Monday, December 29, 2008

No DB Yule Log, but I did Make My First Timpano!!!!

Recently, I joined the amazing Daring Bakers community. The first month challenge of my membership was a French Yule Log complete with a creme brulee, mousse, frosting, ganache and praline crisp; all of which I have never made before. While this 14 pg. recipe did intrigue me and I even prepared for it, there was another beast I HAD to tackle this Christmas season: THE TIMPANO! So alas, there was no Yule Log but there was Timpano. :)


When I was a pre-teen a movie called Big Night produced by Stanley Tucci was released. Many people whom have made a Timpano reference this film as their inspiration and I am no different. Big Night was one of my mother's favorite movies so I often remember how much this movie about the love and passion of food and family made her smile, so in her honor (and because I couldn't see her or even speak to her this past holiday) I embarked on the Timpano for Christmas Eve dinner for the Triolo family party. Just a note: timpano is named after its similar shape to that of a timpani drum.

I wish I had pictures of my two-day endeavor, so in lieu of photos here is a list of my cooking and prep steps:

Day 1
  • 2 qt. of Homemade Marinara from fresh plum tomatoes, some canned puree, onions, garlic, olive oil and spices. Simmer for 4 hours.
  • 1.5 lbs of Peppers and Onions Sausage, cut and cooked in the marinara.
  • 2 lbs of Pork and Beef Meatballs cooked in pan
  • 2 large Red Bell Peppers chopped
  • 1 large Sweet Onion chopped
  • 1 cup chopped Flat Leaf Parsley
  • 8 Hard Boiled Eggs
  • 1.5 cups of cut Provolone Cheese
  • 1 lb of Fresh Mozzerella sliced
  • 1 cup of Pecorino Romano Grated Cheese
Day 2
  • 1.5 lbs. of Penne Pasta cooked halfway
  • 2 large Fresh Pasta Sheets mixed and rolled out very thin (holy arm workout!)
  • Pasta Shells put into a 9"x4" round cake pan and a loaf pan, generously greased
  • Mixed Penne with Marinara
  • Started the Layering in both pans: Penne first, marinara, meatballs and sausages, three cheeses, red peppers, onions and parsley, eggs, poured in 3 beaten eggs, more pasta, more marinara.Fold pasta sheet ends on top.
  • Bake at 375 degrees for 45min-1hr or until they are golden brown.
  • Let rest in pans for 30mins.
  • Take off pans and let rest another 30 minutes before cutting and serving!!
The Timpano's Guts!

Seeing the entire Timpano was a crowning achievement for me. I really feel like I would have made my mom proud if she could see what I could do in the kitchen. This next sentence is filled with corn, but it felt like I am ready to take my cooking to the next level in 2009. What that means exactly, I have no idea but I am excited to follow my passion to whatever direction its going to take me.
Let's not forget about the cookies for dessert! Mrs. Triolo holds up my cookie plate on my mother's amber antique serving plate. Miss you so much mama!! Even though we are apart know that you are in everything that I do.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ch. 3 - Cookies for Santa to Cookies for All

Now that the truth of why we bake for Santa has been revealed exclusively on LaptopsandStovetops, let's demonstrate one such offering. Namely the cookie spread created by yours truly not only to appease the great Santa Claus but also as gifts for to appease others. Myself and many others applied the theory that if cookies bring luck and survival from Santa, than the same gift could bring the same thing from others.

First, remember the ginger breads from Chapter 1 of the Origins of Christmas Cookie Baking. Second is St. Nick's personal favorite, the almighty Chocolate Chip. Third is a Festa family tradition of Peanut Butter Cranberry Granola Squares. Fourth is a new delight from Eastern Europe, a Cream Cheese Apricot Thumbprint that is less sweet than most Christams cookie offerings. Fifth and final in the offering chain is the Italian delight, the Pingoli.
The final outcome is a mega offering for Santa and co-workers alike! HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND I HOPE WE ALL LEARNED SOMETHING!

Ch. 2 - From Fiery to Fat Santa

Since we have come to know the origins of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus to be an amalgamation of stories from the Greek Orthodox Saint who left coins in the shoes of his worshippers through the English's' adoption of the Dutch Sinterklass to the American commercial star whom brings retail to us revelers each and every December, it is no surprise one of St. Nick's incarcerations has been left out of the historical accounts. And I am here to recant the tale of the fat, French St. Nick.

Many years ago a French Santa made a monumental and destructive move that would change Christmas forever. During the dawn of the French Revolution Santa was about to enter the home of a farm family just outside of town. Upon peering into the front window, he sees a family gathering of shoes signaling their belief in the tradition so Santa systematically tried the front door. Drat! This family has sealed the door shut. This unforeseen mishap happened home after home this year in a new move to secure against nightly revolutionaries gone astray from their aristocratic targets making this December evening a bumbling breaking and entering event one after the other. Santa was furious! All he wanted was to leave coins-out of his own pocket mind you-and he has been foiled, toiled, scratched, and bruised. Instead of trying a cumbersome chimney or window, Santa Klaus broke the front door down and in a hurry and threw the treasured coins onto the ground not even trying to fill the shoes. As he turned to leave and storm out in a huff, his winter wear sleeve caught on the wooden hat rack . With a violent shake, he threw it to the floor and the garments hung to dry flew into the fire catching ablaze instantly, spreading to the rack, and quickly throughout the entire house. Santa fled the scene terrified of what he had done in frustration leaving the family to fend for themselves. Flames engulfed the entire home of wood and hay in merely moments.

