Sunday, December 30, 2012

Quick & Easy Pasta with Shrimp and White Beans

One of the hardest things about the holiday season is sticking to your budget. There will always be that one extra gift that you have to get or that happy hour that you "must" attend. I know it's inevitable so before the holidays I was sure to stock my freezer full of grab-and-go meals, mostly soups. They served more than their purpose. I plowed through my stock pile in no time but have no complaints. While my freezer was getting roomier, my wallet was staying full

Post holiday meals, on the other hand, are a little trickier especially since I was out of town for a week. Once my brother, his girlfriend and I returned from our 12 hour road trip from Michigan to New York having only eaten one sandwich and an ungodly amount of potato chips, I needed a real meal!

Concocting said meal was the challenge! I always keep shrimp in my freezer and white beans in the pantry so I set out to combine the two in a pasta dish. It turned out great!

1 1/2 lbs frozen shrimp, thawed
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
3 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 box short rigatoni or other tube shaped noodle
1 cup reserved cooking water

1) Prepare pasta according to package. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water before straining.
2) Heat one tbsp of butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add in garlic and saute until fragrant, about one minute. Next, add shrimp and cook for about two minutes on each side until pink in color.
3) Push shrimp aside so it's not sitting directly over the heat. Add the beans and remaining butter. Once butter is melted, add wine and simmer until reduced by half. Once reduced, pour in reserved water and Parmesan and heat until melted.
4) Stir shrimp back into sauce. Season with salt and pepper and toss over cooked noodles.

I put this together by the seat of my pants but it turned out pretty great! The color is one dimensional but the flavor was amazing.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to All!

Merry Christmas everyone!! I hope you all are enjoying your time with your friends, family and loved ones. I've had a wonderful day that started with watching my adorable nephews open Christmas presents. It was so cute! I think Grady was beyond confused when he saw my whole family together since he's used to only seeing us separately. The initial look on his face was priceless.

Next, we dug into our own gifts and had breakfast. My mom found a great breakfast bake recipe from Paula Dean. It had hashbrowns, eggs, sausage, bacon, cheddar, Parmesan cheese and spinach, which was my moms added healthy touch. It was delicious! And as soon as we were finished eating, it was time to get to work on dinner.

The Christmas Feast!

We made the same Worlds Simplest Turkey that I made on Thanksgiving, the roasted veggies and salad from Tuesday's Hoboken Feast. The new dish I brought to the table was Rachel Ray's Christmas Pasta. It was outrageous! It was packed full of meat and wonderful flavors of red wine and San Marzano tomatoes. This is a great pasta for special occasions or dinner parties.

Christmas Pasta!

Christmas Pasta Recipe:
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb bacon, sliced
6 bone-in beef short ribs, about 1 1/2 pounds
Salt and pepper 
2-3 carrots, chopped
2-3 ribs celery, chopped 
2 onions, finely chopped
7-8 cloves garlic, minced 
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tbsp fresh sage
Leaves from 1 sprig fresh oregano, or marjoram, chopped
A pinch of ground cloves
3 tbsp tomato paste 
2 cups Malbec, or other rich red wine,
1 10 1/2 oz can  beef consomme 
1 28 - 32 oz can  San Marzano tomatoes
3/4 lb bulk hot Italian sausage
3/4 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage
2 lbs rigatoni pasta
1 cup grated pecorino cheese 

1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees . In a large Dutch oven, heat 4 tbsp. olive oil, over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and render out the fat until crisp. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside for later use.
2) Season the short ribs generously with salt and pepper. Add to the pan and brown on all sides. Set aside. Stir in the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and cloves. Partially cover the veggies and cook to soften a bit, 5 to 8 minutes. Once softened, add the tomato paste and stir for a minute or two to incorporate, next add the wine, consomme and tomatoes. Return the short ribs and bacon to the pot, stir everything together, bring up to a simmer, cover and bake until the meat is tender to the touch or falls apart easily, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
3) Take the meat off the bones and shred with two forks or with your fingers. Add the meat back into the sauce. Place the pot over medium heat to bring up to temperature.
4) Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. of olive oil,  over medium- high heat. Add the sausages to the pan and cook, breaking up with the back of a wooden spoon, until browned, crisp and crumbly, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the sausage and then add it to the meat sauce. Stir together to combine.
5) While the meat sauce is coming together, bring a large pot of water to a boil for the rigatoni. Salt the boiling water and cook the rigatoni to al dente.
6) Toss the pasta with the meat sauce and top with cheese.

