Tuesday, August 30

Pasta Ponza from Giada

Sit down.  Are you sitting down?  You should definitely sit down.  Maybe even have a cookie.  Don't worry if it's breakfast, it's afternoon snack time somewhere right? 

Ok, so you're sitting down.  Excellent because this recipe may just blow your mind!  It's easily one of the best things I've made all summer.  It is beyond easy and is super tasty and flavorful. I saw Giada make it one Saturday morning on TV and have been biding my time until I had a free night to try this. 

It's very basic but it's one of those recipes that lets the seasonal ingredients shine.  Giada said she used to make this with her aunt who lived in the Ponza region of Italy.  Hence "pasta ponza" which may be the least descriptive name for a recipe ever.

The showstoppers are the fresh grape tomatoes.  I used some local super sweets that I found at the farmers market.  They were juicy and gave the dish a delicious burst of bright summer flavor. 


Again, the recipe is deceptively simple.  You start by halving and roasting the tomatoes with some capers, olive oil, salt, pepper and a bread crumb topping.  I'm not a huge capers person but they added a whole new dimension of flavor.  They really complimented the tomatoes and I high fived myself for not nixing them. 


Then mix in some tube shaped pasta, baked breadcrumb topping and some cheese and let it all melt together. This along with a fresh-from-the-oven french roll (with butter of course) may be one of the most perfect meals.


The proportions in Giada's original recipe are large.  I'm pretty sure I made enough to serve 8-10 people, which makes this an excellent budget meal if you need to feed a crowd.  It was so good that that we ate it 4 nights in a row until there were just crumbs left.  So either cut the ingredients in half or open a bottle of wine and invite some friends over. 


I realized right before dinner that I only had plain breadcrumbs, not the Italian kind Giada calls for.  I mixed in some dried oregano and thyme to give it some flavor and it did the trick.  Keep it in mind if you find yourself in a pinch.

Happy Eating!

PS: I dare you to make this and not pick at the leftovers.  I think it's physically impossible to leave them alone in the fridge. 


Pasta Ponza by Giada De Laurentis

Butter for greasing
2 cups (12 ounces) red cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups (12 ounces) yellow cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
1/2 cup Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs
1 pound ziti or other short tube-shaped pasta
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 ounces) Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish and set aside.

Place the tomatoes, capers, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the prepared baking dish. Toss to coat. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the tomato mixture. Drizzle the top with olive oil and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the top is golden. Cool for 5 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water.

Place the pasta in a large serving bowl. Spoon the tomato mixture onto the pasta. Add the cheese and toss well. Thin out the sauce with a little pasta water, if needed. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Thursday, August 25

Banana Nutella Toast

I've recently started making this banana Nutella toast concoction as an afternoon snack.  I'm actually a wee bit obsessed with it and I've started craving it for breakfast as well! 


The idea stems from the food I ate when I backpacked through Europe after college. It was a pretty standard trip... Eifel Tower, cheap wine and museums in France... beer and brats in Germany... singing on the Sound of Music tour in Austria... history and wine in Italy... and extreme sports and gorgeous mountains in Switzerland. 


Like all cheap college-grads, my travel buddy and childhood friend Liz and I got creative with meals.  We ate crepes from the street vendors in France, brats from the German version of 7-eleven (yes, I'm ashamed of that in case you're wondering), loads and loads and loads of pizza in Italy.  And a bunch of picnics in between.  Usually made up of a baguette, some sliced meat, cheese and fruit that we bought fresh each morning.


At some point in Italy, we got creative and picked up a whole loaf of bread and a bunch of bananas to go along with the jar of Nutella we'd been toting across the world.  I don't remember how it happened, but all of sudden we were spreading Nutella on bread, adding banana slices and calling it dinner (I'm pretty sure Liz was the mastermind behind the idea).  Now I make it a few times a year when I'm craving chocolate but in need of something healthier (hey, there's grains and fruit, it counts!). 

This latest version includes toasting the bread and adding in peanut butter in place of some of the Nutella.  I've also swapped out the white bread we used in Italy for some whole grain bread to make it more filling.  I use Brownberry 12 grain (Brownberry goes by Arnolds in some parts, just an FYI). 

