Fresh Berry Slab Pie

fresh berry slab pie

Fresh berry slab pie, I can’t think of a better dessert to serve up for all your upcoming summertime parties, especially with the fourth of July right around the corner.

Fresh berries are at their peak right now so it’s the perfect time to make this, you could use any combination of berries you like or even just one type, here I used mostly blueberries with an added pint of raspberries for a little pop of color.

I have to admit this is the first time I made a slab pie and now I don’t think I’ll ever use a round pie pan again.

fresh berry slab pie

A slab pie is made on a rimmed sheet pan, I used a quarter sized sheet pan, and I got twelve good size servings from it, although you can get adventurous and use a large half sized sheet pan for a really big crowd, probably doubling everything, you bakers would know how to do that correctly.

What I like about making a slab pie is that it’s easy to cut and serve, it’s not messy because you get nice square pieces and it travels well.

You can cover the top with a full crust or be a little creative with some cutouts to match the occasion, I used stars to celebrate the fourth of July.

berries and dough

I also used refrigerated pie dough, my favorite being from Trader Joe’s because why not? It tastes excellent and it makes this berry slab pie a breeze to put together, but in saying that I’m sure all you fabulous bakers out there can whip up an excellent pie dough in no time!

pie dough

Even though I use refrigerated pie dough I still gather up the dough, form it into a ball and roll it out myself, which you’ll need to do anyway for this because a nice rectangle size is required.

fresh berry slab pie

Just make sure you roll out enough dough to form a pretty crust all the way around. I bought two boxes just to make sure I would have enough for everything, including my stars because I didn’t know at the time how many I would need to cover the top.

star dough cutouts

It was fun and easy to do, I just used a cookie cutter which would make the possibilities endless to top it off with, or just go with a classic lattice crust as well, but I do think it looks really nice having the berries show through instead of covering the whole top with a crust.

fresh berry slab pie

All brushed with egg so it gets nicely golden and ready for the oven!

fresh berry slab pie

This was out of this world good, now I want to make a peach slab pie and of course an apple one in the fall.

fresh berry slab pie

Vanilla ice cream is a must!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Fresh Berry Slab Pie
 
Filling recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
Author:
Ingredients
  • standard ¼ sized rimmed sheet pan for the slab pie but place it on a larger sheet pan to catch drips in the oven when baking.
  • 2 boxes of refrigerated dough, I used Trader Joe's. ( You might end up with a little extra) If frozen defrost according to package.
  • 8 cups of fresh berries, I used mostly blueberries with a pint of raspberries but you can add blackberries or just use one type, whatever you prefer.
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons corn starch
  • 1 Tablespoon of lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 egg whisked with a bit of water to brush over the top and crust
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400F.
  2. In a large bowl add the berries, zest, cornstarch, sugar, and lemon juice, toss gently to make sure everything is coated, set aside to form crust.
  3. Take one box of the dough, ball it together and roll it out into a rectangle making sure you have enough over hang to make a nice edge all the way around. I found I needed to use more dough so I opened the second box and pieced it together giving me more for my over hang which was really easy.
  4. Once the bottom crust is formed and edges nicely crimped, scoop out the berry filling into it, don't pour it because you don't need the excess juice that might be on the bottom of the bowl, so just scoop it out.
  5. Now take more dough and roll it out so you can do cutouts if you like. I did stars on mine.
  6. Place the cutouts over the berries.
  7. Use your egg wash and with a pastry brush cover the edge of the crust and the cutouts, this will ensure a nice golden color when finished.
  8. NOW REDUCE TEMPERATURE TO 375F.
  9. Place the prepared pie into the oven and set your timer for 60 minutes, but check at 55 minutes to see how it looks.
  10. I added 10 more minutes to mine to get the color I wanted, and you should be able to see the blueberries thickening and slightly bubbling, if it looks too runny put it in for a few minutes more.
  11. Let it cool way before eating this, I suggest hours.
  12. I made mine in the morning and served it after dinner, it cut beautiful that way.
  13. It can stay out for 2 days un refrigerated with foil loosely covering it, after 2 days refrigerate, that is if you have leftovers.
  14. Serves 10- 12
  15. Serve with a scoop of ice cream, you won't regret it!

 

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Pesto Pappardelle Pasta with Zucchini Ribbons

pesto pappardelle pasta

I love this time of year when I can walk outside into my back yard and pick enough fresh basil to make a batch of pesto. Usually the first time that I make pesto I immediately have to cook up some sort of pasta with it, there’s nothing like freshly made basil pesto swirled into warm pasta, perfection at it’s best!

zucchini ribbons and pappardelle pasta

I decided on making pappardelle pasta this time, pappardelle is a large, broad and flat noodle and it goes really well with the addition of some zucchini ribbons  tossed into the warm pasta at the end. The long, wide zucchini ribbons mimic the pappardelle and adds a nice touch to the freshly made pesto.

A vegetable peeler is a great tool to use when making zucchini ribbons and it’s easy to do, but just make sure you keep turning the zucchini when you reach the seeds like I did, shown in the above photo.

home grown basil

To make the basil pesto gather up the best leaves you can find, ones that are unblemished.

making basil pesto

A tip I learned a long time ago was to blanch the basil in boiling water for just fifteen seconds then immediately plunge it into cold ice water to shock it and stop the cooking process. By doing this the pesto will stay a nice bright green color, it won’t oxidize and have that dark green color on top which is not so visually appealing.

After you scoop the leaves out of the water make sure you give them a really good squeeze, removing as much water as you can. Another tip I learned a while back was to use a potato ricer for squeezing out the water, it works wonders, the handle comes down and it easily pushes all the excess water through the holes beneath, but if you don’t have a ricer just wrap it up in a tea towel and twist it until it’s nice and dry.

basil pesto ingredients

Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano is a must for a quality tasting pesto as well as a bit of garlic, good olive oil and lightly toasted walnuts. I stopped using pine nuts a while ago it’s hard to find descent ones and the price is outrageous, plus I have really come to love it with the toasted walnuts anyway.

basil pesto

I like using a food processor to make my pesto it’s quick and easy and then I store it in the fridge using glass jars, pesto also freezes really well.

pesto pappardelle pasta

No need to cook the zucchini ribbons at all you just toss them raw right into the warm, strained pasta that has been tossed with the fresh basil pesto.

pesto pappardelle pasta

This is such a fresh and vibrant tasting pasta dish to make when basil is in abundance this time of year, it’s even good cold as a salad with some grilled chicken or shrimp.

Don’t stop at only pasta though fresh pesto can be slathered on just about anything, use your imagination and get creative!

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5.0 from 2 reviews
Pesto Pappardelle Pasta with Zucchini Ribbons
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • BASIL PESTO
  • 4 cups of solidly packed basil leaves, unblemished and washed
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • ½ cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • FOR THE PASTA
  • ½ lb. pappardelle pasta
  • 2 zucchini and 1 yellow squash or 3 zucchini, medium sized made into ribbons with a veggie peeler
  • basil pesto, no measurement just enough to coat the warm pasta to your liking
  • a few basil leaves, toasted walnuts and grated cheese for garnish
Instructions
  1. TO MAKE THE PESTO
  2. Blanch the basil in boiling water for just 15 seconds.
  3. Immediately remove, scoop out with a spider and place into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
  4. Squeeze out all the water from the blanched basil.
  5. In a food processor add the nuts, then garlic and basil and grated cheese, combine.
  6. Now while the processor is running stream enough olive oil down the shoot until you get a nice loose consistency.
  7. Place into a glass jar and refrigerate until ready to use, I got a little over 2 pints.
  8. Pesto stays well in the fridge for at least 3 weeks or in the freezer for over a month.
  9. TO MAKE THE PESTO PAPPARDELLE PASTA WITH ZUCCHINI RIBBONS
  10. Cook pasta according to directions al'dente, reserve a little pasta water if need be for incorporating.
  11. Scoop out and place into a large bowl.
  12. Add in enough pesto to your taste and liking, if it seems to thick loosen it up with some of the warm pasta water you reserved.
  13. Toss in the raw zucchini ribbons while the pasta is still hot, tossing and coating with the pasta and pesto.
  14. Arrange everything onto a nice platter.
  15. Add some small basil leaves, some toasted walnuts, extra grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil all over for garnish.
  16. Enjoy!

 

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Easy Summer Limoncello Tiramisu

limoncello tiramisu

I can’t think of a more luscious dessert that’s easy to make and serve during the summertime, than this limoncello tiramisu.

Ladyfingers soaked in limoncello liquor and layered between a combination of mascarpone and whipped cream that’s streaked with lemon curd. The more it sits the better it gets, so make it hours before your guests arrive or better yet let it sit overnight so all the flavors can infuse and mingle together.

I love to serve this tiramisu in individual glasses, anything pretty and see-through is best, use your favorite glassware something four to six ounces is enough especially after a large meal.

limoncello tiramisu

This is so easy to put together, there are no raw eggs involved like in the classic tiramisu which always makes me a little squeamish anyway, and there’s no need to make the lemon curd either, just pick up a jar at the store, every brand I’ve bought always tastes decadent to me, just make sure it’s pure lemon curd.

The key ingredient is the Savoiardi Italian ladyfingers, they’re the crispy ones not the soft ones and hold up to the limoncello when soaking them.

whipped mascarpone

The heavy whipped cream gets folded gently into the cheese and lemon curd mixture, seriously just that alone is to die for!

limoncello tiramisu

I’ve made this many ways, sometimes I’ll use just straight up limoncello for the dipping, but sometimes you’ll find that there are bottles of limoncello that might be stronger than others especially homemade, so in that case I add a little water and a bit of sugar with lemon juice to tone down the strength of the alcohol a bit, taste it to your liking and your guests and adjust accordingly.

Cut your lady fingers in half and then in a shallow dish do a quick dip on both sides of the cookie, one at a time, being careful not to over soak too much because they could easily fall apart.

If you prefer not to use limoncello liquor you can use straight up lemon juice to replace it adding a little sugar and water to cut the tartness if need be and then you’ll have a lemon tiramisu!

limoncello tiramisulimoncello tiramisulimoncello tiramisuslice of tiramisu

If you like to forgo the small individual servings, just double the recipe, make everything the same way layering it into a 9 x 13 inch glass pan with the cream, curd and whole lady fingers instead of sliced.

Rich and creamy, sweet and tart, anything lemon just screams summertime to me, easily one of my top favorite desserts to serve during the summer and honestly as soon as spring arrives. Think Easter!

I hope I’ve inspired you to make this incredible tiramisu with a boozy twist of limoncello for your next dinner party, I think you’ll love it!

Easy Summer Limoncello Tiramisu
 
Makes 6- 4 oz. individual serving size. I recommend using a pretty see-through glass vessels of some sort. If you're making more or have larger glassware just double the recipe.
Author:
Ingredients
  • CREAM MIXTURE
  • 1- 8 oz. tub of mascarpone cream, room temperature
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1- 10 oz. jar of lemon curd
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1- 7 oz. package of Savoiardi ladyfingers, half of the bag with each cookie cut in half
  • DIPPING MIXTURE
  • ¾ cup of limoncello
  • ¾ cup of warm water
  • 3-4 tablespoons, lemon juice
  • a couple tablespoons of granulated sugar to taste dissolved into it
  • Garnish
  • lemon zest and raspberries
Instructions
  1. LIMONCELLO MIX
  2. In a shallow bowl mix up your limoncello for dipping, either straight up or cut it with the water, lemon juice and sugar if alcohol content is too high for your taste.
  3. CREAM MIXTURES
  4. In a bowl with an electric hand mixer, add the mascarpone cream, the zest of one lemon, and two tablespoons of powdered sugar, mix until smooth and creamy.
  5. Fold in ¾ of the 10 oz. jar of lemon curd into the cheese mixture.
  6. In a separate bowl whip up the heavy cream until you have stiff peaks.
  7. Fold the heavy cream gently into the mascarpone and lemon curd mixture until well combined.
  8. LAYERING
  9. Start with a little cream on the bottom then add the dipped ladyfingers on top, arranging it to fit your glass, then more cream mixture.
  10. Just keep repeating til you get to the top of the glass.
  11. Garnish with lemon zest, a drizzle with the remaining lemon curd and a raspberry.
  12. Cover gently with plastic wrap and refrigerate hours before serving or preferably overnight.

 

 

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How To Make Grilled Artichokes Italian-Style

grilled artichokes

 

Today I’m going to show you step by step how to make grilled artichokes, a must for summer entertaining. This is my favorite side dish and sometimes appetizer to make during the the grilling season. Present a big platter of these smoky grilled artichokes to your guests and watch them disappear quickly. I’m certain you’ll be making them over and over throughout the season.

These lovelies are lightly stuffed, not with the traditional breadcrumb mixture but with the pronounced flavor of grated parmesan, or pecorino cheese, fresh parsley and lemon zest. The grill adds a smoky dimension and the cheese mixture when melted through the layer of leaves, takes the flavors over the top!

grilled artichokes

 

And if that’s not enough to rock your world you can dip each leaf into a simply made bright and citrusy lemon and garlic aioli. The recipe for the aioli will be provided at the end of the post, but first lets get these artichokes prepped because you can’t put them straight on the grill raw, they have to be pre-cooked by either steaming or boiling them first.prepping artichokes

Choose a nice medium sized fresh artichokes, you’ll want to cut the very end of the stem off, then if the stem is long enough use a veggie peeler and peel the top layer off of the stem, because that’s edible too.

Remove and tear off the small leaves at the bottom of the artichoke by hand then turn it on it’s side and with a sharp serrated knife cut about a third of the top off all the way through, then immediately rub all the cut surfaces with a raw lemon, because artichokes oxidize fast.

If you see any remaining outer leaves that have a pointy top just snip the tip off with a pair of scissors, remember rub all cut surfaces with lemon.

Now turn the artichoke cut side down and slice it right through the middle like I did in the photo above leaving the choke and spiny thistle fuzz in tact. It’s so much easier and neater to remove it all after they’ve been cooked and become tender throughout.

I like to steam my artichokes in water in a pot that has a lid. I throw in a few slices of lemon, whole garlic cloves, salt, pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil. Get the water to a boil then simmer it down and put the lid on.  The cooking time varies according to the size of the artichokes that you have, but a good rule of thumb is if you can tug at a leaf and it comes off easily with no effort they’re pretty much done, but taste it to make sure.

Take the cooked artichokes out with tongs making sure the water is drained out by turning them upside down, then set aside and let them cool down.

 

prepping artichokes

To clean the insides of all the spiny chokes I like to use a grapefruit spoon to gently scrape it out, like I said it comes out really easy after the artichokes are steamed.

Now at this point if you were making them for a party the prep is done, you could refrigerate them as is ready to be stuffed for the day you’re going to be grilling them.

