Garlic and Herb Pasta with Chicken, Shallots, Tomatoes, and Feta Cheese

Last weekend I stumbled upon a cute little farmers market in my area.  One of the vendors was called Pappardelle, who specializes in homemade pasta.  They sell pasta in all different flavors; ranging from chive and lemon to sun-dried tomato.  We picked up a simple ‘garlic and herb’ linguine, and have been anxious to try it out ever since.

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Aren’t the hooks so cute!?

It was hard for me to find a true “recipe” to use this pasta in because the pasta already has so many flavors- garlic, thyme, rosemary- in it.  So, I actually did something I rarely do and made my own concoction.  I am obsessed with onions and cherry tomatoes, and the Liberty on Less blog inspired me to add feta cheese.  Really, how can you ever go wrong by adding cheese?

I heated minced shallot and ginormous, plump cherry tomatoes in a little EVOO on low heat for about 15 minutes, until the cherry tomatoes were just about to burst.

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Thank you Fresh Market for these beauties.

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As that was heating, I boiled the pasta and grilled some chicken breasts seasoned with rosemary and crushed black pepper.  I then topped the pasta with the warm tomato mixture, grilled chicken, and sprinkled in some a ton of feta cheese.  I actually meant to drizzle some more olive oil on the finished product but forgot to.

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The verdict?

Eh.

I was very pleased with the flavor combination of chicken/tomatoes/feta/shallots, and my improvisation of ingredients.  Yay me.

However, I was very unimpressed with the pasta.  I’m sorry but $5-$6 for 8.oz of pasta is insane as it is, but this “flavored” pasta was BLAND!  I was so really hoping that this pasta would be a farmers market “gem” of mine, but it definitely was not.  I certainly would not recommend this pasta, or at least this flavor, to anybody.  Bummer.

2 morals to this story:

1. Save your bucks for uber fresh produce at Farmers Markets and stick to good ol’ supermarket pasta.

2.  Feta and tomatoes are amazing together,and make any meal better.

Disclaimer: I booked two (yes two!) vacations last night, both in the month of May.  Translation: time to get in shape!  So, don’t be surprised if the food featured on here gets kicked up a notch on the health scale.  (Even though I try to be healthy anyways)

I hope everyone is having a great week and your meals are turning out a bit more satisfying than mine.

xx

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Creamy Tomato Soup with Focaccia Croutons

The other night was just one of those days: rainy, cold, and dismal outside.  The weather was perfect for wearing pajamas at 5pm, cuddling with pets &/ significant others, and of course: making soup!

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I noticed on the Two Peas & Their Pod blog a recipe was posted for a healthier creamy tomato orzo soup, and I was immediately intrigued.  Especially because we had 1/2 loaf tomato basil focaccia bread left over that was way past its prime and destined to be made into croutons.

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I made this soup, with only two changes, and I was very impressed.  The creaminess comes from greek yogurt so it is actually a very healthy soup.  I highly encourage anyone who loves creamy tomato soup but hates the idea of slurping up 50% saturated fat in one bowel to try this recipe!

Creamy Tomato Soup with Focaccia Croutons

From: Two Peas and Their Pod Blog

Yield: 4 bowls

You Will Need:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3-15 ounce cans diced tomatoes *
  • 1-15 ounce can vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil *
  • Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (we use Chobani)
  • 1 cup cooked Orzo pasta *
  • 1/2 loaf of stale focaccia bread for croutons (my addition, HIGHLY recommended)

* I used no salt added diced tomatoes and added my salt per our taste.  I did need to add a lot of salt to achieve a good flavor, but I still feel I added less than what would be in the regular sodium cans.

* I believe you could up the fresh basil a tad, maybe add in an extra  1 TBS.

* I substituted ALPHABET pasta instead of of orzo.  No, I don’t have a five year old.  I am just a kid at heart and the sight of this in the grocery store pretty much made my day.

Lastly, my own addition that pretty much MADE this soup amazing was the hommemade focaccia croutons.  See below for how to make these.

Now for the recipe:

1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bay leaves.

2. Add the tomatoes and vegetable broth. Stir in the brown sugar and fresh basil. Season with red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper, to taste. Simmer on low for 15 minutes.

3. Remove the bay leaves from the pot. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup (or blend the soup in a standing blender and return to the pot). Stir in the Greek yogurt until well combined. Stir in the orzo pasta (or alphabets). Serve warm.

And for the highly encouraged, totally worth it, absolutely delicious add in….

Tomato Basil Focaccia Croutons

Like I mentioned, I had an extra 1/2 loaf of focaccia bread left over from making my roasted eggplant and tomato sandwiches, and it was getting very stale.  I made croutons out of the bread by simply cutting it up into thick cubes, combining with 1 TBS + 1 tsp olive oil, and sprinkling with a little salt (about 1/2 tsp).

