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Slow and low kind of day…

There’s nothing easier or better than tossing a few ingredients (short ribs, one jar of Goya Sofrito and one jar of Goya Recaito) into the crockpot and letting the magic happen – eight hours on low.

Last night was short ribs over polenta preceded by antipasto on the patio and our go-to wine, Ghost Pines. Hubby making his cameo.

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Quick dinner…

Need a quick, healthy dish that is super tasty?

Add well cleaned, chopped escarole to rapidly boiling water (add a chicken bullion cube for extra flavor and to remove any bitterness from the escarole), cook for 7 minutes, strain and refresh with cold water. Then, sauté shrimp with a little EVOO, butter, lemon, garlic, red onion, fresh cherry tomatoes that have been halved, pepper, fresh cilantro (I have this growing on my patio so I’ve been adding that to everything!) When shrimp is cooked add escarole and combine. Viola! Dinner is served.

Pro-tip: This is a good recipe to improvise on – i.e. get rid of any vegetables that you have in the fridge – you can toss anything into this dish and it will come out great!

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Easy side dish…

If you need a healthy, easy to prepare side dish try this:

Buy a bag of fresh string beans (haricot verts if you’re fancy) snip off the stem side (top of picture below):

Snip off the stem side (top of picture below):

After snipping and cleaning, submerge the string beans into rapidly boiling, salted water and cook for 7-8 minutes (we like ours on the crunchy side but if you don’t, just cook longer). When done cooking, blanch the string beans by dumping into strainer and rinsing with very cold ice water. Blanching the string beans will bring back the bright green color of the string beans

(Science tip: Blanching stops enzyme actions which would otherwise cause loss of flavor, color and texture.)

Place blanched string beans in serving dish, drizzle with a little EVOO, season with kosher salt, pepper and diced red onion (or whatever spices you like) and serve!

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Chili even when it’s hot out

I did an experiment the other day and tossed two packages of ground turkey, chopped red, yellow and green peppers (one of each) a chopped onion, cilantro, salt & pepper, taco seasoning and a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes into my slow cooker. I cooked it for six hours on high.

It came out great! I topped with some shredded cheddar, sour cream, chopped red onions and fresh diced jalapeños and it was both a great presentation and delicious.

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A nod to Cod…

One of my favorite fish is Cod. I drizzle filets with a little EVOO, pepper or blackening seasoning and bake in the oven at 350 for about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the filet.

I served this the other night over a bed of sautéed Brussel sprouts with bits of pre-cooked bacon tossed in with crushed grape tomatoes on the bottom layer.

Super fast, fresh and healthy.

Pro-tip: Half the Brussel sprouts and sauté in EVOO for about 15 minutes until softened, but so they still have a bit of crunch. When cooked, toss in the bits of pre-cooked bacon for added flavor. No need to salt if you use the bacon.

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Eating Al Fresco…

Now that the weather is getting nice we’ve been eating on the patio. I absolutely love eating outside with the fountain on and the great view that we have, it’s restorative.

We found a place nearby (shout out to https://naturesfoodpatch.com/) where they make their own sausages filled with unusual and tasty fillings (i.e. a chicken sausage with broccoli rabe and cheese and and pork sausage with bacon). We tossed some shrimp, asparagus, little neck clams and a filet mignon that we butterflied right onto a hot grill. We also had a side of our homemade pickles (see my pickle recipe: here )

Pro-tip: For the little neck clams, soak them in fresh water with a tablespoon of flour (this makes them release any sand they may be holding onto). Then put on hot grill until they pop open. Serve with melted butter mixed with garlic, a splash of fresh squeezed lemon and a little cilantro or parsley.

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Shrimp of the week…

This dish was so delicious and simple. I always say that you just need to start with the freshest, closest ingredients you can find and whatever you make will turn out great. I started with some cherry tomatoes that I halved. I put them in a baking dish with a few cloves of garlic, Kalamata olives, some fresh oregano, basil and mint from the garden, drizzled the mix with olive oil and seasoned with S&P. I would have put a block of feta cheese right in the middle of it…but the husband…I baked the dish for about 40 minutes at 350 (I then removed half for hubby and added feta cheese to the rest and baked for another 10 minutes).

Next, I simply sautéed my shrimp in a little EVOO and a pat of butter along with some Vidalia onion, garlic and seasoning.

To plate this dish: I served it over cauliflower rice, so I plated that first, topped with shrimp, then with the baked tomato concoction. It was delicious, easy, hearty and a dish that I will definitely make again.

Let me know if you have any questions.

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Chicken of the Sea

We love fresh ahi grade tuna. When my fish monger has it we’ll buy a small steak, pepper crust it with fresh cracked black pepper and simply sauté it in a little EVOO for about a minute and half per side. I serve it with a little wasabi and low sodium soy sauce, it’s a great appetizer and so delicious.

Pro-tip: This was cooked a bit more than we like (thanks to my ADD) but still flavorful.

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Poppers…

Last week at the farmer’s market I couldn’t resist buying a bucket of the most ginourmous jalapeños that I’ve ever seen. I had no idea what to do with them, I considered pickling them or making a jelly. I wound up making poppers, which was fun and will make for a good appetizer or keto snack.

This dish would be fun to make with the kids. I just seasoned some cream cheese (salt & pepper) cut the stems off the peppers, cut a slit down one side of the pepper and stuffed with about a tablespoon of the cream cheese. I then wrapped an uncooked slice of bacon around each pepper and secured with a toothpick. I chose to freeze these, when I’m ready to cook I’ll defrost, remove toothpick and bake them at 350 for about 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

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Low carbing…

We needed a quick low carb dinner after a long day, followed by a walk to the beach to see a gorgeous sunset. We wound up making zucchini fritters and BLTs on lettuce wraps. Delicious and low carb.

I never made the zucchini fritters before. What I did was grate up two zucchinis using my food processor (you could also use a box grater). I set the grated zucchini in a bowl, salted in and let it sit for an hour (the salt draws out the water). I then squeezed handfuls of the zucchini to get any residual water out and placed back in a dry bowl. I added seasoning (salt, pepper, minced garlic and 1/2 packet of Sazon – I’d love to add some parmesan to this, but the husband…), one egg and enough almond flour to bind the mixture. I pan fried the fritters, but you could also bake in the oven. They came out great. You can serve with a little tzatziki or even ranch dip on the side.

