armadillas


I wasn’t permitted to read Dr. Seuss as a child

He brought everything back,

all the food for the feast.

And he, he himself, the Grinch,

carved the roast beast

Oh my goodness! Friday I decided to make dinner for the boyfriend. He’d just returned from a trip to Pennsylvania and I wanted to do something special. Plus a friend was coming over and I figured why not cook up dinner for everyone. But what to make? Well, not so long ago the boyfriend requested pot roast. I have issue with pot roast. It’s just not one of my favorite things to eat. I’m not saying I don’t like it exactly…there are just other forms of beef I’d rather indulge in. I’ve always had these feeling about pot roast. Give me a roast chicken any day! But I agreed to get around to it for him and Friday was just as good a day as any.

And I blew myself away! I’m not sure if what I made could be classified as pot roast or braised beef (aren’t they rather the same thing?), but I kept calling all kinds of names (roast beef, pot roast, the beast in my pot) so I suppose it doesn’t really matter. All I know is that it was pretty dang tasty and I shall definitely be filing it away for future use. The best part? The dish ended up making two meals! But I’ll get to that later.

Let’s talk about my method real quick. As mentioned, I’m not a fan of traditional pot roast so I decided to give it an Italian twist. Whenever in doubt, always employ Italian twists. In my opinion, it’s extremely hard to go wrong with Italian. Besides, the boyfriend’s Nana sent him back with all kinds of canned goodies-tomatoes, peppers, beets, peaches- and I decided the tomatoes and peppers would serve my purpose superbly. Dump everything into the dutch oven, add some good herbs, and let the whole thing go for a few hours! I love one pot meals.

Once again, sorry for no pictures. I’ll get around to replacing/upgrading my phone eventually. Then I’ll just have to remake all these delicious dishes again for you. Sounds like a deal to me!

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 lbs chuck roast (I used boneless but by all means keep the bone!)
  • 2 jars canned tomatoes (or get a couple cans of crushed tomatoes)
  • 1 jar canned/pickled peppers (I’d bet money that a jar of pepperoncinis or roasted red peppers would work)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (feel free to use beef stock. I don’t like strong beef flavors)
  • 1 can spaghetti/marinara sauce (for added depth)
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced (because everyone is getting sick- no thank you!)
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sugar
  • Olive oil

Okay, let’s get to it! The first thing we want to do is sear our meat. Heat  a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a dutch oven on high heat. Medium-high if you hate how the oil tries to jump up on you from the pan. Quickly season your meat generously with salt and pepper. Once the oil is hot, using tongs place the chuck into the pan. Sear all sides until brown then remove from pan and set aside. Turn heat down to medium-low.

Now, my pantry is a little empty right now so I didn’t include extra vegetables, but if you have onions and carrots on hand then add them in! Chop those babies up and toss them into the remaining oil and let them cook down a little bit. But if you’ve neglected to go grocery shopping skip all that and use about half  the chicken stock to deglaze the yummy bits left from the chuck in the bottom of your dutch oven. I also added my garlic in during this step and let it simmer in the liquid. After a few minutes, add the remaining stock. Once again, feel free to use beef stock if you prefer or even water with bouillon cubes.

Everything is downhill from here. Empty both jars of tomatoes into your pot. Dump in the peppers. I added all the peppers, but only half the juice. If I were using pepperoncinis or roasted red peppers, I’d use all the tasty liquid to my advantage. Next, pop open your can of tomato sauce and add that in too.

My jars of canned tomatoes were just plain old tomatoes, so I spiced things up a bit with the oregano, basil, and parsley. You can do this to taste. I probably used between 1/2 a tablespoon to a whole tablespoon of herbs. Sprinkle in some sugar, as well. To counteract all the acid. Also, I like things hot so I added copious amounts of crushed red pepper flakes.

Is that everything? Place the chuck roast smack dab in the middle of all the red goodness and bring to a quick boil. Turn the heat down to low, top the pot with a lid, and leave it alone for 3-4 hours depending on your patience. The longer it cooks, the more tender the meat will be. I took mine out after only 3 hours, but we were all starving and I started cooking later then I had intended. But you’ll be on top of your game, I’m sure.

After the prescribed time, you have two choices. You can either shred your meat and serve it in the red soup that has been created inside your dutch oven. Or you can remove the meat, slice it, and serve it on a platter. I chose the latter route. Mmm mmm mmm. So yummy for something so usually not yummy. Everyone loved it, myself included. I served it with garlic mashed potatoes and Italian sauteed green beans. It was a wonderful meal.

