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Friday, September 30, 2011

Potato lovers, unite!

I know I'm not the only out there who enjoys a kick-ass home fries recipe.  Do you?  You have to agree - great potatoes are one of the key components of a successful breakfast.

Well, I know there's at least one person who agrees with me...my brother-in-law.  He saw Bobby Flay make these on his Cooking Channel show and wanted them immediately.  I looked up the recipe and concluded that they were pretty awesome.  So, I made them, and then I shared them.

Sausage in home fries?  Yeah, like I said...awesome.  Give them a try this weekend.

Italian Home Fries
from Bobby Flay

3 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 small Spanish onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 pounds small new potatoes, par-cooked and diced
8 ounces Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 teaspoon paprika
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic and cook until softened.  Add peppers and cook another 2 minutes.

Add potatoes, sausage and paprika, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Stir and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add rosemary, then begin pressing the mixture into the skillet so the bottom gets brown and crispy, and the potatoes stick together.  Turn occasionally to distribute crispy bits.

Toss mixture with parsley and transfer to serving platter.  Drizzle with oil and serve hot or at room temperature.

Linked to: Potato Blog Hop

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Soup - it's what's for dinner

Even though the temps really haven't dropped yet, I'm happy to say that it's soup season.  I LOVE soup.  Instant comfort in a bowl.

Growing up, I had a friend who called me every night and asked what we had for dinner.  She was curious, but probably also a bit jealous because her mom never cooked.  There were nights when we'd have soup as our main dish.  A nice hearty one, like Pasta e Fagioli, was common...or Mom's Chicken Soup...so many options, and all so good.  And my friend would be in shock.  "Soup?  For dinner?  That's not a meal."

Oh, yes it is.  And a pretty good one at that.  

These days, I love breaking out the oldies but goodies, while also experimenting with other recipes.  And I can do that even when I'm going to be out for most of the day, thanks to my trusty crockpot.  It's a great tool for many kinds of soups, like this one.

I don't own any of those little soup crocks, you know, that you stick under the broiler when making french onion soup the traditional way.  I never found a good enough reason to buy them and have them take up a lot of cabinet space.  And because of that, I never made french onion soup...until now.

This method is just as delicious, and super easy...perfect for people on the go, or who don't have soup crocks :)

Crockpot French Onion Soup

3 onions, sliced
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons AP flour
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 (32 oz) containers beef broth
French bread, sliced
Gruyere cheese

Turn crockpot on high, add butter and let melt.  Add onions, cover, and cook for 45-60 minutes until they have caramelized.  

Mix flour, worcestershire, sugar and pepper in a bowl.  Slowly add mixture, along with broth, to crockpot, stirring well while adding.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 3-4 hours.

Top bread with cheese and toast for about 20 minutes at 250 degrees.  Pour soup into bowls and top with bread slices.  

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Memories live on (What's Baking)

It took me about three seconds to decide what my contribution would be for this month's What's Baking challenge.  Dani from Cloud 8 1/2 chose "A Family Favorite" as the theme, and I immediately knew I'd be making one of our family's absolute best dishes.

Although my Nana is Greek, she made amazing Italian food.  I guess if you marry an Italian and live in his country for a while, you don't have much of a choice but to perfect the cuisine.  Most of her memorable meals are from her homeland, but this dish is one that shines through just about all of the others, and I often wonder if perhaps her mother-in-law showed her the ropes with it.

This dish holds so many memories for me...sure, there are other versions of lasagna that I enjoy, but not as much as this, and that's likely the reason why.  Obviously, it tastes delicious too, even if it isn't the prettiest looking plate  :)

The additions of hard boiled egg and salami may seem odd to some people...and for those people, I feel very sorry.  Don't judge.  Just trust me.

I try my best to give accurate measurements when making dishes like this - ones that I've been making for so long and never measured before.  I do it now because I know it helps all of you.  But, with lasagna, much of it really is approximate, or enough to fill or layer the pan that you're working with.  So, a lot of eyeballing may be necessary.

