Panzanella

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Panzanella is a classic Florentine dish that simply showcases old stale bread and the juices of plump, ripe, summer tomatoes. Since we are on the brink of tomato season I thought I’d share my favorite salad recipe!

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Ingredients:

4 cups of Chopped Tomatoes ( I like to use all different kinds for color)

4 Cups of Cubed Stale Bread

1/2 Cup Chopped Basil

1/8 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 Tablespoon Sea Salt

1/2 Tablespoon Black Pepper

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First things first, using stale bread is key or it will completely fall apart. If you don’t have stale bread around the house, you can buy bread, cut it into 1 inch cubes and leave it out overnight, or pop it in the oven at 350 for about 5 minutes and it will be just fine. For my salad I chose a rosemary loaf just to add a little more Mediterranean flavor.

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Chop the tomatoes into nice large, but bite sized chunks and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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Combine with chopped basil, salt and pepper and let sit for 10 minutes. If your making this salad before prime tomato season they may need a little help so you can add a little but of red wine vinegar to add acidity and liquid that you would normally get with perfectly ripe tomatoes.

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Combine tomatoes and bread, drizzle with olive oil and serve! I love the simplicity of just using these ingredients however some other fun things to throw in are cucumbers, artichokes, and capers!

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Also if you have a ton left over and the bread is getting really soggy you can throw it in a baking dish and cook for 20 minutes at 350 and you’ll have a warm savory bread pudding!

So excited for summer!

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Decorating with Herbs: Mint

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It’s great to mix it up a little by using herbs instead of flowers to decorate your home. This mint makes a beautiful arrangement while also making your home smell amazing!

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Mint is one of those plants that will keep growing and growing anywhere you plant it! You will have plenty to cook with and decorate with.

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Can’t wait to think of fun recipes to use the mint with! Any ideas?

Grilled Artichokes

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It’s artichoke season! March through May is the most popular time for artichokes and I try and get my hands on as many as possible! These spiky little green balls can be intimidating at first, but are so delicious once you figure out the best way to cook them. One of my favorite ways is to grill them.

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Harvesting artichokes is really easy using gardening sheers – you just cut right through the stem. The stem is one of the best parts of an artichoke so I like to cut about 4 inches down from the bulb.

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The hardest part of cooking artichokes is cleaning and prepping them – but it really just comes down to four steps.

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STEP 1: Slice them in half. I like to take the point of a large sharp knife in the stem at the base of the bulb and cut through the whole choke first, then the stem.

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STEP 2:  Cut off the hard top of each leaf with scissors.

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STEP 3: Scoop out the center of the artichoke with a spoon. Remove the hairy fibers covering the heart and the inner purple spiny leaves. Be careful not to take out pieces of the heart but still be firm with the spoon.

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STEP 4: Peel the stem using a normal vegetable peeler until it turns bright green.

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Once the artichoke is prepped immediately place in a pot of water with lemons to keep it green. Boil artichokes for about 25 minutes until the heart is fork tender and the outer leaves can easily be pulled off.

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Drain the artichokes and pat them dry with paper towels to remove and access moister. Cover with coarse black pepper and sea salt.

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Grill face down on high heat for 3-5 minutes and serve!

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These grilled artichokes go great with a lemon Dijon aioli dipping sauce. Simply combine: 1 cup of mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of Dijon Mustard, the juice of one lemon and salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Enchiladas A La Gringa

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When it comes to Mexican food, I’m totally lost. I’m more literate in Italian cooking, but I realized that they are both very similar in spirit – focusing on comfort foods, made from fresh ingredients, and meant to be served family style. Yes, for this recipe I use a few short cuts, but these enchiladas taste pretty authentic to me!

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INGREDIENTS:

16 Small Corn Tortillas

1 Rotisserie Chicken (with juices)

1 Lime

1 1/2 Cups of Corn

1/4 Cup Queso Fresco

1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella

1/8 Cup Chopped Cilantro

I Can (4 ounces) of Diced Green Chiles

1  Can (19 ounces) of Las Palmas Green Chili Enchiladas Sauce

1/2 Tablespoon of Both Salt and Pepper

1/4 Tablespoon of Cayenne Pepper

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The biggest time savor to this recipe is grabbing a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. It’s already cooked, super tender, has tons of flavor and no one has to know! Just pull apart the whole chicken removing any fatty bits and skin. Make sure the pieces are  bite size.

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Add chopped cilantro, canned green chiles, corn (fresh or canned works), the juice of one lime, salt, pepper, cayenne and 1/2 cup of the juices from the chicken. I like to let the mixture sit and marinate for about an hour if I have time – otherwise it’s ready to assemble as is. If the corn tortillas are a little dry or stiff just throw them in the microwave wrapped in a damp paper towel for 15 seconds.

