kid-friendly · Recipes

Rotini with Asparagus, Peas & Goat Cheese

Clearly, I am revving up for spring, because this is a decidedly non-wintery dish. Fluffy rotini drenched in a light, lemony goat cheese sauce mingles nicely with whatever vegetables you have on hand; I love the blend of asparagus and peas, because it’s like a signal to my taste buds that nicer weather is around the bend.

This is perfect for meal prep Sundays, or for throwing together right after work. All you need on hand, after all, are your vegetables of choice — even frozen work well — and a small package of chevre, one lemon, plus a box of pasta. This is a great one for little helping hands, too, because there are just a few simple steps and easy tasks to share!

By the way, chevre and goat cheese are the same thing. They are a goat’s milk cheese which can be easier to digest for anyone with low tolerance for cow’s milk; chevre is also a bit lighter in fat and has a pleasingly tangy flavor and smooth texture. I save about a cup of the pasta cooking water here, and add it in gradually to the dish to loosen up the goat cheese and thin it into a silky, smooth sauce.

CHEVRE ROTINI

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 box rotini pasta (or similar shape)
  • 1 bunch asparagus (or bag frozen, such as Trader Joe’s grilled)
  • 1/3 package frozen peas, or about a good palm full (I estimated)
  • 1 small log goat cheese, about 4-5 oz.
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

If you are using fresh asparagus, I like to roast them on a sheet of aluminum foil in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper at 425 for about 12-15 minutes, or I pick up a frozen bag of the Trader Joe’s grilled spears. No matter which way you prep them, frozen or fresh, chop into rotini-sized pieces after they are done cooking and set aside.

Next, boil water for the rotini and cook the pasta until al dente, or 8-10 minutes. I like rotini because it really grips sauces, but any shape of pasta is OK. If you are using frozen peas, cook them at the same time as the pasta.

Drain pasta (and frozen peas if using), reserving one cup of cooking water.

Return rotini to the pan, stir in the asparagus and goat cheese, and zest the lemon into the pan. Halve the lemon and juice both sides into the pasta, being sure to catch the seeds (using an inexpensive hand-held citrus press is a great way to do this). Lastly, pour in the pasta water a little at a time, stirring until you reach the right consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve warm!

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This makes such great leftovers for the work week, and actually tastes good hot or cold. I haven’t tried this yet, but I bet it would be good to bring to a cookout in the summer as a cool pasta salad. If you try that, let me know. Until then, happy meal prepping, and stay safe if you’re impacted by the Nor’Easter hitting the East Coast right now!

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Recipes

Creamy Boursin Shells & Peas

Happy Monday, everyone! Hope you had a great weekend. We sure did (even though it was in the 90s and our old house barely has any AC!) Georgia and I kept cool with squirt guns, blowing bubbles in the shade, and taking our first boat ride on my dad’s paddle boat in New Hampshire.

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Thanks to Cup of Jo for this great, no-effort pasta recipe that’s perfect for hot/lazy nights when you just don’t have the wherewithal to cook something complicated. All you need is three ingredients: a package of Boursin cheese (the kind you might grab for a party appetizer), a box of medium shells, and fresh or frozen peas. Add a little lemon zest to enhance the complexity of the flavor, and grind as much fresh pepper on top as you like to really make it sing. Comes together super fast, tastes light yet is very filling, and easily feeds babies and toddlers, too. Enjoy!
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I chose to use a bag of frozen organic peas from Trader Joes because that’s what I had on hand. But I would imagine that fresh peas would taste amazing! To thaw this out, I ran the bag under hot water for a few minutes, broke up the frozen chunks in the package with the bottom of a drinking glass, and then added to the dish pretty cold so they could finish cooking in the pan.

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Creamy Boursin Shells & Peas

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. box of shells, medium or small
  • 1 bag of frozen peas (or fresh peas, if you can get them)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 package Garlic & Herb Boursin Cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: fresh basil and a bit of butter

DIRECTIONS

Put a pot of water on to boil. Add the shells and cook until al dente, as they’ll continue cooking in the pan with the sauce.

