Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Baked Macaroni & Cheese W/Bacon | Brittany's Pantry I knew it!  You saw the blog title, and lured by the cheesy goodness of comfort food, you just had to check it out, right?  Well, be glad you did.  This recipe turned out great.  And I mean great.  My daughter chose the recipe based soley on the picture in the magazine and as it turns out, she has quite an eye.  Who wouldn’t stop and stare at the cover of Octobers Family Circle magazine?  Right smack dab in the middle of that page is an enormous bowl of creamy, cheese covered pasta speckled with salty, crunchy bacon that looks so enticing, you could swear you can smell it fresh from the oven and secretly wish you could lick the paper.  I mean, lets be honest.  Everything is better with bacon.  Pasta, sandwiches, breakfast, fruit-all is improved with the addition of super salty fried strips of pork.  And pasta with cheese?  A true crowd pleaser!  Why else do you think it is on the kids menu of every restaurant in existence!  My family is no exception.  And when paired with a light, mixed greens salad tossed in a vinaigrette, you have a perfect, french inspired meal.  Warm and gooey, its perfect for a night when the temperature dips below 50.  This recipe has four kinds of cheese, but don’t worry.  All can be found at even the tiniest of super markets.  Cavatappi, the pasta called for in this recipe, and my personal favorite for this kind of meal, might be harder to locate.  Just use good old elbow macaroni, small shells, mini-penne, orechette, ditalini, or any other small pasta you have on hand.  Leftovers were great the next day.  One macaroni and cheese recipe down, about thirty more to go.  Mmmm.  Bring it on.

When I pulled it from the oven, I may have drooled just a bit…

Note: I recently broke this casserole dish and had to replace it.  I purchased this one and I really really love it! It is perfect for a bazillion different recipes and is an indispensable dish in my kitchen! This one is great too!

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Family Circle

1 lb cavatappi, cooked according to pkg directions

6 slices bacon, diced and fried till crisp.  Drain.
3 T unsalted butter
3 T flour
2 c 2% milk
1 T dried onion flakes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 c shredded colby-jack cheese
1 c shredded mozzarella
8 slices American cheese

Melt butter in a medium saucepan and whisk in flour.  Cook for 1 minute over medium heat and slowly pour in milk, whisking continuously.  Stir in onion flakes and salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl toss together shredded cheeses.  Remove milk mixture from heat and stir in the American cheese and 1 heaping c of the mixed cheeses.  Mix chopped cooked bacon with remaining shredded cheeses.  Combine cooked pasta with the cheese sauce.  Pour half into a buttered 3 quart baking dish.  Sprinkle with half of the bacon-cheese mixture.  Pour on the rest of the pasta and top with the last of the shredded cheese.  Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until slightly bubbly and browned on top.  Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Remoulade Sauce

Remoulade Sauce | Brittany's Pantry - Great for fish and seafood or crudite!I am so full.

We have had a good three days of eatin’!  You know how sometimes you just eat to stay alive and you have no memory or interest in what you have tasted?  Well, I hate that.  I want to remember my food.  I want to love every bite sooo much that I stay awake at night thinking about it.  And, usually I do.  That is how my mind operates.  It rotates around food.  My day is centered around what I am going to make my kids for lunch and what my family will eat for dinner.  Making menus for the coming few weeks is one of my favorite chores.  I don’t think anyone I know quite comprehends this sickness of mine, with the exception of my husband.  And he tolerates it well.  Now mind you, not every meal I cook and/or eat is a euphoric experience.  That would be ridiculously time consuming, expensive, and unrealistic-no matter how I may strive for that.  But who is to say that a simple meal of grilled brats, baked beans out of a can, a pile of Doritos, and a glass of iced tea isn’t a euphoric experience?  Eating a meal like that in the middle of January can taste like the best meal you have ever had.  Why?  Because you were craving it.  Because it reminds you of summer.  Because it is a welcome deviation from the hot and heavy meals most of us eat all winter.  In a lot of ways, that is the big thing for me.  Is the meal I am eating, what I really want to be eating?  I know I have mentioned before that I go through food phases.  Well, the same thing goes for cravings.  I crave different foods everyday.  And if that craving goes unsatisfied, I usually have a hankering for that food until I get to eat it.  And when you eat the very thing that you have been sooo hungry for and it tastes exactly like you want it too…*sigh*…there are few things as satisfying.

