How To: Roast Asparagus

How To: Roast Asparagus-A step by step guide to making this tasty side dish! {Brittany's Pantry}Aaahhh.  Asparagus.  Is there anything better about spring (and early summer) than the joy at seeing these bundles of bright green vegetables lined up in rows at the grocery store or farmers market?  OK, fine.  Not having to wear a jacket every time you leave the house, living in flip flops, and tan lines all run a close second.  Asparagus is best in the spring and early summer, although this can vary depending on where you live and how long the snow lingers into May.

If you are not an asparagus lover, I feel the need to ask you a several questions about why.  Have you eaten it recently, or is this a dislike leftover from childhood?  If that is the case, it is time to give it another try.  Was it over-cooked and mushy the last time you ate it?  I’m sorry.  Roast it next time.  It will change your life.  Or at least dinner.  Have you never tried it before because you are a big, wimpy chicken and trying new foods gives you the heebie jeebies?  Well then GET OVER IT!  There is a whole new food world out there, my friend!  Jump in with both feet, go really crazy (not really since asparagus isn’t all that exotic, but it just might be to you!) and roast some veggies!How To: Roast Asparagus-A step by step guide to making this tasty side dish! {Brittany's Pantry} Here is a perfect example.  Years ago, a very close friend of mine shuddered and cringed when I served her asparagus, shaking her head and waving her hands in front of her as if to ward off its ickyness.  I shrugged, setting the platter in front of her, and turned back to the kitchen to finish making dinner.  The platter was filled with steamed asparagus, still firm, and chilled, drizzled with a raspberry walnut vinaigrette.  Her curiosity got the best of her and she snatched a spear from the pile and munched away.  Before dinner was ready, the whole pound of asparagus was gone, and grinning to myself, I patiently steamed another batch.

When choosing asparagus look for unblemished spears with dry, tight tips.  Thin and about the width of a pencil seems to result in the most tender vegetables, but anything up to the size of your middle finger is really fine.  Bigger than that and you have to peel them and the ends are extra woody…too much work.How To: Roast Asparagus-A step by step guide to making this tasty side dish! {Brittany's Pantry} Snap off the end of one of the spears and it will naturally break where the woody portion ends and the tender stalk begins.  If you have the time, feel free to snap every single spear.  I find this is a good task for children who want to help in the kitchen.  If you want to move things along…How To: Roast Asparagus-A step by step guide to making this tasty side dish! {Brittany's Pantry} …use one spear as a guide and trim the ends off the whole bundle.  This is much easier when you have large hands like my husband and can hold onto the whole pound at once!  Then toss onto a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.How To: Roast Asparagus-A step by step guide to making this tasty side dish! {Brittany's Pantry}How To: Roast Asparagus-A step by step guide to making this tasty side dish! {Brittany's Pantry} My son was helping us in the kitchen!How To: Roast Asparagus-A step by step guide to making this tasty side dish! {Brittany's Pantry} Roll the asparagus around a bit to evenly coat and then roast in a 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, or until crisp tender and desired doneness.How To: Roast Asparagus-A step by step guide to making this tasty side dish! {Brittany's Pantry} Let the drooling commence!How To: Roast Asparagus-A step by step guide to making this tasty side dish! {Brittany's Pantry}Happy roasting!

Pan Fried Tilapia

Quick Pan-Fried Tilapia | Brittany's PantryEverywhere you look, there seem to be reminders that we need to eat more fish.  Its good for maintaining a healthy weight, good for heart health, blah blah blah.  While standing in the fresh meat section of the grocery store, does this make us choose fresh fish over a New York Strip?  Maybe.  But I prefer the ‘it tastes darn good’ argument.

I love fish.  I love freshwater lake fish like walleye, sunfish, trout, and crappies.  I love seafood; shrimp, prawns, lobster, crab, scallops, etc.  And I absolutely adore salmon.  But tilapia is a big favorite in our house.  It is readily available at our local supermarket, fairly inexpensive, and like most fish, is a fast cook.  It also has a mild, fresh flavor so if you or your family has a sensitive palette and new to eating fish that isn’t in the shape of a stick, breaded, and out of the frozen food section, this is a great place to start.  Its plain, simple, easy, and absolutely outstanding when paired with lemon thyme orzo and honey carrots.

So eat.  Enjoy.  And if your cholesterol is better at your next check-up and you need to buy smaller pants, well, just consider it a bonus.Quick Pan-Fried Tilapia | Brittany's PantryQuick Pan-Fried Tilapia | Brittany's PantryQuick Pan-Fried Tilapia | Brittany's PantryQuick Pan-Fried Tilapia | Brittany's Pantry Pan Fried Tilapia
Always shop sustainably when in the market for fish.  With tilapia, that means farm raised here in the US.  For a free, printable seafood guide, check out this site here.

tilapia fillets
Old Bay Seasoning
extra-virgin olive oil

Liberally sprinkle the fish with Old Bay.  Dust completely with flour, shaking off all the excess.  Over medium heat, melt a pat of butter with a few tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saute pan.  Lightly fry the fish until brown on one side and then flip and continue frying.  This should only take about three minutes on the first side, and half that on the second side.  Leftovers are great for fish tacos.

