Monday, August 27, 2007

Homemade soft pretzels!

OK, so they were more like pretzel sticks/nuggets but soft pretzels all the same! These were delish!! Thanks to again to Amber for another great recipe! I made half the batch with salt and the other half without, then dipped the ones without salt in melted butter and a cinnamon/sugar mixture after baking - heavenly!! These were MUCH easier to make than other homemade soft pretzels I've made in the past and I do plan on making them again. I did need to cook them for about 4 extra minutes so that they browned but other than that, I didn't make any changes to the recipe.

Confession: Kyle and I ate these for dinner tonight. Shhh!!! Don't tell our moms! :)

Cinnamon and Sugar

Soft Pretzels
(Source: Amber's Delectable Delights)


  • 1/8 cup hot water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 1/3 warm water
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 4+ cups flour
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • Baking soda
  • Butter or shortening (to generously grease cookie sheets)

In a large bowl mix together hot water and yeast until the yeast dissolves. Stir in the warm water and brown sugar and stir until the brown sugar dissolves. Slowly add 4 cups of flour, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and does not stick to the sides of the bowl.

Lightly flour counter. Dip your hands into extra flour. Knead the dough until it is stretchy and smooth. (Push it down and away from you with the palms of your hands, turning the dough as you work)

Grease cookie sheets generously with butter or shortening. Sprinkle greased cookie sheet(s) with kosher salt.

Preheat oven to 475. (It is very important that you grease the cookie sheets very well)

Using liquid measuring cup fill a large saucepan at least 1/2 full of water. For each 1 cup of water, add 1 tbls baking soda.

Divide the dough into equal sized pieces. Using the following 4 steps shape each dough ball into a pretzel shape:

  1. Roll the dough into a rope 14" long and as thick as your thumb. Bend the dough into a U shape. (if you have trouble rolling the dough into a rope slightly wet your hands and try again).
  2. Cross one end of the rope over the other one. The ropes should cross about three inches from the tips.
  3. Twist the crossed ends, making a full turn. Fold the ends back, towards the middle of the U.
  4. Open the ends slightly to form a pretzel shape. Press the ends into the dough firmly.
Bring water into saucepan to a gentle boil (not too many bubbles) Use a pancake turner to lower each pretzel into the saucepan. Count slowly to 30. Then lift the pretzel onto the greased and salted cookie sheet (shaking off excess water back into the saucepan). Repeat until all the pretzels are done. Sprinkle some kosher salt on top of the pretzels and put them in preheated oven.

Bake for 8 minutes or until the pretzels are golden.

Salted Pretzels

Variation Recipes

Garlic Parmesan Pretzels Add 4-6 cloves pressed garlic and 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese into the liquid ingredients before adding the flour.

Sun-dried Tomato and Basil Pretzels Add 4-6 chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 1 tsp basil and 2 tsp parm cheese to the liquid ingredients before adding in the flour

Recipe notes:

  • You can make the dough up to 24 hours in advance, just cover the bowl and store in refrigerator.

  • These also freeze very well. Just pop them into the microwave for a few seconds to reheat.

  • This recipe will yield 20-24 shaped pretzels depending on the size you make them.

  • You can also make pretzel sticks with this recipe. Instead of rolling dough into pretzel shapes just roll into 2-3" long ropes a little thicker than your thumb.

Chicken Stuffed Shells

I'll admit that I was skeptical about this recipe when I first read the rave reviews on my cooking board and I've been holding on making it for months now for two reasons: 1.) I was afraid that chicken in stuffed shells would be dry and I didn't need to add another dry chicken recipe to my repetoire, and 2.) I've never made stuffed shells before because they seemed too time consuming. Well, I was SO wrong on both accounts.
I decided to make this a Sunday night dinner because I figured they'd take more time to make than I am afforded for weeknight dinners. This was true, but really worth the extra couple of minutes, and it would have taken me less time but I made a quick tomato sauce rather than using canned or jarred.

The only changes I made to the recipe is that I used a rostisserie chicken rather than boiling a chicken breast, I made my own sauce, and added a little bit of shredded fontina cheese to the top of the shells before baking.

Kyle and I LOVED these stuffed shells and they will definitely be repeated sometime soon. They are easy to make for a nice weekend meal or fancy enough for a dinner party, and can be made ahead and frozen for another time (which I will be doing the next time I make them).

Chicken Stuffed Shells

(looking for recipe's original source....)

