Sunday, December 10, 2017

Lemon Drop Cocktail

From time to time I like to enjoy a little cocktail. Usually, I'll pour one of three things: Prosecco, Champagne, or Pinot Grigio. It's also likely there's some fruit involved: usually peaches, but sometimes strawberries or raspberries, lemon, orange, and on occasion, pomegranate seeds. I love the color the fruit adds, and let's face it, the fruit is a special treat after it's soaked up a bit of the alcohol.

This past fall I discovered a delicious little sipper. An Apple Cider Mimosa. It is the perfect fall drink: crisp, fresh, and sweet. It's so simple! Simply pour the desired amount of apple cider in the bottom of a champagne glass and top with either Prosecco or Champagne. Enjoy! The amount of apple cider is totally up to you and let me tell you....there is no way you can mess it up! It's an amazing drink. Perfect for ladies parties and brunches.

The store is no longer selling apple cider and the mills have closed, so I've been looking for a new go to drink. Of course, I wanted this drink to be something every bit as simple as my beloved Apple Cider Mimosa; but also, something that could be made with ingredients I typically have on hand. Ina's Lemon Drop Cocktail fits the bill perfectly. Three basic ingredients: vodka, lemon, and sugar. Easy enough, right? A pour of vodka, a quick squeeze of lemon, a dusting of sugar, a quick shake and you're ready to pour yourself a tasty glass of relaxation!

Now, full disclosure, this Lemon Drop Cocktail is way more potent than a glass of champagne! Most martinis are on the strong side, and after a few sips, this goes down fairly easy I enjoyed mine with a slice of lemon, orange, and a sprig of basil. The pretty colors on a cold winter day help to cheer me up!

Whether you're hosting a party, or simply unwinding from holiday chaos, this Lemon Drop Cocktail is a tasty and delightful way to relax.

Lemon Drop Cocktail
Adapted from Food Network
by Ina Garten
Serves 6

2 cups frozen vodka
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 superfine sugar
thinly sliced lemon slices, for garnish
herbs, for garnish

Combine the vodka, lemon juice, and sugar and pour into a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour into martini glasses and garnish with lemon slices.  

It's 5 o'clock Somewhere!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

16 Bean Pasta e Fagioli

This "16 bean" pasta e fagioli beckoned to me from the pages of Ina Garten's Cooking For Jeffrey. A simple peasant soup full of all the things I love: tomatoes, beans, and pasta. It screams of comfort food.

So, on a blustery winter day, I gathered my ingredients and set about preparing this soup. This recipe takes some forethought, namely soaking the beans overnight. If you forget, like me, you can do the quick-soak method (thanks Deb). After soaking, this recipe does take quite a bit of time. The beans cook an hour and you have to watch, skimming off foam. When they're done it's time to get out the food mill, or in my case, the blender.  One-third of the beans gets pureed so as to thicken the soup. Then you have to add all the beans, and pasta, back to the pot and cook the soup for another 30 minutes.

Do you see where I'm going with this? This soup takes forethought, quite a bit of work, and results in lots of dirty dishes. No problem, right? After all, I love all the ingredients and this soup is definitely going to be great.

Wrong. So wrong. I wish I didn't have to say this, but my soup was really mild. Way too mild. In fact, my husband's comment was "this has no flavor at all." I had to agree with him. Baffled, I explained how I added bacon, extra onions and garlic, loads of red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, and topped it off with a little drizzle of some really nice extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and fresh basil.  Normally, these ingredients always deliver flavor. This time they did not.

Every once in awhile I have a kitchen failure, but I don't mind because I usually learn something helpful. This one leaves me wondering. What was the lesson? Was it the brand of beans? Were they old? Was it because I didn't soak my beans overnight? Maybe the quick-soak worked to make them tender but perhaps they just didn't soak up enough water? Maybe the quick-soak method affected the flavor profile of the soup? Maybe when you quick-soak you need to add xyz.... to help make up for something. Maybe it's something else altogether.

Either way, this recipe is a no go for us. Don't be afraid to give it a try though because I know a few others who have really enjoyed it! But, do me a favor, soak your beans overnight!