The last three days have been a string of exactly that.  Great food just when I wanted it.  Tuesday I made grilled New York Strip steaks, sweet potato and onion hash, and crunchy iceberg salads with a zippy bleu cheese dressing.  Zucchini bread for dessert.  Last night, my husband and I went out for our wedding anniversary to Biaggis, a fine italian restaurant and I ordered my usual; black fettuccini with lobster, wild mushrooms and a light seafood cream sauce.  Words cannot express how fabulous this dish is.  The black pasta, dyed with squid ink, was perfectly al dente with just a bit of heat to the sauce.  We had a simple bruscchetta for an appetizer, drizzled with an aged balsamic vinegar.  Dessert was a classic tiramasu that was swimming in coffee liquor and canolis with toasted pistachios and shaved chocolate.  Tonight?  Well, when I opened the deep freezer this morning and saw a bag of walleye that my Dad had caught just outside the door of my parents cabin, my mouth started to water.  So for dinner, I mixed equal parts corn meal and all purpose flour, about a half a cup of each, and about 2 tsp Old Bay seasoning.  I dredged the fish and fried them in canola oil, just until they were crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside.  And just as I knew it would, one bite of that fresh fish and I could smell the breeze coming off the lake.  It was just what I wanted, when I wanted it most.  And now Mike is having fish tacos for lunch tomorrow.  Win win all around.

We usually eat the fish plain, letting the fresh flavor speak for itself.  However, when the mood strikes us, I make this remoulade sauce to go with it.  It is super easy to do and way better than the bottled tartar sauce.
Remoulade Sauce | Brittany's Pantry - Great for fish and seafood or crudite! Remoulade Sauce

1/2 to 3/4 c mayonnaise
1 T minced dill pickle
1 T capers, drained
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp onion powder
2 tsp white wine or cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 hard boiled egg, chopped fine(optional)
1 T chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Mix all ingredients together and let sit for at least 15 minutes for the flavors to marry.  This classic french sauce is fantastic with veggies too.

Simple Soup

Simple Soup just may be the fastest and easiest meal you will ever make.  {Brittany's Pantry}Just a quick note to post this fantastic soup.  We have company this week and I made this for a light supper the other night when we were all still full from lunch, but wanted a little something.  A fresh, steaming batch of popovers and it was the perfect meal!  It takes less than 15 minutes to make, its satisfying, and the ingredients can always be on hand.  Its the perfect warm lunch on a chilly weekend or quick dinner during the week.  I got the idea when I saw Giada DeLaurentiis make something similar on the Food Network, but never looked up the recipe.  I have no idea how close this is to her original, but its what I have been making for the last several years.  Alter as you like and enjoy!

Simple Soup

2 boxes good quality chicken broth
1 small package cheese tortellini, refrigerated or frozen
1 tsp dried parsley
fresh ground black pepper

Bring all ingredients, except pasta, to a boil.  Add pasta and simmer for several minutes or until pasta floats and is cooked through.  Serves 4.
Note: Feel free to use any kind of refrigerated or frozen filled pasta.  Smaller seems to work better, but there are alot of different varieties of tortellini out there.  There are even whole wheat filled pastas which is awesome in this soup.

Roast Pork W/Mustard & Peach Glaze

Roast Pork W/Easy Mustard Peach GlazeCan  you really have too much of a good thing?

That is what I was asking myself as I tried to organize my recipes; an ongoing process that doesn’t ever seem to end.  Seriously, I could hire someone full time to keep them organized and they would never run out of work.  Admittedly, I don’t have the best system, but I can think of no other way.  Right now, I have a small recipe box that I keep in my baking cupboard that has the recipes that I don’t have memorized but that I use all the time.  Everything else, if it isn’t in a cookbook, is in a binder.  I have a stack of white, three ring binders that I use for all the recipes that I write down while watching a TV show, rip out of a magazine, print off the computer, copy from someone else and so on.  I have a binder for Appetizers/Drinks and Misc, Pasta, Main Dishes, Breads and Breakfast, Side Dishes, Cake, Desserts, Cookies Bars and Candies, Kid Food…and I think that’s it.  Each binder is then broken down into sub-categories.  All of the recipes are cut and pasted together old-school style, and then slipped into plastic sheet covers, something I have found to be handy when I am slinging food around the kitchen.  When I have a recipe I need, I just unclip that page from the binder and then return it when I am done.