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Take the corn tortillas, add a spoonful or two of the chicken mixture, top with a little mozzarella and roll.

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Line the enchiladas in a baking dish. A 10×15 dish can hold about 8.

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Cover the enchiladas with the green chili sauce. I like a lot of sauce to keep everything moist and fill the baking dish up about half way. I usually I prefer to make everything from scratch, but this canned enchilada sauce is so good I’m sticking with what’s simple.

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Sprinkle the top with mozzarella and queso fresco and pop into the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Remember everything is already cooked – the oven is just to heat everything up and make the cheese all brown and bubbly.

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What’s great about this recipe is you can prepare it in advance, and all you have to do it cook it for 15 minutes when you’re ready. I’m no Mexican chef, but I hope you enjoy my enchiladas a la gringa!

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Cinco de Mayo Margarita Bar!

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I thought a fun way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo was a do-it-yourself margarita bar, because let’s be honest – I can’t always be the hostess with the mostest – so make your own damn drink!

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I put out 3 different kinds of juice: classic lime, orange and grapefruit, and raspberries, blackberries, and lime slices as garnish.

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Can’t forget the tequila and Cointreau!

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I put out instructions for a classic margarita – but let my guests decide what fruit juice and garnish they’d like.

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Two combinations I liked were 1 ounce of lime juice and 2 ounces of grapefruit, mixed with both blackberries and limes.

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My other favorite was simply using orange juice with raspberries.

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I think mango and pineapple could be a fun addition to this margarita bar as well. What are some of your favorite margarita recipes?

Sauteed Zucchini with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

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I hated zucchini my whole life – all squash for that matter. My boss gave me some huge zucchini from her garden and I had no idea what to do with them but didn’t want to say ‘no thanks’. I decided to mix it with my favorite vegetable- tomato, and my favorite herb – basil, thus starting my obsession with zucchini!

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INGREDIENTS:

2 Cups Cherry Tomatoes

2 Medium Zucchini

1/4 Cup Chopped Basil

1 Tablespoon of Butter

2 Chopped Garlic Cloves

1 Teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper

Salt & Pepper to Taste

First chopped the basil, slice the cherry tomatoes in half and the zucchini into 1/4 inch wide slices.

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Melt butter on high heat and add the zucchini. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper and garlic.

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Sautee for about five minutes until the zucchini is tender and slightly browned.

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Add tomatoes until they are heated through, about 3 minutes. And finally add the basil for the final minute.

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Now that all the veggies are warm and tender they are ready to serve. This salad can stand alone, or be served along side a protein like my whole grain mustard salmon…

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or tossed with pasta. You decide!

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Easy-Peasy Picnic

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I was so excited to go on a picnic with my friends this weekend. I normally would have loved to whip up some fun sandwiches and dips, but I was just too exhausted. Lucky my local grocery store came to the rescue!

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Instead of just grabbing sandwiches and calling it a day, finger foods from pretty much any market can make for a more fun and special meal. There’s no science to the perfect combination of food – see what’s fresh at the store and what you’re in the mood for!

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I chose 2 cheeses – a soft Bree and Humboldt fog goat cheese, 2 cured meats – prosciutto and salami, a crusty sourdough baguette, herb bread sticks, strawberries, sparkling water, mixed olives, a marinated artichoke, red pepper and mushroom salad and almonds.

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( I like that you can eat all of these items with your fingers )

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In addition to food some good things to pack are: plastic cups, napkins, cheese knives, a cutting board and sunscreen!

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Malibu Winery was the perfect escape for our picnic. What are other great spots?

Braised Fennel and Arugula

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Fennel is the most underrated vegetable. It tastes amazing raw and cooked, and does wonders for the digestion – or so every Italian will tell you.

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INGREDIENTS:

3 Fennel Bulbs

1 1/2 Cups of White Wine

2 Ounces of Olive Oil

2 Ounces of Lemon Juice

1/4 Cup of Sliced Cerignola Olives

3 Cups of Baby Arugula

Braising is a method of cooking that uses both wet and dry heat. Meaning that for this recipe, I pan sear the fennel to get a nice brown crust, and then simmer it in the white wine until it is soft and tender.

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To prepare the fennel, first cut off the top stalks. Slice the bulbs into about half-inch thick disks and discard the hard center parts. Break the disks apart into its natural segments.

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Over high heat, sautee fennel with a little bit of olive oil for about four minutes or until the edges are browned.

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While the fennel browns, prepare the liquids. Combine lemon juice, olive oil and white wine.

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I’m a firm believer in cooking with wine that you like to drink, but that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. I found this bottle of Pinot Grigio at my local market – it’s dry and crisp and was under $7.

