Mussels Marinara

Growing up in an Italian catholic household I was exposed to different foods and experiences. One of my favorite memories was Good Friday dinner. My grandmother spent all day in the kitchen making different fish and pastas, making sure she had something that everyone enjoyed. Often she would make so much it would be a feast fit for more than the 9 of us at the table, it would be a feast fit for a king. My favorite was her mussels. I remember being Emma’s age (11) sharing 4 pounds of mussels with my dad which, I am sure I ate 2 pounds just to myself lol but, I wouldn’t want or eat anything else, just her wonderfully steamed mussels. My love for mussels has never wavered, no matter how many I eat or how old I get. It is a special dinner that I enjoy making because it reminds me of my grandmother and fond memories of special occasions spent with my family but it also reminds me of special moments shared with my dad. Sitting together enjoying food and each others company.  Today, I love making mussels for Paul and no matter how long we have been together, I always tell him the story about Good Friday and how eating mussels always brings back fond childhood memories. So given this, here is my mussels marinara recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have.

Mussels Marinara

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Here is what you will need:

  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 small diced onion (optional)
  • 1 cup white wine, something that you would want to drink or serve to guests
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh baguette sliced

Here is how to make it:

  • Heat to olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
  • Add the onion (if using) and saute for 5 minutes
  • Add the garlic and saute until golden brown, about 2 minutes, stirring often.
  • Add red pepper flakes and wine, and cook until reduced by half.
  • Add the tomatoes and bring it to a simmer.
  • Scoop the mussels into the pan and cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until they all open, about 8-10 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Divide among 4 bowls and serve with bread for dipping.

I hope this inspires you to be creative in your kitchen – enjoy!

The Essentials – Pots And Pans Every Kitchen Should Have

The other day a friend of mine asked me my thoughts on what are the essential pots and pans every kitchen should have. I thought this was an interesting questions because with so many different sizes and styles, knowing which are the essentials can be difficult to figure out. Some things I think every cook needs to factor in before purchasing any cookware are; cookware material, maintenance, storage space and what if needed can work double duty in the kitchen.
Cookware material and maintenance are the big ones for me. There are certain materials that I do not want to work with like aluminum, because it is a reactive metal which means I need to avoid cooking high acid foods like tomato sauces. As for maintenance, I do not want to spend a lot of time caring for my cookware which, is different than abusing your cookware. Copper for example, is something that needs a bit of maintenance. Copper is an awesome heat conductor which is important and I enjoy cooking with my copper pot but, it is also a reactive metal that can colour food if not taken care of.  For this reason, I only have a couple of copper pots that I keep on hand when I am cooking.
Here is a snapshot of the essential pots and pans that you will find in my kitchen, It isn’t everything I have but these are my go to pots and pans that I couldn’t live without.

My Essentials

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The following is a list of different pots and pans that you may want to consider when looking at essentials for your kitchen. it isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will get you started. These are the pots and pans that you’ll probably find that you use the most.

  1. Large Saute Pan: Has straight sides and a large surface area. I recommend having one that is at least 12-inches in diameter and 2 inches deep, which is ideal for sautéing, braising, frying, and making quick sauces.
  2. Sauce Pan: A saucepan is something that you will want to own if possible, in a couple of different sizes. I have 2 sizes,  a 2 quart and 4 quart. They are great to use for anything that needs gentle even heat like warming milk. They are also great for cooking vegetables, soups, rices, and pastas.
  3. Non Stick Skillet: A skillet is essentially a frying pan. Non stick is great to have on hand for food that you know there is a high probability of sticking, like omelets or frittatas. The thing to keep in mind with non stick is that they have a short life span and it is important not to use any metal utensils. For this reason, you may want to also have a metal skillet. I have both non stick and metal skillets in my kitchen.
  4. Cast Iron Skillet: Very sturdy and durable. I have had mine for almost 20 years and I use it all the time. I would also recommend a 10 – 12-inch size. Cast iron skillet retains its heat for a very long time. These skillets need to be seasoned before using for the first time.
  5. Enamel Dutch Oven: I love dutch ovens. They are coated cast iron pots that can go directly from the stove top to the oven. They are great for cooking hearty dishes like stews, soups and chili. If you are tight on storage space or budget, this pot can work double duty so you don’t have to by a stock pot.
  6. Roasting Pan: They are great because they come with a rack that allows the bird to sit above the drippings and get nice and crispy. You could get away with using a cast iron skillet if you can’t afford one but the challenge is keep the bird off the bottom and the size of the bird will matter.
  7. Baking sheet: Baking sheets are a must have for being able to bake cookies and dough but they also come in handy for roasting veggies in the oven. I have 2 sets of baking sheets, one for strictly baking purposes and a set for roasting. Using baking sheets to roast things like vegetables can beat up your pans quickly so it is helpful if possible to have a set for roasting and a set for baking, if your budget can afford it. I prefer aluminum or metal baking sheets vs non stick because the life span of non stick is a lot less.

