Smashed Red Potatoes with Ranch and Greek Yogurt

These buttery smashed potatoes will rock your world. I made them to serve alongside my Savory Meatballs with Red Wine Gravy - and they were the perfect partner. The potatoes boast the distinct flavors of ranch and butter, and they soak up all the extra, mouth-watering gravy. Pure comfort and joy in every bite.

About the potato skins: Not only does potato skin add incredible color, it adds depth of flavor, nutrients and fiber to the dish.

Smashed Red Potatoes with Ranch and Greek Yogurt

1 pound small red potatoes, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons powdered ranch dip mix
Salt and ground black pepper

Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and pour over enough water to cover by about 2 inches. Set the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil for 12 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender.
Drain and return the potatoes to the pan. Add the butter, yogurt and ranch dip mix and smash until chunky (or smash more for smoother potatoes).
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serves 4




Savory Meatballs in Red Wine Gravy

Look at that gravy! I wish you could smell it too... Here's the backstory - my cousin Tony sent me a bottle of his homemade red wine. I've never tried it before and, WOW, it's amazing! I instantly realized it would make a great addition to any sauce, so I created these meatballs for the SOLE purpose of adding Tony's wine to the gravy.  The wine added just enough fruitiness, with a touch of acidity - key components for a successful sauce.

About the meatballs: You won't believe the flavor of these meatballs... They're so good, they can stand on their own, without any gravy (consider making them for meatball subs). The mixture is a quick blend of beef, panko bread crumbs, egg, garlic, onion, and oregano. Each bite boasts tons of flavor. Now imagine that flavor simmering in a combination of beef broth, red wine and tomato paste, with a hint of butter. It's simply magical.

About the wine: Don't worry if your cousin doesn't make his own wine, you can still enjoy this dish! Choose your favorite red and remember, while most of the alcohol cooks off, the flavor doesn't, so choose something you love.

Perfect side dish? I served these meatballs with my Smashed Red Potatoes with Ranch and Greek Yogurt - it was a match made in heaven.

Savory Meatballs in Red Wine Gravy

1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 large egg
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup dry red wine or chianti
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste, regular or sundried tomato paste
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil (for easy cleanup). 
In a large bowl, combine the beef, bread crumbs, egg, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Mix well and shape the mixture into 16 meatballs.
Arrange the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until cooked through. 
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is bubbly, add the meatballs to the skillet. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the meatballs are browned on all sides. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Boil until the liquid reduces by half. 
Whisk together the broth, tomato paste and cornstarch and add to the skillet. Bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of gravy.
Serves 4

Individual Coconut Cream Pies

These are perfect pies for summer! Creamy and sweet, with coconut two ways - in the filling and toasted on top. And, they're super simple to make. After you prepare a quick stovetop custard and fold in coconut, butter and vanilla, the filling is finished.  

About the crusts: I love those adorable, mini, ready-made graham cracker pie crusts, so that's why I created these pies. Plus, serving is a lot easier. If you want to make ONE pie, the filling is perfect for that too. 

Want to prep ahead? You can make the pies up to 24 hours in advance; cover with plastic and refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Individual Coconut Cream Pies
Note: For toasted graham cracker crusts, brush the shells with egg whites (you have 4 leftover egg whites from this recipe anyway) and bake in a 375 degree oven for 5 minutes. 

6 mini graham cracker pie crusts (I used Keebler)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 cups half & half
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Whipped cream for topping
Toasted coconut, shreds or chips (spread out on a baking sheet and toast in a 300 degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes, until golden brown)

Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. In a separate bowl, whisk together the half & half and egg yolks. Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the sugar mixture. 
Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. 
Boil for 1 minute, then remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the butter and vanilla and stir until the butter melts. Fold in the coconut. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap directly onto the mixture (this prevents a "skin" from forming). Let stand for 30 minutes. Spoon the mixture into the mini crusts, cover with plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Top with whipped cream and toasted coconut before serving. 
Makes 6 individual pies


Buttery Garlic Knots

Turn frozen dinner rolls in little knots of buttery goodness! I used frozen rolls for this recipe (and thawed them according to the package directions), but you can use your favorite, unbaked dinner rolls, refrigerated or frozen.

