All posts by thecurvycook

Day 44 – How To Rock Breakfast For Dinner

I love breakfast.  I know, I say that about most food in general, but breakfast food especially is one of my absolute favorite things.  I mean come on, eggs, meats, toast covered with butter…what’s not to love?  Every once and a while when we were kids, we would get to have breakfast for dinner, the most common reason was because we were short on time and eggs are quick to cook, but it was also because it’s just plain yummy.

This weekend I was lucky enough to procure some beautiful fresh eggs from my friend Beth’s chickens in return for bringing her some stuffed jalapenos (totally fair trade), so of course all I could think about was when we could have breakfast.  Seriously, have you ever seen anything more gorgeous than a fresh egg?

IMG_20150922_191137

So I ask myself, why do we have to wait all week for a lazy Saturday morning when you can have them for dinner?  With this in mind, I went shopping and came across a beacon of shining light from the butcher case that manifested in the form of black pepper, thick sliced slab bacon.  I felt like the universe was speaking to me, and it was saying “make breakfast”.

IMG_20150922_190331

So how exactly do you make breakfast awesome enough to be called dinner?  You make pig candy.  End of story.  Tonight, I made baking powder biscuits, some beautiful scrambled fresh eggs, and candied black pepper bacon.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it was all really good, but holy god that bacon.  The best part is that it’s so easy it’s stupid.  Take a pound of thick cut slab bacon and lay it out on a sheet tray lined with tin foil that is coated with non stick cooking spray (I went with black pepper bacon because that sweet heat is amazing, but you can do this with regular bacon as well…though it will be marginally less awesome, just sayin).  Then generously sprinkle on some brown sugar.

IMG_20150922_190415Bake it off at 400 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes.  What you get is this beautiful sticky, salty, porky goodness.

IMG_20150922_190504I mean seriously…just wow…

IMG_20150922_185938You can pair this bacon with just about anything, or just sit in the corner of your kitchen with the tray and eat it piece by piece.  I wouldn’t recommend that if others are around however, because they will most definitely want to take some away from you, and that could cause a scuffle, which could then result in the bacon being harmed.  Not worth the risk.

Instead, make some bright yellow scrambled eggs, some fluffy and rich baking powder biscuits (very easy, basic recipe here) and share it with some one you really, really love.  Or at least someone who really, really loves pig candy.

IMG_20150922_190941Breakfast for dinner…DONE…

 

Day 43 – How To Eat Irish On St. Patrick’s Day…

It’s the day where Kelly green explodes all over, Guiness and Jameson become trendy, corned beef is bought in bulk, and kilts make a comeback.  St. Patrick’s Day has been a day filled with fun since we were kids.  I am half Irish half Italian, and in that mix I think even my Irish father would agree that the Italian side tends to overtake many things.  However, on St. Patrick’s Day we get to proudly dust off those Erin Go Braugh hats, eat some awesome food, and think of my paternal grandmother Nora as we make sweet breads like her Irish soda bread.  With a cup of tea, and a smear of some real butter, nothing beats it.

Last night, Jay and I wanted a good burger, so we went to one of our favorite places to eat.  A small pub in Cheshire, CT called CJ Sparrow Pub and Eatery.  I’ve written about these guys before (see Panko Crusted Perfection) because they are off the hook amazing when it comes to their food.  Fried smoked gouda, that is all I have to say.  As a cool little twist of fate, we also found out that we know two of the chefs from when we were in high school, both of them super talented guys.

While we were there last night, John told us about all the amazing things they were making for today’s Irish feast.  Corned beef of course, but they also had gotten some fresh ground lamb for the shepherds pie, guiness stew, and for dessert… irish cream cheesecake, Jameson creme brulee, and chocolate Guinness cake.  It took us all of 5 seconds before we decided we would be back for a repeat visit.  So off we went tonight for dinner, again…

When we got there, the place was busy, a little more packed than normal, but not uncomfortable, and we were able to sit right down at an open table.  The staff was festive in shades of greens and our friend Austin was rocking a kilt while working furiously in the tiny little kitchen of magic where regular ingredients go in and culinary masterpieces come out.  Maybe the kilt has something to do with it, I should make Jay try it out at home…

We almost never order off the regular menu here because their specials are just so crazy good and today was no exception.  They had an all Irish menu with a corned beef and cabbage dinner, a really simple corned beef sandwich, shepherds pie (with real ground lamb), Guinness stew, and for an appetizer, some irish nachos.

As soon as we sat down we ordered our drinks and the Irish nachos.  If you haven’t heard of Irish nachos, they are usually thicker cut potato chips topped with cheese, corned beef, and whatever else.  These were awesome with the potato chips being fresh made, lots of cheese, big pieces of corned beef and some nice scallions and tomatoes for a little cut of freshness in with the richness.  YUM…

IMG_20150317_194654

Jay didn’t even have to look at the menu, after he had found out they were making the shepherds pie with lamb, he was sold.  He is a stickler for REAL shepherds pie, none of that stuff made with ground beef!  The slight gamey flavor you get from the lamb does make the dish super special and at the same time very rustic. Jay said that he almost felt like he was back at his grandmothers kitchen table in Pennsylvania…not something he says often, so kudos to Sparrows for that feat.  I snuck a bite, and the gravy was rich and very satisfying mixed with the creamy potatoes you can’t go wrong.  Perfect comfort.