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A small fire…

Two things about me: 1) I rarely use the microwave. Ours in fact, has been broken for months. The only button that works is the “add 30 seconds button” that I will occasionally use to warm something up (3 x 30 seconds lol). For the most part the microwave is just large clock in my kitchen. The other thing about me is that both my daughter and I are obsessed with Trader Joe’s. There isn’t one close to me in Clearwater, which is rough since I used to live around the corner from one in New York. We always ponder what we call the “Trader Joe’s Parking Lot Phenomena”. People seem to loose their minds in the excitement of being at a Trader Joe’s and forget that they’re actually driving. Every Trader Joe’s parking lot is a shit show. I’ve seen maneuvers and accidents in these parking lots that are pretty incredible. @TraderJoesRants – anyone have any idea what is happening in these parking lots?

Well yesterday I needed some retail therapy so I drove 40 minutes to get to the nearest Trader Joe’s (in St. Pete). I knew what to expect and was not disappointed. There’s a certain calm that comes over me when every location of a store chain that I love is set up the same way and your not standing in a random isle confused and lost. For $50 I got quite a bounty. One of the items that I was excited about was a bag of frozen mushrooms, which I decided to microwave – without reading the instructions. After a small fire erupted in the microwave, my husband was happy to point out the clearly explained “DO NOT MICROWAVE” instruction on the packaging. Oh well.

This is my bounty:

And this is the small fire…

Anyway, in the end I made a great stir-fry of shrimp over cauliflower rice (sans the mushrooms) with mixed veggies. It was healthy and yummy. The Argentinian Red Shrimp from Trader Joe’s were excellent, I highly recommend.

Shout out to Trader Joe’s in St. Pete that had not only the normal great stuff that we love but a wine selection that was very impressive!

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What a crock…

I love coming home to the smell of something that’s been cooking for hours. This recipe I found online is a keeper. It takes a bit of prep, but it’s totally worth it. I made a few adjustments including leaving out the sugar and using low fat yogurt. Since we’re watching our carbs I served this over zucchini linguine, which I sautéed in EVOO before serving. You can find the recipe here:

https://sweetandsavorymeals.com/slow-cooker-butter-chicken/

This dish was super flavorful, aromatic and delicious.

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The Famous Mississippi Pot Roast…

So, for any of you on social media and/or various food blogs you’ve seen the hoopla around the “Mississippi Pot Roast”. I’m not a big pot roast person but I do love an easy crock pot meal during a busy week, so I thought I’d give this a go. I followed the recipe exactly (which I NEVER do). Since it’s only four ingredients I thought, what could go wrong? The four ingredients are: a chuck roast (mine was about 2 pounds), 5 pepperoncinis, 1 packet of dry ranch dressing, 1 packet of dry au jus gravy mix.

I chose to brown the chuck roast in a skillet for about 5 minutes per side to enhance the flavor (you can skip this step, but I think it’s worth doing). Then I placed chuck roast in my crock pot, topped with packet of dressing and packet of au jus and laid the 5 pepperoncinis on top of that. You add no liquid to the crock pot – I know this seems counterintuitive but trust me, the meat releases a lot of liquid as it cooks. Set for 8.5 hours on low and wait for the magic to happen.

I served zucchini soup as an appetizer. As sides I made roasted asparagus and cauliflower mashed. Message me if you want the cauliflower mashed recipe, it’s really good!

Pro-tip: This dish came out delicious, the meat – while it shrunk about 50% in size – was tender and flavorful. For my taste the dish was a little salty. Next time I would add only 1/2 of each dry packet and add a little fresh ground pepper. I think if you wanted to add some carrots and potatoes about half way through the cooking process this might absorb some of the salt.

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Seaworthy…

There’s nothing like super fresh, simply prepared seafood. We’re lucky to be on the Gulf where seafood is both fresh and abundant. Tonight we started with some sautéed shrimp (just sauté in EVOO and/or a little butter with a bit of garlic and whatever spices you like, i.e. pepper, blackening seasoning, chili peppers).

Then, for the main course, I blackened some fresh cod and baked for 20 minutes at 350 degrees (I cooked the cod over some sliced Vidalia onion for flavor). It was perfectly cooked. Cod is mild with large flakes and needs to be seasoned. This is the same fish that I use for fish and chips. I bought a one pound piece of cod, which was enough for two people. I found no bones in the cod, which is usually the case.

My new penchant for blackening seasoning started with this Old Bay product. I love it and it’s not super salty.

I plated the cod over broccoli rabe with some of the onion from the baking dish. Of course serve with fresh lemon. Enjoy!

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When the kids come home…

As I’ve mentioned, my daughter and her boyfriend recently got their own apartment about 20 minutes away from us, it’s a milestone for us all. They came for dinner last night. The day before, I asked the princess what she wanted me to cook. Her response was, “Can you send me a few options and I’ll pick one. Also mommy, I’d love brie and crackers as an appetizer…” So you see what I’ve created here. My fault, entirely.

We settled on polenta, broccoli rabe and sautéed shrimp. This is a super easy, dish that’s healthy, tasty and filling. I start by preparing the broccoli rabe, which if you read this blog regularly you’ll know the drill. Boil water with chicken bullion, add chopped broccoli rabe, cook for 6 minutes, strain, blanche and set aside. Then, sauté shrimp with chopped garlic, salt and pepper, and a little EVOO (I actually used sesame oil because I was out of EVOO. This added an aromatic flavor that really went well with the shrimp.) Then add the strained broccoli rabe to the shrimp. Add a little crushed red pepper and set pan aside.

Now to prepare polenta – I use chicken broth to make the polenta, this gives it a rich taste. Follow the instructions on the packaging. Basically – don’t stop stirring! I use a whisk. You’ll need to add more polenta very slowly to get the desired consistency. Some folks like polenta very thin and soupy, others like it thicker and more like a pasta – we’re in the middle. When it’s nearly done I add a tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons of mascarpone to thicken it up and flavor it. I also top with a few chopped scallions to add a crunch and a pop of color.