It's also a good idea to have everything ready BEFORE assembly...don't chop or cook while putting the lasagna together.  Do all the prep work first, then sort it all out on your work station, then layer.  The French call it "mise en place"...I have no idea what the Italians call it :)

Thanks for a great challenge, Dani!  It gave me a good reason to make my favorite :)

Nana's Lasagna
24 lasagna sheets, cooked slightly al dente
1 1/2 pounds ground beef, cooked
1 large (32 oz) container ricotta cheese
1 egg
salt and pepper
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, grated (or torn into small pieces)
grated pecorino romano cheese
8 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1/2 pound thinly sliced genoa salami, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl, combine ricotta with egg and a bit of salt and pepper.  Set aside.  Place all other items in separate bowls to prepare for layering.

Cover the bottom of a 9x13 pan with some marinara.  Add 8 lasagna sheets, layering them vertically (this is approximate - use enough to cover the bottom of your pan).  Add beef on top of pasta, followed by spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture, followed by mozzarella, then egg and salami.

Top all ingredients with sauce, then add another layer of pasta, and continue in the same order as above.  Add sauce, then the top layer of pasta, followed by more sauce, a little mozzarella, and pecorino romano.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until lasagna is entirely heated through.  Let rest for a few minutes before cutting.

Linked to: What's On Your Plate?
                  Mingle Monday
                  Hunk of Meat Monday

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Two things to celebrate!

We had a wonderful time this weekend celebrating the upcoming arrival of a dear friend's baby girl.  A small group of us got together at our friend Lisa's house and had a blast showering Liz with gifts - many of the cute variety.  Who doesn't LOVE little girls clothes?  I know I do...and I miss the little itty bitty ones!

Naturally, I was in charge of baking the cake.  When I emailed Liz's sister asking what her favorite was, she threw me for a loop by throwing out a specific name - the Philly Fluff cake.  Off I went to google, and I found out that the bakery in her hometown is famous for it.  And then I got scared.  How could I possibly compete with one of the best bakeries in the area?

Eh, piece of cake.

Those of you who frequent my Facebook page may recall my status update on Saturday about using a bundt pan.  I wasn't kidding - I really do feel like a 50's housewife when I bake with one!  It's just so...retro.  I should have had an apron on to really complete the package.

I loved the look on Liz's face when she realized what kind of cake it was, and that it was homemade...and the taste?  Seriously, the cake may look boring but it is really, REALLY good.  Great for breakfast or dessert.  Make it soon.

Our hostess made some great cake pops for another sweet treat - you can see some of them in this picture:

And now for the second surprise - I got a visit from the one and only Fairy Hobmother!  Do you know who he/she is?  If you're an avid blog reader, you probably do.  If not, the long and short of it is that the Fairy comes bearing gifts to one lucky reader.  He loves when voices are heard.  (And yes, I realize it's Fairy HobMOTHER and I keep saying HE, but since Ian is the person who contacted me, I'm sticking to my story.)

The Fairy hails from Appliances Online and would like to share his wealth with one of you.  All you have to do is leave a comment here - preferably about how much you like my cake, but you can leave him a message, too :)  And maybe, just maybe, he'll pay you a visit!

Philly Fluff Cake
from Serious Eats

10 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar, divided
6 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a bundt pan.

Beat cream cheese, butter and shortening together until light and fluffy.  Add flour, baking powder and salt.  Beat on low until combined.  Batter will be thick.

Gradually add 1 cup sugar and eggs, one at a time, beating completely between each one.  Add vanilla and remaining sugar.  Continue beating until batter is smooth, scraping sides of bowl a few times.

Pour half the mixture into prepared pan.  Add chocolate and swirl the batter with a knife to spread chocolate through.  Top with remaining batter and bake for about 60-65 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out of center clean.

Cool for about 15 minutes then invert carefully onto cake platter to cool completely.  Before serving, sprinkle with a generous amount of confectioners' sugar.

Linked to: Sweet Tooth Friday
                 Sweets For A Saturday

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Get your canned pumpkin yet? (Secret Recipe Club)

No, a month hasn't passed you by in two weeks.  Yes, it's another Secret Recipe Club entry, but not with my usual group.  I was asked to sub for someone who had a death in the family so I obliged.  And when I took a look around From Apples to Zucchini's blog, I was glad I did.  Pam has so many great recipes to choose from!  Be sure to check it out.

