Friday, July 31, 2009

Spinach and Sausage Lasagna with Roasted Red Pepper Marinara

I know what you're thinking - lasagna in the summer? You mean you honestly turned on the oven for an hour and ate a heavy lasagna for dinner? What were you thinking?? True, it is odd and very out of character for me to make a lasagna in the summer, but honestly I was craving it. I did make it lighter than your normal cheesy, oozy casserole. I used cottage cheese, lowfat mozzarella and put in spinach and chicken sausage to add some substance.
I also made a simple sauce from scratch that didn't need a lot of simmering because it got a boost of flavor from one jar of pureed roasted red peppers. So in the end, it really isn't that hard to eat lasagna in the summertime when it's as light and fresh as this one was. And if you have on the good old AC you'll be able to handle the heat in the kitchen. Enjoy!

Spinach and Sausage Lasagna

32 oz roasted red pepper marinara (recipe below)
9 lasagna noodles (no-bake Barilla are the best - they are light and thin and come out perfectly aldente every time!)
1 package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
3 chicken sausages, removed from casings, browned and drained of grease
2 cups of shredded lowfat mozzeralla
16 oz lowfat cottage cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated romano cheese (or Parmesan)
a small handful of chopped fresh oregano
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a large baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
In a bowl, combine the spinach, cheese, eggs and oregano and season with salt and pepper.
Take a ladle full of your sauce and put it on the bottom of the baking dish. Layer on top three lasagna noodles and half of your cheese mixture. Spread evenly to coat the noodles. Then sprinkle half of your browned sausage crumbles on top then ladle another few scoops of sauce on top of that to cover the cheese and sausage. Layer the same way one more time or until you've used all your ingredients. Top the lasagna with three more noodles and the rest of your sauce. Sprinkle the top with more Romano cheese (or shredded mozzarela if you have more). Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Then uncover the lasagna and let it bake for another 10-15 minutes until bubbly. Slice and serve with more cheese.

Lisa's Roasted Red Pepper Marinara
I combine roasted red peppers with a can of crushed tomatoes and a can of fire-roasted tomatoes to get the flavor jumpstarted. This allows me to simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes, rather than all day! I also throw in about a cup of chopped fresh basil leaves to give it a lemony, fresh taste. A great shortcut.

4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 14oz can crushed tomatoes
1 14oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 cup chopped basil leaves
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt
pepper to taste

In a saucepan brown your garlic and onions and red pepper flakes in oil until softened. Meanwhile, in a food processor puree the roasted red peppers. Once the garlic and onions are softened, pour in the white wine and allow it to reduce by half. Once reduced, pour in your red pepper puree, crushed tomatoes and fire roasted tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and then reduce heat to low. Add in your basil, sugar and salt and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste and season accordingly with salt and pepper. Serve in lasagna or with your favorite pasta.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Swordfish Oregano with Sundried Tomato-Basil Pesto

I have planted several herbs in pots on my patio, but my basil and oregano are doing the best by far. My cilantro died, my parsley has sprouted weird-looking stalky branches (does anyone else have this problem?), and my rosemary is doing ok - it's not as bushy and hearty as usual for some reason. I also have chives planted, and they are doing fabulously but I am wondering why I even planted them since I don't have many uses for them. So if anyone has any great recipes that star chives as a main ingredient let me know! I have done them on potatoes and in an omelette but that's about it.
Anyway, on to the task at hand. For this recipe I chopped up a ton of fresh oregano to coat some fresh swordfish. I grilled it and then topped it with a fresh sundried-tomato and basil pesto. This dish was simple, fresh and perfect for a Sunday summer dinner. Enjoy!

Swordfish Oregano with Sundried-Tomato & Basil Pesto

4 swordfish filets, about 1 in thick
8 to 10 sprigs of fresh oregano, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Rinse and pat dry your filets and set aside. Combine the rest of your ingredients and coat your fish. Let set for about 10-15 minutes in the marinade. Then grill.
Remove and serve with Sundried-Tomato & Basil Pesto.

Sundried-Tomato & Basil Pesto

1 cup basil leaves
1 8-oz jar of sundried tomatoes, drained from oil
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor. Once the ingredients have formed a paste-like consistency, drizzle in the olive oil until it's the consistency you want. Season to taste. Serve over fish, pasta, chicken or slather on sandwiches. Enjoy!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Grilled Zucchini with Pine Nut Butter

My mom's next door neighbors have a fabulous garden - which they've maintained beautifully for years. Every summer, we happily accept their various gifts of produce from berries to broccoli to tomatoes and beyond. Year after year though, the most abundant of all the vegetables seems to be the zucchini.
Because of this, I'm always looking for new ways to serve this versatile squash. I love grilled zucchini -it holds up nicely on the grill and benefits from the smokiness of the coals. Usually, I just toss it with some olive oil, a dried herb blend and salt and pepper. I grill it up, serve it hot and mound shredded pecorino romano cheese on the top. Last night though, we wanted something a little different.
There was an article in the Food section of The Washington Post recently about Walla Walla onions. One of the recipes was roasted Walla Wallas with pine nut butter. The idea of making a savory nut butter for vegetables caught my eye so we gave it a shot. It was a nice combination with the grilled zucchini - I threw in a orange pepper for color. Toasting the pine nuts is the key to giving this nut butter a full bodied flavor. Try it over any vegetable or even slathered on some crusty bread and topped with grated Parmesan. YUM!!

