Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bacon and Asparagus Pasta

If you are like me, you see the word "bacon" in a recipe title and you have to read more. Add pasta and I'm even more excited.

I was browsing through recipes pinned to Pinterest when I first came across this one for Bacon and Asparagus Pasta. Turns out it comes from a blog of someone I "know" from a cooking board I belong to, and that blog is one you should definitely check out - Tide and Thyme. Her recipes are fabulous and her pictures are always mouth watering.

I put this recipe on our meal plan for a weeknight. When I started to prep I realized that it called for making a separate alfredo sauce, something I wasn't prepared for as I usually make my sauce right in the pan where I cook my bacon, veggies, etc. I still went ahead with the recipe though as I had been craving it all day. Making the separate sauce really only added 10 minutes to my time spent at the stove, and what's one more pot to wash for a fabulous meal? Alternatively, you could make the sauce ahead of time and heat it when you are ready to cook (heat slowly and constantly stir, and you may need to thin it out a bit with a touch of cream).

I made very minor changes, including only adding in half of the bacon and using the other half to top our pasta - I love that crunch of the bacon. I also added some thinly sliced onions and used light cream instead of heavy cream for the sauce. This pasta was so creamy and rich, and the smoke from the bacon was the perfect addition to the creamy and comforting alfredo sauce. You could add any other veggies you like - broccoli and red peppers would be a great combination.

Bacon and Asparagus Pasta
Slightly adapted from Tide and Thyme

  • 8 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 lb pasta (I used gemelli)
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper

Sauce Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • 2 cups light cream
  • 3 tsp flour or cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp cold water
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Kosher salt, if needed
  • The sauce: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Slowly whisk in the light cream. Cook, over medium heat until simmering. Combine the flour/cornstarch and cold water, whisk into the cream mixture. Cook, whisking constantly, until sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Parmesan cheese (doing this off the heat will keep the sauce from getting chalky). Season to taste with salt, if needed. Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water before draining. Return the pasta to the pan that you cooked it in, and set aside.
  • Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook the bacon until browned and crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove and place on paper towel lined plate to drain. Remove all but 2 Tbsp of grease from the pan, and return to the stove. Add the chopped asparagus to the pan, stirring occasionally. Cook until tender, about 7 minutes. About halfway through cooking the asparagus, add the onions. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more.
  • In the meantime, cook your pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Drain and set aside, keeping 1 cup of the pasta water.
  • Add the pasta to the pan with the asparagus, and add in half of the bacon and slowly add the sauce. Toss to combine. If sauce is too thick, add a bit of the pasta water to thin it out. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving and top with more bacon.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake

Last week my husband and I were watching House Hunters and the wife was talking about how she wanted a bigger kitchen. She said she wanted to learn how to cook, and that she knew how to bake already because "baking is easy, you just follow the directions on the back of the box." Jon and I just looked at each other and laughed.

Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem with using boxed mixes for cakes and brownies. It's pretty hard to mess up a boxed cake and while it technically IS baking, it's not exactly baking from scratch. Baking from scratch, in my opinion, is hard, but I am determined to figure it out. My dad is an amazing baker so I am hoping it's in my genes and it won't be too difficult for me!

To get some more practice baking and to put my new mixer to work, I asked my husband what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday. His only request was for a bundt cake, and since I know he loves chocolate and coffee, I went in search of something that would incorporate both.

I came across this recipe for a Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake on the blog Handle the Heat. I loved the use of espresso along with both cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate with a sweet chocolate glaze. There's no such thing as too much chocolate, right?

This cake was easy to put together, and I even think I got the glaze right. My only problem was that the recipe said the cake would be done when the toothpick came out with moist crumbs. I didn't get my timing right so it was just a touch overdone, but like I said, I'm learning. We still loved this cake and I'd definitely make it again.

For the cake:
  • 3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 6 ounce bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso (I couldn't find instant espresso in my store, so I used instant coffee)
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
For the glaze:
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons corn syrup
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  • Combine the cocoa, chocolate, and espresso in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water into the bowl and cover. Let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk the chocolate mixture until it is smooth. Let cool to room temperature. When it has cooled, whisk in the sour cream.
  • In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla for about 4 minutes, or until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until combined.
  • On low speed add the flour mixture and the melted chocolate mixture alternatively, beginning and ending with the flour, until the batter is smooth.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out and let cool completely.
  • The glaze - In a small saucepan heat the cream and corn syrup over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat and add the chocolate, whisking until smooth. Let cool slightly until thickened. Drizzle over the cake. Let the glaze set at room temperature, about 10 minutes, before serving.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sausage, Spinach, and Mushroom Lasagna

A few weeks ago I invited my parents over for dinner on a weeknight, but I needed something that I could fix ahead of time and then let it cook in the oven - lasagna is perfect for that.