You wanna know what else was great about my roasted beast? All those tomatoes and peppers and chicken stocked turned themselves into a lovely, spicy soup that I saved and served for dinner the next night. Can I get a big CHA-CHING?!

Two meals in one!!! Hope you enjoy it as much as we did

Tijuana

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Under a minute

Mmm I’m not sure which I like better- Italian food or chicken. Really, these are the staples of my diet. If I’m not whipping up some sort of chicken dish, I’m usually eating something Italian (that is, when I’m not having a Chinese food attack!). I can’t help it. I grew up eating Italian. That’s my comfort food. Plus, some of my best dishes are Italian inspired. It’s just in the blood. It helps that there doesn’t seem to be very many mom and pop Italian restaurants around here either. I have no choice but to create my own. I’m sure there might be a few hole in the wall places somewhere that I just haven’t stumbled upon, but most of the joints so far are either chains like Olive Garden and Carrabbas…or are hella expensive. Remember my post about $5 calzones? Yeah, I’m not about to spend 15 bucks for something I can just make better myself.

There is one restaurant back home that I miss. Ah, Carini’s. Now they had some good food. How I wish there was a Carini’s here in the Hampton Roads. They had great pizza, great stromboli, awesome cheese fries. But my favorite dish hands down was the chicken parm sub. Oh man that was one good sandwich. I have yet to find a chicken parm to beat it. I don’t know if it was the delicious sauce, the generous amount of cheese, or the thick breast they used, but I’m drooling just remembering it. I might just have to open up my own mom and pop Italian place. Maybe I’ll recruit my dad to go into business with me.

Anyway, for memory’s sake I decided to make chicken parmesan for dinner. I would’ve made it into a sub, but unfortunately didn’t have any sub rolls. That’s okay! It was just fine without the bread.

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts (keep in mind I’m only cooking for two)
  • 1 bowl flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 bowl bread crumbs
  • 4 slices provolone
  • Tomato sauce
  • Splash of milk
  • Salt
  • Pepper

For this recipe, we’re going to need some hardware. That’s right, we’re getting hardcore here. So, go find a hammer. Of course, if you have a nice kitchen with nice gadgets you can just use a  meat mallet. I prefer to keep things interesting

Now that you have your fancy hammer ready to go, pull out your chicken breasts. Lay down some saran wrap. Place your chicken on the saran wrap. Cover with another sheet of saran wrap. How many times can we say saran wrap?

Alright, pound out your anger! Or just have some fun. If using a hammer, be gentle with your chicken. A hammer doesn’t have as large of a surface as a mallet. Nice and thin!

Preheat you oven to 450 degrees before you forget and have to waste precious time before you can eat. Okay, build an assembly line! Set out your bowl of flour. Season with salt and pepper generously or to taste. Whisk your egg with some milk and set it out in the next bowl. Finally, pour some bread crumbs into another bowl. I used pre-seasoned Italian style


Dredge your chicken cutlets through the flour. Shake off the excess flour

Dip chicken into egg mixture

Dredge through breadcrumbs

Heat a skillet on medium heat. I like medium heat because I’m prone to burning things when I turn up the heat. So I like to play it safe. But if you think you can handle high heat, go for it! Drizzle oil into pan

We aren’t cooking the chicken all the way through. Just until nice and golden on both sides. Mine aren’t as pretty as they could be, but it’s still going to taste rad. Once desired color is reached, put into a baking dish. You can also leave the chicken in the skillet if it’s ovenproof. Save on dishes!

Spoon tomato sauce onto chicken

Layer with provolone

Bake for 15 minutes uncovered. Mmmmmmmm

Boil some spaghetti while the chicken is cooking and warm up some more tomato sauce. I spruced mine up with a little crushed red pepper flakes and some fresh basil from the garden

Don’t forget to salt your pasta water!

Dinner is served! Don’t forget to sprinkle with some parmesan

It might not be Carini’s, but the boyfriend surely wasn’t complaining. Are there any restaurants that you guys miss from your hometown? I know I sure can name a few!

Tijuana

 

 

 

 

 


Suren buried

Catastrophe! My tomato garden has been devastated by a flock of birds. I noticed it about a week ago and decided to put up a net to keep them out. But those little buggers are still getting in! It’s terrible. Practically my whole harvest has been ruined. Hopefully better luck next year. But my peppers sure are popping up. I didn’t think they were going to make it, but so far so good. I like peppers better than tomatoes anyway. Hmph! But this minor tragedy is not going to stop me from making up some calzones!

