Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Chicken

creamy-butternut-squash-pasta-with-chicken

Well, we’re in the midst of the winter doldrums now. The holidays are in our rearview mirror. The last of the cookies have been eaten, the cork put back in the champagne bottle (for now, anyway.) There’s not a whole lot to look forward to this time of year. It’s dark when I leave the house in the morning and it’s dark when I arrive home in the evening. Oh, and I’ve spent the past two weeks battling the most brutal cold that will. not. leave. The one redeeming quality of this time of year is that it is the perfect occasion for cozy, hearty meals. So, how about some creamy, decadent comfort food to warm our bellies and our souls?

creamy-butternut-squash-pasta-with-chickenThis creamy butternut squash pasta is a real treat. Butternut squash is roasted with shallots and sage until sweet and fragrant. While the squash roasts, boil some water and cook your pasta of choice. I chose rigatoni so that there would be plenty of nooks and crannies for the delightfully sweet and savory sauce to hide. The squash and aromatics are pureed until smooth with rich, creamy mascarpone cheese and some starchy pasta cooking water. Toss the sauce with the pasta and parmesan cheese and this is a divine winter meal. I served it with thinly sliced chicken, to make a full meal. However, this would also make a stellar side to roast beef or pork. Or skip the protein and dive headfirst into a luscious, creamy bowl of carbs and take advantage of the other redeeming quality of winter- bathing suit season is far away 🙂 Enjoy!

creamy-butternut-squash-pasta-with-chicken

Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash (1.5-2lbs), peeled, seeded and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 shallots, quartered
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage, plus more for garnish
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 lb pasta (I used rigatoni)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 chicken breasts, grilled and thinly sliced (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450. Toss squash, shallots and sage in bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper and mix to coat. Spread ingredients into single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Roast 20-25 minutes,until squash is tender.

While squash is roasting, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of starchy pasta water before draining pasta. Set pasta aside.

Transfer squash, shallots and sage into bowl of food processor. Puree until smooth. Add mascarpone and 1/2 cup reserved pasta water and puree again until well combined. Add additional water as necessary to ensure consistency of sauce will coat pasta easily.

Combine pasta and sauce in the pasta pot. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Stir in parmesan cheese. Transfer to serving bowl and garnish with fresh sage. Serve with grilled chicken, if desired.

Serves 4

Super Simple Skillet Shrimp

Super Simple Skillet Shrimp

Well hi, strangers! How is the holiday season treating you? If your days are anything like mine, it’s been a whirlwind so far. But a lovely, twinkly, holly jolly whirlwind. This time of year it’s a challenge to eat healthfully. Between parties and preparation, cookies and cocktails, it’s very tempting to say “to heck with it”, indulge with abandon and vow to do better in the new year. The problem with that strategy, of course, is that we wind up feeling a little…less than stellar during December. And in a month where we’re more likely to see old friends and family than any other, it would be nice to feel (and look) our best. Luckily, wholesome meals can easily fit into this busy holiday season. This Super Simple Skillet Shrimp is ready in a flash and is so tasty and filling you may just find the willpower to say no to the cookie tray.

Super Simple Skillet Shrimp

Over the past year I’ve come to favor shrimp as my go-to salad protein. It cooks quickly and seems more inspired than plain old grilled chicken. This method has become my favorite way to prepare it. Four simple ingredients- shrimp, salt, pepper and butter, are all it takes. Since shrimp is so lean, I splurge by cooking it in a little butter. The butter solids brown and stick to the shrimp, creating a delicious crust. You’ll swear that there’s more going on, but I promise, it’s that easy. Your protein will be done within 10 minutes total and ready for whatever you have planned- salad, pasta or platter. I like to make a big batch on Sunday to put on salads throughout the week. Lunches at my desk are not quite as sad when I have yummy, and healthy, shrimp salad to look forward to.