Nice To Have

  1. Stock Pot: Most of what a stock pot does a dutch oven can do. However, if you want to make a larger quantity of something like chili or stock, then a stock pot can be a great essential in any kitchen.
  2. Casserole Dish: Functional for both baking and cooking. Casserole dish is great because it can go from the oven to the table and look good. It can also due double duty and be used to bake cakes and squares. I would recommend a 9×13 as the size tends to work for most cooking and baking needs.

Cookware Material

There are different types of cookware materials to choose from. It is important to think about what will suit your needs and budget before purchasing. I am of the mindset that you get what you pay for and it is important to do your homework. I would rather have fewer good quality essentials and add on over time vs having more essentials and having to replace them because of a short lifespan. Below is some information on the different materials that hopefully you will find helpful.

  • Stainless Steel: Non reactive, durable  but can be expensive.
  • Copper: Awesome heat conductor, expensive need to take special care, reactive and can colour food.
  • Aluminum: Heats up quickly, reactive metal so avoid cooking acidic foods like pasta sauce.
  • Non Stick: Shorter life span vs stainless steel, coating will wear over time , avoid using metal utensils.
  • Cast Iron: Retains its heat for a very long time. Need to be seasoned before using for the first time, special care so they do not rust.

I hope the above helps you find the essentials you need for your kitchen – enjoy!

 

Crispy Chicken Taquitos

Entertaining and making food for kids can be a tricky business at the best of times, especially if any of them are picky eaters. I am always looking for fast and fun recipes for Emma particularly if she is entertaining friends. Luckily I have found plenty of simple and delicious recipes that work for even the pickiest eaters and don’t take a lot of time to prepare. Crispy chicken taquitos has become one of my go to recipes. It is easy, fun to eat and has become one of Emma’s favorites to share with her friends. 

Crispy Chicken Taquitos

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Here is what you will need:

  • 2 cups of shredded chicken (I like to use rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 cup shredded mild white Cheddar cheese 
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
  • 1/2 cup of chunk salsa plus more for serving
  • Eight 6-inch flour tortillas
  • 1/2 cup of sour cream plus more for serving
  •  Vegetable oil, for frying
  • Toothpicks
  • guacamole (optional)

Here is how to make the Crispy Chicken Taquitos

  • Add enough oil to a heavy bottom pan to come 2 inches up the sides and heat over medium heat.
  • Mix together the chicken, Cheddar, salsa and the cumin in a medium bowl.
  • Spoon about a 1/4 cup of the mixture into the center of each tortilla, add the guacamole if using. Roll the tortillas tightly around the filling and secure with a toothpick.
  • Place the taquitos in the hot oil and fry, flipping as needed to brown evenly, until crispy and golden brown, about 3 minutes.Only fry 2 or 3 at a time making sure not to overcrowd the pan.
  • Remove the taquitos and transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain.
  • Serve with salsa and/or sour cream for dipping.

I hope this recipe inspires you to be creative in your kitchen – enjoy!

