Salads, Side Dishes

Recipe—Italian Pasta Salad

Italian Pasta Salad

My husband and I grew up in a very small town so on the weekends it was not out of the norm for us to drive an hour to go to the closest mall or to go find some entertainment outside of town. On our way back home we frequently passed this wonderful little Italian deli. They had the BEST sandwiches and side salads. One of the side salads, which my husband absolutely loved, was their Italian pasta salad. I did my best to recreate this salad just for him. This makes a party sized batch, so if you are just making it for the family I recommend halving it. This is a perfect salad for a bbq or potluck and is sure to be a hit with all partygoers.

Note: This pasta salad will last approximately 4 days in the fridge. It gets better each and every day as the Italian dressing soaks into the pasta and veggies.

INGREDIENTS
1 lb rotini noodles
2 tbsp salt
1 1/2 c Newman’s Family Recipe Italian dressing
2 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 c red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 c red onion, chopped
1/2 c celery, sliced
2-6 oz jars artichoke hearts. drained
1 1/2 c cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 c mozzarella cheese, cut into squares
2.25 oz can black olives, sliced
salt and pepper

STEPS

  • Bring a large pot of water and the 2 tbsp of salt to a boil.
  • Add noodles and cook per package instructions.
  • Drain the cooked pasta and rinse with cold water.
  • Transfer the cooked pasta to a large bow.
  • Add the Italian dressing, garlic, red bell pepper, red onion, celery, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and olives.
  • Stir to combine.
  • Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.
  • Refrigerate the pasta for 3 or more hours.  The longer the better.
  • Stir well before serving.
Side Dishes

Recipe—Cracked Corn and Cheese Cornbread Muffins

Cracked Corn and Cheese Cornbread Muffins

I am not one to just make something out of the box without tinkering with it. I’m sort of like a dog, I want to make my mark, make it my own. I love the convenience of those little boxes of the Jiffy corn muffin mix but it’s fun to add a little pizzazz. This recipe takes a plain old-fashioned corn muffin and gives it a little extra oomph. I add some corn kernels, pepper jack cheese, and a handful of green onions. This gives them a nice texture with the bits of corn, a nice little bite, and the cheese is like a gooey surprise in the middle. The kids will flip over these!

Note: If you are concerned about the spice of pepper jack cheese just use regular jack. 

INGREDIENTS
8.5 oz package of Jiffy corn muffin mix
1/2 c pepper jack cheese cut into 1/4” cubes
1/2 c corn (frozen or canned will work)
2 green onions, chopped

STEPS

  • Preheat oven to 400º.
  • Prepare corn muffin mix per package instructions.
  • Stir in cheese, corn, and green onions.
  • Prepare muffin pan with liner cups and evenly distribute the muffin mix in each cup filling up about 2/3 of the way.
  • Bake for 18–20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool for a couple of minutes before serving.

Love this idea for corn muffins? Then perhaps you will like these!

Jalapeño Cheddar Corn Bread Muffins

Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread Muffins

Salads, Side Dishes

Recipe—Orzo Pesto Pasta

In my office we all have a habit of bringing in various treats to share with each other throughout the year. (I know rough environment to be working in right?) Several years back we had an awesome (student assistant named Sarah. One day Sarah brought in this incredible orzo pesto pasta salad. I was in love! (With both Sarah and her pasta. Sarah was awesome.) She made her own pesto from scratch and I will not lie, I was impressed. This is the perfect summer salad. You have the seasonally fresh tomatoes and zucchini mixed with tangy vinegar and pesto giving it a wonderfully light and refreshing flavor. I make it several times of year and whenever I am generous enough to share with my friends I am asked for the recipe. It is definitely a favorite in our household. My son was even eating it by the bowlful when he was 1 1/2 years old. If you are looking for a tasty recipe for any summer cookouts or BBQs then search no further. This is perfect. While that little box of orzo may not look like much, it expands a great deal so this makes a very decent sized bowl of the tasty pasta salad.