When the smoke cleared in the morning, three of the family burned to death while the two youngest picked through the ashes to save any remnant of their full lives the day before. What they found was little but when shrill cries streamed through the air it came to be known that the young children came upon St. Nick's coins forever sealing his myth of devastating homes he visits.

The following year homes all over France left sweets and small gifts to appease the crazed Saint and deter his anger for another year for there was no rhyme or reason why he let fire loose in the good farm family's home. Maids and mothers picked berries and bartered for sugars so that their children and livelihoods were protected. Fathers and sons brought in buckets and buckets of milk to be churned into butter. Pounds of flour was acquired and the wood-burning stoves burned for hours on end. It is said that the fear of St. Nick's fiery rage was so great, women baked for weeks on end to create the most delightful of dishes in the most copious amounts that they could. Eventually, succeeding generations of Santas were men not only drawn to the spirit of holiday giving but also of receiving-more specifically, the offering of free homemade, delicious scrumptious treats resulting in Santas getting fatter and fatter each year. This French ritual made its way to America and has been shared by the citizens and immigrants to the New Land ever since. Over time coins turned to presents and while not another suffered like the French farm family, legend tells pieces of coal are left as a diabolical reminder of what hell fires of death could be if St. Nick starts to not meant to feel jolly upon entering a home on Christmas morning.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stuffing Acorn Squash with Feta Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Acorn squash is one of those seasonal ingredients that makes me so giddy I want to do a jig in store when I see them. The subtle, sweet and mildly nutty flavor of this squash plus its fun shape make it my hands down favorite squash. Earlier this year I posted the acorn squash dip passed down from the Goddess herself, my mother Loretta Festa (did you know 'Loretta' means laurel as in the wreath or the tree? kinda sweet). This time the recipe is all my own. I still wanted to use the squash as a container just like dip, so the obvious idea is to stuff it. But with what? With what morsels of deliciousness will pair well with my lovely, light squash? Why, mashed freakin' potatoes of course!

In my last pizza post, I stated that pizza is a great cupboard cleaner. Well, the same goes for mashed potatoes. The flavor possibilities are literally endless. Here's how this little ditty all came together:

1 medium acorn squash, halved and de-seeded
light brown sugar
Olivio spread (or butter, margarine or olive oil)
5 white potatoes
1/2 cup Feta Cheese
2 garlic cloves
5-6 Basil leaves
1/4 heavy cream
1/8 cup butter or Olivio
coarse ground pepper

Heat the oven to 375.
Half and de-seed the acorn squash. I steam mine first for 7-10 minutes to help with the halving.
Rub butter, spread or olive oil inside and out of the squash halves.
Sprinkle salt, pepper, and light brown sugar inside and out.
In a glass baking dish, but halves flesh side down, cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 12 minutes.
While the halves are microwaving, bring water to a boil in medium saucepan.
Cut up potatoes into large bites and add to the water. Salt the water.
Let potatoes boil until a piece is easily pierced with a fork.
Minced 2 cloves of garlic and chop up basil leaves.
Drain the potatoes, add to mixing bowl.
Add cream, butter, Feta cheese, garlic, basil, salt and coarse black pepper.
Using a potato masher, combine all ingredients until silky smooth.
Take acorn squash out of the microwave and flip the halves over using tongs.
Fill each half with mashed potato and put in the oven.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until the squash starts to brown.
Garnish with a basil leaf, and TA DA YO!

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Feta Garlic Mashed PotatoesI served mine with lemon pepper chicken breasts and it was a fine pairing. You could eat this alone for lunch of have it with a pork chop or even make up your own stuffing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Myth of Christmas Cookie Baking : Ch.1 Origins & Gingerbreads

Ever year at Christmas time, myself and many others are overcome by a trance like state-nay a duty-to make as many cookies as humanly possible. Some of us even work into a hysteria wearily baking for hours on end, covered in flour, with burn marks from our fingers to our forearms striving to not only make the greatest tasting cookie but also to make gluttonous amounts of the little confections. I wonder where this infectious, unavoidable need to bake at Christmas time comes from? In my world, cookie baking would have started as a ritualistic offering to the mighty and powerful St.Nick. If cookies aren't waiting for the great Santa on the eve of Christmas, he will set my house ablaze and fill it with smoke and flames instead of presents and holiday cheer!! However, if Santa receives his wanton cookies than my family and I are free from a fiery death this Christmas and have wrapping paper to tear apart to fill into many trash bags signaling that we live to survive another year. This myth of course has not validity but really puts the pressure on to turn those cookies out! ;)

This year, I am taking part in the cookie ritual and am planning on turning out 9 varieties a'la cookie: chocolate chip, gingerbread, pignoli, Italian sprinkle cookies, cream cheese apricot thumbprints, honey balls, Russian tea balls, granola squares, and chewy sugar cookies. I'm thinking about a tenth for another chocolate cookie because screw Santa and his sack'o'fireballs, I love chocolate!