Now that fall is in the air, I had an urge to grab a can of pumpkin out of my pantry and put it to use.  I wasn't really in the mood for something sweet, so I got very excited when I saw this recipe.  The perfect autumn fix!  Plus, I had all the ingredients on hand (with a few minor adaptations).  Score!

The house smelled SO good.  It's such an easy dish to make - put this on your weeknight menu, for sure.  You could even make it up to the point where you have to bake, and refrigerate it until you get home.  Frank LOVED this, and was thrilled about having leftovers for lunch.

So, go hoard pumpkin off the supermarket shelves like the rest of the country has been doing (WHAT is with these canned pumpkin shortages anyway?) and make this soon!

Pumpkin and Sausage Baked Pasta
slightly adapted from From Apples to Zucchini

1 pound Italian sausage
1 cup chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 (15 oz) can pure pumpkin
1 1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon dried sage
pinch of salt
1/3 cup fat free half & half
1 pound penne pasta, cooked
2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
3/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook sausage in a large, deep skillet until brown.  Remove from skillet and drain over paper towel.  Set aside.

Using approximately 2 tablespoons of fat from sausage, saute onion, garlic and crushed red pepper until soft.  Stir in pumpkin, stock and sage.  Add salt.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in half & half and sausage and simmer until sauce comes together and thickens slightly.  Turn off heat.  Add pasta and parsley and gently toss all ingredients together to coat.

Grease a casserole dish and place mixture inside.  Top with grated cheese.  Bake for about 30-35 minutes, until top is golden brown.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

An oldie but a goodie

Hooray for appetizers!  I always seem to get excited about them when football season rolls around.  And I guess Sarah does too, since she announced that tailgating/appetizer recipes was the theme for our latest recipe swap.

When I saw my assignment from The Jey of Cooking, I realized that there was an important recipe I'd yet to blog.  So I took Jessica's idea of making wonton cups, and combined it with my Aunt Joan's artichoke dip recipe that I've been making for about 25 years.  (WOW, did I just date myself or what?!?!)

The cups are very easy to make...I sprayed the cups of a muffin pan with cooking spray and placed a wrapper in each cup.  Place the pan in a 375 degree oven and bake for about 3-4 minutes, until they look like they're keeping their form.

Unfortunately, I realized I left my mini-muffin pan at a friend's house, so I had to make mine a little bigger in a standard size muffin pan.  They aren't nearly as cute :(  So, I made two in one cup, but as you can see they look a little lop-sided.  They still tasted great, though!

This dip can easily be served on its own, following the recipe instructions below.  Or, as Jessica did, you can make the dip without heating it, stuff the cups, and bake for about 7-8 minutes.

Another successful swap under our belts.  Thanks for the inspiration, Jessica!

Hot Artichoke Dip
from Aunt Joan

1 can (14 oz) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus extra
juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch of salt
3 garlic cloves, chopped
few shakes of hot sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine all ingredients and place in oven safe serving dish.  Sprinkle top with extra cheese.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until sides and top are lightly brown.

***I usually double or triple this recipe, depending on the size of the crowd and how many other apps there are...keep in mind, it always goes FAST!***

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

A salad for all seasons

Summer may be over, but that doesn't mean you have to stop making delicious salads.  They're always welcome for lunch, as a side dish, or even as a main meal on its own or with some protein included.  And it's another great way to use up what you have in your fridge, freezer and/or pantry.  Hence, the name I gave it.

Taste as you go along with this.  If you aren't using marinated olives, you'll need something else, like extra virgin olive oil to make up for the "juice".  Use different spices if you want, although with the combination of ingredients I used here, I really like how the oregano compliments them.

Keep textures in mind, too.  Make sure you have at least one or two ingredients that give the salad a bit of crunch, like the onion and cucumber I used.  It's important to have that as part of the dish.

This recipe makes a LOT of salad, so this is perfect to bring along to a potluck or anywhere for a larger group.  Or, feel free to make it for your family...the leftovers will store well for about a week in the fridge.

