Thursday, February 28, 2013

February Re-Make Re-Cap

I am just completely over winter. I'm done with it. I know that this is reflected in my attitude lately, as I find myself feeling irritable and just kind of blah. I tell you this because the truth is that I haven't had a lot of energy to cook lately, so a lot of the meals I'd planned for the month just didn't get made. I still cooked a fair amount, though -- some great new recipes I'll share in the coming weeks, and a few of our favorites. Here's what I re-made during February.

Joe requested fried pickle ranch burgers for dinner on Super Bowl Sunday. He also requested that I add bacon to them, which was a stroke of genius on his part. I loved the way the smoky flavor of the bacon worked with the briny pickles. I used refrigerated deli pickle slices this time, but I actually think I prefer the plain old dill variety for these burgers.

Joe also requested this spicy sausage dip for the Super Bowl. It definitely wasn't our healthiest night of eating, that's for sure. This is hands-down my favorite dip in the entire world. It's probably a good thing that I generally only make it for football-related sporting events and thus won't be enjoying it again until September. I'm sure my waistline will thank me.

This chicken with feta, roasted tomatoes, and garlic butter spinach spaghetti is one of the simplest meals I prepare, but it's probably one of my absolute favorites. I just love the way all of the flavors work together. And you know how I am with roasted tomatoes. I'll eat them on or with practically anything. I took my own advice this time and used half a pound of spaghetti noodles rather than just a quarter pound. I know my boys were happy about this, because they were slurping up the noodles like they were candy (green stuff included!!).

I never miss an excuse to use festive sprinkles, or to make these soft sugar cookie bars. This month that excuse was Valentine's Day. I made these for the boys' classes, and took the other half with me to work. It would just be dangerous to have these hanging around the house, because I simply can't resist them. Andrew calls these "sugar brownies," which I just love.

These Southwest sloppy joes with honey-lime coleslaw are our favorite version of sloppy joes. The creamy, sweet and tangy coleslaw pairs so perfectly with the spicy beef mixture. I love the texture that the corn and beans provide. When I made the sloppy joes this time, I also sprinkled them with some shredded queso quesadilla cheese.

My boys (and my husband, for that matter) get so excited whenever they hear we're having pizza panini for dinner. I always have all of these ingredients on hand, so this is a quick, easy, and family-pleasing meal for the nights when I just don't feel like making anything too complicated.

Biscuits with sausage gravy is one of my favorite comfort foods. Newer readers may have missed this recipe, since I posted it so long ago. I really, really encourage you to try this one. My version of sausage gravy is far from traditional, and uses maple sausage and cream cheese. Every time I make this, Joe reiterates that it's one of the best things I've ever made.

One of my coworkers celebrated her birthday this month, and lemon cake is her favorite dessert, so I made her a batch of these lovely lemon cupcakes. I frosted them with the same buttercream I use for the sugar cooke bars and gave them a good dose of sprinkles (of course). I really think these are just the best lemon cupcakes. They have such wonderful flavor and texture.

These BBQ chicken sandwiches with onion strings are so good, they're crave-worthy. I love everything about these sandwiches; all of the ingredients just work. We just had these for dinner last night, but now I totally want to have them again tonight.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cheesy Salsa Chicken Spaghetti

I think most of us can agree on the following two things: 1. Salsa chicken is one of the simplest, most delicious ways to serve chicken; and 2. Chicken spaghetti is one of the yummiest, most comforting meals on the planet. Now that we've established that, I think we can also agree that combining the two dishes results in a meal that is simple, flavorful, and delicious.

This meal really couldn't be easier. Salsa chicken, cheese sauce, spaghetti, and boom; dinner's ready. Joe liked this a lot, but the boys loved it. It's one of the only times I've ever successfully convinced them to eat Mexican(ish) food.

Salsa chicken is one of those things I always make in a big batch and freeze for later, and this is the perfect way to use it. Tacos one night, cheesy chicken spaghetti the next.

Cheesy Salsa Chicken Spaghetti

2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 cup salsa
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 pound dry spaghetti, broken in half
4 tablespoons butter
1 red onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies, drained
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups freshly shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
Chopped cilantro for serving

1. Combine chicken, salsa, chicken stock, chili powder and cumin in a Crock pot. Cover and cook on Low for 4 to 6 hours, until chicken shreds easily with a fork. Shred chicken and set aside.

2. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente; drain.

3. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook and stir until translucent. Add garlic and green chilies, season with salt and pepper, and cook for another minute or so.

