Simplified Spring Living: Pasta with English Peas

As I was writing my last blog post about a yummy Chicken Satay that I recently made, I stumbled upon the notion of simplified meals and the beauty of the spring season. I pondered the concept a little more later that day; spring is a time for animals, people and nature to come out of hibernation and savor the simple beauty and splendor that the season has to offer. It’s about simple, fresh meals made with in-season ingredients, admiring the rebirth of nature and just an overall sense of lightening up — from our clothing to the decor in our homes; shedding layers, if you will. The glorious rebirth of spring led me to create this special series, Simplified Spring Living, my homage to saying farewell to winter and hello to warmer, simpler days ahead! Let’s kick off the series with this easy, spring-inspired family meal of Pasta with Shallots and Fresh English Peas!

pasta with peas

Simplified Spring Living: Pasta with English Peas
 
Ingredients
  • 16 ounces of fresh, shelled English peas (rinsed, drained and picked over)
  • 1 lb. short pasta (I used a dry gnocchi)
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • Butter, about 3 Tbsp.
  • Olive oil
  • Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. In a large saute pan, heat about 2-3 Tbsp. of olive oil.
  2. Add the shallots and begin to soften.
  3. Add the peas and 2 Tbsp. of butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a small amount of water (the peas need some liquid to cook in). Cover and cook over medium heat until peas are tender but not mushy. This could take up to 30 minutes or so. At this point, the peas should have absorbed most of the water.
  4. When the peas are nearly done, begin cooking the pasta to al dente.
  5. When the pasta is al dente and the peas are tender, spoon the pasta directly into the saute pan using a handheld colander.
  6. If the pasta-pea mixture seems too dry, add a little of the pasta water.
  7. Mix together in the pan with 1 more Tbsp. of butter.
  8. Pour into a large bowl and add a few handfuls of grated cheese, gently mixing to incorporate,
  9. Serve with more grated cheese and a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese. Garnish with freshly chopped Italian parsley, if desired.

 

 

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Easy Chicken Satay with Peanut Dipping Sauce

As the weather begins to warm up and the days get longer, we find ourselves turning to lighter, quicker meals that that are easy to prepare and even easier to serve and eat. These lazier days of spring and summer mean less time fussing in the kitchen and more time with family and friends enjoying all that the season has to offer. From picnics to dinner on the patio to grab-and-go meals eaten on the bleachers at the local ball field, savor the beauty of the season and simplify meal time.

This easy Chicken Satay is best prepared the night before, which is a big time-saver. It’s perfect as a quick appetizer before a family meal, or as the main course served alongside a salad, grilled pineapple slices or simply dressed Asian noodles. Make the peanut dipping sauce up to a few hours ahead of time and keep in an airtight container until ready to serve. Grill the chicken indoors or out — it couldn’t be fresher or easier!

chicken satay

Easy Chicken Satay with Peanut Dipping Sauce
 
Ingredients
  • For the Chicken
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into strips
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes (add more if your family prefers it spicy)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • For the dipping sauce:
  • About ½ cup of creamy peanut butter
  • 4 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • Water, about 6-7 Tbsp. (to thin out the sauce)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Chopped peanuts (optional)
  • Chopped green onions (optional)
Instructions
  1. In a bowl, toss the chicken strips with the sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, red pepper, salt and pepper. If making it ahead, store in the refrigerator until ready to grill. To save space in the fridge, store chicken in a sealed plastic bag.
  2. Before grilling, carefully thread each strip of chicken onto a bamboo skewer. Brush hot grill pan with canola or vegetable oil. Grill on both sides until chicken is cooked through, You can also grill outdoors on a BBQ.
  3. For the dipping sauce, combine peanut butter, rice vinegar and red pepper in a small bowl. Mix to begin incorporating. Add water a couple of tablespoons at a time to thin out the sauce, whisking briskly. Taste and adjust the pepper, if desired. If you prefer a thinner sauce, add more water. Whisk until smooth.
  4. Garnish dipping sauce with chopped peanuts and green onions, if desired.

