Spicy Tips: For An Early On Mom-To-Be

Well it’s official: Matt and I are expecting our first little one in November!

Of course when I first found out, it was all over a rather drastic change in my eating habits. Matt had been the first one to notice that the beautiful half-rack of ribs that he had made me for dinner one night only warranted a nibbling on 2-3 ribs before I announced I couldn’t eat anymore. I kept asking for dinner later rather than right when I came home, when I would normally be ready to eat my hand! My sleeping habits also took a change when by 9:00 pm I was barely able to stay awake. And so with Matt’s encouragement I took a test one morning and over three months later here we are!

 

Since I am starting my second trimester, I am happy to report my eating habits have started to improve. But if you endured the food aversions like I did, then meats like chicken and beef became your arch-nemesis. I couldn’t even stomach the thought of chicken for almost a solid month and a half until I tried chicken breast at two family events. There were minor cravings for junk food but mostly I stuck to the staples that I knew I could handle without too much fuss.

 

As I am finally feeling a little more peckish these days, I thought I would share some of my tips that got me through the first trimester. Granted, they may not work for everyone but hopefully a few of them do help those mothers-to-be just starting out:

 

1) Keep it plain (and hopefully healthy). I know, not always the easiest thing to do when you have been cooking with lots of spices and flavors. But during that first trimester the thought of food doesn’t always sit right with most women. You may not throw up, you may have a constant wave of nausea, or you may be praying to the porcelain gods. Seriously, keep food plain. Pasta is good and if you feel like a little bit of sauce, add just a little bit. Bread, crackers, tons of water, fresh fruits and veggies–these are the things you want to eat the most of. If you want meat keep it simply seasoned.

 

2) Don’t be afraid to eat the same thing over and over. When you find a food that you can handle you may be eating it several times in a week. For me it was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, unsweetened applesauce, and lots of tomato soup. It felt like for several days a week (minus a few where I did get cravings) these were my main staples. Just be prepared to stick to a regimen that you know your stomach can handle.

 

3) Go with your cravings if you get them. On the days that I would get a craving during my sick period, I went with it! My husband has started to understand that if I crave cheese fries or a chocolate milkshake, it’s good to cave to my craving. It means your body is obviously wanting something from that craving. For the milkshake it reminded me that I more than likely needed more calcium in my diet. With the fries I needed something more filling in my system than just fruits and veggies. You may pay for the cravings later but still go with it. In early pregnancy you can’t avoid the changes that are going on in your body. But more importantly: make sure that what you crave is okay to eat, so talk to your doctor about food “dos and don’ts”.

 

4) It is alright to not eat, but keep hydrated (and you can do this with more than just plain water)! I mean this especially since this was drilled into my head: water is vital. I went days eating minimal. I couldn’t help it when the thought of food would turn my stomach in the nastiest of ways. But water? Yes, you need that. You need that every day in mass quantities. If you’re like me you will get sick of just water, so it’s okay to change this up a little. To settle my stomach I had my Ginger Peach tea with some lemon and honey in the mornings and an occasional afternoon cup (using the same bag–because limiting caffeine is important). Juice with club soda or seltzer was a great way to cut the sugar down and get some light effervescence into my diet. And lemonade? Oh that is just a beautiful citrus bevvy that I would gladly drink every day!

 

5) Getting Sick = Healthy Baby. I can’t take credit for this adage but it’s important to share nonetheless. Every time I paid for my food choices I had to keep remembering that I was getting sick for a good reason: it means my body is producing the hormones needed to help the baby grow. Not everyone deals with morning sickness and some get it a bit too much, but for me it was a reminder that my little one is working hard to get to the proper size and that my body is always in a constant state of adjustment to accommodate that.

 

Whether these tips work for you or you find your own way, just remember that you know your body best. And once you get out of the morning sickness phase, be ready to eat with a vengeance! (Case in point: Matt walking into the house to find me eating a large order of cheese fries and a double Italian Hot Dog. The bit of ketchup I had on my face must have been quite endearing.) And most important for moms-to-be….

 

Enjoy every moment of it!

