Friday, July 20, 2007

A twist on your typical sausage and peppers

A long time ago, in the harried rush to get a weekend's worth of food, clothes, and activities for 4 people together before heading out on our family's boat to Davis Park on Fire Island, Long Island, my mom came across this recipe. Looking back, I can't imagine how she did all of this nearly every weekend from the end of June through Labor Day weekend - for at least 4 summers in a row. Nonetheless, I remember the night she tried this recipe on us as we squeezed into the 4 person dinette in the boat's cabin. At the age of 11 or 12, I know that I most likely turned up my nose at eating green peppers. Not a surprise, though, because I always turned my nose up at the prospect of having to eat green peppers. I ate the dish anyway (and probably picked out a lot of the peppers) but we all loved it! This was an easy and relatively inexpensive meal for my mom to make at home, pack in the cooler, and serve cold on the boat. By eating it cold, my mom avoided having to heat up the already overheated and sickeningly humid boat cabin...and it avoided my dad having to standing over the grill in the rain with an umbrella (how can you get through a few weekends in the summer without it raining??) trying to cook us dinner. This became a much-loved dish in my family for years to come.

Fast-forward about 10 or 12 years to the night when my whole family brought dinner to my grandma who was in the hospital recovering from a knee replacement. This was the main course that night and it was the first time Kyle had ever tried it (I wasn't much of a cook way back in the beginning of our relationship). We got in the car that night and he said to me, "That was SO good. You have to find out how to make that." And the rest is history. This is now in Kyle's "Top 3" which also consists of my chicken parmesan and our caprese pasta dish that I've yet to blog about.

Looking at the picture above, it does look a little plain, but trust me, it's full of flavor. The sausage explodes with flavor when cooking it down with the wine, and I've found out through trial and error that the type of wine I use really does matter. Neither of us are wine drinkers (Kyle is allergic and I think that I may be) so I don't usually have "good" drinking wine in the house and had been using regular cooking wine you can find in the grocery store. That all changed last night when the dish was taken to another level with the leftover Chardonnay from the fridge that I wanted to use up before it went bad. Amazing what some "good" drinking wine will do!! My mom's original recipe is below with a couple of my modifications below that.

Pasta, Sausage and Peppers
  • 1 lb shells or other small macaroni
  • 6 tbsp olive oil*
  • 1 1/2 lbs sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 cup dry white wine*
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 3 cups diced green peppers
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup parsley*
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese*

Cook pasta, drain, rinse in cold water, add 2 tbsp olive oil, and toss.* Remove sausage casings, cook meat thoroughly, stirring. Stir in wine and cook until thickened*. Remove this from pan, set aside. Add remaining oil* to skillet with onions and peppers, saute until almost tender, stirring often. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds. Return sausage to skillet. Add parsley and heat. Add sausage and cheese to pasta and toss well.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10-15 minutes

Serves: 8


  1. I reduce the oil by half. We eat the dish hot so I don't rinse the pasta or toss it in olive oil. I use 1 tbsp to cook the sausage and 2 tbsp to saute the veggies.
  2. My mom's version notes that you can substitute beer for wine if you don't have any wine.
  3. If I don't already have parsley in the house, don't worry about it. If I don't have it, I won't by it just for this dish as I'm not a fan of it.
  4. When has a little extra cheese hurt anyone? We always top the dish with some extra grated Parmesan.

Dinner in a pinch

You know how some nights when you come home from work and just don't feel like cooking but really don't feel like going out for a bite either and delivery isn't an option in a small rural town? I had one of those nights earlier this week and the old standby of pasta with jarred sauce turned into a really nice meal. In an effort to add some more veggies to our diet, we sauteed some onions and garlic with zucchini, yellow squash (summer squash??), and some extra sliced red peppers I had hanging out in the fridge in a little bit of olive oil. We added the sauce and topped some thin spaghetti with the veggie sauce (is this primavera??). Kyle cooked up a hot Italian sausage and added that too to his serving - I skipped the sausage. It was quick and easy and satisfied both of our appetites. Next time, I'll take the extra step and defrost a roasted chicken sausage to add to my serving.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bringing a little of the South to New England

Traveling down South you can always guarantee that you'll be able to find a few certain foods at any truck/rest stop, diner, Denny's, etc...grits and bbq pulled pork. And let me tell you, if, when traveling with my parents as a child (always by car), a place didn't have bbq pulled pork, my dad would not be a happy camper. This one is WAY up on his list favorite foods...right up there with chicken parmesan. And funny enough, my mom never ever made this while I was growing up...and I'm not so sure why, because it is SO easy to make!! HELLO CROCKPOT!!!