"16 Bean" Pasta e Fagioli
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 6-8

1 (1-pound) bag Goya 16 Bean Soup Mix*
2 tablespoons good olive oil, plus extra for serving
6 ounces pancetta, 1/4-inch-dice, or bacon*
1 large onion, chopped*
1 tablespoons minced garlic (3 cloves)*
red pepper flakes, to taste*
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine*
4 to 6 cups good chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup miniature pasta, such as ditalini or tubettini
1/2 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1 tablespoon good red wine vinegar*
Julienned fresh basil leaves, for serving

Note: My grocery didn't have the Goya brand bean mix so I bought an equiavalent. I used bacon in place of pancetta, added extra garlic and onions, about a tablespoon or more of red pepper flakes, two teaspoons of Italian seasoning, and a good amount of salt and pepper. I didn't add the red wine but replaced the liquid with chicken stock. The red wine vinegar did help to wake up the flavors, but unfortaunely not enough.

The day before you plan to make the soup, place the bean mix in a large bowl, add cold water to cover by 2 inches, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, drain the beans, rinse under cold running water, and drain again. Place the beans in a large pot with 8 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 1 hour. Stir occasionally and skim off any foam that rises to the top. The beans should be very tender and the skin will peel away when you blow on them.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium (10-inch) stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the pancetta and onion and saute over medium to medium high heat for 12 to 18 minutes, until browned. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for one minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, 4 cups of the chicken stock, salt and pepper, and turn off the heat.

Drain the beans and add two-thirds of them to the soup. Pass the remaining beans through a food mill, discarding the skins. Stir the bean puree and the pasta into the soup, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender. Add up to 2 more cups of chicken stock if the soup is too thick. Stir in the Parmesan and the vinegar. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and add a swirl of olive oil,a sprinkle of Parmesan, and some basil. Serve hot with extra Parmesan on the side.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Parmesan & Chipotle Popcorn

We never have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. No one cares for a big roast turkey, and to seal the deal, my youngest is allergic. In years past we've had roast chicken, rib roasts, spaghetti, and even tacos. This year we opted for ham which is not only the easiest, but something everyone is crazy about, and for that I am thankful. Amen for an easy and peaceful Thanksgiving that everyone enjoyed.

Thankfully, Thanksgiving weekend is long enough to squeeze in all sorts of things: eating, shopping, resting, watching parades, Netflix, and spending lots of time with family. Now that our kids are older we love to have game night. It's a great way to have some good old fashioned fun together and it forces everyone to put their electronics away. 

On Black Friday I found the retro (1986 version) of Clue and snatched it right up. I can't even tell you how many times I played that game back in the 80's. I knew my kids (who are obsessed with the 80's thanks to Stranger Things) would love this throwback game.

Now that I had the game it was time for snacks. Ina's Parmesan & Chipotle Popcorn has been calling to me. Easy, cheesy, and spicy. I knew I couldn't go wrong. We set the table with the game, Ina's popcorn, and some buttered popcorn for the kiddos, and we were all set. It was definitely a table to be thankful for.

I loved the combination of Parmesan cheese and chile powder and thought it was perfectly balanced. My husband thought there was a bit too much cheese on the popcorn, but we all know there is no such thing as too much cheese, so he loses his vote. I will say there is probably too much butter. How do I know there was too much butter? Well, my popcorn became a little soggy in places so I think I would suggest using half as much butter next time around. Adding two tablespoons of butter in lieu of four would probably suffice. If not, you can always add a touch more. This is the perfect solution for an otherwise lip smacking and darn right addictive cheesy delight of a snack. I'd definitely make this again!

Parmesan & Chipotle Popcorn
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 3 to 4

1 bag microwave popcorn, such as Newman's Own Natural
4 tablespoons butter, melted*
1/2 cup finely grated Italian Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
2 teaspoons salt 

Note: Four tablespoons of butter may be a bit too much. I'd try half (2 tablespoons) at first and then add more if necessary. I didn't have chipotle chile powder so I used regular chile powder with great results.

Microwave thepopcorn for 3 to 5 minutes, according to the directions on the package, until the popcorn stops popping. Carefully pour the hot popcorn into a large bowl and immediately pour on the butter, then the Parmesan, chile powder, and salt. Toss well and serve hot.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken

This time of year brings about a certain stillness that I crave.  Sure, things quiet down when the kids go back to school, and then they quiet down even more when the air begins to chill, but once it hovers around freezing, there is a final layer of peace that is achieved. Total stillness. No moving about outside, very little traffic, and no knocks on the door. This stillness is the sole reason I love winter. I crave it all year.

