A “Creamy Italian” twist on a summer standard

When summer hits, Matt and I are notorious for the cold salads, as you could tell with my last post about potato salad.

But our main summer salad? Macaroni salad.

We never make it the same way twice, always just grabbing for whatever is on hand in the fridge to try and utilize our food in different ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as onion and celery, other times I toss in some pepper with the onion and maybe some artichoke, and sometimes I pull out some of our frozen veggies and toss a little broccoli and peas in.

This week I felt compelled to make an Italian-style salad with pepperoni, genoa salami, red pepper, and fresh mozzarella. Now normally I would add Italian dressing to the mix, but if you’re like me, this salad is always subject to all the ingredients (minus the pasta) dropping to the bottom of the bowl. And the more you mix, the more it goes.

But not this time. I was determined to incorporate Italian flavors from the dressing and create a cohesive dish. And it hit me: Creamy Italian Dressing! When I make a mayo-based macaroni salad the ingredients never fall to the bottom. Instead, the mayo acts as a cohesive and creates the perfect blend ratio of pasta to its edible accoutrements.

And I must say, it was a success! To add a little more zip, you can always whisk in a little bit of the regular Italian dressing. Trust me, the Creamy Italian will still do its thing. More importantly, before you serve, always make sure to add just a little dollop more of the Creamy Italian Dressing. When sitting in the fridge, the pasta has a tendency to sop up a lot of the liquid, so that little dollop rejuvenates the dish a little bit.

As always, enjoy!

– Jenny V


 

 

Jenn’s Creamy Italian Macaroni Salad

1 box rotini pasta, cooked and drained

1/4 – 1/2 cup pepperoni, diced

1/4 – 1/2 cup genoa salami, diced

1/2 container fresh mozzarella, quartered

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup vidalia onion, diced

1/2 cup Creamy Italian Dressing

1/4 cup Italian Dressing

Italian Seasoning

 

Directions:

1) In a large bowl, add pasta, pepperoni, salami, mozzarella, red pepper, and onion. Mix.

2) In a 2-cup measuring cup, add Creamy Italian and Italian dressing. Whisk together until smooth.

3) Add dressing over pasta and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle Italian Seasoning over mixture, just a few taps, and mix.

4) Cover and refrigerate minimum 4 hours to overnight before serving.

Giving potato salad a face-lift

When I think about making potato salad, it tends to make me break out in a sweat. Because while the finished product looks easy enough, just the notion that the potato needs to be perfectly cooked enough where a fork can go through it, but not crumble….is daunting. But Matt had faith in me this week as he played a double on Monday and left a request for potato salad on my plate. And I was not about to let him down in the slightest.

To make potato salad, red potatoes are truly the best one. They’re durable and you can pretty much leave the skin on them when you cut them into bite-sized pieces. Just make sure each potato is washed thoroughly and that any eyes or bad spots are removed. And especially since we needed to move the last of our red potatoes, it was a win-win.

Place your bite-sized pieces into a pot of cold water on high heat and let it come up to a boil. To check if they’re cooked through, try to locate the largest piece and stick a fork in it. If the fork goes through with ease, then they’re done. And if you’re nervous like me, after you check the potato, turn off the heat and let the potatoes sit in the hot water for a minute or two. Trust me, they’re still cooking when you do this.

Since our fridge was a little more barren of the essentials to make potato salad, I learned to get creative. This is quite typical in our home when making a multi-layered type salad. (Seriously, watch me make a garden salad or macaroni salad and you’ll understand.) I kinda think of it like a “hodge podge” dish, so to speak.

Because instead of yellow onions, I used the remainder of green onions that we had from our last shopping trip. Celery was replaced by fennel stalks. And for a little pop of color, some diced red bell pepper.

The only thing I think it’s missing? Hard-boiled egg. I may need to attempt this version sooner rather than later.

If you’re willing to get over your fears, it’s amazing what you can accomplish in the kitchen. Matt believes I don’t give myself enough credit. And with this potato salad recipe, I’m sort of inclined to believe him.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

  

Jenn’s “Hodge Podge” Potato Salad

6-7 medium red potatoes, cubed

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise

1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

1 tablespoon honey dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 tablespoon pepper

2 fennel stalks, diced (you want about a cup)

1/2 diced red bell pepper

1/4 – 1/2 cup green onion, chopped

Paprika, if desired

 

Directions:

1) Place cubed potatoes in 3-quart pan in cold water. Cover and heat to boiling. Allow potatoes to continue cooking in boiling water until larger pieces of potato are soft enough to let a fork go through. Turn off heat and allow to sit in water another 1-2 minutes before draining thoroughly and placing in large bowl.