Try not to be intimidated by the steps above, it’s really pretty easy and once you get the hang of it everything else is a breeze.

stuffing artichokes

As for the cheese mixture there are no specific measurements, again it all depends on how many artichokes you’ll be making, just grab a bowl put a handful or two of grated parmesan, pecorino or even a mix of both, the zest of one lemon and a handful of chopped parsley, if you need more, make more as you go, there’s no set rule here.

Take a spoon with some of the cheese mixture on it and stuff it into the layered artichoke leaves, you don’t need to over stuff it, a little on each leaf layer is fine.

Finally drizzle olive oil all over the top with a few grinds of black pepper, you won’t need salt because the cheese is salty enough.

grilled artichokes

Get your grill nice and hot, I put mine on high, then place them cut side down and don’t move them until you see deep golden char marks. The cheese mixture will also be melty and slightly crispy, at this point they’re done just take them off  because you don’t need to flip them over, remember they’re already cooked through.

grilled artichokesgrilled artichokes

Cheesy goodness with a nice smoky dimension all throughout, delicious warm or at room temperature.

grilled artichokes

If you haven’t had a grilled artichoke yet I promise you you’re in for a special treat!

grilled artichokes

Now for that citrusy aioli for dipping that I promised you, go grab a bowl and add a few big tablespoons of good quality mayo, one smashed or grated garlic clove, lemon zest and enough fresh lemon juice to thin it out into a dipping consistency with some salt and pepper to taste, I told you it was easy!

Now go ahead and make some grilled artichokes, happy grilling!

Signature

Party Worthy Roasted Potato Salad

roasted potato salad

This roasted potato salad is a must for summer parties, graduations and backyard BBQs. It’s healthy, vibrant in color with lots of crunch with a much lighter take on the classic potato salad because this one is not ladened down with heavy mayo.

Another benefit of no mayo is that it can sit out on a warm sunny day and you won’t have to worry about it going bad.

roasted potatoes

Look for the petite sized potatoes, when cut in half they’re a nice bite size. I used red and white, but the tri-color with the purple potatoes would be nice as well

Make sure you don’t over roast them, or dowse them with too much olive oil, they’ll be coated with the dressing later, just toss them into a bowl with a little drizzle to coat them, add in salt and pepper then put them on a sheet pan in a 425F oven.

Mine took about fifteen minutes turning them over once, you want them tender but on the firm side.

roasted potato salad

The crunch factor comes from sliced rainbow colored mini peppers, sliced radishes, red and green onion along with fresh arugula, olives, chives and parsley.

roasted potato salad

You don’t really need exact amounts for this depending on how big your platter will be and how many potatoes you’ll be making. I like to mix everything together in a big bowl first, slicing the veggies and adding the rest as I go along making sure it looks balanced with color and crunch, adding the arugula last by handfuls.

The dressing is made with equal amounts of olive oil and fresh lemon juice, a squeeze of dijon and 1 garlic clove, whisked together and spooned over the top.

roasted potato salad

The potatoes can be roasted the day before or the morning of, they should be at room temp or chilled before adding the other ingredients, not hot from the oven.

It’s colorful and vibrant and it makes the perfect party dish and side to almost anything you’ll be grilling up this season.

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5.0 from 3 reviews
Party Worthy Roasted Potato Salad
 
You don't need exact ingredients for this, it depends on how many potatoes you roast, just add the veggies and herbs to your liking making sure it's balanced with everything.
Author:
Ingredients
  • mini petite potatoes, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper, cut in half roasted in a 425F oven for about 15 minutes turning once and making sure they are fork tender but still firm. Let them cool down.
  • sliced rainbow colored mini peppers
  • thin sliced radishes
  • small nicoise olives, drained
  • chopped red and green onion
  • fresh arugula
  • chives and parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Place the roasted potatoes and everything else into a big bowl, add all the other ingredients, tasting as you go along and making sure you have enough to make it look balanced.
  2. Carefully toss with your clean hands and place the salad onto a pretty platter.
  3. Spoon the dressing all over it.
  4. THE DRESSING;
  5. Equal parts of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, one garlic clove, a squeeze of dijon, salt and pepper.
  6. Whisk it up to incorporate.
  7. NOTE: The potatoes can be done the morning of or day before, then mix with everything else shortly before serving.

 

 

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Eggs and Veggies, The Perfect Pairing

egg with rapini

Eggs in combination with veggies have produced many a meal in my house for breakfast, lunch and dinner over the years and it’s still evolving. It’s still evolving because the variety of veggies are endless and because eggs can be prepared in so many different ways.

 

Take for example this crispy egg with leftover garlicky rapini, I’ve eaten this for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I always make extra rapini so I can make this combination. If you never had a crispy egg before just google “how to make a crispy egg” there’s a certain technique to it and the result will give you a souffled white with lacy, crispy edges and a nice runny yolk. I like to top mine with red pepper flakes, oregano, black pepper and salt.egg with asparagus

 

Here’s a winning combination fit for a fancy breakfast or brunch, a poached egg on a bed of roasted asparagus with crispy prosciutto and shaved parmesan, the creamy yolk when broken open oozes out and mingles with all the flavors, it’s heavenly!eggs with peppers

Peppers and eggs, I seriously grew up on this as a kid, the best sandwich ever with Italian bread, a great lunch or dinner with a salad on the side.eggs with artichokes

 

This is a favorite of mine, a recipe from Ina Garten, it’s her herb-baked eggs and it’s wonderful for a lazy Sunday morning. You can make this in individual gratin dishes like Ina, or as I did, all in one pan. My twist on it is to add in some artichoke hearts, a perfect addition I think to the creamy herbs and cheese, but make sure you have some toasted, crispy bread for dipping.

egg caprese

 

This caprese omelet can be a staple for you this summer made with fresh mozzarella, garden basil and summer tomatoes, nice for brunch and a light dinner..eggs with spring veggie

 

It’s spring here in Chicago and I love making my Spring Vegetable Frittata with Brie, with tender zucchini, asparagus and peas. I can go on and on about frittata’s they’re a staple. They’re not just for breakfast or lunch either, frittata’s make the best dinner with a side salad and crusty bread of course.

eggs with string beans

 

Pressed for time? You can always make this for dinner, Eggs in Purgatory, the way I make it has evolved over the years but here’s my basic recipe.

 

You can use chunky tomatoes or straight up marinara as I did above but I always add in some vegetables and herbs, here I added haricot verts with a few olives.eggs with broccolini

My clean out the fridge frittata with a little bit of this and a little bit of that like broccolini, mushrooms, red pepper and fresh mozzarella. It doesn’t’ take a lot of ingredients to put a meal on the table, a couple of mushrooms, a handful of broccolini and a red pepper sliced around some bruised spots creates a nice meal.

cauliflower steaks

 

The other day I sliced rainbow colored cauliflower into “steaks” and roasted them, basically I only get two or three nicely shaped slices from a head of cauliflower because I cut them an inch thick, the leftover florets can then be tossed into a frittata of course!eggs and cauliflower

 

Like this one, so delicious and colorful too..eggs with cauliflower

And lastly my version of “steak and eggs“. A crispy egg perched on top of a roasted cauliflower steak sitting in a pool of marinara, healthy, hearty and delicious and perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Endless meals can be made with veggies and eggs, these are just a few of my favorites. Go for what’s in season and just let your creative juices flow!

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Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Asparagus and Peas

pan-fried ricotta gnocchi

Pan-fried ricotta gnocchi is golden and crispy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside. Ricotta creates such a light and dreamy homemade gnocchi, which I much prefer over the potato version.

This recipe is great for spring, it’s light and doesn’t require a heavy sauce of any kind because it’s tossed together with fresh tender asparagus, peas, parmesan cheese, lemon zest and olive oil and it pairs perfectly with the soft and crispy bite of the pan-fried gnocchi. ricotta gnocchi

Some people think that making gnocchi is intimidating, but actually it’s easier than you think, and there’s absolutely no comparison to tasteless store bought, at least the ones I’ve tried.

Making them yourself is totally worth the effort and within no time you’ll get the hang of it, and they don’t have to be so picture perfect, that’s the special quality of making them homemade.

 

If you buy your ricotta from a good Italian deli like I do you’re usually going to have some liquid in the container when you bring it home, that needs to be drained really well to achieve a good gnocchi dough, in fact I think it is key.

 

I like to drain my ricotta in a strainer over a bowl that I keep in my fridge overnight, when your ricotta is nice and cold the dough comes together beautifully, if the ricotta is warm or room temperature it tends to be more sticky and you’ll keep adding more flour which in turn makes your gnocchi heavier, and we don’t want heavy gnocchi do we? We want it nice and fluffy.ricotta gnocchi

 

Whenever I make gnocchi I never serve them on the same day, I actually prefer to freeze them ahead of time and for some reason I think they cook up better from the frozen state, but one very important thing that I do before I freeze them is to boil up a couple just to make sure they don’t come apart, if they do, I’ll add a little more flour to the dough, just a little at a time. Then retest a couple more until they’re perfect, intact little dumplings holding together nicely in a gentle boil.

Gnocchi take only a few minutes to cook, toss them into a rolling gentle boil with salted water, give them one good stir, let them rise to the top and boil for an additional 1-2 minutes, scoop them out with a wide hand strainer. Never pour them directly into a strainer for fear they might break, you must be gentle and handle with care.

For the pan-fried version you scoop them out of the water and immediately toss them into a skillet with a mix of butter and olive oil letting them get slightly crispy golden on each side.

If you’re going through the trouble of making homemade gnocchi you might as well make a double batch like I do, you’ll be glad you did and besides it’s nice to have a stash set aside in your freezer, some for pan-frying and some for boiling and tossing into your favorite sauce.pan-fried ricotta gnocchi

I’m in love with this dish, it’s perfect for springtime, easy enough to make mid week and elegant enough to serve at a dinner party.pan-fried ricotta gnocchi

Pan-fried ricotta gnocchi gives you a little different take on the traditional boiled gnocchi, and the texture of the gnocchi holds up really well to the spring veggies you’re highlighting, but either way you choose to prepare it you can’t go wrong.

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5.0 from 2 reviews
Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Asparagus and Peas
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE RICOTTA GNOCCHI
  • 1½ cup of drained ricotta, nice and cold
  • ½ cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper
  • 1 cup or so of unbleached all purpose flour
  • VEGETABLE TOSS
  • 1 bunch of tender asparagus, chopped small like pea size but leaving the pretty tips on
  • 1 cup of frozen, defrosted peas
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
  • olive oil for drizzle
  • a knob of butter
  • more Parmigiano for garnish
Instructions
  1. PREPPING THE VEGGIES
  2. In a separate skillet, drizzled with olive oil, toss in your chopped asparagus, garlic and defrosted peas, sauteing until nicely al-dente, then set aside.
  3. FOR THE GNOCCHI
  4. Place ricotta, grated cheese, salt and pepper into a bowl, whisk egg then add in.
  5. If ricotta is lumpy, which it usually is, take a hand mixer on low to break up the lumps and just to incorporate all the ingredients.
  6. Then fold in flour, little by little, you might need less or you might need more, but dough should come together quickly and it will feel slightly sticky.
  7. Lightly flour your finger tips and a board.
  8. Cut off a chunk then roll it into a round snake, then cut off bite size pieces.
  9. Leave as is or make indention's with a gnocchi board or the tines of a fork.
  10. At this point you can freeze them single layer, then once frozen place them into zip lock bags, they stay good for a month.
  11. WHEN READY TO COOK THE FROZEN GNOCCHI
  12. Toss them into salted boiling water, let them float to the top and cook maybe another minute or so, then scoop them out carefully with a hand strainer, like a spider.
  13. For pan-fried, drain them first then crisp them up in an additional skillet with a good drizzle of olive oil and a small knob of butter, turning them until they crisp up golden on each side.
  14. Then incorporate the precooked veggies you had set aside together with the golden crisp gnocchi.
  15. Place them onto a platter adding more grated cheese of course, more olive oil and scatter the lemon zest all around.
  16. Happy Spring!

 

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Baked Eggplant Parmigiana

baked eggplant parmigiana

Baked eggplant parmigiana is a much lighter take on the classic breaded and fried version. Don’t get me wrong, I love eggplant and have breaded and fried my own fair share of eggplant over the years many, many times.

Normally it would be a three step process, flour, egg, bread crumbs  or more often I would make it like my mother-in-law did, she whipped up a batter of flour, eggs, water to thin it, lots of romano cheese and parsley, oh it’s so good!

Then I would dip the eggplant slices into the batter and start frying, always adding more oil because eggplant soaks up oil like a sponge and there never seemed to be enough.

Most times I would have to start over and clean the pan out in between frying because the crumbs left in the pan would start to burn, so it was a long and messy process and the clean up on my stove would take a while, to say the least!

baked eggplant

Years later I’ve really come to love the baked version better, it’s lighter, healthier but even more than that I think the flavor of the eggplant really shines through. My version isn’t buried in sauce or cheese either, to me less is more, with the added bonus of a clean stove!

baked eggplant

You need a hot oven to prep your eggplant slices, and by cutting them to almost an inch thick this ensures a crispy bottom with a nice tender bite of eggplant meat in between, because they do shrink down.

baked eggplant

I also like to take my veggie peeler and and peel off strips of skin to create a zebra like pattern of skin and no-skin, I think it looks nice and gives structure to the dish, and when cooked it melts in your mouth anyway.

Years ago I would salt them down and place something heavy on top to take the bitterness out, I don’t do that anymore I think the varieties today are perfectly fine and not bitter.

baked eggplant parmigiana

Quality ingredients are always a must, fresh mozzarella,(not the dry shredded kind), good pecorino, fresh basil and homemade marinara, simple and light flavored with garlic and basil.

baked eggplant parmigiana

This takes no time at all to make, you can even roast the eggplant ahead of time and assemble it the next day, it’s easy enough to make mid week and delicious for a special dinner party.

I’ve even made it on a rimmed sheet pan for a large group, you can fit quite a few pieces of eggplant on a half size sheet pan, perfect for a party!

baked eggplant parmigiana

I promise you won’t sacrifice any flavor on this lightened up, baked version of the classic eggplant parmigiana, it’s just as delicious and you’ll feel good about eating it!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Baked Eggplant Parmigiana
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 3 medium sized eggplants peeled in a zebra effect with some skin on and some skin off, sliced ¾ inch thick
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, padded dry
  • pecorino romano
  • 3-4 cups of homemade marinara flavored with garlic and basil or a good quality store bought brand
  • fresh torn basil
  • olive oil
Instructions
  1. PREPPING THE EGGPLANT
  2. Heat oven to 425F.
  3. Drizzle the bottom of a sheet pan with olive oil.
  4. Place sliced eggplant on top and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
  5. When you see a light golden bottom, flip them over and let the other side get golden as well, if you need a little more drizzle of olive oil, go ahead, time will vary according to oven heat, just watch it.
  6. When finished set aside. If prepping for a party or a larger amount, let it cool down and refrigerate to assemble the next day.
  7. ASSEMBLING
  8. In a 13x9 casserole quick drizzle bottom with olive oil, then spread marinara all over the bottom covering the surface.
  9. Add slices of eggplant to cover, spoon about a tablespoon of sauce on each slice, rip off some fresh mozzarella and add pieces to each slice then sprinkle with romano cheese and torn basil.
  10. Repeat.
  11. Bake in the hot oven until cheese melts down and it's all heated through.
  12. Top with more fresh basil, a sprinkle of cheese and a quick drizzle of olive oil.

