Saturday, April 30, 2011

NEW - Spring into a healthy meal!

If you're anything like me, you start to develop a love-hate relationship with the leftover Easter pies and cakes very quickly. You spend lots of time preparing and baking your pies and breads to distribute to family and friends, only to receive twice as much back — at least that's how it is in my house. We came home Easter night with no less that four different varieties of cheese cakes, each one better than the other. But after just a few days, your diet (and waistline) can only take so much! So, earlier this week I decided to switch gears and do a complete 180º turn for dinner. Healthy and light was the goal!

I took a trip to my favorite novelty market, Trader Joe's. I call it a novelty market because, unlike a traditional supermarket, I could spend hours checking out their wide variety of creative (and mostly organic) spreads, sauces, produce, baked goods, coffee and other products. Actually, the only items of theirs that I am a bit sketchy about are the 'fresh' meats. Tell me, have YOU ever seen a butcher or a meat counter in TJ's? Hmmmm....

Anyway, within just a few minutes, I was able to find the exact ingredients that I was looking for. Shredded broccoli and carrots, sweet Italian frying peppers, canned salmon and Sesame Ginger Soy Vinaigrette dressing. A little bit of chopping, shaking and stirring, and we had a healthy, crunchy and delicious meal. I would have preferred fresh salmon, but canned salmon works well in a pinch. If you're not a fan of salmon, try tuna, crab meat or chicken. You can also add whatever other crunchy and healthy ingredients you want - beans, almonds, olives, tomatoes, you name it! And with the warmer weather coming up, this will make a great side dish for your outdoor picnics and grill-outs.

So change those gears and enjoy a healthy meal...then you won't have to feel so guilty about having a little cheesecake for dessert.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New - Easter Treats Part 3: Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs

With just a few days left before the big Easter weekend, we're going to spend a little Kitchen Time with Emma! This week, Emma is sharing a great recipe that will put those dyed Easter eggs to good use!

Since Easter is right around the corner, I wanted to share a recipe for an appetizer that is delicious, yet easy, and tastes elegant - Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs. If you have kids, you will most likely be making hard boiled eggs in order to dye them anyway. So why not put them to good use? (If you are worried about whether or not it is okay to eat eggs that have been dyed, here is a link about doing it safely.)

Before I go on any further, I have to admit that as much as I love to cook, I used to struggle with hard boiling eggs. Sometimes they would crack during cooking, and I would never be able to peel the shell off without taking huge pieces of the egg white off along with it. And I would always get the timing all wrong. Just in case you are anything like I was, I am going to share a few tips that I have found helpful.

1) Bring your eggs to room temperature by leaving them out for about an hour before cooking. In case you've forgotten to do this, I've read that you can place cold eggs in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes in order bring their temperature up. 
2) Place the eggs in a pot large enough to hold all the eggs in a single layer and fill with enough cold water to cover the eggs by about an inch. 
3) Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and let it cook for about 10 to12 minutes, depending on their size. (I usually use large eggs.) 
4) Place the eggs in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process. 

There are many variations for boiling eggs, but this is the method that I have found to work the best. 

Recipe by Fine Cooking


6 large hard-cooked eggs 
4 oz. cold-smoked salmon, very finely diced (about 1/2 cup) 
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh chives 
1/4 cup mayonnaise 
2 Tbs. minced red onion 
2 Tbs. capers, rinsed and finely chopped 
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice 
1/2 tsp. packed finely grated lemon zest 
Freshly ground black pepper


Peel and halve the eggs lengthwise. Remove the yolks and crumble them into a medium bowl. Add the salmon, 3 Tbs. of the chives, the mayonnaise, onion, capers, lemon juice, zest, and 1/8 tsp. pepper and mix. Mound the filling into the egg whites. Garnish with the remaining 1 Tbs. chives and several grinds of black pepper.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

NEW - Easter Treats Part 2: Italian Love Cake

Last week I shared with you a recipe for Strata, which is an excellent idea for Easter breakfast. This week, we're going the sweet dessert route! Easter is of course known for it's rich and filling egg and cheese based pies in the Italian American household. My Mom has always been famous for her Easter cheesecakes. She would often make two or three different varieties. My personal favorite is her Italian Love Cake. Although this isn't her original recipe, it's one that is always in high demand from family and friends (the recipe is fairly easy to find online, and most versions are almost identical).

