Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Balsamic Pasta Salad


Pasta salads are always the best part of any picnic. They just scream summer and sun and vacation and lemonade and beer and all that goodness. But wait. It's October. Why am I talking about pasta salad? Because pasta salad is the bomb, that's why, and there's never not a good time to make pasta salad. (And yes, I just used the phrase "the bomb" because apparently it's 1996. It's fine.) I wanted to make pasta salad as another addition to my road trip menu. Because you know, it's really easy to eat pasta salad in a car...

Anyway. Gather your ingredients...balsamic vinaigrette (you should make this one or you can use store bought if you don't care about your loved ones that you are making this for and don't want your pasta salad to taste good), pasta, a red pepper, an onion, grape tomatoes (roasted), an onion, some parsley, crumbled feta, and salt and pepper. 

The great thing about pasta salads is that they are so versatile and easy to tailor to your taste. Don't like red pepper? Don't use one. Prefer sun-dried tomatoes? Go for it. Not a parsley fan? Chop up from basil instead. Pasta salad is fun. Experiment with it. 

It's also super easy to make. First thing you have to do is boil some pasta.

 Drain it, rinse it, and let it cool.

Then chop up your tomato, onion, and parsley.

So pretty.
Throw the pasta in a bowl. (Or carefully pour it, because throwing a pound of cooked pasta probably can't end well.)

Add the chopped veggies, parsley, and roasted tomatoes.

Sprinkle the feta over top. 

Feta makes everything better.
Pour your dressing in the bowl.

Throw in some salt and pepper to taste and stir like crazy. At this point it's going to smell heavenly and you're going to need a moment.


Put a lid on that baby and throw it in the fridge so that it gets nice and cold and delicious.

 How easy was that?
Balsamic Pasta Salad

  • 1 cup Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette 
  • 1 pound tri-color bowtie pasta
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved and roasted*
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 6 oz. crumbled feta
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Boil pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse.
  2. Once pasta is cool, combine pasta, dressing, red pepper, tomatoes, onion, parsley, and feta in large bowl. 
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste.
*To roast tomatoes: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut tomatoes in half. Toss in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread on single layer on a baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Honey Wheat Pretzel Rolls

Who doesn't love pretzel rolls? Terrorists, probably. Pretzel rolls are the best part of any sandwich. If you are on a late night Sheetz run and you get a sandwich on anything other than a pretzel roll, then you're doing it wrong. I've always wanted to make my own soft pretzels, but never thought to make pretzel rolls. My mother brought me some delicious honey the other day, so I thought why not make honey wheat pretzel rolls? I have a roadtrip to Nashville coming up in a few days with my sister, and we were planning on bringing sandwiches and whatnot for the road, so this would be perfect for that! I couldn't find an exact recipe that was what I wanted, but I adapted this recipe to my liking.

First gather your supplies. You'll need warm water, yeast, regular flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, salt, butter, honey, an egg, and baking soda. That's all. It's that easy.

Get a bowl and dissolve one packet of active dry yeast in 1.5 cups of warm water. Let it sit for a few minutes so it gets foamy.

Use the yellow bowl that your grandma used to use to make her famous pizza dough all the time. If you use a different bowl, your pretzel rolls are going to suck.
In another bowl, combine 2.5 cups regular flour, 2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 4 tablespoons of butter (melted).

Slowly add this mixture to the water and yeast, stirring to combine. Add 2 tablespoons of honey.

You can also use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, or you can go old school and use a spoon and then knead it together with your hands. It will look like this when you're done.

Don't eat it yet.
If you plan poorly for all the kneading, your ring will also look like this and you'll need to dig out your jewelry cleaner.

Cover the bowl with a towel and let it rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down and break the dough into 14 equal (or mostly equal because you're careless in your measuring) pieces.

Form each piece into a ball by pinching the sides together.

Form a seal on one side, and place seal-side down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet about an inch apart.

Cover with a towel and place somewhere warm to rise again for about 30 minutes. You could put them on top of your stove while you preheat your oven to 425, if you'd like.

Stir together 2 quarts of water with 1/4 baking soda. Bring all of this to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Once it's simmering, drop each ball one at a time into the water. Cook for about 30 seconds on each side, turning and removing from the water with a slotted spoon.

This step is what turns the pretzels brown and makes them look like pretzels.
Return each lightly boiled ball to the parchment line sheet. Cut a slash or an X into each piece.

