Marinated Chicken & Artichoke Pizza

Pizza is one of the easiest meals you can make at home. I most always prefer to make my own crust but nothing wrong with a purchased one or some focaccia bread pizza crust. Once that crust part has been taken care of, its really just a matter of topping the pie with all your favorite ingredients and waiting for it to come out of the oven.

But of course, there are a number of things that can go wrong even so. You might think that there’s no such thing as too much cheese …. but there is. Cheese normally means a lot of grease, your pizza could fall apart under the weight of all that dairy.

Too many toppings can cause overly cooked crust or under-cooked toppings. Another thing I find super important, is making sure the toppings are sauteed so they are not releasing too much moisture into the crust.

Since Brion & I are both lovers of marinated artichokes, putting them on a pizza sounds real good. Artichokes are technically the flower buds of a thistle plant that hasn’t blossomed yet. Its kind of amazing to think we can enjoy these odd little culinary treats in so many ways.

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Marinated Chicken & Artichoke Pizza
Instructions
Pizza Dough
  1. Cook potato, peel, mash & cool. Combine yeast with lukewarm water; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 3 minutes until foamy. Add butter, salt, sour cream & potato, mix well.
  2. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap & let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Pizza Topping Prep
  1. Slice chicken into strips, saute in some drained artichoke marinade until most of it evaporates. Set aside.
  2. Saute mushrooms & onions in a teaspoon of butter until moisture evaporates. Set aside.
  3. Shred cheese. In a small dish combine spices.
  4. Drain sun-dried tomatoes & black olives, blot on paper towel & slice tomatoes.
  5. Cut each piece of (drained) artichoke in half.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll or press dough into a 16-inch circle. Transfer on paper to a baking sheet.
  3. Carefully spread the 1/2 cup marinara sauce over the bottom of pizza. Season with spice mixture. Sprinkle with a bit of cheese then layer with mushrooms, onion, chicken, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives & remaining cheese.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & slice. If you prefer, brush the top of the outside (dough) ring with artichoke marinade either before or after baking.
Recipe Notes
  • If you like, press pizza dough into a 16 X 12-inch rectangle instead of a circular shape.

Creamy Mushroom & Sausage Orecchiette

Orecchiette pasta originates in the sunny, southern province of Puglia, Italy. This pasta’s round concave shape led to its name, which means ‘little ears’ in Italian. The rigid exterior and cup-like interior captures chunky sauces and scoops up small vegetables, making orecchiette perfect to serve with sautes. I should mention that I didn’t find orecchiette on the regular supermarket shelves. We are lucky to have some real good Italian grocery stores in our area which definitely have them available.

You will notice, another ingredient I used in this meal is Italian sausage. Sausage is so common that people rarely stop and think about how and why they are made the way they are. Every country has a unique sausage tradition and puts their own twist on the classic meat.

Italian sausage is one of the more popular sausage varieties available, but its origins in Italy are actually different from what we are accustomed to in North America. The true Italian sausage or ‘salsiccia’ (sahl-SEE-tchay) is made of meats that have been seasoned heavily with chili and other hot ingredients and allowed to marinate and change the flavor of the meat overnight.

The more common Italian sausage that North Americans know, is a pork sausage with a fennel and anise mixture as a base seasoning. It is packaged as either HOT or MILD, the difference being in the amount of red pepper flakes that are used.

If you choose to try this meal, I think you will find it real tasty. We just loved it and I have to say it was actually the first time we had ever tried Italian sausage. I have always thought it would be too spicy hot for our liking. Needless to say, I went with the mild version.

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Creamy Mushroom & Sausage Orecchiette
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Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, cook sausage with a splash of olive oil, until browned & cooked through. Set aside.
  2. Add butter to saucepan & saute onions until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Mix in garlic, cook another 2 minutes. Add mushrooms & zucchini, sauteing until tender-crisp, about 5-6 minutes. Return sausage meat to pan & keep warm.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt. Cook orecchiette pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta & return to pot. Fold in cheese, sausage/vegetable mixture, fresh parsley & pepper to taste. Slowly add chicken broth until preferred consistency is reached. Serve garnished with red pepper flakes & Parmesan cheese.

