Southwestern Chicken Pita Pockets | Lighter Recipes For Summer

Boy is it hot out there people. We’ve been in scorching 90 degree temperatures again (hello, personal hell) which means I’ve been doing everything possible to avoid heating the house. No one wants to cook over a hot stove when it’s unbearably warm outside and more important, no one wants to eat heavy meals. Today’s recipe is (almost) no-cook and is light enough for even the hottest of days. These Southwestern Chicken Pita Pockets whip up in about twenty minutes or so (there is prep time involved) and the only cooking required is to heat up the pita bread. Even that’s optional too. Keep reading and you’ll see…

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Let’s start with the chicken. This is essentially a beefed up chicken salad. I bought a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store that contributed the main protein for this meal and another recipe I’ll be sharing soon. You only need about two cups of cooked chicken chopped or shredded and an average rotisserie chicken will give you around four. It’s a great way to save a few bucks since four chicken breasts at the butcher will average around the same price as a whole rotisserie chicken. The chicken gets tossed with corn, you can use frozen, canned or fresh corn cut off the cob. If you use frozen, let it thaw and drain first. I used the canned variety. Toss the chicken with the corn, black beans, romaine lettuce, buttermilk ranch dressing, olives, tomatoes and cheese. I prefer the flavor of buttermilk ranch but if you like a bit more tang to your dressing, regular ranch will work fine as well. Let that sit while you prepare the pitas.

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Pita pockets are pita bread with slits in the center to create little pocket holes. They’re a great sandwich alternative and can be found in the bread aisle. There’s not much of a difference than regular bread nutrition-wise but it’s somehow lighter to me. Warming the pitas up for a few seconds over a grill pan will make them more pliable and wake the flavor up a bit but if you want to skip heat altogether, it’s not necessary. Grab a pita pocket, stuff it with the chicken salad, and voila! You have a quick, tasty dinner that won’t feel like a brick has sunk to your stomach. Great for summertime, right?! Hopefully these scorchers will only be occasional occurrences but if the weather since May is any indication, we’ll be having one hot summer. With that said, be ready for more easy peasy recipes that are low to no heat. It’s going to be a light summer when it comes to food.

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Southwestern Chicken Pita Pockets
Ingredients:
2 cups cooked Chicken, shredded or diced
1 cup Corn
14 oz. Black Beans, drained and rinsed well
2 cups Romaine Lettuce, chopped
½ cup Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
6oz. sliced Black Olives
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes, halved
1 cup Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
4 Pita Pockets

Directions:
1 - In a large bowl, mix together the chicken, corn, black beans, romaine lettuce, black olives, cherry tomatoes, buttermilk ranch and cheese.

2 - Warm each pita pocket by heating 2-3 minutes per side on a grill pan. Fill each pocket with the chicken mixture and serve.

BBQ Hawaiian Chicken Bowls | BBQ Recipes

Someone had a genius epiphany when pineapple and barbecue were paired together. It must have been someone on the Hawaiian islands because that was the first time I experienced the heavenly pairing of barbecue flavors and pineapple. It’s that odd combination of sweet, savory and tang that works so well together and can almost be addictive. Like getting Thai takeout - is there anything more resistible than Pad Thai?! I started bringing the pineapple game with a burger and I’m continuing it today with a quick and easy chicken bowl that will bring a little extra pizazz to your dinner table.

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Let’s start with the fact that this is a super easy weeknight meal. Everything can be made on the grill, except the rice. Definitely make the rice on the stove. Or you can cook all the ingredients up on a grill pan over the stove. All the ingredients whip up rather quick so you can spend less time cooking and more time kicking your feet up after a long day. I mean, who really wants to do anything on Monday nights other than put on comfy pants and binge Netflix? I got the rice moving and then started on the prep for the rest of the dish. The rice finished around the time that the rest of the meal was complete.

The “bowl” meal, as I like to call it, has gained in popularity in the last few years. Smoothie bowls are all the rage for breakfast and power bowls are the lunch go-to for anyone interested in healthy meals. I love bowls because I’m one of those people who loves an excuse to mix all my food together. When you have a meal on a plate, it’s almost as if you’re supposed to keep each part separate. If it’s served in a bowl, it becomes this delightful combination of all the things you were expected to eat separate as a kid. I love chicken and rice. I love chicken and rice with barbecue sauce. Why should I be forced to eat my rice dry and only have the barbecue sauce with the chicken? It seems wildly unfair, wouldn’t you think? You know, now that I’m getting a little introspective about how I serve food, this is probably one of the biggest reasons I love soup. It’s all mixed together! I digress though. I haven’t embraced the “bowl” trend too much on here but that might change. In the meantime, treat yourself to these Mini Lamb Meatballs with Quinoa & Roasted Veggies or Turkey Burrito Bowls.

