Sunday, December 28, 2008

Salmon Topped with Spinach and Mixed Olive Bruschetta

My wife stepped out tonight for her annual holiday dinner with her girlfriends, so it was a good chance for me to be a little creative at home. Since I was on daddy duty, I needed to keep it somewhat simple. I also decided to do something light and healthy to counter-balance the disgusting amounts of holiday cookies that I've eaten over the past few days. I decided on salmon topped with steamed spinach.

I came across a nice jar of mixed olive bruschetta at my local Italian deli and specialty shop. I thought that this would be the perfect accent to the dish. I usually prefer to grill or pan sear my salmon, but since the oven was on to bake Julianna's chicken tenders, I went with baking the salmon. After a quick olive oil drizzle and some salt and pepper, I baked it for about 10-12 minutes. Just a few minutes before it was done, I topped it with a tablespoon of the bruschetta, just to let it warm up. Removed it from the oven, topped it with some nice steamed spinach, and enjoyed a terrific, healthy and quick meal. I'm guessing that it would go well with a nice glass of Pinot Grigio...I'll give that a shot the next time when (hopefully) I'm not home alone with just the two little ones!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Kitchen Friends

This time of year brings lots of traditions. One that I particularly look forward to is our annual holiday dinner with our close friends – Yvonne, Lorena and their families. The tradition started about 8 years ago, when Yvonne's mom (Momma Pinto), would invite a whole group of Yvonne's friends over to her house for a spectacular feast. I never understood the phrase 'soup to nuts' until my first Momma Pinto dinner. These meals were filled with not only tons of great food and wine, but lots of laughs and love as well. We particularly looked forward each year to the reaction of the newest person to attend the meal (aka - the rookie). One year that particularly sticks with me is when our friend, Sara, stood up and proudly said "oh man, that was the BEST pasta I ever tasted. I am SO FULL!!" This was after the first course. We all just shook our heads and told her, lovingly, to sit down and buckle in for the gourmet ride of her life. Later that night, our friend, John, decided to challenge Momma Pinto as to how much food she could possibly have readily available. He teased and asked if she ever made ham. Within minutes, ham appeared on the table as if Houdini himself were present. John was speechless...I just sipped my amaretto and smiled.

Momma Pinto with Julianna, 2004

Another memorable event that occurred this night was when we all discovered that we were clean out of wine. What to do?!?! Within seconds, Momma Pinto rushed to her special cabinet to produce a bottle of Pesce that was in a fish-shaped bottle. We laughed so hard, that our overstuffed bellies hurt. For the next few years, everyone showed up to the dinner with a bottle of Pesce Vino to get the festivities rolling.

Fish Wine!

A few years into the dinner, the crowd had dwindled a bit, but the fun and festivities were stronger than ever. The last time we had dinner at Momma Pinto's proved to be the most entertaining to date. Lorena's parents joined us this time, which meant lots of great stories, Ernesto's home-made wine and fresh pannetone shipped directly from Momma Pinto's cousins in Italy. The night was capped off with all of us laughing hysterically at this stuffed doll that, when you squeezed it's belly, counted down from 10 to 1 to scream "Welcome to the Year 2000!" – for some reason in a British accent. Unforgettable to say the least!

Sadly, about a year or so after that, Momma Pinto lost her long-fought battle to cancer. It was at her funeral, when her nephew was giving his beautiful eulogy, that he spoke about his aunt's special group of friends. She referred to them as 'kitchen friends,' because all of their conversations and time spent were usually done at the kitchen table. Lots of food and wine obviously included. We were all sad on the outside, but at that moment, I know that we all smiled on the inside, because we all knew that we were included in that elite group.

We still gather together every holiday, whether it be at a restaurant or at one of our houses. The meals haven't been nearly as grand, but our friendship still makes for the perfect evening. This year, Lorena and her husband Mike hosted and did a fantastic job, bringing our annual event back to full force. There was lots of laughter, delicious food, great story telling, and of course Ernesto's home-made wine. And we all know that Momma PInto was enjoying every minute of watching her kitchen friends celebrate yet another festive holiday.

