No Joke…I am STUFFED!!

So the peppers were MORE than a success.  I am sitting on the couch right now so stuffed from all of the delicious food from tonight’s dinner.  I am so glad I was able share my passion with such wonderful company tonight.  It is so nice to be able to enjoy great food and great company at the same time!

The recipe I posted the other day for the peppers is not necessarily correct, so making dinner tonight was, as usual, an adventure.  My mom and I wrote down a recipe the last time she made the peppers, the first time I ever learned to make them, and we did some guesstimations (I think I made up this word, but you get the point).  They were not so accurate…I had to make more rice than I thought, I used all of the sauce (I thought there would be some left over to freeze) and I didn’t end up using all of the peppers.

We went to the grocery store today and the peppers there were a joke!  The red peppers were so small and the yellow peppers were not ripe.  We ended up buying organic red peppers (which were $3 a pepper!!!).  That is just insane.  They were huge as well, which is probably why I did not need to use all of them.  For some reason the rice kept burning (of course I can make homemade pasta sauce, but fail at making rice.  Typical), but once I used a smaller pot and made a larger serving of rice, it turned out perfectly.  My sauce was delicious.  I made Jess taste it and once she said she could just keep eating spoonfuls of it, I knew it was done.  The beef didn’t seem to have enough flavor with the salt and pepper, so I did what I always do when my food needs more flavor,  I added my Grandpa’s seasoning, David Page’s Special Seasoning, and it tasted delicious!  For proof, check out the photo’s below.  My friends went to town on the stuffing before dinner was even in the oven!

All in all, tonight’s dinner was a successful Kitchen Adventure!  It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.  I am so excited for the warm weather here in Chicago and cannot wait for summer!  Next week I will be heading home for Easter, my FAVORITE holiday!  I am going to attempt baking some really pretty Easter desserts to share with my family…hopefully I won’t get as nervous as the last time I cooked for my family (they are all food snobs, but they are wonderful).

Here is a recap of Sunday Dinner below.  I could write more about dinner, but I will spare boring you with my words, and instead, make your mouth water!

Preparing the peppers!

Getting “Stuffed”

Stuffed Red Peppers


Our Lovely Family Dinner

Good and “Stuffed” – Proof Dinner was a Success!

~Jess made Chocolate Covered Strawberries~

I hope you enjoyed seeing another Kitchen Adventure and I hope the pictures inspire you to try them yourself!  I have felt so creative and challenged since starting this blog.  I hope to be able to inspire others as well!  Since it is spring and the sun is starting to shine again, everyone needs to indulge in their passions a little and jump into Spring!

I am coloring Easter Eggs this week, so hopefully there are more kitchen adventures to come before Easter.  The last time my roommate Alyssa colored Easter Eggs she stuck her entire hand into the dye to get out the egg.  Don’t judge her, she had never done this before..but I am very glad she reminded me of the incident today.

Night!

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I’m “Stuffed”!

This Sunday I have decided to go back to the traditional, tried and true family recipes.  I am going to make Stuffed Peppers.  This meal is again one that I have made with my mother, but have never tried.  I love the rice stuffing, but I’ve never actually eaten it with the pepper.  My mom makes these for our Christmas Eve dinner and they are usually gone pretty quickly.  Most people in my family love them, so hopefully I won’t mess up this time!  And if I succeed…maybe I can take them over so my mom can lose about an hour of holiday stress this year!

My roommates are already planning on helping me with dinner and we are all going to the grocery on Saturday.  I am glad they are just as excited as I am about having family dinners on Sunday!  My friend Jill is coming into town tonight and we have reservations at Sushi Samba.  I am vowing to try something new when I go, so hopefully I will have something to fill you in on after this weekend!  I am getting nervous just saying that, but hopefully I will stick to it now that I have put it out there into cyber space…

So here is the Sunday dinner recipe.  If you are feeling like you need a challenge, or want to join in on the fun, make this for dinner Sunday and share your thoughts!

Stuffed Peppers (makes about 16 peppers)

8 Peppers (4 red and 4 yellow)

2 1/2 lb ground beef

1/2 large onion

2 1/2 cups cooked rice

3 1/2 cups sauce (this is usually pre-made so I will have to make my own batch!)

