Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Italian-Style Stuffed Peppers

I wanted to try and jazz up my stuffed peppers recipe, and after searching for inspiration, I decided to go with my traditional plan. This recipe was once my mom’s, but I now consider it my own since I have tweaked, added, and omitted various ingredients. Here’s the gist…

4 large bell peppers
1 lb. ground beef, turkey, or chicken
1 cup cooked white or brown rice (so 1/2 cup dry)
2 cloves garlic, minced
I large white onion, diced
Sprinkling of Italian seasonings (fresh or dried herbs work fine)
Salt and pepper
½ cup parmesan cheese
1 egg
2-3 cups of red sauce
Thin slices of provolone or mozzarella

I had ground sirloin on hand, and since we haven’t had red meat in a while, I went for it. But, I have made this with ground turkey and with ground chicken, and all of the above are delicious! I started browning the meat in a pan on the stove. While it was browning, I rinsed and sliced the tops off of 4 large peppers. I usually use green, but since I had sliced up a green pepper for my husband’s lunch, I used 3 green and one orange! Colorful, I liked it! I took at the seeds and extra “stuff” out of the peppers and placed them in a baking dish that had a thin coating of water on the bottom (This prevents the peppers from sticking, and also helps to keep them moist).

Once the meat was on its way, I added seasoning. I sprinkled in some of Trader Joe’s Pasta seasoning and also added some fresh thyme and parsley, along with salt and fresh ground pepper, of course. I preheated the oven to 375 and minced some garlic and grated some parmesan. I also had some instant brown rice working in a pot on the stovetop, cooking with one beef bullion cube. (I would have done regular brown rice, but I had forgotten to prepare it, and it takes 45 freakin minutes!)

Once the meat was browned, I drained the fat and returned to pan. I added the onions, garlic, and one egg (as a binder, although you could omit this if you would like). Once that had a few minutes to come together, I added 1 cup of red sauce (I had some frozen in the freezer, use homemade or jarred). At the last minute, I added in the rice and parm cheese.

I spooned the mixture into the peppers, and topped with more red sauce and some grated cheese. I had cut out the stems from the tops of the peppers, and placed back on top of the peppers. I baked for 25-30 minutes.

I placed some extra sauce on the bottom of the dish, and placed the peppers on top. I cut in half, and topped with a slice of provolone cheese (you could also use mozzarella). I then topped with more sauce, and viola! Time to eat!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Teriyaki Chicken and Shrimp Skewers

Tonight I decided to use up the rest of the Soy Vey Island Teriyaki Sauce I had in the fridge. I have mentioned this sauce before, and I am in love! It is YUMMY! I glazed chicken breasts and shrimp with the sauce, and grilled on skewers along with sliced, fresh pineapple. Here are the details…

Chicken breasts, cleaned and cubed (I used 3)
10 jumbo cooked, frozen shrimp, thawed
1/4 of sliced, fresh pineapple

I cubed the chicken and marinated for about ½ hour. Once marinated, I filled the skewers with the chicken, and prepped the pineapple and shrimp skewers as well. (For the shrimp, I poured the sauce over the shrimp right before assembling the skewers). I did separate chicken, shrimp, and pineapple skewers because of the differences in cooking times. I placed the chicken on the grill, and brushed with additional sauce from time to time. Once the chicken had been turned and cooked an additional few minutes, I placed the shrimp on the grill. Once I turned the shrimp and brushed all skewers with sauce, I added the pineapple to the grill.

As a side, I served some asparagus I had on hand. I wasn’t in the mood for it, and didn’t really feel like it went with the meal, but I didn’t want it to spoil, so I washed, trimmed, and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and some of the teriyaki sauce. I placed in a foil packet, and added to the grill. I served this to my husband, but I skipped on the veggie.

I wanted to serve the skewers on top of a salad, so I went to work on creating one… I used bagged lettuce (I know, I know, but it is so darn easy!). Today at the store I chose one with romaine, iceberg, radicchio, and carrots. I added cucumber slices and red onion to the salad, and toasted some sesame seeds as well. I topped with Trader Joe’s Sesame Soy Ginger Vinaigrette.

Once the skewers were done, I took them apart and reassembled for presentation purposes. This was a simple but tasty meal!!!!

It's Almost TOMATO Time!!!!!

You have no idea how excited I am!!!! I went out to water my garden (consisting only of tomatoes and basil) this afternoon, and flipped when I saw 3 tomatoes on the verge of turning red!!!!!! Yay! They were from my cherry tomato plants, not the larger ones, but I'll take what I can get at this point! YAY!!!!!!!

