kale for the win

Today is National Kale Day, HOORAY! Kale is without a doubt the green of the moment. You can’t swing a vegan around Whole Foods without hitting a kale display. Seriously, google “kale recipe” and you’ll be astonished at the array that comes up; soups, salads, smoothies, baked, broiled and braised. And why all this leafy green glorification? Well, because kale is a super food of course! As a lover of all things veggie I can’t help but be excited about this superstar green having a day all to itself. I also see it as my civic duty to encourage others to give green a chance, and I take that duty quite seriously. So seriously that… I have a secret. Wanna hear it? I’ve been formulating a plan to switch my family to a plant based diet after the holidays. It will be a test of sorts, not so much for me but for them. I will keep my test relegated to a week, after all my goal is to change thinking not torture souls, and I will allow all forms of dairy. I’d just like to prove to my pack of carnivores that one can in fact live well on a diet of veggies. Wish me luck!

This plotting and planning has me thinking a lot about what constitutes a well-regarded meal in my house, and how to play off that idea. It seems to me the key lies in a meal that tastes fabulous (duh) and is filling in a truly satisfying kind of way. I’ve been wracking my brain and I’ve come up with a few dinner possibilities that I believe will be winners including risotto, eggplant parm and a cauliflower and corn chowder (stop making that face, its delicious) but I would need more than that to make my test week a success. It turns out I already have that recipe in my arsenal; a side dish that I always thought had the potential for greatness but had simply never been given the chance. A plan slowly formed in my head [que evil laughter]. Intrigued? Ready for the reveal? Okay here goes, the dish that will make all things possible is… Lentils with Brown Rice, Sautéed Mushrooms + Kale. What you’re not impressed? Well you should be. This combination is really and truly delicious together and it’s super easy to make, especially if you use canned lentils and instant brown rice. So what if I took this simple side dish and used it to stuff peppers, potatoes or squash. Deliciousness that what! High in protein and fiber, low in fat and cholesterol, deliciousness. Are you starting to see things from my perspective? Yeah, I thought you would. And who knows, with the right love and support lentils and brown rice could legitimately be the one thing that changes the Greco family’s lives FOREVER.

Yeah I know, it’s unlikely. But a girl can dare to dream.

Lentils with Brown Rice, Mushrooms + Kale
This can totally be served as side dish or used for stuffing. Whatever floats your boat.

rice+lentils

3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, diced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 handfuls baby kale, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 can lentils, rinsed and drained

  1. In a large skillet warm the oil until shimmering. Add the onions and sauté until nearly translucent. Then add the garlic, mushroom, thyme, salt and pepper and let cook for 8-10 minutes or until the mushroom have released all their moisture.
  2. Add to the skillet two handfuls of roughly chopped baby kale and stir well. Then add the cooked rice and lentils and allow to cook until everything is heated through and the kale has wilted.
  3. Serve as a side or use as stuffing in baked potatoes, peppers or acorn squash.
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soul satisfying shrimp risotto

Stirring. Surveying.
Slow.
Starch. Stock. Shrimp.
Self Restraint.
Supper.
Soul Satisfying.

Risotto, that sublime Italian rice dish with a reputation for being incredibly time consuming and fussy. In reality it’s really pretty simple to pull together. Hot broth in one pot, toasted arborio rice in another. A wooden spoon, a bit of butter and cheese. A smidgen of patience and buon appetito!… Risotto like you thought you could only get in a restaurant. Yes the spoon has to be wooden (so as to not damage the grains of rice). Yes the broth has to be warm (it’s more easily absorbed than cold stock). Yes you need to stir the rice almost constantly and it needs to be served IMMEDIATELY or it becomes dense and gluey. But that’s a small price to pay for a creamy, rich and luxurious dish of perfect risotto.

In the words of chef Jamie Oliver “Risotto… It takes a bit of time and a bit of love. In life, you can’t have everything in one basket.”

Simple Shrimp Risotto
You can get fancy and add asparagus or sweet peas to this risotto, but it’s perfectly perfect without it as well. Abbondanza!