 

– Jenny V

Francaise: Not just a chicken dish

While I am a healthy mix of nationalities (and according to my recent genealogy research a few I didn’t know about), I was practically raised by my dad’s side: mainly composed of English, German, and Italian family members. I can credit my family for being a key factor in my appreciation of food and cooking. And especially with Italian food, I have developed a rather particular palette. Because while I’m sure a good portion of the Italians I know would pick a tomato-based dish as their favorite, mine has always been and always will be Chicken Francaise. (Fortunately, the version of Francaise we made for this post does have tomato in it.)

In fact, I love Chicken Francaise so much that during my freshman year in college when the cafeteria had failed spectacularly in their attempt to make it (they added raisins and made it sweet….NEVER add raisins or make it sweet, it’s gross), I went home that weekend and asked my dad for an emergency dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. I still shudder thinking of those raisins….I stress that they should NEVER be added to a savory, lemony dish…:::shudders:::…but I digress.

About three years ago, approximately April of 2013, Matt and I opted for takeout from our favorite local Italian joint. I remember the date because Matt encouraged me to order anything and everything from the menu for reasons unbeknownst to me. It was after the fact that he admitted that that was the day him and his mom were in a jewelry store picking out my engagement ring. That day in particular, I had a craving for Shrimp Francaise. I had tried the chicken, I had even tried a flounder version from one of our favorite seafood restaurants. But shrimp? Never.

Fast forward to a few years later, Matt and I decided to try making Shrimp Francaise to add some new dishes to our repertoire. The end result was a delicious lemony and buttery seafood dream, with some fresh sauteed spinach and cherry tomatoes that were bursting with flavor! Seriously, cooked cherry tomatoes–look into it and do it. And as for spinach, buy it fresh in bulk and you will yield many meals: a nice salad, a sandwich topping, and of course, cooked in Shrimp Francaise.

Fun plays on classic dishes are always a great way to spice up your culinary technique in the kitchen. This one is definitely a keeper.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn & Matt’s Shrimp Francaise 

1/2 lb. shrimp, cleaned & fully peeled

2 eggs, whisked

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 lemon, sliced thin 

1 container cherry tomatoes

1-2 healthy handfuls fresh spinach

1/2 cup white cooking wine

1 cup chicken broth

1 – 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon butter

1-2 tablespoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Salt, to taste

 

Directions:

1) In a small bowl, mix in eggs and tablespoon of lemon juice. In a small pan, mix flour, paprika, and black pepper. Dredge each shrimp through flour mixture, then egg mixture. Place shrimp in pan over medium high heat with a little oil in pan. Brown on each side and let it cook almost all the way through, then remove from pan.

2) Into pan, add tablespoon of flour and butter to create a roux, then add white wine, chicken broth, squeezed lemon juice, and tomatoes. Before the tomatoes begin to burst, add the spinach and shrimp. Place lemon slices over top.

3) Cook until spinach begins to wilt and  tomatoes burst. Remove from heat, season with salt if desired, and serve over pasta.

 

 

 

Spicy Tips: The Perfect Chicken Noodle Soup

Spoiler Alert: Be prepared for the onslaught of chicken dishes!

When the fall season hits, I can’t think of anything better than busting out the Crock Pot and making dishes that assault your sense of smell when you return from work that day. Also, the house just feels warmer and more inviting that way. Trust me, there’s nothing better than after a long day of being on the phone with an insurance company to argue a client’s claim, to walk in and smell the love that your dish has been making while you were away. It’s a calming force.

So before I wax poetic on slow cooking, let’s get back to the topic. Namely, Chicken Noodle Soup. I know we all have a recipe that we follow. We all have our own tricks and tips that personalize how we create this cold-weather classic. And so I want to share a few of my own, as there are a few helpful suggestions to guarantee positive results.

 
1) Make sure to flavor your broth!

