Friday Night Feast V

Oh how I loved this week's Friday Night Feast! I wanted to do something light and summery and I thought of this recipe that I had tried more than a year ago and hadn't made since. I can't imagine why I didn't make this recipe again and again because it was absolutely delicious. It's healthy, too!

Warm Pasta Salad with Vegetables, Broiled Feta, and Shrimp
~This is a complete one dish meal~

  • 12 ounces Pasta (I used Whole Grain Rotini and it was awesome)*
  • 8 ounces feta cheese (in a chunk, not crumbled), cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined (I buy frozen raw shrimp)
  • 1/2 cup red onion, sliced into half-moons
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups snow peas (fresh or frozen...I use fresh)
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 1/2 cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (you don't really need this, but it's quite good in it)
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions (you can do this ahead, if you want, and just heat it up in the microwave). Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Preheat the broiler while you arrange feta slices on a tin foil lined baking sheet.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large skillet. Add shrimp in a single layer and let cook 1-2 minutes, then flip them to finish cooking 1-2 minutes. They are done when they are pink and opaque. I actually sprinkled some Greek seasoning I had and it tasted great. Be creative with seasoning the shrimp, or just cook it plain. It tastes great both ways!
  4. Remove the shrimp and set aside. Heat 1 tbsp oil in the same skillet and add the onion and garlic to cook for a minute.
  5. Add the snow peas and bell pepper and cook, stirring, until crisp tender, about 5 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, pop the feta under the broiler for 2-4 minutes (keep an eye on it). It should get golden brown on top.
  7. Add the tomatoes and the cooked shrimp to the vegetable mixture and cook for a minute. Sprinkle with basil.
  8. Add the vegetable and shrimp mixture to the pasta. Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Add slices of broiled feta.
  9. Enjoy it with someone you love, like I did, and then store the extra in the fridge for lunch tomorrow.
* I was super stubborn about the "use whole wheat or whole grain pasta instead of regular pasta" thing. I figured it had to taste really bad if it was whole wheat or whole grain. But then I watched this show (that I absolutely love, by the way, and plan to write a post on soon) called Zonya's Health Bites. She talks about how regular pasta has no nutritional value and that whole wheat and whole grain pasta is not only packed with nutrition, but it fills you up much faster. So you end up eating less pasta and it's better for you. I gave in and tried and it...I discovered that I actually like it better! It's delicious!

This recipe was adapted from a recipe in Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals


Food Lovin'

I like to show my love for people in lots of ways. One of my favorite ways to love people is by feeding them! Maybe it's the Italian in me...I just love giving people good food to eat. It makes me feel so content to know that my friends and family are full and satisfied because of something I made for them.

I think that food has an amazing ability to provide health and energy to our bodies. It also can remind us of places we've been and things that we've done. Every time I eat a French baguette I think of our honeymoon in Paris. We got one every day to gobble up with cheese. The smell and taste of food can bring you right back to a memory.

Here's a somewhat unflattering picture of me holding a baguette and devouring some chocolate gelato in Paris.

My Mom makes this recipe called "Hot Fruit Salad" every Christmas morning. The minute I smell it in the oven, I'm flooded with happy memories of Christmas. It's not the lowest calorie recipe, but it sure tastes good!

Mom's Hot Fruit Salad
~This is great as leftovers~

  • 3 fresh oranges (she actually uses Mandarin oranges, 1 large can)
  • 1 large can pears
  • 1 large can pineapple chunks
  • 1 large can sliced peaches
  • 1 stick margarine or butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  1. Mix fruit together and pour the mixture over it.
  2. Heat in a 350 degree oven until it bubbles (30 minutes, more or less)
  3. Enjoy and then store leftovers in the fridge (tastes good cold, too).

Earlier this year I decided that my Dad (who is retired) should have some good homemade food for lunch each day. I don't like the idea of him eating frozen dinners with 10,000 mystery ingredients and high amounts of sodium. I began making him various soups, chilies, gumbos, and rice and then freezing them in small containers. He just gets one out of the freezer at lunchtime and thaws it in the microwave.

This would be a great idea for someone who is home-bound or a mom with young children who barely gets a chance to grab a bite to eat at lunchtime. It's so easy to do...just double the recipe you're making for your own family that night and freeze the second batch in containers. You could make four small loaves of bread. Eat one with your dinner, and freeze three for a friend. Sometimes doing just a little something for another person can make a big difference.

