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.

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

The Basics of a Great Sauce…and Gravy

Growing up with the Italian side of my family, knowing how to make a gravy is key.

Yes, gravy, which is a tomato-based sauce with a veritable cornucopia of meat and seasonings in it cooked over an entire day. And if you don’t think there’s a difference between sauce and gravy, you are sorely mistaken! Sauce has no meat in it, gravy does and various kinds, I might add. Trust me on this, cooking gravy is a process that changes the texture and flavor in the most delicious of ways. (You also don’t want my family to argue with you on the sauce v. gravy debate….really, you will not win.)

I also realize most of us associate gravy as being brown in color and used for such things as roasts and mashed potatoes. Really, don’t argue with an Italian who calls their sauce gravy. Just accept that this is truth and you’ll be fine. You can debate with someone who isn’t Italian. :::haha:::

But we’re getting off track here….today is sauce (because there’s no meat in it) and how to make the most basic of sauces.

Last night, Matt and I decided to make grilled shrimp with pasta…and wanted a nice red sauce, but had no pre-made jars of sauce to use. (I know, sacrilege, but we both work so sometimes a jar is a nice convenience when we don’t have the time to dedicate to making a full-fledged sauce.) But no matter, we had a can of tomato sauce, seasonings, and a little ingenuity. It’s not like we haven’t made a quick sauce before. And with seafood, we were able to get a little creative with at least one or two of the ingredients.

Every family has their own way of making their sauce, so I’m happy to say that this is ours. I stand by this version time and time again, and I hope you will too….or at least make your own variation. The true foundation of a great sauce or gravy are the ingredients you put into it…one of them must be love.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V

P.S. – On a side note, seafood does not count as meat….this is still a sauce!


Jenn’s “Not Your Average” Sauce

28 oz. can tomato sauce

2-3 tablespoons Olive Oil (just a little bit)

3 Garlic Cloves, minced

1/2 Onion, diced

2 tablespoons Italian Seasoning

1 teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Pepper

1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper (don’t need it, but this is my basic sauce and spice is nice)

1 tablespoon Basil (extra is always better)

1 teaspoon Sugar (oh yes, I’m not kidding–you need this one to make the salt flavor pop out more)

1 bay leaf (optional item, but definitely creates great flavor when added–just be sure to

1 can clam juice (this is optional, but if you are making seafood with your pasta, then you really can’t go wrong here)

Directions:

1) In cast-iron pot (or large pot) over medium-high heat, add in olive oil, allow to warm 1-2 minutes, then add in minced garlic and onion. Stir 2-3 minutes and allow aromatics to come out.

2) Add in remaining ingredients, bring up to a slight boil, then lower to simmer and cover with a splatter guard. Cook on medium-low for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with pasta (or whatever you like).

“Squash”ing Gluten (in a delicious way)

Matt and I always love being presented with cooking challenges, one of which being how we can make some of our favorite dishes gluten-free. (Between the both of us, there are at least half a dozen people–friends and family–that have severe allergies and/or aversions to eating gluten!) So, this is a post for our favorite celiacs.

In the past year, I have urged Matt to try more vegetables than I am sure he has ever tried in his life. It became a game of sorts, going to the supermarket, picking up a random item in the produce aisle, and finding a way to incorporate said item into a meal. Brussel sprouts, rutabaga, parsnip, red cabbage, acorn squash, etc….trying each new item has brought us fun meals with tasty results. And one of my favorites? Butternut squash!

Initially when we tried butternut squash, I had purchased a frozen bag of already pureed squash for dinner. It was quite delicious (and a cool alternative to mashed potatoes.) But a fresh squash? Now that’s a horse of a different color! First off, the peeling took forever….and may have caused some colorful expletives to fly out of my mouth. But once it was done, then came the cutting into cubes and removing all seeds. If you’re looking for a good workout for your arms, then this is it.

And from all of that hard labor came the best butternut squash soup that I have ever had! Now, for the gluten-free trick : while Matt and I used a roux (flour and butter) to thicken up the soup a little (because it was watery without that roux), we found that adding a potato yielded the same effect. Just add that potato in with your squash, cubed of course, and the starch creates a natural thickener. Also, make sure your stock is gluten-free! (This is where I would suggest checking out my homemade stock posts….because most cans of broth do come with gluten in them if you’re not careful. Labels are important. Trust me on this…it’s the difference between my brother-in-law’s wife being able to eat the soup we tried so hard to make gluten-free for her, but didn’t even think about the chicken broth having gluten in it.)

From time to time, we try to be as conscious as possible about other’s dietary needs…and still make a delicious meal!

So for all of you that are gluten-free (and those who just want to try a delicious soup)….

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Gluten-Free Butternut Squash Soup

1 2-3 lb. butternut squash, peeled & seeded

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, diced

6 cups chicken stock

1 small potato, peeled and cubed

Nutmeg

Salt & Pepper

Directions:

1) Cut squash and potato into 1-inch cubes, set aside.

2) In large pot, melt butter. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes.

3) Add squash, potato, and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until squash is tender, about 15-20 minutes.

4) Remove squash and potato with slotted spoon, place in blender, and puree. Return blended mixture to pot.

5) Stir and season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Serve.

