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!

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. Ryan 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. Ryan 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.

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

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Lightly grease loaf pan.

Ingredients:

Butter, for greasing

1 cup flour

3/4 cup light brown sugar

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

4 tbsp canola oil

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!!

Page Family Meat Pie

While I was home for Easter I got to spend that Saturday with my mom and my cousin Concetta cooking, laughing and just having a fun girls day. When I woke up Saturday morning, it was to my favorite smell in the world, my mom’s spaghetti sauce! I told her that I hope heaven smells like her sauce and she laughed at me. She might have been laughing at the fat girl who is inside of me, or maybe she was just flattered. I will choose to go with the latter. Her sauce not only smells delicious, but it reminds me of home. It reminds me of my childhood, of my Grandparents house for Sunday dinners and our Thursday night pasta dinners we had growing up. It reminds me of family and is always equated with good memories and most of all, love. I may just love to eat pasta, but honestly, there is more to it. There is a history that I enjoy “coming home to” every now and then.

While the sauce was cooking, I decided to make something of my own. I had come across a recipe in a family cookbook for a meat pie that was my Grandpa’s family recipe and thought it would be the perfect addition to my family recipe collection. It turned out great (I did a little altering though!) and I got the seal of approval from my Grandpa and his sister, my Aunt Marie, who happens to be the “Meat Pie Queen.” It was actually her recipe I used, so thank you for sharing Aunt Marie!

Page Family Meat Pie

Ingredients (makes 2 pies)

3 lbs ground beef

1 large onion, chopping finely

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp ground sage (taste before using all the sage)

5 potatoes

2 pie shells

1/2 cup milk

1/2 stick of butter

Peel potatoes and finely chop onion. Add the potatoes to a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. In a large skillet, heat oil and add beef and onion. Season with sage, salt and pepper. Once the beef is cooked, set aside to cool. Then, once the potatoes are fully cooked, remove and put into a mixing bowl. Add the milk and butter and mash. Be sure to leave some chunks in the potatoes. Mix with the beef and add to the pie shell.

Once the mixture is in the pie shell, spread some melted butter to the top of the pie in order to make the pie shelly crispy and to get a golden brown color.

Preheat the oven to 350° and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Slice and enjoy!

I had dinner plans that night to go to my Uncle Hank’s Italian restaurant in Indy, Amici’s, so I wasn’t able to enjoy the pie for dinner, but luckily my Uncle Phil stopped by for a visit and had dinner with my parents.

It’s been a pretty busy spring and I have been really bad about posting, and just as bad about cooking. It’s sad, but it really is hard to find the time to get to the grocery store and make the time to actually cook something! I was at a wedding last weekend though, and had some of the BEST food I’ve ever had. I ate so much my dress barely fit by the end of the night!

It was such a fun weekend! We had a great girl’s getaway and spent the weekend gambling, eating, laughing and dancing the night away to celebrate Leah and Rob’s wedding!

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

I have always loved birthdays. Not just my own, but everyone’s. I have never been one to shy away from a surprise party, I often encourage them. I used to always try to throw birthday parties for my friends growing up. I even threw my friend Laura more than one in high school, until on her 18th birthday she was less than thrilled with me, so I learned my lesson. I never really understood why my friends didn’t want to celebrate their birthday with parties, balloons, good food and lots of friends (and booze). It’s YOUR day. The one day of the year where people can celebrate YOU. I think everyone deserves that day and it’s a good way to remind you how much people care about you and feel lucky to have you in their life. It’s all about embracing your day because you only get one. That’s how I have felt every single year, until now.

This year, my birthday is giving me a sense of impending doom. I notice myself catching my breath at the thought of THIS birthday, but it’s a silly feeling and I am hoping that when the day gets closer (it’s a few months away), maybe a strong martini will cure my birthday blues. Or even better, a margarita on the beach. I could get behind the idea of celebrating my 25th birthday on a beach. Anyway, helping Laura to throw her boyfriend Adam a surprise party for his 26th birthday definitely made me feel a little better about turning 25 (sorry Adam!). Since I love celebrating birthday’s I thought I would help her out and make some snacks for the party.

What better treat than cupcakes for your birthday! I have been wanting to learn how to make my mom’s Carrot Cake recipe for a while. I have made it with her a few times, but never on my own. Cooking with my mom is one of my favorite things, but sometimes you need to be alone in the kitchen to see if you are capable of actually making the recipe correctly. So, carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting it was!

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Ingredients:

2 cups of flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp. Salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups of vegetable oil

2 cups grated carrots

1 large can crushed pineapple

1/2 cups chopped pecans

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

Beat eggs, sugar and oil together until combined.


Grate the carrots and chop the pecans if needed.

Stir in flour, fold in carrots and nuts.

Drain the pineapple and mix in the batter. Mix well.

Pour into cupcake pans and bake for about 12 minutes.

Frost with cream cheese frosting and enjoy!

Mushroom Risotto

As a child, well who am I kidding, up until the age of 19 or 20, I was the world’s pickiest eater. I had my first cheeseburger in high school. I wouldn’t try ketchup until I was 16 because I thought it just looked gross. I had my first salad Freshman year of college, and even then it was pretty plain. I didn’t even eat a tomato until I was 20 and studying abroad in Italy. I waited until the last week that I was there to even try it and I loved it. It was at that moment I realized how much of an idiot I was being spending my life afraid of food.

