Category Archives: Recipes

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:

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.

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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 33 – How To Bring The Right Dish To Your Next Party…

One of the first things that most people ask when you tell them you are having a party is “What can I bring?”.  For myself I know that I usually tell people to bring an app or a dessert so that I can focus on the main food for the evening.  Here are a few ways to decide what you can bring to your next event…

  1. Make sure it’s portable – Don’t bring something that is hard to transport.  You want an item that can be packed up or put on a plate and is ready to go on a table.
  2. Don’t require any effort at the party – Do not bring items that need to be baked, assembled, or otherwise messed with when you get to the party.  There is nothing worse than someone showing up with an unfinished item and telling you they need your stove, oven, or counter to complete it.  I’d rather you bring nothing, don’t hijack my kitchen.
  3. Be a crowd pleaser – Stay away from crazy food items or super intricate recipes.  You want something that everyone will enjoy and if you go with that beef tongue bruscetta or the duck liver mousse, while foodies will be impressed, the vast majority of people will be turned off.  Stay on the safe side unless you know you will be in a group of adventurous eaters.
  4. Bring what you committed to – If you said you would bring an appetizer, do that. If you said you’d bring a dessert, bring it.  Do not say that you will bring brownies and show up with guacamole and chips.  Your host most likely planned what they made around what others said they were going to bring, so stick, at least loosely, to your commitment and stay in the same type of food category so that you don’t completely screw up food plans for the night.

Try this awesome take along recipe for a super delicious appetizer that everyone loves.  These squares taste amazing and also cut and transport very well.  They can be served warm or room temperature, so no need to be worried about keeping them in the oven.  Not to mention they look pretty too.  Enjoy!

antipasta squares

Antipasto Squares  

2 cans of crescent rolls
1/4 lb of domestic ham, sliced (rectangle shape)
1/4 lb swiss cheese, sliced
1/4 lb pepperoni, sliced
1/4 lb provalone cheese, sliced
1/4 lb genoa salami, sliced
1 jar sliced roasted peppers
3 eggs
garlic powder, salt, pepper
Spread one can of crescent rolls, in a sheet on the bottom of a greased 9”x13” pan.  Press to seal the perforations if you can’t find crescent roll dough in a solid sheet.
Layer In order:
1/4 lb. of domestic ham
1/4 lb. Swiss cheese
1/4 lb. Pepperoni
1/4 lb. Provolone cheese
1/4 lb. Genoa salamiTop with jar of roasted peppers

 

Beat 2 eggs and add a little garlic powder, salt, and pepper and pour over the layers, spreading with your fingers if you need to.

Add the second can of crescent rolls on top and again seal perforations if the dough is not one solid sheet.

Spread 1 beaten egg over top of the crescent roll layer.Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 min.
Take off foil and bake about 20 min. longer to brown the top.
Cool a little and cut into squares.

Day 32 – How To Make a Great New Year’s Day Breakfast…

For the past several years we have gone to a New Year’s Eve party at a local banquet hall with a bunch of family and friends.  They have a ton of food, a DJ, open bar.  It’s a great time.  However, this year we stayed in and had AC with us while his Mom went out for the holiday.  We headed over to my sister Amy’s house so that AC and her kids could all play together and we could have a sleepover, which the kids were very excited about.

Another family joined us as well and we had a really nice evening that was very chill and complete with some board games and reminiscing of old times when we used to have a completely different type of house party before we all had kids!  We had some champagne at midnight, tucked some exhausted but wound up kids into bed and called it a night.  Jay and I slept on the futon in my sisters office and the kids were all asleep on the floor of their bedroom “camping out”.

The next morning, we all woke up and spent a totally lazy day in our pajamas hanging out, playing together, and watching TV.  To kick off that kind of day, we made a kick ass breakfast.  Amy had bought some really beautiful challah bread when she had stopped at the store and also had a quart of leftover egg nog in the fridge that she hadn’t used around the holidays.  That meant one thing…egg nog french toast.  Along with some maple brown and serve sausages and some cut up strawberries and other fruit, it was a great start to the new year.

challah french toast

Egg Nog Challah French Toast

1 loaf of good challah bread that looks like thischallah

1 Qt of egg nog

3 eggs

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla

few shakes of cinnamon

Slice challah into about 1/4 inch slices.  Mix all other ingredients in a 13X9 baking pan and stir well to combine.  Get a griddle pan hot and melt some butter onto the surface.  Quickly dip the challah, one piece at a time, into the egg mix and then drop onto the griddle pan.  Challah is super soft and I don’t like soggy french toast, so I do not let it soak, I just lightly dip and cook, the egg will soak in, but the bread won’t fall apart.  Griddle until golden brown and cooked through.  Serve with some good maple syrup and more butter!

