The Friday Five: On Resolutions and Sweet Treats

At some point in grade school, I had a teacher who made us write down our new year’s resolutions and share them with the class. I went to Catholic school, so it was probably just another way to make us feel guilty about our bad habits, but making resolutions is a practice that I have kept up with ever since.

When I was younger, I would always resolve to stop biting my nails. It was a record if I could make it to January 4th (Getting acrylic nails for Senior Prom in high school and maintaining them for nearly a decade after that was the only thing that broke that habit. Those things are impossible to bite off). As I got older, I frequently attempted banish curse words from my vocabulary when January 1 rolled around. That proved pretty much impossible since cursing is the only thing that makes me feel better when people act like idiots.

In light of these dismal failures, I’ve started to frame my new year’s resolutions with the goal of developing new, productive habits. This seems less daunting–and more fun–than trying to get rid of the bad ones. Five years ago, instead of saying that I wanted to lose a certain amount of weight, I just focused on the idea of wanting to be in better shape, which started me on the path to working out on a regular basis. Two years ago, this blog grew out of my commitment to develop and stick with a new hobby.

This year, one of my goals is to continue to work on my baking skills. It might sound lame, but baking has become a major stress reliever for me. I’m the kind of person who sometimes has trouble turning her mind off. But, somehow its easier to do when I’m spooning flour into measuring cups, creaming butter and sugar together or scooping out cookie dough. Over the past couple of years, I’ve become pretty good at making cookies, cupcakes and brownies but I would really like to step out of my comfort zone and try a few new recipes.

To that end, here are a few things that I’m looking forward to trying out in 2013:

Macarons_001

 

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Macarons: So pretty, yet so tricky to make. I received the Bouchon Bakery book for Christmas and a few of the bloggers that I follow have written that the technique used in Thomas Keller’s recipe has solved their macaron phobia.

sticky buns

Flour’s Sticky Buns: One of my favorite treats when I visit Boston. I also asked for the Flour Bakery book for Christmas, specifically so I could make them (Completed, January 21).

rich-chocolate-layer-cake-xl-12182012

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Layer Cake: From scratch, since the only layer cakes I’ve ever made have involved boxed mixes and canned frosting.

cheesecake

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Cheesecake: Just because I’ve never made one of these either and they are one of my favorite desserts.

pasta fresh

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Homemade pasta: So, this falls into the savory category, but I’ll still count it in this list because it involves making a dough. Pasta making is a basic skill for us Italians, so I better start practicing.

ttss_BittersweetChocolateTruffles_01_h

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Truffles: I had hoped to have time over to holidays to make some to give as gifts. Oh well, maybe next year!

What’s on your new year’s resolution list this year–food related or otherwise?

This Week for Dinner

And, it’s Sunday again.

So, here’s what we’ve been cooking up for the last few days:

Pasta with Butternut Parmesan Sauce

From: Simply Recipes

This was the highlight of my week! The prep time is a bit lengthy, because you have to roast the squash for about 40 minutes in the oven, but the results are worth it. The sauce is rich and velvety and got me really excited about cooking with more fall flavors in the months ahead. You could probably use this as a base for a butternut squash soup—just use chicken stock for a bit more flavor and thicken it up a bit with some cream. We added garlic (it’s the base for almost everything we cook!) and I’m glad we did, since it might have been a bit bland without it. I’ve also seen a few similar recipes that jazz things up even more with the addition of other ingredients, including pine nuts, bacon and/or sage.

Baked Chicken Parmesan

From: Skinnytaste

The staple Italian dish gets a healthy makeover. Since we had a couple of pasta dishes on the menu, we opted for quinoa and zucchini as side options.

Beef and Broccoli

From: Cooking Light


Yes, beef can be pricey, but be sure to splurge a bit for a good cut for this dish. The broccoli and other ingredients are cheap, so it all evens out.

Chicken Marsala Pasta

From: Baked Bree

One of the nice things about chicken marsala is that it smells so darn good when it’s cooking—earthy and sweet at the same time. You can get the same effect with this relatively easy dish.

Greek Pizza

From: Cooking Light

Someday, I’m going to try to make my own pizza dough. But, for now, we save time by buying pre-made crust (we usually use Mama Mary’s honey wheat. They come in packs of two so you can keep one in the freezer for another meal). We added Portobello mushroom slices to this for a bit of extra protein.

