winging it… again

The most highly anticipated day of any football lovers year is right around the corner. Frankly, I don’t like football. Nope, not at all. Sure I’ve been to Giants games. Sure I’ve drunk beer, eaten pretzels and cheered for big blue. Sure I’ve asked “Who’s winning?” on many a Sunday afternoon. But in all honesty, there’s nothing about the sport that appeals to me. However I realize I’m in the minority (particularly at this time of year) and so I make an effort to pretend to care.

I had planned on this years effort manifesting itself as some out of the box delicious Super Bowl Sunday treat. I would tell you a long-winded story about it, give you the recipe and close the book on yet another football season. But karma got in the way. You see last week I was busy bragging to anyone that would listen about how my entire family was sick but me. And how I fully attributed my reigning health to the super green smoothies I drink everyday. The universe is a funny thing. Don’t let it see you getting too full of yourself or before you know it… playing fields will be evened. (Did you catch that little hook back into football? I know, I’m good.) Anyway, the universe is now having a nice little chuckle at my expense because this week I’m living on Jakeman’s cough drops and sound like Harvey Fierstein. Yeah, karma really is a bitch. Instead of giving you something new and fabulous, I’m reposting last years Super Bowl entry along with my recipe for Grilled Asian Wings— and I’m going to make myself a cup of tea.

So until next season… May your teams be tough and your balls fully inflated!”

PREVIOUSLY POSTED ENTRY: It seems to me that Super Bowl Sunday has very little to actually do with football and a lot to do with Clydesdale commercials, half-time wardrobe malfunctions and trashy food you would never ordinarily consider eating. You know the kind I’m talking about— bowls of melted velveeta and salsa served with Fritos (hmm, who knew they still made Fritos?) piping hot pizza bites and mini hot dogs (I’m sure there’s not that much MSG in them, right?) and of course deep-fried wings with a side of bottled blue cheese dressing (limp celery stalks optional). But before you get the wrong impression here’s the thing… I happen to like wings. In fact there’s a coal-fired pizza joint nearby that makes the most delicious caramelized onion and rosemary wings that I like to order with a side salad. So you see it’s not the wing itself I take issue with, it’s the prepackaged, deep-fried, preservative laden aspect of your typical trashy wings I dislike. If I’m going to eat a wing I want some thought to have gone into it, some consideration for the flavors in combination with the cooking method. I want someone to have given that wing a little love long before it ever hits my plate.

While I don’t have a coal-fired pizza oven, I do have a gas grill and a Weber cookbook, which as it turns out is all I really need. A few pounds of wings, some Asian ingredients, a little grill time and voilà… Delicious without apology wings. I realize as I type this that the temperature outside is only 18°F, not exactly standing at the grill weather. I have but one thing to say about that—

Toughen up buttercup. This is football!

Grilled Asian Wings
These are delicious and far less guilt inducing than your typical wings.

wings6

1 medium leek, halved and sliced thin
2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
1/2 cup tamari soy sauce
5 tbsp. dark brown sugar, packed
4 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
4 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp. fish sauce
3 tbsp. peeled, grated fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 lbs. chicken wings, tips removed

  1. Add all the ingredients (except the wings) to a medium bowl and stir to combine. Pour all the marinade except for 3 tablespoons into a large ziploc bag, place the wings in the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag to insure all the wings are coated and allow to marinate for an hour.
  2. Prepare your grill by brushing the cooking grates clean and heating the grill to 350°F.
  3. Carefully oil the grates and grill the wings over medium heat, with the lid closed, until they are well browned and cooked through (turning them several times), 15 to 25 minutes.
  4. Transfer the cooked wings to the large bowl and drizzle with the reserved marinade. Serve warm and… Go team!.

*adapted from weber

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.

ya can’t beet a brownie

I don’t know about you but I love brownies. Rich, chocolatey, cakey, satisfying brownies. No nuts. No frosting. No edges. (I’m a center of the pan kinda girl.) I love those classic, foundation of many a bake sale and potluck, way better than a slice of cake treats— But I almost never make them. Why? Because while they exude an air of nostalgia and casual effortlessness, they are in fact persnickety little monsters and total baking with ease impostors. Let me explain..

