Mac ‘n Cheese ‘n Burger

It’s been a long winter. A long, long winter. Not necessarily from the weather-side, but just from the life side. But never fear – I’m still here! And finally back into a groove of cooking. I’ve noticed¬†that the things I cook often reflect my mood. If I’m feeling good, my recipes turn out great…but if I have the blues, then my dishes just really, well, stink.

It almost sounds cliche – and isn’t there a movie somewhere about this? But a long story short, I feel like I’m back in the game! ūüôā

Several weeks ago, this was made on a snowy Saturday night. We had no place to be, no plans to be had, so my husband and I made a date with our couch. It was definitely one of those nights where you wanted to just sit there, veg out, and watch TV. And, I confess, a night where you want to eat dinner on the couch. A perfect night for comfort food.

I had all the ingredients on hand for this recipe and decided it would be the perfect night to try it. And boy oh boy, it was a winner.

Mac ‘n Cheese ‘n Burger

adapted from Rachael Ray

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound cavatappi (curlicue pasta) or¬†elbow pasta
  • 1 tbsp¬†extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground¬†beef
  • 1/2 small onion, minced
  • 2 tsp¬†Worcestershire sauce (or more to taste)
  • Salt &¬†pepper
  • 4 tbsp¬†butter, cut into pieces
  • 4¬†tbsp¬†flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth/stock
  • 2¬†cups milk (we used 2%)
  • 1 tbsp¬†Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or a ‘mac & cheese blend’ if available)
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill pickles (optional)
  • 1¬†plum tomato, seeded and diced (optional)

  1. For the pasta, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and a dash of salt and cook until al dente.
  2. As the pasta cooks, heat a nonstick skillet with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown it, breaking it up into bite-size pieces as you go. Add in the onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to the skillet to season the meat.
  3. As the meat and pasta cook, heat a saucepot over medium to medium-high heat. Add the butter and whisk in the flour as the butter melts, making a roux.  If necessary, adjust heat to make sure the butter does not burn.
  4. Once the roux is nice and smooth, whisk in the stock and milk. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a bubble, then thicken it up a few minutes. Keep an eye on the pot so that the mixture does not bubble over. Stir the mustard into the sauce, then add the cheese a few handfuls at a time to the pot. Stir the mixture well so that the cheese melts, but does not burn at the bottom.
  5. At this point, your meat and pasta should be done. Drain the pasta and add it back to hot pasta pot. ¬†Add the beef, ¬†then the cheese sauce to it. Stir to combine the mac ‚Äėn cheese ‚Äėn burger altogether. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  6. Serve in shallow bowls with chopped pickles and tomatoes for garnish, if you’d like.

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This is a fantastic combination of cheeseburgers and macaroni & cheese – which are two great comfort foods (but not necessary great on the waistline…). You can easily tweak the add-ins and cheese to incorporate your favorite burgers and toppings:

  • mushrooms and swiss cheese
  • blue cheese and cajun seasoning
  • hellooo, bacon anyone?
  • toppings: ketchup (Hubs did this!), BBQ sauce, hot sauce, red onions,

I figure this can also work with turkey, chicken, or veggie burgers as well. Whatever your heart desires, I suppose ūüôā ¬†The only things I would not recommend adding are mayonnaise and¬†lettuce – it would become very soggy, wilty, and just…ick.

After writing this post I have to admit…I want to go make this again, right now. Yes, it’s¬†that¬†good!

 

Harissa Ravioli

I have a fun one for you today!

We’re now combining the concept of ‘eating less meat’ and ‘Lent’. I’ve been searching high and low for a few new meatless meals that aren’t all about grains and dairy (which we all know hold the first several¬†spots in my list of favorite foods) and may be relative nice on the waistline.

I came across this one in a cookbook that had been circulating around the bakery; lately we’ve been passing around a cookbook or two to get inspired in our own kitchens. I came across this recipe and was hooked because of its use of¬†harissa.

