Holy November! You guys, this month went out with a serious attitude. We had Winter Storm Brian come through Sunday night and around 5am Monday morning the power went out. During this power outage, there is a small chance my laptop got fried but it’s oddly the only thing in the house effected and it was on a surge protector. So chances are it just decided to die on me for no reason. So when the power finally came back on in the late morning, which also happens to be the time I found out about my dead computer, I had to dive into new laptop research…Read More
There’s one question people who rock the holidays always get: How. Do. You. Do. It? For starters, a lot of very serious planning. Once the planning is out of the way, preparation beings. It’s crazy to believe that one person can prepare a meal for 10+ people in just a day. No. It takes days of work, and weeks of advance preparation a little bit at a time. Just yesterday, I was visiting with one of my best friends. While I was putting the final touches on the meal planning for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, she was making homemade turkey stock for Thanksgiving. Why? Because it’s one less thing to worry about when you’re in the final countdown. There are several make ahead recipes that will make it to my holiday parties this year, including these delicious Classic Meatballs…Read More
Nothing is more comforting than a bowl of pasta with homemade gravy. It instantly takes me back to my childhood. One of my favorite Sunday Night Suppers from when I was a kid is Chicken Parmesan. This dish doesn’t necessarily take a long time to pull together but there are a lot of steps and moving parts. It’s a great meal to make with someone too. Normally, I prefer to cook alone but there are some dishes that are nice to have a companion in the kitchen for. Everyone is familiar with Chicken Parmesan. It’s one of those classic Italian dishes that you can find anywhere. It’s been transformed into a sandwich, salads, and I’ve even seen pizzas and recipes for soup! Nothing beats the classic, pan fried and oven finished meal.
This recipe has two parts, the pasta and the chicken. Chicken Parmesan is traditionally served without pasta. Italians don’t mix meat entrees with pasta. You have the meat course, the pasta course and the salad course all separate. My family never had a problem with the American tradition of mixing meat and pasta though. Spaghetti and Meatballs? Bring it on. If it saves us from an extra set of dishes, we’re in. With that said, I went all in with this recipe by creating a homemade gravy (or red sauce) to use in the pasta and the Chicken Parmesan. I’m not above store-bought but to do a Sunday Supper properly, pour the ingredients into the pot and get the real thing going. It’s hardly any effort at all. The only hassle is stirring the gravy regularly to ensure the bottom doesn’t burn. Tasting it each time is also important. It’ll tell you whether you need to adjust the seasoning.
When it comes to the Chicken Parmesan, the end result that you want is a nice, crispy breading with a gooey outer layer from the mozzarella, finished with a delightful crisp Parmesan crust. This recipe, I’m proud to say, yields that result. Believe me when I say I surprised myself with how delicious this meal turned out. My Noni would have been proud had she been with us that night. Let’s start at the beginning. The chicken receives a classic breading technique. Flour followed by egg finished with breadcrumbs. Don’t be afraid to get messy. Get the chicken nice and soaked by the egg so that the breadcrumbs can hold on tight. Make sure to be really generous with the breadcrumb coating too because you want a nice, crisp breading. The oil should be screaming hot before placing the chicken into it otherwise you risk the chicken being soggy. It will only take a few minutes per side to fry the chicken. You’ll know because when you go to flip the chicken, the cooked side will be nice and stiff. This is what you want.
Once the chicken is fried, it’s not completely cooked so it needs to finish in the oven. This is also where the cheesy magic happens. The mozzarella will get all gooey around the chicken and the parmesan will become golden and bubbly on top while creating a crisp later. This is pure heaven and while it might seem like you’ve overcooked your chicken, you haven’t. The result should be a moist center. Serve on top of a bed of spaghetti and you’re good to go. See? Not too bad! There are a few moving parts but in the end, the result is completely 100% worth it.
