Monday, July 29, 2013

Caprese Pasta Salad

Sometimes, simple is better.

Quality ingredients paired with fresh vegetables and herbs can take a plain old box of pasta to a new level. A fresh, summery pasta salad can be born.

This Caprese Pasta Salad with a homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette is sure to please a crowd at your next cookout, barbeque or picnic. Sweet summer tomatoes, soft and delicious mozzarella cheese, and bright fresh basil. What could go wrong?

If you have 20 minutes on hand, you can make this pasta salad in no time! This will serve a crowd as a side dish, and about four as a full meal -- just add some grilled chicken and there you have it! A fresh and tasty dinner bursting with summer flavors.

For the balsamic vinaigrette, take a smashed glove of garlic, dijon mustard, lemon juice, honey, dried basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil in a dressing shaker or mason jar. Shake vigorously until combined and chill until ready to use.

When you're ready to make the pasta salad, boil up a pound of short-cut pasta until al dente. In the meantime, julienne the fresh basil, slice grape tomatoes in half, and cut up a ball of mozzarella into cubes.

Add everything to a bowl and toss until well combined.

All that's left to do after that is enjoy this salad! I mean seriously guys--you can MAKE THIS and it is DELICIOUS! Let's get to it!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies

Real talk -- I love cookies.

I'm a huge fan of cookies that are chewy and soft and bursting with flavor. These Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies totally fit the bill.

Fresh, bright lemon flavor is packed into these sweet little bites. They are reminiscent of traditional butter cookies, with a fun and crunchy poppy seed twist.

These cookies did not last long around our house. We brought them to a picnic one night, and what few remained were a fun midday snack on Monday. The cookies are just slightly golden brown with a nice gooey center.

I also just got this seriously adorable citrus juicer from Marshall's and a new microplane! Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies were the perfect way to break in my new you like to use new kitchen gadgets as soon as you get them!? Clearly I do!

To start, we need to sift together all purpose flour, baking powder, salt, cream of tartar and crunchy poppy seeds. I just love the way the flecks of black make this batter look rustic and charming.

I worked a ton of lemon zest into a bowl of sugar with my finger tips. This is a fun trick out there in the food world that releases the aromatic flavor of the zest and blends that flavor into the entire cookie!

Butter and lemony sugar are creamed together before egg, honey, and lemon juice join the party. While the mixer is running on low speed, the dry ingredients get combined slowly and completely into the wet ingredients. The dough should come together pretty solidly on the paddle attachment.

After a bit of chill time, it's time to bake! This dough shouldn't be too runny and the cookies will hold their shape for the most part while they bake up.

When the tops of the cookies begin to crack, we take the cookies out of the oven and smush them down with the bottom of a very flat glass. This was fun to me. I need more hobbies.

I totally loved these cookies. The crunch of the poppy seeds and the golden brown edges are the perfect complement to the chewy center and tangy bite of the lemons. Now, your favorite flavor muffin is a delicious dessert!

Let's not delay any longer -- I know you want to get your hands on a batch of these cookies!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pepperoni Pizza Dip

We’re going to talk about pizza in the form of a warm, cheesy dip today. We’re going to ignore any and all dietary restrictions and get down to brass tax.

Cheese plus tomato sauce plus pepperoni plus more cheese plus bread for dipping equal appetizer bliss.

My ronis got shuffled in transit...

Do we understand each other?


If there’s one thing you’ve caught onto by now, it’s that I love making dips. Think…guacamole, white beandip, taco layer dip…it’s something I love. Let’s embrace it!

Dips are a quintessential party food and are designed by nature to feed the masses. This particular Pepperoni Pizza Dip is much more cost friendly than buying 4 pizza pies for a bunch of friends. Put this dip out and let people take little bites here and there, and your next gathering will be a hit!

Here's my friend Rich getting ready to dig in to some pepperoni pizza dip I brought to his apartment this weekend. Yum! We ate SO MUCH FOOD and had SO MUCH FUN!

Oh, by the way. Like most of my dips, this isn’t difficult at all to put together. It starts where all great things in this world start.

CREEEEAM CHEEEESE! (imagine me shouting/singing "cream cheese"
and that’s what I intended that to be).

Softened cream cheese gets mixed together with fresh basil, pepperoni slices, olive oil, sour cream, mozzarella, and a little bit of crack black pepper for a kick.

This mixture gets spread into the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Then it’s time for your favorite marinara sauce.

Look, go ahead and use the jarred stuff. There are some good ones out there. You can always start with a jarred sauce and jazz it up with lemon juice, fresh herbs, whatever you’d like. This is a judgement free zone. We want this dip to be easy peasy!

Atop the marinara goes a a bit more of mozzarella and cheese. It’s like – why not?!

Some full pepperonis for flare on top, and so people know what they’re getting into!

