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Chicken Bellagio

Years ago when I was a teenager, the cool thing to do for us youngsters was to go to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner before catching a movie. A favorite dish of my friends and I was their Chicken Bellagio; pesto spaghetti, breaded chicken, prosciutto, and a lemon arugula salad – simple yet completely delectable! It is so simple, in fact, that one night while scarfing down the dish before running off to an 8 o’clock film, I had a culinary epiphany: I could totally make this at home for probably less money and for more people. And so, two days later I called on my Italian ancestors to guide me and I created a Copycat Chicken Bellagio Recipe that is to this day a friend and family favorite!

When I was the co-author of my first foodie blog, Confessions of Two College Foodies, this copycat recipe was by far our most popular and most well-read; we even made it on a local access cooking show (which I will not link to here because the 20 year old incarnation of me is much more tragic than the 25 year old one). Anyway, people love this recipe because it is so tasteful and quite elegant despite utilizing simple ingredients.

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Chicken Bellagio is a meal that gives you everything you need on one plate: carbs, protein, and greens. Rich and fresh pesto spaghetti is topped with a piece of tender and crunchy breaded chicken, which is then topped with slice of salty and delicate Prosciutto, which is then finished with a tangy and peppery arugula salad. All of these flavor profiles – the herbal freshness from the pesto and the arugula, the saltiness from the prosciutto, and the tanginess from lemon – make this such a magnificently balanced dish.

It is a little bit of work to time everything and get it all assembled, but once you’ve got the meal plated, it is really delightful and presents so beautifully. Furthermore, you can make this very elegant meal for friends and family for about $25-$35 for 4-6 people, which would easily run you over $100 when going out to eat; make this a winner in not only flavor, but in price.

This is going to be your new go-to when craving a restaurant quality meal, right in your own home!

Chicken Bellagio

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders or cutlets
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cream or half & half
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned Panko breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese, plus another 2 tablespoons
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1-1/2 cups store bought or homemade pesto (click here for a reliable homemade pesto recipe)
  • 4 slices Prosciutto
  • 3 cups arugula
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

For the Chicken –

Pound the chicken breast tenders or cutlets until very thin. Season both sides with about a ½ teaspoon of salt and pepper each.

Create a breading station using 3 bowls. In the 1st bowl, mix the flour, garlic powder and a pinch of salt and pepper each. In the 2nd bowl, beat the eggs with the cream or half & half till completely mixed. In the 3rd bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and ¼ cup parmesan cheese. One by one, dip the chicken cutlets on both sides in the flour making sure to shake off excess, then the egg mixture making sure to let excess drain off, then in the breadcrumb mixture being sure to coat completely.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the breaded chicken cutlets. Cook for 3-4 minutes per side until the breading is golden brown.

For the Pasta –

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Reserve a cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta. Place pasta in a large bowl and add the remaining 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese and the pesto. Toss to coat, adding pasta water as needed to thin out the sauce and make sure all noodles are perfectly coated in the pesto.

For the Arugula Salad –

Add the arugula to a salad bowl. Zest 1 lemon directly onto the lettuce. Mix the juice of the 2 lemons, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pour over the arugula and toss.

To assemble –

Place 1 serving (about 1/8th to ¼ of the total) of spaghetti into a wide pasta bowl or onto a plate. Place 1 piece of chicken atop the post. Lay 1 piece of the Prosciutto over the chicken. Top the chicken and Prosciutto with a ¼ cup or so of the arugula salad. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese and serve.

Vegan Cauliflower Steak Marsala

As you may be aware, I have recently become entranced by the fantastic vegetable that is cauliflower and all the vegan sorcery you can perform with it. Remember when I made Cauliflower Steak and highlighted the basic technique for turning a head of Cauliflower into a steak? Well, Oops I did it again, and this time got fancy!

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with the Cauliflower.

This is my original Cauliflower Steak Marsala, which I am very proud to have developed. Inspired by Italian restaurant staple Chicken Marsala and steakhouse classic Steak Marsala, I have created a vegan friendly version of these beloved dishes.

