Strawberry-Spinach Penne Pasta Salad 

Strawberry Spinach Pasta salad 1

This pretty salad is cool and tangy-sweet, and the perfect side to your grilled chicken or fish. I like to use Marzetti’s Simply Dressed Strawberry Poppyseed Dressing, but you can choose your favorite brand or make it from scratch if you prefer. Double the recipe if you need additional servings.

Strawberry-Spinach Penne Pasta Salad 

with Strawberry Poppyseed Vinaigrette

Serves 4

5 ounces penne pasta

1 cup packed fresh baby spinach leaves

1 generous cup sliced strawberries

1 cup pineapple chunks

1/4 feta crumbled feta cheese

Strawberry Poppyseed Vinaigrette

Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain and cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl and add in spinach, strawberries and pineapple. Toss to combine. Add about 3 ounces of the vinaigrette according to your taste preference. Sprinkle with feta and give it a toss. Transfer to a serving bowl, Cover and chill at least one hour before serving.

Strawberry Spinach Pasta Salad2

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Mini Cheese Ball Bites

Image 28This fun finger food will fit into any occasion, be it casual or formal.  I chose to dress mine up for a Christmas canapé buffet.

Mini Cheese Ball Bites

(adapted from tastesbetterfromscratch.com)

Makes 12-15

Ingredients:

1- 8 ounce package of room temperature cream cheese
2 tblsp butter at room temperature
2 tblsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp hot sauce
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese

Toppings:

Pick your favorites; I used:

1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup chopped pistachios
1/3 cup grated white cheddar
12-15 pretzel sticks

Other choices are chopped green onion, parsley, pecans, walnuts or almonds. Use your imagination!

Add first 6 ingredients to a medium mixing bowl. Use a hand mixer to beat until smooth. Stir in white cheddar.

Divide into 12-15 tablespoon sized portions. Roll into small balls. Chill at least 30 minutes. Roll balls in desired toppings. Do not add pretzel sticks until you are ready to serve.

Olive and Cheese Wreath

Olive-Cheese wreath

Most of the better supermarkets have olive bars in their deli sections these days and fresh herbs are readily available. Olives are a finger food favorite, and creating this festive holiday appetizer couldn’t be any easier. You don’t even need a real silver tray; inexpensive, silver chargers are easy to find at craft stores.

Olive and Cheese Wreath

You will need:

Assortment of olives, preferably fresh from the deli; stay away from jarred olives if you can.

Fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes.

Parsley, dill or rosemary, for your wreath.

Arrange herbs into a circular wreath on your tray. Top with olives and cheese.  For an added touch, fill a pretty bowl with assorted fancy nuts and place in the center of the wreath.

Olive-Cheese wreath2

Crudités

Crudite

With just a little extra effort, something as simple as a vegetable tray can still have an impressive presentation without a lot of prep time. Try using a classic white platter, garnished with the outer leaves of a pretty, lacy Savoy cabbage. Hollow out the center of the cabbage and fill it with your favorite vegetable dip. Choose bright, colorful peppers, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes for your tray, cut into bite size pieces. Arrange the vegetables around the dip in an attractive manner and you will have a beautiful appetizer that will be a show stopper on any buffet.

You will need:

Large white platter

Large bright green Savoy cabbage

Red, yellow and green peppers

Broccoli crown

Carrots

Seedless Cucumber

Cherry or Grape tomatoes

Garden Vegetable Dip

Crab and Artichoke Tartlets

 

Crab and Artichoke Tartlets1

Crab dip is always a favorite at parties. This  is a cold filling that looks beautiful in mini phyllo shells, topped with a sprinkle of paprika for added color.

Crab and Artichoke Tartlets

Ingredients:

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons dried dill weed

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Hot Pepper sauce- several dashes to your taste

Cayenne pepper (optional to your taste)

14 ounce can artichoke hearts; drained and chopped

1 pound can wild caught lump crab meat

Frozen Phyllo tart shells

Paprika for garnish

Combine first nine ingredients. Refrigerate one hour or overnight. Fill tart shells and garnish with Paprika. Serve promptly.

