Shrimp Scampi

I hate to brag, but I was once told (recently) that my shrimp scampi was better than the nice Italian restaurant’s that we were at. WHAT a compliment!!! Due to the fact that this meal is absolutely delicious (and the fact that I have 4 bags of frozen jumbo shrimp in my freezer), we have it a lot around here.

The scampi sauce has a slight sweetness that is barely noticeable and I think that is one reason it is so delicious. The sweetness helps to counteract the zing from all them tasty lemon. I have been pondering why this is so for months and have recently come to a conclusion about why my recipe has a certain sweetness to it. I think it because when I zest my lemon, I am quite careful to only get the zest, and none of the rind, which easily happens if you zest more than one time in a spot. This may make no sense at all, but that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

Scampi is quick and easy, and most of the ingredients are a staple at our house. Serve it over a bed of angel hair pasta and alongside a salad and bread. You can always ditch the angel hair and it with couscous, rice or risotto, or you could serve the shrimp a la carte. Tonight, we had steamed broccoli to accompany our lemony shrimps and pasta.

Ingredients (serves 4)

*The shrimp can be fresh or frozen and whatever size you want – but I would suggest medium to jumbo since shrimp shrink when cooked.

  • About 20-25 shrimp, deveined and shells removed
  • Zest of 4 lemons
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp. Gourmet Garden Italian Herb Paste
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 splashes of white wine
  • Parmesan, for topping
  • Pasta (angel hair or thin spaghetti is best, but spaghetti will do as well)

Directions

Devein and remove the shells from the shrimp. Mince the garlic. Zest the lemons (I use a microplane). Juice the lemons.

In a large Ziploc bag marinate the shrimp with 2 tsp. lemon zest, a few shakes onion powder, 1 tsp. herb paste, 1 clove minced garlic, a few dashes of salt and pepper, a splash of white wine (I use pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc), and 2 tbsp. olive oil. Mix around in the bag to distribute the marinade. Let marinate at least 20 minutes.

In a sauté pan combine the rest of the herb paste, minced garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, and a splash of white wine. Simmer on medium low for about 20 minutes.

Put the pasta on and allow it to cook.

With about 5 minutes to go until the pasta is ready, pour the shrimp and marinade into a pan that has been heated over medium to medium-high heat (I use my cast iron pan). Cook the shrimp until just pink, about 4 minutes. Add the butter to the scampi sauce and stir it until it is smooth and the butter has melted.

Serve the shrimp and scampi sauce on top of the pasta. Enjoy!

Lemon-Dill Orzo

Last week I made this orzo as an experimental side dish to grilled shrimp. Not to toot my own horn, but it was amazing. Everyone said they wanted seconds, and unfortunately I had not made enough for that. Which is rare, because normally I cook enough for a large army (even though there are generally only 2-4 of us eating). This week I made sure to make enough for leftovers plus some.

Tonight I made this glorious dish again, but added feta and grape tomatoes. It was again, amazing. I make it with a scampi-type sauce to coat the orzo, but I add lots of herbs.

I serve this dish cold or at room temp, but you could serve it warm if you would like. I kind of like it as a pasta salad-esq dish.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups dry orzo
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. Gourmet Garden Italian herb paste
  • 1 tbsp. dried dill (or fresh)
  • ¼ cup feta
  • ¾ cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp. lemon zest (zest of 1 or 2 lemons)
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (juice of about 2 lemons)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Basil oil, optional

Directions

Cook the orzo according to directions. Drain and leave in colander.

Cut the tomatoes into small pieces (if using grape or cherry tomatoes cut them into quarters or eighths).

In a separate sauté pan, combine 2 tbsp. olive oil with the herb paste, lemon zest, lemon juice, and dill and whisk together. Cook on medium low heat. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.

Once the rest of your meal is ready, pour the room temp orzo into a serving bowl. Pour the sauce on top and stir to coat all the orzo. Add feta and chopped tomatoes. Toss some more. Taste to see if any seasonings need to be added. Drizzle basil olive oil on top.

Creamy Pesto Fettuccini Alfredo with Grilled Chicken

The other night I got a brilliant idea: mix homemade pesto into the base of my alfredo sauce for a creamy and delightful pasta. I also added grilled chicken, but you could always add grilled shrimp, or serve as a vegetarian dish.

In August I made a huge batch of basil pesto because my basil plant was going bonkers! (the recipe for the pesto is posted under sauces). You could use store-bought pesto (basil or roasted red pepper, or sun dried tomato would all work) but make sure that you get a really good one – sometimes you pay for what you get!