Need more knots? This recipe makes 12 garlic knots to serve 4 people. You can easily double and triple the recipe and make more!

Buttery Garlic Knots

4 dinner rolls, thawed if frozen
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Sea salt for sprinkling over top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Divide each dinner roll into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 4-inch "rope" and tie in a knot. Place the knots on the prepared pan.
Melt the butter in the microwave or small saucepan. Stir in the garlic powder and oregano. Brush the mixture all over the knots.
Season with the salt.
Bake for 10 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown.
 Makes 12 knots (serves 4)




Strawberry Peach Sherbet

Easiest dessert ever! You need just 4 ingredients and a blender and you can have this amazing sherbet in just minutes. Either serve it right away (it will have the consistency of soft serve ice cream), or freeze the mixture until firm for an ice cream-like consistency. 

Frozen fruit works too: This recipe starts with fresh fruit; after it's sliced, you freeze it until firm. If you want to start with frozen fruit, you won't have to wait at all. Start with about 3 to 4 cups of frozen, sliced peaches and 1 cup of frozen strawberries (no need to slice them).  

Strawberry Peach Sherbet

5-6 ripe peaches
4-5 large strawberries, hulled and sliced
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Peel the peaches over a wax paper-lined baking sheet to catch the juice. Slice the peaches and arrange them in a single layer on the baking sheet (with any accumulated juice). Arrange the sliced strawberries alongside. Freeze until frozen, about 4 hours.
Transfer the peaches and strawberries to a blender and add the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Puree until the mixture is smooth, creamy, and the consistency of soft serve ice cream. 
Serve immediately or freeze in an airtight container for an ice cream-like consistency.

Serves 4


Grilled Chicken with Lemon Basil Linguine

I love the flavor combination of fresh basil and lemon. Add linguine and a little butter and you have a sensational, light summer dish that's perfect for any night of the week - whether it's a busy Tuesday, or casual Saturday. I topped the linguine with perfectly grilled chicken, but you could also do a seafood version with salmon, tuna or shrimp. And since the grill pan was out (and hot), I threw on some mini peppers too!

This is sure to become your go-to recipe for summer. You can grill the chicken while assembling the linguine, and everything will come together in less than 30 minutes.

Grilled Chicken with Lemon Basil Linguine
Note: After I seared the chicken on both sides, I sliced it and grilled the slices (for added grill flavor). That's why you see grill marks on the slices. You can keep the chicken whole and slice it just before serving. 

Cooking spray
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, about 4 ounces each
Salt and ground black pepper
12 ounces linguine, or any pasta shape
2 tablespoons butter
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and ground black pepper

Coat an outdoor grill or stovetop grill pan with cooking spray and preheat to medium-high. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan. Grill for 5 to 7 minutes, until cooked through (165 degrees). When cool enough to handle, slice crosswise into thin slices.
Meanwhile, cook the linguine according to the package directions. Drain and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is bubbly, add the garlic and oregano. Cook for 1 minute. Add the 1 cup cooking liquid, lemon juice, and lemon zest and bring to a simmer. Add the linguine and toss to coat and heat through. Remove the pan from the heat and fold in the basil and 1/4 cup parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer the linguine to individual shallow bowls and top with the sliced chicken. Serve with extra parmesan cheese on the side.
Serves 4



Double Chocolate Chip Lemon Bars

All I can say is: WOW! If you haven't tried lemon with white chocolate, you MUST make these bars; they're truly fabulous. They're tart from the fresh lemon (juice and zest) and sweet from the double dose of chocolate - white and semisweet chips. 

I also love the fact that this is a one-bowl baking adventure - meaning, everything comes together in one mixing bowl, and then the oven does the rest. 

These incredible bars will make a great addition to any summer party or picnic! 

Double Chocolate Chip Lemon Bars

Cooking spray
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (zest the lemons before you juice them)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9x12-inch baking pan with parchment paper and spray the sides with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well with a fork and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Mix on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Gradually beat in the flour mixture. Fold in the white and semisweet chocolate chips.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. 

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean. 
Cool on wire rack before cutting into 24 bars. 

