Saturday, March 2, 2013

Mexican Lasagna

Mexican Lasagna

Tim and I walked into Wegmans a couple of weekends ago discussing the same conundrum we hash out every time we go grocery shopping...what should we have for dinner this week? I am ALWAYS in the mood for something with a Mexican flair and Tim (who is not always craving flavahs from South of the Border) was in agreement, so we made some light and fresh chicken tacos. We roasted four boneless skinless chicken breasts and then shredded the meat. We added three packets of Sazon seasoning, cumin and cayenne to the shredded meat. The we mixed up pico de gallo as well as guacamole. Our tacos for a week were composed of the delicious chicken, pico, guac, cheddar, black beans and a dollop of light sour cream all wrapped up in a soft corn taco shell...YUM!

So what's the catch? We used FOUR chicken breasts! What were we thinking? We had tacos all week long and STILL had leftover chicken (as well as leftover shells). We were tacoed out (shhh...don't tell the Taco Bell chihuahua...or my beloved Chipotle!) but wanted to find a use for the still tasty leftovers. Hence, this Mexican Lasagna was born. And oh my word it was delicious! What a way to use leftovers! We are hooked and are already discussing ways we might tweak it next time. Here is what I did:


12 Corn tortilla shells
15 Oz. enchilada sauce
2 Cups cheese, shredded (I used a mix of cheddar and Jack)
1 1/2 Cups taco meat (we had the shredded chicken)
1 Bag frozen southwest vegetable blend, defrosted (mine was peppers and onions)
1 15 Oz. can black beans, drained
Sour cream for topping

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

To assemble this fiesta-fit feast, I used a 7x11 baking dish and began by spreading a few spoonfuls of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of the dish to prevent sticking.

Then I layered three of the taco shells on top of the sauce.

I topped the shells with one third of my chicken,

Followed by one third of my vegetables,

A nice big handful of beans,

And a sprinkle of cheese.

Then I put on more three more tortillas and spread a generous helping of sauce on top of them. After that I repeated the chicken, vegetables, beans and cheese as well as the taco shells and enchilada sauce until I had three layers (I gently pressed down on the taco shells after each layer to help it all fit in the dish :-)).

On top of the final layer of cheese, I placed a final layer of tortilla shells,

a generous pour of sauce to keep everything moist

and a sprinkle of cheese.

Then I baked it for 25 minutes, until it was bubbling and heated through.

I let it sit for a couple of minutes and then sliced it, topping each slice with sour cream. It was absolutely delicious and did not feel at all like a leftover remake!

Now, if only I could figure out new purpose for my holey socks...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

'Tis the season for cookies! Christmas is almost here and I have been baking, baking, baking! I love spending this month making cookies...not only because I love eating them, but because I love the experience of baking. Baking is a wonderful way to spend time with loved ones. This year I was able to bake with my husband, my mom, one of my sisters, my grandmother, my aunts and cousins and my cousins' children! What fun! The memories will last a lifetime! I absolutely love baking family recipes...cookies I grew up making...and sharing these recipes and experiences with my family's next generation. Watching the little ones decorate Great Grandma's sugar cookie cuts-out and our family's Italian sugar cookies just makes me feel that special holiday glow. Passing these recipes and experiences down through the family...I can't think of a better way to share our heritage.

These peanut butter cup cookies are definitely a family favorite! I have helped make them every Christmas since I was tall enough to reach the table. They have become my husband's "must have" Christmas cookie and we love to make them together. They are also super simple! Here is what you need:

1 3/4 Cup flour
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
1/2 Cup shortening
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Egg
1/2 Cup peanut butter
2 Tablespoons milk
1 Teaspoon vanilla
40 or so peanut butter cups, unwrapped

Step 1

The first step is to unwrap your peanut butter cups. Once the cookies are out of the oven, you will need to QUICKLY place the cups in the hot cookie, so I like to get ready before I do anything else by unwrapping them. I also like to eat one...or two...or three...

Step 2

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Then cream the sugars, peanut butter and shortening until fluffy (approximately 3 to 5 minutes). 

Then add the rest of the ingredients and mix until just combined. 

The dough will be fairly crumbly but should stick together when pressed.


Step 3

Fill mini muffin tins 2/3 the way up each cup, pressing the dough to make it smooth and to evenly fill the cup. I get about 40 cookies from this recipe. Then bake for 10 - 12 minutes, until slightly browned.

Step 4

As soon as you take the cookies out of the oven, press a peanut butter cup in the center of each one until the top of the cup is level with the top of the cookie. Then refrigerate the cookies in the pan (if you are impatient like me...if you aren't, just let them cool completely on the counter :-)) for about 20 minutes. Then use a paring knife to loosen the cups and pop them out of the tin.

