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

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!

Simplest San Marzano Sauce

I was fortunate to pick up about 8 pounds of San Marzano tomatoes this week. They’ve been absolutely perfect in everything I’ve added them to this week, but let’s be honest, 8 pounds is A LOT of tomatoes. So I decided today to make some fresh sauce with them. I panicked about the prospect of peeling all these little guys, but after a whole lot of Googling, I decided to give it a try without the hassle of peeling.

8 cups roughly chopped San Marzano tomatoes
2 cups water
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves
Lots of fresh basil
Olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Sea Salt

After roughly chopping the tomatoes (this was a family affair – I felt I was running the kitchen in The Bear), add the water and set aside.

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic until soft. Add the tomatoes & water, the salt and red pepper flakes to your taste and a healthy amount of fresh basil wrapped in cheesecloth. Get the basil all snuggled into the tomatoes. Heat to boiling, then simmer until most of the water has been absorbed (I let it go for probably 90 minutes). Remove the bundle of basil.

If you like your sauce on the chunkier side, that’s it! We wanted it a little smoother, so I hit it with an immersion blender (I still kept a good bit of the chunkiness). Add some chopped fresh basil at the end.

I can’t wait to serve it up on Monday (and plan on freezing the rest)! I’ve only used about half of the tomatoes, so if you have a favorite way to use them, please share!

Fresh Blueberry Sauce

I just returned from an amazing weekend reconnecting with my dearest college friends to discover that, as one of the people who drove, I was gifted an amazing amount of fresh fruit (we somewhat over planned the amount of food that could reasonably be consumed in one weekend. But hey, who was complaining?) So I decided to make a quick blueberry sauce!

2 cups fresh blueberries (I’m thinking you could use frozen, but I’ve never tried)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tbsp. water
dash of vanilla extract
zest of one lemon

Mix the water, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to just a boil till blended (if you’re worried about the amount of sugar, you can always use a bit less, personally we don’t find it super-sweet). Gently toss the blueberries in a bowl with the water & cornstarch mixture. Add to the saucepan with the vanilla and gently boil until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add in the lemon zest and you’re done!

I’ll confess sometimes I get a little distracted and forget to check it, so if it becomes more like a jam, no worries – just add a bit more water until it’s the consistency you like!

Trust me when I tell you this is absolute perfection on waffles, ice cream and cheesecake if you have it (and seriously, now I’m really leaning toward making one this weekend!)

What’s Cooking This Week

August has gotten kind of crazy around here. It’s like the calendar flipped and we’re trying to squeeze all the summer things into the month. I’m not complaining – it’s been days filled with amazing weather and the company of good friends. And food of course!

It’s been all about the sides this week. Yellow squash is one of those vegetables that is always plentiful during the summer but it just doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of taste, so I’ve been experimenting with ways to bring out more flavor. This week I finally achieved my goal by adding sweet red peppers, oregano and rosemary-infused olive oil. I grilled it up with some fingerling potatoes (another summer favorite) tossed in garlic and oil. So good.

I grill so much in the summer, that a stormy day tends to throw me off my dinner game. So I went with a beef stir fry (I don’t mind grilling in the rain, but not much of a fan of grilling in a thunderstorm). I always begin with getting some basmati rice cooking then put together the rest (if you have everything prepped ahead of time, dinner will take as long as the rice). A couple lessons I’ve learned along the way is to make sure you cook the beef in batches so they have time to get a nice sear on. Crowding the pan can make the beef tough (and not so pleasant to look at!). And be sure to deglaze the pan after your beef is done so all the browned bits become a part of the cooking of the broccoli. The sauce never turns out the same way twice since I’m always throwing different spices in there. One constant is freshly grated ginger (cut one inch pieces and keep it in the freezer – it will keep longer and using a frozen chunk makes it easy to grate). The final constant is topping with freshly chopped scallions.

How are you enjoying the dog days of summer? No matter how you are, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by people who bring you joy!

What’s Cooking This Week

In my Misfits Market box this week was perhaps the biggest eggplant I’d ever seen! I typically make eggplant parmesan the usual way of breading and either baking or air frying, but it’s grilling season so I got thinking of ways to replicate the flavor on the grill (I’d experimented before but there was just something about this edition that won hands down). Simply put, it was amazing and we never missed the breading one bit.

I sliced the eggplant, sprinkled it with sea salt and let it sit on paper towels for a couple hours to let the water drain out of it (making sure it doesn’t get soggy while cooking). Then I brushed it with rosemary-infused olive oil and sprinkled with pepper, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. I grilled it for about 5 minutes a side just to get some good flavor and marks on it.

I had a pot of sauce on the stove, so I threw some in a foil pan, added the grilled eggplant slices, and topped with mozzarella and asiago cheese (my new cheese obsession because I love the bite of it) till the sauce was hot and the cheeses were bubbly. Top with some fresh oregano (because that’s what I have in my garden. I would have used basil too if I’d had it!) and serve.

What’s your favorite way to adapt a cold-weather dish to summer? No matter what it is, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by people who bring you joy!

What’s Cooking This Week

Well it’s been a hot stretch here so we’ve been looking for as many things to cook on the grill as possible! It’s also the time of year where vegetables are amazingly bountiful. Unfortunately, I have no self-control when it comes to picking out what we need for the week from the farmer’s market, so I also have to spend some time thinking of ways to use things up before they go bad! Both of these revelations drove what was on the menu this week.

In the summertime, nothing beats a nice pasta primavera. The challenge is that I always need to incorporate some kind of meat into the mix to keep my household happy. So off to the grill I went over the weekend to grill up my sausage and veggies for the perfect, quick weeknight dinner. I grilled up broccoli, tri-colored carrots, snap peas. mushrooms, and peppers tossed in some olive oil, red pepper flakes and garlic. On the side, I also grilled some spicy Italian sausage. On dinner night, I cooked some pasta, and made a sauce of basil, chicken stock, a bit of heavy cream and parmesan. I added my grilled goodness into the sauce to warm through, then tossed everything with the pasta (if the sauce is too thick, I just add a bit of the pasta water). Sprinkle with parsley and a little more parmesan. Perfection.

Our go-to potato side dish this summer has been grilled ranch potatoes. Any kind of potato works (these are russets that I scrubbed and cubed). I tend to cook them for about 15 minutes in the microwave in salted water just to make sure whatever meat I’m grilling doesn’t get overcooked. Add the potatoes to a grill pan, toss with butter, ranch dressing mix and red pepper flakes. Grill for about 10 minutes, add your favorite shredded cheese on top, then grill till the cheese melts. Sprinkle some parsley on top (which is growing like mad in the garden) and enjoy. (Feeling fancy? A sprinkle of bacon never hurts!)

What’s been your go-to beat the heat menu this summer? No matter what it is, enjoy it in good health and with 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

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!