Day 31 – How To Be Italian At Christmas…

Everyone has their own traditions around the holidays, it’s true.  But really, nobody does it up like the Italians!  In our family, we celebrate with the classic Italian American Feast of the Seven Fishes.  If you don’t know what this is, here’s a brief recap for you from the end all be all of sources…Wikipedia

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is part of the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration.  Today, it is a feast that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. It originates, however, from Southern Italy, where it is known as The Vigil (La Vigilia). However, some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with nine, eleven or thirteen different seafood dishes. This celebration commemorates the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.

We have celebrated Christmas Eve in this way, with lots of family and even more fish, for as long as I can remember.  When I was very young, we would gather in the basement level of my Aunt Rose’s house, but for the most part, my memories are of having Christmas Eve at my Uncle John’s house, who lives right next door to my mother.

There is a ton of work that goes into a night like this, which is mostly done by my mother and uncle.  My Uncle Johnny shops for all the fish and keeps the master list for all the things we need to make and all the recipes we need.  My mother has her tasks that she needs to do as well which consist of the stuffed clams, steamed broccolli and getting her butt over to the house next door to start frying at around 4:00.

The menu for the evening is basically this:

First Course

 Shrimp cocktail20141224_163113

Scungilli (sliced conch)and calamari salad (with a red octopus decor that my cousin brought back from a trip to Italy just for the food this night) 20141224_154327

Bacala (salted cod) salad 20141224_163105

Baked Stuffed clams 20141224_125207 20141224_190615

Saples (fried dough balls – we do three kinds – plain, mushroom, clam, and anchovy) 20141224_170009 20141224_170057 20141224_170330

Second Course 

Bacala stew (hearty fish stew with vegetable sand potatoes in a rich red broth) 20141224_154623

Pasta Course

Crab and Lobster red sauce with linguine (made every year by my cousin Christine and brought over on Christmas Eve)20141224_162604

Fourth Course

Assorted fried fish (shrimp, scallops, eel, squid, smelts, and flounder)  20141224_164735 20141224_162145 20141224_154931 20141224_154421 20141224_154344

Steamed broccoli with lemon (I forgot to take a picture so this is a pretty Google picture, but ours totally looks like this)broccoli

Dessert

Birthday cake (the 24th is my cousin’s actual birthday so we sing and have cake), assorted cookies and/or pastries

As you can see, we have more than just seven kinds of fish, but this is the menu that we have been laying out every year for more years than I know.  Suffice to say that we have this down to a science, and now that all of us “kids” are older, it seems to take us less time than it used to because we are able to help get everything done.  Over the years, the list has been slightly altered.  We have changed amounts as people have come and gone, tweaked items here and there, but the way we cook everything, and the vast selection, has not much changed.  We are, for the most part, making the exact same food that the generations before us were making on this day.

I know for me, it makes the holiday feel like home, it makes me remember so many wonderful times, and for a few hours, I can almost tangibly feel the presence of all the beautiful spirits who have passed on sitting right there with us at the table and listening to the organized chaos of 50 people and kids gathered together to share this piece of their family history.  It’s a beautiful tradition that we share with our family and friends, and even though it’s a ton of work, I can’t imagine it ever being any different.

So how do you do this?  How do you be Italian at Christmas?  It’s easy.  There’s only one step really.

Keep traditions.

There is nothing more to it than that.  If there is something that your family does that you love, keep doing it.  Don’t just be a spectator in the event, you have to learn.  You can say you love Grandma’s cooking all you want, but unless you find out how she does it, you aren’t going to be able to make that food when she is gone.  And trust me you will miss it.  My mother and uncle learned all of this from their family and have taught it to us.  Make your kids pay attention, make them get in the kitchen with you.  If nobody learns how to carry on the legacy, then that tradition you love will not be there for long.  You have to want to do it, you have to be willing to learn, and you have to love the people that you are sharing it with because that is the most important thing.  Sharing it with people you love.