The person I love to cook for more than anyone else on the planet is my husband. He is the best! He likes almost anything and is always quick to compliment me. He is a very creative person and often gives me ideas for what dishes to pair together or what extra ingredient he thinks would be good. Getting a healthy dinner on the table for him doesn't feel like a burdensome chore to me. It's just another way to show him that I love and care for him.

Here's a picture of us in front of the Louvre Museum of Art.

Some of his favorite dishes are Shrimp and Zucchini Tostadas, Kung Pao Chicken, and Hoisin Glazed Shrimp. I decided to make all three of them this week because I have shrimp and chicken in the freezer. Because I have many of the ingredients on hand, I only spent about $50 on groceries for the week. I love when that happens.

So, if you are so inclined, go ahead and spread some food lovin'. As long as you don't lick your fingers or pick your nose while you cook...people will love it!


"Ali & Julia"

This is Julia Child

There's a movie coming out called "Julie & Julia". You can see a preview here.

This young woman named Julie, decided to embark on a project where she would cook all of Julia Child's recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. She kept a blog of her adventures, successes, and failures. Her blog ended up being so popular that it became a book. Then the book became a movie with Meryl Streep in it! Now she is rich and her life is probably awesome. I'm jealous.

The book looks like this:

I could talk about Julia Child all the time...I love her that much. When I was younger, I was terrified of her because she was so tall and awkward looking. And because her voice was shrill and scary sounding. I was also disinterested in cooking and food and France. Now I'm obsessed with cooking and food and France. Therefore, I'm obsessed with her.

It all started in the year 2007. For my birthday, my husband bought me a book called My Life in France. It looks like this:It's basically an autobiography (her nephew wrote it after endless interviews with her) about her life in France and how she learned to cook. He got it for me because we went to Paris for our honeymoon and I also was interested in being a better cook.


Then, at Christmas, my sister got me Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume I and a DVD set of The French Chef (Julia's TV show) (notice how I call her by her first name...because I pretend that we were friends and I'm on a first name basis with her).

I then borrowed the other two DVD sets of The French Chef from my cooking teacher and watched episodes all the time...over and over and over again.

Why do I love her so much, you ask? Here's a a few reasons:
  1. She was a million feet tall and didn't let it bother her at all. (she even had the counters in her kitchen raised up to match her height).
  2. She did not even know how to cook until she was in her 40's. When she had a goal, she went for it. She decided she wanted to cook so she went to culinary school and ended up having an enormous culinary career. She has helped me to believe that I can be whatever I want to be, whenever I want to be it.
  3. She was a spy during WWII...seriously, how cool is that?
  4. She had three times more personality than most people anyone I've ever met.
  5. Her voice was so shrill that it can make you cringe at first...and then you grow to love it.
  6. When she messed something up, she didn't let it phase her at all. She said on one of her shows that if she dropped something, she would just pick it back up..."Who is going to know?", she'd say.
  7. She was an incredibly hard worker and wanted to do things right...but sometimes things went really wrong on her show and she just laughed it off.
  8. She adored her husband from the day she married him until the day he died. She was truly devoted.
  9. She did goofy things on her show and made up silly names for things. I especially like when she would slap around raw meet or make chickens sit up on their rear ends. Oh, I almost forgot...she used butter like there was no tomorrow.
  10. She rescued America from frozen dinners and made housewives everywhere feel confident enough to try new flavorful ways of cooking. She helped us to realize that eating doesn't just have to be something you do to live...it can be something you are passionate about.
And these are all reasons why I wish there was a book called "Ali & Julia" (which would then be turned into a movie, which would make me rich and famous). Because she inspires me...and makes me laugh.

I wish I could have known her.

I think we would have been good friends.


Friday Night Feast IV

After staying up late to watch both Lost and Grey's Anatomy this week, I was feeling quite tired today. I figured I would skip the special Friday Night Feast business and we'd eat out. But I needed to stop at the store anyway because I'm bringing a few things to my brother-in-law's graduation party tomorrow. I figured I might as well pick up some stuff for dinner while I was at it, since going out to eat would probably take more energy than cooking up a quick meal.

So I once again turned to Cooking Light for an idea. I knew I had four chicken breasts in my fridge at home and didn't want to spend a bunch on groceries. I found the following recipe, tweaked a few things, and it turned out to be a quick, easy, and yummy meal!

