mrs.b and her boys

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Category: Weeknight Favorites (page 1 of 3)

PASTA PRIMAVERA

It is of no surprise to my Midwest folks that all I can think about lately is spring! It has been so stinking cold, we have had so much snow this winter {it is as high as my garden gate!}, the boys and I even got stranded in Rochester because they closed the roads due to snow and winds. We are done! It is time for spring!

So when I was thinking about what I wanted for dinner the other day, all I could think about was this delicious springtime pasta recipe I have. It is light but creamy, it is fresh but hearty. This Pasta Primavera will bring you back to life before nature decides to. Let’s face it…it is not happening anytime soon {enter giant eye roll}.

Now, full disclosure, my recipe calls for asparagus, but my photos do not show it. Why? I am so sorry! Our stupid grocery stores have been out of it for a long time now or when they do have it, it looks like shriveled up twigs. You must put it in there. It makes it so fresh. It is what truly brings spring to this pasta dish. I know I should have waited to make it with asparagus and then post it. But I know that a lot of you are feeling the same way I am and I want you to have this recipe {NOW!}.

You must pay close attention to add the tomatoes at the very end of cooking the chicken and zucchini; and then add the broth and cream cheese right away. Otherwise your tomatoes will get mushy and start to shrivel up into the sauce. It will still taste scrumptious, it will just look funny.

My vegetarian friends, or if you are doing a Meatless Monday: This recipe is {SO STINKIN’} easy to adjust. Just don’t add the chicken! Maybe add a mushroom if you wish. Or a sautéed tofu would go really great with it as well.

 

I hope you are all surviving this cruel winter and I hope that spring comes soon for us all! We need to open our windows and plant our gardens and feel that spring sun on our faces.

 

PASTA PRIMAVERA

 

1 lb. rotini pasta

2 large chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/3 cup + 2 Tb. Italian dressing, separated

1 medium zucchini, cut into bite-size chunks

2 cups asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces

½ pint cherry tomatoes, halved

2 cups chicken broth

8 oz. cream cheese, cubed

½ cup fresh Parmesan, grated

 

Cook pasta according to package directions.

 

Meanwhile, heat 1/3 cup dressing in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 8 minutes. Add zucchini; cook additional 5-7 minutes until chicken is cooked through and zucchini is softened a bit (not mushy!). Add tomatoes; stir in gently to coat. Add broth and cream cheese; stir 1-2 minutes until cheese is melted. Add Parmesan; mix in gently.

 

Drain pasta; do not rinse. Add pasta to chicken and vegetable mixture; toss gently. Stir in last 2 Tb. of dressing. Let simmer over medium-low heat 2 minutes.

 

Serve immediately otherwise the tomatoes get mushy.

SWEDISH MEATBALLS OVER EGG NOODLES

We all need a meal that we can get on the dinner table quickly and that we feel is hearty enough and at least semi-homemade. It is also a bonus if all the {picky} humans in the house like it. I think I have a solution for you. This recipe got a thumbs-up from everyone in my house {Let’s be honest, that’s hard to come by!}

There are elements of this recipe that you can easily adapt to your liking. The cream of mushroom soup for instance, if you are one that shies away from the canned variety, please use your homemade version. Also, some people prefer homemade meatballs over the frozen ones. Which is totally groovy. I just wanted to write a recipe that was a quick Weeknight Favorite and we could get on the table in little time. And of course, this recipe would be equally delicious with your vegetarian version of meatballs. Easy to adapt, simple to prepare.

Another great thing about this meal is that if you wanted to, you could prep the sauce and meatballs earlier in the day and put it in a slow cooker on low. Once, you get home all you have to do is boil the pasta.

 

SWEDISH MEATBALLS OVER EGG NOODLES

2 – 10 ½ oz. cans cream of mushroom soup

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 Tb. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tb. dry mustard

1 cup milk

22 oz. bag of frozen meatballs, thawed in fridge

1 lb. wide egg noodles

salt & pepper, to taste

 

In a large saucepan, whisk soup, yogurt, Worcestershire, dry mustard and milk over medium heat; simmer 5 – 8 minutes until heated through.

