Phase One, Day 3 – Spicy Turkey Burgers

With summer quickly approaching I decided it was time to take the “Fat” out of “My Big Fat Italian Life.” It’s not that I’m fat, because I’m not, but I want to start feeling better about myself and overall, healthier. I joined a gym again and decided to start the South Beach Diet. I started almost two weeks ago and by the first Friday I was still doing OK, but for a girl who eats a lot of carbs (and I mean a lot), this has been a shock to my system. My dad even asked me if I was going through withdraw symptoms because I am a carb addict. During Phase one on the South Beach diet you also have to cut out all alcohol and fruit from your diet. The fruit I can handle. The alcohol has been a challenge as being social in Chicago pretty much requires drinking. So, in response I have holed myself up in my apartment and plan to do so until I complete phase one.

I was worried that I would get bored with the food I was allowed to eat in phase one, but after making these Spicy Turkey Burgers, my attitude changed. I decided this was actually going to be fun and something I could incorporate into my blog! I altered the original recipe a bit, as I didn’t have all of the ingredients, and they were still delicious! I even froze a few and had them for dinner a few days later.

Phase One Spicy Turkey Burgers

South Beach Diet Phase One Spicy Turkey Burger

Ingredients:

1 tbsp cumin
1 dash pepper
1 dash salt
3 tbsps olive oil
1 1/4 lbs ground turkey
1/2 cup chunky salsa
3 tsps hot sauce

Mix ground turkey (lean if available), 1/2 cup mild or medium chunky salsa,  3 tablespoons oil, hot sauce, cumin, salt, and pepper in large bowl. Shape turkey mixture into four 3 1/2 to 4″ diameter patties on wax paper. Heat cooking spray in large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add burgers; cook until brown, about 3 minutes per side. Do not move around burgers until they have browned or they will fall apart. Reduce heat to low. Cover pan and sauté burgers for 2 minutes. Cover and sauté until burgers are cooked through  – another 2 minutes.

The picture of the turkey burger may not look that delicious, but trust me, it was. I was so glad I came across this recipe and not just because it helped to get me through the first week without carbs. It was delicious. I can’t wait to make these again and I will even recommend that my family and friends make these even while they are not on the South Beach diet! They were that good. I can’t even imagine how they would have tasted with cheese, ketchup and a bun!

Stay tuned for more yummy South Beach diet recipes! I promise, as soon as I am back to my “normal” self, the yummy pasta recipes will be back! Life is all about a healthy balance…and I’ve been off kilter for a little too long!

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Happy Birthday to you!

Today My Big Fat Italian Life turns 1! I can’t believe a year ago today, as I sat at my intern desk thinking about my “passions,” and how I could start to pursue them, I decided to write my first blog post. I had been toying with the idea of starting a blog for a few months since entering the PR world, but never had the courage, or so-called “passion” (or so I thought) to write about anything.

I was so inspired after hearing a speaker at my internship talk about pursuing your passion that I jumped in head first. As I sat thinking about what I was passionate about (and getting anxiety thinking I may not have any…) it hit me. I am not usually good at sticking to things or routines, but one thing I have always loved to do is cook. It’s something I have grown up doing with my family and it has brought my family and friends together my entire life. I knew this was something I could definitely stick to, and be passionate about! I also thought it would be a great way to be able to enjoy a meal with my friends more often. Coming from a large Italian family, I definitely missed Sunday dinners at my Grandparents after moving to Chicago and found myself feeling rather lonely Sunday nights when I knew all of my family was sitting around a table over pasta and meatballs without me. So not only did I start blogging, I started making Sunday dinner for my roommates and occasional guests. I am proud to say  that I have stayed committed to my blog and have worked hard at continuing to make it better. I may not get to make something I blog about every week, but I have continued to make new food and to even try some new food!

It took a while for me to find my legs with this blog, but as I continued to experiment in the kitchen and learn new recipes, I realized how much I enjoy making recipes my own by adding/tweaking ingredients, working with a tight budget, and learning new tips along the way! There are so many 20 something’s out there who might enjoy cooking, but don’t necessarily have a ton of money to spend or who are too nervous to try anything new. Hopefully I can be a motivator to get in the kitchen and have an adventure – teach yourself new tricks and try new recipes.