IMG_20150317_194421

I am a corned beef purist and could probably be happy just sitting there eating a platter of the salty, fatty, bright pink fabulousness.  That being said I went for the simple corned beef sandwich with swiss cheese.  I should have known better when thinking anything at this joint would be simple.  It came on buttered and toasted seeded rye, with the cheese all melted into the soft dough on the inside.  The corned beef was shaved so thin, I’m not sure how they did it.  When you took a bite you got that hard crunch from the griddled outside and then no resistance or pull from the meat, it was like silk.  So tender and delicious that I debated just asking them to give me a to go container filled with it.  Salty, buttery, and obviously cooked in some beer.  Along side the sandwich were fries and a briny bright pickle that was the perfect offset of vinegary tang you needed to balance the richness on the rest of the plate.  It was exactly what I wanted…

IMG_20150317_194552

After all these wonderful Irish treats, we were stuffed.  However, how could we not take home a dessert???  I mean seriously, Guinness chocolate cake and irish cream cheesecake…what kind of foodie would I be to pass up those?  So we took home one of each, with the sound advice from our friend that we stick the cake into the microwave for 30 seconds before we ate it.  Off we went with full bellies, little cardboard boxes of sweets to enjoy when we could fit them and smiles firmly in place.

IMG_20150317_194305

 

IMG_20150317_194137

It didn’t take long for us to crack open the sweets.  As soon as I tasted the cheesecake I knew we had found the gold at the end of the rainbow.  I’m completely serious when I say that this cheesecake is on my list of top 10 best desserts I’ve ever had.  You clearly taste the irish cream, but it is not overpowering and no trace of an alcohol bite that can sometimes creep into desserts made with spirits.  The flavors mingled together flawlessly and with a chocolate cookie crust…Jay is lucky I gave him a few bites.  The smooth and creamy texture coated your tongue and made you go back for more and more and more.  I will give John just about anything he wants if he will share with me the recipe for this one.  So good…

The Guinness cake was not my favorite, but it was still a great dessert, the Guinness flavor was a little too strong for me, but Jay polished off the entire piece in record time, so it obviously was just a matter of personal preference.  The cake was very soft and moist and had a nice thick chocolate ganache between the layers and over the top that was then studded with chopped walnuts.  Winner…

On holidays like this that are so closely tied to the food that goes with them, this meal couldn’t have gotten any better.  It was both classic and innovative, and goes to show the amazing things that can happen when you get a couple guys together who love food, have respect for their product and enjoy seeing people happy.  If you want to feel Irish today, and want to eat Irish too, then find these small local gems and give them a chance.  Thank you Austin, John, and the whole crew at Sparrows for another stellar meal, you guys never disappoint…we’ll be back soon!

Panko Crusted Perfection…

The past three months of my life have been a blur.  I know people say that all the time but I literally can’t remember how we got here.  It’s been a whirlwind of packing and boxes and LOTS of trash bags.  But in the end we are moved out of our old house and into a new one and we love the new town we find ourselves in.  Jay and I lived for the past 4 years or so in the house that was my grandparents, but after they died turned into a “half way” house as my parents like to call it.  Almost all of the grandkids have lived there at one point or another.  During college when we were poor, after college when we were really poor, or sometimes just because it was convenient…the house has seen a lot of use, and a lot of things that my grandparents would never have approved of!  We have tried a few times over the years to sell it but it hasn’t worked out for one reason or another.  This last time, my mother and my uncle decided to really give it some effort and it seems to be panning out.  As I write this, the sale is pending and we all have our fingers crossed.

In the mean time, an opportunity to move kind of fell in our laps.  We had been thinking of relocating for a little while, the house was great for us, but the location wasn’t.  It was out of the way for Jay to work and for church and pretty much most things we did, except my office.  Bonus for me, I never had to hop on the highway and filled my gas tank once ever y 2 weeks or so.  However, Jay’s truck was sucking down gas and money with it.  So when a friend at the office had mentioned that they were going to be renting a condo, I jumped on it.  The location was much better for us, we are just about 15-20 minutes to everyone in the family, to Jays work, and to church.  I do have to get on the highway to get to the office now, but I’m able to work from home 2 days a week so it all balances out.  We also moved from the city to the suburbs.  There are woods in back of the condos, the Linear Trail, which is a walking and biking trail, is just down the road, and it’s very quiet at night…except for the bugs.

We eventually packed up all our crap, threw out more than I ever thought possible, and in a couple trips with the trucks and a day with the movers, we are in the new digs and settling down pretty well.  There are no longer cardboard pieces everywhere, I have towels in the closet, and some pictures on the wall.  It’s starting to feel like home.

So now that we are in this new little town, naturally the first thing we ask is “Where are the good places to eat!?!”  Gratefully, our friends steered us over to a tiny place on the main strip.  It’s about 5 minutes from the house and is called C.J. Sparrow Pub and Eatery.  We met them there for dinner one night as they were graciously welcoming us to the area, and had a great meal.  The place fits in perfectly with my friend Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive ins, and Dives show.  It’s this small joint in a little plaza of stores with a very unassuming sign, you really probably wouldn’t even stop to come here unless you knew about it.  Parking is in the back of the building and the entrance leads you into the bar, which then wraps all the way around into the dining room.  The place is small, maybe 10 tables, plus a small patio and the long curved bar with seating too.  But don’t let the size fool you, these guys have their hands in everything.  Trivia nights, open mic, local bands, happy hour…the list goes on.  When you walk in you get the feeling that maybe you have stumbled into an episode of “Cheers” and that Ted Danson will come out at any point to pour beer from the tap and give you some advice on love and life.  Instead, what you do get are a great staff that seem to love their jobs, are always smiling, and a clientele that all know each other by name.  People sit at the bar with a drink and greet each other when they walk in the doors or smile in welcome at the people they might not know, yet (which were us).  It’s a TRUE neighborhood place and I think the locals try to keep it quiet so that people out of town don’t find out how rock star the food is and come ruining their favorite spot.

