Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Carrot and Squash Soup - Thanksgiving Recycle!

We had over quite a group for Christma-Channuk-Thanksgiving-mas. Twelve people for a sit down dinner which was our largest crowd ever. It was so much fun and we really enjoyed having all of our friends over. This year I tried more than ever to have the left overs from dinner go home with my guests as I usually need a break after prepping for a big party. But I was left with a few of the baby squash and it was an east decision to make a delicious soup in time for the cold front that moved in.

Baby Squash and Carrot Soup
1 c maple glazed carrots     (I also add a tiny splash of aged balsamic vinegar to the glaze)
6 roasted baby squash halves - skin removed (split in half, cover with olive oil and savory herbs and roast at 350F for 45 min)
2 c milk 2%
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp all spice
1 tsp cinnamon
salt & pepper
special equipment: immersion blender

1) In a large pan, heat the milk over a medium flame.
2) Add the squash pulp and carrots and let come to a simmer
3) CAREFULLY! Remove from heat and blend till smooth
4) Add seasoning

I also recycled my stuffing into croutons by spreading it out onto a cookie sheet and baking at 350F for 15 min
1 loaf brioche loaf - cut into 1" cubes, covered in olive oil and toasted for 15 min
4 tbsp butter - melted
1 c carrots - sliced
1 c onion - diced
1 c red bell pepper - diced
2 c mushrooms - chopped1 tbsp fresh sage - minced
4 cloves garlic - minced
3 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1 c walnuts
1 c vegetable broth (or chicken broth)

1) In a pan with some oil, saute the onions, peppers and carrots until soft.
2) add mushrooms and allow all moisture to evaporate
3) In a large bowl - mix together melted butter, bread cubes, vegetable mix, herbs and walnuts
4) Place in a large buttered casserole dish and add broth
5) Cover with foil and place in oven 350F for 35 -40 min - remove foil for last 10 min or so to brown top

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Its seems that it is always hard to find time to get everyone together but during December this is especially true. One of the best parts of the holidays is visiting with friends and family that we might not see often enough during the rest of the year. This year it seemed like we had even more than usual going on and so we decided to combine our usually holiday parties into one big dinner....for 12! Officially our biggest sit down dinner to date.

Last year, we held a Latkes/Christmas Cookie party - everyone really enjoyed dinner and loved decorating cookies so we knew that was definitely part of the evening. Since my Thanksgiving was a little short of leftovers,  I was really itching to cook a turkey so there was another huge part of my menu. With so many holidays to celebrate we certainly didn't have a shortage of traditional foods to choose from! Everything came out really well except for my stuffing... which needed a little more time in the oven to get nice and brown.

I used a Martha Stewart recipe for the sugar cookies and they came out wonderful! Just make sure you watch them because a sheet of mine (or maybe two) ended up in the trash when I got distracted. For the latkes, I used about 7.5 lbs of potato and 2 onions to make about 60 latkes. I didn't have any matzah meal on hand so I went with panko breadcrumbs....it didn't seem to cause any issues.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Winner Winner even more Chicken for dinner?

I know I have mentioned this already before but I really love boneless skinless chicken thighs. This cut is less expensive and more tasty than the breasts. Because it has a slightly higher fat content it will stay moister as well. I find that it is well suited for searing and then oven finishing. Though I have had my spice blends for a while now I am still amazed at how easy and delicious it is make dinner

To make this broccoli rabe a little more interesting I gave it a bit of a kick by adding some fresh squeezed lemon and a bit of crushed red pepper while I was cooking it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What Treats has Carla been Tasting? Part 2 Florida

My final trip was to Florida for Thanksgiving. Over a year ago, my family decided to spend this Thanksgiving in Disney World and we were happy to be able to take the time off from work and join them. With 19 of us "squeezed" into a 9 bedroom rental home we were able to enjoy the real spirit of the holidays - being with your loved ones! While none of the dinners were anything special, it was so great to all be together that it didn't really matter. I had offered to make a big family dinner for everyone but apparently I was deemed too expensive and messy! Haha.... they must be my family cause they know me too well!

However, friday morning we left the family behind and headed to an all together different type of playland in Miami Beach - decidedly for the adults this time. Our ride down led us to Le Tub, home of the best burger in the world (as voted by GQ and Oprah). I can't say that I disagree - this huge burger (13 oz) was perfectly cooked to a medium leaving the center a perfect warm pink and delicious even without any toppings (I decided to go without the cheese as to taste the burger better but I did make use of the lettuce and tomato slice). This stop was recommended by a fellow music writer on Hidden Track and I have to say it was the perfect way to start our Miami Beach vacation - from the gritty Ex-New Yorkers telling a story in the booth next to us telling a story that would be more appropriate for a frat boy than a 50 year old man to the gorgeous boats that floated by allowing us to day dream as we waited to meet our burger.