Stuffed Mushrooms in Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce

Stuffed mushrooms are one of those items that can be an appetizer as well as a main course. They are as versatile as you can get. The number of different fillings are endless and can be anything from a simple bread stuffing to seafood, veggies or any kind of meat.

Portobello mushrooms are big, meaty and the ideal vessel for stuffing, creating a dish that is a meal unto itself. Few things can match the flavor of stuffed mushrooms.

Depending on the source, this unique dish has been around since the late 19th century or early 20th century. The fact that they resemble stuffed zucchini, it is likely that the Italians should receive credit for their creation.

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Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms in Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
Instructions
Mushrooms
  1. Trim stems from mushrooms & finely chop them; reserve for sauce. Whisk the egg lightly in a shallow bowl. In a separate shallow bowl, combine flour, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, paprika & garlic salt.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high. Dip the mushrooms in the egg then in the flour mixture. Coat the outside of the mushrooms, trying not to get too much flour inside the 'cap'.
  3. In a skillet, fry mushrooms on both sides until lightly golden. Use a tongs to help fry the sides as well. Remove mushrooms to a plate. To the skillet, add a splash of water & Swiss chard leaves. Sprinkle with salt & pepper & saute until leaves are wilted, about 1 minute.
  4. Divide cream cheese between the 4 mushroom caps. Top with wilted Swiss chard; sprinkle with grated Parmesan & paprika. Set aside, keeping warm.
Sauce
  1. In a skillet , heat oil. Add onion & cook for 2 minutes until it starts to soften. Add reserved mushroom stems, garlic, oregano, paprika, sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers & zucchini. Cook for 2 minutes while stirring with a spatula. Add wine (or chicken broth) & allow to bubble for 2 minutes then add vegetable broth, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil & simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Stir the cream & Parmesan cheese into the sauce, then nestle the mushrooms on top. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley. Nice to serve with pasta or potatoes and/or a meat item.

Honey Balsamic Glazed Salmon

Being a fig lover, I am always attracted to recipes with this tasty little fruit in them. Some years ago, I started using the Kraft Fig Balsamic Dressing and it became one of my favorites.

Salad dressings have started catering to consumer demand for thoughtfully crafted products made with natural ingredients. Fig balsamic dressing can be used in numerous ways. It has a tangy and delicately sweet, caramelized fig flavor that works as a glaze for roasted or grilled pork, sauteed chicken and baked salmon. You can brush it on in the last few minutes of cooking or add a little to the skillet, just to coat your saute.

This balsamic vinaigrette has enough flavor to dress a salad on its own or use over roasted veggies, aged & soft cheeses or in soups. For dessert try drizzling some over fruit & Greek yogurt or ice cream. It’s amazing!

This glazed salmon is an excellent meal served with rice or roasted potatoes.

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Honey Balsamic Glazed Salmon
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Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add vegetables; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon vegetables to one side of skillet. Add salmon, flesh side down, to other side of skillet; cover. Cook on medium heat 8 minutes or until fish flakes easily with fork, turning after 4 minutes.
  2. Transfer fish & vegetables to a plate; cover to keep warm. Add dressing & honey to skillet; cook & stir 30 seconds or until heated through.
  3. Pour dressing mixture over fish. Top vegetables with Parmesan & fresh basil.

Chicken & Mushroom Risotto

Rice has always been a staple at our house. I think Brion could eat rice almost everyday without problem. Although the steamed long grain would be his favorite, I can’t resist making a risotto periodically.

A properly cooked risotto should form a soft, creamy mound on a dinner plate. It shouldn’t run across the plate, nor should it be stiff and gluey.

Risotto’s signature tenderness is traditionally achieved by slowly adding spoonfuls of liquid while the rice cooks. This shortcut version eliminates most of the stove top stirring, but produces equally silky results.

