Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Chicken

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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 ūüôā 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

Cheesy Bacon Guacamole Chicken

cheesy-bacon-guacamole-chicken

By the time I’m halfway through the work week, I need all the help I can get. Is anyone available to do my laundry, pick up my dry cleaning, clean my house and maybe just do my job for me, too? No takers? Darn. I don’t know how those of you with kids do it. I’m lucky if my shoes match by Wednesday. Luckily I have a few simple and tasty last minute dinner recipes up my sleeve to save me from the after work hangries (hunger + anger, for those of you lucky enough to be unacquainted.) This chicken, for example, is ready in a snap and checks enough delicious boxes to keep me going¬†until Friday. Cheese? Check. Bacon? Check. A heaping pile of guacamole? Ohhhhhh, check. Served over a bed of greens dressed with olive oil and lime juice, this is a delicious, relatively healthy low carb dinner. Served with tortilla chips and margaritas… can I come over?

This recipe has a lot going for it even beyond deliciousness. It’s done in 30 minutes and leaves virtually no dirty dishes in its’ wake. Start by lining a rimmed cookie sheet with foil and bake the bacon in a hot oven.¬†No greasy splatters and the bacon grease can be rolled up in the foil and thrown out once you’re done. While the bacon sizzles away in the oven, prepare the remaining ingredients. Chicken cutlets are a favorite of mine for a quick weeknight protein. They’re easy enough to make yourself with a chicken breast, a sharp knife and a steady hand, but if you’re really pressed for time they are also easy to find in the grocery store. While the bacon is cooking you’ll have plenty of time to season the chicken, shred some cheese and mix a quick guacamole.¬†The chicken is baked on the same sheet you use for the bacon, then topped with shredded cheese and bacon and popped back in the oven until the cheese and bacon melt into the chicken in a gooey delicious mess. Top each chicken cutlet with as much guacamole as you please and you are DONE! You could also use shredded cheese and store bought guac to make this even more of a time saver. Enjoy this quick and easy mid-week dinner and keep your chin up. There’s light at the end of this tunnel.

cheesy-bacon-guacamole-chicken

Cheesy Bacon Guacamole Chicken 

Ingredients:

  • 8 chicken cutlets (either purchased as cutlets or 4 chicken breasts cut in half to make cutlets)
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 slices bacon
  • 1 heaping cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 ripe avocados, mashed
  • ¬Ĺ tomato, diced
  • ¬Ĺ medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice of 2 limes
  • ¬ľ cup chopped cilantro

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450. Line rimmed cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place a baking rack inside of sheet. Spray baking rack with cooking spray. Place bacon on rack and bake for 15 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon from rack and chop when cool enough to handle.

While bacon is cooking, season chicken cutlets with chili powder, cumin, 1 tsp kosher salt and black pepper. When bacon is done, wipe excess grease from sheet with paper towels and place chicken on baking rack. Cook chicken 3-4 minutes, then remove from oven. Divide bacon evenly over chicken cutlets and top with cheese. Place chicken back into the oven for 2-3 minutes.

While bacon and chicken are cooking, prepare guacamole. In medium bowl, mix avocados, tomato, onion, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, remaining 1 tsp kosher salt and black pepper.

Once chicken is completely done, spoon guacamole on top and serve.

Serves 4, 2 cutlets per serving.

Brown Butter Parmesan Polenta

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I had my first taste of fall on the drive home from work this evening and it was delightful. While the temperatures are still summer-like, the rest of nature is easing its’ way into autumn. The light in the afternoon is softer and more golden. A few overly ambitious trees have already started to make the change from green to vibrant yellow, and a few overly ambitious neighbors have already put their mums and pumpkins out on the front porch (slow down and let me catch up, guys!) All we need now are cool temperatures and oversized scarves.