Pro-tip: When we were in Mexico last year we found this great seasoning that I like to add to seafood. It’s called Tajin – it’s actually a combination of dried chili peppers, dehydrated lime, and sea salt. I seasoned my shrimp in this before sautéing. I also think this would be great to use to rim a glass for a Bloody Mary. I may need to try that this weekend – I’ll let you know!

That’s it! This entire dish took about 20 minutes to prepare so it’s a good work week go-to recipe. Enjoy!

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Sunday brunch…

My daughter recently moved out, into the big world! We had her and her boyfriend over for Sunday brunch today, it was fun to again cook for more than two people (I may have gone a little overboard). We started with mini-quiches followed by fresh banana bread, a Stromboli and a tossed salad.

I cook the mini-quiches in a cupcake tin. I put whatever fillers I’m using (these were filled with spinach, feta, olives and artichoke hearts) into a buttered cup then top off with scrambled raw egg. Bake for 20 minutes until egg is cooked through and serve immediately.

Pro-tip: Sauté freshly chopped spinach slightly before adding to tins. Also make sure all fillers are roughly chopped.

The banana bread – truth – from a box mix – and there’s not a crumb left so I guess it was good.

Stromboli is super fun to make. You can use any ingredients that you have on hand and you can make it either sweet or savory. The one I made today used only half a pizza dough (from our local pizzeria) and was topped with ham, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, spinach and cherry tomatoes. Bake for about 40 minutes, cut and serve!

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Appetizers, Mezze, Antipasto, Tapas…

We’ve been into little dishes lately. Usually meatballs are reserved for Sunday sauce but this week we turned them into an appetizer. For this batch I used a mix of ground beef and ground pork (you could also use veal or ground chicken or turkey). I seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, crushed red pepper and fresh minced mint. For the binder I used an egg and panko bread crumbs. (I would advise you to add some fresh grated parmesan cheese…which I can’t do because SOMEONE doesn’t eat cheese…)

I baked these babies in the over at 350 for about 30 minutes and served with a side of spicy mayo. They smelled great and the pop of mint was amazing.

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Low carb and yummy…

Spaghetti squash is our new go to lately. It’s super versatile, easy to prepare and low carb/calorie. The hardest part of this squash is cutting it open!

To prepare this dish I halved a spaghetti squash and removed the seeds. I then seasoned with a little EVOO, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes (you can add whatever seasonings you’d like). Place cut side down in a baking pan and toss in pre-heated 350 degree oven for about an hour (depending on size). You can tell it’s done by poking a fork in the squash – if it goes in easily it’s done.

The fun part is the toppings – we’re trying to empty out our freezer so I’m using everything in there. I sautéed some sausage and shrimp (adding garlic, red pepper flakes, salt & pepper). I also had some left over escarole and frozen peas which I added.

To plate this dish I first scooped out the spaghetti squash, topped with escarole, then topped that with the shrimp & sausage, pea sauté. Of course a healthy sprinkling of parmesan makes everything better. It was super flavorful and filled us up!

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Freshness overload

Last night’s dinner was a go-to for us. Chicken cutlet with bruschetta. My bruschetta changes depending on what looks fresh in the produce department. I was lucky enough to be in Astoria the other day and shopped at my favorite grocery store (shout out to Berry Fresh on Ditmars). So for this bruschetta I incorporated fresh cucumbers, dill, tomatoes, red onion, chopped Greek olives, a fabulous feta cheese and a good quality EVOO. I mix this all together with a little kosher salt & pepper and let it get cozy in the fridge for about an hour so that all the flavors come together. Take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before serving.

You can use this bruschetta on top of any protein you like. Last night I fried up some chicken cutlets and plated it all on top of some of steamed broccoli rabe and a side of tzatziki.

Pro-tip: when you steam the broccoli rabe add a bullion cube to the boiling water, this takes the bitterness out of the broccoli rabe. Also, I drain the cooked broccoli rabe then quickly sauté it with a little garlic, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes (just long enough to incorporate all the spices).

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Comfort food…

Life is chaos right now so I needed comfort food dish that would not be stressful to make. Orecchiette, sausage, shrimp and broccoli rabe was just that dish last night.

Start by blanching coarsely chopped broccoli rabe (add a bullion cube to the boiling water to take the bitterness away). Then sauté de-cased sausage, shrimp, a little crushed red pepper and of course a little (or a lot) of crushed garlic. Once the sausage and shrimp are cooked through add the cooked (al dente!) orecchiette and mixed it all together. Add a few ladle fulls of the pasta water to create a bit of a broth.

Voila! Super flavorful, satisfying and easy to do. You can totally switch out the proteins here (think chicken, lobster, cod…)

Pro-tip: Add a touch of cream or mascarpone to thicken up the broth and deepen the flavor.

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A BBQ Kind of Night…

I have been jonesing for a BBQ. I don’t ever BBQ for myself because I never seem to figure out temperatures, so I leave that to my hubby. I’ll throw anything on the grill and just know it will taste better. So for this BBQ, we started with some fresh clams with butter. Literally just soak the clams for 30 minutes before cooking to get them to release any sand and toss them on the BBQ until they open. A little melted butter for dunking just makes it even better. And of course we had to throw some shrimp on the barbie too…

After that yummy appetizer, we prepared some steaks (don’t forget to leave them out before cooking – never cook a steak straight from the fridge). Simply salt & pepper and ready to grill. I love a ribeye and hubby goes for a filet mignon so we need to adjust our cooking times. We also wrapped up some potatoes in aluminum foil – get these on the grill way before the steaks as they’ll need more time to cook.

As a side dish, I made an old school recipe that I haven’t made in million years – escarole with white beans. I actually had to call a friend to remind me how to make this. You really have to clean the escarole well as it tends to be sandy. After that, roughly chop and blanch for 7 minutes (I add a bullion cube to the boiling water, which takes some of the bitterness out of the escarole), strain the cooked escarole and immediately rinse with cold water to bring back that pretty green color. Sauté minced garlic in a little EVOO, add escarole, warm through, add a can of rinsed white beans, warm through, season with salt & pepper and serve. I could have this as a main dish, it was really flavorful and filling.