After a full year, I am glad I am still here and still passionate about learning everything there is to know about cooking and experimenting with new recipes. So here’s to your first birthday My Big Fat Italian Life and hopefully, many more to come!

And in tribute to this blog’s first birthday I thought I would share my most recent Kitchen Disaster. Lesson learned – don’t attempt a kitchen adventure after a long night out drinking and no sleep. Also, if you make waffles be sure to spray the waffle tray with a lot of Pam(cl) first 😉

Lucia

Crock Pot Cookin’

For the first time ever I used my crock-pot to make dinner. When I left home last weekend my mom had made stew and I didn’t get a chance to bring some home, so I decided to make my own. I bought all the ingredients and had no idea how to start. The entire concept of just throwing food into a pot did not make sense to me. How is that I can cook any recipe/meal without hesitation, but when it came to the crock-pot, which is supposed to be simple cooking, I didn’t know how to start!

Good thing Laura and Adam were over and use the crock pot often so they could calm my nerves! I am so glad I finally learned the amazingness that is the crock-pot. Being able to come home after a long day of work and have dinner waiting for my on the counter, with little clean up was the best thing in the world. I will admit that I don’t know how often I will use it, but I am glad I know how if the need shall arise. I enjoy cooking too much to just throw things into a pot and walk away. It took all of the satisfaction out and it wasn’t an experience. That is why I love to cook, every time is a learning experience and it’s enjoyable and relaxing!

My first crock pot meal!

Rosemarie’s Crock-Pot Stew Recipe

Carrots

Green beans

Small can of corn

Onion

Potato

Stew meat

V8 Juice

Grandpa’s seasoning

Thyme

Beef bouillon

Salt and Pepper

Cut up potatoes, carrots (or use baby carrots), and onion. I chopped the onion finely because I don’t like thick onions in my food, but it’s a personal preference! Add all those ingredients into the pot. Add the green beans (I used a frozen package that was already cut) and add to the pot. Season the meat with Grandpa’s seasoning and cut into small pieces and throw in the pot. Add some beef bouillon, salt and pepper (eyeball it), V8 juice and a little bit of water. Cover and let sit in the fridge over night. In the morning turn on the crock-pot to low and let cook for 9 hours.

After about 8 and half hours, add the corn and more salt and pepper, depending on taste. You can also add some thyme or other seasoning if you would like. I used thyme. Serve and enjoy!

My friends and I added some french bread and wine to make the dinner complete. For a girl on a budget this was a great kitchen adventure! It was cheap, easy, and delicious and  I even had three more meals out of it! It was also a perfect meal to welcome in true Fall weather that has finally arrived. This fall has been rather warm, so it was a great time to make a warm hearty dinner with the cooler weather that has moved in. Nothing is better than a chilly fall day that looks like this!

I took these picture while on a walk around the IUPUI campus in Indy and love how it captures the beauty of Fall!

Until next time! Happy October! Stay tuned for more fall cooking and my all time best Halloween costume ever!

Lucia’s Quick Cheese Sauce

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be a part of my friend Tim’s wedding in South Bend!  He is my first close friend to get married and it was so exciting to be able to celebrate with some old (and great!) friends! After the wedding on Sunday I decided to spend the morning walking around South Bend with my friend Ryan since it was a perfect Fall day and I had some time to kill before I headed back to Chicago to watch the Colts game (which I wish I had not experienced…).

Congratulations Tim and Allison!

What’s a wedding without someone getting “ICED?”


Ryan and “Touchdown Jesus”


A cool picture from Notre Dame (I love my iPhone apps!)

When I got home from the wedding weekend I was exhausted and had no food in my apartment except for the basic staples every little Italian  always has on hand; cheese, pasta, and chicken stock/bouillon. I sat on the couch for hours trying to find a recipe that I wanted to make and that included ingredients I had in my kitchen, which was few and far between considering I had not gone to the grocery store in about a month….I even called my sister to see if she had any good ideas and it turns out she was doing the exact same thing I was. Laying on the couch, watching the Colts game and reading cookbooks. I love when we are creepily alike (if you watch us dance we will more than likely be doing the same moves too).

