Category Archives: Uncategorized

Honey Mustard for Your Honey

Happy Valentine’s Day! Even though I love all things pink, red, heart-shaped and sparkly, I’m not a huge Valentine’s Day fanatic. Oh, I sent some of my friends and family members the usual handmade Valentines, I’ll be wearing my red scarf all day and I’ll be making a special dinner for my husband tonight, but there will be no table scape dripping with hearts or romantic iPod mix playing in the candlelit background. I know. Perhaps I’m not as fun as you might have thought.

However, this IS a Valentine’s Day post – I swear! Honey mustard holds a special place in my husband’s and my romantic beginning. On our first date, he took me to a Phillies game (well, I guess here in Phoenix it’s considered a Diamondbacks game). The Phillies are my hometown team and I thought it was a great first date idea. We ended up talking through the whole game and he claims that we missed a grand slam because we were so into our conversation. Most of it consisted of him asking me questions about myself. Usual first date stuff. Not surprisingly, many of his questions pertained to food. At one point he leaned in close, looked me in the eye and asked, “How do you feel about honey mustard?” Lucky for me, I absolutely love honey mustard. Lucky for him, too, because as he tells it, this was a deal breaker question. It could be said that a second date and our entire future hinged on my feelings about honey mustard. Obviously I passed the test, but we still laugh about his blunt honey mustard inquiry. He says he was kidding about how important my answer was to him…but I guess we’ll never reallllly know.

In celebration of Valentine’s Day and all things sweet, here is my recipe for homemade honey mustard…the condiment that caught me my honey.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup dry mustard
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cup mayonnaise

Directions:

The night before:

Mix together apple cider vinegar and dry mustard and let stand overnight.

The next day:

Add sugar and eggs into the mustard and vinegar mixture.

Whisk the mixture and bring to a boil until thick.

Cool mixture and add mayonnaise.

Pour into a plastic condiment bottle and keep refrigerated.

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Whole Wheat Turkey Lasagna

Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve ever made lasagna. I’ve always liked it, but it seemed like a lot of fuss for something that was made out of noodles and ground meat. Though out of sheer boredom from including penne, rigatoni or ziti in my weekly menus, I decided to give it a try.

My husband and I  agreed that it should be a healthier version, meaning substituting regular noodles for whole wheat noodles and ground beef for ground turkey. That being said, I used whole fat cheeses in order to keep most of the flavor and richness for which lasagna is known (and craved). In order to come up with this recipe, I stitched together a few different ones that I  came across online, from my best friend and on the back of the lasagna noodle box. I think it works really well and my husband likes it so much that he eats the leftovers for lunch, a snack and dinner the next night!

P.S. The garlic bread is the Texas toast from – Walmart! It’s pretty much the only thing I go to Walmart just to get. It’s in the specialty bread section and here in Phoenix it’s about $4 for a double loaf of it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box whole wheat no-boil lasagna noodles (15 noodles)
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1.5 jars pasta sauce
  • ½ cup water
  • 15 oz. tub ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. chopped oregano
  • 2 tsp. chopped basil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½  tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper

Directions:

In a large skillet brown ground turkey.

Stir in 1 jar of pasta gravy, simmer 10 minutes, but don’t cook off too much of the sauce.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, 1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, oregano, basil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Spread about 1/3″ of pasta gravy in the bottom of a 13×9 glass baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles vertically over sauce, overlapping edges.

Spread 1/3 cheese mixture over noodles, then spread about ¾ cup of the meat/gravy mixture.

Repeat layers, beginning and ending with pasta. Top with remaining meat/gravy mixture, sprinkle with remaining ½ cup mozzarella cheese and add additional Parmesan cheese is desired.

Cover with foil. Bake 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove foil and bake for about 10 min. longer, or until lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with a Caesar salad, Texas toast and a glass of wine! You also can bake in two separate loaf pans (just split the ingredients and do layers of two noodles lengthwise in each loaf pan) and freeze one for a future meal.

Easy Tortellini and Spinach Soup

Tortellini and Spinach Soup

This soup seemed so easy to make that I almost didn’t make it. It’s cheating, I thought to myself. I can barely consider it homemade. I certainly couldn’t blog about it. It looked so delicious that I  decided to make it, but I vowed to keep it my own shameful secret.

Though I  can keep a secret, I obviously didn’t want to keep this one! It was so good that my husband and I had to play paper rock scissors to see who got the last bowl. It’s the perfect dinner soup to get you through the winter blahs and to fill your belly with something warm and delicious.

