Almond Vanilla Biscotti

Is there any cookies better than Christmas cookies? The answer is just plain old no. There is nothing better, or more Italian, than a big old tray of cookies after dinner with coffee, espresso, & a little Sambuca or Limoncello. Ahh I love Italian family dinners.

One of my aunts does most of the cookie baking during the holidays. I think a lot of families have one person who is the cookie connoisseur, & she is definitely ours. A few years ago she made all of her nieces a little cookie cookbook & it is one of my favorite gifts I have gotten. It is such a treasure to have all of her cookies together in one place.

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Now I have been pretty honest… I not the best baker. But one of my 30 goals by 30 was to become a decent baker. I feel like everyone needs to have a little something in their back pocket as far as desserts. A dessert that doesn’t come from a box. So this past holiday season I decided I was going to perfect a Almond Vanilla Biscotti.

So I made them… probably four times. My coworkers loved them, our friends loved them & Chris’s family loved them.

Baking a single cookie three times can be a little intimidating. I wasn’t sure how it as going to come out. Hell I can barely cook a sugar cookie once & have it come out right. But these came out amazing! This weekend we are going home to Connecticut & my girlfriends & I are getting together for a little girls brunch. I defiantly plan on making these & seeing what everyone on the east coast thinks of them. Maybe I will even run some over to my aunts so I can have the professional herself judge them. Wish me luck!

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½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs
3 cups flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tsp almond extract
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat the oven to 350⁰ and lay parchment paper over a cookie sheet.
2. In a large bowl mix together butter and sugar until smooth. Add in eggs one at a time and beat into mixture.
3. Stir in almond and vanilla extract.
4. Stir in flour and baking powder until mixed throughout. Do not over mix. Add in sliced almonds.
5. Lightly flour your hands and divide the mixture in half. Shape the dough into two 10 in long rolls. Place the rolls e5 inches apart from each other on the cookie sheet. Flatten until they are about 3 inches wide.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
7. With a sharp serrated knife, cut the rolls into ½ inch slices. Around the slices on the same cookie sheet and bake 8-10 minutes.
8. Flip the cookies over and bake another 5 minutes. Allow to cool and enjoy with a nice cup of coffee.

Spicy Sausage Meat Sauce

The first time I made a meat sauce myself I was actually trying to make chili. Uhg I know I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Anyway, it was right when I moved away & I didn’t really know how to make anything. So I did, basically what I do right now, & through some stuff together, think about some pointers my mom gave me or I picked up on while watching her, & tried to make a meat sauce.

It didn’t work.

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It was not saucy, there too much meat, & it ended up tasting kind of tomatoey, like ketchup. So basically I threw it on top of some noodles & called it meat sauce. Well in five years I have perfected my meat sauce… & my skills of throwing shit together.

Anyway, one of my favorite, & simple meals is my spicy sausage meat sauce. I love having a spicy sauce with my pasta & having sausage instead of the normal turkey or beef definitely helps out in the spice area. Italian-Americans definitely make their sauce much soupier & heavier than Italians. I am convinced it is because we are usually using boxed pastas so we try to cover up the starchiness of the macaroni but until we all start making our own pasta dough, load me up on sauce.

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2 Hot Italian sausage links
3 cloves garlic
1 shallot, thinly sliced
¼ cup olive oil
28 oz crushed tomato
14 oz water
Salt
Pepper
Red pepper flakes

1. Score sausage long ways with a sharp paring knife and remove the casing.
2. Fry sausage at the bottom of a small pan.
3. Remove sausage and lower heat to medium. Add olive oil and scallions to pan. Cook until translucent but not browned.
4. Add pressed or minced garlic and continue stirring so it doesn’t burn. Add red pepper flakes and cook out oils.
5. Add crushed tomato. Fill can halfway with water and add to sauce.
6. Raise temperature to medium-high and add sausage. Once at a boil, lower to a simmer and cook 45-60 minutes stirring regularly.

 

Meatball Sub

This past week or so I have been getting a huge urge to wanderlust. Literally my favorite thing is to see the world & experience this planet & all the cultures to their fullest. This past year we went to Portland & it was long overdue & absolutely amazing. Now all I can think of doing is traveling, seeing new things & tasting new flavors.

