Internet friends, meet my wonderful friend, Chris.

{He's holding the latest in Italian hot sausage.}

Chris is a fantastic friend from undergrad, and now that we're back in Nashville, we live in the same city as Chris again!  Super pumped.  Chris has many excellent qualities: intelligent, witty, well-employed, great style, but unfortunately, Chris cannot cook... yet.  In my overbearing, pushy-mama way, I declared a few weeks ago to Chris that I wanted to teach him to cook.  Thankfully, he's a good sport and agreed to let me boss him about in the kitchen in the name of helping him.

Confusingly, this man's name is also Chris, and he joined in on the fun of being bossed by me.  {The things boys will do for food!}

{Being bossy.}

I thought teaching Chris (& Chris) to cook would be a fun series for the blog- you can learn alongside the Chrises and get some simple meal plans!  This week's plan was cooking for a crowd: an easy Italian dinner.  The first Chris {yes, differentiating in the kitchen became a little complicated.  To make it more confusing, their last names both start with C, so I couldn't even do the elementary school thing of making them go by Chris C!} will be attending law school in the fall, so I wanted him to have a dinner plan that he could use for a big study group of law friends {because food = friends and my vision of law school runs along the lines of Elle Wood's experience}.

We started with a very simple appetizer: spicy, roasted pecans.  Fresh pecans, sprinkled with Tony Chachere's {say it with me: sssaacheries} and roasted at a high temp for about 6 minutes.  

Then we sautéed some hot italian sausage, minced garlic, oregano, and dried basil, deglazed with some red wine and poured in crushed tomatoes.

Pasta can be the easiest {and cheapest} way to serve a crowd, but Ragu-business is not allowed in my kitchen.  It only takes a few more ingredients to make an infinitely better sauce.

While the sauce simmered, we peeled and sliced fresh peaches for dessert {my peach obsession continues}...

And made fresh whipped cream!  {The bossy hovering continues as I invade Chris's personal space to micromanage cream pouring. Sorry, Chris.} 

I enjoy adding some fresh spinach to the sauce, because it offsets all the carbs in the pasta and makes it healthy.  Duh.  This sauce is also finished with a splash of cream and nutmeg!  Surprise!

Chris is diligently chiffonading basil for our garnish.  Check out that focus.

Supper time!  And a big thank you to Nick for taking all the pictures :)

Italian Dinner for a Crowd
Serves 6, but is easily multiplied

Appetizer: Spicy Roasted Pecans

1 cup whole pecans
1/2 teaspoon Tony Chachere's seasoning

Preheat oven to 450.  Sprinkle seasoning over pecans in a cookie sheet or other small pan.  Roast for 5-6 minutes, or until they smell roasted and nutty, but not burned!

Main Dish: Pasta Bolognese {my version}

1.5-2 lbs hot italian sausage {you can also use mild or a mixture of the two}
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes {optional}
1/4 cup red wine
2 28oz cans of good quality crushed tomatoes
1 cup fresh spinach, torn {optional}
1/4 cup heavy cream or whipping cream
1 teaspoon nutmeg

2 lbs papparadelle pasta 

1. De-case {take it out of the casings} the sausage and sauté in a large pot over medium high heat.  Break the links apart into small pieces as it cooks {about 10 minutes}

2. Fill a large stockpot with about 8 quarts of water.  Salt the water and add 1 tablespoon oil.  Heat over high heat.

3. When sausage is cooked through and a few pieces have a crusty brown edge, add in the garlic, oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes.  Stir and allow to cook for 1 minute, or until garlic becomes fragrant.

4. Pour in the wine to deglaze the pan and stir up all the little bits of things stuck to the pot.  Then pour in both cans of crushed tomatoes and reduce the heat to a simmer.

5. While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to package directions.  Add the torn spinach to the sauce and stir.