I decided to wing it and make something up on my own. I did this when I was in Italy on more than one occasion and decided to get back to my creative cooking. A few time in Italy I mad a cheese sauce that was so good, it was to die for. My cousin Michael went home raving about, my friend Lauren begged me to make once we were back in America, and Laura and I enjoyed it frequently. When I got home from Italy and tried to recreate the sauce, I just couldn’t do it. I have no clue what kind of cheese I put in there, how I got it to melt together so perfectly, but I never made it again because it just never turned out the same.

This time, it didn’t turn out the same, but it was delicious! Check out the recipe and photos below!

Lucia’s Cheese Sauce


Ingredients:

3 cups Chicken Stock

3/4 cup skim milk

Fontina Cheese (no clue how much I used…eyeball it!)

1 cup Mozzarella Cheese

2 pieces Skinny Cow Cheese

1 tbsp Cream Cheese

3 tbsp all-purpose flour

Pepper to taste

1 tsp Parsley

1 tsp Basil

In a sauce pan, mix the chicken stock and cheese. Melt cheese and bring to a slow boil. Add in the milk, flour, pepper, basil and parsley. Heat on high until sauce thickens and all the cheese is melted. Once sauce comes to a slow boil, decrease the heat and cook on medium to low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often.

While the sauce is cooking, cook your pasta. Once sauce is finished, drain pasta and pour into the sauce. Sprinkle with Some Parmesan and enjoy!

Cheese Sauce

Lucia’s Cheesy Pasta!




Eat Pray Love

The reason for the title of this post is four fold.
1. I loved the book and movie
2. My blog is all about me eating (cooking!)
3. I always say a few prayers while I cook (and this time I needed more than a few!!)
4. My food is always filled with love…AND love is in the air this week (my sister is getting married!!!)

So there you have it!

I had planned on spending Sunday making lasagna and tiramisu and had bought (so I thought) all of the necessary ingredients on Thursday.  I really thought I was ahead of the game and dinner would be beyond simple. I thought wrong.

On Saturday I was beyond tired, and so after enjoying brunch with my friend Gina at Nookies, I came back to my apartment to watch a movie and take a nap. While laying on the couch, I decided to look over the lasagna recipe, just in case I had missed anything, when I suddenly realized the lasagna needed to be baked half way and then sit in the refrigerator over night in order for it to set. There went my relaxing Saturday…good thing I don’t have the ability to nap anymore and enjoyed spending the day cooking!

Right away I realized I  needed to make a run to the local grocery store (it is only a block away!) and grab some Italian sausage and ricotta cheese. I also needed more pasta and a red bull for a good afternoon kick. I made three trips back to the store that day….

I made a huge pot of tomato sauce and let it cool off in the fridge while I started on the lasagna filling.

My new kitchen!

I cooked the sausage and the ground beef and seasoned (first mistake). I thought I would get creative and use my Grandpa’s seasoning on the meat. I always use it on meat and it is delicious, so I figured this would be a brilliant idea. Once again, I was wrong. It made lasagna way too salty. Don’t get me wrong, it was still good, but salty.

The cheese filling was fairly easy to make, but I didn’t have a large enough mixing bowl and the cheese was getting all over the counter. I must say that making the lasagna was the messiest kitchen adventure I have had thus far, but it was well worth it. I didn’t have time to make homemade noodles for the lasagna unfortunately, but I am pretty sure if I would have attempted that I would have gotten in a little over my head. The Barilla (cl) lasagna sheets worked out just fine and I am sure my dinner guests were happier I went with that route anyway!

I was extremely nervous about the lasagna because I had used my Grandpa’s seasoning, not realizing how salty the cheese already was, and the mixture was way too salty. I had cooked it half way through and it still tasted extremely salty. I was so disappointed and warned the birthday girl that we may need to order pizza, but luckily, once the lasagna was cooked all the way through, it was edible and actually was good!

Uncle Michael’s Lasagna

Uncle Michael’s Lasagna

*Makes 2 pans

Ingredients:

2 lbs ground beef

1 lb Italian sausage

1 lg onion (chopped)

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 lb grated Romano cheese

5 lbs ricotta cheese

10 eggs, beaten

2 lbs whole milk mozzarella cheese (shredded)

4 tsp Parsley

1 large pot of spaghetti sauce (my quick sauce will be perfect!)