When you’re sick, Chicken Noodle is simply the best soup (in my opinion) that can bring you out of that non-hunger phase and nourish your soul. It has the protein from the chicken, the vitamins from the vegetables, the noodles to help fill you up, and most importantly: that nice salty broth to break through your temporarily altered taste buds. So while I love adding a healthy dose of poultry seasoning, don’t forget salt and pepper! There’s nothing worse than all those delicious elements in a bland broth. And taste as you go….I cannot stress that enough.

 

2) If you can, make your own stock.

You can always buy chicken broth if you’re in a pinch, but I love making my own stock. When Matt & I purchase a whole chicken, we first roast it and eat the breast for dinner that night. Then, strip the meat off the chicken down to the bones, as the meat will be perfect for soup when you process and chop it. And in the Crock Pot, put that carcass in with enough water to cover the top of the bones, then lid on low and slow for 8-9 hours (and sometimes longer).

Once the carcass starts to fall apart in the stock, that’s a good sign. When done, remove the bones and my final move is to place a paper towel in the strainer and ladle in broth through that into a container. The stock will retain some fat, but this helps keep bone fragments out of your broth. Use a wooden spoon to push around the liquid to get it to strain. You may replace the paper towels a few times as eventually the fat will pool enough to where nothing gets through, but that’s okay. This is a messy (but rewarding) process. You get a clearer broth this way.

 

3) Saute your veggies before you put them in and make sure they’re fresh!

I keep my veggies standard: celery, onion, carrot. You can add fun ingredients like leeks or fennel, but I love the classics when it comes to chicken soup. Now, you can always just throw the veggies in raw and allow the slow cooking to do its magic, but I love getting a little bit of color on those veggies. You won’t necessarily get a bite of onion as it melts into the broth, but you will taste a hint of it. The carrots will practically melt in your mouth, as will the celery. You want to let them cook the longest in your broth.

So for the best result, a little bit of oil in a pan, saute for less than 5 minutes, and add the veggies first to the broth.

 

4) For best results, make the noodles separately (and keep them that way).

This is more a rule because Matt does not like soggy noodles. And it’s a good one! The noodles are always the final ingredient to add to the soup, because once they’re done the soup is done. And then once in the fridge, the noodles keep expanding the longer they sit. And instead of soup, you get this noodle dish with soup elements and minimal broth. So instead, I tried a new trick: I cooked the noodles alone, strained them, then placed them first in the bowl and ladled the soup over the top.

When I had to clean up and put the rest in the fridge, I made a decision to keep the noodles in a separate container. You get more control over the amount of noodles you want in your bowl, and the broth remains intact when you heat it up.

 

5) Low and slow is the best way to go!

I have forgotten the most important tip of all: the slow cooker is the best way to make Chicken Soup. Flavors are best when they have a chance to meet and meld for a while. You don’t want to rush this step and if you have the time, take it. The depth of flavor you can achieve from that low and slow technique is second to none.

 

And as always….enjoy!

– Jenny V

A “Creamy Italian” twist on a summer standard

When summer hits, Matt and I are notorious for the cold salads, as you could tell with my last post about potato salad.

But our main summer salad? Macaroni salad.

We never make it the same way twice, always just grabbing for whatever is on hand in the fridge to try and utilize our food in different ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as onion and celery, other times I toss in some pepper with the onion and maybe some artichoke, and sometimes I pull out some of our frozen veggies and toss a little broccoli and peas in.

This week I felt compelled to make an Italian-style salad with pepperoni, genoa salami, red pepper, and fresh mozzarella. Now normally I would add Italian dressing to the mix, but if you’re like me, this salad is always subject to all the ingredients (minus the pasta) dropping to the bottom of the bowl. And the more you mix, the more it goes.

But not this time. I was determined to incorporate Italian flavors from the dressing and create a cohesive dish. And it hit me: Creamy Italian Dressing! When I make a mayo-based macaroni salad the ingredients never fall to the bottom. Instead, the mayo acts as a cohesive and creates the perfect blend ratio of pasta to its edible accoutrements.

And I must say, it was a success! To add a little more zip, you can always whisk in a little bit of the regular Italian dressing. Trust me, the Creamy Italian will still do its thing. More importantly, before you serve, always make sure to add just a little dollop more of the Creamy Italian Dressing. When sitting in the fridge, the pasta has a tendency to sop up a lot of the liquid, so that little dollop rejuvenates the dish a little bit.