After our first visit, where we met half the town, who came in and said hello to our friends we were eating with,  Jay and I knew we would be repeat customers…the food was great.  So when we were looking to tame a burger itch last night, we decided to hit up “Sparrows” as it’s fondly called.  What we had this time was out of the realm of the fabulous.  Let me first start by saying we were starving.  It was a little late when I got home from work, we had both had lunch earlier than usual that day and my flip flop had started to look appetizing as I was driving home.  So we definitely knew we were going to get an appetizer.  We looked over the menu, still new to us, and a great length for this kind of place.  There is everything from seared Ahi to steak and cheese but not so many choices that they can’t keep everything made fresh and quickly turned out in the kitchen.   Smart owners.

The thing that caught our eye this time was the Fried Smoked Gouda.  The description in the menu is very succinct, “Fried Smoked Gouda with creamy bacon tomato sauce”.  It’s enough to tell you exactly what it is.  What is doesn’t say is that you will want them to fill a bathtub with the sauce so you can just swim in it for the good part of a week.  What comes to the table is a generously thick cut from a wheel of smoked Gouda cheese, sliced in half to form two half moons, coated in panko and fried to a quite perfect golden brown.  The bottom of the plate is coated in the slightly pink sauce with little ribbons of cooked bacon running through it.  They also throw just a bit over the top, and the bacon almost looks like little bows on the crunchy cheese package.

IMG_20150317_200342

We each took a piece; I cut into mine, swiped up a healthy dose of the sauce and bacon, and put it to my lips.  All conversation stopped save for the “Oh my GOD” that came after the first bite.  Jay finds me quite amusing when I have these overwhelmingly unladylike foodgasms and he mercifully just let me savor the little ripples of pleasure that were rolling over my tongue.  This was a perfect symphony of savory and sweet and salty and crunchy and smooth and smoky…good god there are not enough words.  The Gouda was soft but still firm and doesn’t ooze like mozzarella does, but keeps its form and maintains a ridiculously creamy texture with that hint of smoke around the ends.  The tomato sauce was silky and salty and the bacon married so well with the cream, it was genius and like nothing I have ever had.  This was not your ordinary fried cheese.  After polishing it off and restraining myself from licking the plate, I had to hold back from leaping from the table and storming into the tiny kitchen to find out the secrets that lived there.  I had found panko crusted perfection.

IMG_20150317_200449

After the cheese episode where I had my pleasure black out…we had our burgers which were just as awesome as they were the last time.  They use angus beef, make their own patties, and cook them perfectly to your taste.  Jay is able to get a true rare burger here, which hardly ever happens anymore.  He got the special burger for the night which was a burger rubbed with a Carolina dry rub and then topped with two kinds of cheese and cole slaw.  I went with the smokehouse burger that had swiss, mushrooms, super thin little fried onion straws and a creamy steak sauce.  Both of them were fabulous and juicy and a little charred by the grill, yum.  We weren’t sure if we wanted dessert after all that food but when she ran down the list, the bourbon pecan pie rung home and we got it warmed with a little vanilla bean ice cream.  You could taste the slight hint of bourbon and the pie was not so cloyingly sweet as many of its kind can be.  Even though Jay doesn’t like pecan pie much it didn’t take us long to finidh it off!

As we rolled ourselves out the door and back home to fall into a food coma I kept thinking how nice it was to have a local bar like that.  It makes the town feel so welcoming, it makes me happy to know that we could go at any time and have a really good meal among friendly people who love the food too.  They were genuinely happy to see you sitting at their table, and take the time to say hello and to make sure you have a great night with them.  The atmosphere there is not so much built by the space or the décor but by good people, eating good food, having a few drinks and supporting a local business that they love.  I’m looking forward to many more amazing meals here…

 

Day 42 – How To Make A Kick Ass Steamed Cheeseburger…

So, this post is not so much on how to make a steamed cheeseburger at home, but more on how to go to a place that makes a kick ass steamed cheeseburger.  I will admit that I never had a steamed cheeseburger until a few years ago when I went to THE iconic steamed cheeseburger joint in Meriden, CT called Ted’s.  The steamed cheeseburger was invented there, and it has cemented it’s reputation in the food world for sure.  It was good, really sharp cheddar, cool little steam boxes, home fries, cute ambiance.  But really, I wasn’t in love.  It was just ok for me, and I wouldn’t be running back to get steamed meat right away.

All of that changed last week.  Jay has been telling me about a place called K LaMay’s for forever.  He would constantly assure me that it was better than Ted’s and that I’d love it.  So finally when we had to kill some time before picking up AC for the weekend, we stopped for dinner.  The place is tiny, maybe 5 tables and an open counter to the stove with the steam boxes and fryers.  The girl behind the counter was super nice as was chef working the steam boxes.  Both very friendly and they were even kind enough to indulge me and let me go behind the counter for a few pictures after Jay’s proud announcement that I write a “food blog” as I stood there and turned red.  He really is my biggest fan.

They have a nice wall set up of all their press, and have clearly gotten the seal of approval from both locals and beyond.  The owner of K LaMay’s knows a thing or two about steamed burgers since he actually worked at Ted’s.  He learned well and eventually opened his own joint doing his thing.  I quickly found out why this little place was so popular.

IMG_20150222_111439

Jay and I both ordered a steamed cheeseburger with “everything” which is all of the toppings on their “free” list.  Lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, mustard, and mayo.  They also have some additional toppings like extra cheese and BACON but I really wanted to get the experience of the burger, so we went with the classic.  I knew we had made the right choice when this showed up at the table.  Can we talk about all that drippy cheese???

