Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Indoor BEAST Burger

I consider myself somewhat of a burger expert.  I make it a point to eat delicious burgers whenever I can.  When I was in LA filming MasterChef, I couldn't WAIT to go to an In 
N Out Burger.  I literally had read about them for years and I was salivating the minute I stepped in line. I was told by the locals to get a "double double animal style". First of all, don't threaten me with a good time. Any burger that is referred to as animal style is going to be my first choice.

Now, while that burger from In N Out was delicious.  It was juicy, flavorful and eye roll worthy.  I also love that they only have them in an area where they can ship fresh.  Cool concept.  I still, however, hold my favorite overpriced burger joint in high regard though. Five Guys. Five Guys may be the pinnacle of amazing burgers in my opinion. (**Side note, I would like to meet these magical mythical Five Guys...do they even exist?  Are they real guys?  Someone tell me!!) Even though it costs $25 to get a burger and fries, it is ridiculously worth it.  There is even a song about Five Guys that I have as my ringtone on my phone. Here it is for your enjoyment:


I love to cook and grill burgers at home too. They are just so delicious and versatile. I love making stuffed burgers, turkey burgers, burgers that are so big I have to cut them in half to fit them in my mouth. I love any kind of burger, anytime, with anything on it. Except for mayonnaise. You guys all know how I feel about mayonnaise. GAG.

Also, it should be said that my cast iron skillet is one of my most favorite kitchen tools ever. You have no idea how jealous of the Pioneer Woman I am. She has every single cast iron skillet known to man, and every time I watch her show, I contemplate googling where she lives and stealing all of her cast iron cookware. Obviously, I'm not going to do that, so I will just continue to beg everyone to buy me cast iron everything.  By the way Steve, it IS Valentine's Day soon honey bunny.....teehee.

When its winter, and you are stuck in the house, and it's too cold and slushy to go outside, it really makes you want comfort food.  Comfort food can really be anything, It can be a huge bowl of my Cream of Cauliflower Soup or a Steak and Potatoes extravaganza.  In my opinion, there really is no definition for comfort food. It is really tied to that individual. It's anything that makes you feel like home when you are eating it.

This burger is going to do that. Mostly, because you will have to be at home when you eat it, because immediately after finishing this burger you will need to get into the recliner with an ice cold beer and watch some type of sporting event, eventually falling asleep and snoring loudly. And this is not something you should do in public, although if you go to a few dive bars around Philly, you might see this happening.

This burger is a lot homemade and a little dash of pre-made. With a little help from some staple grocery items, this burger becomes the king. Or as I like to refer to it, THE BEAST. So go ahead and wrap your lips around this bad boy. It will be completely worth it on every level.

Indoor BEAST Burger

Prep:  20 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time:  30 minutes
Serves 6

Ingredients:

The Sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 TBSP hot sauce
pinch black pepper

The Burger:
6 hearty seeded buns, toasted
2 TBSP butter
12 slices crispy bacon
3 lbs 80/20 ground beef
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
non-stick spray

The Toppings:
iceberg lettuce
ripe tomato
store bought onion rings
6 ounces shredded colby jack cheese

Method:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  

Place store bough onion rings on a baking sheet and cook according to package directions and set aside.  

In a microwave safe bowl, melt 2 TBSP butter and brush on the inside of each seeded bun.  Do the tops and bottoms and lay them butter side up on a sheet pan and bake until lightly toasted.  Set aside.  

In the cast iron skillet, cook 12 slices of bacon until crispy.  Allow to drain on a paper towel and set aside.  Discard the bacon grease, but no need to wash the pan.  The residual bacon grease and a shot of non-stick spray are what we are going to use to cook our burgers.  

**To make the perfect portion burger, I like to take my ground beef and mush it down into a bowl.  I then cut the meat into six equal portions, almost like a pizza.  I then remove each triangle and mold it into a patty.  When molding the patty, press down and create a little crater in the center of the patty.  When the burger swells up, it will keep your burger from turning into a giant meatball and keep its patty shape.**  

Lay your pattys on a try lined with wax paper.  In a bowl, combine onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper.  Sprinkle half of this mixture onto one side of the pattys, then flip and sprinkle the remaining half on the other side.  This is going to make a nice crust on your patty.Allow to rest for about 10 minutes to bring the pattys to room temperature.   