6.  As soon as the pasta finished cooking to al dente, drain, then add the cream and nutmeg to the sauce and stir.  

7.  Serve with a garnish of fresh basil and parmesan!

Dessert: Peaches with Fresh Whipped Cream

Fresh peaches {1 per person}
1 cup blueberries {optional}
1 cup whipping cream
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sugar

1. Peel and slice the peaches and place into a large bowl.

2. Pour whipping cream into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add in vanilla extract and sugar.  Whip on medium speed until the cream resembles whipped cream and does not have any runny parts (about 5 minutes).

3.  Serve fruit on a plate with a large dollop of whipped cream!

Note: whipped cream can be made a few hours ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until served.

Don't you hide from that natural talent, Christopher.  

Don't you just adore summer peaches?

This is almost not a recipe, since all I really did was slice some beautiful produce from the farm stand down the road.  I have a feeling I'll be visiting that farm stand verrry frequently.  It's conveniently located across from the library, and with my summer habit of devouring books {and peaches}, that's my go-to corner this summer.  Peaches and fiction, ahhh.

Do yourself a favor and invest in some spectacular balsamic vinegar for all your salads this summer.  This one is a glaze I found at Whole Foods, and I use it on caprese type salads, because it's thicker and easier to make designs with over the salad.  But I'm also a huge fan of the Olive This balsamic that's been aged 20 years.  The longer it's been aged, the less acidic.  Meaning, I would eat that stuff with a spoon.

Watch out, peach paparazzi!  And y'all, I was taken in by a beautiful basil plant at Trader Joe's the other day.  Only $4!!  So now we have fresh basil.  At least, until I possibly accidentally kill it by being out of town for a week and leaving it in the blistering sun.  Oops.  But I'm optimistic.  {As long as none of you saw what happened to my herbs last summer.  They were more like dried herbs in a pot.}

Peach Caprese Salad
Serves 2

2 large peaches
2 large tomatoes
1 handful fresh basil
About 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar {or glaze}
Salt & Pepper to taste

Skin and slice the peaches, and slice the tomatoes.  Salt and pepper both.  Slice the basil into strips {or tear it for that rustic feel}, and layer tomatoes, peaches, and basil.  Sprinkle balsamic over the plate of peaches, tomatoes, and basil.  Voila!

Someone please remind me to water that basil plant.

These muffins are the {or fill in your own more up-to-date lingo for AWESOME}

They are {almost} HEALTHY.  What??  Yes.  They do NOT contain: flour, sugar, oil, or butter.  In fact the main secret ingredient IS... 

Wait, first, I have to apologize for not having actual pictures of the muffins out of their pan.  Sooooo, we are renting an old house, which is very very charming.  But the oven is also old {excuse me, vintage} and charming.  And baking these was an experiment in testing out the oven's temperature regulation.  Guess what?  There's not really any regulation...

It takes a while to heat up, but then just keeps heating!  I set the oven at 350, and by the end of the baking, it was at 450.  Yikes.  Don't worry, the oven-fixer-man is coming today, so hopefully we can figure out a more workable situation.  However, because of my beautiful, vintage, extra hot oven, these muffins were a little unattractive on their bottoms.  So they were much more photogenic in the pan.

So now for that secret ingredient... bum bum bum bahhhhh: Chickpeas!  Can you see them all smooshed in the food processor?  Chickpeas {or garbanzo beans, if you prefer} are the substance of these muffins, along with a banana and some eggs.  Ok, there is honey in there too.  

And if you're feeling sassy, you can throw in some chocolate chips.  But they're totally optional {sort of}.  I advise eating these for breakfast and dessert!  Because, y'all, there's no flour- it's all chickpeas!  I got 16 muffins out of this recipe, and after figuring out the nutrition facts, they are 100 calories each {with chocolate chips they are 150}, 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fat per muffin.  For a tasty little snack with all natural ingredients, that's pretty good.

Plus, it's all made in a food processor, which means easy clean up!