Chicken Soft Tacos with Sauteed Onions and Apples
~ This savory-sweet dish has surprising, but delicious, flavors~

  • Olive oil
  • 1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (I increased this to a full tsp)
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onion (I used a Spanish onion)
  • 2 cups thinly sliced peeled Granny Smith apple (2 apples)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 (6 inch) flour tortillas (I used 4 larger burrito sized tortillas)
  • Shredded cheddar cheese (I added this to each taco)
  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt, nutmeg, and pepper. Add chicken to pan, saute 7 minutes or until golden. Remove chicken from pan, keep warm.
  2. Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Add onion; cook 4 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.
  3. Add apple, cook 6 minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Add garlic, saute 30 seconds. Return chicken to the pan and cook 2 minutes until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently.
  4. Heat tortillas in the microwave under a damp paper towel. Put 1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken mixture in each tortilla. Sprinkle with Cheddar cheese.
  5. I served up some rice along side, but it was definitely filling enough without it.
Recipe from Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2004

I'll be honest...I thought this was going to be a Friday Night Failure. I just wasn't sure the flavors were going to mesh well. But it tasted great and we had yet another successful Friday Night Feast!


I Don't Need It, But I Want It

Sometimes I find myself thinking, "I need a new purse" or "I need need a new pair of shoes".

I don't actually need those items...I want them.

That same things happens to me with kitchen tools and gadgets. I see something cool and instantly think that I need it. Most of the time I don't buy it because I don't want to spend money...but every once in a while I buy something that fits under the "want" category. I also got lots of cool things when I got married. Apparently you can register for somewhat frivolous things and then people buy them for you.

Here are a couple of things that I definitely don't need, but I love having...

My Waffle Iron

I got this as a wedding present and I don't use it a ton. But I just love having it for those times where you really really want waffles. We actually made waffles for my Mom for Mother's day because she had a taste for them. It couldn't be easier to use and it makes really good waffles. I am happy to say that I do not use a fancy shmancy waffle recipe. I just use pancake mix (like Aunt Jemima's) and follow the directions on the back for waffles. They taste awesome. There's all sorts of waffles irons out there. Mine is made by Krupps and is about $60 on Amazon. I'm sure you could find one cheaper.

My Stoneware Mini Loaf Pan

I got this from my sister, who sells Pampered Chef items. I really like the stoneware, but you can find similar metal pans on Amazon. The reason I like stoneware is that it conducts heat so well and makes really nice bread. It also doesn't absorb any of the food that's baked in it, so you don't have to wash it with soap. You can just rinse it with water (and sometimes you can use this little scaper tool that comes with it to get the hard stuff off).

I have the regular loaf pan and love it. The reason I just had to have the mini loaf pan is because I like banana bread.

I like it a little too much.

In fact, I've been known to eat an entire loaf by myself over the course of 3 days. If I make mini loaves, I can munch on one of them and put the other three in the freezer. Wouldn't it be nice to just grab a mini loaf of goodness out of the freezer when you need it? A recipe for one loaf of bread makes four perfect little loaves, so you don't have to alter your favorite recipe. The recipe I like to use for banana bread is here. You can obviously make all sorts of other breads in it as well. Mini loaves are great when you are making baked goods as gifts.

My Egg Slicer
Do I love to slice eggs, you may ask? No. I use it mostly for mushrooms and strawberries. In fact, I've been using it a lot lately while I've been on a bit of a Spinach and Strawberry Salad binge. It's not really that complicated, but it makes light work of slicing strawberries and mushrooms for various recipes. I can't say that I use it all the time, but when I do, I find myself saying, "I love this thing".
Mine was made by Tupperware (my sister-in-law won it at a party and gave it to me). Pampered Chef sells one and you can also get them on Amazon and at Bed Bath and Beyond and Target.

(Wow, I love links today)

If we had a ton of money, I would buy one of these

and while I was at it, I would get one of these

with this

and then I'd get this...

...because my husband got a Subaru and I'm jealous.

Ok. I'm done now. :)


Friday Night Feast III

This Friday Night Feast thing I've been doing has been so much fun. A good dinner after a long week is a wonderful thing.

Last night we had this absolutely awesome dinner and then went cruising around in our new car. It was a fabulous evening!

Shrimp and Zucchini Tostadas
~This dinner is quick, easy to make, and delicious~
  • 4 burrito-size flour tortillas (8-inch)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (4 ounces)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lb large peeled deveined shrimp
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Place tortillas on two large baking sheets. Brush with 1 tbsp oil and sprinkle with cheese.
  2. Bake until cheese is melted and tortillas are crisp (3 to 5 minutes)
  3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium-high. Add garlic and zucchini; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until zucchini is crisp-tender (2 to 4 minutes).
  4. Add shrimp and cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp are opaque throughout (about 3 minutes). Stir in lime juice.
  5. Spoon shrimp mixture over tortillas and top with sour cream and scallions.*
  6. These are great as leftovers, just store the shrimp mixture separately from the tortillas. Reheat the tortilla in the microwave until the cheese gets all melty again and then heat up the shrimp mixture to top it with.
*We weren't completely sure how to go about eating these. Were we supposed to use a knife and fork and cut it into pieces? Do we fold it up like a taco? We ended up folding them and they were great like that. When you are spoon the shrimp mixture on the tortillas, try not to include the juices from the pan...it can make them a little too drippy when you try to eat it like a taco.