Prep your toppings at this time.  Wash and break off some delicious crispy lettuce and slice some ripe red tomatoes and set aside for easy burger building.  

Preheat the cast iron skillet with a spray of non-stick spray and the residual bacon fat.  To test your skillet, take a teaspoon of water and drop it into the skillet.  When the water bubbles up and "runs away screaming", the skillet is ready.  (The reason I am only using non-stick spray, is because we are using 80/20 beef, and we don't want our pattys swimming in too much fat, so no extra oil is needed, especially with the coating of the bacon fat.)  

Place your pattys onto the hot skillet and DO NOT TOUCH for 4-5 minutes.  If you move around the pattys or flip them too soon, you wont achieve that crispy crust.  And trust me, you want the crispy crust.

Flip the burgers and allow to cook for another 4-5 minutes.  

Now here is where the fun comes in.  I'm going to teach you how to get super melty cheese without overcooking your burgers waiting for it to melt.  Once you flipped your burgers, tear off a sheet of aluminum foil big enough to cover the skillet.  Put 4 TBSP of very cold water into a little cup.  When the burgers are finished on the other side, flip them quickly to the original side, top them with the cheese, pour in the water and slap on the foil IMMEDIATELY.  Turn the heat off.  The residual heat from the skillet and the steam created from the water is going to create a cheese sauna (I just made that up), and your cheese is going to be super melty and delicious.  

Smother each bun with sauce, and build your burgers with lettuce, tomato, 2 slices of bacon  and 2 onion rings.  

When I tell you that you will never miss a grilled burger again, it's an understatement.  You won't believe you can make a burger in a skllet that tastes like this.  I promise you, you will want to send me love letters after eating this baby.  

Enjoy guys!  xoxo

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bacon Dijon Potato Salad

Okay, I absolutely loathe mayonnaise.  It honestly makes me sick. I cant stand watching Steve slather that gross concoction all over a hoagie or cheeseburger without literally gagging. I never liked it, I will never like it and I make it a point to avoid it in my recipes at all costs.

It just doesn't work for me. I am not into the consistency. In fact, I have a problem with most white and creamy things. I can't stand sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese or, as stated, mayonnaise. It is weird though because I will eat sour cream inside a chocolate cake, or cream cheese in one of my delicious cheesecakes. And I loooove ricotta cheese. I love to eat it right out of the container. I am just a strange person. There is just no other rational explanation for it.

Anyway, when I make a potato salad, I never make it with mayonnaise. I love warm potato salads and vinegar based dressings. I love vinegar anything. When I was pregnant with my son, I used to eat cucumbers in white vinegar and would drink the vinegar like it was water. I know, I am strange.

So of course I would happen to love German potato salad with hot bacon dressing. One of my friend's husband doesn't even like me, he just likes my German potato salad. Lol. 

However, as much as I love bacon, I do get tired of the same side at every barbecue or family party. Because, I literally would rather go hungry than eat mayonnaise on anything.

Obviously, since I love vinegar so much, I love mustard. I love roasting potatoes with mustard, I love marinating pork chops in Dijon mustard. This was just another way to sneak some of my favorite things into a delicious side that I will actually eat.

It's really delicious, because it tastes good anytime of the year. I love winter and snow and freezing cold weather, but I do miss barbecue type food like burgers, corn on the cob and potato salad. Who cares if it's not summer? An indoor grill pan can give you the same effect, and anytime is a good time for potato salad.

This dressing is so easy and simple, and when it is poured over the warm potatoes, the potatoes soak up all of the flavor. It is not creamy or soupy, it is just wet enough and packed full of flavor. 
I know you guys will love it. It's also going to be served alongside my Super Bowl smorgasbord that I am throwing this year. People love it because it's different. So go ahead and try this recipe out, you won't be disappointed.