This soup is from my Williams Sonoma soup book, but coincidentally, their blog featured it last week. They use tri-colored tortellini and escarole, but I went the healthier route and used whole wheat tortellini. I also chose spinach over escarole and I really like the texture and flavor of it better.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 9 ounces fresh tortellini (I use whole wheat tortellini)
  • 1 medium bag of baby spinach leaves (6 to 8 ounces)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

 Directions:

In a large heavy pot bring the broth and 2 cups water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the tortellini, cover and cook until al dente, 4 to 5 minutes, or according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the spinach leaves into strips.

When the tortellini are done, add the spinach and season with salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, until the spinach soft, about 2 minutes. Serve garnished with the Parmesan.

Perfect Party Pizza

Happy New Year! I know, I know, it’s Jan. 13 and I’m posting my first recipe of the year 13 days in because on New Year’s Eve I came down with the World’s Worst Cold. Then – surprise – my husband caught it. Sometime last week, while on a Theraflu/Tylenol high, I offered to cook dinner when my father-in-law came to visit us last weekend. Thank goodness for the NFL playoffs! Playoffs are the perfect excuse to make laid back finger foods – like I am doing everyone a huge favor by thoughtfully and selflessly preparing the easiest foods I can think of!

Did you know that I worked at a family-owned pizza shop for eight years? Pizza still is one of my very favorite foods, but I am very, very choosy about what constitutes good pizza. Here is my easy, but delicious, method of the perfect party pizza. Keep on reading below the recipe – I’ve put together some quirky and creative pizza ideas for your parties this year. They are perfect to serve at your academy awards party, your book club meeting, your Valentine’s Day dinner (think heart-shaped pies), your girls’ night in or your ladies poker night.

And, in case you’re wondering, YES. Yes, I can toss my pizza dough into the air and catch it.

Pizza Dough: I used Safeway pizza dough and I thought it was great. Trader Joe’s also makes a good one. You also can usually buy fresh pizza dough from your local pizza shop for a couple of dollars. For the pizzas pictured above, I used half of a pizza dough for each one. This works well if you want to make a variety of pizzas for your guests to sample. For a family dinner, you can make one large pie.

Pizza dough tips: Keep your dough cold in the refrigerator. Take it out a few minutes before you’re ready to use it, but don’t let it warm to room temperature. It becomes gooey and thin and difficult to work with. You want a cool workable, dough.

Basic Pizza Sauce:

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ tbs. olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 14 oz. can roma tomatoes, drained and diced
  • ½ Tsp. oregano
  • ½ tsp. basil
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 pinch sugar (add more to taste)

Directions:

Heat oil and brown garlic. Add tomatoes, oregano, basil, salt, pepper and sugar. Add more sugar for a sweeter sauce. Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes until sauce thickens.

Pizza Sauce Tips:  I doubled this recipe to make the four smaller pizzas. I had just enough sauce for all four. If you like a saucier pizza, I suggest either making more of this recipe or buying grocery store pizza sauce (this is different than spaghetti sauce), which is a thicker saucier consistency, rather than the chunkier consistency of my homemade sauce.

You can make your sauce ahead of time since it will heat up when you cook your pizzas. This can be a time saver that allows you to spend more time with your guests!

To make your pizza:

Start with a cold pizza stone in a cold oven. Preheat your oven with the stone in it to 500 degrees (your stone could crack if you place it into a hot oven).

Prepare a lightly floured work surface. A baking mat or parchment paper held down with scotch tape works well. To make smaller pizzas, cut the dough in half, using one cut through the middle. Cover your entire pizza dough lightly with flour. Take one half of the dough and using the pads of all of your fingers, press down and outwards in even strokes. This will start flattening and spreading your pizza crust. Do this evenly over the whole surface – this will help prevent air bubbles from rising up and pushing away your sauce and cheese while it cooks. Try to maintain and form a round shape while you’re doing this step. Do not fold or cut dough into pieces to attempt shaping. This will make your dough uneven and will cause tears in the dough when you are ready to stretch it.

Next, pick up the dough and without stopping, run your pointer finger and thumb around the edge of it and pinch down lightly, while rotating it through those fingers with your other hand. This forms the pizza’s crust. Your fingers should slide easily over the dough since it is covered in flour. Make sure you’re sliding the dough, not pulling it.

Next, make two fists (you may want to throw a bit of flour on top of your knuckles). Sit the dough on top of your left fist, while using your right fist to rotate the dough in a circle and lightly stretching it outwards. This will expand your dough to its actual pizza pie size. Make sure to keep the dough rotating at all times. Remember to use fluid stretch/rotate motions and don’t pull or tug. Letting the dough sit on your fist will cause it to fall through and you’ll have a huge hole in it. Using fluid motions will result in evenly stretched dough.

At this point, you may have some thin spots or even some tears in your dough. It should be ok. Don’t re-roll your dough and start over. Put your dough down on your lightly floured pizza peel. If you have any tears, you can stretch one side of the tear over to cover the hole. Press down to adhere. You may also use a bit of water to make the dough stick together. Don’t leave any tears in your dough. While cooking, the sauce will bleed through and your pizza will stick to the pizza stone and rip when you try to remove it.