Kitchen Sink Orzo Salad
1 box orzo, cooked, drained and rinsed well
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
1 cup assorted marinated olives, with juice
2 tablespoons oregano
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Cook orzo according to package directions.  Drain and let cool (if you run it under cool water, keep it BRIEF...you want to save some of the starchiness of it).  Combine with remaining ingredients.  Store in fridge or serve at room temperature.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The healthy way out

Eggplant is wonderful.  A clean slate of sorts.  And healthy, too.  Unless you decide to bread it, then fry it in a ton of oil.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE it that way, I really do.  But a healthier alternative is always welcome.

This is the way I make eggplant parmigiana when I'm behaving myself.  And it still tastes pretty damn good.

Don't worry - I'll post the fattening version soon :)

Lightened Up Eggplant Parmigiana
1 large eggplant
Marinara sauce
fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded
fresh basil leaves, torn
grated pecorino romano cheese

Peel eggplant in lengthwise strips.  Slice thin (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick) lengthwise and lightly salt. Place on wire racks (or drape over a large pot) to drain moisture, for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350.  Spread a small amount of marinara on bottom of 9x9 square pan.  Add layer of eggplant, followed by sauce, then mozzarella.  Add another layer of eggplant, then sauce, then mozzarella.  Top with sauce, then add grated cheese and basil.  Cover and bake for 25 minutes, then remove cover and bake for an additional 10 minutes or so.

Linked to:  A Little Nosh

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pour me a mimosa!

Brunch is always a tricky thing.  You obviously want your food to taste good and be fresh, but you don't have much time to prepare before your guests arrive.  Plus you have to set your table, pick up fresh bagels, make some cocktails...you know the drill.

There are lots of delicious sweet breakfast foods you can make in advance, like cinnamon raisin cream cheese french toast, baked french toast with maple & praline, or pear & ginger muffins.  Then there are the more savory things, like quiche and strata, with all the meat and vegetables your heart desires.

But sometimes you want something a little more basic.  Maybe you have picky eaters coming, or perhaps something more simple would round out your otherwise complex menu...but you still need to save as much time as possible in the morning.

If that's the case, then this dish is for you.

This recipe is nothing short of a win-win.  It made my life super easy, and my guests LOVED it.  Every last bit of it went!  I made a few minor changes and added the tomato slices to the top, for taste as well as aesthetics...after all, who wants to stare at a pan of plain old boring eggs?

Then (as you can see behind them) you can serve plenty-o-bacon on the side :)

Make-Ahead Scrambled Eggs
adapted from Ambition's Kitchen

18 eggs
3/4 cup half & half
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups light sour cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
sliced tomato

Beat eggs and half & half together in a large bowl.  Heat butter in large skillet over medium heat.  Add eggs and cook, stirring frequently but gently, until set but not completely cooked.

Remove pan from heat and add sour cream.  Spread eggs into a greased 9x13 pan, then add cheese (leaving about 1/2 cup), salt and pepper.  Stir, then spread evenly.  Top with remaining cheese.  Cover tightly and refrigerate.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350.  Uncover and add tomato slices on top.  Warm through for about 25-30 minutes.  You could also set the temp lower and bake them longer.

Linked to:  These Chicks Cooked

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Monday, September 19, 2011

For my favorite 3 year old!

Bella had a great birthday...or should I say, birthMONTH.  We celebrated on the actual day (September 2nd), had a party on the 11th, and finally, an in-school celebration last week.  Fun, fun, fun!

I thought I'd surprise her with what I planned on baking for both occasions, and chose a theme that has become a favorite recently.  She was so happy with them...I can't wait to see her face the day we finally make it down to Disneyworld :)

Using this cake pan, along with a little pink, I transformed Mickey into Minnie.  I used a boxed mix (chocolate, but you can use whatever you like) for the cake, Wilton's icing recipe (see recipe below) crushed chocolate cookies and pink and black colored gels on top.

The white part is icing that was applied with a star tip.  For the ears and top/sides of the face, I decided to use cookie crumbs instead of coloring the frosting black because, well, we all know how messy black frosting can be.  So, I spread a thin layer of the frosting on those areas, which helped the crumbs stick to the cake.  It worked out well - I also think it's better because it gives it different texture, too.

I used the black gel for her eyes, the outline of her nose, and her mouth.  I filled her nose in with cookie crumbs.  Then, I used the pink gel for her eyelashes and tongue.