IMG_20150222_111531

Now for those of you who don’t know, the steamed cheeseburger is made in these big steam boxes that sit on the burners of a gas stove.  The small containers inside hold a water pan along with little containers that you cook the beef or melt the cheese in.  The ones at K LaMay’s hold a larger patty than Ted’s, 1/3 lb to be exact, and that is the first thing I noticed.  This is a BIG burger.  The boxes are really cool and you can even buy steam boxes and make these at home if you want.  They have a cooler in front where you can buy the exact Wisconsin sharp white cheddar that they use too.  It’s perfect.  However, I would rather just go here and have them make me one.

IMG_20150222_111329 IMG_20150222_111413

 

We also ordered fries and onion rings and I got one of my all time favorites, cream soda.  One of the first things I noticed was how fresh the veggies were.  The lettuce and tomato were cold and crispy and a perfect contrast to the heat of the burger and molten cheese.  The white cheddar just pours and flows over the edges and gets into all the crevices of the burger.  It’s like a white blanket of cheddar happiness.  It’s sharp and clean and has a great texture.  All of this piled on a really sturdy kaiser roll that holds together well but gives easily when you bite into it.  It was a perfect all around bite right through the bun into the crunchy, cool veg and beyond to the rich cheese and soft, succulent meat.  SO GOOD.  The fries and the onions rings were a perfect compliment, fried golden and crunchy.  I was in heaven.  We did not speak much as we ate.

IMG_20150222_111228

The next time you are in the area, go here.  You will not regret it.  If it happens to be in the warm weather months, you can even sit outside on the little picnic table and then slowly meander over to Les’s dairy bar and get a nice soft serve for dessert.  I love little local joints like this that are doing one thing, doing it great, and making people like me happy.  Next time I may have to try the “Hot Cheese Sandwich”, which is just that gooey cheddar on a bun, oh the amazingness.

So thank you to my wonderful husband who is forever teaching me about new places to go for kick ass food, thank you to K LaMay’s for making said kick ass food, and thank you to the gods of sharp Wisconsin cheddar.

Day 41 – How To Get Less Fat…

It’s happened…I have let the gods of fried food and mashed potatoes win.  I have gained back weight I promised myself I never would, and am squishier than usual in lots of places.  It’s so not cool.

I have been “overweight” my entire life.  This is nothing new, and quite honestly, nothing that I’m not used to.  For people who have always been fluffy, you know it’s a constant battle to just not gain weight, not to mention loose it.  The scale is a constant yo-yo number and it seems to go upwards so much freaking faster than you ever imagined possible.  Then all of a sudden, one day, you look in the mirror and you say “What the fuck?  Where did that fourth chin come from?”

When this occurs, if you are a lifelong fat girl, you give in, wave the white dinner napkin, have a really huge bacon cheese burger to give you the motivation for what’s to come, and you plan the “get less fat” campaign.  Now, I do not mean this to be derogatory.  Quite honestly, I do not believe that fat is the new four letter word.  I am fat.  I know this, everyone else knows this.  It’s ok to own it.  The other thing I am however, is healthy (not to mention a stone cold fox).  I have no blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar, back, or joint issues.  I get pretty regular check ups, go to my gyno, and live my life.  Fat AND healthy AND happy.  I know, it’s a totally mind blowing concept.  Don’t tell too many people lest the billions of dollars being funneled into the search for perfect bodies and empty souls might decrease by a fat girls income or two.

The other thing that all of us fluffy girls know, is that we probably will really never be skinny.  Like the kind of skinny that other people might get to.  For example, I will never in my entire life be a size 6.  I won’t even be a 12.  My ideal size goal is a 14/16.  That is a size I can maintain without wanting to kill myself and a size that makes me happy when I look in the mirror.  I also have never been lower than that since before I hit puberty.  My body just isn’t made that way.  Hence, when I make an effort to be healthier, I call it getting “less fat”.  I will always be fat, but I can definitely be less fat than what I am currently.

Now, I know what some of you fitness crazies out there are saying, and also you previously fat girls who are now truly skinny (incidentally, you x-fatties are the worst offenders).  You are saying I can get there, it’s a dedication issue, it’s a life choice, it’s me being lazy.  What I have to say to you is that you are totally and completely right.  The issue is, the things that I would have to change, and the level of misery that I would have to go through and adapt as my new “lifestyle” would mean that MAYBE I’d be skinny, but most DEFINITELY I would be fucking miserable.  I love food, I love not living at the gym, and I love being able to not constantly count calories and eat salads and cucumbers when everyone else is eating wings at happy hour.  I will not sacrifice a full and rich life in order to conform to a society’s anorexic and unhealthy body image expectations.  I’m fat, I’m sexy, I dress fabulously, and I’m a freaking pimp in the kitchen.  I wouldn’t trade any of those for a single digit dress size in a million years.  So you can take your condescending tone and snarky comments and shove them up your perfectly formed, spandex clad ass.

Just to set one other thing straight here too…I love my skinny chick friends.  Some women are thin, and beautiful and that suits them.  Some are that way because of genetics and some work their asses off to be that way.  You go for it.  I don’t judge you for the life you live, and I think you rock too.  My main point is that all of us women need to stick together, we need to not be fighting against each other, and appreciate the beautiful spectrum of spectacular females that are out there.  Fat or not, love each other and don’t shame each other into thinking that any of us is not good enough.  We are all good enough and we are all stunning goddesses in our own right, fat or not.

All this being said, if you are on your own journey of “get less fat”, then here are a few tips to follow that have worked for me when I need to get my ass in gear….