So tell me, are you a fan of mixing all your food together or do you prefer to keep it apart? Believe me, there are some things I will not mix together but dinner seems so much more fun when it’s served in a bowl. At least I think so!

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BBQ Hawaiian Chicken Bowls
Ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts
1 recipe of this BBQ Sauce, divided in half (or about 2 cups of your own BBQ sauce)
8 Pineapple Spears
1 Green Bell Pepper, quartered and seeds removed
1 Red Bell Pepper, quartered and seeds removed
Salt & Pepper
3 cups Rice, cooked

Directions:
1 - Preheat the grill to medium-high heat (or heat a grill pan over medium-high heat).

2 - Season each chicken breast with salt and pepper. Coat them all generously with half of the barbecue sauce. Reserve the other half of the sauce and keep separate from any raw meat so that it is not contaminated. Place the chicken on the grill (or grill pan) and cook about 6-8 minutes per side until completely cooked through.

3 - After flipping the chicken, brush the pineapple and peppers with some of the remaining barbecue sauce. Place on the grill and let cook a few minutes per side or until grill marks appear.

4 - Divide the rice among four bowls or plates. Slice each chicken breast and add to the bowl with the pineapple and peppers. Drizzle each bowl with the remaining barbecue sauce.

Grilled Pound Cake | BBQ Recipes

I may not be known for a sweet tooth but I can appreciate a great dessert. Baking in the summertime is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Something as simple as a store-bought pound cake has hundreds of possibilities and not one of them heats up the home. Inspired by BBQ month in May, I was inspired to come up with a grilled dessert. You may be familiar with my fail at remembering to check the propane tank before embarking on my grilling crusade so I’ve been using a standard grill pan instead. The results are still delightful.

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Grilling pound cake might seem a little out of the ordinary but I urge you to give it a shot. I knew that it would be toasty on the outside and give it a nice texture but I had no clue that it would improve the flavor as well! Grilling the pound cake somehow manages to give it a toastier flavor, and even a little more sweetness. It also warms it up which is the perfect bed for ice cream as it gets all melty on the bottom. Berries add a little tartness which cuts through all the sweet from the pound cake and the ice cream. In other words, this might just be the perfect dessert.

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My three ingredients for this recipe were vanilla pound cake, chocolate ice cream, and assorted fresh berries but you can use anything you want. Lemon pound cake would be fantastic and so would chocolate with vanilla ice cream instead. Strawberry ice cream would make a nice, summery touch or what about something like Cookies n’ Cream? It would make a nice build-your-own bar for partie as well. Grill up a bunch of slices of pound cake at once and place them on a warmed platter for guests to serve themselves and build their own. One of our local grocery stores sells sliced pound cake as well as whole loaves so if you’re running short on time or feeling lazy, those would make a nice short cut.

With all the parties you’ll be attending and/or hosting this summer, it’s nice to keep things fresh for everyone, yourself included! There are only so many times we can eat regular sponge cake (gross) before we can hardly look at it. I love brownies and s’mores but those can get tired too. What will you be whipping up for a treat this summer?

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Grilled Pound Cake with Fruit & Ice Cream
Ingredients:
4 slices Vanilla Pound Cake* (at least 1-inch thick)
2 cups Chocolate Ice Cream**
2 cups Fresh Berries

Directions - Outdoor Grill:
1 - Spray the grill grate with cooking spray. Preheat the grill over a low-medium heat.

2 - Place each slice of pound cake on the grill. Let warm 3-4 minutes on each side or until there are visible grill marks. The outside of the pound cake will become nice and toasty and the inside will be warm and fluffy.

3 - Place each slice of grilled pound cake on a small plate. Top with ½ cup-sized scoop of ice cream and top with ½ cup assorted fresh berries.

Directions - Grill Pan:
1 - Lightly butter the grill pan and set heat to low-medium. Heat the pan.

2 - Place each slice of pound cake on the grill. Let warm 4-5 minutes on the first side and 2-3 on the flip side or until you see grill marks. The grill pan will get much hotter by the time you flip the pound cake. The outside of the pound cake will become nice and toasty and the inside will be warm and fluffy.

3 - Place each slice of grilled pound cake on a small plate. Top with ½ cup-sized scoop of ice cream and top with ½ cup assorted fresh berries.

*Vanilla Pound Cake is what I used but any flavor you prefer would work just as well. Lemon would be a great option or even chocolate.

**Chocolate is the obvious pairing for vanilla and works really well with the assorted berries but just like the pound cake, you can use any flavor you’d like. Vanilla ice cream would go wonderfully with chocolate pound cake and strawberry ice cream would go well with any flavor pound cake. Maybe even get a little creative with all the fun flavors you can find in the ice cream aisle.

