Easy Peasy Pasta Salad

I’m looking through my blog posts and I realized that I haven’t posted my go-to pasta salad recipe!  This recipe has been a staple in my house for years…it’s a great summertime, BBQ, feed a bunch of people kind of recipe.  What I love most about this pasta salad is its versatility; you can pretty much make this recipe however you like.  I also love the colors in the salad, with the Rainbow Rotini and fresh vegetables…it reminds me of summer and good times with family and friends.  Oh, and did I mention it’s ridiculously easy to make (hence the title)?

 

This is actually my husband’s original recipe.  My husband is not a big fan of cooking…his meals usually consist of Kraft Mac and Cheese, although he has become quite the griller as of late (is griller even a word?? Meh, whatever!).  My Mother-in-Law used to make this recipe when my husband was a kid, and he made it for me a long, long time ago.  We’ve made a lot of variations of this recipe; we’ve omitted the olives and bacon and added jalapenos, cilantro and pepperjack cheese (thanks to my friend Chi Chi for that idea!), and we’ve also added extra vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or cucumber.  You can add whatever you think sounds tasty!  The only requirement for this recipe (according to my husband) is that you MUST use Newman’s Own Italian Dressing. According to him, no other dressing tastes quite the same.  I haven’t tested his theory, but I trust him.  🙂

I make this recipe in large quantities because it makes great leftovers the next day.  If you don’t want to make bucket loads of pasta (okay, it’s not really bucket loads, but it does make a lot of pasta salad), just cut the recipe in half.

 

 

 

 

Here’s the recipe:

2 Packages of Rainbow Rotini pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions

1 Package of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 Red bell pepper, chopped

1 Yellow bell pepper, chopped

1/2 Medium red onion, diced or finely chopped

5-6 Slices of bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled (you can also use bacon bits if you don’t have time to cook bacon, but I prefer the real deal)

1 Can sliced black olives

1 Bottle of Newman’s Own Italian Dressing

2 Tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar (approximately-I just eyeball it)

1 Teaspoon garlic powder

1 Teaspoon seasoned salt

Salt and Pepper, to taste

1/2 Cup (about a handful) of parmesan cheese

There really aren’t a lot of instructions for this recipe; just throw everything into a bowl and mix it up!  I like to chill the pasta salad in the fridge for a few hours in order to serve cold, but it’s also good served room temperature or even warmed.  I sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the pasta salad right before serving.

 

 

 

Spicy Spanish Rice

Okay, time for a confession…rice has not always been my strong suit when it comes to cooking.  For some reason, I’ve always had a tough time with rice.  I’m not talking about the steamed rice boiled in a pot; I can handle that.  I’m talking about Spanish Rice, Rice Pilaf, and similar varietals.  Ever since giving up Rice-A-Roni and attempting to make it on my own, I just haven’t been able to get it right.  It’s either under/over seasoned, too dry, too soggy, undercooked and crunchy, or a hot, mushy mess.  When I attempted to serve rice to friends and family I usually served it with a disclaimer of “well, I made rice, but don’t feel obligated to eat eat”.  Yikes.

Well, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally gotten it right.   I know, it isn’t  rocket science, but after many years, I

have figured out a way to make Spanish Rice that I don’t have to serve with a disclaimer.  And that makes me happy…

So, here’s my recipe for Spicy Spanish Rice.  It’s really quite simple, but it’s tasty.  I recently served it with

Crock Pot Chicken Tacos; it was a great side dish and made good leftovers too.

1 Cup of long grain rice-I prefer white rice for this dish.

2 Tablespoons of butter

1 Medium yellow onion, chopped

2 Cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced

1 Can Ro-Tel tomatoes-I used the “hot” Ro-Tel, and it was pretty spicy.  If you’re not into extra spicy food, you might want to choose the mild or medium

1 Cup water

1 Cup chicken stock

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the butter has melted, add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion starts to soften and turn translucent, this should take about 5 minutes.   Once the onion begins to soften, add the rice and cook it until it browns, stirring frequently.  Once the rice is browned, add the water, stock, and Ro-Tel and bring to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover the skillet tightly with a lid, reduce heat to low and simmer the rice for 20 minutes.

You can add lots of other stuff to the rice if you want to get creative.  I’ve added chili powder and cumin, cilantro, fresh tomatoes, or green onion, so experiment with ingredients and find what you like!

Another picture with the fancy camera…nice isn’t it?

Spicy Chicken Tortilla Roll Ups

Let me just start by saying, these things are A-MAZING!  One of the tastiest appetizers I’ve had since discovering Buffalo Chicken Dip!  I made this for two holiday gatherings this week, everyone loved them and they were gone in a flash!