Secret Ingredient Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 16 muffins

1 15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup honey
1 normal ripeness banana 
3 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup chocolate chips {optional}

Preheat your {awesome, self-regulating} oven to 350.  Whirl the chickpeas in a food processor until they are all crumbly.  Then add in honey, banana, eggs, cinnamon, and baking soda and whirl again until well mixed.  Stir in chocolate chips at the end, if desired.

Fill cups in a muffin pan to 2/3 full.  Bake for about 15 minutes.  Allow to cool, then enjoy!

Ok, here they are: brown, crumbly bottomed muffins.  But they taste way better than they look! Promise.

Have you heard of the Myers-Briggs?
In graduate school I took just about every {legitimate} personality test there is.  Partly to increase my own self-awareness, and partly to have experience with assessments I might use with clients.  One of those assessments was the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which categorizes personalities into 16 types.

So you are either: an introvert or extrovert, more into sensing or intuition, more about thinking or feeling, and judging versus perceiving.  I find the first and last codes most helpful.  Do you get energy from being with people {extravert-ME! Hey friends!} or being by yourself {introvert}?  And are you super organized, structured, and efficient {judging-oh boy, not me} or spontaneous and unstructured {perceiving}?

This website takes the MBTI codes and puts them with animals, which I find somewhat funny.  I'm an ENTP, so I'm a parrot!  And the description is dead on.  {How can five sentences define me?!} Nick is an ENTJ, so he's a lion.  Again, dead on.

Which animal/code are you?  Does it fit?  What about your friends/family members/ significant others?  I think it can be so helpful in understanding things like why Nick puts all the details of our whole lives into spreadsheets...

{I like that my animal is so colorful and can FLY.  Dreamscometrue}

Apparently, there are people who want dessert to be dark chocolate-free?!

I can respect that preference, though let's be real, I'll never understand it.  But in the spirit of equal opportunity dessert making, this recipe is for you, lemon lovers and dark chocolate-phobes.

Full disclosure: I do not eat white chocolate, so I haven't tasted one of these.  However, I made them for a party, and they got rave reviews from all the white chocolate and lemon fans.  I probably just lost all credibility in your blog-reading eyes, but I needed to be honest {and ensure that if any of you ever bring me a dessert, there is no white chocolate in it}.

A big bonus of making these {besides their sparkly-cuteness and my total disinterest in eating them, so more room for cupcakes!} is how easy they are!  Basically if you can melt things in the microwave, then roll stuff into a ball shape, you're set.  It's even easier if you have a melon-baller.  And people are very impressed.

As you can see, I'm not the most consistent ball-roller.  But I've learned to reframe "imprecise and lumpy truffles" into "handmade artisan truffles," and people really go for that.  You'd think with all the many years of practice rolling swedish meatballs for the Christmas smorgasbord, I'd be a little better at this.  Sorry, Grandmom.

White Chocolate Lemon Truffles
Makes about 30 truffles, recipe adapted from How Sweet Eats

10 oz good quality white chocolate chips 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon corn syrup
1 drop lemon extract
The zest of half a big lemon
Yellow sparkly sprinkles for coating

Melt white chocolate and butter in the microwave, heating for 30 second intervals and stirring between heatings.  

Add heavy cream and corn syrup to a small saucepan and heat over medium until the mixture forms bubbles, which will happen quickly.  Immediately pour cream mixture over the melted chocolate mixture, and stir until well combined.  Then add lemon extract and zest and stir.  Place in the fridge for about an hour.  (If you leave them in the fridge for a while, the chocolate will get pretty hard and be difficult to scoop and shape.  In that case, give them about 15-20 minutes of sitting at room temperature or a quick heat up in the microwave)

Remove and either with a melon baller or with a spoon and your hands, scoop truffle mixture out and roll into small (teaspoon size) balls.  Roll them in the sprinkles and store in the fridge or at room temperature.

Perfect for picnics, or just filling up a pretty bowl on the table...

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