Note: I save a couple of tablespoons of the feta and pine nuts to garnish the top of the salad with.

INGREDIENTS
1 lb box of orzo pasta, uncooked
1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium zucchini, cut into quarters lengthwise and then sliced
salt and pepper
4 oz feta cheese crumbles (see above note)
2 c pesto (make your own or get some from the market to save time)
3/4 c white vinegar
2 c cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 c pine nuts

STEPS

  • Cook orzo pasta per package instructions.
  • While the orzo is cooking, heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium high heat.
  • Add zucchini and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook the zucchini for 3–4 minutes just slightly cooking it and then remove from heat.
  • Drain the orzo and place in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the feta and pesto stirring to combine.
  • Drizzle the vinegar while stirring.
  • Stir in the cooked zucchini, tomatoes, and pine nuts.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with extra feta and pine nuts if you saved any.
  • Refrigerate for at least 2–3 hours before serving.
Dinners

Recipe—Summer Squash with Cheese Tortellini in a Lemon Garlic Cream Sauce

Many pasta dishes have a certain heaviness to them, which makes them great comfort foods for fall and winter. This is a pasta dish that defies that logic. The lemon zest and fresh summer squash gives this dish a wonderful light and refreshing quality that will have your taste buds tingling all summer long. The sauce is what I would call a grownup version of alfredo sauce. It has that wonderful creamy quality but with more flavor. This recipe is great for many other reasons. It is incredibly cheap to make, it’s super easy, it’s delicious, and it took me under 15 minutes from start to completion, making it the perfect dinner for a busy night.

Note: You can also substitute ravioli for the tortellini.

INGREDIENTS
16–18 oz cheese tortellini (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
2 tsp garlic, minced
3 summer squash (zucchini and/or yellow squash), thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1 1/2 c heavy cream
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp green onions or chives, chopped

STEPS

  • Cook the pasta per package instructions.
  • While the pasta water is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil in a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add the shallot s and garlic and cook for 3–4 minutes.
  • Add the squash and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook until the vegetables begin to soften, about 4–5 minutes.
  • Add the cream and lemon zest and cook until the cream begins to simmer and thicken.
  • Add in the grated parmesan and stir to combine.
  • Drain the pasta.
  • Once the sauce is the desired thickness, add the cooked tortellini to the pan.
  • Transfer to serving dishes and top with extra parmesan and a sprinkling of the green onions.

Recipe adapted from Real Simple.

Snacks, Sweet Treats

Recipe—Funfetti Cake Batter Cookie Dip

Funfetti Cake Batter Cookie Dip

The other day I was going to be attending a pool party for one of my favorite munchkins. I knew there would be plenty of kids there and I wanted to bring a snack that all the kids would love and have fun eating. Well turns out the grownups liked this just as much as the little ones. This cookie dip was a HUGE hit! This is a cream cheese based dip blended with a scoop of dry cake mix giving it the true cake batter flavor. It was delicious! Super creamy and just the right amount of sweet. I’m guessing this will forever be a staple on our party menus.  It would be perfect for a birthday party or any type of social event, and I’m sure it will get people talking. This is by no means healthy, but sometimes you just need to relax and let the kids have a little fun enjoying a special treat. It’s all about moderation after all, not that you will be able to control yourself with this dip. So dive in, let loose, and enjoy this perfect youthful treat! I know you can’t resist.

Note: I served this dip with Nilla wafers but I know it would go great with graham crackers or animal crackers as well.