 

Add meatballs; cover and simmer 15 – 20 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. You may need to add water {¼ cup at a time} if it gets too thick for your liking.

 

Meanwhile, get a large pot of water boiling for the egg noodles. Cook according to package directions. Drain, but do not rinse.

 

Taste the meatball sauce and season with salt and pepper if needed. {I find it doesn’t need much salt due to the other ingredients in the sauce}

 

Serve the meatball mix over the egg noodles.

GRILLED ROMAINE & CORN SALAD

This Grilled Romaine & Corn Salad is one of the tastiest salads I have had in a long time. It is so fresh and so vibrant with flavors! It is the perfect summertime meal. Perfect for those that are trying to eat healthier but crave more flavor, and perfect for those nights you just do not want to heat up the house by cooking inside. Perfect for all those cherry tomatoes that are about start popping out of your garden. And how perfect that local sweet corn is now available!

This will satisfy my gluten-free friends, my vegetarian friends, and even my dairy-free friends can enjoy it just by simply eliminating the feta cheese. My husband is not one to relish in all my fancy salads with fancy vinaigrettes but he really enjoyed this one! I’m telling you, it satisfies the masses.

This recipe is for having the salad as a meal, but we have had it as a side to Elk Chops and Grilled Fish as well. {See tip below} I hope no matter how you have it, I hope that you enjoy it!

 

GRILLED ROMAINE & CORN SALAD

 

3 ears fresh sweet corn

3 Tb. + 1 Tb. olive oil

1 Tb. Dijon mustard

2 Tb. red wine vinegar

1 Tb. fresh chives, sliced

Salt & Pepper

1 head romaine lettuce, halved lengthwise

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

½ cup feta cheese, crumbled

 

For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl whisk together 3 Tb. olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon and chives; set aside.

 

For the salad: Soak ears of corn with silks and husks still on in water for 45 minutes. Grill for 25 minutes over medium flame; turning occasionally. Husks and corn will brown slightly. Remove from grill and let cool slightly. Remove husks and silk from ears of corn. Cut kernels from the cobs.

 

Brush cut side of romaine halves with 1 Tb. olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill cut side down for about 4 minutes or until slightly charred.

 

In a medium bowl, toss corn, tomatoes and half of the vinaigrette. Place a romaine half on each plate, spoon corn mixture evenly among romaine. Drizzle remaining half of vinaigrette over each salad. Top with feta.

 

TIPS:

 

*If you are making this as a side dish instead of a meal, I would use romaine hearts and half those. Your portions will be smaller that way.

 

*I have even grilled my corn a couple days ahead of time if I knew we need a faster dinner the night we were having this salad. It cuts down the prep and cooking time by about an hour.

 

*After I made this and ate it {ALL}, I thought it would be great sprinkled with toasted pine nuts!

MAC-N-CHEESE

To bake your Mac-n-Cheese or not to bake your Mac-n-Cheese? That is the question. I think I have tried around 20 different homemade Mac-n-Cheese recipes in my lifetime and have never been blown away by any of them. I would get frustrated that I couldn’t get {JUST ONE} recipe that we loved. They would be tasteless, grainy or baked into dry shellac. I figured out about 15 recipes in that I did not prefer the baked variety. I need my Mac-n-Cheese to be creamy dreaminess. After continual disappointment, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I took parts of recipes I liked to come up with my own recipe. And that even took quite a few tries before getting it “just right”. But the other night, I {FINALLY} got it!

Now, my peeps, do not expect this to be low-fat or healthy in any way. This is mac-n-cheese, I’m not going healthy! In fact, it’s got a little of the cheese no one will admit they love, Velveeta. I did use quality white sharp cheddar and organic milk however. Does that help? {No?}

 

The best thing about this dish, something we can all appreciate, it comes together in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. How does it get any better then that?

 

MAC-N-CHEESE

 

1 lb. macaroni pasta

2 cups milk

8 oz. Velveeta cheese, cubed

4 oz. plain cream cheese, cubed

8 oz. white sharp cheddar, shredded

2 Tb. dry ground mustard

Salt & Pepper, to taste

 

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Cook macaroni pasta to al dente (it will continue to cook when you add it to cheese sauce).