We spent the next few days drinking frozen concoctions at the Clevelander, checking out a local sushi spot, and trying Greek favorite,which was featured on Rachel Ray's $40 a day show, Taverna Opa! (which did have a pretty awesome happy hour deal). We also made sure to check out the local gelato shop that was featured on the MTV's Jersey Shore for a double guilty pleasure. To start off our birthday day of fun, we had brunch on Ocean and enjoyed an interesting take on a Eggs Benedict at the Park Central Hotel. While the English muffin and poached egg were there, pancetta, spinach and fresh mozzarella replaced the standard ingredients.

Our last night we decided to dine at WISH in The Hotel of South Beach. Wish is located on Collins which is one of the main streets in South Beach filled with stylish art deco hotels. The first night when we were walking around we noticed the patio area at The Hotel and assumed it was some sort of bar however WISH is much more. As a four Diamond restaurant, you anticipate an exciting experience and WISH delivers. From the glowing menu to the electric cocktails, you never forget that you are on one of the trendiest street of South Beach. I really enjoyed the maple cream on the Pan Seared Diver Scallops and just couldn't get enough of the pickled radish on the Maine Lobster Ravioli. The pairings were exciting and had me peaking back at the menu at times amazed at the synergy between the ingredients.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

What Treats has Carla been Tasting? Part 1 Boston, Cincinnati and Los Angeles

So as you may have noticed I have been absent for a few weeks! Some of that time I was off working but there were a few personal trips stuck in there as well - in all I was only home for about 8 days in the whole month of November. The month started with my sister's bachelorette party and bridal shower back home in Massachusetts. Even though I don't live nearby I still wanted to be able to contribute to the sweet table and so when my flight got in late Friday night I got to work baking brown bottom pumpkin cheesecakes. These individual cheesecakes are just the right size....especially when you have over 50 other desserts to choose from! I also made a classic Red Velvet mini cupcake with cream cheese frosting which after a slight learning curve (I was borrowing pans from my mom and the first batch came out a little "toasted") came out moist and delicious.

Next, I visited Cinncinnati and couldn't pass up a chance to visit the original Montgomery Inn for their famous ribs. While I personally am more of a dry rub fan, I never say no to ribs! (sorry no picture!)

My next stop was a week in Los Angeles, California. I started my week there feeling a bit ill so I was less than adventurous and happily sat in my hotel room watching TV and ordering take out. But as things progressed I decided that I wasn't leaving the West Coast until I had tried one of these famous In'n'Out Burgers.While this burger joint looks like any other fast food place from the outside - the line extending out of the driveway was an indication that this wasn't the same old greasy hockey puck burger. What I got for about $5 was definitely an equal to many of the burgers I have eaten in bars and grill joints all over New York...however next time I will skip the fries and the shake as I didn't feel that they added much to the meal.

I also enjoyed a decadent night in Manhattan Beach with some business associates sampling some of the local fare. After enjoying a delicious beer at Manhattan Beach Brewing Co. We continued the night at Darren's and enjoyed a lovely dinner. We had to try their signature Sweet and Spicy Lobster Chowder which absolutely amazing though nothing like the New England classic! We also sampled a bottle of Ken Wright Pinot Noir which absolutely amazed me as it opened up and transformed over the course of dinner. For my main course, I was instantly drawn to the Short Ribs which was quickly passed around the table so that everyone could enjoy. I was also able to taste the Rock Shrimp Ravioli and loved the truffle goodness that was amply added to the sauce giving a beautiful rich, earthy edge.

Just halfway through the month and I have already enjoyed many great meals but nothing that I made at home! At least I was able to get some inspiration.....

(Please excuse some of the photos as my blackberry isn't always the most reliable but I had to document these wonderful meals regardless!)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rosemary, Garlic & Mustard Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

Shhh! I have a secret - while I might wish that I was a world traveling, music loving, NYC bar hopping super star sometimes in real life I sometimes am just absolutely unable to leave the 4 walls of my living room behind. I am currently in the middle of a particularly busy November that had me away from home more than half of the month (18 days). I knew that this weekend would be one of the only chances that I had to cook at home and I was really excited to eat something that didn't come wrapped in its own single serving package! Before I left I had stocked up on a few things so that I would have some supplies when I got back waiting for me....because as I have mentioned before grocery shopping on the weekends is just not an option!

