Category Archives: Winter

Chicken Pot Pie…sort of…

Ah January, the time of year when everyone tries to eat better, exercise, and hit the gym. Those New Year’s resolution guilt us into at least a few weeks of behaving. While I certainly understand the need for some less decadent options for dinner, with the cold weather and hopefully threat of snow, comfort food still seems necessary. One of my favorite comfort foods on a cold night is chicken pot pie.

There is definitely a debate around chicken pot pie. Sure, there is the Marie Callender’s version that I would beg my mom to buy, which never happened by the way, with the delicious pie crust and succulent burning-hot filling. But, perhaps since I’m from Pennsylvania and not far from Amish country, there is another version that I find far superior. The Amish style chicken pot pie is more like a stew with floury, tender noodles in a rich broth, and it’s delicious.

Of course, for chicken pot pie, you need chicken. I already had a stock to use, so I roasted about 2 lbs boneless chicken breasts with just salt, pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and some chopped rosemary. Roast at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes until cooked through. If you don’t have a stock made, you can make stock with bone-in chicken parts then use the cooked chicken in the pot pie.chickencookwsFor this recipe, you want a rich broth. I had turkey stock from my Thanksgiving turkey, but feel free to use any chicken stock you have or make your own. You’ll need 10 cups chicken stock. To start, heat a stock pot over medium heat with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Chop 1 medium onion, 4 stalks celery, and 4 peeled carrots. Cook in the oil for about 10 minutes until they are all softened and beginning to turn brown. Add 1 cup white wine and deglaze the pan, scrapping up any cooked or browned bits from the pot. Boil for a few minutes then add the stock. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste. This is what you’ll use to cook the noodles.olive oilonionscelerycarrotswinestockOn a recent trip to the grocery store, I saw these ready-made chicken pot pie squares from San Giorgio and thought I had to try. The end result was not exactly what I was hoping for, more like an egg noodle than dough, but they were easy. Next time, I’ll make the noodles instead. Either way, you’ll want to add the noodles to the boiling stock to cook. The bagged noodles I found cooked for about 10 minutes, but if you want to do it the right way, make the noodles.pot pie squaresStart with 2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt. Add 1 tablespoon shortening or butter, cut up into pieces. Use a fork to combine so you have small pieces of shortening in the flour. Combine 1 egg and 2/3 cup water. Stir into the flour mixture and form a dough. Divide in two and roll half the dough on a floured surface until about 10 inches square. Cut into 2 inch squares. Repeat with the remaining dough. Add to the boiling stock and simmer for about 15 minutes until cooked through and tender.noodles cookedOnce the noodles are cooked, add the cubed chicken. And don’t forget to add all of the juices that are left in the pan from the chicken…delicious! Check the seasoning, and add salt or pepper if needed. Ladle this delicious mixture into big bowls and enjoy! Happy Winter!adding chickenliquid gold

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. πŸ™‚

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

A Whole New Start to the Garden!

How is it possible that it’s been almost a month since my last post? Last year I was on top of everything. I had already done my garden clean up, started seeds indoors, and even honored St. Patrick’s Day by making Irish potatoes. But this year, this year, I’ve done none of them, and I’ve let an entire month slip by. What can I say…I’ve been busy!

At the end of February, we bought a house. It’s in Kennett Square (the mushroom capital of the world by the way), about 25 minutes from our last place, and practically across the street from my work. Pretty nice, I know! But since then, there’s been cleaning, painting, packing, moving, unpacking, oh, and waiting WEEKS to get internet set up. Finally, after all of that time, and after 8 inches of snow the day before we had movers coming, we’ve settled in, and it’s time to return to normal.

With the move, I have an incredibly interesting situation on my hands with the garden. The house was built-in the mid-70s, and has very established trees. In fact, the back yard is incredibly shady. On top of the shade, the property also backs up to the woods and a creek. As a result, I’m thinking I might have to change my vegetable gardening practices, as I’m sure the critters will be an issue. Luckily there’s a large deck for pots.

