Cucumber & Dill Canapes

This is one of my favorite spring & summer time appetizers.  It's light & refreshing, perfect when the weather is heating up. It's easy to make & always a crowd pleaser!
1-2 Cucumbers
1 French Baguette
1- 8 oz brick of Cream Cheese, softened
2 tbsp Mayonnaise
1- 0.7 oz envelope dried Italian Salad Dressing Mix
Minced Fresh or dried Dill, for garnish

Combine the softened cream cheese, mayonnaise, dried Italian Seasoning in a medium bowl.  
This is the Italian Seasoning that I use, you can find it in any grocery store in the salad dressing isle.  
Slice the cucumber about 1/4-1/2" thick.  You can leave the cucumbers unpeeled or peel them if you'd like, but I like to peel strips leaving parts of the peel on.
 I use a French baguette but you could really use any kind of bread that you'd like!
 Slice the baguette into 1/2-3/4" slices.
 To assemble the canapes, spread the cream cheese mixture on a slice of bread.  Place a slice of cucumber on the spread & top with dill.  Don't leave off the Dill- it is a must!!  Serve immediately.
   This recipe serves 8-10.  

Macaroni & Cheese with Bacon & Caramelized Onions

I make several varieties of macaroni & cheese but this one is my husband's favorite.  (I think it's the bacon that wins him over.)  But really, noodles with sweet caramelized onions & salty bacon drenched in creamy cheddar cheese- what's not to love?!?  While some mac n cheeses are severed on the side, I think this one deserves to be the main attraction!  Serve it with a simple salad or my favorite, steamed broccoli for a dinner that is sure to please!  
1 lb dried, Elbow Pasta
1 1/2 cups Sharp White Cheddar, shredded
1 1/2 cups Sharp Yellow Cheddar, shredded
8-10 slices of Bacon, cut into 1" pieces
2 medium sized, Yellow Onions, cut in half then thinly sliced
6 tbsp Butter
1/4 cup Flour
2 1/2 cups Milk (I use skim)
Salt & Pepper to taste

In a large pot, cook the chopped bacon over medium heat.
Cook until crispy, being careful not to over cook.  
Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon & drain on a paper towel lined plate.  Set aside for later.
Drain as much bacon fat from the pan as you can.  Place the pan back over medium- medium/ low heat & add 4 tbsp of  butter.
When the butter is melted, add the sliced onions.  
 Saute the onions, stirring occasionally until they are golden brown.  This will take about 15- 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a separate pot, cook the pasta in lots of salted boiling water.  Drain the pasta when it is just shy of al dente.  You want it slightly under done since it will cook more in the oven.  Set it aside.  
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Reserve some of the caramelized onions for topping then add 2 tbsp of butter to the pot & melt (still at medium- medium/ low heat).  When the butter is melted, add the flour to the pot.
 Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
 Pour in the milk & stir to incorporate.  Cook 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened.
 When the sauce has thickened some, turn the heat down to low & slowly, working in batches, add the shredded cheddar cheese.  Stir to incorporate between each batch.  Make sure to reserve some of the cheese for topping!!
 Then add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce & stir to incorporate.
 Fold in some of the bacon, reserving some for topping.  Taste & adjust seasonings, if needed.
Pour the macaroni & cheese mixture into a 9 X 13 casserole dish that has been been coated with non stick spray.  Top with the reserved bacon, caramelized onions, & cheese.  
Place in a 350 degree, preheated oven, for 20 minutes, or until bubbly.  
 Let stand for 3- 5 minutes before serving.
Oh my, just look at all that bacon & cheese!!  
This recipe serves 6-8.  

Tomato & Avocado Salad

My mom recently introduced me to this salad & I am so glad that she did!  I have to admit, I haven't always been a fan of avocados.  In fact, I'm not sure that I'd define myself as a fan of avocados now but I am a fan of this dish!  In fact, it's a new favorite- I just can't get enough of it!  It's deliciously light & colorful.  It's quick & easy, perfect for any backyard cookout or picnic.  Prepare it just before serving, as an appetizer with homemade tortilla chips or as a simple side.
2 ripe Avocados
1 pint Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
1/2 Red Onion
1 Garlic Clove
1-2 tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 of a Lemon
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Finely chop the red onion & add to a medium sized bowl.  (You could also use shallots.)  Mince the garlic & add to the bowl.  Then half the tomatoes & add to the bowl. 
Cut the avocados in half & remove the pits.  Scoop each half out of the shell & dice.  Add the diced avocado to the bowl.  Squeeze the lemon half over top to release it's juices.  (This will help keep the avocados bright green as well as taste good!)
Drizzle with olive oil & season with salt & pepper.  Gently toss, being careful not to mush up the avocado.  Serve immediately or refrigerate, if not serving right away.
This recipe makes 4 side servings.

Braised Beef Ragu with Rigatoni

You are going to love this recipe!!  It is amazing (if I do say so myself).   Slowly braising the beef makes it so tender it falls apart in the wonderfully rich tomato sauce.  I use a dutch oven & cook it in the oven but it could easily be adapted for a slow cooker or crock pot.  It is simple, rustic & delicious! 
1.5 Beef Stew Meat, cut into 1" pieces
32 oz can Whole, Peeled Plum Tomatoes
1 cup dry Red Wine
1 large Yellow Onion, cut in half then sliced
4 cloves of Garlic, smashed
2-3 tbsp Olive Oil
1 tsp dried Italian Seasoning
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1 1/2 lbs Rigatoni Pasta (approximately)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Season your beef with salt & pepper.  I bought the beef roast already cut up.  But you could buy a chuck or round roast whole & cut it up your self.  Just make sure you trim & discard the excess fat if you do so.
 Add 1-2 tbsp of olive oil to a large dutch oven & heat to medium-high heat.  Add the beef to the hot pot & sear both sides, working in batches if needed.  You don't want to over crowd the pot. 
 Remove the seared beef from the pot & reserve. 
 Lower the heat to medium & add the onions with the remaining olive oil, if needed. 
 Cook the onions for 2-3 minutes, until softened & add in the smashed garlic cloves.  Saute 1 more minute.
 Add the canned tomatoes with all of their juices.  Use your spoon to crush up the tomatoes. 
 Add in 1 cup of red wine (you could substitute beef broth or water), the dried Italian seasoning & stir to combine.  Then return the beef to the pot with any juices that accumulated on the plate.  Cover & place in a 300 degree oven.
 This is after about 2 hours of cooking.  I pulled it out of the oven to stir & scrap down the sides of the pot.
 Cook for about 4 hours (total), until the meat is so tender that if breaks apart as you stir.  The sauce will have reduced greatly to make a thick ragu.
 Stir to distribute flavors & to break up the meat.  Adjust your seasonings, if needed.  Mean while, cook your pasta according to the package directions.
Toss with cooked pasta & plate.
Top with freshly grated Parmesan Cheese & serve.
This recipe serves 8 people.

I usually use half the sauce for one meal, then freeze the second half for another time.  The sauce tends to thicken when I reheat it.  When that happens, I ladle some of the starchy pasta water into it until it's the consistency that I want.  I also like to serve it with pappardelle pasta!