In a non-stick sauce pan, melt the boursin over medium-high until it turns liquidy. Zest one lemon into the pan and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Add the peas and cook for a couple minutes to blend flavors.

Drain the shells, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the cooking water to the sauce, stir until combined, then add the shells. Cook for a few more minutes and add seasonings as well as a bit of butter if the flavor or creaminess isn’t where you want it. Top with freshly-torn basil and serve warm.
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I added torn fresh basil on top for a bit of extra flourish and fresh flavor. You can include or omit as your tastes dictate. Buon Appetito! 

Holidays · Recipes

Split Pea Soup

OK, finding dried peas was IMPOSSIBLE this week, which is why this post is so late. Am I crazy, or is making Split Pea Soup with your leftover holiday ham bone not a thing anymore? At Christmas and Easter my relatives usually fight over the thing on their way out the door, and having pea soup for lunch all week is supposed to be a post-holiday treat, not a chore. Poor Mark went to three different stores for me before finding a one-pound bag of regular old Goya dried beans yesterday. Trader Joe’s and Target said they don’t even carry peas at all, so this isn’t a case of stores running out because everyone else wanted to make pea soup, too.

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My mom always made a wicked good pea soup, but her memory of the recipe was approximate, so I decided to use a good old fashioned Betty Crocker recipe for this Split Pea Soup. My mom does not use celery or carrots in hers, but I wanted to try that and see how I liked it. I think it worked, so I’ll probably do that again the next time I make it.

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It came out delectable, if I do say so myself!

SPLIT PEA SOUP

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried split peas, sorted and rinsed
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 ham bone (or 2 pounds shanks)
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch slices

Directions

Heat the peas and the water to boiling in a 4-quart Dutch oven. Boil uncovered for 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour.

Stir in the onion, celery, carrots and pepper. Add the ham bone. Heat to boiling and reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 1 hour 30 minutes, or until peas are tender.

You can either remove the ham bone trim and off the excess fat, and then chop some ham from the bone and place into the soup, or leave the bone in the soup and cut off some pieces with scissors, like I did, then remove and discard.

Heat to boiling again, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer about 30 minutes more or until the soup is your desired consistency.

Skim the fat at this point, or later before serving (that’s what I did). Serve warm with toast or a salad. IMG_9517

Start to finish, this took just over 3 hours, most of it simmer time. I started right after putting Georgia to bed Friday night and finished up right in time for ME to go to bed, at 10:30. I put portions into takeout containers for me to have lunches all week. If you make this in a cast iron Dutch oven, it may take quite a while to cool down completely, so I’d recommend storing in a separate container. It will look much more liquid-y when you first stop cooking and then it’ll solidify overnight, which is how long I like to let it sit before eating.

Betty Crocker’s Tips include:

How to sort and rinse peas. Preparing split peas for cooking is easy, BC says! “Just pick over the dried split peas and discard any grit or discolored peas. Place the split peas in a bowl, and cover them with water. After a minute or two, remove any skins or split peas that float to the top. Finally, rinse the split peas in a colander.”

What to do if you have no ham bone? “If you’re looking for another option for a ham bone, use 2 pounds of smoked pork hocks.”

How to eat this. Like you need the help. “Serve this hearty soup with warm crusty bread and a fresh green salad drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette. Mmm!” Adorable.

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Nutrition Per Serving: 170 Calories, Total Fat 2g, Cholesterol 15 mg, Sodium 30 mg, Carbohydrate 33g, Fiber 13g(!), Protein 17 g.
Holidays · Recipes

Eating Fish on Good Friday?

Allow me to share my two favorite seafood recipes for any last-minute Good Friday cooks out there (with apologies for the 2012-style fuzzy photo in the second dish). These really are scrumptious and easy to pull together.

