Shrimp and Chicken Pasta

Home alone. Well, kinda. Does having 4 dogs with you really count as “alone?” Is it kinda like “you’re not drinking alone if your <dog>/<cat> is with you?” Either way, after surviving on Cheerios for the last 3 days {no exaggeration, I eat like a toddler 95% of the time}, it was time for a “big kid meal.”

Ingredients:

1-2 lb shrimp (my bag was a 40-50 count)

Chicken (breasts, legs, what ever. I had some left over legs I chopped up and threw in)

Garlic clove

Butter

Olive oil

Pasta (penne is perfect!)

6 cups water

Tomato sauce (I used a pint mason jar of our homemade stuff)

1/2 cup red wine (optional but oh so yummy)

Salt/Pepper

Basil

Onion

Parmesan Cheese

Oh the best part, all done in ONE pan!!! BOOM!

*THAW AND PEAL YOUR SHRIMP BEFORE YOU START IF NEEDED! DONT FORGET TO DEVEIN! Prep what ever chicken you are using as well!*

  1. In your pan, melt butter with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. While they are heating chop cup your garlic and onion.
  2. Once your butter has melted, on medium/high heat, add in your garlic and onion to sauté. While they are going, cut up your chicken, get your ingredients in order.
  3. Add in your shrimp and chicken to the butter goodness in the pan. Sear for 2-3 minutes.

13672090_10209826670848571_74546087_n4. Add in your tomato sauce, water, pasta, red wine, and sauce seasonings

13652707_10209826670768569_1814399578_n5. Cook at a low boil until the pasta is cooked through.

6. Serve nice and hot with parmesan on top!

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Total prep (including shrimp for me) 30 min. Clean up- 5 minutes, we have a great non-stick pan.

 

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Baked Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti

I have a confession. I am a picky eater. If you notice, my recipes tend to contain the same main components. Though I do like fruits, I am not a fan of vegetables or squash like things. This last Thanksgiving, I helped my Aunt make butternut squash. I’m not sure if it was how it was prepared or the squash itself, but I was not a huge fan. For Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend made spaghetti squash. It was good. I liked it. Which, is a big deal. I have a texture thing. I don’t like such things normally. I was hit with inspiration and went shopping today. I was going to make spaghetti squash!

Ingredients:

1 small-medium spaghetti squash

1-2 garlic cloves

Olive Oil

1/2 cup – 1 cup cheese- mozzarella, parmesan, any mix of cheese you would like

8oz tomato sauce

1-2 tablespoons minced onion (or dried onion flakes)

Meat of choice- I used mini salad shrimp, sausage, ground beef/turkey/pork, muscles, again totally up to you

Spices/Herbs- basil, oregano, parsley

Pre-heat oven to 300

1. Slice your spaghetti squash in half- I read AFTER I cut mine to bake it a bit to soften it. It is quite difficult to cut in half. So you can choose to pre-bake yours for about 15 minutes or just hack away like I did. Cut in half and scoop out the pulp, like a pumpkin.

2. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and place on a baking sheet, skin side out, that’s also been drizzled with olive oil.

3. Rip a small piece of foil, place in 1 or 2 garlic cloves and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap up and place on the cookie sheet with the squash- nothing beats roasted garlic!

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4. In a sauce pan on the stove, combine your sauce, meet and spices. Just kinda keep it on low while the squash is baking to let the flavors meld. I used little tiny shrimp so that the flavor was still there but so that I didn’t have huge chunks.

5. At 30-45 minutes, flip the squash flesh side up and test with a fork. You should easily be able to pull the strands away from the rind. If not, continue baking. I left mine flesh side up for another 15 minutes or so.

6. Once the squash is done, scrape out the flesh with a fork into a separate bowl. Add the sauce and half of your cheese and mix until well combined.

7. Replace the mixture back into the hollowed squash skins. Sprinkle with the remainder of the cheese and put back into the oven for another 15 minutes to melt the cheese on top.

8. Serve hot with a hearty slice of bread and butter!

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Snow Day Garden Planning

It is a winter wonderland right now. Seriously. We have over a foot of snow in our yard, a combination of the approximately 8 inches we got today plus what was already laying on the ground. My dad used our snow blower to created a doggy path in our back yard since our critters are a bit vertically challenged.

10437617_10206255174127735_8793836284818350200_nI am desperately looking forward to the days when our yard looks more like this-

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Last year was the first garden my parents did. This little plot is 8×10. This year, we are more than doubling that to a whopping 32×10. Yes, 32×10. That is 320 square feet of prime food growin ground. When you decide to grow a garden that big, you can not haphazardly throw plant in the ground. There is an art to this, a serious science. I have spent at least 3 hours researching, drawing, erasing and going back to the garden boards to plan out our vegetable garden this year. An excel spread sheet, and 2 tables later, I think I’ve got it!