Wild for Blueberries – Blueberry Muffins

Blueberries are a popular fruit treat. They have a sweet succulent flavour and are also nutritious. They can be  eaten fresh or incorporated into a variety of recipes. They have a fairly long shelf life and can last up to week in the fridge but do not wash them until you are ready to use. Blueberries are one of the many popular super foods believed to have powerful antioxidant effects and  many health benefits. Regardless of whether you are a believer in super foods  or not, they are used in a variety of goods, such as jellies, jams, muffins, pies, breakfast cereals, yogurts and even in wines and syrups. Before using them, make sure to wash them and ensure there are no small stems, leaves or over-ripened ones. My preference is to use them in muffins and coffee cakes. The recipes tend to allow the blueberry to be the star of the dish. Given this, I am going to share with you my favorite blueberry muffin recipe. I love making these for a quick on the go breakfast and they are also great as an after school snack for the kids.
Blueberry Muffins
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Here is what you will need:
  • For the topping
    • 1/4 cup of AP flour
    • 2 tbs granulated sugar
    • 2 tbs packed light brown sugar
    • 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • For the muffin
    • 7 tbs unsalted butter at room temperature
    • 3/4 cup of granulated sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 21/4 cups of AP flour
    • 4 tsp of baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp of salt
    • 1/4 cup sour cream
    • 1 cup of milk
    • 2 tsp of vanilla extract
    • 2 cups of fresh blueberries

How to make the blueberry muffins:

  • Preheat the oven to 375°
  • Grease 12 standard muffin tins
  • To make the topping
    • In a bowl stir together flour, sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
    • Using a pastry cutter or your fingers cut or rub the butter into the dry ingredients until course crumbs form and set aside.
  • To make the muffin batter
    • In a bowl using a hand held mixer or electric standing mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
    • Add the eggs and vanilla one at a time beating well until blended into the butter mixture.
    • In another bowl stir together flour, baking powder and salt.
    • Add the dry ingredients into the butter mixture in 2 increments, alternating with the milk and sour cream.
    • Stir just until moistened.
    • Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the blueberries just until evenly distributed taking care not to break the fruit.
    • Spoon the batter into the muffin cups level to the rim of the cup and sprinkle each with some topping mixture.
    • Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until golden brown. A toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin should come out clean.
    • Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes.

I hope this recipe inspires you to be creative in your kitchen – enjoy!

Bacon Jam

Bacon is one of the most loved pieces of meat in my house. Even our dog Clarence salivates when it is cooking. It is a great compliment to so many dishes and can be added to any meal regardless if it is breakfast, lunch or dinner. Bacon is something that we use a lot in our home and I am always trying different things with it. For example, bacon jam. Bacon jam is really just a relish that is slow cooked with onions, vinegar, brown sugar and spices. There are many different version of this recipe that you can find on the internet or even Pinterest, that include altering the cooking time between 2 and 6 hours and adding other ingredients such as a variety of spices, bourbon and even coffee.
I love serving this bacon jam as a topping for hamburgers or on a crostini with a piece of brie and then topped with the bacon jam.

Bacon Jam

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Here is what you will need:

  • 1 lb good-quality bacon
  • 2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2-3  garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup brewed coffee (hot or cold)

How to make the bacon Jam:

  • In a large skillet, cook bacon. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.
  • Coarsely chop bacon.
  • Add onions and garlic, and cook until onions are translucent, about 6 minutes.
  • Add balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and coffee and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up browned bits from skillet with a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes.
  • Add bacon and stir to combine.
  • Transfer to a slow cooker and cook on high, uncovered, until liquid is syrupy, 3 – 4 hours.
  • Let cool, then refrigerate in airtight containers, up to 4 weeks.

I hope this recipe inspires you to be creative in your kitchen – enjoy!

German Red Cabbage

One of the great things about my job is that it requires me to travel to some really cool places that I probably wouldn’t normally get to see on my own. I like to take advantage of my time abroad and really explore the country or city I am visiting –  site see, shop, experience the culture and of course try as much of the local cuisine as possible. On a recent trip to Dusseldorf Germany, I was able to do just that. I didn’t know what to expect given that it was March, not the best time of year to be in Germany weather wise, but it turned out to be a pretty nice trip regardless of the time of year. I did get a chance to visit some pretty cool restaurants in the old part of the city, where there was a cool outdoor market, cobblestone roads and no cars allowed in the city center. One night I was fortunate enough to go on a brewery tour at Uerige Brewery and also have dinner there. It was a preset menu served buffet style, giving us a taste of the local beer and German cuisine.  For dinner we had a beautiful roast with dumplings and red cabbage on the side. I’m not a big fan of cabbage but given that it is a very popular side dish in Germany and given that I was in Germany, I thought I needed to give it a try and I am so glad I did. The taste surprised me, it has such a nice balance of sweet and sour and all I could think of is making this side dish at home for my family. I asked the chef if I could have his recipe and he gave it to me. I made it a few days after I came home and my family loved it! So, here it is.

