>My Birthday Dinner

>You know you’re loved when you have family who is totally excited to cook for you.  Even though I touted this week as Italian only, I had a craving for Asian for my birthday dinner.  With my mom in town, I wanted her to make something..(aside from her traditional birthday cake) and I wanted the hubby stationed on the grill.  So, this is what I asked for my birthday meal:


Dumpling Soup
Grilled Asian Flank Steak
Asian Cucumber Salad  


I’m already drooling.  So, I figure I’ll just park my butt on the couch with my girls, pop in a movie, grab a glass of wine, and…vegg.  


(wanna know a secret though?  I really love cooking…and I’ll kinda miss being in the kitchen tonight…well, just a little)  🙂

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>Glitch In The System

>All these weeks I’ve been wondering why not a single person has commented on any of my recipes. I mean, usually someone says something, right?  Then a reader commented on Facebook that she kept trying to post and it wouldn’t stick.
I quickly rushed to the net and surfed to see how to fix the problem..and, well, I think I did it.  Something was wrong in the design.  We did a couple of tests and I think it’s working properly.  (I hope)


So, I want to apologize to all my readers…one, for making it impossible for you to comment, and two for not being able to get back to you about your comments.  What a mess.  And please, in the future, if you find something not working properly, let me know.  You can always reach me via email.


Thanks so much to all my readers and I’m hoping that now we can share comments and questions.


Happy cooking!!  (and commenting!)

>Monday: Staci’s Orecchiette with Fresh Tomatoes and Sausage

>To indulge my inner Italian, I’m declaring this week…ITALIAN WEEK!  (it makes me excited just to type that)  I’ve searched for some fun new dishes and I’m cooking up one of my personal faves.  


I know that Italian food sometimes gets a bad rap because of the high carb content.  However; I’ve been to Italy (yes, lucky me) and let me tell you, they aren’t all obese!  The reason?  They don’t eat a vat of pasta for each meal.  A typical Italian dinner will include at least three courses eaten over the span of a couple of hours (or more).  You’d start with an Antipasti (appetizer), followed by il primo (first dish that is usually pasta…about one cup worth), il secondo (usually meat or fish), and a contorno (a side dish of veggies).  Also there is bread and wine of course.  And usually espresso with dessert if ordered.

Now, as much as I’d like to sit for two hours and enjoy my dinner, my kids aren’t going to go for that.  So, I’m forced to just enjoy the il primo course or il secondo.  I have prepared a true Italian meal once for a family party at my home, but that was pre-kiddos.


So, keep in mind, when preparing Italian food, keep your portions smaller and you won’t have to worry so much about the carb count.  And best of all, just enjoy the deliciousness that makes Italian food so damn good.

For today, I’m making my fave pasta.  It started as a recipe I found in a cookbook and then I’ve tweaked it from there.  I love this dish.  Mostly because of the gorgeous and sweet tasting cherry tomatoes.  I don’t bother seeding or removing skins…takes too much time and actually I like both.  Cherry tomatoes can be pricey, so I don’t make this often.  Orecchiette is a pasta that gets it’s name comes from its shape, which reminds one of a small ear. In Italian orecchio means ear, and the suffix ‘etto’ means ‘small’.  It’s a dome shaped pasta that is starting to show up more and more in regular grocery stores.  If you can’t find any, use small shells instead.  

Hope you enjoy my fave pasta dish!  Happy cooking!

>Tuesday: Northern Italian Trattoria Burger

>Wanna impress some dinner guests?  Make these burgers.  They’ll think you went out and bought $25 gourmet burgers.  They are that good.  Everything about these burgers just rock…from the crispy cheese on top to the crispy prosciutto on the bottom and the creamy herb butter (that would go good on almost anything).  Most important, don’t skip out on the hot capicola…it makes the dish.  (you can find it at your butcher counter)  
If you don’t like spicy food, just cut back on the amount, however, when it’s cooked into the burger, it’s no where near as spicy as it is by itself.  


It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s really not.  Just a long list of ingredients.  I couldn’t find smoked prosciutto, so I’m just using regular.  (but I’m going to find it somewhere!)
  

For a side dish, I’m going to make a lovely risotto.  Click here for the recipe:  Spring Green Risotto


Gourmet, melt in your mouth, ooh and ahh deliciousness….

Northern Italian Trattoria Burger

Ingredients

Italian Herb Butter:

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallot
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 sticks good quality unsalted butter, room temperature



Frico:

  • 2/3 cup grated aged Montasio or Asiago cheese (or more if you need it)

Crispy Speck:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 ounces speck (smoked prosciutto), thinly sliced and finely chopped

Patties:

  • 1/4 pound dry, hot capicola (coppa), thinly sliced and chopped (recommended: Boar’s Head)
  • Pinch fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/4 pounds ground chuck
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces shredded fontina cheese
  • 4 potato buns, split
  • 4 teaspoons toasted pine nuts
  • 1 cup wild arugula (or baby arugula), lightly packed