Enjoy while the peanut butter cup is still melted...the gooey chocolate and peanut butter is soooo good!  Leave some for Santa and I guarantee you won't receive coal!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Best Cranberry Sauce Ever!

Best Cranberry Sauce Ever

It is this gastronome's favorite time of year!  The weather is cool, November is here and Turkey Day is rapidly approaching!  What could be better than a holiday that centers around sitting down with family and friends to enjoy a labor of love together?  I can't think of anything I would rather do. 

In fact, I love this beautiful holiday so much that I begin looking for recipes and ideas as soon as September begins.  I love to incorporate one or two new dishes into each Thanksgiving, while keeping the favorite stand-bys. This is one of my favorite dishes and I have made it year after year.  I started using this Paula Deen recipe years ago and have changed it a little each year.  I tweaked it even more this year in preparation for my favorite day and was so happy with the results.  

I actually used to hate cranberry sauce.  Or should I say "cranberry sauce."  You know what I am talking about.  The stuff that comes out of a can still looking like a can - ridges and all. Seriously.  You can see the ridges.  The first time I made this dish, I remember wondering why I ever thought cranberry sauce could only come in that hideous form.  I went from a cranberry sauce hater to a cranberry sauce lover.  Give this a try this year.  When you taste the tart berries, mixed with the sweet apple and sugar, the tang and brightness of citrus and the crunch of the walnuts, I know you won't be disappointed.

1 Cup sugar
1 Cup water
1 12 Ounce bag fresh cranberries
1 Apple, peeled and chopped
1 Cup chopped walnuts
1/4 Cup Grand Marnier
2 Tablespoons apple brandy
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1/2 an orange
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 Teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon nutmeg

Step 1
Begin by prepping (of course, you know me! Prep then cook!:-)) your ingredients.  Peel and chop the apple, chop your walnuts if you bought them whole or halved, zest the orange and juice the half orange and lemon.

Step 2
The prep for this dish was easy, wasn't it?  The cranberry sauce only gets easier too...unbelievable, right?! 

Combine the water and sugar over medium-high heat and stir them until it begins to boil. 

Then add the cranberries and return it to a boil.

Step 3

When the cranberries begin to boil, add the rest of the ingredients and reduce the heat to a simmer. 
Stir the mixture occassionally and allow to to simmer for 10 - 15 minutes.  The cranberries will burst and combine with the apple pectin to create a ruby red, thick sauce. 

Let it cool completely and the store it in the refrigerator. 

Another beautiful thing about this sauce is you can keep it in the fridge for a few days, so it is definitely not one of those last minute, stressful dishes!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roasted Vegetable Soup

Roasted Vegetable Soup

I’m baaaaaaccckkkk (said by a creepy little girl sitting in front of a TV).  Can you tell I’m enjoying October and all this beauteous month brings with it?  We have amped up the horror movie viewing (hence the previous reference...), donned our football jerseys, had more pumpkin spice lattes than any one person should have by the beginning of October, worked them off by crunching on the now falling leaves and broken out the flavors of this, my favorite, season.  Welcome back fall!

For my first post in more months than I care to admit, I want to feature an insanely simple and delicious soup we made recently.  For this soup (adapted from Ina Garten), we began by roasting vegetables.  If you have never roasted veggies, you need to give it a try.  Something magical happens to a vegetable in the oven.  Squash, brussel sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower…all veggies that simply need a little olive oil, salt, pepper and a hot oven for fabulous things to happen.  Enjoy this particular soup for dinner with some crusty bread, or for lunch at work on a chilly day (yep, it is nutritious and light enough for a guilt free lunch).

1 Pound Carrots
1 Pound Parsnips
1 Large sweet potato
2 Pounds Butternut squash
1 Spanish onion
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ Teaspoons salt
½ Teaspoon pepper
1 Teaspoon dried thyme
8 Cups chicken stock (I prefer unsalted)
Salt and pepper

Step 1
As always, I begin by prepping my veggies.  Go ahead and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Then peel the carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, squash and onion.  Cut each of the veggies into about 1 ¼ inch pieces. 

Place them in a large bowl and add the olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and thyme.  Toss the veggies to evenly coat them.  Then place them in a single layer on two sheet pans.  Place the pans in the oven and roast the vegetables for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning them every 15 minutes, so they are evenly cooked.  You want the veggies to have some nice browning on them…brown = flavor!

Step 2

When the vegetables are finished, heat the chicken stock in a large pot.  Add the vegetables to the stock.  Using an immersion blender, standing blender or food processor, puree the soup.  You want it to be thick, but not mashed potatoes thick.  I ended up adding a little water just to thin it out. 

