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Granola

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment
Granola

Granola

It’s snowing again as I write this and I though maybe I would write about the weather (again) but I think at this point, if you’re in the states, especially the Midwest, you get it.  So lets just move on.

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I love granola.  Problem is that store bought granola is often loaded with calories.  Even if you buy the healthy versions they typically cost a small fortune.

So I scoured the world wide web to see if I could find a good recipe that would be both economical and waist line friendly. The results were overwhelming.

So what does any experimental cook do?  I experimented by taking bits and pieces from a few recipes I researched.

The first batch I tried was too sweet.  The second was too sticky.  The third was not sweet enough. Finally, after some tweaking I ultimately settled  on the one below and just like Goldilocks, this one was just right.

While the upfront cost is probably more than a box of store bought granola, I was able to make 4 or 5 batches for under $10.  Most of all, I controlled the ingredients making it as healthy as I possibly could.

Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Rolled Oats (such as Bob’s Red Mill) (do not use quick cooking oats)
  • 1/2 cup of chopped nuts (use any kind – pecans, almonds etc)
  • 1/4 cup of coconut flakes (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons honey (wildflower if possible but any good quality honey will do)
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (no Mrs. Butterworth)
  • 1 teaspoon of canola oil
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup of dried fruit, chopped (I use blend of cranberries, cherries, blueberries)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients (except fruit), mix well.
  3. Add in all wet ingredients and gently stir to combine.
  4. Pour contents of bowl on to a rimmed sheet pan lined with parchment paper (or silicon baking mat)
  5. Bake 15 minutes.
  6. Stir gently with a spatula and bake additional 15 minutes until lightly golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven and sprinkle the dried fruit on the cooked oats.
  8. Cool completely and transfer to an airtight container.
  9. Serve with Greek Yogurt and Berries, or milk, or just snack right from the jar.

The best part is you can add anything you want to the granola. Be adventurous.

Granola with Greek Yogurt and Berries

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Tomato Soup

January 2, 2014 Leave a comment
Tomato soup

Tomato soup

Is there any job in America that gets it wrong more often than Weather Forecasters? I know its not an exact science, but it IS a science and you would think that in 2014 there would be a better way to get it right.

In my opinion, the only way to know what the weather is up to, is to step outside and see for yourself.

That said, I still find myself checking the various weather forecasts, especially when I have upcoming plans outdoors (or vacation).

I check way more often in the winter than the summer. I find this odd because I have less outdoor plans in the winter so in theory I should care less.  However, I do it mainly to see IF we’re going to get inclement weather that may factor in to my daily commute.

So recently I checked out one of the online weather sites and was upset to discover that in the next few days they’re predicting frigid temperatures.

A high of 1 degree to be exact.  One. Uno.  Factor in the wind chills and who knows how cold it will get.  I won’t like that at all.  I suppose many won’t.

Then I remembered there are people in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and plenty of other states that have it much worse than me for many more days each and every year.

Then there’s the Russians?  The Canadians?

After dreading whats forthcoming for a few moments, I realized that no matter how bad I think I have it, there is always someone worse off.

Still doesn’t mean I won’t lay around in comfy sweats and a hoodie enjoying a nice cup of tea….or coffee….or a delicious bowl of soup.

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This recipe is simple and has just a few ingredients (most of which may already be in your pantry).

From start to finish it takes around 15 minutes give or take.

This soup is much healthier that those cans of condensed soup. Not to mention, this version probably costs about the same, yet feeds a family of 4 (with leftovers for lunch the next day).

Who doesn’t like healthy, economical, simple and delicious.

Enjoy!