We rounded out our Christmas evening with a trip to the movies to see Parental Guidance. As cliche as the previews of this movie were it turned out to be pretty good. Plus, my young doppelganger, Bailee Madison was in it so it obviously couldn't be bad.

With that, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Holiday Feast for Eight

A sneak peak...

I think it goes without saying that I LOVE to cook so it should be no surprise that I jump at any opportunity to cook for friends and family. As luck would have it, the opportunity arose this week!

I'm heading to Michigan Sunday so I thought it would be nice to spend some time and cook for my boyfriend on Tuesday night. After a quick chat, he also invited his roommates, three friends and one of their girlfriends. Cooking for 8? No problem! The more the merrier, right?

The menu was set, the guests had arrived and we were off and running in the kitchen. We (and when I say we, I mean me and my boyfriend turned for 8 ain't easy) started with the veggies.

Roasted Veggies Recipes:
6 tbsp olive oil
1 lb carrots
2 containers/bags of Brussles sprouts
1 head cauliflower
1 bag of baby redskin potatoes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp dried Italian herbs
1 tbsp garlic powder

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove florets from the cauliflower, about 1 inch pieces. Next, slice carrots in 1 inch pieces, halve the potatoes then trim then halve Brussles sprouts lengthwise. Mix together in a large oven-safe dish and toss with oil and spices.
2) Roast in oven for about 1 hour, until the veggies and potatoes are tender. If more than an hour is needed, check back every 10 minutes for perfect doneness.

Once the veggies were in the oven, we dove into our Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf prep. (I mean that literally.) I was cooking in a "boy" apartment that is obviously not equipped with my standard culinary needs. We covered a large rimmed baking dish in foil and rolled out our entire meat mix there. I was mixing meat by hand as my sous chef poured small amounts of milk, breadcrumbs and parm atop the meat mass. It was hilarious. At the end of it all, we created a delicious looking piece of meat, or shall I say meats? There are five types of meat in this after all.

Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf Recipe:
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil 
1 1/4-1 1/2 C seasoned breadcrumbs
1 cup milk
3/4 lb hot sausage
1 1/4 lb meatloaf mix (beef, veal and pork)
2 eggs
1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated 
1/2-1 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
1/2 tsp salt 
1 tsp pepper
1 1/2 tsp oregano  [Dry Goods]
1/2 tsp basil
1 pkg bacon strips, 10-12

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees (in my case, this was already done.)  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
2) Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook bell pepper, garlic and onion until they are tender and the onions are translucent. Transfer to a large bowl to cool. This is the same bowl you'll want to mix the meat in (or in my case, a baking sheet.) ;)
3) Add in breadcrumbs and milk, mix well. Add all meat and eggs to bowl. Gently mix without compacting. Sprinkle with cheese and seasonings including the optional red pepper flakes.
4) Transfer mixture to prepared baking sheet. Form a 10×4″ log, roughly.  Start at one end and begin laying bacon over the meatloaf log in a diagonal pattern. Overlap each piece a little bit to allow for any shrinkage that will occur while the bacon cooks. Be sure to leave 1/2″ overhang on all sides. After covering the entire meatloaf, carefully fold bacon underneath the edges.
5) Bake on the middle rack for 50-60 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160 when inserted into the center of the meatloaf. Broil for an additional 3 minutes to crisp up the bacon.
6)  Let the load rest for about 10 minutes. Cut into 1/2 – 1″ pieces with a serrated knife.

Top left: Adding the bacon; Right: Fresh out of the oven; Bottom left: a beautifully sliced piece.

When we took this bad boy out of the oven the entire apartment smelled of sweet bacon-y goodness. Before I can tell you how amazing it was, let met get to our last dish: Apple Walnut Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette. I knew how heavy and fatty the meatloaf would be so I looked for a salad recipe with just the right amount of tartness to balance out the meal. It was perfect! So perfect that I'm  planning to make this again for Christmas. 

