Friday, March 30, 2012

Chocolate Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Rounds

I am always on the hunt for a new cookie recipe but, when I'm in a hurry or am low on ingredients, I usually fall back on oatmeal cookies. They are delicious, versatile, and a favorite with just about everyone. This time, however, when I consulted my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, my eye fell on a recipe called Peanut Butter Oatmeal Rounds. Containing peanut butter, they naturally had my attention. But when I continued reading and spied a Chocolate-Peanut Butter variation, it was love at first sight. I tweaked the recipe a little bit, mainly to include some chopped Hershey's chocolate. What could be better than adding chocolate chunks?

 The combination did not let me down. These cookies are fudgy and full of that chocolate peanut butter flavor, while still retaining the traditional, chewy oatmeal cookie qualities that I love. As usual, the test came when we had our evening Bible study- by the end of the night, the heaping plate of cookies was entirely empty. Score!

Chocolate Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Rounds
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens "New" Cookbook
makes about 3 doz. cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 oz. melted and cooled baking chocolate (or equivalent in baking cocoa)
1 1/4 cups flour
2 cups rolled oats
2 chopped Hershey bars (or chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 375.
In large mixing bowl, beat butter and peanut butter until smooth, about 30 sec. Add sugars, baking powder and soda. Beat until combined.
Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in chocolate.
Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer; stir in any remaining flour. Stir in oats and chopped chocolate (or chips).
Drop dough by rounded teaspoons onto cookie sheet, about 2 in. apart. Bake about 10 min. or until edges are set.
Cool on wire rack.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

{Slow Cooker} Ham and Wild Rice Soup

Although signs of spring are poking up (literally!) here and there, it is definitely still soup weather here in our neck of the woods. Gray, rainy days, occasional snowfall and somewhat chilly temperatures keep us loving the sensation of wrapping your hands around a fragrant, creamy bowl of something warm and filling. This delicious ham and wild rice soup certainly fits the bill!

It smells heavenly, tastes fantastic, and goes down smooth. Add to that the super-easy-ness of the slow cooker, and you've got it made!
While the carrots, onions, ham, rice, broth and cream of celery soup simmer away all day, it is the last minute stir-ins that really make the difference. Milk lends creaminess, sliced almonds add a satisfying crunch and sherry kicks the flavor up to a whole new level.

Slow Cooker Ham & Wild Rice Soup
serves 4-6

2 cups diced cooked ham
1 cup carrots, cut matchstick style (julienne)
3/4 cup uncooked wild rice
1 med. onion (about 1/2 cup)
1 can chicken broth (1 3/4 cup)
1 can cream of celery soup
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp parsley
3 cups water
1 cup milk (or half and half if you want it even creamier!)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 TB dry sherry

Spray slow cooker with cooking spray. Combine ham, carrots, rice, onion, broth, soup, pepper and parsley in slow cooker. Add water and stir.
Cook on low 6-8 hrs.
Stir in remaining ingredients and cook on high 10-15 min. or until hot.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Creamy Avocado Pasta

I know, I know. Don't tell me. I'm a week late to be making green pasta. Seems like it would be a clever thing to whip up for St. Patty's Day, right? Well, that's taking for granted that you plan ahead. And remember holidays. Which I didn't.'s some yummy green pasta...a week(+) late!
This pasta combines flavor from some of the yummiest green foods there are: avocado, lime, jalapeƱo, spinach and basil. Add garlic and pasta to that lineup and you know you're going to encounter some serious deliciousness.

While the making of the sauce did have me wishing I owned a snazzy food processor (or even a not-so-snazzy one!), my blender accomplished the task eventually. I think it prefers smoothies though.
Though coupling the rather exotic and south-of-the-border flavors with spaghetti seemed a bit unusual, it was a delicious new twist on pasta for me. The flavors blended fabulously and the bright green color was fun! I served it alongside chicken breast which I also pan fried in lime juice- a zesty compliment to the filling and creamy pasta.