Turning tea up to a calming notch…

I’m really becoming a big advocate of the freshly-brewed iced tea movement. While in childhood I did enjoy the mix (4C all the way), I am coming to find as I get older, I crave homemade iced tea more than water (only sometimes….er, maybe more than sometimes.)

The complexities of the flavor, the way the right amount of lemon slice and honey added could make or break that “perfect taste”….I’m an addict through and through.

Now, I’ve also come to love my French Lavender and its delicious (and soothing) qualities in my iced tea, so I sought out another freshly-brewed combination to incorporate said flavor. I was about ready to give up until in the back of my pantry, I located an unopened box (unopened?!? How did I miss it?) of Lemon & Ginger tea bags. And just like with all my teas, I decided to do a mixture of the Lemon & Ginger with some green tea to incorporate some soothing notes to that kick of citrus & spice. The end result being that my house smelled beyond heavenly and refreshing!

I had considered adding fresh ginger to the tea, but after consideration, I wanted to test out a batch without overloading my taste buds with that potent ginger flavor (and for those of you who have tried fresh ginger before, you know exactly what I mean!)

So my advice to you: if you want to add a kick to your tea (but not too much), temper it with a nice soothing flavor. You can’t go wrong.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


  Jenn’s “Om, Snap!” Iced Green Tea

10 bags Lemon & Ginger Tea

10 bags Green Tea

1 1/2 teaspoons French Lavender

1/4 cup honey

20-22 cups water

Directions:

1) In a large stock pot, put in water on high heat. Just before boiling, add in French Lavender in infuser ball.

2) When water is boiling, whisk in honey to incorporate (you can always add more if you’d like) and tea bags. Turn off heat, cover, and move off burner to allow to cool.

3) After 1-2 hours, transfer to pitcher and/or mason jars. Refrigerate overnight. Serve with lemon slice.

Attack Life with relish….I mean, salsa

Well, while it may be chilly for June, it is grill season in our house! Yes, once Memorial Day weekend arrives (maybe even a little before, but it’s a safe bet with Memorial Day), Matt starts aggressively grilling any and all meat that we get from the supermarket. It’s time to move the cooking from indoors to outside….and it does get delicious!

Now, before I get into talking about whatever new recipe Matt & I have thought up, I should preface our grilling adventures with the story about the death of our first grill. Our little two-burner Brinkman finally bit the dust last week when the bottom decided to catch on fire while grilling up chicken thighs.

Needless to say, those thighs got a lot of char (which we were able to peel off to utilize the delicious meat underneath) and so Matt wanted to not only purchase a new grill, but upgrade it as well. In the end, Lowe’s provided us the best deal on a brand new Char-Broil 3-Burner Grill with an ignition button. I swear, Matt looked like a kid with a new toy when we brought it home and set it up with the propane tank. And let me tell you, that first meal off of the new grill was simple (and sooooo delicious!)

Which brings me to tonight, when we picked up some beautiful boneless skinless chicken breast (especially since they were on sale this week, despite our best efforts to locate London Broil first) and figured it was time to fire up the grill! Last week’s purchase of fresh mangoes had us contemplating grilled mango with that chicken breast to amp up the flavors, but it was my suggestion of grilling red pepper as well that had me wondering: Why not make a salsa?

We had the mango, we picked up a nice meaty red pepper, and with a little bit of love from the grill, fresh chopped onion, and some seasoning….salsa became a success (and a colorful side!)

And little bit of a tip: if you are unsure of how to cut up a mango, Google is your friend. Trust me on this, because even my abilities to cut up a mango came from there (and I need to improve!) Also, just know that while grilling, you want to cook ithe mango cut side down and leave it in the skin until you are ready to prepare the salsa.

The best part about cooking is being able to share with all of you what I call the “first drafts” of a recipe. I feel like maybe next time it could use a little bit of jalapeno, possibly fresh cilantro, and a touch of citrus. But for a first time, I practically inhaled that salsa like I was going to the chair! (And great news for all of you Celiacs: it’s GLUTEN-FREE!!!!)

With June underway, move your dishes out of the kitchen and find ways to use that grill! (Or if you don’t have a grill–get one! You need a grill, it’s important and you will love what you can make on it.)

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V

Roasted Mango & Red Pepper Salsa

3-4 Mangoes, cut into large pieces

1 Red Pepper, halved and seeds removed

1/4 small onion, diced

1-2 teaspoons Dried Cilantro

Olive Oil

Salt 

Pepper

Directions:

1) Over a medium-high heat on grill, place red pepper halves skin side down. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil inside peppers. Grill until skin starts to peel away from pepper. Remove and chop halves into bite-size pieces. Add to large bowl.

2) Before mango goes on, make cross-cuts inside the mango with a knife. Once ready for the grill, place mango slices cut side down onto grill. Grill for about 2 minutes, then remove and once cool enough to handle, push on the skin to turn the mango inside out and remove meat from skin. Add to red peppers.

3) Add diced onions. Drizzle with a little olive oil, no more than a teaspon. Season with salt, pepper, and cilantro. Mix thoroughly and serve.

Move over tortellini….it’s time for ravioli

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Cold Ravioli Salad

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

1 package frozen chopped broccoli

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

1/2 small onion, diced

Italian Balsamic Vinaigrette 

Directions:

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

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

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