When it is a nice consistency, stir in salt and pepper to taste.

It's that easy!  Enjoy on a cool autumn day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

My youngest sister, Sarah, my husband, Tim, and I all love to cook, so a couple of years ago, we had Sarah over for a dinner and a movie night, during which we would actually make the dinner.  We made a French themed meal and watched Julie and Julia.  We had such a blast cooking, eating and watching a movie together that we have repeated the event with different foods and different movies.  It’s become somewhat of a tradition and I absolutely love that we all share this passion of pleasing the palate!

When my birthday came around last month, my sister gave me a fantastic present…she gave me a movie on DVD and said we would have another dinner and movie event…food of my choice!  What a fun and special gift!  I thought long and hard about my selection and finally decided upon my favorite Indian dish, Chicken Tikka Masala.  I had never tried my hand at cooking Indian cuisine and thought this would be the perfect time…if we all failed, we would fail together and have a good laugh.  But we didn’t fail.  Aarti Seguiera’s recipe, with just a couple tweaks, was PERFECT and tasted just like the dish I have tried in multiple restaurants!

I sent some leftovers home with Sarah and my mom, not knowing what it was, tried it and loved it!  She’s never eaten Indian EVER, so please don’t be scared away from trying this.  It is flavorful, fresh and delicious with just a hint of spice.  Here’s how we did it!


1 Cup plain yogurt, whisked smooth
3 Tablespoons ginger-garlic paste (recipe below)
1 Teaspoon salt
½ Teaspoon pepper

1 Pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 – 1 ½ inch chunks

2 Teaspoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons butter
1/3 Cup ginger-garlic paste
2 Serrano peppers (seeded according to your spice preference), diced
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 Teaspoon garam masala (Indian spice blend found in the regular spice aisle)
2 Teaspoons paprika
8 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 ½ Teaspoons salt
1 to 2 Cups water
1 Red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks
½ Cup heavy cream

Ginger-Garlic Paste
½ Cup Garlic cloves, whole (I used a little more than 1 bulb)
½ Cup fresh ginger, peeled, and cut into chunks
¼ Cup canola oil

Cilantro for garnish
Cooked basmati rice, naan (Indian bread)…or both if you are us! J

Step 1
The first thing you will need to do is marinate the chicken, and in order to do that, you need to make the paste. 

So peel your garlic cloves and throw ½ cup of whole cloves into the small bowl of a food processor. 

Then peel your ginger, cut it into chunks, and put ½ cup of it into the food processor.  Finally, add your canola oil and process. 

Just keep using a spatula to push the mixture down toward the blade periodically and process it until it resembles a paste.  Transfer the paste into a jar or container and proceed…

Step 2
Cut your chicken breasts into pieces.  You want them to be large bite-sized chunks. 

Whisk the yogurt with 3 tablespoons of the paste you just made as well as 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. 

Then add your chicken and toss it in the mixture.  Cover it and let it marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  While the chicken marinates, you might want to prep the Serrano peppers for later.  Just remember seeds = heat and clean your peppers according to your taste!  I can kinda handle the heat, so 1 was seeded and 1 was not…okay, I’m a little wimpy…

During the marinating, it’s also a good idea to dice your tomatoes so they are ready once you start your sauce…just looking out for ya…don’t want ya’ll stressed trying to juggle too many jobs in the kitchen at one time!

While you’re prepping (I promise this will be the last thing I make you do while you’re marinating…you can hit the couch soon!), prep your red bell pepper too.  Just remove the seeds and cut it into 1 inch chunks.  Now you can prop up those feet and open that box of chocolates you have been eyeing…

Step 3

After the chicken has marinated, it’s time to make the sauce.  Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil and butter.  After the butter has melted, add 1/3 cup of the paste and the Serrano peppers.  Sauté for about 4 – 5 minutes and then add the tomato paste.  Cook this mixture until the red color has darkened (about 3 minutes).  Next, add the garam masala and paprika and sauté for another minute.

Step 4

Add the tomatoes, salt and 1 cup of water.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and allow the sauce to simmer until it thickens.  Let it simmer about 20 minutes.

Sorry about the blurry picture...the chicken was not moving, I was!

While it simmers, turn your oven to broil and broil the chicken pieces until they brown a little on the first side, then turn them to let them brown on the second side.  It took 5 – 7 minutes per side for us.  Then just remove them from the oven and let them sit for awhile…they aren’t going anywhere. J

Step 5

Pour the sauce into a food processor, blender or use an immersion blender and make it velvety smooth…or close to it.  Pour the sauce back into the skillet, or put it into a pot like we did and, if you are making rice set it aside…if you’re not, ignore me and move on to Step 7…or just ignore me anyway and do your own thing…it’s your call!