The first cookies of the year are gingerbread and chocolate chip since both those doughs need refrigeration before baking. I have never ever made gingerbread before so I followed a Soft Gingerbread Cookie from I tried a bite and thought, "Ehh." I want whhaayy more spice so I will at least double up on the ginger and all spice next time. The fun of gingerbread is obviously the decorating. See if you can tell which ones I decorated and which ones Tattoos by Pete decorated?

Given that these cookies are definitely short of glorious, they will not be given to Satan-I'm sorry Santa, as an offering. Instead, we will probably drown them in tea or milk and give them a soggy end. Next time, chapter 2 is chocolate chip cookies : How St. Nick got so fat - STAY TUNED!

Tha Pizza Cutta Presents: Creamed Onions and Spinach Pesto Pizza

Pizza is one of those dishes that is great for cupboard cleaning. "I got a little of this, a bunch of that, and I better use this cheese before it goes bad," and so on until you've got a new and awesome pizza dish that is quick and easy for dinner. And hey, I gotta live up to my name so for the Cream Onions and Spinach Pesto Pizza, I had a bunch of, you guessed it, spinach and onions that needed to be eaten sooner rather than later. I was thinking of side dishes but nothing was WOWING me until I checked up on one of my favorite blogs: Proud Italian Cook and her (Marie's) latest recipe of Roasted Parmesan Creamed Onions. As soon as I read about this dish I knew instantly I was going home to make it for something to do with dinner. Looking back, I wish I had pics of just the onions because their flavor and visual was nothing short of stunning-Thanks Marie!!

Creamed Onions and Spinach Pesto Pizza with Dates and Dry Salami
Once I was in the kitchen cutting up the onions, all the pieces to my pizza starting falling into place like a really fun puzzle. I had spinach, walnuts, and parmesan reggiano so I was going to make a pesto! I had mozzerella and asiago cheese so I had a great melter of a cheese and a great taster of a cheese. I had dry Bianco D'ior salami and dates so I had a variety of toppings for a more full flavor profile and extra texture dimensions. Plus of course I had the package of 2 small Boboli pizza crusts which I honestly always pick up when I am out food shopping. It's like having bread in the house-it's a staple plus they have been fail-safe for me years, and to be honest I haven't gotten that homemade pizza dough just right yet. O_0

Pizza in the back = Dates, Pizza in the front = None, and Featuring our Graffiti Coffee Table Customized by Pete!

Here's my 10 Steps to the Creamed Onion and Spinach Pesto Pizza Pie:
  • First, I followed Marie's recipe exactly only scaling down because it's just me and Pete eating here!
  • Second, I made the spinach pesto. I am sure everybody has their go-to pesto recipe on hand so I wont' bore you guys with mine. However, I will mention that I add lemon juice for zing and to thin out the sauce a bit.
  • Third, preheated the oven to 375.
  • Fourth, laid down the pesto on the Bobolis.
  • Fifth, laid down 2 pieces of deli cut asiago cheese.
  • Sixth, creamed onions went all over the place.
  • Seventh, sprinkling of shredded mozzerella cheese making sure to take it all the way to the edges so it binds all the toppings together.
  • Eighth, placed the chopped dates and salami.
  • Ninth, baked for 35-40 minutes.
  • Tenth, let it cool, did my pizza cutta thing and devoured it!!
And in keeping with the terrible stereotype, BadaBing-BadaBoom, Rachel 'Tha Pizza Cutta' Joyce delicious pizza pie!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Post Thanksgiving Post

While most of the foodie blogging universe has posted their Thanksgiving creations, I dove right into Christmas preparations following the holiday of giving thanks and am just getting to the 'showing' off part. :) For our dinner, I made four dishes: my mother's sweet potato and walnut casserole, cranberry sauce. homemade apple pie, and white chocolate bread pudding. To be clear, my portion paled in comparison to Mr. T's spread of: turkey, homemade gravy, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, string beans and bacon, sauteed mushrooms, and cheddar biscuits plus appetizers of Italian meats and cheeses. Can you say, Mangia!?!?By the way, there was only 5 of us at dinner. Also, you will see the quality of the pictures jump up about 1000% from the sweet potato casserole on. That's because Peter my boyfriend picked up an early Christmas present of a Nikon D90 SLR camera so hooray!

Cranberry Sauce

What is Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce? I know with so much cooking a lot of us opt to buy the pre-made stuff. I had heard that making your own cranberry sauce was incredibly easy so this year I took the plunge and made the following recipe:
  • 12oz of fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup orange juice (no pulp)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • dash of salt
  • Heat orange juice in medium saucepan over medium heat. Dissolve sugar in orange juice. Stir in spices and cranberries. Cook cranberries, they will begin to pop, so watch those eyeballs! Let simmer 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a container and let cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools. If the sauce isn't smooth enough for you and your guests, take a potato masher or even a fork to your sauce. That's it ! See? Easy...

