Thursday, February 28, 2013

Easy Mediterranean Pantry Pasta Bowl

As I was eating my lunch at home today, it occurred to me that you all might like to know about this easy dish I made for myself!  If you have read my blog for very long, you know that I like making quick but delicious lunches usually meatless and filled with lots fresh vegetables.  I love meat as much as the next guy, but good-thing I also love vegetables, so when I'm home-alone I really enjoy making "vegetarian" meals.  They usually don't take as much time as cooking something with meat, and I love a hot meal that feels effortless!
One of my favorite lunches to make is "pantry pasta" which is a non-recipe ... recipe!  Basically it's whatever pasta you have, with whatever ingredients you want to throw in!  Simple, right?!  I usually have a base of bell pepper, onion, and garlic and just have fun with the rest. 
I usually add chickpeas to my pasta, but this time I added kalamata olives, grape tomatoes, feta and Parmesan cheese.  I had whole wheat macaroni and so that's what I used.  All of this sauteed and tossed with olive oil and seasonings is really delicious and healthy, too!
(Here is another tasty recipe for Pesto Pantry Pasta that I've made in the past.) 
These pictures today were taken on the fly as I already started eating this, but I just wanted to share this with you!  I had to edit out the clean laundry basket in the background, ha! :)
Easy, simple, colorful, flavorful, healthy, and delicious are all things that I love about this Mediterranean Pasta Bowl!  
Mediterranean Pantry Pasta Bowl
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Red & Green Bell Pepper, diced
Onion, diced
Minced Garlic
Grape Tomatoes, halved
Kalamata Olives, diced
Feta Cheese
(I use the herbed crumbled Feta from Trader Joes)
Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated
Italian seasoning
Salt & Pepper
Cook the pasta according to directions on the package.
In a skillet over medium heat, saute the pepper and onion in olive oil until they are softened.  Add the other vegetables, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes or until everything is hot.
Add a little of the pasta water in with the vegetables.  Allow this to bubble for a minute or so to thicken up. 
Add the pasta to the skillet with the vegetables and a little more olive oil.  Stir in the feta cheese and pour everything into a bowl.  Grate Parmesan cheese over the top with more salt and pepper, if desired.  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sunrise Marmalade & Mascarpone Stuffed French Toast

Oh, how I looove French toast. 
 Call me crazy, but I just might like it even more than pancakes...Yes I know, that much
There's just something about battered bread that's fryed in butter, and served with maple syrup or a delicious berry sauce that makes my heart skip a beat!  It's so easy to make, and I always have the key ingredients of bread, eggs, milk and butter on hand! 
I'm not sure if you read a couple of weeks ago about my little story, A Tale of Two French Toasts, where Mr. Cozy and I visited a locally favorite cafe for breakfast and had absolutely incredible French toasts!  I was inspired by the amazing marmalade one that my husband ordered, so this morning I decided to make French toast with a twist of orange flavor.  Fancy French toast, if you will!
Last week I bought Mascarpone cheese at Trader Joes for the first time.  I've never bought it before, but I knew it's similar to cream cheese, therefore I would love it.  I sure do!  It's very soft and spreadable and is almost buttery-sweet....just delicious!  Mascarpone cheese is definitely made for sweet recipes as opposed to savory.  It was a perfect base for the filling of this French toast!!   (Although, if you don't have any at home and want to make this recipe, cream cheese is a terrific substitute!  Yum!)
I've never made stuffed French toast in my life and decided to when I woke up craving really good French toast.  I used sweetened mascarpone cheese, orange marmalade and fresh orange zest as the filling.  It was so delicious, it can easily be a fruit dip or spread for toast and bagels  ....Oh my! 
 You know how after you make a new recipe, as you're eating it, you think of other ways you could improve it?  Maybe it's just me.! Anywho, there are a few little things I might try doing differently the next time with this recipe.   Let me explain, and you can make the decisions for yourself!
1. I used a little powdered sugar to sweeten the filling a bit more, but the next time I'm going to try adding honey instead for a natural sugar and to make an even gooier filling. 
2. I'll probably add even more marmalade to the filling, but I LOVE orange flavor!
3. On the same note, I'll probably add some of the orange's juice to the egg mixture.  I did add a lot of orange zest though, and it was still really delicious.
4. For those of you who want a richer French toast, spread more filling on the bread and use half & half instead of skim milk in the egg batter.
(I just try to make everything as light as I can, but if I splurge that's how I would do it!)
5. Finally, using Brioche or French bread would be AMAZING with this!  I also really love thick sliced, Texas toast bread for French toast!!  Unfortunately I don't usually keep those breads at home, and since I always seem to make French toast on the fly, whole wheat or oatmeal bread it is for me.
This marmalade & mascarpone French toast is dreamy and such a treat to wake your family up to! The bright citrusy orange infusing the crispy bread and warm real maple syrup are all the right flavors to begin a special day.  To make it really over the top, serve with an extra dollop of the marmalade-mascarpone cream on top or fresh whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar! 
Marmalade & Mascarpone Stuffed French Toast
1/2 c. Mascarpone Cheese
You will have a little extra  filling with this amount, or use it all for decadent goodness!
1 Tbsp. Powdered Sugar
1 1/2 heaping Tbsp. Orange Marmalade
Zest of 1 Orange, divided
4 slices thick-sliced Bread, a little dried out preferably
1 Egg
Approx. 1/4 c. Milk
Dash of Cinnamon
Splash of Vanilla Extract
1 Tbsp. Butter
For the Filling:
In a small bowl, stir together the Mascarpone, sugar, marmalade, and half of the orange zest really well.  Set it aside before you eat it all!
In a shallow bowl, beat the egg, milk, orange zest, cinnamon and vanilla until frothy.  Set aside.
Take the filling and divide evenly between two pieces of bread for the richer version.  For the delicious-lighter version, spread on about 2-ish Tbsp.  (I didn't really measure this part out.  I had enough filling left over for my toast the next couple of mornings!)
Top the "sandwich" with the other slice of bread.
 Get a large skillet hot over medium heat.  Once hot, put the pat of butter in the pan and swirl it around. 
Place the bowl of egg mixture near the frying pan.
Dredge both sides of the sandwiches in the egg batter.  The drier and thicker the bread is --such as artisan bread--, the longer it should set.  (But even crusty French bread should not sit longer than 1 1/2 minute, in my opinion.)
Immediately place them in the hot buttered pan and fry each side until brown and crispy. 
Cut the French toast diagnally and serve hot on the plate with warm real maple syrup and orange slices or berries. :)
I'm linking up with:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chewy White Chocolate Chunk-Cherry Oatmeal Cookies


