Category Archives: 100 Days of “How To”

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?

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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”.

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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…

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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.

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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???

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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.

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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.

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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)

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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.

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  • 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.

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

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  • 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:

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

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  • 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.

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  • Spread sauce over the noodles.

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  • Sprinkle a few handfuls of grating cheese over the sauce

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  • Evenly sprinkle over handfuls of the crumbled meat.

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  • 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.

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  • You then sprinkle over the shredded mozzarella

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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 35 – How To Clean Out Your Stuff…

I’ve been in a clean-out mood lately.  We moved into our place just over the summer and things have been so crazy since then that I feel like we haven’t been able to really get our feet under us with getting this place where we want it.  Well, I shouldn’t say WE, I think Jay would be fine with having no pictures on the walls or leaving boxes in the closets until we move out again.  So over the last week or two I’ve been making him help me clean out a little and get some organizing done that I’ve been putting off.

This past week we went through our bedroom and reorganized and rearranged the furniture and then attacked AC’s room and, more specifically, his closet that has turned into a catch all for crap.  We got through a lot of it, threw out a bunch of stuff, donated some clothes, and I’m so much happier with the way we laid out the bedroom.  It feels a ton more open and I even have some room now to put a small bench at the end of our bed.  Success!

It makes me feel better when things are pared down to only what I want or need and not just random stuff that has accumulated.  However, I know that for some people it’s really hard to get rid of stuff.  Here are a few tips that might make it a little easier…

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  1. Remember you love each other – When going through your stuff, tempers can sometimes flare and the partner you think you know can turn into some kind of alter ego that wants to keep the striped t shirt from high school that now looks like a crop top over his belly.  Take a breath, remember you love them, and pick your battles.  Is a shirt really the end of the world?  No it’s not, but if they keep it, make the agreement that it never gets worn outside of the house.  That’s how you compromise in a marriage and stay happy.  After all, he hasn’t said anything about the rolling suitcase of makeup you have in the linen closet.  Yet.
  2. Determine what the goal is – What are you trying to accomplish?  Are you trying to make more room?  Figure out what you actually have?  Re-organize and re-decorate?  All of the above?  When you know what the end game is, it’s easier to get going.  If you are getting rid of stuff you know you will need lots of trash bags, if you are just re-organizing, you can go and get some plastic bins to store your items.  Have a goal in mind and stick to it.
  3. Compartmentalize – Do small projects and focus on one job.  Pick one room or one closet or one box.  If you start to look at everything that needs to get done, you will quickly get overwhelmed and then you will give up.  If you keep your projects small you will be able to get them done quickly and will feel like you are making progress.
  4. Why do you want to keep it – When going through your stuff, you have to ask yourself what the reason is to keep those items.  Do you really use them?  Do they even fit anymore?  Is it just because you have emotional attachments to it?  My general rule is if I haven’t used it or worn it in the past year, I don’t need it.  There are some items that can of course be exceptions to that.  Things like furniture you have in your basement that is great quality, but maybe you just don’t have the right place for it yet.  Or even antique items that are worth money but maybe don’t go with your current decor.  For clothes, things like expensive gowns or shoes don’t necessarily get cut either,  But for most things, the one year rule works really well and keeps you from having a ridiculous collection of crap.  Try to keep emotion out of it as much as possible.
  5. Be confident in your decisions – Once you have decided to keep or toss something, don’t go back and forth a million times.  What is your gut reaction?  Go with it.  It’s usually the right one.  Unless you are a hoarder, then you need to do the exact opposite.  Or get yourself on TV.
  6. Enjoy your end result – No matter how hard it was to do, give yourself a minute to enjoy the end result.  Look at your empty shelves with happy awe, sit in your newly rearranged living room and feel some relief when you go to open your closet and can actually find what you are looking for!  It makes it all worth it…

Day 34 – How To Start A Wellness Plan…

Well it’s the New Year and that means a million people swarming to the gym and vowing to loose weight, get healthy, not eat so much ice cream, and basically be a healthier human.  New Year’s resolutions have never really been my thing.  Partly because I never stick to any, so why bother, but also because I don’t feel like you have to wait for January 1st to make a change in your life if you need it.  If you happen to be ready however, and need a little help with where to start, this might be the post for you.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking.  What does the fat girl know about loosing weight?  Well let me tell you a well kept secret in society.  ALL fat girls know exactly how to loose weight.  I guarantee it.  We have researched, read, analyzed and tried out every single diet out there.  We get it.  We know all the tricks, all the rules, and all the shortcuts.  In the end, we are still fat because either we just love freaking food too much to let it go, we haven’t found the right plan for our bodies and lifestyles, or life has interfered and we haven’t been able to stay on the path that we know works.  Of course, it is often a combination of all of the above, and us fluffy girls know that it’s a constant struggle to get back on the wagon.