3 cups shrimp* or chicken stock
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 lb. small shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 tbsp. salted butter
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
2 tbsp. heavy cream

  1. Place the stock in a tall sided pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce to a low simmer to keep warm.
  2. In a large high sided pan with a heavy bottom, heat oil and sauté onions until nearly translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, add the rice, stir to coat with oil and sauté with onions to toast each grain, another 5-6 minutes (stirring frequently).
  3. Once toasted slowly add the white wine, stirring gently with a wooden spoon. Once the rice has absorbed the wine, add 1 cup of warm stock and stir. Allow to cook until stock has been absorbed.
  4. Add a second cup of stock to the pan, stir gently and allow the rice to absorb the liquid and the pan to once agin become dry. Continue to stir frequently and add the third and final cup of stock to the pan, cook once more until dry.
  5. Roughly chop half of the shrimp. Add all of the shrimp to the risotto, stirring gently and cook until they are just pink, this will only take a few minutes.
  6. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter, cheese and heavy cream. Gently stir to melt the butter and combine ingredients and serve immediately.

*To create shrimp stock I simply placed the shrimp shells and some water in a small saucepan and allow it to for for an hour or so. Strain the liquid and voilà— shrimp stock.

**adapted from the reluctant gourmet

spaghetti squash vs. carnivore casserole

I’m not typically one to make new year resolutions. Instead I like to use the dawning of the new year simply as a time of reflection. Recently I’ve been reading a considerable amount about the power of the plant. Articles talking about how tiny microgreens and blue-green algae are total nutritional powerhouses and the overall health benefits of a more plant-based diet. This got me to thinking and thinking got me to deciding that 2015 should be the Greco family’s “Year of the Vegetable”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally giving up meat. I still fully plan on curing and smoking another slab of bacon when the weather warms up and I’ll never say no to a pastrami sandwich from The Deli King of Clark, but I feel like we could all benefit from a little more of nature’s candy and a little less of nature’s inhabitants.

Since I’m already such a veggie lover this undertaking really shouldn’t be that great of a personal challenge, no the trick will be getting my family to switch to the green side. Of course knowing full well the reaction it would get, I didn’t discuss this plan with them. Instead I’ve decided to be stealth about it; add a few more veggies to soups here, some greens braised there, fresh fruit smoothies in the morning with a few carrots added in “just added for color” and lentils and beans more often for some good ‘ol fashioned non-meat protein. My plan was coming together nicely, I was subtly reducing their meat consumption while upping their vegetable intake and they were none-the-wiser. But then I got greedy. I few too close to the sun. I messed with the bull without expecting the horns. I was drunk with power and made a casserole of spaghetti squash, kale and smoked mozzarella… and I expected them to eat it. I was wrong.

My son ate most of his but not before declaring it “seriously not worth making again”, my daughter on the other hand couldn’t even muster than much of an endorsement. Instead she made a wild-eyed retching pantomime, waved her arms frantically and ultimately consumed about two forkfuls before flat out stating that she was DONE! I however thought it was delicious. Seriously… really, really good. And my husband agreed with me. (Of course I was angry with him at the time, so there’s a strong possibility he just may have been trying to get on my good side.) Anyway I honestly thought it was delicious and totally worth a repeat performance, but there’s a chance I may be alone on this one.

So the moral of this story is never be afraid to try something different and… You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make a carnivore love spaghetti squash casserole.

Baked Spaghetti Squash with Kale and Smoked Mozzarella
This was really delicious. Really.

spaghetti squash2

1 4 lb. spaghetti squash
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
9 oz. frozen chopped kale, defrosted
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups spaghetti sauce (homemade or jarred)
16 oz. fresh smoked mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove all seeds and place on a rimmed baking sheet face down. Add some water to the bottom of the baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Keep the oven on.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the onions and minced garlic and saute for 4-5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add the chopped kale, salt and pepper and continue cooking another 2-3 minutes, until kale is tender. Remove from heat.
  3. Once squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to shred the squash into large bowl. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs. Add to the eggs the Greek yogurt and 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese. Add the egg mixture to the squash strands and stir to combine.
  4. Pour 1 cup spaghetti sauce into a large baking dish. Spoon some spaghetti squash mixture over the sauce and spread evenly. Then add a layer of sautéed kale and onions over the squash, then half of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with another layer of squash, then kale, another cup of spaghetti sauce, the remaining mozzarella and finally the last of the Parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until bubbling and nicely browned on top.
  6. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.*

*I’ve found that the longer the spaghetti squash is allowed to sit and cool, the less watery it ends up.

gluten-free… is it for me?

