mealtime

Blackberry Ice Cream

I come from a family of ice cream eaters. My grandpa, so the story goes, would pick up ice cream from the store every Sunday - Neapolitan - so my mom, her five brothers and sisters, and, most importantly, my grandpa, could each eat a bowl while watching “The Wonderful World of Disney”.

I always wondered about the choice of Neapolitan. It probably had to do with the whole six kids thing - chances are each kid liked at least one of the flavors. (Traditionally chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, and yes I went down a whole Neapolitan ice cream rabbit hole while writing this) Plus it was the ‘60’s. There weren’t exactly pints of Chubby Hubby or Phish Food in the freezer aisle. Neapolitan probably seemed pretty exotic. (I mean, just how do they get all three flavors in the carton, anyway? DON’T WORRY I ALSO RESEARCHED THAT FOR YOU. The cartons are apparently not square or round but “sqround” and this is my new most favorite thing ever.)

My uncles served up gallons of Neapolitan at my grandpa’s funeral, perfect little scoops in plastic bowls, an homage to the tradition from their childhood.

Growing up my dad would often bring me along to look at his job sites during the summer. He estimated public works-type construction projects. We would either be scoping out a job to bid, checking up on what his guys had done that day, or try to solve whatever problems had arisen. This usually meant long, boring car rides, followed by a stop next to a river, ditch, or sewer, often after driving along a bumpy dirt road that, despite my seatbelt, tossed me around the cab of his truck.

After he unrolled a plan, took some pictures, and poked around for awhile, we’d head home, hitting up a Dairy Queen on the way. Dip cones. Later I discovered the glory of cookie dough Blizzards. Sometimes he’d surprise us when he got home from work in the summer with a half-dozen Dilly Bars, hidden away in the freezer for us to enjoy the next day. (I always sought out the butterscotch ones.)

My middle school and half of my high school (9th and 10th grades) were within walking distance from Cup and Cone. It’s the definition of a local institution. When it opens for the season there’s always a line, no matter how cold it is. We used to find out when it was opening through word-of-mouth from someone whose brother’s friend’s cousin worked there. Now, come March, everyone just stalks Twitter.

After school in the spring or early fall you’ll still find whole gangs of kids trekking over after school for their ice cream fix and to hang out in the giant outdoor courtyard. I took my kids not long ago, on what happened to be the last day of school. The middle schoolers took over the line and the courtyard, shouting to each other and calling each other nicknames that had to be inside jokes, spaghetti-limbed and trying 4-letter words on their tongues to impress their friends.

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We bought an ice cream maker a couple years ago. It’s one of my favorite purchases. I pull it out at least once a week during the summer months. Despite the yum factor of those grocery store pints, (Talenti, I’m looking at you) (and yes I know it’s technically gelato) , nothing beats the simplicity of homemade ice cream.

We never had homemade ice cream at my house growing up, though my dad would create his own ice cream cone concoctions: fudge and caramel filling up the bottom, vanilla ice cream heaped inside, with more fudge and caramel drizzled over the top. (I figured out early on that if I wanted more fudge and caramel I should try eating the cone from the bottom. After that I was banished to the driveway anytime he brought home a box of cones and jars of caramel and fudge.) I’m betting most of us who grew up in America have a connection to ice cream in the summertime, whether it was from an ice cream truck, your own version of Cup and Cone, or scooped from those gallon-sized buckets in the freezer.

Nostalgia makes everything taste better, including homemade ice cream.

Blackberry Ice Cream
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This is also amazing with strawberries, though I recommend dialing the sugar back since strawberries are naturally sweeter (see note below). I’ve tried this with raspberries before and failed miserably, though I think blending up some mangos or peaches also has the potential to work here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pint blackberries, rinsed

  • 3/4 cup whole milk

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Put blackberries in the bowl of a food processor fitted with chopping blade. Pulse until a puree forms. Set aside.

  • In medium bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, and pinch of salt until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in cream and vanilla. Stir in blackberry puree. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, and preferably several. (I like to mix this up in the morning so it’s ready to go at dinnertime.)

  • When ready to mix, add to ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions. Mine takes about 15-20 minutes depending on how long it’s been in the refrigerator. Scoop out to a freezer-safe container with a tight-fitting lid to store.

  • Serve in a cone, topped with chocolate bits, or just a few scoops in a bowl because it’s perfect all by itself.

NOTES

  • This is our ice cream maker. I have exactly zero complaints. (And yes, if you click through and buy something, I will make a small amount of money.)