Bacon Dijon Potato Salad

Ingredients: 

6 to 7 russet potatoes, skin on, boiled until tender in salty water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons bacon fat
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves enter 6 slices crisp bacon
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup warm water

Method:

Wash 6 or 7 russet potatoes and poke a few holes with a fork into the raw potatoes. Place in a pot with salted water, place a lid on and bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender.

In a cast iron skillet, or regular medium size skillet, cook 6 slices of bacon until crispy. Allow to drain on some paper towels until ready to incorporate into the salad.  Reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and discard the remainder of the fat. (or if you're like me, you save that grease to fry up some burgers or homefries!!)

Over medium high heat, add the reserved bacon fat and diced onion to the skillet and begin to saute until onion is nice and tender. Add the white vinegar, Dijon mustard, pepper, sugar, salt and basil leaves to the onion mixture. 

Drop in 2 tablespoons of flour and cook for a minute or two so that the flower does not have a raw taste. Ad a half a cup of hot water and simmer on low heat until the mixture is heated through and reduced to a nice thick dressing.

Drain the tender potatoes, and while still warm, slice into big chunks and place into a bowl. Pour the hot dressing over the warm potatoes and mix gently with a rubber spatula. When fully incorporated, crumble the 6 slices of crispy bacon into the mix and fold into the potatoes gently. 

This salad is best when served warm. Always check the seasoning before serving. Sometimes, the potatoes will soak up a little more than you anticipated, and you may have to hit it with another splash of vinegar and some salt.  Use your instincts!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Eggs in "Peppatory"

Eggs in Purgatory......can you get anymore classic?  I grew up with it, and I think any good Italian-America Roman Catholic kid knows what they are.  Until I was older, I never even knew what they were called.  I guess when I was about 8 years old, I finally heard my grandmother say "eggs in purgatory" and asked her about it.  

She explained to me that the eggs represented our souls and the red tomato sauce represented hell and to remind us that we are always surrounded by the Devil.

Now, I gotta be honest here, that's downright terrifying to hear at 8 years old.  I was deathly afraid to eat eggs in purgatory until about 15 years ago.  I was afraid to eat "hell".  (I'm serious, it really bothered me....)  But I could never get the wonderful taste to erase from my memory.

Now that I am older and a seasoned chef, my palette has changed.  I have access to more ingredients than I did when I was a little girl growing up, and I know what I like.  

Peppers.....you could go through my recipe vault and see that I LOVE peppers.  From my Creamy Sausage and Pepper Pasta to my Quick and Easy Couscous Salad.  I put peppers in a lot of my recipes.  I love the texture when raw and cooked, and the immense flavor they bring to a dish.  

I also love pepper and egg sandwiches.  The corner store around the corner from our house used to make the BEST pepper and egg sandwiches on a long roll for $1.50.  They were so big, you would split them with 2 of your friends and eat an awesome breakfast for .50 on your way to school.  God I miss those days......

Anyway, peppers seemed like a fantastic way to "pep" (pun intended) up my eggs in purgatory.  I like to serve it over whole grain toast to keep it light and then top it with some freshly grated parmiggiano. I think you guys will love  this little twist on an old classic.  

Eggs in "Peppatory"

Prep: 5 minutes
Cook:  15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Serves 4


Ingredients:

2 TBSP e.v. olive oil
2 bell peppers, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
pinch dried pepperoncini
1 TBSP butter
1 tsp hot sauce (i used Frank's)
2 plum tomatoes, cubed
4 slices 12 grain bread
4 large eggs
grated parmiggiano, for garnish

Method:

Start off by toasting your 4 slices of bread and set them off to the side.  You want them to be really crispy, but don't burn them!!

Next, let's prep the peppers, onions and tomatoes, and eggs because this dish moves kind of fast at first.  Slice and remove seeds from the bell peppers, slice an onion thinly and cube up some ripe plum tomatoes.  You don't have to seed the tomatoes, we definitely want that juiciness.  Crack each egg into individual cups and set aside until we are ready for them.

Heat olive oil in a medium sized non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add your peppers and onions and sautee until they break down a bit.  Add the salt, thyme, black pepper and pepperoncini.  When peppers are softened and the onion is translucent, add your tomatoes and turn the heat down to medium low.  

Add the butter and hot sauce and work gently into the pepper mixture.  