A few weeks ago I decided to try going gluten-free. I’ve had quirky issues with my stomach most of my life (ironic since I’m such a food lover right?) and I wanted to see if making the switch would make a difference. It’s too soon to make any concrete declarations but all signs are pointing to… maybe.

Deciding to change your diet can feel like a daunting task. I’ll be honest, my motto is more “Life is too short not enjoy dinner!” than “Moderation is the key too happiness.” With that in mind I’ve tried my best not to let gluten-free mean flavor-free, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve discovered that potato chips and wine are both gluten-free (which frankly made me one happy girl) and I’ve come to the conclusion that if you fall into three simple categories you’re certain to find eating well gluten-free to be a snap. And here they are:

1.) You like vegetables and are happy to eat lots of them.
2.) You’re not a big fan of carbs and can give them up without a backward glance.
3.) You’re more of a baked goods buyer than a from scratch baker.

Honestly I’ve got no problem with 1. And I’m actually surprised at how easily I’ve given up 2., but the baking part has been tricky. You see while it’s quite possible to find recipes for ooey-gooey gluten-free cinnamon buns and chewy chocolate chip cookies; these recipes are often labor intensive and usually require a boat load of special ingredients. Ingredients such as tapioca and rice flour, xanthan gum, potato starch and agar flakes, things you probably don’t exactly have lying around the pantry. Yeah, I know— annoying. I’ve decide that if I stick with this little wheat-free detour then perhaps I will make the ingredient investment, but until then I’ve been trying to manage with my own little tweaks and substitutions. So what have I come up with? Well I’m glad you asked…

My daughter and I made our own oat flour and used it to bake up some lovely applesauce muffins. I’ve made dozens of loaves of cornbread with a blend of fine and coarse cornmeal, a couple of eggs and some cream style corn— the results were delicious. But my biggest gluten-free success so far has to be macaroni n’ cheese. I swapped regular pasta for rice (I like Trader Joe’s brand the best), used arrowroot powder instead of flour in the roux for the cheese sauce, and punched up the flavor big time by using a combination of goat brie and cheddar. Afraid of that goaty flavor? Don’t be, it’s really subtle but makes a huge flavor impact and this combo seems to be loved by all. Seriously! My family thinks it’s one of the best versions of mac n’ cheese I’ve ever made, which is fantastic, but I really knew I was onto something when I served it at our July 4th barbecue. Not a single one of the dozen kids who were here had anything but “Is there more?” to say about it. I’ll take that as one big fat recipe success.

I guess you can say that I’m slowly learning to navigate the world of gluten-free living. I can almost imagine myself continuing to live this way if I can just conquer one all mighty obstacle… The ultimate crusty loaf of gluten-free bread. So stay tuned!

Gluten-Free Goat Brie + Cheddar Mac n’ Cheese
I make this with goat brie and my family loves it, but you can use all cheddar if you don’t think yours will.

glutenfree mac2

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. arrowroot powder
1 1/2 cups skim milk, warmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, diced
4 oz. wheel goat brie, peeled and diced
16 oz. gluten-free rice macaroni

  1. Begin cooking the macaroni according to package directions. While it cooks melt the butter in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add the arrowroot powder and whisk until it turns golden. (The key to using arrowroot is not to overheat it, otherwise it loses it’s thickening magic.)
  3. Slowly add the warm milk and whisk until the sauce has thickened. Add the garlic powder, salt and Dijon mustard and stir until well combined.
  4. Drain the macaroni and return to the pot. Add the diced cheese to the white sauce and stir until the sauce is smooth.
  5. Pour half the cheese sauce over the cooked macaroni and give it a gentle stir. Add additional sauce until the macaroni is coated to your liking. (I often have extra sauce that I use when I reheat the leftovers.)
  6. Serve, enjoy and be amazed at how tasty gluten-free can be!