Salt & Pepper

Peppers:

Cut off top of peppers

Cut in half, but make sure to cut down the line where you will have a more concave pepper

Make sure to clean out so the pepper can hold the rice stuffing

Beef:

Heat in a pan until brown

Add onion (chopped)

Add salt & pepper

Drain once cooked and put back in pot

Rice:

Cook according to box

Add to meat mixture

Add 1 1/2 cups sauce

Preparing Entire Dish:

Add sauce to the bottom of pan

Stuff each pepper with rice and add to the pan (try to fit them as closely together as possible).

Cook at 350 degrees for an hour.

Also ~ Stay tuned next week for some fun Easter treats and even a Passover dessert in Honor of Ms. Alyssa Linder!

If I stick with it and actually join her during Passover I am going to make a special Passover dessert I found in Cooking Light!

Snow for the First Day of Spring? Not a fan.

Today is the first day of spring, and to welcome in the lovely season, snow.  Thank you Chicago.  I am so glad I did not get over zealous about the spring weather lately because I just knew it was too good to be true.  My parents came to visit this weekend and although I was not cooking, I have definitely already had some adventures!

Thursday night we went to dinner at Hugo’s Frog Bar.  It was such a lively atmosphere and a really cool restaurant.  I was nervous to order fish because I have never ordered anything besides crab and shrimp, but my waiter, Frank, insisted I try something new.  Everything inside of me told me to resist, and order a steak or crab legs, both of which I have had often.  My mom reminded me of my quest to branch out of my comfort zone when it came to food, so I found some courage, reminded myself of my age, and ordered my first fish meal EVER.  Thank you Rosemarie and Frank!

I decided on the Dover Sole because both my Dad and Frank (above)  said it was amazing, not too fishy, and that I would love it.  My mom ordered Halibut because  I have tasted it before and knew I wouldn’t hate it, just in case I did hate the Dover Sole.

When Frank brought out the fish he had me get up from the table and showed me how to debone my own meal.  When he showed me the “roe line” and proceeded to spoon off the “sac,”  I thought I was going to be sick.  Then, when he took off the head, I decided then and there I could not possibly be able to eat the rest of the night.  But when he took off the spine, I was intrigued.  It was such a cool experience and I am pretty sure I would be able to debone my own fish now if I had to.  Maybe if I am ever living on a beach like my boyfriend Ryan wants to do (a little inside joke) I will be able to cook our meals!

The Dover Sole was unbelievable, melt in your mouth, make you smile good.  I ate the entire thing all the way down to the tail (which was still on there I believe).  It came with an almond butter sauce for dipping that tasted like I was dipping the fish into heaven.  The entire dinner was such a fun experience and I am so glad I removed myself from my comfort zone and lived!  It felt great.

Last night we went out for sushi in Lincoln Park and I tried my cousin Nick’s meal. Since I was feeling great for trying new food, I told him not to tell me what he ordered before I ate it.  It was squid.  I liked it, but am really glad he didn’t tell me before hand because I don’t know if I would have actually tried it.  My mom ordered fried oysters for an appetizer, but as much as I enjoy being adventurous with my food these days, oysters are not something I am ready to try.  I don’t even have a desire to try them.  When I watch people eat them I feel a little nauseous.  Maybe one day, but for now, I am good with not knowing what that slime tastes like!

Wellness Week

For the past two weeks I have been trying to eat healthy, watch my calories, and exercise.  I’ve been walking home from work, and trying to snack healthier at work on fruit (thank you Antonia for the case of Blood Oranges!!).  My family is coming to visit this weekend and in fear of not having enough time to cook dinner on Sunday, I thought I would share a simple recipe with you (this was NOT healthy and was my last indulgence for some time…hopefully)!

Monday, I came home from work stressed, tired, and starving.  I had to weigh myself at work on Tuesday, so I thought I would indulge in my last super unhealthy meal for a while, and maybe be a little heavier for the weigh-in so I could lose more weight.

I didn’t have much to work with, so I decided to make Pasta with Shrimp and Peas in a cream sauce.  This is a pretty easy meal to throw together if you have the ingredients and it does not take more than 20 minutes to make.

I started boiling my pot of water and cooked the shrimp.  For the sauce, I heated up some olive oil and then sautéed the garlic.  Once it started turning translucent, I added heavy whipping cream and skim milk,  the frozen peas, salt and pepper to taste, and a  bouillon cube.  I can’t tell you measurements because when I cook dinner for myself I go off of instinct, and luckily it usually turns out.  I only follow strict recipes when baking because I think baking is an art form and requires certain amounts of ingredients in order to turn out properly.

