Pecan Pie

In order to get in the Thanksgiving spirit, I decided to bake my very first pecan pie. And to celebrate my last week of work. That’s right, I left my job. My great, amazing, big time agency dream job that I worked my butt off to get. I might be losing my mind and left reality for crazy town, but I did it. Reality has yet to set in, but I feel it will hit me sooner rather than later. I still feel as if I am on vacation, but I am hoping Indianapolis starts to feel like home again soon.

I decided that my big fat Italian life, what I write about on this blog (besides cooking adventures), is more important to me than any big city job or life. And that big fat Italian life is all in Indianapolis, not Chicago. I’m excited for this new adventure and to be able to spend more time with my family – not wishing I was with them all the time and sad every Sunday when they were all together while I was sitting alone in my kitchen eating a lean cuisine (I’m being dramatic, but you get the point).

So, to celebrate my last full day of work and Thanksgiving, I decided to bake a Pecan Pie. Baking is also what I do when I don’t feel like processing or dealing with emotions. It’s a stress relief and I am able to zone out and focus on the recipe, one line at a time.

Pecan Pie (recipe adapted from Baking)

1 pie crust sheet (I used Pilsbury)

4 tbsp unsalted butter

2/3 cup dark corn syrup (I opted for the water/brown sugar mix)

**If you don’t have dark corn syrup, for 1 cup dark corn syrup: 1/4 cup water and 1 cup packed brown sugar

2 extra-large eggs

1  1/2 tsp Vanilla extract

1 1/2 cup pecan nuts

1 tsp cinnamon

Optional: add 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I didn’t, but want to next time!)

Preheat the oven to 400°F and remove the dough from the refrigerator until it’s room temperature. Line a 9 inch round tart pan with dough once it’s at room temperature.

Place butter, brown sugar and corn syrup (or replacement) in a pan and heat gently until melted. Remove from the heat and quickly beat in the eggs and vanilla extract.

Chop the pecans and stir into the mixture and add in chocolate chips now, if you want.

Mix in the Pecans

Pour into the pie pan and add a layer of whole pecans to the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes until filling is just set. Serve warm or cold.

Pecan Pie

Be sure to take the pie out around 35 minutes when the crust is done. I had never made Pecan Pie before and didn’t know how the inside consistency was supposed to be, so I left the pie in a few minutes too long and the crust was a little burnt on the outside.

I wanted to bring it home for Thanksgiving, but decided to have a small piece anyway! I’ve only had Pecan Pie once before, but I thought it tasted pretty good. It definitely fell apart once I put it on my plate, but the flavor was good!

It was good, I promise!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and celebrated everything they are thankful for. I am trying my best to get in the Christmas spirit now and am hoping it will happen with the first snow fall!

Up next: Chicken Tortilla Soup

My Return to Venice

To say I was happy to be back in Italy is an understatement. I am so fortunate to have seen so much of the world and have the opportunity to travel around Europe, but of all the places I have been, Italy just feels like home. My mom once said to me, after returning from a trip to Paris, that she felt as if she belonged there. I always wondered what she meant by that and it took years later to find out. From my first moment in Italy, in 2005, I fell in love and felt at home.

My first Gondola ride in Venice, 2005

San Marco Square, 2005

While I was studying in Italy in 2007, I loved every minute of living there. I loved the food, the sights and culture. I loved the people and their life style and most of all, I loved the language. It was such an amazing experience and I could not wait to get back. I knew I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to go more than once in my life, but in my heart I knew I would be back one day. Every trip I made to Rome, I visited the Trevi Fountain, turned my back and threw a coin over my left shoulder. They say that if you do this you will return to Rome and so far this has remained true! While I was studying in Florence, only my cousin Michael was able to make the trip to visit me and we traveled to Venice and the Amalfi coast.

Again, in San Marco Square in 2007, next to Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace)

My first time in Venice, I was so taken aback and overwhelmed by being in a new culture for the first time, I thought it was HUGE and couldn’t ever really get my bearings. The second time I was there with my cousin, Michael, we spent the day at a restaurant near the Rialto Bridge people watching, eating amazing food and drinking wine.

