Tag Archives: family

Meatloaf Calabrese

The word “Meatloaf” often harkens traumatic images of your mom’s signature recipe for the nights where she literally didn’t give a _________ and threw some protein, carbs, and other questionable fixings into a bowl, baked it, and called it dinner.

ewwww

She’s making meatloaf again???

And so, sadly, meatloaf often gets a bad rap. I, however, can assure that not all meatloafs are created equal. I grew up on my mom’s meatloaf and always jumped for joy when I found out that she was cooking it. But of course, my mother is Italian so the meatloaf was undeniable phenomenal. Well, now you can have phenomenal meatloaf too because I am gifting the recipe to you!

Meatloaf 9

Italians do everything better.

Yummm

This is Meatloaf Calabrese. My Italian family is from Calabria in Italy (things from Calabria are called Calabrese) and this recipe comes from there. Actually, the base of this recipe is for our Stuffed Bell Peppers which are a tad more elegant. Of course, when they came to America, they created a meatloaf incarnation of the dish that was more convenient for busy American weeknights. You will notice that this recipe calls for raisins in addition to beef, red pepper flakes, and other such ingredients; so you are probably thinking, “What in the damn hell?”

raisins and beef

Raisins and beef!?

Trust me, it is delicious. Savory beef and herbs, spicy red pepper and onion, and sweet raisins and tomato all work to complement, contrast, and balance each other PERFECTLY. This meatloaf could honestly be fed to royalty and they would knight the cook.

Now, about the “recipe”. Remember when I started this blog and I told you that not all my recipes provide precise measurements because of the Italian tendency to just feel the dish out as you go? Yeah, well that applies here. This is a recipe that you just have to touch and feel, adjusting as you go. I’ve never been able to get a straight answer about measurements for this dish.

just feel it

Just touch it…

I ask, “How much tomato sauce?” The response I get is, “I don’t know, you just have to touch it and you will figure it out!” So that is what I do and so I have never found myself able to fully break down the recipe. Sometimes I find it needs a touch more this or that. I look, I touch, I feel, I sense, I am guided by my great nonna Isabella. So this recipe is for those who feel pretty confident in the kitchen and are open to a little experimenting with out provided precise measurements.

Here’s the trick though, you’ve got to cook it with love for the people you are cooking for and passion for the quality ingredients you are using to nourish your body and satisfy your soul. If you infuse the food with this love and positive energy, it’s going to turn out great no matter.

cheers.gif

Let me know it goes! Buona Fortuna and Buon Appettito!

Meatloaf Calabrese

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound grass-fed, organic ground beef
  • About ½ cup diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • ½ large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • About ¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 egg
  • 2 slices of bread
  • Splash red wine
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • ¾ cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 zucchini shredded or 1 Portobello mushroom thinly sliced
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375̊ F.

Put the beef, tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the marinara, onion, garlic, parsley, Italian seasonion, red pepper flakes, a ¼ teaspoon of both salt and pepper, 1/3 cup of the parmesan cheese, the wine, and the egg in a large bowl.

Toast the bread, lightly wet with water from the sink. Remove the crusts and squeeze the liquid out until you are left with a mushy crumble. Throw in the bowl with the other ingredients.

Mix by hand until ingredients are well combined. Add the raisins and mix again until the raisins are well distributed.

Grease a meatloaf dish with olive oil. Add ½ of the meat mixture. Layer on the zucchini or mushrooms over the meat. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella cheese over the vegetables. Add the rest of the meat mixture. Over with ¼ cup of the marinara. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheese

Bake for 1 hour until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve with additional marinara sauce as desired. Enjoy!

A Simplified Thanksgiving

Ciao all! Johnny here with a few different recipes for that delicious holiday that is coming up sooner than we can imagine: Thanksgiving! Now, the post that follows is from four years ago when I was blogging on Confessions of Two College Foodies. PLEASE FORGIVE THE PHOTOS! They are older and I didn’t know what I was doing back then, but hopefully the instructions serve you well! 

Thanksgiving is an affair that calls for a lot of cooking, which means a lot of work and preparation. And I love it, as long as I am feeding a large crowd. However, if you’re only feeding four or fewer people, do you really want to roast a whole turkey with the stuffing and all the sides? Probably not. Also, a lot of Thanksgiving food is oven-based, well, what if you don’t have a double oven?