Sweet Potato Walnut Casserole

Every year since I can remember my mom made a sweet potato walnut casserole. It has become the star of our Festa family Thanksgiving meal. This year, my Aunt Annette called me in a panic Thanksgiving morning because she couldn't find the recipe and didn't want to disappoint the rest of the family expecting this side dish/dessert delight. To be sure, this is a popular dish and I've read many, many variations including the marshmallow topping and pecan streusel topping. Here's how we do it (keeping a few things secret):

Sweet Potatoes
  • 2-3lbs. sweet potatoes - peeled, cut, boiled, and mashed
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1/2 pint regular whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Molasses/Walnut Topping
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed walnuts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 4 Tblsp. Molasses
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9"x 13" casserole dish or 2 smaller but total equal in size dishes with a cooking spray to grease. Peel, cut in quarters and boil the sweet potatoes until a fork easily goes through the largest pieces. Drain and put in medium mixing bowl. Add cream, beaten eggs, sugars, and spices and mix until smooth. Transfer contents to greased casserole dishes.
  • In a small saucepan on low heat, heat molasses. Put flour into a small mixing bowl, set aside. Add brown sugar and melt into the molasses. Add butter, cut into tabs and slightly soften. Don't melt the butter all the way down! Pour the molasses mixture into the bowl with flour and add 1 cup of the crushed walnuts. Combine together just enough, don't over mix! Spread the mixture over your sweet potato dish or dishes. Take the remaining 1/2 cup of crushed walnuts and sprinkle evenly on top. Bake for 35 minutes and I promise this will not disappoint!

White Chocolate Bread Pudding (pictured cold here)

For desserts I wanted a challenge so I made two dishes I've never made before: white chocolate bread pudding and homemade apple pie with a cream cheese crust. Both came out much better than I expected but due to the amount of cooking, I didn't get any snaps of the pie! When I read's recipe for white chocolate bread pudding, I just had to try it! The only difference is I did not make the ganache to go on top because I simply ran out of time. However, I am proud to say that not only were both desserts a big hit (Peter couldn't get enough of the bread pudding), but there were also tons of invaluable lessons learned. And that is something I am truly, utterly thankful for!

Monday, November 24, 2008

One Pan Dinner: Feta Spinach Chicken Roulade & Vegetable Drawer Medley

Feta & Spinach Chicken Roulade Dinner with Cornbread Stuffing and Vegetable Drawer Medley

A collection of cookbooks can be a precarious and wondrous thing to have. Precarious because you think, "I'll never get through all of these recipes! What was I thinking?" and wondrous because, "I'll never get through all these recipes! What was I thinking?!" One such cookbook I own is called Restaurant Favorites at Home. Inside this book are many restaurant dishes 'scaled down' in ingredients and preparation to be made in at least an intermediate cook's home. On many occasions I opened that book determined to finish just one of the unbelievably divine dishes inside, and each time I opened that cookbook I closed it feeling intimidated, feeling defeated, feeling as if I had no business cooking at all and will from hereon out surrerender to eating out forever. Past this past Saturday was different-I was hellbent on cooking something out of that book when I stumbled upon the Feta Spinach Chicken Roulade.

I have made several roulades so I was ready for this challenge and thought, "Bring in On fancy cookbook! I ain't scared of you no more!" Liberated and empowered I preheated the oven to 400 degrees, sauteed flat leaf spinach in extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, pounded and trimmed my boneless, skinless chicken breasts, covered those breasts with fat free feta cheese and the cooked spinach and rocked that roll! Don't be afraid to use toothpicks to secure your roll, or roulade, before putting it through the three phases of breading: 1) all purpose flour 2) beaten egg and canola oil 3)bread crumbs.
Once the rolls have been properly breaded, pan fry the rolls in extra virgin olive oil over low heat. Be sure to use tongs to evenly brown the rolls on all sides. Once your color is all even, whack those bad boys on a baking sheet and put them in the preheated oven to continue cooking for 12-15 minutes. Once they are done, take them out too cool so the toothpicks can be fished out and the rolls can be sliced.

But before we get to the cooling and cutting, let's look at the Vegetable Draw Medley. I'll give you one wild guess how I came up with the name. :) Taking the parsnips, celery, and yellow pepper I had just hanging out in the fridge I cut them to similar sizes. Once the chicken roulades are in the overn, put some fresh evtra virgin olive oil in the same pan and bring up to temperature over a medium-high heat. Put in some more garlic and lemon juice then the celery. Let the celery cook for a few minutes before adding the yellow pepper and parsnips.

Vegetable Drawer Medley

Salt and pepper to taste the whole pan and sautee the whole shabang together for about 8-10 minutes and your medley will be fresh, delicious
, and ready for eating! Put some cornbread stuffing on an over safe plate and put it in the preheated oven for 1o minutes to reheat. Cut your chicken, put all three items on a plate, and this one-pan-three-dish-dinner is a meal fit for a queen with little mess to clean up. TAKE THAT Restaurant Favorites at Home Cookbook!!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Cornbread Cinderella Story

Cornbread Stuffing

Remember that spicy cornbread a few posts back? Well, one of my curses in the kitchen is making too much food for a couple. My first years of cooking was for a family of four and taking my amounts down a notch is simply not in my programming. For the spicy cornbread, of course, I made too much and had more than 3/4 of the loaf leftover.

