Skillet Sausage Penne & Vegetables

Last week I accompanied my mother-in-law to a big sale at a craft store. I’m not much of a crafter, but I did find some great cookbooks. Tonight, I finally got my chance to try out one of the recipes from Dump & Bake Dinners (CQ Products, 2015): Skillet Sausage Penne & Vegetables. I picked this out because sausage is one of the few meats my son will eat right now, and my father-in-law really enjoys sausage and pasta as well.
After less than 20 minutes of prep, I was able to serve up a plate for my son and take him to wash his hands for dinner. I sat him in his seat at the table and waited to see his reaction. Although he scooched off his chair to go play again while my mother-in-law and I served our plates, I used some bread to bribe him to try the dish. Soon, he was easily eating everything on his plate. Mothers of toddlers know how good that feels and how rare it is. My mother-in-law and I really enjoyed the sausage, penne, and vegetables as well. Because of the copyright, I can’t share the recipe here, but if you find this recipe or another like it, I have a few suggestions.

First, you’ll want to use about 12 ounces (1 ½ cups) of penne pasta. This recipe only called for 8 ounces (1 cup) and it wasn’t quite enough. Also, the recipe instructs you to cook the pasta and the vegetables in the broth/milk mixture together for 12 minutes. However, I felt that the vegetables were a little over-cooked. If you like a little life left in your veggies, add them in after the pasta has already been boiling for 4-6 minutes. Finally, I used a bag of frozen mixed veggies that included broccoli, carrots, water chestnuts, and mini corn cobs. It gave the dish a summery feel. However, just about any mix of frozen vegetables that you like would work well.

And for dessert… We had chocolate-covered frozen bananas. I’ve tried to make them before without a recipe and failed miserably. I really do badly at melting chocolate. However, I tried again this weekend with a recipe. They turned out great thanks to freezing the bananas before dipping them in chocolate and adding a little oil to the chocolate to thin it out. It also helped to put the chocolate in a mug. As an added bonus, my son, who gags if you give him a bite of banana fresh out of the peel, loves these popsicles. Between the chocolate and the change in texture when the banana freezes, we can add a new food to his repertoire. Victory!

Check out the recipe here: http://www.skinnytaste.com/frozen-banana-popsicles/

20160531_171708

Jammy Oat Crumble Bars

Sometimes you just want a simple, wholesome snack, which is exactly what this recipe seemed to be when I read through it the first time. Whole-wheat flour, spelt flour, oat flour, banana, rolled oats, and unsweetened jam… yes please! So, I put Vincent down for his nap and set to work in the kitchen.

I did replace the spelt flour and oat flour with whole wheat: Spelt flour is not a staple in my kitchen and although I’ve made oat flour in my blender before, I did not want to risk waking Vincent up from his nap. Also, the recipe did not specify how long to let the bars cool before cutting and serving. I recommend letting it cool completely because the bars live up to their name and crumble a bit, even when cool.

When I think of bars, I think of blondies and other chewy treats, so the cakey texture of the Jammy Oat-Crumble Bars pleasantly surprised me. Vincent and I both really enjoyed them. The oatmeal in the base and in the topping give a satisfying texture and the strawberry-guava jam I tried went well with their delicate taste. I thought I might like more cinnamon, but the ladies I shared this with at a church group loved the bars as-is. In fact, almost everyone (moms and kids included) got a second helping. I’m looking forward to trying these with other flavors of jam!

Recipe Link: http://www.parents.com/recipe/jammy-oat-crumble-bars/

Mexican Lasagna

As I prepare to post this, I realized that I probably should have shared this recipe yesterday  for the proper Try It Tuesday, since that’s when I made it, and shared yesterday’s post today. Please forgive my less-than-logical order this week; I’m still figuring out a routine here in Florida.

My son and I are visiting his grandparents and we’re at home most days while my in-laws are at work. Since I love being in the kitchen, I offered to take over dinner prep. As I planned out the meals I would make for this week, my mother-in-law suggested a family favorite: Mexican Lasagna. On Tuesday, I gave it a try. While it’s not exactly quick (bake time: 40 minutes), it is super easy and adaptable to your family’s tastes. Here’s the recipe my mother-in-law wrote down for me:

Ingredients

1 pound ground beef

1 can (4.5 ounce) green chilies, drained

1 can (19 ounce) + ½ can (19 ounce) – or – 1 smaller can red enchilada sauce

10 8-inch flour tortillas (1 package)

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Spray a 13×9 pan with non-stick cooking spray, then pour a thin layer of enchilada sauce in the bottom. Set aside. Brown the ground beef and drain off the excess fat. Stir in the green chilies and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in the enchilada sauce and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat. Add a layer of tortillas to the bottom of the 13×9 pan. Top with some of the meat sauce. Add another layer of tortillas. Continue with remaining tortillas and top with sauce. Bake for 30 minutes, then add the shredded cheddar. Bake an additional 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

 

My son, Vincent, often hesitates before trying new foods, but not this time. It looked enough like the lasagna he knows and loves that he started eating as soon as I put the plate in front of him. My father-in-law told me it tasted just like every other time they’d eaten it. Since it’s a family favorite, that is exactly what I’d hoped to achieve. I enjoyed the recipe as well and I was surprised that the layered tortillas did take on a very lasagna-like texture. Moreover, if you’re a left-overs for lunch kind of person like I am, this is tasty when re-heated.

