Monday, June 23, 2014

Pesto Pasta Salad

Pesto Pasta Salad
Pesto Pasta Salad

I LOVE pesto and this is the most fabulous 4-ingredient pasta salad ever. Garlicky pesto and sweet peas team up with mild mozzarella and al dente pasta for a super-quick and super-tasty pasta salad. Leave as-is for a meatless meal or side or add chunks of pre-cooked chicken or shrimp for a meal in a bowl. Change the peas to any small green vegetable you'd like, as well.

Pesto Pasta Salad
Pesto Pasta Salad

Pesto Pasta Salad

Hands-On Time: 10 minutes
Ready In: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 as a meal or 6 as a side


8 ounces uncooked pasta such as cavatappi (in photo)
8 ounces mozzarella cheese cut into 1/2-inch dice
8 ounces prepared pesto sauce (bottled or homemade are both fine)*
1 cup cooked and drained peas or other green vegetable


1. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Drain again.

2. Toss pasta with mozzarella cubes, pesto and peas until well coated and serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, up to 4 hours. If refrigerated longer, you may need more pesto sauce to make up for any soaked up by the cheese and pasta.

*Homemade Pesto:

Makes about 1 cup

Printable Recipe

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
salt as needed

Place basil leaves in small batches in food processor and whip until well chopped (do about 3/4 cup at a time). Add about 1/3 the nuts and garlic, blend again.
Add about 1/3 of the Parmesan cheese; blend while slowly adding about 1/3 of the olive oil, stopping to scrape down sides of container.
Process basil pesto it forms a thick smooth paste. Repeat until all ingredients are used, mix all batches together well. Serve over pasta. Basil pesto keeps in refrigerator one week, or freeze for a few months.

Originally posted to

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Emeril's Chop House: Impeccable Service, Beautiful Food

*We have a winner! We still do things old-school here, so each commenter was assigned a number and they were given one entry per share. The number chosen was 6 and that commenter is Junk Drawer Kathy! Congratulations to you and thank you to everyone who entered!*


Last evening I had the pleasure of dining at a restaurant owned by one of the world's greatest chefs, Emeril Lagasse at Emeril's Chop House at the Sand's Bethlehem Resort. I've known of Chef Emeril since he first landed on The Food Network with The Essence of Emeril. I can't count the amount of recipes I've made that were inspired by Chef Emeril, but his influence on my own culinary life is immeasurable. I've even made his Poulet Tchoupitoulas as featured in The Last Holiday ... just because it was Chef Emeril's recipe.

I remember several years ago when I first learned that Chef Emeril would be opening several restaurants here in my little old town how excited I was. This was a first for our community and I wasn't the only one looking forward to it.

*I was given a gift certificate specifically for the purpose of reviewing the restaurant and I was more than happy to oblige. Please note that the benefit of having my meal paid for does not in any way influence my review. 

Scaling is 1 for Poor and 5 for Excellent so the total Perfect Score for any restaurant would be 25.

Parking- 5 There isn't any other score possible for this because there is valet parking at all of The Sand's should you so choose to make use of it. Even so, there is ample parking near the event center and everything is tied together inside so walking to the restaurant is simple.

Ambiance- 5 This is a beautiful restaurant with a classic understated design with some very beautiful components thrown in. There are large crystal chandeliers in a contemporary design and soft peach drapes over the large windows. The peach color is pulled into the paint on the ceiling and walls and the colors compliment not only the food, but the diners as well. The chairs were very comfortable and the tables were roomy without being too large.

Food- 5 This is what I would expect from any restaurant of Emeril's and I was not disappointed. I didn't get the best photographs, but that's a personal choice. I didn't want to drag my Canon Rebel into the restaurant and make a spectacle of myself and I also didn't use the flash on my camera phone so as not to disturb other diners.

That being said, here are the photos I did take and descriptions of what we ate.

I had the Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad. This was a beautiful plate of food. The beets were sweet and tender, the watercress provided the perfect crunch and bitterness and the locally-sourced goat cheese was firm and tangy. The seasoning was spot-on and nothing extra was needed.

David had the Caesar Salad. The dressing was divine and the salad was very large. I like the idea of the single large slice of Parmesan on the top, as well. 

This is the Grilled Swordfish with Winter Squash Ratatouille and Chipotle Aioli. The swordfish melted like butter in your mouth and was seasoned perfectly. The eggplant in the ratatouille was almost floral and absolutely delicious. The chipotle aioli had an excellent balance of creaminess and heat. 