Mmm. One of my favorite things in the world is a calzone. I have fond memories of eating calzone. Back in high school I was pretty involved in theater (surprising, I know). After every show, we always went to Vincenzo’s for dinner because they were open late unlike all the other small-city restaurants in the area. It also might have had something to do with the fact that they had five dollar calzones. At least, that’s why I went anyway. Plus, my dad knew the owner (do Sicilians stick together, haha?). Oh, and they were big calzones. I mean, where can you find a decent calzone for only 5 bucks nowadays? Please let me know!

I may or may not have borrowed bits of this recipe from The Pioneer Woman. After all, she is sorta my cooking idol at the moment. Usually I prefer pepperoni and ham as a filling, with banana peppers thrown in every once in awhile. But this time I decided to use mild Italian sausage. I’m still partial to pepperoni, but the sausage wasn’t too bad. Use whatever fillings strike your fancy! This could easily be converted into a vegetarian meal. Just load up on the veggies. Mmmmm

I think we all know my feelings about dough. If you want to find a recipe to make yours from scratch, by all means go for it (and don’t forget to share!). But today I’m going to use dough from a box- just add water and let rise! If you like, you can also buy pre-formed dough. Whatever works best for you.

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion
  • 1 tbs garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground Italian sausage
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning (or a blend of whatever you have on hand)
  • 12 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 tbs basil/parsley blend
  • 1 egg
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 recipe/box/store bought pizza dough

Don’t forget an extra egg to make an egg wash. If you’re making your dough from a box like me, follow the instructions. More likely than not, you’ll need to put the dough in an oiled bowl to rise. Be sure to cover!

Heat a skillet to medium heat and add the sausage. Dice an onion and throw that in along with some garlic. Don’t forget the garlic. I’m pretty sure I add garlic to everything. There’s no need for any added oil. The meat has enough fat in it not to burn

Once the meat is all nicely browned up and the onions translucent, add the Italian seasoning and the crushed red pepper flakes

Okay, let’s move on to the ricotta. You can’t have a calzone without ricotta…otherwise it’s a stromboli! In a medium bowl take all your cheeses and mix ’em up. I like the salty bite that Parmesan has, but you can up the mozzarella if you prefer

Now crack in your egg and add the remaining spices. Don’t be afraid to taste it. A little raw egg won’t kill you (hopefully…)

By now, your meat should be done. Drain any excess grease, pat dry with a paper towel, and toss into ricotta mixture

Looks yummy, right?! Actually, it doesn’t look appealing, but it sure does taste good! Time for assembly. Take your risen pizza dough and roll it out as thin as you can. I wanted to make two calzones instead of one big one, so I divided my dough in half

It looks like a heart! That one must be for the lover

Spoon filling onto dough

Fold dough over so that you have little crescent shapes. Trim around the edges and crimp. Or you can use a fork to seal it all together. Then beat and egg and brush it all over your little babies

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes depending

Yummmm

Tijuana


Worries lead to worts, wrinkles, and grey hair

Sometimes life hits you full force and your reaction is too slow to do anything about it. It’s like that black cloud you keep getting rid of finds a way back and you have to keep pulling out your umbrella. You’re always having one of those days, or one of those months, or heck even one of those years. Maybe your car puttered out or you lost your job or a loved one skipped town without a moments notice. Or maybe you just struggle with your bills. Seemingly worse, someone dear to you can’t stay out of trouble and you feel helpless as what to do for them. Perhaps you’re powerless to do anything at all except wait to hear the judgement.

On those dark days, we all deserve a little comfort. We deserve to feel love and warmth to give us hope that things will turn out better than we ever could’ve thought. When I’m feeling low and am seeking comfort, I head into the kitchen (after finding a big hug of course). It’s not that I have a need to eat, and honestly I’d rather cook for others than for myself. I go to the kitchen because it’s my favorite room in the house. If I could put a recliner or couch in there I surely would. Aside from writing my feelings and thoughts down, cooking is my most therapeutic habit. There’s something extremely calming about pulling ingredients from the cupboards and following a recipe. It’s the act of creation, I suppose, that eases the mind and settles the soul. Like any physical act, cooking gives you a sense of purpose for the moment.

When I want to make comfort food, pasta usually comes to mind. I grew up with an Italian-American father and our meals were thus heavily influenced by his Sicilian heritage (though probably not as influenced as my childhood memories would have me recall). On my mother’s side of the family, pasta was an easy go to meal when people unexpectedly showed up. Spaghetti was common fare. So sometimes, that’s what I think of when I want to indulge in some comfort food- and don’t feel like making lasagna. So that’s what I made last night for dinner after receiving some disheartening news.

