Ina Inspired Memorial Day

Actually, every day is an Ina inspired day in my kitchen.  Whether it’s following one of her recipes to the tee or creating a delicacy of my own, Ina’s influence is ever present in guiding my way through the kitchen.  After being away for the past week (visiting my family in NY), I awoke today with my usual thought, “What’s for dinner?”  There’s something about Memorial Day and ribs, so they quickly became part of the plan.  Now onto side dishes.  Hmm…. what do I feel like?  Ina’s Greek Panzanella Salad, of course.  It’s a wonderfully fresh and incredibly tasty salad that’s always a crowd pleaser, even if the crowd is just Mike and me!  We love it.  After taking the pup to the beach, I made my weekly stop at Trader Joe’s and proceeded to find all that I needed to make dinner.  Along the way, however, the ingredients for guacamole and roasted red potato salad also snuck into my basket.  I wasn’t sure how we’d be eating all that today,  but I knew we’d be happy (food) campers throughout the week ahead!  I ended up making all that, and also used the leftover Roma tomatoes (for the guacamole) to make a roasted tomato caprese salad.  Okay, I also bought some fresh mozzarella as I could see that dish coming when I bought the package of 4 tomatoes!!

The guacamole recipe is mostly Ina, but I don’t pull the recipe out to follow it exactly.  If I did, though, I’m sure it would be very close.  I”ve made it so many times in the past, the list of ingredients is almost second nature.  Today I used 4 avocados, 1 chopped garlic clove, juice and zest of one lemon, half a tomato (small diced), a small handful of cilantro, salt, pepper, and tabasco!

Guacamole

The Greek Panzanella salad and Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad are straight from Ina’s recipe file.  I’ve made both selections countless times – with perfect results every time!  Give them a try for a big impact, and an even bigger taste!  (Both recipes are available online at http://www.foodnetwork.com)

Greek Panzanella Salad

Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad

The Roasted Red Potato Salad is all mine, sort of.  Something similar was served to me at  San Diego Desserts last year, so I put my own recipe together and have to say, it’s good!  I start by roasting some cubed red potatoes in the oven with olive oil, salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence.  (A mix of dry herbs, but it’s not necessary.)   After the potatoes are roasted and ready, I mix up a dressing with 1/2 cup mayo, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, and 1/2 tsp celery seed.  Toss the potatoes in and add about half cup small diced red pepper and a small diced celery stalk.  I also added a couple tablespoons of chopped fresh basil leaves.  Make the recipe to your taste and to your liking!

Roasted Red Potato Salad

It was great to be back in my kitchen today – and I’m looking forward to finsihing up all these goodies during the week ahead.  With the addition of a few preparations here and there, lunch and dinner is ready to go for the week ahead.  Hope your week is filled with good food and happiness!

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Sunday Cooking

Sunday Chicken, of Course!

Something about Sunday and Roasted Chicken – a great combination!  On (almost) any given Sunday, you’ll find a chicken roasting in the oven around dinnertime at our house.  Couldn’t be easier, and there’s usually plenty left over for lunch during the week, as it is or turned into a chicken salad.  I usually roast potatoes and carrots along with the chicken, but today I opted for the chicken on it’s own with a side of homemade pasta (Cavatelli – see earlier post), and a mixed green salad.

I like to butterfly the whole chicken and roast it skin-side up laid out flat on baking/cookie sheet.  (That way, every piece gets crispy and golden brown.)  Using a sharp pair of kitchen scissors, cut on either side of the backbone to remove.  Gently pry the chicken open and split the cartilage (from the inside) between the chicken breasts.  A small crack will allow you to pry the chicken flat.  Turn it over onto a foil lined baking sheet pan and pat the skin dry.  Rub with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Bake at 425F for about an hour.  When the chicken comes out of the oven, transfer to a serving plate and cover with aluminum foil to rest for 5-10 minutes.  You’ll have no trouble carving it from there and it will soon become a family favorite!

Roast Chicken and CavatelliSunday Dinner

We enjoyed dinner tonight with our good friend, Christine.  She brought a delicious carrot cake for us to enjoy for dessert!  Delicious!

Christine’s Carrot Cake

Minestra

I also made a batch of Minestra today.  It’s an Escarole and White-Bean Soup that was a staple in our house growing up, that’s rich with nutrition, and loaded with flavor.  I use a chicken or vegetable stock as the liquid for the soup, plus add flavor with small chunks of pepperoni, crisp pancetta, or ham.  You can easily skip the meat (and use the vegetable stock) for a hearty and delightful vegetarian option.

The recipe for this soup is very much your own.  Read on for the steps I take to make it, but the idea is that you’ll combine the greens, beans, stock, and any other flavor add-ons to create a wonderfully healthy soup!

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.  If you’re using small chunks of pancetta or ham, brown it in the oil until crispy.  Then add a couple of garlic cloves (chopped) and sauté for about a minute.  (If you’re not using the pancetta or ham, start off with the garlic.)  Start adding the 2 heads of well-cleaned and large-chopped escarole (or substitute another leafy green) until it wilts and cooks down a bit.  Start adding the chicken or vegetable stock little by little to help cook down the greens.  You can add the beans at any time.  If you’re using cannellini beans from the grocery store, you’ll also want to add a little parsley, a small-diced carrot and celery stalk, and half a diced onion.  If you’re making your own beans (recipe follows), then the carrot, celery, onion and parsley are already in there.  You’ll end up using about a quart of stock, and you’ll add salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for about 30 minutes until the greens are tender and the seasonings are to your liking!  Enjoy!

