Monday Comfort

It’s Labor Day…the traditional end to the summer and return to schedules, school, sports, scouts, and on and on.  There’s excitement in the air and anticipation for the fun a new school year brings ~ and maybe a little anxiety too, as we try to think about what to cook on busy nights when everyone is running in different directions.  Food that’s delicious, nutritious, easy to prepare, and comforting fits the bill.  Monday is comfort day on the blog, and comfort food doesn’t have to be hot…so even in the typical hot weather that comes with the end of summer here in Southern California, we can enjoy meals that make us feel good inside.

Pasta Salads are great meals for this time of year; they are best made in advance so ingredients can chill and flavors can meld.  This means cooking the pasta and other ingredients in the morning before it gets hot, always a relief.  Tortellini makes a hearty base for pasta salad.  Choose your favorite tortellini, add-ins, seasonings and dressing and you’re good to go.  Make a big batch and you’ve got enough to feed kids and their friends, or a second meal later in the week.  Here’s the combination we had last night:

Tortellini Salad

Southwestern Tortellini Salad

1 lb. Spinach Tortellini
1 shallot, minced
2 ears corn, kernels cut off
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. Butter
Kosher Salt
Chipotle Chili powder
1 small can sliced olives
1 jar black bean and roasted corn salsa
1/2 cup shredded Mexican Cheese blend
Cooked Pork Carnitas, diced
1 beefsteak tomato, quartered and sliced
1/4 cup chives, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Creamy Chipotle Ranch Dressing

Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and place into a large bowl.  Heat the oil and butter in a large pan and saute the shallots and garlic over medium heat until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the corn, sprinkle with salt and a little Chipotle Chile Powder and saute, stirring occasionally, until it’s tender and roasted, around 10 minutes.  (If you;re short on time, use canned or frozen corn.)  Add to the pasta.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients and toss with the dressing, then refrigerate until ready to serve.   You may need to toss with additional dressing before serving as the pasta and other ingredients will absorb it as it sets.

Tortellini Salad Serving

You can imagine the possibilities ~ instead of pork carnitas you can use ground beef or turkey with taco seasoning; sub in Feta Cheese, sliced red onion, fresh dill, sliced chicken, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, garbanzo beans and Greek Dressing for a completely different dish; or chunks of fresh Mozzarella, salami, peppers and Italian Vinaigrette; or ground beef/turkey with cheddar, bacon, tomato, iceberg lettuce , caramelized onion and Thousand Island Dressing…you get the idea.

UPDATE: You can reduce the fat and calories and keep all the flavor if you use dressings from Bolthouse Farms.  They’ve got an amazing variety of delicious yogurt and Greek Yogurt  options that will fit whatever your ingredients are. (This post is not sponsored; I just truly love their products!)

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The great thing about pasta salads is that in using the ingredients that your family likes, you’ve got a complete meal that everyone is happy with.  And that’s a beautiful thing.

Happy Monday!

SueSignature

Tortellini Salad
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Tortellini Salad can take on whatever flavor profile you'd like - Southwestern, Greek, All-American, Italian...throw in the meats, cheese, vegetables and dressing that suits your fancy!
Author:
Recipe type: Dinner, Salads, Main DIsh
Serves: 6-8 servings
Ingredients
  • For Southwestern Tortellini Salad:
  • 1 lb. Spinach Tortellini
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 ears corn, kernels cut off
  • 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter
  • Kosher Salt
  • Chipotle Chili powder
  • 1 small can sliced olives
  • 1 jar black bean and roasted corn salsa
  • ½ cup shredded Mexican Cheese blend
  • 1 lb.Cooked Pork Carnitas, diced, OR
  • 1 lb. ground beef or turkey, cooked and tossed with a packet of Taco Seasoning
  • 1 beefsteak tomato, quartered and sliced
  • ¼ cup chives, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • Creamy Chipotle Ranch Dressing
Instructions
  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and place into a large bowl.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan and saute the shallots and garlic over medium heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. If you're using ground beef or turkey, add the meat to the pan and cook through, then toss with a packet of Taco Seasoning.
  3. Add the corn, sprinkle with salt and a little Chipotle Chile Powder and saute, stirring occasionally, until it's tender and roasted, around 10 minutes. (If you're short on time, use canned or frozen corn.) Add to the pasta.
  4. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and toss with the dressing, then refrigerate until ready to serve. You may need to toss with additional dressing before serving as the pasta and other ingredients will absorb it as it sets.

