Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Avocado Caprese Salad

Ahhhh, Caprese Salad or in my house it's simply called "tomato-motz." It's one of my all time favorite salads. The first time I had Caprese Salad was at Hutch's Restaurant on Delaware Avenue and that was over 20 years ago! I still remember the first time I ate there and what I ordered….Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella for an appetizer and Jambalaya Pasta for my entree. Talk about a lasting food impression right? Actually those items are still on the menu at Hutch's today...hey that's ok, why change a good thing when you have it! 20 years ago Hutch's Caprese Salad did it for me and I've been making it ever since.

There are so many variations on making Caprese Salad but the ultimate is making it the classic way; the way they make it in Capri, Italy, where the recipe originated. Ripened heirloom tomatoes, the freshest creamiest mozzarella, aromatic basil and the highest quality extra virgin olive oil, salt n pepper….that's it! Using the best ingredients will yield magic in your mouth.

Today I decided to change things up a bit because when I went to Dash's avocados were on sale for 2 for $3.00…a great price that I couldn't resist and I love avocados. So my idea of making classic caprese salad went out the window once I saw those avocados. So instead I made Avocado Caprese Salad. This salad was amazingly delicious! And it helped that I used my secret ingredient…don't tell anyone….but it's freshly squeezed lemon juice. It adds a subtle tanginess that enhances the flavors of the salad. Balsamic vinegar is a nice addition but sometimes it's too harsh on Caprese salad, so lemon is the perfect balance in my opinion.

My family devoured this dish as they always do. I always serve a crusty artisan italian bread on the side with this salad. The boys like to make sandwiches with it and Dave loves to soak up the extra olive oil and lemon juice with it. This salad is so easy to make, fresh tasting and makes you feel like you are eating at a quaint cafe in Italy. Salute to Avocado Caprese Salad and for Hutch's introducing me to it 20 years ago!
Fresh aromatic basil
Fresh creamy mozzarella, ripened tomatoes, healthy avocado, tangy lemon and fresh garlic…magic!
My secret ingredient - lemon!
Thanks for the tip Cheryl and Al C.!
Take a bite and you'll feel like you are in Italy!
Avocado Caprese Salad (Click to print recipe)

Preparation time 10 minutes

Serves 6


  • 4 red vine ripened tomatoes, sliced
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 1 acocado, sliced
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, shredded
  • 2 tb good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tb finly minced red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 lemon juice
  • salt n freshly ground pepper
Generously salt n pepper sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and avocado. Arrange them on a platter by alternating tomato, mozzarella and avocado. Sprinkle red onion, minced garlic and basil over the top. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil and then squeeze the fresh lemon juice over the top. Serve with crusty italian bread to soak up the juices.

Food Impressions:

Nate: "Oh my gosh this is so good." The only reason he liked it was because I gave him a plate of the classic style. He wouldn't eat the rest because I put minced onions over the top. Geeze!

Tyler: "This is super yummy." He proceeded to take two large pieces of bread and place the tomato-moz on top. He was in Heaven!

Zachary: This is Zachary's favorite salad. He goes nuts when I make Caprese salad. I can barely cut the ingredients before he is sticking his little paws and grabbing piece of mozzarella. I love it!

Dave: "Love it, love the avocados in this dish." He loves avocados and was stealing everyone's from their plates. He also loved soaking the juices with the italian bread.

Andrea: This could be a meal in itself for me. The avocado added a nice compliment to this dish. I love making caprese salad because it's always a hit with everyone. Whether it's just the five of us or 20 of us this is a great salad to make. Quick, easy, fresh, delectable!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Easy Chicken Piccata

