Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

When life (or Misfits Markets) gives you too many carrots, there is only one option in my house: carrot cake. Plus we were visiting family at their camp last weekend and, when made in two loaf pans, it was the perfect thank you with one pan waiting happily waiting for our return home! And I’ll confess, it may have even made a guest appearance at breakfast.

1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice*
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 eggs
3 cups grated carrots (about 4)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray (I did this in two loaf pans)

Mix the all the dry ingredients to combine. Add in the yogurt and the eggs. Stir in the grated carrots.

Pour into the prepared baking dish (or dishes). Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan. While the cake is cooling, prepare the frosting by beating 4 tbsp unsalted butter (softened) with 4 ounces of softened cream cheese until smooth (confession: I usually use 6 ounces). Add 1/2 tsp of vanilla and 1 3/4 cups of powdered sugar and beat until fluffy. Spread over the cooled cake. Store in the refrigerator. Most importantly, enjoy!

* if you don’t have pumpkin pie spice handy, use 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg

Utica Greens

Back during my senior year in college, every Monday we’d head down to Cavallo’s Restaurant for their all-you-can-eat pasta special. I want to say it was the ridiculous price of $1.50 per person (when I did a quick Google search, I was thrilled to see the place was still there, although the special now $2.49). What more could hungry college students on a limited budget want? But periodically we’d branch out and try new things. That’s the first time I remember trying Utica Greens. For years, I tried to explain this dish to my family and was met with complete resistance to bringing it to our table. Flash forward to this summer, when we ordered take out from our favorite local Italian restaurant and I decided to get a side order of greens. My husband was so intrigued and once he took a taste, he was hooked. So finally I could head to the kitchen and get cooking!

What are Utica Greens? From what I’ve read, they’re a variation of Southern Italian Sautéed Greens – a dish made to make the most of common ingredients around the kitchen and stretch the grocery budget. They’re spicy perfection.

1 bunch of escarole, chopped
1/2 cup prosciutto
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic (bashed and chopped)
5 hot, pickled peppers, chopped*
1/2 cup chicken stock (or less)
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs (I used an Italian blend)
1/4 cup freshly-grated Asiago cheese

*You can use more peppers, or fewer, depending on your tolerance for spice. I had no idea how easy they are to pickle – bring one cup water, one cup white vinegar, 1 tbsp each of sugar and salt . Once it comes to a boil, remove from the heat, add the peppers (if they’re whole, just pierce them to get the pickling liquid in there), seep for about 10 minutes.

Blanch the escarole for a couple minutes in salted water. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Heat some olive oil in a broiler-proof pan then add the prosciutto and onions. Once the onions are soft, add the peppers and garlic and let them cook through. Add the greens back in and add some stock if it isn’t juicy enough (I only used about a quarter of a cup). Top with the panko and cheese, and broil until the top is toasty brown.

I serve them with just meatballs in sauce. Honestly, you don’t even need pasta to walk away from the table full and happy! It was perfection on a plate and brought up so many wonderful memories of nights with friends at Cavallo’s.

What are some of your favorite nostalgic dishes? Whatever they are, may you enjoy them in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well friends!

Sausage Puff Pastries

Another week of football action meant that it was time to try some new game time snacks! I’d always wanted to try to make sausage wontons but when I went to the grocery store, there was not a wonton wrapper to be found. So I figured phyllo pastry cups would make a good substitute (plus make things a bit easier to put together).

Serve some crudités with a hummus dip on the side, and enjoy the game (or the party, or the afternoon – these are really good!)

2 boxes frozen phyllo mini-shells
1 pound spicy bulk Italian sausage
1 small green or red pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup ranch dressing

Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Cook the sausage (I added the pepper and onion right in there too) until no pink remains. Fold in 1 1/2 cups of the cheese and the ranch dressing, stirring until the cheese is melted.

Spoon the meat mixture into the cups, sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and the filling is bubbly.

What’s Cooking This Week

Fall is in the air! And the weather is certainly turning cooler so I’m returning to indoor cooking; remembering some of our favorite dinners and trying some new dishes.

I love a good breakfast for dinner sometimes. These ham and cheese stuffed hash brown waffles never fail to be a hit.

The key is making sure the frozen hash browns are completely thawed and as much water is squeezed out as possible (which can be pretty messy). Toss a full bag of thawed potatoes with half a stick of melted butter, salt, pepper and dill. I have a four-slice waffle maker, so I put half a cup of the potatoes in each section, add some diced ham and cheddar and top with another quarter cup of potatoes. It will take a good 15-20 minutes to get them nice and crispy brown. The other key is to make sure the waffle iron is really well sprayed. Otherwise, they’ll be almost impossible to remove!

I serve them with some sour cream or applesauce on the side.

My favorite local grocery store now has rotisserie turkey breasts which are seasoned to perfection (and if we’re being honest, a better deal than the rotisserie chicken!). All I had to do was find the perfect sides to accompany the turkey.

So I made a quick zucchini gratin with Asiago cheese, Italian seasoning, garlic and rosemary olive oil. When the zucchini was tender, I added some panko breadcrumbs and fried onions and returned it to the oven till the top was browned.