2) Mix mayonnaise, vinegar, mustards, salt, and pepper in a large measuring cup or bowl. Whisk until smooth.

3) Add fennel, green onion, and pepper to potato mixture. Add dressing and stir thoroughly to cover. Add sprinkle of paprika and continue mixing. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours to overnight before serving.

 

Going “Swiss” on a classic….

If there’s one thing Matt knows about me, it’s that I have a love for certain foods.

Pickles, Fried Chicken, Sushi, Mashed Potatoes, Cauliflower, a nice rare Steak, Fresh Berries, and most importantly…..Macaroni & Cheese.

I know, not all my options are exactly healthy, per se, but I love my comfort foods just the same. There’s a decadence in them that I only indulge in when I am in need. (i.e., womanly issues, long day at work, etc.) I’m not one to reach for mountains of chocolate. I’m more the one to reach for a nice heaping bowl of mashed potatoes or homemade mac….and sometimes the occasional delivery of sushi.

But Macaroni & Cheese can occasionally get boring, so playing with the flavor combinations are quite fun when you get the chance.

For Valentine’s Day, Matt and I are not big on going out and spending an exorbitant amount of money on a meal we can make at home. No. In fact, we prefer to cook that decadent meal in the comfort of our home.

I had been toying around with the idea of a Bacon & Swiss Mac & Cheese for a while now. While I’m not a fan of cold Swiss (like my husband with a roast beef sandwich), melting it has yielded some tasty meals, namely Chicken Cordon Bleu. So why not to Macaroni & Cheese as well?

Adding the shredded Swiss to the roux and milk mixture proved to be a delicious change: the bite of Swiss was tempered with grated Parmesan cheese and the saltiness of the bacon. The combination provided decadent flavors to a rather inexpensive meal. (And Swiss is a nice alternative to Gruyere, which can run you about $30/lb….indulge only when it will make or break the dish!)

Sometimes our favorites need a little bit of a facelift….and the result can be quite delicious!

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

baconswissmaccheese

Jenn’s Bacon Swiss Macaroni & Cheese

1 box elbow macaroni

1 package shredded Swiss cheese

1/4 – 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 1/2 – 3 cups milk

2 Tablespoons butter

1 – 2 Tablespoons flour

1/2 package bacon, cooked until crispy and chopped into bits

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1/8 block Velveeta, cubed

Salt

Pepper

Directions:

1) Prepare pasta to “al dente”. Drain well and place in large glass baking dish. Sprinkle almost all bacon over the pasta and save a little bit for topping, probably around 1-2 Tablespoons.

2) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In saucepan on medium heat, combine butter and flour to create a roux, then gradually add in milk. When milk starts to thicken, add in Swiss , Parmesan, and Velveeta, stirring until cheese has melted. Add in salt and pepper to taste. Once at desired flavor, remove from heat. (**Save a little bit of Swiss and Parmesan for topping**)

3) Pour sauce mixture over macaroni & bacon, mixing thoroughly until sauce coats all pasta. Sprinkle remaining cheese, bacon, and bread crumbs over the top, then bake in oven for 30-40 minutes. Remove and serve.

Turning tea up to a calming notch…

I’m really becoming a big advocate of the freshly-brewed iced tea movement. While in childhood I did enjoy the mix (4C all the way), I am coming to find as I get older, I crave homemade iced tea more than water (only sometimes….er, maybe more than sometimes.)

The complexities of the flavor, the way the right amount of lemon slice and honey added could make or break that “perfect taste”….I’m an addict through and through.

Now, I’ve also come to love my French Lavender and its delicious (and soothing) qualities in my iced tea, so I sought out another freshly-brewed combination to incorporate said flavor. I was about ready to give up until in the back of my pantry, I located an unopened box (unopened?!? How did I miss it?) of Lemon & Ginger tea bags. And just like with all my teas, I decided to do a mixture of the Lemon & Ginger with some green tea to incorporate some soothing notes to that kick of citrus & spice. The end result being that my house smelled beyond heavenly and refreshing!

I had considered adding fresh ginger to the tea, but after consideration, I wanted to test out a batch without overloading my taste buds with that potent ginger flavor (and for those of you who have tried fresh ginger before, you know exactly what I mean!)

So my advice to you: if you want to add a kick to your tea (but not too much), temper it with a nice soothing flavor. You can’t go wrong.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


  Jenn’s “Om, Snap!” Iced Green Tea

10 bags Lemon & Ginger Tea

10 bags Green Tea

1 1/2 teaspoons French Lavender

1/4 cup honey

20-22 cups water

Directions:

1) In a large stock pot, put in water on high heat. Just before boiling, add in French Lavender in infuser ball.