The problem with this?  The sheer amount of time it takes me to sort, trim, and add the recipes when I have literally, thousands.  The only good thing about this is that I have quite a memory for recipes.  Especially if I have made it before, I can remember what the text looked like, the color the paper was that it was printed on, and where on the page it was taped.  Every once in awhile, I send Mike, my husband, through a binder looking for something specific.  He is rolling his eyes and I am telling him “It has big bold printing in all lowercase and the recipe is in the bottom left-hand corner of the page.”  However, if anyone has a faster and easier way to store misc recipes, I am all ears.  I do edit as I go, tossing recipes I see that I have no idea why I kept in the first place, or after a second look, eliminated because I would never realistically make that dish.  And so, because I have never stopped collecting recipes, my binders are in a constant state of disarray.  But hey!  What do you care!?  All my craziness weeds out the not so good foods and passes on the fantastic.  Only winners on this blog, please.  Of course, winning recipes are based soley on my judgement, but you will just have to trust me.  Me and my binders.

Speaking of winning recipes, this one we never get sick of.  I could make it once a week and still drool all over the dinner table.  Super quick, super easy, and sooo good.  Enjoy!Roast Pork W/Easy Mustard Peach Glaze Mustard and Peach Glaze

1/2 c peach or apricot jam (don’t waste your money on the nice expensive stuff for this-generic tastes just as good)
2 T dijon mustard
1 heaping tsp chopped garlic

Mix and slather on pork roast or boneless pork chops before roasting.  Outrageously good.

Tator-Tot Casserole is a true Minnesota tradition! {Brittany's Pantry}There are many things that define a region or state.  With Colorado, its the Rockies.  Maine makes me think of lobsters.  The west coast brings to mind visions of Hollywood.  Iowa?  Well…nothing comes to mind when I think of Iowa.  *smile*  And while people always ask me if Minnesota really IS the land of 10,000 lakes (as I assure them it is, more than 12,000 actually), I am glad that its Minnesota’s landscape-and our weather-that most people recognize.

But there is a little known culinary masterpiece that I have taken from my youth and added to my regular line-up of tried and true dishes.  A true Minnesota tradition that I have made for sailors in Hawaii and San Diego, college students in Wisconsin, and now, my own family in the corn fields of Illinois.  A favorite among the people, I am talking about Tator-Tot Hotdish.  Mmmm, the best use of canned soup and a pound of ground beef north of the Rio Grande.  I made it for dinner last night and the second I opened the oven door, I was a kid again.  I don’t think my Mom ever had a recipe for it, she just kinda, threw it together.  And I don’t know if she made it when she was little, as I am having a hard time picturing my Grandmother making this dish on the farm, but who knows!  Now to those of you who are reading this and nodding fondly, reminiscing about the tator-tor hotdish of your youth, let me be clear.  I do not wish to replace your recipe.  Only to offer mine to those who have not yet been enticed by its goodness.  Like most casseroles, this takes minimal skill and very little time.  I used to make it when I was in Jr. High after I got home from school.  So give it a try.  Enjoy.  And experience a bit of Minnesota tradition with every bite.

Tator-Tot Hotdish

1 lb of ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 tsp minced garlic
salt and pepper
Brown the ground beef and the onion.  Drain off fat.  Add garlic and salt and pepper to taste.
Add:  1 can green beans, drained
1/2 small bag of frozen corn, about 1 1/2 c
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
Half of a large bag of tator tots

Mix all ingredients together and pour into sprayed casserole dish.  Dump the second half of the bag of tator tots on top of the casserole and spread evenly.  Bake at 350 for 45 min to an hour, or until the center is bubbly and the top is brown.  Leftovers are awesome.

Note:  Add whatever veggies you like.  I use these because they don’t get mushy when they bake and they taste good with the potatoes.  If you like peas, add them.  Diced peppers are your favorite?  Go for it.  Its a casserole!  Just dump it all together and bake!

These Oven Roasted Potatoes are a classic and simple side dish! Onions, garlic, and lots of butter! {Brittany's Pantry}There is an old dutch proverb that reads, “Eat butter first, and eat it last, and live till a hundred years be past.”  I don’t know about you, but this seems to be some great advice.