Ingredients for the Marinade

  • 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast, butterflied (or 10-15 raw, deveined and peeled jumbo shrimp)
  • A few shakes of each: garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, mustard powder, salt and ground pepper
  • 4-5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp. white wine (I used pinot grigio)

Ingredients for the Sauce

  • Fettuccini noodles
  • 1 stick of butter, salted is best for this
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup milk (2% or whole is preferable)
  • ½ to ¾ cup freshly grated parmesan (you must be careful when adding the parm to the hot milk mixture or it will clump – details to follow)
  • A lot of freshly ground pepper (maybe about 1 tbsp)
  • A lot of salt (maybe 1 tsp – or more to taste)
  • 2 tsp. basil pesto (thawed – I froze my pesto into ice cube trays when I made it and then I defrost what I want before I use it)
  • Basil oil (optional)

Directions

Butterfly the chicken by taking a very sharp knife and cutting the chicken in half lengthwise (I buy Perdue chicken breasts when they’re on sale -they come with the tenderloin still attached so you may have to trim that off as well). Marinate the chicken (or shrimp) in a few shakes of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, mustard powder, salt and pepper. Add a splash of white wine (I used pinot grigio) and about 4-5 tbsp. olive oil. Mix altogether in a large Ziploc bag and let sit for about 2 hours. *If you are using shrimp instead of chicken then you will need to skewer them onto kebobs (if they are 4\wooden make sure they have been soaked in water for at least an hour)*

Preheat the grill (I use charcoal so it takes about 30 minutes to preheat). When really hot, add the chicken and grill for about 3-5 minutes on each side. You want it to be nice and char-grilled. Take chicken off grill and set aside.

Melt the butter on low. Once butter is melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth and thickened slightly.

At this point, raise heat to medium and add the milk and whisk until thickened. Add a fair amount of freshly ground pepper (at least 1 tsp) and salt. Turn off heat and wait about 2 minutes. Add the parm and whisk immediately. Do not add the parm to scolding hot milk or it will congeal and the dish will be ruined (if this does happen, which it has happened to every cook I know, then just use a strainer to fish out the congealed parm and then  re-add the parm to the milk mixture).

Whisk the alfredo sauce until thickened. Add the pesto and stir. Taste to see if it needs salt or pepper. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little more milk and whisk. The sauce should continue to thicken once it sits.

At this point, cook the fettuccini noodles, about 10-12 minutes. Drain the noodles and add to the sauce (you can also just serve the sauce on top of the noodles, instead of mixing altogether in the pot). If you do add the noodles to the sauce, let the whole concoction sit for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve the pasta with grilled chicken on top and drizzle with basil oil.

Pasta with Vodka Sauce and Basil Oil

I went to Martha’s Market this weekend and ended up only buying “foodie” things. I got this absolutely divine Basil Oil, a ceramic garlic grater and grater bowl, a garlic keeper, and Cherchie’s garlic and herb seasoning (can you tell I like garlic?!).

Tonight I have decided to make a creamy tomato sauce/vodka sauce. They are practically the same thing, except one has vodka and one doesn’t. I added about ½ cup of vodka to my sauce tonight, but you could easily leave it out or put a splash of wine in its place. You could also use penne or rotini pasta, or any other fun pasta (I wouldn’t suggest a pasta that is any thinner than linguine though).

The basil oil that I used for drizzling could easily be made at home, or left out altogether. I did a little research on how to make your own and it seems as though you basically just need good olive oil and lots of basil and you heat the mixture and then let it sit. But, I would do a little more research on your own if you choose to make your own basil oil (or really any other herb infused oil).

Tonight I am drinking a delicious new Viognier. I got talking with the wine lady at Kroger and she gave me a lot of suggestions of new wines. This was one of them. Fruity, buttery, smooth. Really tasty.

Ingredients

  • Fettuccini noodles
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes (14 oz. each)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • ¾ cup half and half (or heavy cream)
  • ½ cup vodka
  • About 15 fresh basil leaves
  • Olive oil
  • Basil oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¾ cup fresh parmesan cheese (grated)
  • Hand immersion blender

Directions

Slice the basil. Mince the garlic and chop the onions as follows: cut the ends off the onion and stand it on either end. Cut down the middle. Lay each half of the onion so that is flat and cut into 4 parts. Turn so that the 4 parts are horizontal and slice into ¼ inch pieces.