 

Meanwhile, in a medium pot, warm milk on low for 5 minutes. Add Velveeta and cream cheese. Whisk occasionally as it melts and combines; about 10 minutes. Once it is smooth consistency, add white cheddar and dry mustard; whisking until combined.

 

Drain pasta and immediately transfer back to that same pot. Pour cheese sauce over pasta; stir until combined. Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Simmer on low for 5 minutes; until thickened.

 

Serve immediately.

STRAWBERRY SALAD with GRILLED CHICKEN

Spring has sprung, and it’s time we all crawl out of our winter hibernation. We have been eating heartier, heavy meals, wearing layers of clothing and staying in out of the chilled arctic air. Let’s shed those layers, open the windows and fire up the grill! It’s like a newfound freedom every spring.

 

We have been grilling every chance we get the last few weeks as the warmer weather decides if it’s going to stay or go. We have grilled fish {shockingly, the kids love it!}, burgers and chicken. The problem comes though that we eventually will get bored with what to grill. It gets to be “same ‘ol, same ‘ol” by the time summer rolls around. I decided instead of just grilling chicken with my Strawberry Salad as a side, why not TOP the salad with the grilled chicken? It was delectable! {that is my seven year olds word} It felt like we were eating lighter and healthier, but still walked away from the table with full bellies.

To my vegetarian friends out there, you can still make this delicious salad without the chicken. You could grill tofu or a nice grilled salmon would be tasty on top of it too.

 

The Strawberry Salad recipe originally came from a friend of mine years ago. I have tweaked it here and there, without changing its original flavor, just to make it easier to get on the table.

 

This is also the first salad I introduced to my kids when I felt they were old enough to step out of their comfort zone of carrots, cucumbers and avocado as their veggie choices. It was an immediate favorite. My nieces get giddy when they know I’m bringing it to family dinners and the non-salad eaters enjoy it too.

 

I make mine with spinach, but chopped romaine is nice for this salad too. Also, the original recipe called for sliced red onion. I tend to leave it out because the kids and I do not like it. If we have a gathering, I will slice some up and put it in a small bowl as an option for those that enjoy it.

 

STRAWBERRY SALAD with GRILLED CHICKEN

 

5 oz. pkg. fresh baby spinach

1 pint strawberries, stemmed & sliced

3 chicken breasts

2 Tb. olive oil

All-seasoning of your choice, we love SPIKE

¾ cup mayo

¼ cup milk

1 Tb. poppy seeds

2 Tb. raspberry vinegar

1/3 cup sugar

½ cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

 

In a large bowl, combine lettuce and berries. Set aside.

 

Drizzle chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle with all-seasoning to your liking. Grill until cooked through. Slice cooked chicken.

 

As the chicken grills, in a small bowl, combine mayo, milk, poppy seeds, vinegar and sugar; whisk until combined with smooth consistency.

 

Add small amounts of dressing to lettuce and berries mix at a time; tossing each time until you get desired coverage. (You may not use all of the dressing) Either top with the sliced chicken or toss it in before serving. Sprinkle with toasted almonds.

 

Serve immediately.

 

TACO NIGHT to NACHO BAR

Here is another dinner idea that does not require a recipe, but is actually a meal idea that gets you through to the weekend. By cooking a big batch once, you can eat twice that week.

 

Taco Night is very common in households. Taco Tuesdays have become popular in America. {Am I right?!!} But, have you ever made a double batch of taco meat and used half for your weekend Nacho Bar? {Awesome, huh?!!}

Do tacos during the week. They are the perfect dinner for those busy nights. Make the taco meat ahead of time and throw it in your slow cooker. Have all your toppings chopped and shredded. You can eat dinner as soon as you walk in the door or people can eat at their convenience as they come and go from activities and work.

Then, the weekend comes and you are having Family Movie Night, or a house full of teenagers, or friends over for the game and you need something fun to whip together with no fuss. You already have your taco meat in the fridge, add other fun nacho toppings and just like that you have a Nacho Bar for all to enjoy!

