Plain & Fancy

Can you guess who ate what?

Your choices are:

Boston Irish-american guy: plain or fancy?

New Hampshire raised country girl: plain or fancy?

Boston Irish guy = plain & New Hampshire country girl = fancy

Did you guess right?

I am always trying to encourage new things at dinner time but this was just a little too exotic…

fancy sauce

I picked up this fancy little can of sauce at the new, fancy “not-so-little” Italian grocery store/food emporium that recently opened at the Prudential mall in Boston. I am sure you know the one I mean. Google it.

Without giving it a direct plug I will say that I could go there everyday for a year and still not try everything they have stocked in the 55,000 square feet of Italian goodness!

Maybe next time I will get the plain stuff for Mr. fancy Boston guy!

 

 

 

Spring: Day 44 (A Cold Month)

A couple of days over 55 Degrees (F) does not define a month.

Especially April in New England. Especially when its the coldest April on record for the region. Average temperature for the month: 48 Degrees (F)

There was snow in my backyard well into April.

So I am just saying – just because New Englanders think its time to break out the grill as soon as it hits 50 – there is still time for warm, comfort food.

Like the Italian stuffed shells I made the other day. (Freezing rain beating the windows while I cooked… Brrrrr)

There is nothing comparable to the comfort of cheese and pasta swimming in red sauce!

There is nothing comparable to the comfort of cheese and pasta swimming in red sauce!

A few little embellishments but really nothing too crazy. Pretty Traditional.

I did break up and saute a couple of Sweet Italian Sausages in a pan, added some frozen peas and a pinch of red pepper flakes before mixing it into (cool it first) the standard “ricotta-egg-parsley-parm cheese” mix. Boil your jumbo shells just to ‘al dente’ and once they have cooled a bit, stuff them with your mixture. Place them in a bath of red sauce (good quality jarred sauce is A-ok here) and bake covered at 375 degrees for about 30 mins. I like to pull mine out and remove the foil top, drizzle with a little EVOO and sprinkle with shredded Parmesan or Asigo and bake about 10 mins longer uncovered to get those crispy edges and the rich gooey cheese goodness.

Makes great leftovers and freezes beautifully.

 

(Leave out the sausage if you must – yes Holly I am talking to you 🙂 )

 

 

 

 

Everything Is Better When It’s Small….

Is it?

Recently I bought some baby kale. Yup little tiny baby leaves of kale. Very adorable.

Isn't it adorable?!

Isn’t it cute?!

Raw it tasted kind of like a mild cabbage. I love all veggies so it was cool with me.

Hmmmm but what to do with it?

I made a greek salad using some of the baby kale as my “lettuce” – good but maybe not for the non-adventurous.

Keilbasa, pasta and baby kale dinner

I decided that the rest of it should be treated as I would with baby spinach… throw it in at the last-minute of a “quick pasta dish.”

These kind of dishes are quick and you can use whatever you might have on hand for veggies… frozen peas, canned beans, squash….whatever you have. I happen to have some fairly decent fresh tomatoes on hand. (A miracle during the winter in New England!)

I sautéed some onions, garlic and kielbasa in olive oil, and threw in some “Al Dente” cooked bow tie pasta. ( I used the multi color veggie pasta.) The fresh tomatoes, cut into big chunks, went in just to heat up and release some juice along with a generous amount of dried Italian seasoning. Last but not least, the baby kale. Just long enough to start to wilt it.

Serve in big bowls with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and you have a winter dish that just “hints” a little bit of summer!

Let It Rest

Isn’t that the title to a Beatles song?

Oh wait that song is actually “Let It Be” – still… both are words of wisdom!

In my case “let it rest” usually refers to some big cut of meat like a roast or chicken or something, but in this case it refers to lasagna!

Good Old Fashioned "All American" Lasagna!

Good Old Fashioned “All American” Lasagna!

Letting lasagna rest is a must for a clean, neat cut and so you don’t burn the roof off your mouth!

This lasagna was inspired by the green baking dish it was made in. I received it for Christmas this year from Aunt Barbara and I have been cooking in it a couple of times a week ever since! Mac and cheese, lasagna, you name it!  How did I ever live without this perfectly sized dish with handles!!

Production Notes

I used standard lasagna protocol here – nothing crazy or exotic. 3-4 layers of regular meat sauce, ricotta and noodles.  This time I used standard “boil first” noodles, but I have done it both ways… here and here.

Not A New Idea

I thought I was on the cutting edge by adding pumpkin to my macaroni and cheese – after a quick check of google – I realized this was not a new idea!