Add a little olive oil to the pan and over medium heat cook the onions and garlic for a few minutes. Add the vodka and let cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the tomatoes along with salt and pepper and let cook for about 20 minutes. Use a hand immersion blender to puree the ingredients until mostly smooth. Let cook for another 10 minutes.

Add the basil and the half and half or cream. Stir to combine. Taste the sauce to check for seasoning. Add ½ cup parmesan cheese and stir around.

Serve over pasta with crusty bread and a green and garnish with parmesan cheese and a heavy drizzle of basil oil (we had ours with broccolini and Asiago cheese bread).

Chicken Piccata

I have been craving chicken piccata for a few weeks and finally got around to making it. It is such a comforting, tangy yet sweet, tasty meal. You could easily serve it over orzo or rice instead of spaghetti, or could serve the chicken and sauce alongside roasted potatoes and/or a green veggie.

Ingredients (for 2 large portions)

  • 3 pieces thin cut chicken breasts (or 1 chicken breast butterflied, or 3-4 chicken tenderloins)
  • ½ stick unsalted butter
  • ½ cup low sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup capers, brined
  • Juice of 4 lemons, plus 1 more lemon for slicing
  • 3 tbsp. white wine (I used pinot grigio) – this adds a little sweetness to the tart sauce
  • Handful or parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Flour for dredging
  • Thin spaghetti

Directions

Juice 4 lemons. Thinly slice one lemon. Grate the garlic cloves on a microplane or on the smallest sized holes of a cheese grater. Chop up a handful of parsley.

Put the chicken on a cutting board and lay a piece of saran wrap to cover the chicken. Pound out the chicken so that it is about a quarter inch thick. Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper on both sides. Put a thin layer of flour on a plate. Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake off the excess.

Add 2 tbsp. butter and 2 tbsp. olive oil to a medium sized sauce pan and melt the oils over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned on both sides. Take the chicken out of the pan and place on a plate lined with paper towels.

Add 4 tbsp. olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter to the pan, along with the juice of 4 lemons, the garlic, the capers (do not add the brine of the capers – just the capers themselves), the chicken broth, and a splash of wine (I used pinot grigio). Use a whisk to deglaze the pan and get all of the bits of flour and chicken from the bottom of the pan. Cook the sauce over medium heat to cook off the alcohol in the wine. Let the sauce cook for about 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Taste to see if it needs seasoning.

Cook the pasta. When the pasta is about 3 minutes from being ready add 1 tbsp. of butter and the parsley and stir around. Add the chicken back to the pan and coat both sides with the sauce. Let the chicken cook on 2 minutes on each side to warm back up.

Drain the pasta and spoon into a pasta bowl. Top with a piece (or 2) or chicken and pour sauce overtop. Top with lemon slices and a sprig of parsley (to make it feel fancy). Serve with a salad/asparagus/ broccoli and/or crusty bread.

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Whenever my brother, Lucas, comes to town I end up making spaghetti. It is one of his favorites. He likes it with just a jar of Prego and some ground beef in there (I think this is from his previous 4 years at college). However, I refuse to eat that. SO, I make it from scratch and he likes it just the same…if not more. Each batch is a little different and you can throw in whatever you have in your fridge. I generally just make it with onions, carrots, basil, tomatoes, garlic. This recipe makes a huge amount of sauce, but that way there is tons left over for lunches that week.

Ingredients (makes about 6 cups of sauce)

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 – 3 carrots, peeled
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small yellow squash
  • 20 basil leaves
  • 48 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes (you can also just use four 14 oz. cans in place of the 48 oz. can)
  • 14 oz. can of tomato paste
  • ½ cup water
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano
  • Parmesan cheese, for garnish
  • Spaghetti noodles
  • A hand immersion blender, regular blender, or Cuisinart

Directions

Prep your ingredients: mince the garlic, chop up the onion into inch sized slices, cut the carrots into ¼ inch rounds, cut the squash into ¼ inch slices and then quarter each slice. Also, chiffonade the basil (stack the basil leaves on top of each other, roll up, and slice into really thin slices).

In a large sauté pan add a few rounds of the pan of olive oil. Over medium heat, add the onions and carrots to that and let them sweat and turn translucent. Then add the canned tomatoes and squash. Let cook for about 30 minutes, covered (if you do not have a top for the sauté pan then cover with aluminum foil). Stir occasionally.

Add the garlic and water after about 30 minutes. Stir to combine. Add about 2 tablespoons of salt to the sauce and about 2 tablespoons of ground pepper. Add about 1 tablespoon of garlic powder and 1 teaspoon of oregano to the sauce. Stir around. Use your hand immersion blender to puree the mixture so that it is only slightly chunky. Add the basil and stir. Let the sauce continue to cook for 20 more minutes or so. Continue to stir occasionally, and if the sauce gets too thick then add a little more water and stir.

