Category Archives: Holiday

Stuffed Calamari for Dinner!

It’s hard to believe that the holidays are already behind us. I feel like the last month just flew by, from Thanksgiving right through Christmas and now waiting for New Years Eve. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday filled with friends, family, and of course, great food!ChristmasAfter we hosted 24 for Thanksgiving, we had a pretty simple Christmas Eve dinner with only 11. Being an Italian family, Christmas Eve always meant seafood. Some of you may be familiar with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian tradition of a big Christmas Eve dinner consisting of, you guessed it, seven fishes. There is some debate as to why seven, but most agree it represents the seven sacraments. Traditionally, dinner included shrimp and white fish, bacala (salted cod) and smelts, and always calamari. Sure, like many, we had fried calamari, but my favorite was always the stuffed calamari. I’ve come to find out that this is a bit unusual, however, both of my grandmothers made it, and they are delicious.

This year, with the small crowd, we decided to have a smaller menu. We didn’t come close to the seven fishes, but the meal was great. We started with a shrimp butter and mussels for an appetizer, and for the main course, spaghetti and crabs, and, yes, the stuffed calamari. As always, they were a huge hit, and I keep getting requests for the recipe, so here goes.

To make the calamari, you need about 3 pounds cleaned calamari. You want a bulk of it to be the whole tubes, however, the tentacles work great in the stuffing. To make the stuffing, saute 1 medium onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft and golden in color. To the onions, add about 1 cup chopped tentacles. Cook for a few minutes until cooked through. Remove from heat and allow to cool then add about 1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, and 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir to combine.sauteed onionstentacleschoppedcookedbreadcrumbsparsleyaddedcheeseTo complete the dish, you also need about 4 cups tomato sauce, toothpicks, and a casserole dish. For the sauce, I used the sauce from the spaghetti and crabs before I added the crab meat. It’s just a simple marinara with basil. sauceYou want to use the largest tubes you have to stuff. Hold them in your hand while you carefully spoon the filling in. Push the filling down so you make room for more. Once full, use a toothpick to seal the edges. Add 2 cups sauce to the casserole dish. Set the stuffed, sealed calamari in the dish in neat rows. Once you’ve stuffed them all, cover the calamari with the remaining sauce. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes until bubbling and cooked through.tubestuffingsealedcompleteready for the ovenI know some are a little nervous when it comes to calamari, but they really are delicious. If you’re willing to try, you won’t be disappointed. We finished off the Christmas Eve meal with another one of my favorites, chocolate chip bread pudding. Even if you’re hesitant with the calamari, you please make the bread pudding. 🙂

Enjoy the rest of the holidays, and a very Happy New Year to you! Here’s to 2016!

Caramel Apple Spice Cake…Perfect for Fall!

Now that November has hit, I’m in full fall force! Halloween was great, filled with costumes, candy, and actual trick-or-treaters this year (in past years, we never had anyone).  The trees have been putting on a show for weeks, continually dropping lovely crunching leaves in the yard. And the weather, well, it hasn’t really cooperated for fall, but I’m hopeful it will get cold soon. So, thankfully, with fall comes fall food. My favorite, despite the overabundance of everything pumpkin, are the apples! A few weeks ago to celebrate some important family birthdays, I made a delicious caramel apple spice cake with brown sugar Swiss meringue buttercream, and yes, it was as good as it sounds!

This recipe was features in Martha Stewart Living many years ago, and as soon as I heard the title and saw the picture, I knew I had to have it. The cake is a dense spiced cake, perfect for fall, and the icing is amazing!

To start, heat 1/2 stick butter in a large saute pan over medium heat until lightly browned. Add to the butter 4 cups Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and grated (about 2 lbs apples), 1/2 cup apple cider, and 1 cup sugar. Raise the heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook until liquid has evaporated, about 10 more minutes. Allow to cool.butterpeeled and coredgratedadd applescidersugargolden caramel applescoolingWhisk together 3 3/4 cups flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger. Set aside.flour and spicesmore spicesall combined