I had a package of sausage I wanted to use in the lasagna - both sweet and hot Italian sausage. How cool that they packaged them like that? It was 2 links of hot and 4 links of sweet. Using sausage as my inspiration, I went in search of a new recipe.

I found a recipe for Sausage, Spinach, and Mushroom Lasagna on the Eating Well web site. After reading through the ingredients and directions, I couldn't wait to make and eat it. This lasagna seemed like the perfect compromise when one person wants a meat lasagna and someone else wants a veggie lasagna, and it really was the best of both worlds.

When I was cooking the sausage, mushrooms, and spinach I started to taste it. I liked it so much that I could see this part of the recipe being a meal on its own, maybe served over polenta.

I made a few small changes to the recipe. It called for whole wheat lasagna noodles, but instead I used the no bake lasagna noodles - I just like how easy they are. I added onions and garlic, used spicy and sweet sausage instead of only spicy, and also added a few layers.

Sausage, Spinach, and Mushroom Lasagna
Source: Adapted from Eating Well

  • 15 no bake lasagna noodles
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian sausage (both spicy and sweet), casings removed 
  • 10 oz white mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 sm onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 pound frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to get all of the water out
  • 1 28-ounce can chunky crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook until browned, about 6 minutes. 
  • Add the onions and garlic and sauté 1 minute
  • Add mushrooms and water; cook, stirring occasionally until the water has evaporated and the mushrooms are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Stir the spinach into the pan; remove from the heat. 
  • Mix tomatoes with basil, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
  • To assemble lasagna: Spread a thin layer of the tomatoes into the baking dish. Place three noodles in the dish - they shouldn't be touching each other, leave just a bit of room between them as they expand when cooking. Top with ricotta and lightly spread. Top with some of the sausage mixture followed by some tomatoes and mozzarella. Start again with noodles, ricotta, sausage, tomatoes, mozzarella. End with your 5th layer of noodles, some tomatoes, and mozzarella.
  • Cover with foil and bake until bubbling and heated through, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Vegetarian was the theme of this Taste of Home Cooking Recipe Swap. Even though I am no longer a vegetarian, I still enjoy eating vegetarian and in some cases I even prefer vegetarian meals, especially when talking about soups. If I'm going to reheat something for lunches for 4-5 days, I'd much prefer it be vegetables, and not meat.
The blog I received in the swap was Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks. I knew immediately that I'd have a hard time deciding what to make - her blog has a lot of great vegetarian recipes. I browsed for a while, torn between pasta, tofu, or soup. The day I decided to cook for this swap it was pretty cold and blustery, so soup it was! 
I chose this Broccoli Cheddar Soup. I read through the post taking note of Heather Lynne's suggestion on how to add the cheese without it curdling or turning chalky. I usually do remove my pan from the heat before adding cheddar, but now I know that you should probably wait a while before adding the cheese - cheddar melts at 120 degrees F and curdles at 160 degrees F. I pulled out my meat thermometer (how ironic, right?) and waited until my soup cooled to about 130 - this took more than 10 minutes. I then slowly added the cheese and stirred it until it melted. My soup was creamy, smooth, and didn't have any of that chalky consistency you can sometimes get with cheese sauces or soups.
I've had broccoli cheddar soups before, but what made this one different for me was the use of the herbs. I loved the flavor the rosemary added and really think the soup would not be the same without it.

Thanks for sharing your blog in this swap, Heather Lynne!

Broccoli Cheddar Soup
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp oregano (I used dried oregano)
  • 1/2 tsp thyme (I used dried thyme)
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary (I used dried rosemary)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1 potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups water (I used 2 cups vegetable broth)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3-4 cups fresh broccoli florets
  • 8 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. 
  • Add the onion and saute for 4 minutes. Add in the garlic and saute for an additional minute.
  • Stir in the flour and herbs and heat for 30 seconds. 
  • Add in the milk and cream and whisk until smooth.
  • Bring the soup to a simmer and add in the potatoes and carrots. Cook for 10 minutes.
  • Increase the heat and add in the water (broth), salt, pepper, and butter. Once the soup is boiling add in the broccoli and reduce heat to a simmer.
  • Cook for 20 minutes. 
  • Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes (I allowed it to cool for 10).  Slowly stir in the cheddar cheese until the soup is smooth. Serve hot.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chocolate Covered Cake with OREO Cream Filling

My dad is the baker of the family and is always making fantastic pies or cakes for birthdays and other holidays. So for his birthday last month I wanted to make something yummy for him, and his only request was chocolate.