As always, enjoy!

– Jenny V


 

 

Jenn’s Creamy Italian Macaroni Salad

1 box rotini pasta, cooked and drained

1/4 – 1/2 cup pepperoni, diced

1/4 – 1/2 cup genoa salami, diced

1/2 container fresh mozzarella, quartered

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup vidalia onion, diced

1/2 cup Creamy Italian Dressing

1/4 cup Italian Dressing

Italian Seasoning

 

Directions:

1) In a large bowl, add pasta, pepperoni, salami, mozzarella, red pepper, and onion. Mix.

2) In a 2-cup measuring cup, add Creamy Italian and Italian dressing. Whisk together until smooth.

3) Add dressing over pasta and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle Italian Seasoning over mixture, just a few taps, and mix.

4) Cover and refrigerate minimum 4 hours to overnight before serving.

Giving potato salad a face-lift

When I think about making potato salad, it tends to make me break out in a sweat. Because while the finished product looks easy enough, just the notion that the potato needs to be perfectly cooked enough where a fork can go through it, but not crumble….is daunting. But Matt had faith in me this week as he played a double on Monday and left a request for potato salad on my plate. And I was not about to let him down in the slightest.

To make potato salad, red potatoes are truly the best one. They’re durable and you can pretty much leave the skin on them when you cut them into bite-sized pieces. Just make sure each potato is washed thoroughly and that any eyes or bad spots are removed. And especially since we needed to move the last of our red potatoes, it was a win-win.

Place your bite-sized pieces into a pot of cold water on high heat and let it come up to a boil. To check if they’re cooked through, try to locate the largest piece and stick a fork in it. If the fork goes through with ease, then they’re done. And if you’re nervous like me, after you check the potato, turn off the heat and let the potatoes sit in the hot water for a minute or two. Trust me, they’re still cooking when you do this.

Since our fridge was a little more barren of the essentials to make potato salad, I learned to get creative. This is quite typical in our home when making a multi-layered type salad. (Seriously, watch me make a garden salad or macaroni salad and you’ll understand.) I kinda think of it like a “hodge podge” dish, so to speak.

Because instead of yellow onions, I used the remainder of green onions that we had from our last shopping trip. Celery was replaced by fennel stalks. And for a little pop of color, some diced red bell pepper.

The only thing I think it’s missing? Hard-boiled egg. I may need to attempt this version sooner rather than later.

If you’re willing to get over your fears, it’s amazing what you can accomplish in the kitchen. Matt believes I don’t give myself enough credit. And with this potato salad recipe, I’m sort of inclined to believe him.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

  

Jenn’s “Hodge Podge” Potato Salad

6-7 medium red potatoes, cubed

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise

1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

1 tablespoon honey dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 tablespoon pepper

2 fennel stalks, diced (you want about a cup)

1/2 diced red bell pepper

1/4 – 1/2 cup green onion, chopped

Paprika, if desired

 

Directions:

1) Place cubed potatoes in 3-quart pan in cold water. Cover and heat to boiling. Allow potatoes to continue cooking in boiling water until larger pieces of potato are soft enough to let a fork go through. Turn off heat and allow to sit in water another 1-2 minutes before draining thoroughly and placing in large bowl.

2) Mix mayonnaise, vinegar, mustards, salt, and pepper in a large measuring cup or bowl. Whisk until smooth.

3) Add fennel, green onion, and pepper to potato mixture. Add dressing and stir thoroughly to cover. Add sprinkle of paprika and continue mixing. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours to overnight before serving.

 

The greatest honey love of all….

A while ago I had posted about curry powder, which leads me right back to the recipe that required it first: honey chicken.

A few well-known facts about my honey chicken recipe:

It’s super easy to make. (I mean it. If you can master that curry powder recipe, then this will be a breeze, especially since the curry powder is a key ingredient in this dish. And if you need a refresher on the curry powder, then just click here.)