With this meal, you don’t need one. The traditional Thanksgiving menu can be a little too intensive and expensive for someone who is having a more intimate and quiet Thanksgiving. So, if this is you, you are probably wondering about some alternative dishes you could make that is more practical for a smaller group, but still packed with all those marvelous Thanksgiving flavors. Well, look no further. I have developed a simplified Thanksgiving feast that you and your friends will love!

We start with the star of the show: the turkey! On Thanksgiving, we all love to see a huge, stuffed bird come out of the oven all browned and crispy, it really is a wonderful picture in American households. However, a whole turkey is A LOT of work; sometimes too much work.

If you’re entertaining a small group, why not roast smaller turkey pieces with a delicious herb-garlic rub and serve each person a little dark and a little white meat? Roasting turkey pieces takes way less time in the oven than a whole turkey and takes almost seconds to prepare. I roast turkey thighs and a half turkey breast with a rub of garlic, woodsy herbs, lemon, orange, and good olive oil. That’s it! You still get a delicious turkey entrée, but for a lot less effort and money. I present my Garlic-Herb Roast Turkey Dinner.

Garlic-Herb Roast Turkey Dinner

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 2 turkey thighs, 1 ½ turkey breast, bone in with skin on
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons of both lemon and orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup white wine or chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Pat the turkey pieces dry and place skin side up in a roasting pan. In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the wine or stock. Mix well. Rub all over the turkey pieces, making sure to get underneath the skin. Sprinkle with extra pepper if desired. Pour in the wine or chicken stock.

Place in the oven and roast for 2 hours until the skin is golden and crispy. Remove from the oven and place the turkey pieces on the cutting board or serving dish, cover tightly with foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Slice into small pieces and serve both light and dark meat to each person.

If desired, you can create a gravy using the drippings from the turkey and follow the directions on a good store bought turkey gravy. Or you could melt down ½ cup of orange marmalade and ½ cup of cranberry sauce and glaze the turkey slices. Serve and enjoy!

Great Turkey - minimal cost and effort.

Great Turkey – minimal cost and effort.

Now, Thanksgiving is not complete without some kind of starch vegetable. I find that every family is different. Some families always serve mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner. Some, like my family, serve a yam casserole with the marshmallows on top. Others do sweet potato casseroles. For this meal, I decided to choose a happy medium and do Sweet Potato Mash -similar to mash potatoes in texture and style, but sweet like yams.

Sweet Potato Mash should please everyone. You can control the amount you want to make for your dinner by how many potatoes you use – I figure about 1 potato per person. Sweet potatoes, in my opinion, are easier  mash than regular potatoes, and they’re far easier than a yam or sweet potato casserole. Make first and then warm while the turkey cooks. This Sweet Potato Mash brings a Thanksgiving feel to any plate.

Sweet Potato Mash

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 3-4 sweet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ¼ chopped walnuts

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 ̊F. Place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet. Stab all over with a fork to let steam in the potatoes escape during cooking. Roast for 45 or so minutes until fork tender. Remove and allow to cool slightly.

Remove the skins and place the sweet potatoes in a food processor. Add the salt, pepper,  and sugar. Puree until smooth.  Stir in the nuts. Warm in the oven while the turkey cooks!

Of course, you’ve got to have something green on your Thanksgiving plate, and the traditional thing is of course, green beans. Everyone has the green bean casserole with those little French onions on top, but you might not want to prep it and make the amount that a casserole tends to make. So, here is a simple, and tasty green bean dish that can work on any Thanksgiving menu. My mom actually came up with this one, and I love it. It’s her Green Beans with Bacon and Shallots. Just a few minutes on the stove, and you’ve got the green beans ready to go.

Green Beans with Bacon and Shallots

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 16 oz. bag of trimmed green beans
  • 4 thick cut bacon slices, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper

Bring about 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook for about 3 minutes. Drain and then shock in and ice water bath. Set aside.

Sautee the bacon pieces until nearly crispy and golden, about 3 minutes. Add the shallots and cook until tender, another 2 minutes. Add the green beans in. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss and cook another 3-4 minutes. Serve and enjoy.

Now that's some greens anyone would eat!

Now that’s some greens anyone would eat!

Now, we have reached a point where we are done cooking. You made 3 of the quintessential Thanksgiving foods, you’ve done more than enough. However, there are still more crucial Thanksgiving items that you need, so what do you do? You either have someone else bring them, or you buy them! Here are a few tips on some store bought goodies.