If you haven’t guessed by now, it’s safe to say I like things hot! You’d think I was making arrabiata instead of spaghetti and meatballs. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; season things to your own taste. If you don’t like an extra extra kick in your sauce, by all means only add a tinsy winsy bit of crushed red pepper. I’m pretty sure I added more this round then I meant to anyway, but I still loved it (I feel for the poor boyfriend though. I’m always adding hot stuff into our food it seems!) Also, there’s only two of us so I didn’t make all that much sauce. Waste not, want not! You can double, triple, quadruple the recipe if you like. Add some wine, too, if you feel like it!

Ingredients:

The Balls

  • 1 lb ground beef (or meat of your choice)
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs (I used an Italian blend but unseasoned is okay)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan (grated is fine)
  • Splash of milk or water
  • 1 tbs garlic
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • Small handful fresh basil, chopped

The Sauce

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbs garlic (plus some extra if it suites your fancy)
  • 1 large can crush tomatoes
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch pepper
  • Pinch sugar
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • Handful fresh basil, chopped

Since basil is the only thing that seems to be growing in my garden, that’s the herb with which I used to make my sauce. But you can use any Italian herb to your liking- parsley, oregano, mixed blend. Plus, I just really love basil.

First, we need to make our meatballs. Take all those ingredients in the first list and plop them into a medium bowl

I almost forgot the cheese. Wouldn’t that have led to some sad meatballs!

Mix mix mix! Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. This is the fun part! Ah, if only dough were as easy to work with as ground meat…

If you possess a melon baller (unlike me), this would be the time to break it in. A mini scooper of any kind would work as well. Just dig in and make some balls! But some of us have to do it the old fashioned way. Pinch off some meat and roll in between your hands until it forms into a little ball

Keep your meatballs uniform in size so they’ll cook up evenly. I like mini balls, but make them whatever size drives your tractor. You’ll need to stick them in the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up. Or you can just go ahead and cook them. However, I like the freezer step. In the meantime, chop your onion and mince your garlic if you’re using fresh garlic

Back to the balls! In a heavy (deep) pan, cover the bottom with olive oil and fry your meatballs. We aren’t cooking them all the way through. Just giving them a nice sear is all

I developed a lovely method of swirling the hot oil and balls around in the pan. DANGER: don’t try this at home (or attempt at own risk)

Once the meat is browned (but not cooked), set aside on a paper towel

On to the sauce! Now, I’m not much of a beef fan so I drained the excess grease from my pot (though I didn’t wipe it clean) and drizzled in some olive oil. But by all means, use the beef drippings if you like! Dump your onions and garlic into the pan and cook until translucent

Everything’s downhill from here! Stir in your can of crushed tomatoes

Add sugar, salt, and pepper. The sugar combats the acidity in los tomates

Now add the basil. Add more than this. We LOVE basil. My garden is just a little low on fresh leaves at the moment. I really should get some more plants planted…

Finally, it’s time to add the meatballs back in. Turn heat down from medium to low and simmer for half an hour until the meat if fully cooked. While that bit of magic is happening, don’t forget to cook your spaghetti noodles in slightly salted water. My dad adds a splash of oil to his boiling water and so do I!

Oh yeah, don’t forget to add your crushed red pepper flakes either. You can do that when you add the salt, pepper, and sugar. Or when you add the basil. You could do it when you add the meat, but it’s easier to sir around if you do it beforehand

Buon Appetito! Load a bowl up and sprinkle with some of that shredded parm. If you think it’s too spicy, pour yourself a nice glass of milk. Or think fondly of your late Italian-American grandmother and make yourself an espresso.

Here’s too comfort food and cooking your worries way! Mangia!

P.S. I bet these would make for great meatball subs. Mmm

Tijuana


A rebel in my kitchen

As much as I love cooking, it sure is nice every once in awhile when someone else decides to cook for me. Who doesn’t love to be pampered for a change? Me, me, me! That’s right. Tonight I had every intention of stepping aside and finishing the last several chapters of American Gods by Neil Gaiman whilst someone prepared me a date-night-at-home dinner. Yup, relaxation called to me from the couch. I contemplated pouring myself a mug of vino. If I had a face mask handy, it would have been all over my face. So there I was, book open, ready to finish the last page of my current chapter….when I was called to the kitchen. Grudgingly, I flipped my book down.