You can let each person make their own plate or like I did this last time, I made a big pan of chips, meat, black beans, queso and Monterey Jack cheese. Baked it at 400˚ until cheese was melted. Then, just scooped a pile on to each person’s plate and they topped them as they wished. It worked out so slick. And psst…my boys said they couldn’t even tell the black beans were on there! {I win!}

Listed below are the lists of what we like on our Taco Night and Nacho Bar, but feel free to use any additional ingredients you enjoy.

 

TACO NIGHT:                                                                                    NACHO BAR:

taco meat                                                                                              taco meat

tortillas or hard shells                                                                   tortilla chips

sharp cheddar cheese                                                                   chili cheese corn chips

lettuce or spinach                                                                           queso sauce

black olives                                                                                         monterey jack cheese

tomatoes                                                                                              black beans

avocado                                                                                                pickled jalapeno slices

plain greek yogurt                                                                          black olives

salsa                                                                                                        tomatoes

taco sauce                                                                                           plain greek yogurt & salsa

HOMEMADE PESTO with PASTA

There are certain things I am intimidated to even attempt making because they seem so unapproachable and complex in my simple mind. Like dough that needs to rise, or canning, or homemade pesto. The thing is, is that I have eventually tried all these foods that once stopped me in my tracks of cooking…And they all turned out to be simple and completely approachable.

Some may be more time consuming, but what I like about the pesto, is it comes together in 5 minutes and can be made ahead of time. Actually, if possible, you should make it ahead of time. As it sets in the fridge, it just gets better and better.

Another thing I like about pesto is it has so many possibilities for easy dinners. All you need is a food processor. Our new favorite {thank goodness, the kids finally liked something new} is Pesto Pasta. It comes together in the time it takes to boil your pasta. You can have it on the table even on the nights that are full of mad dashes all over town.

 

This pesto recipe will make close to four cups, but you will only need one to two cups for a pound of cooked pasta. The rest you can freeze in half-cup portions to have on hand to pull together a quick dinner.

 

 HOMEMADE PESTO WITH PASTA

 

6-7 cloves garlic, chopped

¼ cup walnuts

¼ cup slivered almonds

5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed

1 ½ cups olive oil

1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 ½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

1 lb. pasta of your choice

 

In the bowl of your food processor, combine the garlic, walnuts and almonds for about 30 seconds. Add the basil. Then, with the processor running, pour in the olive oil at a slow, steady rate through the top tube, until well combined. Add the pepper, salt and Parmesan; process about 45 seconds until it all comes together.

 

Transfer to a bowl, cover and set in the fridge until needed.

 

When it is time for dinner, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and cook your pasta to your likeness. Drain, do not rinse, put back in pot and toss immediately with 1-2 cups of pesto. Add slowly, as to not over-sauce the pasta.

 

I serve it topped with fresh chopped tomato {but the hooligan’s pick around it!} and more fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

***REMEMBER to freeze your leftovers for another night.

SLOW COOKER CREAMY TOMATO TORTELLINI SOUP

Autumn has arrived! There is a slight nip in the air and people are sporting their jeans and sweaters that they just dug out of the depths of the closet. And if you think of everything in terms of food, like me, this means it is soup season once again.

People are busy with activities and places to be {it’s never-ending, isn’t it?} It is nice to have something warm and delicious waiting for everyone when they step through the door.

This soup is perfect.

 

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You have to start by sautéing the vegetables, but then it works its magic in the slow cooker for a while.

 

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You need about 20 minutes at the end of cooking to blend it and cook the pasta. But then you have a beautiful bowl of soup that will satisfy everyones taste buds. {and warm their bellies too}

 

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SLOW COOKER CREAMY TOMATO TORTELLINI SOUP

 

2 Tb. olive oil

1 ½ cups carrots, diced (about 3 medium)

1 ½ cups onion, diced

5 cloves garlic, minced

3 (28 oz. each) cans diced tomatoes

32oz. vegetable broth

½ cup fresh basil, chopped

2 bay leaves

1 Tb. sugar

Salt & Pepper, to taste

20 oz. pkg. refrigerated cheese tortellini

¾ cup heavy cream

Parmesan, shredded for topping

 

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrots and onion; sauté 3-4 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Pour mixture into large (7 quart or larger) slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, broth, basil, bay leaves and sugar. Season with salt and pepper.