Step 6
I’m no rice expert, so we used 2 cups of uncooked basmati rice and cooked it according to package instructions, with these modifications.  We sautéed the uncooked rice in a little olive oil just to make it a little nutty.  While it was sautéing, we added a little bit of the leftover paste to the rice.  Then, after 3 minutes, we added chicken stock in lieu of the water.  When the rice got to the point where we were to cover it and let it simmer, we proceeded with the sauce…

Step 7

Bring the sauce back to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and add the chicken and red bell peppers.  At this point, I added about 1/3 cup of water because the sauce was a little thick.  Let it simmer for 10 minutes, or until the rice has cooked.  When your rice is ready, add the cream to the sauce and stir.  Then spoon some rice onto your place with a nice helping of the aromatic sauce with the delicious chicken bites and bell peppers on top.  I garnished it with some cilantro and served it along with some store-bought (come on, it’s already been a seven step recipe! J) naan.

I hope you like this as much as we did!  I was so impressed with our first attempt at Indian food!  Have fun making it and enjoy!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lentil and Sausage Soup

Lentil and Sausage Soup

For months, I had been dreaming of lentil soup.  I knew in order for these dreams to end, I had to make some variation, but wanted to find just the right recipe.  I checked recipe after recipe, had ideas of adaptations I wanted to make, but couldn’t find just the right twist.  I read through each recipe, tasting in my mind what the finished product would be, and couldn’t find one with an ingredient that was just different enough to make it interesting.  That is, until I came upon Ina Garten’s Lentil Sausage Soup.  Sausage.  Kielbasa to be exact.  That made me go “hmm.”  That was exactly what I was looking for!  I love those aha moments!  Leave it to Ina Garten to have exactly what I wanted.

We made the soup, with some additions of our own, and absolutely loved it!  When it says French green lentils, please do try to find them.  Regular green lentils lose their shape and become more like split peas.  It would still be delicious, but I love that the French lentils hold their shape.  Just my two cents. J

The bonus is, this soup makes a lot of meals, so some can be frozen for later…or even better, some can be shared with friends!  Enjoy with a crusty baguette and you have a delicious, healthful meal.


1 Pound French green lentils
¼ Cup olive oil
4 Cups yellow onions, diced (2 HUGE onions did the trick for me)
4 Cups leeks, washed and chopped, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon salt
1 ½ Teaspoons black pepper
1 Teaspoon thyme, dried, or 1 Tablespoon thyme, fresh
1 Teaspoon cumin
3 Cups celery, diced (8 stalks)
4 Carrots, diced
2 Parsnips, diced
3 Quarts chicken stock
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 28 oz. Can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand, with juice
1 Pound kielbasa, cut in half lengthwise and sliced (I used turkey kielbasa to reduce fat)
1/4 Teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
Parmesan rind (if you have one on hand, which I did and decided to toss into the soup!)

Step 1

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow them to sit for 15 minutes.  Then drain them and set them aside for later.

Step 2

While the lentils are sitting, begin chopping your onions, leeks (slice in half and clean between the layers well…lots of sand in there!) and garlic.  Then get a large stockpot heating over medium heat.  Add the olive oil. 

When it is hot, add the onions, leeks, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, crushed red peppers and cumin.  Sauté the mixture for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Step 3

While the mixture is sautéing (be sure to stir occasionally), chop your celery, carrots and parsnips.  It might take longer than your onion mixture will need to cook.  Just take it off the heat when it is tender and continue chopping your veggies. 

When they are all ready, add them to the onion mixture and sauté for another 10 minutes.

Step 4

While the veggies sauté, open your can of whole tomatoes and crush them by hand, with all the juices.  When the veggies are ready, add the chicken stock, tomato paste, tomatoes, lentils (drained), and Parmesan rind.  Bring it to a boil, covered.  Then reduce the heat to simmer and remove the lid.  Allow the soup to simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Step 5

When the hour is almost over, slice the sausage in half lengthwise and then slice into 1/3 inch pieces.  Check the soup’s seasoning level when the hour is over.  Add more salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, thyme or cumin according to your own taste. 

Then remove the Parmesan rind and add the sausage and red wine vinegar.  Simmer for another 5 – 10 minutes, just to heat the kielbasa.

To serve, I topped it with Parmesan cheese.  Bon appetite!

Gastronome's Note:  This soup can easily be made vegetarian!  Just substitute the chicken stock for vegetable stock and leave out the kielbasa.