Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Visit to the Grave

A few weeks ago, I finally had the chance to visit Madalene, Ugo and Jo!  Grant it, there was 6 feet between us, but it felt like just an inch.  As my mom, aunt, uncle and I sprawled out on a blanket and ate Eggplant Sandwiches, we all got a bit verklempt as we raised our drinks to her and the family she created. 

I sometimes ask myself if I'm going down the right path in life.  And it's days like this that help put all of that into perfect perception.  There is nothing in the world that makes more sense than being with my family and telling old stories.  In the last year, learning more about this family's history has helped me understand who I am and where I can go.  If you haven't tried this, you're missing out, because getting to know why you are the way you are is such a HIGH!

Madalene's Three Special Grandchildren eating Eggplant Sandwiches

This past year has been about self rediscovery and Madalene has helped more than she'll ever know.  Cheers to you, Gma!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mama's BBQ Baked Beans

I can't get enough of my Mama's BBQ Baked Beans. They're sweet, salty and paired beautifully with our Memorial Day BBQ hamburgers.  They are ridiculously easy and fast to prepare.  It doesn't really matter what kind of beans you use for this.  Whatever is in your pantry will most likely work.  Just throw them in the oven so all those fabulous flavors can thicken and meld together and two hours later come some tasty, soulful baked beans.

Getting more sentimental in my growing age, this Memorial Day helped me realized how courageous and strong the men who served in my family have been... and an added plus - all SURVIVED tough and frightening wars (2 Grandpas in World War II, 2 Uncles in Vietnam and 1 Cousin in Iraq).  Cheers to you all!

What you'll need: serves 6-8

3 16 oz. cans of whole beans (Mama used Pinto, Chili and Pork and Beans)
4 strips of applewood smoked bacon (cut in small pieces)
1/2 yellow onion (chopped)
1/2 yellow bell pepper (diced)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup any BBQ sauce
2 tbsp mustard

In a pan over medium heat, slightly cook the bacon for about 5 mins.  Throw in the onions and bell pepper and saute (in the bacon juices) for another 5-10 mins or just until the onions become clear.  Throw in the canned beans with about half of the cans' juice.  Sometimes adding all the juice from the can can make the beans watery or will take longer to bake in the oven.  Add in the brown sugar, ketchup, bbq sauce and mustard.  Stir together.  Transfer the beans into a oven safe pot.  Throw into a 350 degrees oven and bake for about 2 hours or until the juices have thickened.  Serve hot!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Beth's Annual Tea Party

I attended my first grown up tea party this past weekend!  The last time I went to one, I think I was in middle school and it involved a lot of feathery boas and tea sandwiches filled with too much mayonnaise.  Ick.  But this party was filled with elegance, hand stitched table cloths and delicious catered munchies that satisfied everyone's dietary needs... including mine!  So, to get in the spirit, I was more than happy to ditch the boa and wear a peacock veil instead made by my crafty friend, Brie.  

Every table was decorated with unique tea cups, pots and gorgeous centerpieces made by the very talented host, Beth Butterfield.

Remember those Lemon Tarts with Coconut Shells I blogged about a few weeks ago?  Well, here they are again and they were a hit at the tea.  Other goodies involved tarragon chicken sandwiches served on raisin bread, ginger carrot soup topped with creme fraiche, filo dough stuffed with cheese, fresh fruit, rhubarb crisp served in petite mason jars and open face cucumber sandwiches served on top of GF bread.  Being a foodie, a was in hog heaven!  Congrats to Beth and her two catering sisters Diane and Joanne for creating such a fabulous party!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Grilled Artichokes

How was everyone's weekend?  I think I took a total of 4 showers in the past two days due to So Cal's hot, humid and sticky weather.  But the nights were cooler and perfect for a BBQ.  So for a veggie side dish, I grilled up some Garlic and Thyme Artichokes.  Instead of just eating plain ole steamed artichokes, I slathered on some olive oil, chopped garlic, fresh lemon thyme and a few sprinkles of lemon pepper and popped them on the grill.  I love grilled veggies so much more than cooking them on the stove or microwave, because the smoky charred bits give them an extra boost of flavor.

What you'll need: serves 2-4

2 fresh globe artichokes
1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
A few sprigs of fresh lemon thyme (plucked from stem and chopped)
1 clove of garlic (finely chopped)
Pinch of kosher salt
To taste lemon pepper (with salt)

Prep the artichokes by cutting an inch off the top with a serrated knife.  Pluck off any dark outer leaves near the base of the artichoke.  With scissors trim the prickly points off of each leaf.  Trim off the bottom by leaving a 1 inch stem.  Cut the artichokes into 8 wedges (cut in half, then cut each half into four).  With a paring knife, cut out the fuzzy middle and prickly purple center leaves from each wedge. 

Over medium high heat, boil the wedges in an pot filled with 8 cups of water and fresh lemon juice from the lemon and kosher salt.  Toss in the lemon shells, too.  Cover the pot and steam until the artichokes are fork tender, (about 20 mins). Remove the wedges and place them on a foil lined baking sheet. Brush with olive oil (both sides).  Then sprinkle them with the chopped garlic, thyme and lemon pepper. 