2 lbs dried lasagna sheets

2 baking pans (11.5 X 9.5 X 2.5)

1. Brown the beef, onion and sausage together and drain well. Set aside and let cool. Once cool, mix salt, pepper, and 2 cups of the Romano cheese into the meat mixture.

2. Mix together ricotta cheese (drain well before mixing), eggs, mozzarella, salt, pepper, parsley and 2 cups of Romano cheese. Mix until smooth.

3. Cook lasagna noodles half way through and drain.

4. Layer ingredients in pan in this order: sauce, pasta sheet, cheese mixture, meat mixture, sprinkle of Romano cheese, sauce. Repeat to fill the pan and end with a pasta sheet. Cover the top layer with plenty of tomato sauce and sprinkle with more Romano cheese.

5. Cover pans with Aluminum foil. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes. Let cool in the refrigerator overnight to allow the lasagna to set. This will make it easier to slice and serve!

6. To reheat, add more sauce and recover. Cook for 45-50 minutes at 350°

Here are a few tips/things I learned from my lasagna kitchen adventure:

  • Don’t bake saran wrap in the oven, even if the directions call for it. I was using my Uncle Michael’s recipe, but he used industrial plastic wrap, not the type you have in your kitchen. So beware! Good thing I had my mom walk me through the steps before I actually did any damage.
  • Cooking lasagna half way through and then allowing it to sit in the refrigerator overnight helps it to set and will cute easier
  • Lasagna does not need any extra seasoning, except for salt and pepper
  • Always make extra sauce (Even if you think you have enough!)

The lasagna was ready and I wanted to make sure I had all of the ingredients for the tiramisu. I had run out of time and needed to start getting ready for Laura’s birthday dinner, so I made my third and final trip to the grocery down the street. The woman who works in the store probably thinks I’m nuts. The next morning I woke up bright and early, feeling pretty tired, but started making the Tiramisu. The ingredients are below. I don’t know if it was because I was so “tired” or if tiramisu is really that hard to make, but I was afraid to try the first bite. I usually am all about tasting my food as I go along, but I did not taste one thing until later that night at dinner. It did not look like tiramisu, the lady fingers freaked me out and soaked up the coffee so quickly they were falling apart, and the chocolate wouldn’t chop in my processor so they were more crunchy in the dessert. I didn’t have a double boiler, but sitting one pot on top of another seemed to work just fine. After the tiramisu was finished and in the refrigerator to set, I threw on some shorts and headed to my first ever Sox and Yankee’s game!  It was an eventful weekend, to say the least, and I was exhausted!

Tiramisu Ingredients

My “double boiler”

 

Everyone had a pretty rough weekend, so dinner ended up being just me, Laura, and Maegan! Everyone enjoyed the lasagna, and to my surprise, the Tiramisu not only tasted like tiramisu, but it was really good!! I made Laura and Maegan have the first bite before I would try it and believe it was actually edible. Sorry this post is long, but it’s been over a month since my last kitchen adventure, and this one was a doozie!! I will post the recipes when I am back home next week and everything has settled down. The wedding is in 2 days (!!!!) and I am back home in Indianapolis preparing. If anyone has ever seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” this is going to be that multiplied by 2. My next post: The Big Fat Italian Wedding.

PS – Check out the new website we launched at work for Fuel Up to Play 60 (CL) http://www.fueluptoplay60.com

Tiramisu

Ingredients:

3 lg eggs

1/3 c. sugar

1/4 c. milk

16 oz. mascarpone

1/4 c. amaretto

1 tsp. vanilla extract

30 Lady Fingers

1 1/2 c. cooled espresso or coffee

1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 c. almonds, chopped and toasted

Sliced strawberries for garnish

Cocoa powder for dusting

Mix the egg yolks and sugar until mixture is a pale yellow. Add the milk and stir until combined. Transfer to a double boiler over simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly until mixture is thick enough to coat the spoon. Do not boil. Transfer immediately to a clear, cold bowl to cool. Once mixture has cooled, whisk in the mascarpone, amaretto, and vanilla. Dip 10 lady fingers lightly in espresso and arrange in two rows in a 2-quart glass dish that has been lightly buttered and sugared. Spread 1/2 of the mascarpone mixture over the lady fingers. Sprinkle 1/3 of the chocolate and the almonds. Repeat the layering two more times. Dust with cocoa powder. Let sit the refrigerator over night. Garnish with strawberries and serve.