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Also slice the olives in quarters and remove the pits.

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Add the liquid and olives to the pan and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10-12 minutes until the fennel is tender.

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Immediately toss with 3 cups of baby arugula and serve – no need for dressing!

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I paired this wonderful salad with a panko-crusted halibut fillet. Please enjoy!

Also check out this Roasted Fennel and Citrus Salad- I can’t wait to try it out! : http://loveandcupcakesblog.com/2013/03/22/happy-friday-from-the-kitchen-roasted-fennel-citrus-salad/

Not Your Average Pasta Salad: Lemon Orzo

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This is my favorite go-to pasta salad. Combining orzo with tart lemon juice, peppery arugula, creamy goat cheese and juicy shrimp makes this recipe a show stopper, and it’s so simple to make!

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INGREDIENTS:

1 Box of Orzo

1/4 Pound of Peeled Shrimp

3 Cups of Baby Arugala

2 Ounces of Lemon Juice

2 Ounces of Olive Oil

1 Cup of Artichoke Hearts

1 Cup of Cherry Tomatoes

1/2 Cup Goat Cheese Crumbles

1/4 Cup Chopped Basil

1/2 Teaspoon of Salt

1/2 Teaspoon of Pepper

1/8 Teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper

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Cook the orzo in boiling water for nine minutes until al dente.

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While the pasta cooks, I like to make the lemon vinaigrette. Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon of both salt and pepper. Immediately pour over strained orzo in a salad bowl and mix through until it coats all the pasta. Let the orzo sit for ten minutes to absorb.

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Once the orzo has cooled slightly, toss with the baby arugula.

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Peel the shrimp and remove the tails. I like to use a medium sized shrimp so that it’s easy to eat. Lightly pat them down with a paper towel to remove any extra moisture. Season both sides with remaining salt and pepper, and cayenne pepper.

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Sautee on high heat with a little olive oil for about five minutes, until the shrimp are slightly browned and no longer translucent.

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While the shrimp cook, I like to prepare the other ingredients. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half, cut the artichokes into bite size pieces and chop basil.

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Add everything to the orzo and serve! This can be eaten warm or cold – it’s great both ways.

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Sometimes I replace the shrimp with sausage which is also a big hit! What I like about this salad is that there is a treat in every bite. You don’t have to dig through it to get to the good stuff because it’s all delicious. I hope you enjoy!

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This orzo recipe was inspired by Ina Garten’s which is always fantastic: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/orzo-with-roasted-vegetables-recipe/index.html

Fresh Meatball Subs

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When I moved into my first apartment-style dorm with a kitchen, I freaked out. I really had never cooked for myself before. My first meal? Meatballs. Cooking those first meatballs is what sparked my love affair with cooking. My recipe has come a long way since my dorm days and I hope you enjoy!

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MEATBALLS:

1/2 Pound of Ground Beef

1/2 Pound Ground Pork

1/2 Pound Ground Veal

5 Garlic Cloves (grated)

2 Eggs

1 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs

1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

1 Teaspoon of Salt

1 Teaspoon of Ground Black Pepper

1/2 Teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper

FOR THE SUB:

2 Cups of Tomato Sauce

1 Bunch of Fresh Basil

2 Large Balls of Fresh Mozzarella

1 French Baguette

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I’m a big fan of combining all three of these ground meats when making meatballs. The pork and veal add a great depth of flavor. To ensure that they are moist and hold together, don’t try to save calories by buying the lean meat. To start, preheat your oven to 350.

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I love garlic, but I don’t love crunching down on raw pieces in my meatballs. To get the maximum fresh taste without that hazard, grate the cloves on a microphone or cheese grater. I usually use about 5 cloves, but you can use less if you don’t love garlic as much as I do.

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After the garlic also grate 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.

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Combine the ground meat, eggs, garlic, Parmesan, salt, pepper, cayenne and Panko bread crumbs. Your best tools are your hands, so just get in there.

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Once everything is mixed together evenly, you can start rolling the balls! Each should be about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, but they don’t have to be exact. This should make about twelve meatballs.  Place them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and pop in the oven for 30 minutes.  (If these were going on pasta, cook for 15 minutes and then throw them in the simmering tomato sauce to finish cooking)

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Now that they are all golden brown, it’s time to assemble the sub! While the meatballs cook, slice some fresh mozzarella, basil and a french banquette so everything is ready to go.

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STEP 1: Place meatballs on bread

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STEP 2: Cover with tomato sauce

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STEP 3: Layer mozzarella on top.

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Pop the sandwich back into the oven at 500 for five minutes until the cheese is all gooey and the bread is toasted. Sprinkle with some basil and serve!

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