Everyone loves cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving. And like all Thanksgiving fanatics, I like to make it from scratch, but sometimes it is just too much of a hassle. So, buy it from the store! There are a lot of wonderful brands that sell delicious cranberry sauce, and you really can’t tell the difference between what is homemade and what is not. My favorite store bought cranberry sauce comes from Trader Joe’s. They sell their cranberry sauce in tubs rather than cans and it’s wonderful! You can buy the traditional cranberry sauce, or mix it up and buy orange-cranberry sauce, or raspberry-cranberry sauce. It’s all up to you!

Pies are also huge on Thanksgiving. And here’s my thing, if I’m cooking the main meal, someone else should at least be able to pick up a pie or 2. However, if you’re set on providing everything, I recommend that you go to your local bakery restaurant and pick up some pumpkin, apple, or pecan pie, or a combination of two or all three! You might want to place an order in advance though just to make sure they don’t run out without reserving one for you, you Thanksgiving all-star!

A full plate, but not so much of the effort.

A full plate, but not so much of the effort.

I hope you found this post helpful if you are looking for an alternative and simplified Thanksgiving menu. Remember, you can edit the classics and still keep that holiday flavor that we all live for! Have a wonderful holiday my friends, Boun Appetito and Happy Thanksgiving!!!

REI Inspires Change and Balance this Holiday Season

On Wednesday October 28th, national outdoor and sporting goods store, REI, announced that they would go against the grain this upcoming Black Friday by closing its stores across the country. Instead of opening early with major door busting sales like most retail stores do on Black Friday these days, they are encouraging Americans to #OptOutside on this day which normally marks the beginning of the crazed-holiday-shopping season. They are promoting friends and family to stay out of the stores and instead be outdoors; or at least spending more time with family and friends instead of mowing strangers down with shopping carts for the chance to save $20 on low-quality clothing and toys that have been imported from China for our consumerist enjoyment.

When I heard this news, I literally exclaimed aloud in triumph. A move like this from a major and well respected company is long overdue. In this past decade, I have been consistently saddened by the greedy fiasco that Black Friday has become in this country. First of all, the concept of Black Friday is twisted and morphed to begin with: immediately after we express our gratitude for the blessings in our lives on Thanksgiving, we rush out to the stores to buy and consume more and more goods, most of it that we don’t need, and are willing to be rude and even violent to others in order to do it? I mean, really people? There have been “Black Friday Deaths” where shoppers have been trampled by other shoppers in their rush to find their savings; there was even a shooting at a TOYS R’ US one year when two shoppers were fighting over the last toy that was apparently a hot commodity that year. Are you kidding me? This is the country and culture we’ve become?

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Pasta di Janet

Growing up, my mom made my family quite a bit of pasta for dinner, being herself a 2nd generation Italian-American; and it was glorious. I remember being in high school, coming home starving from various practices and rehearsals, only to be fulfilled by a bowl of one of my mother’s pasta dishes. This particular dish, which I have deemed Pasta di Janet (Pasta of Janet- my mother), became a staple in our home because of its general healthy ingredient contents and for its ease and simplicity.

This quick and flavorful pasta combines hot (Chicken) Italian Sausage, sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes, green and earthy broccoli/broccolini, fresh herbs, and of course, parmesan cheese. I fell in love with this pasta and often requested it for the dinner table. I now make it quite often when I am looking for a go-to meal. Already a decently healthy meal, I have made my own tweaks to my mother’s classic pasta (like switching from regular Italian sausage to chicken Italian sausage) to create a dish that is equally as nourishing as it is indulgent. Serve with a nice green salad and red wine and you are in for an Italian delight!

Pasta di Janet

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound farfalle pasta
  • 1 pound hot Chicken Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 2 small heads broccoli or 1 large package Italian broccolini
  • 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, julienned
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Directions:

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat a large pan or skillet or medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the sausage and break into small chunks with the back of a wooden spoon. Once the sausage is broken up, add the pasta to the water and allow to cook for 8-10 minutes until al dente.

Cook sausage until browned, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add the tomatoes and garlic to the sausage. Cook 2-3 minutes until tomatoes soften. Meanwhile, add the broccoli or broccolini to the pasta water. Boil 2 minutes. Using a straining spoon, transfer the broccoli to the pan with the sausage and tomatoes. Stir to combine and season the mix with a pinch of salt and pepper each and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to low and allow to continue cooking until pasta is done.

Drain the pasta, add to the pan on top of the veggies and sausage. Add the cheese and half the parsley. Toss till pasta is coated and all is well mixed. Serve into pasta bowls. Top with additional parmesan cheese and herbs and serve.