 

 

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Cool, Refreshing Iced Ginger-Green Tea

I’ve been trying to incorporate more fresh ginger into my diet considering its many health benefits. It’s used liberally in India for aiding in digestion and battling cold and flu. It helps to keep the sinus passageways clear, soothes an upset stomach and boasts anti-inflammatory properties, too. I’ve added it to chicken dishes, stir fry, grated it into homemade fruit jams and also dropped a big chunk into chicken soup when my daughter had an upset tummy. This time, I infused green tea, another healing food, with ginger syrup and created a delicious, cool, refreshing beverage. Keep a pitcher of this in the fridge to sip on all spring and summer long!

iced green tea

Cool, Refreshing Iced Ginger-Green Tea
 
Ingredients
  • For the ginger syrup:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Fresh ginger, peeled and sliced (I used a piece that was about 4-5 inches in length)
  • For the green tea:
  • 8 green tea bags
  • Boiling water
Instructions
  1. To make the ginger simple syrup, combine sugar and water in a pot. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat and add the fresh ginger slices. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat. Keep covered and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Cool completely. Strain out the ginger and discard. Store in a jar or bottle in the fridge until ready to use.
  2. To make the tea, add 8 tea bags to water, bring to a boil. Cover and let steep for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags and discard. Allow to cool.
  3. Pour the green tea into a large pitcher or bottle. Add as much or as little of the simple syrup as you like. Serve cold. Keep in fridge.

 

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Slow-Roasted Beef Brisket

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to put my own spin on the classic Irish dish of corned beef and cabbage. Instead of using a corned beef brisket that’s been soaked in brine (which is extremely high in sodium), I opted for a lean, thin-sliced beef brisket that my butcher cut for me — no brine! Slow roasting the beef in a low oven for several hours ensures buttery, tender slices. For the vegetables, I roasted chunks of red potatoes, savoy cabbage and red cabbage, for a vibrant, tasty side dish. And to wash it all down, a cold bottle of imported Guinness stout! Cheers to the luck of the Irish!

brisket

 

Slow-Roasted Beef Brisket
 
Ingredients
  • 2 lb. piece of thin-sliced beef brisket
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Fresh thyme, roughly chopped
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Worcestershire sauce, about 5-6 good splashes
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place the brisket with the fatty side down a shallow baking dish.
  3. Drizzle the top of the brisket with a good amount of olive oil and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and thyme. Rub the seasonings into the beef. Flip it over and coat the fatty side of the brisket with the juices from the baking dish.
  5. Flip back over so the fatty side is down, cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 325 for about 3 hours or until the brisket is tender.
  6. For the last 10 minutes or so, remove the foil and broil the top of the beef. This gives it a nice crusty coating on the outside while the inside of the beef is tender.
  7. Cover again and allow to rest for up to one hour. In the meantime, roast the cabbage and potatoes.
  8. When ready to slice the brisket, cut on the bias so you get long slices.

For the Roasted Cabbage and Potatoes:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the red potatoes in half or quarters, depending on the size. Cut the cabbages into 3-inch chunks. Place on a sheet pan.

Drizzle with olive oil; season with sea salt ans black pepper. Toss to coat.

Roast for about one hour or until the potatoes are fork-tender and everything is golden brown.

 

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Salted Peanut Butter Cookies (Gluten free!)

If you love a good, old fashioned peanut butter cookie and a cold glass of milk, you’ll love this healthier version. Sweet, salty and oh-so-chewy, they’re also gluten free, which is a popular diet and nutrition trend these days. For this recipe, I used half granulated white sugar and half organic coconut sugar (coconut palm sugar has a lower glycemic level than white sugar), but you could certainly use the full amount of granulated sugar if you don’t have coconut sugar on hand. All-natural or organic peanut butter also contributes to making this cookie light and chewy. I just love this recipe because it’s so darn easy to make; the batter takes less than five minutes to throw together, so you can make warm, peanut butter cookies in no time at all. Be sure to double the batch because the kids are sure to want this as an after-school snack!

peanut butter cookies

Salted Peanut Butter Cookies (Gluten free!)
Recipe type: Cookie
Serves: 12
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) smooth, all-natural peanut butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup organic coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Sea salt for sprinkling on top
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients (except the salt) together in a bowl.
  3. Spoon tablespoon-size lumps of cookie batter onto an ungreased cookie sheet, about one inch apart.
  4. Using a fork, make a crosshatch in the top of each cookie, gently pressing down.
  5. Sprinkle each cookie with sea salt.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden. Rotate the baking sheet halfway through the baking process.
  7. Cool slightly on the baking sheet, then move the cookies to a cooling rack.