Nothing drives home the feel of fall like creamy, cheesy comfort food. If the comfort food in question combines cheese AND carbs, I’m even happier. And if wine is involved- I’m in heaven! Wine, cheese and carbs form the holy trinity in my kitchen. Which means that served with a glass of wine, this brown butter parmesan polenta is ideal autumn comfort food. Polenta is sometimes overlooked as a side dish for more common carbs like pasta and potatoes. But when treated with a little TLC it is more than deserving of a spot on your table. Like pasta and potatoes, it is super versatile and can work with whatever flavor profile you’re aiming for. In this case we’re dressing up creamy, mild polenta with rich and nutty brown butter. Earthy sage and salty parmesan cheese round out the perfect fall side. The end result is creamy, warm and divine, like a soft checkered blanket wrapped around your shoulders. Excuse me while I have a moment.

This brown butter parmesan polenta makes a perfect side to a fall staple like Quick Pork Chops with Apples and Sage Cream Sauce. Or you could easily turn it into a main course on its’ own with the addition of saut√©ed shrimp or grilled chicken. If you wind up with leftovers, be warned that the polenta will solidify once refrigerated. Don’t sweat it. Turn it into a new dish by warming it in a skillet until the exterior is browned and top it with saut√©ed greens and a fried egg.

I hope you enjoy this one! What are your favorite fall comfort foods?

Brown Butter Parmesan Polenta   .jpgBrown Butter Parmesan Polenta

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1 cup medium or coarse grind cornmeal (Bob‚Äôs Red Mill sells cornmeal packaged as polenta, but medium to coarsely ground cornmeal is fine)
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
  • ¬Ĺ cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

In medium saucepan, bring milk and 2 cups water to a boil. Add 1 tsp salt. Reduce heat to a simmer, then add cornmeal, whisking as you add it. Continue whisking until no lumps remain. Allow cornmeal to come to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cook the cornmeal 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until creamy. You may need to add additional water to stop the cornmeal from getting too dry. Add about ¬Ĺ cup at a time as needed.

While cornmeal is cooking, prepare brown butter. In small saucepan, heat butter over medium heat. Once butter starts to foam, add sage. Continue to cook butter and sage until the butter starts to brown. Then remove pan from heat and transfer butter and sage to a bowl to stop cooking.

When polenta is finished cooking, add ¬ĺ of the butter and parmesan to the polenta. Stir to combine. Add remaining 1 tsp kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Transfer polenta to serving bowl, and top with remaining brown butter and parmesan.

Serves 4-6.

 

Ham, Gruyere and Apple Panini

ham-gruyere-and-apple-paniniWell hi there! Sorry for the silence in these parts the past few days. We unexpectedly adopted a kitten on Monday and the past two days have been full of vet appointments and crawling under the bed to socialize with our little Miss Elle. The inspiration for her name? That’s right, Stranger Things. We’re big fans of Eleven in this house. I’ll post a picture of the little lady as soon as she’s not curled up next to some old shoes shoved under my bed. No demogorgons allowed ūüėČ

Anyway, on to the main event today- a fantastic ham, gruyere and apple panini, perfect for pairing with soup on a chilly fall evening. I love putting apples into grilled sandwiches. The fresh, sweet crunch of thinly sliced apple is a wonderful complement to warm, melty cheese. This panini pairs apple, dijon mustard and hearty bakery bread with the classic combo of ham and gruyere cheese. The real showstopper here is a sprinkle of crispy sage leaves on the inside of the sandwich. It’s such a small touch but makes an enormous difference and really elevates the standard ham and cheese sandwich to something special. Of course you can make the sandwich without the crispy sage, but please please please, if you have an extra 3 minutes and some sage around, do it. Just heat a little bit of butter in the skillet you’ll use to grill the sandwich and crisp up the sage while you assemble the rest of the sandwich. One other tip- it is worth the effort to shred the cheese rather than slice it. The shreds melt more quickly and evenly, meaning that your bread won’t burn before the cheese melts. The resulting panini is far superior to anything you’ll find at the local sandwich shop. Pair with a bowl of soup and a glass of wine and you’re on your way to an excellent evening.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a kitten to go cuddle!

ham-gruyere-and-apple-panini

Ham, Gruyere and Apple Panini

Makes 1 sandwich. Double, triple, etc. until you’ve fed all the hungry people you need to feed.