Cheeze-It Chicken

Cheeze-It-Chicken is done in minutes, and well...lets face it.  Its awesome. {Brittany's Pantry}Yup!  Its a bright orange dinner.

Years ago, as I was paging through the now extinct magazine, Gourmet, I came across a recipe that consisted of brushing chicken with mustard and dredging it in crushed Cheez-It crackers.  There was more to the recipe-I think spinach might have been involved somehow-but those three ingredients are what I took away from the article.  Of course, I was mildly surprised that a magazine like that would include a recipe with ingredients that could be found in a frat house kitchen.  But when a food combo is good, well, it is just good.Cheeze-It-Chicken is done in minutes, and well...lets face it.  Its awesome. {Brittany's Pantry}
This recipe, if you can even call it that, reminds me that food doesn’t always need to be taken seriously.  Sometimes fast, fun, and tasty are exactly the traits I am looking for when cooking for my family.

This is inexpensive and fast to throw together.  Enlist the help of the kids or a spouse to crush up the crackers.  Or better yet, do it the night before and save yourself a step when you are trying to get dinner thrown together.  Either way, if you are making this for one person, or ten, it is equally easy.  And you will have the satisfaction of knowing that somewhere out there, the elite chefs from the Gourmet test kitchen are getting neon orange crumbs all over their kitchen floor too.Cheeze-It-Chicken is done in minutes, and well...lets face it.  Its awesome. {Brittany's Pantry}Cheeze-It-Chicken is done in minutes, and well...lets face it.  Its awesome. {Brittany's Pantry}Cheeze-It-Chicken is done in minutes, and well...lets face it.  Its awesome. {Brittany's Pantry} Cheez-It Chicken
Just for the record, I would just like to say, I don’t like Cheez-Its.  And don’t panic if you don’t like mustard.  It is the combo of the two that makes this good.  They balance each other with subtle notes of salt and…Oh heck.  Who am I kidding.  Its crackers and mustard.  Just try it.  This serves two adults and two munchkins with a bit leftover.

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into strips, or the same amount of chicken tenderloins
1-2 T Dijon mustard
2 c Cheez-It crackers, crushed

In a small bowl, toss the chicken and mustard together until well coated.  If you really love mustard, go ahead and add a little more.  Dredge chicken in cracker crumbs.  Bake on a parchment or foil (sprayed) lined sheet pan at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until just done.  Small strips of chicken will cook fast and dry out if overcooked so don’t leave the kitchen for long.  For this recipe, I test the chicken by using a secret method that has been passed down through my family for generations and generations.  I take a fork and cut one in half.

Fried Corn

Fried Corn | Brittany's PantryA year or two ago I read a book called Life Is Meals: A Food Lovers Book Of Days.  It is a non-fiction book written by foodies, for foodies, but is wildly entertaining for just about anyone.  Meant to be read in daily format (I just kept on going like a novel-I’m such a rebel!), it is full of fascinating stories, witty anecdotes, wonderful culinary history (did you know there was an Earl of Sandwich), and random recipes that the writers have come to rely on during numerous dinner parties over the last several decades.  In the beginning, they explain about a sort of ‘food journal’ that they have kept so that they always remember what they served, to whom they served it, and when.  Scribbled in the margins were phrases like ‘Make this again!  Fantastic!’ and ‘Never invite Joe Johnson and Lisa Anderson to the same dinner party again!’  I distinctly remember thinking to myself at the time, “Self?  This is a fantastic idea!”  Did I do it?  Nope.Fried Corn | Brittany's Pantry Which brings me to my recipe for today.  There is a slim chance good chance very good chance strong probability that I have made this for you if you have ever come to visit me.  Michel’s work BBQ?  Check.  Kids birthday parties?  Mmm hmm.  Unexpected guests in the middle of winter?  Yup.  I actually am pretty good at keeping all of the menus filed away in my head, but since I have kept no such journal as previously mentioned, I am just not sure.  So when it comes to this dish, Fried Corn, I think I may have hit my limit.  Your only chance of me making this for you is if you have never eaten at my house in the last 5 years.  Or actually, at a few of my close friends’ houses either since most of them have this recipe already.  And I suppose, now that I am posting it here, you all will have it and I can never serve it to guests again because you will have made it yourselves and I try really hard NOT to serve just the same ‘ol thing when we have people over, and who wants to take a vacation to central IL and when they get home have a friend say “How was your trip?” and you would have to say, “Great!  We went to the train museum, shopped on the square, saw Lincoln’s Memorial-and I ate the exact same thing I made last week at home.”  Not me.  No siree.Fried Corn | Brittany's PantryFried Corn | Brittany's Pantry So here it is; the recipe that I will probably never make for you and you will just have to make yourself.  And trust me.  You will want to make this.  Again and again.  And the people you serve it to will want to make it too, after they ask, “What is this?!”  It is sweet and creamy and downright fantastic with anything grilled.  But because it is warm, I make it all winter, especially with ham.