Homemade Red Gravy
2 - 28 oz. cans Crushed Tomatoes (low-sodium or no salt added preferred)
8 oz. Tomato Paste (low-sodium or no salt added preferred)
½ cup Fresh Basil (or ¼ cup dried)
6 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 tbsp. Oregano
2 tbsp. Parsley
1 Bay Leaf
½ tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1 - Place all the ingredients in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and let cook for 2-3 hours stirring every 15-30 minutes. Keep the temperature as low as you can to avoid the bottom from burning. Taste the gravy each time you stir to make sure the seasoning is good. Adjust as necessary.
½ cup Flour
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
¾ cup Breadcrumbs
½ cup Parmesan, grated
1 tbsp. dried Parsley
1 tbsp. dried Basil
1 tsp. Oregano
⅓ cup Vegetable Oil
4 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts
1 recipe of Homemade Red Gravy (above)
1 lb. Spaghetti
Salt & Pepper
1 - Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prep three bowls. In one add the flour, garlic powder and salt and pepper. In a 2nd add the eggs and whisk. In the 3rd, mix together the breadcrumbs, parmesan, basil, parsley, and oregano.
2 - Add 1-inch of vegetable oil (about ⅓ cup) to a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. While the oil gets hot, start breading the chicken. Coat first with flour followed by dredging in the egg and then coating generously with the breadcrumbs mixture.
3 - Add the chicken to the hot oil and cook 4-5 minutes until golden brown on each side. Take off the heat, add half of the gravy and top the chicken with th mozzarella cheese, parmesan, and basil. Bake 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and the chicken temperature reads 165 degrees internally.
4 - While the chicken bakes, bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously and add the pasta. Cook until al dente and drain. Toss with the remaining gravy. Serve the Chicken Parmesan by making a bed of spaghetti for the chicken and placing the chicken on top.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE A CAST-IRON SKILLET OR OVEN-SAFE SKILLET
Grease a baking dish and spread a half cup of gravy along the bottom. Place the chicken in the dish after shallow frying in the skillet. Continue the recipe as is.
4 Large Chicken Breasts Makes 8 Servings
Tomato season is here! As an Italian, I can appreciate the season of tomatoes. They’re such a versatile ingredient and come in many different shapes, sizes, and even colors. I love roasting cherry tomatoes to bring out more of their natural sweetness. Heirloom tomatoes are gorgeous for salads and sandwiches. Plum tomatoes and vine tomatoes are perfect for homemade sauces. Tomatoes are never better than while at the peak of their season. The same goes for any other fruit or vegetable but tomatoes seem to be juicier and sweeter from August to September while they’re thriving. With that said, today’s farmers market recipe is a very simple and easy tomato sauce. Make it on weeknights, make it on the weekend. Double, triple, or even quadruple the batch and freeze the extras for quick dinners in the coming weeks.
What’s great about this recipe is that the other two main ingredients are also at the peak of their season right now: basil and garlic. The basil is so aromatic at this time which makes it perfect for using in homemade sauces. Its potency will lend lots of great flavor to the tomatoes. Garlic is also growing like crazy now which means it's inexpensive and fresh. I call this recipe 3-Ingredient because the others should be basics you have in your pantry. Olive oil, salt and pepper should always be stocked in your kitchen. Nothing puts me in a panic more than realizing that I just used my last drop of olive oil. So to keep that from happening, I’ll usually buy a new bottle of olive oil when I’m a little under half-way through with my current one.
There are a lot of variations of olive oil at the grocery store and it can be intimidating, especially if you’re just getting started in the kitchen or haven’t used olive oil regularly up till now. Being Italian, olive oil was always something we had on hand. We use it for everything from sweating onions to drizzling over salads. We use it straight up to dip bread, we use it in baking. It’s a basic kitchen ingredient and that’s the same for a lot of other cultures too: Spanish, French, Greek, etc. It’s also really good for you, especially in its raw form (not cooked). I always go with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. You want to stay away from anything that labeled or considered "light." Extra virgin is of the best quality and a standard option for overall use. I won’t go crazy and buy $50 bottles but I generally like my olive oil to be made in Italy, Greece or Spain and never more than one location. Surprisingly, you can find oils that have 2+ places attributed to their creation. Not good. I have, however, found a brand made out of California that's really good. Bon Appetit has a helpful article to buying olive oil as a beginner if you're interested.