That household of four I cooked for comprised of three kids and one single mom. Times were often very lean, so lean in fact that when we were very young our family's food was provided by our local church. We didn't own a car during that moment in time so after we rode our two bicycles to church services on Sundays then back home, we would dress down, get back on the bikes and head to the rectory for a few bags of staple items. The weekly donation was a ham, white rice, powered milk, peas, pancake mix, peanut butter, honey, and wheat bread. Food became so precious to us after our mother pulled us up and out that we never wasted a morsel of whatever was in the kitchen. Taking that history lesson into account, I now look at leftovers as an exciting way to try new recipes and flavors.

Anybody knows the best thing to do with old bread is make a new stuffing, and with Thanksgiving around the corner this recipe could come in handy for the holiday or after! Originally, I found an Apple Pecan cornbread stuffing from and it fit all my ingredient needs except I needed to make it my own. The recipe follows:
  • 9x7 loaf of cornbread - or what's left of it :)
  • 8 dry oz. of herb-seasoned stuffing
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 tblsp. chopped parsley
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped bartlett pear
  • 3/4 cup peeled and chopped carrots
  • 1/2 chopped large Spanish onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees & butter a 3qt. or 9x13 casserole dish.
  • Chop all veggies, fruit, parsley, and pecans.
  • Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped onions and celery. Salt & pepper to taste.
  • Sautee 10 minutes and take off heat.
  • In a large bowl add crumbled cornbread, stuffing, parsley, salt, and fresh ginger. Use ground ginger if fresh ginger isn't in the cupboard.
  • Mix in onion, celery, and butter mixture then pears, carrots, pecans, beaten eggs, and apple juice. Combine via stirring until thoroughly mixed.
  • Transfer to greased casserole dish.
  • Bake for 35 minutes and serve.
Ciao! Mangia!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sack That Lunch, Save Some $$$

We all know that times, they are a tough, and those purse strings are the tightest that most of us have ever seen. There are lots of ways to cut corners and take control over your personal spending. My number one way to save, coupons and sales baby! While most people think taking a trip to a Walgreen's for their sale prices plus coupon savings on things like shampoo and paper towels, than to the local farmers' stand for cheap and fresh fruits and veggies, and lastly to the supermarket is an outrageous amount of travel-you'd be pleasantly surprised on how much less your weekly food bill will be.

My number two guide to saving $$ on food is to SACK THAT LUNCH! No one knows better than I the 1 hour oasis going out to lunch can bring from that 8 hour office day. However, spending an average of $10 a day will get you to $50 a week in no time plus the regular food bill. Instead of taking that luxurious lunch trip to your local sushi, salad, sandwich, or pizza joint take the time-off hit and bring your lunch because what I'm about to show you will blow your mind and seriously satisfy your wallet. I know the picture below is a bit small to read, but read the large print that says,

Sack Lunch "TOTAL COST - $2.64!!!!"
What you can't read I am about to illuminate you with. Here is a item-price breakdown based on what I bought in the supermarket and the local fruit stand. Let's start all the way to the reader's right-hand side. We have a Handful of Potato Chips from a large 1lb. bag at $2.99, so we averaged this portion at $0.30. Another great tip for taking your salty snacks to work is reuse that ziploc bag. There's enough waste in this world and this way, you're saving money as well as a tinsy bit of the environment.

Next to the chips is a Granny Smith Apple which cost me $.055 since at G&S Produce in Winter Park, FL. You can not go wrong at a local fruit stand. Take the time to find one near you and help support local growers. The can of diet ginger ale is the supermarket brand, but so friggin' what! I guarantee 95% of the time the taste difference won't even matter once you realize how much you are saving. At $2.50 for a 12-pack, this can of Publix Diet Ginger Ale comes in at $.021.

Following our can-can (I just can not resist a pun), is my favorite part of lunch-fat free yogurt. I recently came to fall in love with the velvety, yummy, 100 calorie snack that is yogurt thanks to my Petey Pie! He suggested it as a healthy snack, and I am head-over-heels for yogurt. My Publix Honey Almond Fat Free Yogurt is $0.45, a sweetheart deal of a snack! Our last sack lunch item is a simple half a sandwich. I like half sandwiches to watch calories because I'm not much bigger than small, but looking at how cheap every other lunch item is, if you want a regular size sandwich then dig in! I heart Martin's Potato Bread which costs. $2.49. Dividing that into 12 pieces of bread (an under-estimate) we get $0.21 per slice. Inside this particular halfy is Boar's Head Sharp Provolone at $5.00 for 1/2lb. and Boar's Head Sweet Slice Boneless Ham at $4.50 for 1/2lb. I under-estimated how many pieces come in a 1/2lb. of lunch meat and cheese at 12 pieces per 1/2 lb. At that equation, a piece of Boar's Head of Sharp Provolone cheese is $0.42 and a piece of Boar's Head Sweet Slice Boneless Ham is $0.38. That makes the entire half a sandwich at an over-estimate of $1.10!!!

Not only does spending$2.64 everyday as part of your normal food bill save you over an average of $50.00 per week, it's a healthier choice, and by using your FoodBuzz tote and reusing your ziploc baggie you're also doing the right environmental thing. I call that the perfect trifecta of conservation of food, money, and climate. Hopefully I've convinced you to SACK THAT LUNCH!

