Cheesy Au-Gratin Potatoes

Au-Gratin fishedThis is a side dish that everyone loves! It might seem intimidating but I’m here to tell you, You Can Do It!
The hardest part is making a white sauce, and making a white sauce is really easy. Some people make the white sauce into a cheese sauce. I have made it this way before. However, I prefer to make it this way for a number of reasons. A white sauce also known as a Bechamel, a béchamel can be altered in many ways. One of my favs is adding lemon, capers and fresh dill for the topping on a broiled fish. Or the addition of Dijon mustard or whole grain mustard is a wonderful topping for chicken cutlets. So, if I have any leftover, it could be great for another meal this week. A béchamel is the base white sauce that is the starting point for many sauces. Wonderful additions to this sauce create great meals. The other thing to remember, is that there are no rules to this dish. It’s kind of like lasagna made with potatoes. You can add things between the layers that you love. One nice addition is caramelized onions. Another is Bacon or Jalapeños, or sautéed mushrooms. The cheese is also up to you, but I will say that I like to clean up my refrigerator on dishes like this. My go to cheeses are cheddar and american because they melt smoothly and creamy. I know american cheese isn’t really cheese but I love it. You are the boss on this dish, make it however you want to. This one is the traditional version for our Easter dinner.

Recipe:

White Sauce
Make a Roux:
au gratin-roux

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 TB butter melted in a 4 qt sauce pan on med heat
6 Tb. Flour
stir together and cook for a minute until bubbling.
add 4 cups of warmed milk ( almond milk works fine)
whisk until beginning to thicken
add 1 pinch of white pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 tsp of fresh grated nutmeg
cook over low heat until it coats the back of a spoon.
turn off heat and set aside.

Prep the rest of the dish….
6 medium sized Organic Potatoes sliced in 1/8th of an inch slices
12 oz or (1 1/2 cups) of shredded Cheddar cheese
9 slices of american cheese
salt and pepper
white sauce

13×9 inch pan
spray the bottom and sides with cooking spray
au-gratin-step 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

place a layer of potato slices
sprinkle with salt and pepper
au-gratin-step2

 

 

 

 

 

 

break 3 slices of american cheese in half and space them evenly over the potatoes
au-gratin-step 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

sprinkle 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese over the american cheese
drizzle about 1 cup of white sauce over cheeses
au-gratin step 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

repeat 2 more times.

bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours. Let set for 15 minutes.
Au-Gratin fished

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy!

Lentil and Fennel Soup with Ham

Lentil & fennel SoupSoup is just a perfect meal! And when you add in some life giving Lentils it gets even better. Lentils are high in folate and high in fiber. Another addition to this healthy soup is Fennel Bulb, touted as one of the worlds healthiest foods. The combination of Fennel and Lentils is just plain delicious. We are told that we should be getting about 25-35 grams of fiber per day. That’s hard to do today. If you are not eating fresh vegetables and cooking your own meals daily then you are probably eating some processed foods. Processed food are pretty much devoid of any fiber and don’t get me started on what actually is in processed foods. However, this soup, although not the traditional soup made after a ham dinner, is awesome. Split pea soup is a great soup also, but if you are looking to change it up a bit, here it is.

Recipe:

3 qts water in a 6 qt pot
leftover hambone with excess ham removed.
Dice up any ham removed from bone and set aside until end. Any excess fat can simmer for two hours with hambone
Add
2 carrots diced 1/4 ”
2 stalks celery diced 1/4 ”
1 onion peeled and diced 1/4″
3 c. Dried lentils
1 fennel bulb, diced 1/4″
4 small bay leaves

Simmer for two hours, remove fat and bones.
Add diced ham, as much as you like.
Turn off heat
Season with…
Fresh ground pepper
1/2 stick butter
1 to 2 tsp Chicken base, as needed.
fresh chopped Parsley

Enjoy!

Linguini Bolognese Alfredo

Linguini BologneseI think most Italians make Bolognese without Alfredo! Typically the sauce is made with a generous amount of ground meat, beef, pork, and or sausage! When I served this in the restaurant for whatever reason it always had Alfredo. The alfredo gives it a whole other element of richness. I made this today because I had a very lean day of vegetable soup and fresh fruit. I felt okay about a high fat supper. Especially since now they are saying “Fat doesn’t make you Fat, sugar does”. Works for me. Our household has been avoiding sugar, milk, and wheat among other things. I actually made my alfredo with almond milk instead of cream. I also, used Jovial brand Einkorn flour Linguini. Einkorn isn’t like other whole wheat. It’s the original ancient grain, untouched, unmodified and really good for you. If you get the chance do a little research on it.