German Red Cabbage

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Here is what you will need:

  • 3 tbs of butter
  • 1/2 of 1 red cabbage shredded
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • Pinch of clove
  • 1 cup of sliced green apple
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of pepper

How to make the German Red Cabbage:

  • Place butter, cabbage, apples, and sugar into a large pot. Pour in the vinegar and water, and season with salt, pepper, and clove.
  • Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the cabbage is tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

I hope this recipe inspires you to be creative in your kitchen – enjoy!

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

Did you know that the very first chocolate chip cookie ever made was by Ruth Wakefield in 1938? She invented the recipe when she owned a popular restaurant called the Toll House Inn, that pride itself on serving homemade food to its customers. Over the years the story has been twisted slightly to state that she accidentally invented the cookie but Ruth had always insisted that she invented the cookie on purpose. She had been serving a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream for some time and thought it was time to try something different. So, she added chopped up bits from a Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate bar into a cookie and voila – the Toll House Cookie was invented.
Haven’t all us home chefs been there? Wanting to try something different and experiment in the kitchen? Updating old recipes and making them new again? We are no different than Ruth wanting to update something as simple as a cookie. I bet Ruth never thought in a million years her cookie would become a staple in every household or be the ultimate cookie in the hearts of every child.
There are so many different recipes out there and debates on what is the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe. I know I have made tons of different recipes over the years, just to try and find the ultimate cookie that my family loves. Does your family like the crunchy kind or the soft and chewy? How about loaded with chocolate chips or a sprinkle of nuts? The truth is, the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe is really what your family loves when biting into it.
So here is the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe that my family loves!

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

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Here is what you will need:

  • 2 1/4 cups of flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp  salt
  • 1 cup  margarine
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 cup of milk chocolate chips)

How to make the chocolate chip cookies:

  • Preheat oven to 375°.
  • Combine flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl and set aside.
  • Beat margarine with sugars in large bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla until blended. Gradually add in flour mixture and beat until blended.
  • Stir in chips.
  • Drop a tablespoon amount of dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper 2-inches apart. It is important to use an ungreased cookie sheet for these cookies otherwise they will melt because of the margarine.
  • Bake 8- 10 minutes or until edges are golden.
  • Cool on wire rack

In the spirit of Ruth Wakefield, I hope this recipe inspires you to be creative in your kitchen – enjoy!

Candied Prosciutto – A.K.A. Meat Treats!

If you have been following my blog, you know that Friday nights is girls night for me, usually at my place. Paul is out playing hockey with the boys, Em is usually doing her own thing,  so it is a great time for me to kick back with the girls, try new appy recipes and of course have a lovely glass of vino.
Every now and then, Paul has some of  his buddies come by the house after hockey for a quick beer, so on those nights I like to include something different in my appies for them to eat when they get home.
One of the best all time hits, guaranteed to be a crowed pleaser are candied prosciutto. I first came across this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis and I thought to myself that this is a must try. I did alter some of the spices to match my own preferred flavoured profile so the recipe below reflects what I did but use whatever you like.
Sometimes I serve these on their own and sometimes I like to serve the with home made guacamole or hummus. On their own or with dip these meat treats are so good, they are a little pieces of meat candy heaven!

Candied Prosciutto

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Here is what you will need:

  • 5 to 10 pieces of thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp of chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp of paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Drizzle of olive oil

Here is how to make the candied prosciutto:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°.
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Lay the prosciutto slices on the parchment lined baking sheet without touching.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, salt, chili powder, paprika and cayenne.
  • Brush each slice of prosciutto with some olive oil and sprinkle with the spice mix.
  • Bake until the prosciutto  is beginning to crisp and the sugar is caramelized, 16 to 18 minutes.
  • Transfer  to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  • Blot with a paper towel if beads of oil form.

 

I hope this inspires you to be creative in your kitchen – enjoy!

If you would like to view Giada’s original recipe go to https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/candied-prosciutto.

 

Anginetti Italian Easter Cookies

I love these yummy Italian lemon cookies. My mom use to always make them at Easter but they are great for any holiday or special occasion. I use to always look forward to these cookies and beg my mom to make them throughout the year but sadly it was only at Easter. I guess that is why I love them so much because we only had them once a year. They have a nice fresh taste that reminds me of spring. You can find many versions of this recipe that vary slightly, regardless of the different variations, I know you will enjoy them!

