December 2, 2016

Triple-Double Lasagna

I've never really been a big lasagna eater, let alone a lasagna-maker!  My sister and I, growing up in such an Italian family, oddly never really cared for ricotta cheese very much, so I guess that's why.  I know, I know, shock.  However, with those every-seven-year-changing taste buds, luckily, I've come into the light, and embraced ricotta and lasagna with open arms!  This recipe is called the "Triple-Double" Lasagna because it's got a trio of two different things, meat and cheese. (And because I'm super clever, obviously).

P.S. ---> yes, the bacon is necessary.

What You'll Need:
  • 8 slices bacon
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 pound ground sausage
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • (2) 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • (2) 15-ounce containers ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup sharp, aged provolone, hand-shredded
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Italian dressing, your favorite kind!
  • 1 1/2 pounds lasagna noodles
  • 12 provolone cheese slices (about 1 pound)

1.  In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisp (the crispiness adds another layer of texture and the smokiness adds another layer of flavor.  Thanks for being so great, bacon!).  Remove bacon from the pan and let it sit on paper towels to drain some fat.  In the same skillet, using half the bacon grease, begin to brown your meats, both the sausage and beef.   Add garlic and stir in to incorporate.  Using the red wine, deglaze the pan.  Chop it up, and return the bacon to the mix.  Add crushed tomatoes and your favorite spices, such as onion powder, parsley, Italian seasoning, dried basil, etc. to produce a delicious red meat sauce.  Set aside.

2.  In a mixing bowl, whisk ricotta, provolone, eggs, salt and pepper to taste, and the Italian dressing (nice touch!) until smooth.  Set aside.

3.  So - when it comes to lasagna, some people simply use the uncooked pasta noodles and build their tower of deliciousness.  I like to cook my lasagna noodles a little bit before using them, just to ensure they're not crunchy after cooking.  You don't have to do this, but I really hate those crunchy bits of pasta that don't get coated and end up all hard and crusty.  Just be sure to cook them until just pliable, about 5 minutes LESS than the directions on the box.  3-4 minutes total should be good.

4.  Now, it's time to build.  Using a 9"x13" greased baking dish, start with a thin layer of meat sauce.  Then pasta noodles.  Then ladle on some ricotta mixture, spreading it nicely to cover the noodles.  Throw some more meat sauce on there.  Maybe another layer of noodles.  Then some more ricotta, and then cover with half the provolone cheese slices.  Keep building and building - make sure you use all the ricotta mixture, because that's got the eggs in it, and that's what keeps it nice and tall when you cut it.  When you run out of noodles, or room in your dish, finish with meat sauce covering all the noodles, and then the provolone slices.  Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and then aluminum foil.  The parchment should ensure the cheese doesn't stick.

5.  Cook for a total of one hour; 45 minutes covered, then 15 minutes uncovered, in a 375-degree oven until the sauce bubbles, the cheese browns, and the noodles are soft all the way through.  Now, for the important part -- you must let this beauty rest.  Tent it with your foil and let it sit on the counter (and pick at the bits of cheese, if you must) for at least 15-20 minutes.  Lasagna retains TONS of heat, so it won't get cold, but it will allow for the ricotta mixture to set-up properly, making sure everything doesn't run out everywhere after you cut it.  That would be seriously sad after all the work you put in!  ENJOY!

November 13, 2016

Shrimp and Gouda Grits

I have to apologize for the laundry list of ingredients my recipes sometimes have.  I try to keep it simple, but building flavor on top of flavor is so important to me!  I tried to think of things that I could remove from this recipe to calm down a bit on the ingredient list length, but I truly think you need it all.  The celery, carrot, and onion trio is necessary for a ton of recipes, adding sweetness and texture.  The heavy cream adds a richness, and the white wine strikes a balance for the two.  As far as the bacon and scallions... well, that's a no-brainer. ;-)

What You'll Need:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/2 Vidalia onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 pound 16/20 shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails-on
  • 1 cup stone-ground grits
  • 1/2 cup Gouda cheese, shredded
  • 4 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
  • 4 scallions, sliced thin

1.  In a large skillet, melt butter and saute celery, carrot, peppers, onions, and garlic until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

2.  Deglaze the pan with white wine, and whisk in tomato paste until dissolved, reducing liquid by half, until consistency thickens.  Add Cajun seasoning and heavy cream and whisk until combined.  Add shrimp to sauce and cook until pink - careful not to overcook - about 3-5 minutes.

3.  Cook grits according to package directions.  Whisk in Gouda cheese, salt, and pepper until combined.  Separate into 4 bowls.  Spoon shrimp sauce over grits, about 4-5 shrimp per bowl.  Top with crumbled bacon and thinly sliced scallions as garnish.  ENJOY!

November 10, 2016

Chicken Milanese with Lemon Kale

It's always nice to switch things up in a recipe now and then.  For this chicken milanese - which is usually a thin chicken cutlet, breaded, and topped with a lemon-dressed arugula -- I swapped out the typical greens for some wilted kale, and for an added bonus, paired it with some roasted potatoes, artichoke hearts, and tomatoes.  The flavors in the golden breading on the outside of the chicken work really well together, and with everything else - especially if you like lemon, which is one of my favorite flavors.  It just brightens everything up.  This is a perfect weeknight meal because it doesn't take long to prepare, as long as you have your station set up right, and the kids will think it's a big chicken tender!  You could also swap the potatoes for some pasta noodles, too!