Grilled Zucchini with Pine Nut Butter
source: The Washington Post who reprinted it from
4 medium zucchini, sliced in round discs
1 pepper of your choice, sliced
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice (my addition)
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Using a slotted grill pan or grill basket, grill your zucchini and peppers. You can toss them with a little bit of olive oil if you'd like while they are grilling. Meanwhile, combine the rest of your ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times until a butter like consistency is formed.
Once the zucchini has softened and charred a bit on the grill remove and toss with the pine nut butter. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. Garnish with a rosemary wedge and lemon slices if desired.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Seeking advice and opinions

As you've probably noticed, I love to cook. What you don't know, is I actually considered culinary college after high school. Like seriously considered it. I never mentioned it to my parents though thinking they would never have gone for that. Now in retrospect I'm thinking, I should have just gone! I hate having regrets, but it is the one thing I do regret. So now, after having spent 4 years getting my undergrad in journalism and then 3 more years getting a grad degree in publications design, I'm considering more school to go after my first love - cooking.
Our local Baltimore culinary school, Baltimore International College, has a professional certificate in cooking and baking. This evening program costs about $6,000 and will take about a year to complete. At the end of it, I would love to open up a specialty food store that offers various cooking classes by local chefs - and maybe a few classes here and there taught by yours truly. There was a place like this in Baltimore a few years ago, but it closed it's doors. I always thought it was the perfect business. I can combine my love of food with my love of learning and meeting new people - hence the classes. I'd like to keep the store and classes in the Italian culinary vein for the most part. I'm Italian, I know Italian food and I feel most comfortable sharing my knowledge and love for it than any other cuisine. I can picture it becoming a small family shop - I'd love to have my mom help me choose products, have my husband help with all the details and see my dad selling people hunks of sharp provolone cheese! He looks like Tony Soprano so he'd fit right in. Anyway, as you can see I've thought about this a lot.
How do I start this? I don't know. I am thinking the first step is the professional certificate. It will hopefully get me acclimated to the idea of making food a career. But is it worth it? If you gone to culinary school, have you really learned more than you can just learn "in the trenches" of the kitchen? Or should I just get a few good books on starting your own business and go from there? It will be years before I realize this dream of course, but I'm at such a loss as to where to start. I'm probably rambling something awful, but I felt like this was a good forum for voicing my concerns and questions about this issue. Hoping to hear from those who have made a career change or taken a leap of faith. It's exciting and scary, but I also feel like it's now or never.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes

This recipe was so easy and delicious. I made a few additions and modifitations to the recipe and subbed regular black olives for kalamata because my husband isn't a fan of strong tasting olives.
Instead of throwing in raw tomatoes, I oven roasted whole grape tomatoes with a about 6 cloves of garlic in a baking dish on 425. I coated them with salt, pepper and olive oil and let them roast for about 20 minutes. This helped add to the saucy consistency of the pasta and gave the tomatoes even more flavor. And in my kitchen extra garlic is always a welcomed addition! I also added some crumbled crisped up prosciutto to the final product. And last but not least, I added a small handful of toasted pine nuts to the sundried tomato dressing mixture to give more body and a nutty flavor.
Overall I would definitely make this again. Tasty, easy, fresh, light and delicious. The perfect summer pasta served hot or cold! Enjoy! You can see how others in the Barefoot Bloggers group fared with this dish here.
Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes
source: The Barefoot Contessa
1/2 pound fusilli (spirals) pasta
Kosher salt
Olive oil
1 pound ripe tomatoes, medium-diced
3/4 cup good black olives, such as kalamata, pitted and diced
1 pound fresh mozzarella, medium-diced
6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
For the dressing:
5 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons good olive oil
1 garlic clove, diced
1 teaspoon capers, drained
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup packed basil leaves, julienned
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water with a splash of oil to keep it from sticking together. Boil for 12 minutes, or according to the directions on the package. Drain well and allow to cool. Place the pasta in a bowl and add the tomatoes, olives, mozzarella, and chopped sun-dried tomatoes.

For the dressing, combine the sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, capers, salt, and pepper in a food processor until almost smooth.

