Creamy Pesto Pasta

I am all for flavor packed dishes. They’re even better when their easy & full of flavor. This recipe is one I’ve been working on for a while and I think it’s ready to share. Pesto is one of my favorite flavor combinations – herbs, pine nuts, olive oil, parmesan cheese – yum! I love the Penne Basilica at Buca di Beppo – and this is my version.

It took me a while to find the perfect AND easy creamy element – I tried sour cream, thinned cream cheese, heavy cream…each had their own ups but also just as many downsides. And then…I found it! Philadelphia Cooking Creme. They have a few different flavors – so far I’ve tried the Santa Fe Blend and the Original flavors. It has all of the benefits of sour cream, but you don’t have to worry about it doing strange things when you heat it.

This recipe is also very customizable! You can change the veggies, add no veggies, add chicken or even sausage. It can be a main course or a side dish. You could even make your own pesto or use a different flavor pesto – red pepper would be lovely!

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Donut Muffins

I love tradition and the holidays. I especially care for the two put together. Every year, my husband and I make some sort of homemade Christmas gift for friends and family. Two years ago, we did a box of baked goods with hazelnut biscotti, brownies, and peanut butter kiss cookies. Last year we made homemade vanilla extract (which I’ll share with you soon!). So when we were walking to check out at the grocery store and I saw a Better Homes and Gardens Food Gifts magazine, I might’ve thrown a fit if my husband wouldn’t let me get it. I think he knew this and actually gave in pretty quickly!

There are some great recipes in this magazine and some very creative ways of wrapping food gifts. I was thumbing through it and saw this recipe for Donut Muffins. My husband loves donuts almost as much as he loves ice cream (he might trade me in for a gallon depending on the day!). I enjoy donuts every once in a while, but am not a huge fan of cooking anything where I have to bring out a huge pot of oil. Granted, there are sometimes that this is necessary, but those are very rare. This is the perfect substitute and they’re very scrumptious! This is a good recipe to have on hand if you happen to have visitors at breakfast, brunch, or snack time and they don’t give you much warning.

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Italian Meatballs

Who doesn’t love meatballs? They’re good with spaghetti, in a panini with some melted mozzarella, or in the middle of the night when you sneak one from the fridge…oh wait, is that just me? Anyway, meatballs are one of those quintessential Italian recipes and everyone has their own. This is my version of my grandparents’ recipe. I remember helping mix and roll them out when I was a kid. We’d dump them in the Sunday Gravy with the italian sausage once they were cooked and it would simmer on the stove all day until dinner. Yum!

Meatballs are great to get kids involved! They can help mix and then help roll them. I think the more you get them in the kitchen, the more they’ll appreciate the food they’re eating.

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Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

There’s the big reveal! This is what the final cake turned out looking like. It also tasted great and I bet I could’ve gotten away with not telling them it was from a mix. But hey, like I said on Monday, sometimes shortcuts are worth taking.

This is a pretty simple buttercream frosting – not extremely sweet, but just sweet enough. I’m not a big fan of frostings that come in a can (accidental rhyme!), so this is a good basic recipe to have on hand. This one also came from the Cake Mix Doctor – she rocks!

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White Chocolate Layer Cake

Where to begin? Well, baking has been my favorite part of cooking as long as I can remember. Every holiday or family get together, my name is under some sort of dessert. So when we were getting together for my Aunt and Cousin-in-law’s birthday this past weekend – I was given my marching orders! A simple white chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and a raspberry sauce on the side. I searched high and low for a recipe that would live up to my expectations and was almost at my whits end when it came to me – the Cake Mix Doctor!

I’m all for making things from scratch, but when you’ve got a shortcut sometimes it’s worth taking it. I remember first seeing the Cake Mix Doctor in one of my Mom’s cookbooks and I loved the idea. You can spend the extra time decorating the cake to help with the eye appeal and still lose none of the flavor and goodness! This recipe is from her Cupcakes from the Cake Mix Doctor book, but I scaled the cooking time for a layer cake. In fact, you don’t have to tell anyone this is a cake mix recipe if you don’t want to. Your secret is safe with me!