Welcome to the year 2009!

Julianna and Daniella, 2008

Rosa preparing the big meal

Kitchen friends sharing their big meal!

Julianna and Yvonne

Yvonne, Lorena, Julianna and Daria

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Good Gravy!

Is it gravy? Is it sauce? A debate as big as which came first, the chicken or the egg? My vote, of course, goes to gravy. And I someday plan to elaborate on my answer.

As you may have already read on my blog, I do not usually depend on measurements when I cook. My Sunday gravy is, perhaps, my most cherished dish. Red gold. However, if I am going to post my gravy recipe, I want to make sure that it is accurate. This isn't a quick marinara. We're talking meatballs, sausage, country spare ribs....a very complicated and pain staking Sunday afternoon. But one that is rewarding and fulfilling. So, once we get through the holidays and I actually have an open Sunday, I will gladly delve into it and document what it is that I actually do!

Until then, you HAVE to check out Lorraine Ranalli's new website, It is a very entertaining and well put together, true representation of one of South Philly's biggest passions. I am anxiously looking forward to reading her book, and encourage you to do the same! Kudos Lorraine!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Stuffed Calamari

I was in a coffee shop not long ago and overheard a conversation between two men. One was saying how proud he was of his seven year old son who loves eating the calamari rings from his local pizza shop. The other guy said "wow, that's terrific that he enjoys eating calamari at such a young age." I thought to myself, "Yeah, that's great. Your son enjoys eating deep fried rubber bands. Congratulations, pal."

I think it's wonderful that a youngster would enjoy calamari. I've been eating it since I was probably around the age of four. However, I was not eating those cute little bite-size portions that have become a standard on most menus. No sir. What I was introduced to has become, to this day, one of my all-time favorite dishes which is served at my all-time favorite meal. I'm talking about Stuffed Calamari. And in just a few short weeks, I will once again be able to enjoy this delectable dish.

Every Christmas Eve, we gather together with all of my cousins, aunts, uncles and Grandmother to celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Since more of us are contributing to the dinner these days, we're probably up to about 11 or 12 fishes. New dishes, such as coconut shrimp, talapia and king crab legs appear every year. But we still carry quite a few of the traditional dishes as well (smelts, whiting, bacala, and of course stuffed calamari). Now, if you never had stuffed calamari, it's quite different from the standard fried ringlets. It's the entire calamari tube, probably about the size of an manicotti tube, filled with a bread stuffing, and served in a red sauce. Think stuffed shells, but much more complex in taste and texture.

I have nothing against fried calamari, as long as it's properly prepared. In fact, it's a dish that my wife and I enjoy tremendously. Most of our favorite restaurants are ranked on the tenderness and tastiness of their fried calamari alone! But there is not a dish in the world that I would trade for my holiday stuffed calamari.

While I do not have my family's exact recipe (as my Aunt Marie is not yet willing to give up the calamri duties), below is a recipe that I found online a few years back that is very close, and is quite delicious. And if you're ever in the area of Collingswood, NJ, pay a visit to Nunzio's and enjoy an order of their Calamari Dorati.

Stuffed Calamari

• 2 pounds of calamari tubes (cleaned)
• 2 cans of crushed tomatoes (28 oz. Cans)
• 2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
• 1 teaspoon of sugar
• 1 can (28 oz.) of water (use the crushed tomatoes can to measure)
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1/4 pound of grated cheese of your choice
• 2 teaspoons garlic powder
• 2 teaspoons of accent

Stuffing Ingredients
• 1/2 loaf of bread
• 2 teaspoons parsley
• 1/4 cup of grated cheese
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Oil (enough to moisten mixture)
• 1 clove of fresh garlic
Optional Ingredients
• 1 egg
• Clams, lobster, shrimp or fish of your choice chopped can be added to the stuffing

