Move over tortellini….it’s time for ravioli

With Memorial Day Weekend down and the beginning of summer season at the Jersey Shore, it’s also the beginning of more grilling, less indoor cooking, and my favorite….salads! Now I adore a good pasta salad, especially something with macaroni and tuna fish involved. Yet sometimes, I also find myself gravitating towards a frozen bag of tortellini and some Italian dressing for a quick and easy side dish!

Alas, there was no tortellini in our freezer upon checking our reserves for dinner tonight….instead just several bags of ravioli that have remained dormant and useful in a pinch during the cold weather. (Honestly, a package of frozen ravioli with a nice thick tomato sauce is a must when it’s freezing outside.) Without tortellini and trying to weigh out the options on hand, I couldn’t help but wonder….why not a cold ravioli salad? Like tortellini, it has cheese in the middle, it’s bite-sized, and the same flavor profiles would work.

Initially, I had attempted trying to locate a cold ravioli salad recipe with little luck. It seems everyone has gravitated towards tortellini instead and with a little bit of research, I located a handful of recipes that seemed way more complicated than it was worth. With a little bit of encouragement from Matt (and a pantry of unlimited resources, it seems), I created this recipe. As most  of you know from prior posts, I tend to draw inspiration from other recipes and vary the original dish to reflect our cooking style. But what does one do when there’s nothing to draw from? You improvise! And this improvisation was one delicious dish. (Matt and I ate over half of that bowl of ravioli with some delicious grilled chicken thighs seasoned in our curry powder–what a tasty way to end Memorial Day weekend, indeed!)

Dishes that are normally prepared hot can be just as delicious served cold. Never be afraid to give them a chance! Maybe next time I’ll throw in some fresh cauliflower, maybe even a nice spinach or grilled yellow squash instead of the broccoli. Or if you’re into the possibility of no vinaigrette and possibly some seasoning or crispy bacon bits, it’s worth a try too. This recipe is one take on a dish that should no longer be overlooked. Tortellini, you’re out and ravioli is in!

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Cold Ravioli Salad

1 package frozen mini ravioli (round or square, doesn’t matter)

1 package frozen chopped broccoli

1 small jar of marinated artichoke hearts, chopped (and hold onto the liquid from the jar, you’ll need it)

1/2 small onion, diced

Italian Balsamic Vinaigrette 

Directions:

1) Prepare ravioli as directed on the package. Use slotted spoon to remove from water and place into large bowl.

2) Prepare broccoli in the pasta water. Cook until bright green and separated, then strain and add to bowl with ravioli.

3) Combine all ingredients into bowl, including liquid from artichoke hearts. Add enough vinaigrette to lightly toss and coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve.

Curry to the masses!

Now I adore spices….really, I do. I’m debating at some point to post pictures of our spice shelf in our pantry….my need for organization has those spices organized with powders on the right, loose leaves/roughly chopped spices on the left, and some random sauces/seasonings right in the middle that I can’t quite classify as either. (Of course, they get all mixed up when in a cooking frenzy and I begrudgingly and lovingly try to organize them back into some semblance of “nice and neat”…Matt pokes fun at my need to have a system.)

Spices elevate a meal in ways that I am only beginning to understand, in ways that salt and pepper just don’t quite cut it. It could be the aroma, it could be the way it incorporates with other ingredients, maybe even the coloring, I don’t care. While yes, simple salt and pepper are quite lovely for most meals, when it comes to curry powder….my mouth salivates at whatever gets to partake in that flavor.

I first came upon this curry powder mixture as part of another recipe, trying to find a new way to flavor up our chicken thighs. (And trust me, that recipe is soon to follow, because I could not imagine life without honey chicken!) At first, Matt wasn’t quite sure what to make of that dish, but that’s another story….back onto curry!

If you do enjoy having spice mixtures on hand, then this short and simple recipe shall be one that you will certainly adore. I know I do and have been methodically finding ways to incorporate it into more of our dishes….especially with grilling–now that is a delicious thought.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Curry Powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Directions:

1) In a small bowl or Tupperware container, combine all ingredients together until well mixed. Store in a cool, dry place.

2) Use on anything (and everything) that you feel could use a delicious, new flavor. And just know: a teaspoon will go a long way!

A marriage of deep-fried deliciousness

Now, as previously evident in an earlier post, I have a slight love for bacon….the idea of slight being that when I was little if we went to the diner I would order a bagel with cream cheese and a side of bacon – which I proceeded to scarf down like I was going to the chair. Bacon, when perfectly cooked (in my opinion), is not floppy, little bit of crunch with just a touch of chew left to it. I know, call me picky, but bacon has to be done right. (And if it’s not….well, you don’t want to see my dark side over bacon.)