Creamy Avocado Pasta
serves 4

1 ripe avocado, pitted
1/2 lime
2 garlic cloves
1/4 jalapeno
1/4 cup packed fresh basil
2 cups spinach, divided
1 tsp salt
2 TB olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan
1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti (I did not use this much- only about 1/2 a box)

Cook noodles according to package directions. When you drain the noodles, reserve 1 cup of the cooking water. Put one cup of the spinach in the bottom of a serving bowl; top with drained spaghetti and toss for a few minutes to wilt spinach.
While pasta is cooking, prepare sauce. Combine in food processor: flesh from avocado, zest of lime as well as juice, garlic, jalapeno, basil, remaining cup of spinach, salt, pepper to taste, and oil. Blend until smooth.
Pour sauce over pasta and toss to coat evenly, adding some reserved cooking water as needed to loosen pasta. Top with Parmesan and more basil for garnish.

Monday, March 19, 2012

{Slow-Cooker} White Chili

I don't know about where you live, but here it is still winter. I saw snowflakes just last night. Today it is gray and rainy and dark...on days like today and yesterday when the dampness creeps into your bones, you know it's time to whip out a good soup or chili recipe. What I made yesterday was sort of a mix between the two. Since I converted the original recipe to a slow-cooker recipe (yep, I did it again), it turned out a bit more soupy than I intended, was delicious! True to its name, this chili is not very colorful, but what it lacks in color it makes up for in flavor! It's loaded with white beans and tender chicken, then packed with cumin, paprika, jalapeno, green chilies, and a kick from cayenne. And just like your traditional red chili, the fun part is topping it with all your favorite garnishes. From sour cream to cheese to cilantro to avocado and beyond, feel free to go crazy with whatever toppings float your boat. We stirred the cheese and cilantro in, then topped our heaping bowls with sour cream and crushed tortilla chips. The flavor reminded us a bit of one of our other favorite soups, Crock-Pot Chicken Tortilla, which is also hearty and loaded with chicken, beans and Mexican spices.

What follows is my slow-cooker rendering of the original recipe. If you would like to make the original non-slow-cooker version, simply click the link to The Pioneer Woman's site.

Slow Cooker White Chili
adapted from The Pioneer Woman
serves 8

2-4 chicken breasts (depending on size, you'll need about 3 cups cooked chicken)
1 whole medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans chopped green chilies
1 lb. dried white beans, soaked and rinsed
6-8 cups chicken broth (more or less depending on how soupy you want it...8 cups is pretty soupy)
1 whole jalapeno, seeded and sliced (if you like it hot, leave the seeds in!)
1 1/2 TB ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and white pepper to taste
1 cup whole milk
2 TB cornmeal
sour cream
other garnishes (guacamole, salsa, chips, tortillas, ???)

Put all ingredients (except milk, cornmeal and garnishes) in slow cooker. Cook on high 5-6 hrs or on low 8-10 hrs. When 30 min-1 hr of cooking remain, remove chicken breasts and shred. Stir shredded chicken back into chili. Combine milk and cornmeal; pour into chili. Cook on high another 30 min to an hour or until slightly thickened. Just before serving, stir cheese into the pot. Garnish each serving with desired toppings.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Minty Frosted Brownies

Top o' the morning to you! Hope this St. Patty's Day finds you feeling lucky (or blessed!) and happy. If you're feeling the least bit down, I've a recipe that will cheer you up in no time. Chocolate always helps, doesn't it?

