Italian-Style Pigs in a Blanket | Holiday Recipes: Make Ahead

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…

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Classic Meatballs | Holiday Recipes: Make Ahead

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…

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Chicken Parmesan | Sunday Night Suppers

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Homemade Red Gravy
Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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.

Chicken Parmesan
Ingredients:
½ cup Flour
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
2 Eggs
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

Directions:
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

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Simple 3-Ingredient Tomato Sauce | Farmers Market Series

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.

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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.

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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!

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Simple 3-Ingredient Tomato Sauce
Ingredients:
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
4 medium-large Tomatoes, diced
½ cup Basil, roughly chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
Salt & Pepper
1 lb. Fettuccine

Directions:
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.

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Pasta Primavera | Spring Recipes

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.

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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.

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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.

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Pasta Primavera
Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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.

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My Father's Daughter | Cookbooks By Lovely Ladies

My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow is one of the many cookbooks I received for Christmas this past year. It’s one of the almost two dozen cookbooks currently sitting on my bookshelf. This cookbook has gotten the least amount of attention from me since Christmas but the recipes I have made are quite tasty. Today’s menu to highlight the cookbook is a simple and quick pasta with salad. I made this on a Friday night for only me but it’s a great weeknight meal when you need to get dinner on the table quick.

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I put My Father’s Daughter on my wish list with apprehension. Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t someone who you’d think would have approachable recipes. She’s always talking about these crazy ingredients that are hard to find and freakishly expensive. All the reviews I’d read and previews I saw made it see like this particular cookbook was applicable to anyone. I’m not shy to new ingredients, I did cook through A Kitchen In France which had me using things I didn’t even know existed. However, I’m not fond of spending a thousand dollars for one week’s worth of groceries. Flipping through My Father’s Daughter, I realized that not only did Gwyneth share recipes for the everyday home cook, she shared options.

The beginning of the cookbook shares essential tools Gwyneth always has in her kitchen, directions for any kind of special technique, and my favorite...a substitution chart. There’s nothing worse than finding a recipe that looks divine and realizing you need a specialty flour or sugar for it. This chart includes common substitutions for things like spelt, barley and buckwheat flour, non-dairy milks, and meat alternatives. It’s handy for someone like me that might not have a ton of experience with those ingredients and doesn’t feel confident make the switch without guidance. I’ve taken a photo of this chart on my phone and saved it so I can use it with recipes in other cookbooks! It’s such a useful tool.

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Besides the special tools, My Father’s Daughter includes a personal note from Gwyneth, recipes for soups, salads, burgers & sandwiches, pastas, main courses, side dishes, breakfast and desserts, tips on how to use the book, and more. Many of the recipes include little notes from Gwyneth sharing tips, experiences or memories. Many of them also have substitution suggestions and recommendations for cooking like prepping the sauce ahead of time. I chose a few of her simpler recipes to spotlight for this post. I hope you like them!

The Menu:
Italian Chopped Salad
Penne Puttanesca
Fudgy Chocolate Brownies

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Fun Fact: Italians do not eat their salad as a starter or appetizer like Americans do. The salad is instead more of an in between course or final dish after the heavier meat course is served. Personal Fact: My (Italian) family has always served salad as an optional add-on to whatever meal we’re having. I enjoy having it alongside the main dinner course. Case in point, today’s menu! The Italian Chopped Salad from My Father’s Daughter is a light and veggie packed recipe that is both easy to prepare and a treat to eat. Leafy greens are tossed with scallions, tomatoes, tiny balls of Mozzarella (bocconcini or pearl Mozz - whatever you can find), green beans, and a light vinaigrette. Gwyneth’s recipe also calls for preserved artichoke hearts, roasted bell peppers and anchovies but I left them out for various reasons. It took no time to pull this salad together and it was the perfect accompaniment to the Penne Puttanesca.

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Penne Puttanesca originated in Naples, not far where part of my family is from. It consists of ingredients that are strong in flavor like anchovies, capers and olives. These three ingredients in particular can have a briney, salty flavor. The sweetness of a basic tomato sauce balances that acidity and saltiness well. Gwyneth’s recipe calls for her Basic Tomato Sauce recipe which I have not tried my hand at yet. But I did buy a jar of marinara from the grocery store. I know most people who are Italian cringe at the thought but I am not above convenience. A batch of gravy takes a day to make and lots of freezer space to store. The only tweak I made to this recipe was leave out the anchovies. I don’t mind using anchovies in cooking because they do add a great depth of flavor but if I’m not going to use the entire can or jar, I won’t do it. I feel like it’s a waste to open up a package for one or two. Not to mention they start to smell if you save them.

The Penne Puttanesca was in one word, delightful. I made this entire meal for myself one night. It was late, I hadn’t eaten a real meal in days and I needed to make the recipes for this blog post. I ignored my lazy - “It’s Friday night”- mentality and got to cooking. I don’t know what I was waiting for because the salad and the pasta together took hardly any time. It was a comforting, yet still light dinner and it reminded me of home (I was living in the city at the time). Another reason this meal was so great...the leftovers lasted for days!