The property has also been neglected for a number of years, so the trees, bushes, and plants are all completely overgrown. Over the next several months, I’ll be assessing what’s growing, what’s not, what might need to be cleared, and what additions and changes I can make. It will definitely be a different approach to my gardening the last several years, but I’m incredibly excited.Already, I’m starting to see some new growth and movement, and I can’t wait for more.TreesThe backyard is filled with trees. I can’t wait to see what they look like come spring.PachysandraPachysandra is everywhere. This is one of the few sunny spots. It seems prime for some perennials.VinesVines are also everywhere. They’ll have to come out too!RododendronThis amazing rhododendron is growing next to the deck.daffodilsThankfully some daffodils are poking through the ground.Flowering TreesTrees are showing some life!

I’m excited to see what comes up, what doesn’t, and what changes we can make. This year, I’m even more anxious for spring! Of course, tomorrow we’re supposed to be getting more snow, but at least that will give me some time to unpack more boxes! πŸ™‚

Witch-Hazel for Weary Winter Weather!

Right now, the temperature is 11 degree! It’s scheduled to drop to 4 degrees tonight! Yes, 4 degrees! Today we had wind chills of -15 degrees, and we’re expecting another 4 inches of snow tomorrow. Winter just keeps chugging along. As it does, I keep dreaming about the spring, and gardens, and blooms. This is definitely the time to start planning for the spring. It’s also a great time to start ordering seeds and bulbs. But the best way to get into the gardening mood and satisfy that craving is to see beautiful blooms in your garden, coming through the snow. With witch-hazel, that is possible.

I have to admit, until this past summer, I haven’t had much exposure to witch-hazel. Sure, I’ve heard of it, but I was never inspired to plant it until I read David Culp‘s book, The Layered Garden, about extending the season and adding interest all year-long. I was inspired. This summer, when I joined David and others on a nursery tour, I decided I had to have one of these amazing plants.witch-hazelWitch-hazel is a small, deciduous tree, growing to anywhere from 9 feet to 25 feet. It has a beautiful spread, with a lot of interest. The image above is thanks to Indiana Public Media to give you a sense of what the blooms look like. Unfortunately, mine isn’t anywhere near this big yet…yet! As you can see, the best part about this great tree is the bloom. In winter, sometimes as early as January or February, they are covered with these wispy, beautiful blooms in striking colors of yellow, orange, and even red.

As the buds develop, they are just round clusters that seem to grow and grow, not very large, but full of beautiful blooms. Below are some images of the trees at my work. They are farther along than mine at home, and you can see the color starting to shine through.progressingseed podsThis summer, I found a great variety of witch-hazel at RareFind Nursery in New Jersey. The plant I bought back in June has done well this summer and fall, and the blooms are just starting to appear. I can’t wait till it’s covered in amazing bright orange color. Witch HazelThankfully, it did well in the summer!winter witch-hazelAnd it continues to do well. Now just waiting for those blooms to open!close upIf you’re looking to extend your garden season or just an interesting addition, consider witch-hazel. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to the garden, and a very interesting tree to have. It also can help take care of that gardening itch in the dead of winter. Also, with a name like witch-hazel, I’m sure it would help with any potions you’re trying to brew too! πŸ™‚

Valentine’s Day Cookies…Give Your Heart!

finished cookiesValentine’s Day is an interesting holiday. Sure it can be a wonderful day celebrating the love you have for your significant other. That’s usually how I like to celebrate it. However, if you watch any TV show in early February, you’ll see an incredibly stressful day full of forgotten gifts, mistaken dinner reservations, and horrible cards. Hopefully yours ends up being a wonderful day, and these cute cookies can help you celebrate. Not only are they great for the love of your life, but they’re perfect for kids too.

butterFor this recipe, you can really use any sugar cookie recipe you like. I used my go to sugar cookie recipe from The Martha Stewart Cookbook. It’s pretty straight forward and makes an easy to use dough. The dough cuts perfectly with a cookie cutter.