Let me be very clear: I decided on these brownies because they are simple and quick. But alas! "Luck" was not on my side yesterday, as I discovered (gradually) while trying to throw these "simple" brownies together. I have made this recipe countless times- it is a specialty of my mom's and a great family favorite. However, deciding on impulse like I did, I made the mistake of assuming I had all the ingredients. Except eggs. I knew I did not have eggs. So I visited one of our two local convenience stores (nearest grocery is 20 min. away) and picked up the eggs. Another vital ingredient is unsweetened baking chocolate. I usually don't have a bar of that on hand, so many times I have substituted unsweetened cocoa powder, with great results. After getting home with the eggs, however, I began to pull out the other necessary ingredients, and to my dismay, the cocoa powder was nowhere to be found! I could not bring myself to believe that I would run out and not replenish my stock, so I spent some amount of time searching and re-searching every shelf of the pantry. Nope, no cocoa powder. Or baking chocolate for that matter. Now I knew that the convenience store I had just been in did not carry either. My only hope was the other store, about twice the distance, but still only about 2 mi. away. So, there I went immediately and stood staring at the baking items, not willing to believe it wasn't there. Was it? I thought maybe if I stared harder, it might materialize. It did! Or maybe it was just that I didn't recognize it for what it was...I usually buy Hershey's in that inviting dark chocolate colored tin...this was Western Family brand in a bright yellow can. Ah, well. Beggars can't be choosers, as they say. So, cringing at the price tag for such inferior cocoa, I betook myself directly home to finish baking the brownies.
For fun, I decided to halve the recipe and bake them in cute little ramekins for individual servings. This part went beautifully. While the brownies were baking, though, I again rummaged through my cupboards in disbelief. What was it this time? I was sure I had some peppermint extract (for the frosting). Well, after the cocoa episode, not so sure. But just for good measure, I double searched the cupboards again. Nope. Not a drop to be seen. Vanilla and/or almond extract simply would not do. I was crunched for time, being on my way to an exercise class, so I decided to stop by the store (again) on my way home from the gym that evening. Crossing my fingers all the while, knowing peppermint extract was not a likely commodity for a convenience store to carry.
Fast forward to my trip home from the gym and there I am, staring at the same shelves, not able this time to make any extract appear but vanilla and rum. Rum? No, that would not do. Who ever heard of green-tinted rum-flavored frosting on a chocolate brownie? So, in desperation, hubby and I hatched Plan B. I would tint the frosting green, then drizzle it with melted mint chocolate candies (I chose Junior Mints) to add the peppermint flair. It would have to do. And it did do.

The cast of unruly characters
Although my preference would definitely be to flavor the frosting with mint, the green frosting almost effectively tricks your mind into tasting peppermint where there is none. And the melted mints made a chewy, minty, dark chocolaty topping to perfectly compliment the dense brownie and sweet, creamy frosting.
All in all, though this did not turn out to be the "simple and quick" dessert it usually is, and though I can't exactly claim to have the luck o' the Irish, it was delicious and the green frosting was a great way to usher in the celebration of all things Irish!

Minty Frosted Brownies
by Mom (adapted from Family Favorites recipe book)
serves 6-9 depending on size of pieces (halve recipe for 4 small ramekins)

2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 TB butter, softened
1/8 cup milk
3/4 tsp peppermint extract

1-2 boxes Junior Mints or semi-sweet chocolate chips, if desired
1 TB butter

Preheat oven to 350.
Melt chocolate and butter in microwave.
Beat eggs and sugar until smooth; add flour. Pour in chocolate mixture and stir to combine.
Pour into greased and floured 8x8 pan (or pour into greased ramekins).
Bake 15-20 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out nearly clean.
For frosting, mix together all ingredients until smooth. Frost cooled brownies. Melt Junior Mints or chips  with butter if desired and drizzle over frosted brownies. Chill until ready to serve. Great with ice cream!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Maple-Mustard Glazed Chicken

If you're like me, you are likely on the constant hunt for a new tasty chicken recipe. We don't eat a lot of red meat- mostly chicken, fish, pork and turkey. So it is exciting to find a new fantastic chicken recipe! These glazed chicken breasts are exactly that- fantastic! Just the right amount of sweet and tangy, tender, moist and flavorful. The added bonus is that they are quick, easy to prepare and only 264 calories per serving! The recipe calls for an ovenproof skillet (a cast-iron one, I'm assuming!), which I have yet to acquire (but I want one bad- they are just expensive)...maybe someday I'll bite the bullet and go for it. Anyhow, since I didn't have one, I simply transferred the browned chicken breasts to a glass baking dish and spooned the sauce over them for the last step. It worked beautifully.

Since I had one breast leftover after dinner, I discovered the next day that this chicken is also delicious in a salad! I cut it up and tossed it with lettuce and veggies and even used the leftover sauce as dressing- yum! I will definitely be making this again!