My mom and Stan came over for dinner tonight. They also came over to play a serious game of Texas Holdem. If mom and Stan come over for dinner we always play cards and always have a blast. Stan may as well be my step dad because he and my mom have been together for like 25 years! I love having my mom and Stan over for dinner because they always oooh and aaah over everything I make, well almost everything. They are very simple eaters and not very adventurous when it comes to certain foods, especially my mom. I love her to pieces but there are certain foods she just won't even give a try like asparagus. So any food that I serve beyond meat and potatoes, mom and Stan inspect it before they take a bite. Most of the time they love it. Thankfully, they have become more adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. So when they come over for dinner I make a recipe they would never make themselves but I know they would love. One time when they were over for dinner I made my mom and Stan an Iceberg Wedge Salad with Bacon and Blue Cheese Dressing. They kept commenting on how creative it was that I served the salad in wedge form. They also kept commenting on how delicious the salad was, particularly the blue cheese dressing. When I mentioned the blue cheese dressing was all natural with no preservatives, Stan was like "what do you mean blue cheese dressing????" He proceeded to say that he didn't even like blue cheese dressing, he thought it was ranch dressing and he further said that if he knew ahead it was blue cheese he wouldn't have eaten it. We all laughed hysterically because he loved the blue cheese dressing I served….he was a blue cheese lover and didn't even know it. We love you mom and Stan and find your quirky food aversions quite endearing! So for dinner tonight I decided to make them Chicken Piccata. I figured they like chicken, they like garlic and they like lemon, so the only wild card ingredient was the capers. I love this chicken piccata recipe and it's a staple I make often. It's so simple to make, utilizes simple ingredients and the end result is simply divine. Lemon, butter, white wine, chicken stock, garlic and capers make up the piccata sauce….who doesn't like those ingredients? The sauce is so tangy and flavorful. Thin chicken cutlets are used in this classic dish so it cooks quickly and evenly. I served it over angel hair pasta but it's good over any pasta or rice. This is a great dish to make when you are having guests over for dinner; it's quick cooking, easy and elegant. I worked all day today and whipped up this dinner for 7 people in under 40 minutes. So did my mom and Stan like my chicken piccata, did they eat the capers? To find out check out their food impressions below! Salute to easy chicken piccata and mom and Stan giving new recipes a try!
Dredging the chicken cutlets in my favorite
 pan searing flour from Wegmans
Saute the chicken in olive oil until they are golden brown
Making the piccata sauce…I love it when a recipe requires wine!
Chicken sauteing and piccata sauce simmering
The lemon smells so good!
Easy Chicken Piccata
Delicious served over pasta
Easy Chicken Piccata (Click to print recipe)

Preparation and cook time: 40 minutes

Serves 8


  • 8 thinly cut/pounded chicken cutlets, 1/4 inch
  • 4 tb olive oil
  • 1/4 cup flour for dredging chicken
  • salt n pepper
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tb minced garlic
  • 3 tb capers
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
In a large saute pan heat olive oil over medium heat. Meanwhile, dredge chicken cutlets in flour and salt n pepper. Add chicken to pan and sauté until golden brown, approximately 4 minutes per side. In another sauté pan, add butter, garlic and capers and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add wine and bring to a roaring boil and then reduce heat to medium. Add chicken stock, lemon juice and 2 lemon slices and cook for 10 minutes. Add parsley and stir. On a platter place chicken and top with piccata sauce. Serve over pasta or rice.

Food Impressions:

Nate: "Ohhh this is lemony. I really the chicken." He did not eat the capers

Tyler: "Is there more?" He barely spoke during dinner or took a breath he was eating so fast…he loved it and he ate the capers.

Zachary: "Flawless." Interesting word, I think it meant he loved it because he ate everything on his plate. He also asked if it was fish! He ate the capers.

Dave: "Delicious and flavorful." He ate all of his capers and I think he even ate Nate's.

Mom: "Andrea, this is so good, just super. Delicioso!" Yay! She ate her capers and liked them. She didn't love them but she said hey these capers aren't bad, they taste like tiny olives.

Stan: "Excellent, as always Andrea." He pushed all of his capers aside and didn't eat them….but at least he tried an avocado…no he didn't like it!

Andrea: Love this recipe. It's a staple in recipe book and make it often. Super easy to make and a great weeknight meal.
Nate and Stan, our non caper eaters! 
Ready to play a serious game of Texas Holdem!
Stan and Dave won the game and split the pot…this time!
Just wait until til next time boys!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sautéed Hot Peppers and Onions - Wow!

