Penne al Forno aka Penne “Lasagna.”

This pasta.  I mean, I just can’t even.  I have no words.  From the outside it seems like a basic lasagna recipe.  But oh, it’s so much more.  To this day, it is my favorite, favorite, favorite (there aren’t enough favorites) pasta dish of all time.  It’s everything.  It’s hearty (but not too heavy,) it’s cheesy, it’s meaty (but not too meaty!) it’s, ahhhhh just heavenly.  Rarely in my life have I gone to an Italian restaurant and had something truly sensational.  Except in Sicily.  I don’t like to order meat at Italian joints.  I can make meat at home! I want pasta, pasta, pasta!  However I’m often left unsatisfied.  Maybe it’s because I came from the best of the best.  And that sounds like a snobby thing to say but it’s damn true.  Luciano’s Restaurant in Clinton Township, MI is the ONLY Italian restaurant that held a candle to my family’s cooking.  I still love that place.  I can get a 5 course meal for like $25 too!  It’s also the only restaurant my family ever enjoyed going to growing up-so that says a lot because they never went out to eat!  Where as at my favorite Italian in Nashville…Giovanni, just a dish of pasta is $25 and let’s just say the servings are not that hefty! But it’s amazing.

My dad had 4 older sisters growing up in Sicily and 2 of them moved to Michigan with my dad when they were younger.  So I was fortunate enough be to close to them and appreciate the food they made.  To this day their pizza is still my favorite pizza on the planet.  They are like the Sicilian Iron Chefs!  No joke.

About this pasta.  This has been my favorite pasta since I was a little girl.  For as long as I can remember they’ve been serving this up!  And I always remember thinking…”gosh one day I really need to watch them make this!”  They don’t have too many “written down” recipes so it was hard over the years for me to say “ok please tell me how to make this?” I have to physically watch them carefully and take lots of pictures and notes!  They were here in Nashville over Easter weekend and I FINALLY learned how to make this delicacy.  It’s definitely time consuming.  But a great make-a-head dish!  You can also make the sauce a day or two before which will really help speed up the process.

Let’s start with the meat sauce!  I’ve tried to make meat sauce several different ways over the years and NOTHING has come close to this.  You have to use San Marzano tomatoes.  They are the best.  It’s either been not “saucy” enough.  Too dry.  Too meaty.  Too many carrots.  It’s always been something.  To me, this sauce is as perfect as it gets.  I kept dipping bread into it the whole time it was cooking!  A big secret….total game changer that I never did was add nutmeg to the sauce.  Omg. It’s huge.

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Finely chop 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk and 1/2 of an onion. Add to a large pot.  Then pour in 3 TBS of olive oil.  Sauté over medium low until soft and translucent.  Season well with salt.  
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Add 1/2 lb. of ground pork and 2 lbs. of ground beef sirloin.  With a wooden spoon break up all of the meat until brown.  Season the meat with salt and a couple good shakes of garlic powder.  Now you are ready to add the tomatoes.  
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Add (2) 32oz. cans of tomato puree to the meat.  We couldn’t find 32 oz. cans so you may have to use (3) 28oz. cans and just omit some.  Then add 1/2 can of tomato paste and a 1/2 cup of water.  (I’m not sure how many ounces but it’s the tiny Contadina Tomato Paste.) If the sauce still seems too thick, add just a touch more water.  Add 1 teaspoon of nutmeg.  (Use a microplane zester and grate yourself!!!)  Add a good pinch of oregano, a few leaves of fresh basil, and some black pepper to season.  Stir together and TASTE.  May need more salt, pepper, nutmeg etc.  Use your judgment.  Let the sauce simmer for 2 hours stirring occasionally.  Half way through cooking add 4 TBS of sugar!!!  Taste!  

  When the sauce is finished, taste it!  It may need a little more sugar (if you like it sweeter) or more salt and pepper.  If you do not plan on using this right away….wait until it’s cooled completely and then store in an airtight container in the fridge.  Or stick the whole pot in there and cover with a lid!  Then when you plan on using, warm up on the stove before assembling the pasta.

Whenever you plan on making the Lasagna, continue with the next steps.  This pasta requires not one but TWO different sauces.  A meat sauce and a béchamel sauce.    Béchamel is just amazing.  It consists of flour, butter, milk and nutmeg.  It’s what makes this pasta stand out from the rest.  You cannot make in advance, has to be done right before using.  It’s like a creamy goodness!  I follow Giada’s Béchamel recipe which is almost the same exact as my aunts.  (See below.)  The key to Bechamel is making sure you get it nice and thick and lots of nutmeg!

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Giada’s Recipe.  It’s the best.  
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It will look like this when finished.  See how thick and creamy?  Giada says to use a pinch of nutmeg.  We use a good 1 1/2 teaspoons AT LEAST.  Taste it and see if it needs more at the end.  

