31 July 2008

Summer Pasta Salad

I made an amazing pasta salad for a family gathering on Saturday. My goal was to incorporate as many colors as possible. You can easily adjust the amounts for the number of people. The recipe below is for 35 people, and you will definitely have some leftovers!

2 lbs. rotini, cooked al dente and cooled

2 small orange bell peppers, diced
8 oz. kalamata olives, chopped
1 bunch asparagus, roasted** and cut into 1" chunks
1 pint grape tomatos, halved
7 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
8 oz. colby jack cheese, cubed
8 oz. dill havarti cheese, cubed
1 stick turkey summer sausage, cubed
8 oz. sliced pepperoni, chopped

Italian salad dressing
fresh basil
fresh flat-leaf parsley
salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. The salad dressing is strictly by eye and by taste for me - it may vary depending on when you add it to the pasta, how dry your other ingredients are, etc. I think next time I would also add julienned carrots for color and include red or yellow bell peppers in addition to the orange.

This pasta salad was colorful and delicious. The majority of the work is the prep, so I cooked my pasta and chopped my veggies and cheeses two nights before the party, chopped my meats and put the salad together the night before, and was ready to go in the morning.

**To roast asparagus: Toss clean, trimmed asparagus spears in olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until cooked through but not soft.


There are few drinks I adore as much as a good Sangria. Chow in New Haven, CT makes the most amazing sangrias (red & white) that I've ever had. Here's a recipe from MSN - make sure you garnish with lots of fruit...and if the fruit sits in the pitcher for a while before you serve it, all the better!

Recipe courtesy of NYC's Rosa Mexicano restaurants.

9 oz. red or white wine
3 oz. Triple Sec
3 oz. apricot brandy
6 oz. orange juice
3 oz. Sprite
3 heaping Tbsp. chopped green and red grapes, apples, and cucumbers

To Do:
Mix all ingredients together in a clear 50 oz. pitcher. Fill remainder of pitcher with ice and stir with a wooden spoon. Garnish each glass with fresh fruit slices, such as green apples for red sangria or peaches for white sangria. Serves four.

19 July 2008

Keepsake Brownies

For the wedding shower that Andrew's family hosted for me here in Ohio, there was a kitchen theme, and each guest was asked to bring recipes for me. My grandmother gave me this recipe for Keepsake Brownies. She cut it out of Parade magazine over forty years ago, and it's her favorite brownie recipe to this day. I love my Nonnie, and I surely trust her judgment when it comes to dessert!

I was craving chocolate this afternoon, and when I got home from work at 9:30 tonight, I decided to make these brownies.

Keepsake Brownies

4 squares unsweetened baking chocolate
1 c. unsalted butter or margarine
2 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt

Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler. If you are lazy like me, melt it in the microwave one minute at a time, stirring between each minute. When fully melted, add sugar, eggs, and vanilla. I was concerned about the heat from the chocolate/butter mixture scrambling the eggs, so I tempered them by mixing a bit of the melted chocolate into the eggs to increase their temperature before adding all the eggs to the sugar/chocolate/butter bowl.

Sift together the flour and the salt. Trust me, you want to sift the flour. Sifting gets rid of all the lumps and helps you smoothly combine all the ingredients. Stir the flour into the chocolate in batches until completely combined.

Here is what your batter should look like:

Pour brownie mix into a square pan - Nonnie's recipe says 9x9, but I have an 8x8, so that's what I used. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until mostly cooked through. I say mostly because I like to leave brownies a bit undercooked so they are super moist.

Can't wait to have a brownie for breakfast tomorrow morning!

18 July 2008

Berry Smoothies

One of my favorite drinks to make (sans alcohol, of course) is a berry smoothie. It's such an easy recipe - I know you'll love it. I keep frozen berry puree in my freezer, and when I'm in the mood for a smoothie, I can either chop off a chunk of the frozen brick or thaw the whole bag.

1/4 c. berry puree
2/3 c. (6 oz.) vanilla yogurt - I use Dannon Light n' Fit
6 ice cubes
1/2 packet Sweet n' Low (optional)

Whip all ingredients in a blender. I add the Sweet n' Low if the berries weren't super sweet and ripe when I pureed them.

Herb Crusted Chicken, Spinach Gnocchi with Goat Cheese Cream and Carmelized Onions

The only thing I knew I was going to make for dinner tonight was an herb rub. I read a few different recipes in Real Simple and I really wanted to try one. I had chicken in the fridge, so that became the vehicle I would use to deliver the herb rub. Everything else was in my fridge...it all just comes together.

