Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Dish - Pasta Primavera

The dreaded time has come again which has veritably put a stop to all my meal planning.  It's military payday and I am boycotting the commissary til all retirees go back to their retiree dwellings so I can shop in peace.  Though I am always at Publix, the commissary is significantly cheaper for staples like meat and pantry supplies and my supplies are dwindling fast.  But I think I can hold out a day or two, especially since tomorrow night my BFF and I are going to The Crab Shack for some Low Country Boil to celebrate her return to the East Coast.  Until this weekend, I am still responsible for feeding the natives and they get restless at meal times.

So even though I am holding out for prime shopping conditions for my next "big' food shopping, I still have to feed my family.  I looked in my fridge yesterday for meal possibilities when my crisper drawer started calling to me. I had a ton of random veggies, no defrosted meat and what should I do?  The ideas of frittatas (not enough eggs), stir fry (no defrosted meat) and minestrone (no beef broth) danced in my heads til I realized what I could make.  I always ALWAYS have macaroni in the house in various shapes and forms. I also had lemon juice, olive oil and garlic and a ton of beautiful veggies.  I was going to make Pasta Primavera for dinner.

a kaleidoscope of veggie goodness

Primavera is Italian for spring and this dish represents the vegetable bounty that spring brings us.  I like to think of it as a dumping ground for all the veggies I don't want to throw out because they sat too long in my fridge.  You can use whatever you have in the house, like I did.  The one thing I love about this dish is how colorful it is.  You always hear TV doctors talking about incorporating a rainbow of fruits and veggies in your diet and this dish does just that, it looks amazing without lacking any flavor and it's good for you!

Pasta Primavera
2-3 random colored Bell Peppers ( I used about 8 of the mini bell peppers), julienned
1/2 bunch of asparagus, chopped into 1 in pieces
1 large zucchini, julienned
2 handfuls of string beans, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
2-4 cloves of garlic ( I used 4, but you know me, I fear Dracula. You can use as little as you like)
enough olive oil to cover bottom of large skillet ( I know it sounds like alot, but the olive oil is half of your sauce)
1.5 C lemon juice
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 TSP lemon pepper seasoning
1 TBSP italian seasoning
1 TBSP dried oregano
1 box of your favorite macaroni (Primavera is usually made with Angel Hair pasta, I used Rotini because it was what I had in the house)
s&p to taste
2 tbsp butter (optional)
grated cheese (optional)
  • Start your pot for boiling macaroni.
  • In a large skillet, heat on medium high and add olive oil.  Once hot add garlic and red pepper flakes.  Sautee for a minute then add onions.
  • Once onions start to soften, about 2-3 minutes, add your assorted vegetables.  Season with salt, lemon pepper seasoning, italian seasoning and oregano.  Let them sautee for about 2-3 minutes (don't let them carmelize) and then add lemon juice.  Lower heat to low and Cover.
  • Once water is boiling for macaroni, add salt and pasta.  Boil, uncovered til macaroni is al dente.
  • Once the macaroni is about finished, glaze off your vegetable sauce with the butter and add some fresh ground pepper.  The butter helps add depth to the sauce but this is completely optional.
  • Drain macaroni and add to the skillet with the vegetables.  Toss the macaroni and vegetables to evenly coat with sauce.
  • Serve with grated cheese if desired.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Humble Chicken Cutlet

Where can I start about this fried piece of chicken goodness.  Most Italians I know grew up eating chicken cutlets like most Southerners were raised on healthy portions of fried chicken.  I grew up eating cutlets, whether it was chicken, pork or veal.  My mother and grandmother often made them as the main course of a family meal and the left overs never lasted longer than a day or so.  As I have become older and more aware, I stopped eating veal.  But when my grandmother made veal cutlets I would eat them; she was the only person I would eat veal for.  Man, were those politically incorrect cutlets tasty.  In our home, the tradition of the chicken cutlet still exists, so much so that my chicken cutlets don't last much longer than the cutlets of my childhood.  My husband is especially fond of my cutlets and I had to beg him off this time from eating too many. I had planned on making a quick parmigiana and I needed left overs in order to do so.

The humble chicken cutlet is not only delicious, but it is also versatile.  It can be sliced for a salad, used as a meat in a sandwich (one of my favorite heroes is topped with chicken cutlet, roasted pepper and fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinegar) or can become the famous chicken parmigiana.  In our family, the favorite way to eat them is cold, right out of the fridge with maybe a napkin.

Now that I have a meat thermometer, I was able to fry this latest batch of cutlets with out mutilating them in the process.  I don't know how my mom or grandmother knew when the cutlets were cooked fully but I have never trusted my frying times. I would cut my cutlets to check to see if they were done.  After having pieces of raw chicken in a Ceasar salad while at Outback Steakhouse years ago (why I won't eat there to this day), I always check my chicken to see if it's fully cooked.  With the meat thermometer it only takes a poke. I found 160 degrees to be the perfect internal temperature for the cutlets to be crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.