Ok!  Not that you have made 2 sauces (phew!)  Time for the easy part.

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Put 1 1/2 lbs. of Ricotta Cheese in a mesh strainer with a bowl underneath.  You want as much liquid absorbed as possible.  Let it sit for about 15 minutes.  Now, a note about Ricotta.  It’s NOT ALL CREATED EQUAL.  Don’t buy the kind in a container.  Go to an Italian Market and get it behind the counter.  Unless you’re like me and don’t have a choice because the South and Italian food are just not with it.  You can get 50 fucking types of hot chicken but I can’t find a decent Italian Market.  Can you tell I’m getting worked up about this?   However I have found a great brand that I honestly can’t even tell the difference.  It’s called Calabro.  Whole Foods carries it.  It’s the closest thing.  Please don’t buy Sargento or Kroger brand.  Please.  It’s wrong.  And if you plan on using cottage cheese, well just pretend you got this recipe from someone else because I don’t want to be associated with that.  
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When all of the liquid is removed from the ricotta, put it in a bowl.  Add one egg, about 1/4 cup of finely chopped parsley and about 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese.  Stir it up!
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Mmmm done!
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There is no right amount of peas.  Grab as many frozen peas as you want.  I think we used a half bag.  Put in a skillet with water a couple pinches of salt and a bay leaf.  Heat over medium low for about 5-7 minutes until soft and fragrant.  
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Boil 1 1/2 pounds of penne noodles.  Or you can also use lasagna noodles.  However if you use the no-bake ones you have to make sure the sauce is a little thinner because they need to absorb liquid!  
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Strain noodles and return them back to pot.  Add a scoopful of the meat sauce so they don’t stick together.  
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Butter a foil pan!  We used a large foil baking pan because of the number of people we had coming.  And to be honest, a basic 9×13 pan is too small and even a lasagna pan is just tight.  This recipe is for a large crowd.  I bought one of those large square roaster pans.  So much easier and you don’t have to worry about it spilling over and the pieces are nice and thick.  You can use a basic glass dish (not 9×13) but if you have a larger one that would work!  You may have some leftover but just make a small batch.  
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Spoon a little bit of sauce over the pan, then add your first layer of noodles.  Spoon sauce over the top.  
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On top of the meat sauce dollop some of the béchamel all over and spread.  You want it completely covered!  Then sprinkle a handful of parmesan cheese and as many peas as your little heart desires.  
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Then, repeat what you just did.  Layer of pasta, layer of meat sauce, layer of béchamel, parmesan cheese and peas.  Lastly, spread a good thick layer of ricotta cheese evenly on top of the peas.  
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Like so!  See that little empty corner?  That’s because my husband hates ricotta cheese.  Unheard of right?
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On top of the ricotta, start your layers again!  Pasta, meat sauce, bechamel, parmesan cheese and peas.  
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Ready to bake!  375 degrees, middle rack for at least 45 minutes to an hour.  
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Mmmmm all done!  Cover with foil and let rest for at least 20 minutes.  
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Enjoy!

RECIPE:  

Meat Sauce

1 LB. Ground Pork

2 LBS. Ground Beef Sirloin

(2) 32 oz cans of Tomato Puree

3oz. of Tomato Paste (half of a oz. can)

1 large Carrot, peeled and finely chopped, 

1 Celery Stalk, finely chopped

1/2 Onion, finely chopped

3 TBS Olive Oil

4 TBS Sugar

1/2 Cup Water

Fresh Basil

Dried Oregano

Salt and Pepper

Garlic Powder

1 TSP freshly grated Nutmeg

In a large pot combine carrots, celery, onion and olive oil.  Saute over medium low until soft and translucent. Season well with salt.

Add the ground beef and pork to the pot.  Raise the heat to medium high and break up with a wooden spoon until cooked.  Season the meat with a few pinches of salt and garlic powder.  When nice and brown, add the tomato puree, 3oz. of tomato paste and 1/2 cup of water.  Stir together.

If sauce seems too thick, add just a little bit more water SLOWLY.  You can always add more but you can’t take away!  Then add a good pinch of oregano, a couple pinches of pepper, a few fresh basil leaves and a teaspoon of nutmeg.

Stir well and simmer for 1 hour.  Then stir in 4 TBS of Sugar. Continue cooking for another hour.  Stirring occasionally.  Taste periodically to see if it needs more salt, pepper, sugar, etc.  These measurements should be pretty accurate however it all depends on what kind of tomato puree you use.  ***Use a good Italian brand!***  Try to get San Marzano if can.  San Marzano is the type of tomato it’s not a brand.  It will say on the front of the can.  Don’t use Hunts or Red Gold.  Yucky yucky.  You want good quality ingredients.  That’s what separates something from being good to being great!  