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Chicken & Mushroom Risotto
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Course Main Dish
Keyword risotto
Servings
Course Main Dish
Keyword risotto
Servings
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
  1. Heat 1 tsp oil in a LARGE POT or DEEP SKILLET over high heat. Add bacon & cook until golden. Transfer to a small microwave-proof bowl.
  2. Leave about 1 Tbsp bacon drippings in pot & discard the rest. Add chicken & cook until browned through. Transfer to a separate bowl. Add mushrooms & cook until light golden. Add to bowl with chicken.
  3. Turn heat down to medium & return pot to the stove. Add butter & melt; then add garlic & onion. Saute for 3 minutes or until softened. Turn up heat, add rice & stir until grains become partially translucent, about 1 minute (do NOT overcook).
  4. Add wine & cook, scraping the bottom of the pot to get any brown bits, about 2 minutes. Turn down heat to medium-low; add about 3 cups of chicken stock. Leave, uncovered, stirring just once or twice, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  5. Check firmness of rice & add 1/2 cup of broth at a time, stirring in between until absorbed & rice is cooked to YOUR taste. Add the chicken & mushrooms back into the risotto towards the end, just to heat through. Right at the end when the risotto is ready, add a 'splash' more chicken broth to make the risotto slightly soupy, then take it off the stove.
  6. Add butter & Parmesan cheese, then stir vigorously (this will activate the starch & make it super creamy). Serve immediately. Garnish with reheated bacon & extra Parmesan if you wish.
Recipe Notes
  • Risotto is best made with Arborio rice which is starchier than other types of rice, making it essential to achieve a creamy risotto.
  • In order to use this 'no stir' method of cooking risotto, you MUST use a large pot or deep skillet so the rice & liquid is spread out & not too deep.

Veggie Shrimp Pasta w/ Garlic Knots

As I was preparing this meal today, the same question that I’ve pondered many times, came back to me. Why do we serve (garlic) bread with a pasta meal? It makes no sense! Pasta and bread are both starches so why do we eat them together?

After a lot of research on this subject, I now think I have the answer. When the first wave of Italian immigrants arrived in America from Southern Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they couldn’t get good quality olive oil, the right produce or arborio rice, but were instead able to afford ample quantities of cheese and meat. They pioneered a culture of ‘abbondanza’ (meaning in abundance), building on traditional recipes and creating new ones; always sure to use as much of a good ingredient as possible. The result … a hearty, delicious cuisine that has never seen the light of day in the land that inspired it. ‘Italian garlic bread’, as found in North American restaurants and grocery stores, does not exist in real Italian cuisine. It is an Italian-American creation that nobody in Italy would recognize.

Ok, so now I have the answer and you’ve probably noticed, I made Garlic Knots to go with our pasta!

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Veggie Shrimp Pasta w/ Garlic Knots
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings
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Rating: 5
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Instructions
Garlic Knots
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder & salt; whisk well. Add yogurt, mixing with a fork until incorporated. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough about 15 times. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces & roll into strips about 9-inches long. Tie each strip into a 'knot-like' ball; place on baking sheet. Bake about 18 minutes or until golden then allow to cool 5 minutes.
  3. In a saucepan, melt butter, add garlic & cook until golden about 2 minutes. Brush the knots with the garlic butter & sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Veggie Shrimp Pasta
  1. In a large pot of boiling water, cook pasta until tender but firm; drain & set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini, peppers & mushrooms; cook for 5 minutes or until tender-crisp, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, spices & shrimp; stirring for another 3 minutes or until shrimp is opaque.
  3. In pasta pot, place soup & milk; when hot add half of the Parmesan cheese, pasta & shrimp/veg mixture. If necessary, cook a few more minutes just to make sure everything is hot. Sprinkle with remaining cheese before serving.

Limoncello Mini Cakes

Nothing says spring more than the zesty, fresh flavor of lemons. Just to kick it up a notch, I decided to make some limoncello desserts.

Limoncello, (pronounced lee-mon-CHAY-low) the Italian lemon liqueur, is known for its refreshing sweet and tangy flavor. It is made from lemon rinds, alcohol and sugar. Although, traditionally served as an after dinner drink, it is a wonderful ingredient to use in cooking and baking.

