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.

 

Going “Swiss” on a classic….

If there’s one thing Matt knows about me, it’s that I have a love for certain foods.

Pickles, Fried Chicken, Sushi, Mashed Potatoes, Cauliflower, a nice rare Steak, Fresh Berries, and most importantly…..Macaroni & Cheese.

I know, not all my options are exactly healthy, per se, but I love my comfort foods just the same. There’s a decadence in them that I only indulge in when I am in need. (i.e., womanly issues, long day at work, etc.) I’m not one to reach for mountains of chocolate. I’m more the one to reach for a nice heaping bowl of mashed potatoes or homemade mac….and sometimes the occasional delivery of sushi.

But Macaroni & Cheese can occasionally get boring, so playing with the flavor combinations are quite fun when you get the chance.

For Valentine’s Day, Matt and I are not big on going out and spending an exorbitant amount of money on a meal we can make at home. No. In fact, we prefer to cook that decadent meal in the comfort of our home.

I had been toying around with the idea of a Bacon & Swiss Mac & Cheese for a while now. While I’m not a fan of cold Swiss (like my husband with a roast beef sandwich), melting it has yielded some tasty meals, namely Chicken Cordon Bleu. So why not to Macaroni & Cheese as well?

Adding the shredded Swiss to the roux and milk mixture proved to be a delicious change: the bite of Swiss was tempered with grated Parmesan cheese and the saltiness of the bacon. The combination provided decadent flavors to a rather inexpensive meal. (And Swiss is a nice alternative to Gruyere, which can run you about $30/lb….indulge only when it will make or break the dish!)

Sometimes our favorites need a little bit of a facelift….and the result can be quite delicious!

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

baconswissmaccheese

Jenn’s Bacon Swiss Macaroni & Cheese

1 box elbow macaroni

1 package shredded Swiss cheese

1/4 – 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 1/2 – 3 cups milk

2 Tablespoons butter

1 – 2 Tablespoons flour

1/2 package bacon, cooked until crispy and chopped into bits

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1/8 block Velveeta, cubed

Salt

Pepper

Directions:

1) Prepare pasta to “al dente”. Drain well and place in large glass baking dish. Sprinkle almost all bacon over the pasta and save a little bit for topping, probably around 1-2 Tablespoons.

2) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In saucepan on medium heat, combine butter and flour to create a roux, then gradually add in milk. When milk starts to thicken, add in Swiss , Parmesan, and Velveeta, stirring until cheese has melted. Add in salt and pepper to taste. Once at desired flavor, remove from heat. (**Save a little bit of Swiss and Parmesan for topping**)

3) Pour sauce mixture over macaroni & bacon, mixing thoroughly until sauce coats all pasta. Sprinkle remaining cheese, bacon, and bread crumbs over the top, then bake in oven for 30-40 minutes. Remove and serve.

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: How to Move Your Halloween Candy (Without Throwing It Out!)

So if you’re like me and Matt, it’s the week after Halloween and you are left with copious amounts of chocolate in your home. We over-bought candy in ratio to the amount of trick-or-treaters in the neighborhood and as a result….were left with the majority of the candy we had purchased.

At first, picking up and eating a piece here and there is fine. Yet after a week of nothing but candy….I’m ready to scream!

But it’s alright, over-buying of Halloween candy seems to be a yearly tradition that all of us appear to go through. (And there’s only so many days in a row that one can grab for a Kit-Kat or Snickers without getting bored.) It reminded me of Thanksgiving, and how at Thanksgiving after we stuff our faces silly, the leftovers need to be “re-invented” in a way so that food is not wasted.

So with our large plastic bowl filled with all the candy that one can imagine, and as the baker in our house, I got to thinking about ways to make the candy move in more creative ventures….and that’s when I decided to make Halloween Candy Cookies.

Using the same recipe that we have to make Chocolate Chip cookies, Matt and I substituted the chocolate chips for M&Ms with chopped up pieces of Snickers and Milky Ways.

And the results? Absolutely delicious!

The caramel oozed out of the cookie just perfectly. And the nougat proved to melt just right into the batter, coupled with that crunch of peanut and candy shell. What we were left with was cookies….as Emeril would say….kicked up a notch!

So if you’re like me and you find that Halloween has left you with more chocolate than Willy Wonka….don’t be afraid to put that candy to good use and bake with it! Cookies, brownies, cupcakes, cheesecake–you name it, I’m sure you can (and will) find a great use for that candy!

And if you’re like me, already planning what to do with your children’s candy. (Or in my case: future children’s….when we’re ready. I sense bargaining in future years.)

Enjoy! (And happy baking!)

~Jenny V

Now that’s a tasty meatball!

Coming from an Italian family (my maiden name being Corcione), I have witnessed several of my family members create their own recipes to make meatballs with their “Sunday Sauce”.