That’s okay, it was new to my Thanksgiving table and that is all that counts right?

I was craving mac-n-cheese AND wanted to add seasonality to the dish so I could serve it at the holiday table, so that is how my “mash-up” came about. I simply started with my usual mac-n-cheese white sauce and added a little extra nutmeg and the tiniest pinch of ground cinnamon. For the cheese I decided to keep it kinda plain with a medium cheddar and lots of salty grated Romano. (You could use Parmesan, I just happen to have Romano) Next I stirred in 1 can of pure pumpkin. (Do I need to say.. “not pie filling, just pumpkin?”)

pumpkin mix

Next I combined it with al dente cooked penne pasta and topped it with some more cheese. You can stop here and let it cool and put it in the fridge till you are ready to bake it or even freeze it until then. Don’t you just love a good make-ahead-freezer dish? I sure do!

When you are ready, bake in a 350 degree preheated oven of for 30 mins (longer if frozen) until it is bubbly and brown on top!

This recipe is based on 1 regular box of pasta and 1 14oz +/- can of pumpkin. The basic white sauce recipe can vary for me depending on what’s on hand and how “saucy” I want the dish. But generally I start with 4oz butter and flour for the roux and add in 2 cups of whole milk. I probably used 8oz of grated cheddar and at least a cup of grated Parmesan and/or Romano. Don’t forget to season with S&P and what ever flavorings you like…dry mustard, smoked paprika, nutmeg etc.

This portions out beautifully for lunch leftovers….if there is any leftover!

pumpkin mac and cheese

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

chicken dinner

This was my prize after cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer !

In preparation for the big turkey day I like to clean out my fridge/freezer and make room for the leftovers to come. So yesterday while the temperature dropped into the 20’s and the wind blew so hard I thought the grill was  going over this time for sure…I got started early with a cup of coffee and cleaning.

First thing I found was a couple of “splitters.” At least that is what the package said. I promptly opened the forgotten frozen chicken halves ( thus “splitters”) and submerged them into a brine to help flavor and defrost. Meanwhile as I continued on,  I discovered two small containers of forgotten homemade pesto from who-knows-which-summer. And of course I always have dried pasta and some sort of tomatoes on hand. The tomatoes were starting to get a little past their prime, mostly because they had been pushed to the back of the fridge. ( out of sight-out of mind)  I knew I had do something fast with them.

After a long bath (all day) the chicken got patted dry and massaged with butter. Then coated in a liberal dusting of seasoned salt, black pepper and dried rosemary. A perfect spa day for a chicken. I placed them on a rack and into a hot 400 degree oven. I kept a close eye and covered the tops with foil as soon as they got brown, so they wouldn’t get too brown. I always use a thermometer and cook until a 165 degree internal temperature is reached.

As for the side dish I just placed the sliced tomatoes in a bowl with the pesto and a little butter and when I put the hot pasta on top, it did all the work. I tossed it to combine things, added plenty of grated Parmesan cheese and a little reserved pasta cooking water to keep things moist.

Having a a bath and my discoveries from the fridge/Freezer!

Having a a bath and my discoveries from the fridge/Freezer!

P.S. Wondering about that title? Well me too. According to “urban dictionary”-
The legend tells that years ago every casino in Las Vegas had a three-piece chicken dinner with a potato and a veggie for $1.79. A standard bet back then was $2, hence when you won a bet you had enough for a chicken dinner!

Happy Anniversary Anthony

prince spaghettiWednesday is “Prince® Spaghetti Day” if you didn’t already know that. But you probably did because their commercial ran for something like 13 years straight! That is commercial where Anthony is running home for dinner through the famed North End neighborhood of Boston. Who hasn’t yelled “Anthony” at least once in their life in that same famous way as his mother did!

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that although I knew they filmed the commercial in Boston’s famous Italian North End, I had no idea it was because this is where the pasta company started, back in 1912, on Prince Street!  duh!

So it being the 100th birthday and all, I decided to have an urban hike and visit all the famous locations in the North End.

 
 
original window 2
Above: The original window as it appeared in the 1969 commercial
Above: as it looks now in 2013 – not much has changed – just cars and roof decks!

Of course I had to track down the original location of the pasta company…or wait is it across the street from this corner? So hard to tell now that the location has been converted to high-end condos! Well anyway this is the corner of Thatcher and Prince street in the vicinity of #92.

prince street 2prince spagetti location

And of course to complete the day….