There is little better than a still day spent in the kitchen. Kids and husband gone. Candles burning. Nothing but the sound of Adele playing and the dog snoring in the background. Knife in hand as I do my favorite kitchen chore, chopping veggies and herbs. Prepping and preparing a lovely Sunday meal for my family for when they return from their outing, it's therapy only the kitchen can grant.

Cooking doesn't always come from the heart, but on these days it does. A tender and juicy Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken fills the kitchen with a wonderful and comforting aroma that warms hearts. Some days people have to be called to dinner, but with this in the oven, you will find everyone gathering in the kitchen early.

A comforting chicken dinner with no chance of anyone knocking on the door? It's heavenly. Try it sometime.

Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 4-6

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
salt and black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 lemon, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 (4 pound) chicken, backbone removed and butterflied
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
Juice of 1 lemon

Note: My kids don't care for fennel so I made a different herb mixture using fresh sage and thyme.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the thyme, fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon salt, and1 teaspoon pepper in a mini food processor and process until ground. Pour the olive oil into a small glass measuring cup, stir in the herb mixture, and set aside.

Distribute the lemon slices in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and distribute the onion and garlic on top. Place the chicken, skin side down, on top of the onion and brush with about half the oil and herb mixture. Turn the chicken skin side up, pat it dry with paper towels (very important!), and brush it all over with the rest of the oil and herb mixture.

Roast the chicken for 30 minutes. Pour the wine into the pan (no on the chicken!) and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155 to 160 degrees. 

Remove the chicken from the oven, sprinkle it with the lemon juice, cover the skillet tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut the chicken into quarters or eights, sprinkle with salt, and serve hot with the pan juices, cooked lemon, and onion.

Theme: Cooking For Jeffrey!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ina Garten's Raspberry Roasted Applesauce {Perfect For Your Holiday Table}

Kids are funny when it comes to food. One week they love to eat something and the very next week they hate it. When they're loving something they simply can't get enough of it. They beg you to buy it in bulk and it's almost as if they're out to prove something by inhaling it as fast as possible. They ask you for more and you oblige because you are thrilled they're eating real food. Then one day, with all the dramatic disgust they can muster, they hate that food and look at you as if you've two heads when you say, "but you loved it last week."

Such is life with kids. Just when you think you get a handle on something it changes. For months my son was on an apple jag. He became obsessed with the mini-sized Honeycrisp apples and was eating them at least three times a day. Every meal centered around an apple and honestly I was thrilled. I could've cared a less about their high price tag. I couldn't buy enough of them. Then all at once I noticed the fruit basket was staying full and the apples hadn't been touched and just like that, he was done.

I was hoping he would continue to love apples the same way he's continued to love rice krispies treats, but no such luck. So I set about finding a recipe to use up my apple stash and when I came across Ina Garten's Raspberry Roasted Applesauce I knew I found a winner.

 I fell in love with the idea of roasting apples with raspberries, brown sugar, and cinnamon and letting their delicious aroma fill the house. I fell in love with the idea of topping the warm applesauce with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and watching it melt into the sauce. Mostly, I fell in love with the idea of making a beautifully hued ruby red applesauce.

I do have a few suggestions if you chose to make this. First of all, the recipe as written, will make enough to feed an army. I think Ina wrote it so that each person gets about one full cup of applesauce, along with a scoop of ice cream. I love sweets, but this is far too much for one person so I would suggest cutting this recipe in half if you're not feeding an army. Even half the recipe is enough for 6-8 people. Secondly, depending on your apples, you may or may not want to reduce, or eliminate, the brown sugar. I couldn't find the Macoun apples Ina called for so I used a mix of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp. I didn't even think about their sweetness when I added the brown sugar and my applesauce was quite sweet. It wasn't cloyingly sweet and I still enjoyed it, but I think I could've gotten by without adding any brown sugar at all, or very little, just for flavor.

This applesauce is delightful on it's own, but a scoop of good-quality vanilla ice cream makes it practically irresistible! 

This is a perfect dessert for the holidays because it can be made ahead. In fact, it's even better made a day or two in advance because the flavors get a chance to develop. Simply warm it up, scoop some ice cream, top with orange zest and you're set. I especially like the idea of having this applesauce as a lighter option for those who want a little something sweet but aren't into rich heavy desserts after a big holiday meal. A total winner!