In my own personal battle these are some of the things that I know for a fact have always gotten me back on track and have helped me to have some of the most success on the way.  I hope they might help you to make some changes of your own if you are looking to start the year a little healthier…

  1. Have a plan – I don’t care what the plan is.  It can be something corporate and organized like Weight Watchers or it can just be you following something you saw in a magazine.  Whatever it is, you need a plan and you need to write it down.  Writing it down on paper and even posting it on a place you can see it, like the refrigerator or your desk will help you to remember what it is you are supposed to be doing that day/week/etc.  You need that visual reminder.  Something like this board is really awesome for motivation too…motivation board
  2. Make a weekly meal plan –  It takes time (a lot of time), it takes effort, and it’s a pain in the ass.  However, it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.  Look at your week, make a spreadsheet for each day, and write down what you are going to eat for each meal and even for snacks.  Give yourself some wiggle room in that you don’t have to be so strict that you can’t interchange or trade off some items, but having a plan on paper will help you to stick to your food choices and actually see what you will be putting into your body.
  3. Make a shopping list – Having a meal plan also feeds directly into this one.  Once you have a menu, you can much more easily make your shopping list.  Now here’s the important part (and the part that I am hands down the worst at), you need to shop every week.  EVERY week.  When you let the shopping slip, you will not stick to your plan and you will gradually slide off the edge of progress and fall flatly into the land of “shit, I just ate cereal for dinner for the third day in a row”.  You don’t want to find yourself there.  It’s a bad place.  Go shopping.
  4. Drink – This is non-negotiable.  You have to drink and you have to drink a lot.  Water is always best, but seltzer, green tea, and even crystal light is great too in order to keep you hydrated and interested in drinking if plain water gets boring.  Soda (diet especially), fruit juice, and high fat lattes and other beverages are not your friend.  I’m telling you from experience here, if you drink your water, you WILL loose weight and you will feel a difference in your body.  You will also pee a million times those first few days you start drinking, which is awesome because you will literally be flushing the pounds away.
  5. Sweat – I’d like to say you can do it 3 times a week, but that just aint gonna cut it for most of us.  You have to do something that gets your heart rate up and your skin a little sweaty 5 times a week.  This is not scientific research, this is just historical fact for me and just about anyone I’ve talked to.  So pick something that gets you moving.  Go for a walk, play with your kids, take a Zumba class (they are really freaking fun), sign up for Yoga, or just buy a DVD and do it in your bedroom before you get dressed in the morning.  Whatever works for you and for your family and your lifestyle is what you should strive for.  Don’t make unrealistic efforts either.  If you know that the kids have activities 3 nights that week, you are going to have to really push yourself to get up a half hour early and get in your time, don’t try to make it to the gym with 10 minutes to spare before you have to get to the soccer game.  The gym will loose every time.  Don’t throw away money either.  If you can’t make it to a gym, don’t join one.  Maybe that money would be better put to use in buying some kind of equipment for your home.  Bottom line is do what’s best for you, but do something.   funny ass
  6. Get a buddy – If you have a spouse or partner that is willing to take this journey with you, and is willing to really be an active participant and walk the tough road with you, that is awesome.  Use them, and do it together.  You will have the most success when you are both on the same page.  Friends and family are great motivators too but if your partner isn’t on board, it makes everything much harder, and I would venture to say impossible to maintain in the end.  Other motivators are people like your siblings, who we can usually count on to be brutally honest and take less of our shit.  They will call us out on slacking off and will make it harder to back out on that class you signed up for.  They are also some of our biggest cheerleaders.  Whoever it is, find someone to support and encourage you.  There are a ton of plans that have online communities and personal coaches even that will help keep you motivated.  We can’t do this alone, that is a fact, so use the resources available to you and create your network of support.
  7. Celebrate your success – Celebrate!  When you loose that first 10 lbs, don’t slough it off as nothing big, be happy.  Treat yourself to a new nail polish or rent a movie.  Give yourself a cheat day in order to keep motivated, but don’t go nuts.  When I was seeing my nutritionist, I would have weekly weigh in appointments, and every week after my weigh in I would pick that night for a cheat day dinner.  We would have pizza or chinese or whatever we were craving that day.  My nutritionist was on board with it, he always said that you eat somewhere around 21 meals in a week, not including healthy snacking.  If you use one of those meals as your free day, it’s not going to be the end of the world.  He had pizza every friday night, and always had.  For me, it really helped to stay on track for those other 20 meals when I knew there was that one day I could celebrate that effort.  I know there is the mindset of not rewarding yourself for loosing weight with more food, but for people like us who really LOVE food, that is the best celebration, and really sometimes the only thing I wanted.  It’s not a bad thing, just keep it under control and keep it reasonable.
  8. Don’t give up on purpose – In the end, you may not reach your goal.  You may not ever see that scale tip to that magic number in your head and you may not even feel yourself slide back into your old habits.  Life happens, and it sucks.  However, don’t give up on purpose.  Don’t have a bad week and then just throw your hands up and say fuck it.  I completely understand the frustration, I’m right there with you on wanting to just wave a magic wand and be thinner.  The reality of it is this – Some of us are not meant to be a smaller size and that’s ok.  What’s not ok is giving in and giving up because it’s hard.  Of course it’s hard, if it wasn’t hard, you wouldn’t be fat in the first place.  Keep working at it, and no matter how many times you fall off that band wagon, get back on.  Get back on a day, a week, a month, or a year later, but always get back on.    for life