Italian East Cookies

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Here is what you will need:

  • For the cookie dough:1/2 cup of sugar
    • 6 tbs of of soft butter (you can use vegetable shortening)
    • 3 eggs
    • 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
    • 2 cups of flour
    • 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder
    • 1/8 tsp of salt
  • For the icing
    • 3 cups of icing sugar
    • 1/4 cup of water
    • tsp of lemon extract or lemon juice
    • Coloured sprinkles for decoration

How to make the Italian Easter Cookies:

  • How to make the cookie dough:
    • Preheat oven to 350°and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
    • In the bowl of an electric mixer beat sugar, vanilla, butter until well blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
    • Stir in flour and baking powder (dough should be soft and sticky).
    • There are many ways to shaped the cookies:
      • Drop dough on to a cookie sheet with a spoon.
      • Cover with plastic wrap and chill the dough (cold dough is easier to work with)  then break off pieces and roll with floured hands to form into a ring shape (I like this way the best).
      • Spoon dough into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip and pipe 2-inch diameter rings onto the cookie sheet lined with parchment. Press the ends of the rings together with your fingers.
    • Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until the cookies are golden.
    • Remove cookies from the oven and allow to cool.
  • How to make the icing:
    • Whisk together sugar, water, lemon extract (or juice if using) until well blended. Thin with more water if icing is too thick.
    • Brush icing on cookies and decorate with coloured sprinkles.

 

I hope this recipe inspires you to be creative in your kitchen – enjoy!

Easter Egg Decorating

I love decorating for the holidays, any holiday actually. I have bins full of decorations that Paul pulls out for me whenever there is a holiday approaching. Decorating for the holidays also means craft time and if I am lucky, craft time with Em. I love searching on Pinterest and thinking about new crafts for us to make every holiday.  It’s a great way to encourage creativity, building memories and traditions that will last and be passed down from generation to generation. One tradition for Easter that Em and I like to do is decorating Easter eggs. We have done them several different ways over the years from using shaving cream, food colouring, Kool-Aid, watercolour, wax  and dyes to create beautiful colours and patterns. This year we decided to use purple cabbage and gold paint to create a robins egg blue colour with gold flex. The one thing I will say about using natural dyes like purple cabbage is I find that they take a lot longer to do then the ready to use dyes you get at the store. The pictures below are mostly of me doing each of the steps – Em lost interest when she realized that it was going to take more than 10 minutes for this craft but that’s ok because it is also a great craft to do on your own.

The Easter Eggs

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I love the way these look, so pretty and so creative. A couple of things that we did different is that I we used hallow eggs bought from the dollar store and I didn’t leave the eggs in the dye for as long as you would want, to achieve the different shades of blue. Plus, traditional robins eggs are usually speckled where ours have more of a splattered artistic look to them.

 

Here is what you will need:

  • 12 eggs (hard boiled, hollow or artificial
  • 1 purple cabbage roughly chopped
  • Gold acrylic paint
  • Paint brush  with stiffer bristles hairs
  • 6 cups of water
  • 5 tbs of white vinegar
  • A large Pot

 

Here is how to make the Easter Eggs:

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  • Roughly chop the cabbage ( I only used half of the cabbage)
  • Add the cabbage and water to the pot and bring to a boil.
  • Once the cabbage and water is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for approximately 30 minutes and then let cool.

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  • Once the cabbage is cooled, removed the cabbage from the pot.
  • Add 5 tbs of white vinegar and stir.

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  • Add the eggs to the water and cover with the dye. If you are using artificial or hollow eggs be sure to stir them gentle and frequently because they will not sink to the bottom like hard boiled eggs will.
  • Keep eggs in dye for a minimum of 1 hour up to overnight. The longer you leave the eggs in the dye the darker they will become.

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  • Remove the eggs and place on a paper towel until dried. I like to used an empty egg carton to stand the eggs to dry.

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  • Once the eggs are dry, tip the end of the paint brush in the gold paint and flick the bristles to create the desired pattern on your eggs.
  • Let eggs dry on a paper towel.

I hope this craft inspires you to be creative in your home – enjoy!