In a large pot, sauté garlic in heated oil. Add crushed tomatoes and season these tomatoes with all the other ingredients (excluding the stuffing ingredients). Add water a little at a time till the sauce thickens to your liking. Wash calamari tubes thoroughly and drain well. Take the stuffing ingredients and mix well until it is of a nice consistency. Stuff each tube halfway full. Use toothpicks at the opening of each filled tube. Add these tubes to the tomato sauce and cook about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Serves 4-6.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stuffed Zucchini

Feeling a bit overstuffed from this past weekend's food fest? These delicious, healthy, and quite filling stuffed zucchini boats make for a great meal, or even as a nice appetizer for an upcoming holiday dinner party.

I found this recipe in a Rachel Ray cook book...a personally autographed Rachel Ray cook book (15 seconds of celebrity interaction for me, a lifetime's worth of humiliation and mockery material for my dear friend Jennifer - she's lucky she sits high on my friendship list). Whether or not you're a fan of "The Rache," I highly suggest this dish.

Mama Elsa's Stuffed Zucchini
Rachael Ray
makes twelve zucchini boats

Six 5-inch zucchini (1 1/2 pounds total)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), 3 turns of the pan, plus more for drizzling

5 garlic cloves, 1 crushed and 4 finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (a couple of pinches)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 can diced tomatoes (15 ounces), drained and juice reserved

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup dry white wine (a glug)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3/4 cup Italian bread crumbs (3 generous handfuls)

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (a couple of generous handfuls)

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (a generous handful)

10 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn

Preheat the oven to 400°. Halve the zucchini lengthwise and hollow them out with a small scoop or spoon. Drizzle the zucchini boats with a little EVOO and place them in the middle of the oven to roast (they will be ready when you take the stuffing off the heat). Chop the zucchini centers.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of EVOO (2 turns of the pan), the crushed garlic clove, the red pepper flakes, the onion and the chopped zucchini. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the zucchini begins to caramelize. Finely chop the tomatoes and add them to the stuffing. Stir until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and deglaze the pan with the glug of white wine. Cook until the wine evaporates, then stir in the reserved tomato juice. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the tomato juice slowly cook off as well.

While the stuffing cooks, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of EVOO (1 turn of the pan) and the butter. When the butter melts into the oil, add the chopped garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the bread crumbs and lightly toast them, about 2 minutes. Add the cheese, parsley and lots of fresh pepper and remove from the heat.

When the liquid has almost cooked out of the stuffing, stir in the bread crumb mixture and the basil and remove it from the heat. Remove the zucchini from the oven and fill each with a mound of stuffing. Place the boats back in the oven and bake for 5 minutes to crisp the bread crumbs.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Yule Drink to This!

Over the past few years, I have taken a passionate liking to the word of craft beers. The holiday/winter season has quickly become one of my favorite beer times of the year. While I always look forward to my first sip of an Oktoberfest like a dog looks forward to a new bone, the variety and flavors that come around this time of year are as much of a treat as my Mom's homemade Christmas cookies. Now, I am still a bit of a beer novice to even begin to explain the differences between the many, many different winter warmers. That's why I HIGHLY recommend checking out the new book, Christmas Beer, by Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack), described as 'the first ever book devoted to your favorite seasonal beers. Christmas beer, winter warmers, holiday ales - take the chill off with this fun, in-depth look at the history, traditions and flavors.'

I also recommend you check out his website,, which is updated every Friday. He will be highlighting various holiday and winter beers over the next few weeks, so be sure to visit regularly.

And finally, if you ever get the chance to see Joe Sixpack at an appearance, please do so. It's a guaranteed fun and educational experience....and it's all about beer! What more can you ask for!


Poppin' Fresh!