Recipe from the May 2009 edition of Everyday Food Magazine

Spinach and Strawberry Salad
~This was the perfect compliment to the tostades~
  • 1 bag of fresh baby spinach
  • 2 or 3 tbsp Poppy Seed salad dressing
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
  1. Combine spinach, onion, and strawberries.
  2. Add dressing and toss to combine.
  3. Serve immediately (and enjoy!)
When Sonny was eating this last night he said, "This tastes like something you would eat in a restaurant!" That made my heart feel happy.


Friday Night Feast II

This past Friday, I decided to make another Friday Night Feast. Even though I'm really tired on Fridays, I kind of like the idea of having a special dinner for just the two of us. Sometimes we have plans and sometimes we have people over. But when we have nothing going on, there's something really great about spending Friday night in your cozy house, eating a great dinner and watching a movie.

I decided to make crab cake sandwiches. My sister made them for Easter and I thought they were awesome. Crab cakes cost a decent amount when you order them at restaurants, but they are pretty easy to make and somewhat affordable (especially when crab is on sale). The reason I've shied away from crab related recipes is because I thought you had to buy the fancy crab over by the seafood. Nope! It comes in a can right near the tuna, and tastes as great as can be for just a few bucks.

Thank you, Aimee, for sharing the recipe with me!!

Crab Cakes
~These are great for a weeknight or for company~

  • 1/4 c finely chopped red onion
  • 2tbs chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tbs light mayo
  • 3/4 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 egg whites lightly beaten
  • 1 lb lump crabmeat drained*
  • 1 1/2 cups panko, divided (Japanese bread crumbs...you could use plain breadcrumbs if you want, but panko works better)
  • 1 tbs olive oil, divided
  • Cooking spray
  1. Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Gently fold in crabmeat. Gently stir in 3/4 cup of panko.
  2. Divide crab mixture into 8 equal portions (I made these for sandwiches, so I made 6 slightly bigger ones). Form them into little patties and put on a cookie sheet. Cover and chill 30 minutes.
  3. Place remaining panko in a shallow dish. Dredge each patty in the pankp individually.
  4. Heat 1 1/2 tsp oil in a skillet over medium heat. Coat both sides of crab cakes with cooking spray.
  5. Add crab cakes 4 at a time. Cook 7 minutes, carefully turn cakes over; cook 7 minutes more until golden. Repeat process for remaining crabcakes.
  6. I then put them on buns with lettuce and tomato and a little cocktail sauce. Yum.
*I cheated a little and bought two cans of lump crab meat (which is more expensive..around $5 a can) and 1 can of plain crab meat (which was around $2 a can). You need the lump to hold it all together, but you can fill in with the cheaper kind.

I served them on buns with lettuce and tomato. If you choose to make them on their own, here is the recipe for a sauce to top them with.

2/3 c fat free chicken broth
3 tbs chopped shallots
2 tbs white whine vinegar
2 1/2 tbs butter

Combine broth, chopped shallots, and vinegar in a small sauce pan; bring to boil. Cook until reduced to a 1/2 cup (about 4 minutes); remove from heat, stir in butter. Serve with crabcakes and roasted vegetables.

Recipe taken from Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2009

Because I had most of the ingredients on hand (mayo, Worcestershire sauce, eggs, panko..) I only had to pick up a couple things from the store.

Pretty fancy dinner for only about $15 in groceries, don't ya think?


Freezing Friday

If you read this blog, you know that I love to freeze things for those nights when cooking is just not going to happen.

So allow me to have the pleasure of introducing you to my freezer...

Freezing is not only convenient, it's economical. When meat is on sale, you can buy it up and either freeze extra or make things to freeze. When you are going through the trouble of baking one banana bread, why not make two and freeze one? Make a huge pot of soup and freeze it in portion sizes. Make a huge batch of rice and freeze it in portions according to how much you need for a meal. I was hesitant to freeze things at first, because I thought they wouldn't taste as good when they thawed. Silly me. When food is packaged correctly, it tastes perfectly wonderful after it thaws.