4. Stir in the flour until smooth, then add the milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until sauce is thickened and bubbly. Mix in the sour cream, then add the cheese in increments, letting each addition melt before adding more. Add the chicken to the cheese sauce.

5. Pour the cheese sauce over the spaghetti and stir to combine. Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cilantro, if desired.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Jalapeno Popper Breakfast Scramble

I love making (and eating!) breakfast foods, but since our breakfasts during the week are usually so quick, and the boys always ask for doughnuts or pancakes on the weekends, I don't always get to try new recipes as much as I'd like. But when this idea popped into my head, I knew I had to make it as soon as humanly possible -- for breakfast, for brinner, I didn't care; I just knew I needed to have it.

OMG, you guys, just: OMG. This breakfast scramble was indescribably delicious and turned out exactly like I was hoping. It had all the flavor of a jalapeno popper, with the addition of crispy, salty hash browns. Mixing the cream cheese into the scrambled eggs gave them such a creamy, velvety texture, and the contrast with the crisp bacon and potatoes was just perfect. You could easily cut the amount of cream cheese in half, but I used the full 8 ounces because I didn't want half a brick sitting around in my refrigerator. Joe raved and raved about this. I even took the leftovers for lunch the next day, and I was so suprised by how well they held up.

Those of you who share my jalapeno popper obsession are going to love this recipe; and, for those of you who don't share that obsession...Well, I think this just might sway you.

Jalapeno Popper Breakfast Scramble

1 pound bacon, chopped
2 jalapenos, finely diced
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 cups shredded frozen hash brown potatoes
8 eggs
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used a triple cheddar blend)

1. Cook bacon to desired crispness in a large skillet. Remove to a paper towel to drain. Add jalapenos and cook until just softened, then place the jalapenos in a large bowl.

2. Heat the canola oil in another large skillet. Add hash browns in a single layer, season with salt and pepper, and let them get crispy. After they're crispy, flip them over to let the other side brown.

3. Add the eggs, cream cheese, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper to the reserved jalapenos and scramble. The cream cheese will still be in chunks in the eggs, but that's fine.

4. Pour the scrambled egg mixture over the hashbrowns, add reserved bacon, and mix it all together until the eggs are cooked. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and cover to let it melt. Serve.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Granola Pie

My cooking club's theme for January was "childhood favorites," and as soon as I was assigned the dessert course I knew exactly what I was going to make. This recipe isn't exactly a childhood favorite, because I don't think my mom started making it until I was a teenager -- but once she started making this pie I never stopped asking for it, and we probably had it at least once a month. I'd never made it myself before, but I knew it's what I had to make for cooking club.

This pie was every bit as delicious as I remembered. I know it sounds a little strange -- granola bars crushed up in pie? -- but it just works. The granola bars give it such a delicious texture and work perfectly with the walnuts, and the chocolate chips make this so rich. I've only ever made this with oats and honey granola bars, but I bet you could use any flavor and get delicious results. I like eating it with a (large) dollop of whipped cream on top, which is the perfect thing to cut through all the sweet richness.

Granola Pie
slightly adapted from Pillsbury

Crust for 1 9-inch pie
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, lightly beaten
4 crunchy oats and honey granola bars, crushed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup oats (quick-cooking or old-fashioned will work)
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Whipped cream for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place pie crust in a 9-inch pie plate and crimp the edges.

2. Microwave butter on high for 1 minute or until melted. Sitr in brown sugar and corn syrup until blended. Beat in salt, vanilla and eggs. Stir crushed granola bars, walnuts, oats, and chocolate chips into the brown sugar mixture. Pour into the crust-lined pie plate.

3. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until filling is set and crust is golden brown. During the last 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover the crust with strips of foil to avoid over-browning. Cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve at any temperature with whipped cream. Cover and refrigerate leftovers.    

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Warm Greek Chicken Wraps with Roasted Tomatoes

I think lots of people probably have a cuisine that they crave every once in a while, and for me that cuisine is Greek. I crave it often, and there are times that I just can't get it out of my mind until I eat it. Here lately I'm craving it once a week, so Greek-inspired meals have appeared on our meal plans frequently.

These wraps are one of my recent creations and man, are they delicious. Tzatziki sauce, Greek-seasoned chicken, olives, feta, and roasted tomatoes...I couldn't ask for more out of a meal. The roasted tomatoes take these wraps to another level with their sweet flavor and soft, slightly charred texture. They're absolutely perfect with the tangy bite of the feta cheese.