We are planning on taking a little road trip in March for Spring Training in Arizona. Now I know, it’s not the Yankees, which I can’t wait to go to see in the Grapefruit League one day, but Scottsdale is a little easier to get to then Tampa is. We are hoping to hop on the 10 Freeway here in Orange County & just head west until we see a sign. I can’t wait & already want to plan all of our food stops. What are some great places to eat in the Scottsdale area? What are some fun hikes?

Before we head to Scottsdale though, we are planning a very belated trip to Connecticut. This has been the longest since I have been home since I moved to the west coast. Chris & I haven’t been to the east coast since my cousin got married last August. Before I was coming home every 8-10 months but now it will be almost a year & a half & my heart breaks when I think about it.

I miss my friends, my family, the food, & even the weather. Okay, I only miss the weather sometimes.

I am definitely hoping the winter weather holds up while we are there so Chris & I can explore a little. One place I have never been that I definitely want to discover is Arthur Ave in the Bronx. I know I know, an Italian that hasn’t been to Arthur Ave!! It’s terrible. My parents will take day trips with their friends or my aunts & uncles to pick up meats & cheeses but I haven’t even been able to hop onto any of those day trips. This January I definitely plan on making my own trip though.

To get myself in the mood I made my own meatball sub. I love anything in the form of a sandwich but the rolls & breads out here just aren’t the same. So to make due I over compensate on the meats & toppings to cover up the lack of flavor in the bread. For my meatball sub I like to use Trader Joe’s Half Baked Rolls. If you’re back eat, grab a Portuguese roll & try it out. However you have it, enjoy!

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1 lb ground beef
1 roll or 2 slice of left over bread
1 egg
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
18 cup bread crumbs
6 half-baked rolls
1 cup mozzarella cheese

1. Empty ground beef into large mixing bowl and set aside. Preheat oven to 400⁰.
2. Place bread under low running sink to moisten bread. Allow bread to become lightly wet and remove any crust.
3. Work into meat with your hands kneading out any clumps of bread. Make sure the bread and meat are blended to the same consistency.
4. Add egg, mix with hands until fulling mixed together.
5. Add salt, pepper garlic powder, parsley. Knead together with hands.
6. Add bread crumbs as needed.
7. Roll into 1 inch balls. If meat sticks to your hands, add in more bread crumbs in small amounts.
8. Bake meatballs 20-25 minutes.
9. Mix in with tomato sauce.
10. Build sandwich. Cut 1 meatball in half and place on open roll. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and bake for 5 minutes.

 

 

Twice Baked Eggplant Parmigiana

One of my favorite smells is my mom frying at her stove. I could be in my room with the door shut as a teenager and whether it was chicken cutlets, or eggplant, I could sniff that out from a mile away. Okay sounds a little crazy, but seriously, it is one of my favorite smells from when I was growing up.

I would run out to the kitchen to see what she was whipping up. Usually when she fries things she has the lights off and the fan and windows open, no matter what time of year it is in cold Connecticut. She is not a fan of a grease filled kitchen. I would grab a bite of whatever she had sitting on a plate covered in paper towels and she would whack my hand and tell me not to eat it all or to get a glass of water to suppress my appetite before dinner.
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Ooh good ol’ mom.

Me on the other hand, I have tried numerous times to recreate her fried creations. I’ve cut the eggplant thing, I’ve cut it thick. I breaded the chicken in different ways, I left the chicken with little to no breading. Nothing ever is the same. So instead of trying to recreate the recipe for you guys and it just not be right… I went in a newer, healthier direction.

I ditched the oils, ditched the frying pan. Basically I ditched everything but the eggplant in my Twice Baked Eggplant Parmigiana. I found the idea on Pinterest, of course, but used my mom’s ingredients for her eggplant parm. In the past year she has become obsessed with panko bread crumbs so of course to add a little extra crunch I used them, but back when I was a teenager Italian bread crumbs would suffice.

Try it out, enjoy the eggplant parm, sans oil and let me know what you think.