Over bake them and they’re tough and chewy, sticking to the pan and in your teeth. Under bake them and they’re a mushy, gooey, fall apart mess. And then there’s the cooling factor. Even if you time the baking exactly right you still have to let them cool an inordinate amount of time before even attempting to cut into them. Can’t fight you’re impatient inner child and start slicing while they’re still too warm… Hello stuck to the knife brownie mess! And honestly, whom among us hasn’t been lured into making a batch (whether it be from scratch or boxed) only to end up standing at the counter scraping bits of brownie off the bottom of the pan, smushing them together to create a pitiful brownie lump and shoveling them into your mouth so as to not have your efforts wasted. All the while swearing “NEVER AGAIN”. I know, I’m with you. I’ve totally been there. Which is why it’s all the more surprising that I decided out of the blue to make brownies from scratch. Perhaps I was feeling invincible or perhaps I was simply feeling that keeping up with work, kids and home wasn’t enough of a challenge that week. Whatever the case may have been there I was whipping up a batch of brownies for two sick kids. (Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that my kids were both home sick from school. Yup, they were. Two sick kids. Both home. Two days. Good times.) Anyway… Amid the chaos that was last week I decided to make brownies, no doubt as much for myself as for them.

I’m a bit of a recipe pack-rat; squirreling away magazine pages, newspaper clippings and dozens of forwarded to myself emails containing recipes that I plan to make “someday”. One of the scraps of paper at the top of my pile was a brownie recipe from C for Food & Agriculture. (If you’re not familiar with Stone Barnes then by all means you should be, it’s an incredible place with an equally amazing restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns smack at the center.) The recipe was for rich, decadent brownies with a subtle orange flavor and beets as the secret ingredient. This wasn’t the first time I had decided to sneak beets into my baked goods, remember those yummy Chocolate Cake Donuts with Chocolate Ganache, so I jumped right in. I knew the beets would add moisture and texture to the mix and that once cool, their flavor would be virtually undetectable. And I was right, they were delicious! Rich, moist and chocolatey with just the right hit of orange and just the right amount of soul soothing decadence to make this harried mom and her two sick kids feel momentarily better.

The kids are thankfully on the mend and everyone will be heading back to school (and work) tomorrow, perhaps with a tasty little square of Orange-Beet Brownie tucked into their lunch boxes. Unless of course I tell them the brownies are all gone and secretly polish off the rest myself. A little white tie never hurt anyone and frankly, I think I’ve earned it.

Orange-Beet Brownies
Once these babies are cool no one would ever guess they contain beets!

beet brownie3

3 small beets, trimmed
8 oz. good-quality bittersweet chocolate (such as Ghirardelli 60% cacao)
1 stick salted butter, diced
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
zest of 1 orange
3 tbsp. orange juice, divided
1 1/4 cups self-rising flour*
confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

  1. To make the beet purée: Preheat oven to 400°F, wrap the beets in foil and roast for 45 minutes or until the beets are easily pierced with a fork. Let cool until they can be handled easily, then peel and dice. (I usually do this the day before I plan to bake the brownies.)
  2. Add diced beets and 1 tablespoon of orange juice to the bowl of a food processor and blend to a purée, set aside to cool.
  3. Lower oven temp to 350°F and lightly grease an 8×8 pan, set aside.
  4. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the diced butter and let melt, stirring often.
  5. In another bowl, beat the sugar with the eggs until smooth and creamy. Stir in the orange zest and remaining orange juice, puréed beets and flour. Then slowly add the melted chocolate and beat until fully combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan before removing to a rack. Then cool for another 15 minutes before attempting to cut. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and enjoy!

*To make gluten-free self-rising flour: Combine 2 cups of gluten-free flour with 3 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Whisk to combine.

*inspired by stone barnes center

the grateful guest

I love party planning; the recipe research, list making, ingredient shopping and tabletop setting. Sure it’s a lot of time, work and money but what can I say— I truly enjoy that meal savored, compliments accepted, pots n’ pans washed feeling of a dinner well done. But ya know what I like even more? Occasionally being the guest rather than the host. Yup you read right, sometimes I prefer to be responsible for nothing more than a hostess gift and a side, rather than the whole shebang. Seriously. Instead of missing out on conversations because I’m stuck in the kitchen, watching the clock like a hawk to ensure that everything comes out hot, washing and packing back away countless pots, pans, dishes, glasses, platters, bowls, napkins and tablecloths… I get to drink wine, nibble on appetizers, chit-chat and relax.