Yes, recipes. Because depending on the home I was eating at, whether it be my Pop-Pop & Grandma Gloria, my Aunt Annie & Uncle Mike, my cousins Fran & Rusty, my mom Michele, my Uncle Mark, etc.–the recipe would be different every time (and the results absolutely delicious!) I feel meatballs are a craft that one develops their own way, their own flair to it. Like snowflakes, no two methods are exactly alike.

Maybe one likes more egg, maybe it depends on the type of meat used, maybe parmesan is introduced, maybe a particular type of bread crumbs (or substitute if you’re gluten-free), maybe the seasonings vary, and depending on the region, even pignoli nuts or even possibly raisins. (Yes, raisins, this was a recipe I was raised on….it’s actually pretty damn good if you know how to incorporate them. And if you don’t believe me, Google it and see just how many recipes exist with this combination.) And just like my family, over time, I created my own meatball recipe based on the cooking knowledge that my family imparted through years of meals.

Matt, who spent several years in Italian catering, swears by these meatballs….which means a lot to me. Initially, when the both of us started to make macaroni & gravy (yes, gravy….and if you need reminding, I do have a post dedicated to this as well), this recipe was still in the works. We had tried ground beef so many times, trying to add the right ratio of eggs to bread crumbs & seasonings & parmesan, and then one night while making the gravy, I decided to try meatloaf mix….with a surprising result!

You will notice that I treat meatballs in a similar fashion to my meatloaf recipe, because I know that those ingredients flavor the meat in exactly the way I want. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to measure out this recipe as I consider making mixtures using chop meat a more “by feel” process, but just know that you want to have your mixture slightly sticky, but doesn’t stick to your fingers. That meatball mixture has to be moist enough to roll into balls and retain their structure.

Being able to keep with family traditions are important (especially if you have them). But even with traditions, making your own with your spouse, family, friends, etc.–that’s truly what life is about. I can’t wait until Matt and I have our own family and we can share recipes just like this one with them. And maybe, just maybe, they learn how to make their own traditions with their families.

Enjoy!

~Jenny V


Jenn’s “That’s a Tasty” Meatball Recipe

2-3 pounds meatloaf mix

1 packet Onion Soup mix

2 eggs (you can add 3, but just be mindful of the moisture, as you want these meatballs to retain structure while cooking)

Bread Crumbs (this is difficult to measure out, I’d say start with 1/4 cup and add as needed)

Italian Seasoning (if you use plain bread crumbs, add 2 tablespoons of this to the mix)

Worcestershire Sauce (again, something I don’t normally measure, but I’d say give that bottle about 8-10 shakes into the bowl….you can add 12 shakes if you’d like)

Parmesan Cheese (optional, but a great addition–add only up to 1/4 cup, if any)

Directions:

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients thoroughly until mixture is slightly sticky but does not stick to fingers too much. (Make sure not to overmix as that will warm the meat too much and make it super sticky.)

2) Roll meatballs into golf-ball sized pieces (or if you prefer a little smaller, you can do that too….go with what size you like, as long as you adhere close to the size of a golf ball). Place on sheet tray (or two) until all meat is used.

3) Bake in oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes, turning them at least once halfway through. Serve with spaghetti and sauce (and devour every last bite!)

“Tempuring” the perfect Tempura

When Matt and I do venture out to dinner to not cook (gasp!), we try to have meals that we cannot normally make. Why? Because if we know we make the dish at home, why go out and have it made for us? We can just as easily have it in the comfort of our home for much cheaper and with the ingredients we want to add.

This would include such cuisines as Seafood, Thai, Chinese (certain dishes), Japanese, and anywhere we choose for special occasions. Of course, add in the occasional pizza and seasonal trip to the Circus Drive-In (for a pizza burger, cheese hot dog, and the best onion rings ever) and you have our routine. (Also, maybe when there’s a weird window of hunger between one of Matt’s gigs and inability to go home to eat, we tend to bend our rules a little.)

As usual, off on a tangent, but let’s get back on this–out of all of these culinary mysteries, Japanese cooking has eluded us….until recently. While I won’t see Matt going for sushi any time soon (loves raw bar, dislikes sushi), we have attempted some delectable Japanese ventures like Panko-crusted chicken and a staple appetizer: Tempura Shrimp.

Yes, shrimp, our favorite seafood to keep in the house on hand. I feel like I could devote an entire chapter in a cookbook to shrimp, but the Tempura shrimp? My goodness, if you have not attempted this, you will think twice about ordering it once you’ve made it at home….or hate how the breading sticks to things. Either way, it leaves an impact.

Aside from now needing to brainstorm how to keep the batter from sticking to the fryer basket (probably just technique), in this recipe you may (will) need to add more water….just add gradually though, one teaspoon at a time. (Trust me on this, our first batter, while it made delicious tempura, was a bit soupy. You want sometime more like a thick pancake batter, because that batter needs to stick to whatever you want to fry.)