 

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Italian Anise Cookies for Easter and Beyond

anise cookies

Spring is officially here finally, and Easter is quickly approaching, and I can’t think of a better cookie to grace your dessert table than these pretty pastel glazed Italian anise cookies.

 

These cookies are classic, traditional and perfect for any special celebration and just the mere scent of them bring back fond memories of old. Italian anise cookies have played center stage at many weddings, showers, communions, graduations and of course all the major holidays.

 

What I love about these cookies is that you can change up the frosting and sprinkles to fit whatever the occasion is, so with Easter coming up I thought frosting them with some pretty pastel colors would be fun and just looking at them scream “spring” to me.anise cookies

 

Let’s talk about anise and the flavor of anise, if you haven’t tried it you’re missing out. It’s described as being warm, a little spicy and very aromatic with just a mild hint of licorice. Anise is used widely in making pastries and baked goods and it’s the essential ingredient in these cookies where you taste it inside as well as in the frosting.

 

The dough is very similar to my Anginetti Lemon Knots with a slight variation, some recipes add milk, some do not, some are made with shortening, some butter, but basically they turn out very similar. The end result will yield a soft, crumbly, light cookie that takes on the flavors of the extracts you choose, in this case it’s anise but if you prefer, lemon, almond and orange work wonderfully as well.

 

frosting cookies

 

This is the first time I mixed up different colored frostings and I’m so glad I did because they look so festive and they resemble little colored Easter eggs.anise cookies

 

The dough can be formed into balls like I did here or tied into knots and even formed into rings, either way don’t get nervous if you see some characteristic cracks on top.anise cookies

 

Don’t you think they’re the perfect addition to your Easter table? But think ahead to summer parties, baby and wedding showers, birthdays and BBQ’s, you can’t go wrong with a platter of these pretty cookies on your table.anise cookiesanise cookies

 

I did a search on the internet to find a recipe that was as close to the one made by my beloved mother-in-law who made them often for her family because sadly none of her children have a complete recipe of hers. The recipe I chose was the Anise Cookies on the Cooking with Nonna website which is Rossella Rago’s actual Nonna’s recipe, so I knew it would be a good one, and it did not disappoint.

 

I did however double the recipe and I changed up the way the cookie gets mixed, just the procedure in doing it, so that’s what I’ll be posting, it seemed easier for me with one less step for my lazy self, and they turned out absolutely fine.anise cookies

Keep this recipe tucked away for all your special occasions and make sweet memories of your own.

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Italian Anise Cookies for Easter and Beyond
 
Adapted from The Cooking with Nonna website, Anise Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • COOKIE DOUGH
  • 5 cups all purpose flour, un-bleached
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons anise extract
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • ICING
  • 3 cups, confectioner's sugar
  • 6 tablespoons half and half or cream, adjusting if you need a little more or less. Icing should have a nice flow when stirring it with a little thickness but not runny
  • 1 teaspoon anise extract ( or if you prefer another extract like lemon, almond or orange)
  • 1 drop of any food coloring to make your pastel colors
  • non-pariels and sprinkles to decorate
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place parchment paper onto rimmed baking sheets.
  2. In a separate bowl add the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk until incorporated.
  3. In a large mixing bowl with your electric hand or stand mixer (preferably a stand mixer with paddle) add the softened butter and confectioners sugar, beat on medium speed until well combined.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time along with the extracts, beating until all is incorporated.
  5. Lower the speed and add in all your dry ingredients a cup at a time, dough ball will form and pull away from side, the dough will be sticky.
  6. Form your balls either from a rounded teaspoon or a small cookie scoop which I used. Remember you can roll your dough and form them into a knot or a ring if you like as well.
  7. Keep them 2 inches apart on the lined baking sheet and pop them in the oven for 12 minutes total, bottoms will be golden and tops still pale with some cracks.
  8. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. MAKING THE ICING
  10. Stir together in a small bowl the confectioners sugar, extract, half and half and food coloring if you are using it. Depending on how many cookies you're making you could do a large batch of white frosting then divide and separate some into smaller bowls so you can add your food coloring to each.
  11. Dip or brush the tops of the cookies into the icing then immediately add your sprinkles ( over a bowl so they don't fly all over your kitchen).
  12. Let the icing dry completely on a rack before you store them away.
  13. NOTE;
  14. You can bake these ahead of time and freeze if you don't frost them, I would recommend frosting them just a day or two ahead before you'll be serving them, otherwise the frosting won't look as nice and fresh.
  15. I made 68 cookies from this batch.

 

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Clams With Spicy Sausage in Garlicky Tomato Broth

spicy clams

Get your napkins ready, because there’s nothing like a big pot of clams with spicy Italian sausage floating in a garlicky tomato broth! Other than some crusty bread for dunking, that’s all you’ll be needing with this.sausage and clams

Let’s talk clams, Littleneck clams are best for this recipe, fresh of course. Make sure you clean them really good, trust me, tasting sand is something you do not want!

I like to scrub the clams really good with a stiff brush removing any out side sand, then soak them in a bowl of cold water with some cornmeal sprinkled in for twenty minutes, the cornmeal helps to draw out any of the sand that might be inside the shells, then fill the bowl with water and rinse again, filling with cold water and rinsing a couple more times.

If you see any shells that are open test them by tapping them against another clam, hopefully they will close, if not just discard. Likewise you’ll want to discard If any of the shells are cracked and chipped.

You can pretty much count on some not opening so allow for that when your buying them so you’ll want to add a few extra.

sausage and clams

I like using thinly shaved garlic in this recipe, the garlic pieces seem to land right into the shells and it’s so delicious! Spicy Italian sausage is key, it flavors the dish so well, but if you need something less spicy go with mild and just add a little red pepper flakes, you need a little kick!

sausage and clamsclams and spicy sausage

You could add pasta with this if you like but I think you’ll be throughly content with some warm crusty bread for dunking!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Clams With Spicy Sausage in Garlicky Tomato Broth
 
This recipe will happily feed two, so feel free to adjust amounts accordingly.
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 dozen Littleneck clams
  • ¾ lb of spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 14 oz. can of cherry tomatoes or baby roma tomatoes ( I used Mutti brand)
  • ½ bottle of clam juice about 4 oz. is needed
  • 5 large garlic cloves, shaved or thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • a good splash of white wine
  • a bunch of parsley
  • a knob of butter
  • olive oil
  • salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. In a heavy bottomed pot or skillet with high sides, drizzle in some olive oil and cook the sausage on medium high heat, making sure to break it up into smaller pieces and cook until you see no more pink then remove from pan and set aside.
  2. In same skillet drizzle a little more olive oil into the pan then add in the garlic and onions and saute until soft but not caramelized.
  3. Add the clams tossing them a few times into the garlic and onions.
  4. Add the white wine to deglaze and let it cook down a couple of minutes, tossing the clams.
  5. Add in the tomatoes and all the sausage back in stirring until well distributed, then stick a cover on the pan so the clams can steam in the liquid and open up gently.
  6. When clams have all opened up, stir in a knob of butter and chopped parsley for garnish, maybe a quick drizzle of olive oil too.
  7. If a clam didn't open and the rest did, just discard it.
  8. Don't forget the crusty bread, I like to slice a rustic loaf and drizzle with olive oil and stick under the broiler to get it crunchy, but keep checking it could burn easily!

 

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Seared Scallops on Creamy Polenta with Broccolini

seared scallops

Seared scallops on creamy polenta with broccolini is such a fabulous dish, I promise it will wake up all your taste buds when you eat it, it’s quick enough for midweek and worthy enough for company.

A perfectly seared scallop is pure bliss and when cooked properly the most tender thing in the world, then paired with the corn grits of polenta you’ll be sure to have a match made in food heaven.seared scallops

However there are a few important factors when making this, let’s start with the scallops. You have to buy the large, dry sea scallops, fresh. The smaller bay scallops won’t work for this dish and neither will frozen, they hold on to too much liquid and you’ll never be able to get a good sear on them, which makes all the difference.

Even with the dry scallops I’ll bring them home and layer them between paper towels, just to make sure even the slightest bit of liquid is absorbed.

When you’re ready to sear them I place my heavy bottomed pan on the stove and turn the heat up to get it screeching hot, so hot where smokes starts to rise, so put your fan on and then drizzle the bottom with olive oil, just to get it heated and never use a nonstick pan you won’t get a good sear at all.

Salt and pepper one side of the scallops and place the seasoned side down in the oiled pan which you’ve now turned down to medium high and don’t move them until you can see a deep sear on the bottom, maybe three minutes or so, but honestly looking at them is more accurate.

When you see that deep sear on the scallops turn them over and basically take them out, they’re finished, they’ll continue to cook slightly after you remove them. With this method they’ll be sure to come out perfect every single time.

 

seared scallops

Regarding the polenta, the secret to making it nice and creamy is the ratio of liquid to cornmeal. I only know what is a success for me and works every time and that is, 1 part polenta to 5 parts liquid, finished off with some butter and a splash of half and half.

Any less liquid and it will become too thick and seize up, especially when cooling down. With this method even if it sits a few minutes it will remain creamy, and that’s what you want for this dish, smooth and creamy with no lumps.

You can serve this on a wooden board or a platter as I did, and you can change up the greens of your choice, I love it with the broccolini but I think any green would be good, even kernels of corn would be nice.

Either way I guarantee you’ll have a fabulous meal!

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Seared Scallops on Creamy Polenta with Broccolini
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. large sea scallops, dry and fresh
  • 1 small bunch of broccolini, trimmed and pre-cooked
  • 1 cup of polenta, I used quick cooking polenta
  • 4 cups of low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • large knob of butter
  • splash of half and half or cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil
Instructions
  1. Start out heating up your pan until it's screeching hot as stated in my post.
  2. Have the scallops seasoned and ready for searing as stated in my post.
  3. Proceed to make the polenta, getting the broth and water to a boil, then whisking in the polenta, lower the heat so it doesn't spit all over, but keep whisking until it all comes together.
  4. When the polenta comes together, remove from the heat and add the knob of butter and all the cheese, stir til combined then add a nice splash of cream or half and half.
  5. Get your scallops seared and ready for plating using the method I stated in my post.
  6. Pour the creamy polenta on to your platter or board, then placed the seared scallops all around and top with the cooked broccolini.
  7. Do a quick drizzle of olive oil on top and that's it, enjoy!

 

 

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Anelletti al Forno, Little Baked Pasta Rings

anelletti al forno

Anelletti is a pasta type that is ring shaped and in this case is baked, ( al Forno) between layers of marinara and bechamel sauce, of course there’s cheese and other goodies included like Italian sausage and peas.

Anelletti al Forno is a wonderful dish to spoon up for a crowd or for a mid week meal for your family, you can even make it meatless if you prefer, kids love it as well as adults because they look like spaghetti O’s.

Recently here in Chicago we had a huge snow storm and woke up to our neighbors shoveling out our long driveway, so as a thank you I brought this dish over to them to have for dinner.

anelletti pasta

As tiny as this anelletti pasta looks they take quite a long time to cook, but for this recipe you’ll want to stop cooking it around three minutes or so before the time on the package because it needs to be nice and al’dente, plus it’s going to finish cooking in the oven anyway.anelletti pasta

anelletti al forno

I like to spread the cooked anelletti onto a rimmed baking sheet so it can cool down faster, then it’s basically like making a lasagne, just have all your ingredients ready to go so you can start layering it into your baking dish.

Years ago on the blog I did another version of anelletti al forno but it was pressed and baked into a spring form pan, it’s really a pretty presentation when un-molded, check it out here.anelletti al forno

This recipe is very easy to prep the day before, no stress or clean up the day you’ll be serving it. Have it ready to go as in the picture above, just cover with foil and pop it into the fridge.anelletti al forno

Then on serving day, take it out and get it to room temp before baking, that’s it!anelletti al forno

The bechamel mingles with the marinara and parmesan cheese and creates a creamy, luscious sauce that envelopes the anelletti pasta so well.anelletti al forno

Like I said there are many versions of this dish, I got inspired to add the bechamel from a video I saw on Rosella’s Cooking with Nonna, and I’m so glad I did because it really makes the sauce dreamy.

I like the flavor of Italian sausage so I used that but other versions use ground meats. Also in my house I always have homemade marinara stashed in my freezer seasoned with garlic and basil, so that’s what I used here, s you can make homemade yourself or to make things easier and go a little faster  you can use a good quality store bought one, I repeat… Good Quality!  ( I won’t tell).

If you prefer a meatless version, omit the meat and add chunks of fresh mozzarella instead, believe me it’s all good!

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5.0 from 3 reviews
Anelletti al Forno, Little Baked Pasta Rings
 
Recipe inspired from Rossella's Cooking with Nonna and The Geometry of Pasta
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. anelletti pasta, (ringed shaped) cooked al'dente at least 3 minutes before cooking time on package, cooled down and set aside
  • 1 lb. mlld Italian sausage, bulk, or links with casings removed and cooked until you see no pink
  • 1½ quarts of marinara sauce, homemade or a good quality store bought with a garlic and basil base
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • basil
  • BECHAMEL INGREDIENTS
  • 4oz. butter
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Oil a 9x13 inch baking dish.
  2. Heat oven to 425F.
  3. Cook pasta al'dente, cool it down then add 1 cup of marinara to it, toss and set aside.
  4. Gather all your ingredients before you, the pasta, the cooked sausage, frozen peas, grated cheese, basil leaves and marinara.
  5. Make the bechamel sauce by melting the butter in a sauce pan, add the flour and whisk and let it cook a little, careful not to burn, but keep whisking.
  6. Add the milk and whisk until it thickens nicely.
  7. Turn off the heat and fold in half cup of parmesan cheese.
  8. Add spoonfuls of marinara to the bottom of the baking dish. spread half of the pasta on top.
  9. Spoon bechamel over the layer, sprinkle it with sausage and a handful of peas.
  10. Top the layer off with grated Parmesan.
  11. Repeat layer like above with remaining ingredients ending with bechamel and a light layer of marinara.
  12. Top with fresh basil and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
  13. Cover with foil and bake on the middle rack for thirty minutes.
  14. Let it rest before serving around thirty minutes.
  15. NOTE:
  16. Can do a meatless version by replacing the sausage with cubed fresh mozzarella.

 

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Heart Shaped Pizza with Egg for Valentine’s Day Breakfast

heart pizza with egg

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner so here’s an idea to turn a regular breakfast into something special, serve your special someone a heart shaped pizza with an egg on top!

