Friday, February 28, 2014

Creamy Pasta with Turkey Sausage, Tomatoes and Spinach

When Jon is away I still like to cook a good meal for dinner. Sure, sometimes my daughter and I go out to dinner, usually to her favorite spot for a bite - Wegman's. She gets a kick out of getting her food, paying, and then getting on the elevator to go eat upstairs, and once up there she gathers our napkins, forks, and condiments :). But for the most part I'll cook a balanced meal at home that I can get on the table quickly.

In preparation for our girls' night the other night I picked up some sweet Italian turkey sausage. I love breakfast turkey sausage, but have never used turkey sausage for dinner since Jon only eats pork sausage, so a girls' night would be the perfect time to try it. I also love pork sausage, but was pleasantly surprised that the turkey sausage was just as good once I added some seasoning (I prefer hot sausage so some red pepper flakes did the trick). And at 69% less fat (as per the package), he doesn't know what he's missing. I'll have to sneak it into a dinner one of these days... sssh, don't tell him!

For our turkey sausage dinner inspiration I turned to a cooking forum and asked for recipes. My friend Sarah responded with a link to a recipe in her blog for Bow Ties with Sausage, Tomatoes and Cream. Upon reading the recipe I knew it would be quick, easy, and delicious. I made a few changes based on things I had on hand and personal preference. I also cut the recipe in half since it was only the 2 of us.

I had this one on the table in 20 minutes! The prep is quick, you start cooking the sausage while the pasta water is coming to a boil, and then you cook the sausage while the tomatoes and cream are simmering. By the time the pasta is done, the sauce and sausage are ready - this is the perfect weeknight meal.

Creamy Pasta with Turkey Sausage, Tomatoes, and Spinach
Adapted from: A Taste of Home Cooking

  • 8 oz pasta, shape of your choice. I used rotini but any small pasta would work well
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-4 turkey sausage links (1/2 lb), casings removed. I used sweet but hot works too
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional if you want more heat)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c dry white wine (optional - I like deglazing with it)
  • 1  (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 c heavy (or light) cream
  • 2-3 handfuls fresh baby spinach
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Bring a pot of water to a boil
  • In the meantime, heat olive oil over high heat in a large sauté pan. Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook until browned, about 10 minutes.
  • At this point the water should be ready - salt the water (1/2 tsp or so) and cook your pasta. Drain and set aside.
  • Once the sausage is cooked, add the red pepper flakes, onions and garlic to the pan; sauté 2 minutes.
  • Add the wine and stir, scraping up brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the tomatoes and cream, and let simmer for 8 minutes.
  • Add the spinach and stir to wilt.
  • Add the pasta and toss. Season with salt if needed.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tofu with Tomatoes in a Garlic Ponzu Sauce

To me, tofu is the ultimate ingredient for a quick and easy dinner. You don't have to worry about cooking it to a certain temperature, it cooks quickly (or it can simmer for a bit to soak up more flavor), and it is so versatile that you can really use it with any flavors. I usually choose to prepare it with Asian flavors and ingredients, but have also tried Mexican and Italian flavors as well.
Tonight I didn't have much time to cook, and I only knew I would be making tofu. I opened the fridge and did my favorite thing - started grabbing ingredients to use to come up with a quick tofu dinner. I spotted a bottle of Ponzu that Jon bought last week. We never used it, so I opened it, gave it a quick taste, and based the rest of the dish on it.
Ponzu has a soy flavor with great brightness since it is citrus based. It isn't as heavy as soy, but still adds that basic flavor and saltiness. Along with the ponzu I also used a touch of soy sauce, Sriracha sauce, mirin as well as tomatoes, garlic, green onions, and spinach.
This dish came together in about 15 minutes, and had a great spicy and tangy flavor. My daughter even ate the rice that was sitting in the sauce and loved it. I served it over Trader Joe's Organic Brown Rice that I buy in the frozen section - it cooks in THREE minutes in the bag it comes in (no extra pot to clean!) and it's good!