You could use kalamata olives for these wraps, which I think would be delicious, but I used green olives since they're the only kind my husband likes. (We buy Lindsay brand, and he eats them like candy.) Possibly the best thing about this meal, aside from how delicious it is, is that it comes together in just about 15 minutes, so it's a perfect weeknight dinner.

Warm Greek Chicken Wraps with Roasted Tomatoes

For the tomatoes:

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

For the tzatziki sauce:

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 clove garlic, pasted
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and shredded
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

For the wraps:

2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
Greek seasoning
Feta cheese, crumbled
Olives, chopped
Flour tortillas

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a foil-lined baking sheet, mix the tomatoes with the vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer and roast for 20 minutes, or until the skins have burst.

2. While the tomatoes are cooking, combine all the ingredients for the tzatziki sauce. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Refrigerate until serving.

3. Season chicken on both sides with Greek seasoning. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a medium skillet; add chicken and cook, turning once, until chicken is browned and cooked through. Remove to a cutting board and let the chicken rest while the tomatoes finish cooking. Slice the chicken thinly.

4. Spread a layer of tzatziki sauce on a flour tortilla and top with chicken, roasted tomatoes, feta and olives.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mom's Carrot Casserole

There are lots of things I did when I was 19 that I'm not necessarily proud of, but one of the smartest things I've ever done in my life occurred at that age. I moved out of my mom's house -- which was not-so-smart, maybe, in retrospect -- but before I left I took the time to write down all of her recipes. It turned out, tragically, that I'd be yearning for those recipes to revive her memorty earlier than I ever thought I would, so I am so glad I had the foresight to do that. That foresight is why I have so many of her recipes, my childhood favorites, to share with you here.

Today's recipe is yet another of those forgotten favorites. I stumbled upon it while searching for a pie recipe (which I'll share on Friday), and I think I immediately started salivating. Neither my brother nor I liked carrots very much growing up, but when my mom made this casserole, carrots somehow turned into a magical vegetable and we couldn't get enough.

The carrots are baked in a sauce made of butter, cream cheese, and Velveeta, so this is oviously not very healthy, but as a once-in-a-while indulgence it just can't be beat. The sauce is delicious beyond words, and paired with the sweet carrots, the sharp bite of the green onions, and a buttery cracker topping, it's just perfect. My whole family loves this casserole so much, and I'm so glad I rediscovered it.

Mom's Carrot Casserole

2 pounds carrots, sliced
1/2 cup chicken broth
8 ounces Velveeta cheese, cubed
5 tablespoons butter, divided
8 ounces cream cheese, cubed
4 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 sleeve buttery crackers, crushed

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the carrots and chicken broth in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 7 to 9 minutes until carrots are crisp-tender.

3. Meanwhile, in another large saucepan, combine Velveeta and 2 tablespoons butter. Cook and stir over low heat until melted. Add the cream cheese, green onions, and salt and pepper. Cook and stir until cream cheese is uniformly melted into the sauce.

4. Drain the carrots; stir into the cheese sauce. Transfer to a greased shallow 2-quart baking dish.

5. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Stir the crackers into the butter, then sprinkle the cracker crumbs over the casserole. Cover and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until bubbly.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Cake Batter Dip

I'm Grumpy today. Yes, that's right: Grumpy with a capital G. It's just been one of those days, and even though it's still early, I already just want to call it quits and settle into a hot bath with a cold glass of wine. But since I can't do that, I'm going to do my best to improve my mood by sharing an adorable, delicious recipe with you.

It just doesn't get much cuter than this cake batter dip. It's so easy to throw together, and it's addictively delicious. This recipe makes a ton, so be sure you have someone to share it with, or you just might end up eating all of it yourself (not that I know that from experience or anything...).

This is such a sweet and festive treat for a Grumpy-with-a-capital-G day...or any day, really. How I wish I was that lion animal cracker right now!

Cake Batter Dip
adapted from Honest Cooking

1 package of Funfetti cake batter mix (box variety)
2 cups vanilla yogurt
1 1/2 cups whipped topping
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sprinkles
Vanilla wafers, animal crackers, and graham crackers for dipping

Blend the cake mix, yogurt, whipped topping and vanilla with a mixer. Place in a tupperware container; cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Before serving, add the sprinkles to the top of the dip. Serve with assorted dippers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Southwestern Ranch Chicken Clubs

So what do you guys have planned for Valentine's Day? Anything special? Joe and I got the obligatory restaurant dinner out of the way last weekend, so we're planning on having a quiet night in with the boys. That is my favorite kind of Valentine's Day, honestly. Going to a restaurant on the holiday itself has never been an enjoyable experience for me, due to the crowds. I am not a fan of crowds, at all, ever, in any situation. Heck, going the weekend before Valentine's Day was bad enough!