A simple margherita pizza consisting of tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil is a nice backdrop for the egg  and it tastes super delicious when the cooked yolk oozes out all over the heart shaped pizza.heart pizza with egg

Of course pizza is a blank canvas so feel free to put any of your favorite toppings on, but since this is for a special breakfast I made the egg the focal ingredient as well as the heart shape.heart pizza

You can shape the pizza dough into a heart shape many ways, I usually just take my time and shape it by hand, but this time I tried something different.

I rolled the dough out into a circle, folded it in half, then took a pizza cutter, sliced the V in the center along the crease and did a little trimming around the top to shape it.heart pizza dough

When the shaping is finished, place the dough onto a baking sheet and pull the bottom down slightly into point. I always pre-cook the dough for a few minutes so the shape gets set, then I’ll put the toppings on and stick it back into the oven to finish.heart pizza with egg

A few minutes later you’ll have a perfectly cooked egg with the yolk ready to break open and mingle together with the sauce and cheese.heart pizza with egg

Serve some mimosa’s with this and you’ll have a wonderful, thoughtful Valentine’s Day breakfast or brunch for your special someone, if you’re making it for kids of course omit the booze!heart pizza with egg

Here’s a link to another version I made some years ago using ham, spinach and cheese, equally delicious and fun to serve on Valentine’s Day, or any day you just want to show some love to someone.

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Heart Shaped Pizza with Egg for Valentine's Day
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 ball of pizza dough, store bought or homemade cut in half or thirds to make smaller, individual size pizza's, room temp for easy rolling..
  • pizza sauce
  • mozzarella, fresh or shredded
  • 1 egg per pizza
  • fresh basil
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 500F.
  2. grease a baking sheet with olive oil and a dusting of polenta or cornmeal. Note: (If making 2 pizza's and you can't fit both on 1 baking sheet use 2 baking sheets.)
  3. Take your dough ball and cut it in half or thirds rolling one at a time into a circle.
  4. When circle is formed fold dough in half and with a pizza cutter cut the v shape and trim out the top of the heart, then open the dough and you should see a perfectly formed heart, then pull the bottom into a point.
  5. You can also shape the heart by hand, just take your time doing it.
  6. Place the heart shaped dough onto the prepared baking sheet, prick it in a few places with a fork.
  7. Put it into the hot oven for 3 minutes, then remove it, if the dough bubbled up no problem, just prick it so it settles down.
  8. Add the sauce, leaving a little edge bare all around, scatter the cheese around and fresh basil leaves.
  9. In a separate little bowl crack your egg so as not to break the yolk.
  10. Gently pour the egg onto the pizza.
  11. Pop the pizza into the oven and finish cooking until crust is golden and egg is set.
  12. Time will vary depending on how thick your dough is rolled out.
  13. Mine was fairly thin and took ten minutes total, 5 minutes on bottom rack and another five on top rack.
  14. Add more fresh basil and serve immediately.

 

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Pineapple Party Dip for Super Bowl and Beyond

pineapple party dip

This pineapple dip is perfect for game day this Sunday, actually it’s fun to serve at any party, so keep it in mind down the road.

The presentation is fun and it really stands out on your buffet table plus it tastes really delicious. Cream cheese with fresh pineapple chunks and other savory ingredients get molded into the shape of a pineapple then studded with whole pecans, when finished it will take on the look of a whole pineapple, you can swipe it on crackers, raw veggies, fruit, chips, whatever you like.
pineapple top

The process is simple, buy one pineapple, cut the crown off then split the crown in half lengthwise so it can lay flat on your serving platter.pineapple dip

Your cream cheese mixture can be whipped up the day before so all the flavors meld together nicely, you can even pre-shape it into the pineapple barrel shape beforehand, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it the night before.dipping sides

You’ll be using raw, unsalted pecans halves for your pineapple dip, once I counted and it took 70 to cover the cheese mixture which came from an 8 oz. bag, this time I bought a container full and I had extras, which is a good thing.

Just remember whatever kind of platter you’re going to serve it on to make sure you position the barrel of cream cheese with enough room for the crown piece to be placed back on top.

 

pineapple party dip

 

You can start from the top and work your self down placing the pecans on making sure to overlap them and cover the sides and bottom as well, you can also place them from the bottom up, trying your best to cover as much surface as you can.pineapple party dippineapple party dip

 

When completed with the pecans, just place the crown back in position then scatter your crackers and veggies all around.pineapple party dip

 

You still have time to gather up the ingredients to make this party pineapple dip for Sunday game day,  it’s a show stopper and your guests will love it!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Pineapple Party Dip for Super Bowl and Beyond
 
Recipe adapted from The Healthy Foodie Blog
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 fresh, ripe pineapple
  • 1 cup or so of pineapple, finely chopped and drained or squeezed of juice if overly juicy
  • 2 - 8 oz bricks of cream cheese, softened
  • at least an 8 oz. bag of raw unsalted pecan halves, a little more just in case some are cracked. You'll need 70 or so to cover your cream cheese barrel
  • 1 tablespoon, grainy mustard
  • ¼ each of a red, orange and yellow pepper, small dice
  • ⅓ cup of black olives, canned, drained, sliced and chopped ( optional)
  • 2 or 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans
  • 2 heaping tablespoons, fresh chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Cut the crown off of your pineapple, slice the half lengthwise so it lays flat and save. Pick a pineapple crown that's not so big, otherwise it won't look in proportion.
  2. Chop up a cup of so of the pineapple flesh.
  3. In a medium bowl add the softened cream cheese and grainy mustard, beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
  4. Now fold in with a spatula the reserved pineapple, colored peppers, chopped pecans, olives, onions and parsley, making sure everything gets incorporated.
  5. It's important to taste at this point, you might want to add more of something to your liking.
  6. Now you can either refrigerate the mixture overnight in the bowl covered with plastic wrap, or on plastic wrap shape the mixture into the barrel shaped pineapple, covered completely with plastic wrap and refrigerate that overnight.
  7. When ready to serve place cream cheese mixture onto your serving platter, remember the crown is going to be placed on top so make sure you allow for that on your platter when positioning the cream cheese.
  8. Place the pecan halves from top to bottom or bottom to top covering the sides as best you can, overlapping the pecans to cover most of the cheese mixture.
  9. Position the crown in place and scatter all your dipping veggies, crackers and chips all around.

 

 

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Italian Specialty Sausage and Beans

Italian sausage and beans

Here’s a quick mid week meal that comes together really fast, it has just a few ingredients, uses only one pot, and you don’t even have to turn on your oven.

What makes this recipe stand out a little more than the traditional sausage and beans was the fact that this time I used a specialty sausage, you know the ones behind the case that the butchers stuff with unique combinations.Italian sausage and beans

The base was a standard pork Italian sausage that was stuffed and filled with hot giardiniera and provolone cheese, don’t get me wrong you can certainly use your favorite Italian sausage, with or without a specialty filling, but why not change it up a bit and try something a little different, there are so many different varieties of sausages.

 

You’ll use canned beans in this dish which is the reason the cooking process is so speedy and of course the beans of choice are cannellini. garlic and tomatoes

Browning the sausage is your first step, that process will leave you with nice brown bits that will form at the bottom of the pan, perfect to saute the garlic and tomatoes in and eventually creating a delicious sauce. Italian sausage and beans

Canned beans go into the pot along with the browned sausage, then all you have to do is let all the flavors simmer and meld together.Italian sausage and beans

Finish it off with some fresh torn basil and a side of crusty bread and this meal is complete!

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Italian Specialty Sausage and Beans
 
This recipe was inspired by an episode I watched on Extra Virgin
Author:
Ingredients
  • 4-6 Italian sausage links, either traditional or to try something different using the specialty, gourmet kind that the butcher stuffs with various combinations of ingredients.
  • 1 lb. of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 2 15 oz. cans of cannellini beans that have been drained and rinsed
  • 4 large garlic cloves, shaved
  • basil leaves
  • olive oil
Instructions
  1. Heat a heavy bottom high sided saute pan, cast iron pan or a smaller size dutch oven, drizzle the bottom with olive oil.
  2. Place the sausage links into the hot pan and brown both sides, then remove and set aside.
  3. Add the shaved garlic, moving it around until it's nice and golden.
  4. Toss in the sliced cherry tomatoes along with the shaved garlic, toss to coat the tomatoes.
  5. Now add the drained beans to the pot, stirring to make sure they get coated with the garlic and tomatoes.
  6. Drizzle some olive oil on top, a little salt and pepper.
  7. Add back the sausage and nestle them into the pot.
  8. Throw some torn basil leaves in.
  9. Simmer with a lid on until the sausage is all cooked through and the tomatoes break down and thicken.
  10. Add fresh torn basil leaves for garnish and added flavor.
  11. Enjoy with some crusty bread!

 

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Baked Eggs Florentine with Pecorino Crema

eggs florentine

Eggs Florentine is the perfect weekend breakfast or brunch, it’s elegant, so delicious, simple to make with just a few ingredients. If you do a search you’ll find many different variations of this dish, I even put a little Italian spin on mine.

One thing that’s certain about Eggs Florentine is that spinach is the star ingredient, in fact the term Florentine will always indicate that the dish uses spinach.spinach and creama

I had a one pound bag of baby spinach and a container of spreadable Crema di Pecorino Romano that a friend gave me to try, she was curious about it and thought I’d like to try it, which I did.

 

I’ve actually seen it before at my Italian market in the cheese department but never picked one up. It has the consistency of a softened cream cheese flavored with Pecorino Romano.eggs florentine

Since Eggs Florentine generally has a cream sauce that’s mixed in with the spinach, I thought this crema would be perfect, but you could also achieve the same flavors and texture by reducing some cream and adding grated Pecorino, or parmesan cheese for that matter, either would work well.eggs florentine

The eggs lay on a base of homemade marinara which is already flavored with garlic, onions and herbs, you can also substitute a good store bought brand just as long as it’s flavored nicely, so because of that you really don’t have to do anything to flavor the spinach other than wilting it down with a knob of butter and then tossing it into the creamy Pecorino to get it nicely coated.

eggs florentine

I like to use a rectangle baking dish when making this because you’ll be able to cut out a perfect square portion per person.
eggs florentineeggs florentineeggs florentine

Add a little crusty bread on the side if you like and you’re good to go. Make this for breakfast or brunch on your next slow weekend, you’ll love every bite!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Baked Eggs Florentine with Pecorino Crema
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. bag of baby spinach
  • butter
  • 5 oz. container of Crema di Pecorino, warmed and melted down with a splash of cream to loosen it, or make your own by reducing some heavy cream or half and half with a couple tablespoons of grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese until it thickens up, ending up with 5 ounces.
  • Marinara, homemade or store bought, flavored with garlic and herbs, just enough to coat the bottom of the baking dish.
  • 6 large eggs
Instructions
  1. I used a 8x11 rectangle baking dish which perfectly fit 6 eggs and all of the spinach that was wilted down.
  2. Spoon marinara onto the bottom of the baking dish.
  3. Start wilting down your spinach, I did it in 3 batches for that amount, placing a knob of butter in a large skillet and tossing it until it wilts, which only takes a few minutes, then set aside.
  4. Drain the spinach in a fine strainer if alot of moisture forms.
  5. Create your cheese sauce either way then toss your wilted spinach into it, saving a little of the sauce to spoon on top when finished.
  6. Spread the creamed spinach on top of the marinara in the baking dish, making 6 indentions for the eggs.
  7. Crack each egg one by one into a separate bowl and let it fall into each spinach indention.
  8. Season with pepper, no need to add salt because the Pecorino is salty enough.
  9. Bake in a 350F oven at least 20 minutes or more or until the white of the egg firms up and is not jiggly.
  10. Remove and let it rest for 5 minutes before cutting it, if you have some leftover crema, you can spoon some on top of each portion.
  11. Enjoy!

 

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Citrus Fruit Ideas to Brighten the Winter Blues

citrus caprese

It’s the beginning of a new year and as I look forward to spring I must admit one of the things I do like about winter is all the beautiful citrus that is available. Maybe it’s the way it makes you feel after over indulging during the holidays, it’s fresh, bright and very healthy for you, and who doesn’t need a good dose of vitamin C during these cold winter days.citrus

Every time I go food shopping I fill my cart with orange citrus, my three favorite varieties are navel, Cara Cara and blood oranges, each have a unique and special flavor on their own and I love to mingle them together.citrus caprese

While I patiently wait for my summer tomato caprese salad, this winter caprese has become my cold weather favorite.

You don’t need a recipe, just layer your favorite sliced oranges with fresh mozzarella, just like you would a tomato caprese. Lay it all on a bed of arugula with an optional sliced red onion ring in between.

 

The dressing is simply fresh squeezed orange citrus juice that is whisked with good olive oil, ( you could add a little white balsamic or champagne vinegar to the mix if you wish) the bitterness of the arugula against the sweetness of the orange and the creaminess of the fresh mozzarella is the perfect combination, especially when the dressing mingles all over it.citrus slicescitrus and fennelcitrus salad

I’ve been making a few other citrus salads as well, one has sliced oranges with fennel, red onion, creamy avocado, a little bit of arugula and toasted hazelnuts.

 

The other one is a huge bunch of arugula, orange slices and toasted hazelnuts, I love the bitter with the sweet. Both are simple to put together and they compliment any protein you might be eating, I especially love it with fish and seafood.citrus with crab cakes

On New Years Day I made this salad along with crab cakes, they complimented each other perfectly with the richness of the crab and the brightness of the citrus.citrus salsa

Citrus in the form of salsa is outrageously good, make it like you would any other salsa only with various varieties of orange segments, chopped jalapeno, cilantro or parsley, red onion and a drizzle of olive oil.

citrus salsa

The salsa’s are wonderful to top off scallops, shrimp, salmon, whitefish, basically any fish, plus it’s light and healthy something we all need after the holidays.citrus with cod

Here’s a one pan meal that is so delicious and it will surely brighten a cold winter day, my baked cod with blood orange, fennel and olives.
citrus with cod

Citrus fruits are not only refreshing they actually make you feel better, there must be a reason why these sunny fruits are available during the darkest time of the year. How many more days til spring?

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Italian Seafood Salad

seafood salad

Seafood salad is traditionally served on Christmas Eve, actually as far back as I can remember this salad was always the first course to a massive Christmas Eve spread, it wasn’t often that we had lobster as kids so this salad was extra special to us and one we looked forward to having. Those flavors and memories have stayed with me my whole life and I love continuing the tradition in my own family.

 

But I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to wait until Christmas Eve to make this amazing salad, actually any special occasion will do, it’s perfect for entertaining as well as having it for a delicious light meal on a hot summer day. Just pick and choose your favorite seafood and put it together,  it’s easier than you think!assorted seafood

For my salad this year I chose bay scallops, calamari, lobster, and two different types of shrimp which have distinctly different tastes. Many Italian families add octopus, baccala, (salt cod) mussels, clams and scungilli or conch, but this is my favorite mix and one that all my guests love, but again you can make it your own with your favorites.

