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.