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Dine In: Italian Pasta Salad


Italian Pasta SaladMy favorite thing to do on a Friday afternoon is leave work, collect my boys, grab some groceries, and plop down on the back porch with a beverage and an easy dinner.

By Friday, I’m ready to relax! Sometimes that means going out to dinner, but for me, there really is nothing better than not having to leave the house for the rest of the night, not having to fight traffic and crowds, and not having to wait for my meal.

My back porch is a work in progress. I have a chiminea for fires, my two grills (charcoal and gas), solar lights, my potted herbs, and a semi-comfortable (like I said, “work in progress”) table and chairs set. It’s my favorite place to be in the evenings. When the weather warms up, I add a misting fan to keep the air moving and to keep us cool.

April nights are the best for porch parties, as we call them. You can even prepare this salad in advance, and then the work is complete for the evening. To make it a little hardier, you can add grilled, chopped chicken.

Italian Pasta Salad

Ingredients:
10 oz refrigerated cheese tortellini
5 oz mini pepperoni, or equivalent weight chopped pepperoni or salami
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 (3.8 oz) can black olives, drained
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup jarred mild yellow banana peppers, chopped
1 cup Italian salad dressing
8 oz parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Cook tortellini according to package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water to shock the pasta into stopping the cooking process and to help prevent sticking. Cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, combine pepperoni, tomatoes, olives, red onion and banana peppers; toss with cooled pasta. Add the dressing, oregano, basil, salt, pepper and cheese; toss gently to combine. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving; serve chilled.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 799, Fat: 52 g (16 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 131 mg, Sodium: 1588 mg, Carbohydrates: 51 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 8 g, Protein: 36 g.

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Dine In: Lemon Asparagus Tortellini


Lemon Asparagus TortelliniLast Friday, I spent all day doing yard work. My boys helped, but we had our work cut out for us. The winter grass needed to be mowed. We needed to rake, clean out flower beds, aerate the lawn and put down fertilizer.

It was hard work, but it laid the groundwork for a delicious and filling dinner to be enjoyed that night. While spring comes with lots of outside chores, it also comes with the pleasures of spring produce.

This dish is bright and vibrant with the fresh green vegetables and bursts of garlic and lemon. We served it with a side salad of microgreens tossed in lemon vinaigrette and some fresh bread from the Brookshire’s bakery brushed with olive oil and cracked black pepper.

Lemon Asparagus Tortellini

Ingredients:

ASPARAGUS:
1 1/2 lbs asparagus, stemmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and black pepper, to taste

TORTELLINI:
1 lb frozen cheese tortellini
3 Tbs butter
1 Tbs shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
dash of crushed red pepper
3 cups fresh spinach, packed
zest of 1 large lemon
juice of 1 large lemon
1/2 cup  parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt and black pepper, to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400° F. Spread asparagus on a large baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle with garlic, and toss until asparagus is well-coated. Season with salt and pepper. Place pan in the oven, and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once. Remove asparagus when it is still crisp and slightly charred. Set aside to cool.

While asparagus is roasting, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil, and cook tortellini according to package instructions. Drain, but reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Set aside.

In the same pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot, garlic, red pepper and spinach. Sauté until spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the lemon zest, and stir well to combine.

Turn heat to low. Add asparagus and tortellini to the pot, and stir in reserved pasta water and lemon juice. Heat through. Sprinkle with parmesan, and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 489, Fat: 24 g (13 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 75 mg, Sodium: 590 mg, Carbohydrates: 46 g, Fiber: 6 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 24 g.

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Dine In: Loaded Baked Potato and Chicken Casserole


Loaded Baked Potato and Chicken CasseroleWe’re right on the cusp of warm, spring and summer weather. With hot days and cooler nights, it’s almost time to shed the heavy comfort foods of winter, and enjoy spring and summer’s bountiful vegetables and lighter meats.

Almost.

Sometimes, it’s just satisfying to work a full week of challenges, take care of your family, take care of yourself and come home to a comfort meal on Fridays.

This dish is warm, creamy, cheesy and filling, all the requirements (at least for me) for comfort food. While the serving size of this recipe is for two, you can easily double or triple (if you have teenagers in the house, I definitely recommend tripling this recipe).

Loaded Baked Potato and Chicken Casserole

Ingredients:
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and diced
8 oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced
2 slices Canadian bacon, diced
4 Tbs unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 stalk scallion (green part only), cut into small rounds

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350° F. Coat a 9 x 9 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk salt, sugar and black pepper into whipping cream, stirring to combine.

Layer the potatoes and chicken in the baking dish. Sprinkle with bacon and butter pieces. Top with half of the sharp cheddar cheese and scallions.