After the pasta was finished, the sauce had come to a boil and was finished (be sure to not boil to long or over cook because the milk will curdle) I served over linguine and indulged!

Luckily, my roommate Alyssa was eating with me (once again my biggest fan) and made us both a salad.  Good thing…

The sauce was so good I had it again for dinner last night, but this time, I poured it over the leftover Strata from Sunday’s dinner.  Surprisingly, the strata was better than before and tasted great with the sauce!

This is one of my favorite go-to recipes when wanting a quick and delicious dinner, so I hope you try it out and share your thoughts!

Have a great day and Happy St. Patrick’s day 🙂

Redemption

It was a long weekend, but I still was excited to make a new meal…that is until I realized I forgot the main ingredient in my Strata….

For dinner tonight, I decided to make a Broccoli Rabe Pesto Strata and homemade biscuits.  The dinner started off rocky when I realized I did not buy enough basil for the pesto, but thankfully Ryan ran to the store for me and bought more.  So, while Ryan was out buying the basil, I started making the biscuits.  I was trying to do about three things at once, and not having the basil really threw me off.  I got a little flustered and was hurrying to get dinner finished because it was getting late and everyone was hungry.  I finished the pesto and even though I didn’t have enough basil, it was pretty good.

Homemade Biscuits

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp fine sea salt

1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2/3 cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 450°.  Lightly grease a baking sheet with butter.

Ina large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  With your fingertips, rub the cold butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal, handling it as little as possible.  Stir in the milk and blend with a spoon just until all the liquid has been absorbed.  With lightly floured hands, work the dough briefly until it barely holds together in a flaky ball.

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface.  Roll or pat the dough out into a round about 1/2 inch thick. With a 2-inch biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass, cut out as many rounds as possible.  Father up the scraps, work into a cohesive ball, re-roll, and cut out more rounds. do not re-roll the dough more than once, or you will end up with tough biscuits.  Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Broccoli Rabe, Pesto and Smoked Mozzarella Strata


Ingredients:

3/4 lb broccoli rabe, thick stems removed

5 slices sourdough bread, about 1/2 inch thick, crusts removed

1/4 cup pesto

1 1/2 cups shredded smoked mozzarella cheese

1 cup whole milk

2/3 cup heavy double cream

4 large eggs

2 tsp Dijon mustard

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add the broccoli rabe and blanch until almost tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain immediately and rinse under cold running water until cool throughout.  Gather into a ball and squeeze out as much water as possible.  Chop the broccoli rabe coarsely.

Generously grease a 7-by-1 inch or similar-sized baking dish, and place about 2 1/2 slices of the bread in the base, cutting as necessary to make an even layer.  Spread the broccoli rabe evenly over the bread.  Add the pesto in dollops, spacing them evenly.  Scatter with half of the smoked mozzarella and top with the remaining bread, again cutting to fit.

In a large bowl, combine the milk, cream, eggs, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a generous grinding of pepper. Whisk vigorously until smooth.  Pour the custard mixture over the bread and use the back of a large, flat spoon to press the bread down into the custard mixture.  Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.  Press the bread down into the custard after about 15 minutes, and again just before placing in the oven.

Sprinkle the top within the remaining cheese.  Bake until puffed, golden, and crisp, about 45 minutes.  Let stand for 5 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.

 

The biscuits were pretty easy to make and I was happy to just put them aside.  I was so excited the pesto turned out (I have never made pesto before), I got a little over zealous and quickly finished the Strata.  I put it in the oven and just relaxed.  After about 30 minutes I got up to check on the Strata and started to get a little anxiety.  I couldn’t figure out why I felt like I did something wrong, so I got out the cookbook and realized….I forgot the egg mixture.  The main part of the dish, and I just didn’t make it.  The strata was already cooked, but I decided to add the egg mixture with more bread and more cheese and put it back in the oven at a higher temperature for about 20 minutes.

Thankfully, it turned out great!  I had redeemed myself in the kitchen and couldn’t believe it actually turned out, and tasted pretty good!   My biggest fan, Alyssa, loved it!  It’s so nice cooking for her because she just LOVES my food (you’re the best and I’m glad you found your key).

So glad he was in town and able to try one of my meals!

Another day in the kitchen, another adventure, and many more lessons!  Excited for another adventure this week…just waiting for my inspiration.

A St.Patrick’s Day Breakfast

This weekend, Chicago will be celebrating the wonderful day of St.Patrick, and dying the river a lovely shade of green.  Being Italian, St.Patrick’s day was never a big deal, but growing up, all of my friends happened to be Irish.  Very Irish.  I have even walked in the Indianapolis St.Patrick’s day parade carrying a banner more than once (thank you Michelle).