Today my intention was to make hot stuffed banana peppers. I make them a few times a month because a) they taste absolutely amazing and b) my family goes crazy for them. There is typically an argument over the stuffed banana peppers because the boys claim someone got more than them or they complain that I didn't make enough. I usually stuff them and I have a few delicious variations (See recipe from previous post) but today I decided to simply slice and sauté them with onions and garlic. It was one of those recipes that I literally thought of as I was pulling the ingredients out of the refrigerator. My inspiration and food impression came from the sautéed hot peppers on the menu from Santasierso's Restaurant on Niagara Street. My brother Tom loves their peppers and also makes them at home. I figured why not give them a try because it will be a heck of a lot easier than stuffing them. Wegmans has precut and deseeded peppers which are great if you want to save on time or save yourself the agony of coring out the hot seeds and then mistakenly rubbing your eyes or nose…ouch! Those seeds burn so be careful if you are coring yourself. As soon as I started sautéing the peppers and onions the aroma staring permeating throughout the house. Tyler and Zachary came running into the kitchen and said with great excitement "Are you making hot peppers?" I said "Yes, but I'm making them a little differently." They didn't seem to care how they were prepared they were just psyched they were hot peppers. After sautéing them for 15 minutes they started to caramelize and even take on a crispy edge. They smelled and looked delicious in the pan. I decided last minute to add some cheese. Don't forget my intent was to stuff them so I felt that adding a little cheese would calm the heat a bit. So I added goat cheese. I always serve my hot peppers with baguette bread on the side to cool my mouth when there's a really hot bite. So I made bite sized hot peppers on baguette bread. They were amazing. So amazing that an argument broke out again and we were all fighting over who got the last bite. They also complained that I didn't make enough. I couldn't argue that because I didn't. I was craving for more. I was fighting for more. So I promised them that I would make a lot more sautéed peppers and onions the next day. I'm already looking forward to tomorrow. Salute to Sauteed Hot Peppers and Onions and my last minute recipe change!
Hot banana peppers, cleaned, cored 
Sliced peppers and onions sauteeing in olive oil and garlic
Look at how the peppers caramelize 
Goat cheese adds a creaminess and coolness to the hot peppers 
Ready to add the peppers to the fresh baguette bread
Wow! Now that's a great appetizer!
Serve these hot spicy morsels at your next party and they'll be sure to be a hit!
Sauteed Hot Peppers and Onions (Click to print recipe)

Preparation and cook time: 40 minutes if deseeding the peppers yourself

Makes 24 baguette slices

  • 8 hot banana peppers, deseeded and sliced
  • 1/2 spanish onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 tb minced garlic
  • 2 tb olive oil
  • salt n pepper to taste
  • 4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • baguette bread, cut into 24 thin slices
In a medium saute pan heat olive oil over medium- low heat. Add minced peppers, onions, garlic and salt n pepper and continually stir. Cook for 15 minutes until soft and caramelized. Add goat cheese and stir for 1-2 minutes until cheese melts. Place a small spoonful of peppers onto the baguette bread slices and serve.

Food Impressions:

Nate: You probably know by now if it has onions Nate won't go near it. More for us!

Tyler: "Why do you say Zachary like hot peppers more than anyone? You know I love these more than anyone." "Why didn't you make more??"

Zachary: "Please just one more, please just one more!!"

Dave: "Wow, these are really good. And why didn't you make more??"

Andrea: This recipe was amazing and I will make it this way often from now on. I can't wait to serve this to guests when I entertain. And now that grill seasons approaching I think this recipe would taste great sautéed on the grill.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