  • 15 uncooked jumbo pasta shells
  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces cooked chicken
  • 1(15 ounce) container fat free ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 (28 ounce) can low fat marinara sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • Parmesan cheese for topping
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Spray large baking dish with nonstick cooking spray
  3. Cook pasta shells according to directions and drain
  4. Boil chicken and shred
  5. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat
  6. Combine chicken and garlic, cook for 3-5 minutes
  7. Remove from heat and stir in ricotta, breadcrumbs, parsley and salt and pepper to taste
  8. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of the baking dish
  9. Fill cooked shells with chicken mixture and place filled sides up in baking dish
  10. Pour remaining sauce over shells
  11. Bake covered with foil for 15-20 minutes, remove foil and continue baking until filling is lightly browned
  12. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20-25 minutes
Serves: 4-5

Spinach and feta stuffed chicken

Feta cheese is not a staple in my house and as much as I LOVE cheese, I've never cooked with feta. The salad that was served to Kyle and I at the wedding we were at recently had feta on the side. We looked at each other and commented on how good the feta was. I decided then that I needed to add feta to one of my upcoming menus.

So I decided to make a stuffed chicken breast with spinach and feta. Easy enough and it sounded so good! I reduced some tomato sauce and served it over some orzo on the side.

Spinach and Feta Stuffed Chicken
  • 2 chicken boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 bag fresh spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tsp plus 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
  • salt and pepper

Heat oil in a medium-sized oven-safe saute pan to medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add spinach, stir in with garlic. Cover and cook for 1-3 minutes. Once spinach has wilted remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.

Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Cut small pockets (about 2 inches wide) in the sides of the chicken breasts. Using a sharp paring knife, slice the inside of the chicken open to increase the size of the pocket without enlarging the outer opening, being careful not to cut through to the opposite side.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Return the saute pan to medium-high heat with 1 tbsp olive oil. Stuff chicken with feta then spinach mixture. Carefully place stuffed breasts in the hot pan and cook until chicken has begun to brown, turning once, about 4 minutes per side. Cover and move pan to oven. Cook for 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: about 20 minutes

Serves: 2

Menu Plan Monday: Week of Aug 24-30

Friday - chicken Caesar salad
Saturday - Spinach and feta stuffed chicken w/ orzo pasta
Sunday - chicken stuffed shells
Tuesday - Cooking Light's Cilantro Turkey Burgers w/ sweet potato fries
Wednesday - Seared tuna steaks w/ risotto and steamed broccoli

Brownies with a caramel touch

After a dinner of spicy garlic lime pasta and fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, my dessert called for a little bit of sweetness (or a lot of sweetness). I needed something to make that was quick and easy to end a weeknight dinner with a guest. Everybody loves brownies but I wasn't feeling up to a pan of brownies - I was thinking something a little special. Yes, my brownies came from a mix (Hershey's Triple Chocolate Chunk which can be found at your local supermarket or at BJ's Wholesale where you can buy a box of 4 packets) but I made them my own by baking them in mini-muffin pans and then pressing a caramel Hershey's kiss in the center after immediately after baking. Not hard but SO good!

I sprayed the mini-muffin tins with Pam for Baking, filled the cups about 1/2 to 2/3 full, then cooked them for about 18 minutes at 300 degrees F. (check with a toothpick for doneness)

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 18-20 minutes
Yields: 36 individual mini brownies

Tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil: A beautiful marriage

In my opinion, there is nothing better in the summer than fresh tomatoes...except the combination of fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. So simple, yet so delicious. Need I say more? Drizzle them with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar or eat them "naked" - you can't go wrong either way. You can serve them as an appetizer or as a side dish to the main course.

Spicy Garlic Lime Pasta

After weeks of reading raves about this recipe on my cooking board, I finally put it on my weekly menu (last week's menu actually). Overall, I thought it was great but I think next time it needs a little extra lime and spiciness, which says a lot coming from me. Thanks Amber for finding this one and for reworking the original recipe from!

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4

Heavenly Birthday Cake!!

I'll be the first to admit that chocolate cake with chocolate icing is not my favorite type of cake. I've requested a marble cake with sweet butter icing every year since before I could remember but this year would be different because my mom's oven is broken and baking a cake in a toaster oven might prove difficult. So I asked Kyle to take care of my cake this year and we'd bring it to Long Island where we'd celebrate with my family, as we do every year.