Yes!  Back to the recipe!  It goes with everything.  Absolutely everything.  I really like to feed it to picky eaters.  It has sugar in it.  What child would turn down veggies with sugar mixed in?!  Heck, what adult for that matter?  Don’t think.  Don’t hesitate.  Just make this.  I won’t even mind if you make it for me when I come visit you…

Fried Corn
This recipe is adapted from somewhere, but I have been making it so long, I have no idea where it came from originally.  I have no idea what it was even called, but Fried Corn is my name for it.  My favorite part about this recipe is that it takes no prep and the ingredients are always in my kitchen.  You don’t even need to defrost the corn.  ‘Nuff said.

1 bag (1lb) frozen corn
2 T butter
2 T sugar
1 T cornmeal
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh chives, optional

In a medium pan, stir together the first four ingredients over medium heat.  Stir occasionally until the butter melts and the corn starts to thaw.  Keep stirring every minute or so, careful not to let the mixture stick to the bottom and scorch.  After a few minutes, the moisture from the veggies and the butter and the sugar will soften and cook the cornmeal, going first from something sorta grainy, to something creamy and almost thickened.  If you are unsure, taste a bite, and if the cornmeal is still hard and course, give it another minute or two.  Taste for seasoning and sprinkle with fresh chives.

Honorable Mention: The original recipe had no chives, double this amount of butter, and another tablespoon of sugar.  You be the judge.  The chives are an amazing balance of flavor (as is a significant amount of black pepper), but if I am serving them to a group with kids, I generally leave them out.  Very finely diced bell pepper is a tasty and gorgeous addition as well.  I don’t like to take this into a creamed corn type of recipe, but if you really want to have something fantastic, add another tablespoon of cornmeal and at the end of the recipe, stir in about a 1/2 c of cream.  Stir and cook till it all comes together.  Outstanding.

Lemon Thyme Orzo

Lemon Thyme Orzo is an easy, classy side that pairs well with just about anything! {Brittany's Pantry}I had a birthday the other day.

No biggy.  Just a birthday.  Nothing to make a fuss over.  I grew up with my parents instilling in me that while a birthday usually warranted a cake, that was about the extent of the hullabaloo.  It stuck.  I do my best to see that the day passes as normal as possible.  My husband and children, however, don’t agree.  They spoiled me and I feel blessed and loved.  They are such lovelies…

Speaking of birthdays, this is another dish I served at my daughters party last weekend.  It is so fast, so easy, and goes good with just about anything.  The citrus in it makes it perfect for serving with fish (my favorite thing to eat it with) but it also cuts through the strong flavors of anything barbecued.  It is good hot, cold, or any temp in between so feel free to make it ahead of time or bring it along to a potluck.   Orzo, rice shaped pasta, seems to have some sort of magical powers when it comes to children and this version is mild enough for sensitive palettes.  It is one of those side dishes that I make again and again because it is good, simple, fast, versatile, and we never seem to get sick of it.

I like the flavor and texture of this recipe with the orzo, but it is equally yummy with rice, white or brown.  When I make it with brown rice I usually add some veggies diced very small, making it super healthy and colorful.  Dare I say even a little festive.  Just right for a celebration.Lemon Thyme Orzo is an easy, classy side that pairs well with just about anything! {Brittany's Pantry}Lemon Thyme Orzo is an easy, classy side that pairs well with just about anything! {Brittany's Pantry} Lemon Thyme Orzo
The secret to making this successful is salt.  Don’t be afraid to sprinkle in a little more if you taste it and it seems a little flat.

1 lb Orzo, cooked according to package directions
zest of one lemon, or more if you prefer
1 T chopped fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl.  Drizzle liberally with olive oil.  Toss together, adding more oil if necessary to make a nice, lightly moist dish.  Taste for seasoning.

Shrimp Cobb Salad

Eat with your eyes first and gaze upon this salad.Shrimp Cobb Salad | Brittany's Pantry - A healthy meal on one plate! Doesn’t this look good?  I thought so too.  So when I glanced at the cover of Cooking Light Magazine and saw it, I immediately added it to my menu for the week.  Beautiful to look at and delightful to eat, the flavor of this salad won’t disappoint.  It goes together quick and you can just omit the ingredients you don’t like.  Don’t want the calories of bacon?  Leave them out.  Seafood turn your stomach?  Substitute chicken.  There isn’t any dairy to weigh you down and it is so beautiful to look at, I was thrilled to pause and take its picture.Shrimp Cobb Salad | Brittany's Pantry - A healthy meal on one plate!Shrimp Cobb Salad | Brittany's Pantry - A healthy meal on one plate! And my daughter was happy to eat it.Shrimp Cobb Salad | Brittany's Pantry - A healthy meal on one plate! Shrimp Cobb Salad
Adapted from Cooking Light

4 slices bacon

1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 pkg romaine lettuce
cherry tomatoes
shredded carrots
frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
avocado, peeled and sliced

juice of half a lemon
1/4 c olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey

Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and crumble.  Wipe the pan clean and drizzle in some olive oil and heat over medium to medium-high heat.  Toss shrimp with paprika and just a bit of salt and pepper.  Cook shrimp 2 minutes on each side or until done.  While the shrimp cooks, mix dressing ingredients with a whisk.  Build salad however you like and drizzle with dressing.