It’s definitely a treat to have bacon in our house (considering how ludicrous the prices have been to purchase it at the supermarket). But when we do, bacon is utilized in so many ways. We usually partially cook it, then store the bacon in the fridge for the week and incorporate it into into our dishes. (i,e., pizza, sandwiches, breakfast, chicken, etc.) Even the bacon fat gets stored, as it makes for a great way to cook lean meats like chicken and turkey. (Fun fact: if you read my recipe for Chicken Sloppy Joes, we actually used a little bit of bacon fat to cook the chicken….my mouth is still salivating over that!)

Which brings me to the day that I presented a delicious (and decadent) lunch idea to Matt: deep fried bacon-wrapped hot dogs. And let me tell you, the way his eyes lit up when I mentioned two forms of meat deep-fried (together) and served on a bun? You could have sworn it was Thanksgiving!

I’ll be honest, not everything we eat is completely healthy for us, but sometimes….you just have to let out that inner kid and indulge! And when we do take that step into parenthood, our kids can look forward to treats like this one. (Of course, they better also be prepared to eat brussel sprouts and cauliflower when it’s offered!)

But until that time comes, have fun with your food and enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Deep Fried Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs

Ingredients:

1/2 package hot dogs

4 strips uncooked bacon

Hot Dog rolls

Toppings (optional)

Ketchup

Mustard

Barbecue Sauce

Raw Onion

Relish

Directions:

1) Pre-heat deep fryer to 355-360 degrees

2) Using the smooth side of a meat mallet, pound out each strip of bacon nice and thin, but do not pulverize strip. Wrap the strip around the hot dog, making sure it’s completely covered.

3) Place hot dogs two at a time into the deep fryer, cooking for a few minutes or until bacon is cooked through.

4) Once done, remove and serve. Top with any toppings that you want!

Even chicken can get a little “sloppy”

When it comes to new recipes, I always find simpler is better. When I first started cooking with Matt, he taught me that food doesn’t need to have a million different ingredients in it to be good. But that doesn’t mean it still can’t be absolutely delicious!

Lately, I have been gravitating more towards ground chicken. Why? Because it’s on sale and there is nothing better than a great deal on a delicious meat product, especially chicken! (And because the price of boneless chicken breast makes me want to cry sometimes….how can it be almost $20 for one package of chicken?!?)

But ground chicken is a great alternative! And at first, like the turkey burgers, Matt and I made chicken burgers….which are delicious and require plenty of cook time (because hello, salmonella is just not something we want to deal with.) Yet ground meat in a patty form can get kinda boring if you keep doing the same thing over and over, so I sought a new way to treat the ground chicken and came up with…..sloppy joes!

The recipe I located was easy, minimal ingredients, and the prep time was relatively fast. (I forget where I found it, but rest assured that this recipe will have you feeling less pressure at dinnertime and result in happy bellies.) Now it does contain onion and green pepper,(Matt’s least favorite pepper of all – seriously, for a man who loves the hot peppers, it took a little bit of convincing, not much, to get him into the idea of trying the recipe to the letter); fortunately, this dish was such a hit that Matt even told me the days of chicken burgers are over….he wants this dish again, green peppers and all!

Maybe next time Matt and I will put our homemade barbecue sauce and fresh rolls to the test on this recipe and truly make it all homemade….until then, I suggest trying this one out and adding a side dish of coleslaw! (As you will see by the picture below, I can assure you, my dear reader, this meal lasted less than 10 minutes. It’s that good!)

The best lesson: never be afraid to try other ground meats. Really, beef is great and all, but poultry can be just as delicious and (for those who are super aware of their health) much leaner.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Chicken Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground chicken

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green pepper (small-medium), chopped

3/4 cup barbecue sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Hamburger rolls

Directions:

1) In a medium saute pan on medium-high heat, pour a little oil on the bottom to cover. Once heated, throw in chopped peppers first to soften, stirring frequently.

2) After a few minutes of allowing the peppers to cook, throw in the onion and cook for 2 minutes, allowing time for it to soften.

3) After another few minutes, add ground chicken and stir mixture frequently until chicken is cooked through. (Depending on how thick you want the sauce, if you prefer a thinner sauce mixture do not drain the juices in the pan, as they will help you thin out the sauce.)

4) Turn heat to low, add barbecue sauce and stir until mixture is well coated. Turn off heat and serve on rolls. Should make about 4-6 sandwiches.

This tea is twisted (and soothing) in a delicious way

If there was a drink that I could drink practically every day (aside from red wine and coffee), it would have to be tea. Sweetened, unsweetened, Green Tea, herbal tea, etc…you name a tea, I most likely have tried it! (Fun fact: I get more excited about finding Tea Rooms over a bar….and Tea Rooms more times than not have delicious blueberry scones with clotted cream……mmmmmmmm) So it’s no surprise that when the warmer weather starts to peek out a little bit, I go for my various teas and herbs to create some fun new iced tea concoctions!

And especially when Matt is away for work purposes, the creative concoctions can get a little interesting, like my latest new love: French Lavender. Now, most of us know that lavender has an extremely soothing fragrance, but can also be applied to use in the kitchen. And thanks to my absolutely fabulous friend Julie, who purchased the French Lavender I had placed on our wedding registry, I got inspired to try out this aromatic in my standard recipe for iced tea!