My only request was that he call the baker who made our wedding cake last year and ask her to bake a small cake - the flavor and icing were his choice - but no chocolate/chocolate. I guess a million things happened between that request and week of my birthday (8/19 in case anyone is wondering ;) ) and the call to the baker never happened. Needless to say, Kyle felt really bad and offered to make the cake himself. Wow. What a nice suggestion. And to be honest, I wasn't at all worried about how it would turn out because he's actually very adept in the kitchen. All he needed was a recipe and for me to be around if he needed help.

What recipe did I choose? Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake with Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Icing. Yes, that's right...a chocolate/chocolate cake. Funny indeed. I had heard wonderful reviews about this cake and hadn't yet gotten the chance to make it so I figured this would be as good of a time as ever (and I wouldn't have to do any work to enjoy it!).

The result? Absolute chocolate perfection. The cake was perfect. The icing was perfect. EVERYONE raved about it and couldn't believe that Kyle made this cake - and their jaws literally dropped when I told them that he made it from scratch! My brother, who I seriously don't think has ever eaten a whole piece of birthday cake in his life had SECONDS! He even requested that Kyle make his birthday cake in November. (Sorry Mom!!)

I'm not going to post the recipe because my iterations in this post have gotten away from me but let me say a couple of things: Kyle made the cake and icing the night before we ate it. We wrapped the cake in SaranWrap, refrigerated it overnight, and put the two in a cooler for our 2 hr drive. The cake arrived without incident (no cracks) and it was iced right before birthday candles were added. He also made 1 and a half of the icing recipe but we agreed that it probably should have been doubled.

DON'T hesitate to make this cake - it's totally worth it!!!

(And go ahead and add the perfect complement: vanilla ice cream!)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Menu Plan Monday - Week of 8.20.07

Friday: order-in pizza
Saturday: away for the weekend
Sunday: away for the weekend
Monday: Bacon cheeseburgers with tator tots
Tuesday: Spicy garlic lime pasta
Wednesday: Chicken parmagiana
Thursday: Chicken sausages with veggies over pasta

Friday, August 17, 2007

Spicy Black Bean Cakes

A new cookbook has emerged in my kitchen - Everyday Food: Great Food Fast (from the Martha Stewart Kitchens). I know I've raved about it a past post so I'll save my breath this time but I have to rave about the Spicy Black Bean Cakes that came out of this cookbook.

Oh. My. Goodness. SO GOOD!! I'm not known to be a "spicy kind of girl" and I've NEVER made anything with fresh spicy chilis but I've watched enough FoodNetwork to know that you can dramatically reduce the heat of a chili pepper by removing the seeds and pulp (carefully of course, avoiding direct contact with the seeds - which is where the heat of the chili lies - and avoiding touching my eyes before thoroughly washing my hands). So that's what I did. I wanted the flavor of the jalepeno chili sans heat.

The premise of the cookbook is that you can really make great food in a decent amount of time (usually under 30 minutes) and the recipe states that it should take 20 min to prep the cakes. It took me about 25-30, mostly because of the time it took to remove the seeds and pulp from the jalepeno. The extra time was well worth it though and I am so pleased with the result - and I will definitely be making these again. I paired them with my garlic-cilantro-lime marinated grilled chicken and about 1/2 lb shrimp that "got happy" all day in the same marinade (separate bags though), and the suggested lime sour cream that the cookbook suggested to serve with the cakes. YUM!!

I've had some trouble finding the recipe on Martha's website so below is the recipe directly from the cookbook.
Spicy Black Bean Cakes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (I only used one and sprayed the cookie sheet with Pam)
  • 4 scallions, thinly cut
  • 1 small jalepeno chili, finely minced (I used 3/4 of the jalepeno)
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained (I used 1 can)
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to Broil and adjust rack to between 4 and 6 inches from the broiler.

In a medium frying pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Cook scallions for 2 minutes, add garlic, jalepeno, and cumin; cook for 30 seconds until fragrent; remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. To the hot mixture, add black beans. Mash beans into hot mixture, leaving about 1/4 of the beans whole; season generously with salt and pepper. Fold in sweet potato, egg, and bread crumbs and work the mixture until everything is well-incorporated.