This weekend is going to be pretty hectic, so I have decided to do my favorite thing;  have breakfast for dinner!  I wanted to try making Eggs Benedict, but after reading the recipe, I realized I do not have a double boiler, and therefore am going to skip this recipe until I have the proper equipment.  After my close call last week while frying, I do not want to risk anything and I don’t want to mess up the recipe!

So I have decided to make something from my William Sonoma Breakfast cookbook!  Hopefully this is simple and delicious…wish me luck!

A True Kitchen Adventure II

A typical cousin dinner would not be the same without some elaborate element, so Gina and Concetta decided to get gorgeous table settings for our dinner from A Classic Party Rental.  Working at a rental company definitely has its perks for our small gatherings!  They were both so much help Saturday night and I am pretty sure my sister’s house would have been burnt down had they not been helping in the kitchen!

Dinner was all in all a success, if you take away the potential grease fire, the chocolate burning, and Gina’s oven somehow catching on fire.  For dinner I made Smashed Red Potatoes, Stuffed Chicken and Grilled Asparagus.  You can find all of these recipes on the my Recipe page.  The potatoes are so easy and are great for dinner parties!

Grilled Asparagus

Ingredients:

Asparagus

Salt and Pepper

Parmesan Cheese

Lightly salt and pepper asparagus.  Add parmesan cheese as desired.  Cook for 10-15 minutes at 450 degrees.

 

Smashed Red Potatoes

Ingredients:

1 bag red potatoes

Chicken Bullion

Whipped butter

Salt and Pepper

Parsley

Optional :

Sour Cream

Cream Cheese

Clean and cut potatoes into fourths or even smaller if needed.  Add to a large pot, cover in water,and add chicken bouillon cubes (about 5 or 6 small cubes or until water is yellow).  Bring potatoes to a boil and cook until red skin starts to fall off.  Drain potatoes, but leave about a measuring cup full of water.  Put back into pot and add butter, salt and pepper.  If potatoes are dry, add more of the bouillon water.  Add salt and pepper to taste and smash with a fork.  For more “mashed” potatoes use a whip.  These potatoes can be made more mashed or left whole but slightly “smashed.”

 

After dinner, we played Things (my favorite game ever) and then an intense game of Cranium.  It was so great being home for the weekend and getting to see my family.  After a very stressful week last week trying to plan this dinner, I am excited to be cooking for non-Italians again, and especially my boyfriend who will be visiting from Vail!!  He is usually always a fan of my cooking, even if it doesn’t turn out, or at least he let’s me believe he is…

From L to R – my soon-to-be brother-in-law Grant, my sister Gina, cousin Tommy, brother Jack, cousin Concetta, Steve (Antonia’s boyfriend), and my cousin Antonia.

Saturday was by far my favorite Kitchen Adventure!  Something I have discovered while learning to become a better cook, it takes a couple of disasters to help you grow in the kitchen!

A True Kitchen Adventure

Last night’s dinner was, to say the least, an adventure.  I learned four things last night.

1. You should melt chocolate on low heat or over boiling water.

2. How to make caramel.

3. Oil should be 350 degrees and will turn food into charcoal if too hot.

4. Cooking in a kitchen full of Italians is chaos.  Actually,  chaos does not even begin to describe it.

My wonderful sister Gina surprised me with a new cookbook for desserts in honor of my “Kitchen Adventure.”  We decide to make a dessert together from the new book for dinner last night and it was pretty good!  We made a caramel chocolate shortbread bar.  My sister was in charge of the caramel and it turned out great.  At first we were getting nervous.  I was in charge of the chocolate.  I have never melted chocolate so I put the heat onto 3 and walked away for a minute.  When I returned my sister was laughing because the chocolate was no longer creamy and had to be thrown out.  Good thing she keeps extra chocolate bars around!  For some reason the condensed milk didn’t blend well and ended up showing up around the edges of the pan, so we had to cut up the dessert before showing anyone.  It didn’t look appetizing, but it tasted great!