This recipe makes about 4 cups of filling. You can also serve as a dip with crackers if you do not want to use the tart shells.  Recipe can be cut in half.

Crab and Artichoke Tartlet 2

Double Dutch Chocolate Cupcakes

 

Double Dutch Chocolate Cupcakes cover.jpg

If you are a chocolate lover, your heart will skip a beat when you bite into one of these doubly delicious, decadent cupcakes. So tender, so moist and so, so chocolatey. If this cupcake had ears you would be whispering to it “you’re the best I’ve ever had”, and you wouldn’t be lying.  Just one bite and you’ll fall in love.

Double Dutch Chocolate Cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup Dutch Processed Baking Cocoa (I used Rodelle Gourmet European Dutch  Processed Baking Cocoa)
  • 1 1/12 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil (melted)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup brewed coffee
  1. Bring eggs and buttermilk to room temperature.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Add cupcake liners to two 12 cup muffin pans.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, using a heavy duty mixer,  mix sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt and until well combined.
  4. Add in the eggs, buttermilk, coconut oil and vanilla and beat until very smooth.
  5. With mixer on low, stir in the coffee. (The batter will be thin.)
  6. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full. (I use a 1/4 cup scoop).
  7. Bake 16 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of cupcake comes out clean.
  8. Remove cupcakes from the oven and cool in the pan on wire rack for 10 minutes.
  9. Transfer cupcakes to wire rack to complete cooling.

Frosting Ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
1 1/3 cup Dutch Processed Cocoa
5 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cups Half and Half
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Using a heavy duty mixer, combine powdered sugar and cocoa. On low, add in milk, then slowly add in melted butter and whip until fluffy.  Frost your cupcakes and decorate as you wish.

Note: depending upon how you choose to frost your cupcakes, you may have extra frosting.  If you are spreading the frosting rather than piping it; cut the recipe in half, but decreasing powdered sugar to 3 cups. I piped the frosting using Wilton tip 1M.

Double Dutch Chocolate Cupcakes.jpg

Margherita Pizza

One of my favorite seasons has arrived – college football season! It’s a fall Saturday football tradition at our house to eat pizza and yell Roll Tide!  Our favorite? Any pizza grilled on a stone. Stone grilled pizza is so fabulous; there’s nothing better than a perfectly crispy crust with a slightly smokey taste. It’s as close to brick oven pizza as you can get. But if you don’t have a stone, this recipe works great in the oven too. Today’s pick, a simply delicious Margherita pizza.

pizza on the grill

Margherita Pizza

About a 1/2 cup pizza sauce or marinara
8 ounces fresh mozzarella
3 medium fresh tomatoes
10-12 fresh basil leaves
Pizza seasoning (optional)
16 ounce package of thawed frozen prepared pizza dough (follow package directions for rising) or your favorite recipe.

Prepare dough; roll into 12 inch diameter and transfer to pizza pan or stone. (I spread a little yellow cornmeal on the pan or stone first). Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

Thinly slice tomatoes; set out on paper towels to absorb moisture. Pat dry.

Thinly slice mozzarella.

Chiffonade the basil. (Stack basil leaves and roll them tightly, then thinly slice the leaves perpendicular to the roll).

Spread sauce on top of dough. Don’t go heavy with the sauce; you just want to cover the dough in a thin layer. Top with tomato slices, then mozzarella. Sprinkle on pizza seasoning.

Grill Directions:

Keep in mind some grills run hotter that others so your baking times may vary. My advice: keep an eye on your pie.

Cover grates with a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil. Place stone with prepared pizza on top of foil. Grill should be COLD. If you put a cold stone on a hot grill it will break the stone.

Turn on all 3 burners –  front, middle and back, to HIGH. Close lid and cook for 15 minutes. Note: if moisture from the mozzarella pools on top while baking, take some paper towels and blot to absorb it.