Coat a cookie sheet with remaining olive oil (again, I sprayed it with Pam instead of using the olive oil). Scoop a handleful of the mixture out and pat into a small patty, about the size and shapes of a crab cake. The mixture will make 8 cakes. Place the cakes on the sheet; broil for 10 minutes. Carefully turn cakes over and broil for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Prep time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 12-13 minutes

Serves: 2-4

Lime Sour Cream

  • 1 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 4 tsp freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 jalepeno, finely minced (I subbed this out for a handful of chopped fresh cilantro)

Combine ingredients and serve with cakes.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Serves: 4

Garlic-Cilantro-Lime Grilled Chicken and Shrimp
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to about 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined (fresh works best for this dish)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 3 limes
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 6 tbsp olive oil

Separate marinade ingredients in half (except for the limes - 2 for the chicken, 1 for the shrimp). In 2 Ziploc bags, add all marinade ingredients, and squeeze around in the bags to combine them well. Squeeze in lime juice (again, 2 limes for chicken and 1 for shrimp). Add chicken and shrimp to their respective bags and squeeze all the air out of the bags before closing. Work the marinade around the chicken and shrimp. Refrigerate for 8 to 10 hours (or even overnight).

Grill chicken for 10-12 minutes, flipping once after 8 minutes. Add shrimp to grill (metal or wooden skewers work great) during the last 2 minutes of cooking the chicken. Turn shrimp once. Serve with black bean cakes.

Active prep time: 10 minutes

Inactive prep time: 8-10 hours

Cook time: 10-12 minutes

Serves: 2

Sophisticated Mac n Cheese

There's not much of a better way to describe this dish that a sophisticated version of mac n cheese. Don't get me wrong...I LOVED how this turned out but I think I expected something a little different from Giada than what the outcome was.

In Giada's Everyday Italian cookbook, she highlights a Bechamel sauce and then uses it in her Baked Rigatoni recipe. I guess I didn't realize what the sauce really was because for some reason because before reading the recipe for the sauce, I had been intimidated to make it - it sounded too fancy. However, Giada's recipe for Bechamel is practically the same sauce I use for my homemade mac n cheese recipe (I don't add nutmeg to my sauce though). It's the prosciutto that makes this a fancy mac n cheese, in my opinion. So really, the sauce was very easy - and it can be made and refrigerated for up to 3 days before using it (even better!). I halved the sauce recipe and made about 3/4 lb pasta for the two of us (main course) and for leftovers.

Baked Rigatoni

  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk, warmed (I used skim and it turned out perfect)
  • Pinch fresh nutmeg
  • Sea salt and white pepper
  • 1 cup grated fontina
  • 1/2 pound thinly sliced prosciutto, julienned
  • 1 pound dry rigatoni
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I added some on top before baking but the original recipe doesn't call for it)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Bechamel sauce: In a 2 quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Always stirring, gradually add the milk and constantly whisk until the sauce is smooth and creamy. Simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon - do not let the sauce boil. This will take approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg, 1/2 cup fontina, prosciutto and season with salt and white pepper. Set aside.

In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water. Add the rigatoni and cook 8 minutes. Since you will be cooking the pasta a second time in the oven, you want to make sure the inside is still hard. Drain in a colander. Return pasta to the pot and pour in bechamel sauce. Using a wooden spoon, mix well until all the pasta is coated with the sauce.

Into a greased 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pour the pasta with cream sauce. Smooth out top and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup fontina. Dot the top with diced butter and bake in oven for 25 minutes or until bubbling and the top is golden brown.

Prep time: 20 minutes (including cook time of Bechamel sauce)
Cook time: 25 minutes
Serves: 6 side dish servings

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Menu Plan Monday - Week of 8.13.07

This is my first Menu Plan Monday - note that my weekly menus start on Friday (my shopping day).

Friday: order-in pizza

Saturday: gnocchi with thyme butter sauce

Sunday: out for dinner

Monday: NY Strip steak, baked potato, verdure al forno (baked zucchini)

Tuesday: BBQ chicken, herb-roasted red potatoes, leftover verdure al forno

Wednesday: spicy black bean cakes and garlic-cilantro-lime grilled chicken

Thursday: baked rigatoni with seared tuna steaks

Monday, August 13, 2007

Another idea for abundant summer zucchini

I always hear a lot of "What can I make with all the zucchini I have from the garden?" during the summer. Here, thanks to Giada (yes, again) is another option for zucchini lovers (and any other vegetable you would want to toss in the dish as well).
I am really getting my money's worth out of my two Giada cookbooks so I'm more than happy to share my reviews of what I make. This one was just great. Its probably a little on the fattening side as it's made with heavy cream, but you could definitely swap it out for half n half, light cream, or a combo of half n half and skim milk. The combo of the cream and the cheese made almost a mac n cheese sauce and it was just delicious! The recipe calls for zucchini - I added one yellow squash in the center layer to change it up a bit. Giada says that this will make 4 side servings but really 6 is more realistic - we have lots of leftovers! Paired with a nice NY strip steak and a baked potato, these veggies really round out the meal.