  • When using strawberries I tone the sugar down to about half a cup or less. Even with blackberries I usually use a very scant 2/3 cup. Personal preference; you do you.

  • If you prefer, you can use a fine-mesh seive to strain the ice cream mix as you pour it into the ice cream maker. If not, you’ll end up with all the seeds, though they get kind of frozen and crunchy. I’ve done it both ways: sometimes I truly don’t mind the seeds (or I’m just too lazy) and other times I want a smoother texture.

  • This works best for fruit that’s on its way out. It’s the best way I’ve found to use up a container of half-mushy strawberries, or a pint of blackberries that are past their prime. I’d recommend against using frozen (unless you heavily strain them first) - frozen fruit just gets too mushy, liquid-y, and gooey (technical terms) to work well here.

Eight Years and Three Tables

“Mommy I only like the oranges,” Caden tells me. I look across the kitchen table to see his plate untouched but for the oranges.

“You need to eat something else,” I say, “Then you can have more oranges.”

He scowls behind his plate. “I already tried everything and I don’t like it,” he says, though I know he’s lying. (That he’s tried it. This is an end-of-the-week scraps-for-dinner kind of meal so it’s probably true he doesn’t like it.)

I ignore him; I don’t want the fight. I’ve already gotten up to get Nolan some milk and then my own water where I’d forgotten it on the counter. Nolan suddenly jumps up and runs over to play with his new LEGO set in the living room. Caden follows.

“Boys!” I say, “Put your butts in your chairs! It’s time to eat.” This happens again, once, twice, three times before the LEGO set gets taken away for good for a full 24 hours. This is all punctuated by Tyson joining us at the table (delayed because he was fixing the sprinkler system outside), another request for oranges (only oranges), Brooklyn telling me she doesn’t like dinner, either (sigh). I’m out of my chair more than not. Five minutes into dinner and I’ve eaten three bites.

“Hey Google, set a timer for five minutes,” I call across the room, “Okay, everyone needs to sit here until the timer beeps. I don’t care if you eat. You just have to sit here and talk to us.”

Cue more general anarchy, moans, groans, spaghetti-limbed bodies draped across the bench. I get in another few bites.

Once Google relieves them, the boys dash off to play. Nolan, frustrated by the whole experience of needing to actually sit in his chair to eat dinner, grabs the long, thick, wooden pole we use as a security measure to keep the patio door closed and locked. He starts swinging it around, though this is something he knows he’s not supposed to touch, much less flail around the room. Tyson and I corner him around the kitchen table - me on one side, Tyson on the other - and I almost take a pole to the face before grabbing it away. (“Goddamnit” is something that may have come out of my mouth.) Tyson walks him over to the bottom step for a three-minute time out.

“Well this was enjoyable,” I say to Tyson, the first words I’ve said to him since dinner began, “I’m leaving.” And I abandon my mostly-untouched dinner and step over Nolan to walk out the door.

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We’re eight years into marriage and this is our third dining room table. Our first table wasn’t really a dining table. Which was fitting, since we didn’t really have a dining room.

It was a card table, black, the kind with legs that fold in. We had black folding chairs to match, just to keep it classy. It sat on the carpet and wobbled a little when we cut chicken or pizza slices.

We only had four chairs: more people than that and someone had to sit on the futon, an arm’s-length away in the living room. Though we rarely had company. We were newlyweds and a state away from anything familiar; it was usually just us at the table.

I remember how silent our whole apartment complex was, how we sometimes turned on the TV while we ate just to hear someone talk besides ourselves. Eight years ago and our table was the antithesis in every way of what it is now.

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Our second table was gifted to us by my parents for our first anniversary. I’d been eyeing the set at Target, a small, square table and chairs. We’d moved across town and despite having a larger apartment, it didn’t really have a dining room, either. We shoved the table against the wall, pulled it and the fourth chair out anytime we had guests.

And we had guests, now. After our move we joined a small group, made friends. We hosted our small group and baby showers and Thanksgiving and Downton Abbey watch parties. Our early memories around this table involve lots of friends and bottles of Spotted Cow.

Two years later we brought our twin babies home, setting their carseats on top of that table. The same table where we ate foil-pan casseroles dropped off by friends, our dinners now punctuated by cries. Many nights I walked back and forth during the dinnertime witching hours as I tried to eat and nurse two babies simultaneously. Later I would set my laptop on that table (and often a beer) as I began to write again, stretching out my rusty fingers and brain to put words on a page.

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This table moved with us to the Twin Cities, along with my 20-weeks pregnant belly, just a year and a half later. We brought that table and the memories of friends and new babies seated around it with us.