spicy beet greens with chickpeas

My children have been away with their grandparents for the better part of the past two weeks. The first week with one set, the second with the other. That’s right, we’ve been childless for nearly 14 days. Just typing that makes me feel slightly woozy. FOURTEEN DAYS KID-FREE. (I know, the gods are clearly smiling on me.) So what you may wonder have I been up to? Well… I’ve been putting in some serious hours at work. I’ve done a significant amount of chillin’ on the deck. I’ve read a book. We met friends for drinks. I went shopping without anyone asking me “Are we almost done? How many more things do we need to buy?” We went to the movies (an advance screening of The Hundred Foot Journey to be precise). We went out to dinner. I did not watch a single TV show that revolved around Bart, Marge, Maggie and Homer, a family of British pigs who love muddy puddles or that famous duo Elsa and Ana. I got a pedicure. We actually talked to each other (imagine!) and we made things for dinner that the kids would never want to eat; Garlicky pesto over linguine, salmon with a balsamic glaze, lamb burgers with tzatziki, giant bowls of steamed mussels and one night we went totally vegan— beet greens, chickpeas, Habanero chilies and tofu with coconut milk over brown rice. Yup, I’m not kidding.

I eat vegetables everyday. Not because I think I should or because they’re good for me. I eat them daily because I love them. My family doesn’t exactly share my passion for Mother Nature’s candy, but the kids will eat baby carrots and garden fresh cucumbers for a snack, they love mashed turnips and grilled asparagus and only grumble minimally when I make grilled squash or string beans. But they draw the line at greens. Sure they can handle collards with bacon, but an arugula salad or god forbid sautéed spinach or beet greens… totally out of the question. My husband, who can deal with nearly anything but cauliflower, has come to accept that life with me involves much more than meat and potatoes.

Anyway back to the vegan meal… I stopped at the store on my way home one night thinking I’d make a coconut milk and brown rice number with some of the leftover veggies I had at home; A few bunches of fresh beets with greens that needed to be eaten, some Habanero peppers leftover from the mussels night and cherry tomatoes from my garden. I already had brown rice and chickpeas in the pantry so all I needed was coconut milk and shrimp and we’d have dinner in a flash. The shrimp ended up being both expensive and pathetic looking, totally not worth buying. I needed an alternate plan. I still wanted to add a bit more protein to the meal, but it needed to be something that required minimal prep and cooked quickly. That something turned out to be tofu. I think of tofu is a rather innocuous ingredient. It really doesn’t lend much by way of its own flavor but it’s more of a sponge for the other flavors in the dish, and it’s high in protein. So I sliced and diced, sautéed and deglazed, simmered and served and guess what… It was delicious. And vegan. And while my dearest did comment that “It would be better with sausage.” he cleaned his plate nonetheless.

The kids will be back tomorrow and while I have thoroughly enjoyed their absence, I’m ready for them to come home. I know this will mean listening to their bickering, watching their dopey kid shows and answering 50 million times the question “How many more bites do I have to take?” But I’m ready for them to return all the same.

And if you ever remind me that I said that, I’ll completely deny it.

Spicy Beet Greens with Chickpeas and Tofu 

Deilsh and vegan. Who knew… 

vegan2

1 tbsp. coconut oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
a handful of cherry tomatoes, diced
3 Habanero peppers, seeded and julienned
3 tbsp. lemon juice
15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
greens from two bunches of beets, stemmed and julienned
14 oz. can coconut milk
2 tsp. salt, divided
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
brown rice, for serving
fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until it becomes translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes, Habanero peppers and 1 tsp. of salt and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the lemon juice to deglaze then pan then add the chickpeas and beets greens. Stir to coat well with the onion mixture and allow to cook until the greens have just begun to wilt.
  3. Add in the coconut milk, remaining teaspoon of salt and ground cinnamon. Bring the mixture to a simmer then turn down the heat to low and cook for 5-10 minutes or until the chickpeas just begin to soften.
  4. Serve over brown rice and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.

my curry of solitude

“No more pencils. No more books. No more teacher’s dirty looksOut for summer. Out till fall. We might not come back at all. School’s out forever. School’s out for summer…”
~Alice Cooper

Yup that’s right, school’s out for Summer— and frankly not a moment too soon. I was quickly approaching my school year breaking point. I’m tired of remembering assigned snack days, helping with school projects, making lunches and yelling “hurry up we’re late!” on a daily basis. I need the slower pace of Summer; the laid back mornings, the swimming after dinner evenings. I need a break.