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes (I used Organic which was $1.50 at Aldi)
  • 1 (43 oz) container of low sodium tomato juice
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar (to cut the acidity of the tomatoes)
  • 2 low sodium chicken bouillon cubes
  • Fresh Ground Pepper (eyeball it)
  • 1/2 cup Half & Half
  • 1 tablespoon of basil, chopped

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium high heat.
  2. Add onion and cook until soft.
  3. Add tomatoes and stir to combine.
  4. Add tomato juice, stir.
  5. Add sugar, stir.
  6. Add bouillon cubes, stir.
  7. Add pepper, stir.
  8. Bring everything to a boil then remove from heat.
  9. Stir in the half & half and basil.
  10. Serve immediately. (preferably with a grilled cheese sandwich)

Tuscan Beef Stew

December 15, 2013 1 comment
Tuscan Beef Stew

Tuscan Beef Stew

When I first started blogging I would write two, sometimes three entries a week.  If you follow, you know that its no where near that pace these days.  It’s got to the point where people ask why I don’t blog more often.  It’s a legit question and one I really don’t have an answer for.

So let me dive in to it a bit more and see what I can come up with.

1.  Its no longer my ‘flavor of the month’? My wife says that anytime I do something new, I obsess over it.  Sadly, she’s right (as most significant others are).  She can easily site numerous examples and I can’t disagree with any of them.

2. I haven’t been cooking anything good?  This isn’t entirely accurate. But for the most part I’m in a bit of a rut.  I’ve been cooking things I’m comfortable with instead of branching out.  Even though I’ve found a ton of recipes I want to try, I just haven’t made them as often as I would like.

3.  Work has been a bit demanding as of late?  Business has picked up lately that’s for sure and when I’m at work doing what it is I do there, one of the last things I want to do is write. I think I’d rather catch up on TV.

4.  My food photos look like garbage?  Garbage? I think they look like crap.  We eat with our eyes so the last thing a blog about food needs is unappealing photos of said food.

5.  There’s nothing to write about?  I can’t argue with this at all.  I mean, I just wrote a list detailing why I’m not writing.  If that doesn’t reek of uninteresting, I don’t know what does.

So there you go…..5 reasons why I’m not blogging nearly as much as you (mainly me) would like.

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This stew recipe is from the Cooking TV channel show Extra Virgin starring Ari Gold’s secretary (Entourage reference in case you’ve never seen the show) and her Italian (Tuscany region) husband.  If you’ve never watched, its on often so check it out while you’re making the stew….because while the recipe is simple and uses simple ingredients, you will have a couple hours to kill while its cooking.  The show has been my new favorite cooking show.

This flavorful stew is rich and hearty and has quickly become my new go-to stew recipe.  The slow braise makes the beef fork tender but the the veggies don’t turn to mush.  Make sure you serve it with a nice hunk of crusty bread so you can savor all of the juices.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red or yellow onion, rough chopped
  • 3 large peeled carrots cut in to 1/2 inch thick medallions
  • 3 stalks of celery, rough chopped
  • 2-3 lbs of stew meat – 1 inch cubes (to save money, buy a chuck roast and cut it yourself)
  • 2 1/2 cups dry red wine (such as Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 1 28oz can of whole tomatoes
  • 4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme (wrapped in a bundle if possible)
  •  Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium high heat.
  2. Add onion, carrot and celery.  Saute about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until just browned.
  3. Add beef and cook until browned on all sides.
  4. Add wine and thyme. Stir to combine.
  5. Bring to a boil.
  6. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper.
  7. Lower heat to medium-low and cover.
  8. Cook for approximately 2 to hours or until beef is tender.
Big old Pot of Stew

Big old Pot of Stew

Gnocchi with Mascarpone and Lemon

November 3, 2013 Leave a comment
Mascarpone and Lemon Gnocchi

Mascarpone and Lemon Gnocchi

For those in the United States (sans Arizona and Hawaii), today marks the end of Daylight Savings Time.

In the days leading up to today, we’re often reminded to turn back the clock and “enjoy that extra hour of sleep.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like I get anything extra.  As a matter of fact, I feel like I’m losing out in the deal.