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I then baked these beauties for about 10 minutes until they were nice and crispy.  I stored them in an air-tight container until dinner time when they met their fate by drowning in a bowel of creamy tomato soup.

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The next time you are craving a creamy, healthy, comforting soup, I definitely recommend you give this recipe a try.  I highly encourage the use of alphabets instead of orzo, because let’s face it: childhood favorite > random pasta that looks like rice ;)

And if you have a little extra time, whip up some homemade croutons for dunking.  You can never go wrong by adding more carbs!

What are your favorite healthy soup recipes?

Boyfriend-Approved Meatless Monday Recipe: Emeril’s Spicy Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce

The Challenge: introducing Meatless Monday to a meat-loving boyfriend.

I have recently been loving the idea of Meatless Monday, as it forces me to be creative in the kitchen.  My boyfriend, however, is a hard core meat lover.  I don’t know if any of you are familiar with the TV show Parks and Rec, but my boyfriend shares the same food attitude as Ron Swanson.  Anyway, the point being that Meatless Monday is something I kind of slowly snuck into his diet without him knowing.  I simply prepare a delicious meal on Mondays, don’t use the word meatless around him, and we are good to go.  The challenge here is that the meal has to be really tasty, otherwise my cover will be revealed!

Homemade sauces are an easy and healthy way to be meatless, which is boyfriend approved because the meal is so filling once combined with pasta.

I loved the caramelized onion and cherry tomato sauce I made last week, but I wanted to try something a little different.  I got this recipe from the Food Network website, and we really loved it.  So, I wanted to share the recipe and my thoughts/tidbits with you.

I apologize for the poor photo quality.  This sauce was not oily or glistening as the picture makes it seem.  I think it may be time to start saving money for a good camera…

Spicy Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce

Spicy Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce

You Will Need:

1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon dried basil leaves
2 (28-ounce) cans whole Italian plum tomatoes, with their juices
3 whole heads roasted garlic [see “How To” note below], cloves removed from peels

How To Roast Garlic

Roasting garlic is a very easy, albeit time consuming, cooking skill.  I had actually never done this before, but I was only one google search away from mastering the skill.

Rather than confuse you with a lengthy step-by-step, I highly recommend that you watch this video.

Emeril’s (Spicy) Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce Recipe:

[Yield: enough sauce to top about 3-4 pasta meals]

time: 1 hour 30 minutes + 30-40 minutes for roasting garlic

  1. In a large saucepan saute the onion in the olive oil over medium-high heat until soft and lightly golden, 4 to 6 minutes.
  2. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  3. Add the tomato paste, salt, balsamic vinegar, hot sauce, crushed red pepper, Italian seasoning, and basil, and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes, crushing with your hands as you place them in the pan, and their juices. [Note: do not add the actual tomato juice that the tomatoes are canned in!]
  5. Stir to combine well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the roasted garlic cloves and stir to combine. Continue to simmer for 30 to 45 minutes longer, or until the flavors have come together.
  7. Serve over pasta and enjoy!

My Thoughts & Tidbits

  • This sauce has kick to it!!  We were pretty surprised by how spicy it was, and we like spicy things.  I feel that the hotness of the red pepper flakes and the hot sauce overpowered the roasted garlic taste.  Next time I plan on reducing (or maybe even omitting) the red pepper flakes and adding 1-2 extra cloves of garlic.
  • The spiciness of the sauce did die down when it was re-heated for leftovers the next day.  The sauce was delicious this way, as all of the flavors came together perfectly.
  • This sauce pairs very nicely with whole wheat pasta.  I feel like some sauces are not powerful enough to mask the sometimes cardboard-y taste of WW pasta, but this one does the trick.  So go ahead, make it healthy and use the good-for-you stuff.
  • Note that the roasted garlic portion is 3 heads, not 3 cloves.  Yes, this is a lot of garlic!  Yes, you do need it all!
  • As previously noted, crush the tomatoes and their juices for the sauce, but do not add the actual juices that the tomatoes are canned in.
  • This sauce would taste amazing with some spicy chicken sausage in it.  Next time I make this without a vegetarian meal in mind, that is definitely what I will add!
  • This recipe is a bit time consuming between roasting the garlic and the steps in which the sauce simmers.  However, you are not actively engaged for much of this recipe.

This sauce was fantastic!  It is healthy, flavorful, versatile, and inexpensive.  This is a great base recipe for vegetarians, meat lovers, boyfriends, and even kids.  Next time you need an easy yet hearty meal, try this fresh, homemade tomato sauce!

Fresh and Easy: Tomato, Garlic, & Caramelized Onions Over Pasta

Monday night, despite an impending and untouched presentation I have due soon, I was in the mood to cook.  I wanted a meal that was 1) meatless (still loving meatless monday), 2) not complicated, and 3) healthy.