Cheat alert: In lieu of the stretch/rotate step above, you can use a lightly floured rolling pin to flatten your dough. This might be safer for a beginner, but there will be a difference in the texture and consistency of this pizza crust versus the hand-tossed pizza crust.

Use a ladle to spread sauce on your dough in a circular motion, working from the center, out to the start of the crust (this is the seam that you created when you pinched around the edge of the dough earlier).

Sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese over the sauce. For a margherita pizza, use slices of fresh mozzarella. Add any toppings on top of the cheese.

At this point, you can slightly adjust the shape of your pizza. It will stay better with all of the toppings on it. To make a heart-shaped pizza, use your finger to make a dip in the top center. Then, lightly push in the sides to make the bottom point of the heart.

Pick up your pizza peel and tilt the handle upwards and shimmy it lightly to transfer the pizza onto your pizza stone in the oven. Cook until the cheese is melted and your crust is cooked to your desired crispiness.

To remove your pizza from the oven, position your pizza peel at the bottom of it and use two fingers to pull the pizza by the crust onto the peel. Do this quickly and use your fingertips so you don’t burn yourself. Transfer your pizza onto a pizza tray or a cutting board and slice immediately.

Remember to lightly flour all surfaces again when you make each pizza. Don’t use too much, though, or you’ll have a layer of flour on the bottom of your pies.

Making the perfect pizza takes practice! Working with the dough is an art and getting your sauce right, the perfect amount of cheese and cooking it to the perfect amount of crispiness all take practice. Don’t get discouraged and have fun!

As promised here is a list of some quirkier pizzas you can try.

Breakfast pizza: pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, scrambled eggs and bacon

Buffalo chicken pizza: pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and cut-up chicken tenders soaked in hot wing sauce. Try dipping your slice in bleu cheese dressing as you eat it!

Cheeseburger pizza: pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, ground beef, sliced provolone cheese and diced onion

Chicken and broccoli alfredo pizza: pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and chicken and broccoli tossed in alfredo sauce

Fig and goat cheese pizza: olive oil, minced onion, dried figs, chopped thyme, goat cheese

White pizza with tomato and broccoli: olive oil, minced garlic, mozzarella cheese, sliced tomato and broccoli

Homemade Hanukkah Applesauce

Happy Hanukkah! My husband is Jewish and last night for dinner I made latkes (potato pancakes), along with some some other traditional Jewish food. Admittedly, my husband didn’t grow up with any strong religious traditions, but he really appreciates that I make sure Hanukkah doesn’t get lost amongs my (many) Christmas celebrations.

Confession: since I’m not too familiar with making or eating latkes, mazo ball soup, challah bread and blintzes, I either made these things from a box recipe or I bought them fresh from a bakery. However, I wanted something to be made from scratch, so the applesauce it was! I also was delighted to find out that I already  had all of the ingredients right here at home. This applesauce took a few guesses, but I was familiar with the basics. I thought it came out great and my husband actually asked me to make more just to have as a snack!

Note: you can adjust the amounts of sugar and cinnamon depending on the kind of apples you use and how sweet you want it to be. To make a creamer applesauce rather than a chunky one, which I  like, use a food processor or hand mixer instead of a potato masher.

Ingredients:

  • 4 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • ¾  cup water
  • ¼ cup granulated white sugar
  • ½ tsp.  ground cinnamon

Directions:

In a large pot add all ingredients. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until apples are very soft. Remove from heat and let cool. Drain water and mash with a potato masher. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Spinach, Pear and Shaved Parmesan Salad

I love planning dinner party menus. Putting together a fun and unique combination of appetizers is always enjoyable and there are so many from which to choose. The entree requires a bit more thought, but it’s definitely the “meat” of the menu (no pun intended) and you know when you’ve found “the one.” The sides follow easily after that. And deciding on just the right dessert is – let’s face it – the icing on the cake. But for some reason, I seem to get stuck on the salad course. It’s always always the very last thing I add to my menu. I always change my mind a few times. I’m not sure why this is. Is it because I’m so clever and intuitive as to how a salad course should compliment and build up to the entree and dessert that I wait until last to decide? Probably not. Is it because so many salad courses include cheese and nuts and I’m a sensitive hostess who takes all potential food aversions very seriously? I do, but really, that’s not why. Is it because the dinner salad, put simply, just isn’t the sexy part of the meal? Perhaps.

This is where I got stuck last Thanksgiving during my menu planning. I had chosen a bean and kale salad at first – and  just typing those words makes me thankful that I  gave it a second thought. I finally found this spinach, pear and shaved Parmesan salad on BHG.com and I had that menu-planning Eureka! moment. And it didn’t disappoint. It’s so easy to make and it looks so beautiful on the dinner table. The tart mustard dressing is a perfect pair with the sweet slices of pair.