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Bean, beans, good for the heart…

I have a funny memory of my Italian grandparents getting into an epic fight about burnt lentils. They were both great cooks so kitchen disasters were not common, maybe that’s why I have never cooked lentils before. It’s a cold miserable day here today, so I experimented with lentils, making a super flavorful, hearty soup. Here’s what I used:

Ingredients:

Trilogy (all diced: 1 onion, 2 stalks celery and 2 carrots)
1 clove of garlic diced
2 cups red lentils
8 cups of vegetable broth
4 cups of roughly chopped baby spinach
1 cup of coconut milk

Here’s how to make the magic happen.

In a large pot, saute the trilogy in a little EVOO. Season with salt & pepper. When barely soft (about 7 minutes) toss in rinsed lentils (just put them in a strainer and rinse under cold water). Add the vegetable broth and stir to incorporate. Under fairly high heat bring soup to a boil. Stir together and cover pot and reduce heat to low. Let this cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 30 minutes the lentils will be tender and the consistency will be on the thicker side. Remove from heat and add the spinach, stirring into the soup and cover for 5 minutes. Stir again to blend the now wilted spinach and add coconut milk. Warm up on low flame for another five minutes and voila!

I really liked this dish. It was a hearty lunch and something I’ve never made before. I think my grandparents would be proud LOL.


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Protein Bowl Kick…

I seem to be on a protein bowl kick. I think they’re super fun to make and have endless variations. Low carb, full of flavor and fresh veggies and protein.

This yummy bowl started with blackened shrimp (my new obsession – I use Old Bay Blackening mix, it’s great and not super salty). I simply sprinkle the shrimp with the seasoning and saute them quickly in my wok. When cooked, I removed the shrimp from the wok and quickly stir fried the black beans, diced tomatoes, red bell pepper, red onion, and jalapeno.

For the layers I started with spaghetti squash (which I had leftover and just warmed up) followed by the stir fried veggies, shrimp, avocado and a little cheddar to top it off.

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Protein Bowl…

What to do with leftover steak, shrimp, chicken or other protein? Make a protein bowl (inspired by my favorite quick eatery – when we actually had to leave the house to work – Dos Toros). It’s very easy to prepare and assemble. I warmed up my leftover steak (cut into small cubes) in a pan. I also warmed up some black beans in a separate pan. When it’s all warmed up simply layer ingredients in your bowl: first beans, then steak, then top with whatever you like. I topped this bowl off with san marzano tomatoes diced up, diced red onion, chopped fresh avocado, fresh chopped jalapeno then a handful of shredded cheddar. I also added a few julienned fresh mint leaves from the garden just to give it a pop. You can toss this all under a broiler for a few minutes to melt cheese or just go for it as is!

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When a snack’ll do it…

Sometimes you just don’t need a big meal. Tapas, mezze, antipasto, appetizers, whatever you call it, it’s fun to make and to share.

Last night we plated up some mortadella, prosciutto, gouda, homemade pickles, pepperoncini and fresh bruschetta.

Add a nice crusty baguette or warmed pita bread and you’re all set!

(And the wine, don’t forget the wine!)

Pro-tip: The bruschetta is super easy to pull together. I dice up some really ripe plum or san marzano tomatoes (if I can find them), add minced garlic and diced red onion to taste and season with kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper and a little dried oregano. Let it marry for about an hour in the fridge. Meanwhile, cut the baguette into 1/2 inch slices and brush one side with a little EVOO. Then to toast – I toast only one one side, leaving the other side softer. I do this so the crouton doesn’t break into a million pieces when you take a bite of it. When cooled top (the toasted side) with about 1 teaspoon of tomato mixture, plate and serve!

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Comfort Food…

I made a healthy version of real comfort food the other night. Turkey meatloaf with spinach and feta in the mix! Super tasty, not at all dry and tons of flavor. I just mixed a package of fresh ground turkey meat with about 1/4 cup of fresh crumbled feta cheese, chopped up sauted spinach and seasonings (I used fresh basil and mint since they’re growing on my patio). Mix well, put in small baking dish, and pop in the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes, Voila! Serve with a side salad, cannot get easier than this!

Pro-tip: you can use any cheese you like that melts well, also you can switch up the veggie too, maybe broccoli rabe or kale? Corn?

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Osso Bucco

I know I have written about this recipe before but this time it was exceptionally delicious. I prepare veal shanks almost the same way as oxtails. In this instance instead of using sofrito I used diced red tomatoes, garlic and white wine. I think browning the lightly floured and seasoned meat prior to slow cooking in this dish is especially important, as is deglazing the pan with a little wine and/or broth and adding to crockpot. I also made a very simple marinara sauce that, when the shanks were cooked (six hours on high in the crock pot), I infused with about a cup of the sauce from the crockpot. I served this dish over cappellini, which really complimented the complexity and richness of the main dish. See my previous post for details: https://anniesday.com/2020/12/07/grabbing-the-bull-by-the-horns/

Enjoy!

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Frittatas!

The fun part of making a frittata is that it’s a great way to get rid of leftovers. In this case we had some potatoes, broccoli rabe and a few kalamata olives from apps the night before. I employ my cast iron skillet for this meal. Since I learned how to take care of this persnickety, heavy pan it has become my favorite.

To make any frittata, start by sauteing your veggies in a little EVOO. When veggies are warmed up (remember I used leftovers so they’ve already been cooked) add a tablespoon of butter and spread veggies out evenly on bottom of pan. Pour in your well scrambled eggs (I use my Kitchen Aid so that the eggs are nice and airy). Lower heat and cook on stovetop for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. You can test doneness by inserting a toothpick, if it comes out clean you’re done!

Enjoy!

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Wok & Rolling…

A few weeks ago I found spring roll wrappers at the grocery. I haven’t made spring rolls in a long time. It got me thinking about many, many years ago when I took an Asian cooking class at Hofstra. The class was was taught by a petite Jewish woman who, after getting divorced, explored China for some time. After she returned to the states from her Chinese escapades she taught these night classes with an enthusiasm that was infectious. Anyway, I pulled these together partially from memory and partially just using what I had available at home. Spring rolls and a side of fried rice everyone loved this simple, fun dinner.