Makes 24 bars

Watermelon Salsa with Mango and Jalapeno

I can't think of anything more refreshing for summer than this amazing watermelon salsa. 
First, look at those colors! Then, the flavor explosion: sweet watermelon and mango, tangy lime, crunchy white onion, and hot jalapeno. The basil adds its own summery freshness to the mix. 

I love this salsa with chips and crackers, but it also works as a topping for chicken, fish, shellfish, and pork tenderloin. 

Watermelon Salsa with Mango and Jalapeno

3 cups diced watermelon
1 cup diced cucumber, preferably seedless/English cucumber (also called hothouse)
1/2 cup diced mango
1/4 cup minced white onion
1 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine.
Serves 8

Indian Raita with Naan

Raita is an Indian condiment often served with spicy foods. Why? Because the cold dip quickly cools the heat on your palate! But you don't need to be tearing up to enjoy this incredible blend of yogurt, cucumber, cilantro, green onion, and spices (coriander and cumin). I like to serve it as a dip with my Warm and Buttery Homemade Naan, but it's also a great topping for chicken, fish and vegetables. 

Super simple to make, you can prepare the raita up to 24 hours in advance; cover with plastic and refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Indian Raita with Naan

1 cup plain yogurt, preferably Greek
1 cup chopped cucumber, preferably seedless/English cucumber (also called hothouse)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Indian Naan bread for serving

In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, cucumber, cilantro, green onions, coriander, and cumin. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with torn pieces of Naan bread.
Serves 4

Hawaiian Chicken with Grilled Pineapple and Zucchini

Talk about a flavor explosion! The BBQ sauce for this amazing chicken starts with pineapple juice, and then gets kicked up from there (and all the remaining ingredients are pantry staples). You can make the sauce in advance and keep it refrigerated until you're ready to use it (up to 3 days). 

Oh, and the sauce works great with shrimp too!

Hawaiian Chicken with Grilled Pineapple and Zucchini

1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Cooking spray
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, about 5 ounces each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pineapple, cored and sliced into rings
1 zucchini, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds
Cooking spray

In a small saucepan, whisk together the pineapple juice, ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, ginger, garlic powder, and onion powder. Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, until thickened.
Coat a stovetop grill pan with cooking spray and preheat to medium-high.
Season the pineapple and zucchini with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until you have grill marks and the pineapple and zucchini are crisp-tender. Remove from the pan and cover with foil to keep warm.
Season the chicken with the salt and pepper and add to the hot pan over medium-high heat. Grill the chicken for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Brush with some of the sauce and grill for 2 to 3  more minutes per side, until cooked through.
Serve the chicken with the grilled pineapple and zucchini, and serve extra sauce on the side.
Serves 4

Wilted Kale Salad with Coconut Water Vinaigrette

I love how colorful this salad is. And, did you know that kale and coconut water have properties that actually cool you off in the summer? Think of this next time you're sweltering in the heat - you'll cool off while enjoying a taste explosion! 

Wilted Kale Salad with Coconut Water Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 bell pepper, seeded and sliced
8-9 cups sliced kale, about 2 bunches (don’t worry, it shrinks!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Coconut Water Vinaigrette
1/2 cup coconut water
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, juice and zest (1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Coconut chips for serving

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook for 2 minutes, until soft. Add the kale and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until wilted, stirring frequently. Season to taste with salt and pepper
Meanwhile, to make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl, whisk together the coconut water, 1 tablespoon of the oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, Dijon mustard, and oregano. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Drizzle the vinaigrette over the kale and garnish with coconut chips.
Serves 4



Roasted Asparagus and Lemon with Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

Look how gorgeous... I can't take any credit for how great this side dish looks; the asparagus and lemon did all the work (the oven gave them a little nudge, but that's it).

This might be the easiest side dish ever. You simply toss asparagus with olive oil, arrange the spears on a baking sheet with sliced lemon and roast until golden brown and crisp-tender. A quick shaving of good quality Parmigiano Reggiano and you're ready to serve. I like to squeeze the roasted lemon over the asparagus at the table - try it, you'll love it.

No Parmigiano Reggiano in the house? No problem; use a nice piece of Pecorino Romano or a good domestic parmesan.

