Ricotta Meatloaf

This really could be called a three cheese meatloaf having ricotta, mozzarella and Parmigiano, however, the ricotta is such a key ingredient to this meatloaf’s texture and flavor that it deserves the starring role in the title.

It is important to use fresh ricotta for this recipe.  Thanks to John, From the Bartolini Kitchen, for his homemade ricotta recipe, I am now making my own ricotta!  I will be honest though, I did make a slight change in that I….gasp!…. microwave the mixture!  Less chance of scorching, bubbling over and it’s pretty much done in a matter of minutes with no saucepan to scrub clean.  Either way, stove top or microwave, freshly made ricotta tops any store-bought variety. Continue reading “Ricotta Meatloaf”

Chili Hash

If you all thought I was the Biscotti Queen, well you are also looking at the Leftover Queen!  I love leftovers!  A frig filled with post party foods is like an artist’s palette of inspiration for me.  I love to pull together different ingredients and create new dishes, i.e., new life!

Now we’re not talking about food that was left out, picked over or has seen better days.  I’m talking about the large quanities of fabulous food that I’ve prepared just so I can play with my leftovers.  After my enticing, open the windows, Chili alla Putanesca recipe, I had plenty of leftovers as unfortunatlely, no suitors arrived at my door that day. Continue reading “Chili Hash”

Chili alla Putanesca

Trust me when I tell you that if I had my balcony window open while this chili was simmering on the burner, I just might have landed me a date!

So the story goes, at least the story I’ve heard, is that the Italian ladies of the night would make a robust and zesty sauce, place it near an open window and the intense aroma would entice male visitors.  Thus, this sauce earned its famous name, Puttanesca, which loosely translates to the ladies of the evening, to put it gently. Continue reading “Chili alla Putanesca”

Reuben Quesadilla with homemade thousand islands dressing

I’m all about classic recipes but sometimes I like to change things up a bit.  Especially when I have a lot of leftovers and don’t want to keep repeating the same thing.  I always start with the corned beef dinner, followed by corned beef hash the next morning and lunch is the much anticipated Reuben on rye bread.  At this point, since I cook like I have a husband and five children, but really only have one son at home who is not a big eater like most 19 year olds boys are, I still have some leftover corned beef to use. Continue reading “Reuben Quesadilla with homemade thousand islands dressing”

Eggplant Lasagna

I’m sure I’m not the only one constantly inspired by food I see or hear about.  As soon as someone mentions a new restaurant, or had an interesting dish or something deliciously sinful, I’m instantly interested.  I want to know every detail so that I can try to recreate it myself.  Sometimes it’s simply the general idea of how a dish is presented or a picture that catches my attention or a specific ingredient that has my head whirling with ideas!

For over a year now, I have heard about a coworker’s eggplant lasagna.  I’ve never had a chance to taste it, but all those that did raved highly about it.  Obviously, my interest peaked and I had to talk to Vinny (and yes, he’s Italian, which had me even more interested in his lasagna).  Then during the holidays it seemed like everyone was talking about making lasagna.  Phyllis at Food Flowers Herbs and Life posted her lasagna recipe for Christmas Eve and several other friends along with my sister were chatting about either making it or having had it at a dinner party.

Obviously my craving for it increased; I really have not made classic lasagna in a few years.  Vinny’s recipe basically swaps out the pasta for eggplant slices.  I’ve made vegetarian lasagna in the past but liked this idea of no pasta, i.e, carbs!  He peels and cuts the eggplant into thin slices, breading and frying them.  I skipped the breading part and just fried each slice.  While I normally bake my eggplant and he said he does at times also, I agreed that frying the eggplant would give the lasagna a richer taste.  And it certainly did; everyone loved it!  It was meltingly tender, full of flavor and definitely fulfilled my lasagna craving!

Eggplant Lasagna

For the eggplant:

2-3 large eggplants, peeled and thinly sliced, about ¼ inch thick

Olive oil for frying

For the sauce:

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1 medium onion finely diced

2 28 oz cans whole tomatoes, squeezed or blended into a puree

2-3 cloves garlic minced

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon Kosher salt

½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

For the ricotta layer:

1 15 oz container ricotta

1 large egg

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

½ cup shredded mozzarella

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

For the topping:

8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese

To prepare the sauce:  In a large skillet, cook the ground beef and pork until browned.  Remove from pan and drain well from the grease.  In a large stockpot, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft.  Add in the tomato puree, basil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Add in the browned meat and continuing cooking on low heat for about 1 hour.  Can be made ahead of time.

