Fusilli with Basil, Mint, and Mozzarella

It was the offer of fresh herbs from my mother that inspired this recipe — big bunches of mint and basil that I was determined to make good use of right away. I thought of using them together over pasta, and I took inspiration from a New York Times recipe for the addition of fresh mozzarella and fusilli pasta. While at the store to buy the pasta, I saw grape tomatoes I wanted to use. That’s how I came up with this recipe, an easy one that is great for warm weather, when we don’t want heavy sauces and don’t want to spend a long time in the kitchen.

I can’t give exact amounts of the herbs, but I recommend using a whole lot. I had about six sprigs of garden-grown mint that, when chopped, yielded a large pile on the cutting board (if I could have scooped it up, it would have been a giant handful). Same with the basil. I had maybe three stems of organic basil that were huge and gave me about the same amount as the mint. But go with what you have, or whatever amount you prefer.

16 oz. fusilli pasta
1 punnet (about 1 pint) grape tomatoes
16 oz. mozzarella pearls (I used these from BelGioioso) or balls of mozzarella, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
A lot of mint, chopped
A lot of basil, chopped
Garlic powder (about 1/2 tsp.)
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop the tomatoes in half width-wise (if they are especially long grape tomatoes, cut them in thirds). Place them in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients, mix and let sit at room temperature while you cook the pasta.

Cook the fusilli until al dente, then drain and add to the bowl with the tomato mixture. Mix well and serve.

Garlic Bread

Your kitchen is going to smell amazing when you make this. The delicious, salty garlic butter makes it so appetizing and it takes only minutes to make. I adapted it slightly from a recipe in The New York Times, mostly to reduce the amount of butter because even after I slathered the bread twice, I had a lot of butter left over. I still had extra when using a long, thin baguette — a wider and larger loaf might use up the full amount. If not, use it to spread on savory toast the next day!

1 French baguette
6 Tbsp. butter (3 oz. or 85g)
3 large garlic cloves
1 heaping Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan cheese (definitely use more if you want)
Lots of salt (maybe 1 tsp.)
Freshly ground pepper

Heat the oven to 400F/200C degrees. Slice the bread into 1-inch slices, making deep cuts but not going all the way through. Transfer bread to a piece of foil.

Melt the butter, then mix in minced garlic, cheese, salt, and pepper. Generously brush the butter inside each slice, then brush the top of the loaf a couple of times. Seal the foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and open the foil, then bake for another 5 minutes.

Chocolate Croissant Bites

This is a quick little dessert that reminds me of chocolate-filled croissants from a nice pastry shop somewhere — the kind of place with small tables and a big window to the street, that smells more of sugar than coffee and has a display case full of desserts almost too beautiful to eat. (I really do miss visiting places like that.)

Gourmet thoughts aside, this is actually a simple back-of-the-box recipe I’ve had in my cookbook for ages. It was called Fudgy Brownie Cups, but to me that doesn’t describe it well enough. There is no rising agent in the chocolate mixture, and that’s what makes them fudgy, but they just don’t seem like brownies when they’re wrapped in the flaky layers of puff pastry.

All you need is a saucepan, a rolling pin and a couple of muffin pans and it’s ready in less than 20 minutes.

Makes 20

8 oz. (227g) sheet of puff pastry (half of a standard U.S. box), thawed
4 oz. (113g) dark chocolate (I used Lindt‘s 70% cocoa chocolate bar)
4 oz. (113g) unsalted butter (half a stick)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. all-purpose (plain) flour, plus extra for dusting countertop
Confectioner’s (icing) sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 400F/200C degrees.

In a pot over medium-low heat, melt chocolate and butter. Turn off heat and mix in sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, then mix in flour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry to a 12×15-inch rectangle. Cut into 3×3-inch squares and press each one into an ungreased muffin cup. Fill with 1 tablespoon of chocolate mixture. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden (you want to err on the longer side to make sure the puff pastry comes out crispy on the bottom, not chewy).

Immediately remove to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Cinnamon Rolls

“Yummy and tasty and good for the mornings,” says my daughter, and that’s the perfect way to describe these cinnamon rolls!