Harissa is a spicy chili pepper paste that is THE condiment of Tunisia. It has a very rich, spicy flavor and is used for meats, vegetables, dips…you name it. There are several different variations of harissa; all of which vary based upon household preferences and regions. Our version that I found at Spice Merchants¬†(I loooooove this store) includes caraway, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, sea salt, and dried chiles. It has such a neat flavor profile and after trying this recipe, I cannot wait to use it again (I’m thinking roasted veggies).

 

Harissa Ravioli

adapted from Heidi Swanson’s¬†Super Natural Every Day

  • 1¬†garlic clove, smashed
  • 1/4 tsp¬†sea salt
  • 2 tbsp¬†lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp¬†harissa paste/powder
  • 1/4 cup¬†extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12-oz¬†cheese ravioli (fresh or frozen) (tortellini works too)
  • 8 oz¬†broccoli florets, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces (broccolini/rapini works too)
  • 1/4 cup¬†pine nuts, toasted (almonds or pepitas work, too)
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 5 or 6¬†kalamata olives, sliced
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. While it’s heating up,¬†prepare¬†the harissa mixture:¬†Take the smashed garlic clove and sprinkle¬†the salt over it. Then, chop into a paste. Transfer this¬†to a small bowl and stir in the lemon juice, harissa, and olive oil. Taste and add¬†more salt if needed.
  2. Once the water is boiling, add the ravioli. Cook until they float to the top of the water (usually 1-2 minutes is all it takes). About 30 seconds before the ravioli has finished cooking, add the broccoli to the pot. Boil for about 30 seconds to a minute, then remove from heat.
  3. Put the ravioli and broccoli in a large mixing bowl. Add the harissa mixutre, nuts, cheese and olives. Toss to combine and serve.

This meal from start to finish took approximately 20 minutes to make and was absolutely perfect for a weeknight meal and a Lenten Friday, at that. I used spinach & cheese ravioli; you can use whatever kind you wish, however. The leftovers heated up very well for my hubby and it really was a nice change from our usual meal line-up as of late. The harissa does have a kick, so if you are a bit wary of the heat, use less sauce when you mix up the ravioli for serving. ¬†It’s simple, flavorful and relatively healthy, too.

If you see harissa at your local store, pick some up and give it a try. It’s a really neat condiment that adds depth, heat and flavor to what are otherwise ordinary ingredients. As I said before, I’m thinking that roasted veggies with harissa will be next ūüôā

Chicken Cacciatore

Okay – I feel better now ūüôā I made a dish that didn’t fail; granted it’s a tried and true recipe and the previous ones were ones that I hadn’t tried before. Even so, I feel like less of a failure and I feel that it’s relatively post-worthy.

red pot¬†Look at one of my pretty Christmas gifts from my husband! A gorgeous red Le Creuset dutch oven. I’m so in love with it. I’ve been wanting one for quite a while and he remembered…I wasn’t picky about the color, but I do like red things for my kitchen so again, he remembered!

I’m not very well-versed in cookware like this, so I still have a lot to learn in terms of what I can and cannot cook in it. I figure “low and slow” is a good mantra for this pot – soups, stews, and dishes that need at least a good 30-45 minutes to meld together. I am proud of the fact, however, that I remembered that it’s a coated¬†cast iron pot –¬†meaning that you need to wear oven mitts whenever dealing with it or else you risk some major burns. ¬†This is also a step in the right direction for me, as I’m that person that will carelessly forget when a pan has been in the oven, and will accidentally grab it with my bare hands when I’m ready to serve it (my husband will vouch for me on this one).

Anyways – it’s winter time. It’s pep band season. We’re working¬†a lot, and to save a little bit of cash, we need dinners that are going to last us a while so we’re not stopping at the store for a quick meal or even *ugh* fast food. Dinners that are still delicious and (relatively) healthy, but still stick to the ribs to keep us warm. Know what I mean? I thought about something to cook this week with my new pot, and immediately thought of chicken cacciatore!