Vendure al Forno
  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 medium zucchini, (about 1 1/2 pounds) cut crosswise into 1 inch thick slices (I used 2 zucchini and 1 yellow squash and cut them 1/2 inch thick)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella
  • 1 cup grated fontina
  • 6 tbsp grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1 cup plain dried bread crumbs
  • extra olive oil for drizzling* (I drizzled about 1 tsp on after about 38 minutes of cooking)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Coat the bottom of an 8 inch square baking dish with extra-virgin olive oil. Arrange zucchini slices on the bottom of the dish in a single layer to cover. Sprinkle with one third of the salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour 1/3 cup of the heavy cream and sprinkle with 1/3 cup each of mozzarella and fontina cheese.

Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of Pecorino Romano cheese, then with 1/3 cup of the bread crumbs. Repeat layering the indredients two more times. (The vegetables can be assembled 8 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.) Place baking dish on the baking sheet and bake uncovered until golden brown on top and sauce bubbles, about 40 minutes. Serve immediately.nding with the bread crumbs. Place the baking dish on top and bake for 40 minutes until bubbling and the top is golden brown. (*I turned the broiler on for the last 1 minute to let the top brown)

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Serves: 6

Triple PB Blast Cookies

I ran across the original version of this cookie last week after a fellow " WC nestie" posted a comment to one of my blog posts. I knew immediately that I had to try them, and since Kyle and I would be taking a little road trip to one of our area casinos for a concert yesterday, I decided to make them for the ride.

Good call on my part!! These are seriously the best homemade peanut butter cookies I have ever tried. They came out soft (and are still soft after one full day) and full of yummy pb flavor. Since neither Kyle nor I are fans of crunchy peanut butter (as called for in the recipe), I used 1 cup of creamy peanut butter and added a bag (maybe 11oz?) of Reese's Peanut Butter Chips - which is why I renamed them Triple PB Blast Cookies. I didn't make the glaze that the original recipe called for as I didn't want the glaze dripping all over my car as we ate them but I will definitely do so next time I make them. My long-time pb cookie recipe has just taken a back seat to these! Thanks so much for posting these Sarah!!!

And yes, I was so excited about these cookies that I took LOTS of pics of them. :)

Gnocchi with Thyme Butter Sauce

Before watching Giada's show on the Food Network a couple of years ago, I had never known what gnocchi was and even after finding out what it is, I'd still never tried it. Yes, I've seen it on menus but for some reason, I was never drawn to ordering it at a restaurant - and I'd never even considered buying it at the grocery store. Once again, the ladies on my cooking board inspired me to try a new dish at home. They'd said that homemade gnocchi is much better than what you'll find in the frozen section of the grocery store and for that reason, I decided to attempt both making it and tasting it for the first time this past weekend. How's that for jumping in with both feet?

I found a recipe for homemade gnocchi in Giada's Everyday Italian cookbook - Gnocchi with Thyme Butter Sauce - and decided that it looked easy enough to make and the sauce sounded great too so...why not? In all honesty, the recipe really WAS simple and I surprised myself with how easily and quickly it came together. From start to finish, this recipe took 30 minutes to prepare and cook. Overall, both Kyle and I really enjoyed this but felt that the dish needed a little more "umph." The sauce was just butter and fresh thyme but next time I make it, I think I'll saute some garlic in the butter as well. I'm not sure if the gnocchi themselves were what Kyle and I had expected but I told him to expect something similar to pierogis (which he LOVES) and I think my estimate was pretty close.
Being so easy to make, these are something I will definitely try again - and work on a variety of sauces for them as well. It might be nice to cut the recipe down by a couple of servings and serve it as a side dish with a light fish or with some grilled shrimp.
**Note: This recipe differs between and Giada's cookbook. I used the cookbook version, which is posted below. Some of the reviews of the recipe on say that the gnocchi fell apart and were just like mashed potatoes and I think there are mistakes in the version of the recipe. I had NO trouble at all with the gnocchi - and I had no idea what to expect while making and eating them for the first time. For the sake of reducing confusion, I am not linking this post the recipe on

Gnocchi with Thyme Butter Sauce


  • 2 russet potatoes (about 12oz each)*
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup shaved Pecorino Romano, for garnish*

Thyme Butter Sauce:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the gnocchi, pierce the potatoes all over with a fork. Microwaved the pototoes on high until tender, turning once, about 12 minutes. (You can also bake the potatoes at 375 degrees for 50 minutes or until tender.) Cut the potatoes in half and scoop the flesh into a large bowl; discard the skin. Using a fork, mash the potato well. Stir in the egg, salt and pepper. Sift the flour over the potato mixture and stir just until blended.