Maple-Mustard Glazed Chicken
adapted from MyRecipes
serves 4

2 tsp olive oil
4 chicken breast halves
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp thyme
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 TB apple cider vinegar
1 TB Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.
Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. (If you don't have an ovenproof skillet, use a frying pan or other skillet.) Add oil, swirl to coat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pan; saute 2 min. on each side or until browned. Remove chicken from pan.
Add broth, syrup, thyme and garlic to pan; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 2 min., stirring frequently. Add vinegar and mustard; cook 1 min., stirring constantly.
Return chicken to pan and spoon mustard mixture over chicken. (If not using ovenproof skillet, place chicken in baking pan and spoon sauce over it.) Bake for 10 min. or until chicken is done. 
Remove chicken from pan; let stand 5 min. Place pan over medium heat (if not using ovenproof skillet, transfer sauce back to original pan); cook mustard mixture 2 min. or until liquid is syrupy, stirring frequently. Serve with chicken.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Soft & Chewy Vanilla Butter Cookies

The title is Vanilla Butter Cookies, right? Take a moment to look again. Yes, it is, isn't it. So, now that we've established that, you want to know something funny? There's no butter in these cookies. Think I'm fooling? Look at the recipe! HOWEVER...the word "butter" does the form of butter flavored Crisco. Yup. Cheating, you say? Yes, I know real butter is almost always better, but in these cookies, the Crisco is the best way to achieve that "soft and chewy" feature that is so important (if you are a soft, chewy cookie person like me and not one of those people who like hard, crunchy cookies whose only redeeming purpose is to be dipped in milk, coffee, or cocoa...okay, sorry, I'll get back to the not-in-parentheses part of the post...). Where were we? Oh, yes. Crisco. It's perfect. 

From my first taste of the dough to my first bite of soft, warm cookie it reminded me of something. Sort of like the way chocolate chip cookie dough tastes- before you add the chocolate. When I was a little girl I always tried to sneak a spoonful of cookie dough (yes, we all ate loads of cookie dough and no one ever got sick) before my mom stirred in the chips. 

As much as I love chocolate, I also love the sweetness of the plain dough without the chunky chips to interrupt the smoothness. I've always been tempted to whip up chocolate chip cookies and leave the chocolate out altogether! This dough, though perhaps a bit more buttery, reminded me a lot of what that would be like.

The next time you're craving a simple, mild sweet to go with your glass of milk, I suggest you whip up a batch of these buttery cookies- I promise you'll fall in love with them like we have!

Soft and Chewy Vanilla Butter Cookies
makes about 3 dozen
adapted from Dine and Dish

1 cup butter flavored Crisco
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 TB water
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375.
In large mixing bowl, beat together Crisco, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, water and vanilla until well mixed.
Add flour, baking soda, and salt to mixing bowl and mix well.
Cover and refrigerate dough for 30 min.
Roll dough into 1 in. balls; slightly flatten and place on cookie sheet.
Bake 7-8 min. or until light brown. Do not overcook- take them out when they still look slightly under cooked. Allow them to cool and firm up on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to wire rack.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Spaghetti with Mozzarella-Stuffed Turkey Meatballs and Chunky Marinara {a Crazy Cooking Challenge}

Wow. I think I set a personal record for the longest title yet! And rightly so. If any, flavor-packed dish is deserving of a long, drawn out title, this delicious spaghetti is.

When I heard that the March cooking challenge would be spaghetti, I was delighted. Spaghetti, how I love thee...let me count the ways:
1) Plain and simple: easy, ground beef simmered in sauce out of a jar, over plain noodles.
2) Quick homemade sauce with Italian sausage, over whole wheat thin spaghetti or angel hair
3) Mom's recipe, chicken simmered in red sauce all day in the crock-pot, served over rotini.
4) Always, always!! With sour cream and shredded cheese. Yes. Ah, comfort food.
5) WITH THESE MEATBALLS- I mean, hey! They are stuffed with cheese for goodness' sake!! What more can you ask?? Bacon, you say? Bacon and cheese stuffed meatballs?? Hmm, that is an idea worth considering. Moving right along...


 I can't even begin to tell you how much flavor is packed into these little round balls of meat. Also known as meatballs. When I stumbled upon this recipe on Lauren's Latest, I knew I had found my ultimate spaghetti. But, alas! There was no sauce recipe, so I searched the web for the perfect sauce to compliment such a magnificent concoction as cheese stuffed meatballs. Moist, flavorful, cheese stuffed meatballs. Chunky Marinara from For the Love of Food caught my attention. It is chock full of tomatoes and onions and is just perfect for a gal like me who doesn't like to drown her pasta in red sauce.