 

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Farfalle with Shrimp & Baby Spinach

If the thought of prix fixe menus and over-crowded, noisy restaurants have you feeling unenthusiastic about Valentine’s Day dinner this year, you’ve come to the right place! Why not stay in this year and make a super easy, elegant dish that will impress your sweetie (or in my case, my sweetie and three kids!)? With just a few simple ingredients, you can pull together a main-course pasta dish that will have your taste-buds doing the happy dance — all in the privacy and comfort of your own kitchen!

farfalle with spinach_shrimp

Farfalle with Shrimp & Baby Spinach
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pound of cleaned, de-veined large shrimp (I prefer to remove the tails also when I'm serving mixed with pasta); I cut the shrimp in half, but you can certainly leave them whole
  • 1 pound of Barilla farfalle pasta
  • 1 bag of pre-washed baby spinach
  • 1 8-ounce bottle of Cento clam juice
  • 1 medium shallot, finely shopped
  • About 2 Tbsp. butter
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Black pepper
Instructions
  1. In a large skillet, saute the shallot in about one Tbsp. olive oil and 1 Tbsp. butter. Saute until tender, but not brown.
  2. Add the shrimp. Begin to saute with the chopped shallot. Add the whole bottle of clam juice. Cover and allow to cook over medium-high heat until the shrimp begin to turn slightly pink and the broth is gently simmering.
  3. At this point, add 1 Tbsp. butter and the lemon juice.
  4. Season with salt, red pepper and black pepper, to taste. The clam juice is salty, so don't go too heavy with adding more salt.
  5. In the meantime, cook the pasta. You can begin cooking the pasta right away since the shrimp really only takes a few minutes to cook.
  6. Add the baby spinach to the shrimp, allowing it to just become wilted. Remove from the heat.
  7. Using a handheld colander, begin scooping the pasta, draining slightly and adding directly to the pan with the shrimp and spinach. Reserve some pasta cooking water in case the pasta seems too dry.
  8. Toss well with tongs and serve!

 

 

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Game-Day Pinwheels

The Crafty Hostess: MakePerfect for this weekend’s SuperBowl party, these tasty pinwheels are a great appetizer or snacking food — and they couldn’t be easier to make! This is the type of no-fuss, semi-homemade appetizer that can be made with all store-bought ingredients, but it looks like they took hours to make. Shh… it’ll be our little secret! Best of all, you can use any variety of fillings and create both sweet and savory filling combinations.

appetizers

This pic depicts two versions of pinwheels using the following fillings in puff pastry:

  1. Pesto / salami / shredded mozzarella / Parmesan
  2. Red tomato pesto / prosciutto / shredded nozzarella / Parmesan

Here are some more delicious combos to try:

  • Gruyere / caramelized onions
  • Brie / apricot jam / baby arugula
  • Roasted peppers / baby spinach / mozzarella
  • Nutella / ricotta cheese (then sprinkle the baked pinwheels with confectioners’ sugar)

How to:

Thaw puff pastry sheets. Roll them out just a bit with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface (don’t make them too thin or they will tear).

Spread the pesto onto each sheet of pastry, then add the meats and cheeses in thin layers. Keep in mind, f you over-stuff the pastry, it will seep out the sides while baking.

Roll up tightly into a log and slice into pinwheels with a sharp knife. Place the pinwheels flat on a baking sheet that’s been lined with parchment paper or Silpat.

Bake according to the directions on the puff pastry package. Serve hot or warm.

 

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Boozy Hot Cocoa & More Ideas Just for Moms

The Crafty Hostess: MakeOkay, so let’s be honest. The thought of being snowed in with three kids ages 2, 4 and 7 can be a little daunting. I mean, they are going to argue and bicker and have tantrums no matter how many activities I engage them in or tricks I pull out of my magic hat. So when the kids are finally quiet and watching a movie, napping (this doesn’t happen too often anymore!) or crafting to their hearts content (I swear, sometimes I mistake my kitchen for an art studio!), it gives me a few minutes to whip up a few things that I can enjoy and indulge in once they are fast asleep for the night.