Whole Wheat Cornbread

Whole Wheat Cornbread | Brittany's PantryI have been trying to get this recipe made for months.  I have had it printed out from the Eating Well website which, by the way, is fantastic.  Anyone interested in food that tastes great but has a healthy twist will LOVE the website, the magazine, the emailed newsletters; all of it.  If you have never heard about it, you can take a peek here.  But anyway, I printed it and then lost it, and then found it again, then lost it again.  Then we tore apart our house and I couldn’t make it anyway, and then I was looking for it, and then I found it.  It is so simple, I find it a little embarrassing that I haven’t made something like this before.Whole Wheat Cornbread | Brittany's PantryI was once told, after I had been asked if I liked cornbread-to which my answer was of course yes-that I actually liked “that northern cornbread.”  When my brow furrowed in response, I was informed that the cornbread I liked wasn’t real cornbread, but the fluffy, cake-like, sweet stuff they eat in the north.  You see, I am from Minnesota, and I was having this conversation with a lovely middle-aged woman from the deep south.  Southern Mississippi, to be exact.  And she was right!  Her family (her daughter actually) introduced me to the wonderful creation that I call ‘Southern Cornbread.’  The batter, nothing too sweet or too light, is actually poured into and baked in a hot, oiled, cast-iron skillet.  It pops out of that skillet all round and crunchy, just begging for black-eyed, purple hulled peas.  Scrumptious.

But for now, I am going to leave that method to the experts.  My apologies to any out there who think it is a crime to eat tall, light, sweet cornbread, but this is how we eat it in the north!  And by golly, I like it!  When the occasion calls for it, I even smother it with butter and honey *gasp* or jam, (no swooning, please!) although this batch was made to accompany a light salad for supper.
And my son woke up early from his nap to help me mix it up!Whole Wheat Cornbread | Brittany's Pantry This recipe has all the simple goodness of cornbread, but is wonderfully healthy.  And you can’t tell the difference in the slightest!  Next time, I am going to use a flax egg in the recipe and see how it turns out, and for those of you who have no idea what that means, stay tuned.  Also, if cooking with whole wheat flour or white whole wheat flour is your ‘page turner’, here is a great place to start!  In the meantime, enjoy!  And happy baking!Whole Wheat Cornbread | Brittany's Pantry Whole Wheat Cornbread
Adapted from Eating Well

1 1/4 c yellow cornmeal
3/4 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
3T honey or sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1 1/4 c buttermilk
2 T canola oil

In a medium bowl whisk together all dry ingredients, including the sugar if you are using it.  In a large measuring cup or separate small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, oil, and honey, if using.  Add the wet to the dry and mix just until combined!  Pour batter into a sprayed 8-inch square baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

Sweet Veggie Pasta Salad

Sweet Veggie Pasta Salad is a nice change from the norm! {Brittany's Pantry}Do you really need a Fry Daddy?

That is what those things are called, right?  The deep fryers that people give out as wedding gifts and that to my knowledge, nobody actually purchases to use in their kitchen?  Raise your hand if there is one taking up space in the back of your pantry, top cupboard, or storage closet!

I do not have my hand raised.  My husband and I were one of the lucky couples who had friends and family that exercised restraint and only gave practical wedding gifts.  Of course it may have been the fact that Michel’s address at the time was the USS Topeka (not much room for storage in a submarine and they really frown upon keeping things like blenders and toasters in your rack) and my address was the same as 3 other girls just off the UW-STOUT campus.  And may I just say, praise God for having best friends/roommates who were neat and organized!  Recognizing our unique circumstances our guests were absolutely lovely and we got everything we needed; nothing more.  Well, that is if you don’t count the neon blue sign in the shape of a moon that I got from my brother.  With his trademark crooked grin he claimed it was for mood lighting.  What a romantic…

Anyway, after watching a home improvement show that included cleaning out the kitchen cupboards (yes, they had a Fry Daddy) I thought to myself, “Why are they still holding on to that?”  It had been a wedding present and they had kept it for decades, never using it once.  If this sounds familiar, I am here to set you free.  Two little words that will make your life sooo much easier.

