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Monday, January 31, 2011

Soul Food

***You can also see this recipe on Lidia Bastianich's website!***

I think that term has different meanings for different people.  We all know the type of food commonly referred to by it (which I absolutely love!) but to me, soul food is food that warms my insides...food that brings me back to a happy place...food that evokes memories.

My mom has been making Pasta e Fagioli for as long as I can remember.  I remember my Nana's version of it too.  It takes me back whenever I eat it, and no one else's even comes close.

It's a shame my husband hates beans...but it doesn't stop me from making a vat once in a while.  That's what friends (and family) are for.  Come on over!

Here's my Mom's recipe - exactly the way she wrote it to me a long time ago.

Pasta E Fagioli
from Mom :)

1 bag (one pound) dry cannellini beans
1 cup prepared marinara sauce (here's my recipe)
2 smoked ham hocks
2 cups cooked (al dente) pasta of your choice...mine is broken spaghetti and ditalini
6 garlic cloves
Hot pepper flakes (to taste)....a couple of shakes
Oregano...again a couple of shakes
1 to 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.....just for flavor

Cover dry beans with water a couple of inches over the beans.  bring to a boil...shut fire... let stand for at least one hour to soften....throw water out...fill pot with fresh water (again a couple of inches over the beans)....add ham hocks, garlic cloves and oregano...let cook for 45 min...add tomato sauce, hot pepper flakes....cook for another half hr or until beans are tender...add cooked pasta and let sit for a few minutes for the flavors to blend...drizzle with olive oil before serving...enjoy!

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

January = diet?

Ummm, not in this house.  And I completely blame it on this blog.  100%.  No question.  Gotta get back on the horse.  

So, when Lisa from Lisa's Cooking Adventures was looking for guest bloggers for the latest group of healthy chicken recipes from Cooking Light, I hopped on board.  I can always use more ideas on how to prepare chicken in light, delicious ways.  Since I knew I'd have leftover buttermilk from the German Chocolate Cake I made yesterday, I chose the recipe below.  

And then, I made one of the heaviest side dishes in existence.  But I swear, I lightened it up (a bit)!

The verdict on both - delicious.  Frank LOVED the chicken.  I did too, although there were a few minor issues.  

One was totally my fault - the cast iron pan I was using was too small for the amount of chicken I made (they were 4 really large breasts).  So, I had to cook it in 2 batches, and transfer it to a baking pan for the oven portion of the cooking.  Not a huge deal, but it may have taken away from the taste a bit because it wasn't in the oil the entire time.

Also, the crust came off pretty easily when I was transferring the chicken from the pan to the plates.  Not sure why, or if there's anything that can be done to prevent it, but we all know the crust is the best part, so it was a bit of a bummer.

And of course, the potatoes were awesome.  

Thanks for a fun challenge, Lisa!  I'll definitely make this dish again.

Crispy Buttermilk Chicken
from Cooking Light

4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 3/4 cups whole buttermilk (I used lowfat)
1 large egg
3/4 teaspoon onion powder, divided  (I used garlic powder)
3/4 teaspoon ground red pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon celery salt
2 tablespoons canola oil

Place chicken in a zip-top plastic bag. Combine buttermilk, egg, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper; add to bag. Seal. Marinate in refrigerator 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 425°.  Remove chicken from bag; discard marinade. Sprinkle kosher salt over chicken. Combine 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper, flour, black pepper, and celery salt in a shallow dish. Dredge chicken in flour. Place chicken on a wire rack.
Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil. Add chicken; sauté 4 minutes. Turn chicken over. Bake chicken at 425° for 10 minutes.

Serves 4
WW Points+ per serving = 9
Creamy Au Gratin Potatoes  adapted from Allrecipes
  • 4 russet potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 onion, sliced into rings
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk  (one cup whole, one cup skim)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (lowfat)

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Butter a 1 quart casserole dish.

  • Layer 1/2 of the potatoes into bottom of the prepared casserole dish. Top with the onion slices, and add the remaining potatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  • In a medium-size saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Mix in the flour and salt, and stir constantly with a whisk for one minute. Stir in milk. Cook until mixture has thickened. Stir in cheese all at once, and continue stirring until melted, about 30 to 60 seconds. Pour cheese over the potatoes, and cover the dish with aluminum foil.