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices hearty bakery bread, about 1/2 inch thick each
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup shredded Gruyere cheese (sharp cheddar can be substituted)
  • 2-3 thin slices ham (I used Citterio Rosmarino ham)
  • 3 thin slices of apple
  • 1 Tbsp chopped sage leaves
  • 2 Tbsp butter

Instructions

Heat 1 Tbsp butter in skillet over medium heat. When butter sizzles, add sage leaves and cook 3-4 minutes, until they are crisp but not burned. While sage cooks, prepare the rest of the sandwich.

Spread mustard on slices of bread. Sprinkle half the cheese over one slice of bread, then top with ham and apple. When sage leaves are crisp, remove from butter and sprinkle on top of apples. Top apples and sage with remaining cheese and close sandwich. Spread remaining 1 Tbsp butter on each side of the sandwich.

In the skillet used to crisp the sage, grill the sandwich over medium heat, about 3-4 minutes per side. Serve and enjoy!

 

Tortellini Rosa

Tortellini Rosa 1Well, hello from the other side of Labor Day weekend! I hope you were able to have some fun and relax. Are you all hot-dogged and hamburgered out? Summer is, unofficially at least, over and we’re back to school, schedules and busy weeknights. Quick and easy recipes are a necessity. This time of year,¬†if you don’t have a plan for dinner, you’re looking at PB&J or Cheerios. Luckily you do not need a lot of time or energy to get this tasty and satisfying Tortellini Rosa on the table. Getting back into the swing of things can be a real drag, so¬†cheese and carbs are here to help.

This dish is inspired by a former favorite at a neighborhood restaurant that’s since been taken off the menu. Fortunately it is easy to recreate and I think my version is even better than the original (though I may be biased.) Cheesy tortellini are combined with 1/2 cup each of Italian pantry staples: black olives, artichokes¬†and¬†roasted red peppers. Pancetta adds meaty richness and blue cheese adds a decadent tang. Add spinach for some healthy greens. Everything is mixed into a slightly spicy and super easy creamy tomato sauce. I use a full teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Between the cream and the cheesy tortellini, there is plenty of richness in the dish to balance it out. If you’re heat shy, you can scale back to 1/2 a teaspoon. Dinner will be on the table within 30 minutes and you’ll only have a skillet and stockpot to clean up afterwards. So you can move on to whatever else your evening has in store, whether it be soccer practice of a Netflix binge.¬†I’ll cross my fingers that it’s the latter.

Tortellini Rosa 2

Tortellini Rosa

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz dried tortellini (I used Barilla Collezione Cheese and Spinach Tortellini)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 oz pancetta, diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup black olives, chopped
  • 2 cups spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/4 cup basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

In large stock pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt the water and add tortellini. Cook tortellini 2 minutes short of cooking time on package. Drain.

While tortellini is cooking, prepare the sauce. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. When oil shimmers, add pancetta and cook until crisp. Remove pancetta from skillet and pour fat from skillet, reserving 1 1/2 tablespoons.

Return skillet to heat and add reserved fat. Add onion and cook 2-3 minutes, until translucent. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook 3o seconds, until fragrant. Add wine to skillet and reduce for about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and water to skillet and cook until sauce has thickened, about 3-4 minutes. Add artichokes, roasted red peppers, olives and spinach. Cook until spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes.

Add tortellini to skillet once it is ready. Cook tortellini in the sauce for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add  heavy cream, stirring to combine. Add pancetta and blue cheese to skillet. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper to your preference. Sprinkle basil over skillet and serve.