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Avocado Toast with Chorizo & Cotija | Brunch Recipes

We’ve unofficially entered summer which means busy weekend full of parties, celebrations and family gatherings. While it’s nice to spend quality time with the people we care about most, it can be exhausting and a little frustrating to give up our routines. My weekends (that are free) consist of slow Saturday mornings watching Food Network shows while sipping my coffee and eating something like an Egg Sandwich. Sundays, I love to get up a little earlier and hit the farmers market before the crowds descend before coming home to a nice big brunch. I typically have a list of to-dos each weekend or goals of things I’d like to accomplish by Sunday night. I’ll also plan lunch or dinner dates with friends. Like many of you, I'm sure, that free time is filling up rather fast. This is the second weekend in a row we have a birthday party and it’s only the start. One thing I won’t do is sacrifice my weekend breakfast and brunch. When it seems like that is about to happen, quick recipes like this Avocado Toast are a must.

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If you also have lots of birthday and graduation parties in sight, there’s not always time for a pancake feast on weekend mornings. We don’t have to sacrifice our routine brunch, we just need to speed it up a bit. Omelets and pancakes are things that can take a few extra minutes to prepare and that’s not considering the bacon, sausage, hash browns, or any other sides you typically include as well. This recipe for Avocado Toast gives you all the elements of a savory brunch dish without the time commitment. In fact, you can even prep the chorizo in advance and heat it up when you’re ready to serve. That will cut time down even more!

Avocado toast is one of those things that has been trending for a while and even became a little tired for a bit. I have actually never had avocado toast before making this recipe. It’s not that I have anything against it, it just never happened for me. I love the concept though because it’s essentially a blank canvas for any ingredient you can think of. I want to keep it traditional for my first experiment and in doing so, also kept it simple and minimal. Chorizo is one of my favorite ingredients for brunch dishes and nothing pairs with the bold flavor like cotija cheese. Cotija has a more mild flavor but a saltiness to it. It’s one of my favorite Mexican cheeses...that and Chihuahua. The biggest reason, besides the flavor, that Cotija cheese works so well for this dish is because it crumbles beautifully. It makes the toast pretty to look at and adds nice bites of salty, cheesiness. That’s an effect that you can’t get with grated or shredded cheese.

What do your weekend routines look like? Do you have a lot of summer parties coming up?

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Avocado Toast with Chorizo & Cotija
Ingredients:
¼ lb. ground Chorizo
2 slices Artisan Bread, toasted
1 Avocado, mashed
4 oz. Cotija Cheese, crumbled

Directions:
1 - In a medium skillet, cook the chorizo over medium high heat until browned and cooked through. Set aside on a paper towel lined plate to drain excess grease.

2 - Spread half of the mashed avocado onto each slice of toast. Spoon half of the chorizo on top of the avocado and top with the cotija cheese. Serve.

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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BBQ Chicken Burgers with Grilled Pineapple | BBQ Recipes

Did you know that May is National Barbecue Month? It’s true! So I hope you’ve been indulging in all things barbecue and grilled. I meant to start sharing these recipes earlier in the month but, as you can relate to, life got in the way. I was also very focused on getting the Official Lattes, Life & Luggage Shop launched and boy am I glad that baby is finally live! I actually have three barbecue recipes to share with you starting with today’s Chicken Burgers. They were all meant to be cooked on the grill but in true Christine fashion, I didn’t check to see if the propane tank had any juice left from fall. So when I went to grill these babies up, the grill wouldn’t start. It’s a great lesson learned but here’s the best part: you don’t have to actually grill outside to get the grill effect.

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Grill pans are the most genius invention to ever enter the kitchen. For those of us who live in locations that have more cold months than warm months, grill season is limited. Being able to grill up an easy dinner inside is convenient all year round. Ever since I started using the Porcelain Enamel Grill Pan from Ayesha Curry’s Target Collection, I’ve begun grilling everything on the stove. Her porcelain enamel kitchenware is honestly the best I’ve ever used. One of the main reasons to grill outside is to keep the house cool. Lucky for us, we haven’t had tons of hot weather yet. A few days here and there but for the most part, cooking inside has yet to pose a real problem. With that said, this recipe works with an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan on the stove.

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Chicken burgers tend to get the side eye. People say that chicken burgers aren’t real burgers. Well, of course not, they’re not beef. But the same idea applies and just because they’re chicken doesn’t mean they can’t blow your mind. In my experience, the most difficult part in dealing with chicken burgers is that they have a tendency to fall apart, especially on the grill. Beef is sturdier than chicken when ground so you have to give it something to firm up the patty. This is where the breadcrumbs come in. It might seem weird that the ratio of ground chicken to breadcrumbs is 1:1 but it’s for good reason. The burgers gain density and they’re bound well which keeps them from falling apart. Add in some dried herbs and garlic, top with a few delightful ingredients like grilled pineapple, and you have yourself one damn good burger. Bon appetit!