My body decided that (new) 5:30 was a good time to be awake and as a result, I’ll be ready to be in bed by (new) 8:30.  If this holds true, I won’t even be awake to hear the jazz music during “Homeland’s” opening credits.  Sad!

Because of the time change, my stomach wants to eat all meals at its “normal” time so I find myself unnecessarily snacking while I await the real mealtime.  Fun-sized Kit-Kat anyone?

I get that it may light when I arrive at work tomorrow, but what good does that do me when I have to drive  home in the dark?

I understand the reasoning behind it and I’m all for helping our farmers, but somehow the rest of the world seems to manage without changing clocks.

Point being, I’m not getting anything extra here and you’re not either.

So I say, as a nation, lets rally around getting rid of Daylight Savings Time.  If not, I suppose I could move to Hawaii.  Now that would be something extra!

Since you received that extra hour of sleep today, why not take advantage of that energy and make this delicious Gnocchi recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis.  Enjoy!!

Ingredients:

  • 8oz Mascarpone Cheese (at room temperature)
  • 1 Whole Egg + 1 Egg yolk (at room temperature)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Zest of 2 Lemons
  • 1 Cup Parmesan, Grated
  • 1 Teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour (plus additional for forming the gnocchi)
  1. Combine both cheeses, the eggs, lemon zest and salt in a large bowl and mix with an electric hand mixer on medium speed until all ingredients are well incorporated is light and fluffy.  This will take about a minute or two.
  2. Slowly mix in the flour until a dough begins to form.
  3. Once mixed, sprinkle a large sheet pan with flour.
  4. Using 2 kitchen teaspoons, drop 1 teaspoonful-sized ball of dough on to the floured sheet pan.
  5. Repeat until all of the dough is used.
  6. Gently shake the sheet pan to cover each piece with flour.
  7. Then with floured hands, gently shape each piece in to an oval.
  8. Repeat until complete.
  9. At this point the Gnocchi are complete and can be frozen for future use or cooked immediately.

Your uncooked gnocchi should look similar to this:

Finished gnocchi before cooking

Finished gnocchi before cooking

To freeze:  Place entire sheet pan in freeze for approximately 30 minutes.  When gnocchi have hardened, transfer to freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months.

To cook immediately:  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  In batches of 6 to 8 pieces of gnocchi, carefully drop in to boiling water.  The gnocchi will float to the surface when they are done (typically 3-4 minutes).  Carefully remove with a slotted spoon and serve with your favorite sauce.

 

The sauce used for the pictured gnocchi is a brown butter and thyme. To make this sauce, simply melt a stick of butter with a teaspoon of salt in a skillet until it begins to brown. Remove from heat and stir in tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves. Pour over cooked gnocchi.

Gnocchi finished with a brown butter and thyme sauce

Gnocchi finished with a brown butter and thyme sauce

Chicken Cacciatore

September 9, 2012 1 comment
Chicken Cacciatore

Chicken Cacciatore

It’s another cool, crisp September day.  I’m beginning to wonder if Summer is behind us and Autumn is here to stay.

If so, that makes me happy.  Its my favorite season.

Something else that would be happy is my Dutch Oven which often gets neglected in the Summer.

Well trusty, heavy-bottomed (I mean that in a nice way) cookware, fear no more, Autumn is your time to shine.

With it’s versatility and ability to retain heat the Dutch Oven is the perfect vessel to cook most anything.  Sauces, soups, stews, chili, and even bread (all you Pinterest junkies know the bread I’m talking about) all get the Dutch workout.

They’re especially good for recipes that require a braise.

One such recipe is Chicken Cacciatore.  (Here’s your Italian lesson – Hunter’s Chicken)

This is another one of those Mom-inspired dishes that is easy.  But like most things she made, the recipe card wasn’t included. So in order for me to recreate it as close as possible, and with my Mom no longer with us, I needed to find a good Italian to show me the way.