I've known my good friend Chrissy for the better part of 15 years now, but just recently found out about her passion for popcorn. Was I surprised by this discovery, well...not really. I mean, it's just popcorn, right? WRONG! Be sure to check out her website,, to read up on great popcorn recipes, recommendations, very cool top 10 lists, and some great, entertaining reading. So POP on by and check it out!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pumpkin Soup

Looking for a hearty, seasonal soup to serve as your first course for Thanksgiving dinner? This Pumpkin Soup has a fantastic flavor and aroma, and is very simple to make. You can also serve it as a hearty winter meal by adding small pasta, such as elbow macaroni or small shells.

2 tbsp. butter
1 onion, diced
2 stalks chopped celery
2 carrots, chopped
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. pepper
4 c. clear chicken broth
1 c. pumpkin (puree)
1 tsp. sugar

Saute onion, celery and carrots in butter in soup pot. Add flour, broth, pumpkin, pepper, sugar. Simmer for 1/2 hour.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More things to check out....

I've been getting some great feedback since starting the blog. NICE! Along with the compliments and words of encouragement, I've also received more great links that I recommend....

First, my friend Matt sent me a link to his girlfriend Heidi's own blog, Lots of fantastic recipes there...I highly recommend you check it out. Way to go, Heidi!

And if you're even the most casual Philadelphia sports fan, you gotta check out Matt's site, One of the best damn sports sites...period.

Another great site that my friend Jay suggested is It's a great place to go for take-out suggestions. Plus, the guy uses a rating system based on grease stains. How cool is that!!!

Up next....Pumpkin Soup!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Check It Out!

While I was recently visiting one of my favorite Italian food web sites,, I came across a fantastic article, titled Preserving the Family Meal. The author, Tiffany Longo, talks about the importance of family time at the dinner table as opposed to the oh-too-easy fast food choices that are often made today. I immediately contacted Tiffany to tell her how much I enjoyed and appreciated the article. I am now proud to call her a paisan and I encourage you to visit her own blog, Una Mamma Italiana, which is chocked full of great stories and recipes. You will also find a link to her blog and the article in the Recommendations column.

Speaking of the Recommendations column, be sure to check it out often, as I plan to add links to my favorite restaurants, web site, and articles as often as possible. Please feel free to pass along any of your suggestion (and, of course recipes), and I will be happy to post them!

Special thanks to my friend, Jay, who suggested It's got tons of useful food info and suggestions. Check it out!

And finally, if you are in to home-crafted, personalized jewelry, please check out my cousin Daria's website, Her jewelry designs are amazing!

Thanksgiving Sides

Ahhhh, Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday of the year. Now, my favorite holiday meal of the year is still hands-down the Christmas Eve Seven Fish dinner...more on that in a few weeks. But when you're talking holidays, Bird Day is the tops for me. I love everything about it. The smells, the colors, the crisp fall air, the leaves on the ground. Everything about it screams tradition, comfort and nostalgia. Just the smell of turkey brings me back to when I was a kid, when my brother and I would help my mom make the apple pies. We would start the morning by watching the parade on tv, followed by hours of the WOR Holiday King Kong movie festival (monsters were always more important to me than football when I was little). Then came the food. The glorious food! Now that I have a family of my own, we have our own traditions that we look forward to. And they still involve lots of eating!

Obviously, the main event of the day is the turkey. These days there are countless ways to prepare the main course. My friend John does both a traditional bird in the oven, and another one on the grill. My friend Tony, on the other hand, has turned deep-frying into an art form. So I won't even begin to suggest turkey tips. Now, if you grew up in an Italian household, chances are that your Thanksgiving main course consisted of a double bill - a pasta course, followed up to a few hours later by the turkey.

So, what I've decided to do was offer you some side dishes that go over well with our family dinner. The first, Cranberry Compote, was an Emeril recipe that I came across a few years back. The second, Baked Butternut Squash with Apples, was one that I just recently found. Enjoy, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!