 

To save time I always get cleaned calamari and peeled and deveined shrimp it makes the process go quick and easy and a little more enjoyable.poached seafood

You’re going to poach all the seafood one at a time in an infused poaching liquid and it’s not going to take very long, just a minute or two. I like to use a spider strainer so I can remove the seafood really fast then directly stick it into an ice bath to stop the cooking process, when cooled down place the seafood on paper towels to soak up the excess water.seafood salad

The simple bright and fresh lemon and olive oil dressing is what brings all the components together harmoniously.seafood salad

When tossed together you want those flavors to marinate for at least a few hours but even better overnight, just pull it from the fridge and let it warm up a bit before serving.

This salad will become your go to special occasion salad and your guests will go crazy over it. This will grace my table this Christmas Eve and throughout the year.

Wishing all my Dear Readers a Very Merry Christmas and a Very Happy Holiday!

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Italian Seafood Salad
 
You can choose any seafood combination you wish, the amounts really don't matter, just adjust the veggies and dressing to accommodate
Author:
Ingredients
  • This is my seafood combination which made a big platter full.
  • 1 lb. bay scallops
  • 1 lb. shrimp, some whole, some sliced horizontally for a nice presentation, make sure tails are pulled off
  • 1 lb. calamari with tubes and tentacles, tubes sliced into ½ in, strips
  • 2 small lobster tails, removed from the shell
  • 2 fennel bulbs sliced thin
  • ½ large red onion, diced small
  • 3 whole celery stalks with leaves, chopped in small slices
  • a big handful of pimento stuffed green olives, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • lemon slices from one lemon
  • lemon juice
  • olive oil
  • chopped parsley
  • crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • POACHING LIQUID
  • water in a medium stock pot, a good splash of white wine, 2 bay leaves, 1 of the 4 cloves of crushed garlic, salt, pepper and 3 lemon slices.
Instructions
  1. Prepare poaching liquid, get it to a boil then place seafood in one at a time. Bay scallops about 2 minutes, taste one to make sure, calamari, one or two minutes, shrimp until they turn pink and the lobster three to five minutes depending on the size, it will turn pink and curl up.
  2. Use a spider strainer to take them out of the liquid then place directly into an ice bath to stop the cooking process, you want all your seafood to be tender and not overcooked.
  3. Drain onto a paper towel lined baking sheet.
  4. When seafood is all cooked, chop up all your veggies and place into a big bowl, along with the olives.
  5. Add the prepared seafood into the large bowl.
  6. Add the three remaining garlic cloves and toss gently.
  7. MIX UP YOUR DRESSING;
  8. Half lemon juice to half olive oil with a squeeze of dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Whisk it up until it's nicely incorporated.
  10. Drizzle over your salad coating all the seafood and tossing so the garlic and veggies get incorporated.
  11. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, taste for seasoning.
  12. Spoon it into a pretty platter, add some lemon slices, more parsley and a drizzle of olive oil all over.
  13. Cover and let it sit in fridge for at least a few hours or overnight, let it warm up a bit before serving, but don't serve at room temp it needs to be cold.

 

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Make Ahead Manicotti with Tips and Tricks

manicotti

Manicotti is a great dish to make and prep the day before you’re having a party, all the work and mess will be finished and cleaned up and you’ll be left with your perfect pan of piped manicotti ready to be popped into the oven the next day.

Many Italian families make their homemade manicotti crepes-style, but in my family we always used the dry manicotti pasta tubes that come in a box, it’s what I grew up on and what my family prefers, so in this post I share with you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years in making them.manicotti

Many issues can come up in making the pasta-style manicotti, issues like over cooking, tearing pasta, collapsed tubes which are difficult to stuff and the actual process of stuffing them which can become a big mess, but if you follow my tips you should have no problem at all!

 

I have a box of Wilton, twelve inch disposable decorating bags, I use them every time I need to stuff pasta neatly, I use them whenever I make homemade ravioli for all my fillings plus it makes the process go much faster and cleaner.

 

No tip is needed for the bags, you’re just going to snip a little off  the end so the filling can flow through smoothly. Test it out by holding the manicotti tube on a slight angle making sure it flows in nicely, if it doesn’t snip a little more off the end.

To fill the bag easily without the cheese mixture falling out all over the place, I always place the bag into a tall glass which will give you stability when filling it, as noted in the picture above. Fill it 3/4 of the way with a spoon and then grab the bag and squeeze from the top so the filling can fall down to the shaft of the bag where you cut it. The glass also acts as a holder for you and everything stays nice and neat during the whole process.manicotti

You can stuff these tubes with just about anything, but I prefer the creamy cheese manicotti with an addition of either spinach, parsley or basil. By prepping ahead of time with your sauce and cheese mixture it’s really then all about the assembly.manicotti

When making a large amount of manicotti for a party I only boil up one box at a time, then I scoop them out with a spider and quickly rinse with cold water, drain them onto a paper towel lined baking sheet and gently pat dry, then believe it or not I like to place the partially cooked pasta back into those individual slots they lay in from the box, this way it gives you more control and will insure them not sticking together while you’re preparing to stuff them. I do the same procedure if using only one box as well.

By scooping them out you’ll still have your hot pot of boiling water going for your next batch. Depending on how much your making you might loose some of the water but just add to it if needed and let it reboil again.

A very important tip is to cook them only for 5 minutes, I repeat, 5 minutes! Then scoop them out and rinse them under cold water.  I don’t care if the box says cook for 8 minutes or 11 minutes I’m telling you just 5! Besides, they’ll  spend more time baking under foil in the oven so when finished they’ll have the perfect bite.

Oh, and never ever pour them out into a strainer because they’ll stick together and break for sure.

manicotti

It’s holiday time and baked manicotti is a delicious pasta course to have for your next party or get together. A beautiful individual portion that stands up well by itself or next to anything else you might be serving on the plate, besides there’s always room for pasta!

5.0 from 5 reviews
Make Ahead Manicotti with Tips and Tricks
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 box of manicotti pasta tubes, 8 oz.
  • 2 quarts prepared marinara, preferably homemade or a good quality store bought
  • 4 cups ricotta, drained of any liquid
  • ½ cup or so grated romano cheese plus extra for garnish
  • 1½ cups of shredded blend of 4 cheeses, Quattro Formaggio ( Trader Joes) or something similar or all mozzarella if you can't find it.
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ½ cup of chopped frozen spinach, (completely drained of liquid) or fresh chopped parley or basil plus
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ( 12 inch disposable decorator bags) a must
  • Everything can be doubled or tripled for a large crowd
Instructions
  1. Cook manicotti shells in boiling salted water with a teaspoon of olive oil for 5 minutes only, no matter what the back of the box tells you.
  2. After 5 minutes scoop out pasta with a spider then run them quickly under cold water to cool down.
  3. Spread them onto a paper towel lined baking sheet, let them drain a little and gently pat them dry with a paper towel, then lay each tube into the individual slotted holder that they came packaged in the box.
  4. In a large bowl combine the ricotta, romano, shredded cheeses and spinach or herbs, basically everything except the egg yolks, use a hand mixer to get it nice and smooth.
  5. Taste it for enough cheese, salt and pepper, when you are satisfied with the taste add the 2 egg yolks and incorporate it with the hand mixer.
  6. Place a disposable decorator bag into a tall glass for stability ( no tip required) then spoon some of the ricotta mixture into it, filling it three quarters of the way up. Snip off the bottom enough so that the filling squeezes through with ease into the pasta hole.
  7. Spread enough marinara to cover the bottom of your baking dish.
  8. Pick up one pasta tube and tip it on an angle and with your decorator bag start piping the ricotta mix in as far as it goes, if it doesn't reach the other end just flip to that side and fill it up.
  9. Lay it down on top of the marinara sauce and repeat until all are filled.
  10. When all the manicotti are filled spoon more marinara on top with some grated cheese.
  11. Cover with foil.
  12. At this point you can refrigerate the whole pan and the next day take it out a good hour or so before baking to get it close to room temperature.
  13. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees, keep pan covered with foil and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until heated through because ovens do vary.
  14. Remove from the oven, take off the foil and let it set for 5 minutes, spoon some warm sauce on top and garnish with more grated cheese.
  15. Ready to serve!

 

 

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My Favorite Italian Christmas Desserts

christmas cookies

What would the holidays be without our favorite sweet treats? They’re treasured family traditions with special memories attached in every bite. We all have our favorite cookies and Christmas desserts that we fondly remember having during holidays of past, so I’m sharing a few of mine because it just wouldn’t be Christmas time without them.

Through out the years I created some of my own Christmas dessert traditions and ones that I intend to keep making each year, plus I’m always on the look out for something new, so stay tuned!

pandoro christmas cake

Italian Christmas Tree Cake with Lemon Curd and Limoncello

Pandoro Christmas Tree Cake with Amaretto and Mascarpone Whipped Cream

 

puff christmas cookies

 

Puff Cookies

fig biscotti

 

Fig and Pistachio Biscotti
rosette cookies

Rosette Christmas Cookies

anginetti cookies

Anginetti, Italian Lemon Knot Cookies

anise biscotti

Anise Biscotti

fig cookies

Cucidati, Sicilian Fig Cookies

pizzelle cookies

Pizzelle

cappucino biscotti

Cappuccino Biscotti

Happy baking everyone!

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Shrimp Pasta with Spinach and Sundried Tomato Cream

shrimp pasta

Here’s a quick meal for this busy time of year, it’s my shrimp pasta with spinach and sundried tomato cream. It comes together in no time at all and it’s something you can easily make on a busy mid week day. It has just a handful of ingredients but when mingled together create a scrumptious combination. pasta and shrimp

I chose a store bought, fresh made pasta that I bought from my local Italian market, I used two different kinds that were actually flavored with spinach and tomato and combined them both just to fancy it up a bit, but honestly any dried fettuccine style pasta would do.

Also whether you use frozen or fresh shrimp it’s very important to pat it dry, you don’t want any water clinging on to the shrimp, otherwise your sauce will become watery. I like to layer my shrimp between paper towels just to make sure all the moisture is out.cooking pasta

Fresh pasta cooks up in just a couple of minutes, over cooking it will make it gummy and soft and you don’t want that, so a quick plunge into boiling water keeping it nice and al dente.

shrimp pasta

The sauce and all the ingredients are tossed into one pan and finished in the time it takes to cook the shrimp, which is just a few minutes.shrimp pasta

There’s no exact recipe for this but I’ll give you the general amounts that I used. I like to have more shrimp to pasta ratio it keeps the dish a little lighter.

It’s fresh, easy to prepare and tastes amazing, a nice change after all the turkey and trimmings we just had!

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5.0 from 2 reviews
Shrimp Pasta with Spinach and Sundried Tomato Cream
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. shrimp, cleaned, deveined with tails removed, patted completely dry
  • fresh or dried pasta, fettuccine style ( I used less than ½ pound)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • ½ cup sundried tomatoes packed in their flavored oil
  • a big handful of fresh baby spinach
  • ½ to ¾ cup of heavy cream
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • fresh chopped parsley
  • olive oil
Instructions
  1. Get your salted water boiling for the pasta.
  2. In a skillet drizzled with olive oil add the garlic and red pepper flakes until slightly golden and fragrant.
  3. Add in the shrimp.
  4. When shrimp is finished cooking drop your pasta and cook very al dente if fresh, if using dried pasta follow time on box for al dente time.
  5. Into the skillet toss in the sundried tomatoes with oil, (the oil will flavor it nice) and heavy cream, it should thicken quickly.
  6. Toss in your spinach at this time.
  7. When pasta is cooked, drain and toss it into the skillet with all the ingredients, tossing and coating the pasta with the creamy sauce.
  8. Garnish with parsley.
  9. NOTE:
  10. You can use ½ lb of shrimp with less pasta, more sundried tomatoes, more cream if you want it creamier, more spinach. Don't get hung up on the amounts, you can't go wrong.

 

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Make Ahead Stress Free Thanksgiving Turkey Gravy

make ahead turkey gravy

Does the thought of making turkey gravy at the last minute stress you out while your guests are eagerly awaiting to eat? Years ago that was the part of Thanksgiving dinner that really stressed me out, gathering up all the drippings, maneuvering big pans, trying to skim off the fat of the drippings so it looked presentable in the gravy bowl.

Well have no fear, this is the solution, make ahead turkey gravy. You can make it days before and on Thanksgiving day just heat it up, no more fussing with the drippings trying to make a nice non lumpy, fat free gravy.turkey

Here’s how you do it!

Buy some turkey parts, they should be readily available around this time of year, a package of turkey wings or turkey legs, you don’t need much.

Here I used a combination of two wings and two drumsticks and placed them into a baking dish with aromatics, as shown above. Add in some herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and a little broth on the bottom, just a little.roasted turkey

Roast the turkey parts in the oven uncovered for around 1- 1 1/2 hours or until nicely golden brown, the house will start smelling good.turkey broth

Then take every bit of the turkey, the bones, the veggies, herbs and all the bits on the bottom of the pan that you scraped up and put them into a stock pot with enough broth to cover. I used turkey stock but chicken would be fine as well.

Simmer slowly for a couple of hours, you’ll see the turkey fall off the bones and the veggies super soft, then let it cool down.

Get yourself a nice mesh strainer, place it over a large bowl and ladle all that goodness into the strainer, turkey, veggies and all. Let all the juices drip through the strainer, helping the process by smashing down with the back of a spoon, you’ll  be surprised how much juice comes out of the vegetables and turkey.turkey drippings

Place your throughly strained drippings and broth into containers, then refrigerate it overnight.

By refrigerating it overnight you’ll be able to skim off all that fat that rises to the top ensuring a rich and fatty free velvety gravy.turkey gravy

 

Then it’s time to actually make the gravy that you’ll be serving to your guests and adorning your turkey, stuffing and potatoes with. Once you whisk it all up and it’s completely finished, cool it down and place into containers.