This trip was different. I knew where to take my family and what to see. I knew how to get around and I wasn’t overwhelmed by the culture, making it so much more enjoyable than ever before. When my cousin and I sat near the Rialto bridge in 2007, it was just something we stumbled upon. I’m glad I took time this trip to plan the day and take it all in.

We arrived in Venice bright and early and were some of the first people walking the streets. It was really cool to walk through an empty San Marco Square, get an espresso and sit in front of the San Marco Cathedral. We spent the day walking every street, shopping, eating and exploring along the way.

Enjoying some pizza in Venice

My Brother, Jack, sampled about 15 different Gelato flavors throughout the day

Shopping and being "touristy"

View from the Rialto Bridge

By the time we got to Italy, I was starving for something delicious and I was in luck. Every meal I had in Venice was delicious. We even stopped at a restaurant near the train station and it was possibly one of the best meals of the trip. Everywhere you looked there were dessert’s in the windows, in the cafes and restaurants. Sweets were everywhere!

Desserts - Sicilian Cannoli!

After lunch we continued to make our way around Venice. We stumbled upon an amazing little market that had some of the brightest and freshest looking foods. My sister got in trouble for touching the peppers because they were so beautiful and vibrant she thought they were fake.

Mini Peppers at the market

Market in Venice

Checking out the Venice Market

My sister and her husband, Grant took a break from the family to have a romantic Gondola ride before we had to head back to the ship to get ready for our night out in Venice. While they were enjoying the romantic qualities of the city, my Dad, Mom, Brother and I continued to explore the city. After walking a while I noticed there were a lot of children playing in the Piazza we were in. There were mom’s everywhere chatting and watching their children. I realized we had stumbled into a very residential part of Venice. I am so glad we did, as it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We stopped and got directions back from a man who was chasing after one of his children and he was wearing a Chicago t-shirt! What a small world.

Gina and Grant's first Gondola ride!

After regrouping on the boat and getting ready for dinner, we headed back into Venice. We had heard from a friend on the ship that Drew Barrymore was in Venice and they had seen her walking around. My sister and I were hoping we would get to see her too – but weren’t getting our hopes too high.

Venice was even more beautiful and romantic at night. The streets were lit up and it really wasn’t overcrowded. As we shopped around looking to buy some leather purses my brother-in-law motioned in another direction to me and whispered “there is Drew Barrymore.” I wanted to get a better view so I sped down the street, pretending to be heading in the same direction as her and got a pretty good look as I walked by. We were in an empty street at this time and I heard her say to her friend “that girls dress is really cute.” I was the only person in front of her so she was definitely talking about me. I felt pretty cool and will probably never get rid of that dress now.

The boys trying to get us to stop shopping!

Last family photo of the trip before heading to dinner

Where we had dinner

After dinner we headed back to San Marco Square and sat at an outdoor cafe and had a few cocktails, some coffee and dessert. Even my parents felt the romance of the city – my Dad swept my Mom off her feet, literally!

Enjoying some romance in the city of love!

It was such an amazing vacation and not just because I had the opportunity to visit a new country and return to Italy. Family is everything and I am glad we were able to experience new cultures together and take some time out of our busy lives to just enjoy one another and spend quality time together! We were all sad to leave Venice and I think everyone would agree that a family vacation around Italy is a MUST in the future!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am thankful for my family, friends and everyone who takes time out of their day to read these posts and share their experiences as well! Next up, my very first Pecan Pie (or as I say to my sister, Pe-CAN Pie!)

Ciao!

Grecian Adventure Part II: Katakolon and Corfu

If you read Part I of my Grecian adventures you know my family and I started our cruise in Athens and made our way through Mykonos and Monemvasia. After Monemvasia we headed to Katakolon, Corfu and last, but not least, Venice!

Our first stop after Monemvasia was Katakolon. While this island has beautiful views and crystal blue water, it is nothing short of a tourist trap. If you have never heard of Katakolon, it’s where the first Olympics took place.Well, 30 minutes from the Olympic stadium.

Gina and my Dad at the entrance to the Olympic Stadium

Crossing the finish line!