Pour the dressing over the pasta, sprinkle with the Parmesan and basil, and toss well.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Turkey Burgers, you done me wrong!

So to be honest, I'm kind of on the fence about turkey burgers. About two weeks ago, I bought a pound of dark ground turkey meat. I made some Mushroom Marsala turkey burgers and the taste of the meat was so strong my husband and I could barely eat them. In fact, we didn't. Sadly, I threw them away. It was a waste of some good Marsala mushrooms. Instead of giving up on turkey burgers, I decided to try the light or white ground turkey meat. I figured it wouldn't have such a strong, gamey like taste. Well, it didn't, but it still had a hint of that strong flavor.
I just don't understand why? I love turkey!! Roast turkey at Thanksgiving never has this flavor, neither does deli meat turkey - which I can eat like it's going out of style. So why does ground turkey have this strong, kind of off-putting taste? Has anyone else noticed this? Am I just buying the wrong kind of meat? Am I buying "bad" meat? I hope not! I bought both packages of ground turkey from Trader Joe's so I don't think it was poor quality meat. Who knows. I will say, I'm quite skeptical about trying turkey burgers again. I think I'll stick to regular old beef burgers.

Anyway, for this most recent turkey burger experiment I made a batch of pesto and mixed it up with the ground turkey meat. I then topped the burgers with provolone cheese and more pesto.
I found that we both had to keep piling on extra pesto to combat that strong irony flavor of the meat. Once we had enough pesto on there they actually tasted good, but that was probably because they tasted more like pesto and cheese than actual turkey meat.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tuscan Wedge Salad

The inspiration from this salad came from one of my favorite restaurants in Bethany Beach, DE called DiFebo's Italian Restaurant . They serve a crispy wedge of Romaine lettuce topped with chopped candied mission figs, crumbled gorgonzola and chopped walnuts. They drizzle it with a creamy balsamic vinaigrette.
In my version I used just regular sliced mission figs (didn't have the time or effort to candy them), toasted pine nuts and crumbled gorgonzola cheese.
For the dressing, I used lemon juice, aged balsamic vinegar (the expensive one I mention here that is super thick and sweet), dijon mustard, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. This was such a tasty, light and healthy salad, I'll definitely be adding to my repertoire!
Tuscan Wedge Salad
1 head of Romaine lettuce, cut in half
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup sliced mission figs
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
For the dressing:
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon dijon mustard, plus more if needed for taste
salt and pepper

Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. My measurements are rough so you may need to adjust some amounts to your particular taste.
Place each half of your wedge on a dinner plate and top evenly with your nuts, figs and cheese. Drizzle your dressing and serve.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Basil Caesar Salad with Grilled Corn and Avocado

Because it's summer and we're trying to eat good and fresh I've been really obsessed with trying new salad ideas and combinations. Here's a link to some other salad creations, Warm Spinach Salad , Wedge Salad , Kicked-up Caprese Salad . I will have another salad showstopper in a few days as well - my Tuscan Wedge.
But first to the recipe at hand! I saw the recipe for this Basil Caesar Salad in Gourmet Magazine and loved the idea, especially since I have basil growing like crazy in a pot on my patio. What a healthy, tasty way to use it up! Making pesto over and over gets a little old. I added grilled corn, tomatoes, grilled avocado and shaved provolone to the salad.
So while it was a "caesar-style" dressing, it wasn't a traditional "caesar" salad. It was very good though and with all those veggies it made the perfect compliment to a piece of grilled salmon. Enjoy!

Basil Caesar Salad with Grilled Avocado, Grilled Corn, Tomatoes and Shaved Sharp Provolone Cheese
Source: Gourmet Magazine, for the dressing
For the dressing:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove
1 large egg
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
1 cup basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 package romaine hearts (1 pound), leaves separated and washed well, then halved crosswise
1 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Meanwhile, with motor running, drop garlic into a food processor and finely chop. Add egg, lemon juice, anchovy paste, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and pulse until combined. With motor running, add remaining 6 tablespoons oil in a slow stream, blending until emulsified. Add herbs and blend until dressing turns green and herbs are finely chopped.
Toss romaine with dressing, croutons, and half of cheese in a large bowl. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

You can grill the corn and avocado directly over the grill grates. Grill until the avocado softens and displays grill marks and until the corn chars up a bit. Let cool, chop and serve over the lettuce. Toss in one chopped tomato and shave a wedge of sharp provolone over the top for extra flavor. Serve.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I just had to post some pictures of the glorious meat my family enjoyed over the holiday weekend. July 4th is important to me because it's not only Independence Day, but it's also the day after my husband's birthday. So we celebrate all weekend. And it works out that my husband's favorite food is hamburgers and steaks on the grill. We put a little twist on these American favorites. Hope it inspires you to bring out the best on your bbq!