Turn middle burner down to LOW. Rotate pizza (not stone) 90 degrees. I use a large cake/pizza spatula to do this. Close lid and cook another 10 minutes.

Carefully lift one side of the pizza slightly to check bottom crust for doneness. Continue to cook another 5 minutes if needed. Move pizza to cutting board , top with basil and serve. Leave stone on grill until totally cooled. Follow package directions for cleaning.

Oven directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Bake 10-12 minutes, until dough is puffed and golden and cheese is melted. Move pizza to cutting board. Top with basil and serve.

Note: if moisture from the mozzarella pools on top while baking, take some paper towels and blot to absorb it.

pizza on the grillpizza on the grill

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

(Martha Stewart)

When you have that craving for a chocolate chip cookie, but no time for multiple pans and clean up, this is the answer to your chocolate craving prayers. One bowl, one pan, less mess! Serve warm from the skillet with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you will be in chocolate chip cookie heaven.

You will need:

A ten inch cast iron skillet

6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

1/3rd cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. With a wooden spoon, combine butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Mix in egg and vanilla extract. Add in dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Add in chocolate chips and walnuts. Cookie dough will be thick.

Add dough to your skillet and press in evenly. Bake 18-20 minutes, until golden. Cool for about 5 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Chocolate Coconut Cake

chocolate-cocount-cake

This single layer cake is the perfect size for smaller gatherings.  Using coconut oil in the cake batter is not only a healthier alternative, but adds coconut flavor to the cake. Brewed coffee brings out the flavor of the chocolate. If you prefer not to use shortening in the frosting, use 1 cup of butter.

For Valentine’s Day, I used a 9 inch heart shaped pan.

Chocolate Coconut Cake
Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup coconut oil (melted)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup brewed coffee

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch round or 8-inch square baking pan with baking spray (Pam) or butter and flour.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder until well combined.
  3. Add the egg, buttermilk, coconut oil and vanilla and beat until very smooth.
  4. Stir in the coffee. (The batter will be thin.)
  5. Pour into your prepared pan.
  6. Bake 35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on wire rack for 10 minutes.
  8. Remove from pan to a cake platter, bottom side up.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup softened Butter

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

2 cups confectioners sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon milk

2 cups sweetened flake coconut

Using a hand mixer, whip butter and shortening in a medium bowl until creamy. Add confectioners sugar in 1/2 cup intervals and beat until smooth. Mix in vanilla and milk.

Spread evenly onto cake and sprinkle with coconut. Decorate as desired.

chocolate-coconut-cake-4

Lemon Custard Cakes

lemon-custard-cakes

Lovely, light and lemony, these custard cakes will make you feel like spring has sprung; even on a dark and gloomy winter’s day.

Lemon Custard Cakes

a recipe from Martha Stewart

Serves 6

You will need:

Unsalted butter, room temperature, for custard cups

Six 6 ounce custard cups

3 large eggs, separated

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 to 3 teaspoons grated lemon zest, (1 lemon)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

To make:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a tea kettle of water to boil. Butter the custard cups and place them in a baking dish lined with a dish towel.

Whisk egg yolks and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy; gradually whisk in flour, then lemon juice, then milk and zest.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Gently fold into lemon batter with a whisk (batter will be very thin).

Divide batter among prepared custard cups; place baking dish in oven and carefully fill with boiling water to about halfway up the sides of cups. Bake until puffed and lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. While still warm, dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve.

Candy Cane Kiss Cookies

candy-cane-blossoms-2

This festive, vanilla version of the Candy Cane blossom will be a pretty, pepperminty addition to your cookie tray. Make this little beauty for your next cookie swap.

Candy Cane Kiss Cookies

adapted from hotbeautyhealth.com

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Candy Cane Kiss candies
  • 1/3 cup sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Unwrap kiss candies and chill in the refrigerator.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and peppermint extracts and egg and continue to beat for 2 more minutes.