 I'm here to talk about one of my very favorite things to eat...Cookies!
I don't think I can convey to you just how delicious these oatmeal cookies are!  Filled with plump dried cherries, chunks of creamy white chocolate, toasted almonds, and old fashioned oats, this cookie is more like what I call a "gob" cookie that's chock full of good things.
 I always like to make a dessert using cherries around Presidents Day in honor of George Washington, our great first President!  I usually make a homemade cherry pie, but I decided to make cookies for something different.  Also, when I make a pie that feeds 6-8 for just Mr. Cozy and I, it seems like we have to stuff our face with pie for 2 days.  (Doesn't seem too bad, I guess...)  But with cookies, I make a big batch of dough and refrigerate it and just bake the cookies a few at a time when we want them! 
I have a sneaky suspicion these won't last very long, because they are crazy-good!  I chopped the white chocolate chunks myself and left them big so the cookies would be dotted with hunks of creaminess, and this tasted great!   I highly recommend chopping your own chocolate here rather than buying white chocolate chips.
I roughly chopped the dried cherries.  They add a bit of tartness that's so delicious with the chocolate and chewiness that's a perfect pairing with the crunchy toasted almonds.
I hope you all with find time during this winter storm that's blowing across the U.S. to make these  White Chocolate Chunk-Cherry Oatmeal Cookies!  If you're stuck at home, at least you can crank up the oven and makes a big batch of homemade cookies for--or with!-- your kiddos.  Grab a big glass of milk before they get out of the oven, because you want to eat these cookies while they're warm and extra chewy!  
Here is the plate we'll be enjoying over the next couple of days while the Mr. has a little time off! 
Chewy White Chocolate Chunk-Cherry Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Joy the Baker 
1 c. (2 sticks) Unsalted Butter, softened
1 c. Firmly Packed Brown Sugar
1/2 c. Granulated Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 c. All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Salt
3 c. Old Fashioned Oats
1 c. Dried Cherries
1 c. White Chocolate, coarsely chopped(I used Ghirardelli)
1/3 Slivered Almonds, toasted and rough chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  
Spread out the almonds into a dry cookie sheet and bake for 7 minutes, or until fragrant and blonde.
In a medium sized bowl, place the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Stir together and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together with an electic mixer and beat until fluffy. 
Add the eggs one at a time and vanilla. 
With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture.  Once all in, turn it up and make sure everything is blended well.
Add the oats, nuts, chocolate and cherries.  With a spoon mix all of this together until the add-ins are incorporated throughout.
Take half of the dough and place on plastic wrap.
 Fold the plastic around the dough, and using your hands mold the dough into a log.
 Twist the ends off then do the same to the rest of the dough.  You should have two logs that are ready to go in the fridge. 
Refrigerate for 4-24 hours for the best flavor.  The dough will last like this in the fridge over the next 5 days.  If you want to keep it longer, portion into heaping tablespoons and place in a freezer bag and freeze.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut into portions about the size of heaping tablespoons and place on a ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden and incredibly delicious!  Let cool for 1 minute before moving to a cooling rack.  Store tightly.
Chewy, chunky, crunchy and gooey.
 I'm linking up with:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Romantic Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberries & My Roses