My Favorite Greek Vegetable Salad Recipe

This is my favorite greek salad recipe. It's my favorite because it's the freshest tasting salad and the dressing is packed with flavor. I was first introduced to this recipe over 10 years ago from my good friend Ann, so I've titled it Ann's Greek Vegetable Salad. We were at one of our Gourmet Club dinners. Christa and Tom were the hosts and their dinner theme was Greek….the most perfect theme for Christa because I seriously think in her past life she was born and raised in Greece. The menu was amazing, it was so long ago but I remember Tracy made spanakopita, Christa made greek stuffed peppers, I made greek potatoes and Ann made her amazing greek salad. I took a few bites of Ann's salad and wanted to shout "opa" it was so greekalicious! I asked Ann what kind of dressing she used on the salad and she said olive oil, red wine vinegar, capers, dried oregano and salt n pepper. I half didn't believe her because I didn't think those few ingredients would taste so incredibly flavorful. Her greek salad recipe called for crumbled feta cheese but she didn't add it to the salad because we wasn't sure if everyone would like feta. So she had the feta on the side as well as fresh mozzarella. I love feta so it was a no brainier to add it to my salad. I thought fresh mozzarella isn't exactly greek but I also love fresh mozzarella so I tried it and was surprised that it was equally as good in this salad. So when I make this recipe I will use either or. I remember loving the entire meal so much that I made the exact dinner for Dave's parents a few weeks later. Ann's greek salad recipe really stood out for me during our greek themed Gourmet Dinner Club. So much so that 10 plus years later I still make this salad all of the time especially during the spring and summer months. Talk about a lasting food impression, right. It's goes so well with any type of meat or seafood. Tonight I made panko breaded chicken cutlets topped with arugula; the greek salad wad the perfect side. After Dave took a few bites I asked him what he thought and he said "spring." I laughed because as I mentioned that's the time of year I always start making this recipe. The meal tasted spectacular but it would have been nice if we had a shot of ouzo to go with it! Salute to Ann's greek vegetable salad that makes me shout "Opa!"

Ann's Greek Vegetable Salad (Click to print recipe)

Serves 6-8

  • 1 english cucumber sliced and halved
  • 2 green, red, or orange peppers, sliced into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved optional
  • 1/2 red onion thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • 2 tb capers
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1/8 t salt
  • 1/8 t black pepper
In a large bowl add all of the cut vegetables. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, capers, oregano and salt n pepper until well blended. Add the vinaigrette to the vegetables and stir until they are well coated. Place the salad on a decorative platter or bowl and serve. Refrigerate in a tupperware container for 1-2 days. 

Food Impressions:

Nate: "Ooooh, I get my own bowl of salad." Yes, Nate got his own bowl because he won't eat anything with onions so I made his without onions! 

Tyler: "This is delicious and so fresh." 

Zachary: "You haven't made this in so long." He had three helpings!

Dave: "Tastes like Spring!" He kept eating at the salad with his fingers before I even had it on the table. I kept telling him to stop but he couldn't help himself I guess.