Apple Walnut Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette Recipe:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup cranberries
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon-style prepared mustard
1 cup vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
10 cups mixed salad greens, rinsed and dried
2 Red Delicious apples, cored and thinly sliced

1) Toast walnuts in the oven, on a pan or in a toaster oven until lightly toasted.
2) In a food processor or blender, add the cranberries, vinegar, onion, sugar, and mustard. Blend until smooth. Slowly add the oil then season with salt and pepper.
3) In a salad bowl, toss together the greens, apples, and enough of the cranberry mixture to coat. Sprinkle with walnuts, and serve.

We rounded out the meal with a quick batch of Pillsbury Grand Biscuits. Once all were served, we dug in! Every single bite of the meatloaf was incredible. Not only could you taste the bacon in every bite, but also the kick of the hot sausage along side the beef, veal and sweet sausage. It was pure meat heaven!!! The red peppers mixed in made it pop even more. None of us could get over how great it tasted. It's definitely more labor intensive than most meatloaves but definitely worth the effort! Besides, isn't the best part of cooking a great meal sharing it with friends and fam!? ;)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Cookies Galore!

During the holiday season, one of my all time favorite things to do is bake cookies. Two years ago a few friends came over and we baked all day. It was such a great time and so nice to be able to share the freshly baked treats with friends and coworkers. I couldn't let another bake-less year go by so it was game on Monday night!

I've been happily searching Pinterest and food blogs for weeks and found the perfect selection of sweet holiday treats. After a quick run to the grocery store, Lauren, Ashley and I were on a roll. (Pun intended.)

We started with Peanut Butter Blossoms. We made these during our last cookie extravaganza but sadly, our past knowledge failed us and we burned our first batch. Oops! Luckily, the rest were great.

Next, we focused our efforts on Red Velvet Cheesecake filled cookies! After prepping one batch of dough we realized we needed to double the recipe which was perfect since red velvet cake mix was buy one get one free! We'll get back to these cookies later.

Once mixed,  the batter went in the fridge for two hours and we moved on to Chocolate Chocolate Mint Chip Cookies. These are seriously one of the best cookies EVER!! I personally love thin mint Girl Scout cookies and these babies blow them out of the water! It's the same great taste but soft and chewy. Yummmmmy!!!

Left: Chocolate Chocolate Mint Chip; Right: Peanut Butter Blossom

As if our fat girl fest wasn't bad enough, we opted for one more cookie - a secret weapon of sorts. A Mint Oreo Cookie Stuffed INSIDE a Chocolate Chip Cookie!! Talk about sensory overload! They came out of the oven looking like giant chocolate chip mushrooms and tasted like pure chocolatey mint heaven. The ringer: they took like 5 minutes to make! You literally wrap pre-made (or homemade) chocolate chip cookie dough around the Oreo until its completely covered, place it on a cookie tray and bake on 350 degrees for 11 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. Once cooled, you'll definitely want to take a bite to see how awesome they look on the inside!!

Mint Oreo Filled Chocolate Chip Cookies!

We weren't quite done yet. While the red velvet dough was refrigerating, we prepped the cream cheese filling. Check out the recipe for full details. I have to say, it was a lot of fun scooping, flattening, filling then rolling the cookies. They baked to perfection (seriously, look at the pics!) and tasted amazing. The texture of the cookie was much like whoopie pie, soft and gooey! We opted out of the glazed topping since we planned to bag the cookies up as gifts. Regardless, they were great!

This is one recipe I have to simple yet so delicious!

Red Velvet Cheesecake Cookie Recipe:
1 box red velvet cake mix
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cheesecake filling:
4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a large baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
2) In a large bowl combine cake mix and flour. Whisk until clumps disappear. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together cake mix, flour, eggs, oil and vanilla extract. Mix until smooth. The dough will be pretty thick and oily, which is what you want. Place the dough in ziplock bag and refrigerate for at least two hours.
3) In the meantime,  make the cheesecake filling, using a mixer, combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. Mix until smooth. I did this after making my other cookies.
4) Once dough as set, take a ice cream scoop and make balls of dough, about 3 tablespoons each. Flatten balls with your hand then using a teaspoon, scoop out cheesecake filling and place in the center of the flatten dough. Gently wrap the dough around the filling until fully closed and place on the baking sheet.
5) Bake for 11-13 minutes or until the cookies begin to crackle. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Remove from baking sheet to a wire cooling rack and cool completely.