In a separate bowl, add baking powder, flour, and salt and whisk together. Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture in 1/2 cup intervals and beat until well blended.  I use a 1 1/4 inch cookie scoop to form cookie balls. Roll in sanding sugar, place cookie dough on cookie sheets lined with a silpat or parchment paper.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Remove from oven and press a cold candy cane kiss into center of each cookie. Cookie will crack around edges and kiss will become soft. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before carefully moving to wire rack to completely cool until kiss hardens. Makes about 38 cookies.

candy-cane-blossoms-1

Zucchini Bread

zucchini-bread

An all time favorite that never gets old. Perfect at breakfast time or with afternoon tea.

Classic Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil or 1 cup applesauce
1 ½ cups sugar
3 medium zucchini, grated and well drained (2 cups)
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

Beat eggs lightly in a large bowl. Stir in oil (or applesauce) sugar, zucchini and vanilla.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt onto wax paper. Stir into egg mixture until well blended; stir in raisins and nuts. Spoon batter into two well greased 8 x 5 x 3 loaf pans or three 8 x 4 x 2 loaf pans.

Bake at 375 for 40 minutes for the 8 x 4 x 2 pans or 1 hour for the 8 x 5 x 3 pans (test with a toothpick). Remove from pans and cool completely.

Basil Pesto

Basil Pesto 2

I love using pesto on pasta, pizza and sandwiches. It’s a healthy, delicious sauce with fabulous flavor. My garden is once again overflowing with this beautiful, fragrant herb so I took a little time out of my day and made a batch. I freeze it so I can enjoy it all year round. It’s so easy to do!

Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves packed
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste

Most recipes call for a food processor, but I used my Vitamix blender. Here are directions for both.

If using a Vita Mix:

Add first 5 ingredients to Vitamix container and secure lid. Turn machine on and slowly increase speed, using tamper to mix ingredients and press into blade. Blend for 30 to 60 seconds until well blended. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

If using a food processor:

Add basil and nuts to the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times. Add garlic and parmesan and pulse several more times. Scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the food processor running, slowly add olive oil and blend until well combined. Scape the sides of the bowl again and add salt and pepper to your taste.

If not using immediately, pour into airtight container. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top. Cover with plastic wrap, then secure lid. Store for up to one week in refrigerator, or freeze for up to 9 months.

Stuffed Poblanos

baked poblanos 2

The peppers in my garden are gorgeous and plentiful this year. This dish is one of our favorites, so I was excited when the poblanos were ripe and ready to pick. It’s a delicious and easy recipe, so mix up a batch of margaritas and start cooking!

whole poblanos

Stuffed Poblano Peppers ( inspired by a recipe from TheLittleGSP.com)
Ingredients
6 large poblano peppers
4 cups grated Jack or Cheddar cheese (or combination of)
1- 12 ounce package (4 links) of your favorite spicy sausage (such as al fresco Spicy Jalapeño chicken sausage)
chopped cilantro for garnish
Mexican Rice (recipe follows)

Mexican Rice ( inspired by a recipe from Spicy Southern Kitchen)
Ingredients
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 cup basmati rice
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2  medium sized tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Directions
Saute onions in a large skillet over medium heat. When onions are translucent, add garlic and stir for a minute. Stir in rice and continue stirring until toasted, about 5 minutes.

Add tomato sauce and vegetable broth. Stir in corn, chili powder and cumin. Cover and simmer low until rice is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Wash and dry peppers. Slice lengthwise so peppers will lay flat. Remove seeds and ribs. Line a large cookie sheet pan with foil.

cut poblanos

Turn oven on to broil. Place peppers on cookie sheet and put them under the broiler for about 5 minutes or until they start to soften and blacken slightly. Check them often.  Remove from oven and set aside. Turn oven down to 375 degrees.

Cook sausage according to package directions. Cool and cut up into bite size pieces.  Mix with rice. Generously fill each pepper half with sausage and rice mixture. Top with grated cheese.

stuffed pre bake close up

stuffed pre bake

Bake in oven 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted and golden.  Serve with black beans, chips and salsa. Serves 6.

poblano 3