Gnocchi pasta pesto potato salad

Most people consider Memorial Day weekend the kickoff of summer fun – I consider it the kickoff of summer food. Sadly, many weekend BBQs are the same thing: floppy hot dogs, crushed potato chips, runny baked beans, pasta/potato salad slathered in mayo…blech. I hate it all. But no one wants to go to a BBQ empty-handed, or leave with an empty stomach – so go with this gnocchi pasta pesto potato salad, and no one will leave with an empty stomach.

This dish is an awesome addition to any table – using gnocchi in place of traditional pasta makes it a great pasta/potato salad hybrid, and all the veggies bring a light and refreshing feel to something that’s usually a heavy-handed gut bomb. Plus, using pesto as a dressing means it can sit out for longer than your average salad. Not that it will last that long. (It did not, in fact, last long at all – hence the only photo being in the creation stage.)

 

Gnocchi pasta salad
It’s pasta salad. And potato salad. And pesto. And delicious.

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound packaged gnocchi, cooked
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes or ½ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained
  • ½ large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 seedless cucumber, diced
  • Parmesan cheese, shaved with vegetable peeler

Get cooking:

Combine ingredients in large bowl, toss to coat with pesto. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Serve cold or room temperature.

 

Roasted sweet potato burrito bowls

My latest foray into “how can I feed more people, more often,” is hosting a monthly book club. But my friends love everything from teeny-bopper vampire tales to gut-wrenching memoirs to aspirational career books – why would we want to read the same thing (that every other book club in the country is probably reading)?

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So we don’t. Each month we pick a theme, and read a book of our choice. Not only have we not spoiled a book for someone, we actually talk about books – plus, we get recommendations (on what to read – and what NOT to read).

I try to match the menu with both the theme and any dietary restrictions (in this case, vegetarian and gluten free). March’s theme was luck, so I wanted something green – but real green, not processed green. Enter roasted sweet potato bowls with green rice. Barely adapted from Cookie and Kate, these bowls were a HUGE hit – and I made a HUGE amount. This recipe could be halved (and even quartered) if you want a more manageable dinner. It multiplies well, is super filling and also really healthy. (We made up for that with dessert. And wine.)

sweet potato2

 

You’ll need:
Green rice
  • 3 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 c brown rice
  • 6 c broth (veggie or chicken)
  • 2 16 oz. bags frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed of liquid
  • 3/4 c cilantro
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 large red onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • Salt to taste
Sweet potatoes
  • 5-6 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
  • Olive oil to drizzle
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t paprika
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t cayenne
  • Zest of one lime
  • Salt to taste
Black beans
  • 3 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 c salsa (any is fine)
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 1 T cumin
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t cayenne
  • Juice of two limes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Garnishes
  • Avocado
  • Salsa
  • Cilantro
  • Queso fresco or chipotle cheddar
  • Lime wedges
  • Minced jalapeno
  • Sour cream

Get cooking:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Toss sweet potato with olive oil and spices, spread in one layer onto one large or two smaller baking sheets. (I use stones, so I don’t have to grease, but you may want to spray/parchment your pans. As long as they’re rimmed, you’re fine.) Bake, turning once or twice, until browned and fork tender (35-40 minutes.)
  2. For the green rice, blend vegetables in a blender or food processor until smooth. (You can thin out with broth if you need, it’ll depend on how much water your spinach has.) Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, until shimmering but not smoking. Add rice, stirring and browning lightly. Stir in green blend, cook for a minute, then add broth and boil. Once it’s boiling, cover, lower heat to a simmer, and cook until rice is tender (35-45 minutes.) Once it’s done, remove the lid, cover the top of the pan with a paper towel and replace the lid (this soaks up excess moisture and helps the rice stay separated.)
  3. For the beans, combine ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until other ingredients are done. You can smash-up some of the beans if you want a more “refried” texture, or leave them whole.
  4. Once everything is finished, serve buffet style with all the garnishes, and let people assemble their own bowls. Serves 8 with a fair amount of leftovers.

 

Chocolate cheesecake stuffed strawberries

There are times when show stopping dessert take hours of prep and baking and cooling and decorating – and then, there’s this. Three ingredients. Three steps. Super-fancy dessert. I mean, look at these – don’t you want them rightnowplease?