Here are the recipes:

Mediterranean Herb Rub (as published in Real Simple magazine)

2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Herb Crusted Chicken

1 boneless skinless chicken breast
1 batch Mediterranean Herb Rub
2 teaspoons olive oil

Rinse chicken breast and pat dry with paper towels. I place plastic wrap over the chicken, then beat it until it is about .25" thick and even. Lightly coat with half the olive oil, press rub into chicken breast. You can cook it immediately or let it sit for up to two hours, as I did. Heat a skillet to medium high heat. Drizzle the skillet with the remaining olive oil and add the chicken to the pan. Cook the chicken five minutes on the first side, three minutes on the second side - you may need to cook it longer in order to ensure it is cooked through.

Spinach Gnocchi with Goat Cheese Cream and Carmelized Onions

2 c. homemade spinach gnocchi
2 wedges Laughing Cow Lite Cheese with Garlic & Herbs
2 tblsp. goat cheese
1/3 c. skim milk
2 tblsp. butter
1/2 large vidalia onion, thinly sliced

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt the water, and drop the gnocchi. When it floats, it's cooked. I used homemade gnocchi that has been frozen, and it cooked perfectly in about five minutes.

In the meantime, combine the cheeses, milk, and butter in the pitcher/cup of a blender. I use the Bella Cucina Rocket Blender (more on that amazing product in a future post!). Microwave the items for one minute. Blend thoroughly. Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked gnocchi.

In a saucepan, heat a pat of butter and a swirl of olive oil to sizzling. Add sliced onions and toss to coat. Once onions begin to carmelize, salt them and continue cooking until soft.

Well, I have to work on my presentation, but the food was fantastic. The woody herbaceousness of the chicken was an excellent compliment to the soft, tangy cheese sauce on the gnocchi. I was glad I experimented with the herb rub - I would definitely try another one, especially to accompany a grilled meat next time.

Baked Marlin & Tuna

We spent some time in Barbados on our honeymoon. Our beautiful room at The Crane had a great kitchen, so on the final leg of our trip, we decided to cook in. All told, of the four nights we spent in Barbados, we cooked our own dinner for two of them.

Andrew and I spent a day out on the water with a charter boat, trying to catch some barracuda or wahoo, to no avail. When we got back on shore, we decided that we were still in the mood to eat fish for dinner. We got in a cab and headed for Oistins and the famous fish market there. For $12.50 USD, we got two pounds each of tuna and marlin. Amazing, because anywhere else we bought food in Barbados it was astronomically expensive.

The fish prep was pretty simple due to the lack of ingredients:

Since it was fresh (read: bloody and gross) I rinsed the fish and patted it dry. We rubbed both sides with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. On the roasting pan that came with the oven, I made a layer of fresh herbs - thyme and marjoram, as suggested by the old lady selling vegetables out of a van at Oistins. I placed the fish on the bed of herbs, then topped it with thinly shaved fresh garlic. I felt very Goodfellas as I was slicing the garlic...but it was a good move, because the garlic got velvety soft in the oven and mellowed in flavor to provide a great accompaniment to the fish.

Our masterpiece prior to baking:

We let the fish cook at 350 degrees until it was white and flaky. I served the main dish with ingredidents I found in the grocery store that I could afford - buttered noodles and a side dish of sauteed garlicky peppers, onions, and carrots. Everything was delicious, though I did wish I had saved some of the fresh herbs to season the veggies with.

Tipping the Scales

It's amazing that 63.5% of adults here in Ohio are considered overweight or obese, and in my home state of Connecticut, that number isn't much better, 'weighing in' at 57.2%. There's an interesting tool from the Center for Disease Control that will tell you where your state stands. Read the whole article here.


I adore Delight.com. They have the best products, and the great part is, everything is environmentally friendly and really cute! I bought my Envirosax on their site. These reusable grocery bags come in a bunch of different patterns, are super roomy, and more than strong enough to hold two plastic grocery bags worth of groceries. Best of all, they roll up and fit into a tiny pouch that fits in your purse or glove compartment. I have even brought them with me clothes shopping to hold my purchases. The pattern shown here is "Delightfully Hip" - I have "Delightfully Pretty". The website has a whole section of items for "The Cook" - check them out!

Fast Food

At lunch today, we were discussing the "sport" of competitive eating. Though I don't know that you can designate it as a sport, I do think it's pretty entertaining to watch. I know that Kobayashi is probably the most famous competitive eater - he even has his own cartoon in Japan - but personally, I'm partial to Joey Chestnut. You can check it all out at the IFOCE website: http://www.ifoce.com

The First Course

I have been wanting to blog for a while now...can't believe I'm about to start! I was actually inspired by my husband's blog about his great love (after me of course) - fishing.

I love to eat, cook, and talk about food, so a blog with a slant toward all things edible made sense to me. I'll be posting recipes, photos of things I've cooked and things I've eaten, reviews of restaurants I've eaten at, and anything else I think is interesting in the world of food.

My family is Italian, and a lot of my favorite foods underscore that fact. I love carbs, I love dessert, and I love sitting around the table for hours with people I care about. I'm hoping this blog will be an extension of that part of the meal when dessert is over but people are lingering over coffee because they just don't want the "event" of eating to end.