Pork tenderloins are one of the fastest and easiest dinners to serve a crowd. Because of their even size and shape, it cooks well in the oven and can be quickly done to a perfect medium. The benefits and the downfall of pork tenderloin lies in its low fat content - as a very lean meat, it is prone to being dry if overcooked (similar to a chicken breast). Don't be afraid of cooking it though! Just invest a few dollars into a meat thermometer and you will never have to second guess if it is done enough for safety but still retains enough juices to make it delicious. I removed this pork tenderloin around 142 F which is in the medium range - it then rested for about 10 -15 min while we all gathered around the table and sorted out seating assignments (we had to vote on who got the "kids" chair....luckily as the hostess I was given the head of the table!) The pork was served with a side of string beans dressed in 15 yr balsamic and red & purple roasted potatoes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Upsidedown Apple Ginger bread cake

At the beginning of October I was woken up early on a Saturday morning and told to get dressed in something warm but comfortable and to hurry up! With so little info I was both curious and confused but I decided to go with it and let my boyfriend take me on an adventure.... About 30 minutes later we arrived at Hillview Farm in Gillette, NJ. After a tractor ride out to the field, we focused on finding apples that would stand up to baking....of course while sampling plenty of apples on the way! We spent a great day out on the farm picking different types of apples and enjoying the orchard and came home with a basketful ready to cook up.

I had done some work researching some apple recipes and wanted something different than the standard apple pie or apple crisp so when I saw this gingerbread cake recipe I couldn't resist! For this recipe, I used mainly Cortland apples and I felt that it came out perfectly however any firm, tart apple would be a good choice. Also check out some variations on this recipe made with pears

Friday, October 22, 2010

Girls' Night Out: Red Velvet Whoopie Pie

I don't want to get into how long its been since I was a care free co-ed living the college life but one thing is sure I don't see the girls as often as I use to. While we might not have ended the night by drinking till they kicked us out of the bar, it was still a great night and even better when I woke up feeling clear headed and remembering everything! With the temperature dropping and a pregnant friend to satistfy I decided to bake something fun for an after dinner treat.

As the notes say on the Food Network site - please don't expect this to come out exactly like a red velvet cake, whoopie pies are a bit closer to a cakey cookie. While I really liked them as is, I think that making them even more bite size would have been better as they were quite the mouthful.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mexican Chicken Stew and a give away!

Recently I have learned about an amazing new protein to use for dinner... boneless skinless chicken thighs! I know these aren't new but I have just always used chicken breasts. Since my resolve a few years back to get over my fear of raw chicken, I have come a long way. From only cutting partially frozen or cooked chicken to actually roasting a whole one, even if I did need help getting the giblets out! Now I have found out how tasty and delicious the thigh is especially when seasoned correctly. This dinner was made possible by one of my new favorite discoveries. Seasoning Rubs are such an easy way to add a lot of flavor with out many calories (careful though some rubs have sugar added)

Because the thighs are boneless, you can get this dinner done pretty quickly though I think that you would also be fine adapting this to a crockpot or dutch oven and letting the chicken cook down. Feel free to change the heat level of the dish by adding more or less hot peppers, my CSA just sent home a bag of the little hot ones and I couldn't resist them all cute colorful ...luckily they didn't over power things.

I was lucky enough to get a goodie bag of Goya treats from Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program that helped the make this dinner possible and want to share! Please leave a comment below and I will pick someone at random to win a prize pack with coupons and 2 recipe books containing some great easy dinners using Goya products.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Simply Indulgent: Roasted Vegetables with Seared Steak

Even though I love to cook, I have to admit there are many nights that I come home from work tired, annoyed, aggravated, hungry, over-worked and just not in the mood to cook. But unlike in the movies, a fairy Godmother never shows her face to cook me my dinner while I relax in a nice bubble bath (and while we are talking about that no one cleans the tub so I can take that bubble bath either!). This is where some stand by favorites come into play. This dinner is about the opposite of time consuming or thought provoking but it tastes good, pretty much cooks itself and it fancy enough that you could even serve it to company! What makes it even better is that a little prep in advance, gets this dinner on the table in the time it takes to sear a steak (about 15 min total including rest time).

The secret of this dinner is to peel, cut and dice the vegetables ahead of time and then dress with oil and herbs and roast. I try to do a big batch on Sunday or whenever I have a few hours of TV time to enjoy.  My veggie roasting involved 2 pans this time, one for harder root veggies (potatoes in this case) dressed with rosemary & thyme and one for some of the softer end of summer veggies: bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant, red onions etc with just some salt, pepper, olive oil and a bit of basil and oregano sprinkled on top. When its time to serve either heat in the oven for a few minutes at 350 F or about 3 minutes in the microwave (or a hot frying pan). Just don't forget the cardinal rule of veggie baking (and stir-frying): even size vegetables have even cooking times!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Phabulous Phish Pheast! a seafood extravaganza v.2

A while back we visited a friend out in Freeport, NY (Long Island) for the Seafood Festival and it was so much fun. It seems that seafood is one of those things that you love it or hate it... And we absolutely love it! After that adventure I kept making excuses to travel out to Long Island with a cooler stashed in the backseat to visit the fish market out on the pier, Two Cousins. Then we decided to kill two birds with one stone, he would come visit....with the cooler full of fish so we could have a fun visit and some delicious seafood! Seafood Extravaganza v.1 included some red snapper, fried calamari and fried soft shell crabs.