Sure, I think the Olympics are cool. Yes, I am glad I was able to stand on the field where the first Olympics took place, but it was an empty field – not really that exciting. There was also a museum, but…I’m not the biggest fan of museums. They usually just make me sleepy (I shouldn’t admit that, but it’s true). My dad, sister and I (the only non sea-sick family members that day) made the best of it and I am grateful I was able to experience the culture and history. We had fun exploring the grounds and reading the stories about each ruin, but I would have rather stayed another day in Mykonos or had the chance to go to Santorini.

Dad at the Ruins

Next up was Corfu. Corfu was unbelievably exquisite. The city streets were tiny and lined with shop after shop and tiny cafès, and everywhere you turned was a beautiful view of the ocean. As we walked down the streets, my sister and I tried every sample of Kumquat we could find and enjoyed looking at all of the colorful trinkets, scarfs and souvenirs.

Sampling Kumquat in Corfu

Shopping in Corfu

After spending the morning walking around the town and shopping, we hopped in a cab and headed to a popular beach town, Paleokastritsa. We had lunch at the top of the cliff with some of the most breathtaking views. It was absolutely stunning. While the food was once again sub-par at best, the views more than made up for it.

View from top of the Cliff

After lunch we headed to the beach where we rented kayaks, swam in the ocean and relaxed on the beach. My brother was the first to take the kayak out in the ocean and I think my mom had a slight panic attack. My brother is fearless and my mom is nervous about everything, so it wasn’t a good combination. He of course was perfectly safe and came back after about 30 minutes of exploring the caves around the cove. It was quite possibly one of the best days I have spent with my family.

Beach in Corfu

While the food was sub par, one of my favorite things about Greece was the beer! Since I found out I can’t drink wine (tear…) I did enjoy a few beers every now and then and we came across Mythos, which was by far the best!

Grant and Jack enjoying Mythos - the Greek beer

After our long and adventurous day in Corfu, we headed back to the boat for one of our last dinners on the ship. We spent the next day at sea, laying by the pool, getting massage’s and just relaxing. It was a much-needed break from all of the sight-seeing. After our day of rest, we embarked upon the homeland – Italy! Only my mom and I had been to Venice before and everyone was overly excited to get there. While my dad had been to other cities in Italy – he had never been to Venice and said it was by far one of his favorite cities in the world!

Enjoying dinner our last night on the ship!

Next up (and I promise it will come soon!) our family adventure in Venice and some big life changes!

Grecian Adventures Part I: Athens, Mykonos and Monemvasia

After a short hiatus due to work, vacation, life and some more work, I finally found time to actually sit down and recap my family vacation to the Greek Isles and Venice. We had such a wonderful time on our cruise and I feel so lucky to have been able to visit a new country with my family. We have never traveled outside of the U.S (all together) and my brother had never traveled to Europe. It was exciting to experience his first European adventure with him, as well as visit Italy with my family. We spend so much of our time talking about being Italian and eating Italian food, so it was such a great experience to actually BE in Italy with my family.

Our first stop was in Athens, where we spent the day walking around the Acropolis and enjoying our first Grecian meal! The view from the Acropolis was amazing and it was unreal to be standing two feet from the Parthenon. We had spent the entire day traveling so after visiting the Parthenon and the new Museum, we had to stop and eat.

Before heading up to the Acropolis

My Dad enjoying the view from the Acropolis

This is my one and only complaint about the entire vacation. The food. When I studied abroad I basically ate my way through Europe. The pizza, pasta and bread in Italy, the sausage and beer in Germany, the cheese, bread and crepes in France…the croquettas and churros in Spain. I could go on, but I will spare you. The food in Greece and on the cruise ship was, well, disappointing. So disappointing, in fact, that I ended up losing weight on this vacation.

While the food was a disappointment, there were a few highlights in there – starting with my first meal in Greece. I didn’t like what I got, but I definitely enjoyed sharing my brothers lunch of chicken and potatoes. I love Greek potatoes and these were unbelievable. I also had my first cup of Greek coffee, which is thick and delicious. One thing to note if you are traveling to Greece; their version and the American version of the Greek salad are not the same thing. My sister and my Dad both ordered Greek salads and while I didn’t try it, I don’t think the salad actually came with lettuce or even half of the ingredients the American version does.