So you may be wondering, what do I bring when the opportunity to be a grateful guest should arise. Well I’ll tell you. I like to bring a bottle of wine, something I know the host will enjoy whether they decide to open it at the gathering or not, and a dish that requires minimal serving effort. There’s nothing worse than having someone show up at your house with a contribution, that in theory is intended to make the dinner easier on you, but in reality requires elaborate assembly and/or preparation. For me the answer is always something that can be made at home, transported easily and (ideally) served at room temperature. Something like a cheese platter, a salad of some sort, dessert (a total no brainer) or an array of crudités and dips.

People love dip, it’s an undeniable fact. Give them something to dunk, dip or slather and they’re happy as clams. And why not— its easy, unpretentious and personally… makes me think of childhood. As a product of the 70’s I have fond memories of old school Lipton Onion Soup Dip served alongside a big ol’ bag of greasy crinkle potato chips. Man, it really didn’t get much better. I would never consider going the Lipton route now but I’m fairly confident that if I did, it would get devoured in no time flat. (Because let’s be honest— corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy protein, caramel color, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, monosodium glutamate and yeast extract may be unhealthy, but they’re just as yummy as they were in 1978!)

When I bring a crudité platter I like serve it with a couple of homemade “healthy” dips. Hummus is always an option and sometimes guacamole, but when I want to switch things up a bit I make Rosemary White Bean Dip or a super simple Feta & Lemon Dip. They’re delicious, can easily be doubled and the leftovers makes great sandwich spreads. I haven’t discounted the idea of attempting to create a healthy/from scratch version of everyone’s beloved Lipton Onion Soup dip, so keep your eyes out for that sometime in the near future. However something tells me that no matter how tasty it turns out, it just won’t compare to my MSG tinted memories.

Rosemary White Bean Dip
The rosemary flavor is very subtle, so even if you’re not a huge fan don’t omit it.

2dips3

5 lg. garlic cloves, smashed
4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 fat sprig of fresh rosemary
3 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 can Great Northern Bean, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp. plain Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
crudités, chips or crackers, for serving

  1. In a small skillet warm 2 tbsp. of oil until it shimmers. Add the smashed garlic and rosemary and sauté until the garlic is golden brown. Remove the rosemary spring and discard, add the garlic and oil to the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Add to the food processor the remaining oil, lemon juice, rinsed beans, yogurt, salt and pepper.
  3. Allow to process until the mixture is completely smooth. Transfer to a serving dish and allow to chill before serving.
  4. Serve with crudités, chips or crackers.

*adapted from serious eats

Feta + Lemon Dip
Seriously simple.

8 oz. block feta cheese
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, smashed
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
lemon zest, for garnish
drizzle of olive oil, for garnish
crudités, chips or crackers, for serving

  1. Break the feta into chunks and place in the bowl of a food processor along with the lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. Process until smooth and fully combined.
  2. Spoon into a serving bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with a bit of fresh lemon zest.
  3. Serve with crudités, chips or crackers.

*adapted from sweet paul magazine

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!

smoked beer can chicken soup

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the chill in the air; I love the contrast between the bright blue sky and Mother Nature’s muted colors; I even love the cool, earthy and slightly damp way the world smells. Around this time each year I’m typically elbow deep in end of the season garden veggies; namely peppers, tomatoes, onions and eggplant. But not this year. This summers garden was a serious bust. I gave it just as much love as I ever do and the meager amount of veggies it produced was beyond disappointing. Sure my cucumber plants grew so voraciously we were eating cucumber with nearly every meal, but I got exactly two habanero and six bell peppers, the yellow and acorn squash flowered but then nada, the radishes and beets were nothing but greens and the tomato plants grew taller than me but only offered up a few handfuls of fruit. It broke my heart. What did truly flourish and produce in abundance were the tomatillos. The plants were so tall and willowy they resembled trees and each was covered stem to stern in little paper-thin green lanterns that would later be filled with the tomatillo fruit. It was the bountiful harvest I had been longing for. So you may be wondering, what did I do with all those lovely tomatillos? Well… I ate them sliced in salads and as a garnish for tacos. I made an insanely spicy Salsa Verde and I threw a handful in with some heirloom purple tomatoes for a kooky homemade pasta sauce. And I made soup.