Limoncello origins are disputed. Some say it was created by monks or nuns while others credit the wealthy Amalfi Coast families or even local townsfolk. In any case, its roots are in Southern Italy, primarily along Italy’s Amalfi Coast and the Sorrentine Peninsula known for their meticulous lemon cultivation. These lemons are considered the finest lemons for making limoncello. Prized for their yellow rinds, intense fragrance, juicy flesh and balanced acid.

Some years ago, while travelling in Italy, Brion & I tasted athentic limoncello in the town of Sorrento. As we walked through the quaint artisan shops packed together onto a maze of medieval alleys, we came accross one that sold liqueurs & confectionery. One of the treats that they made were limoncello sugar coated almonds … to die for!

Today’s little cakes use limoncello not only in the cake but the frosting and glaze as well. Definitely gives them some spring zing!

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Limoncello Mini Cakes
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Course dessert
Servings
mini cakes
Ingredients
Limoncello Cakes
Limoncello Glaze
Course dessert
Servings
mini cakes
Ingredients
Limoncello Cakes
Limoncello Glaze
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
Cakes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter & flour 4 mini bundt pans.
  2. In a small bowl, cream butter & sugar; add egg & mix well. Fold in the flour then add milk & limoncello; beat well. Spoon mixture into the bundt pans & bake for 18 minutes or until they test done. Allow to cool.
Cream Cheese Frosting
  1. In a small bowl, beat together butter, cream cheese & limoncello (if using). Add powdered sugar & mix until smooth.
Limoncello Glaze
  1. In a small saucepan, whisk together sugar, lemon zest & egg. Cook until sugar dissolves & the mixture turns light in color, about 2 minutes. Stir in limoncello & cook for about 5 minutes or until mixture thinly coats the back of a spoon, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat & whisk in butter. Cover with plastic wrap & cool before using.
Assembly
  1. Place cakes on a serving plate. Fill the center indentation from the bundt pan with glaze as well as glazing the tops. Place frosting in a piping bag with a tip that has a small hole. Pipe frosting to look like lemon slices.

Baked Shells w/ Pesto, Cheese & Meat Sauce

Pasta is without a doubt, one of the most versatile ingredients to cook with. It can be prepared in so many unique ways with different sauces. Pesto sauce is one of those … a simple sauce with simple ingredients that packs a huge flavor.

Pesto sauce originated in Genoa, which is located in the northern region of Italy. The Italian word for pesto: pestare, means to pound or to crush. It was originally prepared with a marble mortar and wooden pestle. However, the translation may be a bit misleading because preparation does not consist of pounding, rather it is of grounding.

Traditionally, pesto is made of crushed garlic, fresh basil and pine nuts blended with Parmesan cheese and olive oil. There are many variations of pesto and while the most popular is a pasta sauce, it can be used for a spread or dip, salad dressing or as an accompaniment to steak, poultry or fish. Red pesto is either made from sundried tomatoes or red bell peppers.

This pasta meal comes together easily in a short space of time. Sometimes its the simplest dishes that are truly the best!

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Baked Shells w/ Pesto, Mozzarella & Meat Sauce
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Course Main Dish
Servings
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a saucepan over low heat, saute onion in olive oil for 5-7 minutes. Add ground pork, 2 Tbsp water, pepper, sage, red pepper flakes & ginger. Cook, stirring until no longer pink.
  3. Add salt, dried basil & diced tomatoes; bring to a boil then lower heat & simmer for 20 minutes. Stir periodically. At the end of cooking time, stir in pesto & remove from heat.
  4. While sauce is simmering, cook pasta shells al dente. It is important not to overcook shells as they will be further cooked in the oven. Drain pasta, add cooked sauce & gently toss.
  5. Place half of the pasta in a baking dish & sprinkle with half of mozzarella & Parmesan. Top it up with remaining pasta & sprinkle with other half of the cheeses.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes until cheese is golden & pasta is hot & bubbly.
Recipe Notes
  • Don't hesitate to bake your pasta in individual servings.

Sweet Corn Risotto w/ Sauteed Shrimp

Comforting, creamy risotto is one of those dishes that isn’t difficult to prepare but it can be quite time consuming. I find it works best for me when I’m doing other things in the kitchen at the same time.