Roasted Asparagus and Lemon with Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

1 bunch fresh asparagus, woody ends trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds
3-inch piece Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano or domestic parmesan

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (for easy cleanup).
Place the asparagus on the baking sheet and top with the olive oil. Toss to coat every spear with the oil. Spread the spears out in a single layer and season with salt and pepper. Place the lemon slices alongside.
Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until the asparagus is golden brown and crisp-tender.
Using a vegetable peeler, shave the cheese over the asparagus before serving. Serve the roasted lemon on the side.
Serves 4


Sourdough Toasts with Pesto and Mozzarella

Yum! These cheesy toasts were meant to be a simple side dish for my Pasta Arrabbiata, but WOW, they almost stole the show! I think the secret was that I used high-quality ingredients. Just THREE ingredients, but they mattered. I used a fresh-baked loaf of sourdough that I found at my local market, then I topped the slices with refrigerated basil pesto (I like Buitoni) and good-quality mozzarella (freshly grated). When you use just a handful of ingredients, each one plays a major role. Enjoy!

Need more than 4 servings? This side dish is super simple, and great for serving a crowd. You can easily double and triple the recipe as needed.

Sourdough Toasts with Pesto and Mozzarella 

8 slices sourdough bread
1/3 cup basil pesto, preferably the refrigerated variety
1 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Arrange the bread slices on a large baking sheet. Spread the pesto on each slice of bread. Top with the cheese.
Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, until the cheese is golden and bubbly.
Serves 4


Hoisin Glazed Grilled Pineapple and Scallion

You need just THREE ingredients for this incredible side dish! I think you'll be making it all summer long... the sweetness of the pineapple, tanginess of the hoisin sauce and fresh "grassiness" of the scallion partner perfectly with all types of meats, fish, poultry, and pork.

What's hoisin sauce? Hoisin is an Asian blend of fermented soybean paste, sesame, garlic, chili peppers, and spices. It's basically a one-stop-shop for tons of flavor. You can find it with the other Asian sauces, including the soy sauce.

Hoisin Glazed Grilled Pineapple and Scallion

Cooking spray
1 pineapple, peeled and cut into rounds (use a small pairing knife to remove the core and make "rings")
1 bunch scallions (green onions)
2-3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Coat a stovetop grill pan or outdoor grill with cooking spray and preheat to medium-high. Add the pineapple and scallions to the hot grill and brush with the hoisin sauce. When you have grill marks on one side, flip and grill the side that's been brushed with the hoisin sauce. Flip one more time to sear the sauce. The total grilling time will be 3 to 5 minutes; you're basically looking for nice grill marks, caramelized sauce, and crisp-tender pineapple and scallion.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serves 4

Chocolate Cake with Mint Milano Cookies

Mint Milano cookies (by Pepperidge Farm) are, by far, the most preferred cookie in my house. We're never without a bag or two in the pantry... So today I asked myself, how amazing would it be if I folded the chopped cookies into chocolate cake batter?! I'm so glad I asked!

Oh, by the way, I have NO partnership with Pepperidge Farm, just a lusting for their cookies.

This cake is killer! First, the chocolate cake part is moist and chocolatey - almost fudgy and dense, like a cross between cake and brownie. Then, the chopped Mint Milanos add a little minty crunch to every bite! I love this invention. And, think about the possibilities - you can use any chopped cookie you want!

This recipe is super easy too - no need to mix together the dry ingredients first, only to add them last (alternating with the liquid ingredients), as is required in many baking recipes. The batter is light, fluffy and perfectly moist. Oh, with that little cookie crunch.

Chocolate Cake with Mint Milano Cookies

Cooking spray
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup Greek yogurt, regular, 2% or nonfat
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped Mint Milano cookies (8 cookies, chopped into 1-inch pieces)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix until blended. Add the butter and mix until mixture looks like coarse sand. Beat in the yogurt, egg and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes, until the batter is light and fluffy.
Fold in the cookies.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a wooden pick comes out clean or with little bits of cake clinging to it.
Cool on a wire rack before dusting with powdered sugar (sift powdered sugar over top).