To prepare the lasagna:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   In a large skillet, fry the eggplant slices a few at a time until browned on each side.  Set aside.  Mix together the ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, egg, parsley and pepper.  In a baking dish, spoon a thin layer of sauce on the bottom and begin layering with the eggplant slices, meat sauce and ricotta mixture.  Repeat and finish with the layer of eggplant slices and some sauce on top.  Cover the dish with foil, place on a baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes.  Remove the foil, sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese and bake until bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly and set before serving.

Italian Beef Stew

Beef stew was not my favorite dish when I was a child.  I clearly remember not being very happy when it was stew night!  I honestly can’t think of any other dish she made that I didn’t like except this.   I’d pick around the bowl to find something I’d like; a potato, a carrot or two, a piece of beef to slip to my dog Buffy.   Everyone else all seemed to really enjoy the stew, especially Buffy.

Years later after my mom passed, I’d prepare meals from her handwritten notes to bring back memories of her through the dishes she made.  I quickly passed over the Italian beef stew recipe many times before I finally decided to make it.   Surprise, surprise…I loved it!  It certainly had nothing to do with my making it any better but more so my taste for food had grown from when I was young.  And just as surprising to me, it’s a dish my son really likes.

It’s a bowl full of love, comforting, tender and warming.  The amount of potatoes, carrots, garlic and celery can vary to your taste; I’ve added in peas as well at times and used white wine when I didn’t have an open bottle of red.  I’m not sure why she wrote Italian Beef Stew; I’ve never compared it to other stew recipes but the ingredients don’t seem to be too “Italian” to me other than tomatoes!

Italian Beef Stew

2 lbs lean beef, cubed, tossed in flour to lightly coat

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, sliced

1/2 cup red wine

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 large potatoes, cut into chunks

3 carrots, peeled and sliced into chunks

1 stalk celery, sliced

1/2 cup fresh parley, chopped

1 14 oz can plum or diced tomatoes

1/2 cup water or enough to cover meat

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, heat the oil.   Add in the beef and onions saute until slightly brown.  Deglaze the pan with the wine, simmer for about 10 minutes.  Add in the tomatoes, garlic, chopped parsley and red pepper flakes and let simmer for another 10 minutes.  Add in the potatoes, celery, carrots, and tomatoes.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Add in enough water to cover the meat and simmer covered for 40 minutes, stirring occassionally.  Uncover the stew and simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until the meat is tender.  Salt and pepper to taste.

London Broil with Red Wine Marinade

A London broil is really a method of preparation rather than a specific cut of beef; however butchers will specifically label certain cuts, like top round, as London broil.  And the name is further misleading as the method really doesn’t have to be only broiled!  Grilling works well and I like to sear/grill the outside and then pop in the oven to finish.  While I prefer a tender, fattier cut of meat, my son will pick away at any fat on his meat; therefore preferring this leaner cut.

With just my son and me at home, I do like preparing this cut as we have plenty of leftovers to toss into salads and make great sandwiches with a simply layering of lettuce and horseradish on a baguette or in foccacia bread with caramelized onions, roasted peppers and gorgonzola.  Topped on a crostini with arugula is an easy appetizer.  It’s really one of my summer favorites to have as leftovers as I can have several no cook meals to pull together quickly.

The leaner the cut unfortunately, the tougher the texture and less flavorful.  This cut needs special attention to ensure its tenderness and flavor.  I follow a few easy steps to prep before cooking.  First, as soon as I bring the beef home, I will remove it from its packaging and generously rub on Kosher salt.  This is the part I believe does the tenderizing.  The next day I prepare the marinade, rinse the salt off the beef and place it in a ziplock bag with the marinade.  The beef will marinate overnight and up to 2 days adding in lots of flavor.

Searing or grilling the meat quickly and then carefully watching to not overcook the beef is important too.  Followed by letting it rest for about 15 minutes and cutting it thinly across the grain.  In addition, I like to make a second marinade for brushing on the meat while cooking and using it as a sauce after.  I see recipes that call for boiling the marinade that was used to marinate the meat, but the thought of that just turns me off, preferring a clean marinade over a cloudy looking leftover.  