Greek Potatoes

After a very long, fun and tiring day in Athens we were excited to board the cruise ship and head to Mykonos! Oh, Mykonos. With beautiful white buildings everywhere, crystal blue waters, small winding roads and beautiful beaches, Mykonos was like a dream. It was perfect and we had a perfect day there. We walked the streets and shopped our way around the entire island town. I bought my first evil eye charm and we enjoyed Greek coffee at a small cafe while watching locals sweep the streets and talk among one another.

My sister and I worked on perfecting our Greek by saying “kalumera” to everyone we encountered (the only Greek word we knew) and also learned a few along the way from the extremely nice locals. Kalusera (good evening), kalunita (good night) and effatso (thank you). Mind you – I can’t speak or write in Greek, so I just spelled those words the way I believe they sound.

Mykonos

My family in Mykonos

We were told by a local guide on our ship that there was a famous church we could not miss. We had our map, but mindlessly stumbled upon the church. We were there on a Sunday and were lucky enough to find the church right before Mass was ending. My Dad, being the man he is, somehow found a way to involve himself in the ceremony and convinced a young boy to let him help ring the church bells at the end of Mass. My sister and I were also lucky enough to get the homemade bread and cookie a little old Greek lady was handing out to the locals after Mass. She overheard us talking about how we wanted to try them and quietly called us over to sneak it to us! The bread wasn’t very good and when we tried to throw it away in a shop the owner wouldn’t let us and told us to eat all of it. The cookie on the other hand was delicious!

Ringing the Church bells

The next day we headed to Monemvasia, a small island with two towns. The  Old town and the New town. I am a planner, so I had attempted to do some research before the trip, to determine what we should do in Monemvasia and to learn a little bit about the city. After reading a few blog posts and articles, I determined there really wasn’t anything that exciting about this sleepy town. One travel writer even said “there is nothing to do here, but sit and have lunch and enjoy the beautiful view.” So when we landed on the tiny island of Monemvasia, to my surprise, it was not only gorgeous, but there was more than enough to do in my opinion! Yes, we sat and had lunch at an amazing restaurant on the cliff overlooking the ocean and enjoyed the view, but we also climbed all over the giant rock, which is the Old Town, and explored the ancient ruins, churches, stores, and so much more. The Old Town is actually an old castle and everywhere you turn is a reminder of the way they used to live – with arrow holes so they can protect themselves from invaders, peep holes and so much more. My Dad said this was the first home of the Knights of Templar, but I have yet to confirm or back that up with research. My Dad, brother and brother-in-law climbed into uncharted territory and found a small church with painting from around 1100 B.C.

The view of the Old Town from the New Town

We spent the entire day in the Old Town and did some shopping and exploring. They had beautiful Olive Oil Wood items to buy. I bought two stirring spoons for when I make sauce and I can’t wait to use them. Monemvasia was also the only place in Greece where I had an amazing meal. As we sat on the edge of the Old Town at a quaint little restaurant, we enjoyed some of the best Saganaki I have ever had. We ordered it again in Corfu and not only was it not that good, it was fried and had no flavor. This particular Saganaki was cooked perfectly and was full of flavor.

Check back later for Part II of my Grecian adventures and my return to the beloved homeland, Italy!

Another Big Fat Italian Wedding, an Autumn Chopped Salad and Family Fun

I started this blog over a year ago when I heard a speaker at work talk about passions. She said to figure out what your are passionate about and live it. I was in a rut at the time and this task gave me a sense of empowerment and brought a jolt of life back in me. I had a hard time figuring out what I was most passionate about at first , but really, it was pretty simple. I’m passionate about my family, our culture, our family history and cooking family recipes. So I started this blog to talk about my love of Italian food with sprinkles of my love of my big fat Italian family.

Recently, I was told to cut gluten out of my diet, in hopes that it would make me feel better. I did so for a little over a month (hence the lack of posts lately!) and while I felt better, it didn’t really work. I think I felt better because I pretty much cut out carbs from my diet, so I was just eating better overall. I was sad thinking about the prospect of all the cooking restraints I would face and not being able to share my family recipes here anymore, but looked at the positive in that I could creatively try to make all my family recipes gluten-free and started day dreaming about a Big Fat Gluten-Free (Italian) Life!