Okay, now to work out our plan for the next week! What’s on your menu?

This Week for Dinner

Happy Weekend, friends!

Since we are already halfway through September (how did that happen?!), I’ve made my first foray into fall baking with a batch of pumpkin spice granola.  I think the recipe I threw together with needs a bit more tweaking, but at least the house smells delicious at the moment!

In other news, I feel like my food was just not photogenic this week. But, I’m sharing anyway.

Sweet and Sour Pork Stir-fry

From: About.com

Instead of deep frying the pork as called for in the recipe, a lighter option is to simply coat the pork in cornstarch and stir-fry.

Baked Orzo with Eggplant, Chicken and Mozzarella

From: Smitten Kitchen

I was pretty excited when I came across this recipe because it has a ton of my favorite ingredients in it (the chicken was a addition), but it was just okay. The flavors were nice, but tomatoes and eggplant released a lot of liquid when cooking, so it was very runny. You might want to reduce the amount of broth that you include. I thought it was much better the next when I ate it for lunch.

Roast Cod with Garlic Butter

From: Coastal Living

This recipe is like something Paula Deen would make. It has a fairly healthy amount of butter and then it’s topped with prosciutto. To lighten it up, you can use your choice of butter substitute (I like Smart Balance). It’s even better with a squeeze of lemon over the top.

Have an awesome week!

This Week for Dinner

Summer meals were kind of random. There was a period of time where I had 2 to 3 work events per week, which meant I was eating sandwiches from Whole Foods, some sort of food on a stick, and/or mini pastries on a regular basis. There wasn’t too much cooking and eating going on at home.

We are slowly getting back into our normal routine of scouting out good dinner recipes to try. Here are a few that I recommend from the past week:

Thai Chicken Saute

From: Cooking Light

 

I’ve come across a few good recipes recently that remind me of the food from Lemon Grass, my favorite Thai restaurant located in University City. Adding this one to the list. The recommended amount of hot sauce in the recipe was just right for me, but you may want to tweak it for your own personal taste.

Pork Mango Picadillo Burritos

Inspired by: Simply Recipes

Instead of just serving the pork mixture over rice, we used it as filling for burritos, topped with diced tomatoes and green chiles. I added some of my favorite burrito toppings, including black beans, sour cream, guacamole and cheese. These burritos definitely required a knife and fork to eat!

Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes and Roasted Peppers

From: Simply Recipes

Pasta topped with homemade Bolognese sauce is one of our go-to meals for easy weeknight cooking. The best part about this kind of sauce is that you can jazz it up with whatever you like or happen to have on hand in the pantry.

Have a great weekend, all!

This Week for Dinner

Hope that everyone had a good weekend! It seems as though the summer is just flying by, but July has been a bit more relaxing than June was. Thank goodness for that.

Still looking for some ideas for dinner this week? Well, here you go!

Steak Fajitas with Sweet  Potatoes

From: Real Simple

I’ll get these out of the way first, because I just wasn’t a fan. I’ve decided I feel the same way about skirt steak as I do about snow peas. Big dislike. Maybe with a different cut of beef, I would have enjoyed these more. And, maybe you like skirt steak. In which case, you should make these.

Honey Cashew Chicken

From: Cooking Light

Moving on to better things, with this stir-fry, which had a great combination of flavors and ingredients. You could substitute whatever vegetables you happen to like or maybe what you have growing in your garden this summer.

Summer Pasta Bolognese

From: Real Simple

This sauce has a nice, chunky texture and includes all of the best summer vegetables, including sweet tomatoes and basil and cool zucchini. I really need to start growing tomatoes though, because those things are expensive–four beefsteak tomatoes at our grocery store were nearly $8. That’s crazy.

Mini Greek Lamb Burgers

From: Martha Stewart

We don’t eat lamb that often, but this recipe reminded me how good and versatile it can be. If you are grilling, you could make these into larger patties, but the sliders are pretty adorable, aren’t they?

Summer Squash, Prosciutto and Pasta Salad

From: Cooking Light

We make so many pasta salads in the summer that they all start to run together. That’s all I have to say about that.

What was your favorite recipe from last week and what’s on your menu this week?