Red Wine Marinated London Broil

1 top round beef steak, about 2 1/2 lbs., aka, London Broil

2/3 cup dry red wine

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon Dijon or whole grain mustard

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Remove the beef from the packaging and generously sprinkle on Kosher salt and refrigerate.  The next day, rinse the salt off the beef and place in a zip lock bag.  Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl mixing well. Pour marinade over the beef and seal bag tightly releasing all air.  Place in a bowl and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.   Repeat or simply double to make a second marinade for brushing on the beef while cooking and serving. 

Preheat grill or grill pan.  Remove beef from the marinade, discarding the marinade and patting the beef dry.  Pour the fresh marinade in a small saucepan and simmer to reduce slightly.  Place the beef on the grill brushing with marinade and turning several times until done.  Approximately 14-16 minutes for rare, 18-20 minutes for medium.  If using on a grill pan, grill both sides and then place in a 420 degree oven to finish cooking, about 15-20 minutes.  Using a meat thermometer, I make sure it does not go over 130 degrees.

Allow to rest for about 15 minutes lightly covered with foil.  Carve into thin slices on the diagonal and across the grain.  Serve with the remaining marinade.

Picadillo

Last year around this time, my BFF Ayesha came for a visit and we headed down to Key West for a weekend getaway.  Even though I live in Florida, these getaways within my own state still feel like a vacation.  The sun just seems hotter and brighter, the skies are bluer and the carefree attitude of being away soars!!  Afternoon tropical drinks and light, easy meals filled our days.  Ayesha and I share a passion for food, easily being able to spend hours chatting away about recipes, ideas to recreate our own and always seeking out-of-the-ordinary places to dine!

One hot afternoon walking down Duval Street we passed by a Casablanca style bar/restaurant, which unfortunately, the name is long forgotten.   Large fans overhead sent cooling breezes down to the small round tables.  Cuban influence in Key West is very present in music, shopping and food.  This little place caught our attention for a much needed break from the heat and a small bite to eat.  Mojitos are always my drink of choice when dining on Cuban/Latin cuisine; the cooling minty taste is so refreshing on a hot day. 

One of the dishes we ordered were nachos ala Cuban style.  Tortilla chips were replaced with Plantain chips and covered with Picadillo; a Cuban dish consisting of ground beef, tomatoes, pepper, Spanish olives, garlic and spices.  Picadillo is usually served with white rice as in my photo, along with black beans.  I have since served my Picadillo with plantain chips for a casual, fun dish.   In fact, as soon as we got back from Key West, Ayesha and I recreated that Cuban Nacho dish!  The long plantain chips work the best in serving ‘nacho’ style as they hold and scoop up the Picadillo nicely.  I have used either ground beef or ground turkey in my Picadillo and sometimes spice it up a bit as Cuban cuisine is seasoned well but never spicy hot!

Picadillo

Adapted from Estafan Kitchen

 4 teaspoons olive oil

3 lbs lean ground beef or turkey

1 red pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons Kosher salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Pinch of cumin powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 bay leaves

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

1 ¼ cup dry white wine

½ cup ketchup

½ cup pimento stuffed Spanish olives

Plantain chips (optional, but necessary for preparing “nacho” style)

 In a large skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil.  Add the ground beef or turkey and brown the meat, stirring occasional.  Remove the browned meat and drain any excess fat from the skillet.  Add the remaining olive oil and allow to heat to medium heat.  Add the pepper, onion and garlic, sauté until onions are soft.  Return the browned meat to the skillet, add the remaining ingredients.  Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer.  Cover and simmer the Picadillo for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove the bay leaves and serve over white rice or layer on Plantain chips for serving as nachos.

Corned Beef Hash

There may be only two or three people in my home on a daily basis, but I always seem to cook for a crowd!  Anyone stopping in can always find a meal or two ready to go and my son seems to enjoy being able to slip into the kitchen at all hours of the day….and night… and find himself a home cooked meal.  I also like having leftovers, not about eating the same dish over and over, but for taking those leftovers and creating new meals.  No one tires of having leftovers when they become fun new dishes!