I pulled my gleaming almost-never-used crockpot out the other day from one of my spare bedrooms (which is acting as a makeshift small kitchen appliance overflow/storage area) and cranked it all the way up to low ;) earlier this week. I had bought a 6 pound pork shoulder at the grocery store over the weekend and was bound and determined to make some kick-ass pulled pork this week. And what a treat this was!!! To come home to a great-smelling home and not have to worry about preparing a whole meal after a long day was the best! The pork was tender and so tastey that I think Kyle sneaked back for thirds!

BBQ Pulled Pork
  • 1 large pork shoulder or butt (bone in)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 bottles of your favorite bbq sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray's Original)

In a heavy stock pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Trim off some of the visible fat, but not all. Lightly brown all non-fat sides of the meat in the heated oil.

Place onions, garlic and water in the bottom of crockpot. Transfer browned pork to crockpot and place on top of onions and garlic. Cover pork and onions with bbq sauce. Cover crockpot and cook for 8 hours on low.

When finished cooking, remove pork from crockpot and shred with two forks. Combine shredded pork with remaining bbq and onion mixture. Serve alone, on hamburger buns or on hard sandwich rolls.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 8 hours

Serves: 6-8

another Tyler "eh" recipe

OK, I'll admit that I haven't tried all that many Tyler Florence recipes but the ones I have tried have been just "eh" rather that "ultimate." And really, it's kind of a bummer because the idea of what he makes and how his food looks when he cooks it is great but in the end, there is always something that's just...missing, I guess. Don't get me wrong, the outcome is never bad, but I always say, "Well, I guess I can tweak the recipe a little next time" which really is OK because I'll tweak it to our tastes, not the masses'.

Tyler's smothered pork chops were on the menu last week and I had been anxious to make them for a while after reading lots of reviews on the cooking message board I frequent. Elly was really the one who introduced the recipe to the board and I knew I should have followed Ella's recipe modifications and maybe not have omitted the buttermilk (I was afraid it would be too tangy!), because I said to Kyle after we finished eating, "That really could have used some sauteed onions rather than onion powder." You live, you learn. I'm not going to post the whole recipe here - you can find it in the smothered pork chops link above - and I've linked Elly's version here. And to mix it up a little, I made Giada's creamy orzo instead of mashed potatoes because I just couldn't bring myself to make garlic mashed potatoes twice in one week.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Ok, so if I could pick two foods to eat everyday for the rest of my life, bagels with cream cheese would be one (in fact, growing up, I was often called "the bagel queen" by my family lol) and pizza would be the other. Pizza is the most well-balanced food out there. No, seriously. Just the base of any ordinary pizza has carbs (dough), protein (cheese and any meats), veggies (tomato sauce), and then of course you can add whatever other veggies or fruit (pineapple, for example) you'd like. How can you get more well-balanced than that? Of course, I neglected to mention fat content but for many pizza options out there, you can totally cut down on fat content...

This was one of those attempts. I made up a quick tomato sauce (with onions, garlic and a few dried herbs), topped it on 1 pound of rolled out, pre-made dough that I bought at the grocery store (either in the dairy or deli sections), then added shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, a touch of dried oregano, sauteed onions, sliced roasted garlic chicken sausage, and sliced turkey pepperoni (which by the way, didn't make the pizza greasy at all). It was a hot night with the AC blasting, and I cranked the oven up to 500 degrees to get the pizza stone heated, which of course counteracted the effect of the AC but it was so worth it! What a treat this was!!


A few tips about making pizza:
  • always let the dough rest to room temperature before you try to roll it out
  • USE LOTS OF FLOUR to roll the dough out. I know there are a few different techniques to getting the dough into the "perfect circle" but really, the most important thing to remember is that the flour will keep the dough from shrinking as you roll it - and don't worry about making that perfect circle - pizza is pizza no matter what shape the dough ends up as
  • Here's what I do: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Flour your work surface, the ball of dough, and the rolling pin. Start rolling the dough out from the center to the outside (always work the dough this way); after a couple of rolls, carefully flip the dough over and sprinkle some more flour and roll out with long rolls from the center. Repeat until dough is to desired thickness and size, all the while making sure there is enough flour on the work surface, dough, and rolling pin.
  • I use a pizza stone but a large cookie sheet works just as well. Whatever you use, make sure that you sprinkle corn meal on the stone or the cookie sheet before you put the dough on. In order to get the pizza onto the hot stone in the oven, I prepare the pizza on a large wooden cutting board that is well-sprinkled with corn meal, then carefully slide it off the board onto the stone in the oven (this is a two person job!!) - making sure the board has enough corn meal will ensure that the pizza almost rolls off the board with the help of a couple of spatulas. Someday I'll get around to buying a pizza peel with a long handle which will hopefully make it easier to do this step.
  • Turn the oven temperature down to 475 degrees and cook for 12 to 13 minutes.