Minestra

White Beans

Start with a pound of white beans (Great Northern) that you’ll soak (covered) in water overnight.  Rinse the beans and combine them in a pan with enough fresh water to just about cover them.  Add in a small-diced carrot and celery stalk, have a diced onion, and a handful of chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper (maybe ½ to 1 teaspoon of each, depending on your preference).  Cook over medium heat at a gentle boil until beans are tender.  Cool, but don’t drain the beans.  Scoop into pint-size containers and freeze until you’re ready to use them in soups or any number of other dishes, as you like!


Thanks, with food!

Nothing says thank you better than a delicious treat!  Today we celebrated Classified Employee Appreciate Day at work and I prepared a tried and true recipe, compliments of Giada De Laurentiis.  The only credit I can take for this dish is that I’ve made it many times and it’s always a huge hit!  (I’m including Giada’s recipe since so many people asked for it at work today.)  Try it for any breakfast gathering and you’ll be the hit of the party!  Buon Appetito!

Spinach and Pancetta Strata

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 (10-ounce) box chopped frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 8 cups cubed Italian bread, from a 1-pound loaf
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 10 large eggs

Directions

Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a bowl. Add the onion to the pan drippings in the same skillet and saute until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the spinach and garlic. Saute over medium-low heat until the garlic is tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, nutmeg, and the cooked pancetta.

Place half of the bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the bread, then top with half of the spinach mixture. Repeat layering.

Whisk the milk, eggs, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a large bowl and pour evenly over the strata. Chill the strata, covered with plastic wrap, at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake strata uncovered until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 40 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.


Soup’s On!

Why have a ham for Easter or Christmas?  For the ham bone, naturally!  After enjoying a spiral baked ham for any meal (holiday or otherwise), I always look forward to making a big pot of Split Pea soup.  That’s exactly what I did last week and have 7 quarts of soup ready to go in the freezer.  We enjoyed some last night with a salad, bread, and a glass of wine.  Makes the perfect supper after a full day at work, especially on these fall-like spring days we’re having.  Enjoy!

Split Pea Soup


Tasty Accompaniments

Try these tasty accompaniments to add flavor to a variety of dishes:  Balsamic Vinegar Reduction and Hot Chili Oil – Both incredibly easy to prepare and very versatile!

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction:  Use any amount of basic grocery store balsamic vinegar (I buy the small jug at Trader Joe’s).   Simmer over medium heat until the liquid is reduced to about half the amount and the end result is a free-flowing balsamic syrup.  Adds great flavor to caprese salad (fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil), sandwiches, roasted chicken and meats, salad dressing, and a variety of other uses where you want to add a little tang!  I use a wooden skewer or chop stick as a measuring device (before and during the simmer process) to figure the reduction in liquid to half the amount I start with.  It doesn’t matter how much balsamic you start with, the end result is about half that much!

Let it cool – then store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a couple of months or more.  Best if it sits out a few minutes before each use to take the chill off and bring out the flavor.

Hot  Chili Oil:  2 cups of olive oil and a 1/4-1/2 cup red pepper flakes.  Simmer over medium heat until it reaches 180F on a thermometer.  Let it cool and strain it into a decorative (or not) bottle.  Mine keeps on the countertop in a clear olive oil bottle with pour spout.  I use it as a starter for mushrooms and most anything I’m going to saute in a little olive oil.  Adds great heat to any dish.  (I make mine with 1/2 cup red pepper flakes, but my mother always thought it was hot/spicy enough with 1/4 cup flakes to 2 cups olive oil.)  Make yours to your liking – and enjoy!


Old Favorites

Remember the great sale on eggplant I told you about in a previous post?  I made up a couple of dishes of eggplant parmesan and popped them in the freezer.  Here’s a picture of a dinner we enjoyed this past week straight from the freezer to the oven to the table.  A little time to make a salad and pour some wine – and voila – it’s dinner time!  (The garlic bread pictured was also made ahead and frozen from the last time I made it for dinner.)  Here’s a tip – if you’re taking the time to make anything that can be easily frozen and enjoyed again within a reasonable amount of time – make two – one to enjoy right then, and one to enjoy sometime soon again – like the garlic bread.  After dinner that night, I’ve enjoyed the eggplant on a sandwich for lunch two days in a row!  Talk about a treat in the middle of a hectic work day!

Eggplant Parmesan

Another one of my make-ahead old favorites is home-made pizza.  Okay, I often buy the dough, but the rest is all me!  We have a great Italian deli close by that has the dough fresh made on a daily basis.  I save myself a step and pick up a couple on my way home from work.  I usually make two pizzas that we have part of each for dinner – then I freeze the rest for slice-by-slice delight anytime the mood strikes!  Toppings range from as much or as little as you like.  I often choose from such toppings as artichoke hearts, pepperoncini, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, pancetta, pepperoni, pesto, fresh-sliced tomatoes, and lots of mozzarella and parmesan cheese!  Mike’s favorite pizza is canadian bacon or ham and pineapple!

Pizza! Fresh from the oven!


Teacher Appreciation

I did a lot of baking last week to thank the teachers (and staff) for their hard work during testing time, but since today is actually the “Day of the Teacher”, I thought I’d bring some Cinnamon-Sugar Biscotti to our morning meeting.  Easy to make and a great morning treat!

Cinnamon-Sugar Biscotti