Now that we’ve got ingredient information out of the way, let’s talk sauce. Like I said, this is essentially a 3-ingredient sauce: tomatoes, basil and garlic. While you prepare the sauce, get a pot of water boiling and cook your desired pasta. I used Fettuccine because we love big noodles in my house and it's a heartier pasta. Fettuccine pairs well with the fresher sauces too. First step: heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, basil and garlic. Season generously to taste (the S&P is your only chance to season the sauce) and bring to a simmer. Step 2: Let the sauce simmer for about 15-minutes until the tomatoes have released their juices and the bitterness has cooked out. Step 3: Toss with the fettuccine and serve. That’s it! Super easy, ridiculously quick and SOOO delicious.
NOTE: If you decide to increase this recipe and make a double, triple or even quadruple batch, increase the cook time. This is very important. Adding more tomatoes means they need extra time to cook. I would add 15-minutes for every extra “batch.” So if you double this recipe, cook 30-minutes. If you quadruple the recipe, cook for at least 60-minutes. The key is to keep stirring it every 15-minutes or so to keep the bottom from burning and tasting it along the way to see if it’s ready. And to be clear, you can absolutely cook this sauce longer than the required time. Cooking tomato sauces longer make the flavors develop more which creates a richer, sweeter, more delicious sauce. The time reflected in this recipe is the minimum suggestion for the best result. Happy cooking!
Simple 3-Ingredient Tomato Sauce
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
4 medium-large Tomatoes, diced
½ cup Basil, roughly chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
Salt & Pepper
1 lb. Fettuccine
1 - In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, basil and garlic. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes have released their juices and are no longer bitter.
2 - Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine or your choice of pasta, according to package directions. Drain and toss with the tomato sauce. Serve.
Holy Summer! I don’t know what it’s like where you guys live but here in Chicago, we seemed to enter the hellmouth. I was waiting for warmer weather when it was 10 degrees in April but by warmer I meant, 60 degrees and sunny. Not nearly 100! Guys, I’m melting. With the hot temps, my appetite isn’t what it normally is which seems to be the case for a lot of people. Hot weather and heavy food were not meant to be paired together. That’s why it’s called comfort food and we gain ten pounds eating it in the winter. These hot days require, lighter meals like Pasta Primavera.
Pasta Primavera is simply pasta with fresh vegetables. It’s really easy to cook and is made in the amount of time it takes to boil a pot of pasta. It’s light, it’s fresh and it’s packed with flavor because of all those delicious seasonal vegetables. It’s also a blank canvas. There are no rules for Pasta Primavera other than there must be vegetables. You can use whatever combination is available to you or that you prefer. For this recipe, I included zucchini, asparagus, peas and cherry tomatoes. Garlic, as always, adds lots of great flavor and an anti-inflammatory touch to the dish. Scallions add a brightness and act as a substitute for onions which are generally found in most pasta dishes. Scallions have a lighter flavor than a traditional onion and they can pick up a dish instantly, not that this one needs it.
Pasta Primavera doesn’t typically have a sauce. It’s just the veggies and some olive oil. Even so, adding a little bit of parmesan cheese with the help of the starchy water from cooking the pasta, creates a light, creamy sauce. It’s delightful and gives it an almost alfredo-like texture without the heaviness of an alfredo sauce. The parmesan is slightly rich and adds a nice tang to the rest of the dish finishing out that balance of flavors. This has honestly become one of my favorite pasta recipes because it’s so simple and so flavorful. It’s also an easy weeknight dinner that whips up quick without heating the house up. Perfect for those hot summer days.
1 lb. Fettuccine
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 small Zucchini, halved and sliced
2 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
1 bunch Asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup Peas
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes
¼ cup Scallions
¼ cup Parmesan Cheese, preferably grated but shredded can work too
1 - Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, drop the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water and drain.