  1. Have a plan – You have got to have a plan, no matter what it is.  Join a weight loss program, see a nutritionist, or just do your own research.  You have to plan for what you will do, plan your meals, plan your workout schedule, and make sure you stick to it as best you can.
  2. Get moving – No matter how you slice it, you have got to work out in some way.  Do Zumba, yoga, pilates, hiking, or just some good old cardio at a gym.  There are a million excuses to not work out.  I know them all,  I’ve used them all.  They don’t matter.  And don’t let yourself be intimidated by the people at the gym.  In my experience, there are two kinds of people you will run into.  People who either think it’s awesome you are there and getting healthy and will cheer you on, and those who think you are an offense to their gym space by being fat and being in their sightline.  To the former, embrace them and thank them for the encouragement.  To the latter, gain some small joy from being fat and making them watch you work out.  It makes them so uncomfortable it’s awesome, and it brings me a little smile every time.  For those of you ladies who are shy, most gyms have a women’s only section that is much more private and usually much less attended.  Use that to your advantage and rock out in there.
  3. Eat smarter – Eat lots of colors…veggies, fruits, beans, etc.  I once heard a nutritionist say “eat the rainbow”.  She didn’t mean skittles.  But really, just be smart, make some good choices and watch the portions you put on your plate.
  4. Drink your water – Just do it.  No excuses.  Drink your water every day.  Your skin, your thighs, and your appetite will thank you.
  5. Get a buddy – Being held accountable for working out and eating right with another person helps.  It really does.  Whether it’s your significant other, your weight loss coach, or your friend at work, get a buddy and motivate each other.  It will keep you going and will push you harder than if you were doing it yourself.
  6. Track your progress – Keep track of how far you’ve come.  I do weigh myself every week, NOT every day.  I also find it much more telling though to track your measurements.  When you see how many inches you have lost from areas like your waist, thighs, and arms, it really hits home.  That is a real result that you can see, not just a number.
  7. Celebrate – When you reach a goal, no matter how small, celebrate it.  Be happy, buy yourself a nice new pair of shoes, or eat an ice cream.  I know that you “shouldn’t” reward yourself with bad food choices, but I for sure do.  If I have hit my 15 lb mark then you better believe it I’m gonna go out and celebrate with chinese food.  As long as it’s one meal or one treat and you get back on the wagon afterwards, it’s totally fine.

At the end of the day, do your research, find what works for you, talk to your doctor, and set reasonable goals.  Love yourself.  Don’t beat yourself up if you slide backwards, and use your support systems.  A little common sense goes a long way and don’t eat brownies for breakfast.  That is all…

 

Day 40 – How To Make Your House Smell Like Home Baked Love…

There is a blizzard coming tonight into tomorrow here in Connecticut with some serious snow accumulation expected.  What that means to most of us is lots of hunkering down, making comfort food, and hoping the power stays on!  In addition to some of the yummy food I’ll be making over the next day or two, I also like to make sure we have something sweet to indulge in while the snow is swirling outside.

Sweet baked breads are one of life’s perfect foods.  They can serve as breakfast, snack, or after dinner treat and always go beautifully with a hot cup of tea or coffee.  My Grandma Nora (my Dad’s mom) always had the best recipes for breads, I’ve referenced her before with the Day XX post for her carrot bread too.  I can’t remember ever going over to her house and not seeing one of these breads on the counter ready to be sliced thick, and spread with butter or cream cheese, and had with a nice cup of irish tea and a little chat.

I was fairly young when we would visit my Grandmother at her home ,before she moved in with my Aunt, but I always remember the smell.  I can almost smell it now as I think about it.  The closest I can get to explaining the memory is that it was a mix of butter, cooked string beans and sweet cinnamon spiced breads.  It was always a very warm and homey aroma and I loved it.

Today, to try to get that warmth into my house I made one of her fool proof recipes…pumpkin bread.  I chose pumpkin mainly because I had all the ingredients in my pantry, and also because it’s a large recipe and makes 2 loaves of bread at once.  When you are hearing that there may be up to 30 inches of white fluff outside, you want to bake in bulk because you aren’t going anyplace anytime soon.  If you’d like to bring a little warmth and love into your home, try this recipe, and I dare you not to sit down with a big steaming cup of tea, a warm piece of pumpkin bread slathered with real butter and not feel a curious fuzzy glow right there, deep down in your soul.

Grandma Nora’s Pumpkin Bread

2/3 cup butter, slightly softened

2 2/3 cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

1 can pureed pumpkin, about 2 cups (NOT pumpkin pie filling)

2/3 cup water

3 1/3 cup flour

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

2/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1 cup raisins (optional)

IMG_20150126_072239

In a bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  It should look like this:

IMG_20150126_072151

Add in eggs, pumpkin, and water and blend well.  In a separate bowl mix together your dry ingredients and slowly incorporate them into your wet.  It will be a thick batter.  If you want, you can  now fold in the nuts and/or raisins, if you don’t prefer them, that’s fine too, I don’t like either ingredients very much in my baked goods.  The batter should look like this…there is a lot of it, so pick a big mixing bowl.

IMG_20150126_072101

Transfer the batter into either two loaf pans, or two 8 inch round pans, or I have done one 8 inch round here and 6 large muffin tins.

IMG_20150126_072018

Bake at 350 degrees

about 70 minutes for loaf pans

about 50-60 minutes for the muffin and 8 inch rounds

Let them cool for about 5 minutes in the pans, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool.  Try to avoid cutting into them until they have at least stopped steaming, but it’s VERY hard and I wouldn’t judge you if you did.  Enjoy!

