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.

img_6182

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!

 

 

Advertisements

Quick shepherd’s pie-inspired casserole

Shepherds pie

The week of my son’s surgery, my mother- and father-in-law arrived to help — and they brought food.

Lots of food.

You don’t realize what a task it is just feeding yourself until the last thing you want to do is feed yourself. Whether you’re exhausted (physically, emotionally . . . er, both), bored in the kitchen or just don’t feel like scrounging up dinner for the 1,676th time, having someone cook for you? At your own house? Amazing. And very appreciated.

Because I lived at home until marrying at 28, I completely took the reliable dinner-on-the-table-at-6:30 schedule for granted. I grew up spoiled by my dad’s reliable meals, and never had to worry about much prep beyond helping to set the table and clear afterward.

As I got older, I started pitching in during family mealtimes — but my parents usually handled the menu. It wasn’t until I met Spencer that I began seriously researching recipes and cooking . . . and it really took us moving in together before reality smacked me in the face. With a spatula.

My mother-in-law is a wonderful cook used to feeding a crowd. In the wonderful Johnson family, meals are frequently shared at their house on the hill — and this recipe was one Alex prepared for us during our holiday visit a few months back.

This version prepares a 9×13 casserole-worth of a quick shepherd’s pie (lots of delicious leftovers for two people), but you could easily double it for get-togethers. I tinkered just a bit with Alex’s original, but this recipe is hers.

It’s comforting, quick and easy to prepare . . . likely with ingredients you have on hand. Practically in a weekly rotation at our house. It really tastes homemade, you know?

And that’s a great thing.

Could you substitute homemade mashed potatoes for instant? Sure. But, as my mother-in-law asserts, it’s best to use the canned varieties of veggies. Fresh actually isn’t best here; you want that soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture. I’ve separately added corn and peas to this recipe, but found we like the green beans/carrot combo best.

But, you know . . . do what feels right. My mother-in-law uses frozen peas and carrots — also awesome. So improvise! Be bold! . . . Make dinner!

Let me know when it’s ready.


Shepherds pie


Quick Shepherd’s Pie Casserole

Ingredients:
1 lb. ground beef (I use 93/7 mixture)
4 oz. or more package of instant mashed potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp oregano
1 can (14.5 oz) sliced carrots
2 cans (14.5 oz) green beans
1 can (10.5 oz) cream of celery soup
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Paprika, to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium saucepan, set water to boil for instant mashed potatoes. Prepare potatoes according to package directions. When ready, set aside in a warm place.

In the meantime, add olive oil to nonstick skillet and brown the ground beef over medium-high heat. As beef cooks, add the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, black pepper, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and oregano. Drain the meat and spread it evenly in the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish.

Drain the green beans and carrots, then combine vegetables in a separate bowl. Add the cream of celery soup to veggies and stir to combine. Distribute this mixture evenly atop the ground beef, then spread the prepared mashed potatoes as the top layer. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese, then dust with paprika.

Bake in a 350F oven for 30 minutes, until hot and cheese has melted. Cool a few minutes before cutting to allow casserole to thicken. Serve with biscuits or cornbread, and enjoy!


Shepherds pie

For the “wow” factor, use a cookie scoop to place mashed potatoes
on top before baking — Alex’s idea. Cute, eh?


Slow cooker steak and veggie soup

IMG_5080_vintage

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.

IMG_5074_vintage

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.)


IMG_5075_vintage

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!