Tofu with Tomatoes in a Garlic Ponzu Sauce
Original Recipe by Mary Ellen


  • 1 block extra firm tofu
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 c vegetable (or chicken) broth
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp ponzu sauce
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp mirin
  • Sriracha to taste; I used about 1 Tbsp
  • 1/4 c broth mixed with 1 Tbsp flour or cornstarch
  • Press your tofu - if you know you are making tofu for dinner, take it out a few hours early, remove it from the container with water, and wrap it in paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Press gently, and put it in a dish in the fridge with something on top of it, such as a block of cheese. This will get all of the extra water out and let the tofu absorb more flavors. Once you are ready to cook, cut the tofu into cubes.
  • Heat the oil in a large sauté pan or wok over high heat. Add the tofu and sauté 5 minutes until browned on all sides (let it sit on each side for a minute or so, don't constantly flip it around - you'll get a better crust this way).
  • Add the tomatoes and stir; let cook for one minute.
  • Add the garlic, and then pour in the ponzu sauce, soy sauce, mirin, and sriracha. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Taste and adjust any of the flavors before adding the slurry (broth mixed with the flour/cornstarch). Let simmer 2 minutes before serving.  


Friday, February 14, 2014

Hot Italian Sausage and Kale Ragu

It is a must in our family that a veggie side is always part of our meal. In the summertime we grill everything, and in the winter we will roast or sauté veggies (and if we don't have snow, we will still grill, but that hasn't been an option this year..and I type that as 12 inches have fallen this morning). Even though we try to vary what we eat, I'm getting tired of our old standby veggies this winter - broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus, and spinach. We occasionally eat bok choy, snow peas, and sugar snap peas, but I really wanted something different last week. Little did I know that making something different would lead to me eating it three nights in a row!! I think I'm officially on a kale kick now...

I have only had kale a few times, so when I saw a huge bag of it on last week's trip to Wegmans, I threw it in my cart. Last week I saw a pasta recipe using kale, so I pulled it up on my phone and bought the rest of the ingredients - hot Italian sausage, rigatoni, and ricotta salata.

My favorite thing about kale, besides the flavor and health benefits, is that it doesn't cook down like other greens such as spinach or arugula. It's a hearty green, has great texture, and a huge bag gives you a LOT whereas a small bag of spinach might be enough for 2 people.


I love simple dishes that are packed with flavor, and this one was exactly that. The list of ingredients is very short, it cooks in 30 minutes, it comes together in one pot, and you may say "mmmmm...." with every bite, like I did! My husband kept looking at me with a look that said "I get it - you like it." I was SO glad I had leftovers to have for lunch the next day, and I'll definitely be making this again soon.

I made 2 minor changes to the recipe - I used low sodium chicken broth instead of water and did not add salt. There is enough flavor from the sausage, and the cheese and broth add the saltiness.

Hot Italian Sausage and Kale Ragu
Slightly adapted from: Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice

  •  3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb hot Italian sausage links
  • 1/2 bag of kale (or 1 large bunch). I prefer the bags because the kale is triple washed and already chopped.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 oz cooked pasta; I used rigatoni
  • 1/2 c low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 c crumbled ricotta salata
  • 1/4 c shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat
  • Cut a line down the center of each sausage link and remove the casing. Crumble the sausage into the pan, further crumbling it with a wooden spoon or spatula. Cook until browned on the outside, about 5 minutes.
  • Push sausage to the sides of the pan, add the rest of the olive oil, and then add your onions and garlic; sauté 3 minutes.
  • Turn the heat down to low, add the kale, cover and let cook for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
  • In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta.
  • After the kale has cooked for 20 minutes, add the chicken broth and the cooked pasta. Stir.
  • Add the Parmesan cheese and top with the ricotta salata. Serve immediately.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Chicken and Dumplings

Do you have a favorite piece of cookware? Mine is definitely my beautiful, black, oval Le Creuset Dutch Oven that my husband bought me for Christmas a few years ago. I use it for soups, stews, braising meats, one pot meals, and even baking crusty bread. I'll also convert crock pot recipes to stove top just because I prefer cooking in my Dutch oven. I don't know what I'd do without it, honestly.

 Last weekend I cooked something amazing in my Dutch oven - Chicken and Dumplings. Until that day I had never had this dish before. I have had creamy chicken soups, chicken pot pie, and braised chicken dishes, but never this wonderful Southern meal of chicken and dumplings.

I have several recipes in my blog queue waiting to be posted, but once I made this one I had to jump the line and share it immediately, it was THAT good.

Hearty, comforting, savory, and all cooked in one pot, even the dumplings. I have made steamed dumplings like that before in a beef stew, so I knew to expect light and fluffy dumplings, or what my daughter called "pillows."

Although this meal takes about 75-90 minutes to come together, the preparation and method are both easy. Basically you brown you chicken, add the veggies, and then let everything simmer so a thick gravy can develop. Once you shred your chicken, the dumplings are the last thing you cook, dropping them into the pot on top of the chicken, and letting them steam for 15 minutes.