Here’s a link to the original recipe I found on Pinterest: Spicy Chicken Tortilla Roll-Ups.  These were super easy to make and I pretty much followed the recipe exactly.  When I made it a second time, I decided to add corn (the picture of this recipe is from the first time I made them and doesn’t have corn).  I’m thinking about adding black beans to the recipe the next time I make it (black beans might be a great substitute for chicken if you’d like to make a meat-free version).  Pepper Jack cheese might also be a great addition as well…this is such a simple and versatile recipe that I think there’s tons of variations possible.  No matter what, it’s fantastic and I will be making this recipe again and again!!

Here’s the recipe for Spicy Chicken Tortilla Roll-Ups: 

 

1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes, drained

1 large container of softened cream cheese (13.5 oz size)-you could probably use light cream cheese if you’d like to lighten it up a bit; I don’t think you’d lose any flavor.

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 clove garlic, minced or grated

3 teaspoons chili powder, divided

2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Salt, to taste

1/4 cup chopped cilantro, about a small handful

6 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

About 3/4 cup canned corn, drained.  I used about 3/4 of the can of corn

6-8 large flour tortillas-I used spinach tortillas and jalapeno cheddar tortillas;  I think the jalapeno cheddar tasted best but having the different colored tortillas looked nice for presentation.  I would recommend using flavored tortillas if you can; I think plain tortillas would take away from the flavor and presentation.

Season the chicken breasts with salt, one teaspoon of cumin, and one teaspoon of chili powder.  Place the chicken in a skillet and add one cup of water.  Cover and cook on medium-high heat until cooked through; this took about 15-20 minutes.  Keep an eye on the chicken while it cooks; if the water cooksout of the pan you may need to add a little extra.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan.  Allow the meat to cool until it is cool enough to handle, and shred it with two forks.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, drained Ro-Tel tomatoes, cheese, 2 teaspoons of chili powder, one teaspoon of cumin, garlic salt, cayenne pepper, garlic, cilantro, onion and corn and combine until mixed well.  Add the chicken to the cheese mixture and stir to combine.

Spread the filling out evenly among the center of the tortillas.  Be sure to spread a thin layer and leave the edges clean. Roll the tortillas up tightly, but do not fold the ends of the tortilla as you would when preparing a burrito, just leave the ends free.   Using a sharp knife, slice the tortillas into one inch slices and transfer to a serving platter.  You won’t be able to use the ends of the tortilla, so the best part is that you’ll have to just eat them!

If you are making these ahead of time, you can refrigerate the filling until you are ready to prepare the roll ups.  I wouldn’t prepare the roll ups the night before as this could make the tortillas dry or soften.  I made the filling the night before, and the roll ups an hour or so before serving.

 

Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Rosemary and Thyme

I know, I know…it’s been awhile.  People have been asking me if I’m still working on my blog because it’s been so long since I posted a recipe.  Which is a real compliment in my opinion, because it means people are actually reading it!  So, I’m sorry I’ve been off my game as of late; it’s been a busy month.  But the good news is, I have a BUNCH of stuff to post!

This year we went back to our hometown of Sacramento to spend Thanksgiving.  It was nice spending time with family and friends we haven’t seen in awhile.  It was also nice to experience Fall again.  You see, here in the desert of Arizona, we don’t get much in the way of Fall weather.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that it’s 75 degrees in December; I’ve grown very accustomed to the beautiful Phoenix weather (well, most of it.  Summer is a different story).  But it was nice to see all the leaves changing color, and  to feel the cold  brisk fall air again.

Thanksgiving dinner was at my mother-in-law’s house, and it was definitely a feast!! Lots of good food, and of course, great company.  My mother in law and I found a recipe for mashed potatoes that we thought we would try out for Thanksgiving dinner.  We bought all the ingredients, then I realized as I was getting ready to prepare them on Thanksgiving day that the recipe was actually for au gratin potatoes-oops!! But not to worry, I improvised and came up with a pretty tasty mashed potato recipe!!

These mashed potatoes have horseradish in them…that’s right, horseradish.  I originally wanted to include that ingredient in the title, but I was afraid no one would try it!  I know horseradish can be scary, but trust me, it’s just a small amount and adds a lot of flavor!  I will also warn you that this probably isn’t the healthiest recipe, but you could substitute butter with chicken stock or extra milk/buttermilk.

This is a large recipe for a big party, so if you’re only making it for 2-4, you might want to halve the recipe, unless you want a lot of leftovers (and you just might!) Here’s what you’ll need for the mashed potatoes:

1 5 lb bag  potatoes.  We used russett potatoes because we had giant amounts of them for Thanksgiving, but I think these would be really good with Yukon Gold Potatoes.  That’s how I’m going to make them next time.