Chocolate cheesecake-stuffed strawberries
Chocolate cheesecake-stuffed strawberries are the perfect wine club – I mean book club – dessert. Or appetizer. Or snack in general.

I made these when I needed a fast book club dessert. I had a menu of about 5 million things (not really, but it was extensive) and I wanted a dessert that fit our ‘obsession’ theme. While carving out the strawberries takes a hot minute, this dessert comes together fairly quickly and easily. But it looks incredibly fancy, because it’s mini and stuffed. It’s light and refreshing but still satisfies the chocolate craving. And if you need to up your class factor, do what I did – and serve these as an appetizer. Hey, fruit and cheese is an appetizer, right?

You’ll need:

  • 1 package strawberries, rinsed, dried and hulled
  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c chocolate hazelnut spread

Get cooking:

  1. When you hull the strawberries, use your pairing knife to carve out the entire middle of the strawberry. It’s tedious at first, but gets easier once you get the hang of it.
  2. Beat together cream cheese and spread until well combined and fluffy.
  3. Add mixture to piping tool (or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off.) Fill strawberries and serve. Look at you, so fancy!

Baked potato soup

This time of year is fickle. The skies promise sunshine, it peeks through the clouds with a shy anticipation – but snatches back and sends us cold winds on the turn of a dime. Everything is brown. And wet. And not growing yet. Oh, and my migraines are terrible. It makes me crabby.

When I am crabby, I crave comfort food – enter baked potato soup. You need something to cheer your weary bones? This is hearty, and comforting. You need some fun in your life? If a bacon-topped bowl of goodness isn’t fun, I don’t know what is. You need something easy for dinner? My friends, dive into this delicious bowl.

There are a million different recipes for baked potato soup – mine balances the line between decadent and decidedly not terrible for you. It’s filling, relatively fast and fairly hard to ruin. Also, cheese. And bacon. Who can be crabby in the face of that?

Baked potato soup
Potatoes. Bacon. Cheese. I rest my case.

You’ll need:

  • 6 potatoes (I like yukon golds or klondike rose), baked* and diced
  • 3-4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T butter
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
  • 1 lb. of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • ½ bunch green onions, sliced
  • Salt and pepper

*Fast method for baking potatoes:

Prick potatoes on each side with a fork. Microwave for 8 minutes, flip, and microwave 7-8 minutes more.

Get cooking:

  1. Heat butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onions and saute for 8-10 minutes, until softened and slightly browned. Add garlic and saute another 1-2 minutes.
  2. Deglaze pan with chicken broth, adding potatoes, cream cheese and half of cheddar cheese. Stir, breaking up potatoes into smaller chunks with the spoon, and allow cheese to melt. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Garnish with bacon, cheese and scallions.

Pear brown butter tart

The weather upturn this week has been – knock on wood – a welcome relief to a winter that stopped and started and stretched on. In the beginning, I greet the snow with a kid-like joy, but in the middle…that’s the sweet spot where I certainly don’t want to go play outside, but I’m not usually not sad to be snowed-in, either. Except the snowing in always seems to come at the worst time, when you have plans months in the making with dear friends. What to do but turn a bad day better with baked goods?

This tart is sure to make any day better, any time of year – light enough for a summer dessert but warm enough to drive away any kind of snow storm, it really is a versatile piece. (She says, like it’s a jacket or scarf.) It’s beautiful enough to be fancy, rustic enough to look homemade and light enough to not weigh you down. (You always want two pieces anyway, right? Me too.)

I used Japanese pears (aka, apple pears), you could use either or a mixture of both fruits. You can glaze it with any kind of preserves you like. You can use your grandmother’s famous pie dough, though I have to tell you, this one is hand down the best I’ve found. It’s delicious right out of the oven, so hot you toss it from hand to hand as your fingers sizzle. It’s amazing cold, out of the refrigerator, standing with the door open in anticipation and then continuing to stand as you eat it right out of the bag. Room temperature, still delightful, as you finish the rest of your baking and go back for ‘just a half piece.’ If you reheat it, make sure you do so in the oven – the texture of the crisp crust as it cracks like ice next to the velvety fruit is the best part. You don’t want to lose it.

Pear brown butter tart
This is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever made – like pear pie but better.