2) When water is boiling, whisk in honey to incorporate (you can always add more if you’d like) and tea bags. Turn off heat, cover, and move off burner to allow to cool.

3) After 1-2 hours, transfer to pitcher and/or mason jars. Refrigerate overnight. Serve with lemon slice.

When in Doubt….just stuff it!

Being busy, I haven’t always had time to sit and write about the latest recipe/concoction. (Thanks multiple jobs/friends I am getting to see post-wedding madness!) That doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking….quite the contrary!

But that is neither here nor there and so….let’s talk about chicken breast. Matt & I don’t necessarily prefer cooking with chicken breast, mainly because there’s such a small window to perfection on it. (And unless it’s on sale, it’s not worth spending an exorbitant amount of money to have it in the house.) It can becomes time-consuming to prep (which is why I have my husband filet the breast….something I have yet to even try perfecting. He makes it look sooooooo easy!) And unlike it’s counterpart, dark meat, chicken breast is prone to drying out very quickly. So whenever we have it in our fridge (because sometimes the sale is just too good to pass up), we get creative.

Stir-fry, homemade chicken nuggets, and our personal favorite, Chicken Cordon Bleu, are just a few of the ways that we prepare the breast other than seasoning and grilling it. But I’m bored of all our standards, so in true creative fashion….I took to the idea of stuffing the chicken with cheese and broccoli! We had the ingredients, we had the time, and we were also adventurous enough to think outside of how we normally prepare the elusive white meat.

Now I know it’s been done, but our version became so easy to make, complete with a Mornay sauce and some deep-fried bacon on top….do I even need to say more on how delicious this was? (Especially when there was nothing left?!?)

And just a quick tip: if you deep-fry bacon, partially cook it first. Also, if you deep-fry the whole package of bacon and have leftovers….make bacon bits with it! Homemade bacon bits are delicious…..trust me on this.

Meals don’t always have to be the same-old standard. If you’re willing to get a little daring and try a variation on a recipe that you’ve made before….DO IT.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


stuffedchickenwbacon

 

Jenn’s Stuffed Chicken Breast

Ingredients:

3 large chicken breasts, butterflied and pounded thin

1/2 package frozen chopped broccoli (slightly thawed so you can break it apart to stuff chicken)

1 to 1 1/4 cup shredded cheese (depending on how much cheesiness you like!)

Bread Crumbs (optional)

Egg (optional)

Salt

Pepper

For the Sauce:

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon butter

Nutmeg

1 1/4 cup milk

Parmesan Cheese

For the “garnish”:

6 pieces partially cooked bacon

 

1) Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and with filleted chicken breasts, lay them flat on a baking pan. Lightly salt and pepper the inside, then take the partially thawed broccoli and shredded cheese, distributing them equally towards one side of the chicken breast. Roll, then tuck the sides in and arrange chicken breasts neatly in the baking pan. (Optional: you can baste with egg, then use bread crumb to sprinkle on the top.) Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Remove when done and let sit for 1-2 minutes.

***Helpful hint***: You can usually tell stuffed chicken breast is cooked through when the middle is bubbling out. It means the heat has gotten all the way through the meat and cooked it.

2) About 5 minutes before the chicken is done, turn on the deep fryer on high to warm for the bacon (or pan to finish cooking bacon through….you want that garnish crispy!)

3) While the fryer is warming, in a small saucepan on medium heat, combine the butter and flour to create a roux, then add milk to the roux. Stir with a whisk to incorporate. Add a few pinches of nutmeg (trust me, a little goes a LONG way here) and when the sauce starts to bubble a little, add the parmesan cheese to thicken it up. Stir, then remove from heat.

4) This garnish is optional, but once deep fryer is up to desired temperature, drop in the bacon for roughly 1 minute. Seriously, not long, because the bacon is already partially cooked and this will turn extra crispy extra quick. After about a minute, remove bacon and put on plate covered with paper towel to cool down and crisp up.

5) When plating, first put down the chicken, then ladle sauce (as much or as little as you’d like) over the chicken, topping with two pieces of bacon.

This meatloaf would make you do anything for love….

If there’s one dish my husband believes I make the best…it’s meatloaf. Before I really started cooking, this was one recipe that had stuck with me from when my mom would cook dinner (without burning anything.) And one night, on a whim, I decided to try it on Matt. Like me, prior to this recipe, I had such an aversion to meatloaf. I’ve seen it doused in more tomato sauce/ketchup than I could stomach…and I love tomatoes! (Just not in meatloaf.)