Beat 2 sticks butter that has been softened to room temperature. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar, and beat at medium high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed and add 4 eggs, 1 at a time. Beat after each addition. Add 1/4 cup flour mixture to the cooled apple mixture. With the mixer on low, add the remaining flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with 1/2 cup sour cream.  Fold in the apple mixture.more butterbeatingsugarbrown sugarcombinedeggsfloursour creammore flourapples

Divide the batter between 2 8×2 inch round cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake at 350 degrees until golden and a toothpick comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting.batterready for the ovenbakedTo make the buttercream, whisk 5 egg whites, 1 2/3 cups brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Heat and whisk the mixture for about 5 minutes until it reached 160 degrees. Remove from heat and beat the egg mixture on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium low and add 4 sticks room temperature butter (yes, I said 4 sticks), 2 tablespoons at a time. Beat for about 3-5 minutes after all butter has been added to make the frosting smooth. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to harden then beat the frosting to a spreadable consistency.seperating eggsready for the double-boiler160ready to be whippedwhippedeven more butterall addedfrostingfirst layersecond layer

The cake is delicious and the frosting is absolutely amazing. I know it has a lot of butter, but it’s a great splurge dessert! Happy fall!done

Cookbooks, Cookbooks, Everywhere!

As we approach the holiday weekend, most people are thinking about heading to the shore, or barbecues with friends, or maybe even some “getting ready for fall” shopping. But, for those who have a long list of projects to do at home, it’s a little different. There is a list…a dreaded list…of things that need to be accomplished this weekend, so I’ll be staying in. First up tomorrow is digging up the flagstone walkway and laying rocks and sand for drainage. Sounds like fun, I know, but it is great to continue to see improvements at the house.

One of the things we recently did was purchase new bookshelves for the living room. I love the way they look, and it was exciting to finally unpack the books that I stored away so long ago. The most exciting for me was going through the cookbooks.cookbooks

As I may have mentioned before, I’m a bit addicted to cookbooks. I love to read through, learn, and get new ideas. I flag pages, stick in post-it notes, and even write notes in some. As I’ve been reminiscing through my cookbooks, I thought I’d share some with you.

The first cookbook I ever used, my mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook. I think I “borrowed” it many years ago, but it still somehow managed to survive the move! I still use this recipe for a fruit crisp topping.
Betty Crockerapple crisp

A few of my favorites appear on this shelf. I got the Gourmet Today cookbook a few years ago, and I love it. The recipes are so creative and different. Of course, no collection would be complete without Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Who doesn’t love Julia Childs? You can see all of my “notes” sticking out of the top. And, of course, Joy of Cooking. It was a must when I was starting out!Gourmet, Mastering, and Joy

I’m a huge Martha Stewart fan. Can you tell? They are some of my favorites, especially her The Martha Stewart Cookbook. It’s a great reference book.Martha Stewart

When we travel, my favorite souvenir is a cookbook, especially if we’re somewhere where the food is different from home. Last summer we were in Greece. It took some searching, but I found a great cookbook, that also happened to be in English. Two summers ago we were in Italy and lucky enough to attend a cooking class in Tuscany. I took copious notes at that one…it was phenomenal!Greek and ItalianMy Notes

My prized possessions, my Mommom Phil’s cookbook and recipe cards. I love that the cookbook is so battered and used, and that the recipes are in her handwriting. Sure, most of them don’t have quantities, and you have to guess at some ingredients, but it’s great to see what she loved. And, bonus, she wrote other recipes all over the cookbook!Mommom's RecipesInside Notes

Of course those were only the cookbooks you saw downstairs. I haven’t even unpacked all of the boxes of magazines filled with recipes! 🙂 I guess that’s why they call it labor day! Happy Labor Day everyone!

Celebrate the 4th with Roasted Strawberry Sauce…and Ice Cream!

The 4th of July is a great time of year. Summer is in full swing, flowers are blooming, and the farmer’s market is overflowing with produce. To celebrate the holiday this year, I’m making roasted strawberry sauce served over creamy vanilla ice cream. It’s the perfect combination, and the cool ice cream is a welcome treat for the hot July weather.

The roasted strawberry sauce is easy, and it’s a great way to use up strawberries that might be turning past their prime. The strawberries cook down with brown sugar and create a sweet, ruby red, carmelly (I know, inventing words again) sauce that’s perfect with ice cream. And the best thing is, there are only 2 ingredients!