There is LOTS of info out there on freezing. I thought I would begin by posting a list of ten freezing tips:

10 Freezer Friendly Tips*

1. When possible, always use high quality freezer safe bags over plastic containers. Containers take up a lot of space and bags allow you to squeeze as much air as possible out so that the food stays fresher. Bags work great for liquids (soup, chili, stew) and semi-solid food items that do not need to hold a particular shape (marinades, herbs, shredded pork or beef). Make space in your freezer to freeze the bags flat. They will stack nicely on top of each other and you can fit several meals in a reasonably small space.

2. Flash freezing is the thing to do if you want to put something in a freezer bag, but it needs to hold it's shape. I do this with cookie dough, enchiladas, stuffed and rolled chicken cutlets, etc. You put the item(s) in the freezer on a cookie sheet (or other flat surface) and allow it to freeze for a short period of time (1/2 hour or an hour). Then you can put the item(s) into a freezer bag. For example, you could make a big batch of cookie dough and then scoop balls of dough onto a baking sheet. Flash freeze them and then drop them into a freezer bag. You can bake them anytime you want, directly from freezer to oven!

3. The foil and plastic wrap method works great for things that need to hold their shape (like casseroles, lasagna, meatloaf, etc.). Begin by fully preparing your meal. For example, if you are making baked ziti...make two of them. Bake them side by side, serving one for dinner and saving one for freezing. Allow the food you intend to freeze to cool slightly (you don't want it to be really hot or it will melt the plastic wrap). Line a baking dish with aluminum foil first and then a layer of plastic wrap second. Make sure they both fully cover the bottom and sides of the dish and that there's enough over hang to cover the top of the dish. Place the food into the dish (for baked ziti, I would use a large spoon or spatula to transfer it to the baking dish).

Allow food to cool completely and then cover it tightly with the plastic wrap and then the foil. Keep the meal in the pan and flash freeze it. Once it's frozen and solid, remove it from the pan and into a freezer bag. It should stack nicely into your freezer until you are ready to eat it.

When you are ready to eat the meal, thaw it slightly and then remove the foil and plastic wrap. Place back in the original dish for baking. If you have trouble getting the plastic wrap off, dip it in warm water and it should come off easily.

This method is great because baking dishes are tied up in the freezer, the food stores compactly and easily, and the meal fits right in the original pan again for baking or cooking after a quick thaw.

4. Date and label your meals. You swear you'll know what it is after it's frozen...but you won't. Don't become a victim of mystery meals...label and date them! Use a permanant marker directly on the bags or foil. It's also helpful to put the cooking time and temperature so you don't even have to look up the recipe (also add special instructions like "add parmesan cheese before baking".

5. Always double wrap baked items. Wrap the item in plastic wrap and then in a freezer bag. Baked goods (such as muffins, breads, rolls, cookies, etc) freeze wonderfully and thaw quickly at room temperature or in the microwave.

6. Fresh ginger freezes wonderfully. Peel it, wrap it in plastic wrap, and put it in a freezer bag. Just grab it out of the freezer when you need it for a recipe...it's grates easily and tastes great! You will be amazed how much flavor fresh ginger adds to a recipe.

7. Sometimes, freezer bags can be reused. Obviously, you do not reuse bags that have had uncooked meats and marinades in them. But when bags are used for baked goods or as the outer-layer wrap, reuse them!

8. Pizza dough is super easy to make from scratch (I'll post a recipe for it soon). You can also buy it from some grocery stores and local pizza places. Roll out individual sized pizza crusts and stack them with pieces of parchment paper between then. Place the stack in a freezer bag and freeze on a flat surface. You can pull out one or two of them and bake them directly from the freezer.

9. How long will it keep? There are different opinions about this. My own opinion is that 3-6 months is best. I don't think it will hurt you to eat the meals after that, but I think the flavor and freshness goes downhill over time. When I make something and freeze it, I put it in the back of the freezer and bring the older things to the front. You want to keep the meals rotating so that things aren't stuck in there for ever.

10. Don't thaw on the counter. I know that a lot of people do this. But everything I've read says that harmful bacteria can grow when most foods thaw at room temperature (baked goods are an exception). The wisest thing to do is to think about what you want to make for the week and allow things to thaw in the refrigerator. In a pinch, you can microwave most things easily. Sometimes I thaw soups, chilis, and stews by dipping the freezer bag in and out of warm water until it's thawed enough to be removed from the bag.

*Many of these tips have been taken directly from Don't Panic: Dinner's in the Freezer! by Susie Martinez, Vanda Howell, and Bonnie Garcia. I highly recommend it as a great resource on freezing and prepping ahead.