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1 medium sized eggplant
1 cup panko bread crumbs
Dried oregano
2 eggs
¼ lb mozzarella cheese
28 oz tomato sauce
1. Preheat oven to 375 and grease cookie sheet. While preheating slice eggplant into 1/8 inch slices.
2. Beat eggs in bowl adding a splash of water for consistency and pour panko and dried oregano onto separate plate to keep nearby.
3. Dip each slice of eggplant onto egg mixture and immediately into the panko crumbs. Flip to coat the eggplant on both sides as well as around the edges. Place directly onto the cookie sheet. Be careful to not move eggplant around the cookie sheet as the panko will fall off.
4. Continue assembly line until all eggplant is coated and placed on the cookie sheet.
5. Bake for 35-40 minutes flipping once in the middle.
6. Remove from oven and allow to cool until you are able to touch the eggplant. Do not turn off oven.
7. Layer the bottom of a 9×9 baking pan with tomato sauce. Place on top a layer of eggplant followed by a light layer of cheese. (Cheese will melt so allow space between chunks of mozzarella.)
8. Continue until all eggplant is in the baking pan. Top with a layer of shredded mozzarella and sprinkle parmigiana cheese on top.
9. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted throughout.
10. Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving for the cheeses to settle.

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Meat Lasagna

I am sitting here at 11 o’clock at night, having a little glass of wine & eating as much cheese as I can find. I just went to the grocery store & I still feel like the only thing I have in the house is cheese, salad, & Captain Crunch cereal. I mean, I’m not complaining, I’m just making a statement.

I’ve been trying to be good the past few months & not binge eat a block of cheese in one sitting, because trust me, it’s one of my biggest weaknesses. So now if I need cheese for a recipe I find the smallest block of cheese, or find ways to use it up so it isn’t staring at me every time I open the drawer telling me to eat the entire block. But then I found these single serving pre-wrapped goat cheese discs from Trader Joes & I mean is there anything better in the world? No, the answer is no.

In my defense I am eating a few berries also! See healthy!

Anyway I digress.

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Today for lunch I stuck on the same cheese path, maybe that was my gateway drug. I pulled out a lasagna that I made a few weeks ago from the freezer because I knew I wouldn’t have time to cook dinner tonight since I was closing the store. So I left some home for Chris & I took a portion to work to eat during my lunch break.

It was a hearty, meat packed lasagna that Chris had loved when I first made it. Growing up my mom always seemed to find ways to throw veggies into…. well anything she was cooking. So lasagnas always had spinach in them at the very least. Now I get to make meat filled pastas & she will never know… it’s like drinking soda behind her back! =]

Try it out, the best part about any lasagna, you can freeze it! Any if you have been around this blog a time or two, you know I love anything you can freeze & eat later. Because there is just two of us at home, I usually make a full lasagna but break it into two 9×9 pans instead of a 9×13. It’s a little fatter but we don’t end up wasting the majority of it, which is always nice. You can make it whichever way works better for your family. Enjoy!

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1 lb ground beef (90% lean)
2 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes
8-10 basil leafs
¼ cup dried parsley
Salt and pepper
2 gloves garlic
½ medium brown onion, chopped fine
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Cheese Mixture:
16 oz Ricotta cheese with whole milk
1 lb mozzarella
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Salt and oil pasta water. Cook pasta to directions on box. When pasta is cooked, drain and separate noodles so they do not stick together.
** I lay them over the side of the pasta strainer and pot that I cooked them in.
2. Brown beef in frying pan. When done, use a slotted spoon to remove the beef from the grease. Place on a dish lined with a paper towel.
3. Heat olive oil in a deep sauce pan. Sautee onions for a minute or two and then add garlic and sauté for another couple of minutes. Add tomatoes.
4. Add meat, basil, parsley, salt and pepper and allow to cook 30 minutes.
5. While sauce is cooking mix an egg into the ricotta cheese. Mix well so ricotta is fluffy and smooth. 6. Add salt and pepper and set aside until ready to assemble lasagna.
7. Cut mozzarella into 1 inch cubes.
8. When sauce is cooked, remove from heat and add the first layer of sauce to a 9×13 baking dish.
9. Place noodles down to cover the entire bottom of the dish. Top with ricotta cheese mixture and sprinkle mozzarella throughout. Add sauce on top and top with a noodle.
10. Repeat until there is about ½ inch to the top of the baking dish. The last layers should be noodle, sauce, and sprinkle the top with grated parmesan cheese.