Seafood Pasta Baked in Foil, adapted from the Pioneer Woman

Are you eschewing meat entirely this Lent? Allow me to share with you my favorite meat-free risotto recipe.

Springtime Risotto

However and whatever you’re celebrating, have a lovely weekend and enjoy your family, friends and food. XOXO

Recipes

Slow Cooker Chicken Curry

Ever on the hunt for easy, family-friendly recipes, I tried to make a simple chicken and vegetable curry with minimal spice (to please Mr. Boring Meat and Potatoes Palate) in the slow cooker last weekend. Can I just say…wow! This is a definite winner! It’s officially added to our regular rotation.

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I kept it bland, but you can amp up the spice if you like, and serve over the rice of your choosing (or plain).

The original recipe called for cauliflower, which I love but Mark hates, so I doubled up the other veggies, in particular the Brussels Sprouts since they’re a fave in our house. You can really customize this however you like, though, and make it vegetarian by leaving out the meat. If you keep the chicken, though, I think you’ll be pleased to find that it cooks down into flavorful, really moist shredded pieces in this recipe. Perfect for spooning onto a sub roll for lunch the next day!

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Freeze leftovers or take them for lunch all week long. I paired this with a salad for lunch one day, and this veggie dish another. (Belgian Salad? Brussels Sprouts? Do we have some kind of weird theme happening here?) Again, this has no heat to it whatsoever, so fear not, wimps! Mark can’t even tolerate a hint of spice, and it didn’t hurt this dish one bit.

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Slow Cooker Chicken Curry

INGREDIENTS

I bought all mine at Trader Joe’s but all are widely available.

  • 1 lb. boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cups Brussels sprouts
  • 1 medium white OR red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained & rinsed
  • 15 oz. tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk, light
  • 2 TBSP curry powder
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice (about half one fresh lemon)
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Start by chopping all your dry ingredients: peel and cube the sweet potato, dice the red pepper, and chop the onion. Place all veggies in the slow cooker (including frozen Brussels sprouts) except the frozen peas and lemon juice. Pour in wet ingredients (coconut milk, tomato sauce, chicken broth) plus the beans, drained and rinsed, and curry powder. Stir, then place chicken breasts on top. I cut mine in half first, but that’s a matter of personal preference.

Set slow cooker for low and cook 8 hours, stirring occasionally if you are home. Or, cook on high for four hours. Just before serving, pour in the frozen peas and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Enjoy with rice on the side, or plain.

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If you are making this vegetarian, be sure to increase the amount of vegetables to compensate for the space the chicken would have taken up, and cook for less time (about 6 hours on low). If you decide to add the cauliflower back in, the original recipe calls for 1 cup chopped. If you’d like for this to be spicy, I’d recommend adding 1 tsp cayenne (or hot sauce to taste) at the beginning when you add the curry powder.

You really can’t go wrong with this one. I hope you like it! Great for having a crowd over, or just for stocking up for the work week and before all that cooking over the holidays.

My other go-to for weekend cooking, especially right before a week like Thanksgiving when your kitchen is focused on holiday prep, are these vegetarian stuffed shells. So easy, so yummy, so filling. So Italian (just like me! And Georgia, who is VERY interested in helping in the kitchen these days).

This year, I am making Balsamic Roasted Green Beans and Homemade Cranberry Sauce for Thanksgiving at my dad’s house (gotta climb into the Wayback Machine for that first recipe!) And Georgia can eat everything this year ~ how exciting! Here’s what she looked like last Thanksgiving at just three months old 😦 I would be sad, but I remember how poorly we were sleeping back then, and I’d much rather take the craziness of toddlerhood with everyone getting a full night’s sleep.

Chicken curry recipe adapted from SarahFit, who says each of the five 3-cup servings has about 300 calories. She also puts the total cost at less than $25, which sounds about right. Cheap, healthy and tasty ~ awesome!