What You'll Need:
  • 4 large chicken breasts, about 1/2 pound each
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs, whisked until smooth
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 teaspoon each: dried parsley, garlic powder, dried dill, Italian seasoning
  • 1 lemon, zested

1.  Start by preparing your chicken breasts.  Using a boning knife, slice the chicken breasts in half lengthwise, butterflying it straight down the middle.  Cover with plastic wrap, and using a meat mallet, pound the chicken into thin cutlets.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

2.  Set up a station of three shallow dishes.  In the first dish, add flour, and in the second dish, add the scrambled eggs.  In the third dish, whisk together breadcrumb, cornmeal, cheese, dried spices, and the zest of one large lemon.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

3.  One at a time, dredge the chicken cutlets in the flour, then the egg, letting the excess drip off, then liberally coat with the breadcrumb mixture, patting them to ensure the coating sticks well.  Repeat until all chicken is breaded.  Place on a large baking sheet and chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

4.  In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil.  When you drop a breadcrumb in the oil and it sizzles, it's ready.  Gently place 2-4 cutlets in the pan, depending on size, and fry until both sides are golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side.  Place crisp chicken on a baking sheet topped with a wire rack.  Bake in a 350-degree oven until the middle of the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160-degrees.

5.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a touch of salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Feel free to garnish with your choice of sides - roasted potatoes, lemon-dressed wilted kale, buttered pasta, etc.  Enjoy!

October 9, 2016

Pasta e Fagioli

It's been Soupy Sundays for the past two weeks, this week featuring Pasta e Fagioli!  It was actually pretty windy and chilly all day, and this soup definitely hit the spot.  It's a great soup for a Sunday, too, because it takes less than 30 minutes to put together and you can relax and watch football the whole day!  Some people put a lot more ingredients in this soup, like celery, carrots, onions, kidney beans, spinach, etc. but in my opinion, this soup gets pasta, bacon (or pancetta), and white beans in a nice hearty tomato broth.  That's it!  Don't go crazy.  Pasta e Fagioli literally means "pasta and beans" - so leave it alone.  I'm usually known for having a laundry list of ingredients for my recipes, so it'll be nice to share a recipe that doesn't require you get your paycheck before making it.

What You'll Need:
  • 2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
  • 10 slices bacon, thick-cut, diced'
  • 2 tablespoons sherry wine
  • (1) 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 8 cups chicken broth, divided
  • (2) 15.5-oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound ditalini pasta

1.  In a large stock pot, heat butter over medium-high heat until melted, and add bacon.  Cook bacon until no longer chewy, but not crispy.  Deglaze the pot with sherry wine, using a wooden spoon to release all the brown "bits" from the bacon off the bottom of the pot.

2.  To the pot, add crushed tomatoes, 6 cups of chicken broth, white beans, and bay leaf.  Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes to let the flavors "marinate".

3.  Finally, about 20 minutes before serving, add ditalini pasta and stir well to ensure the pasta noodles don't stick - to either the bottom of the pot, or to each other.  Add the rest of the chicken stock while the pasta is cooking, because it may suck up a lot of your broth.  Add broth until desired thickness, and let it simmer away until pasta is cooked and you are ready to serve.  Be careful not to let the pasta overcook. 

Remove bay leaf before serving, and serve with grated parmesan cheese on top, of course!

October 3, 2016

Apple Pie Cheesecake Braid

I truly had forgotten how much I enjoy being in the kitchen.  My new house doesn't have central air (which is a LOT more difficult to deal with then originally thought!), so cooking this summer was just simply out of the question.  Then, starting the new school year at work has been one of the busiest yet!  The upcoming week is going to be seriously crazy, so I am so thankful for this relaxing weekend that I had to cook up some new fall recipes and share them.  This apple pie cheesecake braid is super easy, but really perfect for this season -- especially if you're not #basic and are looking for a dessert sans pumpkin!  Also, if you possess a lot more finesse than I do when it comes to desserts, your braid will be so much prettier ;-)

What You'll Need:
  • 6 gala apples, peeled and diced
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons prepared caramel
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 cup butterscotch chips (optional)
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped (optional) 
  • 2 Pilsbury classic pizza crusts

1.  In a large mixing bowl, combine apples, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, caramel, half the vanilla extract, salt, and lemon juice. Stir well to combine until apples are well coated.  Set aside.

2.  In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, cream cheese, confectioner's sugar, and the rest of the vanilla.  Using a hand mixer, mix ingredients until smooth.  For a fun twist, fold in butterscotch chips and pecans - or one or the other to your liking - these ingredients won't change much.

3.  Roll out your pizza dough onto a flat surface, covered with a floured sheet of foil or parchment paper.  You can't just put it on your counter, because it will be too difficult to move to a baking sheet.  Using a paring knife or pizza cutter, slice horizontal lines about 2 inches in on each side of the pizza dough, leaving a 4-inch space in the middle.  Repeat with the second crust.

4.  Down the middle of the dough, spread cream cheese mixture evenly over both crusts.  Do the same with the apples, reserving the delicious leftover caramel liquid.  Starting at the top, fold the top of the dough over, and grab one slit from one side and cross over to the other.  Alternate, grabbing another slit from the other side, and cross over the original.  Repeat over and over until you get to the bottom, where you can fold the bottom portion of the crust up, and then cover with the last two slits.

5.  Drizzle remaining liquid from apples over the top of each braid.  Sprinkle with white sugar and extra cinnamon.  Bake in a 375-degree until the pizza crust is cooked through, and golden brown.  When you remove from the oven, let braid rest for at least 10 minutes so the insides don't come running out when you cut into it. 

Enjoy with vanilla ice cream, extra caramel, chocolate sauce -- hell, you can throw some bourbon on there!  That's a recipe for another day...