My typical nightly routine after I make lunches, finish cleaning up the kitchen, fold the 100th load of laundry and get everything ready for the next day when the troops arise, is to slip on my pj’s, make a cup of herbal tea and relax in the living room with the hubster (I usually read a magazine and he’s glued to the TV). But on snowy winter days when the kids are stuck inside, I feel like I deserve a little more pampering. Here are two easy recipes for do-it-yourself body products to help keep your skin feeling soft and smooth during this cold season. I like to follow up my in-home spa treatments with a cup of Boozy Hot Cocoa (get my recipe below).

This homemade, exfoliating Almond Lip Sugar is made with a few simple ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. It gently removes the chapped skin on your lips, leaving them soft and supple. Make a big batch and give some to your friends, too. I’m warning you — it’s good enough to eat!

homemade lip scrub

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. white sugar

1 Tbsp. honey

1 Tsp. olive oil

1 Tsp. coconut oil, softened slightly in microwave

A drop or two of pure almond extract

 

How to:

  1. Mix 1 tablespoon of honey with 1 tablespoon of sugar together in a small bowl.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and mix well.
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of melted coconut oil and mix well.
  4. Add almond extract; mix well.
  5. Spoon into a container and use within 1-2 weeks.

To use, take a dime size amount of scrub and rub gently onto dry lips. Gently rub until some of the sugar has dissolved. Rinse well with warm water. Follow with your favorite lip balm.

 

Homemade Vanilla-Brown Sugar Foot Scrub

Slough this over dry, tired feet for an instant pick-me-up.

foot scrub

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar

1 Tbsp. baking soda

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Drop of pure vanilla extract for fragrance

 

How to:

In a small bowl, mix all ingredients together until well combined. I used the back of a spoon to ensure that the sugar was broken up and well-incorporated.

Use on your feet, elbows or other rough areas. I find that scrubs like this work best on slightly wet or damp feet. Rub into heels and all over feet. You may also want to scrub with a foot file or pumice stone. Rinse with warm water and follow with a nice lotion or foot cream.

Store in container for 1-2 weeks.

 

Boozy Hot Cocoa

Long day with the kids or at the office? No problem! Indulge in this rich, decadent, chocoholic’s dreamy hot cocoa. I used Godiva Chocolate Liqueur to booze it up a bit, but feel free to use whatever you prefer or have on hand. Amaretto is an excellent choice, as is Frangelico or even a light rum.

boozy hot cocoa

 

(Makes 2 servings)

 

Ingredients:

2 cups milk

2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

3 tsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. espresso powder

1/3 cup dark chocolate morsels/chips

2 ounces Godiva Chocolate Liqueur

1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 

How to:

In a small pot, begin to heat the milk over low heat. Once the milk is warm, add the cocoa powder and espresso powder. Whisk until the powders dissolve into the milk.

Next, add the dark chocolate. Using a spoon, stir the mixture until the chocolate melts.

Add the sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Stir for a few minutes longer. Once the sugar is dissolved and steam begins to come off the pot, it’s done. Remove from the heat. You want to be careful not to burn the milk.

Stir in the Godiva liqueur. Ladle into mugs. Top with whipped cream and serve hot.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Snow Day Box & More Boredom Busters!

CreateAs the Northeast and New England areas of the country brace for a massive blizzard, grocery stores are jam packed and schools are closing early. In anticipation of getting almost 2-feet of snow, most schools have already posted cancellations for tomorrow. If you’re a parent of  youngsters like I am, then you’ll need to plan accordingly to keep the kids under control and yourself relatively sane! The last thing you want to hear as the snow piles up is “Mom, we’re bored!” Here are a few ideas and activities to keep the kids occupied and entertained while cooped up in the house. Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing a couple of ideas for us moms to sneak in a little rest and relaxation while the snow falls outside. Be safe and stay warm!

Snow Day Box

snow day box

Fill a shoe box or cardboard photo/storage box (these can be found at most craft stores and dollar stores) with trinkets to keep the kids busy. I stash things away all year long when I’m scouring the dollar bins at Target and Michaels. Things like craft supplies, beads, baubles and other items make for a good variety; including an assortment of shapes, colors and textures provides a feast for the eyes. Personalize the top and sides of the box with decorative paper (scrapbooking paper works well), stickers, glitter.

snow  box top

 

DIY Velvet Play-Dough

play dough

Easy to make and so much fun to mold, shape and squeeze between little fingers, this homemade play dough will offer hours of fun for kids of all ages! Get my recipe here.