I cut a head of cauliflower into steak looking slices, season them well as you would a piece of meat, and bake them to a crisp tenderness that possesses a meaty texture which I then effectively use to replace chicken or beef. Then I concoct a near traditional Marsala wine and mushroom sauce. Since there is no meat, I have built the sauce to be even richer in flavor than the traditional with a few heartier components. My vegan Marsala sauce includes sweet caramelized onions for another added layer of flavor and texture. Rather than using cremini or button mushrooms, I use strips of hearty, meaty Portobello mushrooms to make the meal more substantial. I add thyme and garlic for an earthy note to contrast the sweetness of the wine.

i love magic

Vegan Magic!

Lastly, I have come up with another piece of vegan magic! Most marsala wine sauces call for butter to thicken the sauce, which is great because…butter. Butter, however, is not vegan and quickly adds another couple hundred calories of fat to the dish. Instead, I puree cannellini beans which are buttery in texture and taste, and add a bit to the sauce. The pureed beans dissolve into the sauce which not only thickens the sauce, but gives it a nice silky smooth texture just like a traditional Marsala sauce.

The result is a rich, hearty, and gourmet meal that is 100% vegan! Serve with your favorite vegetable sides and you will blow your vegetarian and meat-loving friends alike away! I am super proud of how this development turned out and I hope you enjoy it too!

Vegan Cauliflower Steak Marsala

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy-intermediate
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Ingredients:

  • 1 large head cauliflower
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 2 Portobello mushrooms, sliced into ¼ inch thick strips
  • 1 cup Marsala wine
  • ¼ cup vegetable stock
  • 1 ½ tablespoons pureed cannellini beans
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons Herbs de Provence
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Parsley for garnish

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425̊F.

Slice the head of cauliflower into 1 ½ inch steaks. Place on an oiled baking sheet. Drizzle both sides with half the olive oil and season with the garlic powder, Herbs de Provence, and about a teaspoon of salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes, flip over and bake additional 15 minutes, until the upward facing side of the cauliflower is browned and crisped.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat in a pan. Add the onions and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are browned and caramelized, about 7-8 minutes. Note* Add a tablespoon or so of water to the pan if onions start to stick or burn. Add the mushroom strips and season with another pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until mushrooms shrink and become tender and browned. Add the thyme and garlic, cook for 1 minute. Add the Marsala wine and stock to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Season with more salt and pepper and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low. Allow sauce to reduce for 5 minutes. Add the cannellini beans and stir into the sauce until dissolved and the sauce becomes thick and silky.

Plate the cauliflower steaks and spoon over the sauce to cover the steaks. Garnish with parsley leaves and serve!

Note: The sauce is also good for more than Cauliflower. Grill, bake, or sauté chicken, steak, or salmon and add the same sauce over the top for a carnivorous with marsala dish with an even healthier sauce!

Note: I have only made this recipe for 2, but you could easily double or triple the recipe as needed.

Pasta Primavera

Sunday March 20th 2016 marked the bringing of another spring!

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YAY Spring is here!

Traditionally for the Spring Equinox, I always make my Pasta Primavera, and this past equinox was no exception. Pasta Primavera is a traditional Italian dish – Primavera means spring in Italian – and this dish is made all throughout the spring to celebrate the fresh produce that has come into season and harvest after the winter. I love making Pasta Primavera because it is simple, it is elegant, it supports seasonal eating, and it is actually quite healthy since it is loaded with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs.

food jennifer lawrence

Because a season change just means an excuse to eat more foods.

Sound good? I know you want to make it. Great! Well, you should make MY recipe for Pasta Primavera. Whereas many other recipes for this springtime dish call for boiling, steaming, or sauteing the vegetables within it, I roast them to really intensify the flavors because roasting brings out the best in vegetables. I also add goat cheese to this dish to bring a bright tang that I think is indicative of spring which gives the dish a slight richness and definite creaminess.

It is so simple and inexpensive, yet so fresh, bright, and absolutely delicious; I think you should definitely make my Pasta Primavera, and make it often! Buon Primavera!