But the result has yielded just one more item we’re not ordering out, and one we can’t wait to try again with veggies on hand! (Another food group that I have gotten my husband to love and appreciate over time.) And for a quick meal, try it with ramen noodles and drizzle some teriyaki sauce into the broth. Shrimp Tempura soup is a revelation in itself….and rather inexpensive to make if you’re willing to be adventurous.

Sometimes the dishes we love the most when we go out can be the most fun to make at home. Be daring, try to find ways to go out less and less. Trust me, when you’re in control of the ingredients, the results can be quite delicious.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Tempura Shrimp

For the batter:

3/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup water (to start, then gradually add a teaspoon at a time to make consistency like thick pancake batter)

1 egg, slightly beaten

To be dipped in batter:

1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Directions:

1) In a bowl, mix all dry ingredients together first, then add water and egg. Stir until smooth. (May need to add extra water to achieve smooth batter.)

2) Dredge shrimp through batter. Gently drop in fryer oil at 350-375 degrees  until golden brown on the outside and shrimp looks cooked through, no more than 5 minutes normally. (This can be done in batches to avoid crowding. Just make sure that you place the initial batch back in to warm them back up for at least 30 seconds.) Remove, place on paper towel to absorb excess oil, and serve with cocktail sauce or teriyaki sauce.

**Batter will be enough for 4 cups vegetables or 1 lb. fish or meat**

Where has this soup “bean” all this time? (A bad joke/love story)

If there is one thing that I am known for aside from making delicious dessert items in my home….it is soup.

I absolutely adore soup as a meal, thanks in large to my Pop-Pop. He was a soup fan, which makes me think that’s where I get a little bit of my love from. My pop-pop was truly a character, in every sense of the word! He always had this special whistle that let me know he was there, which resulted in me practically tackling him for a hug. What can I say? I was seven years old and it wasn’t like I could visit him all the time. (Even though he passed away while I was in college over 10 years ago, I still sometimes wish I could hear that whistle one more time.)

For a huge portion of my childhood, my Pop-Pop and Grandma Gloria resided in Ohio, which meant several road trips and plane rides to visit them at their apartment in Boardman. Out there, since it was mostly during the summer, there were Fourth of July parties, pool time with the children (and grandchildren) of my grandparent’s friends, walks around the golf course (that was on the other side of the trees in the communal yard), playing in the yard with their landlord’s maltese Benz, and my pop-pop teaching me how to swing a golf club….sometimes swearing up a storm if I hit him with the light plastic golf ball by accident. (He kinda had a colorful way with words.)

But also meant that when my grandparents came to New Jersey, their presence was a large family affair! He would take me to the diner to visit my Aunt Annie, come to my softball games/dance recitals/concerts, and on certain occasions, he would take me to the store to pick out a toy of my choosing. Some of those nights at my Aunt Annie’s house (where they would stay during their visit) with cake and coffee were my favorites, because my pop-pop was there and the family was all together. But that’s another story (or twenty) for another day. Anyway….back to soup!

Yes, my pop-pop loved soup and in turn, I came to love it as well. What’s not to love? Tasty ingredients like pasta, veggies, beans, sometimes meat….in a perfect vehicle of salty, flavorful broth. So I guess in part, my Pop-Pop was my inspiration for creating this meal (with no recipe, mind you): what I felt was the perfect White Bean Soup. And if you have never had Cannellini beans, you are missing out on a healthy (and delicious) protein to add to your meals.

The trick for a great soup really does rely on the broth, so make sure that you flavor your broth well. Aside from salt, pepper, and the various seasonings, I always prefer to start with a diced onion, some minced garlic, and a little cooking wine to really amp up the flavor profile.

Some of my favorite recipes are the ones that come from a place of love. Food isn’t just a necessity, it’s a gift to be shared. And feeling the inspiration to create new recipes from that love? Simply beautiful.

Enjoy.

~ Jenny V


White Bean Soup a la Love

1 can cannellini beans

1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly

1 medium onion, diced

4-6 cups chicken broth

4 cups water

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 bottle Sherry cooking wine

1 medium tomato, diced

1 cup tubettini pasta (optional)

1 tablespoon salt (can add more if needed)

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

1) In a saute pan on medium-high heat, drizzle in olive oil to coat the pan, then add the diced onion. When the onion starts to become a little more translucent, add in minced garlic and fennel, stir and saute for 5-7 minutes to allow time for flavors to meld and fennel to cook, then add 1/2 bottle of Sherry cooking wine and bring mixture up to a boil. Once the liquid starts to evaporate a little, remove from heat and spoon mixture into slow-cooker.