Beat an egg in a small bowl and get your salt ready. Lightly brush each roll with the egg and sprinkle with the salt.

Ready for the oven!

Bake for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and admire how pretty they look.

 Transfer to cooling rack, become overwhelmed with how badly you want to eat all of them, and then burn your mouth on them because you're too impatient to wait until they're cool enough to eat.

Get some dijon mustard and a little bit of honey together because you don't care if you made them for a road trip in a few days, you want to eat one now.

Honey Wheat Pretzel Rolls

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • coarse salt
  1. Mix the warm water and yeast in a bowl. Let rest for 5 minutes until foamy.
  2. Add in the flours, sugar, salt, honey, and butter. Stir/knead to combine.
  3. Cover bowl with a towel and let sit for an hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
  4. Punch down the dough and separate into 14 equal sized balls. Form a ball by pulling the sides to the center and pinching a seal. 
  5. Place dough balls seal side down on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet about 1" apart from one another. Cover with a towel and let sit somewhere warm for 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 
  7. Mix 2 quarts of water with 1/4 cup baking soda. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer.
  8. One at a time, drop rolls into the water, cooking for 30 seconds on each side.
  9. Place rolls back on baking sheet. Cut a slice or an X on the top, brush with egg, and sprinkle with coarse salt.
  10. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette

My parents came to visit today for a little while. So that meant one thing: a visit to the Strip District. They love when I take them to the Strip District. (They live about an hour away so visiting the Strip isn't as easy for them as it is for me). For those of you that are not from or are not familiar with Pittsburgh, the Strip District is not what it sounds like. It is a beautiful place full of delicious restaurants, amazing markets, and gourmet food shops. For anyone that loves to eat and/or cook, the Strip is the closest you can get to heaven on earth. Living 4 miles down the road from this neighborhood is just great. I'm in love the with Strip. I would go there every day if I could. My wallet, however, discourages that. My absolute favorite place in the Strip is the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company. Every time I walk into Penn Mac, I basically have to put on blinders. I want EVERYTHING. Gourmet cheeses, fresh herbs and spices, delicious produce, imported olive oils, fresh meat and pasta. Luckily, my parents and I showed up about 30 minutes before closing time so I didn't have much time to browse. (I can easily kill a good 45 minutes just browsing in there). I could go on and on and on about Penn Mac, but I will spare you. You should, however, visit them online (if you can't in person) to see just how amazing this place is. 

The spice section is overwhelming. I wanted one of everything, but settled for only these four.
REALLY excited about this 5-pepper blend. Can't wait to use it.
5 pounds of whole wheat flour for 5 bucks? Ok! And those bowties are going to become a pasta salad very soon. Stay tuned.
I usually try to avoid the cheese section of grocery stores. Cheese is amazing. It is ridiculous how much I love cheese. I want to go back in time and give a big hug to whoever invented cheese. I always end up buying too much cheese. One Market District trip left me with seven different types of cheeses in one purchase. I have a problem. But my mother has much more control than I do, so I let her explore the cases of delicious cheese at Penn Mac. She ended up buying a pound of some amazing farmhouse cheddar. Which she shared with me.

This is going to be a part of some delicious ham sandwiches next week for my road trip to Nashville. My parents and I may or may not have snacked on this on our way to dinner after our shopping trip. Well, that and the fresh prosciutto my mom bought.
Stan's Market, just a few blocks from Penn Mac, is another Strip favorite of mine. So much delicious and beautiful produce to choose from. It's not hard to walk out of there with 3 grocery bags full of fresh fruits and vegetables and herbs.

Those tomatoes will be going in my pasta salad. And my mother graciously shared her green bean purchase with me. Thanks, mom!

Penzey's Spices is another one of my favorite Strip spots. You can visit them online, too. Walking in there and all I want to do is buy one of everything and go home and cook all of the recipes. I went in there with one thing on my list (vanilla beans) and left with only one thing. That is a success.

They're so pretty and they smell like heaven. I will be making homemade vanilla extract with these later.
A successful shopping trip, I would say. I can't wait to go back. And spend all my money there.  

I got so distracted by the beauty of the Strip District that I forgot the point of this whole post. Which is homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Balsamic is one of my favorite flavors. Balsamic glazed roasted veggies. Balsamic nectarine pizza (I will post about this in the future). Balsamic vinaigrette.  Nothing is better than a good homemade balsamic vinaigrette, though. I don't know why I don't make homemade dressings more often. It's so damn easy.