It’s funny that I spent so much time disgusted by the look of certain foods and now mushrooms (cl) are one of my favorites! I remember the first time I attempted to try a mushroom. I think I was a Junior or Senior in college and my friend Ryan had made me a steak dinner for my Christmas present. He had made this mushroom sauce to go on top of our steaks and I stubbornly refused to eat. After much persuasion, I think I put the mushroom in my mouth, but ended up spitting it out without even taking an actual bite. Looking back now, I am sure the mushroom sauce was amazing and I regret not even attempting to try it. Especially after he put in all the effort to make dinner.

Well, now that I love mushrooms and almost always have them in my fridge, I was excited to make something new with them. I loved the Edamame Risotto I made so much, that I thought I would give Mushroom Risotto a try! For some reason I find making risotto relaxing. I had come home from work and just had the urge to make something, so I pulled out the mushrooms and just went for it. As I stood at the stove stirring the rice, I realized I had completely relaxed from my day and kind of drifted off into a peaceful trance. And then eating the yummy mushroom risotto only made my night better!

Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients:

Package of mushrooms (Client)

1 cup Aborio rice

1 tbsp unsalted butter

Olive Oil

About 2 tbsp of Truffle Oil

1/3 cup Chicken broth (this is an estimate as I didn’t measure)

1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt

Pepper

Basil

Parmesan Cheese

Garlic

Saute the mushroom in olive oil, coat with 1 tbsp of truffle oil, and season with salt, pepper and a few shakes of basil.

Saute for about 20 minutes on medium heat, until golden brown and set aside.

While the mushrooms are cooking, heat olive oil and butter in a large pan. Add the rice and coat in oil. Toast the rice for about 3 minutes. Reduce heat and add some garlic powder (a few shakes), the white wine and chicken broth. Once the wine and broth has evaporated, add in 1 1/3 cup of hot water. Stir continuously until the water has evaporated and the consistency is creamy.

Continue this process with the water two more times. Remember to keep stirring. Once the rice is creamy, but still slightly firm, remove from heat.

Season with salt and pepper and add the mushrooms. On low heat, mix in the mushrooms and add 1 tbsp of truffle oil. Season with parmesan cheese and again with salt, pepper and basil to taste. Serve and enjoy!

I am off to Florida on Friday (finally!) and will be out of commission. Hopefully when I get home I will get back in the kitchen and trying some more new recipes. I still have yet to make pizza from scratch and after the amazing pizza I had last night with my friends at Sapore di Napoli, I think I need to give it a try!

Lucia

Homemade Mac and Cheese

I feel like it is that time of the year when, at least for me, I start to get  frustrated, complacent and even uninterested with everything. It’s still winter, but yet it’s March and I feel like spring should be here already. Enter frustration. It’s still cold and slightly rainy at times and it’s just easier to go home after work, watch TV and then go to bed. Enter complacent. I get home and I’m just bored. Bored with cooking, bored with the TV, bored with the routine of going out every weekend and doing the same thing. Enter uninterested.

As I sit trying to write this post about my homemade mac and cheese, I am feeling at a loss for words. Nothing extremely exciting is going on in my life currently and I feel like this frustration with winter has gotten the best of me. I really need a good kick of vitamin D, and soon, or I am afraid this mental block I have going on is going to be harder to kick than usual. My parents have been in Florida since January (I’m extremely jealous and miss them terribly) and I am hoping to visit them before the end of this month, so hopefully the Florida sunshine will give me that jolt of life I’ve been craving.

My Dad and cousin Michael in Florida…where I wish I was!

Speaking of cravings, I got home last night and for some reason could not shake the thought of eating mac and cheese for dinner. Not the kind from the box, but the gooey, cheesy, creamy homemade kind. I’ve never made this on my own before, as I really do enjoy the kind from the box, and I had no idea or recipe on how to make it from scratch. I had an idea in my mind of how this would go down, but I did some research before I took some ingredients from my fridge and made my own version of homemade mac and cheese.

I had high hopes at first, as the sauce was tasting amazing as it cooked on the stove, but then the kitchen disaster occurred. I had a feeling I should not have been in the kitchen last night, but I wanted mac and cheese and I was bored, so I had a kitchen adventure. So while doing my research I had read a tip to add some boiling pasta water to the sauce to make it creamier right before serving. Sure this is a great idea in theory, but it literally took all the flavor out of my sauce. I had to add in so much salt and pepper after I mixed the sauce with the pasta and I hate doing that. I always want my cooking to be so perfectly seasoned that there is no need for extra seasoning, but that was not the case last night.

Homemade Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:

1 lb of shells or elbow macaroni

1/4 cup butter

3 tablespoons flour

3 cups skim milk

1 egg

3 pieces Munster cheese

1/4 block fat-free cream cheese

1 package shredded cheese

salt & pepper to taste

Nutmeg (to taste)

Paprika (to taste)

In a large pot bring salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for 8-10 minutes or until tender.

While the water is boiling, in a medium sauce pan, melt the butter. Once melted, slowly add in the flour and whisk continuously for 5-7 minutes. Make sure it does not get lumpy and do not burn. Once the flour and butter have turned into a thicker liquid, add in the egg (whisked), milk, cheese and then season with paprika, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Stir continuously until creamy. If it turns out too thick, you may want to save a bit of the boiling pasta water and add in at the end, but be sure not to use too much or it will take out the flavor of the cheese sauce (a ladle full at most). Drain pasta and mix with cheese sauce and serve!

The recipe really didn’t turn out that bad, except for the extra water I added. Hopefully next time I can fix a few of my mistakes and make it even better! Unfortunately, I don’t think my family has a “family recipe” for this amazing thing called mac and cheese. It has been, and still is, one of my favorite things in the world. I lived off mac and cheese as a child and I am pretty sure I still could if I truly had no cares in the world! Oh, to be 5 again.
Lucia

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