Good Will.  Yes my friends, it is time to embrace spring!  And as long as your are cleaning the fridge and wiping down the baseboards, I implore you to empty your kitchen cupboards too.  Thinking of all the unused items and wasted space in your kitchen makes me a little claustrophobic.  It is OK for you to donate something that you will never use!  Really!  I promise!  Don’t bother keeping seven of the same spatula or that really nice Precious Moments serving bowl from Aunt Mildred.  Its time.  Listen to Michael Jordan and Just Do It!
And by the way…

As long as you are digging around in your pantry, pull out the ingredients to make the dressing for this pasta salad!  While there are bazillions of pasta salad recipes out there, no one wants to go to a pot luck dinner or summer BBQ and eat a salad filled with strange ingredients leaving people to wonder, “What the heck is in this??”  This has familiar ingredients that appeal to everyone, has beautiful color, and an unexpected twist that can be refreshing next to an endless sea of potato salads and hot dogs.  And although I love my Margarita Pasta Salad, sometimes you need to do something a little different.  Yes, I admit, it looks a little bit boring.  Didn’t your Mother ever tell you that you should never judge things by their appearance?!  But don’t worry.  The dressing is the redeeming feature; surprisingly sweet and only a little tangy.  It makes for an addictive side dish that pairs wonderfully with just about anything you can think of.  And best of all, no dairy!  Meaning it can be served chilled or at room temperature.

I even photographed it in a Tupperware container, just to show you how great it travels.  Well, OK…more because that is how I stored it in my fridge and less for travel, but you get the point.Sweet Veggie Pasta Salad is a nice change from the norm! {Brittany's Pantry} Sweet Veggie Pasta Salad
Adapted from Ashley Dennis
Feel free to use any bite-sized pasta for this recipe.  I had the spiral stuff, so that is what I used. And I was out of grape tomatoes, but I usually add them too.

1/4 c sugar
1/2 c canola oil, olive oil, or a mix of the two
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/3 c red wine vinegar or other sweet vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1 lb bite sized pasta (rotini, medium shells, macaroni, penne, penne rigate, rigatoni, etc) cooked according to package directions
carrots, diced
grape tomatoes
broccoli, cut into small, bite-sized pieces
cauliflower, cut into small, bite-sized pieces
purple onion, diced (optional)

Combine all dressing ingredients and whisk together.  Pour over pasta and veggies. Toss well.

Grilled Pork Chops

The BEST Marinade For Grilled Pork Chops | Brittany's Pantry-Just a few ingredients lead to amazing flavor!The first time I ate these my eyes closed and I may or may not have moaned out loud.  Six months later I had them again and rolled my eyes, slammed my hand on the table, and demanded the recipe.  My best friend laughed and said, “It is so easy!  Only a few ingredients.”  If I remember correctly, she got the recipe from Taste Of Home but I’m not positive.  Where ever it came from it is simply wonderful.

So go forth and break the grill out of that snowbank that I know still lingers with my friends and family in Minnesota.  This is the perfect way to usher in warmer weather and make all your neighbors jealous when they smell these on the fire.  Don’t be surprised if they mosey over to borrow your hedge trimmer.
The BEST Marinade For Grilled Pork Chops | Brittany's Pantry-Just a few ingredients lead to amazing flavor!Marinated Pork Chops
There is a secret to these.  And this secret makes all the difference in the world.  You absolutely MUST let them marinate overnight and you will be rewarded with juicy, flavorful pork chops.  If you don’t, they are just OK.  I have made these with thin, bone-in rib chops (like in the above picture) and also with thick cut, boneless loin chops.  Both are equally fantastic.

equal parts soy sauce and brown sugar
chopped garlic
pork chops

I know, right!  Ridiculously simple!  No fancy spices or additions.  Just sweet, salty, and garlic.  I usually use about a half cup of each and then a big spoonful of chopped garlic in the jar.  Fresh garlic is infinitely better but I am usually throwing this together before I go to bed so…garlic from the jar it is!  A couple of pounds of pork chops, a gallon zip top bag, and you are done!  Turn the bag a few times so that the flavor is evenly distributed.  If you are only making a few chops, start with a few tablespoons of soy sauce and sugar and go from there.  Just enough to coat the meat.  Scrumptious.  Grill over medium high heat until just barely pink in the center, between 165 and 170 degrees.

Pasta With Zesty Bolognese

Zesty Bolognese Pasta Sauce | Brittany's PantryLet me just say that I love to share this recipe with people.

Quick Disclaimer: I think my spell check isn’t working…

It isn’t my creation, but when people would ask me for a recipe for something quick and easy, I would give them this.  When a friend is looking for something that is different from the norm, but doesn’t want it to require a degree from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) to make it, I pass this along.  And even after the one millionth time I get requests for my old stand bye, tried and true recipes (and then start a food blog so that I have a place to put them all for you to see!), I still am excited to add this to the list.  Because, really, that is the point of me doing this at all.  I started this blog so that after searching for different recipes from every source imaginable, trying them out and testing them, all of you could benefit.  If it is posted here, it worked for me and chances are, it will work for you too.