Makes 1 single layer cake, about 8 servings

Pasta Arrabbiata

Check out this healthy, zesty pasta dish everyone will adore! The sauce is a simple and spicy blend of tomato sauce, garlic and herbs, and it's kicked up with crushed red pepper flakes. Not a fan of super spicy dishes? No problem - you can adjust the amount of heat by increasing or decreasing the amount of red pepper flakes added. 

Oh, and it's fast too - you can easily have this on the table in less than 30 minutes! 

Pasta Arrabbiata

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for serving
2-3 cloves garlic, minced, or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, preferably salt-free
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth (or wine)
15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon sundried tomato paste or regular tomato paste
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Salt and ground black pepper 
12 ounces pasta, any shape
Fresh basil for serving
Grated parmesan cheese for serving

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes, garlic and Italian seasoning and cook for 1 minute, until the spices and herbs are fragrant, stirring frequently. Add the broth and stir to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Cook until the liquid reduces by half. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste and sugar and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and transfer to shallow serving bowls. Top with the sauce, basil and cheese. Serve extra red pepper flakes on the side. 
Serves 4

Summer Squash Chips

This is a fun and simple way to enjoy fresh summer produce! One zucchini, one yellow squash, one mouthful of happiness!

Sliced summer squash "coins" are quickly dunked in milk before getting dusted with seasoned bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. As the chips bake, the squash tenderizes and the coating gets crisp. It's a winning side dish, ready in a flash.

Summer Squash Chips

1 medium zucchini, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds
1 yellow squash, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup Italian style seasoned bread crumbs
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
Salt and ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the milk and bread crumbs in separate shallow bowls. Dip the squash slices in the milk and let the excess milk drip off. Transfer the squash to the bread crumbs and turn to coat.
Arrange the squash on the prepared pan and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
Serves 4

Chipotle Scented Meatballs with Country Gravy

How do you spell comfort? I spell it like this: MEATBALLS AND GRAVY? And you know what's even more comforting? That this incredible meal is ready in less than 30 minutes.

About the gravy: I called this "country gravy" because the creamy, dreamy sauce for the meatballs starts with a basic roux of flour and fat. But that's where the similarity ends... First, in traditional country gravy, the roux is made with flour and vegetable oil; I used butter instead of oil because it adds more flavor and creaminess. Then, country gravy is mostly milk or cream (or a combination). I wanted that creaminess, but I also wanted a beefy flavor to compliment the meatballs - so I added beef broth (for chicken, I would have added chicken broth). Then, I added some seasonings - garlic, onion, and paprika. Now this is a gravy the whole COUNTRY will adore!

About the meatballs: If you follow my recipes, you know that I prefer to roast meatballs before proceeding to the next step (whether it's simmering in gravy, sauce, or whatever). I like that the meatballs are perfectly browned on all sides, and the fat drips away. I never have to worry about one side of the meatballs cooking more than the other! As for seasoning, I catapulted flavor by adding chipotle chile powder, oregano and Worcestershire sauce. You won't believe how much flavor erupts when you combine these three simple things.

Chipotle Scented Meatballs with Country Gravy

1 pound lean ground beef
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon oregano
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup beef broth
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
In a large bowl, combine the beef, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Mix well and shape the mixture into 16 meatballs. Place the meatballs on the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes, until browned and cooked through.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is bubbly, whisk in the flour and keep whisking until blended and smooth. Whisk in the broth and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the onion powder, garlic powder and paprika. Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Add the meatballs and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, until the gravy is thick and creamy.

Serves 4


Chewy Oatmeal Cookies with Chocolate Covered Cherries

Meet your new favorite cookie! I was planning to do a variation on traditional oatmeal raisin cookies by adding dried cherries and chocolate chips. I'm sure that would have been awesome, but then I saw gorgeous chocolate covered cherries in the bulk bin section of my favorite market... Plans change, right? And I'm so glad they did this time. These are incredible - there are just enough cherries to add sweetness and chewiness, without taking away from the signature flavor of an oatmeal cookie.

Versatile cookie dough: You will love this cookie dough - it's a basic yet fabulous oatmeal cookie dough that is open to many variations.