Of course we now know that eating too much butter on a regular basis is a recipe for heart disease, but I am a firm believer of everything in moderation.  And when it comes to butter, there are a few things that I just won’t compromise on.  The amount of butter on these potatoes is one of those things.  You need alot.  And I mean, ALOT.  I made them the other night and tried to cut back to save a few calories-big mistake and a big disappointment.  Now, as a general rule, I only buy unsalted butter.  Why?  Well, the majority of the time I am using it for baking and I don’t need all that extra salt in my recipe.  The flavor of the end product is the same, less sodium is better for you, and it is a good habit to get into.  But I do buy salted butter at Thanksgiving and usually have a block of it in my freezer.  If you are eating butter on a hot roll or directly on a pile of mashed potatoes (as I do-gravy less), then I like the flavor better.  I grew up adding a pat of butter to my bowl of malt-o-meal and was very disappointed when the taste wasn’t the same when I made it when I got older.  Aha!  Salted butter!  *sigh*  So good on food, so bad for your blood pressure.

For the record, I am NOT one of those people who love butter so much they could eat it with a spoon.  You have to draw the line somewhere, and mine is when there is more butter than food.  Once, when I was a little girl, I was sitting down to dinner with my family and my Grandmother was visiting.  When I liberally buttered a warm and crusty slice of my Mom’s homemade bread, she calmly took it away from me and re-buttered it.  When she was done, I couldn’t even taste the bread, it was slathered on so thick.  She smiled at me, winked and buttered hers the same way.  Now, I loved my Grandmother dearly, but a heart attack at 10 was not my goal.  I nearly gagged.

The first time I ever made these potatoes I was serving about 500 people.  I was 16 years old and working at the MN State Fair 4-H Building Cafeteria.  I have no idea if Molly and Dede, the women in charge and dear friends of mine, created this dish or if it existed even before their time, but I’m sure glad it was on the menu.  In fact, I love these potatoes so much, they were served at my wedding.  Nowadays, I make them on a much smaller scale, but the recipe hasn’t really changed.  And just like you can’t substitute skim milk if you are making alfredo, bite the bullet and add more butter to these potatoes.  And who knows?  Maybe they will help you live to be a hundred.

You may be curious about the title of this recipe, but its kind of a long story.  Suffice to say, there was a good lookin’ man, and he loved these potatoes.  Huh!  I guess it wasn’t that long of a story after all.These Oven Roasted Potatoes are a classic and simple side dish! Onions, garlic, and lots of butter! {Brittany's Pantry}Good Lookin’ Man Potatoes
Exact measurements do not matter.  Just throw the ingredients together and you have a winner.  These potatoes go great with everything.  It is one of those dishes that you can fall back on and use over and over.  Everyone will like them and the leftovers are fantastic fried for breakfast the next day.

Potatoes, peeled and cubed into bite sized pieces
Onions, sliced
Garlic, minced (fresh or jarred)
Dried Parsley
Salt and Pepper

Layer the potatoes and onions in a shallow casserole.  I like to use one, med sized onion for a large casserole dish, but adjust based on your taste.  Sprinkle garlic over the top-be generous!  Shake some dried parsley on and the salt and pepper.  You can melt butter and pour it over the top or just cut up a stick into little pats and let it melt as it bakes.  For a large casserole, I recommend a whole stick of butter, but you be the judge.  Make a little or alot, just adjust the quantity.  If you are grilling, put the whole thing in a disposable tinfoil pan, cover with foil and place directly on the grill.  Or, cover with foil and roast in the oven at 375 for a half an hour to 45 minutes, or until potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork. Cooking time will vary based on the size you cut your potatoes.

Stuffed Shells

Stuffed Shells are great to mix up and freeze! Brittany's PantrySeconds, please!!  That is what your family will be saying after they eat this pasta.  Its hot, easy, and perfect for company.  Baked pasta filled with cheese.  Is there anything better?  The great thing too is that you can change it to however you happen to like your italian food.  I vary this recipe quite often so experiment!  And any of you who think that this recipe sounds like alot of work, don’t fret.  It comes together really easy.  I am not a huge lover of ricotta cheese, so I like the fact that this gives you that salty, creamy, satisfying bite (just like lasagna) that is so comforting, but without the graininess.  This recipe is a regular at my house.  Originally, the idea came from a recipe my friend had, but I have changed it so much, its all my own!  That is the best way to create in your kitchen.  A nudge in the right direction and a little necessity, and you end up with a hit.  Add a Caesar salad and some garlic bread and you have a classic italian dinner.  If you want to change it up, roasted zucchini is fantastic with this.  Toss cubed zucchini and/or summer squash in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and some italian seasoning and roast at 450 till a bit brown and soft.  Don’t let it get mushy.  If you don’t have room in the oven because of the pasta, use the same ingredients and saute the veggies on the stove just before dinner time.