Serves 4

Caramelized Onion, Smoked Gouda and Bacon Stuffed Chicken Breasts

 

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I have to tell you, being a grown up is not nearly as fun, liberating or glamorous as I anticipated it would be when I was 10. 10 year old Diane was going to grow up to be the next Celine Dion, live in a ridiculous mansion and have zero obligations. She would always have a bowl of raw cookie dough in the fridge for snacking and would have a massive pool in the backyard for her pet dolphin. Naps would be abolished. Not to disappoint my younger self, but I am decidedly NOT the next Celine Dion (that’s still Celine.) My house is not a mansion and I alone am responsible for all cooking, cleaning and laundry in my little corner of the world- but only after a full day of work. If I want some cookie dough, I’m going to have to buy the ingredients, pull out the mixer and make some. I get to do the dishes, too.

But, it’s not all bad. I’m married to a hunk of a man even more handsome than Zack Morris (10 year old Diane is thoroughly impressed.) Naps are now an infrequent but divine indulgence. While I still don’t have a pet dolphin, I do have the two sweetest kitty cats who have ever laid little jellybean toes on this earth. And, now I get to decide what we have for dinner. No more sloppy joes! Sorry, Mom. This caramelized onion, smoked gouda and bacon stuffed chicken is the kind of dinner that takes some of the sting out of being grown up.

Tender, juicy chicken breasts are stuffed with sweet, jammy caramelized onions, luscious smoked gouda cheese and bacon. It’s a decadent, delicious combination that will make it easy to clean your plate, per Mom’s orders. There are a few moving parts, between crisping the bacon, caramelizing the onions and shredding the cheese, but they’re all no brainers. If you caramelize the onions and crisp the bacon on the weekend, this would come together quickly on a weeknight. Or pour yourself a glass of wine and cook yourself a leisurely dinner. Go ahead and pour a second glass, too- you are a grown up after all.

Stay tuned tomorrow for some killer butter roasted potatoes to serve as a side with this chicken!

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Caramelized Onion, Smoked Gouda and Bacon Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Ingredients:

  • 2 large sweet onions, such as Vidalia, halved then thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp dry white wine
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • ¬Ĺ cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese
  • 6 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and finely chopped
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Start by making caramelized onions*. These may be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Heat butter and 2 Tbsp olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, sugar and salt to pan. Allow to cook, stirring occasionally. After about 10 minutes, add 1 tsp thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and caramelized. Onions will require more attention as they near the end of cooking. Once brown bits start to stick to bottom of pan, add wine and scrape up brown bits. Entire process will take about 40 minutes. Once onions are done, remove from heat and place in small bowl.

While onions are caramelizing, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Season chicken breasts with kosher salt and pepper. Beginning at the thickest part of each chicken breast, use a paring knife cut a slit about 2 inches wide, taking care not to cut all the way through. Carefully use knife to deepen the pocket toward the top and bottom of the chicken breast, trying not to cut a hole all the way through. The idea is to maximize space for the filling while keeping the pocket neat enough to contain it. Place chicken breasts on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Preheat oven to 350. Once onions are prepared, stuff chicken breasts. Add 1 Tbsp each onions, cheese and bacon to each chicken breast, working the filling all the way through the pocket, toward top and bottom of each piece. Top each chicken breast with 1 Tbsp smoked Gouda and remaining 1 tsp thyme.

Place chicken breasts in oven and bake about 30 minutes or until meat reaches 160 at thickest part. Remove chicken from oven. Preheat broiler. Drizzle remaining 1 Tbsp oil over chicken breasts and return to oven, under the broiler. Broil 1-2 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Some cheese will ooze out during cooking- just scoop it up and serve with the chicken.

Allow chicken to rest 5 minutes, then serve.

Serves 4

*This will make more caramelized onions than you need for this recipe, but why not make some extra while you’re at it. Store in the fridge and put on sandwiches, in omelets or, let’s be real, eat straight from the container.