Tuesday, April 24, 2012

BLT Pasta Salad

Original Image from What's Cookin Chicago
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Pasta salad is a perpetual favourite of mine.  BLTs are a favourite lunch of the husband.  This seemed as natural a choice as our marriage, and so it landed on our menu for a lunchtime rendezvous that we were both very much looking forward to.

The pasta I used was whole wheat, again, because that's how we roll.  I couldn't find whole wheat shells at our grocery store, so I chose fusilli for a substitute.  Gotta love how those little spirals hang on to the dressing in a pasta salad; in my opinion they were made for cold salads much more than shells (shells are made for cheese, don'tchaknow...) Also, unlike the picture, I sliced the leeks instead of chopping them.  The instructions actually call for them sliced, so I was doing as I was told, though it looks a little less pretty in a picture.

The ranch dressing packet adds a ton of flavour to this dish without having to ravage the spice rack.  I usually find other people's pasta salad recipes to be way, way too bland and boring.  I add so many different things to my own signature pasta salad that it would have an ingredient list a whole page long if I ever took the time to actually write it out.  When I saw that the only real "spice" going into this was that ranch packet, I was skeptical, but my fears were unnecessary.  Oh yum.

This pasta salad is phenomenal, and phenomenally easy to make.  I used pre-cooked, packaged crumbled bacon.  We usually have a big bag in the fridge from Costco, because in recipes like this I can use the bacon that makes my husband happy without stinking up the whole house with icky bacon stink.  Yes, I've mentioned it before; I hate the smell of cooking bacon, and was so relieved I didn't have to endure it for this dish.

Plenty easy enough for a weekday lunch, yummy enough to please people at any pot-luck, and definitely hearty enough to fill up my husband and make him a happy man, this is going on permanent rotation in my kitchen.  Yum!

OmNomNom - healthy and delicious and hearty - who could ask for more?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Crockpot Breakfast Casserole

Original Image by Stockpiling Moms

My husband seems to be fond of pale dishes made in a crock pot; this was another of his choices, though since I pinned it, I can't exactly blame him for choosing it!  Potatoes, meat, minimal veggies - yeah, it was near the top of his list.  It's definitely "guy food."

We have breakfast for dinner once in a while, and that's when I served this dish, made up in the morning and cooked during the day.  I think this would be great for holidays, especially when mom and dad are up late the night before doing holiday chores and have to serve guests something in the morning; you can put it together and let it cook overnight, while you catch a few precious hours of sleep.

The appeal for my husband was simple; it has both bacon and sausage in it.  This is something he is generally not served.  He gets one or the other at a meal, just like he gets either hash browns or toast.  Unless we're at a restaurant, when I don't do the nagging wife thing and let him get whatever he wants, so long as he doesn't judge me for getting something with mushrooms.  Anyway, the fact that both were required to complete this dish made him grin.  Big time. 

Yeah, not very pretty in the pot actually...
It was easy to throw together.  Pre-cooking the sausage and bacon takes a little time, but that could be done ahead of time and tossed into storage ware in the fridge to keep until you were ready to put this together.  At least, that would be my plan were I to make this for a holiday.

It smelled... well, to be honest, I hate the smell of bacon. Sacrilege, I know.  But I can't help it.  And this smelled a lot like bacon while it was cooking, so I was running the kitchen fan and burning nice-smelling wax tarts and hanging out by a cracked-open window even though it was cold outside.  Be aware that your house will smell like bacon the whole time this is in the crock pot.  My husband came home, breathed deep, and sighed happily.  If you're like him, you'll love it.  As for me, I survived.  Oh the things I do for love.

This wasn't one of my favourite recipes.  It's not particularly special or anything, in my opinion, but my husband rather liked it and anything in the crock pot takes the pressure off come dinner time.  For that, it gets a thumbs-up from me.

But a little better looking on the plate!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Reuben Dip

Original Image from The Noble Pig
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"Fun Fridays" at our house means that lunchtime is something special - I either make a cool new appetizer, or maybe some kind of hot dip, or something like pimiento cheese or cucumber finger sandwiches.  Unlike other days of the week, I try not to repeat Friday lunches more than once every few months, which means I'm always, always on the search for fantastic new recipes to try.

I found this one on Pinterest around St. Patrick's Day - I think people were pinning it like crazy because of the corned beef component.  At least, that's all I can imagine, because the Reuben doesn't seem particularly Irish-holiday-oriented, even if it does contain corned beef and (pickled) cabbage!

Ready for the Oven
I like that this has quite a lot of veggie component in it, since we were having it for lunch.  You don't want something too super rich in the middle of the day, even if it is a Fun Friday.

It's super easy to make - It took me all of about ten minutes to get everything into the bowl of the mixer (including shredding the cheese! Buy pre-shredded and you're down to five minutes). A little bit of beating and blending and I was spooning the thick and lovely looking mix into the casserole and sticking it into my pre-heated oven.

It came out lightly browned - more like golden, I suppose - and smelled fantastic.  I was a little worried about it possibly having an acidic smell from the sauerkraut, or the sauerkraut making the creamy cheesy mixture separate, but my fears were unfounded - it looked rich and delicious and the spicy scent was like walking into a great city deli.