The complete Red Velvet Cookie Process

After four hours and only one minor mess up we had about 85 cookies and suffered from major sugar overdoses! No complaints here.  It really was a great time...even eating them for four consecutive days. That is what the holidays are all about, right? Now get your butt in the kitchen and make some of these! Christmas is only six days away!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner

Yesterday's post should have given you a little hint about what's next: Thanksgiving dinner!! While I'm a bit untimely since Christmas is just around the corner, this is a story that cannot go untold. After countless Thanksgivings of pitching in it was finally my year to host the feast. I was pumped!

Our plans came about when my best friend, Sara, and her husband, Clay, decided to visit from West Virgina. To make matters even better, my boyfriend's family plans fell through so he was able to join us as well. Then, on Thanksgiving, two more friends (Deneen and Dave) joined in the festivities. It was a delightfully packed (aka cramped) house.

When offering up to host Thanksgiving, Sara was happy to help. She had already cooked a full Thanksgiving spread for her husband the year prior and used an amazing tool to help: It is one of the best thing ever! You upload recipes from any website, then plan it on a calendar and it generates a grocery list for you. Check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Okay, on to the menu! We planned the following amazing dishes:
- Broccoli Bake
- Cheesy Green Bean Casserole
- Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Cornbread, Bacon, Leek and Pecan Stuffing
- Worlds Simplest Turkey

It was an incredible meal with tons of leftovers but it was definitely loved by all. I provided links above to most dishes but check out a few recipes and photos below!

Broccoli Bake Recipe:
1 1/2 lbs broccoli, separated into flowerets
1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup Bisquick or Jiffy baking mix
1/4 cup butter

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2) Heat 1 inch salted water (1/2 teaspoon salt to 1 cup water) to boiling. Add broccoli. Cover and heat to boiling. Cook until stems are almost tender, 10 to 12 minutes; drain. Place broccoli in ungreased 1 1/2­ qt.  casserole dish.
3) Heat oven to 400°. Beat soup and milk with hand beater until smooth; pour over broccoli. Sprinkle with cheese. Mix baking mix and margarine until crumbly; sprinkle over cheese. Bake until crumbs are light brown, about 20 minutes.

The broccoli bake was a new dish for me but my boyfriend grew up on eating this every holiday so it was a must this year. In an ironic twist, he learned that mushrooms are in the dish. He absolutely HATES mushrooms. He was devastated and of course, took matters into his own hands. While prepping the dish, he stepped in and strained the mushrooms from the soup. In the end, it did not change the taste and thankfully put his mind at ease.

Top left: Green Bean Casserole, Top right: Broccoli Bake, Bottom Left: Stuffing, Bottom Right: Mashed Potatoes

Now it wouldn't be a Thanksgiving post without talking turkey. We found our recipe from Food Network but had also spent a few hours glued to the TV and liked the idea of changing things up a bit. A lot of recipes suggest stuffing butter under the skin so we did that as well and placed a few sage leaves. It was delicious, though we had a little grease fire issue. Oops!

Before and after. Gobble gobble!!

Obviously, dinner takes some time to cook so we started with a few crowd pleasers. The first is a snack I made for a football watch, that my boyfriend fell in L.O.V.E with! If you make nothing else between now and the Super Bowl, try this Loaded Baked Potato Dip!

After that made it's way around the room we served Bacon and Jalepeno Stuffed Crescent Rolls. We found these amazing bites on Pinterest. (Go figure!) There no't actual measurements available for this but we rolled out the crescent dough and on each piece of dough we placed a small piece of the leftover cooked bacon from the loaded baked potato dip and placed it atop chopped bits on jalepenos and rounded it off with a dollop of cream cheese. Next, we rolled the dough and placed in the oven on 400 degrees until the crescents were golden brown. They were delish!!