Monday, July 9, 2007

WC Platinum Chef Challenge Round 3

Ina Garten's Crunchy Noodle Salad
Round 3 WC Platinum Chef Challenge

I feel like a little blogging maniac tonight! This is my 4th post tonight but its only because I haven't posted anything in 2 weeks - withdrawal!!

So the past couple of weeks have been crazy (not a whole lot of cooking - *gasp!*) and I skipped the WC Platinum Chef Challenge Round 2 but I was bound and determined to get back into the challenge for this round. Cara has been hosting this challenge and posted the 5 new ingredients for this round last week: wine, peanut butter, honey, onions, and seafood.

I got right to thinking about a recipe or two that would emcompass all of these ingredients when I remembered a recipe I had filed away both in the back of my mind and in my recipe book that I was dying to make which used peanut butter and honey. Ina Garten's (the Barefoot Contessa on Food Network) Crunchy Noodle Salad called for peanut butter, honey, and to my surprise, scallions (green onions) - I would only need to add wine and seafood to the dish to complete the challenge! Ina pairs it salmon but I added shrimp because, well, that's what I had in my freezer. :) And what a better time to make a salad than on a rare 95 degree evening here in New England!

Its a long list of ingredients but Kyle joined me in the kitchen tonight and took on making the sauce while I prepped the veggies, which really helped to cut down on the prep time. All told, I loved it, giving it a 4 out of 5 - to me, it had a little bit of a Thai taste, without the heat or the coconut - just the way I like it! :) Kyle, on the other hand wasn't all that fond of it (although he polished off his serving while I was taking photos of my serving) and gave it a 2 out of 5. I will make it again, but only when I'm bringing it for a pot luck or serving it amongst other things at my house for a gathering (i.e., not for a main course for Kyle and myself). Of course, I made some modifications, which are noted below the recipe.

Crunchy Noodle Salad

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound cooked (and cooled) shrimp, peeled and deveined*
  • 1/2 pound thin spaghetti
  • 1 pound sugar snap peas*
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon chardonney wine*
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons dark sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger*
  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted*
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded, and thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions (with and green parts), sliced diagonally
  • 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted*
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves*
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring another large pot of salted water to a boil, add the sugar snap peas, return to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes, until crisp tender. Lift the sugar snap peas from the water with a slotted spoon and immerse them in a bowl of ice water. Drain.*

For the dressing, whisk together the vegetable oil, rice wine vinegar, wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, ginger, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, peanut butter, salt, to taste, and the pepper, in a medium bowl.

Combine the spaghetti, sugar snap peas*, peppers and scallions in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the spaghetti mixture. Add the scallions, the parsley*, and the shrimp and mix again.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 9-11 minutes
Serves: 4-6

* Modifications
  1. The recipe doesn't call for it, but I added cooked shrimp to make it a well-rounded meal and to satify the requirements of the WC Platinum Chef Challenge.
  2. I'm not a fan of sugar snap peas, so I omitted them and the whole step that includes them.
  3. Again to satisfy the Challenge requirements, I added a little wine to the dressing.
  4. I totally forgot the recipe called for fresh ginger when I shopped this week, so we used ground ginger.
  5. Toasting the sesame seeds required too much heat to be generated on such a hot night so we didn't toast them.
  6. I don't favor parsley so I omitted this as well.


I wouldn't normally post something like this but since Kyle felt like being a "chef" on his own after not being fulfilled by the Crunchy Noodle Salad and not wanting to go back for seconds (fine by me - lunch tomorrow!), he decided to whip up a little something of his own...the result...

Loaded Mashed Potato Hot Dog Boats

Gotta let the man be happy, right?

Kyle's #1 Sweets Request

New dessert recipes (especially cookies) are tough to come by in my house because of the undying love that Kyle has for the Nestle's Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. I made the famous chocolate chip cookie recipe (fondly nicknamed BFCCC) and he almost had a heart attack because I was trying a new recipe. I wasn't trying to replace his favorite - I merely wanted to try something new. It didn't fly and all I got was a turned up nose to both the raw dough (which Kyle prefers) and the cooked cookie.

So back to the original recipe I go, and I do have to admit that I love it more than any other chocolate chip cookie recipe I've come across as well (so far!). These pictures makes them look hard and crunchy, but by making them bigger (with an ice cream scoop), they turn out soft and gooey. When I make them like this, I cook them an additional 6-9 minutes while carefully watching them towards the end.

All-time favorite

Most everyone has their own chicken parmigiana recipe but every so often, I come across someone who has never made this mouth-watering chicken dish. What gets me is that this just so basic, its a total wonder how some people think chicken parm is intimidating to make and at the same time, that there are so many different versions.