Raspberry Roasted Applesauce
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 8*

Zest and Juice of 2 large oranges
Zest and Juice of 1 lemon
3 pounds Granny Smith apples (6 to 8 apples)
3 pounds sweet red apples, such as Macoun (6 to 8 apples)*
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed*
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
12 ounces fresh raspberries (2 pkgs.)
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Orange zest, for serving

*Note: I halved the recipe above and feel it was still enough to serve 6-8 people, especially once topped with ice cream. I couldn't find Macoun apples so I used Honeycrisp and I would recommend eliminating the brown sugar or reducing it.  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon in a large (11-inch) ovenproof pot or Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset. Peel, quarter, and core the apples and add them to the pot, tossing them with the juices as you go.

Add the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and raspberries, cover, and bake for 1 to 1-1/4 hours, until the apples are very soft. Stir vigorously with a wire whisk. The applesauce will be smooth but still have a lot of texture. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream and a dusting of orange zest.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Butternut Squash & Ricotta Bruschetta {Perfect For Your Holiday Table}

I love a good crusty bread on it's own, but I especially love with it with all sorts of goodies piled on top. This type of thing is my go to for breakfast, a quick lunch, or for party appetizers. When I came across this Butternut Squash & Ricotta Bruschetta in Ina Garten's Cooking For Jeffrey cookbook, I was hooked. I've never tried a combination quite like this.

The combination of butternut squash and ricotta on bruschetta may sound strange at first, but I can assure you that this combination is so very good. In fact, I was simply blown away.  The squash goes sweet from the addition of maple syrup and a hefty dose of red pepper flakes really spices things up! These sweet and spicy flavors marry perfectly with the caramelized onions and ricotta, and when piled high on some crusty bread, this recipe is THE PERFECT combination of sweet, spicy, creamy and crunchy. Every bite is just the perfect bite.

There are a couple things worth mentioning. First, and foremost, a good bread is necessary here. Ina uses a French baguette, which would make perfect party-sized bites. I wanted to make mine more of a meal, so I opted to use really good thick slices of sourdough. Chose your bread accordingly. The most important aspect of the bread is that it be totally crusty.  Don't make the mistake of simply heating it up a tad, or perhaps just going for a little bit of crunch. You want thicker slices of bread that are toasty all the way through. This crustiness provides the perfect texture and will hold up to the hefty toppings you are going to put on top. I rubbed my bread with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put it in a 400F oven for about 10-12 minutes. Times will vary depending on the size and thickness of your bread.

Secondly, do not skip the addition of the maple syrup or the apple cider vinegar. I wasn't sure I wanted any sweetness from the maple sugar into this otherwise savory dish. I'm also not a fan of apple cider vinegar and was worried that it's flavor would ruin the dish for me. On a whim, I decided to add them both and I'm so very glad I did! Those two ingredients really heightened the flavor of this dish. The sweetness of the maple sugar struck the perfect balance with the spiciness of the red pepper flakes and the apple cider vinegar....well, it simply tied all the flavors together. In fact, the topping mixture would be a perfect side dish all on it's own!

I really cannot say it enough. This dish was phenomenal! I would encourage any butternut lovers to give it a try. It is a perfect autumn dish and would be really good served in party-sized portions as a Thanksgiving appetizer!

Butternut Squash & Ricotta Bruschetta
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 6

1 pound butternut squash, peeled and 1/2" to 3/4"inch-diced
good olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups sliced yellow onions (2 onions)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons pure Grade A maple syrup
apple cider or apple juice (optional)
6 (1/2-inch-thick) slices rustic country bread, toasted
1-1/2 cups fresh ricotta, homemade or store bought

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the squash, 2-1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and the red pepper flakes on a sheet pan, toss, and spread out in one layer. Roast for 25 to 35 minutes, until very tender and starting to brown on the edges, tossing once with a metal spatula during roasting. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium (10-inch) saute pan. Add the onions and cook over a medium to medium-low heat for 12-15 minutes, tossing occasionally, until golden brown. Add the vinegar and maple syrup and simmer over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes, until the liquid is reduced. When the squash is tender, add it to the saute pan with the onions and mash it lightly with a dinner fork.