Pasta Primavera

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 2 large broccoli crowns, cut into small florets
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced and cut into 2 inch strips
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced and cut into 2 inch strips
  • 2 large carrots, sliced and cut into 2 inch sticks
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon crushed or minced garlic
  • 10 medium thick asparagus spears, cut to two inches
  • 15-20 sugar snap peas
  • 1 cup basil, julienned
  • ½ pound Farfalle (bowtie) pasta or other short cut pasta
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Herbs de Provence
  • ¼ cup goat cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400̊F.

Arrange the broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, and cherry tomatoes on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with the salt, pepper, Herbs de Provence, and garlic. Toss until all the vegetables are well coated and spread into a single layer. Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing once half way through, until vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In the last 1o-12 minutes of the vegetables cooking, add the pasta to the water and cook till al dente, about 10-12 minutes.In the last 2 minutes of the pasta cooking, add the asparagus and the sugar snap peas to the water with the pasta as well. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta, asparagus, and sugar snap peas.

Add the roast vegetables to a large pasta bowl, followed by the pasta. Add the goat cheese and parmesan cheese on top of the pasta and toss thoroughly until the cheeses melt and coat all the pasta and vegetables, using the pasta water as needed to help spread the cheese out. Toss in the basil.

Serve into individual pasta bowls and sprinkle with additional basil and parmesan cheese!

 

Shepherd’s Pie

Saint Patrick’s Day is tomorrow! Besides good beer (Guinness anyone????), comforting Irish food is one of the best parts of this previously-religious and now fully-universal cultural holiday! Fish n’ Chips, Corned Beef and Cabbage, and most importantly: Shepherd’s Pie!

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Years ago, I used to author the now extinct blog “Confessions of Two College Foodies” with my dear friend Nicole. At that time, we developed a Shepherd’s Pie recipe that was out of this world, Celtic-god worthy divine. It has now become a St. Patrick’s Day staple among my friends and I.

While Confessions of Two College Foodies no longer exists, I used to guest write for the Los Alamitos-Seal Beach Patch and we posted the Shepherd’s Pie Recipe on their blog…which is still live! Meaning: you can get the recipe by clicking here!  And because I’m really nice, I took the recipe and reposted below so you can also get it here!

You have today and tomorrow to get the ingredients and make this for your St. Patty’s Day dinner! And it will probably last you well into the weekend. Enjoy it my friends!

Shepherd's Pie

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • For the Potatoes and Cheese layers:
  • 8 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¾ stick of butter
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 ½ cups grated aged white cheddar
  • 1 ½ cups grated smoked cheddar
  • For the Meat and Vegetable layer:
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 5-6 ounces white mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 1 ½ pounds ground beef
  • ¾ of a bottle Guinness beer (the ¼ cup remaining, is left for you 🙂
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 lb bag frozen peas

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

For the Potatoes: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Quarter the potatoes and add to the pot. Cook until fork tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain and return potatoes to the pot. Using an electric hand mixer or potato masher, begin creaming the potatoes. Add the milk and butter and combine together. Combine the grated cheeses in a bowl until well mixed. As you are blending, add 1 cup of the cheese. Keep blending until the potatoes are smooth and creamy. Salt and Pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the Meat: Heat 3 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, mushrooms, and garlic. Season with ½ teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Stirring often, cook until the carrots are tender, and the onions translucent about 5 minutes. Add the beef. Using a wooden spoon, break up the meat into small chunks, cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Pour in the Guinness and allow to evaporate into out, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Stir in the frozen peas and cook until warmed through, about 3 minutes. Season with additional pepper. Remove from the heat.

To assemble: Spray a 9×13 inch-baking dish with non-stick cooking spray, or you bake in individual gratins. Spread the meat and vegetable layer in an even layer at the bottom. Spread the potatoes in an even, flat layer over the top of the meat. Cover the potatoes with the remaining cheese mixture. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the cheese begins to bubble and turn golden. Remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.