IMG_20150126_071905

Day 39 – How To Make A Yummy Breakfast Shake…

Sometimes there are mornings that you just don’t have time to do much of anything but get yourself out of the door and hope you have matching shoes on,  For those mornings, a breakfast shake is one of the biggest saviors in the world.  You can buy pre-made ones, but it’s so easy, and helps you to control the ingredients ,when you make them yourself.

You want a good start to the day but you also want it to taste good.  It’s important to have some fresh fruit, veggies if you like those in there too, and some protein.  There are a million different recipes out there for protein shakes…pinterest, google, your local gym…they can be found everywhere.  Just pick ingredients you like and experiment.

I will admit I had never had a protein powder that I could say I actually liked until fairly recently, and I have to thank Jay for that.  He has used them forever, being an athlete in school and continuing to be a sports junkie later on.  He was really good at trial and error with different brands and flavors…some were ok, and some were just down right awful.  The one that I love, and that we use most, is a vanilla protein called EPIQ Isolate.  It’s a whey protein with no artificial colors or additives and it’s a fast acting protein, which Jay tells me means your body absorbs it faster.  I just like that it’s not grainy and tastes like vanilla not like sawdust in a box.  The vanilla is the flavor I like  best because it goes with just about anything you want to mix it with, but they also have chocolate.  You can get it on the GNC website here, look for sales though, and if you can, get the GNC Gold card, you really get great deals with that.  We just got a new container of it today for $20 off the regular member price.  Wooohooo!

I like fruit shakes in the morning, and this is a really great time where you can use frozen berries to bulk up the consistency of your shake.  They will almost act like ice and make it thick like a milkshake.  The frozen berries are also way cheaper than fresh, especially this time of year.  I like to mix in other natural proteins like almond butter, and sweeten it a little with some agave nectar.  If you are so inclined you can also add things like chia seeds or ground flax seed which are super foods that happen to taste yummy with an almost nutty flavor.

One other thing…get an immersion blender, sometimes called a stick blender.  If you are going to make shakes regularly, this is a god send.  There is no washing out a blender constantly, it works unbelievably well, and you will find about a million other uses for it once you have it.  You have seen them if you ever watch cooking shows and can get them just about anywhere.  They are a really inexpensive piece of kitchen equipment but are super useful.  I have this exact one from Target:

immersonblenderfromtarget_com

So after all that rambling, here’s one of my absolute favorite protein shakes.  It fills you up, tastes yummy, and is super easy to make…

banana shake

Banana Almond Butter Protein Shake

1/2 banana

1 cup fat free vanilla yogurt, I like Oikos

1 scoop vanilla protein

1/2 cup (approximately) fat free milk

1 Tbsp. natural almond butter

few ice cubes, if needed

Layer ingredients in a large cup, in order.  Blend with the immersion blender until smooth, transfer to a commuter cup if you are running out and go!

Day 38 – How To Make My Mom’s Lasagna…

Momma Kelly makes the best lasagna in the entire world.  That’s not just my opinion, that’s a fact.  It is perfectly meaty and cheesy and saucy and HOLY CRAP is it good.  It’s been made in very much the same way for many many years, and she has perfected it over time.  The technique, the amounts, how long it bakes, and how long it sits to rest before you eat it.  It all matters.

The one thing that you do have to keep in mind though is that you will never EVER have a lasagna that tastes exactly the same as another.  There are so many variables, the meats, the sauce, the seasoning of the ingredients…it will all vary ,and because of that, your lasagna will never really taste the same.  That’s ok though, if you get the technique down, it will always be good.

The most defining ingredient that has the greatest effect on the success of the whole dish is the sauce.  If the sauce isn’t great, your lasagna won’t be great.  Perfect noodles, perfect layering, and perfect baking will never be enough if the sauce isn’t awesome.  Work on your sauce, add lots of meats, and season liberally.  Let it cook for a while to meld, and if it’s possible, make it a day or even a couple days before you want to make your lasagna.  You will thank me.

The other important thing is to get quality ingredients.  Not to go all Barefoot Contessa  on you, but you want quality cheeses, and pasta along with good tomatoes for your sauce.  It really does make a difference.  We use Tuttorosso and Sclafani brand tomato products…crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, and tomato sauces too…they can be found at your local grocery store.  If you find a good Italian cheese shop you can get everything else you need there, and also find some other delicious treats while you browse like olives, dried sausages, and nutella.  The market we go to is Liuzzi’s in North Haven, CT.  They are straight from Italy, they’ve been doing this gig here in the US for over 30 years, and they totally rock, check them out if you’re in the area.

Wherever you go, whatever ingredients you use, however you make your sauce…be consistent.  Consistency will be what makes your lasagna something that people ask for every holiday and at every special occasion.  Why?  Because they know that even if it’s a “bad” batch, it will still be good.  My mother’s worst lasagna still is better than anything else you will have that night.

In the end I’m really blessed to even be able to talk about all these crazy tips and tricks for this traditional food.  I’m blessed because I have a mother who taught me this.  I’m blessed because I have the ability to carry on this tradition, along with my sisters, into the next generation of our family.  I’m blessed because the family I have been gifted with has a talent for making amazing food, and through that food, creates strong relationships, traditions, and love.  I truly believe that it is the reason everything we make tastes so wonderful.  It’s the reason that every gathering we have is attended by people who are laughing, happy, and have full plates and full hearts.  You want to know what it feels like to be in my family?  Come over on a Sunday afternoon, watch football with us, play with the kids who are running around the house like little maniacs, and EAT.  My parents kitchen feeds more than your belly, it feeds your soul.  Dishes like this remind me of that and will forever remind me of the love that they have taught us and the fullness of spirit that can come from a simple plate of pasta.  So when you are making this lasagna, don’t just think of it as a recipe.  This is a history of my family.  Give it time, give it respect, and above all, give it love.