Add a bow, and there you go! :)  The perfect Minnie birthday cake.  This was for her family party (it served around 20)...we really enjoyed it.

As for the cupcakes, I saw this cute idea and became inspired.  I actually found red liners with white polka dots, so I didn't have to make my own.  After icing the cupcakes (same recipe I used for the cake, and this time, I used yellow cake mix), I sprinkled chocolate cookie crumbs on top.  Then, using toothpicks, I stuck the "ears" on (Oreos).

I didn't have one, but if you have a small round cookie cutter, I recommend using it to cut the cookies before  adding them to the cupcakes.  Otherwise, as you can see, the ears look a little big, lol.

I dropped these off at school for her class party...the teachers told me they were a big hit with the kids.

Now, someone, please tell me - where did my baby go?

Wilton Buttercream Icing
from Wilton

1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (the original recipe suggests clear, but I used dark)
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (Whoops!  Didn't realize they said to sift it until just now!  I didn't...and it was fine)
2 tablespoons milk

In a mixing bowl, combine shortening and butter.  Mix until fluffy, then add vanilla.  Add sugar, one cup at a time, at medium speed.  Make sure to scrape sides of bowl often.

Icing will appear dry after all sugar is added.  Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.

Refrigerate until ready to use (can be stored in fridge for 2 weeks) in an airtight container.  Rewhip before using.

Linked to:  This Chick Cooked
                  Sweet Tooth Friday

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Friday, September 16, 2011

It's the simple things.

I never understood why Italian cooking intimidates people.  It's so SIMPLE.  As I've said many times, it's all about basic, good quality ingredients.  The same applies to Greek cuisine.  That's how all Mediterraneans eat.  If you've been to either country, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

If you buy good olive oil, your food will taste better.  If you use fresh ingredients, your food will taste better.  If you cook with love, your food will taste better :)

This recipe is not a good example of what may seem complicated to someone, but it IS the perfect example of a delicious dish with simple, quality ingredients.  Plus, it takes two minutes to make.  Can't argue with any of that!

Caprese Salad
fresh mozzarella balls
whole tomatoes, sliced lengthwise and halved
fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn
extra virgin olive oil
white balsamic vinegar (optional)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl, combine all ingredients and mix.  Taste as you go and adjust seasonings accordingly.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to eat.

Told you it was easy :)

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guest posting today!

Head over to Blog is the New Black right now to see my latest post - and if you aren't a reader of Liz's blog, become one now - it's a good one!

Hint - it's a droolworthy breakfast dish that you may want to make, like, this weekend  :)

Oh, and here's another hint...

Go to Liz's blog now and check it out!

Linked to: Sweets for a Saturday

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jewish Penicillin (Daring Cooks)

Another month, another Daring Cooks challenge.  As soon as I read this one, I knew what I'd be making...a dish that I hadn't made in a while, one that I could easily call my Jewish pasta e fagioli.   It's homecooking, comfort, and warmth all wrapped into one bowl.

Peta, of the blog Peta Eats, was our lovely hostess for the Daring Cook’s September 2011 challenge, “Stock to Soup to Consommé”. We were taught the meaning between the three dishes, how to make a crystal clear Consommé if we so chose to do so, and encouraged to share our own delicious soup recipes!

So yeah, I took the easy way out and didn't make the consomme.  It's been a busy month.  I'll leave it at that. 

I made use my usual stock recipe, although I added fresh dill instead of my usual parsley.

And then, I made matzo balls.  (I consulted with a good friend who is Jewish to make sure I was using one of the correct spellings for matzo, by the way...she verified that this way is fine).  The consomme wasn't mandatory for the challenge, but making an accompaniment for the soup...noodles, dumplings, bread, crackers, etc. was.  Perfect.

Coincidentally, Frank wasn't feeling well the day I made this.  After a big bowl, he got a little pep back in his step.  Funny how that happens.  This stuff is like magic.

This is the perfect recipe to have handy now that flu season is about to begin.  Or when you just feel like you're in the comforts of home.  Enjoy!

