Spicy Tips: Back with a fun Iced Tea Tip!

It certainly has been a while since I have found time to sit down and write out new recipes. Being a parent has that ability to deplete any time you had hoped you would have to share your thoughts with others. (Just looking at the amount of drafts I have yet to finish is enough to give me palpitations….I need to do better.)

But never fear, I am back with a fun tip for those looking for ways to quickly make one of my favorite warm weather drinks: Iced Tea!

Now I have done the sometimes laborious process of making tea with hot tea bags, followed by whisking in honey to the warmed mixture to incorporate and a whole lemon or two to make one delicious drink! Yet sometimes, time is of the essence and if you’re short on time but still want to make that summertime nectar without using a pre-made mix, I’ve got a great solution!

So one of my favorite shortcuts to making an easy iced tea is all thanks to Lipton® and their fabulous Cold Brew Bags. (They’re in just about any supermarket and you can click here for some info: Lipton Cold Brew Bags). One bag per 4 cups of water (you will probably use 2 bags per pitcher, unless you want to add a flavor) and it only takes about 5 minutes of brewing time before it’s done. If plain tea isn’t enough and you want to add a flavor to it, you can always brew a few cups of hot water and add your flavored tea there, then mix the two together.

And if you’re like me, you want to add some flavor like lemon or honey/sugar to that mix. For a nice little hit of lemon flavor, I have to admit that my name is Jenn and I am an addict of the Arnold Palmer. For those of who you don’t know what that is, it is half iced tea and half lemonade mixed together. But for this purpose, I would recommend using maybe 1-2 cans of Minute Maid® Lemonade to one pitcher. (Not the frozen kind, but a can from a 12-pack. You can also get a carton or container of lemonade of any brand you like and adjust the amount of lemonade you put in to your liking.) Not quite the half and half of an Arnold Palmer, but leaves the iced tea with a nice sweetened lemon flavor that I know most of us love.

More importantly, it is a way to add sugar to your drink without the sweetness being too much. The lemonade blends nicely and if you still find that the lemonade makes it a little sweet for you, always remember the best part about iced tea are those ice cubes that clink around in the glass when you go to take a sip!

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

 

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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.

Spicy Tips: As seasons change, your seasonal recipes can too!

Matt’s all-time favorite dish that I make is meatloaf….and I’m sure if you have been keeping up with reading my posts, you know that I posted said meatloaf recipe (with permission from the husband, of course) for all of you.

(Some of you even told me that you tried to make it and offered me some tips–thank you, it makes me feel great that you tried out something I shared with you.)

Unfortunately, what I have found in our house that only has window AC units….using our oven during the summer seems almost impractical if we would like to keep the house nice and cool. Sure, out of necessity to partially cook items like chicken thighs, we need to use the oven before tossing those babies on the grill to achieve crispy skin (because bone-in thighs would take forever to cook on solely the grill)–but not without closing our partition between the kitchen and living room and running the fans like it’s our life line. It’s just simply too hot to use our kitchen the way we’d like.

Which brings me back to the meatloaf. On my way home from work, I always call my husband to let him know I am on my way (so we can start discussing dinner if we hadn’t already during our lunchtime conversation.) Matt had had a day that warranted a great dinner, and after having my own stressful moments at work, since he’s always cooking for me on his days off, I decided that my husband needed his favorite meal….which now required making meatloaf without melting in the kitchen while it was cooking.

And that’s when it hit me: meatloaf burgers….which has now become his second favorite meal that I make.

I proposed the idea to Matt and after a few minutes of thought, we agreed to test out my meatloaf recipe on the grill. This required hamburger buns, a good cheese, and some adjustments to make the meat workable in grilling form. (And yes, the shredded cheese still goes in the burger, as well as any cheese you pick on top. Might I suggest Provolone?)

There are no words for how delicious this meal turned out, paired with a fresh salad and some grilled corn….let’s just say those burgers did not make it through Jeopardy….possibly before Double Jeopardy was done.