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Baked BBQ Wings

It’s finally starting to cool off here in Texas and since tomorrow is the last day of summer, that means it’s – football time! We enjoy getting together with friends and watching the game. Everyone’s debating whether Tony Romo will be playing on Monday night…I’m pretty sure he will be. I remember when I was a kid, I’d sit in the living room with my Poppy and Uncle and watch the games. Even if I didn’t know quite what was going on – I was hanging with the guys!

One of the first foods I think of for football parties – WINGS! Who doesn’t love a good fried wing dipped in your favorite sauce? My husband and I both do, but we don’t make them that often because you have to drag out the pot and the oil to fry them. I created this recipe to give all the flavors of those wings – but with less calories – and much less prep and cooking time!

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Mexican Corn Salsa

The next few posts will all be Mexican food related! Being in Texas, Mexican is probably our favorite cuisine, second only to Italian – because you can’t beat fresh pasta and it’s in my blood! Once you’re armed with a few simple recipes, you can make anything from quesadillas, tacos, nachos….the list goes on and on.

I’ve been working on this recipe for about 2 years. I began the journey after going to Tin Star Taco Bar. They make excellent tacos and they have a corn salsa, similar to this one, that my husband loves. We could go there and if this is all he had to eat, he’d be perfectly fine.

So every time we plan a mexican menu, I try to get a little bit closer to perfection. This is as close as I’ve been able to get, and I think it’s pretty good. You can use it to top tacos, add it inside quesadillas, or grab some chips and dig in. This is best made the day before you serve to let all the flavors meld.

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Nana’s Breaded Chicken

I’ve mentioned it before, but my Grandmother (Nana) is awesome. She has no written recipes and remembers most of them. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything she cooked that didn’t taste good. She emigrated from Sicily, Italy when she was a teenager. Sicily is actually the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s known for citrus, olives, olive oil, grapes, and wine.

She and my Grandfather (Poppy) were the ones who first peaked my interest in cooking. I’d help them make fresh pasta, ravioli, and cheesecakes in their garage and make $20 – which when you’re 10, is a lot of money! They sold them to local restaurants. During my teenage years, I started writing their recipes down so that I could pass them down to my children (and so I could remember them myself!).

This recipe is based on Nana’s breaded chicken and is one of my mom’s favorite dishes. She actually requested Nana make for her past birthday dinner and it made me remember how much I enjoy it as well.

It also adds a simple technique to help keep your chicken moist and juicy – brining.

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Samoa Cookie Bars

We’re going to a football party today, so yesterday I asked my husband what he wanted to bring. I right away thought maybe corn salsa (post coming up later this week!) and some tortilla chips, but his first thoughts are always desserts! I guess that balances us out. He won this time.

He’s wanted me to make Samoa cookies – our favorite Girl Scout Cookie, and America’s #2 to the Thin Mint – as long as I’ve known him. In fact, we usually only allow ourselves 2 boxes of these because they may not make it through the week. Horrible, I know, but oh so good! So I found this recipe – Samoa Cookie Bars by Baking Bites. Same lovely shortbread cookie with chocolate, caramel, and coconut – but in a bar cookie!

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Roasted Root Vegetables

The definition of roasting is to cook (meat or other food) by direct exposure to dry heat, as on a spit. Well, I dont have spit, but I do have an oven!

My mom has made roasted root vegetables as long as I can remember. They are one of my favorite things ever (yes, I probably say that about a lot of things, but I mean it this time…and every other time, too…). This side dish, and really anything roasted, is great to entertain with because it usually takes 45 mins to an hour to roast and you can finish your makeup or pick up whatever your cat/kids/husband has knocked over while you were cooking. The second perk is that roasting is extremely easy. Toss it with some seasonings and olive oil, stir every 15-20 minutes, and an hour later – ta-da! Done! (more…)