Ours is a house of soup eaters, in fact my daughter is so crazy for soup that she’ll frequently request the leftovers for breakfast. No problem… In my mind there’s nothing like a warm comforting bowl of some homemade goodness to make a chilly Fall day (or morning) seem downright toasty. Believe it or not I’ve actually been planning for my first pot of Fall soup for a few months now. I know, seems a little crazy right? But it’s not really. You see my husband really honed his smoked beer can chicken technique this past summer. What started out as a good recipe in June turned into a killer recipe by August. It was so good that beer can chicken was the meal requested by my son’s friend the night he slept over. (And you know when a super picky 10 yr old requests one of your recipes it must be good!) Anyway, to ultimately get to this poultry of perfection recipe he made beer can chicken fairly frequently— sometimes as often as two weekends in a row. Mind you I’m not complaining, just explaining that we had a considerable amount of leftover chicken in the house and one can only eat so many chicken salad sandwiches! So, I decided to quietly squirrel away some of the leftover bits in the freezer in anticipation of that first pot of soup.

Fast forward to a chilly day in September, a day that begged for soup. Into the pot went some onion, a green pepper and a bunch of those lovely tomatillos. Out of the freezer came my carefully rationed chicken and an hour later… into our belly’s went some of the tastiest soup ever to come out of my kitchen.

And yes, my littlest love did in fact have a bowl of it for breakfast the next day.

beer can soup

Smoked Beer Can Chicken Soup
Any sort of leftover chicken will do but the smoked beer can really brings a nice flavor to the party.

3 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. tomatillos, husked, washed and diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
3 cups frozen corn, defrosted
2 15 oz. cans black beans, rinsed
8 cups chicken stock
4 cups leftover beer can chicken, cut into bite size pieces
Sliced jalapeño, fresh cilantro, avocado (optional garnish)

  1. In a large stockpot over medium heat warm the oil until it just begins to shimmer. Add the onions and cook until they become transparent. Then add the garlic, tomatillos and peppers. Season with salt and let cook until the tomatillos break down and become soupy.
  2. Add to the pot the spices, corn, black beans, stock and leftover chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and enjoy garnished with sliced jalapeño, fresh cilantro and avocado if you like.

a cherry pepper of a giveaway!

It’s over, can you believe it? Yeah me neither. It feels like only yesterday we were cheering over the first day of summer break and now ten weeks, countless day trips, endless hours spent floating in the pool and one family vacation later… and the summer of 2014 is coming to a close. I have mixed feelings about summer’s end. On one hand I’m ready to get back into a set routine; sure that means shuttling kids to and from school, soccer, gymnastics and so on— but there’s a certain comfort to be found in the routine. On the other hand I could do without another year of maddening school projects, endless video game vs. homework battles and the daily chore of making lunches. Not to mention feeling as though it goes from the first day of school to Halloween to Thanksgiving in the blink of an eye. Seriously, before you know it we’ll all be stressing over holiday dinner menus, Black Friday shopping and the impending countdown to the end of the year. Ugh.

Luckily the end of Summer doesn’t mean the end of garden fresh vegetables. Root vegetables, apples and pears, pumpkins and gourds and a variety of peppers are at their seasonal best this time of year. In fact on a recent trip to Corrado’s Market the local cherry peppers looked so good that I couldn’t pass them by. I threw a dozen in a bag and figured I’d decide what to do with them later. Turns out that inspiration was no further away than the cheese department. You see Corrado’s sells an amazing sharp provolone that my husband and I adore, but some may find too strong for everyday snacking. As I pushed my cart along I thought about that cheese and imagined the flavor mellowing beautifully if it was wrapped in a bit of imported prosciutto, stuffed inside of a cherry pepper and allowed to cure for a week or so in some quality olive oil. Oh yeah, you know what I’m talking about right? Those spicy little stuffed cherry peppers that are an integral part of every good antipasto platter and olive bar. Yup that’s right, that’s exactly what I made… and man were they delicious!