Now, normally incredible yummyness is accompanied by a heaping serving of guilt. HOWEVER...take a moment to calculate with me... Turkey meatballs + Vegetable-laden-sauce + Whole wheat spaghetti = Healthy! Yay! Devour the incredible yummyness and throw the guilt out the window!

Anyhow, long story short, I combined recipes from these two fantastic bloggers, and it magically transformed into one delicious meal.

Spaghetti with Mozzarella-Stuffed Turkey Meatballs and Chunky Marinara
combined and tweaked by Jenn
Original recipes by Lauren's Latest and For the Love of Food
serves 4-6

whole wheat spaghetti noodles, or noodles of your choice

For meatballs:
1 slice white bread
1/4 cup milk
1 1/4 lb. ground turkey
1/2 cup finely diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TB ketchup
1 egg
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
24 1/2 in. cubes mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Grease or line baking sheet with parchment paper. Tear bread into chunks and place in large bowl. Pour milk over bread and let it soak while you chop onions and garlic. Add the remaining ingredients (except cheese) to the bread/milk mixture and mix thoroughly. Scoop mixture by the tablespoon into your hand and push one cube of cheese into the center. Press meat mixture around cheese to completely cover and place on baking sheet. Repeat until all meat mixture is used. You should have 24. Bake 20-23 min. or until meat is thoroughly cooked. Serve with marinara atop spaghetti.

For marinara:
1 med. yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp dried Italian herbs
1 tsp dried basil
2 TB red wine vinegar
1 TB olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions in olive oil about 5 min or until translucent. Add garlic and saute several minutes, until fragrant. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer at least 5 min. Serve with spaghetti and meatballs.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lime-Cilantro Pork Tacos {or Fajitas?}

I am in a debate with myself today. Maybe you can help me. This delicious recipe calls itself a taco. But is it a taco? It seems more like a fajita to me. Maybe it's all the onions...when we ate them last night, Hubby and I decided they were most definitely fajitas. But after reading several online articles this morning debating the differences between tacos, fajitas and burritos, I fear my meal is having an identity crisis!

Anyhow, I am dying to try this fantastically flavored dish on our grill this summer. Ah, seems so far away as I look out my window to a snow-covered yard. But alas! Even without the grill, this taste-of-summer fare was superb. Juicy thin slices of pork, seared sweet onions and jalapeno simmered with tomatoes in a lime-cilantro sauce...have I mentioned my obsession with cilantro?

Oh. Well, it's high time! The addition of fresh cilantro to a dish simply brings a bright, clean flavor and a spark that cannot be imitated. I tried dried cilantro...once. Ick. There is no comparison. I was so excited to learn that you can freeze fresh chopped cilantro! YAY! This is good news to a cilantro-loving girl who lives in a rural community and shops once a month. Fresh cilantro only keeps about a week in the fridge, so being able to freeze it for future use is a huge discovery for me. Coupled with lime, it infuses such a bold flavor into these juicy, fajitas? Anyhow. They're bold. Who cares what you call 'em?

Lime-Cilantro Pork Tacos
adapted from My Recipes
serves 4 (2 tacos per serving)

1 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into thin strips
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp olive oil
1 med. onion, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 med. tomato, chopped
3 TB chopped fresh cilantro
2 1/2 TB lime juice
8 (6 in.) flour tortillas
Sour cream, if desired

Heat a large skillet over med-high heat. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Add oil to pan. Add pork and saute about 4 min. or until browned. Remove pork from pan and set aside.
Add onion and jalapeno to pan; saute 5 min. or until tender. Add broth, reduce heat and simmer 1 min. Stir in tomato, simmer 2 min.
Return pork and any juices to pan. Stir in cilantro and lime juice, cook 1 min. or until pork is done.
Warm tortillas and serve with about 1/2 cup pork mixture per tortilla. Top with sour cream if desired.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

{Light} Lasagna Soup

I'm serious when I say that this soup really tastes like lasagna. I had my doubts about whether or not it would follow through on it's claim, but taste like traditional lasagna it does AND the amazing part is it tastes like the classic Italian comfort food while weighing in at only approx. 225 calories a serving!! I converted this recipe from the Deen Bros. to a slow-cooker version, which was much more convenient for me and worked out perfectly.