Turn your heat to low and using a spatula, flatten the pepper mixture down into the pan so that the pan is no longer visible.  You are creating a platform on which to "poach" your eggs.  Once you have created your tight platform, place each egg on top of the mixture.  Cover tightly with a lid for about 3 minutes, or until whites are completely cooked through.  (if you don't have a lid for your skillet, use a piece of foil and cover tightly).  

When whites are fully cooked, turn off the heat, sprinkle with some freshly grated parmiggiano, a little dash of salt and pepper, and serve over the crispy toast.  This is definitely a knife and fork moment.  

Enjoy guys!!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Risotto Limone

It's my birthday today!!!  I am 36 years young and feeling great.  Aside from the 50 pounds I probably should lose, I love me, I love my life and I LOVE risotto!!

There are probably a thousand different recipes on the internet today for any kind of risotto.  Mushroom, veggie, shrimp......there are probably an infinite number of kinds out there.  I am not sure what makes mine better, but it is just better.  Even though I haven't tried one recipe from anyone but myself, I know mine is the best.  Why?  Because I am confident and cocky.  HAHA!!

Risotto can tend to me heavy though.  It's just a belly filling dish.  That is why a lot of places offer it as an actual entree after throwing in a light protein.  It is very rich as well, so I don't think I'd eat an entire pot of it without getting a bit of a stomach ache.

Risotto is found a lot in the north of Italy.  There are several different grains of rice that are available in Italy and in specialty shops in America.  The most common however, is Arborio.  Arborio rice can be found in just about any supermarket around, and that is the grain I have used for all of my risotto dishes, including this one.

My family hails from Southern Italy, and I tend to associate anything from Rome down with the flavor of lemons.  I have never been to Italy, but I would love to hang out on the Amalfi coast one day and just smell the fragrant lemon trees mixing with the cool sea  breeze.  Ahhhh, maybe one day.

Anyway, I love to incorporate my Southern roots into all of my Italian dishes.  Whether it be a bowl of Pasta e Fagioli (my recipe here) or this risotto dish, I like to make my mark so to speak.  I think I have done that with this amazing recipe I am sharing with you today.  It has the richness and creaminess of a traditional northern risotto with the acidic bite from the lemons.  It really blends well together.  I love serving this as a side to my Chicken Cutlets.  Sooo goooood!!!

Risotto really is a labor of love, and well worth it.  It's not something I have the time to make every day, which makes it all the more special on the occasions I do serve it.  Enjoy guys....

Risotto Limone

Prep time:  5 minutes
Cook time:  25 minutes
Total time:  35 minutes
Serves 4-5

Ingredients:

2 TBSP e.v. olive oil
2 TBSP butter
1 small onion, minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
juice of 2 lemons (about 4 TBSP)
zest of 1 lemon
8 cups VERY HOT chicken stock
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 TBSP very cold butter
1/4 cup parmiggiano

Method:

Bring 8 cups of chicken stock to a boil, and then reduce to a low simmer.

In a heavy bottomed medium sauce pot, drop in 2 TBSP butter and olive oil.  Melt over medium heat.  Once melted, drop in the small minced onion and sautee gently until onion is completely softened and translucent.

Measure out 1 1/2 cups of Arborio rice and drop it into the onion mixture, stirring frequently.  Do this for about 2 minutes so that each grain is covered evenly in the fat.
Now here is the interesting part...most risottos use red or white wine.  I am omitting the white wine in this dish and substituting lemon juice.  This will give ultimate lemon flavor to this dish and really make it pop.  So go ahead and add that lemon juice now, and continue to stir around until the lemon juice has been absorbed.

Add 2 cups of chicken stock, along with 1/2 of the lemon zest and stir gently, reducing the heat to a low simmer.  Allow the risotto to completely absorb the chicken stock.  Taste a few grains to test the doneness.

Add 1 cup of chicken stock at a time, remembering to taste the consistency of the Arborio rice after each cup is absorbed.  This whole process will take about 20 minutes.  Perfect risotto should be creamy with just a little "bite" to the rice.  It should almost feel like the rice is soft but has a POP to it when you bite down.