I'm not posting a recipe because it would only insult your intelligence.  All you do is toast the bread, add a thin layer of peanut butter followed by a thin layer of Nutella and then slice up a banana and lay it over the toast. 



Make sure you pause to give your begging dog a few slices of banana as well.  It's the least you can do after accidentally exposing him to bananas which turn out to be the 4th love of his life right behind you, squirrels and bacon.  Seriously, that dog can hear me peel a banana from 3 rooms away.  

Once your four-legged friend has been appeased, go enjoy your snack!


Monday, August 22

Foster meets the Thunderbirds - Chicago Air & Water Show 2011

This past weekend was the annual Chicago Air & Water Show.  It's by far my most favorite Chicago event.  This year it was extra special since my college girlfriends Pam and Carey were in town with their husbands.  Although it's hard to tell since we all look like we're 21 in the photos below, eventually we're going to begin having kids and starting families and these weekends will be harder to make happen.  We cherish these times together and make sure no cookie goes uneaten, no beer unopened and no hilarious college tale untold.  I'll get to the food I made for their visit later, for now... here's the weekend in photos and videos. 

Everyone arrived late Thursday night and we spent Friday afternoon in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field watching the Cubbies beat the Cards. 



Several Chicago dogs were consumed and were certified to be as delicious as promised!



We woke up early Saturday morning, put on lots of sunscreen and packed up the coolers for the airshow.  Only as we loaded everything up, the sky got darker and darker and darker.  So we decided to postpone our departure and watch the storm while playing a few rounds of Catch Phrase, Scrabble, UNO, and some other video game that convinced Pam's husband, Tim, he could be an air traffic controller if his current career path didn't work out.

Once the weather cleared up, we thought we'd head down to Lake Michigan since we'd heard the show would resume on a delayed schedule.  We arrived just as all the spectators were making their "show-is-over" mass exodus.  Fantastic! 

Despite the fact that our adventure no longer included fighter jets, we stuck with our plan and set up camp on the lake with the new goal of just enjoying the afternoon. 


Pam and Tim love us so much they came out despite the fact that it was their first wedding
anniversary. Happy Anniversary guys!


We wrapped up the afternoon and headed to Lou Malnati's for some Chicago deep dish pizza.  And on Sunday everyone woke up and went their separate ways, back to the real world.  It was a great visit and I can't wait for the next one!

Predictably, Roy and I couldn't let the airshow weekend go by without actually seeing some planes.  So we downed some caffeine and made our way to the lake to have our bones rattled by howling jets and get our annual reminder of why we are privileged to be Americans living in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  (Many thanks to those who fall into the brave category, leaving their homes and families to protect our freedom).

We rolled the dice big time.  We took the dog. 



It was a bit touch and go when the first fighter jet buzzed the spectators and Foster jumped out of his skin.  But he adjusted quickly and enjoyed all the activity, especially the USAF Thunderbirds.  He was completely enamored with the planes as well as with a few jet skis playing around near the shore. 




Although I'm sad that everyone missed something that I love so much, it was still an amazing weekend.  And I'm glad Roy and I were able to find a way to squeeze in the Thunderbirds, this time through the eyes of my favorite 4 legged buddy.


PS: major photo credit to Lydia Wendte for snapping the look of awe on Foster's face and for the great family photo. It was much appreciated Lydia!

Thursday, August 18

Sweet, Summer Roasted Veggies

Turns out this week is all about the sides!  Here is another one I've been making pretty regularly all summer.  It allows me to max out on all the produce that catches my eye at the farmers market but still turn items into a cohesive meal. 

The version above includes zucchini, corn, a red bell pepper and a red onion.  You can put it together using practically any combination of ingredients though.  So use what you've got... green or yellow bell peppers, onions, squash, etc.

The standard version from food blogger Kevin & Amanda calls for olive oil and minced garlic.  I find sometimes the garlic can overpower the veggies so I use it judiciously.  This isn't one of those Italian recipes where the more garlic the better.  My advice is play with it and see what you like best.