If it’s just a few days before Thanksgiving, refrigerate it, if a week or more before you can freeze it, taking it out the day before Thanksgiving to defrost, remember now your delicious turkey gravy is completely finished.turkey gravy

Then the best part is while your turkey is resting or being sliced you’ll have your beautiful gravy finished to perfection warming up on the stove!turkey gravy

No lumps, not fat rising to the top, no stress, just rich and wonderful turkey gravy, plenty for that day and for leftovers.turkey gravy

And lets face it there can never be enough gravy!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Make Ahead Stress Free Thanksgiving Turkey Gravy
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • turkey parts, wings, legs or a combo of both
  • aromatics, garlic, carrot, onion, celery, sage, thyme
  • 3 boxes of turkey stock or chicken, low sodium
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • FOR THE GRAVY:
  • one half cup plus probably a couple more tablespoons ( see instructions) of Wondra brand, quick mixing flour if you can find it, if not, regular all purpose flour would be fine also
  • 1 stick butter, unsalted
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons of Gravy Master it's should be found in the spice aisle. (it's optional really, you don't need it but I grew up with this, it gives the gravy a richer deeper color)
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 375.F place turkey parts int a baking dish, not too deep, salt and pepper the parts and add aromatics like garlic, celery, onion and herbs.
  2. Drizzle with olive oil and pour a little broth in the bottom of the pan.
  3. Roast for maybe 1- 1½ hours or until nicely golden brown.
  4. Transfer everything into a stock pot, all the veggies, turkey and every bit of those drippings.
  5. Add enough stock to cover the parts, I added 2 boxes of turkey stock, but you can also use a mix with water or chicken stock. Don't drown it just cover it, add in some salt and pepper.
  6. Let it simmer slowly for around two hours partially covered, you'll see the meat fall off all the bones and the veggies will be super soft and fall apart.
  7. Let it cool down a bit then take a mesh strainer over a large bowl and throughly strain all the turkey and veggie contents, pressing down with the back of a spoon to help get all those tasty drippings into the bowl, take your time and let it all drip down.
  8. Pick on, feed to a dog or discard those solids that are left.
  9. Place strained broth/drippings into containers and refrigerate overnight so the fat can rise to the top.
  10. MAKING THE GRAVY;
  11. Skim the fat off the top of your broth before starting to make your gravy.
  12. You'll need two saucepans, one to warm up your broth so it's not ice cold then a separate one you place the stick of butter into to melt.
  13. When butter is melted whisk in ½ cup of flour, and keep whisking until it's nice and golden about a minute or two, then pour the warm broth in and keep whisking until its thickened to your liking. I ended up putting 2 additional heaping tablespoons of flour into mine. In a separate small bowl I placed the additional flour and enough water to make a non lumpy consistency then poured and whisked it into my gravy mixture to make it thicker which I needed.
  14. Taste for additional salt and peeper if needed.
  15. At this point you can refrigerate the gravy into a container in the fridge a few days before Thanksgiving or just freeze it and take it out to defrost the day before Thanksgiving, either way just heat up and serve while the turkey is resting and being sliced. The fuss and mess will be done ahead of time for you and you'll will be stress free at the crucial time before eating on the big day.
  16. NOTE;
  17. I ended up with 2 full quarts of gravy, which is more than enough and don't forget you could still save the drippings in the pan on Thanksgiving Day and make additional the next day or add to what you have left.
  18. Refer to my post for pictures, how many turkey parts I used and the amount of broth to achieve this.

 

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Foolproof Grilled Turkey Breast with Butter and Herbs

grilled turkey breasts

Years ago we started adding a whole grilled turkey breast along with a whole roasted turkey on Thanksgiving. I have a nice size group with my brother and sister in law, their family and ours, but as time went on we started to realize everyone likes to eat only the white meat. When it came to leftovers for everyone to take home there would hardly be any white meat left, and no one wanted the dark.

So now we have it down to a science, three whole turkey breasts on the grill. For our family it works, the flavor is amazing, everyone loves it and there are plenty of leftovers for everyone, who by the way, always enter my home with to-go containers. Another big bonus to grilling turkey breast is that my oven is freed up for all the delicious sides.

Now this concept might not work for every family. I’ll be the first to admit that a traditional whole roasted turkey looks beautiful when pulled from the oven on Thanksgiving day and I know there are many dark meat lovers out there who look forward to it, but you might want to consider making an extra turkey breast just for leftovers to pass out.

Grilling a whole turkey breast is also great for a smaller group or if you just have a taste for turkey on the grill though out the year. It’s slathered with a garlic herbed butter, it’s so moist and juicy, never drys out and the grilled flavor takes it over the top, what’s not to like?

 

butter and herbs

Just like the song my herbs of choice are parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme and of course butter and garlic.foil pans

I buy the deep foil pans like the one on the right, the one on the left is too shallow, and I like to double them for extra stability.turkey breasts

I mix a compound butter with the herbs and garlic but then I like to half melt the already room temperature butter so it’s really soft and I can easily brush it over and under the skin.

grilled turkey breasts

The breasts get propped up in the pan by a ball of heavy duty tin foil that I form and position it underneath the cavity, otherwise the breast will not be stable and fall over. They don’t take long to cook at all, I think max is an hour and fifteen minutes for a six to seven pound breast and you can rest it for an hour tented with foil when its off the grill and it will still be hot.electric knife slice

We love, love, love to use an electric knife, it cuts the turkey like butter. Walk into any thrift store and you’ll find a bunch of them, they were very popular back in the day, not much any more but we use ours every Thanksgiving.sliced turkey breast

This is pure deliciousness and it looks pretty fanned out on your platter!Grilled turkey breast

If you’re wondering about gravy, well I make it a week ahead of time with some turkey wings that I pick up and roast, there are many recipes you can find on the web for make ahead gravy. I love making the gravy ahead of time, no stress, worrying and rushing around to make gravy at the last minute, just heat up and go. There will be drippings in the foil pan which I save or add to my already made gravy or to make more the next day.Thanksgiving

The food most definitely plays a staring role on Thanksgiving Day, but family is really what it’s all about!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Foolproof Grilled Turkey Breast with Butter and Herbs
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 6-7 lb whole bone in, cavity attached, skin on turkey breast
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 2 very finely chopped and smashed garlic cloves
  • a handful of fresh parsley and sage, chopped
  • a smaller handful of fresh rosemary and thyme, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • boxed low sodium turkey or chicken stock, so pan does not dry out on grill
  • 2 DEEP sided foil pans ( I like to double them for more strength) not the low half size lasagna pans.
Instructions
  1. BUTTER AND HERB MIXTURE
  2. In a bowl add the softened butter, garlic, all the herbs, salt and pepper, mix well together adding more herbs if you so desire.
  3. PREPARING THE TURKEY BREAST
  4. Take out turkey breast from fridge, wash and pat very dry, let it sit out for an hour before prepping it so it's not ice cold.
  5. Salt and pepper the whole bird, gently loosening the skin by sliding your fingers until you reach the end of the breast, be very careful not to tear the skin.
  6. Take some heavy duty foil and scrunch it into a ball and position it in the cavity of the turkey to give it stability in the pan so it doesn't fall over, this will keep it straight and upright.
  7. Slightly melt your butter mixture and brush it all over and under the breast lifting up the skin where you loosened it and slathering it all over.
  8. For a gas grill we keep the temperature heated to around 350 F. consistently, so that will require some constant checking to make sure it's in the zone more or less as close as you can.
  9. Place the doubled pan onto the grill no cover required because you'll be shutting the lid of the grill.
  10. Pour some chicken or turkey stock right into the bottom of the pan about ¼ inch deep, which you'll be checking every 20 minutes so as to not dry out, you want to maintain that ¼ inch dept.
  11. All burners are on because the turkey breast is in a pan and not directly touching the grill.
  12. The turkey is done when it reaches 165 F. in the thickest part of the breast meat using a meat thermometer.
  13. Start checking after 50 minutes depending on size of turkey and your outdoor grill.
  14. When it done remove from grill, tent with foil and let it rest at least ½ hour more more like an hour for easy and smooth slicing.
  15. If you can get yourself an electric knife it's life changing!
  16. Don't forget to have your make ahead gravy ready and warmed.
  17. Save the drippings from the pan for extra gravy the next day or to make soup from the carcass.
  18. I used a gas grill here but same method would work for charcoal grill as well.

 

Signature

Brussels Sprouts, Italian Sausage and Balsamic Glaze

brussels sprouts and sausage

If brussels sprouts always seem to make an appearance on your holiday table then you’re in for a real treat with this delicious combination. Roasted brussels sprouts tossed together with the flavors of sweet Italian sausage flecked with fennel and spices and adorned with a rich, aged balsamic glaze.

This creation came to me last year by way of a friend and fellow blogger Lori, at Taste With The Eyes and I’ve been making it ever since. I served it for my family last Thanksgiving and I have to say not only does it taste amazing, it makes a gorgeous presentation on the table.brussels sprouts and sausage

Those of you who are on the fence about brussels sprouts I urge you to give this a try, the combination of the Italian sausage and the sweet balsamic glaze helps to cut the slight bitterness of the brussels sprouts, and roasting them heightens the flavor.

brussels sprouts and sausage

The holidays are upon us with Thanksgiving right around the corner so get out your prettiest platter out and grace your table with this amazing side dish!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Brussels Sprouts, Italian Sausage and Balsamic Glaze
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • Brussels sprouts, normal to small size
  • Italian sausage, sweet with fennel
  • Good quality balsamic glaze in a squeeze bottle for easy decorating
  • parsley
  • olive oil
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Slice your sprouts in half lengthwise
  3. Toss sprouts with a good drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper
  4. Place onto a rimmed baking sheet cut side down and roast until tender and golden but not overcooked or too deep of a caramelization.
  5. In the meantime remove sausage from casing, place into a skillet on the stove and crumble it into bite size pieces.
  6. Cook sausage until completely done, remove and drain on paper towel.
  7. Toss the roasted sprouts with the cooked sausage, add some chopped parsley and place it all on a beautiful platter preferably with a rim so you can decorate it with the glaze.
  8. When your ready to serve and eat it drizzle some balsamic glaze all over the sprouts and sausage ( go light it's very potent, taste to see if it's to your liking) then decorate the rim of the platter with more of the glaze.
  9. NOTE:
  10. You can make this ahead of time and heat it up, everything EXCEPT the glaze, do that the last minute.
  11. Don't get too hung up about amounts just put it together, it all works!

 

Signature

Butternut Squash Risotto with Crispy Sage

butternut squash risotto

There’s nothing more satisfying than a piping hot pot of creamy risotto, the variations and combinations of fresh seasonal vegetables and spices you can use are endless. I’ve posted many different risotto’s throughout the different seasons on this blog but my absolute favorite this time of year is, butternut squash risotto.

Roasted butternut squash gets folded into a creamy rice base flavored with parmesan, white wine, a hint of sage, onion and broth, then topped with crispy browned butter sage leaves, it is heavenly!

This dish could be the star of the show or play a supporting role as a side dish, below I’ll show you how I paired it with roasted shrimp, another wonderful variation.butternut squash

I like to cut up my own squash, I usually buy a large one, dice it up and roast the whole thing and you can do this days ahead of time.  Of course you won’t need that much for the risotto you’ll have extra but that’s a good thing, you can toss it into salads, soups, pasta, stews and omelettes, you get the picture it will never go to waste.making risotto

Using quality ingredients are the key to a good risotto, a short grain Italian rice called arborio, some good white wine that you would drink yourself, and an absolute must is freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.making risotto

Have everything prepped and ready to go including a good heavy bottomed pot and of course a wooden spoon.butternut squash risotto

Before you begin you want to make sure the broth that you’re using is nice and warm and continually simmering on your stove, you never want to add cold broth to your risotto, that’s a no no!butternut squash risotto

There’s a hint of sage within the risotto, but then you top it off with crispy sage that’s been frizzled in brown butter, it gets broken up when scooping from the pot adding more delicious flavor through out.risotto with shrimp

If you want to serve a really spectacular dish, one that will impress your guests beyond and truly rival any restaurant meal, add some roasted shrimp on top, oh my!risotto with shrimp

Don’t let the whole process of making risotto intimidate you, it’s a cinch once you get the hang of it and it’s definitely worth it in the end!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Butternut Squash Risotto with Crispy Sage
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled, trimmed, cut into ½ inch dice and roasted, you will need about 2 cups for this recipe, save extra for other dishes
  • 1½ cups of short grain, Italian arborio rice
  • 1 quart box organic chicken stock or veggie if you prefer, low salt or homemade if you have it
  • heaping cup or more to of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • ½ cup good white wine
  • ½ large onion, small dice
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped sage plus extra leaves to crisp up in the end
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. PREPARING THE SQUASH
  2. Prepare your squash a day or two ahead of time. Cut off the tip and bottom. Peel the skin with a vegetable peeler then cut the squash in half crosswise where the neck meets the fatter part. Stand it up and make slices about ½ inch thick, stack the slices and continue to dice into ½ dice.
  3. Place cut squash onto a rimmed baking sheet drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper roast in a 425 degree oven, tossing gently until tender and golden and the moisture is out, it doesn't take too long, maybe 15 minutes or so, keep checking.
  4. If doing ahead of time let the squash cool down and place it into a container and refrigerate it. When ready to use just pull it out and get it to room temperature.
  5. MAKING THE RISOTTO
  6. Open your stock, place it into a saucepan and have it simmering on the stove.
  7. In a heavy bottomed pot on medium heat add 1 tablespoon of butter and a quick drizzle of olive oil.
  8. Add your diced onion and cook until soft.
  9. Add in the rice and stir with a wooden spoon, making sure to get it heated through and covered with the butter and olive oil.
  10. Deglaze with the white wine, letting it bubble and cook down until you're starting to see no moisture.
  11. Add in one ladle full of the simmered broth stirring until the liquid is absorbed, then repeat with another ladle full.
  12. Continue with the adding of broth and stirring constantly, you'll start to see the grain releasing their starch which creates the creaminess for the ultimate risotto.
  13. The rice should be slightly al'dente and not over cooked, so towards the end you'll have to taste as you go.
  14. When desired creaminess is attained remove from heat, stir in the chopped fresh sage and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano,taste for salt and pepper then gently fold in your butternut squash.
  15. in a small skillet add a ½ stick of butter, let it start to brown then throw in a handful of fresh sage leaves and let them frizzle and crisp up.
  16. Garnish your risotto with the crispy sage leaves and spoon a little of that brown butter sauce all around the top.
  17. Enjoy!

 

Signature

Italian Sausage Roasted Together with Grapes

sausage with grapes

If you haven’t tried the combination of Italian sausage with roasted with grapes yet, I’m quite certain that the minute you do this combo it will win you over. The grapes break down in the roasting process, releasing their sweet juice and mingles together with the sausage flavors of spice, fennel, bit of olive oil and thyme.

When grapes are roasted they take on a whole different taste and texture, sweet goodness in every little bite.

sausage and grapes

I like to keep my sausage formed into a ring, it’s held in place by sticking one skewer in on one side until it pokes out on the other side, making sure to go all the way through each layer, this will keep it together as it cooks. I think a ring of sausage, or rope as it’s sometimes called adds to a pretty presentation, but you can certainly make this using links of sausage as well.

Which brings me to another point, make sure you only buy good quality Italian sausage, I get mine from an Italian market that I know and frequent often, it’s spiced perfectly with fennel seed being a very dominant flavor, my favorite. For this recipe you can use either spicy or mild sausage, which ever is your preference.