When the rice is al dente, remove from heat and vigorously stir in 2 TBSP of very cold butter.  I like to stir furiously with a wooden spoon until  the butter is completely incorporated.  This really makes the risotto so creamy.

Fold in a 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmiggiano and allow to sit for 2 minutes before serving.  Top with remaining lemon zest for garnish.

Enjoy!


Monday, January 12, 2015

Chicken Cotoletta

Everyone loves my cutlets.  Ok, that sounds vulgar.  Everyone enjoys my cutlets.....that's just as bad.  Let's start over......

Ummm, when I make chicken cutlets, people love to eat them.  There.....that sounds MUCH better.

My dad, who is my biggest critic, loves when I make chicken cutlets.  And my kid?  Forgettaboutit.  I'd have them every night if I let him pick the menu.  Cotoletta is obviously the Italian word for cutlet.  A lot of Southern Italians probably think that they brought the delicious chicken cutlet over to America.  And as much as I love my southern Italian roots, it was actually Milano where the dish has it's roots.

People constantly ask me what makes my cutlets so good.  Honestly, I don't do anything special.  I use basic stuff.  I don't know if it's the love I put in them or that my infamous "chicken cutlet pan" has some kind of voodoo cooking magic.  Maybe it't the oil blend I use?  The parmiggiano?  I'm honestly baffled.

So, as simple as this recipe is for all my Italian-American friends, I genuinely think there are a lot of people who don't know how to make a good cutlet.  My son says when he finds the girl that can make a cutlet as good as mine, is when he knows he'll have found his wife.  (Secretly, I hope that NEVER happens....yeah, I'm THAT mom....teehee).

So here is my version of the infamous chicken cutlet.  It's crispy, salty and has just a little bite.  I soak them in egg and heavy cream before breading them and they are so moist! You will love them!!

Chicken Cotoletta

Prep Time - 15 minutes
Cook Time - 10 minutes
Total Time - 25 minutes
Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

2 lbs bonesless skinless chicken breast
3 eggs
1/4 cup of heavy cream
1 cup italian style bread crumbs
1 cup freshly grated parmiggiano cheese
1/4 tsp garlic powder
6 TBSP olive oil
3/4 cup vegetable oil
4 TBSP butter

Method:

Crack eggs into a bowl and add the heavy cream.  Whisk with a fork until fully incorporated.

Laying your cutlet flat, run a very sharp filet knife through the cutlet horizontally making 5 or 6 thin cutlets out of each boneless breast.  ** Don't get discouraged if this is your first time.  The trick is getting them thin enough to maintain the moist chicken base, all while getting that awesome crunch.  **

Place cutlets in egg and cream mixture.  Allow them to soak for at least 5 minutes, no more than 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, add cheese, breadcrumbs and garlic powder.  Mix gently to combine.

One cutlet at a time, remove cutlet from egg mixture and place into the breadcrumb mixture, pressing firmly and shaking off any excess.

In a heavy bottomed skillet, heat olive oil, vegetable oil and butter over medium high heat until butter fat begins to brown  slightly.  Place breaded cutlet into hot oil and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes per side.  Do not overcrowd the pan.  I fry my cutlets in batches...its completely OK!!

Enjoy!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Creamy Sausage and Pepper Pasta

So as many of you know, I was born and raised in South Philly.  21st and Emily Streets to be exact.  I miss that old neighborhood with all my heart.  I could wander the streets all day without a care in the world.  Just me, my friends the daily $1.00 allowance from my Daddy and I was set.  Came home at 12 for lunch, then right back out until 5.00 for dinner.....3 on Sundays of course!!  Nothing was better than a walk down Synder Avenue in the summer to Chuck's for a chocolate water ice and a soft pretzel.  Running to Rosica's to get my parents cigarettes (with a note) and buying myself a pack of Chicklets.  Walking up the steps to St. Edmonds and feeling like royalty sitting in that gorgeous sanctuary with my grandmother at Saturday night mass.  The memories are always there, even though the neighborhood might be gone.

