Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's A....

GIRL!!!! We are so excited - tickled pink to be exact. I seriously can not wait to see this beautiful little baby girl we have created. And to start shopping! I already almost bought her this sweet little red taffeta gown with a faux white fur collar for NEXT Christmas. The obsession has started people! But I resisted. Well, that's not entirely true. They didn't have her "size" - or well, the size she should be come next Christmas. Oh well. I'm sure there will be plenty more to choose from when the time comes.
It's going to be a fabulous new year! I don't really know how 2010 can be topped. We are going to dinner out and then getting home early to snuggle by the fire and watch the ball drop. Hopefully I can keep my pregnant butt up till midnight! But if not, then that's ok too. Enjoy and a happy, healthy New Year to everyone!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Homemade Crab Ravioli

Oh homemade crab ravioli, why haven't we met sooner?? This was one of those dishes that just blew my family away. My mom ate two servings of ravioli! I've never seen her eat so much pasta in my life - she's one of those health conscious, figure-watchers blah blah blah. We were all powerless against it! It made an elegant and delicious pasta course for our traditional Italian Christmas dinner.
Not only was the pasta light and tender, but the filling was delicious. I used lump crab meat, ricotta cheese, fresh basil and diced red pepper. I made a vodka tomato sauce to cover these little morsels. I'm not going to lie - it was a lot of work to make the fresh pasta dough. I had a hand crank pasta sheet roller and spent nearly two hours rolling out dough, stuffing the ravioli and pressing them to form a tight seal. One thing I can say that made the process much quicker and smoother was a ravioli form. You can find them at Williams-Sonoma or online from any site that sells kitchen equipment. It makes all the ravioli the same size and helps you determine how much filling to put in each one.
These tasty ravioli are well worth the effort though for a special family meal. They won't soon be forgotten! I found the recipe here.
The instructions are pretty straight-forward. I doubled the filling and pasta recipe and came out with nearly 72 ravioli - I think this was due to the fact that I rolled the dough as thin as I could without it breaking. Good luck and here are some step-by-step photos that will hopefully help you in the process should you decide to make some of your own. Enjoy!
(And one tip - these ravioli really are done once they float to the top. It won't take long, so you'll be surprised when they float up within two minutes and if you're like me, you'll wonder if they are really done. Take my word, yes they are. They cook up perfectly aldente.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Williams-Sonoma's Homemade Meatballs with Spaghetti

They get me every time. Every month the beautiful Williams-Sonoma catalog arrives and is chock full of sparkling merchandise and mouth-watering recipes. I equate its arrival to the Big Sears Toy Book of my childhood - funny how interests change? Although, when I was little I would eye up those play kitchens (which I never got, so deprived!) and the Easy Bake oven (which I also never got, again so deprived!) every single year until I was like 12. So I guess things don't change that much.
Either way, I always end up saving the catalogs because they mesmerize me with the featured recipes. On top of the great photography, I've never been disappointed by any of the recipes I've tried. I must say that Williams-Sonoma is a quite trustworthy source for no-fail recipes that range from weeknight dinners to fancy entertaining dishes. This recipe for homemade meatballs was no exception. My husband actually spotted it first - yes, I've even got him in the habit of perusing the W&S catalog for good-looking recipes - and insisted that I make them soon.
Last week was cold and dreary, the perfect time for a hearty, homey meal like spaghetti and meatballs. I made the meatballs exactly as the recipe stated, except for the size. It denotes that the recipe makes 10 meatballs. Those would have to be some HUGE meatballs. I was able to make 20 good-size meatballs out of the beef mixture. Needless to say, I froze 14 of them for future use. These were moist and tender, and the cheese cube in the center was the decadent finish.
In a word - superb. I made my own homemade marinara and used store-bought spaghetti to complement the meatballs. So don't throw out this month's W&S catalog. Flip through and get sucked in...you know you won't be able to resist it!

Homemade Meatballs with Spaghetti
source: Williams & Sonoma
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups torn pieces crustless white bread (1/2-inch pieces)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 lb. ground beef
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
5 oz. mozzarella cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes

7 cups tomato sauce
1 1/2 lb. spaghetti, cooked and drained
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving
In a large sauté/simmer pan over medium heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the onion and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Let cool.

In a bowl, combine the bread and buttermilk. Add the ground beef, onion mixture, parsley, thyme, 2 1⁄2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper and mix with your hands until cohesive. Form the mixture into 10 meatballs. Stuff a cheese cube into the center of each one, then reroll the meatball.

In the same pan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil. Working in 2 batches, brown the meatballs, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium, pour the tomato sauce into the pan and add the meatballs. Simmer, turning the meatballs once, until they are cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes.