For an appetizer I had wanted to try something new so I decided to make “Caprese Wonton Salads.”  I have never fried anything in my life, and to be honest,  I almost burnt down the kitchen.  The directions were not very clear and obviously intended for someone with more experience.  I ended up heating (on high) about 4 inches of oil (WAY too much).  When I put the wonton’s into the oil, they immediately turned BLACK.  The kitchen filled with smoke and everyone started to panic just a little bit.  Italians are dramatic in nature so you can imagine the scene in my sisters kitchen that ensued.  My cousin Tommy came to the rescue and dumped the oil and “lumps of coal” onto a pile of snow in the front yard!  We called my cousin Concetta (who actually is a chef) and she properly instructed on how to fry my wonton’s.  Once finished they were DELICIOUS.

I am so happy we got to try them and a few actually turned out.  We brought in one of the “charcoal lumps” and Steve was brave enough to open it up and try the insides, which actually tasted like an oven baked pizza!  I can’t wait to make these great appetizers again and am excited I learned how to fry!

Tommy "saving the day" with the burning Wonton's
The finished product with the "lump of coal"

Ingredients:

Pack of wonton wrappers

Roma Tomatoes

mozzarella

Basil leaves

Sea Salt

Water

Add a slice of tomato, mozzarella and basil leaf to a wonton wrapper.  Lightly salt.  Dip your finger in water and coat the edges of the wonton, cover with another wonton wrapper.  Coat the edges of top layer and fold up.  Continue until you have desired amount of wonton’s.

Once all wonton are prepared,  heat about 2 inches of oil in large skillet to 350 degrees.  Do not allow oil to get too hot.  Use tongs to set a few wonton’s at a time in the oil and cover with a lid.  Carefully watch as the wonton’s will cook quickly.  Once the bottom starts to brown, flip wonton’s to other side and allow to cook.  Place on a plate covered in paper towels.

If desired,  prepare a small cup for dipping with Balsamic vinegar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uninspired or Nervous?

I am heading home this weekend and am really looking forward to everything I have planned.  I am a very family oriented person, so it is hard for me to believe I have not seen my grandparents since CHRISTMAS!!! I am really excited to be going home for a 90th birthday party on Sunday because I will get to see my entire family, which is always fun!  On Saturday I get to spend the day with my lovely sister.  She is getting married in September so we are going to spend the day planning, registering, and hanging out.  Later that night I have a big dinner planned with my cousins!  I love when we have “family game nights” so when I suggested this fun activity for my visit home, my cousin Antonia suggested I make them dinner for my blog.

I am so excited to make dinner for everyone, but I have run into a sort of “cookers block.”  I CANNOT for the life of me decide on what to make.  I started out with the idea of a “Blood Orange Upside-down Cake” because blood oranges are my favorite, but they are not really in season right now.  Then I wanted to make an edamame risotto, but couldn’t think of anything to make with it.

I am becoming slightly frustrated seeing as how dinner is in two days… I do have an exciting Appetizer/Salad I am going to be attempting.  I came across a recipe for Wonton Caprese Salads.  Seeing as how I love caprese salads, but they are fairly simple to make and I make them all the time, I decided this would be my challenge.  I have never fried ANYTHING in my life.

Stay tuned for all the details on my “Family Affair” Adventures in the kitchen and wish me luck on finding some more inspiration…my nerves are beginning to get the best of me!

Feeling Adventurous?

So I am sitting at my desk eating the leftover chicken soup (which might be better today than Sunday) and I realized I did not include how to make the homemade egg noodles!  I am assuming most people don’t want to take the time to do this, but if you are feeling adventurous and want to join me in this creative cooking adventure then I challenge you to try!

I did not have my own recipe for these, so I did a lot of research and came up with my own recipe (hence why I was so nervous about the outcome!)  I think these are some of the best egg noodles I have ever had (not trying to brag) so I hope you try them and like them as much as I have!

Homemade Egg Noodles (~2 lbs)

3 Cups Flour

3 Eggs

Milk (Skim)                        

Water

Add flour to a large mixing bowl.  With your hands make an opening in the center and add the eggs.  Add milk (1 half egg-shell full).  Mix with a fork.  Add 2 tbsp water and mix.  Once it begins to form together add 2 more half egg shells full of milk.  Continue forming into a ball with your hands.  Once dough is sticky, add extra flour over a large surface and roll out dough until paper-thin (can be thicker if you prefer).

Once dough is rolled out thin enough, cut into noodle strips!  All of my noodles were different sizes, but you can cut however you prefer.

I layered the noodles on a tray with wax paper between each layer and left in the freezer until they were ready to be added to the broth!

Cook until tender and enjoy!

(dough can be difficult so add as much water/milk as needed in order for dough to be sticky)