After more than 12 years with my husband, I have definitely found the way(s) to his heart: video games and food. If I get him something involving video games and make him a delicious dinner, he'll be a happy man. When I made this sandwich for him recently, he went completely ga-ga, and I'm pretty sure eating it made him fall in love with me all over again. He even called me from work the next day after he had the leftover sandwich for lunch to rave about how delicious it was. That is unprecedented!

In his defense, there certainly is a lot to love about these sandwiches. Ranch-seasoned chicken, cheese, bacon, tomato, avocado, and a creamy sauce made of ranch dressing, sour cream, lime and cilantro...sounds amazing, right? It definitely is. You should make them and see for yourself!

Southwestern Ranch Chicken Clubs

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
1 packet ranch dressing mix
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
8 strips bacon, cooked to desired crispness
4 slices colby-jack cheese
8 slices of tomato
1 avocado, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup prepared ranch dressing
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime, divided
Bolillo rolls (or rolls of your choice), split and toasted

1. Coat the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Combine ranch mix, chili powder and cumin and sprinkle evenly over the chicken.

2. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook, turning once, until browned and cooked through. Remove to a plate and cover with foil while you prepare the other sandwich components. (Note: Something in the ranch dressing mix makes the chicken get pretty brown, so if that bothers you, you can easily bake the chicken instead. I'd do 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cutlets.)

3. To make the sauce, mix together the ranch dressing, sour cream, cilantro, and juice of half a lime. Use the remaining lime juice to dress the avocado to prevent browning.

4. To make a sandwich, layer a piece of chicken, one slice of cheese, two slices of bacon, two slices of tomato, and a few slices of avocado on a roll bottom. Drizzle with sauce and add the roll top. The devour and revel in your husband's praise. ;) 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sausage and Tortellini Soup

This soup is one of those Pinterest-famous recipes. You know, the ones that you see hundreds of times in your Pinterest feed because everyone pins and re-pins it? I've tried a few of those recipes, and this may just be the best one yet. This soup is truly as delicious as everyone says it is.

Of course, I made a lot of my own modifications to this soup. The result was a creamy, cheesy, flavorful soup that Joe and I happily ate for days. It's really saying something that I had to fight Joe for the leftover lunch portions, since he's not typically a huge fan of soup. This is seriously, seriously delicious. I loved the dimension of smokiness that the fire-roasted tomatoes added; it worked so well with the sausage and the creamy broth. Garlic bread is the perfect vehicle for soaking up the incredible flavor of that broth.

Mushrooms, zucchini, and baby spinach or kale would be delicious additions to this soup. I may even try stirring in a spoonful or two of pesto next time I make it...and there will most definitely be a next time.

Sausage and Tortellini Soup
heavily adapted from Party in My Kitchen

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound bulk Italian sausage, mild or spicy
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock (1 quart)
1 can evaporated milk
1 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 bag frozen cheese tortellini
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, divided
Shredded parmesan cheese

1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage and break into bits with a wooden spoon. When the sausage has lost nearly all of its pink color, add the onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is softened, then add the garlic and cook and stir for 30 seconds.

2. Add the white wine to the pot and let it reduce, stirring with a wooden spoon to release any bits stuck to the bottom. Add chicken stock, evaporated milk, tomatoes, and Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

3. Add the tortellini to the pot and continue cooking for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the tortellini is heated through. Stir in two tablespoons of the parsley.

4. Garnish eash serving with parmesan cheese and some of the reserved parsley.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cookies and Cream Layer Cake

Exactly one month ago today, my sweet littlest love, William, turned three years old. It's such a cliche, I know, but I seriously have no idea how the time passed by so quickly. It seems like yesterday Will was just a sweet little bundle of baby, and now he's rapidly becoming a little boy. A charming, beautiful, amazing, very loving and very loved little boy.

In our house, we don't do giant parties, but we always have a small family party for the boys' birthdays. For Will's cake this year, I knew pretty much immediately that I wanted to do something with Oreos. The boy is an Oreo fiend, and he comes by that trait naturally. I kept the cake itself pretty simple and made it special with cookie crumbs and a wax paper "3." I loved how this turned out, both in taste and in looks; the cake was so moist, and the frosting was so creamy and sweet. 

And, most importantly, the birthday boy was very, very happy with his cake.