Momma Kelly’s Lasagna   

Important notes before you get started:

  • It really is a process over a couple of days to get the best result.  Making the sauce, then making the lasagna, then it really helps to let the lasagna sit in the fridge overnight to set.  Then bake it the next day.
  • This lasagna is made in a hotel pan (dimensions are about 20X12).  I don’t know how to make it smaller, that’s just the way it is.  So invite over your family and friends and make it for everyone.  It feeds about 25 depending on the size of your pieces.
  • These measurements are approximations.  We have guesstimated amounts as best we can, but it’s all about feel  and sight and you may have a need for an additional egg, or another meatball in your crumbled meat.  Go with your gut.
  • We make a large pot of meat sauce.  Somewhere around 10 quarts.  The sauce has meatballs, stew beef, pork chops, and hot and sweet italian sausages.  If my mom’s really getting serious, she will also add in pigs feet.  I know, just trust it.  Like I said above, making it in advance helps too.
  • You will have to do some work to find the perfect pasta sheets.  The dried box kind is usually much too thick.  We suggest fresh pasta sheets, but not all fresh pasta is created equal.  Try a few brands and go with the one you like best.  We get a frozen brand from Liuzzi’s that has a mint green and red label.

OK here we go…

3 lbs of lasagna pasta sheets, cooked according to the package

2 lbs of whole milk ricotta

1.5 lbs shredded whole milk mozzarella

3-4 cups grating cheese (this is a serious geusstimate on amount, sprinkle like in the pictures and use however much that takes, we like parmesan and romano blend)

6 eggs

3 lbs of crumbled meat (from your sauce)

Sauce (I have no idea how much, just keep your pot next to you)

salt, pepper, granulated garlic, dried parsley

  • Clear off a counter for assembly purposes.  You are going to need a good amount of space.
  • Warm your sauce on the stove, you don’t want it really hot, just warm enough that the meat is warmed through.
  • Cook your pasta with a little bit of oil in the water, and watch them carefully.  Stir them gently to prevent sticking.  Drain them and put them back in the pot with cool water to stop the cooking.  Set onto the counter, ready for assembly.

IMG_20150121_104639

  • Pull out about three pounds of mixed meats into a bowl.  Meatballs, sausages, pork, beef, you want some of everything but you will have the most bulk from meatballs and sausage.

IMG_20150121_103808

  • Crumble the meat with your hands.  It should look like this:

IMG_20150121_104008IMG_20150121_104249

  • Mix your ricotta, eggs, and seasonings together in a bowl.  Be generous with your seasoning, you have a lot of cheese there.  It should look like this in the end:

IMG_20150121_104450

  • Put everything out on your counter so all is within reach.  Here’s the master at work:

IMG_20150121_105022

  • Start by spreading a good amount of sauce onto the bottom of your pan (she’s doing that above)
  • Then gently start laying out your noodles in your first layer, overlapping about 1/3 of the width.

IMG_20150121_105334

  • Spread sauce over the noodles.

IMG_20150121_105444

  • Sprinkle a few handfuls of grating cheese over the sauce

IMG_20150121_105558

  • Evenly sprinkle over handfuls of the crumbled meat.

IMG_20150121_105653

  • Then spread out clusters of the ricotta mixture.  Mom uses a fork so that it kind of spreads a little and you don’t have big clumps.  She is working fast here and is annoyed with me taking pictures…just FYI.

IMG_20150121_105744

  • You then sprinkle over the shredded mozzarella

IMG_20150121_105835

  • Your first layer is done!  Congratulations!  Now layer on another set of noodles.  If you will notice, she is now spreading them out in the opposite direction in the tray.  She also sometimes tears them and makes the middle pieces a little less wide to try to eliminate a too high center and lower edges.  This is an art, she does it without even thinking.  I still struggle with it, so just do your best.

IMG_20150121_105915

  • Start all over again, and do two more layers so you have three total.  In the end spread over another layer of sauce and sprinkle on the final grating cheese.

IMG_20150121_110018

  • Cover the tray with parchment paper first, then aluminum foil.  Don’t put the foil directly on the sauce, as the acid will cause a reaction with the metal.
  • If you can, put the lasagna in the fridge overnight to set.  If you can’t do overnight, at least let it sit in there for a few hours to firm up.
  • Now pay attention to this!  Take your lasagna out of the fridge, remove the cover, and cut it like you would be serving it.  I know it sounds crazy but cutting it before you bake it makes for a way better piece later.
  • Cover it back up and bake it in the oven at 350 for about an hour or so.
  • When you take it out it will look like this beautiful tray of deliciousness.

IMG_20150121_110321

 

  • DON’T EAT IT!  That’s right, I said do NOT eat it yet.  Let it sit out on the stove top or counter for at least 20 minutes.  This will allow the cheese and noodles to set up and it will keep your pieces from turning into messy sloppy kind of layers that you have to scoop out with a spoon.  Instead they will look like THIS:

IMG_20150121_110108

Oh hell yes…drizzle on a little more sauce and sprinkle on some grating cheese and dig in.  Then get ready for the uncontrollable moaning that will then occur.  Enjoy!

 

Day 37 – How To Make A Quick Guacamole…

Guacamole might just be one of my favorite things on the planet.  Avocado tastes awesome and is a good fat, which means it’s healthy…and so is pretty much everything else you put in it.  The chips you eat it with are another matter, but let’s not focus on the bad…

We make guacamole in our family quite a bit.  It’s a staple at many parties, especially in the summer, but even just on the weekends when we are hanging out at my parents the bright green dip of goodness often makes an appearance.  It never lasts very long.  My brother in law Jose and I can sit there and put away an entire bowl and not even blink an eye.  It’s one of the reasons I love him…

This guac recipe is a real crowd pleaser and it’s also a wonderful way to get kids (and fussy adults) to try something new.  What child won’t try something that you put onto a chip.  I know AC loves his “green dip”!  Yes, that’s my Christmas tree still up…don’t judge me.