David ordered the NY Strip Steak and it was grilled exactly as ordered. It was seasoned well and tender. A very good steak as you would expect from a steak house. The sauces served with it were Bearnaise, Worcestershire and horseradish, all house-made and really delicious. The Worcestershire is something you need to try. 

This is the Cannellini Bean Cassoulet side. The beans were tender and expertly seasoned, garlicky and rich. The Italian sausage within was tender and delicious. 

I was the only one to have dessert and coffee. The coffee was a wonderfully rich cup and the Crème brûlée was divinity ... the crust was crisp and delicious and beneath was a creamy smooth custard. A beautiful ending to a beautiful meal. 

There is also an extensive wine list and a very large and beautiful wine cellar the sits in the center of the restaurant as part of the decor. I didn't order wine, but if I had wanted to, there is a plethora of wine to choose from.

Service- 5 This is quite possibly the best service I have ever had at a restaurant in the Lehigh Valley. The training these servers have is evident and the whole experience was exceptional. We were seated by a waiter who informed us who our server would be for the evening. She came and took our drink orders and told us that she and another waitstaff would be taking care of us for our meal. This is very important to me. We didn't have anyone other than the waitstaff we were told we would have for the entire night.

I understand having to use runners when things get busy, but the personal care you get from having the same waitstaff gives a winning edge to any meal. We were not left alone or forgotten, our utensils were replaced when needed, our drinks were refilled when necessary and any questions I had about my meal were answered in such a way that you immediately understood the waitstaff have all sampled the dishes and been well educated in what they're serving. Truly impeccable service.

Pricing- 5 I believe that the prices of the menu items reflect not only the food, but the entire dining experience. The service is so superior that it makes the food even that much better. Our entire meal came to almost $130 for two of us, and I find that very fair for the quality of the food and the ambiance and service provided.

Now, I want to share this experience with you and pass on a $100 Gift Certificate to Emeril's Chop House at the Sand's Bethlehem Resort. This means you must live nearby or be planning to visit in order to use the certificate. U.S. Residents only. 

Please Tweet, Pin or otherwise post to Facebook or other social media and post in the comments below a link to your post to be considered. 

The contest will run until Monday, June 30th at 11:59 PM Eastern

Monday, June 09, 2014

Pasta with Anything

Pasta with Anything
Pasta with Anything. Here with grape tomatoes, baby spinach, artichoke hearts and Parmesan cheese.

This "recipe" is also known as, "How to make all of your kids happy with one meal." Trust me on this, it works. Simply clear out the fridge of any little bits and pieces of still edible "stuff" and throw it together with a favorite pasta and there's dinner. Everyone has an individualized plate full of pasta and fresh ingredients.

Now, I do this plate by plate so it does take a little more time (especially with the amount of people I feed nightly), but it's very worth it when they get excited to see me prepping and then finish their plates and even ask for more. Occasionally I'll be lucky enough to have two children want the same thing and then I can do two plates at once. Either way it takes mere minutes per plate once everything is prepped.

Start with a favorite pasta; a pound for 4 is the norm so we cook up two pounds. I keep it warm in a colander over a water bath. When I need it to come apart I dunk the whole colander in the water for a moment and then use a pasta fork to pull out what I need. We're partial to pappardelle here.

Find whatever fixings you're happy with and go for it. Here are two photos of things we've used before. Use your imagination and let it run wild!

Pasta with Anything Options

More Options

Pasta with Anything
Simple How-To
Serves 4

1 pound pasta cooked as desired and kept warm
Olive oil
Several bowls of veggies, meats, cheeses, fresh herbs and nuts

1. Keep pasta warm in a colander over a water bath.
2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
3. Add olive oil and desired ingredients minus cheese and stir briefly until cooked to desired doneness.
4. Add pasta and toss well. Top with cheese if desired and serve.
5. Repeat for other plates of pasta.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Peaches and Cream Crostata

Peaches and Cream Crostata
Peaches and Cream Crostata

If strawberries and cream at the beginning of the week wasn't enough, how about another classic combination; Peaches and Cream Crostata. When I made this the first time the kids (even the pickiest!) told me, "This is the best thing I've ever eaten!" I have to agree, it's mighty fine.

Peaches and Cream Crostata
Printable Recipe
Makes 1 crostata that serves 8
Hands-On Time: 15 minutes
Ready In: 1 hour


1 cup flour
1 T sugar
1/4 t salt
1 stick butter - diced
2 - 3 T ice water

Stir flour, sugar and salt together well. Add butter and rub together until crumbly. Add water 1 Tablespoon at a time until dough forms a firm ball. Flatten and chill between waxed paper while prepping fruit.