All you need to do is grab a jar...
Yancey is curious.
...and your ingredients.

That green container is pure honey.
Open your jar. Pour in 1/2 cup of your favorite balsamic vinaigrette, 3/4 cup of olive oil (which ended up being the very last of your olive oil and now you're pissed because you forgot to buy some at Penn Mac today), 2 cloves of crushed or finely chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of the honey that your mom brought for you today (which was apparently given to her by some nuns that make it and it's so delicious you could eat it by itself even though you don't even like the taste of honey by itself), 2 teaspoons of dried basil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Everything in the jar? Good. Screw the lid on very tightly. Then shake the crap out of it. Shake shake shake, shake shake shake, shake your booty...no? Ok. Sorry. Make sure you taste it to see if all the ratios of ingredients are to your liking. Feel free to add more or less of any of the ingredients if your palate is different than mine.

Congratulations! You have dressing! How easy was that? Store it in your fridge (making sure to shake before you use since the contents are going to separate) or save it for the pasta salad that you're going to be making for next week.

It tastes delicious on the fresh lettuce you bought at the farmer's market the other day.
Now go relax on the couch with some leftover soup and cookies and pat yourself on the back because that was the easiest thing you've "cooked" all week.


Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Pour each ingredient in a glass jar or bottle.
  2. Shake vigorously until all ingredients are well combined.
  3. Store in fridge, making sure to shake well before using.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Chicken Apple Soup

It's finally October. I love this month. The cooler weather, the leaves changing, pumpkin spice lattes, football. It's the perfect month. Along with all of that comes sore throat season, though. I struggled with a terrible sore throat all day, so my boss sent me home from work early. I couldn't wait to get home and curl up on my couch and be miserable because my throat is still going to hurt because I can't get an appointment with my specialist until Tuesday. Fantastic. I should probably make soup, right? Right. Soup is always the answer. I made the trek across the river (I only lost one ox and 12 pounds of salted pork) to Giant Eagle after I left work to pick up some vegetables for the chicken noodle soup I usually make. While browsing through the produce section, I stopped in front of the apples and thought, "can I put apples in my chicken soup? I'm gonna put apples in my chicken soup." So I picked up a few apples. And some green cabbage.

I also picked up some of these grapes, which appear to be on steroids.

The first thing you have to do before you can start making soup is to put on your footie pajamas. If you don't have footie pajamas, your soup won't taste as delicious. It's science. Go out and buy some now. I'll wait.

My feet have wings!

Gather your ingredients. You'll need about some cooked shredded chicken (I used 3 breasts), 3 cloves of garlic, half an onion, 2 small apples, 1 potato, 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, 2-3 cartons of chicken broth, apple cider, and about half a head of green cabbage and some salt and pepper. Chop all those veggies up like crazy and slice the apples.

Heat some olive oil in a big pot over medium high heat on the stove. Throw in the garlic, onion, celery, and carrots. Let these cook for about 5ish minutes or so. Throw in some chopped fresh sage if you'd like. Because you love fresh sage and it makes your kitchen smell heavenly when it's cooking.

Pour in a few cartons of chicken broth over the veggies. Stir everything together.

Toss in everything else, sliced apples, chopped potato, chopped cabbage,  and shredded chicken. Toss in some salt and pepper. Stir everything together. I didn't have enough chicken broth, so I threw in some apple cider to add some more liquid to the soup. Bring it to a boil and stir. Lower the heat a little bit and put a lid on the pot and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or so.

While the soup is cooking, watch Jeopardy! with your cat and eat too many cookies that you made the night before.

Make sure you check on the soup every once in a while and stir and smell the delicious smells that are coming from your stove.

 Once the soup is done cooking, pour it into a bowl, curl up on the couch, turn on the Monday Night Football countdown, and enjoy. When you're finished with the soup, try not to cry a little bit when you see the Pittsburgh Pirates logo at the bottom of your bowl.

Twenty. Years.


Chicken Apple Soup

  • 1 cup cooked shredded chicken
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
  • 2 small apples, peeled and chopped
  • 1 baking potato, peeled and chopped
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 cartons chicken broth (can also substitute about 3 cups of apple cider for 3 cups of broth)
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  1. Heat olive oil over medium high heat in large stock pot or Dutch oven.
  2. Add garlic, onion, carrots, celery, and sage to oil. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  3. Pour in broth (or broth/cider combination) over the vegetables and stir.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir and bring to a boil.
  5. Lower heat and cover the pot. Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Serve warm.