 

My grapes of choice are the red seedless kind ( you definitely want seedless) but you can also do a combination of both red and green, just carefully pick them off the stems, rinse and dry completely then you’re good to go!broccoli rabe

I love to serve this meal with sautéed broccoli rabe, the bitterness of the rabe with the sweetness of the grapes and the spice of the sausage is a win, win. For something a little more substantial, on a cold winters night a side of creamy polenta or mashed potatoes would be heavenly!

Incredibly easy to make, no chopping required, it’s a one pan wonder with a pretty presentation and the most important thing is, it tastes amazing.

Give it a try!

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5.0 from 2 reviews
Italian Sausage with Grapes
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, sweet or hot, good quality with fennel spice kept in a ring or rope style
  • red seedless grapes, 2 to 3 cups, stems removed, rinsed, dried and left whole
  • sprigs of thyme
  • olive oil
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Skewer your rope of sausage together using 1 skewer through one end and out the other so it stays held together while cooking.
  3. Heat a 10 or 12 inch oven proof skillet, medium high, drizzled with a tiny bit of olive oil on the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add sausage ring and don't move it until it forms a nice deep golden color, then flip it over carefully and continue cooking for 1 minute.
  5. Remove from heat and sprinkle grapes around, be careful not to crowd them in because as they cook they release their juice and if you have too many it becomes too liquidy and all will not caramelize like it should. I would say a good rule of thumb is to leave some space between the placing of your grapes.
  6. Drizzle with olive oil and scatter some fresh thyme leaves around.
  7. Place the whole pan into the oven, uncovered to finish cooking the sausage, ( keep checking for doneness, it depends on thickness) during the process your grapes will wrinkle and begin to release their juices.

 

Signature

Stuffed Pork Chops with Apple and Fig Stuffing and a Creamy Cider Sauce

stuffed pork chops

Stuffed pork chops turn traditional pork chops into something very special, especially when they’re filled with apples and dried figs. This combination was made for each other with hints of fresh sage tucked into the filling along with a creamy cider sauce, this recipe has FALL written all over it!cider sauce

The sauce is dreamy mix of apple cider, broth, Dijon mustard and mascarpone cheese, when all those flavors come together, along with the fig and apple it  intensifies the taste of the stuffed pork chops in all it’s glory.

stuffed pork chops

The quality of your pork has a lot to do with this dish as well, I use a heritage breed of pork, thick cut and bone in, it really does make a big difference, it’s so juicy and never dries out. For the stuffed pork chops you’ll want at least 1 1/2 inch thickness so as to make a nice pocket for all the stuffing.

Most butchers will be happy to cut the pocket in for you if you ask, but it’s also very simple to do yourself.

This meal is elegant enough to serve for a special dinner and easy enough to make during the week.

fall veggies

I like to serve a nice platter of roasted veggies on the side with the pork chops, here I used cauliflower, shaved brussels sprouts, baby rainbow carrots and some delicata squash which by the way can be done way ahead of time, even the day before.

Take your pork chops to the next level with this perfect fall meal, I promise it will become a family favorite.

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Stuffed Pork Chops with Apple and Fig Stuffing and a Creamy Cider Sauce
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 bone in, thick cut good quality pork chops about 1½ inch thick with pocket cut in for stuffing
  • 1 apple, skin on chopped
  • 4 dried figs, chopped
  • 2 dried figs sliced to place into cider sauce
  • 1 small stalk celery, sliced
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • small handful mushrooms, chopped (optional)
  • 3 fresh sage leaves, chopped with extra for garnish
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • ½ to ¾ cup breadcrumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • CIDER SAUCE
  • ¼ cup apple cider
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons, smooth Dijon
  • 2 tablespoons, mascarpone cheese
Instructions
  1. To prepare the pork chops, either have your butcher make the pocket or you can easily do it yourself by slicing each chop from the fat side almost to the bone with a sharp knife, make it wide enough so you can place alot of stuffing inside. salt and pepper both sides of chop and inside pocket.
  2. In a small saute pan with a knob of butter cook the celery, garlic and onion until soft as well as the mushrooms if using them.
  3. Add to the pan the sage, figs and apples, toss, then add the breadcrumbs, if it looks dry add a teeny bit of broth to moisten.
  4. Stuff your chops with the mixture and secure it closed with a regular wooden skewer ( you can see mine in the photo). You might have extra stuffing depending on how big your chops and pockets are.
  5. Heat oven to 375
  6. In a heavy bottom cast iron skillet drizzled with olive oil, or any pan that is oven proof ed, brown your pork chops until crusty and golden on one side then gently flip them over crusty side up, place a few sage leaves on top of each and put the whole pan into the oven.
  7. Cooking times will vary according to ovens but the internal temp should read near 145.
  8. Remove pan from oven, onto stove top and place pork chops on a plate loosely covered with foil.
  9. Then with a whisk deglaze bits with broth, cider on low temp, then whisk in Dijon until incorporated then lastly the mascarpone, whisking until the sauce is nice and creamy.
  10. Turn off the heat, add in the sliced figs to the sauce and return the chops into the pan, spooning a little cider sauce on top of them.
  11. Serve immediately with a side of your choice!

 

 

Signature

Shrimp with Roasted Tomatoes Shaved Garlic and Feta

shrimp with feta

Whoever said that cheese and seafood is a bad combo? Well I’m here to say that it isn’t so, especially in this dish that features shrimp with feta cheese.

This is a variation of the famous Greek Saganaki, there are so many variations of this dish from the ingredients to the way it’s prepared but it’s the Greeks that deserve full credit for this delicious combination of flavors.shrimp with feta

This is a one pan wonder that’s surprisingly easy to make for a mid week meal and equally as special enough for entertaining, all you’ll need is crusty bread to scoop up and dip into that incredible sauce!shrimp with feta

I’ve made this several times and my tomatoes of choice are roasted cherry or grape tomatoes, I prefer them over canned I think it really makes a difference, fresh is best and fortunately for me even in the colder months I’m able to find decent tasting cherry or grape tomatoes.

I can’t stress enough the importance of using quality ingredients in this dish, a good block of Greek feta should be used, not the crumbled pieces in a container that you can buy, heavens no, also you’ll want to use some beautiful wild caught shrimp.

FYI, if you’re lucky to have a Trader Joe’s near you my favorite shrimp of choice currently is their frozen wild Argentinian large red shrimp, peeled and deveined, it tastes so amazing, I always keep a couple of bags in my freezer, but of course any fresh or frozen wild caught shrimp will do.

The vessel you make it in is important also, it’s best when made in a shallow baking dish something like an au gratin pan, you wouldn’t want to use anything too deep.

It’s bold and flavorful with a flavor combination that you’ll be craving, I can’t wait for you to try this!

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5.0 from 3 reviews
Shrimp with Roasted Tomatoes Shaved Garlic and Feta
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. wild caught shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails kept on. ( It's important not to have any moisture on your shrimp so I like to layer my shrimp between paper towels to soak up any moisture and to insure they are dry with both fresh and frozen.)
  • 2 pints of cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 3 large cloves of fresh garlic, shaved
  • 1 cup of good quality authentic Greek feta, block style
  • olive oil
  • dried oregano
  • red pepper flakes
  • parsley or basil for garnish
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. In a foil lined rimmed baking pan place your slice tomatoes, shaved garlic and a good drizzle of olive oil making sure to cover and toss tomatoes with it, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast until tomatoes burst and juices flow.
  3. While the tomatoes are roasting toss the shrimp into a bowl with salt and pepper, a pinch of red pepper flakes, oregano and a drizzle of olive oil.
  4. Take your roasted tomatoes and place them into your shallow baking dish making sure to get all those garlicky juices with a rubber spatula to help.
  5. Position and nestle your shrimp into the garlicky tomato mixture and juices, place into your 400 degree oven and roast until you start seeing the shrimp turn pink.
  6. Pull it out then crumble the feta all around in medium chunks.
  7. Finish cooking it with a quick minute or two under your broiler to get a little golden on top.
  8. Garnish with chopped parsley or basil.
  9. Enjoy, and don't forget the crusty bread!

 

Signature

Noodle-less Loaf Pan Butternut Squash Lasagna

noodle-less butternut squash lasagna

Butternut Squash is hands down my favorite winter squash, come fall I can’t get enough of it and you’ll always see one or two sitting on my kitchen counter. Butternut squash is so versatile, you can put it in just about everything and believe me I have!

If you look through my blog you’ll see different ways that I’ve used it over the years, and one of the ways is in a lasagna. Butternut squash has a slightly sweet, buttery nutty flavor and it goes wonderful with creamy ricotta and a béchamel sauce, it’s so decadent and delicious. 
butternut squash

This is the time of year when my garden is full of sage and butternut squash and sage make a perfect pairing together, I especially love to infuse my béchamel sauce with garlic and sage, it’s dreamy.loaf pan lasagna

If you search my archives you’ll see that I once made individual butternut squash lasagna’s minus the noodles in a free form manner.  For this time I wanted to try making it in a loaf pan which allowed me to get many layers and some nice height, and this version is minus the noodles as well. The loaf pan holds everything nicely together and gives the lasagna a little more structure since the pasta is not there to give it more body.

I lined my loaf pan with parchment, (which is optional) because honestly I wanted to un-mold it and take a nice photo to show you, but you have to really cool it down to be able to remove the parchment without destroying your lasagna, so I would suggest make it the day before or early in the morning if you want to do the same, chilling it for an easy removal, then just warm it and serve it with warm béchamel, otherwise make it without the parchment.

noodle-less butternut squash lasagna

Either way it’s magical and tastes like a dream and trust me you won’t miss the pasta at all, in fact I prefer it without because all the flavors are true and not soaked up by the pasta.noodle-less butternut squash lasagna

The loaf pan makes you able to create multiple layers of goodness,  just remember to let it set before cutting into it so all the creaminess can tighten up a bit, just like a traditional lasagna it’s a mess if you cut into it hot, the layers get lost.noodle-less butternut squash lasagna

I hope you try my noodle-less, loaf pan butternut squash lasagna, I promise you won’t miss the pasta one bit!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Noodle-less Loaf Pan Butternut Squash Lasagna
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 loaf pan, buttered, lined with parchment which is an optional step for removal of whole loaf
  • NOTE; If you don't want to remove whole lasagna out of the pan, omit parchment.
  • 2 butternut squash, peeled and sliced lengthwise (as much as possible, then into lengthwise pieces) roasted at 375 on a rimmed baking sheet at 375 until softened up a bit but still al'dente
  • 3 cups, ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup grated pecorino cheese, plus extra for garnish
  • 1½ cups fresh baby spinach, chopped
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • BECHAMEL SAUCE
  • 2 cups, whole milk
  • 4 tablespoons, flour
  • 4 tablespoons, butter
  • sprig of sage, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Roast sliced squash a head of time so it can cool down. Set aside.
  2. Mix up the ricotta mixture with the chopped spinach, egg, grated cheese's, both pecorino and mozzarella, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. TO MAKE THE BECHAMEL SAUCE;
  4. In a saucepan, melt butter, add garlic then whisk in flour until it incorporates and turns golden, not dark brown.
  5. Pour in a few tablespoons of the milk, whisking until moistened.
  6. Add the remaining milk whisking vigorously until it starts to thicken and right before it starts to bubble on the sides, take it off the heat.
  7. Now the layering process begins, add a couple of tablespoons of bechamel to the bottom of pan, then a layer of squash, enough to fit all the edges and middle of the pan. Spread ricotta layer on top, smooth with the back of a spoon or an off set spatula, add two more tablespoons of sauce and repeat layers until you reach the top of the loaf pan, reserving the prettiest looking pieces of squash for the very top.
  8. Spread the top with bechamel and sprinkle with pecorino and top with some sage leaves before baking.
  9. Bake 350- 375 uncovered until cheese is melted and heated through, and golden on top, ovens vary with time, check after 30 minutes.
  10. Let it set up before cutting, mine set for 2 hours.
  11. You should have extra sauce to serve with it, if you want more bechamel just double the recipe.
  12. Enjoy!

 

Signature

Welcoming Autumn with a Rustic Apple Crostata

apple crostata

 

Autumn is here and apple season is upon us so now is the perfect time to make a rustic apple crostata. A crostata is basically a folding of fresh fruit with a little sugar and spice into a buttery pastry dough. The crostata is the Italian version of the French Galette but in essence they’re the same thing.

The best thing I like about making a crostata is that the process is free form, easier than making a pie, and when you make them no two will look alike, but that’s the rustic charm of it.autumn apples

It really doesn’t matter what type of apples you use, use what you like, but look for large ones so you’re not peeling forever.autumn applesapple slices

I actually ended up using large Gala apples for this sliced about 1/8 inch, as opposed to quartering the apples and having them chunkier, the slices will lay better in the crostata and you’ll be able to fan them out and layer on top of each other which makes it look prettier.apple crostata

This is a dessert you can make in a pinch, especially if you have some store-bought pie crusts tucked away in your fridge like I do. I happen to love Trader Joe’s pie crusts, you can actually see pieces of butter in the dough. It’s looks elegant and tastes amazing and your house smells incredible while it’s baking in the oven.apple crostata

Apples, cinnamon and crust oh my!apple crostata

Serve it alone or with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream, either way you’re going to love it.

Desserts don’t have to be fussy and complicated to taste awesome, cut into a piece of this apple crostata and see for yourself!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Rustic Apple Crostata
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 quality store-bought package of pie crust, room temp for easy rolling or homemade pastry dough (I used Trader Joe's)
  • 3 or 4 large apples of your choice, I used Gala, peeled, seeded and sliced into ⅛ inch
  • ¼ cup sugar plus a little more for sprinkling on crust
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon or to taste, I like alot. You can also add in some nutmeg to your liking
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon, melted butter
  • 1 egg, for egg wash
  • a squeeze of lemon juice onto apples so they don't turn brown
Instructions
  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment and heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place sliced apples into a bowl and add the sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, cornstarch, cinnamon and a pinch of salt, tossing gently until well coated, set aside.
  3. Un wrap your dough and smooth it out with a rolling pin, stretching it out and pressing together any breaks.
  4. Place dough onto parchment lined baking sheet.
  5. Arrange the apple slices on top overlapping them and fanning them into a circle leaving a good 1½ inch border all around.
  6. Fold the dough over the apples in a rustic fashion, if the dough tears just pinch together.
  7. Drizzle the melted butter over the top of apples.
  8. Whisk the egg and brush all over the crust then sprinkle crust with sugar.
  9. Bake at 400 for 40-50 minutes or until it is nicely golden brown according to your oven temp.
  10. Let it sit before cutting, serve with ice cream or whipped cream
  11. Enjoy!

 

Signature

Transition into Fall with this Vibrant Tomato Free Salad

transition into fall salad

In mid September you’re still able to find remnants of good summer tomatoes still available, but very soon they will be gone til next summer and so this salad is your perfect transition into fall. This vibrant and bold tasting salad is tomato-free and perfect for the fall season.transition into fall salad

Leafy greens, crunchy radishes, delicious haricot verts, sweet dried cherries with salty shaved parmigiano and pistachios, and the thing that ties it all together is the vibrant dressing. transition into fall salad

I love making salads, the combinations are endless and when using seasonal produce you can get really creative.transition into fall salad

Toss this together for your family and friends and I promise, you won’t even miss the tomatoes!