Recipes

Bowties with Ham, Peas & Ricotta

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I threw this together to use up the leftovers from our Christmas spiral ham. Any time you have leftover ham, just pick up a box of farfalle (aka bowtie) pasta, a bag of frozen peas and ricotta, and you’ve got a meal.

BOWTIE PASTA WITH HAM, PEAS & RICOTTA

Ingredients

  • Leftover spiral ham slices, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 bag of frozen peas
  • 1 container of ricotta cheese, preferably low fat/part skim
  • Milk, cream or water to taste for loosening the sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: a dash of brown mustard

Directions

Set the pasta on to boil. Halfway through cooking, add in the entire bag of frozen peas.

Drain pasta and peas, reserving a bit of the cooking water. The starches will help make a sauce when you add the ricotta.

In the original pot over the lowest heat setting, add the ham pieces to the pasta and peas; add the entire container of ricotta. Stirring, add the reserved pasta water back in (1-2 cups should do it) plus a splash of any kind of milk, cream or water to loosen the sauce.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.

I also added a squirt of brown mustard to the sauce to add a different flavor, and it really tasted good!

Makes great leftovers, just add a pat of butter and/or some water to re-loosen the sauce before microwaving.

This could be made vegetarian very easily by using Morningstar (or similar) “meats,” which I’ve tried and liked.

Just to be festive, I threw in half a cup of leftover eggnog to make this an extra creamy sauce. We ate it for dinner on New Year’s Day as a snowstorm starting swirling into New England. Cozy and delicious!

And now, my baby at 4.5 months 🙂

kid-friendly · Recipes

Springtime Risotto

Risotto isn’t anywhere near as difficult to make as some people would have you believe. Once you master the basic techniques, you’ll find it’s easy to make it your own. It’s truly an all season food ~ I have summer and winter versions, and I’m always inventing new recipes!

The thing I love most about risotto is how easily it feeds a crowd and makes fabulous leftovers. In fact, I prefer eating day-old risotto to a freshly made batch; the flavors just blend together so nicely.

My spring risotto included leeks, peas, celery and lemon; I was looking for good asparagus but left it out because everything I found looked a bit tired.

I also make a fall version with roasted red peppers and sundried tomato chicken sausage. It’s super hearty and my husband loves it. Experiment to your heart’s content!

The first thing to know about making risotto is that you need a handful of essential ingredients before you can customize. You’ll want to use arborio rice; it usually comes in a cardboard carton, vacuum sealed, and can be found either with the other rices or in the ethnic/organic section of major food markets, depending on where you go. I buy mine at Trader Joe’s because their packaging is exactly the amount of rice you need for one batch (about two cups). Arborio rice is an Italian short-grain rice that is high in starch and absorbs lots of liquid to give you a creamy finished product. When I lived in Italy, I learned that risotto is truly a staple — you can throw just about any leftover veggies into it, and it reheats very well as I mentioned. The children in my host family ate it most days of the week when they came home from school for lunch.

The second thing you need is broth — chicken or vegetable, either works fine. You’ll either need two cans or one of the cardboard cartons. I don’t recommend getting low sodium, unless you are on a strict heart-related diet, but fat free and/or gluten free versions (like the one above) are just fine. To get started, set a pot of stock on to boil while you chop your other ingredients. Once the stock boils, you’ll want to keep it at a medium simmer — not so high that it starts to burn off, but not so low that it cools down, either. You need it hot to mix into the risotto properly.

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The second thing you need is a chopped onion. In this case, I used leeks. While your stock is boiling, chop your onion and add to a large stock pot with equal parts olive oil and butter. Be liberal here — you really need it to coat the onion and bubble up when heated. The olive oil and butter keep each other from burning. You’ll start by sauteeing the onion over medium-high until translucent.

