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.

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.

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.

A muffin a day makes a happy husband!

While my post is about a recipe that I found (gasp!), I do want to talk about my latest baking venture: muffins.

Yes, muffins! While I have mastered items such as cookies, cheesecake, bread, and brownies a million times over….I wanted to venture into more of a breakfast territory. Instead of Matt reaching for a cookie in the morning, what better item to have prepared in the house than a fresh batch of muffins? When prepared correctly, they’re light, fluffy, and that one word that seems to put some on edge when they hear it….moist. (I don’t get it, it’s a legitimate word and relevant for what I’m talking about.)

So with Matt away on yet another late night gig, I challenged myself to try making blueberry muffins. I mean, we had two containers of these beautifully ripe blueberries that without a recipe, I would just eat plain (or with chocolate chips). So baking needed to happen. Of course, I did my research on recipes and came across an easy recipe that only required tweaking the measurements to make a dozen rather than four dozen. Because, come on, what does a married couple do with four dozen muffins? I could feed my neighborhood on those! (Or possibly Matt’s co-workers at his seasonal job….they’re requesting muffins after I posted some provocatively delicious photos…like this one:)

The blueberry muffins were a hit! In about 48 hours since baking, those muffins were G-O-N-E….and so was all the milk. (Matt’s addiction to sweets only measures up to his craving for milk with those sweets.) And with the end of the blueberry muffins came the ever-inevitable request for more muffins. This time: banana chocolate chip.

I accepted the challenge and proceeded to diligently research recipes to find an easy and fun recipe for Matt’s ultimate craving. The result? A recipe that uses NO oil and tastes like a muffin that you would expect to be loaded with calories. (They’re not. They’re…..dare I say it? Healthy!)

So while this is not my recipe, I’m going to share it anyway via link. Because my batch of bananas yielded two dozen muffins that are practically gone within about four days. (Mind you, I have only had a handful and only a few of our friends got to try them before Matt went to town on the rest with a lifetime supply of milk.)

Click this link for the recipe: Banana Chocolate-Chip Muffins Recipe

I promise you: these WILL not last in your house!

And if you need a little bit more encouragement to make them….well….there is always this:

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V

Spicy Tips: Fried Chicken in a pinch!

So when it comes to foods that Matt and I have struggled with, fried chicken tops that list. I don’t know why we can’t manage a crispy outside with a thoroughly cooked inside, but it has been eluding us in every which way.

The first time we made buttermilk fried chicken, it was slightly disastrous. That crispy skin was absolutely perfect! But the inside? Practically raw. It devastated us a little to have to take the chicken and throw it in the oven to keep cooking. We were starving! I mean, what are mashed potatoes without that fried chicken? (Delicious, but just mashed potatoes.) After that, both of us vowed to keep trying.

The second time was slightly better, as we took the chicken thighs and fried them off, then finished them in the oven. The outside got a little too crispy, but at least we knew it was cooked through completely. (I think the next time we attempt this method, it will be for boneless chicken breast only.)

Any possibility of getting this recipe right seemed daunting….until both of us decided to try using our usual techniques of cooking chicken and apply them to making fried chicken. All in all….the third time was the charm and so I felt it was important to share with you, my trusty readers, our tips to make our version of fried chicken.

First of all….get the notion of trying to start from completely raw chicken out of your mind. It’s tricky to try and manage raw meat (especially poultry) if you’re wanting to fry it perfectly. You can always partially cook the chicken first (days in advance, if you’d like) and then marinate it in the buttermilk and hot sauce mixture for just a little longer than recommended to make sure that flavor is incorporated. (Just always remember to season the chicken before you partially cook it–if you can get simple salt and pepper on there, you’re good!)

Second….because buttermilk is not a commonly used item in our house, I tried a mixture of egg and milk with the hot sauce in its place. (To be honest, it had that nice creamy consistency that buttermilk has and these items are just a little bit easier to come by in your fridge. Just make sure you make enough of this mixture to cover the chicken thoroughly.)

Third….as always, don’t forget to add some spice to your flour! This is where you want to get that nice, crispy skin full of flavor (and a bit of bite.) So now is the time to toss in that Cayenne Pepper, red pepper flake (or if you’re us, ground red pepper flake), paprika, salt, black pepper, and any other seasoning that you absolutely love adding to your fried chicken batter!

Now, for those who are fried chicken purists and are probably cursing at me for explaining how to make a perfect fried chicken our way….just take a look at the finished product and tell me whether you can tell the difference:

It’s crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside….and it didn’t last very long!

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V

A little sweet….a little spicy….and great flavor!

First of all, I cannot stress enough how thankful I am for those of you who reach out to say how much you enjoying reading my posts. I am by no means a professional cook (or have nearly the amount of experience Matt has in the kitchen), but I am still humbled by the positive feedback and for those of you who follow my Instagram and request recipes just by looking at a photo. So again, thank you and I will do my best to keep bringing you new and delicious recipes!