One thing that's for certain is my love of food.  Most people thank their families for passing down the delicious traditions and recipes.  And trust me, I thank my family forever for everything I was exposed to and taught.  But I would be a fool if I didn't thank South Philly.  I may live in the 'burbs now, but I'm only a few minutes drive away.  South Philly is the greatest place in the world to me.  I've been to NYC, I've been to LA.  Nothing compares.  My heart is there and always will be.  More importantly, my stomach is there.

One of my weaknesses is sausage and peppers.  I dont think you can drive through South Philly without that smell coming from somewhere.  White style, red style, on a roll, over polenta......doesn't matter.  I love to eat it and love to cook it.  I even got in the top 3 on MasterChef with my sausage and peppers over polenta!!  I mean, if Gordon Ramsay loves your food, you got it.  Am I right or am I right?  (toots own horn)


Anyway, I'd eat it 5 times a week anyway I could get it.  I'm always looking for creative ways to incorporate those awesome flavors into new and exciting dishes.  Here is one I am most proud of.  It is rich, creamy and belly busting without breaking the bank.  I know you guys will love it!!

Creamy Sausage and Pepper Pasta

Prep  10 minutes
Cook  25 minutes
Total time 40 minutes
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 box medium size shells 
3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp dried pepperoncini
1 tsp salt
1 lb ground Italian sweet sausage
2 medium bell peppers, any color
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSP butter
1 tsp dried basil
1 cup beef stock
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 28oz can of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup parmiggiano 

Method

Bring water to boil in a large pot for the pasta.  

In a large, deep skillet, add olive oil over medium high heat.  Add dried pepperoncini and allow it to toast up.  Throw in chopped onion, minced garlic, sliced bell peppers and 1 tsp of salt.  Sautee until soft and translucent.  

Add the loose sausage to the mixture, breaking the sausage up with the back of a wooden spoon until you get nice crumbles.  Throw in butter and work into mixture until melted.  

Add the beef stock, dried basil, black pepper and a whole can of diced tomatoes.  Allow to simmer for five minutes on medium low heat, stirring occasionally.  

Drop the pasta into boiling and heavily salted water and give a good stir to prevent sticking.

Add heavy cream to pasta sauce and allow to simmer gently until pasta is about 2 minutes from being al dente.  

Drain pasta and pour directly into the sauce.  Crank heat up to high and stir continuously until the pasta is completely done and has absorbed some liquid.  Turn off the heat and pour in the parmiggiano.  Mix gently until completely incorporated.  Top with some freshly grated parmiggiano and a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to finish it off.  

ENJOY....

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Zesty Crispy Oven "Fries"

If there is one vegetable that is truly versatile, it is the simple potato.  The potato was first domesticated in 8000 B.C. in what is now modern-day Peru.  It was indigenous to the Americas region and is now found all over the globe.  In fact, the United Nations reported that nearly 324 million tons of potatoes were produced in 2010 alone.  Did you know there is actually a European Database where they, you guess it, do nothing but catalog potatoes.  I wonder what sorry sonofabitch got stuck being the European potato logger.  I mean, honestly, that's a job people.  Sheesh.....

There are over FOUR THOUSAND varieties of potatoes grown around the world.  The most commonly used potato in our country, however, is the Russet.

I love potatoes.  Whether it's classic mashed potatoes or Sicilian crocche (a potato croquette, mixed with egg, dipped in breadcrumbs and fried), I go crazy for them.  I honestly think there are probably an endless amount of potato recipes across the world.  I mean, just look at mashed potatoes for instance.  I don't think any two people make them the same.  Some people should quit though, because I have had some truly awful mashed potatoes in my lifetime.

French Fries, or as Philly's beloved Joey Vento referred to them.....Freedom Fries, have to be one of my biggest guilty pleasures.  I love a good french fry.  I go out of my way to frequent a particular establishment just because I prefer their french fries over another.

What I don't enjoy, however, is deep frying in my home.  I hate the vat of oil I have to deal with, I hate the smell that seems to embed in everything from my hair to my kitchen curtains, and I hate disposing of the used oil too.  It's just a hassle that I don't have time for.  But....we go back to my over the top love of french fries.  How can I eat french fries at home, that are perfectly seasoned, crispy, yet soft and won't stink up my damn house like a McDonald's?  How can I literally perfect the non-fried fry?  I began en epic quest likened to that of Frodo Baggins....ok, that's such a HUGE exaggeration, but I be I made my point!