As I mentioned before, this recipe can be adapted to fit your preferences. I served sweet corn as a side dish, prompting my mother-in-law to suggest adding the corn directly to the layers of meat sauce and tortillas. I would probably also reduce the amount of enchilada sauce and add a can of diced tomatoes with garlic, as well as some black beans. Speaking of which, you could replace the ground beef with ground turkey or go vegetarian and just do black beans. Finally, given the shape of tortillas and the size of my little family (2 ½ appetites to contend with), I’d probably make the Mexican lasagna in a 8 or 9-inch cake pan. I really do enjoy an easy-to-personalize dinner dish like this. Let me know what you think!20160517_174953

Chevre-Miel Panini

Although I’m now at my in-laws’ house, I wanted to share another Try It Tuesday experience from the road: Chevre-Miel (goat cheese-honey) Panini. While this was not the first time I’d eaten this delightful sandwich, it was the first time I made it myself. I was staying with my Aunt Cathy and Uncle Bob. When Cathy found out I’d never been to a Trader Joe’s, she thought it would be fun to stop by while we were running errands. In the refrigerated section, we happened to spy a variety of cheeses. I mentioned a little bakery in the Place Saint-Pierre in Toulouse, France where I’d regularly stop to buy a chevre-miel panini for lunch when I was studying abroad. Motivated by that memory, we decided to pick up a log of chevre and a multi-grain baguette and make our own paninis for lunch.20160510_123904

While my son Vincent ate left-over chicken Parmesan in his high-chair, I sliced the baguette and goat cheese while my aunt buttered the bread and drizzled the honey. We did have to work together to keep the paninis from sliding out of the panini grill, but in the end we had crunchy bread filled with gooey cheese and honey – so worth it!

Here is the very simple recipe:

Ingredients

1 baguette, sliced into 6-inch sections

Butter

1 log of goat cheese (chevre), sliced into ¼-inch thick rounds

1-2 tablespoons honey

Directions

Slice the sections of baguette in half length-wise to form a sandwich. Butter the outside of the bread. Place approximately 3 rounds of chevre onto the bottom half of each panini and drizzle with about 1 tablespoon of honey per sandwich. Top with the other half of the baguette section. Place in panini grill for approximately 4 minutes depending on your desired doneness.

 

20160510_124728After her first bite of panini, Cathy declared the sandwiches to be fantastic. In fact, I think the word she used was “heavenly.”

Despite its simplicity, I do have some notes to share for this particular recipe. First, yes, the butter really is necessary; don’t use non-stick cooking spray. The butter gives the panini a crisp, golden crust. This is particularly important in the US since most “baguettes,” “French” breads, and “Italian” breads lack the crunchy outer crust that true baguettes have. Along the same lines though, use whatever bread strikes your fancy. Cathy and I really enjoyed the multi-grain bread because it added some flavor and texture.

Also, I upped the amount of honey in the recipe because as the panini is pressed in the grill, a portion of the honey is squeezed out. I personally would have wanted more honey in my sandwich.

Finally, Cathy and I discussed ways to modify the recipe a bit. Cathy thought adding some arugula would add some nice flavor. I suggested sprinkling some herbes de Provence on top of the honey. Another, similar option would be to use different kinds of honey. Clover honey has a strong taste, but honey made by bees who take nectar from other plants (oregano for example) would add a nice complexity of flavor. There’s a lot you can do with such a simple, tasty base!

Easy Italian Herb Focaccia Bread

My family’s move has begun! I’ll be spending the 5 months between my in-laws’ home, my parents’ home, and (hopefully before the end of September) my family’s new home. For now, we’re on the road to Florida and we’ve stopped to visit family along the way, hence my lack of post last week. I did, however, have the chance to do a little cooking at my sister’s house. Originally, I offered to make the entire dinner she had planned (eggplant Parmesan), but I was just too tired from the moving, travelling, and so on. Instead, I whipped up her recipe for Easy Italian Herb Focaccia Bread.

It’s always a challenge to cook in someone else’s kitchen, so the “easy” in the title of the recipe was appreciated. And truly, the recipe was easy to make. As the bread baked, the house filled with the scent of Parmesan cheese and Italian herbs. It reminded me of the Italian rolls my mom made growing up. They always struck me as too complicated to make myself because of the yeast. Generally, I avoid baking with yeast… my bread never seems to rise right. Although the focaccia recipe uses yeast and has to be left to rise, there is no kneading required. In fact, you don’t have to form rolls either. You simply spread the dough into a 9×13 pan. In other words, it seemed like the best both words: flavors from my childhood with the ease of prep I insist on now.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

3 ¼ cups flour

1 envelope rapid-rise yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup olive oil

1 2/3 cups very warm water

2 Tablespoon Parmesan cheese

1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning

Directions

Mix flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil and water; stir until well mixed. Spread dough into a greased 13×9 pan. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes until doubled. Poke multiple holes in dough using the handle of a wooden spoon. Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over the top of the dough; sprinkle with cheese and Italian seasoning. Cover and let rise for 15 minutes while the oven preheats to 375 Fahrenheit. Bake 30-35 minutes until lightly browned. Cool slightly and cut into squares. Enjoy warm.

 

Let me begin with a hearty “yum!” The Italian Herb Focaccia bread really did taste like my mom’s Italian dinner rolls. The crispy cheese and herb layer on top contrasted nicely with the soft bread below. I also felt it had the perfect density. And it lived up to the easy in the recipe title.

I will say that the rise times are approximate. During the first rise time, the bread did not double, but that wasn’t an issue. I also let the bread rise for longer than 15 minutes while my sister prepped the pan of eggplant Parmesan

. Although I didn’t eat it the next morning for breakfast since my sister made a crème brulée French toast bake (you eat well at Becky’s house!), I think the Focaccia bread would have been great reheated and served with eggs. Let me know if anyone tries that!