To start, cream 2 sticks butter, at room temperature, with 1 3/4 cups sugar, until light and fluffy. Add 2 eggs, and beat until fully combined. Next, whisk 4 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. In a measuring cup, combine 1/2 cup milk with 1 teaspoon vanilla. Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until well combine, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.adding eggscreamedflour mixtureready to combinecombinedready for fridgeDivide the dough into quarters. Flour your work surface, and roll out until about 1/8 inch thick. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut the dough. Place them on a parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for about 8 minutes until golden.dividedrolled doughcuttingbaked

Now comes the hard part. One of the hardest things about making heart-shaped Valentine’s cowrong color chocolate icingokies is getting the royal icing red. Once again, I used Alton Brown’s recipe for royal icing that I wrote about in September. It’s easy to make, however, the hard part is getting a deepΒ red color. I tried a few different versions. I tried adding cocoa powder, but it never became the right color, even though the chocolate tasted great. I also gave up and tried buying Wilton’s Red Cookie Icing which was a huge fail. It was way too runny and never solidified on the cookies. Finally, I tried Wilton’s Red Red gel icing coloring. It took a lot of gel to do it, but finally, I had red.

Add the icing to a pastry bag with a small round heartstip. Ice the outline first, then fill in with the icing. The consistency of this icing allows you to drag it to cover the cookie using the tip of the pastry bag. Allow them to dry for a few minutes. They also dry pretty smooth, which looks great.

I hope your Valentine’s Day is filled with chocolates, hearts, and most of all, love. Oh, and be careful with these cookies. If you drop one, you’ll have a broken heart! πŸ™‚

Easy and Delicious Pot Roast for those Cold Nights!

olive oilOne of the best things about the winter months is making big, hearty meals that warm your body and your soul. Those comforting meals do wonders in the cold, dreary months. It’s been cold here, and somewhat dreary. While I’m still waiting for a big snow storm, we’ve had lots of little ones! So, this week, it was the perfect week to make a simple and delicious pot roast.

To start, you need a 3 lb chuck roast. I look for one that has good marbling but isn’t too fatty. In a dutch oven that’s heated over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sear the roast on all sides, about 5 minutes on each side until nicely browned. Then set the roast on a plate to rest while you continue with the vegetables.chuck roastseared chuck roastIn the same pot, brown 3 medium onions, chopped. I like to use sweet onions, but whatever you like, or have on hand, is fine. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until brown and soft. Next, add 4 celery stalks, chopped, 8 small carrots (4 large, although I keep getting small ones at the store), peeled and chopped, and 6 cloves garlic, minced. Cook all of the vegetables together for about 5 minutes.onionscooked onionscarrots and celerychoppedgarliccookingOnce the vegetables are ready, add the roast back to the pan, on top of the vegetables, along with 1 cup red wine, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, and 2-3 cups beef broth. You want the liquid to just cover the meat. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pot, and set in a 375 degree oven for about 2 1/2-3 hours. You’ll know it’s ready when the meat can be pulled apart with a fork.tomato pasteready for ovenWhile the pot roast is cooking, quarter 24 oz button mushrooms. You’ll also need 4 tablespoons butter. Add 1 tablespoon butter to a saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook 1/4 of the mushrooms in the butter until brown. Continue with the rest of the butter and mushrooms, cooking in 4 batches.mushroomsquarteredbuttersauteing mushroomssauteed mushroomsWhen the pot roast is done, remove from the oven. Take out the meat and shred with two forks. Be careful to remove any large pieces of fat. Add the meat back to the pot along with the mushrooms.shreddingbeefIt’s warm, rich, meaty, and delicious! I hope it keeps you warm on these cold winter nights!

A Simple Appetizer…Savory Dates

datesThe best appetizer for me is an easy one. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook and play around with complicated recipes. However, when I’m having people over, which is usually when I am whipping up an appetizer, I want something simple but impressive so I can be sure the rest of the meal is as equally impressive.