Bolognese Sauce

In a medium sauce pot on med heat sauté until tender…
1/4 c. chopped onion
1/4 c. olive oil

add:
1 lb. uncooked ground beef, cook through
add:
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 cloves minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon basil or julienne fresh basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 Carton Pomi Chopped Tomatoes
simmer on med, stirring frequently until water has absorbed, 20 min or so.

While the Bolognese is simmering make the Alfredo sauce
Alfredo sauce recipe here

Make your Pasta, any package of pasta you like. It doesn’t have to be a string pasta like linguini or spaghetti, it can be Penne, Pappardelle or Ziti. Cook by the package instructions. When ready drain and top with a good portion of the meat sauce and then add a ladle or two or three of Alfredo. Shave some fresh Parmesan cheese over top. Serve with garlic bread if you like. Now grab a glass of red wine like one of my favorites… Dreaming Tree Cabernet Sauvignon and Enjoy!

Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail

cocktail shrimpI am a sucker for a good shrimp cocktail. I also, would admit that I can be a bit of a shrimp cocktail snob. Shrimps are a touchy thing. You can buy them all cooked and chilled. You can buy them cooked and frozen, aka thaw and serve. You can buy fresh shrimp. Or you can buy frozen fresh shrimp. Most people can be a little fearful of making them from fresh shrimp. After today, you will be very comfortable making them from fresh or fresh frozen thawed shrimp. Its nothing to be afraid of. Until you have them from fresh you really can’t know what a good shrimp cocktail is. The ones you buy in a ring, all cooked, are usually very small, salty and soggy. YUCK! The ones that you thaw and cook have a totally different taste and texture and they are phenomenal if they are cooked properly. Never peel the shells off before cooking, it will make the shrimp rubbery and dry.

Shrimps are measured by count. They will say U31-35 count, U26-30 count, U 16/25, U13-15 count, or U12, U8, U4 and many more. The smaller the number the bigger the shrimp. To me anything smaller than a 26 count shrimp is not for shrimp cocktails. It goes like this, U mean Unit and the number means how many per pound. So, if you buy U13-15, this is 13 to 15 shrimp to a pound and so on. This is a perfect shrimp for shrimp cocktail and my shrimp of choice.

They also cook very quickly. Your water needs to be boiling, and you need a bowl of ice and water to submerge them into after they are cooked to stop the cooking. Depending on the size shrimp you are cooking they take between 2-4 minutes, literally. The perfect cocktail shrimp 13/15 and 16/25 are going to take exactly 3 minutes. But it is all based on your shrimp size. Once they begin to curl and firm up and are no longer opaque in color, they need to be pulled and quickly iced. Transfer to an ice bath to chill and then they can be peeled and cleaned within minutes. Cleaning is simply slicing open the rounded side of the shrimp and pulling out the dark vein. The whole process from a thawed shrimp to the finished product is like 15 minutes. You will taste the difference and never go back to those other soggy and salty shrimp.

6 qt pot of boiling water 2/3 full of water
6 qt bowl of ice and water
colander
16  shrimps size 16/25 per pound or bigger
1 c. ketchup
1 tbsp horseradish
lemon wedges
pretty dish for serving

When shrimps are completely thawed place in boiling water
cook exactly 3 minutes
drain in sink in a colander
cocktail shrimp colander

 

 

 

 

 

 

transfer immediately to ice bath
let chill for 5 minutes
peel and clean

Cocktail Sauce:
mix together the ketchup and horseradish and a squeeze of lemon, stir and place in a martini glass.
Using a pretty platter or dish, place the glass in the middle with your dipping sauce in it. Line the dish with frilly lettuce, shredded lettuce or kale, whatever you want,
Arrange the shrimp around the dipping sauce and chill until ready to serve. Hang a few shrimp on the glass for more or a dramatic presentation. Shrimps should be well chilled when served. Enjoy!
cocktail shrimp 2

Carrot-Cake Whoopie Pies

carrot cake whoopie piesCarrot cake finger food. Does it get any better than that. This little hand pie is so easy to eat and super yummy. No fork, knife, or plate required. I made these from a carrot cake recipe that I have made throughout the years and all I needed to do was make a few changes. These are so good that the first time I made them, my husband Brian told me if I entered these in a contest they would win. So, here they are and just to let you know, they taste better on day two and three. Most other whoopie pies get stale as the days progress, not these. But, I guarantee they will not make it to day three.

You will need…
Free standing mixer with paddle attachment
or large bowl a hand mixer
whoopie pie pan or a cookie sheet
spray oil
ice cream scoop
parchment or wax paper
spatula
preheated oven at 350 degrees

Cake:
2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. oil (I use melted coconut)
4 eggs beaten
2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. finely grated/shredded carrots

mix all ingredients together until evenly mixed. Scoop with ice cream scoop onto a greased whoopee pie pan, bake at 350 degrees, 9-10 minutes or until done. Remove from pan immediately and cool on parchment paper.