Now you'll have to cut me a break on this - I followed the recipe and used a boxed cake mix for the 2 cake layers. BUT you could easily make this cake with your favorite chocolate cake recipe. For me, the best part of this cake was the creamy OREO filling. I may or may not have kept some aside to just eat instead of putting it in the cake...

This recipe comes from the Kraft web site. I made two changes to the ingredients - first, I used homemade whipped cream instead of Cool Whip. I made the whipped cream by mixing 1 cup heavy cream, 2 Tbsp confectioner's sugar, and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract - a recipe my friend over at A Taste of Home Cooking shared with me when she came for dinner over the summer.  Second, I used store bought chocolate frosting instead of making the glaze.

 This cake was so, so good. It was extremely rich, had the perfect amount of sweetness, and everyone loved it.

As far as timing, I made the cakes in the evening and let them cool. I also made the whipped cream in the evening. The next morning I made the filling and put it between the layers of cake, and then frosted the top and stored the cake in the fridge for several hours before going to my dad's house. The cake really set and was beautiful when we sliced into it.  

Chocolate Covered Cake with OREO Cream Filling
Source: Adapted from Kraft

  • 1 package (2-layer size) devil's food cake mix 
  • 8 oz. PHILADELPHIA cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups homemade whipped cream (1 cup heavy cream, 2 Tbsp confectioner's sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 12 OREO cookies, coarsely crushed
  • Make the cakes according to package directions; cool completely
  • Beat the cream cheese and sugar until blended. Gently mix in the whipped cream and cookies.
  • Place one layer cake on a plate. Spread the OREO cream mixture on top, and place the second layer cake on top. Top with the chocolate frosting.
  • My tip: refrigerate for a few hours to "set" the cake before serving.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Chicken Corn Chowder

Whenever my husband asks what I want for my birthday or Christmas, I usually say nothing. I'd much rather go do something, go out to a good dinner, or spend some family time together. However, this year when he asked me I quickly said "a Kitchen Aid Mixer - the Pro 600 with a 6qt bowl."

He wasn't expecting anything from me, yet alone that! See, I don't bake and I've always said that I don't have a need for a fancy mixer. But over the past year or two I have started to think more about it. Last year I made several kinds of cookies for Christmas and my little $10 hand mixer just didn't cut it. I'd also like to try my hand at bread, dough, and think that I would enjoy baking more if I had a mixer that did a lot of the hard work for me.

So the morning of my birthday I opened the box and there it was. Well, I was actually home when the FedEx guy delivered it 2 days prior so I knew what would be in the box, but I was still so excited to finally open it. What a beautiful piece of machinery it is! I hate clutter, but this baby will definitely have a spot to sit on my counter. Plus, who the heck wants to lug 29 lbs around every time you want to use it?

I've had the mixer for 2 weeks now and have used it 4 times, including making a great cake for my husband's birthday (see, the gift that keeps on giving!). But how fitting that the very first time I used it, just about 5 hours after opening the box, was to shred chicken?? I had heard that you could shred chicken in this mixer but after looking at the attachments I thought "yea, right." I put the cooked chicken breasts into the mixer and turned it on low and holy crap, it started to shred!! I kept watching in awe as it perfectly shredded my chicken - I think this is my favorite use so far! Goodbye are the days of spending 10-15 minutes with two forks and tired arms!

I used the shredded chicken in a deliciously hearty Chicken Corn Chowder that I first saw on Buns in My Oven - to be honest, her picture is what first got me! I changed a few things up, added a few things, and was so happy with how it turned out. Now if I only had some homemade bread to go with it... next time!!

Chicken Corn Chowder
Adapted from Buns in My Oven

  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Russet potatoes, diced
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeno, minced
  • 1 c frozen corn
  • 15 oz can of creamed corn
  • 2 c low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 c light cream
  • 1 tsp Old bay
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shredded chicken (I poached and shredded 2 chicken breasts)
  • Optional: cheddar cheese
  • Heat a Dutch oven or heavy stock pot over medium high heat. Add the bacon, and cook until crispy. Transfer to a plate covered with paper towels. Crumble.
  • To the pot with bacon grease add the potatoes, white parts of green onion, carrots, celery, jalapeno, butter; stir.
  • Add creamed corn and frozen corn; stir.
  • Add broth and cream as well as the Old Bay, thyme, parsley, cayenne, and salt and pepper; bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes
  • Add in chicken and adjust salt and pepper if needed
  • Garnish with green parts of the green onion and bacon, and optional cheddar cheese