So if you’re a non-tomato meatloaf person like me, then you can understand the sheer joy I felt when I took my first bite of this delectably flavorful dish. In fact, I’ll almost guarantee that your reaction could resemble that of my husband when he initially (and a little reluctantly) tried my meatloaf….his eyes bugged out like a cartoon character and he went back for seconds! (Later he proclaimed “you’re holding out on me”….and thus started my cooking tutelage.) In part, I guess I can thank this recipe for jump-starting several tasty concoctions and personal cooking/baking challenges. (And you might thank me too, especially when you try it! During the winter, I must make this dish at least 1-2 times a month. With all the things we cook, that’s saying a lot.)

(It’s also great when you want to re-heat it, trust me….it’s even better.)

Normally, I would pair this dish with some tasty egg noodles (and of course, brown gravy!), but since we had some white potatoes to move since we used the rest to make homemade french fries (and freeze them to use as needed), why not whip up some mashed potatoes? And while they’re no Yukon Gold or Red Bliss, it’s super easy to make them creamy and delicious! (And as for gravy, if you have a recipe, use it! If not, I recommend Heinz Beef or Pork Gravy.)

Sometimes in cooking, I have come to the conclusion that you don’t always need to be armed with a ton of recipes. Whether you’re a good cook or a bad one, we all have that one recipe that we have mastered. And I’m sure if Randy from A Christmas Story could try this one….he would quit saying “I hate meatloaf!”

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


meatloaf

Jenn’s “Rockstar” Meatloaf with Homemade Mashed Potatoes

For meatloaf:

2-3 pounds meatloaf mix (if you can’t find meatloaf mix, you can use beef. If you want to make meatloaf mix, use ground beef, pork, and veal)

One packet Onion Soup Mix

Worcestershire Sauce

1 egg

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1-1 1/2 cups shredded cheese

For mashed potatoes:

4-5 large potatoes, scrubbed and cubed small

2 heaping tablespoons sour cream

1/3 to 1/2 cup Milk or heavy cream 

1/2 stick butter, cut into four pieces

Salt

Pepper

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients for meatloaf and mix well using hands. Add Worcestershire Sauce to your taste. (I never measure for Worcestershire, because it’s preference, so just add as much or as little as you want. It all depends on how much salt you want in the mix. And yes, Onion Soup Mix….because when the dried onions re-hydrate, they have that meat flavor!) Place mix into loaf pan (glass or metal), push into the pan (especially the corners), then place in oven for about 1 – 1 1/4 hours.

2) When meatloaf is about halfway cooked, fill pot with water halfway for potatoes and place on stove. Make sure potatoes are scrubbed clean before being cubed, skin left on. (And if there are any “eyes” or brown spots in the potatoes, don’t forget to get rid of them!) As each potato is cubed, place cubes in cold water. Once all potatoes are processed and in the pot, turn on high and cover, checking periodically. When water starts boiling, remove lid and keep cooking until potato breaks apart when fork is stuck into it; if done, drain water and place potatoes back into pot.

3) Combine butter, milk, and sour cream in with potatoes, then using a masher mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. (And don’t be afraid to season!) Set aside and cover. (If the potatoes are done before meatloaf, you can heat it up after meatloaf comes out. Just place back on stove on medium to high heat, continually stirring for 2-3 minutes)

4) Once meatloaf is done, remove from oven and using a steak knife, go around inside of pan and separate meatloaf from the sides (because the cheese normally makes it stick a little to the pan.) If done right, the meatloaf should come out in one solid loaf; transfer to a place and slice as thick (or thin) a slice as desired. Serve with potatoes and gravy. (Or no gravy…it’s up to you!)

Bringin’ home the Bacon(-wrapped Shrimp!)

Over this past weekend, Matt & I celebrated what I consider our first milestone as husband and wife: the one-month anniversary. After over 6.5 years together before making it official, we still take pleasure in those simple moments by spending our time doing what we do best….cooking together. It’s a way we share our love with each other and with everyone in our life that is important to us. And last night was no exception! Why go out when we could whip up an extra special dinner in the comfort of our own home?

As evident by my previous post, we do love some shrimp in our house. Living by the beach, seafood is simply a staple in our diet. (Just you wait….we do love fish too and I have quite a few good recipes to share on that topic later.) Shrimp is just so easy to make and you can incorporate just a few simple ingredients to make it delicious….like bacon! If you have package of bacon, a griddle, and some patience, then you are going to love this recipe!