Above - just after dropping the dumplings. Below - after steaming for 15 minutes. I think "pillow" is the perfect word for them.

I made a few changes to the original recipe, so my adaptation is below. I used chicken breasts because they were what I had on hand, but I think a mix of white and dark meats would be really good. This recipe made a lot - 5 of us ate on Saturday, and 3 of us ate it on Sunday. Oh, yes - the leftovers are really good!!!

Chicken and Dumplings
Slightly adapted from: The Hopeless Housewife

  • 2 lbs of chicken
  • 1 c of flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 c chopped carrots (I used a small bag of baby carrots and chopped them into thirds)
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c of flour
  • 1/2 c dry white wine
  • 6 c chicken broth or stock
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 2 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 c frozen peas
  • 1/2 c frozen corn
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper
For the dumplings:
  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 c milk
  • Season your chicken with salt and pepper and toss with 1 c of flour
  • Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat
  • Add the chicken and cook 5 minutes per side to brown it; remove to a plate
  • Add the carrots, celery and onions to the pot; sauté 4-5 minutes
  • Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute
  • Add the flour and stir to coat everything
  • Add the wine followed by the broth. Stir will to dissolve the flour.
  • Add the bay leaves, sugar, thyme, parsley and peppercorns. Return the chicken to the pot. Cover and turn heat to low and let simmer for 20-25 minutes until the chicken has cooked through.
  • Once the chicken is cooked, shred it. I like to do this using my KitchenAid mixer - 2 breasts in the mixer on speed 2-3 for 15-20 seconds will give you loosely shredded and somewhat chunky chicken. Keep it in longer if you like it shredded more. Alternatively you can shred the chicken with 2 forks. Once it is all shredded to your liking, return it to the pot and add the peas and corn. Let simmer while you prep the dumplings.
  • Make the dumplings: mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and about 1 c of the milk and stir with a wooden spoon. It should be dry and somewhat sticky. If it is too wet, add flour; if it is too dry, add milk. Spoon 1-2 inch dumplings onto a sheet lined with parchment paper OR if you work quickly, spoon them directly into the pot. Place all of the dumplings in the pot, cover, and let them steam for 15 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and gently stir in the cream. Adjust salt and pepper and serve immediately.


Friday, February 7, 2014

White Pizza Dip

This Taste of Home Cooking Recipe Swap was all about snacks. I LOVE appetizers, snacks, dips, and all kinds of munchies so this swap was right up my alley.

I was given the blog Sweet Beginnings, a blog I am familiar with and have had in the swaps in the past. I browsed her list of apps several times, going back and forth about what I was going to make. There were too many good options so it was a tough choice! I finally narrowed it down to a White Pizza Dip and served it for my best friend while my husband was cooking dinner for us.

The author, Jaida, noted that the original recipe called for Lipton Savory Herb Garlic Soup Mix which she could not find, so she used Lipton's Vegetable Soup Mix. I also couldn't find the Herb Garlic Mix at the store, and they were out of Vegetable, so I used the Onion Mix. However, I did look Lipton's web site to see what was in the Herb and Garlic Mix so I could try to bring some of those flavors to this dip. The list of ingredients was pretty vague, noting "herbs & spices," so it wasn't much help. I decided to add a tsp. of McCormick's Perfect Pinch Italian Seasoning and call it good.

This dip had everything you want out of a hot dip. It was bubbly, creamy, cheesy, savory, gooey, and I could have eaten the entire thing and skipped dinner (no offense Jon, your meatloaf and scalloped potatoes were fabulous, as always!). And I may or may not know that this dip reheats well if you feel like having some later that night, or for lunch the next day. That is, if you have leftovers.

Thanks for the great recipe, Jaida!

White Pizza Dip
  • 1 envelope Lipton Savory Herb & Garlic Soup Mix (I used their Onion variety - just 3/4 of the package, because I couldn't find the Herb & Garlic and they were sold out of vegetable)
  • Added: 1 tsp. McCormick Perfect Pinch Italian Seasoning
  • 1 (16 oz) container of sour cream
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup chopped or mini pepperoni
  • 1 baguette loaf, sliced

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • In a 1 quart casserole dish, combine the soup mix, herbs, sour cream, ricotta cheese, 3/4 cup of mozzarella, and pepperoni
  • Sprinkle top with remaining 1/4 cup of mozzarella and some additional pepperoni if you'd like
  • Bake uncovered for 30 minutes (or until heated through). Serve with bread slices.