Divide the spaghetti among individual bowls and top with the sauce and meatballs. Pass the cheese alongside. Serves 5 to 6.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another snowy weekend

Maryland, and most of the Mid-Atlantic, got hit by a huge snowstorm over the weekend. We have over a foot of snow out our front door! We spent the day inside yesterday, just staying warm and watching the snow fall. I fixed us a lazy, snowy morning breakfast of slow-scrambled eggs, homemade buttermilk biscuits and bacon. Yum!
Today the sun finally came out and the great shovel began! Well, my husband shoveled while I walked around and took some pics of the snow with my new zoom lens. How beautiful! While snow can be a pain in the butt in terms of navigating it and shoveling it and all that, it does create a pretty picture. And what's better than a white Christmas?? We haven't had one of those in years. So happy snow day!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Cookies

I have had the past week off from work and spent one of those days baking Christmas cookies. I picked a wide assortment, mainly from one of my old Rachael Ray magazines and from one of my favorite blogs. Below I present the first three I have baked. Next up - fig and pistachio biscotti from Proud Italian Cook!!
Meanwhile, here are some sweets to make your Christmas a bit more merry. Enjoy! Oh and beware of the Pecan Caramel Surprises. Two tips I can offer - wait until they cool to remove them from the baking sheet, otherwise they crumble miserably. Second - be careful when biting into them later, they are very chewy and could easily pull out fillings. So unless you want to be singing "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth" then chew cautiously!

Pecan Caramel Surprise
Rachael Ray Magazine, Dec 08
Click here for the recipe

Cherry Shortbread Cookies
Rachael Ray Magazine, Dec 08
Click here for the recipe

Dark Chocolate-Ginger Crinkles
Rachael Ray Magazine, Dec 08
Click here for the recipe

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Roasted Tomato Soup with Shrimp and Leek Panini

I've been on a major soup and sandwich kick lately. I think because the winter weather has set in and it's just so comforting. And soup can be packed with veggies and vitamins, making it an easy, good-for-you dinner. I saw this soup on Cooking for Real with Sunny Anderson on The Food Network . I loved that she made a roasted tomato soup but incorporated red peppers, garlic and onions. It also looked like a simple soup to make, as she just roasted all the vegetables first and then pureed them with the stock.
The one problem I had with this recipe was putting the hot soup in a blender afterwards to puree it. What a hot mess - literally!! My blender went all Linda Blair in the Exorcist on me and started spouting hot soup like a fire hose! The pressure from the heat of the soup builds up in the blender and you need to use all your strength to keep that lid on - otherwise hello new paint job on your kitchen ceiling. Ugh. So to avoid exploding soup, I think the next time I make this (if I don't get that immersion blender from good ole' St. Nick this Christmas) then I'll probably wait till the roasted vegetables cool and then puree them in a food processor or blender, separate of the rest of the soup. Then I would whisk the pureed vegetables into the warm stock and go from there. I think you'd get the same result without the risk of third-degree burns from projectile soup shooting out of the top of your blender. Or perhaps I'm the only one who has had a problem with blending hot soup....it's very possible. Oh well, from one kitchen calamity comes future success, or let's hope at least.
I made simple grilled paninis to go with the soup. I picked up some shrimp from the market and combined them with sauteed buttery leeks and garlic and tons of mozzarella cheese for a DELICIOUS panini. What a great combo!! I didn't want the typical grilled cheese and I had a leek leftover in my fridge from the potato soup below and voila - shrimp and leek paninis. My husband and I really liked these sandwiches. Enjoy!

Roasted Tomato Soup
Sunny Andersen, Food Network.com
* 8 Roma tomatoes, halved and seeded
* 2 red peppers, quartered and seeded
* 1 medium onion, quartered
* 8 cloves garlic 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
* 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
* 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
* 6 cups vegetable stock
* 1/4 cup loosely packed chiffonade basil leaves


Special Equipment: Blender or immersion blender

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

On a sheet pan, gently toss together the tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, thyme, 2 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the tomatoes and red peppers, skin side up, and bake until lightly charred, 45 to 50 minutes. In a soup pot, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Stir in the tomato paste and mix well. Add the tomato and pepper mixture, including the juices, and combine. Stir in the stock, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Transfer the soup to a blender* (or use an immersion blender) and pulse in small batches that reach only about a third to halfway up the side of the jar. Be careful to start slow then increase the speed to blitz the ingredients until smooth. Use a separate bowl to hold the blended soup and then return it all to the pot.

Heat the soup to warm through, then ladle into serving bowls and garnish with basil.