Butternut, Brussels, and Bacon Pizza

I am a human being, and therefore, I LOVE PIZZA! I love it all; round pizza and oblong pizza, thick crust and thin crust, plain cheese and the works, and so and so on.

eat pray love pizza

However, I have a particular pro-potency for rustic, artisanal pizzas; pizzas whose dough has been rustically rolled and topped with quality toppings in unique and artistically flavorful ways. I have a few artisan style pizzas that I make at home when I haven’t had pizza in a minute and will die if I do not get some in my system, and this Butternut, Brussles, and Bacon Pizza is quite possibly the best of them!

Butternut Brussels Bacon Pizza 2

BAM! Look at that!

Roasted butternut squash and Brussels sprouts, crispy bacon, caramelized onions, balsamic reduction, and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses all come together to create a fully-loaded and totally delectable pizza. Sweet balsamic reduction, caramelized onions, and tender butternut squash are contrasted by smoky, salty, and earthy bacon bits and Brussels sprouts which are married by mild gooey mozzarella and of course the ever distinctive Parmesan. It’s crispy, crunchy, and hearty all at once. Honestly, this is a pizza that could be served at a high-end restaurant off the “fancy” (boogie) pizza menu for a pretty penny, but you can make this in your home for under $15 for 4 people.

Ever since making this pizza this past winter, it has become an instant go-to for pizza night because it so deeply enjoyable! Serve with a nice salad and a glass of wine, and you are in for the perfect pizza experience!

Butternut, Brussels, and Bacon Pizza

  • Servings: 3-4 people
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound your favorite pizza dough (I use Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Dough)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups Brussels Sprouts, quartered
  • 1 ½ cups butternut squash cut into small cubes
  • 4-5 strips bacon
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced thin
  • 1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic glaze (I use Trader Joe’s)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

Prep work on the toppings for the pizza –

Preheat the oven to 425̊F. Place the Brussels sprouts and butternut squash on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Toss together, roast for 25-30 minutes until the squash is tender and the Brussels sprouts are crispy.

Cook the bacon your favorite way until crisp. Cool and break into ½ inch bits. (I cook my bacon on a baking rack in the oven, so much easier!)

In a medium pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions. Sprinkle with a pinch of both salt and pepper. Cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are caramelized. (Tip: Add a tablespoon of water if the pan starts to get too sticky)

Assembling the pizza –

Turn up the heat to 450̊F. Roll out the dough into a 12-14 inch long rectangle or oblong shape, making the thickness about ¼ inch thick (that’s quite thin).Place on a baking sheet that has been sprayed or rubbed with a bit of oil and sprinkled with a couple tablespoons of cornmeal.

Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the surface of the crust followed by the balsamic glaze. Using the back of a spoon, spread the oil and glaze all over the crust evenly.

Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella and ½ of the parmesan. Spread the caramelized onions over the cheese. Spread the butternut squash and Brussels sprouts over the onions. Sprinkle the bacon bits over the vegetables. Top with the remaining cheeses.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the outer rim of the crust is golden brown.

Remove to a cutting board, slice into rustic squares, and serve!

 

I Made Cauliflower Steaks – Steaks Made of Cauliflower

As you probably know by now, though I may love a good Italian meat sauce and a gourmet burger, I am a huge lover of vegetarian and vegan food, a proponent of a more plant rich diet, and an active supporter of Meatless Monday. This fondness for the veg has led me to try lots of different recipes and restaurants in search of tasty and satisfying plant-based meals! I heard whisperings (meaning I saw Instagram posts) on how some of our vegan friends have utilized cauliflower to replace even the most carnivorous of meals. So, I did what they do and I made Cauliflower Steaks.

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What? Yes! Steaks literally made from the head of cauliflower. And I must tell you, it was delicious and satisfying! Cauliflower is taking the place of a lot of meat-centric dishes these days: we’ve got cauliflower buffalo wings, cauliflower orange chicken, cauliflower calamari, and now cauliflower steak!

Now, let me answer the question that is trying to burst forth from your mind’s eye right now as you attempt to comprehend how cauliflower steak could be: no, it does not taste just like a real steak, I don’t really think there is any other food source that can without heavy processing. However, when cauliflower is cut into the shape of ribeye and cooked properly, it can emulate the texture and heartiness of a steak dinner while also heavily taking on any flavors that you add to it. In this way, it can actually be more versatile than steak.