Take 3 cups strawberries that have been hulled and quartered. Spread them out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Trust me, the parchment will make clean up so easy! Top the strawberries with 1 cup brown sugar. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes until soft and syrupy.

strawberriesin baking sheetbrown sugarready for the ovensauce readysauceeasy clean upThat’s it! Pretty simple, and absolutely delicious. Drown some vanilla ice cream in this sauce and dig in. I hope you have an amazing 4th of July, and buckets full of ice cream! 🙂 Enjoy!

enjoy!

Seafood Macaroni Salad for Memorial Day!

It’s hard to believe Memorial Day is already here. It seems like spring just flew by, but I’m thrilled to celebrate the start of summer. Even though it looks like it will be a little cold, the weekend looks great. I’ll be spending the weekend with family and friends at the shore. Whether you’re staying at home or heading out-of-town, I’m sure for many the weekend will include a barbecue. This macaroni salad is a great addition to any barbecue or picnic. The recipe is easy, and the addition of seafood means you’re not just bringing the same old macaroni salad. It’s a sweet, crunchy, delicious side for your next barbecue.

To start, chop 2 bell peppers (I used a yellow and red but any will do), 1 small sweet onion, and 2 ribs of celery. Set them aside.pepperschopped peppersonionscelerychopped veggiesFor the seafood, you’ll need 3 small cans of small shrimp and 3 small cans of lump white crab meat. Drain the seafood well and set aside.shrimpcrabmeatNext, make the dressing. Combine a 15 oz jar of mayonnaise, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, salt, and pepper. If the dressing is too thick, you can always add a little milk to thin it out.mayosugarvinegardressingalmost readyFor the pasta, I like to use elbow. It just seems like macaroni salad should always include elbow macaroni. Cook 2 lbs elbow macaroni according to package directions. Drain, then add back to the pot with cold tap water and drain again. Normally, I never suggest “rinsing” the pasta, but for macaroni salad, it works to cool the pasta down. elbowsFinally, mix everything together in the pot you boiled the pasta (no need to dirty something else). Add the pasta, veggies, seafood, and dressing, and stir thoroughly to combine. Give it a taste for seasoning, then refrigerate until cool. It’s best if you can make the salad a day before serving so the flavors can meld, but if you’re in a pinch, just make sure everything is cold.adding pastaadding veggiesadding seafoodadding dressingdoneI hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend full of family and friends, and maybe some sun! Enjoy!

Nothing Says Spring Like Strawberry Pie!

It’s been a long time coming, but I think it might finally be spring. Sure, the bulbs aren’t exactly bursting with blooms, but I do see some daffodil buds and tulip shoots. The crocuses are out, so that’s a start. And the trees sort of look like there is some growth…sort of?!?!? Anyway, I’ll take it. It’s spring. And nothing says spring more than strawberry pie.

I’ll admit strawberry pie is not you’re most common. Sure, there’s strawberry rhubarb, which I’m sure is quite delicious. However, strawberry, with its sweet, bright red filling, and buttery, flaky crust just says sunny skies to me. So, for Easter, it was the perfect addition to the table.

To start, I use my standard pie crust recipe. You may remember it from Thanksgiving. You want a top and bottom crust for this recipe. As a side note, I had the chance to roll out the dough on my new granite counter tops…WOW! What a difference. The cold, hard surface made it a breeze to roll out dough. Definitely a plus for the new kitchen!