HOORAY! I've Been Tagged, Now YOU"RE It!

I was tagged this morning by Jo @ The Adventures of Kitchen Girl

The golden rules of tagging:
# Link to the person who tagged you
# Post the rules on the blog posted
# Write six random things about yourself
# Tag six people at the end of your post
# Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog
# Let the tagger know when your entry is published

1.) I haven't grown an iota since the fourth grade where I topped out at a whopping 5'1".

2.) While I work in gaming, I have an affliction towards being a video gamer probably due to the many, many game controllers and cartridges being thrown at me in the head region by either one of my two older brothers signaling me to 'get away.'

3.) I have 2 tattoos on my back-don't tell anybody else!

4.) I'm not smart enough to finish a cross-word puzzle but I will un-jumble the hell outta the word jumbles.

5.) I <3 <3 <3 graphic novels, but not the traditional superhero genre. I like newer, edgier, alternative types of drama, hero, comedy, and fantasy.

6.) I never met a sweet confection I didn't love.

Now I put the following people under the same pressure to write about themselves - TAG YOU ARE IT: by Ron Martone has great, big flavor recipes. I am going to make his white chocolate bread pudding this Thanksgiving!

Cook Appeal aka Chef E is a wonderful and fully-knowledged, traveled chef, consultant and all around food aficionado. It is so amazing that a food professional takes the time to converse with those of us who putter around in the kitchen after their office job.

Proud Italian Cook is a very, very popular blog that showcases the very best in what makes Italian food the world's most favorite cuisine: fresh ingredients, homemade methods, and keeping the cooking all in the family. Mangia!

Dalla Mia Cucina is a blog full of beautiful recipes and photos. Another Italian food-based blog, I find all of her dishes make me envious that I don't get to eat in her kitchen table every single day.

Life by Chocolate is too tempting to leave out! Remember what I said about sweets and me? Well LbC has so many inspiring dishes and sells his own chocolate. How can you not love it?

NC Foodie captures the southern charm that I have grown to adore after living in FL for nearly 10 years after growing up in the Philadelphia area. Her professor skills show in her highly verbose, detailed posts about the great food she makes.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mystery Pepper = Spicy Cornbread Surprise

A few weeks back Mr. T. (Pete's Dad) gave me some excess hot peppers from his bulk buy. Problem was, he and I didn't know what kind of peppers they actually were yet he warned me, "These are hot!" While I was very intrigued by my new found ingredient, I was nervous to use too much, make a dish too spicy, and ruin dinner for me and Pete. So the peppers sat. And sat. And sat. Until I saw most of the peppers were past their prime and I had to act fast to try at least on of these hot mamas. Going back to my tried-and-true method of checking out the pantry, I saw I had a pouch of cornbread mix and remembered how much I LOVE Spicy Cornbread, and so that's what was made. Since I am ignorant to the type of pepper I used, the following image is the closest I could find to what our peppers looked like, and remember, I only used 1 half of an orange one:
Once Pete taste-tested the orange pepper to let me know it packed some heat, I was ready and started the following recipe.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • 1 Pouch Cornbread Mix
  • 2 tblsps. butter
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3/4 shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 orange hot pepper, de-seeded and chopped up itty-bitty
  • 1/2 can of corn
  • Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until well-mixed and transfer to a greased pan size recommended by the cornbread mix. Put in the oven and bake 14-16 minutes until a golden brown color shows. Once it's out of the oven, take it out of the pan immediately and let sit and cool before serving.
Spicy Cornbread

Is that ALL?!?! Not quite. First, this spicy cornbread was a side to a smoked applewood bacon turkey breast for JennieO and a carrot, parsnip, nutmeg mash I whipped up right quick. However, once this bread sits for a few days, its about to become spicy cornbread stuffing because not-a-one-thing goes to waste in Rachel 'Tha Pizza Cutta's' kitchen!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Sun's Goin' Down, I Got Cakes on the Griddle!

Breakfast for dinner??! What kind of topsy-turvy idea is that? Is my sarcasm coming through? I sure hope so. In our home, I am one half of a couple whom works days and the other half works nights. Still, it is important to me for us to be able to share meals together when we can. So last night at the break of dawn I served up some apple chicken sausage with homemade pumpkin pancakes and applesauce. Thank God I'm a Country Girl! Not really, but I do respect John Denver. How did this breakfast for dinner at the break of dawn come to be you ask?

One of the pains of holiday cooking and baking is shortages at the supermarket. Once its the end of October, everybody wants pumpkin puree. The end of November, just try to find a turkey. You get the point-well, when I went to the store for my pumpkin bread and cupcakes, there were no 15oz cans left; only the bahama mama 30oz. I thought it was better than nothing and took the big girl home. After my delish little cakes and bread were down in the history books, I then had the opportunity to do something fun and new with the leftover pumpkin puree. In addition to craving a new dish, I have been craving chicken and apple sausage. I started to run through good combos with the sausage and then I had the epiphany, "Aha! Pumpkin pancakes!" Naturally I am not the first with this idea so I scoured the wondrous land of the Internet and found several great recipes. Once again, I found a recipe that matches most of the ingredients in my cupboard and adapted it to fit my needs.