Allie was very excited as well!!!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Grilled Swordfish with Citrus Pesto

It ‘s hot, hot, HOT out there…so I wanted to make something light and fresh for dinner and serve it al fresco (aka - eat out on the deck). We hadn’t had fish in a short while, and I was craving swordfish like mad, so I did some searching and thinking. I started with Giada’s Swordfish with Citrus Pesto and added my own touches and sides.

Citrus Pesto:

1 bunch fresh basil
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 clove garlic
1 lemon, zested and juiced
zest of 1 orange and juice of 1/2 orange
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup grated Asiago

I combined the basil, pine nuts, garlic, zests, juices, salt, and pepper in a food processor until the mixture was finely chopped. With the machine running, I gradually added the olive oil until the mixture was smooth and creamy. I spooned mixture into a bowl and stirred in the parmesan and asiago, and set in fridge to chill.

I placed in a baking dish and brushed with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I placed the swordfish on the grill for about 4 minutes per side. Once I turned, I brushed other side with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper combo.

I served the entrĂ©e with an orange field green salad with orange-white wine vinaigrette. I used (GASP) bagged field greens, chopped some radicchio, shallots, and sliced orange segments. I combined in a sald bowl. To make the dressing, I combined the following (but I didn’t measure, so these are estimates)…

Orange-White Wine Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 clove garlic
Dash of sea salt
Dash of fresh ground black pepper
Zest of 1/2 orange
Juice of 1/2 orange
Streamed in extra-virgin olive oil
Small amount of basil, chopped (maybe 4-5 large leaves?)

I combined all ingredients in the food processor and mixed until well blended, then chilled. Right before serving, I gave a shake and poured over salad.

I chose a light white wine to serve with the meal…and since a bottle of Voga Italia Pinot Grigio was already chilled in the fridge, this was our winner. I hadn’t tried this before, but loved it! I am typically a chardonnay girl when it comes to white, but this pinot was PERFECT for this hot summer night and this light meal. The wine was very mild and light, delicioso!

The entire meal, including the wine, got an enthusiastic thumbs up from my husband, which I must say is quite a feat. When we met 5 years ago, he had a strong dislike of wine and a hatred of all seafood. My hunny has come a long way!

Homage to Union Station

Sooooo, I found out today that the venue where I had my wedding reception is closing. I cannot tell you how saddened I am by this news! The venue is just absolutely breathtaking, and the food is out of this world! Union Station is a historic train station, that was restored about 5+ years ago after being closed and boarded up for many, many years. The station is now again a functioning transportation hub and has been restored to its original beauty and glory. A restaurant was put in, serving delicious dinners and desserts, and the restaurant catered weddings that were held in the Grande Hall. The restaurant is closing, while the train station will remain open. So, the news is not totally bad, as a bride-to-be could still rent the hall from the town and bring in their own caterer, etc.

But, as this place will forever be such an important part of my life, as it is where I married my husband (well, not technically since the ceremony was not there, but you get my drift), I am very sad to see it close, and just devastated for all 2008 brides who will no longer have a caterer for their event. Cara, from Cara’s Cravings, is getting married there this October, and I wish her the best of luck…I am sure, though, that the restaurant (who is catering events through the end of ’07) will uphold their standards of excellence and give her the most perfect day!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Banana Bread - Yuuuum!!!

I had some bananas getting “happy” on the counter, so I decided to make some of my mom’s banana bread. Now, you must know that I like bananas, but only if they are just barely yellow…I prefer them, actually, with a bit of a green tint to them. Nice and firm and not too sweet. So, making banana break grosses me out with the nearly black banana peels and the mushy texture of the banana. It gets my gag reflex going…

Mom’s Banana Bread:
2 cups flour ( I used whole wheat)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2-3 ripe bananas (the riper the better)
1/2 cup margarine or shortening (either works, I prefer margarine)
1 cup sugar (if I use 3 bananas, I use just under a cup)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
Walnuts, optional (I didn't have any on hand)

Sift dry ingredients (aside from the sugar). Cream the margarine, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flour alternately with bananas and the milk. Mix in walnuts if desired.

Bake in a greased loaf pan for 55-60 minutes at 350 degrees.

The bread is the best when it is a day or two old, not when it comes out of the oven. But even still, it is tempting not to have a slice when it is warm and fresh!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Antipasto with Gusto!