Pour whipping cream mixture over the casserole.

Cover and bake for 1 hour. Uncover and bake for 30 more minutes.

During the last 10 minutes, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and bake until bubbly.

Serve immediately.

(This recipe can easily be doubled.)

Serves 2

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 898, Fat: 58 g (33 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 256 mg, Sodium: 1324 mg, Carbohydrates: 37 g, Fiber: 6 g, Sugar: 4 g, Protein: 57 g.

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Dine In: Parmesan Rosemary Potato Chips


Parmesan Rosemary Potato ChipsOver the weekend, I took a trip to a small, historic city about 90 minutes away from where I live.

I stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast there, with the most delightful owners. When I checked in on Friday night, the lady of the house assured me that breakfast would be bountiful and would start with dessert.

She wasn’t kidding.

She brought out a deep-dish French toast topped with a peach compote, a dollop of homemade whipped cream and a sprinkle of freshly grated cinnamon.
The next course was an Italian quiche served with a grilled melon salad and parmesan rosemary potatoes.

It was delicious.

When I got home, I searched for recipes similar to what she’d served at that first breakfast, and I found a recipe for Parmesan Rosemary Potato Chips and knew I had to try them.

While I didn’t eat these for breakfast at that charming little inn, these chips were definitely inspired by the lady with the huge smile and miles of hospitality.

Parmesan Rosemary Potato Chips

Ingredients:
1 large russet potato
1 1/2 Tbs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 cup parmesan, finely granted
sea salt, to taste
canola oil, for frying

Directions:

Slice potatoes thinly using a mandolin. Submerge potatoes in an ice water bath while you work, to keep them from browning. Heat about 3 inches of oil in a large stockpot, fryer or wok to 350° F. Dry potatoes with a clean towel.

Drop about 8 to 10 slices into the oil, and fry until golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Drain well with a slotted spoon, and place into a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt, rosemary and parmesan. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Serve immediately.

Serves 3 to 4 (as a side dish)

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 165, Calories from Fat: 76, Fat: 8 g (6 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 27 mg, Sodium: 355 mg, Carbohydrates: 11 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 0 g, Protein: 13 g.

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Dine In: Corned Beef


Corned BeefWe didn’t eat much corned beef growing up.

I am Italian, after all.

As an adult, it seems like a lot of the people I really enjoy in life have Irish heritage, so I’ve been forced to learn a little bit about Irish cuisine. Happily forced, that is.

Now, it turns out that corned beef is not a traditional Irish dish, but it was introduced into the cuisine by a melding of Irish and American culture, where the cured beef was substituted for bacon by Irish-American immigrants in the late 19th century.

It then became a quasi-traditional dish to eat on St. Patrick’s Day (today, that is). Corned beef is usually eaten with potatoes and cabbage.

Corned beef is basically pickled brisket. Not THOSE kind of pickles, but cured brisket, simply stated.

You can purchase it pre-cured and reheat for tonight’s homage to all things Irish, or you can make it yourself!

Corned Beef

Ingredients:
1 (4 to 5 lb) beef brisket
2 quarts water
1 cup sea salt
1/2 cup raw cane sugar or organic brown sugar
1 stick cinnamon or about 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1 Tbs mustard seeds
1 to 2 Tbs black peppercorns
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp allspice berries (optional)
1 Tbs coriander seeds
1 tsp juniper berries (optional)
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaf
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 to 3 bay leaves, crushed

Directions:
In a large, heavy stockpot, combine water, salt, sugar and spices; stir until dissolved.

Heat to a simmer; remove from heat and let cool by using two cups of ice if needed.

Refrigerate until very cold. Brine must be chilled through before it is used for the meat.

Trim the brisket, and place inside a 2-gallon, zip-top bag. Add brine. Make sure brisket is covered completely and totally surrounded by liquid. Place bag inside a smaller bowl if needed to help conform to a shape that keeps the meat fully submerged in liquid.

Place bag in the refrigerator, and let sit for 3 to 5 days. Every day, flip bag and move brine around.

After the brisket has finished brining, remove from bag; rinse well in warm water.

Place in a slow cooker, and cook on low for 8 to 12 hours.

Slice and serve with cabbage and potatoes.

Serves 8

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 576, Calories from Fat: 164, Fat: 18 g (7 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 253 mg, Sodium: 11774 mg, Carbohydrates: 11 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 7 g, Protein: 87 g.

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Dine In: Rosemary Olive Oil Bread


Rosemary Olive Oil BreadOn Fridays, my office closes early.