Browned and Bubbly!
The recipe recommended using the sweet, tiny rye bread slices to serve this on, which would have been wonderful if we were able to find that anywhere at all close to home.  Instead, we settled for Triscuit crackers, which have enough stability to serve as an excellent platform for this fabulous dip.

And by the way, this makes a HUGE amount.  When it came out of the oven, my husband just looked at me incredulously when I told him it was lunch.  Seriously, it would be a great amount for a party of say, twenty people, on your goodies table.  Even as a main dish serving, this worked out to be enough for about three meals for us. (It also re-heats brilliantly!)

OmNomNom - Who's gonna say no to that?
As for husband approval, this got a hearty thumbs-up and a request that I start making this for entertaining.  I was told this would be especially good for guys' game nights, which I think is a fantastic idea.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dinner at Eight Top

Original Image from Lion Brand Yarns

Okay, this project may be cheating just a little bit.  Yes, the pin is on pinterest, but... well, I'm the one who pinned it via the pinmarklet.  But it has been in one of my craft pinboards for quite a while now, and since this is my blog, I get to make the rules, and I say it counts.  So there.  Feel free to debate me in the comments section if you have a complaint!

A while back I ordered some brown sport weight yarn, Bernat Cool Crochet, from Herrschnerrs.  Unfortunately for me, they sent me a yarn called "Hippie Shades" which was definitely not the color I was looking for, or what I had ordered.  They corrected the error right away and sent out the right yarn, and told me to go ahead and keep the other stuff.  So it sat in my stash basket for about a year, until I could find just the right project for it.

Then I came across the pattern for this beautiful crocheted top.  The pattern is from Lion Brand yarns, and was designed for one of their pretty, sparkly yarns.  Well, this yarn wasn't exactly sparkly, but it did have a thin gold thread that ran through it, and something about this pattern really called to me, so my mind was made up.

This is actually a super easy pattern for even beginners at crochet.  The top is worked up in alternating rows of single crochet, and the skirt is a simple shell pattern using double crochet and chain stitch.  The increases are simple to work in, and sewing it together takes only a few minutes.

I was bound and determined to wear this on my birthday, so I stayed up til quite late to finish it.  I didn't complete the drawstring, mainly because I want to use a solid colour for it, and I have to find something that matches (I will likely go with white or yellow, based on the colours of the base yarn, in a sport weight). I didn't have anything handy, but it will make the top much nicer to have that little inward tuck at the empire waist.

Note that when you are sewing the skirt portion to the top portion that the skirt is quite a bit wider, and so will have to be eased to fit.  To make that easier on myself, I basted along the top of the skirt with a single length of yarn, tightened it until it was the same size as the top, then got to work sewing it together. This makes it much easier to be sure that you're distributing the excess material evenly, and gives it a pretty, gathered look.

I also added six rows to the bottom of the skirt area.  I had quite a bit of yarn left over, and love the look of tunic type tops, so figured why not?  I simply added increases in the same manner as previous rows and continued the pattern.  I wound up with a garment that would work as a summer swimsuit cover up as well as a top, which is pretty cool!

As for wearing this, the bottom is very see-through.  I wore a white tank top underneath for modesty's sake when we went out to lunch and shopping, but if you're brave, or among good friends, or feeling a bit naughty, you can forgo the tank and just wear a bra beneath - the top gives plenty of coverage over a bra and in this way, it would be fabulous for really hot summer days when you don't feel like wearing a midriff-baring shirt as it gives you a little more cover with the shells.

Wearing this lovely flowy top just makes you feel super feminine and pretty, and the finished project is incredibly beautiful for day or evening wear - I recommend this pattern highly!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes

Original Image from Chef in Training
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When you give a man free reign to choose meals from your Pinterest boards, you gotta know that some things are gonna get attention faster than others.  Does he choose the beautiful, colourful salads?  The bright, cheery, fruit filled dishes?

Of course not.  Men go for the meat.

And who can resist that image of hearty, beefy meat on a bun with a rich, decadent cheese sauce drizzled over it?  Well, not my man anyway.  He already loves both cheese steaks and sloppy joes, so this recipe was a match made in heaven, as far as he was concerned.

Cheese Sauce on the Stove top
 The cheese sauce was spectacularly easy to make, as was the beefy filling for the dish.  I did substitute whole grain buns, which we prefer.  Toasted up, they add a sturdy heartiness to this dish that made it even more nom-worthy as far as I was concerned.

It looked lovely on the plate - though it made for enormous portions and tons of extra food - expect big servings from this recipe, especially where it comes to the cheese sauce!  We wound up with four big open-faced sandwiches, or you could have easily made eight regular sandwiches from this recipe.

Sizzle Sizzle Sizzle
So, how did it taste?  Pretty good.  It wasn't spectacular tasting, I hate to admit, though it wasn't bad.  We both found the sauce to be a little bit bland, and the beef mixture to be a little less flavourful than we'd like.  I will very likely make this again, but will kick up the mixture a notch or two by adding a dash of Worcestershire and garlic powder to the beef, and some white pepper and maybe a hint of Swiss or some other tangy cheese to the sauce.