Cookies and Cream Layer Cake
cake adapted from Taste of Home; frosting is my recipe

For the cake:

1 package white cake mix
1 1/4 cups water
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups coarsely-chopped Oreos

For the frosting:

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup whipped topping

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, water, oil, eggs and vanilla; beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Beat on high for 2 minutes. Gently fold in crushed cookies.

3. Pour into two greased and floured 9-inch round baking pans. Bake  for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

4. For frosting, beat the butter, cream cheese and vanilla in another large bowl until smooth. Add confectioners' sugar, 1 cup at a time. Gently fold in whipped topping. Spread frosting between layers and over top and sides of cooled cake. Decorate the top and sides with cookies if desired.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chipotle Pork Tostadas with Pine-Apple Salsa

I know I've mentioned this here before, but my absolute favorite cookbook is Cooking Light's Annual Recipes from 2008. So many instant family favorites have come from that cookbook, and here is yet another. Joe said that this is one of the best things I have ever made and, obviously, I make lots of things. And since he likes a lot of the things I make, I'm considering that very high praise.

The original recipe from the cookbook was for soft tacos rather than tostadas, but I love the crunch of tostada shells, so I decided to adapt the recipe a bit. These are crazy good, you guys -- spicy and sweet and crunchy and creamy and tangy and just mouthwaterningly delicious. The pineapple-apple salsa was fantastic, savory and sweet at the same time, and it perfectly balanced out the spicy pork mixture. Although I have made apple salsa and pinapple salsa on separate occasions, I never thought about pairing them together. I loved the fresh crispness of the tart apple paired with the sweet pineapple. The roasted red pepper added a level of smokiness that worked so well with the chipotles. This meal was just a winner on all fronts, and it will definitely become a part of the regular rotation.

Chipotle Pork Tostadas with Pine-Apple Salsa
adapted from Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2008, also available on MyRecipes

For the salsa:

2 cups minced pineapple
1 cup minced apple
1 roasted red pepper, patted dry and chopped
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of cumin
Generous pinch of salt

For the tostadas:

6 corn tortillas
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into thin strips
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chipotles in adobo
Shredded Mexican-blend cheese or queso fresco
Sour cream

1. To prepare salsa, combine all salsa ingredients in a medium bowl; stir until well blended. Cover and chill.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray the tortillas lightly with cooking spray and arrange on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned and crispy.

3. Meanwhile, to prepare the tostadas, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion to pan; cook 2 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds. Add pork to pan; cook 4 minutes or until pork loses its pink color, stirring occasionally.

4. Stir in tomatoes and next 7 ingredients (through chipotles). Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Uncover and simmer 10 minutes or until liquid is nearly evaporated.

5. Spread a thin layer of sour cream on each tortilla. Top with pork mixture, shredded cheese, and salsa.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Southwestern Shrimp Pasta

It's Monday, and it is my belief that every Monday should start with a luscious, creamy pasta. This is not my waistline's belief, but nevertheless. This particular pasta was inspired by a dish I ate at Applebee's, of all places, when out for lunch with my best friend. We mostly just had the actual lunch part as an excuse to drink strawberry margaritas and have chocolate lava cake for dessert, but it just so happened that the lunch we split turned out to be pretty darn delicious -- so delicious that I had to recreate it at home. I actually think my version is better than theirs...probably because mine uses a cream sauce, and theirs doesn't. Hey, I have to be me.

This pasta is just incredible -- spicy, creamy, cheesy, and slightly sweet from the shrimp and corn. I think you'll love it.

Southwestern Shrimp Pasta
inspired by Applebee's

1 pound fettuccine or linguine
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, tails removed, and deveined
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 red onion, finely diced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 roasted red pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cilantro, divided
1 cup shredded pepper-jack cheese, divided

1. Cook fettuccine according to package directions in boiling salted water; drain.

2. Meanwhile, pat shrimp dry and season with chili powder, cumin, and cayenne. Heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet. Add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are opaque (2 to 3 minutes). Remove shrimp to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

3. Add remaining tablespoon of butter to the same skillet and saute onion and green bell pepper until softened. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and roasted red pepper; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add corn, black beans, and diced tomatoes.

4. Stir in the half and half and heat to bubbling, then lower heat and simmer until it's slightly reduced. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the chopped cilantro.

5. Add the sauce to the reserved pasta and stir gently to combine. Portion into bowls and top each bowl with about 1/4 cup shredded cheese, some of the shrimp, and another sprinkling of cilantro. Serve immediately.