Furthermore, it is so easy! Cauliflower Steaks are something that nearly anyone can make for minimal culinary effort. Another bonus, this is a great inexpensive alternative for a home cooked meal; a head of organic cauliflower can cost you $3 or less and give 3-4 steaks from it. For that it, will fill you up surprisingly full and be satisfying to the tastes buds too if you do it right.

So, I made cauliflower steak, and here is what I did and what happened!

I took a gorgeous head of organic cauliflower….

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And I cut it in half! It looks like I’m cutting into a brain////

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Straight down the middle, all the way through the stem.

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Then, I cut the halves into inch thick steaks.

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I laid the steaks out on a baking sheet and drizzled with a bit olive oil, seasoned both sides with ample salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. Then I put it in the oven to bake!

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I made a “Fridge-Clean-Out Sauce”, taking veggies and tomato sauce from the fridge to use them up at the end of the week. This was basically a vegan mushroom and chickpea Bolognese sauce.

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I roasted the cauliflower steaks for 20 minutes, flipped them over, then let them roast another 15 minutes until they were browned and caramelized.

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I smothered them in the made up sauce and serve them with other roast vegetables!

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I know, you’re probably thinking….

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I’ll tell you! It’s VEGAN MAGIC!

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Cauliflower Steaks - Basic Technique

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1-2 heads of cauliflower, cut into 1/2 inch to 1 inch steaks
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning or Herbs de Provence
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Place the cauliflower steaks on a baking sheet. Drizzle with half the olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and half of the garlic powder and herbs. Flip and repeat. Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes until the face up side starts to brown. Flip and return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes until the face upside is nicely caramelized. Serve with your favorite sauce and enjoy!

Recipe Review: Giada’s Creamy Linguine with Lobster and Bacon

What do you think I do on my lunch breaks at the office? That’s right, I watch the Food Network. And if you haven’t already guessed it, my favorite Food Network Star is Giada De Laurentiis, who is my spirit animal as well. I’ve reviewed her restaurant and another recipe of hers, but it’s been awhile so I figured it’s time for another.

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My Patronus

Back during December, there was a “Holiday” episode of Giada at Home in which she cooked this Creamy Linguine with Lobster and Bacon.

Creamy Linguine with Lobster and Bacon 1

I can’t even.

I mean, hello, just listen to the name of the recipe. Watching it cooked on the screen was torture for my colleague friends and I. The sight of it inspired a deep need for it within us.

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Said Johnny and friends to the pasta.

Still, I didn’t see what made it traditionally “Holidayish”. But when Valentine’s Day came around, I thought it would make the perfect V-Day dinner! In my mind, shellfish and pasta are staples for a special Valentine’s Day dinner, and the addition of bacon makes everything much more romantic.

valentine

Valentine’s Day = Food!

Of course, I am single – and Whole on My Own – and so is my mother and sister, so we had ourselves our own little fancy Valentine’s Dinner where we enjoyed this fantabulous recipe, along with a Kale and Roasted Beet Salad and some Prosecco.

After cooking the meal and taking my first twirl and bite, I knew it was a keeper. HOLY HELL PEOPLE!

the taste

My reaction after the first bite basically.

Tender sweet lobster, salty smoky bacon, delightful linguine noodles, rich tomato cream sauce, fresh herbs and peas, and of course, heavenly Parmesan cheese; this dish has everything going for it! All the flavors and textures play off each other perfectly. It is a luxurious and sensual dish. And though it sounds indulgent because of the cream and bacon, a moderate sized portion of this was actually just the right amount, no one felt weighed down or bloated, but perfectly satisfied. Remember people – moderation!

The recipe is pretty easy to follow. Giada has labeled the difficulty as “Intermediate”. That’s just because you do have to do quite a few things at once, and once you start there is no stopping, so you have to be prepared. Plus, if you buy a whole cooked lobster or two, you have to break open its shell which is no easy feat.

xena fight

Basically the effort it takes to break open lobster. Damn those spikes!