I use chicken tenders for my cutlets.  But if you have a butcher, or if it is more cost effective to filet chicken breasts to cutlet size than so be it.  I definitely suggest you try making them, it will definitely be worth your while!  The best part is you get to make bread balls with the left over eggs and bread crumb, they are just as good as the cutlets and for me, they are the first thing I eat after spending 30 minutes standing in front of a hot stove frying cutlets.

Chicken Cutlet, sauteed green beans, bread ball and couscous
Chicken Cutlets
2 packs chicken tenders (about 3 lbs of chicken breast, filleted)
2 C (about) Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 C (about) grated cheese
3 eggs
3 TBSP milk
1 container vegetable oil
  • Take out three plates.  In one plate whisk the eggs and milk.  On the second plate combine grated cheese and bread crumbs.  The third plate is for the breaded chicken cutlets.
  • Bread the chicken cutlets by first dipping in the egg mixture and then into the bread crumbs.  Place breaded cutlet on third plate and bread all pieces of chicken.
  • In a large skillet, fill with oil til it is about an inch deep.  Heat oil on medium high heat.
  • Fry chicken cutlets about 3-4 minutes per side, til internal temperature is 160 degrees and both sides are golden brown.
  • Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel.  Salt as soon as chicken is removed from the oil.
Bread Ball
Left over bread crumb mixture
Left over egg mixture
  • Combine bread crumb and egg til it forms into a dough like consistency.
  • Form into patty shape.
  • Fry after all cutlets are done, about 3-4 minutes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My 5 Year Old's Favorite Vegetable

Yesterday I was in Publix (yes, I live in that store, even if they do underpay their migrant farmers) doing a quick grocery shopping while I gather steam to venture to the commissary (shudder) sometime in the near future.  We were in the produce department picking up some fruits and veggies to counteract last week's restaurant binge.  Since I had Lily with me, I let her help me pick out what to purchase and my daughter chose nectarines and plums for my counter fruit tower.  We moved onto the veggies, where I had to pick up green beans when I hear my daughter squeal in delight.  "Mama, you have to get my favorite vegetables! " I hear Lil say as she points to a pack of asparagus.  I was in awe that my 5 year old daughter's favorite vegetable is asparagus, of all green veggies.  I know adults who won't even touch them.  We love asparagus in our house, even if it makes our pee smell funny and Mike and I's love has passed down to our daughter.  I couldn't be prouder that my daughter would pick such a "non-kid friendly" vegetable to proclaim her love for.  I dutifully picked up the pack of asparagus and added it to my shopping basket because who wouldn't deny their kid something so healthy, especially after I gave in to her demands for Cap'n Crunch cereal.

Ever since she was little, she has always been a great eater, even when doctor's were concerned over her size (petite). Luckily, we have a great pediatrician who reminds us how healthy and brilliant Lily is even if she is tiny for her age.  This kid can eat!  Not only does she like to eat, but she loves healthy food, like fresh fruits and veggies and water is her favorite beverage.  I don't force my kids to eat food they don't like, but we have a strict 3 bite rule in our house.  Needless to say, the kids have had a chance to try various foods and most of the time they find they like them.  I am a firm believer that our kids learn by our example, especially when it comes to food and this is proof.

After I put the asparagus into my basket, Lil asked me to prepare them in her favorite way, with lemon juice.  Though I didn't make them last night, I made her favorite asparagus tonight before her first soccer practice and it was a hit.  Here is the recipe, it is so simple and easy you just might have your kids proclaiming their love for these green stalks!

Lil's Asparagus
1 bunch Asparagus
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Cut or snap the tough bottoms of the asparagus.  If you bend the asparagus, it will snap at the tough part.
  • In a casserole, add asparagus, olive oil, lemon juice and s&p.  Coat asparagus with evenly by mixing with your hands or a spoon (I chose hands)
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and roast in oven for about 30 minutes til tender.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pepperoni vs. Turkey Pepperoni

I think I have to trade in my (half) Italian-American card.

I have found I like turkey pepperoni better than regular pepperoni.

I am a snacker, I like having easy foods in the house for me to nosh on through out the day, it also is great for my two kids who, though both in the 25th%ile for height and weight, love to eat.  They can eat us out of house and home a few days after grocery shopping.  Turkey pepperoni is one of my go-to snack items when I am grocery shopping because we all love it, even Rex (have you ever seen a 70 lb boxer try to muzzle out the last pepperoni from a bag, it's instant comedy).  I choose turkey pepperoni because it has significantly less fat than it's counterpart and since this is a regular snack in our house, I try to choose healthy, well, as healthy as processed meats go.