Speaking of random sources, this recipe is from the Food and Family Magazine that is put out by Kraft.  I think it is free, as I don’t ever recall subscribing to it, and truth be known, I rarely cook from it.  Nearly all of the recipes include a ‘convenience food’ as a main ingredient; boxed mac and cheese as a base for a chili mac recipe, jarred spaghetti sauce poured over frozen chicken patties and topped with cheese for chicken parmigana.  Not quite my bag and usually not very healthy.  But every once in awhile, I sort of go “Huh.  That is a good idea!”  I have been making this recipe for a long time and then kind of forgot about it.  Which I am really bummed about because it would have been perfect to throw together when my kitchen was out of commission.  Oh well.

Bolognese is a traditional italian meat sauce that is mostly meat and not much sauce.  It is thick and chunky so don’t expect it to coat your pasta like a marinara.  It won’t.  However when my son was little, I did discover that it is these very qualities that make it excellent finger food for a toddler.  So far, I have been unsuccessful in creating this dish with out the bottled dressing.  I have tried several times to make it but substituting different spices and vinegar, but I can’t quite get it to taste as good as the original version which has tremendous flavor.  If I ever finally nail it, I will amend the recipe later.  Until then, though far from a traditional bolognese, this is just plain awesome.Zesty Bolognese Pasta Sauce | Brittany's Pantry Pasta With Zesty Bolognese
Adapted from Kraft
Traditional Bolognese takes hours and hours to make.  This version can be done in the time it takes you to boil the water and cook the noodles, making it perfect for a weeknight dinner.

1 small onion, chopped
1 pound of ground beef
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 c Zesty Italian dressing or Italian dressing
2 T cream cheese
3/4 pound (12 oz) spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
parmasen cheese

While boiling the water and cooking the noodles, brown beef and onions in a bit of olive oil in a large sauce pan.  Once cooked, drain any fat and add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and italian dressing.  Heat until bubbling slightly and let cook for a few minutes to let all the flavors merry.  Just before serving, turn off the heat, add the cream cheese and stir until it melts into the sauce.  Serve over pasta and top with parmesean cheese.

Honorable Mention:

This dish has such robust flavor, it goes really well with whole wheat pasta, so feel free to switch it up.  Ground turkey is good in here too.  This sauce freezes great, but sometimes (and I don’t know when it isn’t ALL the time-wierd) the cream cheese curdles slightly when you reheat it.  This doesn’t affect the taste at all and I still freeze leftover sauce all the time.  It is also fantastic with roasted peppers in it.  Just use the kind jarred in water, dice them up and throw them in.  Super good.

Mexican-Rice-With-Black-Beans There are certain compromises that everyone makes when they get married.

For example, my husband folds his T-shirts a certain way and when our households merged, I was expected to comply with this strange, and to me, ridiculous, rule.  He in turn, hand washes all our knives separately and without complaint because he knows that I don’t like to put them in the dishwasher.

But most wouldn’t label ‘eating large amounts of Mexican food’ as much of a compromise in a relationship.  I do.

Yes, I like Mexican food.  Tacos?  Sure.  Queso dip?  More please.  Churros and flan?  Bring it on.  But when it comes down to the actual Latin flavors-peppers, onions, cilantro-I am not much of a fan.  If given a choice, I will pick just about anything else before Mexican food.  When my husband was stationed in San Diego I learned to eat it and smile, as it is EVERYWHERE in southern California.  I even learned to like it a little bit and secretly dream about returning one day and eating every meal of our vacation at Roberto’s in Clairmont.  But I digress…

Quick little story:  When Mike was still in the Navy and the submarine was in port and he was home, I would bring him dinner sometimes if he was on duty all night.  Sometimes it was reheated leftovers, sometimes I cooked something new.  And sometimes I would surprise him with Mexican food.  He would stand at the end of the pier watching me walk out from the parking lot, and if I had a bright white paper bag in my hands (he could spot it-and smell it!-from a mile away), he would break into a huge grin and cheer “You brought me Roberto’s!”  The two of us would sit on the end of the pier, dangle our feet over the water of the Pacific and watch the lights of San Diego across the Bay and eat shredded beef tacos and cheese enchiladas with the absolute best refried beans I have ever had.

But anyway…
Because I love my husband dearly and would do just about anything for him, I cook him Mexican food.  Not often, mind you, but sometimes.  And when my Father-In-Law is visiting, that makes two fanatics in my house, so I give in and make it.  This past weekend of experimentation led to my new favorite side dish to serve with tacos, fajitas, taquitos or baked enchiladas.  Really, anything from the Latin category.  It was easy to throw together, tastes fantastic and is very, very good for you.  I can’t wait to make it again, so if you are headed to my house anytime soon, expect to find it on the menu.  It is my new favorite.

No traveling required.

Mexican Rice With Black Beans
Adapted from Ellie Krieger

2 c instant brown rice (such as Minute Brown Rice)
1 3/4 c chicken broth
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 T chopped fresh parsley

Cook the rice and broth according to package directions.  Alternatively, cook 1 c of regular brown rice in 2 1/4 c chicken broth until done, about 30 minutes.  Fluff rice with fork.  Meanwhile, saute onion, garlic, and carrot in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until onion is translucent and carrot is getting soft, about 7 minutes.  Stir in spices and heat through.  Add beans and heat through.  Add veggie and bean mixture to cooked brown rice and toss together.  Toss in parsley, taste for seasoning and serve.
Note: This is fantastic inside a tortilla.