For Valentines Day I wanted to make dark chocolate covered strawberries as a treat for the love in my life, my amazing husband!!!  He loves them and I do, too!  This is probably only the second time I've made a batch of them, because I think they're more of a special thing to make.  I find something about chocolate and strawberries quite romantic and perfect for Valentines Day or wedding anniversary.  Mom has made a large batch for a cousin's wedding shower, and they weren't only a huge hit but looked so pretty on the table.
For Valentines I originally wanted to make a dessert ridiculously rich, insanely decadent and inevitably calorie-laden, but I decided since we had an indulgent dinner that these beautiful strawberries dipped in bittersweet chocolate would be a better idea.  I'm so glad I went with my instincts, because they were perfectly delicious and Mr. Cozy loved them!
I'm not a chocolate covered strawberry expert, but I do have know a couple of things that seem to make them a little better.   (Please remember they're very easy to make!) 
1. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the fresh strawberries off really well if you're not using organic strawberries, because berries really hold pesticides and dirt well.  You don't want those things on your dessert...not very romantic
2. Wash the strawberries just before using them.  It's not a good idea to wash them ahead of time, like the day before.  They can mold easily!  Which brings me to the next point.
3.  Gently dry them off very well!   You don't want to dip damp or wet strawberries in chocolate if want the chocolate to adhere well. 
4. Do not make these days in advance, but make the day you are eating them.  Also do not store for longer than 15 minutes in the fridge.  When they stay in the fridge long at all they'll develop annoying condensation that makes them seem slimy and appear not fresh.
These are all little tips I've learned from myself and other's trial and error, but above all, have so much fun with this!  It's great when you're working with yummy melted chocolate and can plop a couple of fresh ones in your mouth as you make them! 
Treat someone special in your life to some beautiful homemade chocolate covered strawberries and enjoy the chocolate covered fruit of your labor!!!
Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberries
8-10 Medium- Large Fresh Strawberries
3 oz. 60% Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli)
1 oz. White Chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli)
1/2 tsp. Coconut Oil or Canola Oil
Rinse off and dry unblemished strawberries.
Pull up the leaves from the strawberries so they won't get coated.
In a small glass bowl, put about about 2/3 of the chopped bittersweet chocolate and oil.  Microwave for about 30 seconds, take out and stir with a whisk. 
Place back in the microwave for about 15 second intervals until the chocolate is almost smooth when whisked.  You do this to not burn the chocolate at all.
Add remaining 1/3 of chocolate and allow to sit in the melted chocolate about 1 minute.  Then vigorously stir with a whisk until very smooth and shiny. 
Congratulations, you've accomplished tempering the chocolate! This is the best way to melt chocolate and will keep it from turning a dull gray.
Hold each strawberry and carfully dip the the chocolate but leave a little of the red strawberry at the top.  You'll probably want to tilt the bowl to make it easier.  Let the excess drip over the bowl.
Place on a aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.  I don't mind if the chocolate pools a little, it's just tastier that way!
In a very small bowl, melt the white chocolate and once melted place in a Ziploc bag.  Snip the very end and carefully pipe the strawberries with white chocolate.
I was having trouble taking the photo and piping at the same time...sorry for the blur!
You can pop this sheet pan in the fridge-- if you want-- for just 5-10 minutes to flash harden these.  The dark chocolate doesn't take long to set and the white takes a little longer.
There are always those ugly ducklings, right?
Meet "Baldy".
This is "Spiky" or "Sloppy".  :/
Good thing, despite what they look like they're all Yummy!
Mr. Cozy was gave me a few of my favorite things on this extra special day of love, but I wanted to show you the gorgeous deep pink-orange hue roses he gave me!   Flowers are a thoughtful gift from my husband, because he always makes the best decision on which ones to buy and often comes home with the bouquet and arranges them for me himself.  Doesn't he do a fabulous job!?  I love this man!!
I love beautiful things in life, and these sure look lovely in our home. 
Finally I'll leave you with a glowing snapshot of the romantic table setting I created for our Valentines Day dinner ..... 
I'm linking up with: