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This is one of those simple but incredibly delicious dishes that taste like they could be from a restaurant. You know those kind? They’re kind of ridiculously easy and only have a few simple ingredients, but they come together into gorgeous, soul-satisfying dishes.

This one is definitely good enough for company, but it’s easy enough that I could make it as a complete cooking novice in college. I don’t know where the original recipe comes from, but I’ve kind of adapted it along the way anyway, so basically it’s my own creation.

What makes it so great is all of the grape tomatoes. Fresh, bright, and consistently flavorful, grape tomatoes are my go-to tomato of choice when I don’t have tomatoes growing in my garden (which is most of the year). I’m lucky enough to have a bit of an overwhelming bounty of grape tomatoes (and regular tomatoes, for that matter) coming in from my back yard at the moment, so I’ve been searching for recipes to use them up. This old standby of mine came to mind right away.

I used a good amount of those lovely yellow grape tomatoes, which is why the sauce in the photos is the color it is (it kind of blends in with the color of the pasta)- if you use all red tomatoes, the sauce will be pinkish.

It’s so easy – cook up some sweet Italian sausage, onion and garlic, slice a whole bunch of grape tomatoes in half and throw them in the pot, cook it down, and finish with some cream and basil. Easy peasy. And oh so yummy. One note – I used whole wheat spaghetti this time, which is fine, but because it’s such a chunky sauce, it really works best with a shorter pasta like farfalle, rotini, or gemelli.

Creamy Pasta with Grape Tomatoes and Sausage

From: unknown/me!

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 pints grape tomatoes, halved (I used a mix of red and yellow grape tomatoes

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound pasta (short pasta works best)

1. In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, cook sausage and red pepper flakes. Sauté about 5 minutes, breaking up the sausage into small pieces, until the sausage is no longer pink. Add the onion and garlic and cook a few minutes more, until the onion is soft.

2. Add the grape tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are collapsed and very saucy, 5 – 10 minutes. Add cream and parmesan and simmer 5 minutes more. Stir in basil.

3. Meanwhile, cook pasta in well-salted water according to package directions. Drain and serve pasta with the sauce and more parmesan cheese.

Happy New Year! Have you made any resolutions? I’m not the resolution-making type myself, but I do want to continue making good, healthy wholesome food and keep up my routine of working out regularly. After all the indulgence of Christmas week, I feel compelled to focus especially on eating well for the immediate future. I can’t stay away from pasta and cheese forever, but I’m going to be kicking up the healthiness around here for a while.

In that spirit, I bring you roasted chicken and vegetables. Back when I started cooking for myself, I always thought of roast chicken as something I’d have when I was visiting my parents, not something I’d make myself. “Roasted chicken is something mom makes, but it’s too much bother for me,” I’d think, which is kind of sad because roasted chicken is one of my favorite meals and I was avoiding it because I thought it was tricky, or too much work. Guess what? NOT TRUE. It’s actually very easy, worry free, and the results of course are delicious. And with a recipe like this one, also very healthy.

You chop up some veggies and toss them in a pan, then nestle the chicken breasts on top, so the majority of the meal is done in one pan. If you roast some potatoes along side the roasting pan, you’ve got dinner without much fuss. The veggies roast in the drippings from the chicken, which makes them taste divine. The chicken is bone in and skin on, so it cooks up moist and flavorful, and then you just peel off the skin to avoid the excess calories. We really enjoyed this meal, and it was so easy to throw together. There’s really no need to save roasted chicken for special occasions when you have this simple recipe in your arsenal, and it’s so so good and wholesome.

Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

From Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

Yield: Serves 4 Prep: 10 minutes Total time: 1 hour

1 acorn squash, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick

1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and halved

1 large red onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges

8 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

4 bone-in chicken breast halves (10 ounces each)

1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crumbled

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the squash, mushrooms, onion, garlic, and oil in a roasting pan; season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Roast until the squash is beginning to soften and all the vegetables are heated through, about 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, lift up the skin from the chicken breasts; rub the flesh with rosemary and some salt and pepper. Replace the skin; season the chicken all over with more salt.
  3. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, and place the chicken, skin side up, on top of the vegetables. Return to the oven; continue roasting until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 35 minutes.

I love cranberry sauce. It might be my favorite part of Thanksgiving. That and the turkey. And the stuffing. And the pie. And pumpkin bread! Okay, it’s really hard to pick just one, but cranberry sauce is definitely up there.

My parents practically have to have a can of cranberry sauce just for me. When I was little, I only liked the jellied kind. When I got a little older, I grew to appreciate whole berry cranberry sauce. I became a bit of a cranberry sauce snob – only Ocean Spray brand, please! The store brand stuff is not up to snuff.

Then I ventured into the realm of making my own cranberry sauce. First I went the traditional route, the recipe on the bag of Ocean Spray cranberries. And that’s good, but I guess I’m not too crazy about the cranberry-orange combination in my sauce. No matter how much I love cranberry sauce, I just can’t get into my dad’s cranberry-orange relish, made with raw cranberries. It’s just too.. tart. And overwhelmingly orange-y. A cranberry-orange sauce is too close to a cranberry-orange relish for my tastes… I like it, but I won’t go crazy for it.

And then I came across this recipe. Cranberry sauce with maple syrup and brown sugar. I think my brain exploded a little bit. I knew this would be cranberry sauce nirvana.

And it is. Oh boy is it ever. I’m nuts about this sauce. It is deliciously tart with just the right amount of sweetness. The maple syrup, brown sugar and vanilla combine to give it a great richness and depth of flavor. You definitely can taste the maple-y goodness of the syrup through the bright tartness of the cranberries. I never would have thought to combine maple syrup and cranberries, and it turns out they’re divine together. And with a recipe so simple (it takes less than 10 minutes from start to finish! No chopping, zesting, or juicing anything!), there’s really no reason for me to ever go back to canned sauce.

My hunt for the perfect cranberry sauce is over. This is it.

Maple Brown Sugar Cranberry Sauce

From Baking Bites

12-oz fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Combine cranberries, maple syrup, brown sugar and water in a large saucepan and cook over high heat until cranberries start to pop. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cranberries finish popping and mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract (if using).
Sauce can be served immediately or stored in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week.

Okay, I know this isn’t very pretty, but that doesn’t stop it from being all sorts of delicious. I don’t cook a lot of beef dishes, but this one caught my eye and I knew James would love it. The brisket is braised for four hours until it simply falls apart in tender, savory amazingness. This dish is packed full of fantastic flavors, bright and slightly tart from the cranberries, rich and complex from the wine, this is the definition of umami. I love that it’s very saucy, it basically creates its own gravy. This dish begs to be served with buttermilk mashed potatoes, so that’s what I did – it was awesome.

This is a true Sunday dinner – yes, it does take a lot of time, so it pretty much necessitates weekend cooking. But more than that, this is the kind of meal that you’d have at home with your whole family. This is home cooking comfort. It would be a great dish for company, but I don’t see why I should have to save it just for that, you know? We live about 7 hours away from our nearest family, so we don’t have many occasions for big family meals and it would be easy to just cook fast dishes that are sized more appropriately for our two-person household. But sometimes I just crave those Big Deal Sunday Dinners that my mom makes – this dish fit the bill perfectly, and yes there was a ton of leftovers but they were awesome leftovers.

And while it may seem big and fancy and time-comsuming, the majority of the time is hands off, in the oven. There was probably 15 minutes of work involved in making this, it’s actually remarkably simple after you brown the beef – you just toss a bunch of stuff in the pot and then throw the thing in the oven! And what comes out is magic.

Braised Brisket with Cranberries

From Everyday Food, November 2008

Prep Time: 15 minutes Total Time: 4 1/4 hours Yield: Serves 8

3 pounds beef brisket, fat trimmed to a 1/4-inch layer
Coarse salt and ground pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
1 bag (12 ounces) cranberries
1 bag (1 pound) frozen pearl onions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in lowest position. Season brisket with salt and pepper. Heat a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high. Add brisket, fat side down. Cook until browned, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating once. Transfer brisket to a plate (reserve pot).
  2. Add flour to pot and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add broth, wine, bay leaf, molasses, half the cranberries, and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Return brisket to pot, and cover. Transfer to oven; bake 3 hours.
  3. Stir in onions; cover, and return pot to oven. Cook 30 minutes more. Stir in remaining cranberries; return pot to oven. Cook, uncovered, until brisket is fork-tender, 30 minutes more. Discard bay leaf before serving.

All together, now: yummmm!

This was a yummy, hearty, delicious bowl of comfort food goodness. And it was healthy! I used whole wheat penne and the dish is loaded with veggies. Plus it’s meat-free, but you won’t notice it – my husband was shocked when I pointed out that there was no meat. He didn’t miss it at all, and this is a guy who needs meat to consider it a complete dinner. This pasta is extremely satisfying and filling and very flavorful. It’s one of those rare pasta dishes that you can eat your fill and thoroughly enjoy each delicious bite and walk away without feeling bloated or heavy.

I’ll say it again: yum! I need to make this again soon. It’s a perfect fall dish and comes together very easily, but it’s so complex and flavorful that you’d think it came from a restaurant.

Penne alla Norma

Adapted from Everyday Food: Fresh Flavor Fast
Serves: 4 to 6 Prep time: 20 minutesTotal time: 20 minutes
 

Coarse Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound penne rigate (I used whole wheat)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 large eggplant, cut into 1/4 inch chunks

2 pints grape tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 cup water, plus more as needed

1/2 cup firmly packed torn fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

  1.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente – I set my timer for one minute less than the shortest time in the directions. Drain pasta and return to pot.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Add onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add eggplant; season generously with salt and pepper. Cover, and cook until eggplant begins to release its juices, about 5 minutes. Uncover; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes (if mixture begins to brown too much on the bottom of the pan, add up to a few tablespoons of water, and scrape up bits with a wooden spoon).
  4. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and 1/4 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add tomato mixture and basil to pot, and toss with pasta; briefly reheat over medium-low if necessary. To serve, divide among bowls; top each with a dollop of ricotta, and garnish with additional basil and a couple grinds of black pepper.

I recently discovered the wonder that is bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. I never used to cook with them because the boneless, skinless variety is easier and I guess marginally healthier for you. Now I’m cooking with them all the time because cooking the chicken on the bone results in a moister, more flavorful meat. And I’d argue that if you don’t actually eat the skin, the chicken on the bone isn’t much different in terms of fat and calories than the boneless variety.

Plus, the bone-in variety is cheaper than boneless chicken breasts, so what’s not to love?

This recipe comes from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, and like every recipe I’ve ever tried from that magazine, it’s a good one. The magicians chefs at Everyday Food always surprise me with the deliciousness they can whip up with so few ingredients. This is one of those “that’s all there is??” recipes: breadcrumbs + parmesan cheese + fresh parsley + lemon = magic. This is an extremely tasty and simple way to have chicken – so simple that if you make it a few times you probably wouldn’t even need to look at the recipe again – but it’s nice enough to serve to company.

Parmesan-stuffed Chicken Breasts

From Everyday Food

Serves 4 (if you can tell by my photos, the breasts I used were massive and James and I split them to get 8 servings)

1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (use fresh for best results!)

Grated zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)

Coarse salt and ground pepper

4 bone-in chicken breast halves (about 3 lbs)

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, mix parsley, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and zest. Season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
  2. Divide parsley mixture into 4 mounds. Carefully loosen chicken skin with fingers; tuck parsley mixture under skin. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place in a 9×13-inch roasting pan.
  3. Bake until skin is crispy, chicken is cooked through, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 165 degrees, about 30 minutes.