I get to leave two heavenly hours early, every single week. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my job, and I can’t wait to get into the office each day. In fact, sometimes I pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming about working for such a great organization.

I do love the job perk of early Fridays because those extra two hours mean I can do something like bake homemade bread that I might not get the chance to do on a weeknight.

This bread makes Friday nights special, especially if you’re staying home and gathering around the dinner table with your family.

It’s wonderful for sopping up a hearty marinara sauce or the juices for a pork tenderloin roast.

Rosemary Olive Oil Bread

Ingredients:
1 cup warm water (100° F to 110° F)
1 Tbs cane sugar
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup bread flour, plus extra for kneading
1 egg, whisked plus 1 Tbs water, for egg wash
dried rosemary, for sprinkling

Directions:
In a large bowl, stir together warm water and sugar. Sprinkle with the yeast, and let sit for 10 minutes.
Gently stir in the salt, rosemary, seasonings, olive oil and whole-wheat flour. Add the bread flour, and stir until the dough forms a ball.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 5 minutes, adding more flour if necessary to keep dough smooth and supple.

Place the dough in a large, lightly greased bowl, and cover it with a clean towel. Let rise in a place free of drafts (a room temperature oven is good) until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Punch the dough down, and form it into a round loaf.

Place the loaf on a baking stone/ sheet or pizza peel dusted with cornmeal or covered in parchment paper. Let rise until it’s doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven (after you take the rising dough out) to 400° F. Brush the dough with an egg wash, and sprinkle with dried rosemary and some sea salt.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden.

Serves 8

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 148, Calories from Fat: 43, Fat: 5 g (1 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 21 mg, Sodium: 300 mg, Carbohydrates: 23 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 1 g, Protein: 5 g.

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Dine In: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Panela


Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and PanelaWarning: Wine Country recipes ahead.

I spent last weekend visiting my sister in California, in the heart of wine country. Apparently, there are 43 wineries in the immediate vicinity of her house. Alas, it was only a weekend trip, so we only hit three of them. Luckily, there are more visits to be planned.

Aside from enjoying some seriously valuable sister time, I ate and drank my way through Wine Country, and it was well worth every single calorie.

Our first stop on Saturday was at Oak Mountain Winery, where we had lunch reservations to eat in the Cave Café. The cave clings to the side of the steep hill where the grapes are grown, and it is quite an extensive storage area for casks of wine. It also has an amazing atmosphere for a fine meal.

There were seven of us, so we opted for a bottle of sangiovese and a bottle of zinfandel. We shared a charcuterie board and the most amazing Brussels sprouts that I’ve ever eaten. Their recipe includes a roasted guajillo sauce, but I didn’t recreate that part at home.

If you can’t find panela cheese, use Mexican queso fresco instead.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Panela

Ingredients:
1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
sea salt and pepper
1/4 cup shallots, minced
3 Tbs garlic, minced
1/4 cup almonds
8 oz panela or queso fresco

Directions:
In a large cast-iron (or other ovenproof skillet) over medium-high heat, warm olive oil until fragrant and shimmering.

Preheat oven to 400° F.

When the oil is ready, sauté shallots and garlic until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Toss in almonds and stir.

Remove from heat; stir in Brussels sprouts and Balsamic vinegar.

Season with salt and pepper.

Place in the oven. Roast for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until leaves are browned and Brussels sprouts are crisp outside and tender inside.

Toss with cheese and serve immediately.

Serves 4 (as a side dish)

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 236, Calories from Fat: 136, Fat: 15 g (4 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 19 mg, Sodium: 258 mg, Carbohydrates: 15 g, Fiber: 5 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 13 g.

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Dine In: Cajun Dirty Rice


Cajun Dirty RiceIt’s the Friday night before Mardi Gras, so it’s time to indulge. Come Ash Wednesday, Christians all over the world go into a period of fasting until Easter.

Some people fast by not eating meat on Fridays. Some give up something valuable to them, like coffee, social media, chocolate or soda. Some people observe the time by doing acts of service for others.

Whatever you choose to do, tonight is the last Friday before Lent begins, so southerners all over the country are letting the proverbial good times roll.

This rich dish is an amalgamation of a few other Cajun dishes and uses prized ingredients like rice and andouille sausage. Andouille is a spicy Cajun sausage, but feel free to substitute another spicy sausage of your choosing.

My older son will dump extra hot sauce on this dish, and my younger son will add some cheese on top.

You could also add diced chicken thighs in with the sausage when you cook it, making sure the chicken is cooked through.

So, stay home tonight, and celebrate the last of the decadent before the time of preparation for Easter.