Directions

Italian Herb Butter:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the parsley, basil, thyme, shallot, garlic, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard and puree until smooth. Add the butter and pulse until well combined. Transfer to a small bowl and reserve.
Frico:
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle 1/2 of the cheese into 2 to circles (approximately 4 1/2-inch in diameter) in the skillet. Cook for 2 minutes. Then carefully flip with a spatula and cook for another 1 minute. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining 1/2 of the cheese.
Speck:
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the speck and cook until crispy, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove from the skillet and drain on paper towels.
Patties:
Put capicola and rosemary in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. In a large mixing bowl, combine the capicola mixture, chuck, salt, and pepper; mix well. Separate the mixture into 4 equal portions and form the portions into patties to fit the size of the buns.
Heat large skillet or grill pan over high heat. Add the patties to the skillet and cook for 3 1/2 minutes. Flip the burgers and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or to desired doneness. During the last few minutes of cooking, top the burgers with equal amounts of fontina cheese and tent with aluminum foil to melt cheese. Also, during last few minutes of cooking, toast the buns.
To assemble the burgers, spread a generous amount of Italian Herb Butter on the cut sides of the buns. On each bun bottom, arrange equal amounts of pine nuts, Crispy Speck, arugula, a patty topped with cheese, and a Frico. Cover with the bun tops and serve.

The crispy Frico on top…yum.

>Spring Green Risotto

>

I’m making this as a great side to the Trattoria burgers.  A lot of people get a little skiddish when they think about making risotto.  It’s really not as hard as is seems, just time consuming, and a good tip is to have everything prepped before you get started. 
I’ve also been dying to try marscapone and wasn’t sure how to cook with it, until now.  You can find it at most supermarkets, and I know for sure that Trader Joe’s has it in stock.  And of course, the marscapone does add to the fat content, but hey, gotta indulge once in awhile.  😉  


This rice was rich and creamy, but not overly so.  It is very time consuming to make; however, it’s easy.  So, you just have to make sure you can park yourself by your stove and you can make a killer risotto very easily.  




Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
  • 1 cup chopped fennel
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • 4 to 5 cups simmering chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 pound thin asparagus
  • 10 ounces frozen peas, defrosted, or 1 1/2 cups shelled fresh peas
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, preferably Italian
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus extra for serving

Directions

Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and fennel and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender. Add the rice and stir for a minute to coat with the vegetables, oil, and butter. Add the white wine and simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until most of the wine has been absorbed. Add the chicken stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring almost constantly and waiting for the stock to be absorbed before adding more. This process should take 25 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the asparagus diagonally in 1 1/2-inch lengths and discard the tough ends. Blanch in boiling salted water for 4 to 5 minutes, until al dente. Drain and cool immediately in ice water. (If using fresh peas, blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes until the starchiness is gone.)
When the risotto has been cooking for 15 minutes, drain the asparagus and add it to the risotto with the peas, lemon zest, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Continue cooking and adding stock, stirring almost constantly, until the rice is tender but still firm.
Whisk the lemon juice and mascarpone together in a small bowl. When the risotto is done, turn off the heat and stir in the mascarpone mixture plus the Parmesan cheese and chives. Set aside, off the heat, for a few minutes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve hot with a sprinkling of chives and more Parmesan cheese.

  

>Wedesday: Surprise Dinner

>Today is my birthday.  I’m not cooking.  🙂  Lucky me, my mom is in town and between her and my husband, I’m going to get to sit back and watch them cook.  Plus, my mom is making the traditional birthday cake…ice cream cake.  Post for that will follow.  🙂


But, of course, not to leave you empty handed.  I urge you to try this dish: Eggplant Parm
Give eggplant a try, it’s really quite lovely!  


>Thursday: Lasagna Soup

>Okay, so it’s not exactly lasagna soup, but it does taste like lasagna!  Found this recipe by Paula Dean…before even looking at the ingredients I assumed it was going to be loaded with fat.  I mean, it’s Paula!  But, I was pleasantly surprised..not a lick of butter!

My mom is in town and we loved the idea of making this, but I didn’t have any oven proof bowls.  So, we headed out to Home Goods and found some for a decent price.  (yes, I know, who goes out to buy bowls just to cook a recipe?  Me.)  

It’s a very simple dish to make and doesn’t take much time.  Another great Italian meal for this week’s menu.  I’m in heaven!  Thanks Paula!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground chuck
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 (32-ounce) box chicken broth
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups broken lasagna noodles
  • 1 (5-ounce) package grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Garlic Crostini, recipe follows

Garlic Crostini:

  • 1 thin French baguette
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves smashed garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a large Dutch oven, combine ground chuck, onion, bell pepper and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until beef is browned and crumbles. Drain well.
Stir in thyme, brown sugar, broth, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add noodles, and simmer until noodles are tender. Stir in Parmesan cheese.
Preheat broiler. Ladle soup into 8 to 10 ovenproof bowls. Evenly sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Broil soups, 6-inches from heat, 3 to 4 minutes, until cheese is browned and bubbly. Add a garlic crostini slice on top. Serve immediately.

For the garlic crostini:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut bread into 1/4-inch round slices. Place on baking sheet and brush each slice with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper; place in oven and bake until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Rub each side with smashed garlic cloves.