You need to be attentive to this dish. (Once you see the picture, you’ll understand why. You want that golden color with just a hint of browning when you bake it, so a lot of love and care goes into this meal. But again, it is easy so no worries. And when I mean easy, I mean super easy.)

My husband goes crazy for this dish every time I make it. (It’s one of the few leftovers he’ll eat over and over again….and if you know Matt, he’s not a big leftovers kind of person.)

And the sauce that is created while baking? Yummy is an understatement. It’s gooey and buttery and sweet with a hint of salt. Trust me on this, if made right the outside looks sticky and sweet, but that salty savory bite is worth it. Also, the yummy factor applies when you add a side of mashed potatoes or possibly egg noodles too. (You need a carb or starchy side because honey chicken is a great “stick to your bones” type of dish.)

I love the way sweet ingredients can lend themselves to savory dishes….be adventurous and give them a try!

And yes, enjoy!

~Jenny V


  

   
Jenn’s Honey Chicken

1 package of chicken thighs, bone-in, fat slightly trimmed (if you’d prefer)

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup honey

1 teaspoon curry powder (refer to my Curry Powder recipe)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup yellow mustard

Directions:

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2) In large baking dish, place chicken thighs, skin side up.

3) In large measuring cup or small bowl, combine remaining ingredients and whisk until mixed, then pour mixture over chicken evenly. Make sure to coat each piece.

4) Bake for 75-90 minutes, basting thighs in mixture every 15 minutes. When skin looks golden and starts to take on a deep brown color on most of the pieces, remove and serve.

 

Spicy Tips: Turkey Leftovers….a delicious aftermath

Ah, Thanksgiving has come and gone. For the week following, we stuff our faces with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and all the cranberry sauce that we can eat. (Except Matt….cranberry sauce is just not his thing….unless I can find a good use for it with our leftovers.)

A week later….that once decadent plate of turkey goodness starts to become mundane. And there are only so many times that one can make a leftover plate or turkey sandwiches. This is when Matt and I start to get creative with ways that we can move the leftovers, and it becomes like a game to see how many new recipes we can think up.

Yes, turkey stock may be the prime suspect of leftover transformation (and some of the best soup you’ll ever have), but we have gotten into dishes like fried turkey wings (flour them first before you fry….you’ll thank me later), turkey pot pie (a revelation in itself…and a recipe I will share soon), and our newest creation….Thanksgiving leftover Spring Rolls!

Now, I’m aware there are videos about doing this with egg rolls, and I had that pointed out several times over to me when I initially posted the picture of our dish….but I’m telling you that if you want a lighter, potentially crispier outside, go for the spring roll.

They’re quite simple to make. Just make sure that if you cook the rolls in batches, that you move the rolls to make sure they won’t stick to one another. Not for long, mind you, because eventually when they’re close to done, they stop sticking to one another.

Also, you can make these as thick (or thin) as you like! Sometimes a thinner roll will cook quicker than you even realize, so definitely watch when you make them.

And as always….enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

 Jenn’s Thanksgiving Leftover Spring Rolls

1 package spring roll wrappers (about 16 to a package)

1/2 to 1 lb. turkey, finely chopped

1 box of stuffing, prepared

1) Turn on fryer to 350-375 degrees or heat oil in a pot on the stove until that temperature.

2) In a round cake pan, fill halfway with water. Take one spring roll wrapper and soak for 15-20 seconds. Remove and lay flat on paper towel.

3) Spoon one tablespoon of turkey and 1-2 tablespoons of stuffing towards one end of the wrapper. Fold in sides and roll. Place in a pan. Repeat this process until all wrappers are used.

4) Place 3-4 pre-made rolls into fryer, watching to make sure they don’t stick. Cook 2-4 minutes or until rolls stop wanting to stick to one another. Remove and place onto plate with paper towel to remove excess oil. Repeat process until all rolls are cooked. Serve with turkey gravy or non-jellied cranberry sauce for dipping.

 

Something “doesn’t” smell fishy around here….

When it comes to tuna fish, I kinda have this awesome recipe in my arsenal.