If the mixture is a little dry, add a few tablespoons of apple cider to moisten. Taste for seasonings and reheat over low heat, if necessary.

To assemble the bruschetta, spread a thick layer of ricotta on each toast and spoon the squash mixture on top. Sprinkle with salt and serve warm.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Crusty Baked Shells & Cauliflower

Mom and I went to the County Fair every summer. I was going for the rides, the animals, and the food. She was going for my sake, but also because a basket of fried veggies was one of her favorite things to eat. Back in the day we were very healthy eaters, so these battered and fried veggies were a big treat for both of us. The basket would come out piping hot and brimming with golden puffy clouds of broccoli, mushrooms, onions, zucchini, and cauliflower. She loved them all, but she loved the mushrooms best. This worked in her favor since I didn't like mushrooms. The onions and cauliflower were always my favorites. Together we would eat the basket clean.

A few weeks ago I went to a street fair and there were rows upon rows of food trucks. There were endless things to eat, but I only had one thing in mind: fried veggies.  Problem was, I looked high and low and no one seemed to be selling them. Determined, I walked around in the hot sun for what felt like ages. Finally I find a place and my eyes lit up. I went ahead and ordered the big basket, even though no one would share them with me.

Even though I had to hold back tears, I did manage to thoroughly enjoy those fried veggies. To me they will always be the best thing to eat at the fair. The onion is still up there as one of my favorites, but it's the fried cauliflower that's my favorite. I love all the craggy fried edges and how the cauliflower starts to go all creamy inside. It's just so darn good! The whole thing got me thinking...why don't I cook with cauliflower more often?

I vowed then and there to buy some cauliflower and find a good recipe. While looking through Ina Garten's latest cookbook, Cooking For Jeffrey, I found this recipe for Crusty Baked Shells & Cauliflower and it was perfect!

This baked pasta dish is delightfully different. First of all, there is no cheese sauce, but there is plenty of cheese: creamy Fontina, fluffy ricotta, and nutty Pecorino. These three cheeses may very well be the foundation of this dish, but it's the brightness of the lemon zest and the pop of the capers that are front and center. Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't give mention to the real star of the dish, the crusty panko topping. The topping is a textural delight, with crusty bits of panko, pasta, and cauliflower. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention the fiery heat of the red pepper flakes! I really loved this. It was just plain fun to eat! While it may not be for everyone (a quick poll taught me that not everyone loves cauliflower), I will say that I found it absolutely delightful! I can understand why Ina says it is wildly popular. It is creamy and crusty, comforting yet bright, mild yet fiery and everything else in between. My favorite bites were the ones with the crusty bits from the top and the pasta shells that had capers tucked into them. So tasty, so unique!

Pasta and cauliflower mixed with lemon zest, capers, sage, garlic, Fontina, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper

 If you love the ingredients in this one I urge you to give this a try! It is definitely one of those dishes that shakes things up a bit!

Crusty Baked Shells & Cauliflower
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 6-8

Ina says, "When I met David Tanis in Paris, he was the head chef at Alice Water's legendary restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. David now writes cookbooks andmy favorite food column in the New York Times. This wildly popular recipe is from his column. I love the creamy cauliflower with the crisp pasta plus sage, capers, garlic, and Fontina."

Before the topping was scattered on

3/4 pound medium shells
good olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2-1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into small florets (1 large head)
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups freshly grated Fontina cheese (10 ounces with rind)
1 cup (8 ounces fresh ricotta)
1/2 cup panko
6 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Fill a large pot with water, add 2 tablespoons salt, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook al dente, according to the instructions on the package. Since it will be baked later, don't overcook it! Drain and pour into a very large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium-high heat, add half the cauliflower in one layer, and saute for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the florets are lightly browned and tender. Pour the cauliflower, including the small bits, into the bowl with the pasta. Add 3 more tablespoons of oil to the saute pan, add the remaining cauliflower, cook until browned and tender, and add to the bowl. 

Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the bowl and stir carefully. Stir in the Fontina. Transfer half of the mixture to a 10 x 13 x 2-inch rectangular baking dish (or cast iron skillet). Spoon rounded tablespoons of ricotta on the pasta and spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top. Combine the panko, Pecorino, parsley, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until browned  and crusty on top. Serve hot!