Matzo Ball Soup
using my stock recipe, matzo ball recipe slightly adapted from Judaism 101

Chicken stock
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Make stock.  While simmering, combine eggs and oil, then add matzo meal and some pepper.  Stir until an even consistency is achieved.  Place in refrigerator and let chill for about 15 minutes.

Wet hands and roll matzo mixture into balls, about an inch thick.  Bring stock to a boil and add balls, then reduce to simmer.  Cook for about 20 minutes, covered.

Linked to:  This Chick Cooks

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Got onions?

The weather is starting to change.  We're heading into fall - my favorite season!  Temps are still in the low 80s here, but are predicted to drop to the 60s by the end of the week.  And I'm not complaining :)

Naturally, we're still grilling, which is great because it makes for easy and delicious dinners.  Like steak.  A nice piece of meat with salt and pepper sprinkled on both sides.  A few minutes on both sides and boom - you're done.

Once in a while, though, you want a little something else.  Something to dress it up a bit.  A while back I posted this amazing recipe for chimichurri.  I'll never get tired of it.  But, I also never get tired of onions.

The beauty of these is that they'll be done in the amount of time it takes to cook your steak, or they can be made in advance.  And, they're ridiculously easy.

So, the next time you're looking for a great condiment for your steak, put down (or better yet, throw out) the A1, and whip up a pan of this deliciousness.

Grilled Sirloin Steak with Balsamic Onions
inspired by Stacey Snacks

boneless sirloin steak
salt and pepper
red cippolini onions
extra virgin olive oil
white balsamic vinegar

While grill is heating, add salt and pepper to both sides of steak.  Add to grill, then cook according to your liking.  I do about 2-3 minutes per side for rare to medium-rare.  Remove from grill and let steak rest for about 5 minutes before eating.

While steak is cooking, heat a small skillet and add a few drops of oil.  Add red cippolini onions to the pan and cook them down until soft.  Add a few splashes of vinegar, stir, and remove from pan.

Place onions on top of (or next to) steak and serve.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

A simple bar (Secret Recipe Club)

How was everyone's weekend?  Mine was a busy one.  We had Bella's 3rd birthday party yesterday - a brunch gathering with immediate family.  Lots of fun, and lots of food, as usual!  I'll be showcasing a good portion of it this week, including Bella's birthday cake :)

Month 2 of participation for me in The Secret Recipe Club proved to be fun, once again.  My assignment was Yumsilicious Bakes, a blog that I wasn't familiar with until now.  Avanika is a young woman from Mumbai who has some pretty fun stuff in there that she's baked - make sure to check it out!

As I browsed through her recipes, I realized that I needed something additional to make for Bella's brunch.  Something sweet...something non-chocolaty...something to satisfy the sweet tooth with a small bite.  The bars that I chose seemed to be the perfect solution.

I made several changes to the recipe that Avanika posted, which are all reflected below.  Obviously, you can use whatever flavor preserves you like.  I chose apricot, well, just because.  And I'm glad I did.  Yum.

Apricot Walnut Bars
heavily adapted from Yumsilicious Bakes

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, slightly softened
1 cup AP flour
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (approximately) apricot preserves (I used reduced sugar)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8x8 square pan.  Combine all ingredients besides preserves in a bowl and mix.

Press half of the mixture into the pan, forming a crust.  Add the preserves evenly over the top.  Sprinkle remaining mixture on top.  Bake for about 35 minutes.  Cool before cutting.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Always remember

I remember exactly what I was wearing.  A sleeveless pink knit shirt, gray pants, gray wedge sandals.

I remember the commute into work.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day.  Perfect September weather.

I remember getting the phone call minutes after it started.  And trying to continue to conduct business, not realizing just yet exactly what was happening.

I remember fighting my way out of the city, and eventually back to my place in Hoboken, right across from the river...right across from the devastation that was unfolding.

I remember the people coming off the ferries that night who were covered in white dust, and helping them find their way to buses so they could eventually get home to their loved ones.

I remember the people who I knew and others who were lost in the buildings that I spent so much time in...in the buildings that I was scheduled to be at for a meeting at 8am on September 12th.

I remember every.single.minute. of that day.

Tomorrow marks the 10 year anniversary of when our lives changed.  And I will always remember.

Spend tomorrow doing something happy.  Never let them get you down.