Happy 25th Birthday, Laura!!!

 

 

 

 

Stuffed Shells

I have seen my mom make stuffed shells so many times I have lost count. Last Christmas, I even had the chance to help her make them, but we did it the night before and had a lot of time to spend on the preparation. My mom also had extra sauce in the freezer in case we didn’t have enough. Well…none of this was true for my first experience making stuffed shells and it turned out to be a true Kitchen Adventure! The experience of making these shells was one of the reasons I started writing this blog. I needed a challenge. I was feeling complacent and wanted to find something I was passionate about, enjoyed, and could share with others.

I didn’t realize how difficult it was to prepare stuffed shells for 10 people in about 2 and a half hours. I am so lucky I had my friend Gina. Yes, I have a sister Gina too! Italians do things in multiples…the names are always duplicated, people never replicated. I also have an Aunt Gina, two cousins named Concetta and an Aunt Concetta, more than a few Michael’s, Jacks, and Antonia’s, as well as many more duplicate names, so sorry if I ever confuse anyone. This is just another example of “My Big Fat Italian Life.”

Anyways, my friend Gina was my savior that day. If it wasn’t for her we would not have been able to eat dinner until midnight. As I made the sauce and the meat filling, she made the cheese filling and we both stuffed the shells once they were cooked. I knew right away, before I even put the shells in the oven that they were going to be dry. I didn’t make enough sauce and I didn’t have any extra sitting around my apartment. Lesson learned.

Cheese Filling

Ingredients:

32 oz Ricotta cheese

4 eggs

Parmesan ( a lot)

Parsley

Meat Mixture

Ingredients:

5 lbs ground beef

3 small onions

5 hardboiled eggs

2 bags of frozen, chopped spinach

Parmesan

Salt & Pepper

Hardboil your 5 eggs and set aside. Cook spinach according to package, drain completely (will need to squeeze out as much water as possible) and set aside. Dice the 3 small onions (I put them in the mixer to make them extremely thin, but this is not necessary). Brown your meat with the onions. Add salt & pepper to taste. Once cooked, combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Scramble the eggs and add parsley and Parmesan. Add ricotta and mix well. Make sure mixture is thick. Set aside.

Boil 3 lbs of jumbo shells in water. Drain and rinse. Usually, you should not rinse your pasta, but since you are baking the shells. you want to remove some of the starch. Rinse with cold water.

In baking dishes, cover the bottom of each dish with sauce. Stuff the shells in one pan with your meat mixture and the other with your cheese (you will probably need 4 baking dishes, or you can freeze what you don’t use). Once your dish is filled with stuffed shells, cover again with sauce (don’t be shy). You can top with more parmesan or shredded mozzarella.

Cover with aluminum foil and back for 30 minutes at 350°. After 30 minutes, remove the aluminum foil and back another 30 minutes. Remove, let cool for a few minutes, serve and enjoy!

Sauce:

See quick sauce recipe and quadruple it

**Make sure you have enough sauce to cover approximately 3 baking pans on the bottom and have enough to cover the top of the shells with. You will need about 3 large cans of Hunt Sauce (cl).

 

I forgot to take a picture of the cheese filled shells, but here is the finished product. Way more dry than I would have liked, but they were still good. I made three trays and two and a half were gone at the end of the night. My neighbor and his girlfriend stopped by to help out, but we did some major damage even though there was a lack of sauce.

The next night I decided to make a cream sauce (I had leftover cream in the fridge) and added it to the shells. To say they were better once more sauce was added would be the biggest understatement of the year. I was glad I got to experience them correctly and I even shared a few with some friends at work who enjoyed them with the white sauce!

Unfortunately, this is the last meal I will ever make in my wonderful apartment I have shared with three of my best friends. I can’t believe it has been a year since I packed up my Dad’s car and moved to this wonderful city of Chicago. This past year literally went in a blink of an eye. I guess when your life is throwing you curve balls left and right, you are on a non stop roller coaster of ups, downs, twists, and turns – life just happens, and it is thrilling. Even though I am moving next week, hopefully I can still have my Sunday dinners with my friends!

Stay tuned for the first cooking adventure in my new apartment!