2 - While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini, garlic, asparagus, peas, and tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes burst and the zucchini is tender. Add the scallions and cook a minute or two longer.
3 - Mix together the pasta and vegetables. Sprinkle in the cheese and add in enough of the leftover liquid, a little bit add a time, until the pasta is wet enough*. Keep the pasta moving until you get a lightly creamy sauce. Serve!
* I used the full cup of reserved pasta water. It’s important to keep the pasta moving until you get that perfect texture otherwise the parmesan will start to clump together as it melts and cools. You want it to create a lightly creamy sauce. I used tongs to mix up the pasta as it was the easiest to maintain control of pasta.
Remember the first time I cooked my way through a cookbook? It was The Tucci Cookbook by Stanley Tucci. I got it for Christmas one year, along with a few others, and came up with this grand idea to cook my way through (almost) every recipe. It was a way for me to connect with my ethnic roots and improve my kitchen skills at the same time. It was also timely. I had recently left a corporate gig that led me into a low period in my life and I needed something to feed my creativity and restart a passion. Sound familiar? If you are one of the many people who read or saw Julie & Julia, I am only now learning that it’s a similar story.
Before you call me a copycat, hold on a second. People have been cooking their way through cookbooks for a long time. Second of all, while I had known about Julie & Julia when I started, all I knew was that it was a movie about a woman who cooked her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking while also sharing a look into Julia Child’s life. I still have not seen the movie, thanks to my stubbornness of wanting to read the book first. I am about 100 pages into the novel though and loving it. The beginning dives into Julie's life at the moment. She's disappointed in her job and where she's at versus where she thought she'd be. It was at that time she started to cook through MTAOFC. It gave me serious flashbacks to when I decided to cook through The Tucci Cookbook. There were a lot of parallels in our lives emotionally. I find it interesting now as I look back. Like MTAOFC and Julie, The Tucci Cookbook saw me through lots of challenges. Cooking mussels for the first time, angrily rolling gnocchi, re-rolling pasta dough about five times until finally getting it right, and much more. It was a journey that I needed at the time and one I’m glad I took.
A week ago, I shared the first of four original recipes in our “Around the World with Recipes” series. I mentioned it was only half of a two-part series we were doing this month celebrating foods from different cultures around the world. The second part which I haven't introduced yet is four different cookbook features. While I won’t be sharing any original Italian recipes, I did want one of the posts to embrace my roots. Who better to do that than Stanley Tucci?! I received his second cookbook for Christmas back in 2016, The Tucci Table, and I’ve been slowly cooking through it since (along with about 11 other cookbooks!). The dishes in today’s feature are classic dishes you’ll most likely recognize along with simple ones you can make in a flash.
Bistro & Green Salad with Simple Vinaigrette
For the most basic of salad recipes, this is it. Butter lettuce gets drizzled with a simple vinaigrette that lives up to its name. Most of the ingredients you’ll find in your pantry: shallot, white wine vinegar, salt, Dijon mustard, olive and vegetable oils. This is the kind of vinaigrette to whip up whenever company descends unexpectedly for dinner or you need a quick and easy vegetable side. It coats the lettuce well so that you get great flavor in every single bite.
Bolognese is one of those dishes I always find myself explaining to people. It’s not a red sauce with meat but it’s also not to be mistaken with carbonara which is egg, cheese, pepper and ham. Bolognese is a straight up meat sauce and by that I mean a lot of ground beef cooked with wine and cream or milk. It’s a heavy, hearty dish made for bone-chilling winter nights. It takes all day to whip up for maximum flavor and you feel about ten pounds heavier after eating it. Even so, it’s worth every single calorie. Bolognese is closer to a ragu than an actual sauce or gravy. You’re essentially eating fettuccine with meat and tomatoes. Amazing, right?