I am truly my father's daughter and aside from our shared affinity for rice pudding, peanut butter, and potato chips, my mom can attest that chicken parm is, hands-down, our numero uno favorite meal. (In fact, when my dad eats at seafood restaurants, he orders chicken parm rather than seafood - and does that make my mom steam!) I can't count the number of times this has appeared on my parent's dinner table, although usually only for special occasions, and to this day as I turn 29 years old this year, my mom still makes this for my birthday dinner when they celebrate with me.

While growing up, I have spent a lot of time watching this meal be prepared and have since incorporated many of my parent's methods into my own recipe, while adding some ideas that I've picked up along the way in an effort to personalize an already fantastic meal.'s my very special version...

Chicken Parmigiana
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to about 1/2 inch
  • 1 egg
  • dash of water
  • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • olive oil
  • sliced mozzarella cheese
  • 3 cups (approx) spaghetti sauce (either jarred or homemade), heated
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat olive oil (about 1/4 inch deep) in a heavy fry or saute pan. In 2 shallow bowls, beat an egg with a dash of water in one bowl, and combine bread crumbs and flour in the second bowl. Dip and coat chicken breasts in egg then dredge in bread crumb and flour mixture, pressing mixture onto chicken. Carefully place in hot oil. Cook until chicken is browned, then turn and brown the other side. When both sides are browned, carefully remove chicken and place on a paper towel on a plate to drain.

Cover the bottom of a 9x9 glass oven-safe dish with some sauce. Place drained chicken on top of sauce. Top with more sauce (reserving some for a side of spaghetti), Parmesan cheese, then sliced mozzarella. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes, then remove foil and bake for an additional 5-8 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Serves: 2

P.S. - Please excuse the picture- it is a little dark and I let the cheese brown for a minute too long this time. :)

Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese

I love it when a "light" recipe doesn't taste "light"! I've found a number of recipes on the Cooking Light website (yes, just like the food/lifestyle magazine) that have fulfilled this desire and this one I didn't have to do any searching to find. This was the first cooking (as opposed to baking) recipe that my cooking board (on The Nest) voted on for the Recipe of the Week on our board's blog, graciously hosted by nestie adamswife.

Now, you ask, how could a recipe with sausage, pasta, and cheese be on the lighter side? Easy. The recipe calls for turkey sausage and the total calorie count for one serving is 418 kcal. Not bad for a whole meal. There are ways, of course, to lighten it even further, some of which I applied this time (used roasted garlic chicken sausage rather than turkey, for example), and one which I will apply the next time I make the dish - see modifications below.

So get on with it, right? OK OK!

Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese
  • 1 lb package uncooked ziti (short tube-shaped pasta)
  • 1 pound hot turkey Italian sausage links*
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cans (14.5oz) petite-diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded fresh mozzarella cheese*
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350°.

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain the pasta, and set aside.
Remove casings from sausage.* Cook sausage, onion, and garlic in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until browned, stirring to crumble.* Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper, and tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Combine cooked pasta, sausage mixture, and basil.* Place half of the pasta mixture in a 4-quart casserole coated with cooking spray. Top with half of mozzarella and half of Parmesan. Repeat layers.

Bake at 350° for 25 minutes* or until bubbly.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Serves: 8 (serving size: 1 1/2 cups)

Nutritional Information
CALORIES 413(26% from fat); FAT 11.8g (sat 6.1g,mono 2.2g,poly 1g); PROTEIN 24.1g; CHOLESTEROL 49mg; CALCIUM 265mg; SODIUM 941mg; FIBER 4.5g; IRON 7.9mg; CARBOHYDRATE 53g
Source: Cooking Light, NOVEMBER 2003


  1. Rather than turkey sausage, I opted for pre-cooked roasted garlic chicken sausage (140 calories per link).
  2. I always have extra cheese in the fridge so I used 1/4 cup shredded fontina and 1/3 cup part-skim mozzarella (instead of fresh mozz to reduce calories a little further).
  3. Because the sausages were pre-cooked, I sliced them into bite-size pieces rather than "de-casing" and browning.
  4. I cooked the onions down for a couple of minutes before adding the garlic, and then added the sliced sausage and browned them for a couple of minutes before adding the tomato paste, S&P, and diced tomatoes.
  5. To ensure that the flavor of the fresh basil really came through, I sprinkled it on each layer along with the cheese instead of combining it with the hot pasta and sausage mixture that would surely wilt the basil and take away some of its "freshness".
  6. I reduced baking time to 20 minutes so as to not overcook the now twice-cooked chicken sausages.
  7. And lastly, I halved this recipe (except the garlic which remained at 2 cloves) without an issue but feel like it needed more tomatoes - maybe even just half a can more (including the tomato juice).