 

It’s Gameday!

Get out your fan gear, college gameday is here!  The excitement of the collegiate football season is something that so many people ~ myself included ~ anticipate as one of the best things about fall.  No matter who you root for, or even if you’re not into sports, there’s no argument that food is central to every game watching party, whether you’re in front of the TV or tailgating at the stadium.

As an ode to football fare, every Friday on my blog will treat you to a gameday recipe that is sure to please. For the first weekend, a super-easy appetizer that everyone will love: Loaded Baked Potato Dip.  Yum!

For best flavor, make this the night before ~ or at least a few hours in advance ~ so the flavors can blend.
1 -16 oz. container sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 package powdered Ranch Dressing mix
1 cup shredded cheese; I like finely shredded cheddar but bleu cheese would be great too (plus more for garnish)
1/4 cup finely sliced chives (plus more for garnish)
1/4 cup bacon pieces (plus more for garnish)

Mix the sour cream and mayonnaise until smooth and add the dressing mix.  Mix again, then add the cheese, chives and bacon.  Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.  Garnish with a sprinkling of cheese, chives and bacon over the top.  Put it in  big basket with your favorite potato chips and/or veggies.

**You can add whatever you like on baked potatoes into this dip.  Try it with baked potato wedges/slices, french fries, or even hash browns.

Bring this to a party for guaranteed extra points!  Happy gameday!

An Awesome “App”

During the holidays, we hosted a cocktail party and one of our friends brought a delicious Salmon Pate with crackers to share.  She graciously shared the recipe, and when I was planning appetizers for another friend’s party, this dish immediately came to mind.  Since this was a larger party for a very special occasion, I thought about how I could give the appetizer a little more of an elegant touch, and decided that puff pastry would be ideal.

I made the pate the day before:

6 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
6 oz. thinly sliced smoked salmon
1 tsp. white horseradish (more if you like)
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. minced fresh dill

In a food processor, combine the cream cheese and half of the smoked salmon, and process until smooth.  Add the horseradish and lemon juice and process again.  Scrape down the sides of the work bowl,  Add the dill and process once more.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl.  Finely chop the remaining salmon and fold it into the pate.  (If you like you can also add a few tablespoons of finely minced red onion at this point.)  Cover and refrigerate the pate; serve at room temperature.  (This can be refrigerated for two days.)

To make the pinwheels: Defrost one package of frozen puff pastry overnight in the refrigerator.  Bring the pate to room temperature.  Preheat your oven to 400F.  On a lightly floured surface, lightly dust the top of one sheet of puff pastry (leave the other sheet in the package in the refrigerator) and roll it into a large rectangle about 1/8″ thick.  Be careful to check as you roll the dough that it isn’t sticking to the surface and use more flour as needed .  Spread a thin layer of the pate over the surface of the pastry, leaving about a 1/2″ border around the edges.  Roll the dough snugly into a log.

Here’s a nifty trick: to slice the dough cleanly, use dental floss instead of a knife.  (Make sure you use unflavored floss; you don’t want minty pinwheels!) Slide the floss carefully under the log to the desired width, then cross the ends over the top and pull the ends towards each other, pulling all the way through.  Voila!  Slice the uneven ends off and discard, and slice the log into 1″ thick pinwheels.

Place the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Repeat the process with the second sheet of pastry.  Bake for 10 minutes, then check them and turn the pan around so they bake evenly.  If you are baking both trays at the same time, switch them on the oven racks too.  Bake for 5-7 minutes more, until the pastry is golden brown.