Snowman Measuring Stick Craft

DSC_0820

snowman stickMake this adorable snowman measuring stick, then when the snow stops falling, take a walk outside to see how many inches of the white stuff are on the ground!

Materials Needed:

  • Wooden paint stick from any local paint supply store or Home Depot/Lowes
  • White paint
  • Felt (any color, we used blue)
  • Foam sheets (white, black, red, yellow, orange)
  • Brown pipe cleaners
  • Sharpie permanent markers (red, black)

How to:

  1. Paint the wooden paint stick white and let it dry.  Starting at the bottom of the stick, mark off 1 inch intervals by drawing a small line in black and numbering in red 1, 2, 3 etc. from the bottom of the stick up towards the top.
  2. Start by making the snowman’s head by using the white foam sheet and cutting it into a circle.  Glue that on to the top of the stick and use the markers to put eyes, a mouth and an orange carrot nose.  Using the black foam, cut out a top hat and glue it to the top of the snowman’s head.  We embellished the hat with a red foam band and a yellow star.
  3. Cut a strip of felt 10” by ¾” for the scarf.  At each end, cut vertical slits to make fringes.  Wrap the completed scarf around the neck of the paint stick.
  4. To make the snowman’s arms, cut the brown pipe cleaners the length you’d like the arms to be and make a few fingers at the end with a small piece of pipe cleaner and glue to the back of the paint stick.
  5. When it snows, place the snowman into the snow until it reaches the ground and see how much snow you have!

For more fun winter kids’ craft ideas like this one, check out my blog post Winter Crafts for Kids. 

DIY Pizza or Ice Cream Sundae Bar

pizza bar toppings

Set up a pizza topping bar or ice cream sundae bar right in your own kitchen. Stop at the local pizzeria or grocery store and buy pre-made pizza/bread dough. Or try this recipe for Eating Well’s Quick Pizza Dough. Set out bowls with various pizza toppings, like cheese, olives, bacon, sausage, pineapple, mushrooms or anything that your family likes to eat. Let everyone top their own personal pizza or customize a section of a large pizza pie.

It may be cold outside, but ice cream is a year-round treat. Like the pizza bar concept, stock your pantry with toppings like sprinkles, crushed cookies, M&Ms, chocolate chips, peanuts, cherries, syrups; include fresh options, also, such as sliced strawberries, bananas, blueberries. Set everything out after dinner and have an ice cream party while watching the snow fall!

sundae3

 

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Coconut-Walnut Biscotti

BakeEarlier this month, we celebrated our daughter’s 7th birthday. Wow, where did the time go? I remember the 18 hours of labor like it was yesterday (which, by the way, ended with a C-section!). Since she’s a January baby, I love doing a winter wonderland/snowflake theme for the decor and paper products; lots of white, teal and silver. My sister-in-law offered to bake a big platter of cookies (I’d be a fool to refuse!) and when she arrived, I was thrilled to see dozens of teal and white cookies piled high on a platter! These biscotti were my absolute favorite, so I just had to share them with you. I hope you love them as much as I did. This weekend, as Old Man Winter does his thing, dunk one of these delicious cookies in a mug of piping hot coffee and stay toasty indoors!

coconut biscotti

Coconut-Walnut Biscotti
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Splash of coconut rum (optional)
  • For the "snow" topping: white chocolate and shredded coconut
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Stir in the coconut extract and
  3. the eggs.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, stir into the creamed mixture. Finally, fold in the coconut and walnuts.
  5. Divide dough into 2 pieces. Roll each piece out into a log about 10 inches long. Place them
  6. on an ungreased cookie sheet and flatten them until they are about 3 inches wide.
  7. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm. Cool on baking sheet for 10 to
  8. minutes.
  9. Slice the logs crosswise into ½ inch wide slices. Place slices cut side down onto the
  10. baking sheet.
  11. Return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes, until crisp and light brown. Cool completely.
  12. Melt white chocolate. Spread on top of each cookie and sprinkle with shredded coconut.

 

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