Barefoot Bloggers: Pesto Pasta & Chicken

What a fabulous meal! This was my first time making homemade pesto and the smell of it brought me back to my childhood and images of my grandfather tending to his garden. This was a great break from our usual dinners and something that I will definitely make more often. Thank you to Barefoot Blogger Elizabeth of Ugg Smell Food for choosing this recipe!

I adapted this recipe a bit to suit what I could find in the store, my allergies, and the inability for us to eat a meatless meal. First things first, my allergies. I am allergic to all nuts, so I had to venture out and make my own pesto sans the nuts. Quite easy, actually, and Nick said that it tasted no different than the traditional pesto he has eaten. Next, I couldn’t find much basil at our store and knew I wouldn’t have enough, so I supplemented what I had with baby spinach. I thought it added a great dimension of flavor! However, since I did this I eliminated the frozen chopped spinach (as well as the mayo and lemon juice). And since we like to incorporate protein in the form of meat in most of our dinners, I added some sauteed chicken breast to the dish. So in the end you get a bow tie pasta dish with chicken and a spinach-basil pesto. Honestly, it was fabulous and I really enjoyed it!

See how the other Barefoot Bloggers liked this dish here.

The original recipe as well as my spinach-basil (no nut!) pesto after the break…

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Lighter Chicken Parmesan

Not too long ago, after I fell in love with Cook’s Illustrated magazine, I began recording the America’s Test Kitchen show on PBS. I have really enjoyed watching many of the recipes being made, picking up some tips and tricks along the way. An episode that I saved from a couple of months ago featured a lightened up chicken parmesan recipe. The key to this recipe is that the breaded chicken is not fried, but rather the panko breadcrumbs are toasted first, and then the breaded chicken is baked at a high temperature in the oven.

Big thumbs up from both of us. This had tons of flavor, and the combination of toasted breadcrumbs and parmesan was tasty enough that Nick and I both kept eating spoonfuls of it before the chicken got prepped. Next time I would probably do more smothering with the sauce and cheese, but this will definitely go into our regular rotation.

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TWD: Fluted Polenta Ricotta Cake

This week’s recipe selection comes to us from Caitlin over at Engineer Baker. I have to be completely honest – at first glance, this recipe didn’t seem all that appealing to me, but my mom and grandma thought it sounded fantastic, so I decided to make it and give it to them to enjoy. As I was putting the cake together, it smelled absolutely fabulous! Definitely a distinct Mediterranean aroma, and as it baked the smell only got better.

More about the cake and the recipe after the break…

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Tiramisu

Better late than never, right? After my camera went on a field trip with Nick and a power outage kept me from actually getting on my computer, I bring you… Tiramisu!

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Nick’s family came up to celebrate his birthday this weekend and his parents wanted to take everyone out to dinner. Nick knew I was a little disappointed since I love to entertain, have people over and feed them, so he asked if I wanted to make tiramisu for dessert. (Thanks babe, you know me so well, and knew I’d love to be able to make something – you’re the best!) Nick must have figured (hoped?) that I had experienced some growth in my baking muscles over the last year or so, because my last attempt at tiramisu did not turn out well. AT.ALL. I used a copycat recipe for the Olive Garden tiramisu and the custard turned out much too cheesey in taste, too dense in texture, and the savoiardi were not sufficiently soaked.

A few months ago I came across a tiramisu recipe in the most recent Cook’s Illustrated issue, and I made sure to save it, knowing that someday I would try to redeem myself. That someday finally came! I’ve got to admit that I am becoming quite smitten with Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchens. It seems that everything I have made has come out absolutely perfect. I’m pretty convinced that their recipes are spot-on and foolproof. The only modification that I made to the tiramisu was to substitute Kahlua in place of the rum, and cut that amount in half. The CI recipe notes that its recipe results in a strong rum flavoring, and to create a more subtle flavor to cut the amount in the coffee/espresso mixture in half. I also decided to cut in half the amount that went into the cream mixture. I think this was a good decision, as there was still a distinct flavor, but it complemented the other flavors and was not overpowering. I was initially nervous about using completely raw eggs, but Nick made a great suggestion and told me I should just buy pasteurized eggs, which I did, and my fears resolved themselves ๐Ÿ™‚

This tiramisu was absolutely fabulous. The savoiardi were perfectly soft and loaded with flavor, while the mascarpone mixture had a light and smooth flavor, as well as texture, which I attribute to the addition of the whipped cream that is incorporated. The dish received high praise, and it is easily just as good, if not better, than tiramisu you would find at the nicest of Italian restaurants. Cook’s Illustrated definitely perfected this recipe.