If you are craving the combined flavors of noodles, cheese, tomatoes and hearty Italian sausage, but feel guilty about piling on the calories, this soup will be a perfect remedy for your comfort-food fix!

Lighter "Tastes Like Lasagna" Soup
adapted from the Deen Bros. recipe via Pinterest
serves 4-6

2 tsp olive oil
1 lb. Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (32 oz.) container of chicken broth
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
4 oz. broken lasagna noodles (about 4 noodles)
1 tsp dried basil
3 TB grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat the oil over med-high heat in a large skillet. Add the sausage, onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is crumbled and browned.
In slow cooker, combine broth, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, salt, red pepper and basil. Stir in sausage mixture. Cook on low about 6 hours.
When ready to serve, cook noodles "al dente" according to package directions. Stir into soup. Stir in Parmesan and mozzarella. Top with sour cream if desired.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Creamy Tuscan White Bean Pasta

This amazing pasta dish requires quite a few ingredients I do not consider "staples", and it was probably one of our more expensive dinners, but for a treat and something out of the ordinary, it was WAY worth it! I absolutely love the combinations of all the vegetables with the creamy sauce and pasta, complimented by delicious white beans. As far as I can remember, I have never had beans in pasta before- it was awesome! I used whole wheat shells, and the beans sort of hid inside the shells, giving the pasta a new, rich flavor and texture. Mmm, mmm!

The first step of this delicious meal from "How Sweet It Is" is to roast a red pepper- something I had never done before! It was super easy and provided fantastic results! The roasted pepper lent an incredibly smokiness to the whole dish. It's so simple, you don't even need a recipe. Just preheat the broiler of your oven, slice the pepper and lay skin side down on a baking sheet. Broil about 10 min. or until the pepper skins start to get good and blackened. Immediately remove peppers from the sheet with tongs and put into a Ziploc bag. Seal and let them "steam" for 20-30 min. Peel the skins off if they're really charred. It really is that easy!! Can I get a "YUM!"? Now that I know this amazing trick to roasting my own red peppers, I will definitely be looking for recipes including them. I bet they would be awesome on pizza...

The other amazing vegetables included in this dish account for the "Tuscan" title: spinach, sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. What a winning combination!

And the only thing that can make all this even better? If you said bacon, you are absolutely correct (really, could there be another answer to that question?)! Pancetta, also known as Italian bacon, adds a delightful, smoky flavor to the pasta, especially since the onions are cooked in the grease...

And the glue that holds it all together...a creamy, light Parmesan white sauce. What a perfect compliment to an outstanding meal.

Creamy Tuscan White Bean Pasta
adapted from How Sweet It Is
serves 4

2 cups whole wheat shells or other pasta
1/4 cup chopped pancetta
1/2 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups fresh spinach
1 roasted red pepper, chopped
1/4 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes
5-6 artichoke hearts, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 can white beans (I used Great Northern)
2 tsp dried basil
1 TB butter
1 TB flour
1 (15 oz) can skim evaporated milk
1/2 cup low-fat milk
3 TB Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Boil water and prepare pasta according to package directions.
Heat large skillet over med-high heat. Add pancetta and cook until crispy and fat is rendered; remove and drain on a paper towel. Reduce heat to med-low and add onion, stirring to coat. Cook 3-5 min or until softened. Add garlic and spinach and stir until spinach is wilted. Add in peppers, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, beans, and basil, stirring to mix. If pasta is done, add it as well. Reduce heat to low and stir every few minutes while you make the sauce.
Heat a small saucepan over low heat and add butter. Once sizzling, whisk in flour and cook until golden and fragrant. Add in milks, allow to come to full boil while stirring continuously. Reduce to simmer and stir another 5 to 7 min until it thickens a bit. Reduce to low and add Parmesan cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Pour cream sauce into skillet with vegetables, pasta and beans, then add in bacon. Stir to mix, then transfer to a large serving dish. Enjoy!

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