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!

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!

What’s Cooking This Week

About the only thing I’m good at growing in our garden is herbs. Many of the plants came from a wine and herb event at one of our favorite Finger Lakes wine trails and they’ve just taken off from there. I’ve added a few along the way, but the majority are our original plantings! So this time of year, I love making a simple tomato sauce with fresh oregano to carry us through the week.

The sauce starts by sautéing a medium chopped onion and a few cloves of minced garlic till softened. Add about 1/4 cup of dry red wine, a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, a 14 ounce can of petite diced tomatoes, a tablespoon of sugar, salt and pepper to taste and ton of freshly picked and chopped oregano. Let it simmer for an hour or so just to get all the flavors blended together.

In the winter, I add freshly made meatballs when the sauce is simmering. But in the summer, I add some hot Italian sausage that I cooked on the grill.

Hard as I try, I can’t scale the amount back – it always yields a ton of sauce.

So for dinner this week, I cooked up some rigatoni to serve with the sauce. On the side, I grilled up some eggplant and finished it in the oven with some sauce and smoked provolone cheese. And of course some crusty bread for dipping or to have with some homemade garlic, parmesan butter.

I also used some of the leftovers to make pizza on the grill to round out the week. So good (especially the longer the sauce sits and the flavors come together)

What’s growing in your garden? Whatever it is (or if the local farmer’s market has your favorites), I hope it leads to your favorite seasonal dinners. Eat well my friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

Well honestly, not much has been happening in the kitchen between travel, a return to summer events, and graduation season. But one thing that’s been on the menu constantly are two Upstate New York favorites: salt potatoes and chicken spiedies. What are those you may ask? Well let me introduce you!

Salt potatoes are an iconic food in this area (which I didn’t realize till we had family & friends move out of the area – they always ask us to bring some along when we come to visit). They’re small, white potatoes that are boiled in their skins with a TON of salt. The rule of thumb is one cup of salt to 6 cups of water. That’s why packages of the nuggets of joy and pre-packaged salt are found in every grocery store this time of year. All that salt forms an amazing crust on the potatoes while they boil away. They’re served with melted butter (and no, you don’t need any salt on top of them!) They are the perfect side for anything: burgers, chicken, ribs… One caution if you’re going to try them: if they boil over, all that salt makes a complete mess of your stove, counter, and pot, so keep an eye on them.

Chicken spiedies seem to be one of those dishes that I only make in the summer, mainly because the grilling of the meat is key to success. Cubed chicken is marinaded in a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and so many amazing spices (oregano, garlic, parsley, basil, salt & pepper). The key to the best chicken spiedie is to let everything marinade over night (ok, sometimes I forget, but a nice 6 hours will work). Because of the acid in the marinade, it will begin softening and breaking down in the refrigerator. Grill on skewers or a grilling tray (so you don’t lose any of the delicious chicken). Serve on crusty rolls (I like toasting them for a bit) They’re perfect on their own, but I also can’t resist topping with grilled peppers and onions.

Time to get planning some meals and get back in the kitchen. What’s an iconic food from your area that you can’t live without?

What’s Cooking This Week

I’m patiently waiting for the real return of Spring. Seems like this year, we’re stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of a day or two of spring followed by the return of winter which means we’re still in the comfort food mode to take the chill off the days.

When it comes to quick and comforting, nothing beats a stir fry. Plus it’s a great way to use up the vegetables that are in the fridge (yes, I’m still over-ordering from Misfits Markets). It all starts with cooking up a pot of basmati rice. I always use chicken stock instead of water for a little extra flavor punch. Then the stir fry came together with some skinless chicken breasts tossed with Chinese five spice and red pepper flakes and sautéed in some olive oil & sesame oil. I then added snow peas and red peppers, grated ginger and garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce and some stock till the veggies were crisp-tender. Everything goes back into the pan to coat the rice. Sprinkle with some chopped green onion and enjoy.

We also love a good pork tenderloin. I rubbed this one with brown sugar, ground mustard, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and pepper. I’ve discovered when I don’t want to make a potato, cooking some frozen hash browns in the air fryer works beautifully. Just toss with olive oil, garlic, paprika and red pepper flakes. Shake the basket every five minutes so everything gets crispy (a little spritz of olive oil helps make sure they don’t stick). These took me about 15 minutes. Rounding things off were steakhouse green beans (tossed with a mix of melted butter, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic).