After you have made the meat sauce, make the Béchamel Sauce.  RECIPE IS ABOVE.  Except add 1 1/2 teaspoons of nutmeg at least.  Taste!

Now that you have the Meat Sauce and Béchamel Sauce done, you can do the rest.  Here is what you will need.

 

Penne al Forno

1 1/2 pounds of penne pasta

Bag of Frozen Peas

1 Bay Leaf

1 1/2 lbs. of Ricotta Cheese, strained

1/4 c finely chopped parsley

1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese, divided

1 egg

Meat Sauce

Bechamel Sauce

In a large bowl combine ricotta cheese, 1 egg, parsley and 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese.  Stir together and set aside.

Fill a large pan with water and boil the penne to al dente about 6-8 minutes.  Salt the water good.  The pasta will continue cooking in the oven.  When noodles are finished, strain them and pour them back into the pot.  Add a couple spoonfuls of the meat sauce and stir.  This way they won’t stick together and will be easier to work with.

Butter a large foil pan.  Make sure you get up the sides too.

Pour a half bag of peas in a skillet and fill with water until just covered.  Add a bay leaf.  Cook over medium low for about 5-7 minutes until soft and fragrant.

Get everything set up.  Make sure you have both sauces, the noodles, ricotta and parmesan cheese easily accessible.

Spoon a little bit of meat sauce over the bottom of the pan.  Then do a layer of noodles and spread out evenly.  On top of the noodles spoon meat sauce on the top and spread out.  Then dollop Béchamel all over and spread out as well, making sure to completely cover.  Sprinkle a good handful of parmesan cheese over the top and some peas.  As much or as little as you like.  Don’t go crazy now!  Then, repeat the steps again.  (Noodles, meat sauce, bechamel sauce, parmesan cheese and peas.)  After your second layer of noodles, add the ricotta cheese.  Spread it out evenly over the whole pan.  Finally, your last layer.  (Noodles, meat sauce, béchamel sauce, parmesan cheese and peas.)

Aannnnnnd that’s it!  Now you are ready to bake.  375 degrees, middle rack for 45-60 minutes until nice and bubbly and golden brown.  When done, remove from oven and highly cover with foil for at least 20 minutes.  This will ensure when you cut that it doesn’t fall over the place.  It will still be piping hot!

Crispy Cheesy Chicken Cordon Bleu (Lightened Up!)

Anything that has cheese and prosciutto in it is a winner in my book .  Anything that can be made in advance is an even bigger winner.  I love things that I can make earlier in the day or even the day before and then just pop in the oven or quickly sauté when ready.  This is a deliciously lightened up version of the French classic which is typically deep fried.  The French may be assholes but their food is nothing short of amazing. (I’m kidding relax.) However this is pan fried making it MUCH lighter but just as amazing.  I first made this years ago as….wait for it…as a WEIGHT WATCHERS Recipe.  Um, yeah.  Never expected it to be any good at all.  To this day it’s probably in one of my top 5 favorite chicken dishes.  Usually I make this earlier in the day and then just whip it up 15 minutes or so before we are ready to eat.  If you are trying to lose a few LB’s, this is a great dinner idea.  You can substitute regular swiss cheese for Jarlsberg which is what I usually do.  It’s seriously soooooooo good.  My husband hates swiss cheese but honestly loves this.  Enjoy 🙂

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In a shallow bowl, start with 1/3 cup of plain dried breadcrumbs.  In another bowl, whisk together 2 egg whites until soft peaks form.    
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Finely chop 1/3 cup of Flat Leaf Italian Parsley.
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Add the parsley to the breadcrumbs along with 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper.  Stir together.  
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Get 1 lb. of chicken breast (about 2 whole breasts) and slice in half.  Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and pound each piece until about 1/4 inch thick.  
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Like so! Make sure it’s large enough so that you can fold over.  
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Season both sides of the breasts with salt and pepper.
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Place 2 TBS of Flour in a shallow bowl.  
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Now it’s time to start a little assembly line!  
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Take a piece of proscuitto and lay it on top of the chicken.  Then cut a piece of swiss in half and lay it on top of the proscuitto.  Fold it over.  Carefully dip it in the egg whites until completely covered on all sides.  Then dip in the flour and coat all over as well.  
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Lastly, dip it into the breadcrumbs until coated all over really well.  Repeat the same steps with the remaining chicken.  
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Coat a non stick skillet with cooking spray.  Then add  1/2 TBS of unsalted butter and 1/2 TBS of olive oil.  (This is “lightened up” remember?” 
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Over medium high heat sauté the breasts until golden brown.  Flipping once in between.  Around 8 minutes.  THEN, very important…hold the breasts up with a pair of tongs to cook the bottom part that’s folded over.  
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There you have it! It’s sooooo delicious!