Taste the sauce. It probably needs more salt or garlic powder. Add whatever you think it needs. Serve over the spaghetti and top with freshly grated parmesan.

Roasted Tomato, Garlic and Onion Pasta with Fresh Basil

A few weeks ago I made roasted tomatoes and fell in love with them. Last night we had our weekly ladies night and our friend Meg came over. I decided to try a new recipe. I loosely based this recipe off of Lidia Bastianich’s recipe for Pasta with Baked Cherry Tomatoes, however, I kind of just added ingredients that I know I like together and it turned out wonderfully. Everyone went back for seconds and only had good things to say about the meal.

If you want to serve this with a balsamic reduction all you need is 3/4 cup of good balsamic vinegar, a few grinds or salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a 1/2 tspn. of sugar. Stir together and cook on medium low heat until the mixture is thickened, but still slightly liquidy. I offered this as a topping along with the mozzarella.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 small yellow onions, chopped and caramelized
  • ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • Olive oil, extra virgin
  • One big handful thin spaghetti
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Garlic powder
  • 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 3 large sprigs of basil, about 30 leaves
  • 1 big ball fresh mozzarella

Directions

Preheat oven to 275°. Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half (you want the tomatoes to be about a half inch in size). Put them in a large pyrex dish so that they are all on one layer. You don’t want any tomatoes to overlap. Put a few drizzles of olive oil on them and sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Toss the tomatoes until evenly coated. Put them in the oven and let them cook for about 2 ½ – 3 hours, or until they are slightly shriveled. Taste them to see if you are pleased with the flavor or if they need to cook for longer. If they finish before you are ready for dinner that is fine, you can always stick them back in the oven a few minutes before dinner to get them warm again.

About an hour and a half before you are ready to eat, caramelize the onions on medium heat until nicely browned and tasty. Set the onions aside and add a tspn. of butter to the pan. Add the breadcrumbs. Cook them over medium heat until they turn nicely brown, stirring them frequently. This should only take 2-3 minutes or so. Set the breadcrumbs aside.

Cut up the fresh mozzarella into small cubes and stick back into the fridge. Wash and dry the basil. Stack the basil leaves on top of each other and roll up into a tight little stick. Cut the basil so that you get thin strips. Put into the fridge. Chop 2 cloves of garlic so that they are very finely chopped. All of these ingredients can sit until your tomatoes are ready and you are ready to combine everything and eat. When you’re getting close to dinner time, put the pasta water on. Once boiling, add salt and the thin spaghetti. When it has cooked, drain the spaghetti and RESERVE THE PASTA WATER. The starchiness from the pasta water helps to lightly thicken sauces.

Put the chopped garlic, ¼ cup pasta water and a few rounds of the pan of olive oil into a large sauté pan and simmer for 2 minutes.  Add the caramelized onions, tomatoes, and drained spaghetti. Toss all together to get a nice light sauce. Add the breadcrumbs, parmesan, and basil and toss some more. You might need to add more pasta water to get more sauce. You also might need to cover the pasta concoction and warm on medium heat, frequently tossing the pasta. Set the mozzarella chunks out so that people can top their pasta with mozzarella if they would like.

Chicken Carbonara

The first time I had carbonara I was completely freaked out. I thought the eggs would do something crazy to the dish (in a bad way) but to my surprise it was a creamy, delicious meal. It is practically breakfast foods combined with spaghetti to make pure bliss.

I generally do not add chicken to mine, but my brother is in town and men love meat, so this time I did. I also add caramelized onions to mine, which makes it different than most other recipes out there.

I would suggest making your bacon pretty darn crunchy so that when it is mixed together with the egg and cream mixture it does not get too chewy and limp. Also, make sure that when you add the egg and cream mixture that you toss it immediately and toss it all together for at least 30 seconds, if not way longer. This will ensure that the eggs don’t scramble and you don’t end up with a huge mess of a meal.

Cooked ingredients: Chicken, bacon, caramelized onions

Ingredients for Carbonara

  • Spaghetti noodles
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup – ½ cup heavy cream
  • 4 tbsp. butter, cut up into little chunks
  • About a half a package of bacon, cooked extra crunchy (but not burnt of course)
  • ½ cup parmesan (I find that grated works best for this recipe but you can use whatever)
  • 2 – 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped (I think fresh is best but it’s up to you)
  • 2 small yellow onions, cut into pieces about the size of your thumb nail
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I go  heavy on the pepper in this recipe)
  • 4 chicken tenderloins (this is optional)

Suggested Ingredients for Chicken Marinade

Some paprika, salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic powder.

