gloves garlic, minced
1 egg white
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon powdered Ranch Dip mix
4 oz block feta cheese, cut into 1/2” cubes
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup buffalo wing sauce

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stir together red onion, garlic, egg white, bread crumbs, and ranch dip mix in a large bowl. Add ground chicken then mix until just combined. Divide mixture into quarters, then each quarter into 4 balls. Press a cube of feta into the center of each ball then close mixture around cheese to seal. Place meatballs onto a non-stick sprayed cooling rack set on top of a baking sheet, then bake for 16-18 minutes, or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat then add buffalo wing sauce and stir to combine. Add cooked meatballs to skillet then use a spoon to coat in sauce. Place a lid on top and turn heat to low to keep warm.


My notes: This recipe was very easy to double, and the meatballs were a decent (two bite) size. I used fat-free feta cheese and it worked wonderfully, so don’t be afraid to lighten this one up! Also, we transferred these to a 13×9 dish with lid to transport and added plenty of sauce to keep them moist. They stayed warm and traveled well.


Book review: ‘Yes, Chef’ by Marcus Samuelsson

Yes, ChefEthiopian-born, Swedish-raised American chef Marcus Samuelsson had anything but a conventional upbringing.

After his African mother dies of tuberculosis following the 75-mile walk to a hospital that saved the life of he and his sister, 3-year-old Marcus is adopted by a loving white couple from Sweden. Raised with a grandmother who instills a passion for food and fascinated by the tastes and flavors of his dual heritage, Marcus turns his sights on cooking. His ambitions propel him from kitchens in Göteborg to fine restaurants in Switzerland and France, eventually landing him in New York City.

Now a successful chef and a “Top Chef Masters” winner, Samuelsson documents it all in Yes, Chef: his honest account of what it took to land him where he is today . . . and a loving ode to his varied roots — and phenomenal food.

This memoir landed in my hands on a rainy day at the library. I was wandering the audio shelves in search of something different — and I’ve been on a serious foodie fiction and food-related memoirs kick lately. Though I’d never heard of Marcus, something about his story jumped out at me. I devoured his memoir — pun intended — and am already fantasizing about how to get up to Red Rooster to taste his dishes in person.

Where to even begin with this story? Marcus’ rise to the top was filled with potholes and setbacks, disappointments and grief — but he persisted. While it’s hard not to judge some of his steely-eyed decisions harshly, thinking him cold-hearted, I believe Marcus was just a young man with ambitions that couldn’t be dampened. His laser-sharp focus on pursuing cooking came above everything else — and I couldn’t help but admire that.

Despite some of his more surprising decisions, Marcus comes across as raw and humble in his retellings of the moments that shaped his life. His descriptions of family — specifically, what “makes” a family — were touching and heartbreaking, and I cried my way through one of the early chapters. I was fascinated by his African and Swedish roots, and revelled in his descriptions of life in Göteborg (or “G-berg,” as the kids affectionately call it). The narrative detoured a bit as Marcus arrived in New York, but I loved feeling his sense of camaraderie with the wide-ranging people that inhabit the city.

Whether or not you’re familiar with Samuelsson, he has a fascinating story to tell — and I loved that Yes, Chef also pays homage to the many people who helped him continue climbing a ladder that might have otherwise become sawed-off. Also touching on issues of class, race and culture, this memoir was a thought-provoking read that held me captive from beginning to end.


4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0452298059 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Audio copy borrowed from my local library


About the audio: Samuelsson narrates his own story — and honestly, despite having to get used to his accent, I can’t imagine it any other way. His unique vocal patterns and careful word choices would have been lost on another narrator. As it stands, listening to Yes, Chef was an interesting and moving experience.


Recipe: Baked garlic Parmesan shrimp

Baked garlic parmesan shrimpAs Spencer and I become committed to better eating, I’m desperately searching for full-flavor recipes that deliver the goods without as much fat.

This Weight Watchers recipe about knocked our socks off — especially after a few weeks of relatively hum-drum eating. That’s my fault; as I’m learning the ropes of healthier eating, I tend to stick to “safe” foods (like lean turkey, apples, grilled chicken) before venturing into unknown territory.

This shrimp dish was ready in about 35 minutes, start to finish, and set my tastebuds a’ tinglin’ — in a good way! Plus: cheese. This recipe has delicious cheese on it. Felt like a real treat! And to balance out the “treat” aspect, we served it with a salad and light balsamic dressing.


Baked garlic Parmesan shrimp

Adapted from the Weight Watchers community

1 pound (16 oz.) frozen shrimp, thawed (or fresh, uncooked)
4 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbsp regular butter, softened
1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
2 tbsp fresh parsley
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup(s) grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 425 F. In a baking dish, combine the shrimp, garlic, white wine, salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, butter and parsley. Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over the shrimp, followed by the grated Parmesan. Cook 15-18 minutes until shrimp are opaque. Serve immediately. Serves 4 (or two hungry people!).