Thursday, September 30, 2010

Easy Weekday Meals

Looking to put a new spin on a weekday meal that will keep the kids asking for more? Put aside your traditional chicken cutlets, and serve up pretzel coated chicken tenders. The shape of the tenders are similar to fast food chicken fingers, and the pretzels add a natural salty/snacky taste. Plus, knowing that pretzels are part of the meal is sure to make for a fun dinner for parents and kids.


Using a food processor, break up about two cups worth of pretzels almost to the point of breadcrumb consistency. You want to have some small pieces of pretzel still in the mix. If you don't have a food processor, you can smash the pretzels by placing them in a plastic bag and rolling it with a rolling pin or a large tomato sauce can. The crumbs will not be as fine, but it will work. Then simply bread the tenders as you would normally bread chicken cutlets (rolling in flour, then egg wash, then pretzel crumbs). For the best taste and texture you want to fry the tenders, not bake them. I prefer using peanut oil for the taste, but vegetable oil will also work fine. For some extra flavor, you can add a few drops of sesame oil to the frying pan. Serve with honey mustard, barbecue sauce or marinara sauce for dipping (gotta get some Italian influence in there!!). Serve with steamed vegetables (carrots and peas are our favorites).

Note: you can bread the tenders ahead of time, either that morning or the night before, and keep them in the refrigerator until ready to use. This will save prep time to help get a quick meal on the table for your family to enjoy!

Never one to be outdone, my blogging collega, Una Mamma Italiana, offers up a two-for-one weekday meal! And this one isn't just putting leftovers to use, it's actually making another tasty, beautiful dish!

Here's an easy weeknight dinner that makes a GREAT fritatta the next morning! Italian sausage and potatoes, roasted with a little kosher salt, black pepper, garlic, and rosemary. Served very appropriately with a simple side salad. Easy, right?

Then, the next morning the sausage and potatoes make a cameo appearance, coarsely chopped in my fritatta. Mix in a little grated cheese, fresh parsley and basil, and you've possibly stumbled upon a quick fix for a fancy breakfast in bed! Hubby will be happy:)

(Use this trick wisely, ladies)


Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall Favorites

Traditions, as you may have guessed by now, have been a major influence in many of the posts that I share on this blog. It's the excitement and familiarity of annual events, foods and most of all time spent with family and friends that encourage me to write and share my stories and recipes. And now that we have officially entered my favorite time of year, the autumn harvest season, I thought I would share some favorite fall food suggestions with you.

The first weekend of autumn is the time when I prepare my jars of marinated eggplants. I started this tradition a few years back, and posted about it last September (you can click here for the recipe). I was inspired by my grandmother to start jarring eggplants. She would marinate and jar every year at this time so they would be ready for the holidays, so I was determined to keep that family tradition alive. I am very honored to say that this family recipe has garnered the most attention on my blog. To this day I am still getting nice comments about the post, and just a few weeks ago I was contacted by a woman named Lori who has a food blog of her own. Her family also jars eggplants and she was surprised to find that my recipe was almost the same as hers. So thank you Lori for the shout-out. Be sure to check out her fine food blog, Lori's Lipsmacking Goodness.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a pumpkin junkie, so it goes without saying that I'm extra excited to dip into pumpkin foods, both new and traditional. Throughout this season I plan to share recipes for spaghetti squash and pumpkin ravioli. I'm also very excited to have my friend, Emma, share some pumpkin dessert recipes with you as we get closer to Thanksgiving.

Speaking of pumpkin, I have to tip my hat to Rita's Water Ice. The debate will always live on as to who has the best water ice, but in my opinion Rita's Pumpkin Pie and Caramel Apple cream ices are the ideal way to transition from summer to fall. Try going for the pumpkin ice with vanilla custard topping. Nice.

Nothing beats a crisp fall morning than a nice hot cup of coffee. An easy way to add some fall flavor to your next pot of joe is to sprinkle some cinnamon, nutmeg or my favorite, pumpkin pie spice, into your coffee grinds before brewing. If you're a fan of fall spices, you'll love this. Trust me. And what's a nice cup of hot coffee in the fall without a crisp, crunchy spiced wafer to dunk? My family gets a smile from ear to ear when those orange and black boxes start to appear in huge piles at the supermarket. Yeah, I know...they're sold year round. I don't pay attention to them until they're stacked a mile high in front of the store.

Wanna kick up your spiced wafers to dessert level? Add a smear of cream cheese. And if you're really in the mood for a treat, add a little bit of pumpkin butter on top of that. Fuggetaboutit!!!

Now I wouldn't be able to discuss fall foods without mentioning my new favorite seasonal treat — autumn beers. I have quickly learned to love the full-bodied, rich, toasty, typically dark copper beers that make their seasonal appearance, usually starting in late August. Each year, more and more brewers are jumping on the popularity of dunkel (dark) lagers, Oktoberfests and pumpkin ales. The beauty of it is that each brewer adds their own little twist or spin on the styles, so each version has it's own distinctive taste and the beer drinker benefits from the variety. I like to have a variety of each style on hand, but this year I hit the jackpot with the Samuel Adams Harvest Collection. It contains six different styles of beer, including Harvest Pumpkin Ale and what is one of my seasonal staples, their Octoberfest (yes, they spell it with a 'c'). So if you're interested in sampling seasonal brews, this is the best time of year to do so. Have fun, mix up the varieties and enjoy (and most of all, be safe).