For the spring rolls, I used what I had available, which in this case was scallions, green cabbage, sausage meat, garlic, bean sprouts and seasonings. It’s so easy! Thinly slice cabbage and scallions and mince garlic. Add a few tablespoons of EVOO to pan, add sausage meat to pan and cook until no longer pink. Add cabbage, scallions and sprouts to meat. Season generously with fresh black pepper. Add about a tablespoon of fish sauce if you have it and a little soy sauce to taste. Cook until veggies are soft. Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes. Transfer mixture to a strainer and let excess liquids drain off (do this so that the spring rolls don’t get soggy). When mixture is cool enough to handle it’s time to make the spring rolls. I put a spring roll wrapper on a cutting board so that it’s oriented like a diamond. Then place about a tablespoon and a half of mixture in the middle of the wrapper. I then fold up the bottom corner, then both the left & right corners then roll the wrapper away from you making roll somewhat tight so that the stuffing stays inside. You can use either a little water or egg to seal the top corner. Repeat with the rest of the spring rolls, your technique will get better the more you do. You can either deep fry or pan fry the rolls, removing when they are brown.

Along with the spring rolls was a fried rice recipe that my mom used to make. I used Uncle Ben’s brown rice (about 2 cups, cooked) – which must be made the day before and cold when you prepare the fried rice. Like all my recipes, I used what I had available. In this case it was a few leftover pork chops which I diced up, scallions, a sweet onion roughly chopped, fresh carrots & celery also chopped up and a 1/2 cup of peas for pretty color. Start by cooking what needs to be cooked the longest – the pork and the carrots. Start by adding a little sesame oil (or EVOO) in your wok and let that heat up. Add pork and carrots and cook until the pork is no longer pink and the carrots are soft. Add the rest of the vegetables, stirring until cooked. You can add more oil if you need to. Then make some room in the center of your pan and stir in a scrambled egg . When egg is cooked add the rice a little at a time, folding in vegetables. Add soy sauce to taste (remember it’s super salty so don’t go nuts) and a ton of fresh cracked pepper. Voila! Homemade fried rice.

Pro-tip: You can make this recipe with so many variations (shrimp, chicken, beef, vegetarian) and any vegetables that you have on hand. I like color in the dish so the carrots and peas really added that element.

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So many fish in the sea…

I made a great lightly creamy seafood pasta the other day that was, according to my hubby, “the best meal ever”. Wow. Considering how easy it was, I was very happy that it was so delicious. For the seafood I used little neck clams, shrimp and a lobster tail but you can use whatever looks good a the fish monger. I bet mussels and crab would be great in this dish too.

To start I sauteed the shrimp and lobster in a little EVOO, a dash of truffle oil and butter until just about cooked. Then I added 2 cups of chicken broth and let that heat up. When broth is hot (almost boiling) I tossed in the clams and steamed until they opened up. I added 1/2 cup of frozen peas just for color too. Next, I reduced heat to low and added 1 cup of heavy cream and a ton of fresh cracked pepper and parsley. You can thicken up the sauce with a tablespoon of mascarpone if you like.

Cooked linguine (al dente of course) was then transferred into the pan with this yummy sauce, mixed around so every piece of pasta was covered, then plated with a shaving of … wait for it … fresh truffle! (On sale at Eataly this week by the way.)

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Feast of the seven fishes….

There is no meal in life for me that is more of a competition in both creativity and stamina than Christmas eve and the seven fishes. This year, because of stupid COVID, it was only my hubby, daughter and me. Seven fishes, cooked in various ways is A LOT for three people. I won’t lie, the whole snapper (who premiered this year) didn’t make it to the table last night. It will be a great Christmas day lunch though.

Where do I even start here? We had my hubby’s famous stuffed artichokes (my daughter’s favorite!) stuffed clams, Alaskan king crab legs, stuffed calamari, fried baccala (cod), whole lobsters, dungeness crabs, shrimp, broccoli rabe, mushrooms. rainbow cookies, butter cookies, chestnuts.

This is no small amount of prep. The entire house is consumed by Christmas eve. Our place in NY has a very small kitchen (I refer to it as a one person kitchen) so we have to plan out who’s doing what and in what order. This is essential for harmony…

I really missed having a houseful this year and while it was great, it just wasn’t the same without my parents and our close friends. Hoping that 2021 bring better things.

If you’re interested in any of the recipes, inbox me and I’ll share. The batter for the baccala is particularly good and surprisingly easy to make and can be used for onion rings or fried zucchini.

Merry Christmas to you all and here’s to a (MUCH) better 2021.

BUON NATALE!!

Dedicated to my sweet mother-in-law who we lost this year. Miss your crazy laugh!

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Cravings…

What can I say? I’m a sucker when either my daughter or hubby have a craving for a dish that I can make. I fuss and make like I’m too busy but truth is I love it (don’t tell them!) Yesterday, the princess was craving a pasta salad…so I starting prepping and this is what happened:

I had some good fresh stuff waiting to be used in the fridge. No two of my pasta salads are ever the same. For this particular salad I tossed in: feta cheese, chopped mixed bell peppers (mostly for color), chopped red onion, chopped soppressata, chopped olives, chopped marinated artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, and fresh parsley.

It’s so easy to pull together: boil you choice of pasta till al dente (about 8 minutes), drain and rise under cold water. Toss in a few drops of EVOO and stir around. In a large bowl add all freshly chopped ingredients and cooled pasta. Add salt, pepper, oregano and a bit more EVOO and toss well. Voila!

Note: Any fresh veggies work in this. Basil and mint are great adds too if you have them. Mozzarella or goat cheese or pana grano could replace the feta. Also, in place of adding your own seasoning you could add in an envelope of dried salad dressing mix (italian, ranch, whatever) with the EVOO and a little white vinegar if you like.

This is a great side dish or even a quick main dish.

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Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy…

Chicken Piccata aka Lemon chicken – Just love this dish. It’s got a fresh, satisfying taste, fills you up and isn’t terribly complicated to prepare. The chicken can be served over rice, polenta, zucchini spirals, you name it. I prepared mine in our large electric skillet (this allowed me to cook all the cutlets at once versus a few batches in a saute pan). Preparation for this dish is everything.