Two weeks ago, on the day my parents arrived from the frigid tundra (aka Pocono mountains) I grabbed Lil and we went to Publix to load up on all the good Italian treats I grew up eating, like cold cuts (lunch meat), fresh mozzarella, olives, roasted peppers, italian bread, pepperoni and even soppresata (a hard Italian sausage).  I swear Publix is the grocery store for displaced New Yorkers below the Mason-Dixon line because only there I can find pretty much all the yummy foods I grew up with.

Anyways, yesterday I was in an especially hungry mood and I still had some left over pepperoni from my parent's visit along with a bag of turkey pepperoni disks. I grabbed both knowing the vultures would soon be descending and I took the kids outside to play on the swing set, trying to divert them from my pepperoni bounty.  I first ate a few pieces of the regular pepperoni, and while it's tasty, I realized I missed the meaty texture of the turkey pepperoni.  The taste was there, but the pepperoni was greasy, something my turkey pepperoni trained taste buds were not used to.  I fed the last few pieces to the dog, praying that this wouldn't result in room clearing gas later in the day and then I started on the turkey pepperoni.  The turkey pepperoni was everything I learned to expect in pepperoni, spicy, slightly chewy and 70% less fat.

 I had found an alternative to a high fat food item and now regular pepperoni had become a lesser alternative to the turkey pepperoni thus reversing roles.  I questioned what this meant to my Italian-ess but I didn't care, I know what I like and I like turkey pepperoni more.  My arteries will be thanking me one day...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Corned Beef Cabbage on St Joseph's Day??

Another long hiatus between posts which I apologize for.  My parents were in town the past week visiting for my 28th birthday.  Not only did we have a wonderful time with my parents, we also ate really well.  The first night they were here, I made flank steak fajitas and pepper, onion, tomato shish kebobs that my husband, Mike grilled perfectly.  Then it was my birthday, where we went to Clary's for an amazing breakfast (I had the Eggs Benedict Florentine- OMG is the only way to describe them) followed with a day at the beach and then Crab Shack for dinner.

Dinner would have been perfect if it wasn't for Savannah's resident bug - the sand gnat- feasting on us as we feasted on the fruits of the sea.  My parents treated us for the sea food feast where we started the face stuffing with crab stew and raw oysters.  My parents and I gobbled down the platter in no time flat and Mike, though decidedly grossed out, took pictures of me enjoying these delightful mollusks:
open wide

nom nom nom

ooh that's good

happy me :)

The feasting didn't stop after my birthday, so much so that I won't even look at my scale never mind weigh myself.  On Monday, Mike and I celebrated 5 years being married by going to Troy while my parents watched the kids, then Tuesday we ate at a cafe in City Market for lunch.  I convinced my parents to go to Troy that night for dinner sans us and they thoroughly enjoyed it.  Wednesday we had Screaming Mimi's for dinner after a long afternoon looking at properties for my parents to buy (they are considering moving to Georgia part-time to escape the brutal Pennsylvania winters) and then Thursday was St. Paddy's day.

Growing up, my mom always made corned beef and cabbage on St. Paddy's and this is one meal that I never learned how to prepare.  She happily made the corned beef for us to feast on and I am surprised how easy it was to prepare.  All you need is a large pot (or slow cooker) corned beef, water, some potatoes and a head of cabbage.  We bought horseradish sauce and rye bread as accompaniments and we feasted on this decidedly Irish dish (though corned beef is really a Jewish delicacy, how it became associated with the Irish is muddled in immigrant history).
my mom slicing the corned beef

boiled potatoes

corned beef, cabbage and potatoes
For dessert (and man did we have our share of desserts) we enjoyed Entenmann's festive St. Paddy's day cupcakes.  We can't get these in Georgia though they do sell some Entenmann's products. I learned this horrible truth when I was pregnant with my son and all I craved were these cupcakes, I drove to 4 different grocery stores to find they never heard of them, never mind carried them.  My mother, taking pity on me shipped me down two boxes.  This time, my mother bought two boxes which she freezed then drove 800 miles down for us to enjoy.  I think I did a happy dance in my kitchen when I saw she had brought me these little processed cakes of deliciousness.  Thanks Ma!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Random Thoughts on Messy Kitchens

I haven't been posting lately and honestly, I have been feeling uninspired.  Sure, I have been cooking but I guess I have been having some sort of a writer's block when it comes to translating those experience into blog posts.  So here is a random though to get me back into the groove of sharing my love of food with you all.