Top: Loaded Baked Potato Dip, Bottom: Bacon Jalepeno Crescent Rolls

Finally, we topped of our meal in a nontraditional way. No one really spoke up about wanting pie so we made an amazing Apple Bread Braid. Sara made this last year and said it was great. She was absolutely right! I was super excited to make bread from scratch and finally put the bread hook on my Kitchen Aid mixer to work! It was pretty fun to watch too. Once the braid was topped with the hot glaze, it was phenomenal!!

That, my friends, closes out my first home cooked Thanksgiving meal. I had one of the best times ever cooking with my best friend then sharing it with a group of friends. I can't wait to do it again next year!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Little Kitchen Assistant

One thing about holiday cooking that is unavoidable is stress. No matter how much you prepare, you're still going to end up running around your kitchen in sheer panic trying to get all the food on the table at the same time. So what's a cook to do? DRINK!! :)

Seriously... make yourself a tall one of these!

You may be asking, WHAT is that? It's Apple Pie. Really, that's the name of it. Picture the wonderful flavors of apple pie in a glass...with Everclear! One glass of this and you will blissfully tackle any kitchen stress effortlessly. My Thanksgiving cooking was a breeze, though I don't advise drinking a second glass until after you serve dinner.

1 gallon of apple juice
1/2 gallon of apple cider
6 cinnamon sticks
1 liter of Everclear or other 190 proof grain alcohol

Prepare drink a day or two in advance. Combine the apple juice, cider and cinnamon sticks in a large sauce pan, or two if necessary, over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil then turn off and let cool. Once cool, stir in alcohol. For easiest storing, mix the drink well then pour drink back into the apple juice and/or cider containers and store in the fridge. Serve hot or cold.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Bite Out of My Year

I've spent the better part of this year on a journey. One that I didn't expect to take let alone to bring me to where I am today. In January, life brought me to a new apartment in a new area of my favorite neighborhood as well as to a new job in an old familiar neighborhood. Thus my journey began.

On the home front, I was happy to discover my morning commute would be easier and beyond thrilled to find I am conveniently located near an amazingly large suburban-like supermarket!! The foodie fanatic in me was ecstatic.  Later in the year, in an unexpected twist I got Hillery as my roommate, of sorts! She moved in the apartment directly across the hall and it's absolutely amazing! Imagine having a super awesome roommate with twice the space and privacy. It has become a match made in heaven. Where else in NYC can you go borrow a cup of sugar from a neighbor and not be concerned??

On the work front, I landed a job at The American Cancer Society just after the new year and began two days after my birthday. I soon learned that I work with some really awesome people, a few who've turned into great friends. On top of that, it's an amazing feeling to know that the work you do each day is in some way helping so many people battling all forms of cancer. In September I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to support ACS on a larger scale. After raising over $1,500 for the American Cancer Society, I rapelled 470 feet down the side of a building in Jersey City, NJ. It was an incredible experience that I'll never forget.

This journey also took me to Haiti, on stage at a date auction fundraiser for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, to medieval times, the Color Run, numerous work galas, Googa Mooga, Gov Ball, through Hurricane Sandy, out late nights with new and old friends and to tons of restaurants around NYC.

Obviously, my busy schedule kept me from regularly cooking at home and provided hardly any time to focus on my blog. However, I never went hungry and continued to cook when I could and enjoy meals out when I couldn't. I was sure to capture as many of my experiences as possible because even though this blog was not my first priority, it was still on my mind.

And with that, I am back!! I've taken the time to think long and hard about this blog and have realized how much I miss working on it. I love sharing new recipes I make and also plan to share with my readers the wonderful meals I've experienced while dinning around the city. In the coming days, I will be back to full speed recapping you on my first ever home cooked Thanksgiving and plenty of other good eats thereafter. In the meantime, check out some my above highlighted memories of this year!

Top left: Rappeling in Jersey City, Top right: Medieval Times, Bottom: Haiti

Top: The color Run, Bottom left: Gov Ball, Bottom Right: Googa Mooga

Top left: Date acution, Bottom left: Night out with friends, Right: Posing before a gala