Scoop out a large spoonful of gnocchi dough. Roll each scoop on the work surface into a 1/2-inch-diameter rope. Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece of dough over a wooden paddle with ridges or over the tines of a fork to form grooves in the dough. Set the formed gnocchi on a baking sheet while you form the rest of the dough.

To make the thyme butter sauce, melt the butter with the thyme leaves in a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat until the butter is melted, about 2 minutes.

Working in two batches, cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water until they have all risen to the surface, about 3 minutes. Scoop out the gnocchi into a colander with a slotted spoon, while you cook the second batch. Reheat the thyme butter sauce over low heat. Transfer the cooked gnocchi to the skillet with the hot thyme butter and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss again.

Spoon the gnocchi and butter sauce into shallow bowls. Top with the Pecorino and serve.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 6 minutes

Serves: 4-6


  1. I used 2 large Idaho potatoes and cooked them for 60 minutes at 375 degrees in the oven.
  2. The shaved cheese on top of the gnocchi really made this dish. I shaved Parmesan rather than Pecorino Romano and it was just delish!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mexican rice and updated pics of an older post

Rice has NEVER been my thing. Growing up, it was white rice. Maybe with a little butter or some chicken gravy on top if roast chicken was on the menu that night. But that was it...just white rice. In my adult years, potatoes have been my thing. Roasted, baked, mashed, fries. So in an attempt to cut down on the calories and carbs in potatoes and maybe increase our whole grain intake, I've been working on my rice skills. Yes, I think it takes a little skill to make rice because after growing up with white rice, I now feel the need to spice it up a little, if you know what I mean. I've learned the most important thing to do with rice is to season it BEFORE it cooks or else it will NEVER be seasoned enough (thanks Mom!).

And with that said, tonight I made mexican rice to go along with my garlic-cilantro-lime grilled chicken panini (which is where the updated pictures come in).

Mexican Rice

  • 1/2 cup Uncle Ben's brown rice
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp chili powder
  • 2 - 3 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 2 - 3 tbsp chopped roasted red pepper
Cook rice according to package directions, using chicken broth in place of water, and adding cumin and chili powder before cooking. When rice is finished cooking, fluff with a fork, add cilantro and stir to combine.

Prep time: 2 minutes
Cook time: 10-12 minutes
Serves: 2

No longer a polenta virgin!

After years of wondering what polenta tastes like and being too much of a chicken to attempt making it myself for fear of it ending up like cold oatmeal and ruining our dinner, I took the plunge last night. As I was perusing through my new cookbook, Everyday Food: Great Food Fast, looking for something to accompany my parmesan-crusted pork chops (Giada De Laurentiis), I stumbled upon a basic polenta recipe. I had heard that you can make polenta either with polenta (duh) or cornmeal and this recipe accomodated the lack of polenta in my pantry. Cornmeal it was! OK, so true polenta aficionatos might say that I didn't make polenta, but throw me a bone here!

The outcome of the whole meal was fantastic! The pork chops were just as everyone on my cooking board has raved about - tender...flavorful...delicious. The polenta surpassed my expectations and I think I really surprised Kyle as well - he just about licked the plate clean! I can't wait to find out what REAL polenta tastes like!!

Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan
  • 4 (1/2 to 3/4-inch thick) center-cut pork loin chops (each about 10 to 12 ounces)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Whisk the eggs in a pie plate to blend. Place the bread crumbs in another pie plate. Place the cheese in a third pie plate. Sprinkle the pork chops generously with salt and pepper. Coat the chops completely with the cheese, patting to adhere. Dip the chops into the eggs, then coat completely with the bread crumbs, patting to adhere.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a very large skillet over medium heat. Add pork chops, in batches if necessary, and cook until golden brown and the center reaches 150 degrees, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer the chops to plates and serve with lemon wedges.

Note: Even over medium heat, the chops browned quickly, leaving the centers uncooked. I finished them in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees in the same pan I used for the stove-top cooking, which was oven-safe of course.

Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 20-25 minutes Serves 4

Soft Polenta

source: Martha Stewart, Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

  • 3/4 cup cornmeal or polenta (not quick-cooking)
  • 4 cups water (I used 2 cups water, 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (I used Kosher)
  • 1/8 freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp butter

In a large saucepan over high heat, bring 4 cups water with 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper to a boil. Very gradually, add cornmeal in a thin stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Reduce heat to medium-low (low was hot enough); simmer, whisking often, until thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in butter and cheese until smooth.