As always, a couple of tips to make sure you get the best result: Make sure the shrimp is dry when you put it in the pan- you don’t want any residual moisture when you put it in the skillet. The yummiest part of this recipe are the brown bits of butter stuck to the shrimp and those won’t develop if your shrimp is wet. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. Next, allow the butter to sizzle before putting the shrimp in the pan. The shrimp cook super fast, so if you don’t let the butter come up to temp before placing the shrimp in the pan, you won’t get those delightful browned bits. Finally, allow adequate space between shrimp while cooking. You don’t want them on top of one another. If needed, you can do it in two batches and add a tiny pat more butter if the skillet looks dry. It cooks quickly enough that the first batch will stay warm while you cook the second.

How are your preparations for the holiday going? I’ll be sharing some cookies and indulgent recipes in the coming weeks. Please let me know if you have any requests! My Grandma’s Anise Italian Cookies are always a must have. Happy Holidays, guys!

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Super Simple Skillet Shrimp

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb peeled, deveined shrimp, patted dry with paper towels
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Instructions:

Make sure shrimp is thoroughly dry by patting with paper towels. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the shrimp.

In large nonstick skillet, heat butter over medium high heat. Once sizzling, add shrimp in single layer, being sure to allow adequate room between shrimp. Cook shrimp for 1-2 minutes, until pink on one side and butter solids have browned and stuck to shrimp. Flip shrimp and cook an additional minute. Shrimp may be cooked in batches if your skillet is not large enough to cook them all at once.

Serves 3-4.

Super Simple Skillet Shrimp

Citrus Scented Cranberry Sauce

Citrus Cranberry Sauce

Sweet and tart cranberry sauce infused with bright citrus juice and zest, this cranberry sauce is a perfect complement to your Thanksgiving dinner. And your leftover turkey sandwich, too!

Can you feel it? I certainly can. The holidays are breathing down our necks, inching closer as we speak. No matter how eagerly I await this time of year, or how early I start listening to Christmas music (November 1, thankyouverymuch. Yes, I’m one of those people), I always find myself unprepared when the holidays actually arrive. I dreamt last night that it was Thanksgiving afternoon at 2 and my mom, sister and I had done zero prep for our Thanksgiving dinner, which was to be served at 4. Needless to say, I’ve been making lists and plans all day long. If you’re in the same anxiety-ridden boat as me, you’ll be glad to get at least one dish out of the way as soon as possible. Thus, today I bring you citrus scented cranberry sauce, to soothe your nerves and grace your Thanksgiving table. Make it over the weekend, tuck it away in the fridge and sleep a little more soundly leading up to the big day.

Citrus Cranberry Sauce

If you’ve always relied on a can of cranberry sauce to provide the obligatory pop of red on your Thanksgiving table, try making your own this year. It is incredibly delicious and really couldn’t be simpler. Of course, homemade cranberry sauce doesn’t make the same plop when it hits your serving dish, but one taste of this and you won’t even miss the sound effects. Homemade cranberry sauce is a fun way to add some variety to a table full of old stand-bys. You can make it as sweet or as tart as you like and the possibilities for add-ins are endless. I’ve experimented with adding different nuts, fruits and spices and have enjoyed just about every variation. However, I really love the simplicity of a basic cranberry sauce infused with just a little bit of citrus zest and juice. I cut back on the amount of sugar used in most recipes, less for health reasons (because, let’s be real, who’s counting calories on Thanksgiving?) and more because I really like the tartness of the cranberries to shine through. The rest of Thanksgiving dinner is very rich, so a bright, citrusy cranberry sauce provides a delightful contrast. And if you mix it with a little mayo on Black Friday (or Thanksgiving night), it makes a killer spread for your leftover turkey sandwich.

Citrus Cranberry Sauce

Citrus Scented Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz bag fresh cranberries, rinsed
  • Juice and zest of 1 orange
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions:

In medium saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil. Once boiling, add cranberries, orange juice  and salt and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer about 10 minutes, until cranberries have burst and sauce has thickened. Stir in lemon and orange zest and lemon juice. Allow cranberry sauce to cool before transferring to storage container. Refrigerate until cold, up to one week.