Luckily, gluten wasn’t the problem! I am excited to finally allow myself to actually look at delicious recipes I come across and dream of new foods to try (I recently tried Oysters, thank to my cousin Michael, and a Beet, thanks to my Grandma!). Not that gluten-free food isn’t good (check out a photo below!), but it had definitely killed my spirits for the past few months.

One of my gluten-free meals (shot with my new camera!!)

While we are on the subject of my family, one of my cousins recently got married and it was nothing short of a big fat Italian wedding! It started at 2:00 p.m. and went until well past 1 a.m. My uncle was still ordering shots at the hotel bar once it was closed and we may or may not have had several noise complaints from the hotel that night. My cousin, in true Italian fashion, did not want any cousin to be left out so he opted to have thirteen groomsmen so everyone could have a role. There were 26 people in their bridal party, not including the ring bearer and miniature bride, which might be an Italian tradition because most people look at me like I’m crazy when I mention a miniature bride.

The Groomsmen! 

My cousins (minus Zach!) Luke, Julian, Michael, Paul,
Jack (brother), Jack and Andrew

Nick and Chelsea Mascari

While I was on my gluten-free kick (which I don’t think I was very good at) I came across a recipe for an Autumn Chopped Salad from the blog Espresso and Cream, and it was the first time I was excited about making something for my blog that was Gluten-Free! I added some balsamic glazed chicken and ate it for every meal until it was gone – it was that yummy!

Autumn Chopped Salad
*I switched up a few ingredients and omitted a few too!

Ingredients
2 boneless chicken breasts
Balsamic Glaze
6 to 8 cups chopped romaine lettuce
2 medium pears, chopped
1 cup dried craisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
4 to 6 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
Poppy seed Salad Dressing
Balsamic Vinaigrette

In a medium-sized skillet, add olive oil and chicken. Drizzle the balsamic glaze on the chicken and cook over medium heat until done.

In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, pears, craisins, walnuts and Goat cheese. Drizzle generously with poppy-seed dressing, followed by some of the balsamic vinaigrette. (I would estimate that I used about a cup of dressing: 70 percent poppy-seed dressing and 30 percent balsamic vinaigrette) If you prefer your salad to have more dressing, feel free to experiment with the combination.

Next Up…Italian Neapolitan Cake and my return to Gluten-FILLED Sunday dinners!

Homemade Sushi

The summer is always fun and busy for me (and everyone else), but for me and my friends, the summer is also birthday season!! Four of my best friends from college and I celebrate birthdays, all within a month of one another, and we always take some time out of our busy lives to celebrate together. Last year we did something big for everyone’s birthday, but this year, with our busy schedules, we had to get a bit more creative with our time.

My friend Nikki celebrated her birthday at the end of July and since she loves to cook and loves sushi, we thought we would have a sushi making party and make our own sushi! Getting the supplies was not an easy task, but once we found everything we needed we were excited and ready to experiment.

We decided to make a spicy tuna roll, a bagel maki roll and a shrimp and avocado roll. We started with making the rice, which was an interesting task. You have to soak the rice in water and mix it around until the water is no longer murky. The rice takes almost an hour to make from start to finish and if you don’t do it properly, your rice won’t be sticky enough to make the rolls.

While I was making the rice, the other girls were making the spicy sauce, avocado mix and the bagel maki cream cheese mix. I will spare you the recipes that I used because I haven’t had a craving for Sushi since this night, and I used to crave sushi almost daily. Let’s just say that after all was said and done, I prefer to have someone else make my sushi. Not only is it worth every penny, but it tastes better and doesn’t make me queasy.

Maybe I should take a hint from my blog name and stick to my roots…Anyway, here are a few pictures of my failed Kitchen Adventure.

Add the rice to half of a seaweed sheet

Add the insides, roll and enjoy!

This just does not look appetizing, but it tasted a little better than it looks! (not much though…)

In other news, Ryan was nice enough to buy me a new camera for my birthday so I will be able to finally share some MUCH better pictures of my kitchen adventures in the future. Stay tuned for a recap of another Big Fat Italian Wedding soon! My cousin Nick got married last weekend and I can’t wait to share some pictures of the night. Trust me, this was nothing short of a crazy Italian wedding!