Prep time: 5 minutes Cook time: 10-12 minutes Serves: 4

Monday, August 6, 2007

A mistake turned great!

OK, so I forgot to pick up frozen spinach BOTH times I was at the store this weekend and thus my intention of making my new Giada recipe, Chicken Saltimbocca, was thwarted once again - next week, I promise! What's the phrase, "out of the ashes rises the Phoenix"? Yes, I just finished Harry Potter 7 so this phrase has been on my mind but alas, it holds true with tonight's dinner. Since I had everything except the spinach to make the saltimbocca, I improvised a little...and was SO pleased with the result: chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto, basil leaves, and fontina (as if you can't already tell from this blog, Kyle and I are BIG fans of fontina cheese) with a creamy tomato sauce (using some of the spaghetti sauce I made yesterday) on top and side of spaghetti (which orginally was supposed to be Giada's basic risotto). HOLY MOLY was this good!!!

I'm not going to write out the recipe for this because it really is so straight-forward. Pound out 2 chicken breasts and season with salt and pepper. Lay prosciutto, fresh basil leaves and shredded fontina (about 2 tbsp of cheese for each cutlet) out on top of the flattened chicken breast. Carefully roll up and secure with toothpicks. Heat olive oil in a saute pan (medium-high heat) and cook chicken until fully cooked, turning to brown all sides. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, cook down 1 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce until thickened. Turn heat to low, add 1/3 cup heavy cream and stir until well-combined. Add some pasta water (or regular water) until the sauce is to your desired thickness. Serve with pasta, rice, veggies, etc.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Serves: 2

My blog's inspiration...

The smell of homemade spaghetti sauce, above all other smells of food cooking, is what brings me back home to my parents' house as a kid. It has been shown scientifically that the olfactory sense triggers memory and my story is yet another testament to this science. My parents made sauce (or gravy as my 100% Italian dad still calls it) only a couple of times a year but it was frequently enough to allow the smell of it cooking in my own home to evoke such memories even today.

I remember my dad pouring over the stove working on his masterpiece: spicing up the gravy, rolling out the meatballs, and making sure that the piece of pork he would soon put in the pot to stew all day was big enough. It always was and was often a "bone" of contention between my parents because my mom always thought the sauce had enough fat in it from the meatballs and sausages already; for my dad, his gravy wasn't complete without a big hunk of pork. Some of my greatest memories as a kid were spaghetti and meatball nights where my mom would have my brother and I put on our dad's old work shirts as make-shift bibs to catch whatever red mess was inevitably about to come. Ricotta cheese was ALWAYS on the table those nights and would act as the glue in our bowls as we all competed to see who could twist a forkful of spaghetti on their fork the best without a single strand hanging off. (It was always my dad...afterall, he DID have the most practice under his belt from weekly - Sundays - spaghetti and meatball dinners with his family as a kid.) Those were great times always to be remembered.

Over the years, I've asked my dad to write out his recipe but he's always told me that he doesn't measure the amounts of anything he puts in there and so the sauce is never the same every time (although always delicious). A couple of years ago, I figured I had watched him make it enough times to feel confident enough to make it myself. And since then, my gravy has never come out the same way because I've never written the recipe down either...until now. I figured sharing my recipe might help others overcome their own fears of cooking what seems to be a monumentous meal, but in reality, is still a bunch of indregidents cooked together in the right proportions.

Note: I didn't measure my amounts either (the apple doesn't fall far) but I've got a pretty good estimate about how much of everything I used.

My Homemade Gravy
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 5 gloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 tbsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 2 tsp dried or 2 tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 3 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 (32oz) cans tomatoes (I used 2 pureed, 1 crushed, 1 sauce this time)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/3 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, torn or chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large stockpot or dutch oven (I used my 7 1/4 quart dutch oven) to medium heat. Heat olive oil and cook onions under almost soft. Add garlic, salt, pepper, and all of the herbs and cook, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes. Add tomato paste, stir to combine and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring and being careful not to burn the mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low to low heat and add the tomatoes, water, and sugar. Cover and cook for 6-7 hours, stirring occasionally. Add parsley and basil 30 minutes before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving.