The fingerling potatoes had a similar flavor profile: olive oil, garlic, and oregano. After about 15 minutes in the air fryer, I added some chopped mushrooms and a slice of chopped bacon, finishing it off for another 5 minutes or so.

While we’re sorry to see summer is coming to an end, I have to confess fall is my favorite season and I can’t wait to re-discover some of our favorites while finding new dishes to share. What’s your best-loved taste of fall? Whatever it is, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well my friends!

Are You Ready for Some Football (Food)?

Sorry, that was bad, but I couldn’t help it. We love this time of year – our favorite college teams play on Saturday, then all eyes turn to the NFL games to round out the weekend on Sunday. But what’s watching football without our favorite bites to enhance the day? Well, I don’t know and not sure I’d want to be watching that many games without some really great food! So I thought I’d kick off (ok, another bad pun) a post or two featuring our favorite football menus.

Call it charcuterie, call it small plates, in our house, this is perfect for a night kickoff because it’s flexible, adaptable, and gives everyone choices. And you don’t need to go wild preparing components – you can use what you have on hand. Yesterday, I grilled some smoked sausage (please don’t share it was turkey!), threw some frozen meatballs in the air fryer that had been tossed with BBQ sauce, and baked some prepared spanakopita triangles. Then of course, you need to have cheese! I like to include something with a bite (here an extra sharp Vermont cheddar), something milder (Swiss or Gouda always work), and something soft (this one was an Asiago spread we’d picked up on our adventures earlier in the day and was amazing!) Add your favorite crackers or baguette and enjoy!

But I will confess, I need something healthy on the side, so this cucumber, tomato salad fits the bill (and the small plates!)

Cut about a pound of cherry tomatoes in half (I love the brightness of having the different colors in the bowl) and toss with a pinch of salt, sugar and freshly ground pepper. Cut an English cucumber into thin slices and add to the bowl. Last step is to add half a red onion that’s been thinly sliced. Make the dressing in a mason jar by combining 1/2 cup Olive Oil, 1/2 cup red or white wine vinegar, 2 minced garlic cloves, freshly ground salt and pepper, 1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp dried oregano. Shake it all up to combine, then pour most of it on the veggies (I always save a bit in case I need it for serving). Mix in a little fresh parsley then let everything sit on the counter to marinade for a couple hours before serving.

Last but not least, we finished the weekend with sheet pan nachos. I always struggle with keeping these crispy, but a deep dive into Google today revealed the secret (strangely from the Cape Cod Times, not any cooking site). Preheat the oven to 375, spread the tortilla chips onto a baking sheet and cover the chips with about a cup and a half of cheese (I love a good Mexican blend). Bake for three minutes. Then they’re ready for topping. I always go with a meat (leftover chili, cooked chicken, ground beef or turkey cooked with taco seasoning), some salsa, and some diced jalapenos. Top with another half cup of so of cheese and return to the oven for 7 or 8 minutes till the cheese is melted. I top them with shredded lettuce, diced onion, and diced tomato (but choose your own adventure!). Serve with sour cream, guacamole, and/or pico de gallo.

That was a prefect menu to begin the first real weekend of football. What’s your go-to game day food? Whatever it is, I hope you enjoy it in the company of those you love and of course your favorite teams win!

Eat well my friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

I very dutifully create a menu planning our dinners each week before heading to the grocery store, but honestly, sometimes I just get distracted and go off script. Sometimes it’s the weather, sometimes an overabundance of an ingredient calling my name, sometimes what I planned, I’m just not feeling on cook day! That’s exactly what happened this past week when I switched things up to make stuffed peppers and chicken, bacon, ranch grilled flatbreads.

I cannot resist loading up on fresh peppers during this time of year. Sometimes I get a little too enthused and end up with an entire vegetable bin of them! So stuffed peppers are my go-to way to make sure they all get used. I cook up some basmati rice, brown some ground beef or turkey with diced onion & minced garlic, then add tomatoes (yes, I’m still using up the end of my San Marzano’s). When the rice is done, I add it to the meat mix, tossing with some red wine vinegar and fresh parsley. The last step is to mix in some shredded parmesan. I cut my peppers lengthwise, stuff the mixture in and top with shredded mozzarella or provolone. Put them in a grill pan and grill until the peppers have a nice char and the cheese is melted (and yes, if you look closely at the picture, you’ll see I flipped one over trying to get them on to a serving platter!)

If you are ever looking for a quick and satisfying meal, chicken, bacon, ranch flatbreads are amazing. The bonus is that I typically have all the ingredients on hand (because after all, we’ve planned for an entirely different meal so we don’t want to be running to the grocery store!). Just spread some naan, or your favorite flatbread, with ranch dressing and top with healthy amounts of cooked chicken, chopped tomatoes, cooked bacon, and shredded cheddar. Grill for about five minutes, top with diced scallions, and dinner is served.

What’s your favorite way to transform your planned dinner menu? No matter what it is, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by people who bring you joy!

Eat well friends!