Directions

If you are using chicken, marinate it. Cook the bacon and drain the grease. When cooled, crunch into little pieces. Add the chopped onions and cook on medium heat until nicely caramelized.

Cook the chicken until it has a nice crust on it (grilled would be best but I just sautéed mine tonight). You probably want to cook the chicken on medium high heat for about 2 minutes on each side.

After all of these ingredients are cooked and set aside, combine the cream, parmesan, eggs, salt and pepper, cubed butter, and garlic in a bowl. Whisk together.

Cook the spaghetti and then drain. Put the noodles into the sauté pan you used to cook the meats and onions in. Add the bacon, chicken and onions to the cream and egg mixture right before you are ready to mix everything together.

At this point you should have all your ingredients except the spaghetti in a bowl together and your spaghetti in a sauté pan. Add the wet mixture to the noodles and toss with tongs vigorously. You don’t really have to do this in the sauté pan if you don’t want to. You can always do this in the pot you cooked the noodles in as well. You should come out with a creamy consistency that is similar to alfredo. Serve and enjoy with garlic bread and a salad.

Roasted tomatoes and garlic

These tomatoes would be amazing on anything from sandwiches to couscous to pasta and anything else you can imagine. They’re just plain fabulous. Roasting them with whole, unpeeled garlic cloves yields another amazing treat that we call roasted garlic. I even forgot I had the roasted garlic in the dish and when I bit into it with the combo of roasted tomatoes and eggplant, I moaned a little. It was pure utopia. I dare you to make these amazing little bites and love every minute that they’re in your mouth.

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Ingredients

  • Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, or regular ole delicious tomatoes (mine came fresh from mom)
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, unpeeled, with one end cut off
  • A small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Put the tomatoes and garlic cloves on a baking sheet so that they are not layered at all (you can also use a big Pyrex). Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and toss until evenly coated.

Stick it all in the oven and roast it low and slow. Perhaps at 250° – 300° for about 3 hours, or until you like what you see. Taste to see how it is and cook for longer if you’d like. Cut the ends off of the roasted garlic and squeeze out. Put on top of whatever you are eating it with. If you are having the tomatoes by themselves or with the eggplant then I suggest drizzling some of my balsamic reduction on top and sprinkling with parmesan cheese. You can also mix the tomatoes and/or roasted eggplant with squash, zucchini, pasta, or couscous…the possibilities are endless. Bon Appetit!

Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo

About $15 for 4 people.
Recipe adapted from Southern Living Quick and Easy Recipes

This is one of my favorite recipes and it is wonderful leftover as well, which I don’t generally love. You can vary this recipe by leaving out the peas, bacon, or grilled chicken but the combo of all three plus the sauce is just fabulous.

Ingredients

  • Some fetuccine or spaghetti noodles
  • 1 stick of butter, salted is best
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup milk (2% or whole is preferable)
  • ½ to 1 package bacon (I prefer low sodium)
  • 1 big handful frozen peas
  • 6 grilled (or sautéed) chicken tenderloins (or 3 breasts)
  • ½ to ¾ cup freshly grated parmesan (you must be careful when adding the parm to the hot milk mixture or it will clump – details to follow)
  • A couple large shakes of garlic powder
  • A lot of freshly ground pepper (maybe about 1 tbsp)
  • A lot of salt (maybe 1 tspn – or more to taste)

Directions

Melt the butter on low. Once butter is melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth and thickened slightly.

At this point, raise heat to medium low and add the milk and whisk until thickened. Turn off heat and wait about 2 minutes. Add the parm. Do not add the parm to scolding hot milk or it will congeal and the dish will be ruined (if this does happen, which it has happened to every cook I know, then just use a strainer to fish out the congealed parm and then  re-add new parm to the milk mixture).

Whisk the alfredo sauce until thickened. If it gets too thick, add a little more milk and whisk. The sauce will continue to thicken once it sits. Add the frozen peas, bacon and grilled chicken (you can also just sauté the chicken but I love grilled chicken with almost anything so grilled is my number one choice.) Let the mixture sit and absorb all the flavors. At this point, add the fettuccine noodles and cook until al dente. Drain the noodles and add to the sauce. Let the whole concoction sit for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then serve and enjoy.