If you want to add meatballs, sausages, or a piece of pork to the pot, go for it. This time I slowly cooked 6 Italian hot sausages in a frying pan over low heat for about 10 minutes then added them to the pot to cook with the gravy for the 6-7 hours. I also quickly braised a pork loin (cut in 3 equal pieces) and added the pieces to the sauce for the entire cooking time as well. The pork literally fell apart when cutting it and the sausages were perfectly tender. I didn't make meatballs this time because I ran out of room in the pot with the pork and sausages.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes plus 6-7 hours.

Serves: ALOT

I have about 3 1/2 quarts of gravy leftover and have frozen most of it.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Mom's Banana Bread

Why I don't make banana bread more often is beyond me (aside from the fact that Kyle keeps throwing my browning bananas out before I have the chance to stick them in the fridge!). This is always such a nice treat and I'm so happy to have my mom's recipe for banana bread that I have been eating since before I could remember. She always managed to sneak some finely chopped nuts in there but now that I'm an adult, I don't have to put the nuts in if I don't want to. hmph. :) I don't like 'em and Kyle is allergic to 'em so our relationship with nuts works out beautifully for both of us - I never, ever cook with them nor do I buy anything at the store that contains them.

Peanut butter is my only exception and Kyle can eat both peanut butter and peanuts -but peanuts aren't technically nuts so they don't really count in the whole scheme of things. Speaking of peanut butter, go ahead and spread some on your banana bread the next time you eat it - it's truly a delight to the taste buds.

Banana Bread

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 small or 2 large bananas, very ripe, mashed
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted*
  • 1/2 cup apple sauce*
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon*

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat egg. Add sugar, butter, applesauce, and bananas - beat on medium until well-blended. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon then slowly add to the banana mixture. Beat on low until well-blended but be sure not to overbeat.

Grease and flour (I use Pam for Baking spray) a loaf pan and pour in mixture. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Bread will be a dark brown colored (it won't be burned, don't worry) and will bounce back to the touch (check doneness with a knife as well).

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

Cook time: 50-60 minutes

Serves: 8-12


  1. The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup butter but I used 1/2 cup applesauce (a 3.9 oz individual serving cup) and 1/4 cup butter. Normally if you sub applesauce for the butter or oil in a recipe, it is a 1:1 ratio. I added a little extra applesauce to make sure the bread stayed moist, which worked great.
  2. Cinnamon isn't in my mom's recipe either but I figured that a little cinnamon never hurt anyone. :) It added a great underlying flavor and smelled wonderful while baking.

Chicken Parmigiana Pizza...

with a little extra umph. I had chicken parmigiana pizza for the first time about 7 years ago and thought it was the best creation ever. Well, Kyle having worked in a pizza restaurant for the better part of his high school years and for sometime afterwards, let's say that he picked up a few of them being chicken, bacon, onions, and garlic pizza. Yes, this is the best pizza creation I have ever had. EVER. It's the chicken parmigiana pizza "kicked up a notch" (for lack of a better phrase).

How could you ever go wrong with bacon? Bacon was a new and scary concept to put on a pizza for me but they just don't do it in NY. I'd never seen it on a pizza menu, had never heard anyone order it, and had never ever heard anyone talk about bacon as a pizza topping...until I moved to Connecticut for college. Yes, I turned my nose up at the suggestion of it but to be honest, it wasn't too bad. And then Kyle stepped in and ordered this masterpiece one night a few years back and I knew it was of this new pizza creation, that is. ;) This is our 'ol standby now.

Chicken, Bacon, Onions, and Garlic Pizza

  • 3 Perdue Baked Italian Chicken Cutlets (they are pre-cooked), diced into bite-size pieces
  • 1 onion, sliced and slowly sauteed until very soft (about 20 minutes)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2-3 slices bacon, almost fully cooked and chopped
  • 8-12oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cups tomato sauce (jarred or homemade)
See my pizza instructions and tips for how to roll out the dough and prep the pizza stone. Layer ingredients in any order. Cook for 12-13 minutes at 475 degrees.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 12-13 minutes
Serves: 4

Friday, August 3, 2007

grillin' up some veggies

Last week, I had been dying for some roasted veggies but it was just too hot to crank the oven up to a g00d roasting temperature so I decided to throw some on the grill. I cut up the a red and orange pepper and half of a red onion, put them onto a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, tossed them with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder and put the foil on a hot grill. I left the foil open (i.e., didn't make a foil packet) because I was afraid the veggies would steam rather than grill and char. All told, the veggies were done in about 15 minutes and came out soft, charred and a little caramelized. YUM!! I paired these with grilled chicken that I sprinkled with some salt, pepper, and herbes de provence.