Check me out on Instagram to see what else I’m cooking up during the week.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Transition into Fall with this Vibrant Tomato Free Salad
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 bag of leafy greens
  • 1 12 ounce bag of haricots verts, steamed tender crisp
  • 4 large radishes, thinly sliced
  • A good handful of dried cherries, or dried cranberries
  • Shards of Parmigiano Reggiano made with a vegetable peeler, a good amount shown throughout the salad
  • pistachios or sliced toasted almonds, enough to scatter about
  • red onion if you like
  • Vinaigrette
  • 3 parts good quality olive oil
  • 1 part rich, balsamic vinegar one that has been aged and thicker than normal. Trader Joe's has a nice one from Modena that says gold on the label
  • a dollop of Dijon
  • a little grated garlic
  • pinch of oregano
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. FOR THE DRESSING;
  2. Whisk together all the parts of the vinaigrette
  3. Mix the leafy greens with the beans, toss.
  4. Add cherries, radishes and cheese, toss.
  5. Place everything onto a nice platter, sprinkle with nuts.
  6. Spoon dressing all around and toss gently to coat.
  7. Enjoy

 

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Cassoulet- Italian Style

cassoulet

What is a cassoulet? It a dish originated in France which is basically a rich, slow cooked casserole typically made with white beans and a meat of some sort. It’s a hearty dish and quite perfect for the cooler temperatures we’re experiencing now as fall approaches.

In place of the more traditional meats the French would use, I wanted to make mine Italian style by adding some good quality Italian sausage. I chose one that is nicely spiced throughout with a good amount of fennel seed which I feel compliments all the other flavors in this dish.cassoulet beans

 

I have to admit I don’t often cook with dried beans, I like the convenience of canned beans and they taste pretty good. But after making this dish I realized that there is absolutely no comparison to the taste and texture of cooked dried beans to canned.

Even though you could make this dish with canned beans I HIGHLY recommend you go through the process of making them from scratch. Dried beans are readily available but this specific brand, Rancho Gordo might not be so easy to find, especially this type of bean, so I would suggest to order them directly from their website ( and I’m not getting paid to say that). soaked beans

I went with the quick soak method, it helps the beans to cook faster. I also love adding aromatics after they’ve been soaking and ready to simmer, the beans really do take on the flavor and makes them taste even more delicious.

cassoulet

The cooked beans will get tossed in at the last ten minutes of cooking, just enough time to soak up all that luscious tasting juice!

cassoulet

It’s hearty, packed with flavor, simple and rustic and the perfect meal to make when there’s a chill in the air, you will love this!

Follow me on Instagram to see what else I’m cooking up during the week.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Cassoulet- Italian Style
 
Recipe adapted from Pam Anderson's Perfect One Dish Dinners
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1½ lb. Italian sausage with fennel seed or 6 nice size pieces
  • 3 pints cherry tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion cut into large chunks
  • 4 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • olive oil
  • thyme and rosemary
  • 4 cups of cooked dried beans preferred, or optional, canned beans
  • 1 lb. of dried beans, either cassoulet or cannellini
  • aromatics for beans to simmer in, such as onion, garlic and herbs
Instructions
  1. PREPARE BEANS, doing the the quick soak method.
  2. Rinse beans well and pick out any bad ones.
  3. Place them into a large pot and cover them with water three inches above the beans.
  4. Bring beans to a boil, turn off the flame and cover them and let them sit for 2 hours.
  5. After 2 hours you will see they have doubled in size, drain the water, return them to the pot and cover with water again.
  6. Add 3 whole garlic cloves, chunks of onion and a sprig of rosemary or thyme and simmer medium low for at least an hour but check for doneness, they should be tender and creamy.
  7. Add salt to taste after they're cooked.
  8. You'll have extra, but save and use for other recipes, (you won't regret it!)
  9. FOR THE CASSOULET
  10. Heat oven to 425F.
  11. In a deep baking dish drizzle the bottom with olive oil all over. Add the tomatoes, (whole), sliced garlic, onion and herbs, salt and pepper to taste.
  12. Nestle in your uncooked Italian sausage all around.
  13. Roast until sausages have a deep brown color and the tomatoes have released their juices and thickened up a bit, around 45 minutes.
  14. Remove the pan from the oven and stir in your cooked beans (without liquid) drizzle more olive oil on top and continue to roast for 10 more minutes until nicely heated through.
  15. Freshen up your herbs.
  16. Enjoy!

 

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12 Delicious Ways to Use Up Your Summer Zucchini and Squash

zucchini ribbon carpaccio

If you still have an abundance of zucchini either from your own garden, family, friends or even total strangers, here’s a few ideas on how to use them up.

If you’ve been following me for any length of time then you should know I have a thing about vegetable ribbons of all sorts, many times I’ve used ribbons of carrot, cucumber, butternut squash, but especially zucchini and yellow squash in many of my recipes.  I love how they look in a salad and when presented on a platter, I think it adds a little touch of elegance.

The salad above doesn’t really have a recipe, it’s made with ribbons of zucchini and yellow squash, tossed together with arugula, shaved parmesan, basil, parsley and toasted hazelnuts, the dressing is fresh lemon and olive oil whisked together. I call it my Zucchini Ribbon Carpaccio because everything is raw but the lemon dressing helps to soften the rawness.

On to a few of my other favorites!zucchini rollups

Zucchini Roll Ups with Ricotta and Corn

zucchini whipped ricotta

Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Whipped Ricotta

zucchini boats

Zucchini Boats with Cheese and Cherry Tomatoes

zucchini veggie slaw

Zucchini Veggie Slaw

zucchini burrata

Zucchini Noodle Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Burrata

zucchini gratin

Zucchini Tomato Gratin

zucchini ribbon salad

Zucchini Ribbon Salad

zucchini roasted tomatoes

Zucchini Noodles with Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Cream

zucchini mock ravioli

My adaption from Half Baked Harvest, Three Cheese Ravioli

zucchini tart

Zucchini Tart

zucchini lasagne

Zucchini Lasagne

Enjoy the end of summers bounty, Labor Day is almost here and the fall season is right around the corner in my neck of the woods, which I’m actually looking forward to!

Check out my Instagram account to see what I’ll be cooking up in the new season ahead.

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An Ode To Summer Tomatoes

summer tomatoes

Summer is fleeting by and I couldn’t let it go without paying homage to all the beautiful tomatoes I’ve enjoyed all season long.  Summer tomatoes are the absolute best, there’s nothing like the taste of a fresh vine ripened tomato.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many sweet as sugar, clustered tomatoes on the vine that have graced my table, I can’t resist, they’re so gorgeous!summer tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes are another big favorite of mine, the different varieties have a history that has been passed down through several generations. It’s been said that if you’ve never tasted an heirloom tomato, then you’ve never tasted a real tomato, I agree.

I love the odd and quirky shapes they have as well as their colors that range from near black to pink, golden yellow, green and ruby red, and the funny names like mortage lifter and green zebra, I could never get tired of them.tomato caprese

Insalata Caprese, I’ve made it so many times this summer, whenever I had a party, or went to a party or get together I usually brought a big platter full. It was always welcomed and gobbled up. Who doesn’t like juicy tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, garden basil and good olive oil, it’s a win, win combination!tomato caprese

Caprese Salads really don’t need a recipe, they’re so simple to make and requires just a few quality ingredients, you must have beautiful ripe tomatoes, the best olive oil you can buy and fresh basil that you picked  preferably from your own pots.

The only thing is, you might want to change up the variety and color of tomatoes and the cheese you’ll be using, in my case it’s straight up fresh mozzarella or burrata.

Let’s talk burrata cheese for a minute, the outer shell is solid mozzarella but then when you break it open the inside is filled with soft stracciatella and cream, when paired with summer tomatoes it is a dream come true!tomato caprese

Sometimes I replace fresh basil with my homemade basil pesto which I also make each summer, dabbing it all around on top of the cheese and tomatoes for a flavor that will zap your senses.tomato caprese

When I want to indulge even more I’ll finish off my caprese salad with a swipe of rich balsamic glaze, you can just put me in a corner some where with a hunk of bread and I’ll be very happy.tomato caprese

I like changing up how I serve my summer tomatoes by either fanning them onto a platter or stacking the slices on top of each other as a little different presentation, as well cutting them into wedges and changing up the cheese  into little balls of mozzarella, better known as bocconcini.tomato capresetomato salad

No matter how it’s presented on a plate you can’t deny the caprese flavors that shine through and through, in my opinion it’s one of the best things about summer.summer roasted tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are fabulous fresh but their flavors are even more intense when roasted. I normally douse them with olive oil and sprinkle shaved fresh garlic all around and adding fresh basil at the end.

The blistered tomatoes create the most fabulous juice that becomes the perfect sauce to toss into cooked pasta, I’ve done this many times for family parties.tomato capresetomato caprese pasta

You can go one step further with that pasta and finish it off by placing some creamy burrata on top, this is an absolute summer favorite in my house and such a great dish for entertaining.tomato pasta

No cheese, no problem, just toss those juicy tomatoes in and eat!tomato lasagna

I will miss the perfection of the summer tomato and look forward to next year when they appear again, so on to the next season of apples and pumpkins!

Follow me on Instagram to see what I’m cooking up during the week.

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Mixed Veggie Succotash with Summer Corn

succotash

Although the name succotash has a funny sound to it, it doesn’t take away from it’s deliciousness. Basically succotash is a variety of mixed veggies, preferably fresh vegetables in season, brought together to form the perfect side dish or a stand alone entree with a piece of perfectly cooked fish, chicken or pork perched on top of it.

Since we are at the height of the summer season over here it’s only fitting that fresh corn shaved off the cob and perfectly ripe tomatoes were added to mine.succotash

Every succotash I have ever seen definitely adds some kind of bean, most commonly lima, but I have seen fava beans and even edamame added to the dish, all is good, there are no rules really just use what you like and what’s available.

If you noticed on my top photo I served my succotash with roasted salmon that was swiped with fresh basil pesto. The summer freshness of it all was the perfect pairing together, it just screamed summer!succotash

Haricot verts cooked al dente added nice crunch along with some creamy avocado, torn basil and a little heat from sliced jalapeno’s. succotash

Succotash can be made according to all the seasons and I’m looking forward to making an autumn version maybe by adding some squash with sage and mushrooms, like I said the possibilities are endless!

Mixed Veggie Succotash with Summer Corn
 
Ingredients can vary according to your taste and what's available
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 package of haricot verts, pre cooked
  • 2 ears of fresh corn, shucked
  • ½ large avocado
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • assorted colored cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 cup of frozen lima beans, defrosted
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • sliced jalapeno, (optional)
  • torn basil, handful
  • DRESSING
  • olive oil
  • fresh lemon juice
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. This is more like a salad and served best at room temperature, so you want to make sure your beans and corn are pre cooked and the lima beans are deferosted.
  2. Whisk together 1 part lemon juice to 3 parts olive oil along with the crushed garlic clove, adding more juice if you prefer.
  3. Place all the ingredients into a large bowl tossing gently with clean hands then lift and layer onto a pretty platter or individual plates.
  4. Spoon the dressing all around with a little toss.

 

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Refections on 10 Years of Food Blogging

basil potted plant

 

One of my greatest pleasures during the summer months is to have fresh basil growing all over my backyard, some in planters and pots and some in the ground. Basil is my hands down absolute favorite herb, just the smell of it makes me happy. I often have a big bouquet of it sitting on my kitchen island.

It’s my go-to herb and I use it in too many dishes to mention here. Making fresh basil pesto is another summer pleasure of mine, I’m happy when I know I have a stash packed away in my freezer as well as my fridge, especially when I pull a jar out in the dead of winter.
fresh basil

 

Talking about basil brings me back to the very first post I wrote on this blog written August 15, 2007. Yes, this August will mark my tenth year of Proud Italian Cook, I honestly can’t believe it’s been ten years, where did the time go? One thing I know for sure is that the older I get the faster time flies by.

I didn’t know a thing about starting and maintaining a blog back then I just knew I wanted to do it. I was reading a small group of blogs at the the time and I thought what a fun hobby and a nice visual way to document my own recipes for family. With the help of my daughter we got it up and running then little by little I started to learn the technical aspects, how to actually take pictures, write something and post it. It was a huge challenge for me because my brain has a problem comprehending technical issues, and I made a ton of mistakes.

The first time I hit “publish” I was so stressed out, what was I thinking? I have no clue what I’m doing here, this is way over my head. If anything went wrong behind the scenes I would be in pure panic mode until it was fixed, my poor husband had to deal with me through it all.

Sometimes I look back on older posts of mine and I cringe at my writing and pictures of food where I used my flash. Apparently I use to write with caps quite often, I guess I really wanted to get my point across. The grammar police would have a field day with my writing, I still have issues with commas and exclamation points! (see what I mean).

The best perk of blogging and one I never even thought existed back then was the community of people that I would virtually meet along the way, some even face to face, bloggers and followers who share the same passion as I do. They have been a source of encouragement and support and have inspired me with all they do as well as their positive comments, and for that I am eternally grateful.

It’s fair to say that if I never started my little food blog, my world would be a very different place.

 

making pesto

 

Yes, things are quite different in the blogging world today since the time I first started, it’s not as small and personal as it use to be, social media outlets are rapidly changing. Sometimes I wonder if the blog platform will still be relevant for the next generation, things like snapchatting keeps them very busy. Over the years I have seen blogs come and go, maybe it just wasn’t fun anymore, too much competition or worrying about ranking and SEO, if that’s the case I would agree, quit, the joy is gone.

Having a blog is a major commitment and time consuming and you certainly wouldn’t want to waste your precious time if it felt like a burden. On the flip side if you enjoy it, find your niche, add good content, tell a story and speak in your own true voice, your honesty will shine through and people will connect and want to follow you, and in my case throw in a good recipe every now and then.

 

basil pesto

 

I feel like I’m evolving in my old age, I very recently went from a PC to a Mac which has been like learning a whole new language to me, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone big time so I feel I’m challenged daily now until I get the hang of it, in fact this will be is my first post using my Mac, I hope it turns out when I hit publish!pasta

 

I love being on Instagram, it’s a visual short and sweet tidbit of my daily doings, cooking, family, life, so I’m going to continue with that, and if you care to follow me there just click here.

I’ve also made some short videos on my blog with a 14 year old future computer genius friend of mine, we had fun doing it and learned a ton of things, so I’ll be doing more of that.

I never realized when I started this blog that August 15th was Julia Child’s birthday so maybe it was meant to be, plus I’ve always loved her quote, “People who love to eat are always the best people”.basil pesto pasta

So for now since I’m still having fun I’m just going to slide right into the next decade. To be continued…

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