One of the things I like the best about this recipe is that it makes a huge amount, but freezes well.  If I am not serving this for company, I either halve the recipe (which is very easy to do with this one) or make two smaller pans instead of one big one, and put the second one, assembled but unbaked, in the freezer.  Wrap it well in plastic wrap and then foil and the pan should keep just fine for a few months.  If I am really thinking ahead, I make the second pan in a 9X9 aluminum disposable and then I don’t have to sacrifice one of my glass baking dishes.  This meal would be great to bring to a neighbor or new mommy.  Leftovers are awesome!
Stuffed Shells are great to mix up and freeze! Brittany's PantryStuffed Shells

1 box Jumbo Shells

2- 8 oz pkgs cream cheese, room temp
3 c shredded mozzarella
3/4 c grated Parmesan
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 T chopped fresh chives
2 jars marinara sauce
1/2 lb italian sausage, browned, crumbled and drained
Parmesan and mozzarella cheese

Cook pasta shells until they are still just a bit chewy.  You want to do this because they will cook more as they bake in the oven and your don’t want mushy pasta!  Drain and rinse shells.  Set aside.  While pasta is cooking, mix together all filling ingredients.  Spray a large, 9X13 glass baking dish with cooking spray.  Pour 1/2 jar of marinara into dish.  If you like your pasta really saucy, use a whole jar.  Fill each shell with about 1 T of filling and place upright in the pan.  When all the shells are filled, layer the italian sausage over the top and pour remaining jar of marinara evenly over the shells.  *Pasta can be frozen at this point.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until hot and bubbly in the center.  Sprinkle the top with more Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, letting it melt and brown slightly during the last 10 minutes of baking.  Let the pasta cool 15 minutes before serving.

Hint:  Feel free to omit the sausage for a vegetarian version.  Or you could add the sausage to the pasta sauce instead of the filling!

30 Minute Tortellini & Shrimp

30-Minute Tortellini & Shrimp via Brittany's Pantry…I would like to say welcome back!  To those of you who have been following this, I took a little blog break.  A family vacation (and recovery from said vaca) and a sudden onslaught of apples from a friend have kept me busy, in and out of the kitchen.  I have been thinking alot about the topic of this blog and, I have to say, sometimes I have too many ideas.  I find it increasingly difficult to pick only one thing to chat about.  For example, do I discuss the fact that I had such a craving for smoked oysters today (No.  I am not expecting.) that I have consumed nearly an entire can.  I am justifying this by the fact that even though they are so high in calories and I will be exercising till the cows come home, they are actually crazy high in protein.  Seriously!  5g per oyster.  Or do I confess that I have spent the last two days canning this summers bountiful harvest?  Right now its just applesauce and apple butter, but when I pick up fresh peaches at the farmers market on Thurs, it will be peaches, baking apples, tomatoes and tomato sauce, spicy peach jam, plum preserves and…I think that’s it.  I used to can with my mother when I was a kid and now that she isn’t doing it all that much I have inherited her boiling water canner and equipment.  And a LOT of canning jars.  I love to freeze food and keep a pantry stocked, but there is something supremely satisfying about looking at the rows and rows of brightly colored jars filled with food sealed at the peak of freshness right from my own garden or local farm.  Now, having done this in my family for years, I have some background information and experience about the process that is extremely useful if you plan on canning.  However, there is plenty of information out there and as long as you follow the steps-no deviating, all the steps are very important-the results are worth it when you pop the top on a quart jar of fresh tomatoes in January and the sweet smell of summer makes you close your eyes and sigh.  Not to mention that it just looks cool.  Jars and jars of multi-colored jewels lining the shelves of my laundry room?  Yippee!  Please note that if you are storing any type of food, a warm laundry room is not the place for it.  My cold, dark, basement laundry is an exception.  No danger of heat or brightness.  In regards to the canning, my husband is thrilled, as he frequently reminds me that with the world in the state that it is, a fallout shelter might be a good idea.  And hey!  I could stock that shelter with premium eats!