Serves about 10

 

 

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Smoothy, creamy and oh-so-decadent mashed potatoes are the perfect addition to a Thanksgiving table. Extra credit for being able to make them the day before.

Well folks, we made it to election day. Our country has been been mired in dissension and bitter opposition these past few months leading up to the election. It certainly hasn’t been pretty. It seems that we can’t agree on anything. Maybe that’s why we’ve established holiday rooted in gratefulness, family and unity each November after the tension of Election Day. Because if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s a good meal. Particularly carbs. Especially carbs. We are one nation, indivisible, with liberty and carbohydrates for all. Or something like that 😉

Politics aside, it’s time to get down to the real business of November. Thanksgiving is just over two weeks away! It’s time to start menu planning, list making, grocery shopping and nail biting. That last one is avoidable. While Thanksgiving dinner is arguably the most important meal to cook all year, it does not have to be the most stressful. I’ve got a handful of foolproof Turkey Day recipes coming your way to ease the anxiety over what to make and how to make it. I can’t say I can provide much in the way of assistance for annoying family members, but I do have two suggestions: 1- seat them as far away as you can manage and 2- pour an extra glass of wine (for you. or them. or both!)

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

First up are Perfect Mashed Potatoes. Hyperbole? Nope. They are really that good. Velvety smooth, creamy, rich and slightly garlicky. Plus, they can be completely prepared a day ahead and put in the oven to warm through on Thanksgiving. My biggest secret for not going absolutely bananas on Thanksgiving is to do as much ahead of time as I can. So a dish that can be prepped ahead of time is a lifesaver. However, I’m not going to sacrifice deliciousness for the sake of cleaning one less pot or pan on the big day. Fortunately, that’s not an issue with these mashed potatoes. These are hands down the yummiest mashed potatoes I’ve ever tasted. I ruined my supper the day I made these, because I couldn’t stop sneaking one more bite.

These are slightly more high maintenance than my standard method for mashed potatoes, which involves leaving the skin on and mashing in the pot in which the potatoes cooked. However, this is Thanksgiving and  you can make them in their entirety ahead of time, so I think it’s worth the marginal extra effort. And truthfully, peeling the potatoes is the worst part. So pick that annoying cousin and stick them in the corner with a potato peeler and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Once the potatoes have boiled until tender, pass them through a potato ricer (which I think is really fun, so save that task for yourself. It’s the little things.) Stir in butter, cream cheese, heavy cream and two heads of roasted garlic. Drum up your reserves of self control as you ladle the prepared potatoes into a baking dish. Cover with foil and stick in the fridge until the next day. Remove the potatoes from the fridge about half an hour before you plan to cook them, to take some of the chill off. Dot the top of the potatoes with a little more butter and stick into the oven for about half an hour. This works out well, as they can wait to go in the oven until the turkey comes out to rest. Of course, you can prepare them right before serving and skip the oven, if  you prefer. Either way, once they are on the table you can enjoy, unbutton the top button of your pants and accept the compliments that come your way. Gobble Gobble!

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut until large chunks (1 1/2 to 2 inches)
  • 2 heads roasted garlic (instructions to follow)
  • 2 1/2 sticks (1 1/2 cups) butter
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper

Instructions:

Place potatoes in large pot. Fill pot with cold water until potatoes are covered by at least 1 inch. Bring potatoes and water to a boil and boil until potatoes are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Drain potatoes in colander.

Pass potatoes through a potato ricer back into the now empty pot. Stir in 2 sticks butter, cream cheese, heavy cream, roasted garlic, salt and pepper. Spray 9×13 dish with nonstick cooking spray and pour potatoes into dish. Cover with foil and place in refrigerator until ready to use. Alternatively, you can serve at this point, dotting the top of potatoes with remaining butter.

If potatoes have been refrigerated, remove from refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to baking. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove foil from top of potatoes and dot the top of the potatoes with remaining 1/2 stick of butter. Bake about 30 minutes, or until potatoes are warmed through.