Filling:
8 oz cream cheese room temp
1 stick of soft butter (not melted)
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. coconut (I use desiccated, but any will work)
1 tsp vanilla
3 c. confectionery sugar
beat all together, the ingredients will come together, add 1 tbsp of cream if necessary

When cakes are completely cooled, fill and eat.

Cannoli

cannoli
Cannoli is a family favorite around here! The shell is crunchy, the filling is creamy and sweet. You can purchase the shells at the grocery store or make them homemade. They are readily available around the holidays, but they are available all year in Italian markets. I made 12 of the mini ones on christmas eve and they all went. The recipe I will provide to you will most likely fill 36 mini or 18 large. I’d like to tell you that this is the authentic filling, but the Italians are pretty tight lipped on this filling recipe. I have only been able to experiment over the years and come extremely close. I will say that I would let this recipe be put up against any Italian pastry shop Cannoli proudly! I believe that the key to getting this filling right is being patient and buying good ricotta. I get my ricotta at the Italian store in Portland, Maine. It is very good quality, but the key is letting it drain in cheesecloth in the refrigerator for a few days. The excess liquid that comes out of it is super important in getting this filling correct. That is the hardest part, the rest is simple, unless you make the shells and then the recipe would be more time consuming.

Filling:
2 cups ricotta, all ready drained for one or two days
1 vanilla bean split and scooped of seeds
1 c. confectionery sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla
6-8 oz. Mascarpone cheese

Optional Items: dried candied diced fruit, lemon or orange zest.

Prepare the filling.
place two layers of cheesecloth in a sieve with a handle and place in a bowl.(This is like a mesh strainer) Put enough cheesecloth to hang over the edges. Place the 2 cups of ricotta and wrap the ricotta and twist the excess cheesecloth for wringing out liquid. Place bowl in fridge to drain. Anytime you think of it give it a squeeze. After two days you may have gotten as much as a 1/4 cup of liquid out of the ricotta.
Now add the the rest of the ingredients and beat with electric mixer, place into a piping bag, close end with an elastic and place in refrigerator until ready for use.
The shells:
Embellish the shells by dipping in melted chocolate and chopped pistachio nuts. When ready to serve snip the end of the piping bag and fill the shells. After filling with cheese mixture dip one end in mini chocolate chips. Sprinkle with powdered sugar! Serve immediately while shells are crunchy. They will stay fresh for a few hours.
Enjoy!

Grilled Marinated Lamb Chops

Grilled Lamb ChopsMarinated Lamb chops are some of my families favorite things. If you are contemplating what to make for a family dinner here’s a thought…Aside from being delicious and easy to eat like a little lollipop, they are a great item for a holiday dinner for two reasons. One…They are an item that gets cooked outside on the grill, good for me because no mess in the kitchen means less cleanup and Two…I don’t have to cook the main course. I usually prepare the marinade 3 days ahead of time and get them marinating. This in an of itself, is a blessing, more time for me to put more effort into my side dishes, desserts, and decor. It really does take the pressure off.

Last christmas we had Lamb chops. I made them because my brother TJ and my son Eric absolutely love them. I probably bought too many but I wasn’t sure how many to make since they are small and each lamb chop is like two bites. However, 4-5 per person is more than enough. Some people will only eat 2-3 and others may eat 5-6, but it all averages out. And, if you have numerous side dishes like I always do, you will be doing the right thing by only allowing for 5-6 per person. It was pretty funny last year, everyone on my brothers side of the table was trying to make him look bad by piling all of their lamb chop bones on his plate at the end of the meal. As I began to clear the plates and his plate was handed to me, my eyes grew really big and my mouth dropped open. I’m thinking he ate like 15 chops only to hear his exclamation…UHT! Everyone exploded into laughter as you would need to know my brother to understand this to be funny!

Grilled Lamb Chops

Two large Ziploc Bags
2 lemons
1 1/2 cups of Olive Oil
1 bunch of fresh Rosemary, stems removed and chopped really finely with a knife on a cutting board, almost to a powder
2 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. black pepper
8 fresh cloves of garlic minced
2 racks of Lamb chops left whole to marinate and be grilled (I buy the airtight pkg. of two racks of lamb at Sam’s club.They sell them in grocery stores usually 1 rack to the pkg. They are pretty expensive but they are definitely cheaper by the two pack. 1 rack will serve two people and cost you about 7-8 dollars per person.)

Marinade
open both ziploc bags and juice a lemon into each bag
add 3/4 c. olive to each bag
add 3 TBSP chopped rosemary to each bag
add 1 TBSP salt and pepper to each bag
add half of the minced garlic to each bag
mix well and add 1 whole rack of lamb to the bag, massage the marinade into the lamb.
Each day leading up to the day you cook them, take them out of the refrigerator and massage the marinade, you may have to let them get to room temp for an hour or so.
Place back in the fridge and on the day you will be cooking them take them out of the fridge and let them come to room temp before grilling them.