For an appetizer, I want something with different textures and flavors. Maybe sweet and savory, or creamy and crunchy, and this recipe definitely accomplishes just that. The sweet, soft dates are the perfect accompaniment to the creamy, savory blue cheese. To round out the textures, salty, crunchy pistachios are added on top. It’s simple, delicious, and perfect for any occasion!

pistachioFor the dates, you want whole and pitted dates for ease of eating. I just grabbed the generic brand from Wegmans. However, for the cheese, this needs some extra attention. I wanted a blue cheese that had a lot of flavor, but was also creamy so it could be spread on the dates. The perfect choice is Gorgonzola dulce. It’s a creamy blue cheese from Italy, and I prefer the sweeter version, dulce. However, you could substitute if you don’t like blue with maybe a goat cheese or even soft brie.

finished productThe final ingredient you need is pistachios. I used whole, lightly salted Wonderful pistachios. And, my frugal nature, I bought the ones in the shell. Just be sure to remove the shells before assembly.

To assemble, spread some Gorgonzola on each date. Try to keep a flat side so they will stay upright, but that doesn’t always work out. Then just press 2 or 3 pistachios into the cheese. That’s it, easy and delicious. It almost seems like cheating to share that easy of a recipe! πŸ™‚assortment

On a Cold Night…a Comforting Dessert-Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

On these chilly nights, you need to stay warm. Sure, you can crank up the heat, or add put on another layer of sweaters, or even be buried by a stack of blankets. However, there are more appealing options out there. You could sip a glass of wine (or two), cuddle with a warm certain someone, or maybe even cradle a warm dessert in your hands. You know the kind of dessert I’m thinking about…something sweet and gooey and delicious to warm your body, and your soul. I know, it may be rationalization, but I think it’s the perfect way to get through winter!

custardOne of my favorite rich, warm desserts is bread pudding. I know, I know, some people would disagree and say it’s plain or unappealing. I ran into the same issue last Christmas Eve when I had my family over for dinner. My brother and sister both anxiously asked what was for dessert. When I told them it was chocolate chip bread pudding…well…let’s just say the excitement was gone! However, one bite, and they were hooked.

breadBack in June, I wrote about a banana’s foster bread pudding I made for Father’s Day breakfast, that was delicious by the way. This is a similar recipe, just some minor tweaks to bring out the chocolate chip flavor.

For this recipe, I once again used my favorite bread for bread pudding, challah bread, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Just make sure it’s something substantial so it doesn’t all fall apart in the custard. You’ll need about 1/2 a 15 oz loaf of challah bread, so about 7 or 8 oz.Β  Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes, and set them aside.

absorbingNext, make the custard.Β  Whisk 3 eggs with 1 cup heavy cream and 1 cup brown sugar until well combined. Add a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.Β  Stir in the bread cubes, and let this mixture sit for about a half hour so the bread can absorb the custard.Β  After that time, stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Pour the mixture into a greased 8β€³x8β€³ baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes, until nicely browned and set.

with chipsNow, of course I can’t just leave it there. I have to add more deliciousness! To top off this wonderful bread pudding, I make a warm chocolate sauce and fresh whipped cream. The chocolate sauce is easy, and my go to recipe. You can find it on my post about Martha Stewart’s coconut crunch cake. And you can find my whipped cream recipe on my post about making strawberry shortcake.

I should also probably apologize, I know many of you are trying to watch what you eat in January, and I’m probably not helping. If you’re looking for something healthy, keep looking. But if you’re looking for something scrumptious, you’ve come to the right place!done

Indoor Gardening in the Winter Months

BegoniasI’m not sure if everyone is experiencing freezing temperatures, but here in the Philadelphia area, it’s been cold! This week, we’ve had temperatures in the single digits and wind chills in the negative numbers. Thankfully, today it’s a balmy 27 degrees F! πŸ™‚

With the cold temperatures and the post-holiday slump, I can’t help but get excited for spring and playing in the garden. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still holding out for a big snowstorm, which I love, but with the countless plant catalogs filling my mailbox, my mind keeps wandering to the garden. Thankfully, I have some indoor plants to focus on during this time!