Chicken Cordon Bleu Lightened Up

Recipe:  

1pound(s)uncooked boneless skinless chicken breast(s), four 4-oz pieces

1⁄2 tspblack pepper, freshly ground
1⁄4 tsp table salt
3 oz Casa Italia Prosciutto, or other brand, very thinly sliced
2 oz low-fat Swiss cheese
1⁄3 cup(s)dried plain breadcrumbs, plain-variety
1⁄3 cup(s)fresh parsley, fresh, minced
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 largeegg white(s)
2 spray(s)cooking spray
1⁄2 Tbspunsalted butter
1⁄2 Tbspolive oil
Instructions
Place chicken on a cutting board and put plastic wrap on top; using a rolling pin or meat pounder, pound chicken to 1/4-inch thickness.

Rub chicken with 1/4 teaspoon each pepper and salt. Evenly divide prosciutto and cheese over chicken; fold chicken in half to cover prosciutto and cheese and press down to hold shape.

In a shallow bowl, combine bread crumbs, parsley and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper & 1/4 teaspoon salt. Place flour on a plate. In another shallow bowl, whip egg whites until soft peaks form.

To coat chicken, dredge each piece of chicken in flour; turn to coat. Then dip each chicken breast in egg whites; turn to coat. Next, dredge chicken in bread crumb-mixture and press down to make sure all sides are covered. Repeat until all four chicken breasts are coated.

Coat a large skillet with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat; add butter and oil. When they begin to shimmer (about 1 or 2 minutes), place chicken in a single layer in skillet; cook, flipping once, until nicely browned and chicken is completely cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes. Cook underside of chicken as well by holding with tongs.  Serve immediately. Yields 1 chicken breast per serving.

Mama’s Pancakes

Pancakes are a Sunday morning tradition in my household.  I never grew up loving pancakes.  I was always more of an eggs girl.  It wasn’t until I came to Nashville and my husband took me to the famous Pancake Pantry that I fell in love.  We used to wait in a line around the building.  But it was worth it.  Then, the second best pancakes I ever had were at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas.  I dream about those pancakes.  They may be my #1 actually.  If you are ever there….oh you must get them.  I love to watch all the ladies eat egg whites and a green smoothie while I’m shoving my mug with a pancake the size of a tire and extra crispy hash browns.  I can’t help it.  It’s never going to be me.

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Ahhhh this is them!!  Pancake heaven.  

Anyways, I have not made pancakes from a box in probably 5 years.  Once I discovered how easy and quick it is to make your own (and delcious!!!) I was NEVER going back.  And I never have.  I honestly can’t even tell you where I found this recipe from.  I’ve tweaked it a bit over the years but the just of it remains the same.  Add blueberries, chocolate chips, whatever.  I like them plain.  Always, always, warm your syrup too.  If your syrup isn’t in a GLASS jar…throw it out because it’s garbage.  Everyone loves these pancakes and they are so versatile.  Add some healthy mix-ins such as ground flax seed, almond milk, etc. whatever you like!

We all call these “Mama’s Pancake’s” and the boys ask for them constantly.  Hope they become a Sunday staple for your family too 🙂

RECIPE:

Mama’s Pancakes

1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour

1 TBS Sugar

1 TSP Salt

3 1/2 TSP Baking Powder

1 1/4 Cup Milk

1 Egg

3 TBS Butter

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Combine egg and milk and whisk.  Melt 3 Tablespoons of butter and then quickly add to the egg/milk mixture.  Then add it to the dry ingredients and whisk until combined. If it seems to thick, add a little bit more milk.

Grease a griddle pan and cook pancakes over medium heat until cooked and lighted brown on both sides.

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Carter likes to add strawberries to his! 

Hot Fudge Cream Puffs!

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Two things come to mind when I hear the words cream puff.  First, is the amazing dessert I had during the holidays growing up.  Second, was my wedding dress.  Being 5’1 and wearing a HUGE tulle ballgown dress that literally swallowed me up…well I just always say I looked like a cream puff!

Anyways, ahhhh the beloved cream puff.  Growing up in my native Michigan…I feel like there were TONS of restaurants that offered a Sanders Hot Fudge Cream Puff on their menu.  In Nashville, I have yet to find one.  But that’s ok! Because I just learned how to make them myself and they are just as good, if not BETTER then a restaurant.  Sanders Hot Fudge is locally made in Detroit and is by far the best fudge you will ever have in your life.  I have to have it on a cream puff!   It’s amazing.  I have a jar on hand at all times.