Next, you will pour all the arborio rice into the pot and stir immediately so it doesn’t stick. Why do this? The butter and olive oil actually coat the arborio rice and prevent it from getting soggy, which might happen if you started adding liquid right away.

Then, pour in a healthy glug of white wine. Just eyeball it; you’ll almost always use white, unless you are making something so meat- or seafood-heavy that only red makes sense. Stir until the wine burns off, just a minute or so. Get a measuring cup ready — after the wine burns off, you’re going to add a cup of water to the pan and stir.

Now there’s two ways you can go from here. If, like me, you’re using things that would benefit from longer cooking — like celery — you can add them in at this point, before you start adding the stock to the pan. If you are mixing in meat, I’d cook that in a separate pan and add it in the end; anything you don’t want to get soggy you won’t cook with the risotto. Most things fall into that category. Celery just happens to be pretty tough. Since I was also using a package of frozen peas, I tossed them in at this stage, too, so they could cook alongside the rice and celery.

Now it’s time to add the broth! It should be simmering away on medium-low. Using your measuring cup, add it one cup at a time, and stir the rice slowly until the liquid is absorbed. Then repeat. I don’t recommend leaving the room for longer than a minute or the rice could stick to the bottom of the pan — death to your risotto! If there’s one thing you can’t rescue, it’s burned rice. But don’t get sneaky and add too much veggie stock at once, either, because risotto is fickle that way. You have to go slow.

Once all your broth is gone, you’ll want to do a taste test. Check the risotto for tenderness. You want it to be al dente; a little pushback when you bite, somewhere between mushy and hard. If it’s still doesn’t taste done, then you can add water from here on out, tasting after every cupful to get the right texture. If you are cooking veggies or meat on the side, now would be the time to add them in. For my spring risotto, now was the time to add fresh squeezed lemon.

When you’re done, it’s time to add in grated cheese. Before you do this, you can also add salt and pepper to taste. Some people like to stir in a creamy element at this point, such as mascarpone cheese, but I prefer not to. Up to you!

Now if you decide you like your risotto more luiquid-y, that’s fine. Some people prefer a porridge feel, and that’s just as good. I wouldn’t skimp on cheese either way; I mix in a blend of parmesan and pecorino, because pecorino lends a nice salty bite that cuts the inherent blandness of a dish like risotto. Of course, fresh basil is always a good option.

Springtime Risotto

hands on time: 30-40 minutes // serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package of arborio rice, about 2 cups
  • 1 onion, chopped, or one bunch of leeks, sliced
  • 1 large carton (or 2 cans) of vegetable broth (chicken stock is OK too)
  • 1 small package of frozen peas
  • 4-6 stalks celery, diced
  • freshly shaved parmesan and pecorino (or just use one of these)
  • water
  • EVOO & butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS 

Set a sauce pan on medium-high and pour in the stock. Once it reaches boiling, reduce heat and keep the stock at a low simmer, so it doesn’t burn off  but stays warm.

Meanwhile, chop your leeks and add them to a large stock pot with equal parts olive oil and butter; stir until melted, well coated and translucent. Salt well to help leeks release their flavors.

Pour a healthy splash of white wine into the pan and stir to reduce. Next, add about a cup of water and stir until absorbed.

Add the celery and peas and stir to combine. Then, start adding the simmering stock, one cupful at a time, stirring constantly to prevent sticking.

Once the stock is gone, taste test; if the rice is too al dente, add water gradually until it achieves the right texture — firm but not stiff, and before it gets soggy.

Squeeze one organic lemon into the pan and stir.

Grate parmesan and pecorino directly into the pan. Pick a not-too-small grater and be heavy handed with the cheese.

Taste; add salt and pepper if needed.

Optional: Stir in a spoonful of mascarpone or cream cheese. I don’t do this; it’s a tad too Americanized for me. If anything, a drizzle of excellent olive oil is more authentic, as would be some freshly torn basil.

Serve with white wine and enjoy leftovers the next day!