You’ll need:

Pie dough (adapted gratefully from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe)

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I used white whole wheat – you need more liquid, but it still worked well)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 10 tablespoons butter, frozen
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt (I used 0% plain and again, huge fan – but mine was closer to the 3/4 cup. Start lower – you can always add in.)

Tart (adapted from this Food 52 recipe)

  • recipe pie dough (or puff pastry)
  • 3-4 apples or pears (I used Japanese pears, which are like a hybrid) 
  • tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • egg yolk
  • 1 T milk or yogurt
  • 3 T pear preserves 

Get cooking:

Dough

  1. Option 1: cut butter into 1/2 inch dice, and add ingredients to a food processor. Pulse until dough just comes together.
  2. Option two: mix flour salt, sugar and yogurt in a bowl. Grate in frozen butter with a cheese grater. Mix until just combined.
  3. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Tart

  1. If your dough is refrigerated more than the time above,  let it rest at room temp 15-20 minutes.
  2. Heat oven to 450 degrees and put a pizza stone or sheet pan in the oven to warm up.
  3. Melt your butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, 3-4 minutes, until it starts to turns brown (it will spit and sputter and smell amazing.) Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla.
  4. Cut a piece of parchment paper in about a 10-inch square.
  5. Take your dough and roll out to a 12-ish inch circle. (The ends fold over, it’s supposed to look rustic.) Roll dough onto your rolling pin and transfer to your parchment.
  6. If you want to be very pretty, slice your pears thinly from opposite side, working your way towards the core. If you don’t care (and I didn’t), core your pears and thinly slice.
  7. Place your pears in a circular fashion on the tart, leaving a 2-inch border for the crust. Brush your pears with the brown butter mixture. Fold the outer dough in, all the way around. This doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s ok if it looks goofy – this is homemade, not a Fench bakery after all. The less time you spedn futzing, the more time you have to eat.
  8. Whisk milk and egg together and brush over the dough border.
  9. Slide your tart (using the parchment) onto your hot pan. Bake until golden brown, 20 – 25 minutes.
  10. Warm up the preserves and brush onto the cooked pears. Serve warm.

Chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes: gluten-free, lactose-free

There are a few inalienable rights in my world: the right to chasing your own happy. The right to surround yourself with only those who help you chase that happy. And the right to cupcakes, always. I’m especially delighted my friends Merrill and Mike found each other to chase their happy together. But, the fact that they’re gluten and lactose-free sometimes interferes with the cupcakes part. Well, no more. Special people deserve special treats, and these cupcakes are treat to see and eat.

Chocolate covered strawberry cupcake
Who knew gluten-free and lactose-free could look this good?

This cupcake has three layers – the crust, the cupcake and the top. Don’t let that scare you, it’s not super involved as desserts go. The layering makes it look WAY fancier relative to the amount of time/effort it actually takes to make. The cupcake layer is naturally gluten-free, and the secret ingredient is quinoa. For the dairy, I used a form of lactose-free milk that’s relatively new to the market called Fairlife. It tastes like normal milk, but is filtered to have more protein, more calcium, less sugar…and no lactose. Because … science.

For the crust, you could use half the amount written and still have a good layer – but everyone loved the thick crust. You could also omit altogether and double the cake recipe (you’d get more than 12 cupcakes, I think.) The topping helps, because the cupcakes will cave in – and obviously, you should fill them with something tasty. For true dairy-free cupcakes, you can sub the chocolate chips with a vegan variety.

Chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes
Yes, I ate this one as a taste test, and no, I’m not ashamed about it.

One more note – normally, you only fill cupcakes 2/3 – 3/4 full. And normally, I ignore this. In this case, I should not have – because the tops dome and collapse, they can be a little hard to get out of the pan (even with the liners.)

You’ll need:

Cupcake layer (from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe):

  • 1 c cooked and cooled quinoa (cook in water)
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 T butter, melted and cooled
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1/2 c cocoa powder
  • 3/4 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t baking soda
  • Dash of salt
Crust layer:
  • 2 c chocolate sandwich cookies (Gluten free, if desired), crushed
  • 5 T butter, melted
Topping:
  • 1 1/2 c chocolate chips
  • 1/3 c milk (Lactose free, if desired)
  • 12 strawberries
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Get cooking:

Crust layer:

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.
  2. Line cupcake pan with cupcake liners, spray with coking spray.
  3. Combine cookies and butter, press firmly into each cupcake liner.