But my story doesn’t end there— You see writing about back to school and the impending holidays began to make me feel a bit stressed. Don’t get me wrong, while I enjoy all the planning, prepping and preparing of a holiday meal it seems to become more and more difficult to pull off with each passing year. Apparently the universe sensed my stress and sought to sooth me with a little retail therapy… No sooner did I think ‘Thanksgiving’ then along came an email from Pacific Merchants Trading Company offering to send me a few pieces of their gorgeous tableware to use and review! By now you know that I’m a sucker for dishware (especially serving pieces) so you can imagine how quickly I jumped at the chance to add a few of their beautiful Acacia wood pieces to my collection. But the folks at Pacific Merchants didn’t just want me to be happy, nope they wanted you to be happy too! Pacific Merchants has offered to send one lucky beets and blue cheese reader a $50 gift certificate which they can use to purchase something amazing from their website. But that’s not all, they also wanted to offer EVERYONE reading this post a coupon towards a future purchase. Simply enter “WeLoveBeets” at checkout  on www.pacificmerchants.com  for 20% off your next purchase, from now until October 1, 2014. Pretty fantastic, right? Yup those lovely people over at  Pacific Merchants really know how to talk a girl in off a ledge!

So thank your lucky stars that I start worrying about Thanksgiving in September and go enter the giveaway, make this recipe and serve it up in something beautiful from Pacific Merchants

Pickled Cherry Peppers with Prosciutto and Provolone
I never need to buy those expensive olive bar peppers again. And now neither do you!

stuffed cherry peppers

12 large hot cherry peppers
6 cloves garlic, divided
1/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 cups white wine vinegar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cup water
1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 lb. wedge of sharp provolone cheese
12 slices prosciutto
3 cups extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Wash and dry peppers and put in a large glass jar. Peel and smash three garlic cloves and add them to the jar with the peppers. Then add the peppercorns and bay leaf.
  2. Combine the vinegars, water, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and carefully pour over the peppers, they should be fully submerged. Allow to cool to room temperature on the counter, then cover and refrigerate for 1 week. (The peppers will absorb a considerable amount of the vinegar. Once the level has dropped a few inches you’ll want to add something to the jar to weigh down the peppers and keep them submerged in the vinegar. I found that a small ramekin worked well.)
  3. Drain the peppers well and use a sharp paring knife carefully remove the stem. With a baby or demitasse spoon carefully scoop out the seeds, leaving the pepper hollow but intact. Place the peppers cut side down on paper towels and allow them to drain further.
  4. Cut the cheese into blocks small enough to fit in each pepper. Wrap one slice of prosciutto around a block of cheese (don’t worry if the prosciutto pulls apart), then gently stuff into a cherry pepper. Repeat the same process with the remaining peppers.
  5. Carefully place all of the peppers and the three remaining garlic cloves in a large glass jar. Cover with olive oil, put the lid on and refrigerate for at least 24 hrs. Allow to come to room temperature before serving. And speaking of serving…

*adapted from chez panisse vegetables

HIP, HIP HOORAY, IT”S A GIVEAWAY!— HAS ENDED

wood plates2CONGRATULATIONS MIMI… YOU’RE THE LUCKY WINNER!

To enter for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to Pacific Merchants Trading Company (which can be used for any number of beautiful times including a set of Acacia serving pieces like mine), please leave a comment below telling me what you like or dislike most about hosting a holiday dinner.

Are you like me and you love the recipe researching, list making, planning and ultimately pulling together a meal that hopefully tops all others? Or do you dread everything involved with a holiday dinner including the cooking, cleaning and having your family converge on you like locusts? Whatever it is, I want to hear it!

Leave your comment between Wednesday, September 3, 2014 and Thursday, September 11, 2014. (One comment per person please, US residents only.) Entries must be left via the comment form at the bottom of this post. A winner will be selected using Random.org. on Friday, September 12th and will be promptly contacted.

So please leave a comment and then feel free to…

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Good luck!