My parents had planned on coming to spend a few days with my kids the first week of summer vacation, they would all get some quality time together and I would get a few more uninterrupted days at the office. However as a surprise (and perhaps because they sensed my approaching breaking point) they instead offered to take the kids back to Connecticut with them for the better part of the week. “What do you think?” they innocently asked. “Are you kidding… They’re yours!” I said tripping over my own feet in the mad dash to get upstairs and pack their suitcases before anyone realized what had just been agreed to. Naturally the kids were just as overjoyed as I was at the idea of a week at Grammy and Grampy’s house. (It’s common knowledge that the rules at their house only vaguely resemble the rules at home. And when I say vaguely, I really mean not at all.) So off they went with barely a backward glance and off I went to enjoy the quiet of a child-free home. And blissfully quiet it was.

Flash forward 24 hours— My husband comes home and announces that he has to go away on business while the kids are in Connecticut. “Wait. What? Do you mean to tell me that I will be here all alone?” Yup that’s right folks. I was alone for 24 hours. Alone. Let me type that again… ALONE. It was wonderful. Sure I had to make the coffee and empty the dishwasher (typically my husband’s jobs since he gets up earlier than I do) and sure the damn dog killed another bird and it was up to me to pick up the mangled carcass; but that was a measly price to pay for 24 hours of me-time.

I have a girlfriend who eats cold cereal whenever she’s home by herself at dinnertime. Her theory is one bowl + one spoon = zero kitchen mess. I’m the exact opposite. When mine is the only palette I have to please I cook exactly what I want regardless of the prep and process involved. I pull out every pot and pan, make a mess and leave the disaster to be cleaned up when I’m good and ready. With this in mind I spent the “afternoon of my aloneness” (that’s how I plan to refer to these 24 hours when I think back on them fondly) mulling over what to make for dinner. Something spicy (of course), maybe with seafood and definitely the kind of meal the kids would moan and groan over. I ultimately decided to make a curry; a shrimp and coconut green curry to be exact.

It turned out to be exactly the type of meal an afternoon of aloneness begs for. A meal that made this “loves her family but not missing them one iotia and couldn’t possibly be enjoying the solitude more” wife and mother very, very happy.

Shrimp and Coconut Green Curry
This was a delicious dinner… and I was the perfect dining companion.

green curry

1 tbsp. coconut oil
3 fat scallions, sliced thin
2 tbsp. Green Curry paste
1 tbsp. fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
5 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
1 sm. yellow pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
a handful of dandelion greens, roughly chopped
13.5 oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
2 tsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. light Tamari soy sauce
1/2-1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. fresh basil, julienned
Jasmine rice, for serving
fresh cilantro, for garnish
diced chilies, for garnish

  1. In a large high sided skillet or wok melt the coconut oil. Add half of the scallions, curry paste and ginger and cook for 1 minute.
  2.  Add to the pan the garlic, shrimp and vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, Tamari and cayenne pepper and allow to simmer until the shrimp are pink and cooked through.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the julienned basil (adding it at the end will keep it green) and serve over Jasmine rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro, diced chilies and additional Tamari if desired.

“cuban by association” roasted pork

Sunday is my favorite day of the week. It’s the day I usually get to sleep in, it’s a day that’s often commitment free, it’s a day to relax and do what we want at the pace we want to do it. I like to have a proper dinner on Sunday, nothing overly fancy just a little more involved than your ordinary weeknight meal; a little Death Row Chicken, some slow-cooked pulled turkey or as on a recent Sunday a bit of Cuban-Style Roasted Pork. Now before we go any further I feel the need to make a few things clear: I am not Cuban nor am I married to a Cuban (yes I have a girlfriend who is but I’m not sure that counts), I have never been to Cuba and I do not profess to understand all the intricacies of Cuban cuisine. However… I do happen to love this inspired by a million other cuisines style of food (traditional Cuban food takes a page from Spanish, French, African, Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures) and have eaten it enough to think that I can come up with my own riff on Cuban Roasted Pork. And so I did.