 

If your slow cooker has a steam hole or doesn’t keep moisture well, place a piece of foil over to top before covering it with the lid. Cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours or LOW for 6-7 hours.

 

Remove bay leaves. Puree mixture with a handheld blender or small batches in a blender, being careful due to the heat.

 

Stir in tortellini, cover and cook on HIGH for 15-20 minutes, or until tortellini is cooked through. Stir in heavy cream. Serve topped with fresh parmesan.

BLEU CHEESE DRESSING

I think the Greeks would agree this is definitely considered the “Dog Days of Summer” here in MN. {If you don’t know what I mean, Google it!} Today we are staying in and I am not turning on my oven. And I am definitely not going to send my husband outside to man the grill. So, what in the world is going to be for dinner? Luckily we have leftover brats the we grilled the other night. And our garden tomatoes are poppin’ in this heat.

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One of our favorite things to do with fresh sliced tomatoes is to top it with this homemade Bleu Cheese Dressing. The last time I made it, we had fresh lettuce, parsley and chives from our gardens, so we made a big salad out of it. But, straight up with only tomatoes is just as tasty.

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I came up with the recipe last winter while visiting my sister and her newly expanded family in WY. At the time, I was making them Buffalo Quesadillas to put in their freezer for quick dinners to have on hand.

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On the 4th of July, we had it over Wedge Salads. We do not eat iceberg lettuce, so we like to do them with romaine hearts or our garden lettuces.

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We have put it over our burgers this summer too! It would work with chicken wings or my Steak & Bleu Quesadillas as well {scroll down a bit for that recipe}.

It’s simple. It’s fresh. You are controlling the ingredients, so you know there are no yucky preservatives in it.

Now all you have to do is, grab your beverage of choice, stay cool and spend some quality time with your family and friends this summer wherever you are in the world.

 

BLEU CHEESE DRESSING

 

1 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

½ cup mayo

1 tsp. red wine vinegar

2 tsp. lemon juice

1-2 cloves garlic, grated

¾ cup bleu cheese

¼ tsp. kosher salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

 

In a small mixing bowl, combine sour cream, mayo, vinegar, lemon juice and garlic until well blended. Then, gently stir in the bleu cheese, salt and pepper.

 

Store up to 1 week in the refrigerator.

 

CAESAR ORZO

We love when spring and summer roll around and we can cook with fresh produce. Seasonal. Local. Yum.

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This is hands-down one of the top dishes we look forward to making come spring and summer. It is fresh, light and the perfect combination of ingredients. My husband requests this dish more then any other that I make. And for busy lives, this comes together in the amount of time it takes the pasta water to boil and cook the pasta. Perfect!

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There is the creaminess from the dressing, the fresh snap from the asparagus, the satisfaction of pasta {mmm…pasta!}.

IMG_9057 And to my vegetarian friends out there, omit the chicken, add 2 cups of another vegetable like zucchini or bell peppers in the pan when the asparagus is sautéing – and this dish is equally as scrumptious.

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CAESAR ORZO

 

2 Tb. + 1 Tb. olive oil

14 oz. chicken breast or thighs, cut into small pieces

2 cups asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces

16 oz. orzo pasta

1 cup Caesar dressing

Kosher salt

 

In large pot, bring water to a boil.

In a large skillet, heat 2 Tb. olive oil over med-high heat. Add chicken, sprinkle with a little salt and cook for about 10 minutes or until just cooked through.

Meanwhile, when water comes to a boil, cook orzo according to package instructions. Do not drain when completely cooked.

When chicken is done, remove from pan and set aside. Add last 1 Tb. of olive oil to same skillet over med-low heat, add asparagus, sprinkle with a little more salt and sauté about 10 minutes until crisp tender.

*Do not add any pepper during cooking because most Caesar dressings have a lot of pepper already in them.

Add chicken back to pan with asparagus. Then without draining orzo, scoop it out of water with a hand held mesh strainer and put directly into pan with asparagus mix. The little bit of pasta water from not draining it fully allows for a better sauce.

Stir Caesar dressing into asparagus mix, heat through and at this time taste to see if it needs additional salt or pepper. Serve immediately.

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