Another misconception about Bolognese is that it’s hard. Erase that thought immediately. Bolognese is simple. It just takes several hours to simmer. You are free to go about your day as it simmers though. I don’t get why it’s gotten such a bad rep. Because Bolognese is such a hearty dish, I recommend letting it stand on its own for a meal. The Bistro & Green Salad was the perfect complement providing a fresh, light accompaniment to a rather hearty dinner.
TIP: Don’t make the same rookie mistake that I did the first time I made this recipe. Stanley does not drain the meat in his recipe and it’s cooked after the celery, carrot, garlic and onion. He must have been using an extra lean ground beef. I used about 80/20 and the beef definitely needed to drain. Play it safe and follow my lead. Brown the beef first. If it doesn’t need to drain, remove to a plate until the veggies have softened. If it does need draining, do it carefully and then remove the cooked beef to a paper towel lined plate. The result if you have greasy beef? An oily, greasy Bolognese and no one likes that.
Strawberries in Prosecco
As if the Bolognese and salad weren’t enough, here comes dessert! Strawberries in Prosecco is exactly what it sounds like...strawberries in a glass of prosecco. Do you know bubbly wine is my favorite? It makes no sense because I don’t enjoy carbonated drinks but wine with bubbles does the trick. Here’s a fun tip to make this even better. Let the strawberries sit in the prosecco for at least an hour before serving. The prosecco gets infused with the strawberries, drawing out not only more flavor but the color. By the time you serve, it looks like you’re serving rose prosecco and it takes berrylicious!
So far, we’ve visited Mexico and now Italy. Come back tomorrow as we venture to a whole other continent courtesy of one of my favorite ladies, Chrissy Teigen. Stay tuned...
National Soup Month is coming to a quick close this week and I can’t help but admit that it makes me a little sad! Soup is one of my favorite foods. You can make hundreds of different soup recipes and never tire of them. At least that’s what I believe. January being National Soup Month gives you an excuse to go nuts on the soup intake. It was a lot of fun to create all these recipes as well. I noticed as I was working on my Q1 editorial planning that I was a little light on soup recipes in the recipe index so I felt a need to come up with more for you guys. I hope you’ve been enjoying them as much as I have!
My goal was to get a good variety of soup recipes in there. It started off with a Classic Chicken Noodle that is perfect for beating a case of the sniffles. Next we kicked things up a notch with a flavor-packed Creamy Lemon Chicken soup. This one is perfect when you want to impress someone but still give them a meal that feeds the soul. Last week I recreated one of my childhood favorites, Creamy Tomato Soup and paired it with the best grilled cheese sandwich you will ever have. We’re finishing things off with a pasta-inspired soup packed with great ingredients that are not only delightful but economical as well.
Pasta e Fagioli translates to “pasta with beans.” Now a classic Italian dish, it started as a peasant’s meal using scraps and cheap ingredients (aka, pasta and beans). We gave it a bit of an upgrade, which most people tend to do nowadays, but it still is an affordable meal and one that serves many. I like to add ground beef to simple soups like this because it makes one scoop go a little farther. Adding meat, even a little bit, makes the soup heavier so it takes less to fill up one person. So while it might cost you a few more bucks, it will feed more people in the long run. Make sense?
I prefer using a traditional white bean like Cannellini Beans with this dish but Great Northern Beans or Navy Beans would also work well. Regardless of whether the dish includes the ground beef, using beef broth makes the soup much more rich in flavor. Chicken and vegetable stock would also work well but the flavors would be lighter instead of hearty. I love that hearty, rich flavor in this soup, especially since it’s simple at its core. Like any other recipe you come across whether on this blog or any other, use your own preferences! If you want to leave the meat out, go ahead. Have chicken stock on hand and don’t want to buy beef stock, more power to you. I am not here to judge. I simply love to share recipes that I enjoy to inspire great eating in your own home. I go rogue on recipes all the time. Who would I be to judge you for going rogue on mine?