Plump Pumpkin Pancakes
The breakdown:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup crushed walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 15oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
Combine the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry in another. Combine both for a smooth batter. Add the walnuts to the total mixture. Take a 1/4 measuring cup for each pancake and put it on a hot griddle at 300 degrees greased with cooking spray. Watch the browning creep up the sides, flip the cake, and let equal cooking time on the other side. Serve with butter and syrup and happy eating!

A few weeks back I tried to make baked apples and something went horribly wrong. I don't think I cooked them long enough and used almond extract which did not jive with the golden delicious apples. Anywho, I had 2 apples lingering that needed attention before they went bad and I went for a classic....

Homemade Applesauce

This was really simple. I had 2 different kind of apples and I found that I liked the combo.
  • 1 Granny Smith Apple & 1 Golden Delicious Apple
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/8 cup white sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
Put all ingredients into a pot and cook over medium heat for 12-14 minutes until apples are soft. Transfer the entire contents into a blender. Puree on high 5-10 seconds and serve hot. All in all, our early morning breakfast-dinner was hearty, healthy, balanced, and damn good if I do say so myself!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Breast in a Biscuit Cozied up by 2 Sides

Before I explain my uberly clever title, I first want to share a picture of Pirate Bobby devouring his found treasure of my sparkling pumpkin cupcake on Halloween night. I just LOVE pictures of people eating my food!!
Ok, gloating aside last week I made three new dishes as a hearty autumn dinner for me and my man Pete. On a typical night when we aren't eating leftovers or out, I scan our food inventory to find the main ingredients for a balanced dinner. I like to have a protein, a starch, and a vegetable or fruit depending on the season. Once I collect the main ingredients, I search through my cookbooks and online recipes to find new, exciting dishes I haven't yet tried to create. In the preceding meal I started with frozen chicken breasts, basmati rice, and carrots.

Once again, I turned to the almighty for, as Tenacious D says, inspirado. Both the chicken and the carrots originated from First, I located Pineapple Chicken Bites because for flavor, I had fresh ginger, honey and pineapple in the cupboard. I did have to go to the store and pick up some crescent rolls, but that was all good as I needed the pumpkin for the previous post and some herbs for the rice dish which we'll get to a bit later. The recipes calls for bites of chicken to be wrapped in individual crescent rools, but bites are a lot of work for dinner. So the I took 2 crescent rolls and made a rectangle on a greased baking sheet, slathered them up with the honey-ginger-pineapple mixture, folded it around a chicken breast cooked up previous in a pan, and voila! I gave you.....

Breast in a Biscuit Cozied up with Honey Ginger Carrots and Pineapples and Herb Basmati Rice
Next time, I most definitely will use some more spices: salt, pepper and and maybe paprika or cinnamon. Since we started the chicken with honey and ginger, I looked up Honey Ginger Carrots, added some pineapple chunks, and we had our first sexy side to cozy up to our breast-in-a-biscuit. Also next time, the carrot dish needs spices for a more full flavor profile. Lastly for this trio of taste there is the herb basmati rice found on Again, I followed this recipe almost to a T. However I doubled the garlic, left out the cheese to cut back on calories, and used fresh cilantro instead of basil. The end result was fresh and delicious. A light little ditty to balance out the fluffy breast-in-a biscuit and the sweet vegetable side. All in all, we gorged ourselves on this Fall delight and wiped each other's faces clean of the breast-in-a-biscuit morsels.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Happy Halloween to All out there!
That's our scary skull jack-o-lantern carved by Pete and I earlier this week. We live in condos so I hope leaving this outside will attract at least 1 trick-or-treater. I just love this time of year as it marks the beginning of the holiday season. In keeping with tradition of both the sweetest of the holidays and my family's long-time love of holiday baking, I decided to take on my first pumpkin bread (which also turned into cupcakes) as well as my first cream cheese frosting all seen in the spread below.
Pumpkin Bread, Cupcakes, and Cream Cheese Frosting
First I must admit that I have an ongoing love affair with Out of all the major cooking sites, and trust me I have been to them all, has the best variety and the best community interaction. Before I start any recipe I read as many reviews as my attention span can handle and then I dive right in! The recipe I used for the pumpkin bread and cupcakes is linked by Amy Posont. The minor changes I made were to the temperature and time as well as the amount of spices. I turned the temp up form 300 to 325 and baked the bread for 1hr. 15min but the cupcakes were done in about 30min. For the spices, I upped the nutmeg and allspice to 2 tsps. and the cinnamon to 3 tsps. Other than that, this recipe is the bees knees and totally easy for a first timer. :0

The cream cheese frosting recipe also came from and is by Susan Lugdon. Once again, the reader reviews were uber helpful and helped me figure out before hand that my pumpkin cupcakes are going to be very sweet so I didn't need to use 5 cups of confectioners sugar. Instead, I used 3 cups. I also chilled the frosting for about 2 hours before heaving it on top of my cupcakes. All that was needed was a candy corn on top and these pumpkin cupcakes are all the Halloween treats me and my family need!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chicago was GOOD to me!