Happy fall!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chocolate Guinness Tarts

I came across this recipe while I was doing some reading on a beer web site. My first thought was 'beer, chocolate, pastry...everybody wins!' I made them this past weekend, and they didn't disappoint. The Guinness taste didn't really come through as much as I expected, but dark chocolate has a very powerful taste of its own, and you're only using 1/2 a cup of the beer. However, stout and chocolate compliment each other very well, so this combination makes total sense. What I would suggest for future servings, and I will be making these again, is to serve at a party, place the tarts on a big plate, and have a small cups of Guinness sitting next to it, so your friends can help themselves to a rich and tasty dessert.


45 mini sweet fillo shells (found in the frozen food section)
Two 3.5oz good quality dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Guinness

Bring a pan of water to a gentle simmer and sit a heatproof bowl over the top - not allowing the water to come into contact with the bottom of the bowl. Break the chocolate into the bowl and add the butter and the beer. While the chocolate mixture is melting, whisk the eggs and the sugar until pale and smooth. When the chocolate has melted, stir the bowl to amalgamate the other ingredients, and then pour into the egg and sugar mixture. Stir well and pour into the shells. Bake in a pre-heated 425ºF oven for 4 minutes. Refrigerate overnight and serve.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stuffed Eggplant

The early fall is now among us, and it's time to put that vegetable harvest to use. I put this recipe together from a handful of other stuffed eggplant recipes that are available online, picking and choosing a few ingredients and steps from each. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can adapt your own touch by adjusting ingredients and seasonings to your liking. The basics to the filling are the garlic, onion, breadcrumbs and eggplant pulp. The peppers, shrimp and tomatoes were a personal preference. You can add whatever else you wish to the filling (olives, pine nuts, sausage, ground meat, raisins, etc.).


1 large eggplant, sliced in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 container cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chopped shrimp, uncooked
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º
Place the eggplant halves, cut side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven; cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes. Remove inside pulp, leaving a 1/3 to 1/2-inch thick shell; reserve eggplant shell. Chop/smush pulp.

Heat olive oil and butter in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stir for one minute. Add garlic, peppers and tomatoes, stir until crisp tender. Add shrimp, stir until they turn pink. Add chopped eggplant, salt and pepper, Italian seasonings, and parmesan cheese, stir. Reduce heat, simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add breadcrumbs, stir, let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place eggplant shells, open side facing up on a cookie sheet. Drizzle some olive oil and add some salt and fresh ground pepper to the inside of the shell. Fill each shell with the eggplant stuffing. Bake at 350º for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle some shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese on top of eggplants. Place under broiler for 5 minutes, or until top becomes lightly browned and crisp.

And the Sunday Gravy Wars winner is...

The scores have been combined and tallied and a big congratulations and a tip of the stirring spoon goes to my colleague, Una Mamma Italiano! While I am very proud of my gravy recipe, there is no doubt that Una Mamma's is rich in both taste and tradition, and I look forward to making her recipe and posting a review of it very soon!
The whole point of this gravy war was to realize the signifiance of the Sunday Gravy tradition. And no matter which recipe looks closest to yours, any one who keeps the tradition going is the real winner. Let us never lose our cultural heritage that boasts such things as family meals and awesome food!
Try our gravy recipes. Dare to compare them! Why not submit your own recipe to us? We love to hear about other paisani that love Italia as much as we do.
So thanks for all the votes and Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Spinach Quiche

Another summer has come and gone, but we still have a few good weeks left to enjoy a nice outdoor meal under slightly cool skies. Whether you call it spinach quiche or spinach egg pie (because real men don't eat quiche, right?), this is the perfect dish to enjoy on your outdoor patio or deck with friends, a nice glass of white wine, and a late summer, early fall breeze. Of course you can serve this any time of the year. I first started to make it around Easter time along with my Easter Ham and Rice pies, but I felt that this pie holds up as its own meal, so I started making it during the late spring/summer/early fall. And if you prefer beer over white wine, try serving an American Wheat Ale, Blonde Ale or a Belgian Witbier. Their refreshing, subtle citrus flavors are the perfect complement!

1/2 cup butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 (10 oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 (6 oz) package herb and garlic feta, crumbled
1 (8 oz) package shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 (9 inch) unbaked deep dish pie crust
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

In a medium skillet melt butter over medium heat. Saute garlic and onion in butter until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in spinach, feta and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon mixture into pie crust.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into the pie crust, allowing the egg mixture to thoroughly combine with the spinach cheese mixture.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle top with remaining cheddar cheese and bake an additional 35-40 minutes, until set in center. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serve room temperature or chilled.