Over a low flame grill, cook the artichokes on each side for about 5 mins or until they are slightly charred.  Remove from grill and eat hot or cold. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

GF Bacon Waffle

I've heard of chocolate covered bacon and bacon donuts but Bacon Waffles?  And GF? Sounds too good to be true, right?  But not at Flappy Jack's on Route 66.  With a rice flour base, this waffle is surprisingly light, fluffy, sweet and salty.  Not only do they topped it with crispy bacon, the waffle is also filled with bits of bacon.  Served with melted butter and maple syrup and dusted with powdered sugar, this breakfast made me do a little squirmy dance in the restaurant booth!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wahoo Fish Tacos

Congrats to Shannon for winning Giada's Cookbook Giveaway!  Thank you to all who participated.

Remember the fish tacos I was telling you about last week?  Well, here they are!  Fresh Wahoo straight from the sea.  The family and I get extremely excited when a friend of the family catches more than he can eat.  Wahoo is a mild white, firm fish and you thank your lucky stars if you can get a hold of some.  My brother-in-law first introduced me to these fried fish tacos when I was about 12 years old.  At that time, I was still in my bread and cheese phase and the thought of eating fish was too crazy and foreign for anyone to even think about bringing up.  But he raved and raved about how much I was missing, because when Fresh Wahoo is eaten within a couple days of catching it doesn't even taste like fish.  I eventually nibbled off a piece and was forever changed!  My plain picky diet from then on tapered off and I was able to expand my food horizon and try new things.  So, I have him to thank for giving me that extra push because I can't imaging not being able to eat these delicious tacos that I smothered with Mango Salsa and Lemon Pepper Guacamole.  Sweet, tangy and super filling, these tacos are a must try for you and your kids!

What you'll need: serves 4 - 6

2 lbs Wahoo (boneless/scaleless fillets cut into small 2 or 3" pieces)
3 eggs
1 cup GF All Purpose Flour
1 - 2 cups Gillian's GF Italian Dried Bread Crumbs (add more if needed)
1 bag Shredded Green Cabbage
Canola Oil

Set up your breading station.  One plate with side walls... ex. pie plate, will be filled with the eggs (mixed together), one pie plate with the flour and a third pie plate with the bread crumbs.  Dip the fish into the eggs, then place into the flour.  Firmly pat down so the flour sticks.  Then transfer into the bread crumbs.  Firmly pat the fish into the bread crumbs for a good coating.  In a frying pan, fill with 1" of canola oil.  Once the oil gets hot, fry the fish on high heat, until the bread crumbs are golden brown (about 5 mins).  Serve in a flour or corn tortilla with all the fixings... cabbage, mango salsa and guacamole!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Giveaway

I hope everyone had a lovely Mother's Day weekend!  We celebrated with a "Make Your Own Pizza" Party, which was so much fun and brought the family together but also made me wish Madalene was there to help celebrate.  She was more of a Mother to my mom and her siblings than she was a grandmother to them and helped shape them all into incredible individuals to whom I'm proud to be related.  I'm pretty spoiled to have such wonderful mothers in my family.  If I ever become one, I know that I've had quite the loving and supportive example anyone could every have. 

Speaking of fabulous Moms, I'm so excited to announce my first Giveaway!  Aside from my family, Giada de Laurentiis and her cookbooks are a big part of what helped me become passionate about food and cooking.  Her recipes are easy, so tasty and make you feel like you just stepped into Rome!  Today I'm giving away her latest cookbook, "Weeknights with Giada".  I can't wait to try this Creamy Sweet Potato and Rosemary Soup.  And this Grilled Cheese with Spinach and Pancetta!  How many of us get home from a long day of work and dread stepping into the kitchen to make dinner?  Giada's recipes from this book alleviate that mood and help make cooking during the weeknight an easier and fun task.

So, what do you have to do to win this book?!

1. Join this site (by pushing the blue button on the right sidebar)
2.  Leave a comment
3. Provide your email address

A winner will be chosen at random tomorrow.  Good luck!

Creamy Sweet Potato and Rosemary Soup
Grilled Cheese with Spinach and Pancetta

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Roasted Caprese Salad

Remember the roasted tomatoes from here?  Well, I used the same technique to put a sweeter, tangier spin on a classic Caprese Salad.  You'll still find the traditional flavors from the fresh, peppery basil and salty, soft buffalo mozzarella, but the caramelization from the sugar and balsamic gives this Italian salad a boost and kick in the right direction!  This plate is filling enough for a small lunch and/or works great as a side dish for any yummy Italian meal.

