Friday, July 27, 2012

Balsamic Pasta Salad

It's Friday! What are your plans for the weekend? Hopefully, you'll be enjoying time with your family and NOT slaving away in the kitchen every time you get hungry. To make that a reality, spend a few minutes in the kitchen whipping up this simple salad, and keep it at the ready in your refrigerator. Whenever hunger pains hit, this will be waiting for you!

Adapt the veggies to whatever you have on hand or prefer. Carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower. You can even use frozen veggies. If using frozen corn or peas, you can just toss them into the salad after thawing. If using larger frozen veggies, such as green beans. Cook them as directed by the package, but cut the cooking time in half. (You don't want them mushy!) Drain, then immediately "shock" the veggies in a bowl of ice water. Once the veggies are cool, drain thorougly and toss into the salad.

Balsamic Pasta Salad
Source: Adapted from

½ cup balsamic vinegar
1½ tbsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced (or ½ tsp. garlic powder) 
1 tsp. dry basil
½ tsp. salt
8 oz. whole wheat penne pasta
1 cucumber, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2-3 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cup black olives, sliced

Place the vinegar, oil and spices in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigourously to combine. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Prepare the pasta to al dente, according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water and place in a large bowl. Add the chopped veggies to the bowl.

Give the dressing another shake and pour over the pastas and veggies. Toss. Adjust seasoning to taste. (Depending on the quality of your vinegar, you may need to add a pinch of sugar. Good balsamics are very sweet.) Serve immediately or cover and keep cold in the refrigerator.

Tip: To make this salad a main dish, add a can of drained and rinsed kidney beans. Or you can add 2 cups of cooked chicken breast. Here is a super simple way to cook chicken breasts in the microwave.

Quick Start with MSPI Mama: This is one of my Quick Start recipes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Country-Style Stir Fry

Hello, friends! My blog has been rather quiet these past several weeks. The summer months are brutal on this mom-of-three. Lots of activities ... swimming, dance, piano, softball, tee-ball, VBS, camp, sleepovers, out-of-town trips, etc. ... but I wouldn't have it any other way. My kids love to be kept busy!

Regardless of how busy we get, I still manage to get dinner on the table in the evening. This meal was well-received in my house. I used my kids' favorite veggies -- broccoli and carrots -- but you can easily adjust to whatever your family prefers. I used chicken, but slices of pork or beef would both work. Or you could go vegetarian by leaving the meat out all together and using veggie broth. Maybe add a can of kidney beans. Yum!

Country-Style Stir Fry
Source: MSPI Mama
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. chicken breast, sliced into bite-size pieces
¼ tsp. salt
2 small broccoli crowns, cleaned and chopped
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
½ cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup MSPI-friendly chicken stock
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. dried parsley flakes
1-2 tsp. corn starch
2 tbsp. cold water
Hot cooked rice

Heat the oil in a large saut̩ pan over medium high heat. Add chicken to the pan and sprinkle with the salt. Stir fry the chicken until the meat is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes Рthe amount of time will depend on how thinly the chicken is sliced. Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken from the pan, cover with foil to keep it warm and set aside. Return pan to the stove top.

Add the broccoli, carrots, onion, garlic, chicken stock, lemon juice and parsley to the pan. Stir together and simmer the contents of the pan until the vegetables are crisp tender, about 6-7 minutes. Add more stock or water to the pan, if the mixture becomes too dry or you would like the finished product to have more sauce.

In a small bowl, stir together the corn starch and water. (The amount you use will depend on how thick you like your sauce. A thinner sauce will only need 1 tsp. of corn starch.) Stir the mixture into the pan. The liquids in the pan will tighten up into a nice sauce.

Add the chicken back to the pan. Serve the stir fry over the hot cooked rice.

Tip: Make sure to THINLY slice the carrots. If you cut them too thickly, it will take way too long for the carrots to cook and the broccoli will be way overcooked. (To make the slicing easier, I use this mandolin slicer. It makes cutting veggies into uniform little slices so quick and easy!) If you have trouble cutting the carrots thinly, I would recommend grating the carrots.