Yesterday, I spent the better part of my morning scrubbing down my kitchen and rearranging junk drawers.  The granite shown, the dishes were clean and everything was in it's place. I, then, proceeded to wreck my kitchen by not only cooking dinner (homemade chicken tikka masala with rice and peas and naan bread) but I even whipped up homemade banana bread.  My husband, after arriving from a long day at school sang the praises of what an amazing wife he had, not only was the house clean but he had another amazing dinner to look forward to.

We were discussing art, something we do frequently as my husband is a Sequential Art (think comic books) student at SCAD when I compared our kitchen to a blank canvas.  It always seems the day I scrub the kitchen to shiny magnificence, I subsequently make the biggest mess.  It is like a clean kitchen inspires me to have fun by cooking some great food and undo all the hard work I had just done by cleaning it. Then an analogy, all be it not a good one, hit about how my kitchen is my canvas, and with the smears of flour, of sauce, of stray veggies, something wonderful comes out of it all in the end.  My art is my cooking, my passion for food is unequivocable.

So I leave off on that random thought with some of the "art" I have created as of late that hasn't yet been shown in my blog.  Enjoy!

Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage

Spinach-Bacon Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing
Homemade Mac n Cheese

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Veritable Wonders of Beans and Scarole

A toy war is going on between my kids as I start to write this entry and I get questions why I don't update more often.  I have tons of food pictures in iPhoto all prepped and ready to go on my hard drive and between the daily chores of a housewife and finding the stirrings of my inner, hungry muse, I do not update as much as I would like.  But alas, I am working on amending that.

Sunday was another busy day in our house, church with the kids then the obligatory Clary's lunch with Jessica and her son TJ.  On my way home, I called my parents to see how they were doing.  My parents have gotten on a health kick lately and my mom was searching me for ideas on healthy meals she could make for she and my dad.  I was stuffed from a Spinach Bacon salad I had at Clary's and the thoughts of dinner hadn't crossed my overly full mind.  My mom brought up how we had been eating out frequently lately to which I agreed.  We had been going out to eat a lot as I am often too tired to cook at night.  She proceeded to tell me what she was making for dinner - a roast chicken and a side of escarole or scarole as we call it.  The light bulb went off in my head and scarole was the perfect dinner for us to have after eating like crap the past few days.  There is one thing I know about scarole, and it is perfect for flushing all the bad stuff out of you, literally.

I usually reserve literal toilet humor for my husband and best friend; a food blog is usually not the place to talk about what becomes of food after we are through with it.  But when I think of scarole, I can't help but hear my dear grandmother's voice in my head preaching the colon-cleansing wonders of this dark, leafy green.  This is the same woman who would tell people to "shit in their hat in Macy's window" during loud Sunday dinner conversations so I guess one could say my potty mouth comes, in part, from her.  Later that night, after enjoying my beans and scarole, I decided to google exactly what escarole is and it is a member of the endive/chicory family.  It is also known for it's high fiber content. After reading that, I started laughing saying to myself "My grandmother was right all the times she preached of the benefits of consuming scarole at the dinner table.  It does make you poop."

Scarole was prepared in two ways by my family growing up, either as a main dish with beans in a tomato based sauce or with raisins as a side dish.    I made beans and escarole, utilizing cannelini beans and Tuttorosso tomatoes, which I found at Publix much to my delight. Cans of Tuttorosso tomatoes were a mainstay in my grandmother's kitchen and to be able to incorporate them in a dish that reminds me so much of my grandmother was fitting.  Since I can't find pepper friselles (crisp Italian pepper biscuits that we usually served with this dish), I decided to pair my beans and escarole with a loaf of rustic Tuscan garlic bread I bought at Publix.
Tuscan Garlic Bread served with Herb-Infused Extra Virgin Olive oil

For those of you who haven't been grossed out thanks to my potty talk, here is my recipe for beans and escarole.  It is simple, delicious and your colon will thank you afterwards.

Beans and Scarole
2-3 Heads of Escarole, washed and torn into pieces
2-3 tbsp of olive oil
2-4 cloves of garlic, to taste, chopped
1 Can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 C of water
2 Cans of Cannellini Beans, rinsed
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
grated cheese such as pecorino romano (optional)

  • In a large skillet heat over medium heat. Drizzle olive oil in pan and once hot, add garlic and saute for a minute.  Add escarole and sautee till it starts to wilt. 
  • Once wilted add beans and saute for a minute or two.  Season with s&p if desired.
  • Add the can of crushed tomatoes and water to skillet and season with sugar (I add sugar to my sauce to cut the acidity of the tomatoes but this is completely up to you), Italian seasoning and s&p.
  • Bring to a simmer and reduce heat.  Cook on low til the sauce has reduced and thickened, about 20 minutes
  • Serve topped with grated cheese and s&p if desired.  Enjoy!