Egg Ribbon Soup & Sniffles

Quick Egg Ribbon Soup is a comforting, last minute meal! {Brittany's Pantry}As much as I wish our family could really enjoy the weather right now (it is past 80 degrees here in central IL), it is proving rather difficult.  My kids have been sick since last Tuesday, and now I am afflicted.  I am quite certain that this is just a spring cold; or in Eli’s case, his 6th bout with croup since August.  No serious illness here.  But Oh!  How I wish we were all well so that I could be cooking up a storm!  Spring has sprung and I want to dive into all it has to offer!  Especially if that means we get to prepare and/or eat it outside.

I suppose it is good that I have been taking care of little ones instead of basking in the April sunshine.  My favorite place to be this time of year is our screen porch and it is presently filled with furniture cast-offs from our remodel.  Until we have a yard sale, it is a no go!

So in the interest of getting healthy, I made soup.  Now, you all may remember my previous musings on soup.  I really don’t like it.  It is my least favorite thing to eat, although I really like to make it.  I blame my parents for raising me as a ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of gal.  Although, ironically, they both love soup…

Anyway, this soup had always struck me as something that might be worth trying.  The other day, I remembered this recipe that I have had, literally, for over a decade.  It was cut from a magazine-not sure, but possibly Gourmet???-and has been floating around from Minnesota, to Wisconsin, to Hawaii, to California, to Minnesota, and now to Illinois.  Yummmmm.  And it was worth the wait.  It tastes exactly like I thought it would and my family agreed.  We, yes me too, slurped it right up.  I cooks up in no time and it was the perfect soup to get some nutrients into my ill family!  I know it looks weird, but it is crazy good.  You can of course make this without the fresh parsley, but don’t be tempted to skip it.  It adds a freshness that cuts through the rich broth and really balances out the flavors.  Parsley also contains Vitamin C, something we all need when we are sick or not, to help stave off infections.  Bring on the healing!Quick Egg Ribbon Soup is a comforting, last minute meal! {Brittany's Pantry}Quick Egg Ribbon Soup is a comforting, last minute meal! {Brittany's Pantry} Egg Ribbon Soup
If I remember correctly (it has been over 10 years), the original version of this recipe was from a chef that used to whip this up when she got home from a late shift and was hungry.  It was a quick and satisfying meal that required very little effort.  Rock on, random chef.  Rock on.

4 cans (7-8 c) of good quality, low sodium chicken broth
3/4 c tiny pasta, such as acini di pepe or orzo
3 eggs
3 T Parmesan cheese
fresh black pepper
3-4 T chopped fresh parsley

Bring chicken broth to a simmer in a large sauce pan and add the pasta.  Let cook until just al dente, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together eggs, cheese.  Add black pepper to taste.  When pasta is cooked, slowly pour the egg mixture into the simmering soup in a long thin stream, stirring the soup the whole time and forming little ‘ribbons’ of egg.  Toss in the parsley and serve.  Pass extra Parmesan cheese if desired.

Homemade Ketchup-It is so easy!

In my last post I mentioned that I had made ketchup for my son’s birthday party, and while the reviews were mixed (there may or may not have been some self proclaimed picky eaters there) I am excited about sharing it with you.DIY Homemade Ketchup via Brittany's PantryDIY Homemade Ketchup via Brittany's Pantry Why?  It is just ketchup after all.  Just a common, cheap condiment that is in every home in America.  That is all true.  But to me, homemade ketchup is one of those things that is unexpected no matter who you may be serving.  It is inexpensive, so easy, and very quick to throw together.  Not to mention that you can make it days in advance.  So why not surprise your guests, or just your spouse and kids, with something special?!  Of course if you are serving Alice Waters, Ina Garten, or Jamie Oliver, they wouldn’t bat and eye lash and I would be seething out here in Illinois, wondering why I hadn’t been invited to dinner!!  But assuming, you won’t be cooking for either of these or any other food legends, it is a decidedly fun and nostalgic addition to a menu.

Summer, the season of perpetual grilling, is almost upon us.  This recipe has such wonderful flavor, it tastes great with grilled sausages, outstanding on burgers, practically sinful on a hot dog, and of course, a perfect pairing with thick-cut potato fries.  I ate it on a meatball slider instead of BBQ sauce and have been dreaming about how I will use it in the coming months.  I mean, my dreams are always filled with food, but then again, whose aren’t, right?  What?  Not you?  Just me?  All right then.DIY Homemade Ketchup via Brittany's PantryDIY Homemade Ketchup via Brittany's Pantry Homemade Ketchup
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

1 (15 oz) can tomato puree or tomato sauce
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
3 T tomato paste
1/2 c brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
pinch of cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan and simmer over med low heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced and thick.  Cool to room temperature and chill.  This is best made the day before, but it isn’t necessary.