To prepare:

Juice three lemons and slice one lemon. Chop up one leek (white part only), strain about 1/4 cup of capers, soften 2 tablespoons of butter and chop some fresh parsley. Salt & pepper both sides of boneless chicken breasts that are of similar thickness (this recipe is best with thinner pieces). Dredge chicken lightly in seasoned flour and place on wire rack. Next, heat EVOO in skillet or saute pan and saute chicken until cooked (cook time will vary on thickness). As pieces are cooked remove chicken and place on a warm plate. (This is where the magic happens.) Deglaze pan with about 2 cups of chicken broth and freshly squeezed lemon juice. After warmed through add butter, capers, chopped leeks and if you like some minced garlic. Cook an additional 5 minutes. I served this dish over rice. To plate it, add rice to center of plate, center a chicken breast on top of rice, spoon the lemon sauce over chicken and garnish with a slice of lemon and a dash of fresh parsley.

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Snowstorm soup…

Sometimes a pot of soup cures you. It makes the house warm, smells great and soothes weary bones. Being 2020, we were expecting a major storm yesterday. Only six inches and 3 loaves of bread later, all we have is this great soup. My basic chicken soup starts with the trilogy (diced carrots, celery, onion) sauteed in EVOO and seasoned with a ton of fresh dill, thyme, salt and pepper. After trilogy is sweated (about 5 minutes) toss in the whole chicken, fill pot with water and cook for about 90 minutes. Turn flame off, let cool enough to handle and then carefully remove the chicken from pot (some folks like to wrap the chicken in cheese cloth to easily remove without the chicken falling apart). I use a large spider strainer and just scoop that birdie up (see pic below of this strainer). Let chicken cool then remove bones & skin from meat and toss bones & skin. Put meat back in pot and return to heat. I add more seasoning (dill, salt, pepper, thyme) and let it cook for about another 20 minutes. Serve with crusty buttered bread.

For this dinner we had some leftover appetizers from a dinner a few days ago. Some prosciutto, mortadella, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers and kalamata olives made for a perfect starter.

Spider Strainers:

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Raising the steaks

I love me a good, marbled, thick, rare steak. No steak sauce, just some salt & pepper (and if I’m going to be fancy, maybe a little bearnaise on the side). I’m not a great BBQ cooker (I leave that to my hubby) so I employed my old fashioned, well-loved and seasoned cast iron skillet to do the magic.  I get why folks are scared to get a cast iron skillet I was too.  I thought I’d end up with a rust filled pan that would surely kill me. After watching many YouTube videos on how to care for this now kitchen essential, I have to say I love it.  The more you take care of it when you first get it, the easier it becomes.  It cleans easily, cooks evenly and is really an asset to the kitchen, sort of like a pizza stone.  If you need some advice on how to take care of your cast iron skillet, inbox me and I’ll send you some suggestions.

It’s super important to take your steak out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you cook it (helps the steak cook more evenly).  You don’t want to cook a cold, straight from the fridge piece of meat.  For this solo meal I sauteed some mushrooms in a little EVOO and butter (salt, pepper, garlic, and some red pepper flakes).  I also made my almost nightly broccoli rabe and a baked potato, a treat for me.  Then I just sauteed the steak in my skillet (prepared rare and with a little fight left in it).  I put a drop of EVOO in the pan before settling in the steak.  After flipping the steak, I put a pat of butter on the cooked side.  Let the steak rest for a few minutes on a cutting board before cutting into it, this will preserve the juices.  This steak was entirely too big to finish for dinner, but the steak and eggs the next morning was epic. 

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The fish that didn’t get away

A friend of ours, that used to be a boat captain in Brooklyn and now lives in Florida, brings us the most amazing gifts.  A few times a year he is hired to captain a small fishing boat in Alaska (!!) The pictures of the gigantic, beautiful fish they catch under his care are amazing.  When he returns to Florida, he brings a bounty of fresh halibut and salmon (flash frozen and sealed up).  The color of the salmon is not like anything you’ve seen in your local supermarket or fishmonger and the taste reflects that.  Last night I seasoned a piece of the salmon with pepper and a little lemon butter, placed it skin side down on top of a little EVOO to prevent sticking and baked it for about 20 minutes at 350 (cook less for thinner pieces).  I plated this simply on a bed of fresh sauteed spinach (of course with a bit of garlic, salt & pepper).  It was delicious and a testament to how super fresh, simply prepared dishes are always the best.

Pro-tip: Don’t over cook the salmon (your not at a wedding!) Serve medium rare.

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Stuff It…

I love the mixed textures of stuffed cabbage. The almost crunchy texture of the lightly boiled cabbage leaf leading into the tender, flavorful meat inside. At first I was intimidated that the leaves would fall apart, the meat would fall out and I’d have a big goopy mess on my hands. The key is to not boil the cabbage leaves too long and to not overstuff them before cooking. My recipe is very untraditional and changes depending upon what I have on hand, so don’t be afraid to switch it up. I also prefer a savory stuffing versus sweet (no raisins in my dish).

Here’s the how to: Remove about 10 of the larger outer leaves from a head of cabbage and boil for about 8-10 minutes (leaves should be pliable but not too soft). Let cool in glass bowl. Meanwhile make a meatball mixture (whatever your traditional mixture is). A nice touch is to add about 1/4 cup of uncooked rice. Once the cabbage leaves have cooled, stuff each leaf with about a tablespoon (more for larger leaves) of meatball mixture that has been rolled into a log. Fold in sides then roll to close. You can use a toothpick to secure. Repeat until all leaves are used. (You can freeze leftover meat mixture.) Then place stuffed cabbage leaves in a saute pan, add about 1 cup of tomato sauce, season with salt, pepper, sazon and cover. Cook on low for about 45 minutes. Serve with a side salad and enjoy!

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Apps, Nolacco style…

Two of our favorite Sunday appetizers are fried cubed eggplant and zucchini flowers (I’ve mentioned in the past how hard the flowers are to find).  The eggplant is the brainchild of my hubby.  It’s simply cubed eggplant, dipped in scrambled egg, breaded in breadcrumbs, fried and salted. It’s so good, I forgot how much I liked eggplant until he started making this on Sundays.  The zucchini flowers are prepared similarly, dipped in egg then in flour (no breadcrumbs) and fried and salted.  Much to my horror after buying these at a farmer’s market once I found that several of the flowers had bees in them – so do check before frying them.  There are several recipes (and I’ve tried a few) that stuff the flowers with either ricotta or mozzarella.  I find that stuffing the flowers really overpowers the delicacy and earthiness of the flower, but to each her own.

