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Happy Father’s Day!!

Sadly I didn’t get to spend the day with my dad, but am so grateful to have such an amazing dad!!  He rarely would do things for me (mostly fixing things), but would always teach me as he did and show me how to do it.  I am so grateful for this, because I may not remember how to do something completely but at least know where to start.  He has always been supportive and loving and I’m a lucky girl!

How did you celebrate your dad today?

 

 

 

The type of weekend that summers are made for

In the past few weeks spring and summer weather has finally arrived in Pittsburgh after quite a long stent of rain in May.  It was a great weekend spent with friends and family.  It was one of those weekends that make you fall asleep with a smile still on your face and your heart full of joy.

Friday evenings festivities began directly after work when I met a few friends right after work for some dinner and drinks to celebrate my good friend, Nick’s, birthday.  After dinner we went to the Pirate’s game.  It was a great day and night for a baseball game at PNC park.  We didn’t make it there until the 6th inning, but luckily it was a tie that took the game to 12 innings!  And, the Pirates WON!!  It was a fantastic night and an exciting way to celebrate another year of Nick’s life.

Saturday morning brought a trip to the zoo with my family.  It also happened to be my parents 34th anniversary.  We got to see lots of animals, and the favorite part for me and my 2 year old niece, Claire, was watching the elephants play in the water.  After the zoo we had a late lunch at Narcisi Winery in Gibsonia.  If you are in the area, you should definitely check it out.  They have amazing outdoor seating, great wine list and wonderful menu.  I can be picky when it comes to wine, and find a lot of smaller local wine to be too sweet for my taste.  They had a really nice selection, and did have several sweet fruity wines, but also had dry reds and whites.  Megan and I enjoyed their flagship wine, Stella.  You can check out their listings and menu here www.narcisiwinery.com.  I had the Pasta Lulu which was delicious.

Sunday was my niece Avery’s baptism.  We were surrounded by lots of family and great friends.  My dad baptized the baby at his home church.  Avery was the 5th generation to be baptized at the same font, and 4 of the generations were there today!  After church we joined in a pot luck lunch that was already scheduled for the church, specifically recent graduates.  It was so nice to catch up with everyone.  Sunday evening brought some more fun in the sun at the pool.

It really was a fantastic weekend, and I hope everyone else had just as great of a weekend!!

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Pasta with toasted breadcrumbs and broiled cheesy tomatoes

I was recently checking one of my favorite blogs, Noble Pig,  to find new recipes and inspiration.  I saw her recipe with a simple pasta dinner with basil and parmesan broiled tomatoes, and had to try it.  I combined that idea with another recipe for pasta with toasted bread crumbs I had found in my Quick Fixes cookbook.

I don’t think I will ever have pasta without the tomatoes broiled cheese, it was really delicious.

Whole wheat pasta

Olive Oil

Plum Tomatoes (figure on about 3 or 4 slices per person)

Mozzarella cheese

Parmesan cheese

Breadcrumbs (I used panko)

1/2 TBS minced garlic

Fresh lemon juice

Boil water and cook the pasta in salted water according to the directions.  Cut the tomatoes in thick slices and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven at 375 for about 5 minutes to soften.  While the tomatoes are roasting, heat olive oil in the skillet.  Add the garlic and cook for just a minute.  Add the bread crumbs and sprinkle with the lemon juice.  Toast the breadcrumbs until they are golden.  Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss with the breadcrumbs.  Add the basil and let it wilt slightly.  Remove the tomatoes from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese and put under  the broiler for 2-4 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbly.  Top each plate with a few slices of the tomato and a leaf of fresh basil.

Beer Bread

A friend of mine recently became a Tastefully Simple consultant, so don’t be surprise if you start seeing a lot of references to their products!  One of my favorite is their beer bread.  I made this a few weekends ago to serve with the Cheddar Cheese, Bacon and Chive dip that can be found here https://hangontoyourfork.com/2011/05/24/dip/.