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BBQ Chicken Burgers with Grilled Pineapple & White Cheddar
Ingredients:
1lb. Ground Chicken
½ small Onion, finely chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 cup Breadcrumbs
¼ tsp. Dried Thyme
½ tsp. Dried Marjoram
4 Pineapple Slices
2 slices White Cheddar Cheese
4 Hamburger Buns
Salt & Pepper
Optional Toppings: tomato, lettuce, aioli, thousand island dressing, barbecue sauce

Directions:
1 - Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Brush with a little oil or spray with cooking spray.

2 - Prepare the chicken patties. In a large bowl mix together the ground chicken, onion, garlic, breadcrumbs, thyme, marjoram, salt and pepper. Mix well and form into patties. The breadcrumbs will create a pretty dense patty.

3 - Place each chicken burger on the grill or grill pan. Let cook 6-8 minutes on each side until browned and cooked through. Add the cheese and cover for a minute or so to melt. Set aside.

4 - Add the pineapple slices to the grill or grill pan. Cook 2-3 minutes per side until you see char marks.

5 - Top the burgers with the pineapple slices and your preference of other toppings. I added barbecue sauce for extra flavor but a garlic aioli, Thousand Island Dressing, or buttermilk ranch would be equally tasty.

Roasted Parmesan Chicken with Tomatoes & Arugula | Spring Recipes

Happy Mother’s Day! If you’re a mama, I hope you’re enjoying a relaxing day to yourself or spending it with the little ones. Mother’s Day is like any other holiday in my family. I cook a lot of food and everyone eats it. All the moms get a night off cooking and cleaning, and I add another successful dinner to the books. Normally, Mother’s Day is an ideal time to use all the colorful spring produce and make a pretty brunch or breakfast. Sadly, since winter only ended three weeks ago our spring produce is coming in rather slow which makes recipes like this Roasted Parmesan Chicken with Tomatoes & Arugula ideal. It’s also perfect for moms who need to get dinner on the table quick on weeknights. It’s a light, flavorful meal that doesn’t take long to prepare and only takes a total of 5 ingredients (plus S&P).

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Tomatoes are at their peak season in August but with sustainable glasshouse farming like Chicago’s MightyVine Tomatoes, their accessibility year-round is rising. Tomatoes can add a lot of great flavor and depth to a dish. There’s a reason why Italians use them as the main ingredient for pasta sauce. Roasting tomatoes brings out all that sweetness and bright flavor, making this a great spring dish. It’s also simple and some of the best spring meals are the simplest. A little arugula drizzled with some balsamic and you’ve got yourself a tasty dinner that gets on the table fast.

For the chicken, I like to buy thin-cut breasts. Full chicken breasts are too much for one person in my family and they take much longer to cook. The thin-cut breasts are the perfect size and they cook fast. The less time you need to cook chicken, the less room for error there is. No one likes dry chicken. When the chicken is finished cooking or almost done, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top and return it to the oven to cook a little longer and melt. It will create a nice, cheesy crust that’s gooey and gives the roasted tomatoes something to stick to. The tomatoes and chicken can roast on the same pan. Cherry tomatoes have a lot of great flavor for roasting and they cook fast, especially when they are halved.

Overall, this is a really simple dinner that only calls for a sheet pan to prepare. Use some tin foil to coat the baking sheet and the only dishes you’ll have to wash are the plates! That’s what I call a perfect weeknight dinner. After all, who wants to spend tons of time in the kitchen when you can be enjoying a beautiful night on the back patio sipping a glass of wine? No one. That’s who!

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Roasted Parmesan Chicken with Tomatoes & Arugula
Ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 cup Parmesan Cheese, shredded or shaved)
5 oz. Arugula, rinsed
Salt & Pepper
Optional: Balsamic Vinegar (for garnish)

Directions:
1 - Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prep a baking sheet with tin foil.

2 - Rub the chicken (or use a pastry brush) with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Place the chicken breasts on one side of the baking sheet. On the other, toss the tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

3 - Check the chicken. It should be almost done or just done cooking. Divide the Parmesan cheese evenly over each chicken breast, sprinkling over the top. Place back in the oven to finish cooking and melt the cheese. Once the cheese has melted, remove from the oven and let sit for five minutes.

4 - While the chicken cools, lay a bed of arugula on each plate. Top with the roasted tomatoes and chicken. Optional: drizzle with a little olive oil or balsamic vinegar to finish. Serve.

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.