Chicken cacciatore is “hunter-style” chicken; chicken with¬†mushrooms, onion, and tomatoes. It’s a hearty dish that fills you up, goes a long way and tastes amazing. The recipe that I based my dish off of, however, doesn’t include mushrooms! I think I’ll have to make a note in my cookbook for next time.

Chicken Cacciatore

adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

  • 4 boneless chicken thighs, cut in half
  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, quartered (or 4-6 tenders, halved)
  • salt and pepper (just a sprinkle of each)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 tbsp¬†olive oil
  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (based on your preference)
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 ( 28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup¬†chicken broth/stock
  • 3 tbsp¬†drained capers
  • 1 1/2 tsp¬†dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  1. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. On a plate or in a shallow bowl, dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat.
  2. In a large heavy saute pan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the pan and saute just until they’re just brown (~5 minutes). Do not crowd the pan; feel free to¬†brown the chicken¬†in 2 batches. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and wait two minutes. Add the bell pepper, onion and garlic to the same pan and saute until the onion softens. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper.
  4. Add the wine and simmer until the liquid reduced by half (~3-5 minutes). Add the entire can of diced tomatoes (including the juice), broth, capers and oregano. Stir to combine.
  5. Return the chicken to the pan and coat it in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until all the chicken is cooked through and the flavors have melded together.
  6. Serve hot, sprinkled with basil and with pasta if desired.

cacciatore

As I said in the recipe, you can serve with or without pasta. This makes a lot of sauce and leftovers reheat really well. I had mine with a piece of baguette from work on the side to pick up any last sauce that was leftover in the dish.

I cannot recommend this recipe enough this time of year – it really warms you up and sticks to your ribs! ¬†Delicious Italian food in the dead of winter. How can you go wrong!? Enjoy ūüôā

 

Lemon Parmesan Tortellini

One of the first cooking blogs that I ever started reading was Stephanie Cooks. ¬†Stephanie’s tastes are very similar to my own and I really like her down-to-earth, simple writing style. Her recipes are easy to follow and really user-friendly, too. And, I can’t help but love that she’s also a teacher! ūüôā

I too am not the biggest fan of cream sauces, – I feel that they can become extremely ‘heavy’ and almost a little to decadent. The opposite goes for my husband – he loves them and will be the first to admit that I do not cook with them enough! I decided to trust Stephanie’s judgement on the consistency and flavor of this sauce; since I love lemon 24/7, I figured this would be a good compromise for dinner.

Lemon Parmesan Tortellini

adapted from Stephanie Cooks

 

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup broth
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 pound tortellini
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  1. Heat up a pot of hot water to boil.
  2. In a skillet over medium heat, heat up the olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the broth and turn up the heat to high. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the cream, lemon juice and zest, and Italian seasoning. Reduce the heat to medium and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Once you’ve got your sauce going and the water is boiling, cook the tortellini (according to the package directions).
  5. After about 10 minutes, add the parmesan cheese to the sauce and stir to combine, allowing the cheese to melt. Add the peas, stirring constantly so that they begin to thaw. Add the tortellini to the sauce as they finish cooking. Toss and serve.

 

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As you can see, I added peas to the original recipe to get a vegetable into the main dish. You can definitely leave these out if you wish! This dish was filling and decadent, without being too heavy, as some cream sauces tend to do. The lemon in the cream sauce takes it to the next level and makes this meal really shine on a cold winter’s night. It also came together fairly quickly, which you know I never complain about ūüôā

If you’ve been an avid fan of my cooking, I definitely recommend you head on over to Stephanie Cooks! You won’t be disappointed.

Mediterranean Chicken with Roasted Garlic Orzo

Hey look – I’m posting a recipe! Imagine that ūüôā

I hope you all are doing well. Sorry it’s been so long! I’m finally getting back into the swing of things. For real this time, I swear!