Now, I’m sure I have mentioned by now how Matt and I love our bacon-wrapped shrimp. (And for grilling season, it can only get better!) Shrimp is a fairly inexpensive protein (if you know how to look for a good sale–you can get 2 lbs. frozen raw shrimp for under $20!) and lends itself to some great flavor profiles. Matt and I normally go simple with this one: Old Bay seasoning (because when you live by the water, Old Bay is the go-to) and of course, bacon! And when you do use bacon, be sure to pound it out nice and thin….that way it’s easier to wrap and you can make it stretch a little bit–haha, get it? Stretch?

**And if you look in one of my prior recipes, I’ll even share how you make it!**

Still, we needed a sauce for dipping. Normally, there’s a pretty sizeable side dish that we add with the shrimp, so no sauce is needed….but we went rather simple with our side. Some diced avocado in lemon juice, cilantro, salt and pepper–therefore, sauce was necessary.

While it’s not always my favorite thing, I will say this: Matt is a pepper and hot sauce fanatic! If he can make it hot, he will. Me….I can’t eat spicy the way he can, but that’s not to say I won’t try to incorporate more heat into our dishes. (As long as I can control how much it will burn my face off, I’m okay.) Although, I am proud to say that more and more recently, I have been experimenting with peppers in our dishes (seeds removed, of course) and the results have been successful. Poblanos, jalapenos, serranos, green long hots….I’m working on it.

So it was no surprise when Matt suggested a honey sriracha dipping sauce, I was on board! I would say an accurate measurement of the honey v. sriracha ratio is 2 parts honey, 1 part sriracha. You can always adjust if you want it sweeter….or spicier. (And if you have never had sriracha, please know that a little goes a long way. Unless you’re Matt, who can douse so many things in sriracha.)

I stress this many times over: don’t be afraid to spice it up from time to time! (If you can handle a little bit of spice.) And if you’re wondering if it was delicious….well….I’ll let the picture speak for itself:

Enjoy!

~Jenny V

Spicy Tips: As seasons change, your seasonal recipes can too!

Matt’s all-time favorite dish that I make is meatloaf….and I’m sure if you have been keeping up with reading my posts, you know that I posted said meatloaf recipe (with permission from the husband, of course) for all of you.

(Some of you even told me that you tried to make it and offered me some tips–thank you, it makes me feel great that you tried out something I shared with you.)

Unfortunately, what I have found in our house that only has window AC units….using our oven during the summer seems almost impractical if we would like to keep the house nice and cool. Sure, out of necessity to partially cook items like chicken thighs, we need to use the oven before tossing those babies on the grill to achieve crispy skin (because bone-in thighs would take forever to cook on solely the grill)–but not without closing our partition between the kitchen and living room and running the fans like it’s our life line. It’s just simply too hot to use our kitchen the way we’d like.

Which brings me back to the meatloaf. On my way home from work, I always call my husband to let him know I am on my way (so we can start discussing dinner if we hadn’t already during our lunchtime conversation.) Matt had had a day that warranted a great dinner, and after having my own stressful moments at work, since he’s always cooking for me on his days off, I decided that my husband needed his favorite meal….which now required making meatloaf without melting in the kitchen while it was cooking.

And that’s when it hit me: meatloaf burgers….which has now become his second favorite meal that I make.

I proposed the idea to Matt and after a few minutes of thought, we agreed to test out my meatloaf recipe on the grill. This required hamburger buns, a good cheese, and some adjustments to make the meat workable in grilling form. (And yes, the shredded cheese still goes in the burger, as well as any cheese you pick on top. Might I suggest Provolone?)

There are no words for how delicious this meal turned out, paired with a fresh salad and some grilled corn….let’s just say those burgers did not make it through Jeopardy….possibly before Double Jeopardy was done.

So if you have time, go to my meatloaf recipe and make these adjustments for burger form:

1) Add a little bit more ground beef. You want about 1.25 pounds of meatloaf mix and .25 pounds of additional ground beef, as 1.5 pounds makes eight decent-sized burgers. The beef will also help keep the burger together a little more.

2) One egg only! I mean it, keep the amount of egg to a minimum to enhance the flavor, but not make a mushy consistency.

3) A little less shredded cheese. A handful will do it (a small handful, as I’m using my own hand as measurement), and make sure it is well incorporated in. That cheese will help keep the burger juicy while cooking.

4) Like meatloaf (and unlike most burgers)–cook this baby all the way through! With meatloaf mix (beef, pork, veal), you’re going to want that well done. You don’t want to get sick.

5) Use brown gravy as dipping sauce/condiment in place of ketchup. Matt confided in me last night (while inhaling three of these burgers) that he was getting sick of ketchup on a burger and has started using hot sauce as an alternative. Well, I think beef gravy fit that bill nicely! I also think if you want, adding some sautéed mushrooms on the burger with the cheese and gravy yields the same tasty result.

6) Once those patties are made and pressed, let them chill! Probably one of the more important tips….and it is necessary! Those burgers need to hold their structure and after working the meat to incorporate the ingredients, letting them cool and firm back up will ensure that they’re not falling apart on the grill. I’d say give them at least 30 minutes to an hour to hang out in your fridge. (So yes, prep them ahead of time if you’re anticipating being super hungry!)

And if you’re still not sure about making these burgers….well….I think this might help:

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V