Creamy Tortellini with Peas

Creamy Tortellini with PeasI’ve been making Creamy Tortellini with Peas for years, as it’s quick, delicious and meatless. The only drawback is that the refrigerated tortellini at the grocery store I shop at (Kroger) can be pricier than I’d like to pay for pasta. But I’ve recently discovered two solutions to this problem: 1) Aldi sells tortellini for about half the cost of Kroger and 2) the frozen tortellini at Kroger is cheaper than the refrigerated kind.

I suppose the third option would be to make your own tortellini. But when you’re trying to whip up a quick meal on your lunch break, making pasta by hand isn’t exactly an option. If you’ve got the time, however, go for it!

Adapted from Kraft’s “Food and Family” magazine; makes about 3 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth (I use Simple Truth organic)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 9 oz. of cheese tortellini (refrigerated or frozen)
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup cheddar cheese (optional)
  • salt & pepper

Pour the broth and water into a saucepan. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, and add tortellini. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the tortellini is puffy and tender (the actual time will depend on if you use frozen or refrigerated. It should take about 10 minutes, give or take a bit).

While the pasta is cooking, cut the cream cheese into small cubes. Once the pasta is finished, stir in the cream cheese and peas (do not drain the broth mixture) until the cream cheese is melted. Top with the shredded cheddar, and add salt and pepper to taste.

If you’re on the bacon bandwagon, you can top it with warm chunks of bacon as well. But I think the dish is mighty tasty without it!

Chocolate Protein Smoothie

Chocolate Protein Smoothie via Byrd BitesDo you often skip breakfast like I do? Then this smoothie is for you. It can be made right before you go to bed, so all you have to do is remember to grab it as you run out the door in the mornings. Because most mornings, I really am running.

As indulgent as it tastes, it has no added sugar (healthy!) and you’re downing an entire banana (double healthy!).

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole banana (I like the small organic ones)
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • peanut butter (I use the creamy organic Smucker’s brand)
  • unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 ice cubes (optional)

Break the banana into about four chunks, and place in a blender. Add the almond milk (adjust the amount to your desired level of milkiness). With a small spoon (like the kind you’d eat cereal with), scoop about two spoonfuls of cocoa powder into the blender. Follow with about two spoonfuls of peanut butter. Top with a couple of ice cubes, and blend until the mixture is smooth.

I prefer using a Mason jar with a lid for my smoothie, so that it stores better in the refrigerator. And so it doesn’t slosh everywhere when I’m running out the door!

Broccoli + Chicken Penne

Broccoli + Chicken Penne via ByrdBitesOne of the tactics I use to lower my grocery bill is by practicing the dark art of ingredient substitution. Take this pasta dish, for instance: It initially began as an au gratin with fancy cheeses and other ingredients that I would have never used outside of this particular recipe (think white pepper — call me a hillbilly, but I’ve never, ever seen another dish call for it).

A few years ago, I would have bought all the weird things on an ingredient list and cried a little when my grocery bill would double. Now, I simply take a recipe and shape it around what ingredients I have on hand and what ingredients I can afford at the store. It’s a bit of a science, and honestly, not all of my substitutions are perfect. But with a little practice (and screw-ups), I think you really do start to get a sense for what ingredients act as sensible replacements for frilly, expensive things.

For this particular recipe, I’d suggest using whatever pasta you have on hand. My hubby said bow tie pasta would have worked well, while I think angel hair would have been perfect. I’d even serve this with rice. The sky’s the limit!

Recipe adapted from the “At Home with Magnolia” cookbook by Allysa Torey

Ingredients:

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • olive oil
  • 1 head of broccoli, cut into little heads
  • penne (or other pasta/rice on hand)

Cream sauce

  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk (I use 2%)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 3/4 cup cheddar cheese
  • salt, to taste
  • ground black pepper, to taste
  • garlic powder, to taste

Preheat oven to 375F.