I would love to include a recipe in this blog entry to highlight the apples I have been using, but so far, I haven’t used a recipe.  When I make applesauce, I just throw the peeled and cored and sliced apples on the stove with a splash of apple cider, some sugar and cinnamon and go from there.  I just keep tasting it, adding cider, and cooking it down till I get the consistency I am looking for.  I do add lemon juice if I am going to can it.  Apple butter I do the same way, except in a crock pot with LOTS more spices and alot more tasting.  My family and I will be eating this homemade applesauce over pan fried pork chops tonight in a fall inspired meal.  Hmmm…steamed broccoli and cauliflower and rosemary roasted potatoes.  Nothing fancy, just a boneless pork loin chop sprinkled with salt and pepper and seared in a hot pan with some olive or canola oil.  Normally I don’t like anything to interfere with the meat, especially fruit.  But in the case of pork, I occasionally make an exception.  Like when I make my killer pork roast with apricot jam-but that’s another day.

While canning will no doubt make a future appearance in the next entry or so, the recipe for today is a super fast meal I threw together last night.  Wait.  Last night we ordered Thai food.  So I guess it was two nights ago.  I needed to get rid of a few things in my fridge and, like many fantastic meals born of necessity, it turned out to be a hit.  I will do my best to give you ingredient measurements, but as anyone who knows me will tell you, unless I am baking, I just don’t pay much attention.  My husband is continually annoyed by this.  I would like to say that the perfectionist in him goes crazy, but in all honesty, I just think he hates it when I make something really great, and then can’t recreate it because I didn’t write anything down.  I tell him notepads would stifle my creative flow, but he is never amused.  I’ll try to do better, honey.  And even though I am holding on to the last days of summer with a ninja death grip, Labor Day weekend and chilly days are right around the corner.  So with the smell of apples and cinnamon in the air and my last swallow of coffee long gone, I am looking forward to my autumn inspired dinner tonight.  Hold the oysters.30-Minute Tortellini & Shrimp via Brittany's Pantry30-Minute Tortellini & Shrimp via Brittany's PantryTortellini with Shrimp, Zucchini & Tomato Cream Sauce
I’ll just write this the way I made it.  Sort of progressive and random.  The sauce turns out wonderfully pink.

1 large pkg refrigerated three-cheese tortellini
Boil pasta according to package directions.  While you wait, saute in a large nonstick skillet:
2 T butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
Cook over med heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Don’t let the garlic burn or it will become bitter.  Add to the skillet 1 small zucchini, cubed and about 20 med sized shrimp, peeled and deviened.  Saute until shrimp just turn pink, 2-3 minutes.  Add 1 large tomato, diced.  Cook for 2 more minutes, or until tomatoes starts to break down and whole mixture is bubbly and hot.  Add a large splash of heavy cream and cook 2 more minutes.  Toss whole mixture with hot pasta and serve immediately.  Serves 4.

Easy Pulled Pork

Classic BBQ Pulled Pork W/Dry Rub | Brittany's PantryThere are few foods out there that I love more than meat.  Ask my husband!  I usually start in the ‘steak’ section of the menu when we eat out.  I have a hard time eating a meal that doesn’t include meat in some form or another.  I mean I love beef, but chicken, pork, fish, duck-I’m really not picky.  I’ll eat it all.  I don’t know what it is, but just thinking about a nice rare prime rib, a golden roast turkey, the smell of bacon frying, the taste of just caught fresh walleye all golden and crispy on the outside, and my Dad’s roast duck about to come out of the oven…for me, this surpasses fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.

Speaking of my Dad, I blame him for my obsession.  Its in my blood and I can’t control it.

And speaking of meat, as I type this, the smell of roasting pork is filling my house.  I am leaving for vacation in a few days and decided to bring a big batch of bbq pulled pork with me.  Hot or cold, spicy or sweet, its fantastic on a dollar bun no matter where you are when you eat it.  I plan on eating mine at the end of my parents’ dock with my legs hanging off the end and swirling my toes in the water.  I have never quite warmed up to the whole coleslaw-on-a-bbq-sandwich way of eating them as the slaw would detract from THE MEAT!  Heck who needs a bun?  This is a safe place, I can be honest!  In a few more hours when I take the pork out of the oven and its cool enough to handle (probably even before then) I will be stealing pieces.  Burned fingers and all, I am a world class snitcher.  A happy one.  So all that’s left to say is “Thanks, Dad.  Let me buy you a steak.”
Classic BBQ Pulled Pork W/Dry Rub | Brittany's Pantry Classic BBQ Pulled Pork W/Dry Rub | Brittany's Pantry BBQ Pulled Pork
No matter what kind of sauce I am putting on the pulled pork, or even if I am serving it plain, I use this dry rub on it while its cooking.  The meat itself needs to be seasoned and while I want it to have flavor, I don’t want the rub to compete with the flavors of the bbq sauce I might put on it later.  This is my rub recipe, but I cannot stress enough, EXPERIMENT!  I have never met a pork sandwich I didn’t like and there are infinite possibilities and ingredients to try.  Here is a jumping off point.  This serves about 8.