6 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup fresh orange juice

In a non reactive, non-stick saucepan, over medium, combine the cranberries, zest, 1/2 cup sugar, water, salt, and cinnamon. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in the orange juice. Add the mixture to the cranberries and stir to blend. Simmer another 15 minutes until the mixture is thick. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.


2 tblspn butter
1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
1/4 tspn ground nutmeg
1-1/2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 to 3 large Granny Smith apples, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tblspn balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped pecans,toasted

Heat oven to 375ºF. Place butter in 13x9-inch glass baking dish; heat in oven 5 to 7 minutes or until melted.
Stir cinnamon and nutmeg into melted butter. Add squash; toss to coat. Cover with foil; bake 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix apples, syrup and vinegar.
Pour apple mixture over squash. Cover; bake 10 minutes. Stir; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until squash is tender. Stir before serving and sprinkle with pecans.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Party Salads

Since we're heading into the holiday party gathering season, I though it would be appropriate to post two of my favorite party salads that always go over well with company. Enjoy!

1 bag cole slaw mix
1 pkg. chicken-flavored Ramen noodles
1/4 cup sliced almonds
3-4 tbsp sesame seeds
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup (or so) vegetable oil

Lightly toast sesame seeds by heating them in skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse and drain coleslaw mix and add to serving bowl. Add almonds. Crush the Ramen noodles and add the noodles to the serving bowl (reserve flavor packet).

To make the dressing, combine sugar, vinegar and flavor packet. Add oil gradually while whisking. Add toasted sesame seeds to salad; pour dressing over top. Toss and serve.

1 bag of Lettuce (or 1 head of shredded lettuce)
1-2 diced tomatoes or a handful of cherry tomatoes
1 bag of nacho cheese Doritos, smashed
1 package of Perdue Southwester Style Short Cuts pre-cooked chicken strips, chopped
1 bag of shredded Mexican blend cheese
1 large bottle of Catalina dressing

Combine all ingredients into big bowl, stir well and serve!

Crab Cakes

For this dish, I suggest using Panko bread crumbs. They are Japanese bread crumbs that are very light and airy, which make for a crisp coating. They can be found in almost any supermarket, either up the bread aisle or the international food aisle. If you can not find Panko bread crumbs, regular bread crumbs or cracker crumbs can be used instead.

Also, when making this dish (or any other crab dish), be sure to buy the large 16-oz cans of crab meat that are located in the seafood section of your supermarket. While they can be a bit pricey at times, they are packed with 100% crab meat. The smaller cans that are found near the cans of tuna are packed with about 1/3 water, so you are getting your money's worth with the larger cans.

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup minced onion
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 pound lump crab meat
1/4 cup finely crushed saltine crackers
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable or peanut oil

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, onion, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, salt and Old Bay. Fold in the crabmeat and the cracker crumbs.

Place mixture in a container and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours ahead of cooking time (up to 24 hours ahead of time is fine). This will allow the mixture to come together and make for easier cake shaping.

When chilled, grab a hand full of the mixture at a time and squeeze out any excessive moisture (this will help the cakes keep their shape). Shape the mixture into 16 cakes about 1 inch thick.

Coat the crab cakes with the Panko bread crumbs.

In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the foam subsides, add half of the crab cakes and cook over moderate heat until golden and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain the crab cakes on paper towels, then keep warm in a low oven. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of oil and cook the remaining crab cakes.

* For lighter crab cakes, bake in oven at 350º for about 20-30 minutes or until crisp, flipping once.

Not-So-Sloppy Joe

Ok, so who exactly is this guy Joe? And if he's so sloppy, why would you want to eat anything that he cooked? Perhaps a question we'll never know the answer to.

Which is why I've strayed from the basic canned-wich version and added my own spin to this classic quick meal.

Simple and tasty!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small red or green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
½ cup chopped onion
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
1-lb ground turkey
salt & pepper
Italian seasonings (oregano, basil, etc.)