Giada De Laurentiis?  Love her but despite her ability to over-enunciate any Italian word with drama and flair, she’s not Italian enough for me.

Guy Fieri?  The name is Italian but that’s about it.

Lidia Bastianich? She has a successful Italian restaurant here in Pittsburgh, but she’s actually Croatian.  Who knew?

Surely somewhere on the information super-highway (people still call it that right) there has to be someone to teach me the way.

That person, and my new favorite chef because of the ease of his recipes is Fabio Viviani.  He reminds me of the way my mom used to cook.  Nothing fancy or over the top – just simple, delicious home cooked dishes.

He was a contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef”.  However, if you’ve never watched (like me) you can see Fabio cook on his web series for Yahoo called Chow Ciao.  It’s humorous, without being obnoxious and really down to Earth.  Highly recommended.  New episodes premiere every Monday.

I followed Fabio’s Chicken Cacciatore recipe pretty closely but made some adjustments to how long I cooked it to guarantee the chicken was fork tender.

Here is his recipe (with my slight modifications).  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 tbsp. light olive oil
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups fresh mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • Heavy pinch salt
  • 1 cup pitted and sliced olives (I used a combination of kalamata and Sicilian green olives)
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of rosemary (Fabio called for sprigs tied together for easy removal, but I didn’t have sprigs)
  • 3 pieces each chicken thighs and drumsticks (6 pieces total)
  • Flour (for coating chicken)
  • A few long pours of olive oil, for sautéing
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 2 cups red wine (make sure its a wine that you would find good enough to drink)
  • 2 cups of marinara sauce
  1. In a dutch oven over medium-high heat, combine onions, garlic, mushrooms, and olives with olive oil, rosemary and salt and pepper.
  2. Cook until caramelized, about 5 minutes, then remove to low heat, add thyme.
  3. Meanwhile, generously coat chicken pieces with flour (be sure to shake off the excess)
  4. In a separate pan over medium-high heat, sear the chicken pieces in  olive oil, until crisp on all sides.
  5. Add chicken legs and pan drippings to the dutch oven with the vegetables.
  6. Add the red wine and marinara sauce.
  7. Cover with lid and cook over medium-high heat until chicken is cooked, about 30 minutes.
  8. Serve topped with a small sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
Very Filling

It’s called peasant food, but I call it delicious!

Penne alla Vodka

August 24, 2012 4 comments
Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka

Let me begin by stating this blog entry was very close to not ever being written.

Why you ask?  Well because the dish was almost ruined, along with my house during the process.

The recipe, which I’ll get to shortly, requires that you flambe’ part of it. For those not familiar, it is the cooking process where you essentially set your food on fire with alcohol.

Food and Fire – I’m in!

Since I’m a pretty decent cook AND I’ve seen the flambe’ process up close and personal at fancy restaurants where I ordered Banana’s Foster, I assumed I could do it without issue.

I’ll go on record and state…I can do it.  You can do it too. Because setting food on fire IS easy. But not done properly IT IS DANGEROUS.  Extremely dangerous. Dealing with the 3 foot high flame that ignites from this process will also scare crap out of you.

Now I’ve been known to exaggerate before (see my thunderstorm story here), but the height of the flame is no exaggeration. And once the flame was ignited, there was no turning back.

I really didn’t know what to do other than move it away from anything that would catch on fire and as low from the ceiling as possible. And since I’m over six-feet tall, I needed to crouch a bit as I waited for the alcohol to burn.  Not an easy task.

With no way for me to put out the flame  I needed to keep it out of harms way long enough to avoid a call to the insurance company.

The 60 second process seemed like an eternity and every time the flame got lower it grew again when I would move back towards the stove.  So I waited with the hot pan of fire in my hand until it was gone.

With the flame gone and my eyebrows still intact, I moved the pan back to the stove, wiped the moistness from my face (and perhaps changed my skivvies) and proceeded to make one kick-ass pasta dish.