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I could eat it with a spoon straight out of the jar.  Get some goooooood fudge.  Don’t buy Smuckers or Hershey’s or anything you can get on the self at Kroger.  It’s wrong.  Just don’t.  This is what separates something from being good to being great!!  There’s a time and a place for cheapie fudge, and it’s NOT on a cream puff!

This past Easter weekend I had the pleasure of hosting some of my family in town from Detroit. My two Aunts Norina and Maria (as well as my dad) were all born in Alcamo, Sicily and moved to the states many years ago.  I grew up traveling there in the summer.  It’s an amazing place.  What’s even more amazing is the food.  You haven’t lived until you gone to Sicily and had pizza.  There is no comparison.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve been back and I’m afraid too to be honest because I think I would gain 25 pounds.  Not to mention the thought of putting my 2 and 4 year old boys on a plane for a 24 hour travel day sounds like a total NIGHTMARE.  I do plan to go back soon though!

My aunts are like machines.  THEY DON’T STOP!  I was up for 5 minutes on Friday morning and my aunt said to me, “Get up let’s maka tha creama puffa!” I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me.  In one day they cleaned out my whole fridge and freezer, stocked it with sicilian cookies-banana bread (just what I need), sundried tomatoes straight from sicily.  Folded all my laundry.  Took all of my produce that I had in bags, washed it all and put it in ziplock bags.  I mean they really DON’T STOP.  I so appreciate having them around.

They’ve always made amazing cream puffs.  They don’t put hot fudge on them…BUT I DO!  We decided to make them for Easter and of course I documented every second.  They always seemed so intimidating to me and I was shocked by how easy they actually are to make!  After a little googling, I discovered that this is actually a pretty common cream puff recipe.  I thought that they had something really special on their hands here here. Haha!  Nope.  Found pretty much the same thing on Martha Stewart’s website.  I’m attaching her video demonstration because it’s really helpful.  And because I’m not into the whole videotaping myself thing….yet at least.  That would require me to look presentable when I cook and right now, that ain’t gonna happen!  So you can watch Martha.  Or whoever this dude is in the video!  Cream Puff Video Demo

Ok here we go!

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Put 1 stick of salted butter in a medium sauce pan with 1 cup of water.  Bring it to a boil.  Once the butter is melted and everything is boiling, add 1 cup of all purpose flour and start to stir very fast.
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Stir, stir, stir! A ball of dough will soon begin to form.
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The dough is starting to take shape.  Almost done!
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Now you are ready to remove it.  There will be a film on the bottom of the pan!
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Spread the dough on a bottom of a bowl to cool off.  Wait about 5 or 6 minutes and then add eggs.
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Add the eggs one at a time with a hand mixer over low speed.  Mix until combined and fluffy.
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Ready!!!
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Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using a spoon (or a pastry bag) drop about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of mixture onto sheet.
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Just like so!
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Makes around 31 or so!  Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes.  My oven took an hour.  Watch them, you want them nice and golden on top.
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This is what they will look like when finished.
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Mmmmm light and airy balls of goodness!

 

CREAM PUFF SHELLS

1 CUP WATER

1 STICK SALTED BUTTER

1 CUP ALL PURPOSE FLOUR

4 EGGS

1 TSP. SUGAR (OPTIONAL)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine butter, sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and quickly stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Continue to stir until a film forms on the bottom of the pan.
Remove from heat and transfer contents to a bowl to cool slightly, about 5  minutes. Add 4 eggs, one at a time with an electric mixer to incorporate egg after each addition.

Grab a spoon a drop out about 1 1/2 TBS. of dough onto the paper.  OR you can use a pastry bag like Martha and transfer the dough to a large pastry bag fitted with a 5/8-inch plain tip. Pipe 1-1/2-inch rounds onto each prepared pan. Gently smooth the pointed peaks with a moistened finger, rounding tops to ensure even rising. Bake until puffs rise and are golden brown, about 45-50 minutes. (My oven took 1 hour) Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Puffs can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 day.  Do not cover them…THEY WILL GET SOGGY!


Now, let’s get to the filling! 

This is a basic lemon cream.  Almost like a custard.  You don’t have to add the lemon if you don’t want to!  I love it.  Or, you don’t have to make the cream at all.  Just do a little scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of hot fudge.  Mmmmm.  Whatever floats your boat.  This is super easy.