My advice is to do all the prep work before you start the cooking. Chop all the vegetables and herbs, have the tomato and cream measured out, have the lobster meat cut up into chunks and set aside in a bowl, and have everything readily assessable. This way, once you start, you’ve got everything you need to execute.

Ingredients for Creamy Linguine with Lobster and Bacon

Prepare everything ahead of time and lay it out.

I cut the ingredient portions in half because I was only cooking for 3 people while Giada originally intended the recipe for 6, but you could easily double this recipe or modify it for your friends and family as needed.

At any rate, you should absolutely 100% make this dish when you are feeling a little bit ritzy! Enjoy!

Also, here is a video of my lobster singing “Under the Sea”.

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!

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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.

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

Meatloaf Calabrese

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

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!

Vegan Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Red Bean Chili

As an avid supporter of Meatless Monday and the concept that we can eat less meat and also go about the cultivation of the meat that we do eat in a more sustainable way, I am constantly looking to try new and exciting vegetarian and vegan dishes. I love eating at vegan restaurants and seeing what they’ve come up with and I myself really enjoy making vegan and vegetarian dishes; in fact, some of my most popular recipes are vegan like Johnny’s Tomato Soup.  I do, however, often get stuck in a rut when it comes to cooking vegan for myself. I usually rely on another cook’s book or blog to tell me what to do. One day, however, I decided to be adventurous and experiment in the kitchen using ingredients that I love and crossed my fingers that a great vegan dish would be born from all of it. Lo and behold this chili happened!

What I love about this chili is that it is incredibly hearty in texture, flavor, and feel when in all reality; it is an extremely light and nutritious veggie packed dish. Chunks of Portobello mushrooms mimic chunks of beef that you might find in one chili. Finely chopped cauliflower emulates ground meat that you might find in another chili. Other veggies and spices give the stew a rich and warming flavor profile. The result is a chili that is thick and filling while also bringing the nutrition without any animal products.

I loved this chili so much; I made it two weeks in a row and knew that I had to share it with you! I hope you enjoy this new vegan friendly dish from yours truly. Buon Appetito!

Vegan Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Red Bean Chili

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

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • ½ a green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • 1 large Portobello mushroom, big diced
  • 3 cups cauliflower, chopped into tiny pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Heat the olive in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrot, celery, and bell pepper with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, cook until tender, another 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cook 1 minute. Add the cauliflower and sage, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the chili powder, paprika, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Coat the veggies in the spices and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes, and vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

 

Johnny’s Tomato Soup

Ciao all! Johnny here with my inexpensive, unbelievably simple, super healthy, and incredibly delish recipe for my Tomato Soup! There is no way around it; tomato soup is one of the most comforting dishes you can enjoy. A bowl of tomato soup comforts you when you’re feeling under the weather or helps you to cozy up with a good movie or book on a chilly evening in at home. And my tomato soup will be your new favorite! With budget friendly ingredients and requiring minimal effort to prepare, this soup is vegan and healthy while also being warming and hearty. Cannellini beans within the soup pureed after cooking give the soup a creamy texture without the need for cream or dairy. Rosemary, red pepper, and bay leaf give the soup earthy and warming notes. This soup makes a great quick weeknight dinner and is perfect to take  a left over cup to work or school; hell, it’s even perfect for a Friday night with a good movie and bottle of wine! I make this soup almost every other week during Fall and Winter and anyone who has ever had it has always been thoroughly pleased. Hope you enjoy!

Johnny's Tomato Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: absurdly easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
  • ¼ -1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Optional Toppings: Olive oil drizzle, cracked black pepper, light sour cream, Greek yogurt, parmesan cheese, goat cheese

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onions and carrots, sprinkle with a ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes until tender. Add the crushed garlic, mix together, and sauté an additional 2 minutes.

Add the cannellini beans, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable stock, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir. Bring to a boil over the medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Uncover and fish out the bay leaf, discard. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth and creamy with no chunks of veggies left. You can also puree in a food processor, but be very careful! Ladle into bowls and add your desired toppings. I personally like to do an artsy drizzle of olive oil and add some crushed black pepper to keep it light but tasty. Enjoy!