Last week I traveled to a suburb north of Chicago to the Naval Service Training Center in Waukegan, IL directly on Lake Michigan to test a Flood Control Trainer Simulator developer by BBN Technologies and Alion on newbie sailors. In short, we tested 64 sailors and we ended up with great results with means more gaming work between us, our partners, and The Office of Naval Research. So SUCCESS! Hooray! After the two days of testing, I ventured into the city to downtown Chicago to hang out with my brother Jeremy because coinicdentally, he is working in Chicago too. We got a room at The Palmer House Hilton on E. Monroe St. and hit the town! Check out our pics...

Well, I am sure most are concerned with what did we eat? The first night we ate Greek in the GreekTown section as a restaurant called Costa's. Jeremy and I were in rare form so our cheeky waiter didn't quite appreciate our ridiculous sense of humor. We started with the saganaki. It was good but still not as good as the saganaki Pete and I had during the Central Florida Greek Fest. Next, Jeremy had a whole bass and I a lemonato lamb. We both had the potatoes as a side and the entrees were succulent and exquisite! 4 stars to say the least! My lamb was expertly seasoned and fell off the bone into the divine sherry sauce moat surronding the main dish. Jeremy filleted his fish like a champ and when the waiter remarked his skills as , "Alright," Jeremy retorted with a stining, "You're a jerk." It was too funny for me not to bust into laughter. We topped off the meal with a lemon custard tart. It was good but a bit dry, so I wish I ordered the bread pudding instead. All in all, it was the best meal we had in Chicago for sure-BRAVO!!

The next day we ate lunch at The Oasis Cafe. The food is Middle Eastern and while the vegetable couscous, the Egpytian salad and baklava were all good, the reason we really wanted to go is that this cafe is situated oddly enough in the back of a jewelry store in the jewelry district of Chicago. How many times have your ordered lunch in a jewelry store? I'll bet not many. :) That night after hitting Millennium Park, The Art Institute of Chicago, and some shopping we ended the night at Andy's Jazz for dinner and live music. We decided to go traditional and ordered a Chicago-style thin crust mushroom pizza. It was surprisingly not greasy and very tasty. Tried as we might to finish the 14", we just couldn't do it and had to leave some behind because of course I had to try the cappuccino cheesecake. It was dreamly creamy. Although my gut was busting, I did not leave one iota of cake on that plate. All in all, my first trip to the windy city was first and foremost windy but it was also a really great time.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Two Hits and a Miss : Braised Lamb with Roasted Onions and Aspargus and Parsley Mashed Potatoes on the Side

Have you ever made an entree where your sides are shining stars and your main dish came to be a disastrous dud? This unfortunate scenario befell me a few weeks back all because my local supermarket put some lamb shanks on sale.

I love lamb, not lamp (sorry, couldn't help the Anchorman reference). Every Easter my Italian family served a large succulent lamb roast with mushrooms and homemade gravy that is jowl-watering, so when I spotted a cheap package of dual lamb shanks, I said, "My Aunts can do it and so can I." Boy was I wrong, very, very wrong. My first mistake to my missed main dish was my impatience. To properly braise any meat in a pan (if braising on the stove-top), the lamb should be totally covered for at least 3.5 hours. Well, I didn't have a lid to fit my largest skillet and I couldn't wait only braising for about 2 hours. My second mistake was buying cheap lamb. After gnawing on my shank until my jaw gave way, I was able to tear through the meat enough to see the fattest ribbon of fat I have ever seen in my entire life. So because of the monstrous amount of gelatinous fat and my inability to render it out, my lamb didn't measure up and was a miss of a dish.

'The Miss' Braised Lamb Shank

Hit number one of this meal is my never-miss homemade mashed potatoes. My late brother Nate taught me how to make always spot-on mashers, and his recipe has never failed me in over 10 years. No matter what potato you start with, scrub down about 4-6 medium sized ones and cut them up into quarters or sixths depending on your forearm and wrist strength. Bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil, sprinkle some salt, and boil those bad boys until your fork easily pierces a few pieces. Once they are tender enough, drain via a strainer and dump into a good size mixing bowl. The rest of the ingredients are measured via eyeball and taste because that's the only way I know how! 2-3 Tablespoons of milk, 4-6 Tablespoons of salted butter, salt, pepper, and in this case chopped parsley-about 2 handfuls. Now comes the is the fun part, or the therapeutic part depending on your personal levels of aggression. First cut up your mixture using a fork and a dinner knife. This will break-up the skins because their texture is too good to take out of your mashed potatoes. Then take your masher and mash to your desired texture. I like a good balance of chunky/smooth (if that makes any sense). TRUST ME, this method will make your everyday starch scrumtrulescent (Will Ferrell reference #2) time and time again.

Hit #1-Nate's Mashed Potatoes

Only recently in my life have I discovered the joys of roasting vegetables at a high temperature, and thank God I did! Hit number two was my roasted Red Onions and Asparagus. So easy and so delicious it should be outlawed. Turn your oven up to 400 degrees, roll your vegetables in extra virgin olive oil, season with salt, pepper, oregano and parsley. Pop that pan into the oven for 6-8 minutes and you get a crunchy, cooked, crav-a-licous vegetable side dish.

Hit #2 Roasted Red Onion and Asparagus