To serve two people, Amanda suggests 1/3 cup of each veggie.  I usually just eyeball it.  You can easily ratchet the amount up or down depending on how many people you're serving. 

Make sure you save whatever chopped veggies you don't use in a ziploc baggie in your freezer.  Next time you're in a pinch for a side you can whip them out and have this roasted veggie dish on the table in less than 20 minutes.  That's right, no need to thaw the veggies!  Which means... you can also do this using frozen veggies in the winter.  I know, I'm just blowing your mind aren't I?

Give it a shot and let me know what interesting veggie combos you come up with!

PS: while I was testing the links for this post, I stumbled upon this gorgeous recipe from Kevin & Amanda's site for mini-lasagna cups.  Pretty sure I'll be making those as soon as humanly possible!


Sweet, Summer Roasted Veggies
from Kevin & Amanda

1/3 cup red onion, diced
1/3 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/3 cup zucchini, diced
1/3 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen), diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
olive oil
salt and pepper

Chop and dice veggies and combine in a medium bowl.  Drizzle with just enough olive oil to coat (you don't want these swimming in a pool of EVOO). 

Roast in a shallow baking dish at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Tuesday, August 16

Three Easy Sides

Have I mentioned before that I can be a bit lazy?  I enjoy cooking and I really like eating fresh food.  But sometimes it’s 6:30 after a long day of work and I’m starving and whatever I’m making as a main dish is sure to kick my butt and I just really need a side that can cook itself.

Enter these three stand-bys.  They’re delicious, easy, cheap and almost impossible to screw up.  They also use fewer than 4 ingredients each.  I make the roasted potatoes and oven-roasted garlic broccoli about 2 times a month and I make the tomato/cucumber salad as much as I can in the summer months when they are in season. 

I’ll be the first to admit these are not the most creative sides (remember the motto of this blog?  Lower your expectations, I’m just here to eat food that tastes good!).  But on the nights when it’s all about getting dinner on the table and that glass of wine in my hand… they are perfect.  Plus they leave more time for fun things, like an after-dinner walk to get ice cream or summer reality TV like Project Runway or a good book (anyone read the Hunger Games series?).

So without further ado… here are my 3 staple sides to get you out of the kitchen, enjoying a delicious meal, and on to a relaxing evening.  Where applicable I’ve included alternate cooking temps, just in case you want to cook them at the same time you’re cooking something else that requires a lower temp. 


Oven Roasted Potatoes
These are so easy and they completely satiate my desire to eat something starchy without adding in a lot of bad ingredients.  I use baby red potatoes most often but you can easily use Yukon golds or any other kind of potato.  Just cut them up to be bite size pieces and leave the skin on so you get more nutrients! 

3 lbs baby red potatoes, washed/scrubbed and halved or quartered (leave the skin on)
1 tbsp olive oil
Montreal Steak Seasoning

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Wash and scrub dirt from potatoes.  Halve or quarter them so they are easy to eat.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil.

Drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Use your hands to mix so the potatoes get coated in olive oil.  Sprinkle lightly with Montreal Steak Seasoning.

Bake for 30 minutes, flipping them over with a spatula halfway through, until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork.

NOTE: Serves 4.  The potatoes can also be cooked at 400 or 425 degrees.  Just extend the cooking time by a few minutes (start with 5). 


Oven Roasted Garlic Broccoli
For me broccoli is one of those things that needs to be accessorized before I’ll eat it on a regular basis.  This recipe has the perfect “accessories” to make boring broccoli a regular for you.  This is another Dave and AY recipe and is my go-to when I’m at a loss on what to cook for dinner. 

2 bunches broccoli
1 tbsp or less of olive oil
Garlic Salt or minced garlic
Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash broccoli and pat dry.  Cut florets and stems into bite sized chunks.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil.

Drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Use your hands to mix broccoli so it gets coated in olive oil.  Sprinkle lightly with garlic salt or minced garlic (not both).  For a kick, shake a bit of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce over the broccoli.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Serve with light ranch dressing for dipping if you’re feeding the Royfriend.