There was always something magical about this cake. Aside from the perfect, decadent combination of chocolate cake and ricotta filling, it was the assembly that mystified me. The first layer that you add to your baking pan is the cake batter, then topped with the ricotta filling. But during the baking process, the cheese actually drops to the bottom of the pan, and lifting the cake portion to the top. Magic!  And I'm sure you'll find the taste of Italian Love Cake to be magical as well.

Enjoy and Buona Pasqua!


  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package chocolate cake mix (Mom recommends Duncan Hines cake mix)
  • 1 2lb container part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 (3.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 (12 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed

  • Prepare cake mix as directed on box. Pour batter into 9 x 13 x 2 inch greased baking dish. Set aside. Combine ricotta cheese, sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Blend well. Spread mixture evenly over the top of the cake batter. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 75 minutes if using a glass baking dish, 90 minutes if using a metal pan. Blend pudding mix and milk until thickened. Blend in whipped topping. Spread over cooled cake.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Easter Treats Part 1: Strata

Spring has sprung, which means it's time for beautiful weather, baseball, flowers, and if you are Italian....sweet desserts and egg-tastic meals! In the past few years I have highlighted some of the most traditional Italian Easter dishes - hame pie (pizza rustica), rice pie and Easter bread. This year I'm highlighting two recipes that put an alternative spin on traditional dishes.

This week we're making Strata, which is an egg-based breakfast meal. Similar to frittata, strata incorporates an egg batter with a choice of fillings including various meats, cheeses and vegetables. Unlike frittata, which is cooked in a deep-dish frying pan on the stove top, strata is baked in a 13x9 baking dish. There is also one additional key ingredient – a nice, crusty loaf of Italian bread, cut up into cubes. Assembly is quite simple. You do a layer of bread. then a layer of fillings, a second layer of bread, then finished up with the egg batter. Once baked, you end up with a hearty, delicious egg casserole that has the texture and consistency of bread pudding. The other beautiful thing about this dish is that you can prepare it up to 12 hours in advance. All you have to do when you wake up is pop it in the oven for an hour. It's the perfect meal when you're hosting a breakfast at your house. It leaves you plenty of time to sit, relax and share a cup of coffee with everyone else!

This is the question that I get asked constantly about frittata, ham pie and strata. In theory, yes they all can, and often do, share the same ingredients. But that's where the story ends. An omelette is all about the egg. You simply top it with your choice of ingredients, then fold the egg so that everything is contained inside the fold. I love me a good omelette, but we have the rest of the year for that. This time of year is about incorporating the sweet and spicy meats and the rich and sharp cheeses into the egg batter to make it all one.

In my opinion, quiche is again about the egg. The other ingredients are an an accent. The Easter pies, however, are about the ingredients working together as one. The egg's main role is to keep everything in its place. It's the glue to the creation. This is why my Mom always said, "give an Italian a few eggs and whatever leftover you have in the fridge, and you'll have yourself a new meal."

There are endless ways to enjoy strata. You start with the three key ingredients: bread, eggs and milk. After that, the options for the filling are almost endless. You can do a traditional breakfast strata with sausage, bacon, ham and shredded cheese. Try classing it up a bit with prosciutto, pancetta and provolone! You can do spinach and feta (which, apparently, I have to make for my friend Elisa). You can go all veggie with peppers, mushrooms and asparagus. Or how about maple flavored sausage with some sprinkled cinnamon on top for a French Toast taste? And don't limit this dish to breakfast. Throw one together before you head out to work and heat it up for dinner. No matter what time of day, or what time of year, I guarantee you will enjoy this dish.

For my version of Easter Strata, I am using turkey sausage, green peppers, green onions, cherry tomatoes, parmesan and cheddar cheese (I felt that this was a good balance to the other Easter pies and cakes that I will also be making).

1 loaf crusty Italian bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup cooked turkey sausage, crumbled
1 green or red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
6 large eggs
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half

Spray a 13x9 baking dish, place half of the bread pieces on the bottom of the dish.

Add the ground sausage, onions, peppers and parmesan cheese. Top with remainder of bread.

In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, milk, salt and pepper, and Italian seasoning. Pour on top of bread and filling mixture.

Push down lightly with a spatula so that the egg batter rises and coats all of the bread pieces.

Top with cheddar cheese and tomatoes.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 12 hours.

Place in oven at 350º for 1 hour.

Let stand for 10 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.