If you don’t have any kind of tradition in your family. start one.  It does not have to be elaborate, it does not have to be grand.  I know some people who’s tradition is just one kind of special dessert that they only have on Christmas.  That works, that’s great, and that’s enough.  If you want something a little bigger, find something that you love to do and ask your family to do it with you.  Maybe you decorate a gingerbread house on Christmas, maybe you make cookies, maybe you try to incorporate one new food item you love until you find something that works for you all and takes shape to become a tradition.  Whatever it is, you have to make the effort and don’t give up from one year to the next.

My grandmother’s generation is mostly passed on now, but the things they taught us are still here.  Every year.  We remember them.  Every year.  And we teach something to our kids.  Every year.  That’s how you keep traditions, and in my family that’s how you be Italian at Christmas.

Day 26 – How To Re-Invent Leftovers…

Every two years my parents have a kick ass Christmas party and invite a ton of people to come eat, drink and be very merry in their home.  It’s always a good time.  The house becomes full of friends and buzzes with the sounds of old stories, new events, and laughter.  This year was no exception and we had a night filled with love and holiday spirit.

My parents are both retired (I hate them) and so they were able to do a ton of prep for the party during the week, but we all came together Saturday morning and rallied in the kitchen to finish up the prep, start cooking things in the ovens and get plating.  We pounded out the food as the day went on, and everyone had plenty to eat, cocktails and conversation.  As the night wound down, we could see that we had more leftover food than we had planned on, it happens often at the Kelly house.  We put everything away for the night and on Sunday my sisters and I went back and divided up some of the food for everyone to take home.  Not only was it a great weekend, but we had a good start on the weeknight meals thanks to my parents party!

I know some people don’t enjoy leftovers, but I love them.  We always ate them at our house and my Mom would make kick ass reinventions of the food that was in the fridge.  Today I made the classic leftover dish in my family.  Pot pie.  My parents had roasted a couple turkey breasts that they then sliced for little sandwiches.  We took home about a pound of it along with some leftovers from the veggie plate, namely carrots and celery.  With a few pantry staples and a quick run to the store when we were out doing some errands, we had the makings of a great turkey pot pie.

This turkey pot pie is a complete meal with lots of big chunks of veggies and a topping of stuffing that Jay asked for specifically!  It is semi homemade in that I take some help from the grocery store premade items.  If you’d rather make everything yourself, go for it.  But on a Monday night, premade crust and some canned goods were the way to go for us.  It takes a couple steps to make, but is totally worth it.  This recipe made two large pies, we ate one for dinner and wrapped and froze the second for a quick dinner another night in the future.  Enjoy!

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Stuffing Topped Turkey Pot Pie

1 pound cooked turkey, cut into pieces
1 small bag of baby carrots, cut into bite sized chunks
1 small bag of celery, cut into bite sized chunks
2 medium sized onions, large diced
1 can of corn
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 cup milk
2Tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp dried rubbed sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 package of your favorite stuffing mix, prepared according to the directions.
2 premade, unbaked pie crusts

Melt the butter in a large, high rimmed frying pan, saute the onions, carrots, and celery, salt, pepper, and dried herbs until they are just softening.  Stir in the turkey, canned corn, canned soup and milk and stir until combined.  Simmer for a couple minutes.  While the mix is cooking, make the stuffing. according to the package.  Place the pie crusts onto a cookie sheet and ladle in the pot pie ingredients evenly across the two pie tins.  Place the stuffing over the tops of the pies and gently pat down to adhere the stuffing to the pie.  Bake at 375 for about 30-45 minutes or until they are browned and bubbling.  Let cool slightly before cutting and serving.

I served one pie for dinner, the other I let cool, then wrapped in plastic wrap and tin foil and stuck in the freezer to be used another night for a quick meal.

Look at those beautiful leftovers!

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Day 23 – How To Make An Amazing Pan Pizza…

Jay and I love pizza.  There are times that we like to order it from a local place or go out for a really good slice of brick oven where the crust is charred and fabulous.  However, I would say I probably make it at home 2 or three times a month and I really love this version too.  I like to make a really thick pan pizza that is kind of a Sicilian or focaccia crust.  It’s super yeasty and soft in the middle with a crunchy outside crust.  A couple pieces fill you up for sure.  If you are looking for low carb, this is not your pie, but if you are looking for a delicious dinner that you can pretty much customize with anything you have in the fridge, than this is for you.  Jay even came into the kitchen and helped with this one.  Miracles never cease…

Thick Crust Pizza

1 (3 lb) package of pizza dough brought to room temperature by sitting out on the counter for a while
4-5 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups pizza sauce
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese (or any other good melting cheese such as monterey jack or fontina)
any toppings you like

Preheat the oven to 425.  Spray a large cookie sheet with non-stick spray and then pour 2 or 3 of the Tbsp of olive oil onto the pan and spread it around with your fingers.  Dump the dough onto the pan and gently pull and spread the dough to fit the pan.  As it spreads, pour on the remaining olive oil and spread it onto the top as you work the dough.  You want the bottom and the surface of the dough to be glazed with the oil so that it makes a nice crust.  This will take a few minutes to get the dough to relax and expand so be patient.