The beer bread seriously could not be simpler.  You just need the mix, which you can order from my friend Tara through her site at www.tastefullysimple.com/web/tantonucci

I combined the bread mix with 1 – 12 ounce bottle of Yuengling (but you can use any type of beer or actually any type of carbonated drink) and transfer to a greased loaf pan and cook according to the package directions (350 for about 1 hour).  It is so delicious and a very versatile mix!  Tara told me that she had it with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni baked in, and I am definitely looking forward to doing that next time I make it!  I’m sorry to say that I forgot to take a picture of the finished bread, but imagine the last picture looking golden brown!!

Labor Inducing Mac and Cheese

I spent several nights a week and a half ago at my sister and brother-in-laws to help them out.  They needed the extra help because Megan was pregnant and due any time, and I was staying in case she went into labor in the middle of the night so I could stay with my niece.  On Wednesday night I made home made mac and cheese and she went into labor a few hours later around 2 am!  My niece was in a VERY big hurry, and they actually didn’t even have time to make it to the hospital and my niece was born in the garage!

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11078/1133160-54.stm

http://www.wtae.com/news/27239646/detail.html

1 pound pasta noodles (I used whole wheat penne)

1 pound cheese (I used about 1.1 pounds, 6. of sharp Wisconsin cheddar and .5 English cheddar with caramelized onions)

4 TBS flour

1/2 – 3/4 stick of butter

1 1/2 -2 cups milk

1/2 TBS ground mustard

salt and pepper to taste

1 onion (I used red)

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Boil the penne noodles in salted water.  Melt the butter in a heavy bottom pan and make a rue by adding the flour.  Add the flour 1 TBS at a time, until a paste like consistency forms.  Cook it over medium heat until it becomes a golden color.  Whisk constantly and slowing add in the milk a little bit at a time, making sure not to add too much.  The sauce should be a fairly thick.  Add in the cheese, stirring to melt and incorporate.  The sauce should be drizzle off of the whisk.  Add the sauce to the cook noodles.

In a skillet caramelize the slices of onions.

Pout the cheesy noodles in a greased pan, sprinkle with the caramelized onions and spread with panko crumbs.  Bake in the oven at 350 for about 20-40 minutes, until the cheese is nice and bubbly and the top is golden brown.

My sister and I both agreed that  if you are using the onions, you need to really go for it and also add bacon.  Next time I will definitely be doing that!

Brunch

I ❤ breakfast and brunch.  Breakfast to me usually means the recapping of an amazing night or the start to a really fun day!  This weekends brunch menu included bakes eggs, tomato gratin, sauteed asparagus, banana bread, sausage and apple and grapes with cheddar cheese.

Here are some great recipes for a lovely brunch.

 

Tequila Lime Shrimp

This is a recipe is some of my favorite flavors of the spring and summer.  Over the weekend, I had had more than enough of the cold and gray of winter and I wanted some light flavors.  I also have used this marinade on chicken and it tastes great!

I used about 1 pound of 31-40 raw shrimp

Marinade:

About 1/2 extra virgin olive oil

About 1/4 cup tequila

The juice of 2 limes

2 TBS minced red onion

Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 TBS minced garlic

Dash of salt and pepper

Mix all marinade ingredients together in bowl or ziploc bag (I use a bag, so that clean up is simple!) for at least 30 minutes and up to over night.  I put the shrimp on skewers and grilled them for about 5 minutes.  The shrimp are cooked when they turn a nice pink.  You could also saute the shrimp for a few minutes, flipping a few times.

Guacamole

I love avocado.  I love it by itself.  I love it in salads.  I love it on sandwiches.  I love avocado.  I cringe when I am looking for a nice ripe avocado and notice a guacamole “mix” to make your own.  I don’t understand how fresh from scratch guacamole is any more difficult than using a processed packet mix.  Gross.  Don’t do it, it’s the simplest thing in the world!  So, here’s how to do it.