To Make Roasted Garlic: Cut the tops off of two heads of garlic. Place garlic in the center of a piece of foil and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fold foil over garlic to make pouches. Roast at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, until soft and golden. When ready to use, squeeze garlic cloves from paper.

Serves 12-14.

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

 

Lighter Chicken Salad

Lighter Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is one of my guilty pleasures. I don’t eat it often, mostly because of the whole calorie bomb factor, but I want to eat it all the time. A couple of months ago, after a tough day, I decided to throw caution to the wind and ordered a chicken salad hoagie from Wawa. It was heavenly. That is, until the angel on my shoulder innocently wondered exactly how damaging my mayo based revelry really was. Wouldn’t you know, Wawa provides nutritional information on their website. All I can say is…ouch. I enjoyed the first half of that sandwich. The second half was just as delicious but not nearly as enjoyable. I hate that.

Today’s recipe is my solution. I think this chicken salad is perfection. The dressing is a perfect balance of creaminess, sweetness and acidity. The chicken is roasted on the bone to ensure it stays juicy and flavorful. Crispy and crunchy accents abound in the form of veggies, seeds and nuts. I’ve tried a lot of “light” chicken salad recipes and have been disappointed in many of them. Greek yogurt is almost always used as a stand in for mayo (and makes an appearance in my recipe, too.) But the problem is, I know the difference between Greek yogurt and mayo. Using Greek yogurt alone results in an overly tangy, distinctly yogurt-y salad. No thanks. I use equal parts low-fat mayo and nonfat Greek yogurt to reap the lower calorie, protein rich benefits of the yogurt while enjoying the luscious creaminess of mayo. The dressing is rounded out with honey, apple cider vinegar and poppy seeds. I’ve stuck to traditional add-ins in this recipe, such as finely diced celery, shallots and almonds. However, if you want to get creative, you could add diced apples, halved grapes, dried cranberries, carrots or any type of nut you prefer. You could also get creative with the herbs you use- basil or tarragon would be delightful.

Lighter Chicken Salad

The abundance of mayo in traditional chicken salad can hide a lot of sins, particularly dry chicken. We’ll make sure that’s not an issue here by roasting bone in, skin on chicken breasts. This way we ensure the chicken stays moist, but still get the benefit of lean breast meat (we toss then skin.) As the chicken roasts, whisk together the dressing, dice the veggies and toast the almonds. Once the chicken is done and cool enough to handle, shred either with two forks or your fingers. I like the chicken in my chicken salad to be finely chopped, so that’s what I do. If you like bigger pieces, you do you. When you’re ready to serve, you have a multitude of options. I think it’s adorable as a light lunch or hors d’oeuvre on top of cucumber slices. I’ve been packing this chicken salad for work lunches this week on a bed of greens. Or, you can take advantage of all those calories you’re saving and serve on a nice toasty baguette. That will be a sandwich you can enjoy start to finish without a shred of guilt after.

Lighter Chicken Salad

Lighter Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

  • 3 lb bone in, skin on chicken breasts
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, divided
  • 1 tsp black pepper, divided
  • 3 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 2/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise (I use Hellman’s Light)
  • 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pat chicken dry and place on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil, 1 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper over chicken. Roast 35-40 minutes, until meat registers 160 degrees. Once meat is cool enough to handle, shred using hands or two forks, then finely chop.

While chicken is roasting, toast almonds, chop vegetables and prepare dressing. To toast almonds, place them in skillet over medium heat and toast about 8-10 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly browned. Watch closely to ensure they don’t burn. To prepare dressing, whisk together mayonnaise, yogurt, vinegar, honey, poppy seeds and remaining salt and pepper.

Once chicken is chopped, combine with vegetables, dressing and parsley in a large bowl and toss until ingredients are evenly coated with dressing. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Serve immediately or chill to serve later.

Serves 6-8.

 

Lighter Chicken Salad

Trick or Treat Cookies

trick-or-treat-cookies

Trick or Treat Cookies are a perfect solution to all of that leftover Halloween candy. 