Put the chicken breasts into a glass baking dish, and drizzle with olive oil (not too much). Turn the chicken over a few times to coat them evenly. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the juices are clear. Remove the chicken from the oven, and lower the temperature to 350F.

Meanwhile, steam the broccoli in a saucepan with boiling water until bright and tender — about 5 minutes. Cube the chicken into small chunks, and place them in a casserole dish (If you’d like to have fewer dishes to clean up afterward, just use the pan you baked the chicken in. Be sure to drain the broth, however. I forgot, and ended up with soupy chicken).

For the sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. When the butter is melted and slightly boiling, stir in the flour until blended. Cook about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

While the butter mixture is cooking, heat the milk in a separate saucepan until bubbles begin to form on the sides of the pan. Then, slowly pour the milk into the butter mixture, stirring constantly. Once thickened (about 2-3 minutes), add the cheese, salt, pepper and garlic, and stir well. Pour the sauce over the chicken, and bake for about 30 minutes.

While the chicken dish is baking, prepare the penne (or whatever pasta/rice suits your fancy), and add butter, salt, pepper — however you like your pasta. Once the chicken dish is finished, 1) place a scoop of pasta in a bowl, 2) top with a scoop of the chicken dish and 3) devour.

I suggest eating this meal straight from the oven, when the cream sauce is hot and addictive. In addition, I advise using a fork to eat this dish. For some strange reason, I decided to grab a spoon, and it felt like I was wrangling the penne more than eating it. Live and learn.

Cream Cheese Brownies

CreamCheeseBrownies_ByrdBitesThese brownies come with a disclaimer: After baking them, you need to quickly find a friend to share them with. Or else you’ll eat every. last. crumb. All by yourself. In your pajamas, when you’re husband isn’t looking. Not that I have ever done that, though.

I usually give myself a day or two to enjoy a few pieces, and then I’ll take the rest to the office. No one seems to complain, and the brownies tend to disappear quickly, so I’m guessing that’s a good sign.

Recipe adapted from the “At Home With Magnolia” cookbook by Allysa Torey

Ingredients:

For the cream cheese swirl

  • One 8-ounce package of cream cheese, semi-softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

For the brownie mixture

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp milk (I use 2%)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup pecans, broken into small chunks
  • 1/2 cup assorted candy bars, chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease and flour a 9×13 baking dish. (I used the Pam Spray with the flour in it, because I felt lazy. I also used a glass baking dish, and it worked swimmingly).

For the cream cheese swirl: In small bowl, mix the cream cheese and 1/3 cup of sugar with a beater, and then add the egg and flour until mixed well. Set aside.

For the brownie mixture: In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring often. Once melted, transfer the pan to a cool place and let the mixture cool for 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar; then beat in the eggs, milk and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and mix well.

Add half of the pecans and the candy bar pieces to the brownie mixture and stir. (The candy is super optional. The original recipe called for Heath bars, but I substituted them with a few snack-size Milky Way and Snickers the last time I made the recipe. But honestly, the brownies are sweet enough — the candy just eases you into that diabetic coma a little quicker).

Reserve about half a cup of the brownie batter, and spread the remaining batter into the greased dish. Then, dollop the cream cheese mixture on the brownie mixture. With the reserved brownie batter, fill in the spaces between the cream cheese mixture, and then swirl the two mixtures together with a knife. Top the batter with the rest of the pecans (and candy pieces), and press them lightly into the batter.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center has “moist crumbs” on it.

The recipe suggests to not overbake the brownies, and I heartily agree. It also says to allow the brownies to cool overnight, but I think Allysa was seriously kidding. Grab a glass of milk and enjoy a piece. Or 10. It’s up to you.

3 Bean Stew

3Beanstew1_ByrdBitesOne of the best ways to keep my picky-eater husband happy is to fix the food he grew up with — like this 3 Bean Stew his mom used to make him. He began raving about the recipe when we began dating in high school, and it has since made it into my go-to list of meals for him.