2 shallots, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced (I think I might actually use 3 next time, but I like garlic)

8 tablespoons butter, plus 1 extra tablespoon to saute

1 cup buttermilk

2-3 tablespoons horseradish (start with 2, see how you like it, then add more if necessary)

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons fresh thyme

Salt and pepper, to taste

Clean, peel and quarter the potatoes and boil in a large pot of water until the potatoes are fork tender. Add salt to the boiling water for extra flavor, if you’d like. Drain the potatoes and transfer to a large bowl or return to the boiling pot and keep the potatoes over the stove on low heat if you aren’t serving right away and want to keep them warm.

While the potatoes are boiling, melt one tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the shallots and garlic and saute until the onion is soft and translucent and the garlic is fragrant.  Set aside.

Add the buttermilk, butter, sour cream, shallot/garlic mix and horseradish to the potatoes and mash all ingredients together using a potato masher.  I would suggest adding the liquid ingredients a little at a time as you mash the potatoes;  we thought the consistency was just right, but  people have different tastes when it comes to consistency so better to start with less and add more.  Once you’ve finished mashing the ingredients together, add the rosemary and thyme and stir into the potatoes with a large spoon.  Add salt and pepper to taste and lastly, add the parmesan cheese and stir into the potatoes until the cheese is melted.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Stay tuned for another Thanksgiving recipe!!

Sausage and Red Pepper Risotto

I’ve been dreaming of making my own risotto for some time now.  I always had the impression that making risotto would be a daunting task; I’ve seen what happens to ill-prepared risotto in Hell’s Kitchen!! What I discovered is that it isn’t difficult to make risotto, it just takes a little time and attentiveness.

This is actually the second recipe for risotto that I’ve prepared.  My first endeavor was a risotto with smoked gouda, prosciutto and chicken.  I loved the flavors, but didn’t quite get the consistency right (it was my first time making it, so I’m allowed a little margin of error!!)  After getting some advice from a great friend (thanks Christie!!), I got what I think is the perfect consistency in my second attempt at risotto.  I will make the first recipe again and post it, because I think the flavors were amazing!  But, you all know how much I love smoked cheese, so I’m a little biased.

I made this recipe because I  had some sausage that I needed to use, and I thought it would go great with risotto.  If I were to make this again, I would probably use a spicy italian sausage instead, just to add a little more kick to the risotto.

Here’s my recipe for Sausage and Red Pepper Risotto; this recipe will serve 6.

12-16 oz Italian Sausage -I used about 12 oz, but if you like more meat, you can add more to it.  I would also suggest the spicy or hot italian sausage, to add a little more heat to the risotto.

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 Yellow Onion, Chopped

3 Cloves Garlic, Finely Chopped or Minced

1 Red Bell Pepper, Chopped

2 1/2 Cups Arborio Rice for Risotto

1/2 Cup Dry White Wine

**I probably used more like 3/4 to a cup of white wine, but you really can’t go wrong by adding more wine.  Make sure the wine you choose is a good wine.  If you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t cook with it.

6 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock

1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese, or Parmigiano Reggiano if you want a little more bite.

2 Tbsp Butter-the butter is mainly to help the cheese melt without making the risotto sticky.

Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large saucepan, warm the chicken stock over low heat for approximately 20 minutes.  You don’t want to reduce the liquid, you just want it to be warm.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook the sausage until browned, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or spatula as it cooks.

When sausage is browned, reduce heat to medium-low and add onion, garlic and bell pepper.  Cook, stirring until vegetables are soft; this should take about 5-7 minutes.

Add arborio rice and saute for 2 minutes, stirring constantly

Add wine and cook, stirring until the liquid is absorbed into the rice

After wine is absorbed, add warm chicken stock one ladle at a time.  Stir the mixture as you add the stock, and allow each ladle of liquid to absorb before adding the next.  It’s important to keep stirring the rice as you add the stock; this will allow the liquid to absorb, and prevent rice from sticking.

After all stock has been absorbed, add butter and parmesan cheese and stir until butter and cheese have melted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy!!

Meltdown Macaroni Salad

My family and I moved to Arizona two years ago this month. Before living in Arizona, we were born and raised California residents.  While we miss our family and friends in California, it’s been fun exploring a new city and all the amenities it has to offer (like lots of restaurants!).

We really enjoy the Phoenix area. The weather is beautiful 9 months out of the year!  But, the other three months…well….it’s hot.  Really hot.  I mean, really, really hot.  We’ve adjusted to the heat over the last two years, but no matter how adjusted we are, 118 degrees is stifling.