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Fresh cherry tomato, caramelized onions, and garlic sauce over pasta

Enter this recipe idea from Cristin’s RDealistic Diet Blog: a fresh cherry tomato, caramelized onion, and garlic sauce over pasta. I actually walked into the grocery store planning on making a different sauce recipe, but saw these gorgeous looking cherry tomatoes and knew I had to make use of them.

I followed her steps for the basic sauce and then spiced it up a little at the end.

What You Will Need

MIA: balsamic vinegar and olive oil

Missing in Action: balsamic vinegar and olive oil

  • Two containers of delicious, sweet cherry tomatoes
  • One large vidalia onion, cut into rings or slices
  • 5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO, divided
  • Balsamic Vinegar (optional)
  • Chopped, fresh herbs (optional), I used thyme and rosemary
  • Cooked pasta, cooked according to package directions

Step 1:  Caramelize the onion

Cut one large Vidalia onion into rings or slices.  Place onion pieces into a pan that has been coated with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil (or butter) and heated over low-medium heat.  Stir onions around pan to coat evenly with oil or butter.  Reduce heat to low and let onions simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until they are in a caramelized state. You can add about 1 tsp. brown sugar during the cooking process to help with the caramelizing but this step is not required.

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Beginning

Finished

Finished

Note- this is the longest part of cooking this meal, but you do not have to stand over the stove the entire time the onions caramelize.  Check in on them every now and then, give them a nice stir, and go about your business.  You will know they are finished when they are extremely soft and browning.

Step 2: Simmer the tomatoes

In a large, deep saucepan (I used the one the onions were caramelizing in) heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  (Note- if using the same pan as the onions were in, it will already be very hot.  Heat your oil over low instead, otherwise it will spritz up as well as burn the tomatoes).  Add your two containers of washed cherry tomatoes, and turn so the oil coats them all evenly. Adjust the heat between low and medium.  They should be hot and cooking, but not sizzling too high.

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Step 3:  Adding in the Goodies

This sauce can cook for any from 15-25 minutes, depending on how chunky or cooked down  you want the tomatoes in the sauce.  Either way, after 10 minutes of cooking the tomatoes, add all your chopped, fresh garlic.  At this point,

  • If you want a chunkier, thicker sauce with more whole tomatoes: let the tomatoes and garlic cook on low/medium heat for 5 minutes, turning now and then.
  • If you want a thinner sauce with the tomatoes shed from their skins: cook the garlic/tomatoes for up to 25 minutes, or until it is at your desired consistency.  Stir the mixture every five minutes or so.

During the last 5 minutes of your determined cooking time, add your caramelized onions.  Then, some optional (highly recommended) add- ins include:

  • About 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp fresh, chopped thyme or basil
  • 1-2 tsp fresh, chopped rosemary
  • Chicken sausage

I went with balsamic vinegar, thyme and rosemary, and it was the perfect, fresh combination.

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Step 5: Scoop over pasta and enjoy

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I served this alongside some Alexia baked mushrooms and roasted brussel sprouts (both not pictured).  This dinner was a huge success!  The progress on my project due soon?  Not so much..

I am loving the idea of homemade sauces and would love to know your favorite recipes!

Veggies Saved The Dinner

So last night I finally made a recipe I have had my eyes on for a while- a lightened up creamy cajun shrimp pasta from the ELR blog.

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Even though it is “lightened up”, it is still relatively heavy since it uses cream and regular pasta.  I prefer to save heavy comforting meals for Sunday because I just feel that Sunday nights are about relaxing and savoring the last bits of the weekend.  So, I figured last night was the perfect time to try what I imagined to be a luscious, decadent, flavorful pasta dish.

Boy was I wrong.  This dish was a huge disappointment.  The sauce was extremely thin and the recipe lacked flavor.  I couldn’t even taste the cream in the dish, and if I am adding almost 50% saturated fat to a meal, it better provide flavor!  I almost never cook with cream so I was looking forward to an indulgence with this meal.  The only thing I kept thinking about was all of the other, better meals I could be eating.  I kept imagining a big plate of fettuccini alfredo, penne alla vodka, or my chicken in a pastry (recipe to come).  Isn’t that the worst?  When you are just so excited for a meal you have been wanting to try and it is a total dud!?

Now, here’s the kicker.  What actually saved this meal were the roasted veggies I made.  Although these are some pretty tasty veggies, what does it say when the side dish (vegetables none the less) is the star of the show?  My point exactly.  Either way, I made roasted potatoes, carrots, and brussel sprouts coated lightly in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and sprinkled with some fresh rosemary.  They turned out fantastic- flavorful, tender, and slightly crisp on the outside.  The only mild disappointment here was that the fresh rosemary added slightly less flavor than I thought it would.  Perhaps I will add more next time around.

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And so is another day in the kitchen.  Even though the cajun pasta was a disappointment, I am still glad that I tried it.  Not every dish can be a winner, and now there is more room in my recipe binder for other things.  On to the next!

Im curious, since this was my first time roasting vegetables, what is your favorite combination/method of roasting veggies?