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add bell pepper, onion and garlic; cook and stir 2-3 minutes or until crisp-tender.

Add the ground turkey, stir together and cook until well-browned (I say well-browned because ground turkey is very moist. By just letting it quickly brown, I find it to be a bit too mushy for my taste. By all means, prepare to your liking). Drain all excess fat.

Add the can of tomato sauce and season with salt, pepper and Italian seasonings to taste.
***Optional, but recommended - add a splash of red wine (anything you have open will do). Stir together, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10-15 minutes until sauce thickens up.

Serve over a bed of rice or noodles, or in a burger bun as a sandwich. Top with shredded cheddar cheese. Goes great with a cold beer.

Pasta Fagioli

The following recipe was posted on my myspace page during this past year's Easter season...

As we approach the final few weeks of the Lenten season, when Catholics are to abstain from meat on Fridays, I thought I would share a few meals that have become tradition for this time of year in our house. Pizza, of course, has always been the fall-back/safety food. Grilled salmon, flounder or any other choice of fresh fish obviously work well. Tuna salad, egg salad, mac & cheese and fish sticks are also quick solutions. But for me, it is also a time that allows for some creativity in the kitchen.

First up for this season is Pasta Fagioli (also pronounced Pasta Fazool - meaning "pasta and beans"). It is a traditional Italian dish, made with cannellini beans, small pasta (elbow macaroni or shells works well), garlic, olive oil and tomato sauce. There are various ways to make this dish, which may also include stewed tomatoes, spinach, or celery. Chickpeas are also a delicious substitute for the beans.

For this post, I thought it would be fun to include a link that offers a few variations of the dish, so you could decide which you would like to try.


Cherry Pretzel Dessert (aka Cherry Pretzel Stuff)

My Aunt Sal and her family are the ones who are mostly responsible for fun and creative foods at most of our family parties. Her in-laws have always been on the forefront of trendy party dishes, appetizers and cocktails. So when it comes time for parties on our side of the family, my Aunt Sal (as well as her kids/my cousins) are the go-to people. The connection.

One dish that has become not only a standard, but also a must-have, is her Cherry Pretzel Dessert. To this day, the demand for it's presence at family gatherings is astonishing. The only problem is…it doesn't really have a name. It started off as, "Hey, can you bring that…stuff…you know, the stuff that's made with cherries and pretzels," or, "man, I hope Aunt Sal makes that…stuff…with the cherries and pretzels." So, we christened it Cherry Pretzel Stuff. Why we went with Stuff, I don't know. I guess Cherry Pretzel Thing sounds too much like a Stephen King novel, and who really has the time to ask for another helping of Cherry Pretzel Whatchamacallit. So we went with Stuff. I'm also proud to say that various other crafty dessert concoctions have adopted the "Stuff" label. More on them in future posts.

Not only is Cherry Pretzel Stuff a huge hit in our family, it has also done very well for itself when served to friends. Every time we have brought it to or served it at a party, we've been asked for the recipe. And it's always the same story. "Hey, can we have the recipe for that…um, stuff…that you brought to our house?"

So in honor of my Aunt Sal, I am proud to give you …Stuff.

1 Cup Margarine
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups crushed pretzels
8 oz cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup 10X (Confectioner's) sugar
2 cups Cool Whip
1 can Cherry Pie filling.

Melt Margarine and sugar in saucepan. Add Pretzels.

Beat Cream Cheese, 10X sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Fold in Cool Whip.

Spread 1/2 of the pretzels in a 9X13 inch pan.

Layer cream cheese mixture on top.

Layer rest of pretzels.

Top with Cherry Pie Filling.

Chill and enjoy eating.

Harvest Ratatouille for Two

I came across this recipe a few years back, and it has since become a regular in the weekend rotation. It's a fun, simple and healthy meal. There is a good bit of chopping prep involved, so it's also one of the few times when I get to use the little pre-measured ingredient dishes that they use on all of the cooking shows. BAMMM!!!!!!