Andrea: I totally forgot to add the capers!!!! I am shocked dave didn't say anything because he LOVES capers. I didn't realize until I was washing he dishes. While the salad was still amazing without the capers, they are necessary…so don't forget them!
Nate and Tyler toasting with the welcome drinks in Punta Cana,
Poor Zachary wasn't in the mood for any
Now onto more "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" drama but today's vacation title was "Zachary leaves his mark." (Faint stomachs don't read) 
So I ended my post yesterday with us heading to the Cleveland Airport, hoping we would make our three flights to Punta Cana despite the incredibly tight layover times. Dave stated that if any of our flights were delayed we wouldn't make the next flight, so we all crossed our fingers and said a prayer. We went to the American Airlines cheek-in, handed the agent our tickets hoping there wouldn't be any delays. The agent stated that our flight was being delayed by 40 minutes! I started to panic a bit and Dave told me to just leave the area so he could handle things alone. All the while Zachary kept saying his stomach hurt. I could hardly focus on his stomach ache and told him he just didn't eat enough at breakfast and he was probably just hungry. I couldn't stand waiting any longer wondering what was taking Dave so long so I went over to the counter. Dave said this wonderful agent is putting us on a different flight but it leaves in 20 minutes so we have to move fast. I was super happy and ran over to the boys to tell them to gather their things and move fast. Zachary continued to tell me his stomach hurt so I told him we'd order food on the plane. He told me that he needed a bathroom; well he didn't make the bathroom and made his first, let's call it "mark"in the airport. Sorry I know this is a food blog! I felt awful for Zachary but I was like honey, here's a tissue, wipe yourself up and we gotta run to our flight. He was a champ and did. A nasty bug was going around the boys school and Tyler had it a few days prior. I was hoping Zach or Nate didn't get what Tyler had but my hoping wasn't good enough. Zach was likely getting what Tyler had. Not a good thing especially when we had to take three planes in one day. We made it to Charlotte and had about an hour in a half until our next flight to Miami. Sure enough Zachary made his "mark" again but in the Charlotte airport…he didn't make it to a bathroom fast enough. We kept telling him he was a champ and pretty soon we'd be in Punta Cana. He had no other symptoms so we weren't too worried. We get on our next flight, luckily no delays and flew to the Miami Airport. Our layover was another hour and a half or so. It's a big airport so we had to jump on a train to take us to the next terminal. Zachary proceeds to tell us his stomach didn't feel quite right, there wasn't a bathroom close enough so yep, Zach made his mark once again! Poor Zachary, but poor cleaning crew. He made his mark once more in the Miami airport and we hopped on our plane…the last one before Punta Cana. Zach still had no other symptoms other than not eating anything all day. He could barely keep down the Gatorade we kept giving him and the anti-nasua medicine didn't do a thing. I kept thinking just one more flight and we are there, Zachary can rest and hopefully tomorrow he'll be building sandcastles, throwing a football with Dave and fighting the waves in the ocean. After 14 hours of traveling, we finally arrived in Punta Cana at 10:00 pm. We were all sooooo excited, even Zachary was. He was as white as a ghost though, poor thing. He seemed okay though. Since it was so late at night the airport wasn't busy so getting through immigrations wasn't too bad. When it was our turn to show passports, hand in our paperwork and pay our fees, Zachary makes his mark once again, in the immigrations line. I was thinking they aren't going to let us through! We decided not to tell any official and we pretended it didn't even happen, luckily it just kinda blended in with the floor color….ewww…sorry Punta Cana cleaning people. We made it through and headed to our charter bus to take us to the hotel. He made another mark in the parking lot. We FINALLY get to the Royalton Punta Cana Resort to check in. We were exhausted and simply just shot. They greeted us with fruity cocktails and poor Zachary didn't have any desire to even take a tiny sip. We couldn't wait to just get to our rooms. I booked adjoining/connecting rooms months ago and even called and emailed the resort confirming we would be honored our connecting rooms. All along the resort confirmed we had connecting rooms. Low and behold, Sarge, our receptionist states there are no connecting rooms available and he had 1 room available on the 3rd floor and the other was available on the 1st floor. Dave was going to LOOSE his mind. He asked to speak with a manager and sure enough there was no manager available. I started to tell them that it was imperative that we had connecting rooms due to medical issues and that our son was very ill. After about 20 minutes of Dave's persuasive abilities, they were able to put us in our connecting rooms on Tuesday. They also found rooms across from each other for Sunday and Monday. Still not ideal but we agreed, we were just wiped out. As we were waiting for our room keys in the lobby, Zach stated he needed a bathroom. You guessed it, he didn't make it and he made his mark in the lobby. I just looked at Sarge with my very stern italian facial expression and said in my very italian voice: I told you we had medical issues, this is why we need our connecting rooms!!! I think Sarge was afraid of me! We got to our rooms about 12:30 am and since it was an all inclusive resort we called room service and ordered lots of food and beer. I'm not even a beer drinker but it tasted darn good. We were all very tired so we all said goodnight and Dave and Zachary went to their room across the hall. Dave and I looked at each other like I can't believe we are in separate rooms, no 25 days of Christmas!!!! We all hoped that the next day would be better once we all got a good night's sleep. Not so much….chapter 3 tomorrow.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Wild Mushroom Soup