So now I that I lived to tell my story, I did some research on how to properly do this technique.  Seems like I did it just fine, but my kitchen is too small and I should have avoided trying altogether.  I also found out afterwards that while flambe’ is the best way to infuse your dish with the vodka, you could do it without this process.

I sure wish I had known that ahead of time….but then I wouldn’t have had this great safety lesson to share.

If you want to try flambe’ go for it, just make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy.

For those not as adventurous (read:stupid), here is the flambe’ free version.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

This is the base for a good meal

Cooking with booze….yum!

  • 1 lb. dry penne pasta
  • 1 tbsp. of butter
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup vodka + 3/4 cup additional vodka
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups of your favorite marinara sauce (I promise this recipe will be available in the fall)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Cook penne according to package.
  2. Meanwhile, in large skillet, melt butter over medium heat and add onion.  Cook 4-5 minutes.
  3. Next add 1/2 cup of vodka, pepper, and cook 4-5 minutes to reduce. (*here is where you would flambe’ instead of reduce*)
  4. When penne is cooked, add to skillet with the vodka and onion.  Stir.
  5. Add remaining 3/4 cup of vodka and stir.  Cook to reduce.
  6. Add pasta sauce and stir.
  7. Add cream and stir to combine.  Cook 3-5 minutes until nice and thick.
  8. Serve immediately topped with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.
Bowl full of penne

Facile gustoso piatto di pasta (easy tasty pasta)

Belgian Waffle with Blueberry Compote

July 29, 2012 2 comments
Belgian Waffle

Belgian Waffle with Blueberry Compote

Despite my love affair with the grill and all things charred, seared, and smoked, my favorite meal of the day is actually breakfast.  It is the one meal I never skip.  And even though my weekdays start early (I’m in the office most days by 6am) I always make time for breakfast. To me, starting the day right is important and typically sets the tone for my eating habits throughout the day.

My work-day breakfasts are quick hitters: typically cereals, oats, fruit, and yogurts. All of which which can be quite repetitive and boring.

The weekends, well that’s another story altogether.

On a Saturday or Sunday, I like to make big breakfasts.  Pancakes, omelettes, corned beef hash, home fries, biscuits, sausage gravy, and of course, bacon.  Granted, not all at once…….although.

The weekend is all about lots of ingredients and making a mess of the kitchen.  What better way to do that than by breaking out the waffle maker.

Ok, you’re probably thinking “Do I really need to read a blog entry about waffles?”  The short answer is yes!  Because after trying this waffle you will throw all other waffle recipes away.  That is, of course, your waffle is better than this one.  If it is, please share it.

This waffle recipe has just the right crispy exterior, combined with a soft, airy interior.  It has a nice a sweet flavor to it. You can eat it without any toppings and it would be delicious.

Personally, I like to top a good waffle with a blueberry compote.  For those unfamiliar, a compote is nothing more than a fruit cooked in a sugar syrup.  I enjoy blueberry, but any fruit will work using the same recipe.

The next time you’re making waffles, give this a try and let me know what you think.  I promise you’ll love it.  If not, your kids, (or your dogs) will.

Ingredients:

For the Waffles

  • 2 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 Cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 Teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 Egg yolks
  • 1 Stick of butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 Cups Milk
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon

For the Blueberry Compote

  • 2 Cups fresh blueberries
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon

To make the waffles, combine flour, sugar, and baking powder in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine yolks, butter, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest.  Mix well.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. (Do not over mix)

Cook waffles according to your waffle iron directions.

Serve immediately or place cooked waffles in a oven heated to 225 degrees to keep warm while you make remaining waffles.

Waffle

Hot off the press

To make the compote, add blueberries, water, lemon juice, zest, and sugar to a saucepan.   Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 10-12 minutes.

Blueberry Compote

Blueberry Compote

Pour compote over waffle, dust with powdered sugar.  Enjoy!

Waffle with a side of bacon

Don’t forget the bacon