IMG_20150116_084153

Here is a perfect recipe for a really quick guac that you can throw together in a snap.  And don’t just limit this to chips.  Substitute it for mayo in your egg or chicken salad, or mix it into some egg yolks for awesome deviled eggs.  You can also top your favorite burger or chicken sandwich with some for a healthier and tastier alternative to fattier mayo or sauces.  I’m getting hungry now…

Easy Guacamole 

2 ripe avocados (you want them to give when you gently press on the firm skin, but not to be mushy)

2-3 Tbsp jarred salsa (whatever is in your fridge)

1 lime, juiced or 2 Tbsp bottled lime juice

2 Tbsp sour cream (optional)

1 Tbsp fresh chopped cilantro (optional, I hate the stuff)

salt, pepper, granulated garlic to taste (I tend to be pretty heavy handed with the garlic, so don’t shy away from it)

Slice the avocado in half, working your knife around the pit in the center.  Gently twist and pull the halves apart.  If your avocado is ripe, this should be very easy.  Quickly and firmly hit your knife blade onto the seed and then twist it out.  Place the knife and seed onto a towel, hold the seed with the towel, and carefully remove the it from the blade.  Be careful if it’s your first time, it is slippery and you don’t want to cut yourself.  Here’s a great video from the Cooking Channel on avocados that is a useful resource for the avocado virgins.

Once the seeds are removed, your avocados should have a bright green rim and look nice and greenish yellow with firm yet silky soft flesh.

IMG_20150116_083444

Take a large spoon and run it between the flesh and skin to remove it all.  Scoop out everything from the inside, it’s all good and none should be left behind.  If you find that you have a couple brownish spots that is totally fine, don’t freak out.  As long as nothing is super mushy or slimy, then you are good to go.

IMG_20150116_083744

Mash up your avocado with a fork to make whatever consistency you like.  I lean towards a smoother guac, so I mash it pretty well, if you like it chunkier, that’s cool too.

IMG_20150116_083843

Add all the remaining ingredients to the bowl, mix it all very well, taste to make sure it is seasoned enough, and that’s it!  Not everyone uses sour cream in their recipes, but I think it gives it a nice tang and creamy back note, but it’s totally optional.  Die hard guac lovers will also tell you that cilantro is required, I however think cilantro tastes like soap and try to never eat the stuff if I can help it.  If you like that kind of thing, go ahead and throw it in…

And for a fun presentation, don’t throw away those avocado skins!  They make great little vessels that you can put out with your chips and then just throw away.  Who doesn’t love a fruit (yes it’s a fruit) that comes with it’s own serving bowl?

IMG_20150116_083952

The avocado will keep for a few days in the fridge, just smooth out the top of the surface, drizzle a little more lime juice over it, and cover it with saran wrap pressing it directly on top of the guacamole, kind of like when you cover pudding to prevent a skin.  When you uncover, there will be some oxidation on the very top but when you stir everything together, it will still be a nice green.  Enjoy!

Day 36 – How To Make Thai Take Out At Home…

I love a good Thai take out dinner.  The spice and the flavors are so unique and the veggies are so perfectly cooked, tender but still a little bite to them.  YUM.

About a year ago I found this book from a nutritionist named Christine Avanti called “Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads: Stop Starving, Start Eating and Losing”.  I highly recommend it.  It is really amazing and has wonderful recipes for food that you actually WANT to eat.  This recipe is one of my hands down favorites.  It tastes awesome and kicks that take out craving in the ass.

It’s a great spicy stir fry with awesome Thai flavors, including sriracha which I LOVE.  I do make the jasmin rice for this one because it goes so much better with the flavors of the beef.  Marinate your beef the night before in a Ziploc bag, it gives all the flavors a chance to marry and blend.  Make sure you have a large pan with lots of surface area so that you can get a good quick sear on all the meat, you don’t want this to steam, you really want it to fry and then use that glaze to marry all the veggies when you add them back into the pan.  Make the full recipe, these leftovers are an awesome lunch the next day!

 

thai stir fry

Hoisin & Siracha Beef Stir Fry

Nutritional info: 400 cals., 26 gm protein, 50 gm carbohydrates, 12 gm fat. Makes: 4 servings

Paprika
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (Sriracha)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, divided
1 pound extra lean flank steak (or any other stir fry steak), sliced into approximately 1 1/2” strips or small pieces
1 large white onion
2 large bell pepper

2 cups jasmin rice

Pour 4 cups of cold water into a medium pot and bring to a boil.  Rinse rice and add to boiling water.  Reduce heat and cover.  Cook for 20 minutes.

Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl.  Place steak strips and marinade into a large zip lock bag and place in the refrigerator.

Dice onion and bell pepper.  Using a large wok or frying pan, spray bottom of pan with cooking spray, and small amount of a high burn point oil like canola or vegetable.  Quickly cook the onions, peppers on high heat with some salt and pepper until just crisp tender.  About 3-5 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Place the marinated steak into pan and pour in all the marinade to make a sauce.

Saute steak for about 5 minutes on high heat to get a nice brown.
Add veggie mixture to pan and continue to cook for 2 minutes together.

Serve 3/4 cup of cooked rice with  1 1/2 cups of stir fry.  Enjoy!

(based off Christine Avanit’s recipe in her book “Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads: Stop Starving, Start Eating and Losing”)