What you'll need: serves 4

3 Roma tomatoes
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
2 small balls of buffalo mozzarella (1/3 in. slices)
12 fresh basil leaves
Ground black pepper
Kosher Salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the tomato slices on a foiled lined baking sheet.  Drizzle them with a little bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Then sprinkle them with a pinch of kosher salt, pepper and sugar.  The sugar helps them to caramelize.  Put them in the oven for about 30 mins.  Then let cool completely.  Arrange the mozzarella, tomatoes and basil on a plate.  Drizzle another thin layer of olive oil and finish with a pinch of salt and some ground black pepper.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mango Salsa

Did anyone celebrate Cinco de Mayo over the weekend?  I'm not Mexican, but any Holiday that gives me the excuse to celebrate with yummy authentic food, I'm there!  So last Saturday, the fam and I got busy in the kitchen with Mexican Cuisine.  Now, I love red tomato salsa like most, but sometimes you just gotta switch it up a bit with something more light, fresh and sweet.  This Mango Salsa is just that and not only does it taste great with chips, it makes a fabulous topping for fish tacos (which I'll share soon).  This salsa doesn't take much but it adds a whole lot of flavor.  Plus, who doesn't like eating colorful food?!

What you'll need:

1 red mango (peeled, pitted and diced)
2 vine tomatoes (diced)
1/3 red onion (diced)
1/3 cucumber (diced)
Juice from 1 lime
 2 sprigs of cilantro (finely chopped)
Pinch of salt

Mix together the mango, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, fresh lime juice, cilantro and salt.  Serve as dipping salsa or topping.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mixed Berry Bellini

It's time to celebrate all Mamas this week and I've got the perfect drink you can serve them that will make them feel special- Bellini!  This drink is a twist on the traditional Italian Peach Bellini but used with frozen mixed berries instead.  It's bubbly, sweet and refreshing (just like Mom, right?) with a bit of orange zest thrown into it.  So, if you're making brunch this weekend, instead of Mimosas, start your mother's morning off right with this feminine new drink instead.

What you'll need: serves 4 - 6

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 pkg (16oz) frozen mixed berries no sugar added-thawed ( I picked strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
1 tsp orange zest
2 bottles of Sparkling wine/Champagne
Fresh berries for garnish

 In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir the sugar and water until the sugar dissolves to make the simple syrup (about 5 minutes). Let completely cool. In a blender, puree the mixed berries with 1/3 cup of the cooled simple syrup until smooth. Strain through a fine-meshed strainer.  Toss the seeds.  If you have any leftover simple syrup, save it!  It's great for other cocktails you can make for the evening or during the week.  In a champagne glass, pour in about 2 tbsp of the berry puree.  Top off the glass with the sparkling wine/champagne.  Stir together, garnish and serve!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ricotta Stuffed Shells

When my mom and I were trying to decide what to make for my sister's birthday party, we couldn't agree on anything!  She wanted to cater Mexican food, I wanted to do a salad bar... but none of these options felt right.  So the day before the party (I know... not the smoothest party planners), we stuck with our Italian roots and compromised on our go-to Ricotta Stuffed Shells.  It's delicious (I mean.. who doesn't love pasta, cheese and sauce?), comforting and helps us remember who we are and where we came from.  In fact, this meal encouraged a family visit to the cemetery... but that's another story for another time. 

These giant pasta shells (no time to find GF ones the day before the party) are stuffed with a ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese filling, smothered with homemade marinara sauce and topped with more oozing mozzarella.  A winner every time. 

What you'll need:  serves 8-10

4 - 5 cups marinara sauce (sorry can't spill the family beans on this one)
1 box of large pasta shells (36 shells) or 1 box of GF Tinkyada grand shells


2 (15 oz) containers whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 large eggs
3 tbsp fresh parsley (chopped)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese + 1/2 cup for topping

Cook the large shells in a big pot of boiling water, until al dente. Drain and set aside.  For the filling, mix together the ricotta cheese, parmesan, 2 cups mozzarella, eggs, parsley, salt and pepper.  In a large baking dish, pour in a thin bottom layer of marinara sauce.  Stuff each shell with about 2 tbsp of filling.  Place the stuffed shells on the layer of marinara sauce side by side until you're done.  Then pour on the rest of the marinara sauce.  Sprinkle the top with the 1/2 cup remaining mozzarella cheese and bake in a 350 degrees oven for about 25 mins or until the filling is warmed through and the cheese is completely melted. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Homemade Sun Tea

Aside from soda, wine, and Bellinis we served Homemade Sun Tea for my sister's surprise bday celebration.  And to make it more festive... cute floral straws to go with it (a fun craft seen on Pinterest made of paper muffin cups).  The tea is simple to make but allow at least 4 hours to let it sit in the sun so the water can really soak up all the good flavor from the tea bags.  Once it's done steeping, throw in a few citrus slices to add some sweetness and freshness.

What you'll need:

8 tea bags of any flavor (I used Black Mango)
1 gallon of water
Citrus slices (I used one whole orange)
A Sunny Day

In a gallon sun tea pitcher, fill the water up to almost the top.  Leave enough room for the tea bags and citrus.  Put in the tea bags.  Close the lid and let sit in the direct sun for about 4 hours.  Then, take out the tea bags, add the citrus, pour over a cup of ice and serve!  Really easy and so tasty for a hot Spring or Summer day.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Shine from Yahoo Feature

A grateful shout-out to Yahoo for sharing my food blog and delicious yogurt dips on Pinterest and Shine from Yahoo!  It's an honor to be able to join your blogging community.  Thank you, again!