Today I made an antipasto pasta salad for dinner...I am excited for my husband, Matt, to try it. I think he will love it! I have grad classes on Thursday nights, and Matt plays in a golf league, so this is a perfect meal for us to eat quickly either before or after whatever we have going on.

I started with Giada's Antipasto Salad recipe, and made only a few minor changes. Here is Giada's recipe (from foodnetwork.com):

Red Wine Vinaigrette:
1 bunch fresh basil, stemmed and leaves chopped (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Antipasto Salad:
1 pound fusilli pasta
1/2 cup hard salami, cut into strips (about 3 ounces)
1/2 cup smoked turkey, cut into strips (about 3 ounces)
1/4 cup provolone cheese, cut into strips
1/4 cup grated Asiago cheese
2 tablespoons green olives, halved and pitted
2 tablespoons roasted red peppers, cut into strips
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a blender, add the basil, vinegar, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper. Blend until the herbs are finely chopped. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil until the dressing is smooth.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.

In a large bowl, toss together the cooked pasta with the remaining salad ingredients. Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat. Serve.

Here are the changes I made...

I mixed the dressing in a food processor instead of a blender, because streaming in the olive oil was much easier this way. Also, I added artichokes and also ham to the salad. I used whole wheat rotini instead of the fusilli, and I served this dish cold. The recipe didn't call for chilling at all, but I made the pasta before work this morning, assembled the salad this afternoon, and will serve cold tonight. I also cubed the salami and cheese, and next time I make it, I will cube into even smaller pieces. I might even go with regular deli salami, as opposed to the hard salami, as it was pretty tough and really salty. Actually, I would cut out all salt from the recipe, as the salami, artichokes, and olives have enough on their own.

Also, I made less pasta than she calls for (just over a half-pound) and used as much meat and cheese as she called for (even more turkey, actually). If I were making this to bring to a party, or to serve along with other things, I would keep the proportions the same as in her recipe, but since this will be our dinner, I wanted to bulk up on the meat and reduce the amount of pasta. Also, I like a thickly coated pasta salad, so I would make a little extra dressing as well.

Oh, and instead of mixing the grated Asiago cheese in with the salad, I used it as a garnish, in addition to some basil I had set aside.

I tasted some of this after I made it, and although salty, I loved it! I hope my hubby feels the same way tonight!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Beautiful Butterfly

This has nothing to do with cooking, but I took this picture over the weekend in my backyard, and I am so in love with it!

Black Dog Ale

So, on my way home from class on Tuesday night, my darling husband called with a request...he really felt like a beer and we had none. Could I stop and pick some up? Well, that sounded pretty darn tasty to me, too, so I obliged.

I pick up a six-pack of Harpoon Summer Beer (local Boston brewery) and am on my way out when I realize that MY DOG is staring back at me from inside the cooler. Well, OK, it wasn't MY DOG, but it was an adorable black lab that looks just like Allie. So, I reach into the cooler, and am thrilled to find Black Dog Ale. Spanish Peaks Brewing Company makes 2 Black Dog Ales, and I chose to get the Honey Raspberry flavor. I took the opportunity once I got home to have a photo shoot with Allie and the beer. Yeah, I know...

Simple Teriyaki Chicken and Rice

While wandering through Trader Joe's, a bottle of teriyaki sauce stood out to me, and I just could not figure out where I had seen this before. I bought the bottle based on my curiosity, and once home, I figured it out! Cara (from Cara's Cravings) had mentioned this product a while back, and for whatever reason, it stuck with me. I decided to marinate chicken in this sauce, and just as Cara was, I was pleasantly surprised with the taste! The sauce is Soy Vey's Island Teriyaki Sauce and it is just delicious!

To accompany the chicken, I made some Asian/Hawaiian infused rice. I started with long grain rice, and once cooked, added to a wok. I mixed in a little of the Soy Vey Island Teriyaki, along with soy sauce, and light drizzle of olive oil. I tossed in a bad of frozen chopped veggies (peas, carrots, corn) and added in some fresh chopped pineapple as well. I also served this with a regular old salad, but the dressing was amazing! Again, a shout out to Trader Joe's, I used their Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette. YUM!

I was worried that there was too much of the teriyaki influence in this meal, but really, everything worked nicely together and my husband and I were quite satisfied with this meal! The left over chicken made a wonderful teriyaki salad for lunch the next day as well!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sizzling Southwestern Sausage

I am not really a huge sausage fan. Besides, that is just waaay too much fat for me to stomach. But, when I stumbled upon Trader Joe's Spicy Jalapeno Chicken Sausage, I decided to give the meat a second chance. Chicken sausage is a much healthier alternative, and the taste is quite delicious!