To begin with I made a “traditional” Cuban mojo; a mixture of oil, garlic, onion, oregano, orange and lime. I let the meat marinate in the mojo overnight and then roasted it in the oven like I would our Christmas Prime Rib (start off at a high temp. to sear the outside then reduce the heat and let it cook for a couple of hours). The results were amazing, seriously delicious. So good in fact that I would almost be willing to serve it to my girlfriends mother-in-law. Almost. But wait, the story doesn’t end there.

On the eve of every weekend I say I’m going plan dinners for the week and shop for everything I need ahead of time, and every weekend I don’t. So invariably the same thing always happens; we’re good to go till Wednesday then kaput… mayonnaise sandwiches. It was one of those nothin in the fridge but condiments and Sunday nights leftovers (which happened to be roasted Cuban pork) that actually inspired the most fantastic leftover dinner to date. I decided to break out the panini press and turn the leftover pork, a little Dijon mustard, Virginia ham, dill pickles and swiss cheese into delicious Cuban Sandwiches. Winner, winner… Cuban pork take two dinner. Delish!

Cuban-Style Roasted Pork
You can cut this recipe in half, but then you don’t have much for leftovers.

2 heads garlic, broken apart and skinned
1 large onion
1 1/2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup lime juice
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. dried oregano
2 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. black pepper
zest of 1 lime
zest of 1 orange
6 lbs. pork loin end roast, trimmed

  1. Place all of the marinade ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to process until fairly smooth. Pour the marinade into a large resealable container, add the pork and allow to marinate (turning once or twice) for 12-18 hrs. Remove the meat from the refrigerator an hour before you want to put it in the oven.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Remove the roast from the marinade and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan and roast for 30 minutes.
  3. Reduce the oven to 350°F and allow to cook until the internal temperature reaches 160°F, about 2 hrs.
  4. Remove the roast from the oven and allow to sit for 20 minutes before carving into thin slices.

Cuban-Style Roasted Pork Panini
This is one of my favorite leftover meals and it’s so simple it really doesn’t even warrant a recipe.

cuban sandwich2

leftover pork loin end roast, sliced thin and warmed
crusty bread (I used a loaf of ciabatta)
Dijon mustard
baby dill pickles, sliced thin
Virginia ham
provolone or swiss cheese

  1. Preheat your panini press. (You can do this in a pan like you would grilled cheese as well, but you’ll need to weigh down the sandwich while it cooks.) Slice the bread into individual portions and then in half.
  2. Coat one half with mustard then start layering: cheese, then a couple of slices of pickle, then a few pork slices, top that with a slice or two of ham and finish up with another slice of cheese. Top with the remaining half of bread, squish in the panini press until the cheese has melted and the crust is warm and crispy. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.

gnocchi tinged memories

When I was a little girl nothing would please me more than a trip to the local G. Fox & Co. department store. I’d talk my mother into taking the escalator upstairs to the housewares department and that’s when the fun would begin. I would wander around the department reading the little bridal registry cards attached to each place setting, imagining which espresso machine or serving platter I would choose and dreaming of the day grown-up me would finally be able to register for all the housewares my little heart desired. I wasn’t dreaming of being a bride mind you, I was dreaming of having a fully stocked kitchen. Funny right? But true none the less.