Be sure to serve with plenty of crusty bread. You can also serve it over hot cooked linguine. Goes well with a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red or green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
½ cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1-1/2 cups diced eggplant
1 cup diced zucchini
1 cup diced yellow summer squash
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian Parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill weed
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoon grated or shredded fresh Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in medium skillet or wok over medium-high heat until hot. Add bell pepper, onion and garlic; cook and stir 2-3 minutes or until crisp-tender.

Stir in eggplant, zucchini and summer squash; cook and stir 5-7 minutes or until crisp tender.

Stir in all remaining ingredients except Parmesan cheese; cook until thoroughly heated. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Chicken Crescent Squares

When I was a kid, Saturday night dinners in our house were always fun, quick, kid-friendly food events. Stuff that you would brag about to your friends who were stuck eating boring, home-cooked foods, just to make them jealous. Hot dogs, burgers, sloppy joes, tacos, or the almighty Swanson TV dinner (pizza was the Friday night staple). I still remember the first time my mom raised the bar and bought me a Hungry Man-sized TV dinner. It was a proud moment, one that was only equaled at the time by my first bike ride sans training wheels, or being allowed to stay out past 8:30. I wasn't just a young man…I was a HUNGRY young man!

In the past years, frozen entrees have taken on a whole new life: hot pockets, lean cuisines, bagel bites, frozen paninis…it's as if the frozen food aisle is endless.

Well, thanks to this recipe, our trips to the frozen food aisle have been slashed. It's a fun recipe that is easy to make, and is not only a quick meal solution, but also works well as an appetizer for dinner parties. Below is the original version, followed by a couple of variations that I have tried. Feel free to add your own mixture or favorite hot pocket filling!

1 (3 oz) package light cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups cooked, cubed chicken breast (I suggest the Perdue pre-cooked strips)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 teaspoon chopped pimento
1 (8 oz) can crescent rolls
¾ cups seasoned bread crumbs, crushed

Preheat oven to 350º. In a bowl, blend cream cheese and 1-1/2 tablespoons melted butter. Add the chicken, salt, pepper, chives and pimento. Mix well. Separate the crescent rolls. Pull and flatten slightly. Spoon ¼ cup mixture into center of each. Pull cornets to top center and twist slightly. Seal edges. Brush tops with remaining butter, dip into crushed crumbs and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 20-25 minutes.

Alternate fillings:

3 oz cheddar cheese spread (I use WisPride Sharp Cheddar), softened
2 cups frozen chopped broccoli, defrosted
(omit chives and pimentos, season w/ salt & pepper to taste)

3 oz cheddar cheese spread, softened
2 cups cooked ham, sliced into small pieces
(omit chives and pimentos, season w/ salt & pepper to taste)

1 (3 oz) package light cream cheese, softened
2 small cans crab meat
¼ cup slivered almonds
(omit chives and pimentos, season w/ salt & pepper to taste)

Pollo Domenico (Dominic's Chicken)

For my first entry, I decided to post the first recipe that I made for my wife after we got married. The marinade was found online, but the recipe itself was my own creation. Hence the oh-so-creative name...Domenico di pollo

4 boneless chicken breasts
1 large tomato, sliced thin
2 handfuls of fresh spinach
8 slices mozzarella cheese
*Lemon herb marinade (see recipe below)

Soak chicken breasts in marinade, covered, in refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Turn oven on to 375º. Place chicken and marinade in an 8x8 pyrex dish into the oven. Baste chicken occasionally. Cook 35-40 minutes, or until chicken is done. 

As chicken is almost done, steam spinach. When chicken is done, top each piece with 2 slices of mozzarella cheese, 2 slices of tomato and a bit of spinach. Return to oven for a few minutes until toppings melt. 

Serves well with baked potato and chardonnay.

*Lemon herb marinade
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Mix all ingredients.