  • Bake 1 1/2 hours in the preheated oven.

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Another lucky winner!!

Lishie...congratulations!  You're the latest giveaway winner.  Please reply to my email with your mailing address. Enjoy your goodies! :)

Lishie said...

yayyyyyyyy! I love to wipe the counters too! LOL

emh1 at nyu.edu

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy Birthday Mom!

When I started this blog 6 weeks ago, I tried to think of things I could do in order to challenge myself - to raise the bar beyond what I've been doing in the kitchen regularly.  I came up with a few ideas, although there was one I was a little scared particularly excited about starting.

For a while now, my family has been buying birthday cakes rather than bake them ourselves...so, being that baking has never been my strongpoint, I thought, why not bake everyone's cakes this year?  Let the birthday boy/girl choose whatever they want, and I would deliver.

The first birthday of the year is Mom's.  We gathered today to celebrate (along with mine, but I'm waiting until the actual day to make my cake - check back in a few days), and I started My Personal Baking Challenge off with a bang - German Chocolate Cake.

Everyone was patiently waiting for "happy cake time"...including the oldest and youngest grandsons...

Finally!!  Happy Birthday Mom! (I made a wish, too)

Dad was watching over it carefully...

...and Bella had a cookie appetizer before eating some of Daddy's piece.

Now, what to make for mine on Wednesday?  Any suggestions?  Considering we're supposed to be snowed in (AGAIN), it may just be the three of us eating it.  Better bust out the sweats.

I used the recipe on the Original Baker's German's Chocolate Box and it didn't disappoint.  Soooo good. I will say, though, that the prep was longer than 30 minutes.  More like 45...maybe a bit more.  Still, it was easy to follow.

And, if you're anything like my family, you know that there can never be too much chocolate.  EVER.  So, I had to frost the sides with this AMAZING chocolate icing.  I highly recommend doing the same.

Kittencal's Chocolate Frosting
from Food.com
1/2 cup butter, softened 
2 2/3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/3 cup half and half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

  • Cream the butter in a small bowl.  Blend in the cocoa powder, vanilla, confectioners sugar, alternately with the cream.  Beat with an electric mixer, until the desired texture is achieved.

  • Linked to: Sweets for a Saturday, hosted by Sweet As Sugar Cookies

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    Friday, January 28, 2011

    Now I'm REALLY starting to spoil Frank.

    I know, I know, many of the wives out there are thinking, "you're SUPPOSED to make your husband's favorite foods!"  That's what we do...we tie our aprons on, put a smile on our faces and sing happy songs while making the meals that our men love the most.  Right?

    Ummm, sure.

    Don't get me wrong - I love making Frank's favorites - but through the years I've had to branch out a bit, mainly so that we weren't eating pasta every night.  He's what you'd call a pain in the ass creature of habit, and that's regarding many things...not just food.  I'm just the opposite - I'm all about variety.  So, the term "opposites attract" holds true for us in that respect.

    I'm finally at the point where I can pretty much predict what Frank will order when we're out, depending on what type of cuisine it is.  9 times out of 10, when we're out for Spanish/Portuguese food, Frank orders paella.  No question about it.

    So, while scanning my (very full!) fridge last night, I saw what needed to be used - 4 chicken thighs and some leftover shrimp.  I pulled the TJs smoked chicken andouille sausage out of the freezer...and...perfecta!  Paella!

    Now, I know there are more "authentic" recipes out there, but I found a recipe to base mine off of what I had already in the house.  Next time I'll probably use chorizo (although the TJs sausage was excellent, and a healthy substitute) and a few different types of olives.  And, as for peppers, you-know-who isn't a fan...but he'll just have to pick them out :)

    In keeping with the Spanish theme, I also made Natilla...it's very easy, and really, REALLY good.

    I'm not sure I've had it before, even though it tasted familiar.  It's probably used as a custard inside other desserts...hmmm...am I going to have to start making Spanish pastries now?

    I better be getting a kick-ass birthday gift next week.  Just sayin'.