Let's think about those variations: This time chocolate covered cherries - next time, I might try chocolate covered blueberries or espresso beans! You can also fold in chopped walnuts, peanuts, and any dried fruit you like.

These cookies spread! Take note, as is the case with many oatmeal cookie recipes, the cookies spread as they bake, so make sure you leave at least 2 inches between each mound on the baking sheet.

Chewy Oatmeal Cookies with Chocolate Covered Cherries

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup oats, regular or quick-cooking
3/4 cup chocolate covered cherries, or any chocolate covered fruit, or chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Mix until blended and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture and then beat in the oats.
Fold in the chocolate covered cherries.
Drop the cookie dough by level tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets, at least 2 inches apart.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on wire racks for a few minutes before serving.
Makes 24 cookies

Roasted Potato Coins with Garlic and Parmesan

You will adore this quick and easy side dish that pairs perfectly with all types of meat, fish and poultry dishes. The key to these potato coins is the cheese - make sure you use freshly grated parmesan, pecorino romano, or parmigiano reggiano - it really makes a difference (and, you only need enough to dust the potatoes, so you won't be breaking the bank with this dish).

Roasted Potato Coins with Garlic and Parmesan

1 pound small red or gold potatoes, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
Garlic salt
Black pepper
Freshly grated parmesan, pecorino romano or parmigiano reggiano

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.
Place the potato slices in a large bowl and add the olive oil. Toss to coat.
Arrange the potatoes on the prepared baking sheet, in a single layer. Season the top with the garlic salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes.
Add the grated cheese and roast for 10 more minutes, until the potatoes are golden brown and tender.
Serves 4



Hasselback Pizza Chicken

Hasselback is typically a technique for potatoes, where you make several crosswise slices in baking potatoes, fill the slices with cheese (and other goodies) and bake until the potatoes are tender. It's a beautiful presentation because, as the potatoes bake, the slices separate and fan out. Well guess what? Chicken works too - and, it stays incredibly moist as a result.

For this dish, I simply seasoned "hasselback" sliced chicken breasts with Italian seasoning, coated them with pizza sauce (marinara sauce works too) and filled the slices with cheese. In just 20 minutes, the chicken was moist, tender and ready to serve. In far less than 20 minutes, there was nothing left on our plates...

Hasselback Pizza Chicken 

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, about 5 ounces each
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
Salt and black pepper
3/4 cup pizza sauce or marinara sauce
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
4 teaspoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a shallow baking dish with the olive oil.
Using a sharp knife, make several crosswise slices in the chicken, cutting down about 3/4 of the way, without cutting all the way through to the bottom. Arrange the chicken in the prepared pan and season with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.
Spoon 2 tablespoons of the sauce over each chicken breast. Fill the slices with the cheese (I used a spoon and allowed some of the sauce to slide into the slices too). Top the chicken with the remaining sauce (1 tablespoon per chicken breast) and parmesan.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
Serves 4

Strawberry Shortcake Poke Cake

I love strawberry shortcake, so this is a variation on the theme. Tender vanilla cake, baked until moist on the inside and golden brown on the outside (that golden brown caramelization of the sugar in the cake is incredible - you hardly need anything else).

But you know me, I couldn't leave well enough alone so I poked it! After "poking" the entire cake with the bottom of a wooden spoon, I filled the holes with delicious strawberry pie filling (store-bought pie filling, so it's super easy).

Now imagine this scenario: Every forkful of this heavenly dessert boasts cake AND strawberries, in one scrumptious bite. Oh, and there's whipped cream too. I used strawberry pie filling but imagine how great cherry and blueberry would be too...

This is the only cake recipe you need: If you keep one basic vanilla cake recipe, this is the one. It's super simple, made with pantry staples, and comes together in less than 10 minutes. Plus, you can use the batter for cupcakes and layer cakes (just double or triple the recipe for double- and triple-layer cakes).

To highlight how versatile this batter is, consider these variations:

Almond cake: Reduce the vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon and add 1 teaspoon almond extract.
Chocolate chip cake: Add 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Peanut butter chip cake: Add 1/2 cup peanut butter chips.
Nutella poke cake: Fill the holes with Nutella instead of strawberry pie filling - you can also combine chocolate pudding and Nutella.