This Week for Dinner

It’s been awhile since I did one of these posts, and that’s because the last half of June was so crazy busy that we didn’t cook too many meals at home. I figured I would wait until I had a collection of things that somehow resembled a week’s worth of meals, you know?

So, without further adieu, here are some ideas for your upcoming meal plans:

California Grilled Chicken Avocado and Mango Salad

From: Skinnytaste

This is one of my favorite lunchtime salads from Mixto, which is located just down the street from my office. The dressing includes a white balsamic vinegar, which has a very clean, slightly sweet taste so that it doesn’t overpower the flavors of all of the good stuff in this salad.

Orecchiette with Sausage and Roasted Peppers

From: Martha Stewart

This is one of our staple pasta dishes. It’s quick and easy to make (you can use jarred peppers—we like the Cento brand the best—if you don’t want the hassle of roasting your own) and features the cutest pasta shape ever.

Easy Pesto Salmon

From: Cooking Light

You might have some basil growing like a weed in your garden at this time of year (we unfortunately didn’t get around to planting any this year, but maybe you have. If so, come on over, I have a few containers you can fill for us) and making fresh pesto is a great way to use it up. Pesto is one of my favorite complements to salmon. We made a simple side dish with sweet asparagus and yellow zucchini and also tried out one of the new quinoa blends from Near East, our go-to brand for instant rice and couscous. I recommend.

Farfalle with Creamy Wild Mushroom Sauce

From: Cooking Light

Another quick, easy pasta dish. We just used baby portabella mushrooms in this version, because that’s usually what is available in our grocery store, but you can mix and match with other varieties, like crimini, oyster and shiitake if you prefer.

Pulled Barbeque Chicken Sandwiches

From: Chester

It’s been too hot to grill outside, so this is a good way to get your barbeque fix in the comfort of your air conditioned kitchen. There are all kinds of recipes out there for pulled chicken, but here is Chester’s:

  1. Take three chicken breasts (this will make enough for about two people) and give them a dry rub consisting of paprika, coriander, garlic powder, onion powder (1 tablespoon of each), chili powder and cumin (1 teaspoon of each) and salt and pepper (to taste).
  2. Bake the chicken for 30-40 minutes covered in foil, while you make the barbeque sauce. The sauce is tangy, so you may want to make adjustments to it based on your preferences, but the basic recipe is: one can of tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard (2 tablespoons of each), vinegar (2-3 tablespoons of each, depending on how tangy you like your barbeque), brown sugar (1/3 cup at least, adjusted for your preferences on sweetness).
  3. Mix all of the ingredients together and simmer over low heat on the stove until the sauce thickens.
  4. Shred the chicken with a fork and mix with sauce; Serve on toasted rolls with your choice of sides.

Happy Weekend to all! Stay cool!

This Week for Dinner

Hope that everyone had a great weekend!

I spent part of mine in New York with my BFF, our moms and my aunt, for belated birthday/Mother’s Day celebrations. We saw the revival of Evita, which has always been one of my favorite musicals. Evita was one of the first shows I had ever seen way, way back in the day and was part of the reason that I grew up preferring show tunes over most other kinds of music. Yes, I am a dork.

Anyway, as we get back to the work week, here are a few ideas for your upcoming meal plans:

Prosciutto, Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Sandwich

The chicken, tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwich is one of my favorite menu items from Cosi and one that we recreate frequently at home. We wanted something quick on the day we made these sandwiches, so we substituted prosciutto for the chicken. No cooking required.

Southwestern Stuffed Peppers

From: Simply Love Food

This was one of my favorite Pinterest finds to date. These are made with ground turkey and full of veggies, so they are hearty and healthy at the same time. We substituted yellow zucchini for the corn, since I only enjoy my corn on the cob.

Rigatoni with Roasted Sausage and Broccoli

From: Real Simple

I love roasted broccoli, so this recipe immediately jumped out at me. This was my first time trying a Real Simple recipe, and it actually was pretty simple to make. I added some garlic to the roasting part of the process (we rarely cook without garlic) and that enhanced the flavors a bit more.

Chicken Teriyaki Meatballs

From: Real Simple

An additional gold star for Real Simple this week. These meatballs were very light and had a nice flavor without needing to be drowned in the teriyaki sauce. We omitted the sugar snap peas, because they are gross. Next time, I would probably double the amount of shelled edamame or add another kind of vegetable to compensate for this.

Till next time!