(photo from History. com)

Friday, September 9, 2011


Once again, I lucked out on another great recipe from our latest swap!  The theme was seafood, and I was fortunate enough to get a nice salmon recipe.  Frank's been loving salmon (he even cooks it for himself when I'm not home) so it's always good to have easy options in our collection.

I made a few changes to this recipe, submitted by Coleen from Does NOT Cook Well With Others.  One was the use of fresh dill instead of dried.  It makes a big difference!  I upped the other spice amounts, too...of course, you can use whatever amounts you're comfortable with.

I also squeezed lemon on the salmon prior to cooking it.  I thought it would be a good replacement for the butter, plus, the only place I saw lemon in the recipe was in the sauce (which I didn't make).  So, in order to make to make it lemon-dill salmon, I had to add it in :)

This dish was quick, easy and tasted great...nice and fresh and light.  I served it with broccoli and my garlic roasted potatoes.  This would work well on the grill, too.  Too bad it's been raining here ALL WEEK!! :(

Thanks for the recipe, Coleen!

Lemon-Dill Salmon
adapted from Does NOT Cook Well With Others

3 salmon filets
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/4 cup chopped dill
juice of one lemon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray.

Place salmon skin side down on the foil.  Add salt, pepper, garlic powder and dill, then squeeze lemon on top.  Bake for about 10 minutes.  Serve immediately.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

You really do learn something new every day.

I love hummus.  I really do.  But then, I stare at the tahini in my pantry and think, hmmm...what else can I do with this?  I've seen some recipes for other uses, but nothing that has really caught my attention.

And then I forget about it.  Until...

I start searching the net looking for something to do with 3 ripe bananas.  I wasn't in the mood for my usual banana bread, or muffins...and then, I came across this.  And I was nothing short of intrigued.

Who needs butter when you have tahini?

Tahini Banana Chocolate Chip Cake
from Kali Orexi

For the streusel:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups AP flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup tahini
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large (very ripe) bananas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 inch square baking pan and set aside. In a bowl, combine chocolate chips, brown sugar, walnuts and cinnamon and stir. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Stir until well combined.

In a mixer bowl, combine tahini and sugar and mix on medium high speed for a few minutes. Add the egg, then vanilla and bananas.   Mix thoroughly. Slowly stir in flour mixture and mix until combined.

Spoon half the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle half the streusel topping over the batter. Pour remaining batter over and carefully spread it evenly with spatula. Finally, top with remaining streusel and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Linked to:  Sweet Tooth Friday
                  Sweet Treats Thursday

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pork on my fork makes me :)

I get all giddy about pork.  What have I said here before about it?  That it's a blank slate?  That I love its versatility?  That it's delicious?  And good for you?  I'm too lazy to go back and check all my pork posts.

Either way, I'll say it again.  I love buying pork and seeing where my mind and creativity takes me.  There are just so many options.  And, I love it even more when it's on sale.  Cheap!!  

This time around I chose a flavor combination that you've probably seen in savory dishes as well as sweets.  When I found this recipe it immediately caught my eye.  The ease of it, as well as the use of ingredients I already had on hand, made it all the more appealing.

This would be great on pork tenderloin as well, if you prefer that cut over chops.

How do you like to make pork?  Try this out - it just may become your new favorite :)

Cocoa & Chili Rubbed Pork Chops
slightly adapted from gimme some oven

2 pork chops, bone-in
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and pepper 

Mix cocoa, chili powder and sugar in a bowl.  Sprinkle and pat down rub on both sides of each chop.  Let sit for about 10 minutes, then add salt and pepper to each chop.  

Heat skillet over medium-high heat and add oil.  Add chops and cover.  Cook for about 5-7 minutes, depending on thickness of meat.  Flip and leave uncovered, cooking second side for another 4-5 minutes.

Linked to:  What's on Your Plate?

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Clori!

I need to be honest - my sister's birthday was in July.  July 28th, to be exact.  Her husband's was 3 days before.

We all got together to celebrate their birthdays one day, but I didn't make either of their cakes.  Instead, I bought one.  Why?  It was just too.damn.HOT to bake that week.  Needless to say, a caught a lot of flack for it.  