To make sure you get a nice ripe one, give them a light squeeze.  You don’t want to put a lot of pressure and bruise it, but it should have a little give to it.  If it feels soft, it’s past it’s prime and it’s not for you.  If it’s really firm, just give it a couple of days and it’ll be perfect.  If they are all a little under ripe, but you need it ripe by the next day, put it in a paper bag, it helps speed up the ripening process.  When you cut into it, it should be a vivid greenish yellow.  Delish!  Oh and a simple way to get the pit out is to just cut it in half long ways (when you cut into it you will feel the pit, so just rotate the whole way around it).  Once you separate the 2 halves, hit the pit with your knife with a little force then just rotate the knife.  If the avocado is nice and ripe, the pit will release from the fruit easily and you can lift it right out!  Easy peasy 🙂

2 ripe avocados

fresh lime juice (pbly 1/2 – 1 whole lemon) I used lemon juice this time, because I had it

1 tomato (I used plum) diced

about 1 TBS red onion diced very small (to taste)

about 1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Dice the tomato and onion and chop the cilantro.  In a bowl, mash avocado with some lime juice and salt (the salt helps it break down) with a fork.  Once it is chunky, add the tomato, onion and cilantro.  This (as pretty much every recipe) is a guideline, adjust to your taste with salt and pepper and lime juice.

Serve with tortilla chips or with tacos on scrambled eggs.  Endless possibilities!  Any way you serve it though, I promise you will get an empty bowl back!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake (Happy Birthday, Val!)

Wednesday was my coworker Val’s birthday, so I wanted to find a recipe for a special cake for her.  I saw one for a chocolate peanut butter cake, and I knew that I had to try it!  It was a simple recipe and turned out pretty well!

Found on: http://christyskitchencreations.blogspot.com/2008/10/reeces-cup-chocolate-peanut-butter-cake.html

For the cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt.
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled (optional) (I didn’t use this)

For the Icing:

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

For the cake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9×2″ round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Place the pans on a baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until thoroughly blended into the butter. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk; add the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the buttermilk in 2 (beginning and ending with the dry ingredients). Mix each addition only until it is blended into the batter. Scrape down the bowl and add the melted chocolate, if using, folding it in with a spatula. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans.

Bake for 26-30 minutes or until the cakes feel springy to the touch and start to pull away from the sides of the pans. Transfer to wire racks to cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

Place the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cardboard circle covered in foil. Spread peanut butter frosting on top of the cake layer. (If desired, sprinkle with chopped Reese’s cups). Place the second cake layer on top of the frosting. Frost the top and outside of the cake with remaining peanut butter frosting. Decorate with halved and chopped Reese’s cups as desired.

 

Grilled Eggplant and Tomatoes

I got this recipe from  “Fine Cooking Annual, Volume 2″ and made a couple of loss adjustments.  It is beyond simple and absolutely mouth watering.  I have made this dish twice, the first time I did top with ribbons of fresh basil.  The second time I didn’t have fresh basil, but I drizzled a reduction of balsamic vinegar.  Both times I did sprinkle with lots of shaved parmesan cheese.  The really great thing about this recipe is that it’s good served hot or at room temperature, so it makes it a great dish to make while entertaining!

I slightly changed it up and used regular eggplant and just sliced in about 1/2″ sections, where as the recipe called to use several baby eggplants just cut in half and grilled.  If you are using baby eggplants, score the skin with a fork so that the oil and garlic soaks in and can flavor the dish.

3 cloves garlic, peeled and made into a paste

1/2 extra virgin olive oil

2 tsps kosher salt

freshly grated black pepper

6-8 baby eggplants (or 1 large eggplant)

1 1/4 pounds ripe but firm plum tomatoes

handful of basil leaves

1/2 cup shaved Parmigiana-Reggiano

Mash the garlic into a paste by sprinkling kosher salt over minced garlic and then running the side of your knife back and forth over the garlic.  It will break the garlic down into a paste.  Put that into a container or bowl and cover with the olive oil; let the flavors marry.  Slice the tomatoes in half length wise.  If they are really seedy, scoop the seeds out.  Slice the eggplant in about 1/2” slices (or in half if you are using baby eggplant).  Toss the vegetables in the oil to coat.  Grill the vegetables until desired doneness.  I cooked them until they were soft, but not falling apart or soggy, about 5 minutes.  I used a George Foreman to grill, so what you are using may definitely  effect timing.  When they are done, alternate tomatoes and eggplant on a platter.  Cut the basil in thin ribbons and sprinkle over the dish.  Sprinkle the cheese over the vegetables.

If you are interested in doing the balsamic reduction, just place about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan over medium heat.  Stir it occasionally.  It will thicken as it reduces.  Once it’s the desired consistency you want, drizzle of the veggies.