After coming back from our Punta Cana vacation, I must admit I have become quite the wimp when it comes to weather in the 50's here in Buffalo. Two weeks ago I would have killed for temperatures in the 50's but after basking in 80 degree weather all week I'm miserable now. So a few days ago when I went to the grocery store and bought tons of food, soup was for sure on my list. I figured if the Buffalo sun couldn't warm me up, a bowl of soup would. So I made a simple Wild Mushroom and Onion Soup. It's perfect with a piece of crusty bread to soak up the beefy broth. It's also excellent served as a first course before your main entree because it's a light soup. I've made this soup as a first course many times when I've entertained and it's always been a hit. What I like most about this soup is it's mild earthy flavors. I used a variety of wild mushrooms such as oyster, shiitake, baby bella and white mushrooms. Wegmans has a nice medley package of wild mushrooms already cut and cleaned…you pay a little more but it's worth the convenience it offers. If you are not a fan of wild mushrooms, any white mushroom will do.  This soup was a hit with Dave….he had three bowls…before our dinner….need I say more! Salute to warming up with a simple but delicious Wild Mushroom Soup.
Earthy flavors in this soup
 "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" the title of our Punta Cana vacation!
I mentioned in my previous post that our trip to Punta Cana was like paradise but there were a few glitches along the way! We've titled our trip "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." If you've seen the movie, you know that whatever could go wrong trying to get to your destination goes wrong…we were so Steve Martin in that movie! Our original plan was to fly out of Pittsburg because its a heck of a lot cheaper than flying out of Buffalo, especially with a family of five. Plus we love Pittsburg, so any excuse to take us there we jump on it. We decided to spend a couple days in Pittsburg and start our vacation early. So we left on Friday right after work and headed to a restaurant in downtown Pittsburg called Church Brew Works. It's a catholic church from the late 1800's that has been converted into a super cool brewery and restaurant. The inside is absolutely stunning, as all of the original stained glass, ornate detailing and woodwork are still in tact. All of the chairs in the restaurant are former pews, so that was neat. The food and beer were also good but my impression is that most people go for the novelty it offers. Our flight didn't leave until the next day so on Saturday we walked around the Strip District. It's basically Pittsburg's food terminal area and there are numerous old world style food markets, shops and restaurants, like the original Primanti Brothers is there. The street is bustling with people and the vibe is lively and energetic. We ate stuffed pizza bread from an italian market, listened to live music, shopped, drank insanely good Bloody Mary's and the boys enjoyed picking out candy from their favorite candy shop. I even bought a hoaky but cool kitchen gadget from a street vendor that curls and slices vegetables….I couldn't resist so I'm sure I'll post about my gadget at some point! The weather was beautiful, 75 degrees and we were all kept saying to each other life is good. We kept toasting and doing a two-step because we were so excited that we were heading to Punta Cana in just a few short hours….so we thought! We headed back to our hotel where our shuttle took us to the airport. We got to the airport a few hours before our flight was scheduled to depart. We get to the airline counter and wondered why no one was in line; we knew we were early but it seemed odd that there was no one was in sight. Finally an agent from American Airlines came to greet us. Dave handed her our tickets and she says there is no 7:00 pm flight….this flight time was changed a while back, you missed your flight. We were like what???? Well I booked through Expedia (you suck Expedia and I'll never use you again!) and they never informed us of the flight change. American Airlines said Expedia is notorious for not informing clients of changes. Yes, we should have checked ourselves, but seriously! The agent looked for other flights and nothing was available until Tuesday!!!! I'm thinking OMG we were taking our leisurely time in the Strip District and all the while our airplane had taken off without us! I looked at Dave and he knew flying out on Tuesday missing 3 days in Punta Cana was not an option. So he suggested the agent look at flying out of other airports. Cleveland was our best bet and that was the closest airport to get us to Punta Cana the next day. So she printed our tickets, we hopped in our car and rushed to drive to Cleveland. We also had to find a hotel in Cleveland which wasn't easy because most were booked, ugh! Keep in mind we drove 4 hours from Buffalo to Pittsburg and then another 2 hours from Pittsburg to Cleveland. The worst part was that we had to take three flights to get us to Punta Cana on Sunday and each of those three layovers were really tight. We knew there was a chance we'd miss one of those flights if there were any delays. Sure enough there was a delay and the drama continues. Things got worse, much worse. I'll save the next chapter in tomorrow's post! So you can see why we called our trip "Trains, Planes and Automobiles!"

As you walk inside Church Brew Works
Beer tanks in background
This was our toast to Punta Cana
Buying my hoaky but cool kitchen gadget
At Pittsburg's Strip District, waiting on fresh stuffed bread
Stuffed bread right out of the oven! 
Insanely good Bloody Mary's 
From Pittsburg to Cleveland! Making the best of it!
On the plane, hoping we'll make it to Punta Cana..only two more flights to go. Will we make it?
Wild Mushroom Soup (Click to print recipe)

Preparation and cook time: 40 minutes

Serves 8

  • 16 oz wild mushrooms (I used shiitake, oyster, baby bella, and white)
  • 1 spanish onion diced
  • 2 tb butter
  • 2 tb minced garlic
  • 1 tb worcestershire sauce
  • 8 cups of beef broth
  • 1/2 t salt 
  • 1/2 t freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tb chopped scallions
In a large soup pot add butter and melt over low-medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté until softened about 10 minutes. Add worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and stir for an additional 5 minutes or until worcestershire is evaporated. Add beef broth and turn heat to medium heat and cook for 20 minutes. Add chopped scallions and serve in bowls.