Quick and Easy Homemade Pizza

Growing up, I used to eat homemade pizza at my Grandma’s house and I have always wanted to make some of my own. I’ve never made the time to get around to it and after making it the other weekend, am not sure why I thought it was such a daunting task! My Dad’s family is rather large and we used to get together every Thursday for Spaghetti dinners. My Grandma would make her homemade bread and everyone would gather round her table (which was not big enough for the 16 kids and 20 something Grandkids). After those Thursday dinners she would sometimes have leftover dough to make these amazing pizzas. Those Thursday dinners and homemade pizzas are some of my earliest, and favorite, memories from my childhood. It was a true Italian family – and you could feel the roots of our Italian culture that had been implanted in the core of our family. I felt special to have such a large family who took time out every week to stop and appreciate one another and share some laughs over homemade pasta and bread. Isn’t that what happens in Italian families and what movies are made around?

It might have been my childish sense of perfection, but those Thursday nights just seemed so joyful. Perfect, actually.  I am sure there were the fights that there are now and the bitterness you can still sometimes sense when we all gather – but that comes with a large family and it helps you to continue to bond with each other. You fight hard and love even harder. I think Caroline from the Real Housewives of New Jersey said that in an episode once, and I could not agree more.

I miss those loud, crowded, hectic and fun nights eating with the people I love, so whenever I get the chance to create a meal with my family or friends, I cherish it. Living in Chicago, I am away from my large Italian family, but I’m lucky because I have a small little family here and we often get together to make dinners and enjoy each others company. A few Sunday’s ago we  decided to grab some dough from Trader Joe’s (which is only 99 cents) and make homemade pizza! It was SO easy and some of the best pizza I’ve had. I definitely think it is worth it to do this instead of ordering pizza or getting a pizza to go.

Pepperoni Pizza

1 package Trader Joe’s pizza dough

1 package shredded mozzarella Cheese

2 cups of my quick sauce (add oregano and basil to taste while cooking)

1 package pepperoni

Parmesan Cheese

Follow the directions on the back of the Trader’s Joe dough package. Once the dough is ready and rolled out, spread the sauce from end to end (put as much as you would like). Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese, add the pepperoni and put it in the oven! It is THAT simple!

Nikki rolling out the pizza dough!

Me attempting to spin the dough in the air…I failed miserably!

White Spinach Pizza

1 package Trader Joe’s pizza dough

1 package shredded mozzarella cheese

2 cups white sauce

  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 carton heavy whipping cream
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • Dash oregano

Spinach (however much you would like!)

Mushrooms (optional)

White Sauce:

In a medium sauce pan, heat butter and garlic until garlic is translucent. Add 4 1/2 tsp flour and mix with a whisk until well blended. Add in the heavy whipping cream and continue to whisk until sauce thickens. If it’s not thickening, add in the remaining flour and continue to whisk. Once the sauce starts to thicken, add in the parmesan (slowly), salt and pepper, to taste.

Pizza:

Follow the directions on the back of the Trader’s Joe dough package. Once the dough is ready and rolled out, spread the sauce from end to end (put as much as you would like). Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese, add the spinach and mushrooms and put it in the oven! Yes, it really is that simple!

The pizzas turned out amazing! I like to make my dough homemade, when I can, but with how simple and delicious these pizzas turned out, I don’t see the point in making your own pizza dough. AND each dough package was 99 cents! So cheap and so worth it! Next time I am craving pizza, instead of ordering out or picking up a Homemade Pizza Co. pizza, I’m going to consider just making my own!

An Italian Out West

Coming from an Italian family that, for the most part,  lives within the city limits of Indianapolis, I rarely traveled anywhere other than Florida while growing up. It’s warm there and my family has an aversion to the cold, so it’s the perfect travel destination. To say that we stayed away from any part of the country that goes below 65 degrees and isn’t sunny is an understatement. My family takes up almost two full condo buildings in Florida and everyone in the family spends time there. So the fact that I had the opportunity to travel to the opposite side of the country and spend time in the Mountains is rare and I was one lucky girl. Ryguy loves the mountains and while it is a complete culture shock for me, I think after this trip I am getting used to the idea. I also had the best time and can’t wait to go back. There may not be a beach to lay out on, but some of the lakes I saw surrounded by the Mountains are a million times better than the Gulf of Mexico. Now the thought of spending time on a large mountain is not so daunting anymore, but before I left…that’s a different story.