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Finally, Gwyneth has this recipe for Fudgy Chocolate Brownies. They're as healthy as you can possibly get them without sacrificing flavor. Let me tell you, no flavor was sacrificed in the making of these brownies. One requires a giant glass of milk alongside it and they are crazy rich. Little confession, her recipe uses spelt flour and soy milk but I used regular white flour and lactose-free milk. So hers, in hindsight, are probably a bit healthier. I did not make these to go alongside my pasta and salad dinner but I did make them for Tapas Night with the girls and they were the perfect finish.

Hosting A Girls' Night In - Pizza Night!

Who doesn’t love pizza? According to an article from the Food Network it’s America’s #1 favorite comfort food! It’s no surprise considering pizza night is something you hear quite often. Keeping with our girls’ night theme this month, I thought it would be fun to put together a few easy pizza recipes to knock out before the girls come over this weekend. These are so simple you could even put them to work if you’d like. Give someone the job of applying the toppings and someone else the job of pouring the wine and you’ll be having a good time before you know it.

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I could share a homemade pizza dough recipe with you, tell you how to spend an entire day whipping up your own pizza sauce. Let’s be honest though. I’m a busy girl and I know lots of you are busy as well. I love to cook and I spend a lot of time doing just that. I also like to have quick-prep meals when company is coming that won’t have me ready for a nap right after. There are so many store-bought options available to us that can make things like pizza night super easy to put together within minutes. In fact, I prepped all three pizzas below plus the bistro salad in just one hour. Sounds pretty good doesn't it? And everything is basically home cooked. So you don’t knead the dough with your own hands? Who’s judging? Certainly not me because I have kneaded that dough before and while it’s therapeutic, relaxing it is not. Grab a glass of your favorite wine, prep your ingredients and get to assembling. Pizza night is minutes away and you don’t wand to miss it!

About that vino I keep talking about... I shared a margarita recipe to go with taco night so it only seemed appropriate to include wine pairings for pizza night. When it comes to wine, I started out as a white wine loving gal. Studying wine while studying abroad in France and then following it up with a few more classes in the US exponentially expanded my palette. For starters, my choice of white is no longer Moscato but instead Sancerre which is unfortunate since it comes from a very small region in France therefore is terribly expensive stateside. Second of all, I went from never touching red wine to preferring it. I love a good tempranillo, malbec, and spicy Spanish reds. Knowing not everyone has the same taste in wine, I did a little research while also relying on my own personal tastes to put together a few suggestions for each pizza recipe we have to share. Take a look and let me know what you think in the comments below!

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PREPPING THE PIZZAS:
What You Need:
Cornmeal
Store-Bought (or homemade pizza dough)
Pizza Sauce (I used 24 oz. over three pizzas)
1 tbsp dried Oregano per pizza

Directions:
1 - Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (or follow the directions on the pizza dough package if different).

2 - Sprinkle a tablespoon of cornmeal on the baking sheet and/or pizza pan. Roll out, or unroll, the pizza dough. It doesn’t have to be perfect but stretch it out as much as you can without any tears. Spread a few ladles of pizza sauce onto the dough.

3 - Top with your choice of toppings (directions for each below). 

4 - Finish with a sprinkle of oregano. Pop into the oven and bake 12-15 minutes or as long as the package directions say. Let cool 5 minutes or so before slicing. This will help keep the cheese in place. Enjoy!

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Veggie Lovers’
Ingredients:
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Bell Peppers, cut into small chunks
8 oz. Mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes, halved
1 cup Black Olives, sliced
2 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

Directions:
1 - Follow steps one and two from above.

2 - Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the bell peppers, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Cook 8-10 minutes until softened. Spread over the pizza sauce followed by the olives and top with mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes evenly all over the cheese.

3- Continue with step four to finish.

Wine Pairing Suggestion: Barbera, Sancerre or Rose

I did half sausage and half sausage and green pepper. If you decide to do a half and half like this, just use one bell pepper instead of two.

I did half sausage and half sausage and green pepper. If you decide to do a half and half like this, just use one bell pepper instead of two.

Sausage & Pepper
Ingredients:
1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage, browned
2 Bell Peppers, cut into small chunks
2 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

Directions:
1 - Follow steps one and two from above.

2 - In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess grease. In the same skillet, add the bell peppers. Cook 8-10 minutes until softened. Add the sausage back into the skillet to mix with the peppers. Spread over the pizza sauce and top with mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes evenly all over the cheese.

3- Continue with step four to finish.

Wine Pairing Suggestion: Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz

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Classic Cheese
Ingredients:
3 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:
1 - Follow steps one and two from above.

2 - Evenly sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the pizza sauce. On top of the mozzarella, sprinkle the parmesan cheese.

3- Continue with step four to finish.

Wine Pairing Suggestion: Syrah or Zinfandel

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Bistro Salad
Ingredients:
1 head Green Lettuce, chopped
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes, halved
1 cup Cucumbers, halved and sliced
Your Favorite Vinaigrette

Directions:
1 - Mix together the lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. Let guests serve themselves and dress with their favorite vinaigrette or dressing. I used Buttermilk Ranch.

**EXTRA CONTENT! If you’re going a little more fancy on the pizza toppings, Wine Enthusiast has a great article sharing even more pizza and wine pairings that veer off the basic combos. Check it out here.

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The Tucci Table | Around The World With Cookbooks

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.

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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.

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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
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?

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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.

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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!

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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...