It took years to perfect, years of trying various flavor combinations and different ingredients to try and counteract the fishy smell….but I have it….and it is glorious (and simple)….because tuna fish is glorious (and simply delicious). Or at least Matt seems to think so. I mean, he is the tuna fish connoisseur.

It started when we started dating.

I consider this one of the first meals I remember having with Matt. (He’ll, of course, regale you with the steak sandwich and roasted potatoes story….or the homemade roasted garlic mashed potatoes and how I scarfed them down like I was going to the electric chair….but this one resonates with me still.) With whatever ingredients were available to make it, we would make tuna fish sandwiches accompanied by either fries or potato chips. The simplest of meals do tend to make for some of the best dishes, in my opinion.

Eventually, instead of adding vinegar to the tuna and mayo, lemon juice made an appearance and not only counteracted the smell and provided that acidity that I so desperately crave with creamy mayonnaise, but removed the fishy flavor as well. (Also, tuna and lemon? They really pair well, hot or cold.) Salt and pepper replaced by copious amounts of dill….which is a revelation in itself. I’m serious here, dill is the answer. I can’t begin to explain why, but you’ll understand when you add it. And instead of plain bread crumbs (if you’re gluten free, these can be omitted), lemon pepper panko bread crumbs. (No joke, the flavor that they add? Not to sound basic, but I can’t even. And if you want salt and pepper, you’ll find it in those bread crumbs.) Also, I find that chilling the tuna fish cans in the refrigerator before use is a beautiful thing.

The one bugaboo that most might find an issue with is that I use tuna fish packed in oil. Yes, oil. Tuna in water is fine, but I feel it dilutes the flavor a little and breaks the tuna down way too much. Canned tuna in oil, in my opinion, lends that little extra bit of fat (even with mayo, it’s needed, because Tuna is rather lean for me). We actually had heard about chefs on the Food Network who prefer oil to water, and once we tried tuna in oil, we have (tried) to never buy tuna in water. (Although, if there is a sweet sale, compromises can be made.)

And to add a little Italian flair, switch out the bacon with some fried prosciutto. (As Alex Guarnaschelli would say: growllllllll)

And as always….enjoy!

~Jenny V


 

Jenn’s Ultimate Tuna Fish

3-4 cans Albacore Tuna Fish, chilled and packed in vegetable oil – strained and flaked

1 lemon, juiced (if you don’t have fresh lemon, add about 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice)

1/4 cup lemon pepper panko bread crumbs (can add more if tuna mixture is too runny)

1/4 cup mayonnaise (to start, add more if needed)

2 heaping teaspoons dill (I use dried because it’s easier to handle, but you can use fresh if you’d like)

Your favorite sliced bread (or wrap-just make it something you love)

Directions:

1) In a small mixing bowl, add strained tuna and using a fork, flake the fish. Add dill, lemon juice, and bread crumbs into bowl. Mix thoroughly.

2) Add mayonnaise and mix until incorporated. If too much mayo, add more bread crumb. If too dry, add more mayo. Serve on your favorite bread or wrap. Makes about 4-6 sandwiches.

 

Zuppa di Pesce: the gift that keeps on being delicious

As a rule in our house, Matt and I decided that instead of spending money on each other’s birthdays on fancy presents, that our cooking skills be put to the test and we cook for one another. While both of us will end up in the kitchen, I love the idea that the other has to help bring this meal to fruition. It has made celebrating our birthday a much more delicious venture and a great gift idea!

In fact, we try to adhere to this rule for most holidays/special occasions. (Although I am fairly certain Matt will not always adhere to that rule and has gotten me something a little extra to go with my nice meal. He’s sweet like that.)

Last year for my 31st, I requested a steak (any cut as long as it was nicely marbled upon purchase), homemade macaroni and cheese, and oven-roasted brussel sprouts. I don’t think I need to say that my loving husband delivered a fantastic meal! For his 34th, he asked me for a seafood dish, to which I came up with Zuppa di Pesce. (And to those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s seafood in a nice tomato broth….any seafood you choose to put in there. Or, you know, that fish soup.) Add in homemade pasta and a nice loaf of crusty French bread, Matt was in seafood heaven.