Chicken, pan-roasted with herbs, is a perfect compliment to garlicky pasta and vegetables. You can’t really ever go wrong with a combination like that. It’s great comfort food for when the weather is starting to change and you want something to savor after a long day. This dish has a great amount of flavor to it and really isn’t too complicated to make – it just uses a few pots and pans. However –¬†please make sure that you read through the entire recipe first, so that everything is timed relatively well and that you have all the ingredients you need!


 

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Mediterranean Chicken with Roasted Garlic Orzo

adapted from For the Love of Cooking and Epicurious

For the chicken:

  • Zest and juice from 1 large lemon (about 2 tbsp juice)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1¬†tsp fresh minced¬†parsley (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1-2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, fat removed
  • 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts (if desired)
  • 2 tbsp feta cheese (if desired)
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (if desired)
  • Lemon wedges (if desired)

For the orzo:

  • 5¬†large garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves (or 1 tbsp dried)
  • 1¬†cup orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
  1. In a large Ziploc bag or glass dish (with lid), combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, and herbs. Add the chicken breasts, then seal/cover and let marinate for at least 30-1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 450*. Tightly wrap the unpeeled garlic cloves in foil so that it makes a little pouch. Place in middle of oven and roast for about 25 minutes. Carefully unwrap garlic and let cool slightly. Remove skin from cloves and mash into a paste. Transfer garlic paste to a bowl and stir in butter and parsley.
  3. Reduce¬†the oven to 375*. Coat¬†an OVEN-PROOF saute pan¬†with cooking spray and heat over med-high heat.¬†Add the chicken breasts to the HOT pan and cook until brown, about 2-3 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. Flip the chicken over and place the saute pan into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Keep the marinade, as you’ll need it for later.
  4. As the chicken bakes, begin your vegetables.¬†Caramelize the diced onion by heating a saut√© pan over med-low heat with 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. (Note –¬†If the pan and/or onion start to get a little dry,¬†add a little bit of water¬†and toss to coat). Continue cooking until the onions are nice and caramelized. Once the onions are just about ready, get water boiling¬†for your orzo.
  5. To your onions, add the grape tomatoes and cook until they’re¬†about to burst (about 5 minutes). Add the baby spinach then season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste. Check on your chicken in the oven;¬†pour the remaining marinade into the pan, and place back into the oven. Continue baking for 5 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove from the oven and let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before slicing thinly.
  6. The water should be boiling now; cook the orzo until tender and reserve about 1/4 cup cooking water. Drain orzo well and add to garlic mixture with enough reserved cooking water to melt butter and prevent orzo from sticking together. Season orzo with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve by placing a big scoop of orzo into a bowl. Add the vegetables, followed by the chicken. If desired, top with some toasted pine nuts, feta cheese, and fresh parsley. Use some lemon wedges to add a even more lemon flavored, if you wish.

 


 

I feel that this dish was ‘timed right’. Everything seemed to be done at once, and it was a dish were if I needed to walk away and put the wash into the dryer (or some other quick chore), I could do so without anything burning. It was very low maintenance, which was perfect for a Monday evening meal.

It¬†tasted so¬†good that I even hid the leftovers in the back of the fridge, so that I could take them for lunch the next day (my husband takes the majority of our leftovers – I’m not much of a fan of them, but when they’re good, they’re¬†oh-so-good and I have to fight for ’em).

 

Pasta with Lemon Cream Sauce and Spring Vegetables

Lately it seems as though many food bloggers are jumping into spring flavors – lots of citrus and lemon…spring vegetables…I think we’re all a little *over* those winter soups and stews. Then again, it’s still cool enough for casseroles ¬†(or at least it is in my neck of the woods). Okay, okay, and tomato soup. But that’s besides the point ūüôā

I knew once the weather started to “turn” that I too was in the mood for a light pasta with plenty of fresh, spring vegetables. I’m not really one for alfredo and cream sauces as I feel they’re so thick, heavy, and pretty terrible for you – much to the dismay of my husband. I was really pleased to come across this recipe from Cooking Light – they’re constantly working on lightening up dishes without sacrificing flavor. Thus, a cream sauce that was ‘lightened up’ would please both the palates and waistlines in our home!