Remove the pinwheels and let them set on the sheet for a minute, then place them on a serving plate, garnish with lemon and dill, and enjoy all the compliments you’ll receive as your friends devour them.  These would also make a lovely light lunch or dinner accompanied by a green salad and a nice white wine.  This recipe makes enough for two puff pastry sheets ~ but if you make more you’ll have pate left for bagels the next morning.  Bon appetit!

Adventures in Croissants ~ Day Two

I was up and at ’em this morning, anxious to finish my croissants.  I took them from the refrigerator for a short rest, and rolled them out one last time.  Then I measured and marked them…

…and cut them…

…and shaped them.  These are the plain croissants, deliciously buttery in their own right…

…but you know I couldn’t resist filling some of them with chocolate!

One tray of plain and one of chocolate…c’est parfait!

A little egg wash (egg yolk and cream) brushed over the top, and one more proof for an hour.

Then a few minutes to chill in the refrigerator while the oven preheated (you want the butter to remain cold so it makes the croissants flaky; if it gets too warm it will seep out of the dough while baking ~ that would be sad)…

…and into the oven.  Here’s what they looked like halfway through when I rotated the trays.  The smell of them baking was intoxicating ~ melting butter and croissant dough…

…and they are done at last!  Beautiful ~

                                                 

~ and irresistable.  I could hardly wait until they cooled enough to pick up so I could eat one.  My patience was rewarded!  So scrumptious, so worth the effort, I’d make these even if they took a week.  (I’m not kidding.)

“Say hello to my little friends…” plain butter croissants on the tall plate and pain au chocolat in front.  A little bit of my beloved Paris, right here in my kitchen.  C’est magnifique, mes amis ~ bon appetit!

Adventures in Croissants ~ Day One

Adoring all things French as I do, it has long been a goal to learn how to make croissants.  I had the opportunity to participate in a class last weekend and couldn’t wait to try them at home on my own…and today was the day…or at least, day one.

Making the croissants is not difficult; rather, I think what people may find intimidating is the number of steps, as the dough is rolled, folded, and allowed to proof (rest and rise) several times.  (Keep in mind, the more folds, the more delicious buttery layers you end up with in the finished product.)  It’s best to make the croissants over a two day period, getting all your rolls and folds done on day one so that the dough can rest overnight and you can cut, roll and fill them, allow them to proof and chill, and then bake them off and enjoy them on day two.

Here’s what happened in the kitchen on the first day:

To make the dough block (the detrempe) I mixed the flour, sugar and salt, then added the yeast, sugar and warm milk and more cold milk.  I gently kneaded it and put it into a buttered bowl for the first proof in the refrigerator.

While the dough was proofing, I made the butter block (the beurrage): I cut up the butter and tossed it with a little flour, then chilled it for 20 minutes. Before I took the dough out to roll, I mixed the butter until it was pliable (but still cold). Back into the refrigerator it went.

I took the dough out and rolled it into a large rectangle.  Before making the first fold, I spread the butter over two thirds of the dough…then folded the whole thing into thirds (a letter fold).

Yes, all that butter was spread onto the dough…and now you know why croissants are so very buttery and fabulous…sigh.  Here’s what the dough looked like after the first fold.

Working quickly so the butter would stay cold and not seep out, I rolled the dough into a large rectangle again…

…and folded the two end quarters to the middle, then folded the whole thing in half (a book fold), so it looked like this:

Now we have 7 layers of dough and butter working in there.  Sounds delicious already!  The dough was wrapped and got another proof in the refrigerator, then I rolled it out again into ~ you guessed it ~ a large rectangle:

One more letter fold for 10 layers of buttery doughy deliciousness…

And now it’s wrapped (and labeled so I don’t forget how many folds I did!) and resting, waiting for tomorrow morning when I will roll it out one more time, then cut and roll the dough into croissants, proof and chill and then bake them…at last!  Based on the croissants we made in class, these will be well worth the effort.

The biggest question now is…to fill or not to fill the croissants?  Chocolate?  Cheese and herbs?  Jam?  Stay tuned for the scoop on day two with pictures of the (hopefully beautiful and delicious) finished croissants ~ Bon appetit!