This time we had even more friends over and more seafood options including our first Iron Chef style showdown with a mystery ingredient! We decided that every guest would attempt a seafood dish and we would all have fun cooking together. And I have to say it actually did work out for the most part! But as always I decided to make about 3 dishes and so we decided to split dinner into two parts with a short rest in the middle were I finished my prep. The one big note for the evening was to get your mise en place all set and ready to go- while each recipe is easy in itself when you have 3 or 4 things to prep in a short time doing each little step takes time!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cajun Shrimp Lettuce Wraps & Salmon Ceviche

As part of the seafood extravaganza, I made quite a few dishes but these two stood out as the favorites of what I made! My original thoughts for the night included a fried shrimp po'boy but concerns over my ever expanding waist line and wanting something a bit fresher tasting over a heavy fried shrimp I kept the main idea but changed my execution. I kept the cajun spice flavors on the shrimp and the all-important creamy remoulade sauce but dropped the roll in favor of a leaf of Boston lettuce.   For my recipe, follow the link at the bottom of the post.

The salmon ceviche was my first attempt at this South American classic. While versions are served in many countries south of the border, I think that Peru is probably the most famous for it. I think that one of my first encounters with ceviche is at a restaurant in NYC called Sushi Samba which blends traditional sushi dishes with South American flavors for an exciting fusion cuisine. I took a look online to see if there was anything that matched up to what I had eaten there and serious eats had posted a recipe! I followed this recipe pretty closely but instead of making lox-like slices with the salmon I cubed it to make it easier for eating and added avocado as suggested in the comments.

Better Late than Never: Fresh Caught Tuna

While I work for a large company with a few thousand employees, my division is quite small - just 4 of us in the USA! Like most small offices we have our share of office chit chat and as is probably no surprise to my readers - I like to talk food! My coworkers are often subjected to pictures of my latest creation but I figure its just about even as they get to show off their children to me.

Over the summer, Mike was getting ready for a big fishing trip and I made my feelings know on fresh fish....YES PLEASE and MORE! Well monday morning came and as I strolled into the office Mile took me aside very seriously and said he needed to speak to me in private.... uh oh? Um it wasn't me? Luckily instead of a lecture I was gifted 2 lovely tuna steaks...so fresh and beautiful I almost hesitated to cook them. In the end a quick sear  and some salt & pepper was all I could manage on these beauties with a simple side of steamed broccoli. Just another check in the delicious, local, fresh food doesn't need all that crap or a complicated prep to make it mouth watering column!

*FYI these pictures went missing for a while but some fall email cleaning unearthed them and this dinner was too delicious not to share - the fishing trip actually took place around the end of July*

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Comfort Appetizers: Healthy Tuna Melt

Appetizers enhance any social gathering, whether its for two or two hundred, miniature versions of your favorites are always welcome at a party. Here in the Tri-State area, there is one late night spot that everyone enjoys - your local diner. Its definitely better than takeout and you can hang out and chat about the nights events before you head home. Diners are known for their classic, comfort food available 24/7. This bite-size version updates some of the flavors with a fresh garden twist.

After getting started on this dish I noticed that I didn't have any mayonnaise available so a traditional tuna salad was out of the question.  I did have a lot of vegetables and the plain greek yogurt that I purchased for my breakfasts...everything I needed to add a bit of green to my dish.

To assemble
1) Use cookie cutter to create a round - brush with butter and grill each size 4 min till browned
2) Add 1 slice beer cheese (obtained from Findalay Market, Cincinnati, OH) and allow to melt
3) Grill slice of tomato and top bread
4) Add a scoop of tuna salad and a sprinkle of shredded cheddar

Tuna Salad
2 cans water packed tuna
2 tbsp plain greek yogurt 0%
1 small cucumber - seeded and diced
1 celery - diced 
1 carrot - diced
2 tbsp fresh cilantro minced
1 hot pepper - seeds removed - finely diced
salt & pepper

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A new twist on a Vegetarian Pasta Bake

Fall temperatures make me crave all of the comfort food of my youth. Coming from an Italian family that usually means cheesy pasta dishes. While I don't think that I would be able to pass up a gooey slice of lasagna with those cheesy strands that just have to be stolen and stuffed into your mouth as you serve it up I have been trying to make a conscious effort to eat better. I know that denying myself my favorites isn't going to work out in the long run so instead I have tried to come up with some ways to lighten up dishes. I find that for many vegetarians (for the record I am not one but many of my friends are and I do try and accommodate them when possible) its easy to fall into the trap of pasta dishes. They are fast, easy and cheap... what more could you want? Well maybe some protein for starters!

Even though this dish looks like a standard version of "lazy man's lazagna" (ie pasta mixed with sauce and cheese and baked vs the painstakingly layers of a real lasagna) there are a few hidden tricks that makes it so much more. While this one was made with "normal" pasta (figured it was time to use it up!) definitely feel free to use whole wheat or rice pasta for an even healthier (or gluten-free) version. By adding both beans and vegetables to this dish you still get a lot of volume but with out all of the carbs or calories of a plate of pasta.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rosh Hashanah Dinner 2010...old favorites and new takes

Last year, I held my first ever Rosh Hashanah party. Since I am not Jewish all these foods and customs were so forgeign to me that I pretty much just followed the recipes as written. The one place I felt comfortable doing my own twist was in the noodle kugel I figured as an Italian I knew all I needed to know about what is basically a pasta dish but those who know and love kugel were not happy! They wanted the old-fashioned kind.

This year was a complete flip....I did the traditional for the kugel but went my own way on the other foods and it seemed to turn out well. We were joined by even more of our veggie loving friends so the brisket was barely touched but the roasted vegetables were demolished! Looks like I should have cut up those last two sweet potatoes!

Another Challah! The Annual Baking

So every year around this time, I bake a round Challah for my boyfriends parents and for my own celebration.  We love celebrating all holidays so we have an annual Rosh Hashanah party and after three years of baking challah I finally feel like I have got it down. Every year I always end up with a very sticky dough that is closer to batter and I have to add more flour this year I measured it so I can change the recipe! I have decided that I need closer to 6.5- 7 total cups of flour using about 5.5-6 in the first mix and then adding about the final one during the final kneading.

I made two recipes of the dough which will yield you two large rounds and 1 loaf or you can also make 4 loafs if you desire. On Rosh Hashanah, you traditionally would make the circular loaf and I just happen to think that they are prettier so I made both that way! This recipe would not be appropriate for someone who keeps kosher as it uses both milk and butter which can not be consumed with meat - traditional recipes would use oil in its place.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Stuffed Grape Leaves

I don't even know when I discovered stuffed grape leaves but it has been a love affair ever since. From sampling greek salads up and down the Tri-State area diner belt to stalking a certain co-worker who knows about my addiction, I feel like I have tasted every type of grape leaf from the spicy to tasteless, meaty or vegetarian, grainy or soft.... I can't help but eat them all. I finally was gifted a whole bag of grape leaves from the coworker so I might attempt my own!

I decided to put my own spin on things and instead of traditional rice (or even brown rice) I decided to go with quinoa. I have used this grain many times before especially when cooking for vegetarians but it works great with meat as well and combines beautifully in this recipe that I adapted from a few ideas out there on the web. Initially when I started searching I was a bit overwhelmed but I found this post from White on Rice Couple that linked to a great Greek Food blog site with amazing step by step instructions. I was a little concerned about using the quinoa and if the different cooking time would affect the dish but I decided to go for it and it worked out fabulously!

Quinoa Stuffed Grape Leaves
2 lbs lean ground beef  (make your own or pre-ground) - or beef and lamb mix
2 c dry quinoa (rinsed)
1/2 onion - finely diced
1/2 pepper - finely dined
4 tbsp finely diced fresh mint
2 tbsp finely diced fresh dill
2 cloves garlic- finely minced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp tumeric
salt & pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

50-75 grape leaves - stems cut out and blanched

2 c chicken stock
1 lemon - sliced
handfull of dill
handfull of mint

1) Begin by heating the oil in a lage wok pan, add the garlic to flavor the oil and then remove so it doesn't burn
2) Add the quinoa and let toast (similar to cooking risotto) - stir so all pieces are evenly toasted
3) Remove the quinoa and add the garlic, peppers and onions to pan
4) Once softened, add the meat and dry spices - mix it to crumble it as it browns
5) Once meat is cooked, drain excess fat and place in a large bowl
6) Stir in quinoa and fresh herbs and allow to cool until you can handle
7) To assemble grape leave - place vein side up on a dish, add 1 tsp of filling at about 1/2 " from base of leave- fold over to cover filling and then fold sides in (like a burrito) then fold over 2-3 more times to make a roll - smooth with wet finger so it is secure
8) Line the bottom of a baking dish (I used a corning ware casserole dish) with any ripped or broken leaves then arrange rolled grape leaves - do not pack them too tight but they should be just barely touching - you can have more than one layer (I had 3 layers in total)
9) Add chicken stock & lemon juice till it is just almost covering grape leaves, cover will slices of lemon and herbs - cover with foil and bake at 350F for 1 hr (or until heated throughout)
10) Serve hot or cold with a plain yogurt, lemon and greek seasoning dipping sauce

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Project Food Blog: Challenge #1 Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome to Carla's Tasty Treats... Here, sit down at the table. Are you hungry? Maybe just a little slice? Ok, I'll get you a plate while you listen.

Like so many of my fellow food bloggers I grew up with an appreciation for food, then again with an Italian family I think it would be impossible not to! From a home cooked dinner every night to a feast with my aunts, uncles, and cousins on Sundays, every gathering, happy or sad was punctuated by the savory aroma of a pork roast in the oven or fresh tomato sauce simmering all afternoon. One of my earliest memories is of being home sick from school with the smell of pastina soup with egg in it cooking on the stove at Nana's house. Holidays were filled with the smells of delicately anise flavored pizzelles (until I was old enough to taste Sambuca, ewww!) But as I got older, like so many others teenagers I wanted my own life -  I couldn't wait to escape from a home-cooked Sunday dinner and head to a cheap fast food restaurants with my friends.

Those teenage years didn't last forever though and soon I was out of college and living on my own. While my friends and roommates were living on Ramen Noodles and boxed Mac'n'Cheese (generally eaten while sitting around the television) I realized it just didn't feel right. So I began to cook meals for our "family" just like my mother had done for me a child. Though she always worked, dinner was at 5:15 sharp and the TV would be turned off for an hour of catching up on each others day. I started simply with recipes passed down to me and then moved on to recreating favorite meals using fresh ingredients while being comforted by the idea of having a family meal with my friends. Even if I was making macaroni and cheese using a stick of butter and a pound of cheese it had to be good for you if it was homemade, right? My tastes may have changed since those original dinners but my love for good ingredients has only grown.

But this blog isn't about repeating the past, it is about taking the lessons that our parents and grandparents taught us and reinventing them for our generation. One of the greatest misconceptions of the modern advertising age is that healthy cooking is hard, difficult, and too time consuming. It just isn't true - some of the simplest dishes are the best! All of my meals come from the heart and yes at times that does take extra prep but when you love doing something it really isn't work. So many friends tell me that cooking is too expensive and takes too much time and they don't even know where to start! Of course, creating a six course dinner of the finest French food isn't going to be as easy as ordering an $10 pizza, but with some thought and planning, cooking a great meal from scratch won’t take much more time or money than heating up a lasagna from the freezer case or stirring together a packaged sauce on instant rice.

Finally, this blog is about being a good cook. My mission is to not only serve my family and friends tasty meals but ensure that I provide them with a healthy well balanced plate as well. I do my best to source high quality ingredients by shopping at the local farmers markets, just like my ancestors would have and whenever possible (and with in reason) I try to make my food from scratch. So it may have taken me a little while, but it seems that things are finally going back to were they should be – myself, my friends, and my family eating real food made by real people.

But enough soap-boxing, let's get to the fun stuff! Here are some links to some of my favorites dishes from my blog....


Friday, September 17, 2010

Black Bean and Corn Salsa....with Lobster!

Summer time salads are a no-brainer. With all the fresh produce out on the stands, I almost contemplate going raw every year. But I would miss all of my favorite seafood too much! This dish is a summer time staple with a touch of class that brings it up to a whole new level. And its a food recycling project which I love! Say goodbye to days of left overs....recycle them into something brand new. After a girls- night Lobster Boil, I was left with way to many corns to even think about eating but I didn't want them to go to waste... New Jersey Corn is too good to trash! I decided to free up some room in my fridge by taking the corn off the cob and the rest just fell together.

I was so happy to have just received a can of Black Beans from Goya in the mail as I was all out. Thank you to Foodbuzz's Tastemaker program for making this dinner come true! While lobster was the perfect complement to this dish, if you don't have a few extra laying around feel free to use boiled shrimp as it would have a similar taste and texture. While I wouldn't consider this dish very ethnic, I did spice it up a bit with some chipotle pepper powder.

Lobster, Corn & Black Bean Salsa
1 lobster tail - diced
1 can GOYA black beans - drained and rinsed
5 ears of corn - cut of the cob
10 cherry tomatoes - cut in half
2 tbsp good olive oil
juice of 1 lime
4 tbsp fresh parsley diced
2 tbsp fresh basil diced
1 tsp chipotle powder
salt & pepper

1) Season lobster tail with chipotle, salt & pepper
2) Combine all ingredients and toss to mix

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Girl's Night Lobster Boil!

Sometimes it amazes me the things that some of my friends have never eaten. Lobster Rolls are so quintessentially New England in the Summer that I forget that people from the other side of the country are as unfamiliar with our past times as I am of palm trees and surfing. A California native friend recently disclosed she had never eaten a lobster roll! Of course, I promised to make her one immediately but at the last minute went for old fashioned lobster boil instead.

She brought the corn and a crusty french loaf courtesy of the farmer's market at the Grove Street PATH station... so conveniently located for a stop on the way home. I added the lobsters and some roasted potatoes. Lobster Boils are so fast that all I needed to do was have the veggies chopped and ready to go into the pot when she arrived. As we sipped on a nice cold glass of white wine....the lobster's took a soak in the very hot tub!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A new way to eat....fill your plate!

There is just about every kind of diet out there, low- fat, low-carb, low- sugar, only eating certain vegetables, not eating certain vegetables, the list goes on and on. But are any of these "diets" really good for us and can we really sustain them long enough to make a real effect on our weight? I know that in my life I have given up everything from chocolate to potatoes and still I don't see the numbers I am hoping for on the scale. With harvest season in full swing here (New Jersey), I don't want to have to give up any of my favorites so instead I have made a pact with myself to have more plates that look like this one.... full of fresh healthy vegetables (and fruits since technically tomato is from that family)

This doesn't mean that I am going to be giving up on any of my favorites this time around...just focusing on how my plate looks. Is it colorful? yes that means that I have plenty of different nutrients (greens and reds are especially good for you!) Is it balanced? yes I have just about every food group here from grains (corn) to protein (shark) and most of all Is it delicious? Hell Yeah!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

8/21/10 - Boneless Crockpot Ribs

There are some nights that coming home and opening the fridge to create a masterpiece... and there are nights that you just want to come home to something warm to put in your belly and veg on the couch. With the end of summer rolling in this dinner is a perfect break from cooking, no matter if its too hot to turn on the stove or so cold that you just can't warm up. My favorite part of this dinner was that my boyfriend made most of it!

The recipe for the boneless ribs was simple as can be (ribs + BBQ sauce + 8 hrs in the slow cooker) however, it was the rice and beans that made this a meal. By using the juice given off from the rib, the rice is bursting with savory flavors. To keep things at least mildly healthy, I stuck with brown basmati rice instead of a more traditional white rice. Like all grains using brown, whole grains is much healthier than the white version which has been polished to have the color (as well as important nutrients) removed. While I don't think that this meal is ever going to win any awards simple, home cooking can be better than any 5 star restaurant some nights.

Monday, August 30, 2010

8/14/10 - Weekend Breakfast...bacon, egg and cheese

Living in the city, there is pretty much a deli on every corner selling the ubiquitous breakfast hang over cure - a greasy bacon, egg and cheese. If you had a bit too much to drink the night before sometimes the only way to make it through the day is by coating your oh so sensitive tummy in this heart attack in a bulkie roll. While this homemade version probably isn't any healthier for you, I have upgraded the ingredients to at least give it a hint of class.

The only way to make this is to just go for it - any low fat or "healthy" versions will just leave you wishing for the real thing. Plus after tossing back a dozen or so tequila shots just a few short hours ago why even pretend to be healthy? While I have to admit that though I have lived in NJ for 4 years now I am still not familiar with the pork roll (aka taylor ham) version of this breakfast treat, thick sliced bacon is hands down my meat of choice. I added some nice local NY state sharp cheddar as my base on a Nature's Pride Country White Roll* and topped it all off with 2 farm fresh fried eggs. For condiments, I went with some fresh herbs (chives, thyme and parsley) from my window box (remember this is the city still! we don't have gardens here) and some spicy ketchup... however a fresh Jersey tomato slice would also be right at home here as well.
Serve it with a nice tall ice cold bloody mary if you need a little "medicine" to get you going or a steamy hot cup of coffee.

*As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker's program I receieved samples of this product.

Friday, August 27, 2010

8/18/10 - Fish Simply Two Ways

The summer is the best time to eat simply. When its cold, I love spending hours in the kitchen coming up with some exotic combination. But when farms all over the state of New Jersey are working hard to provide me exquisitely ripe and juicy produce, I go with it. In my last post, I took a look at one of my favorite parts of the summer months - fresh tomatoes. Growing up my whole life, I was lucky to have grandfathers who kept amazing gardens. Summer was always filled with zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, arugala (long before I knew anything about rocket or fancy mixed baby greens) and tons of basil - everything a good Italian kitchen could need.