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In a medium saucepan combine 2/3 cup of corn starch and 1 cup of sugar.  Stir to combine.  Then SLOWLY add 3 1/2 cups of whole milk, a 1/2 cup at a time while stirring continuously to remove any clumps.  
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Once everything is nice and smooth, add 1 tsp of vanilla and the zest of one lemon.  Stir to combine.  
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Take the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and add 3 egg YOLKS to it.  Whisk well to combine and then pour it into the the pan.  Whisk, whisk!
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Cook over medium heat and stir CONSTANTLY.  Within 10 minutes it will thicken up.  
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Almost done!
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When it’s ready it will look like this!
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Pour cream filling into a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Make sure to touch the plastic to the cream and press down.  Otherwise a film will form over the cream and it will harden.  Refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours until chilled. 
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When it’s cooled, break it up with a knife. 
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Then use an electric mixer and mix on low until smooth and fluffy.  
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Mmmm it’s ready!!!  Time to start filling.  
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Slice the puffs in half and spoon some cream inside!
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#heaveninyourmouth
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Done and done!  
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Drizzle on some hot fudge and enjoy!

 

LEMON CREAM FILLING

RECIPE:

4 CUPS OF WHOLE MILK (divided)

2/3 CUP OF CORN STARCH

1 CUP SUGAR

1 TSP VANILLA

1 LEMON ZESTED

3 EGG YOLKS

Combine corn starch and sugar in a medium saucepan.  Stir to combine.  Then slowly whisk in 3 1/2 cups of milk, 1/2 cup at a time until all of the lumps are gone.  When smooth, add the zest of one lemon to the pan along with 1 tsp of vanilla, set aside.

Whisk together 3 egg yolks and combine with the remaining 1/2 cup of milk.  Stir into the pain with other ingredients.  Place pan on the stove and cook over medium heat while stirring constantly.  Cream will start to thicken up in about 10 minutes.

Cover with plastic wrap.  Make sure to push the plastic down onto the cream so no air gets in.  Refrigerate overnight or at least 4-6 hours.

When cooled, break up with a knife. Then use an electric mixer and mix on low until soft and fluffy.

 

6 Easy Ways to Majorly Step Up your Toast Game!

Toast.  The possibilities are endless.  I don’t know about you but I need substance in the morning.  I simply cannot do just a yogurt and fruit or anything along those lines.  And since I’m not a cereal girl and can’t eat pancakes or eggs n’bacon everyday, I’m sharing some of my all time FAVORITE toast recipes.  Super quick, easy and healthy.  Toast can be pretty boring sometimes.  However, with a few “staple” ingredients that most keep on hand, you can make any of these in 5 minutes or less!  Stop the toast and butter madness now!!  Well, actually.  Now that I think about it…my favorite way to eat toast is to get a piece of crusty sourdough or ciabatta and toast it till it’s really crusty.  Then just slather on some buttttaaaah.   Tear.  Why can’t that shizzz be nutritious?  It’s just not fair.  Anyways.  Step out of the box a little bit and try some of these babies.  Yum, yum and yum.  No photo demonstrations here.  You can’t really mess up toast!  These are DELICIOUS and so satisfying.  Now go make you some!

1.  Sunny Side Up Egg on Avocado Toast

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I mean, come on.  This is amazing.  One of my favorite, favorite quick breakfast toasts!  Whole wheat (or whichever your fav is) with avocado spread on top, fried egg which takes 3 minutes, salt and peppaaa  oh AND, AND what I always, always drizzle just a little sriracha sauce on top.  

 

2.  Strawberry & Almond Butter

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Honestly, this and the avocado egg toast might be tied.  This is equally amazing.  Just depends what I’m in the mood for.  Get some toast and spread some almond butter on it.  I’m obsessed with the Justin’s brand.  Get Justin’s.  It’s just really, really good.  Spread it on!  Slice up some strawberries and bananas.  Then top with Purely Elizabeth Original Granola and a good drizzle of honey.  I promise you this is a party in your mouth.  It is AMAZING.  

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This granola is incredible.  It’s a superfood really!  No refined sugar.  It’s sooooo good for you.  Gluten Free, Vegan, Organic, Non-GMO.  You get the idea.  But it seriously tastes amazing and it’s filled with goodness.

3. Chocolate Hazelnut Spread with Raspberries 

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Mmmmmm if you are craving something sweet with your morning cup of coffee (which I do quite often), TRY THIS.  I used the Justin’s brand again.  They make a great chocolate hazelnut spread.  It has a lot less sugar than Nutella.  Spread some on toast, top with raspberries and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  (High Five.)

 

4.  Ricotta Cheese with Strawberries

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So I get it.  This is a little bit different.  Not everyone keeps ricotta cheese as a “staple” item in their home.  I do.  I eat it plain with a spoon.  I spread it on a sandwich with some spicy salami or prosciutto.  I add it to my chicken soup.  I like to put it on a piece of plain crusty bread.  ***Sigh*** I’m a cheese freak!  (Except for blue & goat which I hate, hate.)  Anyways, if you’re feeling adventurous…try this.  Spread ricotta on toast, top with strawberries and drizzle with honey and cinnamon.  