So if you have time, go to my meatloaf recipe and make these adjustments for burger form:

1) Add a little bit more ground beef. You want about 1.25 pounds of meatloaf mix and .25 pounds of additional ground beef, as 1.5 pounds makes eight decent-sized burgers. The beef will also help keep the burger together a little more.

2) One egg only! I mean it, keep the amount of egg to a minimum to enhance the flavor, but not make a mushy consistency.

3) A little less shredded cheese. A handful will do it (a small handful, as I’m using my own hand as measurement), and make sure it is well incorporated in. That cheese will help keep the burger juicy while cooking.

4) Like meatloaf (and unlike most burgers)–cook this baby all the way through! With meatloaf mix (beef, pork, veal), you’re going to want that well done. You don’t want to get sick.

5) Use brown gravy as dipping sauce/condiment in place of ketchup. Matt confided in me last night (while inhaling three of these burgers) that he was getting sick of ketchup on a burger and has started using hot sauce as an alternative. Well, I think beef gravy fit that bill nicely! I also think if you want, adding some sautéed mushrooms on the burger with the cheese and gravy yields the same tasty result.

6) Once those patties are made and pressed, let them chill! Probably one of the more important tips….and it is necessary! Those burgers need to hold their structure and after working the meat to incorporate the ingredients, letting them cool and firm back up will ensure that they’re not falling apart on the grill. I’d say give them at least 30 minutes to an hour to hang out in your fridge. (So yes, prep them ahead of time if you’re anticipating being super hungry!)

And if you’re still not sure about making these burgers….well….I think this might help:

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V

Move over tortellini….it’s time for ravioli

With Memorial Day Weekend down and the beginning of summer season at the Jersey Shore, it’s also the beginning of more grilling, less indoor cooking, and my favorite….salads! Now I adore a good pasta salad, especially something with macaroni and tuna fish involved. Yet sometimes, I also find myself gravitating towards a frozen bag of tortellini and some Italian dressing for a quick and easy side dish!

Alas, there was no tortellini in our freezer upon checking our reserves for dinner tonight….instead just several bags of ravioli that have remained dormant and useful in a pinch during the cold weather. (Honestly, a package of frozen ravioli with a nice thick tomato sauce is a must when it’s freezing outside.) Without tortellini and trying to weigh out the options on hand, I couldn’t help but wonder….why not a cold ravioli salad? Like tortellini, it has cheese in the middle, it’s bite-sized, and the same flavor profiles would work.

Initially, I had attempted trying to locate a cold ravioli salad recipe with little luck. It seems everyone has gravitated towards tortellini instead and with a little bit of research, I located a handful of recipes that seemed way more complicated than it was worth. With a little bit of encouragement from Matt (and a pantry of unlimited resources, it seems), I created this recipe. As most  of you know from prior posts, I tend to draw inspiration from other recipes and vary the original dish to reflect our cooking style. But what does one do when there’s nothing to draw from? You improvise! And this improvisation was one delicious dish. (Matt and I ate over half of that bowl of ravioli with some delicious grilled chicken thighs seasoned in our curry powder–what a tasty way to end Memorial Day weekend, indeed!)

Dishes that are normally prepared hot can be just as delicious served cold. Never be afraid to give them a chance! Maybe next time I’ll throw in some fresh cauliflower, maybe even a nice spinach or grilled yellow squash instead of the broccoli. Or if you’re into the possibility of no vinaigrette and possibly some seasoning or crispy bacon bits, it’s worth a try too. This recipe is one take on a dish that should no longer be overlooked. Tortellini, you’re out and ravioli is in!

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Cold Ravioli Salad

1 package frozen mini ravioli (round or square, doesn’t matter)

1 package frozen chopped broccoli

1 small jar of marinated artichoke hearts, chopped (and hold onto the liquid from the jar, you’ll need it)

1/2 small onion, diced

Italian Balsamic Vinaigrette 

Directions:

1) Prepare ravioli as directed on the package. Use slotted spoon to remove from water and place into large bowl.

2) Prepare broccoli in the pasta water. Cook until bright green and separated, then strain and add to bowl with ravioli.

3) Combine all ingredients into bowl, including liquid from artichoke hearts. Add enough vinaigrette to lightly toss and coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve.