Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Maple Cheesecake with Roasted Pears

Cheesecake is one of those desserts that people either love or hate - there is just no in between. I know many lovers so its a popular choice for me to bring to dinner parties. This holiday season I have seen quite a few new variations of this old classic including one of my favorite twists... cheesecake filled strawberries! My version was taken from a Martha Stewart collection of fall desserts. When I was invited to the Thanksgiving dinner, I was automatically thinking of something pumpkin flavored but the host's dislike of any and all orange colored foods made me rethink that decision. I was browsing though the list on Martha's site when I found this Maple version that was just perfect.

This is the first time I made a no-bake cheesecake. Usually I have a recipe that includes a few eggs and gets some time in the oven to make it more cake-like. This recipe was so easy and a great choice if you have been avoiding cheesecakes because of the water baths that they usually require for even cooking.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shells with Bacon and White Beans

I am one of those people who eats soup year round. I honestly have a bowl almost every lunch time thanks to a few amazing NJ diner's who have 5 or 6 choices year round. Soup is one of the best meals out there. You can make it with just about anything - just throw some meat, vegetables, noodles, beans in a pot with some water or broth and you have a delicious meal that can be reheated over and over. I am trying to break my habit of going out to lunch every afternoon and so I have started to make a big batch on the weekend that I can then store in individual containers that I grab on my way out the door.

This soup was a little more thought out than usual...  I even made sure to have the bacon on hand and defrosted so no running the package under water for 10 minutes before I can start cooking. I saw the inspiration for this recipe earlier in the week on the kitchn and decided that I just had to make it. I went a bit more traditional for the pasta fagioli by including some diced tomatoes but you don't have to....and that is the beauty of soup!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Pumpkin Pudding Brulee

There is no shortage of seasonal inspiration in the fall. It almost seems that before the summer sun even fades bloggers are starting up their seasonal love. I admit I start marking recipes almost before its was cool enough to bake in the house. This year I finally found fuel for a cooking torch that I received as a gift a while back (thanks again Amy!). I was really excited and may have gone a bit overboard (as noted by the semi-charred crust on top) but I did start to get the hang of it - sometimes getting things picture perfect can be a bit difficult.

I am sorry to admit that I am not sure what recipe I used for this so I can't share it but there are so many on line to get your pumpkin fix.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Clams in Red sauce with Bacon

There is really nothing easier than a clams in a broth. You can use almost any liquid with herbs to give it more flavor. I love garlic and bacon and couldn't resist clams steamed in this delightful duo. So rich and fragrant - I am not sure if there is a more tempting aroma to great you from the bottom of the staircase as you are entering the kitchen.You could also use a white wine in this dish with some additional caramelized onion to make a whole new combo. I love easy, versatile cooking. Its fun to follow recipes sometimes but whats even better is being able to adjust and work with what you have on hand.

One of the most important parts of this dish happens long before the sauce come together - completely cleaning and removing sand before steaming the clams. The last thing you want is to have a gritty, sandy broth. Take a few extra minutes to make sure that you completely scrub each shell with a small brush.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Clams Casino

I love to cook and entertain but sometimes I am just happy to spend the night doing nothing. I am very lucky that I have many friends who are more than happy to chip in and get their hands dirty when I feel more like sitting on the couch and drinking some wine! My friend Jema and I decided that we were going to visit a friend with her new baby and it would be better that we spent the night at my house so we could get an early start... next thing you know we were planning a feast that was starting to be a bit excessive!

There is nothing better than friends who don't judge because after all of the food we ate that night there may have been some jeans traded in for pajamas and waist bands of all type banned from the room. Jema was so kind to come and take over the kitchen and make the deliciously decadent start to our feast. Be warned if you order clams casino on a restaurant menu you will most likely end up with something stuffed with breadcrumbs and only a bit of bacon... but that is absolutely NOT how we do it!

click through for the recipe....

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Deviled Eggs

Our house is eggtastic! My boyfriend wakes up around the same time as me and while I am busy showering and dressing he sometimes makes me a hard boiled egg for breakfast. His cooking skills are basically one step only - sausage in pan or pasta in water...he even simplifies things like a grilled cheese by putting it in the oven instead of using a pan on the stove top! But I always appreciate it when he takes the time to make me breakfast, especially since I am pretty much non-functional in the morning. Well he loves deviled eggs and I have been promising that I would make him up a bunch since we almost always have a dozen eggs hanging around.

Along came football season and the creative cooks at seriouseats.com  have come up with a spicy version of the deviled egg as well as one that uses a touch of sour cream instead of mayo... delicious! I am not as adverse to mayo as I used to be but if there is a substitution I am always going to try it. There is nothing that my guy likes more than spicy so when I saw a version with sriracha sauce I knew exactly where to start. I love the idea of a Bloody Mary and some deviled eggs to start the day... though I think I should make sure to leave that to the weekend!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Moistest Pumpkin cake ever!

So AGAIN this year there is a pumpkin shortage and when I went to the store they were just about cleaned out! I guess that means all of the plans I had for pumpkin cheesecakes are going to be on hold till next year? I was happy that I got one of the last few cans and made this cake because true to its name it was so absolutely moist and delicious. However, as usual I decided that I couldn't wait to spring my cake open (the restless peanut gallery who kept asking "is it done yet?" may have contributed to that!) though it was far from cooled so it kinda crumbled making the picture a little less pretty. (Food Photo hint #14595 if you mess up your cake stick it in a martini glass and pretend that's how its suppose to look!)

The cake took a bit longer that expected at least 20 - 30 min more due to subbing out the bundt pan for a springform. It was a good option as the batter was perfectly contained though it did rise above the edges in the oven but I think that I would like to invest in a proper bundt cake form. I first found this pudding pie recipe that sounded absolutely sinful with airy light layers on creamy mouse but in the end the cake won out with my friends. If I and lucky enough to find more cans of pumpkin you know what I will be doing later! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cinnamon Peach Tartlets

A friend went apple picking in the beginning of the fall and surprised me with a great harvest to bake up. First, we made a great apple maple tart then we are worked with the peaches. I never knew that you could pick peaches in the fall (disclaimer...this was baked months ago - I am a bit behind on my blogging!). This ended up in a major discussion about crumbles and crisps and cobblers. There are small differences between some of these desserts though in general the idea is the same - some sort of crust with fruit. We decided to just stay simple and avoid some of the extra sugar and crust, as delicious as they can be, to show off the natural taste of the local fruit.

This crust for this tart is the same pate brisse that I often use - its delicious, simple and I know it by heart. What more can you ask of a crust?

Toss fresh sliced peaches in cinnamon and sugar to coat
Set aside for 20 -30 minutes to break down
Place into mini tart shells and bake for 25 min at 425 F

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Eggplant Cups

Let me share one of my favorite money saving ideas.....hosting a dinner in can be less expensive than paying your share of the bill at a restaurant. Add in the comfort of a casual dinner spread over a few hours at our home compared to being rushed out of your table, the awkward moments of how to split the check and then the early goodbyes to go home our separate ways and dining at home wins in so many ways. This is especially true when you have friends who are willing to do dishes since the clean up is absolutely my least favorite part of hosting! So many thank you go to all my awesome friend who don't hesitate to grab an apron and get scrubbing.

I am an avid reader of SmittenKitchen blog and I was super excited to see her post on the feature in Everyday Food , one of my favorite Martha publications. I loved her creative use of eggplant as a little shell to "stuff" - you know my love of stuffing veggies and eggplant isn't going to escape. I didn't really follow her recipe exactly - its a bit past fresh tomato season and well I forgot mint at the store (at least remembered parsley for my chicken roasting/soup making later this week) but I want to give some credit to the inspiration for tonight's dinner. I served these eggplant cups alongside some grilled steak tips (a cut that I NEVER see in NJ but grew up loving in New England!) and roasted zucchini.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Amazing Detour: Burdick Chocolates and a look back at summer 2011

Even though summer is now past I can't help but look back on some of the amazing adventures we had. If I had been a good blogger, you would know all about them but alas my blogging skills, especially in the summer months leave something to be desired! Our summer started out with an amazing trip to Stockholm, Sweden. We had many fun adventures including eating a luxurious traditional Swedish Smorgasbord at the Opera Cafe (a cafe/nightclub on the grounds of the Opera house). Unfortunately while it was quite beautiful inside, it seems that our tastes are not as fond of traditional Swedish cuisine as we might have hoped.

This summer also involved many different weddings. We saw 4 different friends (well 8 technically!) married this summer and each wedding was so different and unique. I am amazed that I could go to four wedding not see one repeating element ... all of brides even walked down the aisle to a different song! take that Wagner.

It was on the way to one of these weddings that we took a little detour to a small New Hampshire town and spent a lunch at L.A. Burdicks How did we find this little gem? Unfortunately I don't have a romantic story of us antiquing through the small towns of Vermont and New Hampshire and randomly stumbling upon a quaint town with this cafe (though the town and cafe were adorable!).... in fact I don't think that I have stumbled accidentally upon anything in the past few years. In this age of technology and iphones, I did what any self-respecting foodie in a foreign land (haha I don't know if a state 3 hours drive is exactly foreign but stay with me here) would do... I googled it! When I saw that Burdick's was mentioned in three different Chowhound.com posts (and it was only 3 exits away!) I was sold (and hungry).

We arrived at a bit of an odd hour between lunch and dinner so we had the place almost all to ourselves. The pending Hurricane Irene made the quiet sleepy town even more so as most people busied themselves at the supermarket collecting water and batteries to prepare for this 100- year storm that was on track to punish New England. As the hostess called to warn those with Sunday Brunch reservations to call first in case they lost power, we sat savoring one of the most decadent mochas of all time. From the oozing, gooey, cheesy crust on the French onion soup to the freshly made salads, we very much enjoyed our visit to Burdicks. But the best part of the meal came with the check... these adorable little penguins, a Burdick trademark made paying the check a bit sweeter (along with their mice...made of chocolate of course!) After that small sample, we couldn't help taking a trip to the adjoining chocolate shop and grabbing a few chocolatey little friends to join us on the rest of our adventure.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fresh Basil "Chimichurri"

When your trusty basil plant keeps producing fragrant green leaves night after night it can sometimes seem hard to keep up. Pesto sauce gets a little boring - try this Latin spin that is based on a Chimichurri.

Blend together basil, 1/2 c olive oil, 3 garlic gloves, 1 tsp crushed red pepper and a squeeze of lemon to make it extra fresh. Serve on top of any grilled meat or vegetable.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fried Soft Shell Crab

Soft Shell crabs aren't always at my local store - the season is actually quite short so when I see them I am sure to pick them up. Even though frying something can be a bit messy there is just no better way to enjoy these delicious treats. I love using a spiced up crumb to coat the crab with a crunchy shell. This recipe is actually quite easy and frying doesn't have to be scary and mess - you can use a very small amount when you are making something as small as a few crabs or shrimp. No need for a huge pan full of oil for these!

We enjoyed them on a bed of matchstick vegetables with black sesame seeds, soy and ginger. We made our breading out of cornmeal with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt and fresh ground pepper.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mediterranean Pepper Steak

Steak sandwiches are one of the most classic hot sandwiches....and probably one of my most craved! I don't think that has ever been a sandwich shop that I have visited that I didn't contemplate ordering one -but usually I end up with a salad instead. My favorite pepper steak still is my grandfathers - I don't know how he made it - just sandwich steaks with salt and pepper and a slice of cheese but they were just so good that 20 years later I still can't forget them. This sandwich isn't like that though...No surprise I decided to do things my own way and went in a different direction using a bunch of veggies & tomato salad to brighten things up.

Meditteranean Pepper Steak
1 lb flank steak
1 red bell pepper - sliced
1 green bell pepper - sliced
1/2 cherry bomb pepper - finely diced
1 frying pepper - sliced
1 red onion - sliced
10 mushrooms - sliced
olive oil
salt & pepper

Tomato Salad
sliced cheese(we used american but swiss or mozz would be nice too)
Trader Joe's Middle Eastern Flatbreads

1) Season the meat with salt and pepper and place on hot grill pan
2) In a separate pan, heat oil with onions then peppers and finally mushrooms.
3) Once steak is medium remove from heat and rest
4) Lightly grill the pita before lining with cheese 
5) Slice steak on the bias and add to sandwich - top with veggies and top with tomato salad

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tomatoes - two ways!

I love shopping at the Farmer's Market but at times it can be a little expensive so I am always looking for a deal. A few weeks ago, I notice that my normal farmer had bags of about 6 large tomatoes on sale for $3. Normally these tomatoes are close to $3 each (since they are almost a pound each!) but since they were already nice and ripe they had them on "clearance". I was able to find a bunch that wasn't over-ripe and since I was going to use them right away anyways I was happy to buy them ripe and ready to use.

One of my favorite meals in summer time is tomato salads. There is nothing so simple and perfect but dependent on the ingredients. Tomatoes are something that still really only taste right in the summer. One bite of a fresh summer tomato is enough to make me want to swear off all of the super market varieties that range from acceptable to almost orange and mealy! But unfortunately, winter will be back soon enough and there will be 8 months worth of salads that rely on these sad tomato like substances!

The first variation is a traditional Italian tomato salad. This is an easy side that is welcome at my dinner table any night. It is best when you make it in advance and give it some time in the fridge to meld together. This is a simple mix of diced tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, fresh basil and some salt and pepper. If you want to turn it up a little a splash of balsamic can also be added. Or some fresh mozzarella to turn it into a Caprese Salad.

The second is more of a chunky salsa using the fresh flavors of Mexican cooking. For this version, I rough chopped the tomatoes with some red onion, green bell pepper, garlic, lime, cilantro and of course olive oil,  salt and pepper. These flavors are naturals with the sweet ripe tomato and the addition of some hot peppers (I used a jalapeno and a cherry bomb) kicks this up to another level. Make sure you are careful with the hot peppers though and use caution when chopping and with your hands after as the oil from the peppers can remain on hands for some time. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cannelli Bean Stuffed Mushrooms

I just love to stuff vegetables. They come in so many cute sizes and shapes and they make for a perfect individual serving. Usually there is some grain in stuffing - commonly breadcrumbs or rice but I have used a few quinoa alternatives as well as grain free stuffing. This dinner uses a white beans as the base of the stuffing which is a protein packed way to get all your nutrients in. I love mixing the beans with fresh herbs and citrus to give it a bigger punch of flavor. This recipe is very simple and easy and can be adapted for other vegetables. I served the mushrooms on a simple salad- they can be made in advance and packed up for a quick meal. 

Stuffed Portobello Mushroom Cap 
4 large mushroom caps - gills and stem removed 
1 zucchini - diced
1 yellow pepper - diced 
1/2 onion - diced 
1 c parsley - freshly chopped
1 can canellini beans - strained and rinsed 
1 c feta cheese 
juice of 1 lemon 
2 garlic cloves - diced
salt & pepper
olive oil

1) Coat the mushroom caps with olive oil and season with salt & pepper - place in a hot pan
2) When liquid starts to seep out of the cap remove from the heat 
3) Add oil to pan, heat oil 
4) Saute garlic then add onions and peppers.
5) Once softened add beans and the zucchini 
6) After a few minutes remove from heat and stir in parsley, feta, lemon juice and season with salt & pepper
7) Place mushrooms back into pan and add a spoon full of topping, cover and heat on medium for 5-7 min until cheese is melted and herbs softened
8) Carefully remove from pan with spatula - can be served hot or cold

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hoboken Sandwich Tour

Hoboken, NJ might now be best known for its cakes as the home of Carlo’s Bakery where “Cake Boss” is filmed. However, it was once famous for the bread bakeries that provided its Italian residents with a fresh loaf each day. In my opinion, if you have fresh bread then you are more than half way to a delicious sandwich! From all of the different bakeries come different loaves, each with its own sandwich following.  And I can't wait to check out all of the different versions of these classic subs.
 From Lto R: Fiore's Italian Combo and Roast Beef & Mozz, Park & Sixth's Park & Sixth and All-Star

 My friend Tim has lived in Hoboken for a while now and decided to host this taste test so that we could all try some of Hoboken’s finest. We tried two sandwiches from each shop and rated them from 1 to 5, with 5 being the perfect sandwich - bread, meat and cheese all delicious and in the perfect ratio. Technically, Park & Sixth closed their Hoboken location but because the sandwiches were such favorites we brought takeout from the Jersey City store which is near our apartment .

 Piccolo's CheeseSteak

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sausage Stuffed 8 ball zucchini

You might remember a similar post last year where I stuffed these adorable 8 ball zucchini with tomato basil quinoa. This year I have gone for a heartier version and used sausage (squeezed out of the casing) for the stuffing. I didn't use any grains but I think that rice would be a perfect addition to this dish if you would like to have a starch. These little squash aren't around for long - I only see them at the farmer's market for a few weeks each year but I can't pass them up! If you can't find 8 ball squash you can always use green squash with the center hollowed out a bit to make a "canoe". 

In case you haven't been experiencing the ridiculous heat that has been all over the east coast, let me fill you in - putting on the stove in my house this month is just not allowed...PERIOD! This means that my big hopes for my triumphant blog return have been delayed a bit since no stove means no cooking which means no dinners to post about! The best thing about this recipe is that I figured out a way to make these without having to use the oven! Yes, you do need to use the stove top but technically you could make these on the grill. Imagine what your guests will say when you take these adorable little sausage stuffed zucchini out instead of a big juicy steak? OK maybe you should warn them first because while they are delicious...a giant steak should never be messed with!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Corn Salad

After spending July 4th weekend with my family at our lake house I have to admit I am in full fledged summer mode. I feel like I am still on vacation - taking a break from any real meal planning and instead making lots of little dishes and then mix and match. This corn salad is a perfect addition to your BBQ table with a smoky savory flavor that will stand up to any grilled meats.

I love using different seasonings to add lots of flavor to normal recipes and I find that summer picnic food in general can be lacking some flavor. In one of my other posts, I looked at a fun twist on Greek ingredients and potato salad but using the ready made KC Masterpiece® BBQ sauce is even easier and perfect for those day after leftovers. I hate feeling like I am eating leftovers but of course I wouldn't waste food so I try to "recycle" by using the ingredients in a new way. This would be a perfect way to make left over BBQ goodies into an amazing lunch salad (add some tomato, cucumber, lettuce and diced up grilled chicken). You can even mix the BBQ sauce with some herbs and olive oil to make a spicy dressing! 

Monday, July 11, 2011

White Wine Steamed Clams

I grew up in New England, where summer time is synonymous with clam bakes. Even now that I have lived away for over 5 years, I still get an urge when fresh clams start showing up in the store. However when you live in a small apartment, sometimes having a steaming kettle full of fresh seafood (and the stinky trash that goes along with it) is less than appealing. That doesn't mean you have to forget those summer time memories - just scale things back to apartment size! The traditional clam boil includes clams, lobsters, steamers, mussels, corn and potatoes boiled up in a beer and water mix (cooked in a giant sand pit if you have one but more often just in a big pot on a gas burner). But for us, since clams were on sale at the market, it was an easy decision to just grab a few dozen little necks and get cooking.

For our clam bake we are going to do things a little different though.... no surprise for those who read this blog often. I do enjoy a nice beer I was thinking more along the lines of white wine and garlic flavors. This recipe is a bit more of a French style than a New England one but I suppose when you have deliciously fresh clams on hand, its hard to go wrong! Instead of using a large stock pot to steam my clams I used a large saute pan with under an inch of brother in the bottom - just enough to steam but not boil.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Greek Potato Salad

I love summer BBQs just as much as the next girl but traditional fare is...well boring and full of bad fats! Now I am not one to start preaching about fat and calories  (especially when most of my recipes involve a fair amount of "good" olive oil) but eating mindless gobs of mayonnaise when there isn't any taste just isn't my style. I decided to come up with this potato salad recipe that has tons of flavor by using my favorite type of green salad as inspiration. I used large red potatoes cut into bite sized pieces, however small marble sized potatoes would be very cute as well!

Because this salad is mayo-free its a little easier to store and serve at a hot summer BBQ, there is some cheese in it however so don't leave it out too long! We have an olive- hater in our family so serving anything "Greek" style can be a little challenging. The best part of this salad though is that the olives (or the cheese is there is a dairy-free person) can be tossed in to individual taste.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Memorial Day BBQ Bash!

So I have to confess something you all probably know.... I don't live in a big gorgeous house on acres of land and have a beautiful edible garden that I just pluck my fresh ingredients from minutes before dinner time. I live in the city (metro NYC) in an apartment, my growing space is confined to two south facing window sills (and for some reason after having a very successful herb garden all winter we can't seem to keep anything alive more than a week!) and my outside space.... well we have our stoop. I love my apartment but when it comes to summer time backyard parties it just doesn't cut it! And that is where my amazing friends Tim & Heather come into this story. They just got a new apartment and guess what it has outside space! Now its still in the city so don't go dreaming of being barefoot in lush grassy fields but here in the city rooftops do double duty and knowing someone with access to one is basically the highlight of my summer! They were planning a Memorial Day BBQ and being the bossy girl I am I decided that I was going to jump in and lend them a hand (or a pork shoulder!) So thanks Tim and Heather for planning a party and letting me jump in with my party takeover.....

So first things first lets talk a little bit about party planning and take a look at a few tips that I have put together....
#1 PLAN PLAN PLAN... organization and lists galore will help you keep everything under control
#2 Know your audience... if its a cocktail party make sure food is bite size and portable, if its a BBQ plan ideas that can go on the grill so you don't have to keep running from the grill to the kitchen
#3 Mix familiar dishes with something new.... its great to try something new but don't try and do it all in one night
#4 Plan to make some dishes in advance.... dips, desserts, meats and stews are all easy to make before hand with minimal prep needed during the party
#5 Accept help...delegate responsibilities to your friends- your best girl friend who always shows up on time can get more important items while the ones who are always running later can always bring some extra desserts or snacks
#6 Multi purpose your ingredients.... using parsley in the dip, why not include it in a marinade? it saves on costs and ties your menu together

and most importantly
#7 Keep cool even if it doesn't go your way... the best parties are when everyone enjoys themselves so in the event of a party emergency try to stay cool and laugh it off

OK with all that in mind... let's get our first list ready... the menu (with the rule they correspond to)

chimichurri dip (#4 & #6)
scallion mint dip (#4 & #6)
gucamole (#5)
black bean and corn salsa (#5)
chips, nachos & veggies (#5)
mojito-marinaded flank steak w pineapple salsa grilled pineapple (#6) (recipe below)
homemade sliders w cheddar or pepperjack (#5)
pulled pork sliders w red cabbage slaw and pickles (#3 & #4)
marinaded chicken (#5)
pasta salad (#5)
grilled corn (#3)
fresh cubed watermelon (#4)
fruit plate (mango, strawberries, blueberries etc) (#4)
s'more blondie bars (#4)
peach sangria (#3 & #4)
mint mojito bar (#6)
local micro-brews (#5)

From this list I will make my shopping list and more importantly my task list for the days before the party up and a timeline for the day of the party itself.

Thurs - menu plan
Fri - food shopping & liquor store
Sun - pork into crock pot, make marinade for steak, bake blondie bars, clean corn, make pineapple salsa (decided to simplify and go with grilled pineapple spears)
Mon - (guest arrive at 1 pm)
9am - prep sangria
9:30 - make coleslaw & sauce pulled pork
10 - dice watermelon
10:30  - prep burger fixings (cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato)
11 - start set up
beers into cooler with ice
chairs out and cleaned
plates/forks/knives/napkins/cups available
find and wash serving platters, serving utensils and grill utensils
12 - start plating food
chips and dips out
meat out of fridge to come to room temp
set up veggies plates
condiments out
12:45 - change into party outfit and get the music on!

keep reading for the Mojito Flank Steak Marinade

Sunday, May 22, 2011

All Purpose Marinara Sauce & a photo show of gnocchi making

Growing up there was only one type of sauce, my mother made it almost every Sunday after frying up a few dozen meatballs and some spicy Italian sausage. This was just how things were...we didn't know any vegetarians and so there was no reason to make a sauce that didn't start with the rich meaty flavors that came from using the left over bits of meatball stuck in the bottom of the biggest pan we had in the house. But now that I am living a few hundred miles away and have friends that follow every diet under the sun, I rarely make meat sauce because pasta is one of the only meals that most of us can eat together...as long as the sauce is vegetarian friendly (and we ignore those gluten-free people!). When I first moved down here, I would still make my mothers classic meat sauce and use jarred sauce for those friends who didn't eat meat. But when I made things like lasagna where the sauce was already mixed in, we ran into problems. The fix was easy - learn to make a marinara sauce that would rival the deep flavors of any meat sauce.

When I looked on the internet for example recipes (usually I like to look at 4 or 5 different versions then decide which ingredients and methods I will go with), I wasn't happy seeing additions of sugar, powdered spices and other ingredients that my mother (never mind my grandmother!) would never have put in sauce. I decide to make up my own version and over the past year or so I feel that it is really a great substitute. Nothing will compare to a meat sauce and those nicely browned up bits of meaty surprise that are well incorporated into the sauce lending it flavors that are uniquely carnivorous. But this sauce avoids some of the most common pitfalls of vegetarian sauces, too many vegetables (don't get me wrong I love my veggies but this is pasta sauce not minestrone soup!), too thin and watery (I simmer low and slow just like a meat based sauce), too much "raw" tomato taste (the addition of carrots seems to add enough sweetness to balance the acidity of the tomatoes) and with a rich base that gives this flavor to spare (onion, garlic and a splash of red wine).

But first some pics of our gnocchi making session... 3 girls, 15 lbs of potatoes and 3 4  hours of work. Somehow things always seem to take a lot longer than they should but at least when you are making dinner there is a great reward for you at the end!

  Jess and Tova ricing the potatoes
Me trying my hand at the ricer 
Pouring beaten eggs into the potato
Making the ridges in the fresh gnocchi
 A close up of the finished goods!

Keep reading for the marinara recipe

Monday, May 16, 2011

Easter Dinner - Roasted Leg of Lamb and Turkey Breast

I never pass up a holiday that I can cook for and Easter with the traditional foods that I grew up with is no exceptions. Although I have to admit I don't know if I follow many of our recipes too closely. I'd like to think that I have come up with a good version of my mother and grandmothers cooking but with my own set of ingredients. I have so much respect for my elders when I host a holiday dinner. There was always so much at our holiday spreads and it was always homemade! My easter was a bit smaller - only four of us turned out - but the spread was pretty impressive. One of the best parts of the dinner was the "drunk" girl roasted potatoes that my good friend Jema provided! Not only were they delicious but I loved the story.

This year I decided that I would butterfly my lamb roast and stuff it with a mint chimichurri - it was easy to assemble because my lamb roast had one of those elastic mesh "girdles" on it. I served it with bacon wrapped asparagus which is a decedent twist on the spring time classic. The turkey breast was obtained for free (yay!) due to some smart shopping and a great holiday special at Shoprite. Turkey breasts are such a great option for holidays - they take much less time than a whole turkey and still have all of the deliciously tender white meat that most people enjoy.

As always I brined my turkey, I find it hard to eat poultry prepared any other way recently as brining is just so easy and delicious (though it does take a bit of advance planning)

keep reading for the recipe for the turkey breast

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cinco de Mayo Swordfish Taco

This year it seemed that more and more people were complaining that Cinco de Mayo has turn into a holiday much like St.Patrick's Day - a day of drinking that really has less to do with its roots and more with its alcohol brand sponsorship. However, I love "taco stand" style tacos and I can't pass up a fresh taco with some delicious ingredients so why skip over a good excuse to eat and drink. Traditionally you see often pork carnitas tacos and fish tacos in this style with just a bit of cabbage slaw, some salsa, cilantro, lime and usually a radish slice. These tacos are different than the tacos that are found at tex-mex type places which often are filled with sour cream and guacamole. This makes them a bit lighter so you really don't need an excuse to make them.

I decided to skip the radish slice and went with a "meaty" slice of grilled swordfish instead of a fried fish. This meal was fresh and so fast! I mean from fridge to table in about 15 min total...and anyone can make this.

click through for the recipes!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shrimp Po'Boy

Its just about time for the Annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival but with so much to do this summer, a trip down just wasn't in the cards. However we had to find a way to celebrate. New Orleans is know for a few things but Good food and Great music are two of the things that really speak to me. I decided that even though it was a rainy afternoon we didn't have to settle for the same - old lunch, shrimp po'boys are fast to make and since shrimp keep so well in the freeze its easy to keep most of the ingredients on hand.

Without the friend shrimp (or some other seafood), you wouldn't have a po'boy but don't underestimate the power of the bread in this sandwich. For us, we were lucky enough to hit the local store as a fresh delivery of brioche rolls were just being unloaded from the cart. I couldn't resist the soft buttery, flaky pillows of bread even though they are not traditional for a po'boy (a crusty french baguette seems to be favored down in NOLA). When toasted and smeared with a healthy dose of remoulade, pickles and lettuce, the crisp bread is the perfect contrast to the shrimp.

Use the same recipe as the Soft Shell Crab Po'Boy here

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Over All Soup Swap Winner: Indian- Style Seafood Stew

We had so many wonderful options in the soup swap but there can be only one winner. Matt's Indian-Style Seafood Stew won not only in his category (seafood and meat) but took in the most votes overall! He agreed to write up a little guest post about his experience cooking this winning dish and share it with us.....

I had this recipe in my possession for a while now however, since it feeds six, and I'm a single guy who's doesn't generally have dinner parties, finding the right opportunity to make this eluded me until this event. I picked up all the fish from my favorite local fish market, Two Cousins Fish Market on the Nautical Mile in Freeport (once you find a good local fish market you'll never buy fish at the supermarket again). I doubled the recipe to make sure I had enough stew for both the swap and the contest. It took me longer to clean the shrimp and marinate the fish than it did to cook. This couldn't have been an easier recipe to follow. When I first tasted it after it was done I was worried I had used a bit too much cayenne, but the jasmine rice balanced out the heat perfectly. I was blown away by how everybody enjoyed this! Seemed like I everyone was going back for seconds (and some for thirds). There wasn't a drop left in the crock pot by the end of the night. I look forward to the next time I can make this for friends.
read on for Matt's recipe

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Crab stuffed Portobella mushroom cap

Every year my uncle makes a wonderful appetizer for family holidays, it is actually a spin off of something that my grandfather started making.... crab stuffed mushrooms. I decided to take this from an appetizer to main course by increasing the size of the mushroom! Portobello caps make the perfect single serving dinner, you can dress them down with sauce and cheese and make it into a "pizza" or class it up with ingredients like crab. The hearty texture makes it a great substitute for meat, no matter if you are a true vegetarian or just celebrating meatless Mondays. I love mushrooms in just about any form. We are lucky enough to have a great mushroom "farmer" (perhaps cultivator is a better word?) that visits the Union Square Farmer's Market regularly, Bulich Mushroom Farms.

This recipe is quite simple and really no different that many of the crab cakes that I have made before. Since the mushroom cab provides some of the structure I felt that I could leave out the breadcrumbs and make this pure crab-tastic indulgence. I did however make a few "true" crab cakes by adding about 1/2 c of breadcrumbs to the leftovers (I unfortunately only had 2 mushroom caps on hand and the pound of crabmeat quickly dominated them!)

click through for the recipe!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Souper Soup Swap & First Annual Soup Awards

Food swaps are the newest craze in the foodie world....they aren't exactly new as cookie walks have been around as a holiday staple basically forever. But now you can mass produce and swap baked goods, soups, baby food, garden harvests, frozen dinners or any thing homemade! The benefits of food swapping are simple instead of having leftovers for a week of the same old boring meal,  you switch with friends (or strangers in some cases) for their versions of the food in question. If you have ever tried to cook soup for one you know how hard it can be - it seems like no matter how carefully you measure you end up with a giant pot simmering away on the stove and lunch leftovers by the dozen.

 (pictured clockwise from top left - split pea, minestrone, indian style seafood stew, 
and tom yum goong) 

We had 9 different soups entered into the swap and everyone who participated brought home 4 different containers for a variety of leftovers. We ended up with three main categories for our soups - vegetarian, meat/seafood and chicken broth based.  It was a lot of fun and we had a great time sharing our recipes and picking our favorites. Then again when you have good friends any reason to get together is always a great time!

Here are the entries & winners in each category:
1st Place - Split Pea Soup
2nd Place - Cold Watermelon Soup
3rd Place - Wild Mushroom and Leek Soup

Meat/ Seafood:
1st Place - Indian Style Seafood Stew (pictured above)
2nd Place - Chili
3rd Place - Tom Yum Goong

Chicken Broth-Based
1st Place - Pasta Fagoili (pictured above)
2nd Place - Vermont Cheddar Ale
3rd Place - Minestrone

Some of the participants:


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Flexitarian (Chicken) Pot Pies

Most readers of this blog know that I have a very diverse group of eaters that visit me pretty regularly. When I learned the other night that a friend who was joining us for dinner was a vegetarian, my thoughts of a lovely roasted pork tenderloin stuffed with all sorts of goodies faded away. He swore that he would be fine with salad and a side dish but that didn't sit well with me.... back to the drawing board! I have owned Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties! cookbook for a while now and even though her recipes are delicious (and relatively easy) I don't think that I have ever actually taken more than a glance at the whole book (sadly this happens to a lot of my cookbooks). The last page in the book has a menu for a fireside dinner.... while we do have a fire place it is decorative (and probably hasn't been used in about 50 years!) but this menu gave me some wonderful inspiration!

My ideal dinner for company is a flexitarian one - where I can customize for meat eaters and veggies without having the stress of two separate dishes. This means that no one gets left out and stuck eating salad and no one has to feel "cheated" by leaving out the meat (though there are many hearty veggie friendly ideas out there). Chicken Pot Pies actually were very east to "flex".... with a few changes to the traditional gravy that is used in the pie (I substituted a creamy sauce for gravy) all I needed to do was to add the chicken to the mix after serving up my veggie friends. This dinner is perfect for the fireside or just a delicious dinner that is easy to freeze and can easily be made in bulk so that you have a left over pie for later. I recommend preparing the roasted chickens and pie crust in advance (ie the night before) unless you have a few hours to spend on this meal.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tomato Mozz and Basil appetizer

There are a million recipes for this classic Caprese salad. But there is a reason for that, at their best there is nothing more that you need than this perfect bite of fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil. Here in the New York area spring is starting to creep in - I saw my first tree buds and flowers yesterday- but freshly grown tomatoes are still many months away. Luckily, we have been able to maintain our herbs all winter long (well fingers crossed!). I wish that I could take credit for this but my thumb is definitely not green...basic Pothos type plants are really all I can handle. Luckily, my boyfriend is quite good at keeping our little garden alive.

This winter we have shared our basil fresh bites of summer by bringing this dish to a few friends parties - a welcome addition to the usual chips and dips. We dressed them simply with sprinkle of salt and pepper and a swirl of aged balsamic vinegar and good olive oil. Like most others I think I am going a bit spring crazy with the nice temperatures over the weekend.... so here it is my ode to warmer days!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

VIDEO POST! Pan Roasted Chicken with Ratatouille Sauce

It has been really fun using my new Flip Camera to record recipes. And so far I have gotten some great feed back...and even had a friend make something new because of my video! They say a picture says a thousand words - so what about a video? I know that personally I often look up videos of new cooking techniques because so many of us are visual learners. This recipe really turned out amazing. As I say in the video its fast, easy and really is perfect for company as it makes a great presentation. Don't be afraid of the hard to spell French name - Ratatouille is a wonderful vegetable dish that is a perfect recipe to have when your summer garden is making you see green (zucchini that is!)

I used two Newman's Own products in this recipe - Family Recipe Italian Dressing as a marinade for the chicken and Cabernet Marinara as part of the ratatouille. I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts as I find them much more flavorful than the standard boneless, skinless chicken breast. However, if you wanted to serve this with on the bone chicken breasts I think that would be a great option as well. Also feel free to serve this over brown rice, another type of pasta or even something more exciting like quinoa or couscous!

Click the link for the full recipe and instructions

VIDEO POST! Flexitarian Pasta Bakes

Well I am not really one for following directions so here is a bonus video from my experiment this weekend. I was asked to make a short (<5 min) video that featured Newman's Own products in a quick recipe (<30 min) and what did I do? Well I picked a recipe that had to cook in the oven after you prepped 4 or 5 different ingredients.... and I took over 10 min explaining it!  I was able to trim it down a little and I must say that they were absolutely delicious. While I don't think that I can call it a quick dinner for after work definitely find the time to make these individual pasta bakes. They freeze wonderfully and are perfect to have on hand when you want something homemade but don't have the time to make it right now.

Dinners like this are a favorite in my house because while we eat meat (or rather everything) we have lots of vegetarian friends.... so I try to make food that is adaptable to different eaters. This is the perfect dish to make double of and save one for a "rainy" day. Oh and for the record it should take you about 20 min to prep all the ingredients and then you just need to let them bake for about 20-30 min so dinner will be on the table in less than an hour!

Click the link to get the full ingredient and recipe

Friday, March 11, 2011

VIDEO POST! Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Chimichurri Sauce

Hello Readers......

something about this post is not like the others..... one of these things is not the same! We have stepped into the 21st Century and now have video... thanks so much to Newman's Own and Foodbuzz for sending me this amazing Flip video camera. In the next few days we will be posting some of our videos on the blog. Because I still am learning some of these videos are not exactly perfect (editing is harder than it looks!) but they should help you master some new techniques in a new way. So far the feedback is great, my friends and family love the new style and we hope to bring you a new video post every few weeks after we get the initial 4 videos up. We have already had a request on cooking a whole chicken and making a baked good. I would also like to do a seafood dish but please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments. If there are recipes already on Carla's Tasty Treats that you would like to see in video form we just might be able to help!

Thanks again

Please click through if you would like to see the complete recipe written out

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Eggs Benedict vs Bacon, Egg and Cheese.... why choose when you can have both?

The ultimate brunch food is Eggs Benedict....soft, gooey soft boiled eggs with a creamy, rich Hollandaise Sauce. This is the perfect mix of decadence and simplicity. Poached eggs can sometimes be difficult to make at home but they don't need to be! If you add just a splash of white vinegar to the water when poaching the eggs they come out perfect every time - no need for crazy stirring or special containers. This time I skipped the lux Hollandaise sauce and stuck to a simple preparation that was just as satisfying (while saving quite a few calories).

This Poached Egg is served on top of a toasted round of wheat bread with some pepper jack cheese, slices of thick cut bacon and a perfectly cooked egg.... with a yolk ready that is ready to spill out with just the lightest touch of your fork! Just a simple sprinkle of salt and pepper tops it off for the perfect breakfast treat in only 5 minutes.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Not Your Mama's Nicoise Salad

This isn't really a Nicoise Salad - the French classic that combines potato, tomato, green beans, olives, boiled egg and tuna but its construction reminds me of it and so I can't help but group them together. Nicoise Salad is more meal than starter and it is the perfect lunch for a lazy afternoon. This is also the perfect dish to bring along to a BBQ because it beautifully balances out plate after plate of meaty bar-b-que goodness. You can include a meat like tuna in the original or grilled chicken in my version or just keep this strictly vegetarian.... there are so many ways to make this meal very complete!

This dish can be served warm (against the rules for the classic) just take care to have all the vegetables ready to go at once or prep in advance and store it chilled for an easier to serve option. Feel free to use my suggestions or you can always customize your salad based on what you have on hand. The only requirement is that it tastes delicious. This version is far from the traditional salad but that is what I love about it!

This salad included: (L to R)
Oven Roasted Beets
Sugar Snap Peas
Oven Roasted Moroccan Spiced Cauliflower
Mini Heirloom Tomatoes
Grilled Chicken Breast
Gorgonzola Cheese Crumbles
Mini Baby Potatoes
Roasted Red and Yellow Peppers

and I served it with a Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette...click through for the recipe