Peace Tree FarmYou may remember, this summer, I took a tour of several nurseries. The first one we went to was Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, PA. They had an amazing assortment of plants, but the one area that really caught my eye was their variety of begonias. I’ve wanted to start an indoor begonia collection for many years, and just couldn’t ever find the varieties I wanted. Well, on that beautiful day in June, I hit the jackpot. I excitedly purchased 6 varieties to add to my ever-growing houseplant collection!

Since June, I’ve been thrilled to see how the begonias have really established themselves and thrived inside. I have them all sitting on the windowsill of my picture window in my living room. They have continued to grow, ever pushing towards the sun, and have even started to send out delicate flowers. And, since we’re in the midst of winter, with snow on the ground outside, I thought it would be nice to share some recent pictures. It’s not quite a garden walk, but a little detour to remind us that spring is coming! begonia 1I love the color of this one and the big leaves. It certainly catches your eye.begonia 2The variegated purples leaves and long stems make this one a nice addition.begonia 3This one is covered in leaves.blooms 1And there was a little surprise of blooms hidden under the leaves.

begonia 4This one has great color also, with a hint of purple.blooms 2You can’t miss the blooms on this one, shooting out.begonia 5This purple and chartreuse isn’t such a hint. It’s a dramatic look.blooms 3Once again, the blooms are shooting out towards the sun, or at least until I turned the pot.begonia 6The last one, I love the purple edging on this one!

How are you getting through the cold winter months? Hopefully you’re finding some inspiration, and spring, somewhere! Stay warm!

Eating Healthy in the New Year…Brussels Sprouts!

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Brussels sproutsIt’s hard to believe that 2014 is about to draw to a close. I feel like the year has just flown by. It was an eventful year for us…new jobs, travel, and excitement. Oh, and I started this blog, which has been a ton of fun. So, now as the year comes to a close, if I believe all of the January issues of magazines, and every commercial since Christmas, we’re supposed to focus on healthy eating and taking care of ourselves. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a this “healthy” recipe. Of course, it combines delicious Brussels sprouts cooked in butter with a creamy rich Parmesan cream sauce and toasted pumpkin seeds. But it’s a vegetable…so it has to be healthy…right??? πŸ˜‰

blanchedTo ring in the new year, we’re heading to the new home of our friends. There will be about 10 of us, and everyone was assigned something to bring for dinner. Of course, I was a little disappointed that I was assigned a side. After all, how can I let my cooking talents shine with just a side. However, this recipe is a keeper, and it’s incredibly easy. Surprisingly enough, the recipe comes from the November 2013 issue of the Spirit Airlines inflight magazine. Who would have thought a recipe from an airline magazine would be so good, but this one surprised us!

To start, blanch 1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts in boiling water for about a minute. They’ll become bright green and soften a little. Drain, and soak in ice water until cool to stop the cooking. Once they’re cool, drain again and cut into quarters.coolingdrainslicedIn the meantime, heat 2 cups heavy cream in a saucepan over medium high heat until simmering. Allow to simmer for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cream reduces by half. Make sure you keep an eye on the cream, as it could boil over. Once the cream has reduced, remove from heat and add 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine, then set aside.creamboilingcheesesauce readyHeat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread out 2 oz pumpkin seeds on a cookie sheet. Toast the pumpkin seeds in the oven for about 10 minutes until brown. You’ll want to check on them frequently, and shake the pan to stir. Set aside once toasted.beforeafterIn a large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat until melted. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook until toasted, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.butteradd sproutsbrowned sproutsTo serve, pour the toasted Brussels sprouts into a serving dish. Top with the Parmesan cream and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. The Brussels sprouts are buttery and flavorful, the sauce is creamy and salty from the cheese, and the pumpkin seeds are nutty and crunchy. It’s the perfect mix of flavors and textures, and I’m sure it will wow the crowd tonight.

Whatever you are doing to celebrate the new year, whether it’s a huge night out, quiet celebration at home, or an early evening in bed, have a safe night. And have a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015! Happy New Year!