    Paella Mixta
    adapted from adamsvetcooking on food52.com
    4 chicken thighs, bone-in with skin
    extra virgin olive oil
    salt and pepper
    4 links Trader Joe's Smoked Chicken Andouille Sausage
    2 medium onions, sliced
    5 garlic cloves, halved
    1 1/2 cups green olives with pimento, halved
    1 1/2 cups arborio rice
    3 cups chicken stock
    1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/4 teaspoon saffron sprigs
    2 bay leaves
    12 shrimp, peeled and deveined, with skin

    Preheat oven to 425ºF.  In a 12" saute pan (or 18" paella pan, or dutch oven) add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Put pan over medium to high heat.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pan and sear both sides. Remove from heat and set aside.

    Place sausage in pan and sear both sides. Remove from heat and set aside.  

    Add onion to pan and cook until soft.  Add garlic, peppers and olives. Continue to saute for 5 - 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

    Add rice and saute for 3 - 5 minutes (until rice begins to toast), then pour in chicken stock.  Add cumin, saffron, bay leaves and thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.

    Add chicken and sausage to pan. Arrange in decorative fashion. Cover with lid or foil.  Place pan in preheated oven, and cook for 45 minutes.

    Season shrimp with salt and pepper, and add it to the pan.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes. Serve with lemon.

    Serves 4.

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    Thursday, January 27, 2011

    More snowbound comfort at its best

    It's funny - whenever there's a big snowstorm and people ask (on Facebook, mostly) what's for dinner, you get many of the same answers.  One of them is beef stew.  The two words together just spell comfort.

    I've been making this recipe for a long time, but realized recently that it had been a while since it was on our table.  Some of my friends started making it several years ago, when I first gave them the recipe, so when their Facebook statuses were saying (some, multiple times), "beef stew is simmering on the stove!" or similar, I thought, wait, that's MY stew!  And we haven't had it in AGES!  And why aren't these people inviting me over for dinner?

    Problem solved.  Phew.

    Oh, and along the lines of comfort, I made these for Saturday (with the addition of M&Ms, obviously).  We're celebrating two birthdays - my Mom's, which is today, and mine, which is next week.  These are mainly for me to pick at the kids to eat.  Tomorrow is when I bake the "adult" dessert - my Mom's birthday cake of choice.

    REMINDER: Don't forget to enter my latest giveaway!  Ends on Sunday at 5PM!  Spread the word and increase your chances to win!

    Beef Stew
    3 pounds stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
    salt and pepper
    all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup butter
    1 tablespoon canola oil
    1 onion, chopped
    1 cup crushed tomatoes
    3 cups water
    2 cubes beef bouillon
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    2 tablespoons chopped parsley
    1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
    1 1/2 cups red wine
    4 carrots, chopped
    2 stalks celery, chopped
    6 potatoes, cubed
    2 cups pearl onions

    Season the meat with salt and pepper and coat with flour. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the beef and onions in the butter and oil until brown. Transfer the beef and onions to a stockpot and stir in the tomatoes, water and bouillon cubes. Season with garlic, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir in the red wine.

    Cover and simmer for 1 hour before adding carrots, celery potatoes and pearl onions. Continue to simmer until potatoes are tender, about 1 hour.

    Serves 8-10.

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    I'm feeling generous!

    Since my last giveaway was such a big hit, I'm doing it again!  Same two items, same rules, ...except you should comment under this post.

    To be clear, you must be a fan of my Facebook page...and if you share it on your Facebook wall, you get ANOTHER entry.  That makes two entries.  Some of you were letting me know that you posted on your FB wall in the same entry as your original one...don't do that!  In that case you've earned another!  Don't gyp yourself :)

    Also, PLEASE leave your email address in your comment, and if you do share my page on your FB wall, please leave the link in the comment that corresponds with it.

    So, to change it up a bit, please tell me what your FAVORITE kitchen chore is!  Or to put it differently, the one you hate the least :)

    Good luck everyone!  Oh, this giveaway will end on Sunday at 5PM EST.  Spread the word!


    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    Who's the lucky winner?

    Heather Lynne, you win!  Congratulations!  You have 48 hours to respond back to my email (although, you didn't leave your email address - I'll have to see if I can contact you), otherwise we will pick another winner.  

    Enjoy your Restoration Hardware apron and towels!

    Heather Lynne said...

    I hate washing the dishes after I've been baking.

    True Random Number Generator  45Powered by RANDOM.ORG


    Another very important member of the family...(and check out this good cause!)

    ...is this handsome devil.  And boy, does he love his food.  Especially his meatballs.