INGREDIENTS
1/2 c butter
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 cup dry funfetti cake mix
1 tsp vanilla
1/4–1/2 c milk
1/4 c sprinkles, plus more for garnish

STEPS

  • Melt the butter in the microwave and set aside to cool.
  • In a large mixing bowl beat together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and cake mix for 2 minutes.
  • Add in vanilla and cooled butter and continue beating for another 2 minutes.
  • Beat in the vanilla and then 1/4 cup of the milk. Add more milk as needed to reach desired consistency.
  • Fold in 1/4 cup of the sprinkles.
  • Transfer the dip to a small bowl for serving and garnish with additional sprinkles. Serve immediately with your favorite dippers or refrigerate until ready to serve. (Note: the dip will get very firm in the fridge so remove it 15–20 minutes before you plan on serving it to allow it to soften.)
Salads

Recipe—Bok Choy and Carrot Slaw in a Tangy Sesame Soy Vinaigrette

I really wanted to cook some seared ahi the other night and I was looking for the perfect side dish. Well low and behold! There was bok choy in my produce box that week so I knew exactly what to do.  A light and refreshing Asian inspired slaw. It was perfect for the warm summer night and was exactly what my gorgeous piece of ahi needed. Something not too heavy but loaded with flavors that would complement the simplicity of the fish. The dressing for this slaw is tangy, sweet, has a nice sesame flavor, and just a little bite from the fresh garlic. This is great for any Asian inspired dinner you have planned. I also had it with some chicken teriyaki and it was killer! This super fabulous recipe takes less than five minutes to make and is super low cal. Delicious and nutritious!

Note: Dressing can be made a couple of days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Then just toss the salad and the dressing right before serving.

INGREDIENTS
1 tsp garlic, minced
2 tsp sesame seeds (plus more for garnish if desired)
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
3 tbsp olive oil
2–3 large baby bok choy, thinly sliced (about 4–6 c)
1/2 c shredded carrots

STEPS

  • In a small bowl whisk together the garlic, sesame seeds, honey, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and olive oil until well combined.
  • Pour the vinaigrette over the sliced bok choy and shredded carrots and toss to coat.
  • Garnish with extra sesame seeds if desired.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from The Cozy Apron.

Side Dishes, Snacks

Recipe—Roasted Fennel Fries

Awhile back I posted a recipe for kale chips. Kale chips are a delicious and healthy snack that my son absolutely loved. I was eager to find more recipes that were just as simple, tasty, and nutritious. I recently used the same seasoning and cooking technique with roasted fennel and had fabulous results. These roasted fennel fries were absolutely addicting. My son and I could not stop eating them! We didn’t even waste time getting out a plate. I kid you not, we were eating the pieces straight off the baking sheet. They were that good! Think french fries, but without the calories and even more flavorful. Roasted fennel fries are not only a great snack but they also make a great side dish for any dinner. Just be sure you make enough because these fries will go fast!

INGREDIENTS

2 large fennel bulbs, fronds removed and sliced into 1/3” thick pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

STEPS

  • Preheat oven to 375º.
  • Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper and place the fennel slices in a single layer.
  • Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Place in the oven and cook for 30–45 minutes flipping once halfway through.
  • Bake until the fennel is fork tender and a golden brown.
Side Dishes

Recipe—Zucchini and Tomato Gratin

Out of all of the seasons, I love the summer most. Not just because of my lazy poolside days, baseball games, refreshing beverages, or little summer dresses, but because of the abundance and variety of incredible produce. It is something that people in California take for granted. Every year we grow a couple of cherry tomatoes plants in out backyard. My son can hardly wait for them to ripen and as soon as they do he eats them right off of the plant. Sweet, warm, vine ripened tomatoes. Yummmmmm…there is nothing like them. We seem to have a bowl full on our counter all summer long. The other veggie we seem to never get enough of during the summer is zucchini. Zucchini and tomatoes are a wonderful pair, and when you add in some quality parmesan cheese and fresh basil, delish! When I first tried this recipe for zucchini and tomato gratin I knew it was a recipe I would be making all summer long. Serve it up on it’s own with some pasta or as a side with your favorite protein, either way it is a perfect summertime dish.