5-7 lb pork butt or pork shoulder
1 T paprika
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1 T kosher salt
2 T dry mustard
2 T brown sugar

Mix all spices and rub over every surface of the pork.  If desired, let sit in the fridge overnight.  Roast at 300 degrees for 5-6 hours or until pork easily falls apart and the internal temperature is 170 degrees.  When meat is cool enough to handle, pull apart, discarding fat and bone.  Mix with bbq sauce or leave plain.  Our favorite bottled sauce is Sweet Baby Rays.  Pulled pork freezes great.

California Chopped Salad

California Chopped Salad W/Shrimp | Brittany's PantryO.K. So I have been a bit busy these last few days and while I have been cooking, I have not had the time to tell you about it.  We replaced all the storm windows in our screen porch, finished painting the outside of our house, finished up swimming lessons…we have had a full week!

This is a Giada DeLaurentiis recipe and while I don’t love and follow every chef on the Food Network, she is one I have been loyal to long before she became so well known.  My husband I have regular cravings for the Chicken Piccata and Lemon Spaghetti from her first cookbook, Everyday Italian.  I think the only other person I am so dedicated to in the food world is Ina Garten.  But that is another day.

This is so fresh and tangy and scrumptious, my family ate every last morsel.  To be fair, my husband will eat just about anything and I seem to have the only two kids in the universe who aren’t picky.  Even so, this was an exceptionally good meal.  Hope you try it and enjoy it as much as we did.  I already have it on the menu plan again for next week!

California Chopped Salad W/Shrimp | Brittany's Pantry California Chopped Salad-recipe modified 1/26/13
Inspired by Giada De Laurentiis

1 head romaine lettuce, cleaned, trimmed and chopped
1 c frozen corn, defrosted
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise or quartered if very large
8 oz large shrimp, peeled and deveined
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tomatoes, chunked, or 1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and diced

3 T lemon juice
3 T olive oil
1 T honey
salt and pepper

Toss the shrimp and zucchini in a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.  If the shrimp is not large enough to grill, skewer the seafood and grill over medium hight heat with the zucchini, until shrimp is just pink and the zucchini has grill marks and is just cooked.  Cube the zucchini and shrimp into bite sized pieces. Add the romaine to a large serving bowl or platter.  Add the remaining salad ingredients.  Whisk all dressing ingredients together and drizzle over salad.  Toss lightly.  Serve and enjoy!

Margarita Pasta Salad: An Old Standby

Margarita Pasta Salad from Brittany's Pantry - A great, crowd pleasing side to go with any dish!Don’t you just love those recipes that you make over and over and they never fail you?  No matter how many times you make it, it always turns out and everybody always loves it.  For my neighbor, its chocolate chip cookies.  She makes one of the best I have ever had and is famous for them.  With my mother-in-law its Keebler Cracker Bars.  My best friend, a Mississippi gal, makes a sweet potato casserole that seems to taste better out of her oven than mine.  This may be attributed to some kind of southern woman secret I am not privy to but whatever the case, we all have them.  I have several in fact.  Many of which, I don’t doubt, will grace this page with reliability and the sureness of success for all who try them.

Today I went to a BBQ and was told to bring a side salad.  My immediate elation at being able to share food with others was tempered by the lack of specifics.  Lettuce, coleslaw, pasta, potato, fruit, vegetable?  You may think I am obsessing, but these are the things that keep me up at night.  I like variety and I didn’t want to be the third person at the party who brought potato salad.  Solution?  A pasta salad that everyone likes, that parents could cut up and feed to the babies that I knew would be present, and most importantly, that I had the time and ingredients to make.  A pasta version of a Margarita pizza, it has only a few basic ingredients.  Add what you like and enjoy.  Leftovers make a great lunch.