 

5.  Bacon, Egg and Avocado!

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Mmmm it’s kinda like a BLT.  Sort of it.  Hard boiled Egg, Turkey Bacon, Avocado spread on toast.  Nom nom nom.  Oh and a little sriracha of course.  Boil eggs a head of time so they are ready and store in fridge!  This is delicious.  
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And get yourself one of these fancy egg things.  I don’t know what they are called.  Wait for it….
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Wait for it…..
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Ah!  Look at that.  Perfectly sliced eggs.  I know you’re excited.  

 

6.  Kiwi Cream Cheese

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Spread some cream cheese, lay some kiwi’s and pomegranate seeds on top!  That’s it.  That’s all I got.  It’s good and simple.  I didn’t save the best for last.  This is probably my least favorite.  Ha!  But it’s good.  

Now go make you some toast!

Easter Brunch”Mock” Bellini’s.

Looking for something delicious and quick to serve with your Easter brunch?  Sick of mimosa’s?  Try THESE!  I was at a party a few years ago and I saw someone do this and I thought…”hmmm…that’s genius.  Why didn’t I think of that?”

Anyone who know’s me knows that I LOVE a good glass champagne (or 2, or 3).  It’s one of my most favorite adult beverages on the planet.  It must be dry.  It must be ice cold.  And it must be fresh!  Don’t try to give me a glass with a few bubbles.  I want to be sneezing when I hold it up to my face! Anything that has champagne added to it is delicious!  Especially Bellini’s.  Mmm mmm mm.  If you don’t feel like meddling your own fruit or are pressed for time… well then, I have the answer! It’s a Mock Bellini!  Who will know?  No one!  Will it taste just as good?  Hell yes it will!  When I finished taking these photos I drank two of them.  Delicious.

Wanna know a little secret?  I use cheaper champagne for Mimosa’s and Bellini’s.  I just used the Veuve Clicquot because it looked better in the photo!  Use a cheaper champagne when you are mixing something!  Its not worth using the good stuff for something like this.  Classic Domaine Chandon Brut is one of my favorite ones for mixing.  Korbel Brut is great too.  I’m not a sweet champagne girl.

So what’s the secret you ask?  Sorbet.  That’s it.  Your Bellini will taste like a Bellini.  Not Champagne with Sorbet in it.  Go on ahead, give it a try.  Spread the champagne love this Easter.  You’ll thank me later.

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I used Raspberry Sorbet for this.  It’s perfect.  Go get you some.  Then scoop a little into a champagne glass.  
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Pour on the bubbly!  Then give it a good stir with a  spoon.  
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Add some fresh raspberries on top!  
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Enjoy!  You have the 60 second Bellini.  

The Mac & Cheese that will CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

Mac and Cheese.  Ahhhh, (sigh.)  A good sigh of course.  I mean, come on.  Is there anyone that doesn’t love it?  If you know someone that doesn’t…you should de-friend them immediately.  I’m serious.  You don’t need that weird person in your life.  Or that negativity.  Ok I’m kidding.  (No I’m not.)  I kinda feel the same way about people that put cottage cheese in their lasagna.  It’s wrong.  Just don’t do it.

This is by far the most amazing, insanely delicious, better than ANY RESTAURANT you will ever go to Mac & Cheese.  I promise.  You’ll never look back.  It’s the holy grail of Mac & Cheese’s.  There will never be another like this.  It’s fancy, it’s creamy, it’s flavorful, it’s…it’s…(sigh again) so many things.  It’s everything.

In all honesty, I’ve eaten at some pretty incredible restaurants and every time I order Mac & Cheese as a side dish my husband and I always say the same thing to each other…”mine tastes better.”  EVERY.  TIME.  I keep waiting.  Waiting for that life changing Mac & Cheese from a restaurant.  It hasn’t happened yet.  Ever since I started making this years ago, my hopes have gone down.  Like waayyy down.  I’m yelling timber for real.  But that’s ok!  Cuz I make it myself yo’.  And it is damn good!  If you want to wow your guests, make this!  If you want to impress your new flame, make this!  He or she will take you home to meet mother immediately.

Now I could never come up with something like this by myself.  I wish I was that good.  Ina Garten (last sigh) is the queen of yumminess.  That woman knows her stuff when it comes to food.  I adapted this recipe from her.  I have tweaked it a bit to make it BETTER.  (She puts tomatoes on hers….ewwwww.) That’s wrong too.  Don’t do that either.  Ina failed me here.  I love tomatoes.  But NOT on my Mac & Cheese. I like to keep it classic with a fancy twist!

EVERY time I make this it comes out perfect.  It’s great too because you can make it ahead of time. This is NOT a “whip it up” when you come home from work type of dish.  It’s time consuming.  But OMG is it worth it.  I’ve never met someone who didn’t go totally crazy when they tried this.