3 large peaches peeled and sliced thinly - about 2 cups
Sugar to taste if peaches are not sweet (I often don't need any)
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg

Prepared caramel sauce to taste


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

1. Roll dough on a well-floured surface into a 12-inch circle.
2. Place dough onto a baking sheet sprayed with vegetable oil (I use a silicone mat)
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar and mix until smooth. Add egg and vanilla.
4. Spread cream cheese mixture into the center of the dough leaving a 2-inch outside edge.
5. Top cream cheese with sliced peaches.
6. Fold dough over the top just at the edge leaving a circle of fruit in the center about 5-
inches in diameter. Don't worry about how it looks, the more rustic, the better!
7. Bake for 45 minutes or until center is set and edges begin to brown lightly.
8. Take out and let cool on pan completely. Top with as much caramel sauce as you like.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Pink Lemonade Bars

Pink Lemonade Bars
Pink Lemonade Bars

Pretty in pink lemon squares are a sweet-tart addition to any dessert table. When I make these they're devoured in no time and everyone always wants the recipe. These are great sellers at bake sales, as well. The youngest noseminer seemed to want these the other day after watching someone get sacked on MasterChef, so I dutifully made up a batch today. Let's see if she keeps me.

Pink Lemonade Bars

Hands-On Time: 15 minutes
Ready In: 1 hour 15 minutes
Yield: Makes 24 bars



1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter - softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups flour
Pinch of salt


6 large eggs
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup flour
Several drops of red food coloring
Powdered sugar for dusting


For Crust:

Preheat oven to 350 F degrees and line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment or waxed paper.
Rub lemon zest into sugar until well combined and fragrant.
Cream together butter and 1/2 cup granulated sugar.
Stir flour and salt together and add to butter.
Stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms.
Press dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool.
Reduce oven heat to 325 degrees.

For Filling:

Rub lemon zest into sugar until well combined and fragrant.
Blend eggs and sugar until lemon-yellow and smooth.
Add lemon juice and food coloring until the color of pink lemonade.
Add flour slowly, stirring constantnly so lumps do not form.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until firm. To check for firmness, give the pan a small shake -- if  there is little movement in the center of the filling, it's done.
Cool completely and dust with powdered sugar before cutting.

Toasted Coconut and Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Bread

Toasted Coconut and Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Bread
Toasted Coconut and Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Bread
Everyone here loves banana bread and when you spruce it up with toasted coconut, peanut butter and chocolate chips it's just that much better! This makes 2 standard size loaves 9 x 5 inches.

Toasted Coconut and Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Bread
Printable Recipe

Makes 2 loaves

5 overripe bananas
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
3/4 cup cooking oil (I use olive)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup toasted coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup mini chocolate chips (regular size is fine)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil and flour two standard loaf pans.
2. Mash bananas and add sugars. Mix to combine well, working out lumps.
3. Add oil, vanilla and eggs and beat well.
4. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Add to banana mixture.
5. Mix coconut and nuts together and set aside 1/2 cup. Blend remaining nuts and coconut into batter along with chocolate chips.
6. Pour batter into pans and top with reserved coconut and nuts.
7. Bake for 1 hour or until done when wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
8. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Strawberries and Double Cream Muffins

Strawberries and Double Cream Muffins
Strawberries and Double Cream Muffins
Strawberries and cream is a classic combination and sour cream in the batter and cream cheese in the center make these muffins doubly delicious!

Strawberries and Double Cream Muffins
Printable Recipe

Makes 18 regular sized muffins


3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups strawberries - diced


8 ounces cream cheese - softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Grease 18 muffin tins and set aside
Heat oven to 375 degrees F

1. Blend together cream cheese and 1/4 cup sugar for filling until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Refrigerate until needed.
2. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar. Set aside.
3. Melt butter and add to oil. Stir in milk, sour cream, vanilla and eggs.
4. Pour wet ingredients into dry and blend until just combined - there may be a few lumps. Fold in strawberries.
5. Spoon into prepared muffin tins 2/3 full. Drop filling onto top of each muffin - about a tablespoon for each. If refrigerated the filling will sink into the batter and settle in the center while baking.
6. bake for 20-25 minutes or until the tops spring back when touched. Cool completely in tins before removing.