And what goes better with shrimp than homemade pasta? Ever since I acquired my KitchenAid pasta press attachment, courtesy of Matt’s Aunt Lori (and family), cooking with box pasta sometimes seems as daunting as eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Granted, in a pinch it works just fine, but if you have the time to sift flour and knead dough, I suggest rolling up your sleeves and giving it a go! (And no worries if you don’t have a pasta press or a KitchenAid, there are plenty of recipes online to make it without a pasta machine! But I do recommend this dough recipe, it’s perfect to use and you can adjust as needed.)

It’s a great meal that looks like restaurant quality, but won’t break your bank to make! When it comes to big celebrations in life, sometimes the best way to honor that moment is not to go out, but to stay in and savor the memory from the comfort of your own home….with a tasty meal, of course.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


baconwrappedshrimp

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Homemade Pasta

Ingredients:

4-6 slices of bacon

2 dozen raw frozen shrimp, thawed and peeled

Sauce:

1 lemon, sliced

2 teaspoons minced garlic (or 2-3 cloves)

1/3 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup Cooking wine

2-3 tablespoons butter

2-3 teaspoons flour

Pasta Dough:

3 1/2 cups sifted flour

4 large eggs (Should be 7/8 cup. If it’s below, gradually add water until it is 7/8 cup)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon water

1) Start by pounding out bacon slices to make them a little thinner, then cut into pieces to wrap once around bacon. Place on skewer. Make it six shrimp to each skewer and set aside.

2) For pasta dough, in mixer using flat beater, add sifted flour and salt together, giving it a quick stir. Turn on lowest setting (Speed 2) and gradually add eggs and water until mixed, then switch flat beater to dough hook and mix on low for 2 minutes. Dough may be crumbly, but not too much. If it is super crumbly, gradually add water one tablespoon at a time until dough starts to form a ball. Remove and knead dough on wax paper or clean countertop until dough starts to get smooth and pliable, should be able to hold the shape of a ball. Break into walnut-sized balls for pasta press.

3) Start a pot to boil water. Attach pasta press attachment to KitchenAid and turn mixer to highest speed. Gradually place balls of pasta in press, using cutter on attachment to make strands of pasta as long or short as desired. Hang pasta on drying rack or on sheet pan lined with wax paper.

4) In a saute pan over medium-high heat, add butter and flour to make a roux, then add chicken broth, cooking wine, garlic, and lemon slices, bringing sauce to a boil, then lowering to simmer and cover.

5) On griddle pan over medium-high heat, place skewers of shrimp down, turning as bacon starts to brown and shrimp starts to turn pink, about 4-5 minutes. Once cooked through, remove from griddle and cover with foil on plate to keep warm.

6) Once water is boiling, add 1 teaspoon salt to pot and throw in pasta, stirring gradually until cooked through, about 4-6 minutes. Strain and return to pot, then add sauce over pasta and give a quick stir. Serve with shrimp on side.

A Slice of Jenn….

Just like meeting someone new, I believe introductions are in order.

Hi, I’m Jenn, and before meeting my wonderful husband (Matt, who you will probably read a lot about here)….I was cooking-challenged. Of course, I knew how to cook, thanks in part to high school cooking classes being made part of my core requirement, but to apply those skills?

Not so much.

Matt still makes the joke that I used to microwave hot dogs before him. (I still have on occasion…he has no idea how delicious they can be when you’re in a bind to eat something quick!)

So as our relationship progressed, so did I under Matt’s tutelage of cooking. He showed me the basics of knife skills, so that I could be his sous-chef. He taught me the importance of knowing how certain ingredients cook and why you should know the hot spots on your heat source. He demonstrated how to prep various meats. And most importantly, he was patient enough to show me these skills over and over again until I felt confident enough to try them on my own.

(I’ll tell you, I think it’s one of the many reasons I love him so much.)

With that said, our relationship grew in part to the way we cooked together. The ying and yang of the kitchen, so to speak. Food became less about takeout and more about finding new recipes to try.

When I got my KitchenAid, I was attempting to fine-tune my baking skills so Matt could have fresh cookies instead of the preservative-laden junk that has sat on the shelf for months. After cookies, we tried fresh bread and rolls. After that, pies and cheesecake….which I am proud to say I successfully mastered.

And especially after the bridal shower, we were finally able to take our cooking/baking to the next level with new gadgets to test out more advanced recipes.

Which brings me to here….why I decided to start a food blog. More and more lately, Matt and I have made it a point to try new creations, whether it be from a recipe or something that we come up with on our own. As Matt always reminds me, a recipe is a “snapshot” of that moment when it was made, and while it is good, there is always room to tweak it a little. (Except chocolate chip cookies….I think my husband is addicted to my recipe. Lol.)

So, come prepared with your appetite as I share some of our favorite dishes, new concoctions, and everything in between.

~ Jenny V