Food Impressions:

Nate: He didn't try the soup because there were onions. He opted for ramen noodle soup from the Dollar Store. He boggles me when it comes refusing to eat food with onions!

Tyler: "This is really good mom and you know I don't even like mushrooms." After he had a bowl he heated up a ramen noodle soup too. I think he sort of liked it but really wanted to tell me he liked it to make me feel good. At least he tried the soup unlike Nate! Right Nate???

Zachary: "Yum, the soup smells super good and tastes super good." He was fighting Dave for more soup!

Dave: He helped himself to 3 bowls…need I say more!

Andrea: The perfect light and earthy soup. Super easy to make elegant enough to serve at a dinner party. Not the most kid friendly soup as you could tell by Tyler and Nate's food impressions.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Spaghetti Squash Bolognese

We just got back from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. It was a vacation from paradise and I miss it so much! After the winter we've had, we were so looking forward to our tropical vacation in the Caribbean, and luckily it exceeded our expectations. The weather was in the 80's everyday and it only rained once, the ocean was crystal blue, the sand was as white and as soft as sugar, the Royalton Punta Cana was a stunning 5 star brand new resort, the staff and residents were so friendly and accommodating, the amenities were exceptional and the food and drinks were superb, especially for an all-inclusive. We had so much fun and made so many incredible memories, although there were a few "oh my gosh" types of memories that we'd like to forget! I'll explain more as I will be referencing our trip throughout the week in my posts.
Drinking coconut juice from freshly cut coconuts!
We needed the knife he used to cut open our squash!

As good as the food was at our resort, I couldn't wait to get back home to cook and eat homemade local foods. When I'm away for an extended period of time I reeeeally miss cooking. As soon as I left work today the first thing I did was run to the grocery store and shopped til I dropped. It was like I was shopping at the mall for a new outfit, that's how giddy I was. I even bought groceries for the next four days, which I NEVER do. I almost always grocery shop daily because that allows me to cook what I'm in the mood for that day. So today I couldn't help myself but buy tons of groceries because everything looked so good and I missed our local food so much. One of the many things I bought was spaghetti squash. It looked particularly good so I knew that would be on the menu tonight. I decided to make Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Bolognese. This recipe is actually pretty easy to make but it requires an hour of baking. You could microwave the squash, which cuts down on the cooking time, but I don't think it tastes as good as baking it. Baking it gives it a sweeter nuttier taste while microwaving it tastes a bit bland. The other thing to consider when making spaghetti squash is being very careful when cutting it in half. I'm always afraid I'm going to slice off a finger, so please use caution. Nate saw me struggling to cut the squash so he offered to help out by getting his sword, a plastic one of course. So I let him go all Conan Barbarian on it. It actually worked but part of the sword broke off in the squash, ewww I know. I've mentioned before that Dave grumps when I make healthy meals because he equates healthy with being non-satisfying. After he was halfway through eating his squash he said wow this is actually more filling than pasta. I was like shame on you for grumping. If you've never made spaghetti squash before give this recipe a try because it really tastes similar spaghetti, especially if you add marinara sauce to it. It's also a great alternative to pasta if you are trying to cut down on carbs or want something gluten free and it's a great vegetarian dish if you just add sauce and cheese. This recipe is delicious, healthy and satisfying. Salute to Spaghetti Squash Bolognese and back to cooking and eating local foods.
Cut in halves and scoop out seeds 
After baking for 45 minutes, rake with a fork and
make spaghetti like strands
Add the turkey bolognese sauce and mozzarella cheese and bake for 5 minutes until cheese melts
Serve in individual bowls and dig in!
Spaghetti Squash Bolognese (Click to print recipe)