INGREDIENTS
sweet Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
olive oil
3 medium zucchini, sliced
1 leek, sliced and thoroughly washed
2 tsp garlic, minced
1 c parmesan cheese
1 1/2 c Italian bread crumbs
1 1/2 c cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped

STEPS

  • Preheat oven to 425º.
  • Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of large cast iron skillet.
  • Separate the onions rings, place them in the bottom of the skillet, and drizzle with a little olive oil.
  • Add half of the sliced zucchini, half of the leeks, and all of the garlic to the pan.
  • Sprinkle with a 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese and a 3/4 cup of the breadcrumbs.
  • Drizzle with additional olive oil.
  • Add the remaining zucchini, remaining leeks, and all of the cherry tomatoes to the pan and drizzle with more olive oil.
  • Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese and a 3/4 cup of the breadcrumbs.
  • Drizzle with a tad more olive oil.
  • Bake entire pan in the oven for 25–30 minutes.
  • Turn on the broiler and finish the dish off under the broiler for 2–3 minutes or until it is golden brown on top.
  • Garnish with fresh basil.

Recipe adapted from Proud Italian Cook.

Side Dishes

Recipe—Cauliflower and White Cheddar Gratin

I was never much of a cauliflower fan growing up and now as an adult I just can’t get enough of the stuff. Sorry mom, but I think you were making it all wrong! The trick is to smoother it in cheese and all sorts of other wonderful flavors. I made this dish the other night and I’m embarrassed to admit that my husband, son, and I finished off the entire dish. All of it! Okay, so my son probably only ate it because I told him it was mac n’ cheese. Is that bad? Apparently we just couldn’t get enough of the creamy cheese sauce and crispy panko topping. We enjoyed this with some cooked greens and a juicy steak. It was delish! If you are having a hard time getting your kids (or even your spouses) to eat their cauliflower, give this recipe a try.  Maybe you’ve just been making it wrong. 😉

INGREDIENTS
1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
4 tbsp butter, divided
3 tbsp flour
1 1/2 c milk
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 c white cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 c panko

STEPS

  • Preheat oven to 400º.
  • Place the cauliflower florets on a large baking sheet.
  • Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Toss cauliflower to coat.
  • Roast the cauliflower until lightly browned, about 20–25 minutes.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 350º.
  • In a large saucepan melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat.
  • Whisk in the flour and let it cook until it starts to turn a light golden color.
  • Whisk in the milk, nutmeg, cheese, and some salt and pepper.
  • Cook until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce thickens.
  • Add the roasted cauliflower to the cheese sauce and transfer to a square-baking dish (9” x 9” or 8” x 8” works great).
  • In a small microwave safe bowl melt the remaining tablespoon of butter.
  • Add the panko crumbs to the melted butter and stir to combine.
  • Sprinkle the buttered panko over the cheesy cauliflower.
  • Bake the gratin in the oven until it is bubbling and the panko is golden brown, about 15–20 minutes.
Side Dishes

Recipe—Lemon Chive Rice

Sometimes pairing side dishes with entrees can be a daunting task. If you aren’t quite sure what to serve with a main course, consider rice. Rice is incredibly versatile! Just toss in a couple of ingredients that complement the flavors of your main dish and you’ve got it made! I actually made this rice dish the other night to pair with macadamia nut crusted halibut. I love fish with some fresh lemon! This had just the right amount of zest to it so it wasn’t an overpowering flavor. This rice would also go great with some baked or grilled chicken. I find myself cooking with lots of citrus throughout the warmer months of the year. There is just something so refreshing about fresh citrus of any kind. This is definitely a side dish that the whole family will enjoy.

INGREDIENTS
3 tbsp butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 c rice
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp lemon zest, divided
3 c chicken broth
2 tbsp chives, finely chopped
salt and pepper

STEPS

  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the onions and sauté until transparent.
  • Add the rice and the turmeric and stir until all the grains of rice are coated.
  • Stir in half of the lemon peel and all of the chicken broth.
  • Bring to a full boil over medium-high heat.
  • Cover and reduce heat to low.
  • Simmer for 20–25 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and let rice sit covered for 8–10 minutes.
  • Fluff rice with a fork.
  • Stir in remaining lemon peel, chives, salt, and pepper.