On The Road: More from Florence and Bologna

I’m slowly working my way through my Italy photos and have some more to share from the Florence portion of our trip.

Chillin' in Florence

As I mentioned here, there are enough museum and works of art in Florence to keep you busy for days. If  you do in fact have a few days in the city, I highly recommend that you purchase a Firenze Card. Not only does it entitle you to 72 hour access to public transportation, but it provides discounts on admission prices to and allows you to skip the lines at most of the major museums. The 50 euro price tag (today, that’s about $62. But, given the current situation over there, your guess is as good as mine as to what it will be tomorrow) is well worth it, because lines are long, particularly at the Uffizi Gallery (where you will find works by Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael) and the Accademia (where Michelangelo’s David is located).

The Uffizi Gallery (left) and replica of Michelangelo's David in Piazza della Signoria

The most popular site is Florence is the Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo, which is one of the largest churches in the world. The exterior is constructed of panels of white, green and red marble and is absolutely stunning. But, the main feature of the cathedral is Brunelleschi’s dome, which is the largest brick dome in the world. The design of the dome was based on principles of physics and geometry that are pretty standard today, but were revolutionary in the 1400s.

As I noted, you can climb to the top of the dome (463 steps) and/or Giotto’s bell tower (417 steps) for some amazing views of the city. If you are claustrophobic or have a fear of heights, this is probably not for you.

Basilica of San Croce, burial place of Michelanglo, Dante, Galileo and others, viewed from the top of the dome.

Also located in the Duomo complex is the Baptistry, one of the oldest buildings in Florence, dating from the 11th century. There are some beautiful golden mosaics in the interior that are worth visiting, but the building has copies of three sets of gilded bronze doors by Ghiberti. The originals are located in the Duomo museum, just across the piazza.

(Note: None of these sites are included in the Firenze Card, however. Although the cathedral itself is free to enter, you will need a ticket to visit the baptistery, museum and to climb the bell tower and dome. You can purchase the necessary tickets online. The whole website is in Italian. Google Translate is your friend).

In terms of places to eat in Florence, our best meal was at Vini e Vecchi Sapori, located near Florence’s main square, the Piazza della Signoria. The restaurant has a very homey feel, with wooden beamed ceilings and brick floors. It seats about 18 people and serves simple, rustic Tuscan cuisine, based on the recipes of the family who has run it for years. Mom works in the kitchen, dad is behind the bar and the son staffs the dining room.

The homemade pasta dishes, with incredibly light noodles and rich, hearty sauces, were among the highlights here.  I had the pappardelle with rabbit. Although I wasn’t a fan of all of the little bones that I came across (I told you it was rustic) the meat was so incredibly tender and flavorful. My second course reminded me of a beef bourguignon with a more liberal dose of pepper (there were black peppercorns hiding in the broth. Biting into one was not all that pleasant). It was accompanied by a side of long, wide green beans, drizzled with olive oil. I didn’t catch the Italian name of the vegetable, but was told by the customer at the table next to us (an American college professor who spends part of the year in Italy with his wife who is from Florence) that they only grow in the spring time and their name translates into “eat it all.” I did. Chester, in the meantime, enjoyed the osso bucco, a generous portion which was so tender that it fell right off the bone.

Vini e Vecchi Sapori seems to be a favorite with the locals—there was quite the rowdy birthday celebration going on at the table across the way from us. In a touristy city like Florence, this is the mark of a place worth checking out, in my opinion.

But, it was of course was not the only good eating we did during our three days in Florence. On one of our days in the area, we took a short train ride to Bologna. Nicknamed “La Grassa” (“the fat”), it is Italy’s culinary capital.

I talked a bit about what we ate previously, but we also spent a lot of time wandering around through the Quadrilatero District, which is filled with shop after shop selling fresh fruits and vegetables, handmade tortellini, pastries, meats, cheeses, wine and just about any other gourmet delicacy your heart might desire. I couldn’t resist snapping a ton of photos, like so:

Aside from the food, Bologna has character in many other ways. It is home to Europe’s oldest university so there is quite a diverse population. Many of the red-brick towers and other medieval structures are well preserved. And, there are miles of beautiful covered porticoes, lined with shops and cafes.