Now let's get baking!

Strawberry Shortcake Poke Cake

Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
20/21-ounce can strawberry pie filling and topping
Whipped cream for serving
Fresh strawberries for serving, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square cake pan with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until blended and smooth (mixture with be light and fluffy). Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the vanilla.
Beat in half of the flour mixture. Beat in all of the milk. Beat in the remaining flour mixture and mix until smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean or with little bits of cake clinging to it.
Cool on a wire rack (cool completely before "poking").
Using the rounded end of a wooden spoon, make several holes in the cake, about halfway through to the bottom. Like this:
Spoon the strawberry pie filling over the cake and use the back of a spoon to gently guide the filling into the holes. Smooth the surface, leaving the rest of the pie filling (and chunks of fruit) on top. Like this:
Cut into squares and garnish with whipped cream and fresh strawberries just before serving.
Makes 1 cake (about 6 servings)






Pesto and Mozzarella Stuffed Dinner Rolls

Chewy, cheesy, dripping with basil pesto. Few things are better than these amazing rolls!

Think of these rolls as a variation on monkey bread - but they're single-serve, so there's no need to grab the bread while someone else is grabbing it! Each double-decker roll is a simple layering of thawed dinner rolls, pesto and mozzarella cheese. Once assembled, the oven does the rest, creating puffy, flavorful dinner rolls like nothing you've ever had before.

About the rolls and rising: I used Rhodes dinner rolls and thawed them on the counter for about 4 hours. They were nice and puffed up, just as they should be. And then I squished them. Here's why: When you assemble the stacked rolls, you need to press the rolls into a muffin pan, letting all the air escape. Don't fret! Once the rolls are layered, we'll let them rise again, and then they'll rise a lot more in the oven.

Pesto and Mozzarella Stuffed Dinner Rolls

Cooking spray
8 frozen dinner rolls, thawed according to the package directions
8 teaspoons prepared basil pesto
8 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese

Coat 4 cups of a muffin pan with cooking spray.
Press one dinner roll into the bottom of each of the four cups. Spoon 1 teaspoon of the pesto over top and spread it out in an even layer. Top with 1 tablespoon of the cheese.
Repeat layers - dinner roll, pesto and cheese. Let rise for 30 to 40 minutes, until puffed up.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the rolls for 12 to 15 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown on top.
Serves 4




Easy Cheesy Rice Balls with Ritz Crackers (no bake!)

These rice balls are cheesy, bite size, melt-in-your-mouth treats with a crunchy coating. All the boxes are checked - including easy-to-prepare!

I actually created this recipe as an after-school snack, but WOW, I'll be serving these gems as appetizers in the future; they'll be a welcome addition to any party spread.

And, I love how easy they are to make: I started with a package of 90-second ready rice (I chose Garden Vegetable for added flavor). Then, I simply folded in cream cheese, cheddar cheese and parmesan cheese. Once the mixture was cool enough to handle (like 3 minutes later), I shaped it into balls and roll the balls in crushed Ritz crackers. That's it! There's no need to bake - they're literally ready to serve.

Want to double the recipe for a big soiree? Do it! I'm sure they'll all be devoured!

Cheesy Rice Balls with Ritz Crackers


1 pouch Garden Vegetable ready rice (I used Uncle Ben's)
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
18 Ritz crackers

Cook the rice according to the package directions (which should be 90 seconds in the microwave). 
In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine the cream cheese and cheddar. Microwave for 30 seconds to soften the cream cheese. Mix well. Fold in the rice and mix well. Fold in the parmesan cheese. 
When the mixture is cool enough to handle, shape it into 16-18 balls. The easiest way to work with the mixture is with water-moistened hands (not soaked, just damp!). When the mixture starts to stick to your hands, rinse them and start fresh! Transfer the balls to a parchment-lined baking sheet. 
Place the crackers in a large zip-top bag and crush with a rolling pin or the bottom of a heavy skillet. Add the balls to the crackers, one at a time, and turn to coat. After you've coated all the balls, repeat the process and coat them all a second time. 
Serve warm or room temperature (if you chill them, the crackers may lose their crunch). 
Makes 16-18 balls 

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