Pasta with Lemon Cream Sauce and Spring Vegetables

adapted from Cooking Light

  • 8 ounces¬†uncooked¬†rotini or fusilli (aka ‘curly pasta’)
  • 1/2 lb asparagus – woody ends snapped off, and sliced into bite sized pieces
  • 1 cup¬†frozen green peas, thawed
  • 1 tbsp¬†butter
  • 1¬†garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup¬†vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp¬†cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup¬†heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons¬†fresh lemon juice¬†(or the juice of one lemon)
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • a dash of cayenne pepper, if you like
  • OPTIONAL: Parmesan cheese & dried parsley, for topping
  1. Cook pasta until just al dente. Add the sliced asparagus during the last minute of the pasta boil. Drain the pasta mixture and return to the pot; add the peas and mix around (the heat will thaw the peas).
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat; melt the butter. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté for a minute.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the broth and cornstarch until well-blended. Add this broth mixture to pan and bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  4. To the pan, add the cream, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add in the pasta & vegetables and toss to coat.  Serve immediately, with parmesan and parsley on top (if you like).

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This dish was incredibly delicious and perfect for a lazy Sunday evening. It was fast and very easy to make. The cream and lemon flavors balance each other out really well and highlights the asparagus and peas. There were absolutely¬†zero¬†leftovers for the next day, so I’m not quite sure how well this would reheat – though I imagine it would be just as fantastic the next day.

I would make this again in a flash – good thing asparagus is still relatively in season! ūüôā

**Shared on the Homemade Mondays series at Frugal by Choice, Cheap by Necessity**

Chicken Piccata

Snowed in.

Snowed in.

Love the view from our front window this morning? Northern Michigan was blessed with a Winter Storm Warning at 10pm last night; between 6am yesterday and 6am this morning, The Weather Channel says we received a foot of snow. I’m about ready to send our plow guy flowers for the great job they’ve done with our driveway this year.

With all the cold, snowy weather we’ve been having lately, I’ve found myself really craving some citrusy, summery, ‘light’-tasting dishes for dinner (minus this past week when I came down with a wicked chest cold and didn’t really want to eat anything except noodle soup).

As you probably know already, I’m a tad obsessed with the free-range, organic chicken breast that is available at our local organic co-op, so that explains all the chicken dishes we’ve been consuming (and you’ve been reading about) lately. I feel I can truly taste a difference…but then again, maybe that’s just the cold meds talking.

This dish – a favorite from the Giada cookbook that I have – hit the spot dead-on.

Chicken Piccata

adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

  • 1 lb. chicken breast, cut into halves
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 2-3 tbsp flour, for coating
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (I supplemented with the bottled since I ran out of lemons!)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup capers, drained
  • dried parsley
  1. In a gallon-sized freezer bag, add the chicken breasts and the flour. Toss around to coat the chicken. Shake off the excess flour.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil; wait about 1-2 minutes for the oil to heat up.
  3. To the skillet, add the chicken. When it starts to brown, turn each piece over. Remove and set aside on a bowl or plate.
  4. Turn the heat down to low and add the lemon juice, stock, and capers. Bring the mixture to a boil, deglazing the pan as you go. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes.
  5. Return the chicken breast back to the skillet and simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove from heat and sprinkle with parsley.

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As you can see, we served this with some fresh asparagus, orecchiette pasta, and garlic bread. Overall it is a very easy dish to make – I made it on a Monday evening after going for a run at the gym! It really satisfied that light, citrusy taste that I was looking for.

You can easily substitute veal or pork, if that’s what you’d rather use. I think, however, I’m going to stick with my fancypants organic chicken for now ūüôā