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Grabbing the bull by the horns…

A beloved, stick to the ribs comfort food in our house is simply prepared oxtails and/or short ribs.  Want to look like a genius cook without the degree from CIA?  Check this out: 

  • Purchase fresh beef oxtail and/or short ribs – salt & pepper generously
  • Slice up a sweet onion and place in bottom of slow cooker
  • Place oxtail/short ribs on top of sliced onion
  • Top with one jar each of Goya Sofrito and Recaito
  • Cover and cook on either 6 hours high or 8 hours low

Serve over either rice, yucca, spaghetti squash, polenta, whatever!  I (almost) feel guilty that this is both so easy and delish!

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Getting stoned…

There’s a short season for stone crabs in Clearwater that begins in mid-October. Local legend is that stone crabs can only be found here – I don’t know if that’s true, but what I can tell you is that they’re delicious, pricey and gorgeous.  These little buggers have a much harder shell than blue crab, or even lobster for that matter.  They’re served boiled, cracked, either cold or hot with drawn butter or an aioli.  Ranging from about $35-65 per pound depending on size (medium, select, or large) they’re not cheap.  I researched the prices per pound and saw that there is also a jumbo size ($105 for a pound and a half, which is about four claws) – but I’ve never seen jumbo on a menu near us.  I have never made these at home, I prefer to leave the mystery of perfectly boiled stone crabs to the professionals.  If you ever have the chance to try these, I highly recommend that you do.

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Limoncello when you can’t get to Rome…

I’ve been cooking, a lot. My husband encourages this by opening the wine or mixing a cocktail for me while we concoct our dishes. Recently though, he’s taken on a little mixologist hobby – Limoncello!! We have a great affection for this sweet, syrupy, flavorful liqueur since being given a generous bottle the night we got engaged in Italy at a restaurant called Le Grotte in Rome, near the Spanish Steps about a decade ago. Our waiter was so excited about the event that he let us sit there with our Limoncello well after the restaurant closed – how we got back to our hotel is still a bit of a mystery.

The making of the Limoncello is not a stealth process. First the procurement of ten organic (a must) lemons. Then to find olive leaves (we found these on Amazon – shocking, I know). Then the pure alcohol (see picture below) in Florida we could only find 75% alcohol but in NYC we were able to find 95%. Note that the proof is half the alcohol content.

First to peel the lemons. We have a super sharp peeler that we bought in Germany, it grabs just the top yellow rind and not the bitter white pith which you want to avoid. The peel and olive leaves (about 10) now marinate in the fridge in 25 ounces of the alcohol for 30 days. We do this in a 132 ounce Mason jar. After 30 days we add a cooled simple syrup (2lbs of sugar and 1.5 quarts of water-now you know why we use such a large mason jar). It again rests for another 30 days before being strained via a sieve into whatever bottles you choose (see our cool bottles below).

Limoncello makes for a great gift when visiting friends or for a finishing touch after a great dinner or just because it’s 2020!

We’ve recently tried the same recipe with oranges and tangerines (and we added fresh vanilla beans to make an adult creamsicle…) it was de-lish!

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10 Discos

No, we’re not going dancing…but this:

What to do with ten discos?

Let’s make empanadas! A fun appetizer with many variations. Here’s how I made this batch.

Ingredients:
1 package of Goya empanada discs
A few tablespoons of EVOO
1 diced onion
1 diced clove of garlic
1 small package of chopped meat
1 large diced boiled potato (should be soft in center)
1 cup of frozen peas
Salt & pepper
1 cup canola oil
Salt, pepper

Heat EVOO to saute pan. Add onion and garlic – saute for about 3 minutes (do not allow garlic to brown – if it does toss it and start again) add chopped meat to pan and brown. Season with salt & pepper when meat has browned mix in potatoes and peas. Pour mixture into a strainer and let sit for about 5 minutes (you want to strain out fats and juices so they don’t seep through the empanada discs). Place one of the discs on cutting board then put about 2 tablespoons of mixture on one half of disc then fold over other half. Using a fork press down open sides to seal – voila! You now have an empanada. Repeat with remaining discs (extra filling can be frozen for future use). Now heat canola oil in large frying pan. When oil is hot slide empanadas into pan turning when browned. Don’t overcrowd the frying pan, they can be cooked in batches. Remove from pan and onto paper towel lined plate and salt immediately (Kosher salt!) You can definitely either deep fry or air fry these if you prefer.

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Stuffing

I’m the first to admit that the harder something is to find, the more I must have it. Case in point is the Martin’s cubed potato bread I need to make my Thanksgiving stuffing. It’s either abundantly available or scarce.

The stuffing is always a hit on Thanksgiving (I only make it once a year so everyone’s dying for it by November LOL). Here’s all you need to know to make this yummy side dish:

Ingredients:
2 sticks salted butter
1/4 cup EVOO
1 stalk of chopped celery (leaves included)
1 large sweet onion chopped
2 large carrots chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley
2 bags of Martin’s potato bread
2 cups of chicken broth
2 eggs
1 cup of milk
2 cups of chopped roasted chestnuts
1 cup of dried craisins
1 cup sauteed mushrooms
Salt, pepper
Coarsely chopped thyme, sage (fresh if you can get it)

How to:
In a large pot heat EVOO add 1/2 stick of butter cut in chunks. When butter has melted add celery, onion, carrots (AKA the “trilogy”) parsley and saute until softened. Add additional 1/2 stick of butter (this is not low cal!) when melted, add potato bread and mix to incorporate. Turn heat off and add chicken broth, eggs and milk (add additional milk if mixture is too dry). Add chestnuts, craisins and mushrooms (you can totally skip these if you like) and season with salt, pepper, thyme and sage. Your mixture should have a loose consistency. Turn mixture into deep baking pan and top with small pats of remaining butter and bake for about 40 minutes at 350 (when top is golden brown your stuffing is ready!)