*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

Shrimp and Leek Paninis

1 leek, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons butter
8 shrimp, shelled and deveined
salt and pepper
1 cup of mozzarella cheese or Italian blend cheese, shredded
4 slices of sourdough bread

In a saute pan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter and throw in your leeks and garlic. Cook until the two vegetables are softened and then add your shrimp. Season with salt and pepper and toss until the shrimp turn pink. Once the shrimp are cooked, remove from the pan to a plate. I like to cut the shrimp in half lengthwise so they aren't bulky in my sandwich. If you prefer to chop them, then you can do that too. Either way, make sure you have four shrimp per sandwich.
Preheat your grill pan. Slather one side of each piece of bread with the remaining two tablespoons of butter. Assemble your sandwiches. Butter side down, place your first piece of bread on the grill pan. Sprinkle it with about 1/4 cup of cheese and then place your sliced shrimp down on top. Smother with half of the leek mixture and then top with another 1/4 cup of cheese. Then place top bread on, butter side up. Repeat for other sandwich with the remaining ingredients. Place top on grill pan and griddle until crisp and cheese is melted. Remove and serve!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Creamy Potato Leek Soup

For dinner on Sunday night, I made mashed potatoes to go with the rest of our meal. We had about 4 cups of leftover mashed potatoes so I concocted this potato leek soup out of the remaining potatoes. It was delicious! And very thick and creamy. This is the perfect stick to your ribs soup for a cold winters night. Enjoy!

Creamy Potato Leek Soup
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, diced and rinsed thoroughly
1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
4 cups chicken stock
3-4 cups mashed potatoes, however you prepare them (I put butter, cream and garlic powder in mine. If you don't put garlic powder in your potatoes, then you may want to add a teaspoon or so to the soup to flavor it. I used red-skinned potatoes and left the skin on.)
3 tb cornstarch, if needed to thicken up the soup (I mixed it with a little water to make a paste before adding it to the soup)
freshly ground pepper
salt to season
pat of butter (about 2 tablespoons)

For topping:
1 package of prosciutto, crisped up in the oven (put it on a baking sheet and cook for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees)
shredded cheddar cheese
chopped chives

In a soup pot, melt your butter into your olive oil and then add the chopped and cleaned leeks. Saute until softened, about 10 minutes, then add your cream and stock. Allow it to come to a simmer and then whisk in your mashed potatoes. If your soup is too thick, you can add more stock or water. If your soup is too thin, you can thicken it up with a little cornstarch and water, which is what I did because I wanted a thicker consistency. Season well with salt and pepper. Add in your last pat of butter (hey no one said this was low-cal!) and serve. Top your soup with crispy prosciutto, shredded cheddar and chopped chives.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Name Game

We'll be playing the name game soon as I'm almost at 20 weeks and I got a real kick out of this list to live by! Good thing none of our name choices are on EITHER of these lists. But to be honest, I have considered Willow - and Allora - both because I like them and because I did love that Val Kilmer movie. Sigh. Oh well! Anyway, this is all in good fun, so don't take this too seriously. Just for a laugh!

Check out more fun baby stuff at iwanttobeababy.com.
hans: best movie villain ever, there’s nothing cooler
ignatious: get iggy with it
mayo: way better than miracle whip.
typhys: the one, the only…typhys!!
happy: it’s so cute when you say, “happy, stop crying.”
hysteria: oh the tantrums she will throw
mumps: it’s one swell name
hero: who wouldn’t love a baby named after a sandwich?
bum: they all borrow money growing up, so why not?
mary: she’ll be walking on clouds
naught: sometimes you feel like a naught, sometimes you don’t
bill: hopefully no one will ever run out on him
jezebel: all the bad boys will love you
emerson: proves that you’re well read without having to show your book collection
nemo: always against the current
henry: good candy bar and it’s fonzi’s real name
gwendolyn: so bad…it’s good tyranny: she’ll never have to worry about other kids stealing her toys
pharaoh: spoil him rotten or else
madison: a born shopper, will have credit card number memorized by age 6
maximus: born with a big sword
miles: new york marathon, here i come
pirate: don’t forget to put lime juice in his formula
ace: future world poker champion
homer: prefers donuts to teething rings
cannon: a true son of a gun
speck: unless he has pointy ears, then name him Spock
harper: no one will question why they’re bizarre
june: she’ll be a good mom, likely to marry a ward
andromeda: the astrologer in you says, “yes”, the bad speller in you says, “no”
dante: if he has a widow’s peak, you can call it dante’s peak
aloha: it’s much better than, say, pineapple pete
bart: make sure his rattle doubles as a slingshot
elvis: load up on peanut butter and banana baby food
rusty: after a bath, dry thoroughly
abra: i wanna reach out and grab ya