I had anxiety for weeks about packing and how I was going to handle being all “outdoorsy.” Ryguy and I drove all the way from Chicago to Glacier National Park in Montana, with stops in Fargo, ND and Big Sky, MT. I don’t like being unprepared. I am a planner. I make lists about what I need to pack, then I make a list about what I’m actually packing, then I lay everything out that I am going to pack and I organize it multiple ways before actually putting it in my suitcase. To put it lightly, my friend Maegan literally refers to me now as “timeline.” Not knowing what I will need for the trip was causing me to lose sleep and making the trip seem more stressful than eventful. I got advice from a few friends and Ryguy helped me pack once he came to pick me up so I felt pretty confident before the trip started, but I still was slightly nervous.

Luckily, I had everything I needed, and the things I was missing I was able to buy (at a discounted rate!). I didn’t do a ton of cooking while I was away, but here is a little recap in photos of my trip!

Driving through Montana

Horseback riding in Big Sky, MT for my 25th Birthday

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park

Hiking to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park

The Huckleberry Patch in West Glacier (a tourist trap I loved!). I can’t wait to make a Huckleberry Pie when Ryan gets home with my Huckleberries!

The vacation was much needed and amazing. I was so sad to be home, and I am pretty sure I had the vacation blues for over a week. Once I got home though, I realized I had NO food in the apartment and needed to make something new and fun to help with my vacation blues! I got this recipe out of the magazine Health, and I am now officially obsessed with it. I even made it again last night (a different version with no meat and zucchini and tomatoes) and I still can’t get enough of it!

Orzo with Chicken and Peas

3 cups lower-sodium chicken broth

1 cup uncooked orzo

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used 1 tablespoon of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter)

1 large shallot, finely chopped (I didn’t have this and substituted Garlic Powder)

Zest of 1 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, divided (I didn’t have a fresh lemon, but I used Lemon Juice)

2 cups frozen green peas, thawed

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves (I omitted this as well)

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

2 Chicken breasts (cut into small pieces)

1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Dash of Saffron

David Page’s special seasoning

Heat a large saucepan over high heat. Add broth to pan; bring to a boil. Stir in orzo and saffron; reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, until pasta is al dente and most of the liquid is absorbed (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Heat butter in a medium nonstick skillet while orzo is cooking, over medium heat. stir in shallot and zest (I just added lemon juice and garlic powder), stirring frequently. Add peas; cook until peas are bright green, stirring occasionally. Remove skillet from heat; stir in lemon juice, chopped tarragon (I didn’t add), salt and pepper. Transfer pea mixture to a plate.

Season the chicken with m special seasoning (or whatever you would liked!) and cook through. Add the orzo and mix until cooked through, stirring frequently. Add Parmesan to pan; stir until creamy. Stir in pea mixture and enjoy!

Stayed tuned for my fun night of homemade pizza with some friends!

Banana Bread

Where has this summer gone? Oh yea, it just started here in Chicago! I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve still been cooking and having adventures in all kinds of kitchens! The summer started off to a great start, so I thought. I couldn’t wait to head home to Indy for the Italian festival in June. Ryguy had just gotten home from Europe so I was not only going to get to see my family, but finally spend time with him! Long story short, I got to Indianapolis and instantly felt sick. I was lucky enough to make it to the festival Friday night, but honestly, I couldn’t enjoy it because I felt so miserable. Ryguy definitely enjoyed himself though and I’m pretty sure he tested food at every booth, which is a good thing because we didn’t make it Saturday night and got stuck staying in with a no fun, sick girl watching movies! Here are a few pictures of some of the delicious food I remembered to take this year.

Breadsticks

Cheesecake

Before I left for the Italian festival I was so anxious to finally see Ryguy and get home to my family and I couldn’t sit still. Whenever I’m anxious, nervous or stressed, all I want to do is cook. For some reason, it calms my nerves and really allows me to think clearly. Maybe this is because it takes me out of my head and allows me to just be in the moment – in the food – which is what I need sometimes! So, while I was waiting for my fun-filled (or so I thought) weekend, I baked Banana Bread! I didn’t have a family recipe for this (that I know of, hint hint Mom!) so I used the cookbook, Baking, my sister gave me last year as a present for my blog! I didn’t have all of the below ingredients and kind of just went on my own with this one – and it didn’t turn out the BEST, but it was still good and I enjoyed them, but I am going to share the actual recipe below!