Last Saturday, hubby and I went to a rare, rare gem in New England: a quality Mexican restaurant. Since moving from LA last spring, we’ve been in a Mexican food wasteland. We’d ask locals where we could get the best Mexican, and they’d enthusiastically recommend a place, so we’d go all full of hope and hunger only to be disappointed by their boring ketchup-tasting salsa, and it would only go down from there. A coworker recommended Agave in Newburyport to me, and we went with a bit of trepidation and fully prepared to be disappointed, and, shockingly enough – it was good! So good, in fact, that on Tuesday when we realized I had accidentally left my coat at Agave, we stayed for dinner when we went back to pick up it up.

So why the picture of pot roast and mashed taters?  That dinner is a direct result of our first trip to Agave – the trip where we learned that if you want to go to Agave on a Saturday night, you better make a reservation or you’ll have over an hour and a half wait for a table. So with an absurd amount of time to kill, we wandered  over to the book store next door, where I stumbled across Ree Drummond‘s cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks. And I cooed and squealed over it and delighted in all the beautiful photography and drooled over the yummy-looking recipes.

Now, it just so happens that we recently cashed in a bond that my now-deceased elderly cousin Sunny gave me for high school graduation (ten years ago!?) – a bond that would be worth $50… in 2036. So we cashed it out now for something like $30, so I had just the right amount of pocket money to buy myself the book. Woo hoo! As we waited for our table, I read this recipe and decided I just HAD to make it the next day. So I did.

I’d never made pot roast before, and I was rather intimidated by the idea of making such a fancy Sunday-Dinner-With-Grandma kind of meal, but Ree’s step-by-step instructions and pictures it was a piece of cake. It’s actually a surprisingly simple dish – you brown the onions quickly, then the carrots quickly, and then sear the meat nicely, then throw it all together with beef broth and some fresh herbs (definitely don’t skip the fresh herbs!) and let it do its thing in the oven for a few hours.

And when you take it out, hoo boy. It’s amazing. The beef falls apart, the carrots taste so good that my vegetable-hating husband raved about them and got himself  a second serving. This is a fantastic dish and I know I’ll be making it again soon. The recipe is below, but I recommend checking out Ree’s post about it – the photos are so helpful and she even has it formatted to print out nicely at the bottom. Sweet!

Ree’s Pot Roast

Ingredients

  • 1 whole (4 To 5 Pounds) Chuck Roast
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 whole Onions
  • 6 whole Carrots (Up To 8 Carrots)
  • Salt To Taste
  • Pepper To Taste
  • 1 cup Red Wine (optional, You Can Use Beef Broth Instead)
  • 2 cups To 3 Cups Beef Stock
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Thyme, or more to taste
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Rosemary, or more to taste

Preparation Instructions

First and foremost, choose a nicely marbled piece of meat. This will enhance the flavor of your pot roast like nothing else. Generously salt and pepper your chuck roast.

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil (or you can do a butter/olive oil split).

Cut two onions in half and cut 6 to 8 carrots into 2-inch slices (you can peel them, but you don’t have to). When the oil in the pot is very hot (but not smoking), add in the halved onions, browning them on one side and then the other. Remove the onions to a plate.

Throw the carrots into the same very hot pan and toss them around a bit until slightly browned, about a minute or so.

If needed, add a bit more olive oil to the very hot pan. Place the meat in the pan and sear it for about a minute on all sides until it is nice and brown all over. Remove the roast to a plate.

With the burner still on high, use either red wine or beef broth (about 1 cup) to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a whisk to get all of that wonderful flavor up.

When the bottom of the pan is sufficiently deglazed, place the roast back into the pan and add enough beef stock to cover the meat halfway (about 2 to 3 cups). Add in the onion and the carrots, as well as 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary and about 3 sprigs of fresh thyme.

Put the lid on, then roast in a 275F oven for 3 hours (for a 3-pound roast). For a 4 to 5-pound roast, plan on 4 hours.

Oh, and once it’s all cooked up, be sure to do like Ree advises and taste a bit of everything all in one bite.

Even if you’re like me and don’t like mixing it up like that. Trust me. It’s a little bit of heaven.

Yum! Thanks, Ree! And thanks, Sunny. 🙂

Suzi

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