    Vito has been a part of our family since 1999, when my sister and brother-in-law got him as a puppy.  He was my parents' first grandchild (and arguably, my dad's favorite grandchild to this day) and my first nephew. 

    There's no doubt that he's treated as an equal with us.  He is the man.  And everyone who meets him, loves him...even if he gives you a friendly hump :)

    Vito celebrated his 12th birthday last month...those of you who know anything about English Bulldogs know that he's made it pretty far!  We hope to have many more special times with VeeVee (as Bella calls him)...it'll be a very sad day for all of us when he heads up to that big doghouse in the sky...

    A fellow food blogger, Branny Boils Over, is doing a wonderful thing by hosting a Charity Souper Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday.  For every entry she receives, she's donating $1.00 to the ASPCA to help those animals in need.  Of course, when she said to dedicate your soup post to a special animal in your life, it HAD to be Vito.  Because he is just that.

    Head over to Branny's blog and check out the details - even if you AREN'T a blogger, there are instructions on how you can enter your soup recipe so that she can continue to build up what will hopefully be a HUGE donation!  The deadline is January 30th.

    I've been making this soup for a long time.  My mom made lentil soup a lot, although it was always on the stove.  This recipe is super convenient and foolproof.  If you don't have a large crockpot, just halve the recipe...I love being able to make so much at once, then freeze the bulk of it so we can enjoy it all winter long.  And this has definitely been a winter that calls for LOTS of soup!

    Crockpot Lentil Soup
    2 cups dry lentils 
    2 cups chopped carrots
    2 cups chopped celery
    2 cups chopped onion
    5 cloves garlic, minced 
    1 teaspoon dried basil
    1 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    2 bay leaves
    7 cups chicken broth 
    3 cups water 
    1 (28 ounce) can Italian-style plum tomatoes (or any whole tomatoes), undrained
    fresh parsley (optional)
    white or cider vinegar (optional)

    Rinse lentils. In crockpot, place lentils, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, and bay leaves. Stir in broth, water and undrained tomatoes. 

    Cook on low for 12 hours or on high for 5 to 6 hours. Discard bay leaf. Stir in parsley and vinegar (if desired). Makes 12 servings.

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    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Time to get creative...

    You know those days when you look in your fridge and pantry and realize you have items that need to be used up, like, NOW?  Happens to me sometimes.  

    I always say I'm going to set weekly meal plans, but it never seems to work out for various reasons.  For one, I never know what I'll be in the mood for, or what I'll feel like cooking.  Or, our plans might change and we may end up somewhere else for dinner.  Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but then it will sometimes lead to this dilemma.

    If the walls could talk, they'd say that today they heard, "what can I do these yams and this fennel before they go bad...and what about all those lemons Clori (my sister) gave me yesterday?"  (yes, I talk to myself often...don't lie - you do too)

    Well, here's what I did.

    I also made some croutons for our salad, out of the last of the bread given out of neighborly love (FINALLY, lol).

    So to all those crazy people who bust down the doors at ShopRite as soon the word "snow" is mentioned, have no fear...you CAN make a good meal out of what's in your kitchen.  No need to panic.  And if you have any problems, just ask me...I'll be glad to help :)

    Roasted Chicken Thighs With Yams, Fennel & Lemon
    4 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
    3 yams, peeled and cut in large chunks
    1 head of fennel, tops and bottom cut, sliced
    8 cloves garlic, whole, peeled
    2 lemons, quartered
    extra virgin olive oil
    salt and pepper to taste

    Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Put yams in a roasting pan, followed by fennel and garlic.  Add chicken, and drizzle oil over everything.  Season with salt and pepper.  Put in oven for 20 minutes.

    Remove pan from oven and shake everything around a bit so the juices are distributed.  Squeeze lemon pieces all over the food, then add them to the pan.  Lower temperature to 425, place pan back in oven, and cook for another 35 minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked.

    Serves 2.

    Italian bread (or whatever bread you like), stale, cut into bite size cubes
    extra virgin olive oil
    dried oregano
    salt and pepper

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss bread cubes in a bowl with EVOO and other ingredients until fully coated.  Place bread on foil-lined baking pan and cook for about 15 minutes.

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    Monday, January 24, 2011

    It's Giveaway Time again!

    Thanks again for helping meet our newest goal!  We're over 350 fans now, much thanks to you.