Risotto is typically made with arborio rice, but pearl barley is a good substitute; it produces a similar texture but with a nuttier taste.

Over the years, I have made various kinds of risotto. Brion is the eternal rice lover. He could eat rice everyday of the week. Even though his favorite is just plain white rice, I can’t resist adding risotto to the mix now and again.

As a rule, if you are using corn in risotto, it would probably be fresh. In February, ‘fresh’ is not happening in our part of the country yet. One of the most favorite canned vegetables in North America is corn. Personally, I love corn no matter if its canned, frozen or fresh. Without trying to sound like an advertisement, I found that Green Giant Steam Crisp was real nice for this recipe. It’s supposedly picked at its peak and then quickly steamed in the can to preserve as many vitamins and nutrients as possible. I added some bacon and mushrooms to give it some extra pizzazz!

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Sweet Corn Risotto w/ Sauteed Shrimp
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring chicken broth to a simmer.
  2. In another large saucepan, saute bacon until lightly browned but not crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a plate lined with paper towels. Drain off fat & wipe out pan with paper towels.
  3. Add butter to pan & melt over medium heat. Saute mushrooms until moisture evaporates; add onion & green pepper. Saute for 5 minutes or until tender crisp then add barley (or rice) & hot chicken broth; simmer, stirring occasionally until all broth is absorbed, 15-20 minutes. If you need to make more broth, do so but be sure it is hot before adding it.
  4. When barley (or rice) is cooked & broth is absorbed, remove from heat & stir in corn, butter, Parmesan & parsley. Season with salt & pepper & transfer to a large bowl.
  5. Add remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil to skillet & heat over medium-high heat. Add garlic, shallot & red pepper flakes & cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add shrimp & cook until pink & beginning to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add 1/4 cup chicken broth & let simmer until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt & pepper & stir in basil. Add risotto & bacon back to skillet, stirring to combine with shrimp. Serve.

Parsnip Noodles with Meatballs

Spiral vegetable slicers, also known as spiralizers, have been a trending kitchen gadget since about 2014. This nifty apparatus can transform veggies such as zucchini, pumpkin, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, squash, potatoes ……. into linguine-like strands which can be used as an alternate to pasta.

The process is pretty simple, either peel or wash the raw piece of produce and use the tool to spiral it down into a noodle shape. There are two basic varieties of vegetable spiralizers on the market to consider.

For smaller kitchens and counter spaces there is an hourglass-shaped tool. It is two sided for the option of thin or thicker noodles and calls for an easy manual twisting of the vegetable to produce noodles. It comes with a small metal prong to hold the veggie in place.

For larger kitchens and counter spaces there is a tri-blade version with a variety of attachments and a handle so you can crank out your noodles.

Spiralled veggies are easy and fast to cook. For best results make sure to pat them dry before cooking. I prefer to season and saute ours for a few minutes.

What makes pasta great is not the actual pasta but the sauce you put on it. Vegetable noodles have the same consistency as pasta, so when it comes to sauces, the less water the better. Reduce tomato-based sauce as much as possible or choose thicker cream-based sauces to pair with your veggie noodles.

Parsnips are a vegetable we both enjoy, so for something different, I spiralized them. Brion was amazed at how much this meal looked like spaghetti and meatballs. Nice change!

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Parsnip Noodles with Meatballs
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, combine ground meat, cheese, grated garlic, Italian seasoning, bouillon cube, red pepper flakes, chopped cilantro & some black pepper. Combine well & form into meatballs.
  2. In a large skillet, over medium-low heat, melt 2 Tbsp butter. Cook meatballs for 8-10 minutes until browned & cooked through. Add pasta sauce & continue cooking until sauce is hot. Remove to a bowl & keep hot while you saute your parsnip noodles.
  3. In the same skillet, melt remaining Tbsp butter; add lemon juice, hot sauce & minced garlic. Add the spiralized, parsnip noodles & saute for 3-4 minutes, stirring regularly, until parsnips are tender-crisp. Adjust seasoning with salt & pepper.
  4. Divide parsnip noodles between serving plates & top each with meatballs & sauce.