On the rare days we enjoy some spring weather, nothing beats a relaxing evening around the fire pit after dinner. What are your favorite spring is almost here eats? No matter what the weather is tossing your way, eat well friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

Spring might finally be starting to arrive here (well other than the snow that’s in the forecast for tomorrow), but it has me thinking about getting back to spending some time getting organized for the week: prepping some things to make for easier dinners and making sure the extra veggies we don’t use during the week don’t go to waste. So as today’s plans got rescheduled, I decided to have some fun in the kitchen. Honestly, I blame the productivity app on my phone that asked if I wanted to get more organized at dinner. Sometimes it’s like the thing watches what happens in our house.

Here’s what we ended up with. Not bad for a day’s work! I started with cooking some broccoli and sausage for a pasta dinner this week. I used two of my favorite kitchen gadgets: my air fryer to cook the broccoli in some olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and oregano and my grill pan to put a nice grill on the hot sausage links. It will come together as I heat them in some sauce while cooking some pasta.

Then I cleaned off the grill pan to move on to chicken to make tacos this week (since I’ve got all the veggies coming from my weekly Misfits delivery to seal the deal). One of my pandemic finds was this amazing guide on making your own spice blends so I love this mix for any kind of tacos. I’ve learned to keep the chicken from drying out, once I get the grill marks on the chicken, I just add some water to the pan to keep it juicy while it’s finishing up.

Last up, looking at the weather for tomorrow and knowing we could spend a chunk of the afternoon outside, I wanted to have something warming and ready to go when we got home so I made a batch of white chicken chili. I love the flavors in this: roasted red and poblano peppers, cannelloni beans, cooked chicken and some cayenne pepper, cumin and chili powder for heat.

Of course, I was under the watchful eye of my dutiful kitchen assistant at all times (who may have been rewarded with a taste of the cooked chicken before it got into the spicy mix!) What are your favorite prep time shortcuts?

Eat well friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

Well friends, it was pasta week this week in my kitchen. I’ll confess sometimes I’m not exactly paying attention when I plan the week’s dinners and this happens. And sometimes, we’re just in the mood for some pasta! So this week it was pasta two ways (I didn’t hear any complaints!)

First up, we have the classic chicken riggies (or is that more of an Upstate New York thing?). When I think about building layers of flavors, I think chicken riggies: the combination of the spicy cubinelle peppers and the sweetness of the roasted red peppers gets me every time. One lesson I’ve learned over the years is to wear gloves when working with any kind of spicy peppers (one benefit of the pandemic is it seems I now have a never-ending supply of disposable gloves! But back to cooking, it’s the perfect, soul-satisfying weeknight dinner that comes together with pantry staples and a couple well-planned editions to my weekly grocery list (I rarely have hot peppers in my veggie bin or heavy cream in my fridge). Just brown bite-sized pieces of chicken and set it aside while you saute onions, the cubinelles and garlic. Add crushed tomatoes and the roasted red peppers to form the sauce. To finish up, add the chicken to reheat and the heavy cream to warm through. Toss in the cooked pasta, sprinkle on freshly grated Parmesan and dinner is served!

Another of our favorite pasta dishes is Italian steak and pasta. I like to start with grilling a steak that’s been rubbed with pepper, garlic power, crushed red pepper and Italian seasoning. Depending on the weather, I either cook it outside on the grill or in a grill pan on the stove top. One of the things I love is how the sauce brings together so many fresh veggies. While the steak is resting, saute zucchini and mushrooms till soft then add a can of stewed tomatoes (I do like to give them a bit of a rough chop first). Add some crushed red pepper and basil, then just stir in some cooked pasta. Top with slices of the steak and that’s it.

So probably no pasta on the menu this week, but I will never say never! What’s your favorite one-dish pasta?

Eat well friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

It’s all about old and new favorites this week: one dish that is super easy to put together that we tried for the first time, and another that takes more time for the flavors to develop but is worth the time.

First the old favorite that takes some time: chicken curry with kale and sweet potatoes. About four months into the first wave of the pandemic, our public broadcasting station offered an online culinary experience. For a donation and event “ticket”, you got a box of ingredients delivered to cook along with Marcus Samuelsson. Ummm, yes please! I signed up as fast as my fingers could navigate that keyboard. I totally nerded out cooking along during the Zoom session and hearing his stories. I also realized I’d never make it as a professional chef because I certainly move at a more glacial pace in my kitchen! And I’ll confess, I wasn’t really sure how a culinary adventure would play out at my dining room table. Suffice it to say, it was an absolute hit! One thing I took from the cook-along was the importance of developing layers of flavors (like the heat of the poblanos working with sweetness of the coconut milk) which got me thinking of building profiles while I cook in a way I never had before.