Of course, before we left, there was a stop for gelato. Cremeria Funiviva, which has two locations in Bologna, has fewer flavors than the average gelato shop, but the quality is outstanding. It might be the creamiest, most flavorful gelato I’ve ever had. They make several concoctions with a variety of add-ons and toppings. In this case, the cone was filled with a bittersweet chocolate and topped with black cherries.

Can I go back now?

The Week for Dinner

Happy Friday, all!

Here are a few ideas for you, if you’ll be doing some menu planning or heading to the grocery store over the next couple of days:

Pasta Salad with Goat Cheese and Arugula

From: Martha Stewart

Cold pasta salads are a good summer dinner staple. This wasn’t my favorite of the recipes I’ve tried. It was missing a little something and I’m thinking that grilled chicken or another vegetable (maybe tomatoes) could enhance the flavors. Still, this was the perfect light option for dinner after our massive brunch at Cochon last Sunday.

Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce

From: Back to Her Roots

This isn’t a blog I read regularly, but I came across this recipe on Pinterest, and was sold by the quick prep time. We used  chicken instead of shrimp, which meant that 15 minute estimation went out the window. We would probably use a bit less spinach next time because our generous handful of the green stuff ended up soaking up a lot of the sauce. The creaminess and taste of the Greek yogurt was a bit hard to detect, but, it was still very tasty overall. I would probably make it again and try more of the recipes from this blog.

Fish Tacos

From: Chester

Someday, I’ll get Chester to write all of his recipes all down, but this is fairly simple: you need a firm, white fish (he’s used cod in the past, but switched it up for flounder this time), cole slaw mix with pineapple chunks added in, and guacamole. Fill a taco shell with all of your ingredients and add few squeezes of lime, to taste. Although nothing beats homemade guac, if you are looking for a shortcut, I highly recommend Wholly Guacamole. It tastes just like what you would made yourself.

As a side note, if you are a fan of fish tacos, Cooking Light has some great suggestions right now that I hope to try soon!

Curried Pork and Mango Stirfry

From: Cooking Light

There are a lot of great flavors in this dish—it’s a bit on the spicy side, but a sweet mango was a nice balance to that. Since, I’m not a fan of snow peas we used green beans, which gave a nice bit of crunch, instead, and I’m thinking a green pepper could also be good.

Anyway, hope you are doing something fun to kick-off the weekend right now. Speaking for myself, there’s a Friends marathon on Nick-at-Nite right now, and it’s kind of making my day.

This Week for Dinner

While I was out gallivanting (I love that word. Why don’t people use it more often?) in Boston, I’m sure you were missing my weekly recipe round-up. Right?

I knew it!

Okay, so here it is.

Cacio e Pepe

Two weeks from today, we’ll be in Italy. I’m looking forward to enjoying cacio e pepe in a trattoria in Rome, Florence, or Venice. Or, maybe in all three cities. I pretty much plan to eat my weight in pasta and pizza.

Anyway, the good news is that it’s easy to make this dish at home. All you need is salt, black pepper, butter, some good cheese (we always have Parmesan on hand) and spaghetti. Make a pan sauce with your first four ingredients and toss with the pasta. You don’t really need a recipe, but Bon Appetit has a pretty straightforward one, for your reference.

Polynesian Pork

From: All the Cooks

Chester has this app on his phone, and it’s turned up some pretty good recipes. I like the flavor combination of green pepper, pineapple and pork in this one. I just noticed that the recipe calls for shredded coconut on top, though. Gross. I’m glad we skipped that.

Mexican Frittata

From: Shape

I love breakfast anytime of day, but Chester is not a huge fan of sweet breakfast items like pancakes and French toast like I am. So, I figured this frittata would be a good way to get my breakfast for dinner fix. The recipe calls for rice to be mixed in with the egg mixture, but we omitted it. It just seemed like it would make it to heavy. We had also brought ground beef for this, but ended up forgetting that we had it in the fridge. Oops. It was pretty tasty without it.

Chicken Stir-fry Wraps

From: Everyday Food

This is a very flavorful dish, and I think forgoing rice or noodles allows all of the elements to come through even more and of course lets you cut down on the carbs. Definitely get the butter or Boston lettuce recommended in the recipe, as it will hold up better and is easier to hold/eat than romaine or iceberg.

That’s all for now—almost time for me to gallivant off to bed (See, I’m totally bringing that word back, a little at a time). Hope everyone’s having a good week so far!