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This is an excel spread sheet of all different fruits and vegetables we will be growing, whether in the main 32×10 garden, in a separate box, like our strawberries, or in our side garden, like the cucumbers. It features how deep to plant the seeds, how far apart to plant them, how many can be planted in a square foot, when to plant, companion planting info, soil info and sun preferences. Instead of having to search 18 different websites, I can simply pull this up and all of the info I need is right there in one spot!

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This is our 32×10 garden lay out. Below is the color key, black is walking space. It is a pain in the butt to harvest, weed and take care of a garden when you have no room to actually walk! What a travesty to have great plants and accidentally step and crush them! This helps aid this problem. Having it laid out also means no guessing when it comes to planting time. Each square will have 1-16 plants depending on what is being planted there. We LOVE canning homemade tomato sauce, and being able to harvest and freeze fresh green beans, carrots and peppers to use throughout the winter and spring. Nothing beats having fresh carrots and green beans in a good hearty pot of stew in the middle of December. We are also planting marigolds around the perimeter of the whole garden. There are numerous benefits of this, one of them being that they attract bees, which helps pollination, which in turn means lots of produce!

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 5.18.33 PMRight now, the wind is blowing and the snow is still kinda falling. By the end of the week it is supposed to bounce back up to the 40s and Spring will quickly be approaching. I still have our front flower gardens to plan and a few weeks before we’ll be able to till the ground and get our (organic/natural) soil additives in preparation for planting time mid-April. Though it seems so far away, like the snow may never stop and the ice will never melt, I know that in just a few short weeks I will have my toes in the dirt and seeds in the ground!

Creamy Crock Pot Tortellini Soup

One of the joys of being in a relationship is collecting and learning recipes. This happens to be one of my new favorites! Filling, easy, warm, and perfect for a cold winters day, this crock pot soup takes about 5 minutes to throw together. Seriously. There’s almost no prep time.

Ingredients:

1lb bag tortellini- cheese or meat

1 8oz pack of cream cheese

16 oz can/jar of tomato sauce

1 lb ground beef

1-2 garlic cloves

1/2 onion

Basil

1. Dump in the tortellini, tomato sauce, and thawed ground beef into the crock pot. Make sure the ground beef is broken up.

2. Add in the cream cheese and split it up a bit so that it is not in one giant block.

3. Mince/chop garlic and onion and add to the pot.

4. Add in a few fresh basil leaves or about a table spoon of dried

5. Set on high and stir occasionally for at least 3 hours. The tortellini should be soft, any meat should be cooked through, the cream cheese should be melted and incorporated.

This whole process could be sped up by doing it in a pot on the stove if needed, or put in a crock pot on low for the day. Serve with a good hearty bread and eat up! Possible additions or substitutions include: diced tomatoes, chicken or a ground meat like turkey or venison, meat tortellini, or meatballs.

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Homemade Tomato Sauce

There is something wonderful that happens when you harvest fruits and veggies from your garden that you have spent months loving and tending, bring them inside and turn them into yumminess. There’s something reassuring when you know exactly what was used to help make them grow. Last summer I had the joyful job of learning how to make my own mater sauce and can. For what ever reason I had this thought in my head that canning and turning tomatoes into sauce was this daunting task. It certainly wasn’t the herculean quest I thought it would be, but definitely a process.

I learned a few things.

1. You don’t necessarily have to do the whole water bath thing. Run the mason jars and lids through the dishwasher on the sanitizing cycle with heat dry and try to time it so that the dishwasher ends when the sauce is ready. As long as the jars/lids and the sauce are nice and hot, they should pop on their own without having to do the water bath mess. If the tops don’t pop then you might have to do some water bathing. I only had to do this for 1 of about 30 jars we did last year. You can also just put the jars and lids in boiling water, pull them and fill. Same concept, works just as well.

2. Avoid putting herbs/garlic/onions in with your sauce. As they sit in the sauce they can make it bitter and taste funny.

3. You don’t need anything but tomatoes if that be your desire.

4. The longer you cook the tomato puree, the thicker it gets and the more like tomato paste or marinara it becomes. There’s a sweet spot.

SO, now that that is all out of the way, time for the actual sauce making process.

Pluck your maters! I found that for about every 30 medium tomatoes I would get 2 quart jars of sauce. We used a combination of heirlooms and romas.

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Romas!

Phase I. Line up your work station. As much as I hate having an electric stove, the flat top can double as extra counter space now and again. Left to right I have a pot of boiling water on the far burner. Next to that on a cool part of the stove I have a bowl full of ice water. On the counter I have a bowl for scraps, my cutting board, and another bowl to put the processed tomatoes.