With iced tea, I encourage experimenting. It doesn’t always need to be the standard. You can add herbal teas (and mix’em up), you can add honey, mint, lemon, different spices, etc. I always try to be different by making half of the tea bags I use a regular tea, while the other half are a flavor/specialty tea. It’s always nice to impart just a bit of flavor if you’re not too keen on going solely on one flavor.

The possibilities are truly endless! And to be different, try using Mason Jars instead of a giant pitcher. It looks prettier and also a great way to serve drinks for a party/get-together! (I unabashedly admit that four of those jars of Peach Lavender tea are already gone….three of them within a couple hours.)

While this is only one take, I encourage each and every one of you to try a variation and make it your own! And remember, the measurements I use don’t have to be what you use. Adjust accordingly to your own tastes, especially on the strength of the tea. But I do recommend a little extra water to boil first, because some of it will evaporate in the process.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Peach Lavender Iced Tea

Ingredients:

10 bags of Black Tea

8 bags of Peach Tea

3-4 teaspoons French Lavender (if you have an infuser ball, I recommend using it for the lavender)

1/2 – 3/4 cup honey

20 cups water (in an 8 qt. pot)

Optional:

12 Mason Jars (in place of a pitcher)

Directions:

1) In an 8 qt. pot, pour water in and cover on high heat

2) Unwrap all tea bags and either twist all strings together or cut strings entirely (Note: it makes life easier if you cut the strings, especially since the bags will need to sit and brew for a while)

3) When water is close to boiling, put in French Lavender in infuser ball and place in water. (This will stay in even as tea steeps, but since the flavor is very delicate, you want to allow time for the lavender to impart flavor into the water.)

4) As soon as water is boiling, add honey and start whisking in (You want to put the honey in when the water is hot – it’s a great way to get sweetness in and the temperature of that water will allow for it to meld quicker.)

5) Place tea bags in water and turn off heat. Cover and allow time to steep, at least 15 minutes (or longer, if you prefer a stronger brew). Place pot on a towel or cool burner so that the tea has time to cool down before you put it in the fridge.

6) Once cooled slightly, ladle into mason jars, close with lid, and place in fridge for 2-3 hours before serving. Garnish with lemon.

Taking Stock to a whole new level….

It’s been a while….and we have been cooking up new recipes non-stop!

But more importantly, Matt & I have been sticking to our main lot in life in the kitchen: whatever we make, we try to make homemade. (Except for dairy products, although I am determined to learn how to make fresh mozzarella as soon as I can locate a fairly easy recipe!)

So let’s talk stock….even though I have talked about it at least once or twice before.

Chicken is the easiest one, of course! You get a whole roaster chicken and once you’ve cooked it for one meal, strip it as bare to the bones as you can, Crock Pot it with some onion, fresh herbs & seasonings (thyme, bay leaf, poultry seasoning), and cover the carcass with water….then you lid it, put it on low, and let the gatherings of deliciousness come together! Trust me on this, you will never go back to plain old chicken broth once you have made your own.

You can also do seafood rather easily too, especially if you have shrimp shells and fish bones! (I’ve tried the shrimp shells….it’s definitely an easy way to go and doesn’t require much time to make. And in a seafood soup or stew? YUMMY!)

But my newest favorite concoction? BEEF.

Yes, beef stock (if you cook with bone-in meats) can be quite delicious! And don’t be afraid to add the fat in there as well….the more flavor you can infuse into that stock, the better. And that fat has LOTS of flavor.

Matt and I had prime rib bones to work with (thanks to leftovers from Easter) and so with some bones, red cooking wine, herbs, and a whole lotta love, we created the most delicious stock to date! (You can ask my husband, he will wholeheartedly agree that this was the best stock he’s ever tasted….the proof in how quickly the Beef Noodle Soup we created did not last a week.)

While I do not have a picture of the process, I will have to make do with locating a picture of the soup:

But if you’d like my process….here’s my take on beef stock a la Vintzileos!

And as always, ENJOY!

~ Jenny V


Beef Stock

Ingredients:

Bones (Prime Rib, Steak, Roast, etc. If you’ve had a beef dish and there are bones, don’t be afraid to use them!)

1 cup red cooking wine

4-5 sprigs fresh thyme

2-3 cloves garlic (optional)

1-2 bay leaves

8-10 cups water (possibly more, but it has to be enough to cover the bones completely)

1 medium onion, sliced 

Directions:

1) In a Crock Pot, place the sliced onion along the bottom of the pot.

2) Add the bones, wine, herbs, and garlic, finishing with the water.

3) Turn the Crock Pot on low, cover with lid, and cook at least 8 hours. (My trick is to put the stock on an hour or two before bed, that way when I wake up in the morning, I turn it off and let it start to cool while I get ready for work. Remember, the longer you let those flavors meld, the better your stock will turn out!)