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Spaghetti & Meatballs

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The ultimate in Italian comfort food.

Growing up, our extended family would gather at my Grandma’s every Sunday for the traditional Sunday dinner (which, in contrast to common nomenclature, is actually eaten by Italians at what is typically lunchtime). While there was always some type of meat on the table, some potatoes and vegetables, the star of dinner was always pasta. It may have been ravioli, gnocchi, manicotti, lasagna, spaghetti (all homemade, of course), or some other variation of pasta, but without a doubt, you could always count on a great pasta dish. Forty miles south, Nick was growing up in an equally Italian household, with the tradition of spaghetti and meatballs every Sunday. So what else would naturally occur when we’d get married and move two hours away from our families than our own tradition of pasta each Sunday? In our house it usually takes the form of spaghetti and meatballs, accompanied by homemade marinara sauce. It feels warm, comfortable, cozy, and just like home to us. And for that reason I am submitting my spaghetti and meatballs into What’s For Lunch Honey’s Monthly Mingle Comfort Foods blog event.

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Meeta asked fellow bloggers to celebrate the foods that pick us up when we are down, warms us when we are feeling lost, and blurs out the bad mood. This is what spaghetti and meatballs represent in our house… the warmth of family, memories of childhood, and a connection to our heritage.

I hope you enjoy these simple and classic recipes – the meatballs are an adaptation of the recipe that my mother-in-law uses, and the spaghetti sauce is one I have developed over time through trial and error.

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Homemade Gnocchi

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(pardon the steam in my picture!)

I have had homemade gnocchi on my ever-growing list of things to try for quite some time now, and finally got the necessary nudge after I saw them on Joelen’s blog last week. A quick confession – I have never actually eaten non-homemade gnocchi. A spoiled little Italian girl, you may say? Well, I suppose you would be right. Many Sunday dinners at my Grandma’s have left me partial to homemade pastas of all variety. Last spring I began my homemade pasta journey with ravioli and have now added gnocchi to my list of accomplishments. I’m earning my green, white, and red stripes ๐Ÿ™‚

I was somewhat nervous to tackle gnocchi because I know it has the possibility of coming out too dense and tough. I followed this recipe to a “T” and I think they came out just perfect. They were plump and soft and slightly firm to the bite – perfect homemade gnocchi! I made these yesterday and froze them as directed in the recipe, then cooked them today and had no problems whatsoever. I would definitely recommend this recipe, as I didn’t need to make any modifications.

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Christmas Baking: Chambolot – A Family Recipe

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Chambolot first came into my life about six years ago, during the first New Year holiday I spent with my husband’s (then-boyfriend) family. This dense, lemon-flavored, moist cake sprinkled with chocolate chips is Nick’s favorite Christmas baked good. Not long after that first holiday Nick’s grandma passed away, and I spent at least three holiday seasons trying to recreate the recipe, only to fail each time. This past Thanksgiving, while at my in-laws, I saw Nick’s other grandma and mentioned that I have been trying to make this recipe. Lo and behold, she said that she had her own recipe. A few days after coming home from Thanksgiving I got a card in the mail from her with the recipe. Hallelujah!

Nick ended up helping me finish mixing the dough because it was too much for my trusty KA and my twerpy little arms, and then he moved on to be the official chocolate chip mixer in-er, and roll maker. It was so fun to hang out in the kitchen together! Here are some shots of him in action (which also illustrate how we went about making these!):

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We followed the recipe exactly and after the grand taste testing, Nick confirmed that this was the exact recipe and it tasted perfect. So exciting! This is a great recipe, and if you are inclined to try, I have included the following tips:

  • As I have found with all recipes passed down from Italian grandmas – they make enough to feed the entire town (see evidence below). You may pass out when you read the quantities in the recipe below. I did not scale this down, as I plan on keeping some for ourselves and giving a few each to mine and Nick’s family. So I can’t guarantee you perfect results if it’s scaled, however I would imagine it would be fine.

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  • I know that this recipe calls for margarine and that a lot of people are averse to using it, however having failed at recreating this recipe so many times I decided to stick to the recipe exactly. I’d also been warned by a couple of friends not to mess with the old-world recipes ๐Ÿ™‚
  • This dough is pretty soft and sticky – we ended up adding a lot of additional flour and had to generously flour the work surface, our hands, and the dough to work with it, however the texture turned out perfect in the finished product.
  • The best way to shape the logs is to pat out a rough rectangle of a portion of dough, sprinkle the chocolate chips on top, press them into the dough, and then knead the dough back together to incorporate the chips and then form into a log.

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