That was my first mistake. I should have just stayed in the living room and let a certain someone do things however they intended to do them. Then, once my dinner was ready and being served, I would have enjoyed every last bite without complaint. Alas, this is not what happened. I was called into the kitchen and once entering, there was no turning back.

Can I admit something? I’m a bit of a control freak. Now hold on just a minute before you get your panties in a bunch and start fussing at me. Does it make it better if I say I”m only a control freak in the kitchen? I can’t help it. I walk in there and see someone fiddling around and this uncontrollable urge to take over kicks in. I try to fight it. I tried to fight it. I was all set to turn heel and work on my self control. But then I was politely asked to saute some spinach. There was my second mistake. I should have refused. It’s easy enough to throw some oil, garlic, and spinach in a pan on medium heat, right? Of course it is! I could have simply shouted some helpful tips from the other room. But no, I agreed to help, and I could feel the maniac monster begin to stir inside me. Gulp!

So, there we were in the kitchen, him draining the lasagna noodles from their boiling bath, and me discreetly (with very suspicious eyes) watching him as my spinach began to wilt. Shame on you, Tijuana. Shame shame shame! BAD LLAMA! Before I knew it, I was directing traffic, dropping instructions, and like some kind of jittery addict, moving in on the action. It was bad. I had to keep reminding myself that I was not the chef and that someone was kindly cooking me dinner. All I was supposed to do was saute the spinach!

But that’s how this rebel lasagna, as I fondly call it, has come into being. It was completely winged by my companion (who had never made lasagna before) with most of my helpful/annoying tips ignored. It was a good thing, too, because the lasagna was pretty darn tasty. A little saucy perhaps, but perfectly cheesy with a surprising kick from the sauteed spinach and pepper flakes.

Ingredients:

  • Lasagna noodles (he did three layers of three)
  • Olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt
  • 1 bag spinach
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 1 jar tomato sauce
  • 15 oz tub of ricotta
  • 1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese (or an Italian blend)
  • A few dashes of crushed red pepper flakes
  • A few dashes of Italian seasoning (we didn’t have any so just mixed up some basil, oregano, and parsley)

First thing is first; set a pot of water on the stove top and wait for it to boil. It’s best to do something else in the meanwhile or else your water will refuse to do anything. Let’s saute some spinach! Set a saute pan (or whatever kind of pan you have) on medium heat. Drizzle in a couple tablespoons of the olive oil. Hit that hot oil with your garlic!

Smells so gooooood! Now add the espinaca. I love that word. It’s so fun to say!

If you appreciate hot stuff like me, be generous with the crushed red pepper flakes. Can you see them?

I know it looks like a lot of espinaca (ahem spinach), but don’t worry. It will wilt down into deliciousness.

Once it looks too tempting not to eat right then and there on the spot, remove from heat and set aside

By now, your water has begun to boil. Salt it up real good and add a splash of olive oil. That’s something my dad always did. It helps prevent the noodles from sticking together into a caboodled mess.

You’re only going to cook the noodles halfway since they will continue to cook in the oven. Remove from heat and drain

Now time for the layering…which involved lots and lots of photos. Start with a layer of noodles in your baking dish, casserole dish, whatever kind of dish you plan on using

Layer of sauce please (this might have been where I started barking out directions, however much ignored they were)

Layer of shredded cheese

Look! Crazy fingers added another layer of noodles

Um, more sauce?

Oh, we need to mix the ricotta with the Italian seasonings. Someone decided to just do it in the ricotta container. How innovative. Man after my own heart!

We also decided to implement a freezer bag and pipe our ricotta

Once you’re done piping out ricotta cheese, add another layer of shredded cheese. You can never go wrong with cheese!

Oh man! Layer of spinach. Heaven! The kids will never know until it’s too late. Anyone remember that episode of Arthur?

Finally, add the final layer of noodles. My nerves rivaled poor Mrs. Bennet’s by this point

Spread remaining sauce over top layer of noodles. Sprinkle the rest of the shredded cheese over sauce. Hit everything with a dusting of Parmesan. Eh, add an extra dusting for all your hard work. Your oven should be preheated to 375 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes

When your timer starts a-dingin’, crank  your oven up to broil and let the cheese get all bubbly and maybe even a little burnt looking if you share my sense of taste

Thanks my lover (Sookie reference!) for such a fabulous dinner. It sure was yummy. The only way I can think of ending such a wonderful evening…is by snuggling on the couch and watching The Emperor’s New Groove. You know, now that it’s on my mind. I guess the book is just going to have to wait til tomorrow

Tijuana