The yeast dough is easy to make, even for someone who may not be used to working with yeast dough. The recipe uses the equivalent of two packets of active dry yeast to shorten the rising time to just 30 minutes. That makes this a great brunch recipe, because you have just enough time after you wake up to prepare the rolls and have them ready for the eager people at the table who have smelled that cinnamon and rushed in to have some. I measure the ingredients and lay them out the night before to save myself time in the morning.

I clipped the recipe from the newspaper years ago. It came from a person named Pat Rising in Lawrenceville, Georgia, who said their father’s parents owned a hotel called the Rising House on New York’s Lake George — and their grandmother’s specialty was these cinnamon rolls.

As my son says, “It’s a great start for a good day.”

1 cup milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided
2 packages (0.25 oz. each) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 eggs, beaten
5 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour, unsifted
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. cinnamon

For the glaze:
2 cups confectioner’s (icing) sugar
3 Tbsp. milk
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract

In a small saucepan over medium heat, scald the milk. Remove from heat and add the sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup (1 stick) of the butter, and mix until melted. Cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add milk mixture, eggs, and 2 cups flour, and beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead 8-10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. (The dough may stick to your fingers at first, but as it picks up the flour on the board, it will stick less and less. As you knead, scatter a bit of flour on the board to replace what the dough picks up.)

Grease a large bowl with a small amount of canola oil or cooking spray and place dough inside. Turn the dough to grease the top, then cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Yes, those are crayons to mark the dimensions of the rectangle. Use whatever works for you!
Place the rolls in the pan and make sure they are touching but not squeezed together.

Heat the oven to 375F/190C degrees. Melt the remaining butter. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and punch it down to remove air bubbles. Roll it into a rectangle 12×24 inches. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture — all the way to the short sides of the rectangle — and drizzle with melted butter. Roll up jellyroll style into a 24-inch log. Cut into 1 1/2-inch slices and place in a 9×13-inch ungreased baking pan with rolls touching (don’t squeeze them in; just make sure they touch).

Bake 20 minutes. When the rolls are nearly done, mix the confectioner’s sugar, milk, and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Pour over the rolls when they come out of the oven and serve immediately.

Cheesy Ranch Popcorn

This seasoned cheddar popcorn is easy to make and deliciously addictive. It uses a little more than half of a regular bag of microwave popcorn, so use that as your guide to how many people it will serve. For us, it was enough for 3 people. (No judgments if you think it serves 1!)

For the cheddar cheese powder, you can just use the packet from a box of macaroni and cheese and save the macaroni for another recipe.

7 cups popcorn, plain or lightly salted
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 large Tbsp. ranch seasoning (about half of a 1 oz. packet — this is the one I used)
2 tsp. cheddar cheese powder

Put the popcorn in a large bowl. Melt the butter, pour it over the popcorn, and mix. In a small bowl, mix the ranch seasoning and cheese powder, then pour it over the buttered popcorn and mix well.

Kentucky Derby Day Pie

I didn’t know what a Derby Pie was until a colleague of mine, Kara, posted this recipe around the time of the Kentucky Derby this year. She said it’s her mother’s recipe. As much as I love making pies, I also cherish recipes from other people’s kitchens — they’re authentic, and every time I make one, I remember the person who shared it with me. It wasn’t until recently that I had a chance to make this.

I have since learned that the name “Derby Pie” is trademarked, so I can’t use it, even though I’ve also learned it’s a beloved pie for many cooks who happily call it that in their collection of recipes.

The pie contains chopped walnuts and chocolate morsels beneath a soft, sweet filling. Use your favorite pie crust, whether frozen, refrigerated, or homemade, in a 9-inch pie plate. I’ve made this twice now and everyone has loved it. Thank you, Kara, for letting me share it! 😋

Heat oven to 350F/175C degrees.

In a large bowl, mix one by one in this order:
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 stick melted butter, cooled
1 cup chopped walnuts (pecans are OK, too)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla

Pour in pie crust and bake for about 45 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (though there might be some chocolate on it, which is fine).

Teriyaki Chicken Skewers

I wanted a chicken dish to go with the yummy yakisoba I was making the other night. I almost made my marinated chicken, but I kept looking around and decided on this recipe instead. I liked it because the peppers and red onion would be colorful on the plate and also provide some vegetables.