The top dish pictured is a fresh salsa served over pan seared swordfish with a cajun rub. I accompanied the dish with a side of wilted swiss chard and red onion.
The dish below was a one skillet meal. While I usually make this dish in the oven, the temperatures outside had me looking for another option. First, I sauteed the vegetables (peppers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli)  and then removed them from the pan. I added the haddock and once it was ready to flip (3-5 min), I returned the vegetables to the pan. I topped the fish with the tomatoes and covered the pan to allow it to heat through (5 min).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

8/17/10 - Fresh Salsa

It's amazing how many uses I have for some nice delicious salsa.... this one bowl ended up in 2 dinners, a lunch and there was still a few nacho's full left over! A friend recently asked me what to do with an overflow of mangoes (she is living in sunny, beautiful Hawaii) and my first thought was SALSA! Dress it up in a wonton cup as a fancy hors'doeuvres or smother it in cheese for the big game...either way its a hit! The biggest secret to fresh salsa is dicing all the ingredients up nice and fine so that there is a lot of surface area for all the flavors to mingle together. Also salsa is always better when it is made in advance and it has time to rest and let all of the juices blend together.

This is a very basic salsa made with nice ripe jersey tomatoes, however you can feel free to add most fruits to a salsa as well - mango, peach, strawberries all work well!

3 plum (or roma) tomatoes - diced
1/2 red onions - diced
1 bunch cilantro - leaves only diced
1/3 green pepper- diced
1 jalapeno - diced (seeds removed) 
juice of 1 lime
salt & pepper
2 garlic cloves - smashed & diced

1) combine all ingredients together and refrigerate overnight

Thursday, August 19, 2010

8/13/10 - Seafood Extravaganza

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend who lives near a great seafood market. He is so lucky to have delicious fish straight off the boat at a great market with helpful service. We decided to have a fun little dinner where he would bring some thing fresh from the market and I would see what I could come up with. He was kind enough to call when he was at the store so I had a little advance notice - we were having a red snapper that he bought whole but had them fillet and some calamari. I was tempted by the idea of soft-shell crab earlier in the week so I had to stop by the store to grab a few of those as well.

I was really excited to cook with the red snapper since it was new to me and I have seen so many great recipes with the whole fish (though a check of the Seafoood Watch list made me feel bad! yikes...now I know why I have never used it). We weren't really ready for a whole fish just yet but the fillets worked out perfectly. I decided to go for a marinade with lime, cilantro and garlic and then I baked it. Before marinading the fillet, I attempted to remove some of the bones but it was pretty difficult and was a bit messy so I abandoned that quickly - any tips besides just going at them with pliers should I get this or another similar fish? 
Keep reading for more info and the recipe!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

8/12/10 - Tomato Basil Quinoa stuffed 8 ball Zucchini

These cute little mini zucchini were calling me from the farmer's market table. Like so many others, I couldn't help but imagine them hollowed out and stuffed - the perfect little vessel. I knew that Jeremy wouldn't be interested in zucchini no matter the shape so I decided to have a girl's veggie night with my friend, Tova. Each 8 ball was the perfect size for a single serving for each of us along with a nice big salad. I was having trouble decided exactly what direction to go with my stuffing but once I starting peaking around I found a recipe using basil.... hmmm guess who just got another big bag of basil from the CSA? Since I didn't have any sun-dried tomatoes I had to go with a little splash of sauce but I think I might have to try recipe as written some time (though going with out some cheese when baking something just seems wrong!)

This stuffing can be used for a variety of veggies including eggplant and peppers. Since quinoa is a complete protein it makes for a great meal for vegetarians. When stuffing the 8 ball zucchini it is best to first hollow them out using a spoon (cut off the top first) and steaming it for a few minutes (I placed mine upside down in about 1" of water in a covered wok pan). After softened fill with the quinoa mixture and top with some shredded cheese. Place in the broiler for 2-5 minutes or until cheese is bubbling. You can also add a soft cheese like feta or goat to the stuffing before broiling.

Monday, August 9, 2010

7/24/10 - Another Chopped Caprese Salad

When I saw this salad last summer on Smitten Kitchen's page I knew I would be weak against it. My favorite flavors combined and diced into bite size little cubes for easy consumption? I made a version souped up with some baby arugala and pancetta. This time I kept it simple (and vegetarian friendly) and it still was delicious. The perfect afternoon snack to tide us over from brunch to a late dinner with friend or a great start to a "bruscetta bar" served with garlic bread rounds to entice your guests. 

This easy salad is a combo of fresh mozzarella, drained and rinsed canellini beans, diced fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, diced garlic, salt & pepper, EV olive oil and a small splash of balsamic vinegar.