Pro-tip: I throw whatever I have on hand in the stuffing. This year I had extra butternut squash-which I cubed and sauteed with the rest of the veggies. You can totally customize this to what you and your family like.

Before and after baking the stuffing. The end product should be savory and creamy.

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Little dishes everywhere

We often have a dinner of meze, tapas, small dishes, apps…whatever you call it – we love a dinner of many small plates to share. For Thanksgiving, there is no such thing as “small” anything. These are some of the appetizers we made this year: stuffed artichokes (full disclosure: my husband makes the crowd favorite artichoke…I still don’t know how that happened, but here we are), stromboli, sauteed rock shrimp (not always easy to find, but if you can DO IT!) and, the piece di resistance, sauteed zucchini flowers. These beauts are super hard to find, very seasonal and exceptionally fragile. I can always find them at Eataly in NYC (Flatiron) anytime of the year (they are imported from Israel) and during the late Spring at the Union Square farmer’s market. They only stay fresh for a day or two so you pretty much have to cook them immediately. If you want the 411 on how to purchase and prepare these yummies, send me a message and I’ll fill you in.

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Prepping for Thanksgiving

This was the smallest Thanksgiving I’ve ever hosted and thusly the smallest turkey I’ve ever bought (13 lbs). It was also our first Thanksgiving in New York in five years – everything was different this year – thanks a lot COVID. In any case, we had a great meal with lots of great appetizers, side dishes and desserts. I’ll break the food up in stages here since there was so much. I was thankful to have my hubby, daughter, her boyfriend and my best friend for the day, we had a really awesome Thanksgiving despite 2020.

This year, because my kitchen is so small in NY, I decided to dry brine my turkey instead of a wet brine (I imagined a disaster of wet brine leaking all over the fridge) I actually think the dry brine was much, much better. The dry brine was simply fresh herbs (thyme, sage, dill, parsley, salt, pepper mixed with a bit of EVOO – which created a thick paste) I slid a knife just beneath the skin (careful to not pierce skin) and rubbed the mixture generously under the breast, legs and cavity nd over the top of the skin with whatever mixture was left. This sat in fridge UNCOVERED – you want the salt to do its magic and dry the skin out a bit before cooking. The next day I put some soft butter under the skin as well, stuffed turkey cavity with homemade potato bread stuffing (!!) and put a halved apple in the butt (to keep the turkey extra moist and delish). Right before putting the bird in the oven I massaged it with a little EVOO, salt and pepper and fresh thyme, then put aluminum foil around the wings to prevent burning. I also put some fresh cut onions, carrots and celery in the bottom of the pan with about 2 cups of cold water (this base will make your gravy when it’s all cooked). Beside the stuffing we made a side dish of roasted root vegetables (potato, sweet potato, butternut squash, beets, and onion) – tossed with fresh herbs and EVOO and then baked for about 45 minutes.

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Cranberry Sauce-Not in the can…

I know there are folks out there that really love cranberry sauce from a can. That gelatinous, cylindrical, wiggly cranberry mass that sits at the Thanksgiving table. I am not one of those folks. When my daughter was little I started making homemade cranberry sauce in defiance of my canned cranberry sauce parents. It was super easy, fun (watching the cranberries pop as they became cooked) and the color was stunning. It soon became a staple for thanksgiving. This will be a short post (I’m going crazy cooking for tomorrow) but maybe one that you can use for tomorrow. Pro-tip: I usually double this recipe so we have leftovers for that midnight post tryptophan nap…

I mean, which looks better?

Ingredients:
1 bag (3 cups) of fresh cranberries
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
(Yes, that’s all!)

How to: bring water and sugar to a boil (stir a bit so sugar is incorporated). Add whole cranberries to simple syrup and let cranberries cook for between 8-10 minutes until mixture boils again (you’ll start to hear the cranberries pop). Remove pan from heat and let cool. Put in a pretty dish (a white bowl makes the cranberries super pretty!) and let cool overnight. Take it out of fridge long enough to bring to room temperature before serving. Enjoy!

Happy, happy Thanksgiving!

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Avgolemono Soup

This hearty, earthy soup is pure comfort food. Fresh ingredients always prevail when you want the best end product possible. Fresh dill, chicken, lemons all come together in this traditional Greek dish. I start by seasoning a chicken breast with salt, pepper and a little EVOO and baking it in oven until cooked (about 20 minutes depending on the size of the chicken breast). Remove from oven and let cool. Next I make a rich chicken broth, you can do this using a store bought broth or homemade – make a large pot of broth so that there’s plenty of soup. I then scramble 1 egg in a mug and add the juice from 3 freshly squeezed lemons and set aside. Add 1 box of orzo to chicken broth and cook until slightly al dente (about 9-11 minutes). Dice up cooked chicken. Remove pot from heat after orzo is cooked. Slowly add one ladle of broth from orzo to the scrambled egg/lemon juice mixture Make sure you are mixing constantly so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs. Add chicken to the pot, then add the egg/lemon/broth mixture to the pot of soup stirring well to incorporate. Season generously with dill and fresh pepper. Of course garnishing with grated cheese is an awesome idea!

Ingredients:

  • Chicken breast (or even leftover cooked skinless chicken)
  • Salt, pepper
  • EVOO
  • Chicken broth
  • 1 box of orzo
  • 1 egg
  • 3 fresh lemons
  • 1 bunch of fresh dill
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Bestfriend Brunch

Being over quarantine is a great excuse for a best friend brunch. My finicky friend required me to do some menu tweaking. What I came up with was a simple, healthy brunch that we both enjoyed. Mini-crustless spinach and feta quiche with a side greek salad.

Ingredients for quiche:

  • 6 whole eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon of butter
  • 3 cups fresh chopped spinach
  • 1 Tablespoons of EVOO
  • 3/4 cup of feta cheese

Scramble eggs well (I use my Kitchen Aid on high to incorporate air, making eggs light and fluffy). In saute pan melt butter and add spinach, saute for about 4 minutes. Using a paper towel grease cupcake pan with EVOO. Add equal amounts of spinach to each tin, followed by adding equal amounts of egg to each tin and then top off with equal amounts of feta. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes (you can check doneness by sticking quiches with a toothpick, which should come out clean when removed).