When we got together for an impromptu BBQ this past weekend, I had to show up with at least one cake.  So, Clori's it was.  Sorry, Rick...you'll just have to keep waiting ;)

There are a few things I loved about this cake.

1- It was VERY easy to make.  I love when you use a box mix and it yields a good result.  Sometimes life just gets too busy to bake from scratch.

2- It was really good. 

3- It was, as Paula would say, purrr-dy.  (I used 9 inch cake pans, though...I wish I had used 8 inch ones to give it just a bit more height) 

Better late than never, right?  (to the few others I owe cakes to, remember that!)  With a cake like this, forgiveness is inevitable.  

Happy Birthday to my sis!

Pink Lemonade Layer Cake

For the cake:
1 box white cake mix
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons sweetened pink lemonade drink powder

For the frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 pound confectioners' sugar
5 tablespoons frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 9 inch round cake pans, and cover bottoms with parchment or wax paper.  

Prepare cake batter according to box instructions.  Add remaining ingredients to batter.  Pour batter evenly into the 2 pans.  Bake until golden, about 30-35 minutes.  Let cool in pans for about 10 minutes, then carefully turn them out.

While cake is baking, beat together confectioners' sugar and butter until fluffy.  Add remaining ingredients and beat until combined.

Transfer one cake to platter and frost the top.  Place second cake on top and frost the top, followed by sides of both cakes.

Linked to: Mangia Mondays
                  Sweets For A Saturday

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Monday, September 5, 2011

One more day...

Happy Labor Day!  How are you enjoying your last day of summer vacation?  Pool?  Beach?  BBQ?

Or, are you one of those last-minute Moms who will be hitting the malls today, searching for school supplies and the perfect first-day-of-school outfit?  No matter how you're spending your day, meal planning and packing lunches/snacks will definitely be on your mind.

Last week I posted a great crockpot recipe to help make things easier for you.  Today, I'm featuring an item that's perfect for a snack or quick breakfast.  Mom, child or otherwise - this is a delicious treat!  And yes, it's another recipe that has helped me use up the massive quantity of pears from my tree.

Throw this in your child's lunchbox, or serve it with a glass of milk before sending him/her off to the bus stop.  Then relax and enjoy one yourself with a big cup of coffee or tea...and breathe :)

Pear & Ginger Muffins
slightly adapted from Recipe Girl

1 3/4 cups AP flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed - plus a little extra set aside
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup fat free sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups pears, peeled

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line two muffin tins with liners (16 in total).

Place pears in a food processor and pulse until just chopped.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and ginger.  In another bowl, mix sour cream, oil, honey and eggs together.  Add oil mixture to flour mixture, folding until just incorporated (do not overmix).

Add chopped pears, then divide evenly into muffin cups.  Sprinkle each with a little brown sugar, then bake for about 20 minutes.  Remove and cool.

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Happy Birthday to my baby girl!

Today, our little angel...our little miracle who we, at one time, never thought we'd be blessed with...turns 3.  Our beautiful Annabella Josephine.

Here she is, arriving at 1:51PM.

And here she is getting her first pedicure (not from Mommy, that is) just two days ago.

The light of our life.

We love you, Bella!

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Open this for your Labor Day party contribution.

Potato salad is a beautiful thing.  Earlier this summer, I wrote about my Mom's delicious mayo-free recipe.  Well now it's time to share with you the best mayo-laden recipe :)  And it belongs to my Mother-in-law.

Well, really, it's potato-EGG salad.  Yum, yum, yum.  If you've had it, you're nodding your head in agreement with me right now.

I thought this would be a good thing to share now that Labor Day weekend is knocking on our doors.  This recipe, like my Mom's, feeds a huge crowd and is super easy to make.  I remember the first time I tried it - it was love at first bite.  Your friends will fall in love with you for sharing it.  So, bring it along to the last of the season's barbecues.  But beware...it's hard to stop at one spoonful!

MIL's Potato-Egg Salad
5 pounds baking potatoes
8 hard boiled eggs
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onions
2 1/2 cups Hellmans mayonnaise

Peel and cube potatoes before boiling.  Add salt to pot.  Boil for about 10 minutes.  Add other ingredients while warm, then chill salad in fridge.

Serves an army.

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