(And after this past weekend, where Matt’s mom also got to experience the awesomeness of our Zuppa di Pesce, I’d say it’s time this recipe was shared!)

Since then, the need to continue perfecting our Zuppa di Pesce became a bit of a game. We tried different combinations of seafood. Sometimes there would be clams, other times bay scallops, maybe even a couple nice pieces of cod would make it in there, complete with the staple of shrimp at the ready. To be honest, I don’t think we have made this dish the same way twice, but that’s the beauty of a giant mixed seafood dish–you can always play with the combination depending on what’s on sale!

Also, remembering how I have talked about stock…why not a seafood stock? Trust me, it’s super easy to make and you can do it with the one thing that most of us dislike when we have to peel shrimp….the shells! Since Matt and I always buy raw frozen shrimp, when it comes time to defrost and peel for the meal we’re using it in, I save the shells in a Ziploc bag and once I accumulate a HUGE bag of them, in they go to a pot of boiling water for 20-30 minutes, allow it to cool, then strain into a Tupperware container and voila–stock!

If you don’t have stock, use clam juice or even fresh clams and mussels in the recipe; adding something with those briny, salty juices of the sea will make the dish, I promise!

Also, cooking with wine is key! If you don’t have a lot of stock or clam juice available, add a little extra white wine instead.

For this version of the recipe, I figured adding the whole gambit of seafood would help. You can always add or take away with the seafood. Just be sure to have some fun with it. (i.e., calamari, sea scallops, prawns, flounder, etc.–get creative!)

When cooking is your gift, it’s always nice to share it with those dear to you. Because instead of trinkets throughout the years, you get these wonderful memories of delicious dishes and the moments that accompany the meal.

Enjoy (with love).

~ Jenny V


Matt and Jenn’s Zuppa di Pesce

1 lb. uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 lb. mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

1 dozen clams, cleaned

1 lb. bay scallops, rinsed

1 28 oz. can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

 2 cups white wine

2-3 cups seafood stock (or clam juice)

1 medium onion, diced

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1-2 teaspoons Salt

1-2 teaspoons Pepper

1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning

1/2 teaspoon of Crushed Red Pepper

Directions:

1) In large cast-iron pot or large stock pot on medium-high heat, add olive oil to lightly coat bottom, then add diced onion. Once onion starts to soften, add in minced garlic. Cook both until softened and aromatics are released, probably about 5 minutes at most.

2) Add in cooking wine and bring pot up to medium-high heat to allow alcohol to cook out, roughly 10 minutes. Next, add in almost all of the seafood stock, can of tomato sauce, and seasonings. (To get the residual tomato sauce out of the can, use the reserved stock by pouring it in and swishing it around in the can, then pour into the pot.) Allow mixture time to meld and cook, about 15-20 minutes. (Note: if you’re making pasta, start the water around this step, probably about mid-way.)

3) Put in clams and mussels first as they will need the most time to cook and open up. When clams and mussels look like they’re starting to open up, add in shrimp and scallops to cook the last few minutes. Once shrimp is cooked through, serve with pasta, really good crusty bread, or both.

A Taste of New Jersey

While I don’t fit the stereotype, I am proud to admit that I was born and raised in New Jersey. To me, that meant access to all different types of cuisine, all within 20-30 minutes of where I lived. Italian, Chinese, French, Spanish, Mexican, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Portuguese, etc. – you name it, I’ve probably tried it! And with Manhattan only a half hour away from where I grew up, I was one lucky girl!

But I’m a simple girl when it comes to food. And one of my favorites that one could get in my neighborhood? Italian Hot Dogs.

Yup, you heard me. Access to any ethnic or exotic cuisine and I gravitate back towards hot dogs….which I can thank my Pop-Pop for. When I was little and he was visiting from Ohio, my Pop-Pop would always take me and my brother to Galloping Hill Inn (better known as ‘Five Points’ because of the way the intersection was structured) and I would order what I considered one of the best hot dogs I have ever had.