Pasta e Fagioli
1 lb. Ground Beef
2 tbsp. Butter
3 Carrots, diced
2 Celery Stalks, diced
1 Onion, diced
3 Garlic Cloves, chopped
15 oz. Cannellini Beans
8 oz. Tomato Sauce
2 tsp. Oregano, chopped
1 tsp. Thyme, chopped
1 tbsp. Basil, chopped
4-6 cups Beef Broth
28 oz. Crushed Tomatoes
28 oz. Diced Tomatoes
1 cup Elbow Macaroni (or other small cut pasta)*
1 - Add the ground beef to a large soup pot over medium-high heat and cook until browned. Remove the beef to a paper towel lined plate to drain the fat.
2 - Place the pot back on the stove over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the carrots, celery and onions. Cook until softened. Add the garlic and cook a minute or two until fragrant. Add the herbs, all of the tomatoes, tomato sauce, beef broth** and the cooked beef. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 15 minutes.
3 - Add the pasta and beans to the pot. Simmer until the pasta is al dente. Serve with crusty bread.
* Note: Elbow macaroni are idea but if you happen to forget it at the store like I did or have another small-cut pasta in the pantry, that works fine as well.
** Note: four cups of beef broth with create a chunkier soup. Six cups of beef broth will still provide a chunky soup but with more liquid. You can start with four cups and add more as desired. I made this recipe twice, the first time with a full six cups and I actually prefer it that way. The second time I made this recipe, I ran out of room in the pot I was using so I used four. It was still delicious, but it had more of a stew consistency.
Can you believe that we’re more than halfway through January? With the craziness of the holidays far behind and the thick of winter here for another month or two, hearty dinners that feed the soul are just the ticket. It’s even better when they prep in the slow cooker. The best dinners that stick to the ribs are always best when cooked low and slow all day long. Keeping this in mind, we pulled five of our favorite slow cooker recipes to lend a little dinner inspiration during these cold winter months. Happy eating!
BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders
Anything barbecue, but especially pulled pork, earns me a lot of brownie points in my house. This recipe uses a homemade barbecue sauce that took a few failed attempts to perfect. So when I say that it will blow your mind, I’m not kidding. Any pulled meat is tedious to make since the actual art of pulling the meat apart takes patience and time. If you ask anyone in my house, that time is well worth it. This recipe is also great to use in our recipe for Pulled Pork Pita Pockets with Cucumber Apple Slaw.
Hearty Beef Stew
This is the ultimate middle-of-winter recipe. Thick hearty beef stew cooks in the slow cooker all day long and towards the end, biscuits go right on top to cook. The top gets nice and crispy while the bottoms stay soft and gooey thanks to the liquid from the strew. This particular recipe calls for red wine which gives the gravy extra richness. This dinner warms the soul with satisfying flavor and little clean-up afterwards.
Rosemary & Thyme Slow Cooker Beef Stew
I love the rosemary in this stew. It gives it an almost festive flavor. The gravy is rich and thick and there are a ton of vegetables in this recipe. It’s perfect to make on those days when everyone is feeling a little under the weather. It’s comforting and packed with great ingredients that support the immune system and provide plenty of nutrients and vitamins.
Short Rib Gravy
Another great winter dish, this gravy is more meat than it is sauce. It’s a stick-to-your-ribs recipe that makes the house smell divine as it cooks all day long. The short ribs are wallet-friendly and all the other ingredients go a long way as well. One recipe of this is good for three to four meals depending how many you’re serving. You can get about 12 total servings out of this. I’d recommend a tube pasta with ridges like rigatoni. It grabs the gravy best.
Taco Chili with Cornbread Topping
Part of a series I did collaborating with New Leaf Wellness, this has become one of the most popular recipes on the blog. Taco-style chili cooks in the slow cooker and towards the end of the cook time, a cornbread batter gets poured on top to cook. It’s out of this world with flavor and the cornbread topping will sink down into the chili a little bit so that the flavors get incorporated well. This is easy to be prepped ahead and actually designed specifically for make-ahead meal planning so all you have to do is dump and cover.
Get more slow cooker and all other recipes in our Recipe Index