Cupcake layer:

  1. Blend milk, eggs and vailla in food prosessr. Add quinoa and butter, blend until smooth.
  2. Mix dry ingredients in bowl, add wet and mix until combined. Pour on top of crust layer.
  3. Bake 20-25 minutes, until toothpick comes out of cupcakes clean (it will still be wet – this is ok, it just shouldn’t have brown batter on it.)
  4. Let cool completely and dust with powdered sugar.

Topping layer:

  1. Melt choclate chips in microwave, using 30-secnd blasts and stirring after each.
  2. Add milk and whisk vigourously until combined and gliossy.
  3. Pour/scrape mixture into small plastic sandwich bag, cut ff small corner.
  4. Hull strawberries, cut them into slices or leave whole (your call). Place in the middle of cooled cupcakes.
  5. Drizzle chocolate mix over cupcakes. Let it cool and harden compleelty.

Chocolate lasagna

As much as I love cooking, baking and I are more distant friends. Measuring is a pain, I’m not super exact about ANYTHING and really, sometimes, I’m distracted. Also: baked goods are my kryptonite. I LOVE THEM. I mean candy, whatever, it’s ok. You give me a brownie and I’ll give you a kidney.

Whenever I bake something and post it on FB, I get at least one “How do you not weigh 1,000 pounds?” comment. While it seems like a silly question, my dirty secret is: I bake for other people. Like, office people, for example. Dani, one of my awesome friends and coworkers, requested an Oreo lasagna. The recipe called for instant pudding and whipped topping, but I made a few…tweaks…in honor of her awesomeness. And I’m not even kidding when I say this 9×13 pan was gone in 10 minutes.

Chocolate lasagna
Delicious layers of chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.

Here’s the thing – this recipe has a lot of steps. I know. It looks scary. But 1. You don’t have to do them all at once, 2. You can sub in anything (just please, please make the bottom layer as written, you won’t be sorry) and 3. It’s even better when you have a good friend (in this case, my sweet Carly) keeping you company while you make it.

You’ll need:

Crust:

  • 1 package chocolate sandwich cookies
  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened

Pudding (recipe from/inspired by the one, the only, the great smitten kitchen):

  • 1/4 c cornstarch
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • Dash of salt
  • 3 c whole milk
  • 1 c chocolate chips/6 oz. bitter or semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2 t pure vanilla extract

Middle layer:

  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c whipping cream
  • 3/4 c chocolate hazelnut spread

Topping:

  • 1 package chocolate sandwich cookies
  • 1 1/2 c whipping cream
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c powdered sugar
  • 2 t vanilla

Get cooking:

Crust:

  1. Crush cookies in a food processor, then add cream cheese and blend until paste-like (it was so thick it actually stopped my food processor. Don’t be afraid.)
  2. Spread in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Normally I would line with parchment – don’t make this mistake, it gets too soggy – just spray with cooking spray.
  3. Cover and let chill 2 hours or overnight.

Pudding:

  1. Mix cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan, then whisk in milk. Go slowly at first, whisking constantly – you can pick up speed as everything incorporates.
  2. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring/whisking every once in a while so the mixture doesn’t stick and no lumps form.
  3. Once the mixture coats the back of a spoon (about 15-20 minutes for me), whisk in the chocolate, stirring until melted and thickened.
  4. Turn off heat, and stir in vanilla. Pour into a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to overnight.

Middle layer (make when layering dessert):

  1. Mix ingredients together with an electric beater until blended and fluffed, 5-6 minutes. Taste and add sugar if you like. (I like mine a little tart, especially since everything else is so sweet.)
  2. Alternately, mix cream cheese and chocolate hazelnut spread  together. Whip cream separately, and fold into cream cheese mixture. It’s up to you – this way will yield you a little more fluff, the other way a little more heft.

Whipped cream topping (Don’t make until assembling layers):

  1. Whip cream with powered sugar and vanilla until medium peaks form, 6-7 minutes.

Layer:

  1. Spread pudding over crust layer.
  2. Spread middle layer over pudding.
  3. Spread whipped cream over middle layer and top with hand-crushed cookies.