Anyway, I went to work.  I tried all kinds of techniques, seasonings, oven temperatures and potato varieties.  After much trial and error...(I gotta be honest, there weren't really ERRORS, so to speak, because everything I cooked was fabulous.....but just not.......RIGHT), I finally have come up with the most perfect oven fry in the history of the universe.  And now, I am sharing it with you.......

Zesty Crispy Oven "Fries"

Prep:  10 minutes
Cook:  45 minutes
Total Time:  55 minutes
Serves 5-6

Ingredients:

1 TBSP E.V. Olive Oil (for pan)
6 Russet potatoes
2 TBSP E.V. Olive Oil
1 TBSP Salt
1/2 TBSP black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp season salt

Method:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Drizzle 1 TBSP of olive oil on a standard baking sheet.  Using a pastry brush, brush the olive oil all over the bottom of the sheet and place into the oven until you are ready to add the potatoes.

Wash and slice Russet potatoes.  I like to cut mine in half long ways and then make long vertical slices about 1/2 inch thick.  Then I slice the half moon shaped slices in half to make thinner "fries".

Place sliced potatoes in a bowl.  Add 2 TBSP olive oil, salt, pepper, dried thyme, onion powder, garlic powder and cumin.  

**SIDE NOTE**  
I am using dried ingredients, because I want a crispy potato.  I want to eliminate any excess moisture from onions, etc.

Toss with a wooden spoon until every single potato slice has been evenly coated.  Set aside.

Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and place on the stove.  Pour the potato slices onto the hot pan, trying to spread them out as evenly as possible for maximum crispyness.  The larger area of potato you have touching the baking sheet, the crispier your "fries" will be.

Sprinkle 1 tsp of season salt over the "fries" and place them into the oven for about 25 minutes.

Remove pan from oven, and using a thin metal spatula, flip the "fries" over, again trying to spread them out as evenly as possible.

Place back into the hot oven and continue baking for another 20 minutes.

You should be left with the most delicious baked "fries" you have ever tasted.  Enjoy!!


Monday, January 5, 2015

Spicy Cauliflower Rigatoni

MMMM cauliflower.  Cauliflower originated in the Northern Mediterranean region.  It dates back further than you can imagine.  It comes in many varieties and colors.  The most common types in Italy are white, Romanesco, various brown, green, purple, and yellow,  Cauliflower is very popular in Sicilian cuisine, although its usually the light green variety, which can be found in some farmers markets throughout the US.  Cauliflower is low in fat, low in carbohydrates and super high in fiber, folate and vitamin C. 

It is pretty amazing anyway you cook it.   Roasted, grilled, boiled, steamed.....even fried.  (Have you ever had deep fried cauliflower???  No?  You haven't lived....) Nestled in Garnet Valley, PA, about 30 minutes outside Philly is an indoor farmers market, complete with PA's own Amish, called Booth's Corner Farmers Market.  There is this little stand in there that deeps fries just about every kind of veggie you can find.  The deep fried cauliflower is by far, in my opinion, the best.....dipped in cheese sauce......oh......my......God......

Okay, I'm getting off track.  Point here is, that cauliflower is amazing.  It's especially amazing sauteed and put in a light and robust pasta sauce.  My grandfather actually made this for me growing up.  Try as I may, I can't get his down exactly, but I make a damn good attempt. This recipe livens up the cauliflower with some heat.  Dried pepperoncini flakes give it just enough kick that's enough for your heat seekers and not too much for your wuss'.  It's not saucy, just a light thin sauce that gets absorbed gloriously by the rigatoni.  

Spicy Cauliflower Rigatoni

Prep:  15 minutes
Cook:  25 minutes
Total Time:  45 minutes
Serves 4-6



Ingredients:
2 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1 tsp dried pepperoncini
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSP butter
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 ladlefull startchy pasta water
1 lb Rigatoni
1/2 cup grated Parmiggiano



Method:

Place water into pasta pot and put on high heat with a lid.  Allow to come to a full boil while you prepare the next few steps.