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We’re on our third kitchen table now. The second one was absurdly small for our new space: our first house that, yes, has an actual dining room. This table has a stainless steel top: smooth, flat, easy to clean. Any hesitation I felt about the coordinating cream-colored, upholstered chairs with three kids under three vanished when I saw how easy it would be to wipe that top down.

I see the progression of a couple, of a life and a marriage in these three tables in eight short (long) years. I can trace our path from baby newlyweds to very young family to house in the suburbs. Sometimes this life is everything I’ve hoped it would be and other times I’m dodging my three-year old brandishing legit weapons at the dinner table. Sometimes we have to make use of Google as a timer, remind them to put their dishes away, clear away piles of markers and paper and masterpieces before we can sit down to a meal.

Still, we make a point of sitting down here most nights as a family.

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“Mommy I like this dinner!” Nolan says as he runs down the steps the very next night, seeing the plates of food on the table.

“Me, too!” Caden and Brooklyn chorus, joining us. Tyson follows them down the stairs and gives me a quick kiss before sitting down next to me.

Tonight we pray and pull out the set of dinner table questions at the kids’ request. Everyone eats their panko-crusted chicken and broccoli and asks for seconds, thirds.

Caden pulls a card from the stack in the middle of the table and I read it to him. “What is your favorite place to eat?”

“Hmmm,” he thinks, and I wait for it, the answer of McDonald’s or Chick-fil-a or the restaurant we go to with the trolly inside that serves their favorite spaghetti and meatballs.

Then: “Here! At home. I like the food you make, mommy.”

I don’t know if they’ll remember the nights we yelled, the nights they “didn’t like” any of the food, the nights I let four-letter words pass my lips, when they bargain and whine and shout and cry over each other. I don’t know if they’ll remember eating naan with rice and curry, homemade pizza, or Happy Meals around this table.

But I’ll remember what happened here just like I remember the meals and the life we built around its two predecessors. The good, the bad, and the in-between. I sure hope they remember nights like this. I hope this table makes up a piece of their story, too.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "Remember This."

Pasta with Prosciutto, Snow Peas, Basil, and Cream

This will be the fourth recipe I’ve posted here. So far I’ve shared one stew, one cake, one pasta.

Is it too soon for more pasta?

In our house the answer would be no, so that’s what I’m going to go with here.

I’ve never been much for tomatoes (except in salsa, bruschetta, or ketchup form). Marinara sauce has always made me gag a bit. Just ask my mom who used to roll her eyes at my request for plain noodles and meatballs on spaghetti night.

I’ve come around a little in recent years, though my favorite pasta sauces seem destined to always be cream-based. This one, despite a decent amount of heavy cream still feels light - not filling. Perfect for spring.

I first became aware of the idea of seasonal cooking when we were newlyweds living in Madison. Walking around the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings is still one of the things I miss the most. Especially if we could re-live the Saturdays of our pre-kid days, where we could sleep in, roll out of bed, take a lap around the farmer’s market, and return home to make up an omelette or breakfast hash with whatever fresh goodies we’d found that day. (And all served up with a side of hot spicy cheese bread.)

Spring is still the season that eludes me the most as far as cooking goes. I find it difficult to pinpoint the flavors of the season. Summer tastes like cold watermelon and burgers off the grill, fall is everything pumpkin and apple and cinnamon, winter is heavy with soups and stews. But spring? Usually when the first warm stretch hits I’m ready to crank up the grill and find the juiciest watermelon I can find, even if it is April and only 50 degrees.

Spring is lighter, I’m finding. More nuanced. It’s the flavors of ham and peas you see here. It’s all things asparagus and baby greens. It’s some early strawberries if you’re daring. It’s rhubarb, which I’m still learning to like.

Short of strolling around the farmers’ market like we used to, this is about as spring-y as it gets from our local grocery store.. Though I just discovered by adding the link above that you can now order hot spicy cheese bread by mail. Maybe we can recreate a piece of our farmers’ market glory days this weekend after all. This could be dangerous.

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Pasta with Prosciutto, Snow Peas, Basil, and Cream
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Depending on which kid this is in front of, they admittedly don’t eat much of the snow peas or prosciutto. I usually serve it with a salad and a handful of grapes, so at least they’re eating something fresh with their cream-covered pasta topped with “sprinkle cheese”. Adapted from here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 box orecchiette pasta

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 2 shallots (if big) or 4 shallots (if small)

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/4 pound prosciutto shank, sliced thin and cut into narrow strips

  • 1/2 pound snow peas, ends trimmed and chopped if large

  • 1 -1 1/2 cups cream

  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan plus more for topping

  • salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 2 Tbsp. dried basil

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Cook pasta according to package directions.

  • Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute for 2-3 minutes until they just begin to soften. Add garlic and saute for a minute more.

  • Add prosciutto to pan. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • Add snow peas and continue to saute for 3-4 more minutes. Stir often so they don’t stick and don’t cook for too long - the peas should still be crunchy.

  • Add cream and just bring to a boil. Add Parmesan and stir until it’s melted and incorporated, then turn the heat to low. Add salt and pepper to taste, and basil. Let the sauce just barely simmer over low heat while you wait for the pasta to finish.

  • Drain pasta and toss with the cream, prosciutto, and snow pea mixture. Top with extra Parmesan cheese and devour. Smile, because surely this is what spring tastes like.

NOTE

  • The original recipe calls for snap peas (which I can’t stand). I much prefer the lighter, thinner, snow peas to their thick, bulky cousins. If you’re less picky than I am, however, feel free to sub snap peas here.

  • I’m not really sure how much basil I use. I never measure it out. This is an educated but conservative guess - I’m pretty positive I use more. Add basil to your own taste, but don’t be shy. And if you’re one of those people who manages to have fresh herbs around please go for the fresh stuff.

Lemon and Ricotta Pound Cake

Being that it’s my birthday week (I get to take over the whole week, right?) it’s only fitting to share one of my favorite sweet recipes. Not exactly a birthday cake, though I wouldn’t complain if you showed up at my house with a few candles stuck in one of these, freshly baked. It’s more of an everyday sweet cake. One that goes with everything from coffee in the morning to tea in the afternoon. (Or half-slices snuck from the pantry at any time of the day while your kids run around like crazy people.) And, really, isn’t that the best kind of recipe of all?

Every year when the calendar switches over, my mind immediately turns toward spring. So do the stores, it seems, since everywhere seems to be exploding with pastels and florals. It’s actually depressing to walk through the Target aisles since here in Minnesota we’re still very much in the depths of winter. I grasp what springiness I can in the produce department, through citrus. It’s brightness reminds of what’s to come, hopefully sooner than later, unlike some years when the snow doesn’t melt until nearly May. I’M LOOKING AT YOU 2018.

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Brooklyn and Nolan helped me make this cake one afternoon while Caden was otherwise engrossed in some LEGO creation or other. They helped me measure the flour. (I swatted Nolan’s hand away from eating the flour plain as he’s been known to attempt. Blech.) They tried to guess what each ingredient was. “Now it’s time for sugar?” No this is baking powder. “That’s sugar?” This is salt. “Is that whipped cream?” No this is ricotta cheese. I scattered granules of sugar on the counter once it was actually time for that beloved ingredient, for them to dab up with their fingers.

I showed them how I zested and then squeezed out the lemons into a sieve, quizzed them on why you couldn’t just squirt the lemon juice straight into the bowl. I wonder if they’ll remember these baking lessons when they’re older, the same way I remember my mom showing me how to scoop and then level off cups of flour and sugar. (Even if I rarely take the time to tap and level off the cup now. Whoops.) Maybe they’ll remember how I showed them to scoop out a stray piece of eggshell from the batter, by using another piece of shell to break through the gooey white and remove the offending chunk.

I don’t know. Tyson told me the other day that he realized he has memories from preschool. “They could be creating memories right now!” he told me excitedly. I laughed; it’s true. I remember, vaguely, a few of my own preschool experiences. A warm spring day spent picking dandelions outside, sitting on the rug at circle time, a sheet printed with four bears to dress any way we desired, how I vividly remember using shiny foil to make one bear into an astronaut.

Maybe they’ll remember these baking sessions. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll remember, more tangibly, the way the cake comes out of the oven, it’s golden brown top crunchy and sweet. How excruciating it is to wait until the cake is cool enough to cut. And the way a slice of lemon-y pound cake tastes in the middle of a winter afternoon.

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Lemon and Ricotta Pound Cake
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Every time I make this cake for someone they ask for the recipe. It stays magically moist if kept stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. I’m not sure for exactly how long, though, since it’s never lasted more than two or three days in our house. Modified slightly from here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (do NOT use the low-fat stuff!)

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 3 large eggs

  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • zest of 2 lemons

  • juice of 1 lemon

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan well with butter.

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  • With a mixer, cream the butter, ricotta, and sugar on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. At this point the batter may be lumpy; don’t worry, it will bake up fine in the end. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla, zest, and lemon juice and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture, beating on low speed until incorporated.

  • Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (See note below.) If the top seems to brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil while the rest of the cake continues to bake. Let cool about 15 minutes in pan before removing to cool completely on a cooling rack. (Or just forget about it entirely like I do and let it cool in the pan. Your choice.)

NOTE

  • I’ve noticed this pound cake bakes very differently for me depending on the type of pan I use. For a metal pan, plan on the 50-60 minutes noted and maybe needing to use the foil. For a glass pan (like Pyrex, which I prefer), plan on 60-75 minutes. I always check it at the 50-minute mark to gauge where it’s at, then set the timer at 5-minute increments so as not to over bake. Once the toothpick emerges cleanly and the loaf appears to pull away slightly from the edges of the pan, it’s good to go.

Weeknight Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli

I love food. Like, love food. Cooking and baking are up there in my top five favorite things. I’d say my family is lucky but really I’m just selfish - I’m kind of picky and like to eat good food myself. Unless you pay close attention to my Read, Watched, Listened posts, where I often read about food, listen to podcasts about food, or, more frequently, watch various miniseries about food, you may not know this about me. All this to say that while this never has been and never will be what you might call a “food blog”, I’m going to try adding favorite recipes of mine every once in awhile. I’d love to hear if you try any of them - and if they become one of your favorites, too!

While my kids may refuse to eat soup, they will never turn down a plate of pasta. Nobody in this house would dare look away from a bowl of hot, glorious, Parmesan cheese-covered carbs. Penne, angel hair, fettuccini, orecchietti, linguine, tagliatelle, tortellini, ravioli. We may not claim a drop of Italian blood but when it comes to pasta we are all in.

“What you make, Mommy?” Nolan asks every night while I cook dinner. I guarantee that when I show him a pot full of boiling pasta he does a big dance, smacks his lips, and screams, “Pasta! Yay! Nummy nummy num num num!” If you haven’t caught on by now, subtle this kid is not.

Basically what I’m saying is, if you want to be a hero in my house at dinnertime, make pasta.

And pasta and I get along just fine. I make a pretty good plate of pasta if I do say so myself. This specific dish came about because Tyson once ordered something similar from one of our favorite restaurants in Madison. I snuck a couple bites of the deliciousness before my wheels started turning and I thought, “Hey...I could make that…”

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I should clarify here that I’m good at making pasta in a pretty lazy way. The weeknight way. I’m not talking about rolling out my own pasta here (though I would love to tackle homemade pasta sometime very soon). I’m talking about getting pasta on the table for dinner because people are hungry and I need something simple that’s going to taste good.

The addition of sausage in this dish catches the attention of the boys. Broccoli delights all three of my kids, who have yet to catch on to that whole “kids don’t like broccoli” thing. (Don’t worry, they still quickly and happily reject Brussels sprouts, white potatoes in all but French fry form, and whatever fruit I’ve currently stocked up on because it was their favorite last week.)

It’s quick enough for a weeknight - on the table in less than 30 minutes - yet delicious enough to make for guests. There’s enough here for lunchtime leftovers the next day, especially if you serve it with a Caesar salad on the side. It’s nothing revolutionary, yet this has been in my meal planning rotation for years now and it’s not going anywhere. Possibly ever.

A simple, yummy, dish with the possibility of leftovers on the table in the month of December in 30 minutes or less? And all the parents said, “Amen.”

Weeknight Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli
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I prefer to use gemelli or orecchietti here, though you can use any medium to small-ish sized pasta. Penne would also work, as would rotini. And if you can get your hands on some broccolini to sub for the broccoli (and you’re cooking for adults or there’s the chance your kids will eat it), the bitterness adds a nice contrast to the cream sauce.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 16-oz. box pasta

  • 3 links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 8 cloves garlic, don’t be shy here

  • 1/4 cup chicken stock

  • 1 large head broccoli, chopped

  • 1/4 -1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 3 Tbsp. dried basil

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • shredded Parmesan cheese, for serving

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Prepare pasta according to package directions.

  • Meanwhile, add olive oil to skillet. Add sausage and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up and crumbling until browned. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add broccoli and stir to combine, cook for 1 minute more. Add chicken stock and cover skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until broccoli is crisp-tender and bright green, about 5 minutes.

  • Add pasta to skillet and toss well. Add cream and stir to coat. I err on the 1/2 cup or sometimes more side here - until everything is well-coated. Add basil, salt, and pepper. Serve topped with Parmesan and watch smugly as your kids gobble it up.