WARNING:  This is not a cheap dish.  The cheese alone will cost you around $15-20 depending on if you have to buy a chunk already wrapped or cheaper if you can get cut to exact weight behind deli counter.  However it makes enough to feed a family and stays good for days in the fridge.  If you want to splurge one day….it’s SO WORTH IT.  

Alright here it goes…let’s start with the breadcrumb topping.

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Start with 5 pieces of plain ole’ white sandwich bread.  Wonder, Kroger brand, whatever.  Remove the crusts and place in a food processor.  Pulse until crumbs form.  (Don’t try to save calories and use whole wheat or whole grain bread.  Just don’t.  There is nothing healthy about this dish anyways so don’t fret.)
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This is what it will look like.  Genius I know.  Dump it into a bowl and set it aside for later.
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Bring a large SALTED pot of water to a boil. Cavatappi are the best noodles to use for this dish.  They have ridges and hold the sauce really well.  If you can’t find Cavatappi try penne or another larger noodle that has ridges to it.  ***Only cook to al-dente the noodles will cook more in the oven!***
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Grate 12oz. of Gruyere Cheese and 8oz. Extra Sharp White Cheddar.  I buy Boars Head Gruyere.  It’s like a mild swiss.  I don’t really like swiss…but when these two cheese’s come together, it’s MAGIC.  Sometimes the ESWC is called something else if you are in a fancy cheese department.  Like mine was called “Flagship Cheddar” and was aged for a year.  Or another time I bought it and it was called “Old English Cheddar.”  VERY IMPORTANT that it is extra sharp.  Tilamook makes a great one but the stores by me do not carry it anymore.  If you are not sure ask someone and ASK for a sample.  ***If you mess up the cheese you mess up the whole dish***
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Heat the milk…1 Quart (4 Cups) of Whole Milk, but don’t let it boil.

 

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Melt 6 Tablespoons of UNSALTED Butter over low heat.  Add the flour and continue to cook over low heat for 2 minutes while stirring with a whisk.
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While whisking, gradually add the hot milk until it is all combined.  Whisk it really good, you don’t want there to be any flour clumps.
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It only takes a couple minutes until all of the milk is combined.  Make sure to keep whisking.  Ina says to cook it for a minute or 2 more until thickened and smooth.  This is where I have found her to be wrong again…lol.  You know because I’m the expert chef and all.  I have made this dish in several different kitchens and stoves.  It has NEVER taken 1 to 2 minutes to thicken.  I promise you it takes at least 7-10 minutes over a medium low heat.  Let it sit for a minute, then whisk again. See how it looks.  It should be smooth but definitely thicker than before.  Almost like if you were making a Béchamel Sauce.  *** If’s it’s still super runny, keep it on longer and keep whisking.***    
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It’s hard to tell but this was the best I could do.  It should resemble this when finished.
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Now you are ready to add the cheese and spices!  Turn off the heat.  Add the Gruyere and Extra Sharp White Cheddar.  Give it a good stir until combined.  
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NUTMEG!  This right here is one of the most important components in the whole dish.  It gives you that feeling like, “hmmmm what is that?”  Use a whole fresh nutmeg.  Don’t use already ground.  You can buy them down the spice aisle.  Ina says to use a pinch.  No, no.  Grate almost 3/4 of a whole nutmeg.  It’s not overpowering whatsoever.  A cheese grater will work for this as well if you don’t have a Microplane Zester like I do.  But you should totally get one because I’ve had this thing for 7 years and use at least 5 times a week.  They are awesome!  
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Add 1 Tablespoon of salt and 1/2 Teaspoon black pepper.  Stir.  
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Strain your noodles and add to the cheese mixture.  
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Pour it all into a 9×13 baking dish or individual ramekins.  I usually like to use ramekins or au gratin dishes so everyone has there own and they all get some of the yummy crust.   
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Now take those breadcrumbs you pulsed earlier and combine them with 2 Tablespoons of melted butter.  (Healthy right?) Stir and kind of mash it to combine.  
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Sprinkle all of the breadcrumbs over the top!  Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes or so until bubbly and golden on top.  
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Brace yourselves.  (I made some in a ramekin as well.)  
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Heaven in your mouth.
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My hot hubby loves it.  

Enjoy!!!!

Time Saving Tip: Grate the cheese in advance and store in a ziplock bag!!  Also, the breadcrumbs! Just store in an airtight container.

RECIPE: 

Ingredients

Kosher salt
1 pound cavatappi
1 quart whole milk milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp White Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes.  Cook to al dente.  Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Raise heat to medium low and while whisking, add the hot milk and cook 7-10 until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

(This recipe has been adapted from Ina Garten)