My love of housewares hasn’t diminished at all over the years, which would explain why I own: Five sets of dishes (we had a yard sale a few years ago and I sold my two “extra” sets), enough serving pieces to easily set a buffet for a hundred, a ridiculous number of tiny antique aperitif glasses, a crazy collection of water pitchers, just about every size and shape cocktail glass imaginable, a huge variety of pots, pans and steamers, a cast iron skillet, Dutch oven and griddle, a kitchen scale, stand mixer, potato ricer and several sizes of box graters, not to mention an array of blenders and hand mixers, a waffle iron, espresso machine, regular coffee maker and a set of individual serving ice cream makers, plus all your standard whisks, spatulas, spoons and whatnot. (Yes I realize my love may border on obsession. We all have our vices.) However, believe it or not there is actually one cooking implement that I do not have but have seriously considered… a pasta maker. I thought more than once about buying an attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer, but one thing always stopped me. What if I found making pasta to be just as frustrating and disastrous as my attempts to make bread?!? Those attachments can be quite pricy and that just wasn’t a financial (or emotional) commitment I was ready to make. But that didn’t mean I was willing to give up my desire to make fresh pasta— come now silly reader, you know me better than that! No instead I decided to approach pasta making in the simplest fashion possible, one that required limited special equipment and with a recipe that seemed nearly fool-proof. My recipe of choice— gnocchi.

I first discovered gnocchi in college when my boyfriend (now husband) took me to dinner at Louis Seafood on E. Tremont Ave. in the Bronx. The restaurant has been around since the 40’s and it was and still is the epitome of good Italian comfort food with a side of Bronx attitude. I had considered myself fairly well versed in pasta (being half Italian and all) but somehow gnocchi had never made it on my radar. The gnocchi at Louis Seafood was unlike anything I had ever tried, it was dense and filling (especially with the Bolognese sauce he always seemed to order) but at the same time I couldn’t stop myself from snitching forkfuls off his plate. For years the term gnocchi make think of college, the Bronx and Louis Seafood. Then we traveled to Florence, Italy and my perception of gnocchi completely changed.

We arrived in Florence late one afternoon after a long train ride from Rome, and we were starving! So hungry in fact that once we physically found our hotel we didn’t even step foot inside it. Instead we dragged our luggage to the little cafe next door in hopes of getting something to eat. “Oh, mi dispiace signora.” the waiter said “La cucina è chiusa.” We looked at him in disbelief, we were starving and the kitchen was CLOSED?!? This was Italy for peat’s sake, they were soposta feed us till we popped! Thankfully the waiter sensed our desperation and decided that he could in fact offer us a few limited selections off the menu. We collapsed in our chairs, ordered a few glasses of vino rosso, looked over the menu and placed our lunch order. I’ll be honest with you, I have absolutely no idea what I ate that day. The only thing I remember of the meal is my husbands gnocchi. It was like air, little puffs of loveliness, amazing and unlike anything I had ever imagined gnocchi could be. It’s been quite a few years since that trip to Florence yet every so often one of us still wistfully mentions that gnocchi.

When I decided to try my own hand at homemade gnocchi I truly didn’t anticipate stellar results. It seemed like the opportunity for heavy little lead sinkers was just too great. So imagine my delight when they turned out light, airy and delicious. There not quite Florence quality gnocchi, but then nothing could ever possibly be, they are however the closest we’ve ever come to replicating that amazing Italian meal. Buon appetito!

Simple Potato Gnocchi
These were as wonderful as the ones we always reminisce about eating in Florence, as evidenced by the nearly clean plate below.

gnocchi3

4 cups riced russet potatoes, (about 2 large)
4 egg yolks
2 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
sauce of your choice, for serving
optional special equipment: potato ricer, gnocchi paddle

  1. Place potatoes (skin on) in a large pot of salted water and boil until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes, let them cool just enough to handle and then peel. Cut each in half and place in a potato ricer. Rice into a large bowl. Stir in the egg yolks and salt, then add the flour and stir until a shaggy dough forms. Knead gently until a smooth but slightly sticky dough forms.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with flour. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Lightly flour a work surface and roll each piece into a 3/4-inch-thick rope, then cut each rope into one-inch pieces. Place each piece against the gnocchi paddle and gently roll with your pointer finger to make ridges on one side and a small indentation on the other; drop onto the prepared baking sheet and repeat the process with the other ropes.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the raw gnocchi, 36 at a time. Allow to cook until they rise to the surface, then simmer for another 2 minutes longer. Add to a bowl with you’re favorite sauce, sprinkle with the cheese and serve.

To Make Ahead: The uncooked gnocchi pieces can be frozen on the prepared baking sheet, then transferred to a resealable plastic bag and frozen for up to 1 month. Boil without defrosting.

*adapted from food & wine