NOTE:  Serves 4.  The broccoli can also be cooked at 350 and 400 degrees.  At 400 it will only need 16-17 minutes and maybe get a bit crispier around the edges.  Don’t be deterred, it will still be delicious!


Cucumber and Tomato Italian Salad
This is so simple I’m embarrassed to even be posting the "recipe".  It is literally chopping up tomatoes and cucumbers, but it's a favorite and it brings great color to any plate.

1 English cucumber or two regular cucumbers
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
Kraft fat-free zesty Italian salad dressing (or your preferred Italian dressing)

Wash tomatoes, peel regular cucumbers or remove plastic on English cucumber.  Slice tomatoes in half.  Cut cucumber in half lengthwise, then in half lengthwise again.  Then cut into slices.

Mix tomatoes, cucumbers and Italian dressing in a medium bowl until well coated.  Add fresh herbs to taste.  Serve alone or on top of a bed of lettuce. 

Serves 4

Thursday, August 11

Salsa Cruda aka: Bruschetta Pasta

I've been dying to share this recipe with you since I started this blog, but I forced myself to wait until I could do it right and get my hands on some farmers market tomatoes.  And they are finally showing up en masse!  So I'm excited to gift you with "Bruschetta Pasta".  Although I'm more excited about the fact that I got to eat it in order to blog about it.


Despite the origin of this recipe, which makes my face blush with shame, it's one of my favorite, favorite, favorite fresh meals.  I must have made this a dozen times last summer.  It's fresh, flavorful and light while still being filling.  All you need is a salad and maybe some rolls if you're harboring a carb addiction.  Plus your house will smell amazing from the garlic and fresh herbs!

So just where did this recipe come from?  None other than Skinny Italian, by Teresa Giudice of the Real Housewives of New Jersey.  I can feel you judging me all the way across the interwebs.  But let's be honest, almost every female in America has gone through a guilty pleasure phase with one Real Housewives franchise or another. 

I was intrigued by her cookbook and it's actually given me quite a few of my current favorite recipes.  There were also lots of good tips about using and storing herbs.  Thanks to Teresa, I now have parsley and basil in my freezer at all times so I can add more flavor or "fancy" on the fly. 

Teresa calls this Salsa Cruda or "raw sauce".  It's like the Italian version of salsa and is good as a dip or over angel hair pasta, bread or salad.  I tried it over pasta and fell in love!  To me it more closely resembles bruschetta, hence 'bruschetta pasta".

The only thing I changed about this recipe was the salt content.  The original calls for 1/2 teaspoon but I find that to be too salty (way too salty, actually).  I just do a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  My advice is go easy on it to start.  You can always add more later!

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do.  And if you're interested, check out Teresa's book.  Don't worry, I won't judge you ;)



Teresa Giudice's Salsa Cruda or "Bruschetta Pasta"
Active: 15 mins, 45 mins total
makes about 4 cups

3 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Dash of salt and pepper
Approx 1/3 cup of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

Use your hands to gently combine the tomatoes, parsley, basil, oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Be careful not to squash the tomatoes but make sure they get good and coated.

Let the mixture stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours to develop the flavors. 

Serve as desired (over bread, salad, pasta).  Sprinkle each serving with about 2 teaspoons of parmigiano-reggiano.

Sunday, August 7

Watermelon, Tomato & Feta Salad

By far the best part of taking this little blog public was reconnecting with old friends.  Facebook is great and all, but I'd still lost touch with a few people and this was the perfect opportunity to catch up and hear what every one's been up to for the past few years.  Oh yeah, and then there were all the wonderful recipe suggestions you sent me!  I am slowly making my way through all of them and am loving it.

One of those old friends is my former coworker Suzanne. By far, my favorite Suzanne story stems from the time we went to a work event in a tropical climate and Suzanne, a fellow-fair skinned friend, decided to try to fit in with our natural surroundings a bit more.  She tried to get tan!

We were at a beautiful resort so when "sunless tan" appeared on the spa menu, Suzanne figured she was safe.  And she was safe... if she was planning to star as an Oompa Loompa in a Charlie and Chocolate Factory remake.