Happy Halloween! I love Halloween. Granted, I hate scary movies, haunted houses, being scared and just anything scary in general, but still, I love Halloween. Holidays are always packed with memories and my memories of Halloweens past just make me happy. When I was  young, my Aunt Diane would make beautiful, elaborate costumes for us (myself, my sister and my cousins) each year. It was a huge production. Once school started, we would brainstorm ideas, then make a trip to the fabric store (Joann Fabrics) to choose a pattern and material. My aunt worked full time as a dietitian, so she must have put in some serious late nights making 4-5 fancy costumes each fall. But if she minded, she never let on. As a result, I have fabulous memories of being exactly what I wanted to be each Halloween. Cinderella in her blue, sparkly satin ballgown? Check. Cheerleader? Check. Fancy-pants gypsy with sequins galore? Oh yeah. Dorothy, Hocus Pocus-style witch, American Girl doll? Yes, yes and yes. No wonder I’ve been disappointed in every costume store I’ve ever entered. I’ve had my own fairy Godmother. (I really wish my parents were in town this weekend, as I would ask them to scan some old pictures of my Halloween costumes! Check Instagram this week…)

trick-or-treat-cookies

 

Now that I’m too old to pass as a trick or treater, my Halloween highlights consist of admiring the creativity and general adorableness of the trick or treaters who come to my door. Living in a semi-rural area, those trick or treaters are few and far between. We’ve lived in our house 5 years and I think our record high is 5 trick or treaters. BUT. Our light is on! And we buy candy as if we’ll have 100 trick or treaters! So please, please, please, if you are in the neighborhood, come to my house with your princess, ghoul or goblin and I promise handful after handful of good candy. No tootsie rolls, pinky swear.

Inevitably, no matter how generously we dole out the candy, we are left with a veritable mountain of the stuff. Like, we’re still picking through it come Valentine’s Day. These cookies are my solution to that problem…or situation. I don’t know that excess candy is every really a problem. However you look at it, these cookies are a delicious way to use up all of the extra Halloween candy laying around once November hits. They’re so yummy that you could probably convince your kiddos to sacrifice some of their hard-earned loot to the cause. That just means you’ll have to share.

trick-or-treat-cookies

Start with a soft and chewy sugar cookie base and add a few handfuls of some leftover candy chopped into bite sized pieces. I highly recommend using chocolate based candy for this recipe, but if you want to be a trailblazer and put Starbursts in your cookies, be my guest. The white and semi-sweet chocolate drizzles on top of the cookies are completely optional, but I think they add a fun air of both decadence and seasonality to the cookies. I think they look a little bit like really delicious spiderwebs. These cookies are super versatile. In the coming months the recipe can be repurposed for Thanksgiving and Christmas, depending on your add-ins. But let’s take one holiday at a time. I hope you and your family have a fabulous and not-too-spooky Halloween!

 

trick-or-treat-cookies

Trick or Treat Cookies

A great way to use up leftover Halloween candy!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) room temperature unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup chocolate based Halloween candy, chopped into bite sized pieces if large
  • 4 oz white chocolate, melted
  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375. Line two rimmed baking sheets with either parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

In bowl of stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add egg and egg yolk and vanilla. Slowly add flour mixture in 3 batches, allowing each addition to become incorporated before adding the next. Turn off mixer and add candy. Briefly mix on low speed to distribute candy throughout dough.

Roll dough into balls (about 2 Tbsp per cookie) and place on baking sheet. You should get about 24 cookies total. Bake 14-16 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are lightly brown.

Cool cookies on sheer for about 5 minutes, then move to baking racks to cool completely.

Once cookies are cooled, melt white and semi sweet chocolate one at a time. To melt chocolate, either use double boiler or microwave on 50% power for 1 1/2 minutes. If chocolate is not melted after 1 1/2 minutes in microwave, heat at 30 second intervals, stirring after each. Use fork to drizzle chocolate over cookies.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.