The only hitch I had with the original recipe was the astonishing amount of meat in it – a whopping pound of ground beef and an entire package of bacon. I try to limit the amount of meat we eat (have you seen the prices at the grocery store lately?), so my version of the recipe includes smaller portions of ground turkey (less fat) and turkey bacon (less expensive). Feel free to use whatever ground meat and bacon you have on hand, however – I promise I won’t judge you!

Prep: 15 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 15 oz. can of lima beans (or the dried & soaked equivalent)
  • 15 oz. can of kidney beans (or the dried & soaked equivalent)
  • 28 oz. can of baked beans
  • 1/2 lb. ground meat (I use ground turkey)
  • 1/2 package of bacon (I use turkey bacon)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 Tbsp mustard
  • 2 Tbsp vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp ketchup
  • 4 Tbsp brown sugar
  • -1 tsp onion powder

Chop the bacon and onion into small bits, and add to a pan with the ground meat. Cook until the meat mixture is no longer raw. (Hint: When I use pork bacon, it tends to tint the ground beef/turkey a reddish pink. That’s normal, but it can be hard to tell when the meat is cooked. Cook the meat as long as you think it would normally take, and let the Crock-Pot do the rest).

While the meat is cooking, fill a medium Crock-Pot with the remaining ingredients. Add the cooked meat mixture, and stir. Place the lid on the pot and cook on low all day or overnight.

The most recent batch I made simmered from about midnight until late morning — and it was perfect. If my husband’s enthusiasm is any indicator, I’m pretty sure any meat-lovin’ member of your family will think it’s perfect, too.

Welcome to Byrd Bites

Welcome_ByrdBitesSome kids dream of becoming actors or astronauts when they grow up. Me? I made mud pies, read Taste of Home magazines and fantasized about opening a café.

My borderline obsession with food began nearly two decades ago, when I began helping my mom and oldest sister in the kitchen. I mainly sat around and sampled their food when they weren’t looking, but it definitely developed in me a craving for cooking. By middle school, I was collecting cookbooks and making dinner. In high school, I cooked at any given chance – birthday parties, church lunches, family reunions. I’d even regularly make cookies for my math class.

In essence, I was a total weirdo growing up. But I can make a great pistachio cheesecake, so it’s really OK.

Don’t let my long-time interest in food fool you, however. After getting married last fall, I realized my kitchen expertise was in baking frilly desserts – not the kind of manly man, bone-stickin’ dishes my carnivorous husband loves. In the few months of our marriage, I have scorched a lot of minced garlic, overcooked a lot of chicken and overspent on a lot of groceries. My kitchen experiments have been no piece of cake, pun intended.

I’m a huge advocate of wholesome, well-rounded diets, as I believe our health is so intricately tied to the food we eat. I try to eat organically and locally as much as our budget allows, and I try to creatively incorporate fresh produce and whole grains in as many meals as possible. But marriage mistake #2 was trying to pull my husband onto that bandwagon way too quickly.

Let’s just say he doesn’t like quinoa. In fact, he has convinced himself that he’s allergic to it. And we won’t even discuss the amount of sweet tea consumed in this house.

But he will eat whole wheat pitas and turkey bacon. He even told me that he likes chocolate chip cookies better when I use whole white wheat flour in the recipe.

That’s what this blog is all about – balance. A little bit of give and take. There will be some recipes I rave about that will make your hips rounder just by reading them. Blame it on my Southern-fried roots, but life’s just too short to avoid dessert forever. There also will be some recipes I post that you could probably double and eat all by yourself and still have all your Weight Watchers points to spare, if that’s your thing.

This blog isn’t about becoming a professional chef, or an all-knowing nutritionist, or a perfectly domesticated housewife. I’m certainly not those things (the very idea makes me cackle), and I don’t expect anyone else to be, either (although I’d love to encourage you to read nutrition labels, buy organic milk and eat lots of apples).

Overall, my goal is to help inspire more people to step in the kitchen, roll up their sleeves and get cooking. And I’d be delighted if you’d join me!