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   Spread on the pizza sauce, any kind you have.  I happened to have a white pizza sauce with lots of garlic but any sauce will do.  You can even use leftovers from pasta night.

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You then want to evenly spread out half of the parmesan cheese and about a third of the shredded mozz.  Then add on your toppings.  You can use anything you like.  We had some leftover salami from sandwiches and used that.  You can do meatballs, chicken, peppers, taco meat from taco Tuesday, whatever is in the fridge.  Be creative.

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Top it off with the remaining mozz. and then the rest of the parmesan.  It will look like this.

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Bake it in the oven for about 20 – 25 minutes to ensure the dough is cooked through and you get a nice crust.  When it’s golden brown, bubbly, and fabulous, take it out of the oven.

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Transfer it to a cutting board or other surface you can cut on using a couple large spatulas.  Use a pizza cutter and cut it into about 12 pieces.  These are big pieces, you can probably serve 6 people.

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Can you say fabulous?  Look at that beauty!

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And how’s the crust?  Oh yeah, BANGIN’

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Forget the take out…make this instead.  And by the way, leftovers rock the next day.  Enjoy!

Day 22 – How To Make A Quick Soup On a Rainy Day…

It is a cold, rainy, miserable day here in Connecticut.  Jay has been sick this week and I was out late at a concert last night.  We picked up AC this morning and came home with the intention of going to my parents house to help get ready for their Christmas party next weekend, and do some laundry.  That did not happen.  Instead, we sat here on the couches and watched about 3 Christmas movies, ate grilled cheese, and took naps.  I’m pretty happy with that life choice.

Around 5:00 I figured I probably should make us all something to eat.  I didn’t really want pasta, which would have been my quick standby, and I hadn’t really taken anything out of the freezer to make something else.  When I opened up the freezer, what I did see was the last package of andouille sausage I had stashed in there.  My parents and older sister and brother in law went to New Orleans earlier this year and Jay and I stayed with her 2 children while they were gone.  I was paid in sausage.  Fair trade in my book.  If you haven’t had abdouille sausage from New Orleans, you have never lived.  It’s fatty and spicy and smokey and freaking delicious.  They sent me 2 huge links of it, and I broke it up into smaller portions of about a pound or so and stuck them in the freezer to use sparingly.  I’ve made jambalaya a couple times and had one package left.

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I decided to go to my trusty pantry and make a quick soup for us all.  It would warm us up and I could bring leftovers to my parents tomorrow.  Win, win.  What came out of it was this super yummy soup that is hearty and full of flavor.  The inspiration was a kale soup that my father makes sometimes in the winter, and I did manage to get some pasta in there with a box of ditallini to bulk it up.

Give this one a try on a cold day, your family will love it and with a nice crusty bread, it’s a perfect end to a long day.  Enjoy!

Cajun Andouille Soup

1 lb andouille sausage, diced
2 medium onions, diced
2 Tbsp finely diced garlic
1 large bag of frozen cut leaf spinach
2 cans of red kidney beans, one can drained, the other with the juice
2 boxes of chicken stock (8 cups total)
2-3 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
Few shakes of hot sauce or some red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 lb of small pasta such as ditallini, pastina, stellina, etc.  

In an 8 Quart pot, heat the oil over medium high heat and lightly brown the sausage to start to render the fat.

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Add in the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are just transparent.  Add in the beans and the frozen spinach and add in the Old Bay, hot sauce, and some salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for a few minutes.

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Add in the stock and enough water to fill the pot to within about 2 or 3 inches of the top.  Let the soup come to a boil and lower to a med low heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed.  Add in the pasta and boil according to the package directions, stirring occasionally.  Cooking the pasta in the soup gives it a little body.

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When the pasta is done, serve up the soup in big bowls with a couple pieces of crusty bread.  YUM!

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