Cajun Dirty Rice

Ingredients:
4 cups chicken stock
2 Tbs hot sauce
2 cups long-grain rice
12 oz andouille sausage (or other spicy sausage), sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup fresh scallions, chopped

Directions:
In a large saucepan, combine the chicken stock, hot sauce and rice. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 18 minutes without lifting the lid. After 18 minutes, do not remove pan from burner or lift lid, but turn off heat and let stand for 10 more minutes.

While the rice is standing, heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, and cook until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Add onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic to the drippings from the sausage. Sauté for 10 minutes or until soft, stirring frequently.

Add the remaining ingredients to the pan, and return sausage to the cast-iron skillet. Stir to combine and cook through. Add the rice; stir until all ingredients are well-incorporated.

Garnish with scallions and serve.

Serves 4.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 668, Calories from Fat: 230, Fat: 26 g (8 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 71 mg, Sodium: 1904 mg, Carbohydrates: 82 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 4 g, Protein: 25 g.

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Dine In: Million-Dollar Spaghetti


Million-Dollar SpaghettiFor many years, I worked in the church nursery taking care of babies and toddlers while their parents attended church services, Sunday school or other activities for which the church provided child care.

I loved it so much. Sunday mornings gave me the chance to snuggle MY babies (they were only mine for about 3 hours, but that was fine) or play with the little ones, my toddler included. Wednesday nights were a little wilder, as we provided child care for mid-week services and classes. Our nursery kids were usually wound up from a day at school or other childcare and came to the church nursery quite spirited.

On Wednesday nights, there was always also dinner. The kitchen was right near the nursery, and although the church encouraged families to eat together before dropping their kids off at the nursery, there were always a few kids who were finishing their meals or eating in the nursery with us.

Their favorite Wednesday night dish was Million-Dollar Spaghetti. We DREADED spaghetti night because it’s messy, but the kids loved it. We soon learned to suit them up in oversized bibs the minute they came through the door, and we kept plenty of wipes on hand at all times.

Messy as it might have been, pretty much every kid devoured their dinner when Million-Dollar Spaghetti was on the menu!

This is a hearty and satisfying dish to cap off a busy week that your whole family is sure to love.

Million-Dollar Spaghetti

Ingredients:
1 (16 oz) pkg spaghetti noodles
1 lb ground beef
1 large onion, diced
1 (16 oz) jar spaghetti sauce
1/2 cup butter, sliced (divided)
1 cup ricotta cheese or cottage cheese, drained
1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream
1 (8 oz) pkg shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350° F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add spaghetti and a pinch of salt. Cook until noodles are al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown ground beef and onions until cooked through and crumbled. Drain. Mix the spaghetti sauce into the ground beef.
In another bowl, mix together the cream cheese, sour cream and ricotta cheese/cottage cheese until well=blended. Place half the slices of butter into the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish.

Layer half the spaghetti on top of the butter. Top with creamy mixture, and then layer with remaining noodles. Top with remaining pats of butter. Pour the meat sauce over the entire dish; spread to cover. Bake for 30 minutes. Spread the cheese over the casserole, and continue baking until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 15 more minutes.

Serves 12

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 539, Calories from Fat: 241, Fat: 27 g (16 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 131 mg, Sodium: 3497 mg, Carbohydrates: 48 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 1 g, Protein: 27 g.

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Shop the Sale: Skillet-Seared Pork Loin Chops


Skillet-Seared Pork Loin ChopsWe’ve been eating decadently for days on end.

Pizza on Friday night. Appetizers and snacks for dinner Saturday. A big pancake breakfast on Sunday and a Sunday supper fit for a king. Not to mention Valentine’s Day, which was a sumptuous dinner and an even more indulgent dessert.

So tonight, I wanted something simple and straightforward!

Brookshire’s to the rescue with their boneless pork chops.

These thick cuts of tender white meat pork are beautiful seared in the cast-iron skillet on the stovetop. The meat is lean, but you can impart a great flavor just by the way you season it and cook it. Serve with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts and a salad for a simple and satisfying meal.

Skillet-Seared Pork Loin Chops

Ingredients:
4 boneless pork loin chops, about 1 1/2 lbs
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbs Worcestershire powder

Directions:
Bring pork chops to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Season both sides with salt, pepper and Worcestershire powder. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Drop pork chops into pan, searing on first side, about 3 minutes. Flip and sear other side, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Cook through until meat reaches desired doneness, at least 145° F. Remove from pan; let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 474, Calories from Fat: 276, Fat: 31 g (10 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 136 mg, Sodium: 1269 mg, Carbohydrates: 1 g, Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 1 g, Protein: 47 g.

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