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1. To remove the skins, place a few in the boiling water for 10 seconds to a minute. Some skins break and start to release almost automatically. Some need a wee bit more time. Once you do it for a while you kind know what they feel like when the skin has separated, and obviously you can visibly see when it splits.

2. Place the maters in an ice bath so that they are cool enough to handle.

3. Peal the skins off of the maters and put the skins in bowl #1. With your hands or a knife split the tomato into smaller pieces/chunks. Remove as much of the seeds as you can now and throw them in your scraps bowl.

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4. The tomato chunks go into bowl two to await their next step.

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Repeat until all of the tomatoes you harvested have gone through this process. When you’re done, clean it all up but leave out your bowl of maters and your scrap bowl. Get out a large pitcher or another bowl and your blender. You are now ready for Phase II.

Fill your blender about 1/2 full of the tomato chunks and blend until smooth. Feel free to leave a few chunks if you’re into that kind of sauce. Pour your puree into your bowl/pitcher. Repeat until all of your chunks have been blended.

Place a big pot on a front burner of your stove on medium-low heat. Place a relatively fine sifter/screen over the top of your pot. Pour the tomato puree through and stir to help the sauce through the screens. This removes the seeds that are still there and any chunks. You can choose to reblend them for smooth sauce or pull them out, make sure they don’t have seeds stuck to them and throw them in the pot. This is the longest part of the whole process and would be much easier with a food mill. Which we haven’t invested in yet.

To the very runny, kinda pink, not very tomato-saucey stuff in your pot I add about 1 cup- 1 1/2 cup of white granulated sugar. Again, this depends on how much sauce you are making. I also added about 3 tablespoons or so of salt. I leave the pot on medium heat for about 3 hours. Check and stir every 20-30 minutes to avoid the bottom burning. This also helps you gauge about when to start your dishwasher if you are using that method.

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Again, the longer you cook it down, the thicker and more paste like it becomes. When I use a jar, I like to simmer it on the stove with a crushed garlic clove, fresh minced onion and herbs so I keep my sauce a bit on the thin side to accommodate for my cooking style.

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The beginning of the cooking process

When the sauce is ready, my mom, dad and I tag teamed to make the process quick. I laid down a dishtowel on the counter. Mom pre-washed the brand new jars and lids. Dad boiled the jars, rings and lids because I think it is easier than the dishwasher for small batches. Dad pulled them, I fill with sauce, screw the tops on and repeat until the sauce is gone or I don’t have enough for a jar and have to put them in freezer containers. If the jar tops haven’t popped in about an hour, you should submerge it in boiling water to make sure that happens.

This particular batch took about 3 hours to cook down to the consistency that we wanted. We got 5 24oz jars! 😀

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Mom is obviously SUPER excited that she FINALLY has sauce from her garden tomatoes!

Not Baked Zitti But Not Chicken Parm

I find that I come up with my best recipes when there is nothing in the house. Eric goes shopping about once a month, loads up like a crazy person and doesn’t have to see a grocery store for about 3 weeks. Which is awesome because we hate grocery shopping. It absolutely sucks when it’s the end of those 3 weeks and I am scraping food from the bottom of the barrel so to speak. The new running joke of course is that if worse comes to worse we can always eat the chickens. -_-

Ingredients:

3-5 boneless, skinless chicken breast

1/2 box elbow macaroni

2 jars of  homemade tomato sauce

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

1/2 grated Parmesan cheese

I finally finished my last two jars of sauce from last summer, JUST in time to prepare to make some more over the next few months.

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Usually when I am seasoning my sauce I throw in a crushed clove of garlic and about 2 tablespoons of minced onion. We were out of both so I used the good ole’ store bought dried stuff. I also threw in basil, oregano, and parsley, with the garlic powder and dried minced onion.

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Pre-heat the oven to 425

I keep the sauce on medium-low for about an hour. This helps thicken the homemade sauce and marries the yummy flavors in with the sauce.

I thawed and mostly cooked the chicken breast through before cutting it up into larger chunks with kitchen scissors.

I pre baked the elbow macaroni until they were aldente.

Put the chicken chunks, macaroni, and sauce in a large casserole dish. Cover with cheese and cook for 20-30 minutes. Everything is already cooked and hot. This is just to make sure the chicken is definitely cooked through and allows the sauce to cook into the noodles just a bit.  Of course the cheese needs time to get ooey and gooey.

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Not too bad for a “there’s literally nothing in the kitchen” dinner. Yes, this definitely makes a lot BUT it’s enough for Eric to take for lunch a few days and his roommate to stuff his face a few times as well. If the chicken is thawed, this takes 30 minutes of “hard-work” prep and another 30 letting the sauce simmer.  I asked Eric if this was worth making again even when we have food back in the kitchen and he gave me the thumbs up! 🙂 Obviously not baked ziti, or chicken parm but something almost akin to the two? Like a long lost distant cousin twice removed maybe?