If you’re still stuck on your salad course for this weekend’s big dinner, I hope that this can maybe be your Eureka! menu moment.

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 Bosch pear, quartered lengthwise, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 oz. Parmesan or Parmesano Reggiano cheese, shaved (you can do this ahead of time with a vegetable peeler and room temp cheese)
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. whole-grain mustard
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Combine spinach, pears and cheese. For dressing, whisk together vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and sugar. Whisk in oil. Drizzle on salad and pass remaining.

Makes eight servings.

Tomato-bread Soup with Basil Oil

I went to Rome, Florence and Venice this summer and I expected to come back armed with dozens of recipes and gobs of inspiration. As much as I loved my experience there and feel very lucky to even have been able to go, I was a little deflated and uninspired when I returned. For one thing – it was hot and humid and very crowded. It also was very touristy and the food, though delicious, was very much the stereotype pizza, pasta and tempura fried seafood. I am happy to have added three new books to my regional cookbook collection, but honestly – I haven’t cracked open one of those books.

Over Labor Day weekend I went to Sausalito and San Francisco. I fell in love with the people, the food, the city, the bay – everything. I couldn’t get enough of downtown Sausalito, the San Francisco skyline, the bay breeze, North Beach, Nob Hill, Chinatown, Union Square – everything! I could write an entire blog post about my new crush named San Francisco, but I’ll just say that I highly recommend Cavallo Point Resort in Sausalito and the Westin St. Francis at Union Square in the city. I also very highly recommend the three-story Williams-Sonoma in the Union Square area (as well as the Tiffany, but that’s like six more blog posts). I think I may have started singing a song from “The Sound of Music” and spinning in circles with my arms held out as I entered the store, completely and happily overstimulated by the three stories of utter home-making pleasure. In the end, I walked away with the 303-paged, “Soup of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year.” Probably not the most lightweight souvenir, but my husband bought it for me saying, “This is to help you remember our ‘souper’ trip.” How could I refuse?!

The first recipe that I decided to make was this tomato-bread soup with basil oil. Commonly known as pappa al pomodoro, this is a Tuscan classic. Go figure that it took a trip to San Francisco to inspire me to cook something that represents my trip to Italy. You can find this recipe on page 204.

This soup turned out delicious. It’s surprisingly hearty, mostly due to the homemade bread croutons and minced vegetables. It’s pretty easy to make, but there’s a fair amount of prep work involved with the veggies, basil oil and fried basil. I cut the veggies a little bigger than the “minced” size it was calling for, hoping that my husband would find it filling enough. It was worth every teary-eyed onion chop, though, and has motivated me to open those Italian cookbooks!

For the basil oil:                                                                                                                       1 cup (1 oz./30 g) packed basil leaves                                                                                 3/4 cup (6 fl. oz./180 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

1 loaf country-style bread, crusts removed, cut into 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) cubes            Salt and freshly ground pepper                                                                                            6 Tbsp. (3 fl. oz./90 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling                        3 celery ribs, minced                                                                                                               3 white onions, minced                                                                                                          2 carrots, peeled and minced                                                                                                2 cloves garlic, minced                                                                                                           2 Tbsp. tomato paste                                                                                                              2 lb (1 kg) plum tomatoes, peeled (see my pasta caprese post), seeded and coarsely chopped                                                                                                                     1 tsp sugar

TO MAKE THE BASIL OIL, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Have a bowl of ice water ready. Set aside eight to 12 of the basil leaves. Blanch the remaining leaves in the boiling water for about 10 seconds. Drain and plunge into the ice water. Drain again, and squeeze the leaves to remove as much of the water as possible. Transfer to a blender (I used my Kitchen Aid hand blender attachment), add the oil and pulse until the mixture is a uniform green. Strain the basil through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth.

TO MAKE THE BREAD CROUTONS, preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Arrange the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes.

MEANWHILE, in a large heavy pot, warm 4 Tbsp. of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the celery, onions, carrots and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are softened, but not browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for five minutes. Add the tomatoes and sugar and season with salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the toasted bread cubes and six cups of water to the pot. Stir to combine with the vegetables, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, and cook, uncovered and stirring often, until the bread has softened, about 15 minutes. Whisk the soup vigorously to break up the bread cubes (you can use a large whisk or even a potato masher). Keep warm.

IN A SMALL FRYING PAN, warm the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat. Add the reserved basil leaves and fry, turning once, until crisp and slightly translucent, 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain and cool.

SERVE THE SOUP, garnished with the fried basil and drizzled with basil oil. Don’t skip this step – the fried basil adds a great crispy texture as an accent to the soup.