Wash cauliflower and remove green leaves and center core.  Chop cauliflower into bite size florets.  You don't want them bigger than your pasta.

In a large, deep skillet, place 2 TBSP olive oil in the pan over medium high heat.  Drop in 1 tsp of pepperoncini flakes and allow them to toast.

While the pepper flakes are toasting up, chop an onion and mince 3 cloves of garlic.  Add to oil with 1 tsp of salt and sautee gently until translucent.

Add in the cauliflower, butter, black pepper, dried basil and dried thyme and sautee until several pieces of cauliflower get a deep golden color.

Add the chicken stock and reduce heat to a light simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the cauliflower is cooking evenly.  

Drop your pasta in heavily salted boiling water.

Add a ladelfull of the salty, startchy pasta water to the cauliflower sauce.  Continue to simmer until pasta is about 2 minutes from being al dente.

Drain pasta and drop directly into cauliflower sauce.  Crank the heat on high and stir continuously until most of the sauce has been absorbed into the rigatoni.  This usually takes about 1 or 2 minutes.

Turn the heat off and add 1/2 cup of freshly grated parmiggiano.  Toss gently to combine and serve.  Top with additional parmiggiano if desired.

Enjoy!!!


Friday, January 2, 2015

Quick and Easy Couscous Salad

So everyone wants to start the New Year off eating healthy.  For me, that usually lasts about 2 weeks.  It's just not in my genetic makeup to eat like a rabbit every day.  I like gut busting rich meals.  Unfortunately for me, that is one of the many reasons I weigh a metric ton, but I digress.

Don't get me wrong, I eat healthy on occasion.  It's not like I do it on purpose though.  I just love good food, and sometimes that is eating a delicious piece of grilled chicken over a bed of greens, or maybe even a piece of baked fish over some brown rice.  It's really what I'm in the mood for honestly.

What I do favor, however, is homemade.  I especially favor homemade, quick AND inexpensive.  I have a family of six I feed, and ALL of us are big eaters.  I won't even go into how expensive my food bill is each week.  That reminds me......I should probably see what's on sale this week.  Anyway......

In my quest for quick, easy, inexpensive and homemade with an occasional healthy flair, I came up with this little gem years ago when I was a struggling budget crazy single mom.  I needed something that I could take to lunch for a few days that would keep nice and wouldn't kill my purse.

Couscous was all the rage a few years back.  It was "new" so to speak, to the average household cook.  It seemed pretty exotic at the time too.  I remember the first time my grandfather brought home a box of Far East Roasted Garlic Couscous in the late 90's.  We thought we were the cat's pajamas eating something so international.  Makes me giggle to think about it......

Now, you can find it pretty much anywhere.  For this recipe I actually used a no-name brand that was on sale at Target.  The only thing that differs is the way you decide to make it your own.

Here's one of my ways......Enjoy!!

Quick and Easy Couscous Salad



Prep Time:  5 minutes
Cook Time:  5 minutes
Total Time:  15 minutes
Yield:  About 3 cups prepared



Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup water
1 TBSP Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup couscous
1 TBSP finely minced onion
1/4 bell pepper, finely minced
1 plum tomato, seeded and finely chopped
1 cucumber, skin removed, seeded and finely chopped
2 TBSP Extra virgin olive oil
1 TBSP apple cider vinegar
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
scallions for garnish



Method:

In a medium saucepot, bring water and 1 TBSP of olive oil to a boil.

Add in 1 cup of couscous and cover tightly for at least 5 minutes.



While the couscous is absorbing the liquid, mince onion, mince the bell pepper and seed and chop the cucumber and tomato.  Set aside.



Your couscous should be ready at this time.  Remove lid and fluff gently with a fork.



Add in the onion, bell pepper, zest and juice of a lemon and 2 tsp of salt.  Mix gently with a fork and allow to cool while you prepare the vinaigrette.



In a small bowl whisk together 2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil, black pepper and apple cider vinegar.

Add tomato and cucumber to cooled couscous.  Drizzle olive oil and vinegar over the couscous and fluff again with a fork.

Garnish with a few chopped scallions and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Enjoy!!