Within that first bite, the skin would snap, the juices from within would dribble down my chin, and the condiments that I carefully selected each time I had one would complement all the flavors that my taste buds experienced. Of course, it was almost always ketchup or cheese that went on mine. My brother would blow out his taste buds with the aptly dubbed “hot works.” (Yeah, hot peppers and spicy mustard? Not my thing.)

While I still remember the feeling of taking that first bite a of a Five Points hot dog and spending time with my Pop-Pop, it wasn’t until Charlie’s Hot Dogs in my hometown that I got my first taste of an Italian Hot Dog.

And if you haven’t tried, you’re missing out!

It’s a crazy meal on a bun, with peppers, onions, potatoes, mustard (if you’re into that sort of thing), and the star of the dish: the perfectly cooked hot dog.

Also, NO sauce or cheese! Seriously, I don’t know where people got the notion that something Italian always needs sauce or cheese. Simple ingredients, people! (Ok, cheese can stay, but not too much!)

Although….our version of this delicious dish took a bit of a different turn one night. Matt is used to my food cravings, and I think he secretly enjoys cooking all of them! And when I had the craving for that Italian Hot Dog, my husband made it his mission to make sure that we made that dish and knocked it out of the park. (He had also never tried one before and after trying his first Italian Hot Dog, I think he had a better understanding of how delectable this dish can be–especially when he finished his before me!)

So on one particular night, when we went to grab the hot dog buns in our kitchen, they had already met the fate of every bread’s arch-nemesis: mold. Luckily, we had some beautiful flour tortillas on hand and turned this bread-y snafu into a delicious venture! And frankly, I think the tortillas allow you to treat this dish more like a wrap and cram more meat and veggies and potatoes in! Easier to hold and manage? Yeah, that’s the stuff.

**Cheese also seems to work better on this version. Doesn’t need it, but a little doesn’t hurt!**

**If you don’t have a fresh pepper on hand, a jar of roasted red peppers works quite nice on this dish as well! The sweetness will play nicely with the savory and salt of the hot dog.**

Also, for the potatoes, you can always have those partially cooked before you start this dish. In fact, I urge you to do so. That way, when you go to fry them up, they’re quicker to cook. Potatoes take longer than we realize, so prep this item hours (or even days) in advance if you’d like. But for the sake of the dish, I’ll share how you make them with the dish.

To recap: easy dish, simple ingredients, helps clean out your pantry, and fun to make! And as always….

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Italian Hot Dog Wrap

1 package of hot dogs (any kind you like!)

8 large flour tortillas, slightly warmed (you want those pliable to fold and for celiacs, use corn tortillas)

4 small to medium potatoes, cubed and partially cooked

1 onion, sliced thinly

1 jar roasted red pepper, diced (or grill one pepper, then cut into strips)

Shredded Pizza Blend Cheese (not a traditional item, but trust me on this, the Pizza Blend is kinda perfect)

Mustard (I prefer yellow, but brown mustard is pretty damn good too)

Ketchup (this goes well too)

Directions:

1) In deep-fryer pre-heated to 350-375 degrees, put in cubed potatoes. Partially cook 2-3 minutes, then remove and allow to sit, letting oil drain. (If you don’t have a fryer, a pan with a considerable amount of oil to allow potatoes to fry in it.)

2) In sauté pan on medium-low heat, put in 2 tablespoons butter, then add onions. Cook until onions start softening, then add in roasted red pepper. Cook until onions starts to look translucent. Remove from heat and set aside.

3) Drop potatoes back in fryer. Cook until crispy & dark brown on the outside. Remove and set aside.

4) Turn grill on high heat. When ready, place hot dogs on grill and cook to desired look.

5) While hot dogs are cooking, throw tortillas on a plate and cook in microwave 15-20 seconds to warm. Remove and set aside.

6) As hot dogs come off grill, prepare wrap by placing tortilla down on plate, sprinkle small handful of cheese, then potatoes, onion & pepper mixture, top with hot dog, close ends and roll like burrito. Serve with ketchup or mustard.