Mediterranean Strip Steaks
4 steaks
4 cloves garlic minced
10-12 sprigs of fresh oregano, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup feta cheese
Combine the chopped garlic, oregano and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover the steaks and let marinate for about an hour so the flavor can soak into the meat. Grill until desired tenderness. Serve topped with crumbled feta cheese.

Gorgonzola Stuffed Burgers
There's really no need for a recipe here of course. These tasted so good! I mixed the meat with a little salt and pepper, and a small palmful of McCormick's Grill Seasoning "Hamburger". I then stuffed the patties with my favorite blue cheese, gorgonzola. Grilled and served. They tasted fantastic with some juicy tomatoes and dijon mustard.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cocoa and Chile Rubbed Pork Chops

I saw this recipe in my June issue of Food and Wine Magazine . I love this magazine! It has so many recipes from easy to fancy. The variety is just great. And the photos are fabulous as well - definitely a source of inspiration on many levels.

This particular recipe was great. First you brine the pork chops and then you rub them with a spicy, salty, smoky and slightly sweet rub. The pork chops come out juicy and flavorful. I would definitely make this rub again. It seems like it would also be great on a whole pork loin as well. Or even chicken! Enjoy!

Cocoa and Chile Rubbed Pork Chops
2 quarts water
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
Kosher salt
Four 1 1/2-inch-thick boneless pork loin chops
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon pure ancho chile powder
Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing

In a large bowl, combine the water with the red pepper and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and stir until the salt dissolves. Add the pork chops and let brine at room temperature for 1 hour.
Light a grill and create a cool zone. (For a charcoal grill, rake the coals to one side; for a gas grill, leave one side unlit.) In a bowl, mix the cocoa, sugar and ancho powder with 1 tablespoon of salt.
Drain the pork chops and pat dry, removing any bits of crushed pepper. Brush generously with olive oil. Roll the pork chops in the cocoa rub and pat to help it adhere. Grill over moderately high heat for 4 minutes, turning the chops once or twice until lightly browned. Transfer the chops to the cool zone, cover and grill for about 15 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the chops registers 135° for medium meat. Let the chops rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Platinum Chef Challenge #13

I almost didn't make it for Cookie's version of the Platinum Chef Challenge , hosted at her blog entitled,
Workout Then Cook! . Her five secret ingredients were:
strawberries, garlic, asparagus, cheese and mushrooms. You could pick any variety of each ingredient that you wanted, but you had to make two dishes using the ingredients and use at least two to three of the ingredients in each dish. You can get all the rules on Cookie's website. Here's a pic of my five ingredients:
I used your basic white mushroom and for the cheese I chose peppered goat cheese.

Here are my recipes! Enjoy!

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 cup pecans
1 egg white
2 tablespoons brown sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup of sliced strawberries
1 package of triple-washed fresh baby spinach leaves
1 4 oz package of peppercorn goat cheese
Aged balsamic vinegar (the sweet, expensive kind if you have it. If not just take some regular balsamic and make a reduction with it to thicken and sweeten it up. Just heat it over the stove in a pot for a while. About 1/4 cup.)
Extra-virgin olive oil (about 1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the pecans, egg white and brown sugar and spread on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with a little salt. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. Stir once and just keep an eye on the pecans to make sure they don't burn. Remove and let cool.
In a large bowl, combine your cranberries, sliced strawberries, spinach leaves and crumbled peppercorn goat cheese. Once your pecans are cool, toss those in as well. Then mix together the vinegar and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss it with your salad.

Chicken-Asparagus Bundles with a Creamy Marsala Mushroom Sauce
8 stalks of asparagus
2 chicken breasts, pounded thin
your favorite seasoning for sprinkling over the chicken (I used Mrs. Dash - you can easily just use salt and pepper.)
For the sauce:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pint of mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup marsala wine
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 cup of beef or chicken stock, whatever you have on hand
1/2 cup cream

To make the chicken:
Once you've pounded your breasts thin, lay them out on a cutting board. Put four asparagus spears in each one and roll them up. If needed, secure them with a toothpick. Sprinkle the breasts with seasoning of your choice and then drizzle with olive oil so they are well coated, the asparagus too. Brown them in a frying pan on the stove - this helps seal in the juices and also helps keep the roll together - and then put them into a 350 degree oven to finish cooking them. Takes about 20 minutes total. When done remove them and cover with foil to keep warm if your sauce isn't done.

For the sauce:
While the chicken is in the oven, in a large pan saute your garlic in the butter and oil. Once softened, add your mushrooms. Let the mushrooms release their juices and become tender. Then pour in your wine, dijon and stock. Season lightly lightly with salt and then pepper as well. Once it's thickened a bit pour in your cream and allow it to thicken into a saucy consistency. If it gets too thick just add a little bit of water or more stock if you have it. Serve the chicken over some rice and spoon your sauce over the top. Enjoy!