Roll out the crust for the bottom about an inch larger than your pie plate. Spray a 9 inch pie plate with cooking spray and carefully line with the crust. Rest the crust lined pie plate in the refrigerator while you roll out the top crust. You want the top crust a little larger than the pie plate so you can create a seal and crimp.ready to rollrolled outready for fillingFor the filling, you’ll need 4 ½ cups fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters. In another bowl, combine 1 ¼ cups sugar, 4 tablespoons cornstarch, a pinch of salt, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Combine with the strawberries, and pour into the bottom crust. Dot with 4 tablespoons butter and cover with the top crust.slicingstrawberriessugar and spiceready for combiningready for piefilledTo seal and crimp, cut the edges, leaving about half an inch of overhang from the edge of the pie plate. Fold both crusts over the top so it creates a nice edge around the entire pie. Pinch the edges to crimp. You can do this in a decorative fashion; however, sometimes I just prefer the rustic look. Cut a few slits in the top for ventilation too.coveredcrimpedFor a shiny top, that also adds a delicious sweetness and crunch, cover the crust with 1 teaspoon ½ and ½ (or milk will do) and sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons sugar. It is my secret to a delicious crust, and I do it for all of my pies.making the crunchy toppingBake in a 425 degree oven for 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling. I put the pie plate on a foil lined cookie sheet just to catch any overflow of the juices. And if the crust gets too dark, just cover with a piece of aluminum foil.ready for the oven

So, my next tip, don’t throw away that left over pie dough. Roll it out, brush with 1/2 and 1/2 or milk, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and cut into strips. Bake on a cookie sheet in the same oven for about 10 minutes until golden. These cinnamon-sugar treats are absolutely delicious, and it lets you see just how flaky and perfect you made that pie crust! It’s definitely the perfect snack for the cook.doughcinnamonsugarslicedbakedperfectionIf you’re looking for a pie to make, or just craving something sweet, or something fruity, give this one a try this spring or summer. It is absolutely delicious and just screams warm weather!

Baklava for Easter!

When I was younger, I can remember going to my Aunt Antoinette’s for Easter dinner. While I don’t remember most of what she served those days, I do remember what she had for dessert one year. She had a whole tray of delicious baklava. If you’re not familiar with baklava, it’s a delicious, sweet, sticky, nutty Greek dessert. From that first amazing bite, I was hooked!

A few years later, while perusing my latest Martha Stewart Living magazine, I was thrilled to see the recipe in April 1996. There was a story about a Greek Easter, and this was one of the desserts shown. I excitedly made the recipe and proudly brought it to my Aunt’s that year for Easter. Of course, it was a huge hit, and ever since then, this has been a go-to recipe for me. It’s not very difficult to make, but it’s so impressive to serve, not to mention delicious!recipeTo start, you’ll need 1 pound phyllo dough. Phyllo is a super thin pastry. It’s sold frozen, usually in 1 pound size boxes. It’s usually right next to the puffed pasties and other desserts. Allow the dough to defrost completely before using it, otherwise the paper-thin sheets will stick together. phylloYou’ll also need 3 cups finely chopped walnuts, almonds, or a mix of the two. I generally just purchase chopped nuts and throw them in the food processor for a few seconds. It easy, just be careful not to run the food processor too long or you’ll make nut butter. To the nut mixture, add 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon cloves.

walnutschoppedspicesThe other component you’ll need is butter. Melt 2 1/2 sticks butter. I know it’s a lot of butter, but it’s worth it. The butter will be the glue to hold all of those layers of pastry, nuts, and spices together.buttermeltedBrush a 13×9 glass baking dish with the melted butter. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo flat in the buttered dish. Brush that sheet with butter, then add another sheet of phyllo, and brush that sheet with butter. Keep doing this until you have 7 layers of phyllo and butter.readybrushinglayers

On top of the 7th layer, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the nut and spice mixture. Then top with another sheet of phyllo covered in butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo, and sprinkle another 2 tablespoons nuts and spices. Continue with phyllo, butter, phyllo, nuts, phyllo, butter, phyllo, nuts, until all of the nuts are used. Make sure you save 7 sheets of phyllo for the top. When the nuts run out, top with the 7 sheets with butter in between, similar to what you did to the bottom. Top the last sheet with butter.nuts and spicesdonealmost readyOnce the baklava has been assembled, score the top into diamonds. You only need to go 1/4 inch down, not all the way through. Bake the baklava at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until golden brown.scoredgoldenWhen the baklava is cooked, combine 2 cups sugar with 1 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking for 3 minutes. Pour the syrup over the baklava and allow to cool completely. The baklava soaks up the syrup making it sweet, sticky, moist, and wonderful!sugarboilingpouringready to eatIf you’ve never had baklava, you need to give it a try. And it makes the perfect dessert for Easter! It’s what we’ll be having on Sunday. Happy Easter everyone!