Non-Traditiona Shepherd's Pie | Brittany's PantryMmmm.  Shepherd’s Pie.  Raise your hand if you know what I am talking about!

Growing up, I thought if it was a one pot meal and covered with a layer of mashed potatoes, ya got yourself a Shepherd’s Pie.  And that is partly true.  But I believe that it also has to have lamb to qualify and that is harder to find, harder to get people to eat, and just not practical.  I don’t know about you, but lamb of any kind is not available at my corner super market.  Hmm? What’s that?  You’re saying you live by a Trader Joe’s?  A Whole Foods?  The world’s largest CUB foods?  Not in the middle of a corn field?  Fine.  So lamb might be available at your corner store.  Just don’t rub it in.

And bring on the ground beef!

I had honestly never made this dish myself until the last year.  And now my family loves it so much (my daughter goes WILD for it!) I find myself making this version quite often.  It is classic comfort food and although it has a few extra steps, it is easy to plan ahead and whip it up in no time.

Please do not tell your Irish grandmother about this recipe.  It just may get you stoned with potatoes.Non-Traditiona Shepherd's Pie | Brittany's Pantry Shepherd’s Pie
Adapted (loosely) from Sunny Anderson

1 lb ground beef or turkey
1 T olive or canola oil
1 T butter
1/2 onion, diced
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 c tomato paste
1/4 c water or beef stock
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 tsp paprika
1 c grated mozzarella cheese, optional
2-3 c prepared mashed potatoes

In a large saute pan, heat the oil and butter together over medium heat just until the butter is melted.  Add the onion and ground beef and cook until the meat is no longer pink.  Add the Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, tomato paste and the water, stirring until it is all incorporated and heated through.  Season with salt and pepper if needed.  Let cook for another few minutes for the flavors to meld and then spoon the mixture into a sprayed, 2 quart casserole dish.  Spread evenly over the bottom.  Sprinkle cheese over the meat.  Return the pan to the stove over medium heat and add the carrots, zucchini and paprika.  Stir vegetables just until they start to sweat, 3-4 minutes.  Layer the vegetables over the cheese and spread evenly.  Top with mashed potatoes, smoothing the top.  Bake at 375 for 30-45 minutes, or until hot all the way through and starting to brown on top.

Note: There are several ways you can make this recipe go together even faster.  You can easily pick-up pre-shredded carrots at the grocery store, as well as refrigerated mashed potatoes, I usually make extra when I am making them for a different meal, and then use the leftovers mashed potatoes to top this casserole later in the week.  Feel free to use ground turkey instead of ground beef.  You probably won’t even notice the difference in taste.  When my garden is producing abundant amounts of zucchini, I shred pre-measured amounts and freeze them for use later in the year.

Honey Carrots & Close-Ups

One of my favorite things about my new kitchen is the lighting.  Before?  Cave-like.  After?  Bright and airy.  The difference is amazing and I cut myself much less often while chopping vegetables.  These pictures were taken at 5:30 at night with no flash and no overhead lights.  I was using my 18-55mm lens.  What a difference!  Sooo much brighter in here.  I will post before and after pictures just as soon as we get a few more of the finishing details done.

But speaking of vegetables…Honey Carrots are a weeknight staple! {Brittany's Pantry} …I like carrots.  They are easy to cook, a beautiful color, versatile, and they are just as good cooked as they are raw.  We eat fresh carrot sticks quite often so when I make them for dinner, I want them to be a little special.  Sometimes I roast them, but the best is glazed with honey.

I know what you are going to say:  everything is fantastic glazed in honey.  And you are pretty much correct.  Especially on carrots.  I prefer it over brown sugar any day.  Instead of coating the vegetable in a super sweet syrup that masks the flavor, a light drizzle of honey seems to make the carrots themselves, sweeter.  And that is all I do.  A drizzle of honey.

So take your carrots, and…Honey Carrots are a weeknight staple! {Brittany's Pantry} Honey Carrots

Cut your carrots into bite sized pieces, either short matchsticks or discs.  Add them to a large saute pan with a lid and just a splash of water.  The carrots above made about 2 c of carrots for supper and I added about 1/4 c of water to the pan.  If you have a ton of carrots, add a bit more water.  Put the lid on and let the veggies steam over medium heat.  Check them after a few minutes to see if they are done and to make sure the pan hasn’t gone completely dry.  If you poke them with a fork and they are crisp tender, drain off any excess water.  If they aren’t done yet and the water is gone, add a splash more and put the lid back on.  My carrots are usually done right about the time all the water has evaporated.  Put them back on the heat, minus the lid, and add a very small pat of butter (about a tsp), a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a healthy drizzle of honey.  Just a tablespoon or so.  Toss it all together over medium heat for just a few minutes.  You want everything to melt together and get hot.  Serve immediately.

Note: Fresh chopped rosemary would be a fantastic addition to this.