The quicker, and newest favorite, brings me back to our favorite appliance: the air fryer! I try to be really good before going to the grocery store to plan meals for the week. But inevitably there comes a day where I just don’t feel like cooking what I planned (usually because I’ve gotten distracted and waited too long to start dinner). I was gifted the Skinny Taste Air Fryer Dinner cookbook once I fell in love with the appliance and had to try the kielbasa, veggie and pierogis. Seriously friends, this could not be easier: as the title implies it’s really just peppers, onions, turkey kielbasa, and frozen pierogis (I used four cheese because that’s what was in my freezer). Working in a couple batches, I had dinner ready to go in about twenty minutes. It was incredibly delicious. You are supposed to add fresh asparagus as well but we aren’t fans (not to mention I didn’t have any on hand).

So here’s to old favorites and new ones! What’s cooking in your kitchen?

Skillet Tater Tot Bake

Here’s another one of those recipes that’s been a family favorite forever (to the point where whenever I ask “what do we want for dinner this week?” the answer is always Tater Tot Bake). Honestly, it doesn’t make a weekly appearance, but when I make it, it’s a hit. The original recipe called for canned cream of mushroom soup – I’ve messed around over the years to replace that with fresh mushrooms.

1 lb lean ground beef (ground turkey works well too!)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup white mushrooms (cleaned & sliced)
1 shallot (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
3 tbsp flour
1 1/2 c beef stock (or chicken if you’re using ground turkey)
1 c milk
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Smoked paprika to taste
1/2 of a 32 ounce package of tater tots

Optional:
1 cup shredded cheese (sharp cheddar or pepper jack)
6 oz. French Fried Onions

Brown meat in a cast iron skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Drain and remove from pan.

Melt the butter then add the mushrooms & shallots. Cook until the mushrooms soften. Add the garlic (so it doesn’t burn). Add the flour to the vegetables and cook for a minute. Slowly stream the milk and stock into the pan, whisking constantly (and making sure you get any of the brown bits up off the bottom of the skillet). As the mixture starts to thicken, add the Worcestershire and smoked paprika. Keep simmering until it thickens. Add the meat back into the pan and give it a stir.

Arrange the tater tots on top of the meat. Tip: if you like the potatoes a little crispier, bake them for 400 degrees for 20 minutes while you’re getting everything else together.

Bake 15-20 minutes (if you don’t bake the tots ahead, you may have to add another 10 minutes to get them fully cooked). When the tots are cooked and the mixture is bubbly, you can top with the shredded cheese and return to the oven for 5 minutes to let it melt. Same with the French Fried Onions – layer them on top of the tots (and cheese, if you added) and give it another five minutes till they’re crispy and golden brown.

Nice green salad on the side makes it a perfect dinner!

What’s Cooking This Week

When the pandemic wiped out so many things that we all loved & enjoyed, I vowed I would never gripe about getting busy again. I guess it’s the old you don’t appreciate what you have until you don’t have it! So as things are busy again, I’ve had to up my game on hearty and quick meals.

Am I the only one who ends up with vegetable remnants that are perfectly good but not enough to make a complete side dish? I l especially love having some leftover carrots so I can make beef stew. Once you brown some stew beef, add carrots, potatoes, peas, and (a family must), white pearl onions to 8 ounces of beef gravy, a can of French onion soup, and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. If it’s too think, just add a bit of water. Just let everything simmer till the veggies are tender. Bonus: if you have some refrigerated French loaves, it’s an awesome treat to make bread bowls to serve the stew in. Just cut each loaf in half, shape into a ball, bake 18-20 minutes until they’re golden brown. To serve, slice the top off each round, use an ice cream scoop to form it, and fill it with stew. The tops can be (dare I say should be?) used for dipping.

My other on-the-run meal is any kind of stir fry. Beef was on sale when I went grocery shopping this week (plus I got snow peas in my Misfits order), so away we went. I sliced the beef thinly then tossed it in a quick marinade of 1/2 cup of low sodium soy sauce, a couple tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and about an inch piece of freshly grated ginger (a trick I discovered quite by accident: cut your fresh ginger into one inch pieces and freeze. It grates so easily, it’s magical). While that’s marinating, cook as much basmati rice as you want. Then heat some oil in a large frying pan and give the snow peas a quick sauté. Set them aside. Cook the beef in shifts so the pan doesn’t get over crowded (otherwise the meat gets gunky – that’s probably not a proper cooking term). The hotter the pan, the quicker this takes! Once the meat is brown, add everything back into the pan and heat with the leftover marinade. If the sauce is too thin, just slowly add a bit of cornstarch/water mix to thicken it it. Plate over the rice, top with crushed red pepper and sliced scallions!

What’s your favorite, go-to quick meal?

Eat well!