Ready to Grill
Preheat your grill as hot as it will go. 500 degrees is ideal. Place the racks on the hottest spot and get the outside good and crisp fast on both sides so the inside stays rare or medium-rare.
This will not take that long if you get the grill really hot. Remove the racks and let them rest in a warm place for about 10 minutes, slice them into chops, arrange on a pretty platter and serve.
If you desire, serve them with a bernaise sauce or make a delicious drizzle with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper.

This entree will surely please even the fussiest of guests. It really isn’t any more expensive than a prime rib or a seafood meal. Go ahead and splurge, you deserve it.

Pizzelles

PizzellesBaking Pizzelles always brings me back to my Italian grandmother Asunta. She used to make these by the dozens. Along with a few other Italian Cookies that may or may not make an appearance through the holidays. Quite frankly, we are all just a little sick of the same cookies that we have made year after year. And, unfortunately they have never been embraced by the newer generations in the family. I cannot say that anybody is tired of these cookies. They are light and crisp and powdered sugar messy and you need a Pizzelle iron to make them.

Pizzelles

3/4 c. Melted butter
3/4 c. Sugar
3 eggs beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. anise flavoring
1 scant tsp baking powder
1/2 c. Flour

Batter will be loose
Drop into a heated buttered pizzelle maker, remove when golden.

Enjoy!

Veal Marsala

Veal MarsalaFor an evening meal that feels like you went to a fine restaurant make this Marsala recipe. It takes under 30 minutes to get to the table. This recipe is so flavorful and rich. Use Veal or Chicken cutlets over any kind of pasta or serve alongside mashed potatoes and a vegetable.

 

 

Ingredient List
1 pound of veal cutlets or chicken cutlets
1 c. flour
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for frying
shallots (optional)
1 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
1 c. beef stock
2 cloves fresh garlic
1 c. marsala cooking wine
1/2 c. heavy cream
fresh chopped parsley
1/2 pound of pasta of your choice

Prep the cutlets
dredge them in seasoned flour
(1 cup flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper)
lay them out and prepare your pan for frying

Pasta of your choice:

Prepare a pot with boiling water that has 1 tsp. salt and 1 TBSP. oil
When boiling turn on your skillet and begin warming the oil and butter to cook the cutlets. Add the pasta per the directions on the package to the boiling water. While your pasta is cooking you will be browning the cutlets. After the pasta has cooked for exactly half the recommended time, turn off the burner and let your half cooked pasta sit in the water. This will give you time to finish the other part of the meal and the pasta will be perfect when you are ready.

In a large skillet melt…
1/2 stick of butter and 3 TBSP olive oil on med to med high heat.
when the oil and butter are good and hot add the cutlets and brown them on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side
remove from the pan when browned and set aside.

add to the skillet:
1/8 cup chopped shallots
1 cup of sliced fresh mushrooms
sauté until tender
add:
1 or 2 garlic cloves minced, saute for 30 seconds
add:
3/4 cup of marsala wine
let cook on med high for 3-4 minutes
add:
1 c. Beef stock
let cook on med high for 3-4 minutes
add:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp fresh Parsley
add all the cutlets back in and let simmer on med heat for a couple minutes

Somewhere in the middle of the simmering process, you will drain your pasta and add it to the finished product in the skillet stir it all around and then serve with a sprinkling of fresh ground pepper and salt and some fresh slices of parmesan cheese. Now all you need is a glass of Dreaming Tree Wine….Enjoy!

Fresh Homemade Guacamole!

 

Guacamole

Delicious guacamole!

Guacamole is a fabulous appetizer for parties and gatherings. Avocados are very healthy too. They are high in fiber, potassium, and folate and have high levels of Vitamin B, C, and K. It’s also a great filler for a menu, It can be made ahead, served cold and takes little to prepare. It’s also a beautiful presentation especially for christmas. Be sure and do yourself and your family a big favor and buy Tortilla chips that are GMO free. Late July chips are GMO free as well as a few other choices that are in paper bags, one is Xochil. Garden of Eatin is GMO free and Kettle Brand has an option for no GMO’s. My personal favorite is Late July Mojo, sweet potato, and Plain. Here is my easy recipe for guacamole…

8 ripe avocados scooped and large diced
2 fresh limes juiced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 fresh garlic cloves grated
1 bunch of fresh cilantro (stems removed and chopped)
hot sauce is optional

mix all the ingredients together, to a point that half of the avocado chunks begin to mash up, but leaving about half chunky. If you prefer it less chunky, stir and mash it well.

Garnish with
1 large vine ripe tomato diced
1 lime cut into wedges
sprig of cilantro