abacus: will always be in the shadow of his cousin calculator
theodora: even “baby names for dummies” excludes this one
aerilyn: is your baby an alien?
nixon: most likely to go by nickname…crook
opal: pretentious cheap gem
ripley: believe it or not. not
cameron: makes you think of Kirk. then you gag.
acne: name his other siblings pus and zit
parker: perfect…for a valet
satchel: bag and tote are better alternatives
kohinoor: american equivalent…pointdexter
brooklyn: will always feel inferior to manhanatties
armani: he’ll never be able to start his own designer label
dandelion: dandelions spread easy. nuff said
sidney: do you really want to name your kid after an ohio city?
shiloh: people named neil will always call your name
innocent: it won’t seem so cute when she’s fourteen and pregnant
mason: why not “plumber” or “roofer”?
warwick: stop the war! give peace a chance
reed: rhymes with greed
indigo: you wouldn’t name your kid “purple” would you?
willow: never name your kid after a val kilmer movie
angel: unless she/he has wings…don’t do it
heaven: her husbands joke will be…life with heaven is hell
infinity: how many mpgs does she get?
gertrude: she’ll grow into it. if she lives to be ninety
jordan: do you really think they’ll “be like mike”?
chastity: see innocent
justice: prison id #54452
jersey: otherwise known as “armpit”
suri: we would make a joke. but tom would have us killed
clementine: eternal sunshine of the thoughtless name
charbonet: your parents really meant chardonay paris: name your children after saints…not sluts

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Italian Wedding Soup

What can be better on a beautiful snowy afternoon than hot, homemade soup?? Pretty much nothing.
Well, except decorating your tree and sipping hot cocoa afterwards, which fortunately we were also able to enjoy. What a perfect marriage of food and festive activities! Speaking of marriage, let's talk wedding soup (brilliant segway I know haha - I should do television news writing!).
Anyway,I was always curious why they called this "Wedding" soup since I had never actually had this at any of my relatives Italian weddings. So I googled it and lo and behold - an answer. Apparently the name of the soup in Italian, Minestra Maritata, has been misconstrued in English. Surprise - we butchered a foreign language yet again! Oh well. Anyway, it really means "Well-married Minestrone". Say what? Yeah, that doesn't really make much sense at first (now you can see why we came up with our own interpretation), but there really is a simple explanation. The soup was named so because of the great flavor pairing of greens and meat in a soup. They were made for each other - or as Neaopolitans say, "maritata". So there you have it! A little food history for you to swallow with this delicious soup.
This may not be the traditional version of this classic soup, but it's the version I grew up with. It includes tortellini, mini meatballs, and a mix of greens (spinach, swiss chard, or whatever you prefer). I made a huge batch of this and froze half of it. Having never frozen soup before I wasn't sure how this would work. Surprisingly, it freezes pretty well. And makes for a easy weeknight meal on a busy night. I served mine with some buttery garlic bread. If you're looking for a comforting, hearty soup that is truly a meal in a bowl then look no further! Enjoy! And here's a pic of our tree! Hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas season so far. Merry merry!!

Italian Wedding Soup

For the Meatballs (makes about 20 meatballs)
1/2 pound ground beef
3 to 4 Italian sausage links (depending on size), casings removed
1 egg
small handful of bread crumbs to bind
small handful of grated romano (or parm) cheese to season
chopped fresh oregano or a teaspoon of dried
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper

For the Soup
2 carrots, shredded
1/2 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt and pepper
4 cups chicken stock
6 cups water (You can use ALL stock if you want, I just only had 4 cups on hand so I had to go with water for the rest. Up to you! I found it just as flavorful with out - less salty this way)
1 pound of cheese tortellini
1 can of diced tomatoes with the juice
1 can of cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
1 pound of greens (I buy the bag of swiss chard and other greens that come pre-cut and washed at Trader Joe's)
plenty of grated parmesan or romano cheese for serving

First - make your meatballs. Combine the ground beef and sausage with your egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, oregano, garlic and season with salt and pepper. Once meat is well mixed, begin forming meatballs - about the size of a large tablespoon each. I made mine about the size of a golfball - which is bigger than normal, but I was just being lazy. If you have more patience than me, then truly they should be about the size of a marble so they can fit on your spoon.
Lay the meatballs in a nonstick pan or on a nonstick baking sheet and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, depending on size, until they start to brown. You can also brown them in a pan if you prefer, but I just think it's easier to bake them. Less mess. If you make the meatballs small enough - ie marble size, you can just throw them in your boiling stock/water and let them cook that way. Since mine were bigger and I wanted to make sure they cooked the whole way through, I browned them first in the oven and then dumped them in the hot tub where they could finish cooking.

While your meatballs brown, you can start cooking the vegetables in the bottom of a large stockpot. Throw your shredded carrots, onion and garlic into the pot with your olive oil. Once they start to sweat, add your tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper and then pour in your stock and water. Bring the soup to a boil and add your tortellini and meatballs. Once tortellini has cooked to aldente, add in your tomatoes, beans and greens. Once the greens have wilted down, your soup is ready to serve.

Ladle into bowls and top with a generous spoonful of grated cheese.