There is a payoff for heat endurance. In December, when it’s supposed to be cold, rainy  and  grey(at least that’s what it was like in my home town), I’m wearing flip-flops and short sleeved shirts as I enjoy 75 degree weather. But although I know the blistering heat is reaching it’s yearly end and  beautiful weather awaits, a late summer meltdown occurs.  It’s happened every year since we’ve been here.  I reach a point at which my brain can no longer bear the sizzling heat, and I enter into a heat-induced rage.  It happened this year at the end of July.

Several of my friends that have moved here to Arizona also experience such a meltdown. But this year we decided to celebrate our meltdown, rather than lamenting it.  There’s nothing we can do about the heat, so why not embrace it?  So, to celebrate our love/hate relationship with the desert sun, we had a Summer Meltdown Party.

This meltdown party consisted mainly of tasty BBQ and summer sides, along with delicious cocktails (see Pear Martini), and swimming to cool off (at night, of course, because right now, it’s too hot to swim during the day).  One of those summer sides was the Meltdown Macaroni Salad.  This salad got its name because of the day it was made, and it’s a great way to chill out after a meltdown.  Enjoy!

Meltdown Macaroni Salad

1 Package of Small Salad Macaroni or Elbow Macaroni-I prefer salad macaroni

2-3 Hardboiled Eggs, chopped, (depending on how much egg you like in your salad)

2 Stalks Celery, Chopped

1 Carrot, Shredded

1 Medium Sized Onion, Finely Chopped

3/4 Cup Frozen Peas, Thawed

1 Small Can Sliced Olives, Drained (optional, I usually add olives, but didn’t add it this time because I forgot the olives)

1 Cup Mayonnaise

1/4 Cup Sugar

1/4 Cup  White Vinegar

1 Tablespoon Yellow Mustard

1 Tablespoon Dill Pickle Relish

1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Seasoned Salt

1  Teaspoons Salt

1/2 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper

About 1  Teaspoon Paprika

Additional Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Fresh or Dried Dill for Garnish

Cook macaroni al dente, according to package directions.

In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, mustard, pickle relish, garlic powder, seasoned salt, and salt and pepper.  

In a separate large bowl, combine macaroni, egg, celery, carrots, onion,  peas and olives (if you’re using them).  Mix the dressing in a little at a time to combine.  If you pour it in all at once, it will be hard to mix completely.  Once the salad has been mixed together, sprinkle with paprika, about 1 teaspoon, and mix the pasta with the paprika.

Chill the macaroni salad for at least three hours, or, if you can, chill overnight.  Sprinkle with a little fresh or dried dill, for garnish.  

Asian Slaw

I received an e-mail from my sister-in-law recently.  The e-mail was a recipe for Asian Slaw that she had recently made; she said she liked the recipe because it used fresh ginger (which she loves), but she was looking for something a little spicier and wanted to know if I had any suggestions.

First of all, I always have ideas to make dishes spicier!! If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making food spicy!  My husband and I are big fans of spicy food-like the kind of spicy that will make your eyes water and your mouth burn.  But not to worry; I always tone down the heat in the recipes I share with others.

Secondly, I was touched that she would come to me for recipe ideas!  I know it sounds cheesy, but that seemed to validate for me that people enjoy my cooking and recipes.

So, here’s my recipe for asian slaw, as inspired by my sister-in-law.  I didn’t try the original recipe, but I think this one has a lot of flavor.  It’s spicy, but not too spicy. I actually wanted to name this recipe “Spicy Asian Slaw”, but I didn’t want to set the wrong expectations. I also used this as a topper for the  Teriyaki Pulled Chicken.

If you REALLY want to make this spicy, you could add  a finely chopped serrano chili (about a tablespoon) with the membranes removed.  It wouldn’t cause your mouth to catch on fire since the membranes are removed, but it would definitely spice it up!

This will make a pretty large amount of Slaw-enough to serve 6-8, and you’ll probably have leftovers.

1 Large Head Napa Cabbage, Cored and Shredded

1 Bag (about 8 ounces) Shredded Carrots

6 Scallions, Chopped (okay to use green and white parts, but green gives it color)

Handful of fresh Cilantro, Chopped (about 1/2 cup)

For the dressing: 

12 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

8 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar or Rice Wine Vinegar

8 Teaspoons Sesame Oil

8 Teaspoons Soy Sauce

4 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard

2 -3 Teaspoons Red Chili Oil (you can find this where Asian foods are sold in your local grocery store) or 1-2 Teaspoons Red Chili Flakes ( add a little at a time and season to taste depending on how spicy you want it).

4 Teaspoons Fresh Ginger

4 Teaspoons Fresh Garlic, Minced or Grated

Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, rice vinegar,  sesame oil, soy sauce, chili oil or chili flakes, mustard, garlic, and ginger.  Add the cabbage, carrots, bell pepper, scallions, and cilantro and mix together with the dressing.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, but it’s best if you make it the night before and let it refrigerate overnight.