    This giveaway features something that can be used for cooking or for other types of chores around the house.  It's a utility apron from Restoration Hardware, and it's terrific.  It covers much of your body so there's no worries about getting dirty or staining clothes.  It has several pockets that allow you to keep things close and convenient.  Plus, It's one size fits all (adjustable) so the men can use it too!

    With this I'm also adding a set of two glass towels, also from RH.  They're linen and cotton, and made specifically for drying crystal and glassware and leaving them super shiny.  They're magical...seriously.  Here's a picture of the set:

    To enter, you must be a fan of my Facebook page - just comment on this post and mention what your least favorite kitchen chore is (we all have several, don't we?).  For an additional entry, simply "share" my Facebook page on your wall, then let me know you've done so with a link to your page.  PLEASE don't forget to leave your email address, too. 

    This giveaway is for Continental US Residents only and will end on Wednesday, January 26th at 5pm. 

    Thanks again...and please, keep spreading the word!


    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Friends who are family

    Everyone should be lucky enough to have friends they consider family.  If so, you know what I'm talking about - the ones who are there through thick and thin (a.k.a your "rocks")...who you can just be yourself with and not be judged...who actually LISTEN...who you appreciate more than anything (and vice versa) - you get my drift.

    I'm eternally grateful to have been blessed with some of these people.  One of them came over last night to do what we do best - eat, drink and chill out :)  There were other items on the menu that ended up not making an appearance - maybe the wine (or even the laughter) took up too much room in our bellies, as usual.

    Instead of a sit-down meal I went with apps and desserts for a more casual night.  We'll enjoy the quesadillas I had planned to make later today (plus leftovers of what you see here)...everything is football-friendly, so why not try some yourselves?  Goooo JETS!

    Ina's Pan-Fried Onion Dip was awesome - especially if you're a ridiculous onion lover like me.  Doesn't look like much in the picture but believe me, it's GOOD.  It makes a good amount, too.

    I wanted to try a baked buffalo wings recipe for future use - any way that I can make one of our favorite dishes healthier is always a bonus.  These didn't disappoint (see recipe below).  Once they were finished, I realized I probably didn't dry the wings off well enough after washing, because some of the coating didn't stick.  So, that didn't make for the best looking wings, but they definitely were some of the best tasting we've had.  The blue cheese dressing I made for dipping wasn't too shabby, either...and probably made up for the calories lost from baking the wings.  Hey, nobody's perfect ;)

    And of course, the ever-popular spinach balls made an appearance (see my recipe below)...

    ...along with this delicious cake batter bark from a fellow food blogger from NJ, Stephanie.  To say I'm thrilled that we have leftovers of this is an understatement  :)

    And finally, Chach's favorite (that's Jason, to those of you who don't know him) that I've been making him for 20+ years...key lime pie.  The "famous" recipe that I've been wowing him and many other friends with all this time can very easily be found on the back of Nellie & Joe's Key Lime Juice bottle.

    And yes, I've made a "from scratch" version before...it doesn't compare.  Don't mess with this one.  Trust me.     See below for over 20 years of proof.

    Baked Buffalo Wings
    from Allrecipes

    • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 20 chicken wings
    • 1/2 cup melted butter
    • 1/2 cup hot pepper sauce

    • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and lightly grease with cooking spray. Place flour, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and salt into a resealable plastic bag.  Shake to mix. 

    • Add the chicken wings, seal, and toss until well coated with flour mixture. Place the wings onto the prepared baking sheet and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

    • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Whisk together the melted butter and hot sauce in a small bowl. Dip wings into butter mixture, and place back on baking sheet. Bake until chicken is no longer pink in the center, and crispy on the outside, about 45 minutes. Turn the wings over halfway during cooking so they cook evenly.

    Spinach Balls
    1 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained VERY WELL of all liquid (use a paper towel to press excess water out)
    1/2 cup grated cheese (I use pecorino romano...parmesan is fine)
    1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs (if you use plain, add whatever seasonings you like)
    1 onion, finely chopped
    3 eggs, beaten
    4 tablespoons butter, melted

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix.  Roll mixture into small balls and place on baking sheets lined with foil.  Bake for 30 minutes.

    These can easily be frozen and reheated.

    WW Points+ for Spinach Balls = 4 (about 4 balls per serving)
    WW Points+ for Baked Buffalo Wings = 4

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