Culinary Quest #17 – Bacon & tomato pasta salad

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Recently I visited Fresh Market, a high-end grocery store. They are known for their fresh products, including a delicious deli.

I purchased a small cup of their bacon & tomato pasta salad and liked it. However, I found it needed a few tweaks, so below is my version of their pasta salad.

The tweaks: Store-bought salads are mostly pasta (because it’s cheaper and goes farther). I prefer to increase the other ingredients to reduce bad carbs, increase good cards and increase protein. I also added a couple of ingredients that bring natural sweetness (peas) and a warm, nutty flavor (pine nuts) to this light dish. I also substituted white wine vinegar for balsamic vinegar because it gives just an extra spark of fruity bite that regular wine vinegar doesn’t offer.

We rarely use mayonnaise in our home and most times the jar expires before we can finish it. But, inching closer to summer, sometimes mayo adds a creamy texture to pasta salads that oils simply can’t do.

This dish is served up just in time for Easter brunch, a lazy Saturday (as in our family’s case today :)), lunchboxes for work or school, parties, or a savory snack. Enjoy!

Bacon & Tomato Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

1# boxed pasta; cooked al dente, drained (any kind will work, we had rigatoni on hand)

2 pkgs thick-cut bacon; cooked & chopped

2c green onions; chopped (1 bunch)

1 1/2c celery (approx 4 stalks); chopped

2 pints grape tomatoes; cut in halves

1c pine nuts

2c frozen peas (use them straight out of the freezer)

1t salt

1/2t pepper

1T + 1t white balsamic vinegar

3/4c – 1c mayo (for this recipe I used Duke’s regular mayo); measure to preference

Directions:

Bake bacon in oven at 375 for about 30-45 minutes until done.

While bacon is baking, boil pasta (add salt to pot) for 12-14 minutes.

While both of those are rockin’ & rollin’ prepare remaining ingredients and put them in a large bowl.

Add cooked bacon.

While pasta is still slightly warm, mix into bowl.

Store in fridge. That’s it! 🙂

 

Culinary Quest #8 – Mexican Breakfast Flatbread

We love Mexican food!  Just give me chips and salsa and I’m set.  But, for days when a proper meal is in order be it breakfast, brunch or dinner, I set out to create a dish that incorporates savory Mexican taste with traditional breakfast ingredients.

This hearty dish stands alone, and a fork & knife are required for this mucho grande meal.  Adapt veggies to taste.  Use egg whites, reduced-fat cheese, reduced-fat sour cream and turkey bacon to help with dietary needs.

Loaded with veggies, and a kick of lime, it’s a great break from store-bought, frozen breakfast burritos or the predictable taco night!  This flat bread is filling in an “I’m ready for the day” feel, not “I need to go back to bed” feel.  🙂 Enjoy!

Mexican Breakfast Flatbread

Serves 8

One bag                 Fresh pizza dough

2T                           Corn meal

1T                           Garlic powder

1/4t                        Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

1 bunch                  Fresh cilantro; chopped

1 pt                        Mushrooms; thinly sliced

1                             Red pepper; chopped

½ medium              Red onion; thinly sliced

½t                           Lime juice

2                              Beefsteak tomatoes; thinly sliced (use the centers for most even distribution)

8                              Eggs

1#                            Center cut bacon; cooked & diced

2c                            Mexican blend shredded cheese

2                              Avocadoes; sliced

1c                            Sour Cream

1c                            Your favorite salsa

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Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

On a floured surface, roll out dough till flat using rolling pin.

Place dough on pizza pan or stone that has corn meal sprinkled on it. (To keep the dough from sticking to the pan)

Sprinkle garlic (and optional cayenne pepper) onto dough.

Layer in order: cilantro, mushrooms, red pepper & onion.

Sprinkle lime juice over top.  Add tomato slices.

Bake in oven for 25minutes.

While flatbread is baking, fry 8 eggs in a large skillet on the stove.  I use a little cooking spray to avoid excess fat and break the yokes so they more evenly distributed.

Remove flatbread after 25 minutes, and add eggs evenly on top. Using a spatula, simply cut out the eggs like pieces of a puzzle.

Sprinkle with cooked, diced bacon.  Cover with shredded cheese.

Bake an additional 5 minutes until cheese melts.

Remove from oven and top with salsa, sour cream, and avocado slices on top.

Just veggies at this point…pre-baked.

Frying up the eggs (with a little pepper).

Hot out of the oven…

Bless the meat let’s eat!

Culinary Quest #7 – Banana Blueberry Bread

Blueberries are in season, and that means they are delicious at their peak and most economical (I bought them BOGO this week!).  They are great stirred into yogurt, whipped into a smoothie, or just eaten by the handful.  But, combine their tender goodness with warm banana bread and it’s a perfect match.  This marbled bread is also pretty.  It looks like it wants to be eaten. 🙂

Some breads can be overloaded with oil and sugar, making them a hybrid of bread and cake, and I feel guilty serving them for breakfast to my family.  I was able to keep the granular sugar at a reasonable level because of the natural sweetness of the bananas.

What we especially enjoy about this bread recipe is the dense, moist texture of the banana bread, yet it’s not “wet”  so it holds together nicely.  The texture is more like a pound cake, but healthier than one.  The banana flavor is tasty enough on its own.  Add the blueberries, with their juices, and a beautiful balance of sweet and tart, dense and moist perfectly compliments the crunchy top of golden crust and oats.

This recipe makes two loaves, so perhaps keep one and give one away! It also freezes well.  Great for summer mornings, work on the run, or you can make them into muffins or pour into a 9×13 dish and cut into small squares for a crowd.  Let’s get baking…

Banana Blueberry Bread

3                             eggs

3/4c                        oil

1 ½ c                      sugar

1t                            salt

2t                            cinnamon

1t                            cardamom

1 ¼ t                       baking powder

3t                            vanilla

3                              ripe bananas

3c                            flour

3c                            blueberries

1/2c                       oats (divided)

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Preheat oven to 350 (325 convection).

In mixing bowl, cream eggs, oil & sugar with electric mixer.

Add salt, cinnamon, cardamom, baking powder & vanilla.  Mix.

Peel bananas and break into large chunks and add to bowl.  Mix.

Mix in flour just until incorporated.  Like all breads, don’t over mix or the bread will be tough & rubbery.

Using a large spoon, blend in blueberries.

Pour into 2 lightly greased loaf pans (or muffin, casserole dish, etc.)

Sprinkle equal parts (½ c each for loaf pans) oats over bread mixture.

Using a clean, dry hand, press the oats into the mixture so they stick to the bread and won’t flake off once bread is cooked.

Bake for 1hr 25 minutes (or until testing stick comes out clean) for loaf pans.  Reduce baking time depending on which pan you use (about 20 minutes for muffins and 9×13).

*** Freezing tip: My grandmother had a great trick for freezing breads.  Wrap them in plastic wrap, then wrap them in newspaper.  She did this for our wedding cake and it was just as fresh on our 1 year anniversary as it was on our wedding day!