While it was good, it just wasn't quite up there as "phenomenal" yet.  But it has potential to really go someplace.  I think kids would really like this meal, as it's pretty fun and interesting, and it would also make excellent party food on little slider buns.

The big guy's review?  Heck, it's meat.  He'll take it again any day.
How yummy does that look??

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Italian Sausage Soup

Original Image from Disney Family

Ah soup.  One of those lovely things about cold weather.  There's nothing better than simmering a delicious soup all day long and enjoying the steamy loveliness that evening.  I try to make soup once a week in the cold months (this is replaced by a salad entree in warm months) and I'm always looking for new soup recipes to try, so you may see many of them on my Pinterest and reviewed here in this blog.

I have to admit, with how prominently spinach is featured in this recipe, I was a little worried that my husband would reject it.  He usually only likes spinach in eggs Florentine, though I've been known to slip it past him in spaghetti sauce and lasagna before.  Still, he heartily approved of this addition to our weekly menu, so on I went with the preparation.

Pretty Browned Meatballs!
 I did change this recipe up a bit to suit our lives a little better.  I use only whole grain pasta, so that was a big difference, especially since locally I can't find whole grain shells.  I substituted bow ties, one of our favourite pasta choices for soups.  Because whole grain pasta tends to absorb more liquid than white pasta, I upped the broth a tiny bit. Additionally, I used frozen spinach, since I was planning to make this later in the week (we only grocery shop once a week) and spinach tends to wilt pretty fast on us.  Lastly, I just couldn't imagine that the meatballs would taste right to me without being browned.  I get that the meat would cook in the broth and all, but I couldn't wrap my mind around it.  So, all the meatballs were browned on the stove top before heading into the soup.  At the last minute, I ended up doubling the tomato paste too.  I love tomato flavour, and with the extra broth being added, I worried that it might wind up too thin.  It turned out just right.

Mmmm Steamy Goodness
The recipe itself was super easy to put together, and took almost no time at all, even with the added step of browning the meatballs before heading them in.  And let me tell you, this recipe makes a lot of meatballs.  When I saw the giant pile that was being created I knew this would be a husband-pleaser for sure!  And aren't they just prettier browned?  I think so.

We both agreed that this tasted like the kind of soup you'd get at a great Italian restaurant.  It did have a very strong Italian/Mediterranean vibe to it, from either the sausage meatballs or the herb combination or both.  It was fragrant, the broth was rich and flavourful, and the meatballs were tender and had absorbed much of the flavour from the soup.

This is an all-day soup that you make in the crock pot, and the beautiful melding of flavours shows off the wonders that slow cooking can do.  What a yummy thumbs up!

Irresistable!  And Husband Approved!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Braided Spaghetti Bread

Original Image from Rhodes Bread

This sounded like a great concept, which is why I pinned it.  When I make spaghetti, I almost invariably serve it with garlic bread and salad.  This particular method of service - inside of garlic bread - was ingenious!  Nice, compact, pretty - what more could you ask for?


Lots, as it turns out.

This isn't a particularly hard recipe to put together.  I used whole wheat pasta, as that's the standard in our household, and my from-scratch marinara sauce recipe, which happens to be my husband's favourite.  With those two things in the mix, we didn't think anything could go wrong.
Ready for the oven

 And, as it turned out, it was easy to put together.  The cutting of the dough was explained in ample clarity, and I was able to create the lovely, complex-appearing braided top in just a couple of minutes.  "This will blow people's minds!" I thought.  "I'm making this all the time for guests - they'll all say I'm a genius!"

I was a little ahead of myself.

 Now, this did, I will admit, come out of the oven looking lovely.  It was golden brown and slightly shiny on top.  The smell was amazing - marinara and garlic and freshly baked bread combining to make the house seem like we'd been transported on whole to Italy.  Or at least the Olive Garden.

Really, who wouldn't want to eat that?  It's gorgeous!

I sliced us off both lovely, steaming hunks of garlic bread and spaghetti goodness.  The melted chunks of mozzarella were oozing through the braid and into the pasta and we couldn't wait and then...

And then we ate it.


The pasta had become kind of a soggy lump inside of the bread.  I had cooked it to barely al dente, assuming it would soften more while baking, but this was... strange.  My lovely sauce had mostly evaporated, leaving the pasta dry and sticky.  Worst of all, the inside of the bread was doughy and almost... slimy.  It had that texture that an undercooked dumpling will sometimes get in an ill-prepared soup.

What the heck happened?  We felt like we were eating mushy mouthfuls of raw dough or something.  It was not good.  It was not good at all.

I thought maybe this could be salvaged.  Some things just... taste better the next day, right?  I wrapped up the massive leftovers and stuck them in the fridge, only to discover that minimal microwave heating turned leftovers into hunks of petrified wood.


Nope, we won't be making this again.  Ever.  I won't recommend you try it, either, unless you're really brave, or really like mushy textures, or plan on feeding it to someone with minimal teeth and no taste buds or something.  Icky poo.  My first Pinterest thumbs down!