In honor of St. Patty’s day I made the classic corned beef, cabbage and potatoes dinner.  And, of course, enough to feed my neighborhood!  A Reuben Sandwich is the first I make with the leftovers; rye bread Panini pressed with melting swiss cheese, heaps of corned beef, sauerkraut and a nice smear of Thousand Island dressing.  Always a favorite and always a once a year treat for me!  A Reuben pizza is a cool spin using a homemade pizza crust that I tossed in some rye seeds and topped the pizza with the makings of the sandwich using the Thousand Island dressing drizzled on the top! 

 Lastly, but just as good and tasty, is Corned Beef Hash.  Top the hash with a poached or fried egg and it becomes a wonderful breakfast/brunch.  Leave off the egg, serve with a salad and dinner is ready!

 Corned Beef Hash

 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus

1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

1 small finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

About 5 cups leftover Corned Beef and Cabbage, chopped or diced small *

2 cups leftover potatoes, diced small *

1 leftover ear of corn, kernels cut off (optional)

2 teaspoons herbs de Provence

1 tablespoon fresh parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

 *  Amounts will truly vary – these are leftovers, use whatever is leftover adjusting the ratios to your preference!  Shown above does not include cabbage!

 Heat a large skillet with olive oil.  Sauté the pepper and onion until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the skillet and, if necessary, add additional oil.  Heat well and toss in the potatoes to brown up a bit, about 5 minutes.  I find that the potatoes will brown better when the peppers and onions are removed.  Once the potatoes have a nice crisp, toss back in the peppers and onion, add the garlic, corned beef, cabbage, corn and herbs de Provence.  Stir well and allow to sauté a few minutes before turning over to ensure a nice browning, about another 5- 10 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle in fresh parsley.  Serve immediately.

1770 House Meatloaf

I saw Ina Garten make this meatloaf awhile back and made a mental note to try it out.  It was tagged the Best Meatloaf I Ever Had, so obviously I had to test this out for myself!  I liked that it was a change from the run of the mill tomato (or ugh…ketchup) coated meatloaf.  Not that a tomato sauce is bad, as in my opinion, all is good with tomato sauce.  This lighter sauce with specks of herbs and roasted garlic is ladled on the sliced meatloaf upon serving soaking into the tender meat for a drippy, yummy mouthful. 

I prepared the meatloaf on a baking sheet, as Ina suggests, and as I have been doing for many years now.  I like the more rustic look of the meatloaf this way; not the formed block out of a loaf pan!  It was easy to pull together and while it baked for 50 minutes, I took a short bike ride, coming home to an amazing aroma.  The sauce quickly came together while the meatloaf rested.  I did add flour (or cornstarch could be used) to the sauce ingredients to thicken it slightly. 

Leftover meatloaf is always good; I like to sandwich it up for my son in fresh baked rolls or frittata style with large chunks of meatloaf and cheese! 

 Adapted from 1770 House Meatloaf

 1 pound ground veal

1 pound ground pork  

1 pound ground beef  

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh chives, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauce

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh thyme leaves, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauce

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh Italian parsley, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauce

3 large eggs

1 1/3 cups finely ground Panko (place Panko in food processor to finely grind)

2/3 cup whole organic milk  

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

2 stalks of celery, finely diced

1 large Spanish onion, finely diced

2 cups chicken stock, homemade or good quality purchased

8 to 10 cloves roasted garlic

3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

3 tablespoons flour or cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the veal, pork, beef, chives, thyme, parsley, eggs, Panko, milk, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl.

Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat with olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the celery and onion to the pan and cook, stirring, until softened. Remove the celery and onion from the pan and let cool. When the mixture is cool, add it to the mixing bowl with the other ingredients.

Mix the ingredients until well combined and everything is evenly distributed, using your hands is the best kitchen tool.  Place a piece of parchment paper or slipat on a baking sheet pan.  Place the meat on the sheet pan and pat it and punch it down to remove any air pockets. Shape the meat into a loaf.  Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until a meat thermometer indicates an internal temperature of 155 to 160 degrees. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the sauce, combine the butter and flour and cook a few minutes to combine and thicken.  Pour in the broth and roasted garlic and simmer over medium high heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly thickened. Add 1 teaspoon of each of the chopped thyme, chives and parsley. Slice the meatloaf into serving portions and spoon the hot sauce over the meatloaf and serve.