Preparation and cook time 80 minutes

Serves 6


  • 3 medium sized spaghetti squash
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
  • 2 tb minced garlic
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t ground pepper
  • 1/2 t dried parsley
  • 1/2 t dried oregano
  • 1/2 t dried basil
  • 1 24 oz jar of tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • grated parmesan cheese for additional topping
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half length wise. Scrape out seeds with a fork. Place squash on a baking sheet and cover with tin foil. Bake for 45 minutes until squash is tender when pierced with a fork and shell is semi-soft. Rake squash with a fork and make spaghetti like strands then add 2 tb of water to each half. Cover again and bake for another 10-15 minutes. While squash is baking in oven prepare turkey bolognese. In a medium sauté pan, add 2 tb olive oil and minced garlic, cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add turkey, salt and pepper and sauté until it's no longer pink and crumbled. Add milk and cook for 5 minutes then add jarred sauce, parsley, oregano and basil. Stir well and let cook on low to medium heat until squash is cooked. Take out cooked squash from the oven and rake with a fork again. Add a large scoop of turkey bolognese evenly to each squash half and gently mix. Add the mozzarella cheese evenly to each half and bake in oven for 5 minutes until cheese melts. Place squash halves in individual bowls and add parmesan cheese for garnish.

Food Impressions:

Nate: Wouldn't eat the squash. He was only interested in chopping it open!

Tyler: "This is so good and it tastes kinda like spaghetti. Can I have more of the meat sauce on the top?"

Zachary: "How cool, I get my own squash? This is awesome."

Dave: "This is really good and very satisfying. I think it's more filling than a plate of pasta." 

Andrea: I love spaghetti squash because it's healthy and tastes similar to spaghetti. The presentation is beautiful when you leave it in it's shell. 

Nate going all Conan Barbarian!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spinach Feta Bread Pizza in a Snap

This recipe is one of my favorite go-to appetizers....Spinach Feta Bread Pizza. It's a snap to make and the results are, oh so good! Start out with any store bought homemade bread. I typically go for whatever is on sale (Each week, Dash's has a featured artisan bread on sale) but French, Italian or Ciabatta Bread works great, as do bagels. For this recipe I started with Italian bread and sliced it in half length-wise, added fresh baby spinach and feta cheese, then finished it off with a little olive oil, fresh lemon, garlic and salt n pepper. I popped it in the oven for 10 minutes and wala done. End result: a perfect snack, impromptu appetizer or light meal. The key to making this recipe a snap is adding ingredients that don't require any preparation or cooking. You could use frozen spinach but that requires defrosting and then straining the excess water and that in my opinion equates to a few unnecessary extra steps. Keep it simple and use toppings that you already have in your refrigerator or cupboard. I love adding canned artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, olives, or even sweet banana peppers. Anything goes with pizza bread, any cheese, any meat, any veggie. Nate doesn't like feta cheese so I made a pepperoni and mozzarella cheese pizza bread for him, while Tyler, Zachary and I enjoyed the Spinach Feta Bread to ourselves. As I was slicing the bread on the cutting board the boys were grabbing pieces before it was even plated. They loved it. So if you are looking for something that's quick, easy and delicious give this recipe a try. Salute to bread pizza in a snap!
Start out with any type homemade store bought bread,
fresh bagels even work great!
Add your toppings 
Bake for 10 minutes
And you have delicious pizza bread in a snap!
Slice and enjoy!
Nate's pizza bread is just as good!
Spinach Feta Bread Pizza (Click to print recipe)

Serves 4-8 as an appetizer

Preparation and cook time: 15 minutes


  • Fresh bread - French, Italian or ciabatta work well
  • 1 cup of fresh baby spinach
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 4 tb olive oil
  • 1/2 fresh lemon juice, red wine vinegar is also good
  • 1/4 t garlic powder
  • Salt n pepper to taste 
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice bread in half length wise. Add spinach and feta evenly over both slices. Drizzle olive oil, lemon juice, garlic powder and salt n pepper. Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until feta is soft or melted. Let cool for 5 minutes and slice in 8 even slices.

Food Impressions:

Nate: "Thanks for making me a cheese and pepperoni bread." Nate doesn't like feta so I whipped up one to his liking.

Tyler: "This is so good. The spinach tastes like a crunchy potato chip. I like the lemon taste too."

Zachary: "Can I have more?"

Andrea: One of my favorite go-to appetizers. It's always a hit with everyone. Add any toppings on any type of bread and you have pizza in a snap!
Nate enjoying his pepperoni and mozzarella pizza bead
And Tyler & Zachary enjoying theirs!