2) Into slow-cooker with mixture, add in chicken broth, water, remainder of Sherry, tomato, and seasonings. Give a good stir to incorporate all ingredients, then cook on low for 7 hours or on high for 3 hours, dropping to low for one more hour.

3) An hour and a half before finishing cook time, add in beans (rinse before adding). 15-20 minutes before finishing, add in tubettini. Serve with grated parmesan.

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.

Sunday Dinner Memories….

While Matt is my main inspiration for posting recipes, he is not the only reason why I do this.

You see, when I was a little girl, not more than four or five, I remember Sunday dinner was always at my Grandma Parson’s house. (She was my great-grandmother and a force to be reckoned with on a culinary level!) I can still remember the way the smell of the pot roast and the sweetness of buttered carrots wafted through the air before I was even able to get my coat off and run into the kitchen to give her a hug. In fact, I’d even go as far to say that that smell *was* the initial hug, welcoming me into her home. It was just that good….and so was she.

I have memories of watching her pull that roast out, testing it to make sure it was done, then grabbing the salt and pepper in her arsenal and by instinct, seasoning perfectly. I’m sure in earlier years she had used them, but there was never a recipe in front of her. It was all by instinct, and the spread was glorious! Pot roast, creamed cauliflower, mashed potatoes, buttered carrots, and applesauce. And me, sitting next to her at the head of the table, greedily filling my plate with all the goodies.

My Grandma Parson passed when I was a sophomore in high school at the age of 98. She outlived her own daughter, my Grandma Shirley, by only a little over two months. My Grandma Shirley wasn’t a cook by any stretch of the means, more like the woman who would serve you Sanka using hot tap water. (I still love to think I get my sense of adventure and rebelliousness from her though, even though she couldn’t cook.)

I hadn’t thought about her too much until last year, as a bridal shower gift, my parents gave me my Grandma Parson’s recipe box. When my mom told me what it was, I think I sobbed for a good few minutes holding this treasure trove. It was more than just a box of recipes she collected. It was like receiving a piece of her in the process, a part that I could have in my home and visit whenever I needed guidance in the kitchen. And the best part? Her smell still lingers on those index cards; every time I open it, I’m that little girl running to greet Grandma Parson all over again while she has the oven ajar, preparing the drippings for gravy. Fun fact: the main picture on my blog is that recipe box.

I don’t mean to bore any of you with the details, but there is a point. My point being that with last night’s dinner, I felt my version of slow-cooker roast would have made her proud. As I prepped everything to go into the Crock Pot, including searing the roast in a cast-iron skillet, her guidance was ever-present. I liberally seasoned the meat, I tapped some salt into the cast-iron before searing, and as I put in all the ingredients to help develop those flavors in the Crock Pot, I understood her need for instinct in the kitchen.

I’m sure she would have been proud, because as I watched Matt take that first bite of roast, I felt like I was getting the opportunity to watch what face I used to make when I would eat my Grandma Parson’s roast: satisfaction. And I’m sure in those moments of love, she felt pride (like I felt) at being able to provide a delicious meal for her family.

Grandma Parson….this one is for you. Enjoy.

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Sunday Dinner Roast a la Crock Pot

2-3 pounds top round roast (you can use any kind you like, but I prefer the cuts of meat that are on sale and can always use a little love)

2 cans beef broth

1/2 – 3/4 bottle red cooking wine (don’t pour all of it in at once, only half – save that quarter to de-glaze your cast iron!)

3 stalks celery, sliced into snack size pieces

1 package pearl onions

1 large potato, cubed

Salt

Pepper

Steakhouse seasoning

1-2 bay leaves

Worcestershire Sauce (a few shakes will do it)

1 1/2 tablespoons Gravy Master

1-2 tablespoons butter

Directions:

1) In the Crock Pot, add all ingredients (including bay leaf) except for roast, butter, little bit of red cooking wine, and seasonings. Turn on high.

2) Turn on stove on high heat and place cast-iron down on flame. While cast-iron is warming up, season roast with salt, pepper, and steakhouse seasoning. Sprinkle a little bit of salt into the cast-iron and after a few minutes of letting it come up to temperature, place roast into screaming hot skillet. Cook each side for about 3-4 minutes to get a nice crust on it, then transfer into Crock Pot and push down into the juices. Use the little bit of red cooking wine I told you to leave out to de-glaze cast-iron, scrape gently, and transfer liquid into Crock Pot, pouring it over the roast.

3) Cover and cook on high for an hour, then on low for four to five hours. Flip roast halfway through to keep moisture throughout. Baste liberally every 30-40 minutes. When done, remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

4) While resting, remove vegetables and transfer into a serving dish, remove bay leaves and toss in butter into Crock Pot with juices, allowing it to melt into drippings. Transfer drippings into gravy boat and serve over the vegetables and roast as you like it.