I changed the amounts of ingredients on the skewers, but the marinade and glaze are the same as the original recipe, and they were delicious. And definitely use the garnish. It looked really good scattered on top.

The recipe uses mirin, which the author, Jeanette Marie, describes: “Mirin is a form of rice wine that’s commonly used in cooking. … It’s much lower in alcohol content than traditional rice wine and higher in sugar. So, mirin adds a sweet note to the flavor profile of any dish it’s used in. But, it also adds the unique flavor of rice wine.”

Serves 4

SKEWERS
8 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for an hour (the easiest way to do this is to lay them in a rimmed baking sheet filled with water)
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red pepper, cut into large squares
1/2 green pepper, cut into large squares
1/2 red onion, cut into cubes and separated into 2 or 3 layers each

MARINADE
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
3 Tbsp. mirin
1/2 tsp. sea salt

GLAZE
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 1/2 Tbsp. mirin
1 Tbsp. sugar

GARNISH
1 green (salad) onion, thinly sliced on the bias
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds (toasted, if you have time)

In medium bowl, mix marinade ingredients. Add chicken cubes and toss to coat. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate 2 hours to overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400F/200C degrees. Thread the chicken, peppers, and onions onto the skewers, alternating chicken and peppers, then chicken and onion, and leaving a small bit of space between each one.

Line a baking sheet with foil, making sure to cover the sides to catch the liquid during cooking. Lay the skewers on top and bake 20 minutes, turning halfway through.

While the skewers are cooking, put the glaze ingredients into a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow to cook until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.

When the skewers are finished cooking, remove from the oven, place on a serving dish, and brush generously with the glaze. Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Yakisoba

This is a copycat recipe for the chow mein at Panda Express. I think it comes very close, and is just as delicious, but after making it myself I’ll just call it yakisoba. We gobbled this up at dinner and it made great leftovers for lunch the next day. I served this with teriyaki chicken skewers.

Here it is, tweaked from the original based on the amounts that worked best for me.

1/4 cup soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1/4 tsp. white pepper
2 4-oz. packages dried yakisoba noodles, seasoning packets discarded (this is the kind I used)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 small stalks celery, sliced diagonally
1/8 head of cabbage, shredded

In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar, ginger and white pepper; set aside.

Cook yakisoba noodles according to package directions. Drain well. Measure out 11 oz. of cooked noodles and save the rest for another meal.

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion and celery and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Stir in cabbage until heated through, about 1 minute.

Stir in noodles and soy sauce mixture until well combined, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken Sandwiches

A super-delicious crowd-pleaser using just a handful of ingredients and a slow cooker, so it requires very little work.

I have resisted using our slow cooker because it feels a little like cheating. Yes, I know it makes cooking easy and produces wonderful results, and I know I’m being silly. But when I saw this recipe the other day on Family Fresh Meals, it seemed so appetizing and fun that I gave it a go. And it was a total success. We’ll definitely be making this again.

It calls for Italian dressing, which I didn’t have, so I made my own with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, and a generous amount of garlic powder, dried parsley, and dried oregano.

Serves 4-5

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup barbecue sauce
1/4 cup Italian dressing
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Season the chicken breasts generously with salt and pepper. Place in the slow cooker.

In a bowl, mix the barbecue sauce, Italian dressing, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour over the chicken.

Set the slow cooker for 3.5 hours on high. When finished cooking, pull the meat apart with two forks. Serve on lightly toasted brioche buns with cole slaw.

Homemade Chicken Stock

When cooking with a rotisserie chicken, don’t throw it away after removing the meat — make your own stock. Just put the carcass in a large pot, fill with water, and toss in some chunks of vegetables such as carrots, celery, and onion. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1-2 hours. Now you have stock, and the quality will be so much better than store-bought. It will noticeably improve your recipes.

Once the stock has cooled, save it in containers and freeze. Be sure to mark how many cups are in each, so that when you have a recipe requiring a certain amount, you can take out what you need.

* You can also save some of the stock in ice cube trays. Whenever you need small amounts — like for a pasta sauce or boiling rice — you can use some cubes without having to open or defrost an entire container. (Saving broth in ice cube trays is also a good idea when you have just a little bit left in a container and don’t want to waste it.)