Banana Bread

Ingredients:

Butter, for greasing

1 cup flour

3/4 cup light brown flour

Pinch of salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

2 large ripe bananas, peeled

3/4 cup orange juice

2 eggs, beaten

4 tbsp canola oil

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 2-lb loaf pan. Sift the flours, sugar, salt and the spices into a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with the orange juice, then stir in the eggs and oil. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix well.

Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour; then test to see if the loaf is cooked by inserting a skewer (I use a knife or toothpicks) into the center. If it comes out clean, the loaf is done. If not, bake for an additional 10 minutes and test again.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan. Turn the loaf out, slice and serve! This recipe serves 8.

(Sorry for the awful quality of this photo!)

The banana bread wasn’t my best, but I was glad to finally attempt making one of my favorite breads! Stay tuned for adventures of an Italian out west and one of my new favorite recipes!!

Girl and the Goat, Girl in the City

I like to believe I have self-control, strong will power, determination, endurance, motivation….the ability to stick with something longer than a few weeks. I mean, I started this blog over a year ago and continue to stick to making new recipes and learning to be a better cook. I think in some aspects of my life I display some of those characteristics, but sticking to diets and eating healthy is an area where I fail on all counts. Not one of those words describes my behavior or my characteristics when it comes to sticking to a healthy, or shall I say healthier lifestyle.

Yes, you may have guessed it, but I failed at the South Beach Diet. I did really well for over a week, but the socialite in me beat down the “wanna be skinny bitch” in me and I caved. I just don’t have the self-control or will power to turn down a night on the town with my friends or having a few cocktails at a wedding. And once I cave, there is no going back. I mean, I live in Chicago where drinking and eating are more than just past times, they are a way of life here and keep you from jumping into lake Michigan in the winter. So, that was the end of the South Beach Diet attempt. Maybe I will try it again. I felt great and my energy was up without all the booze and the carbs, but I was also super bitchy because I don’t like being hungry. End of story.

You may think I have this lovely pig picture up due to my lack of self-control and not sticking to my diet, but that is no the case. The pig face is here because that is what I ate for dinner last night. It’s nights like last night that prove my point above. It is impossible to stick to a diet in this city because at every turn there is an opportunity to experience something very cool and you just can’t turn it down. Life is too short. My friend made reservations at Girl and the Goat months ago and it is nearly impossible to get in. We tried to change our reservations and the next available night was in September. The menu is always changing and it’s just overall a really cool experience. If you have been reading my blog (and I hope someone is) you will know I have slowly started to grow out of my picky eater habits. I will no longer allow anyone in my life to call me a picky eater because not many people can say they have tried pig face. It wasn’t gross either. Actually, it was good. I also tried the Escargot Ravioli and although the thought of it makes me squirm today, it tasted like a mushroom and it was really good.

Pig Face

Pig Face at Girl and the Goat

I have not had time to be in the kitchen lately, which is something I find to be sad, but I’ve been busy attempting to be healthy and staying away from my one true love, pasta. It’s been a tough few months and it is one of my harder breakups I’ve gone through, but I am hoping one day I can rekindle the romance. Once the gym and I get a better understanding of each other, hopefully I can find a good balance between the two. Until then, it’s my sisters type of pasta (the multi-color healthy kind that makes me think “ick”, but it’s edible). She is a “skinny bitch” so I am trying to adopt some of her lifestyles. This veggie pasta is currently one of them.

Speaking of my break up with pasta…The Holy Rosary Italian Festival is this weekend and I have a feeling I am going to have a rebound. Everyone goes back a few times after a breakup anyway, right? I think it’s allowed. I will be eating all kinds of pasta this weekend and I won’t feel bad about it. Well, I will, but if I just let Ryguy (I think that’s what I will call him here from now on) buy all the food and I take bites off his, it won’t really count. Stay tuned for some highlights of my true Big Fat Italian Life back in Indy – it’s where the Italian magic happens. Hopefully this year I will remember to actually take pictures of the food!