Margarita Pasta Salad from Brittany's Pantry - A great, crowd pleasing side to go with any dish! Margarita Pasta Salad

1 lb small shaped pasta, such as bow tie, ditalini, rigatoni, penne, shells etc.
1-8oz pkg, fresh mozzarella, cut into small, bite sized chunks
1/4 c chopped, fresh basil
2 c chopped tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil just until moistened.  Gently add the other ing.  Chill or serve room temp.  Can be made several hours ahead of time.
Note:  The measurements here are estimates.  Feel free to add more or less of whatever you like or don’t like.  Grilled chicken is a wonderful addition, as are freshly sniped chives.  The different colors of heirloom tomatoes look especially gorgeous.

Turkey Meatballs (Mmm…Italian)

Healthy Italian Turkey Meatballs have incredible flavor and are freezable! {Brittany's Pantry} Yesterday, we surprised our best friends with an evening out while we babysat their kids.  And what kids don’t like spaghetti and meatballs?!  The sauce was a quick concoction of generic jarred sauces I had in the pantry, doctored up with fresh herbs, fresh garlic, and always a pinch of sugar.  Store bought sauce is always so acidic, don’t you think?  I keep these on hand for times when the thought of making homemade marinara sends me running for the hills.  Don’t get me wrong!  I LOVE to make and freeze sauce for later use, but my freezer was empty and my time was short.  I did, however, make the meatballs myself.  So easy.  So quick.  And SO GOOD for you!  I have made these meatballs many times and am always astounded by how great they taste.  A traditional Italian meatball they are not.  But they are perfect to feed my growing family.  I highly recommend making a double batch and after they come out of the oven, cool to room temperature, and freeze the extras in a Ziploc bag. I kept these on hand to zap quick in the microwave and break up into chunks for my toddlers lunch.  Savory, tender, and healthy.

The recipe is by Ellie Krieger.  She is a nutritionist with two great cookbooks, a contributor to the Today Show, a star on the Food Network, and a busy mom.  I am a dedicated follower, as I like to make healthy food for my family but am not a fan of tasteless, fat free fare.  This meatball recipe is from her first book The Food You Crave, which is crammed full of food I make all the time.  Mmm.  I think I’ll head to the kitchen for leftovers…Healthy Italian Turkey Meatballs have incredible flavor and are freezable! {Brittany's Pantry}

Turkey Meatballs

1 lb lean ground turkey
1 slice whole-wheat bread, pulsed to crumbs in the food processor
1/4 c freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 c finely grated carrot
1/2 c minced onion
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 T finely chopped parsley
2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt
fresh pepper

Preheat broiler.  Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.  Mix all ing. in a large bowl just until combined.  Form into balls the size of a golf ball and place on the baking sheet.  Broil until browned and cooked through, 10-15 minutes.

Three Lemon Chicken

Grilled Three Lemon Chicken W/Roasted Garlic | Brittany's PantryAt the moment it is pouring.

If that lets up, I will be making grilled chicken for dinner tonight.  Of course, being a true Minnesotan, we can most certainly grill in the rain-or sleet or snow or 30 below temp or a blizzard for that matter, but right now it is raining so hard that I can’t see across my lawn.  Not the best weather to light a fire!  Assuming that the monsoon doesn’t last for the next 4 hrs, I am going to make this chicken.  The flavor is out.  of.  this.  world.  It is adapted from Weber’s Big Book Of Grilling and this cookbook is kind of invaluable in the summer months.

3 Lemon Chicken
Adapted from Weber

1 whole chicken, cut into serving pieces
For the paste:
1 head of roasted garlic
zest of 2 lemons
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 tsp freshly chopped rosemary
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Mix all ingredients well and rub over chicken.  Grill over indirect medium heat until the internal temp of the meat reaches 180 degrees, roughly 45 minutes.  Remove chicken to a serving platter and cover with foil, letting the meat rest for 10 min.  Alternatively, roast it in a 375 degree oven, turning once and broiling the last 5 minutes to get the skin crisp and brown.I am serving my chicken with steamed string beans and whole wheat couscous, tossed with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  If I had some parsley, I would make the Green Beans w/Lemon, Garlic, and Parmigiano Gremolata. The recipe comes from The Splendid Table’s How To Eat Supper.  A truly wonderful cookbook given to me by my brother-in-law.  If you are a fan of public radio and you love to cook, add this to your wish list.