Friday, August 30, 2013

Easy Weeknight Dinner - Pasta with Tomatoes & Basil (Pasta Pomodoro e Basilico)

We all have those crazy weeknights, when what to make for dinner is the last thing on our minds! We have those quite often . . . you open the fridge, look in the pantry, walking around the kitchen until something jumps out at you. These kind of nights in our home usually end up with some kind of a pasta dish for dinner.

 We always have fresh tomatoes in the house, as well as diced canned tomatoes.  On this particular night, we had a pint of grape tomatoes that needed to be used up, as well as a bit of fresh mozzarella (so we threw that in at the end too!)

My husband got busy prepping the cheese and basil.

I cut up the grape tomatoes and garlic and started those cooking in the pan.  We added some canned diced tomatoes as well, as the grape tomatoes alone were not enough.  You can really use any tomatoes that you have on hand.

We added the basil and continued cooking the tomatoes, while waiting for the pasta water to boil.

Once the pasta water was boiling, I added the salt and pasta and cooked until slightly under-done.

When draining the pasta, reserve some of the starchy pasta water and add it to the sauce.  It will help your sauce stick to your pasta.

We like to add a bit of butter at the end, which gives it a rich, silky texture.

Then add the under-done pasta to the sauce, and finish the cooking of the pasta in the sauce, so the pasta can soak up all of those delicious flavors.

We added the mozzarella right on top along with some additional fresh basil, right before serving.  Not too bad for a quick weeknight meal!

Pasta with Tomatoes & Basil (Pasta Pomodoro e Basilico)

2 Tblsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 pint of grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
1 Tblsp butter
1 Tblsp kosher salt
14 oz pasta
1/2 cup of pasta water
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

  1. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and basil and cook for 10-12 minutes until grape tomatoes are tender.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to a boil.  Add salt and return to a boil. Add pasta and cook until 1 minute less than package directions. (I like to taste test a strand to be sure it is slightly less than "al dente", or to the bite).
  3. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water.  Add the pasta water to the tomato mixture and stir.  Add the butter and mix well.
  4. Finally, add the pasta to the pan, and cook for an additional 2 minutes, allowing the pasta to finish cooking in the sauce.
  5. Serve with additional basil for garnish and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Buon Appetito!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Buttercream

My daughter has been asking me to make a chocolate cake for a couple of weeks now.  I had a little extra time one day this week, so I decided to make some chocolate cupcakes to make her happy (hmm . . . I can TRY anyway)!

I came across this recipe for Simple 'N' Delicious Chocolate Cake which was the perfect amount to make 12 cupcakes (plus I also got 4 minis, that I used for my taste test, of course).  I loved that the recipe called for coffee in the batter.  I had some leftover brewed coffee from breakfast, so I just heated it up in the microwave and added 1 tsp. of instant espresso powder to make it stronger.  I didn't wait for it to cool off, I just added the coffee to the batter while it was still warm. It's supposed to help the cocoa powder "bloom".

I wanted a nice, fluffy frosting to top them with, and recalled that I had pinned some frosting recipes recently on Pinterest.  I searched my Pinterest pins, and found it Nutella Buttercream Frosting.  I did modify the recipe slightly to fit my needs.
Nutella Buttercream
(adapted from

1 stick of butter
3/4 cup of Nutella®
1 sprinkle of popcorn salt (I learned this one in a Wilton® cake decorating class!)
1 teaspoon of vanilla
12 ounces of powdered sugar (sifted)
4-6 tablespoons of heavy cream (or enough to reach the desired consistency)

  1. In a large mixing bowl or in your Kitchen Aid mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and Nutella® until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes).
  2. Add vanilla, salt and 2 tablespoons of cream and mix well.
  3. Slowly add powdered sugar, alternating with cream and beat until fluffy.  Add additional cream (if necessary) to reach the desired consistency.

I topped these off with a chocolate covered espresso bean!

They were delicious!

Buon Appetito!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Where's the beef? It's right here!

This month, Allrecipes teamed up with Beef. It's What's For Dinner and I learned so many things that I didn't know about beef!  Here are some interesting facts about beef that I learned from their website, that I thought I would share with you:
  • Most people know that eating foods that are high in protein keep you feeling full longer, but I didn't know that a 3-oz. serving of lean beef provides 25 grams of protein!  Now that's a bang for your buck!
  • Studies have shown that people who were following a heart-healthy diet plan and ate lean beef on a daily basis reduced their LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) by 10%.  You can have your beef, and eat it too!
  • There are more than 29 cuts of lean beef with a total fat content that falls between a skinless chicken breast and skinless chicken thigh when comparing cooked 3-oz. servings.   I was totally surprised by this, and happy to see that some of my favorite cuts were on this list, such as Tenderloin steak, T-Bone steak, Flank steak and 95% lean ground beef.

Now, onto the delicious recipe that my husband and I made last night for our family's Sunday night dinner.

Maple-Balsamic Marinated Steak
With Grilled Pear Salad 

I was in charge of doing all of the prep work.  We had some green onions that we wanted to throw on the grill while it was hot, so those are in the picture too (but not part of the recipe).

 My husband, the grill master (I am terrible with grilling, so I leave that to him).

 I knew I was going to like this recipe right away, when it included grilled fruit (pears in this case).

And the end result . . . which I would say was restaurant quality, at home, for a LOT less!  Even our kids enjoyed it.

Click on the link below for the complete recipe from Beef. It's What's for Dinner on

 Buon Appetito!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Opened Faced Pizza Burgers

Did you ever have one of those recipes that just takes you right back to your childhood?  Well, this is the recipe that does that for me!  I grew up in a pretty large family.  I'm the youngest of seven, my sister being the oldest, and five boys sandwiched between (my Dad likes to call us the book-ends)!

 Every Friday night, my Mom and Dad would go out for their Friday fish fry (a traditional Wisconsin thing).  Usually one of the three younger boys got stuck staying home with me.  Mom would leave us one of two things to eat for dinner:  Jack's Pizza, or Open Faced Pizza Burgers!

 These are so simple to make.  Just a few ingredients that come together quickly.  Great for a quick weeknight meal for busy families.  My kids love these!

Just place the ground beef in a glass bowl.

Grate the Spam with a box grater.  I like to do this on a piece of wax paper for easy transfer to the bowl.

 Add the spam to the ground beef.

Pour in the pizza sauce.

 Add shredded mozzarella cheese.

Mix well.

Separate buns and place the halves on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Spread the mixture generously and evenly on the bun halves.  You should have enough mixture to top all 16 bun halves.  The mixture freezes well, if 16 is too many for your family.

Bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 17 minutes.

This is after 17 minutes.  Then switch your oven to broil, and broil for an additional 2-3 minutes until nice and brown on top.

 This is after broiling for 3 minutes.  Can you see how the tops got nicely browned and the cheese all melty?

I know that when my kids are my age, that these will bring them back to their childhood as well!  Click on the link below for my personal recipe on

Buon Appetito!