I grilled the sausage on the grill according to the heat and time mentioned on the package. I had planned to make a couscous with it, but I didn't have any whole grain couscous in the cabinet, so I made brown rice instead. I cooked the brown rice in chicken broth for flavor, and added a little garlic and a dash of southwestern spice. I diced some red onion and red bell pepper, and cooked in a foil packet on the grill with a spray of olive oil and salt and pepper. I also made a packet with tomatoes, but only warmed these on the grill, as I hate mushy tomatoes. I added the veggies to the rice after it was done cooking, and topped with green onions and a small sprinkling of low-fat cheddar and monteray jack cheeses. The rice had wonderful flavor due to the addition of veggies and a creamy, rich texture thanks to the chicken broth and the cheese.

This was a yummy and guilt-free meal my husband and I both enjoyed!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Allie the Wonder Dog

OK, so not exactly food related, but I am obsessed with my dog and feel the need to show her off to the world, so I will most likely add in a few posts with pics of her from time to time. Isn't she cute?

Celebrate...with Cake!

OK, this cake is actually from a few months ago, but I am just so amazed by it, that I had to post pictures! I coach a middle school cheerleading squad, and this was for the end of the year party.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bruschetta Pizza

OK, so I like to think that my bruschetta is world famous! My dad was actually a really great cook in his day, and he always deemed everything his "world famous." So, as a tribute to him, this is a twist on my WORLD FAMOUS bruschetta. Anyway, I make my typical bruschetta in a few different ways, but this time decided to put it on top of some pizza!

I started with whole wheat pizza dough from Trader Joe's. I am IN LOVE with this pizza crust, it is TO DIE FOR (really, it is!). My husband, Matt, does not always like the same things as me, so as I often do, I made us each our own portion. I cut the dough in half and froze one half. I then cut the remaining dough in half again, so we each ended up with a quarter of the original ball of dough. I rolled out the dough as thinly as I could. (I tried the authentic using the knuckles and tossing method – didn’t so much work for me!). I sprayed a cookie sheet with extra virgin olive oil spray, and placed the dough down. I then drizzled a SMALL portion of olive oil on the top of the crust, and coated with a brush.

I set the dough aside, and worked on the toppings. For the bruschetta topping, here is a rough idea of what I did/used (I rarely measure, sorry!!)

*About 4 medium sized tomatoes, seeded and chopped in small pieces
*Fresh basil stemmed and chopped (I like to stack the leaves, roll like a cigar, and then chop into small pieces)
*I clove garlic, minced
*2 teaspoons fresh thyme
*½ red onion, chopped into small pieces
*Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
*About 1 cup of red wine vinegar
*Sprinkle of sea salt
*Fresh ground black pepper

I let this marinate for about 1/2 hour in a bowl in the fridge, and then using a strainer, drain as much of the liquid as I can. *This is VERY IMPORTANT as the pizza will be very watery and runny if not well drained. Once the bruscetta is drained, I add back to bowl, and prepare the rest of my ingredients…

*Handful of large black olives (canned are OK, but the yummy ones from the olive bar at the grocery store are better)
*Small chunks of fresh mozzarella
*½ cup of part-skim ricotta cheese (I like to add in a little garlic salt, fresh ground pepper, and Italian seasoning)

I place each of the ingredients in a small prep bowl and place on a large cookie sheet.

OK, back to the pizza…

Here comes the best part… I then placed the pizza RIGHT ON THE GRILL!!!! I have a pizza stone, but after hearing stories of the What’s Cookin’ ladies stones breaking, I was hesitant to do this. A while back, I had seen an episode of Paula Deen, and she placed her dough right on the grill, so why not? I gave it a whirl. Well, it was AMAZING! So crispy on the outside, but still a nice, soft bite on the inside.

Grill the dough on one side for about 5-6 minutes over medium to medium-high heat. I flipped once I saw the nice grill marks with a golden color overall. Once I flipped, I started assembling the pizza. I spread the bruscetta mixture over the individual pizzas. I added the fresh mozzarella to both pizzas, and then added the black olives and also the ricotta to mine (DARN husband doesn’t like olives or ricotta cheese).

Grill until cheese melts and bottom side of crust has nice grill marks and a crispy texture.