Bake, wait, and enjoy. I served my pizza dip with chunks of French baguette. Tortilla chips are also a fine dipping vehicle. Go crazy, get wild, put in your favorite pizza toppings, be yourself—always!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Strawberry and Goat Cheese Crostini

I am so obsessed with goat cheese. It's one of those things I'll see in a dish on a menu and immediately order that without looking at the rest of the offerings. It's creamy, and soft, and just a little bit tangy.

Goat cheese is an all-inclusive cheese. It works well with savory dishes and is also great with some sweet pairings.

I particularly love goat cheese in these delicious snacks I made last week. The cheese is mixed with lemon and honey, spread on top of crispy crostinis and topped with slices of fresh, ripened strawberries.

These Strawberry and Goat Cheese Crostinis are the perfect summertime appetizer or snack. With the exception of toasting the bread, there is hardly any time spent dwelling over a hot stove. The strawberries are sweet and juicy, the perfect compliment to the natural sweetness of the honey. The soft goat cheese spread on top of crispy baguette slices is just the contrast you crave in a small bite. Simple but elegant--sounds like a great deal to me!

Here's what you need for Strawberry and Goat Cheese Crostinis (Print Recipe!)

1 French baguette, cut into 1/2 inch slices
4-6 ounces fresh goat cheese
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons honey, plus more for drizzling
1 cup strawberries, sliced thin vertically

Here's what you do

Place the slices of bread on a dry baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes until just browned. Watch carefully to ensure they don't burn. Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, use a fork to mash together the goat cheese, lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of honey. Add in a splash of lemon juice if the mixture isn't smooth.

Spread about a tablespoon of the goat cheese mixture onto each baguette. Arrange 2 to 3 slices of strawberries on top of the goat cheese. Drizzle with more honey just before serving. Garnish with torn mint leaves if desired.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Lemony Spinach Pesto Sauce

It's hot hot hot out there! When the temperature starts pushing 90 degrees, the idea of slaving over a hot stove for 30 minutes to make dinner is just SO unappealing. AMIRIGHT?!

Making a quick and delicious pesto sauce is the perfect way to still eat delicious homemade food without sweating it out in the kitchen. This Lemony Spinach Pesto Sauce is a summery twist on a classic. Fresh herbs and lemon zest make this pesto bright and refreshing, while spinach replaces most of the basil in a traditional pesto for a thick and earthy sauce. The zests of citrus fruits are packed with the essential oils of the fruit and they really amp up the flavor more than just the juice alone.

The word "pesto" is derived from an Italian word "pestare" which essentially means to pound or to crush. Pesto was traditionally made by combining all the ingredients in a mortar and using a wooden pestle to literally crush all the ingredients together. Luckily, today, we have a fancy high-tech gadget that will do all the work for us.

That is, a food processor. Thank you, culinary wizards, for this invention.

Now, making pesto is easier than ever! For this particular sauce, we combine spinach, basil, lemon zest, sliced almonds, thyme, oregano, garlic and crushed black pepper in a food processor until chopped.

Next, lemon juice and vegetable broth join the party. Using lemon juice and broth help give the pesto a more sauce-like consistency without using an entire cup of olive oil.

Speaking of olive oil, stream in a bit of olive oil with the food processor running until desired consistency is reached. Wizz in a generous amount of grated parmesan cheese and some salt to finish off the sauce. Perfect!

This pesto freezes really well, so feel free to make the sauce ahead of time and defrost it whenever you need a quick weeknight meal. For last night's dinner, we enjoyed this pesto on top of Gemelli pasta and baked chicken. The spinach can be a little tough if it does not have time to wilt a little bit on top of the dish, so be sure to add the pesto to your pasta or meat while it's still hot and allow it to steam a little bit to soften the spinach.

Top all pesto dishes with a little extra grated cheese. Remember -- you're worth it :-)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fourth of July Firework Cookies

Everybody just loves the Fourth of July, myself included. This wonderful celebration of our country is chock full of poolside barbeques, beach trips, cold beers, and good food. It's the ultimate summer celebration!

As excited as I am for the actual holiday, I'm pretty sure I'm even more excited about these seriously festive cookies. Let's just say I channeled my inner Martha Stewart. Mostly because these were inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe...

These cookies are decorated using Royal Icing. This icing takes to food coloring really well and is often used to decorate cookies that are given out as favors for showers, birthday parties, baptisms, etc. The icing dries overnight and becomes hard, making it the ideal icing for decorating sugar cookies.

Our round cookies are flooded with white royal icing, then circles are drawn on top. Then, a few quick strokes of a toothpick flare out our circles so that we get the iconic image of a firework on our cookies! How clever is that?!

Although these cookies are a time consuming labor of love, you will be the coolest cat at your Fourth of July celebration when you show up with a batch of these. They are tasty and fun and I cannot explain just how accomplished I felt when the cookies were finished. They are so photogenic!

Disclaimer -- the step by step was just too expansive to photograph. If anything isn't clear just drop a comment down below and I will do my best to clarify--Happy Independence Day!!