Think of the most awful outcome you can think of, and then add another dose of awful.  Seriously, the stuff was worse than drug store tanner and it was applied with a heavy, heavy hand. 

However, what I remember even more clearly than Suzanne's awful tan, was her amazing attitude after it happened.  She just laughed.  I mean at that point, what else can you do?  You're trapped at a resort with 100 of your closest coworkers.  You might as well own it and Suzanne did.  In the words of Tim Gunn, she made it work.

Although we don't work together anymore, we keep in touch on all the important things - kids, pets, Project Runway and Top Chef.  She shared this recipe with me and I tried it out a few weeks ago.  It's a bit more time-consuming than normal for me (lots of chopping) but it's fantastic and I had to make sure I shared it before summer was over.

This would be a great compliment to anything on the grill.  Although it's a popular combo, I've never tried feta and watermelon together and I loved it.  The celery gives it a really nice crunch and the vinaigrette is sweet and delicious.  The tomatoes just rounded all the flavors out.  I used toasted pine nuts but I'd love to try it again with toasted pistachios.

Thanks again for sharing Suzanne, and for reminding me not take life too seriously!


Watermelon, Tomato and Feta Salad

First, make the salad:
2/1 ratio of Watermelon to Tomatoes (ex: 6 cups cubed watermelon to 3 cups cut tomatoes, seeded)
1 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup toasted nuts (Suzanne recommends almonds but says walnuts and pecans work just as well, I used pine nuts and she also suggested pistachios)
1/2 cup thin sliced red onion
1/2 cup assorted chopped fresh herbs (Suzanne always includes mint and does variations with parsley, basil, dill and summer savory)
1/2 to 1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Second, make the dressing:
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar (the regular discolors it)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Start by pouring half the dressing over the salad, mix and taste.  Add more dressing as desired and serve.

  • Use heirloom tomatoes for a very colorful salad
  • Put over watercress or arugula lettuces to make more of a green salad…either way is good
  • Try goat cheese vs. the feta.  Same sharp taste and it now comes pre-crumbled for easier assembly

Tuesday, August 2

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps

My farmers market is in full swing and nothing makes me happier than wandering around the stands in the sunshine, picking out produce to last the week.  Without fail, I bring home too much and am left trying to figure out how on earth I will use everything.  Here's my haul from last week:

Corn on the cob, candy onions, heirloom cherry tomatoes, regular tomatoes, baby red potatoes, large zucchini, basil, basil and more basil

I've been wanting to try Ellie Krieger's zucchini parmesan crisps (121 5-star reviews on foodnetwork.com!) and figured they'd go really well with some roasted potatoes and flank steak.  They were a perfect compliment, tons of flavor with a little bit of crunch.  And they cooked at the same time and temp as the potatoes - bonus!

Ellie's recipe used medium zucchinis and I obviously went super sized so my slices were a bit larger, but it worked all the same. 

I tried it with grated (or ground) and shredded parmesan cheese and Roy and I agreed - shredded all the way.  It imparts more flavor and gets bubbly and brown on top.

Make sure you keep your slices to the recommended 1/4" thickness.  If you make them thicker, they won't get crispy. 

And good luck getting them on the table.  Most of the time I couldn't even get them off the baking sheet before a few had disappeared into Roy's mouth!


Ellie Krieger's Zucchini Parmesan Crisps

Cooking spray
2 medium zucchini (about 1 pound total)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (3/4-ounce)
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place aluminum foil on baking sheet and coat with cooking spray.

Slice the zucchini into 1/4-inch thick rounds. In a medium bowl, toss the zucchini with the oil. In a small bowl, combine the Parmesan, bread crumbs, salt, and a few turns of pepper. Dip each round into the Parmesan mixture, coating it evenly on both sides, pressing the coating on to stick, and place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the zucchini rounds until browned and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove with spatula. Serve immediately.

Per Serving: (serving size, 1/2 cup)
Calories 105; Total Fat 6g (Sat Fat 2g, Mono Fat 2g, Poly Fat 0g); Protein 5g; Carb 8.5g; Fiber 1.5g; Cholesterol 1mg; Sodium 222mg