A Six-Course Italian Supper to Entertain with Pizzazz

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away Hubby and I were known in our circle as the King and Queen of fabulous dinner parties. We threw elaborate cocktail parties with a wide array of scrupulous morsels served up on glistening platters that floated about the room. Six-course intimate suppers were not uncommon. Each event was a personal challenge to outdo the last. That was a very long time ago. Life and circumstances changed.

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Spaghetti Bolognese with Chicken and Pancetta

Panchetta is Italian Bacon, of sorts. Both American Bacon and Italian Pancetta are pork, usually from the pork belly section. Typically both have been cured (while some bacon is sold uncured). Bacon is cured in salt, either in a brine or packed in salt. It is then aged by drying the meat, be it dried in cold air for weeks or even months, or smoked (my favorite kind of bacon). Pancetta can also be cured in simple salt, but seasonings and other aromatics are often added to the curing process to infuse Pancetta with its distinctly Italian flavors. While this recipe can be made using Bacon, depending upon the type of bacon, the flavor will vary.

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Stadium-Style Hot Dogs and Cheater’s Baked Beans

Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been on a real stadium-style hot dog kick lately. Maybe it’s spring fever; or all those extra-long dogs we bought at Costco . . .

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Smokey New England Clam Chowder

07-14-2017 - Driftwood Inn (6)A few years back, while vacationing along the Oregon Coast, we spent some time in Florence, Oregon – staying at the Driftwood Shores. This delightful property has to be one of the finest “casual” resorts on the Oregon coast. It is very nice without being overly pretentious. Every room has a full kitchen (and I do mean full – everything from a full size refrigerator to an oven, with all the dishes, pots, pans – everything you need to turn your hotel accommodations into a functioning, comfortable “home away from home”). If that isn’t reason enough, every room has breathtaking ocean views. All the rooms have either a patio or balcony and look out over the Pacific Ocean.

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Chorizo con Huevos

Growing up, my mother cooked up some wonderful Chorizo. Ours came in a can, packed in lard, from Spain. Relatives passing through on their worldly travels always remembered to bring a can – knowing how much my Dad loved the stuff with his eggs in the morning.

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Caramel Apple Layer Cake with Apple Cider Frosting

Growing up, I loved my Aunt Virginia. Her skin was like white china, her eyes as big as saucers and her hair the color of fire. She always had a beautiful smile on her face, sparkling eyes of blue and a big heart. Aunt Virginia had this need to bless everyone. She could not mention anyone without blessing their heart. “You know, so-and-so, bless his/her heart . . .” is how she began every conversation or story. And stories – my that woman could tell stories! She talked and talked and talked! There were times when I swore she never took a breath! Aunt Virginia (married to my dad’s older brother) drove my mom nuts with her unending chatter. If talking were an Olympic Sport, hands down Aunt Virginia would take home the gold. Sometimes we would make the long drive from our house down to visit Uncle Jess and Aunt Virginia without Mom, who stayed home rather than listen to Aunt Virginia’s unending rattle. Yet I loved to follow her around, just listening to her talk.

As a child, one of the things I loved about visiting Aunt Virginia (bless her heart) was that she always baked a cake for our visits. While this wonderful cake is not from her recipe collection, it is in keeping with her spirit and baking style. I hope Aunt Virginia passed along her recipes to her only daughter. Family recipes are such a precious gift!

Caramel Apple Layer Cake with Apple Cider Frosting
Caramel Apple Layer Cake
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
1½ cups light brown sugar
¾ cup canola oil
¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
¾ cup caramel sauce (homemade or jarred)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs
1½ cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour two (8 or 9 inch) round cake pans and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together whole wheat pastry flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. In a second large bowl, beat sugar and oil together with an electric mixer until well combined, about 30 seconds. Add applesauce, caramel and vanilla, beat for 30 seconds, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk, and continuing to beat until well combined.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of each cake comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Set aside to let cool for 10 minutes, then gently loosen cakes and turn out onto a cooking rack; set aside to let cool completely.

Apple Cider Frosting
7 1/2-8 cups confectioners’ sugar (to desired consistency)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup apple cider or apple juice
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of salt

For the frosting, put sugar, butter, cider, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Arrange one cake on a large plate and spread about 1 cup of the frosting evenly over the top. Arrange second cake on top then frost top and sides of entire cake with remaining frosting. Set aside at room temperature or in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour to allow frosting to set before serving.

Makes a tall 2-layer, 8-9 inch round cake.

Spanish Chicken with Mushrooms and Green Olives – A Sister’s Tribute to her Brother

I love my brother dearly – for two reasons. He’s the only brother I had and he had the biggest heart. Up until he became ill, my brother wandered around the city caring for stray cats. He fed them, made sure they had fresh water and even took them to the vet when they got sick. In an effort to cut down on the stray cat population, he captured those he could to have them spayed or neutered – all out of his own pocket. My brother didn’t make much – he worked as a delivery person for our town’s only paper by day and drove a taxi by night. As a taxi driver, he would pick one passenger each night to give a free ride to, based on conversation or circumstance. He didn’t let them know the ride was free until they had reached their final destination. Generally, he picked someone that struck a cord with him, someone he was able to relate to on some personal level. Like the young mother who wanted to surprise her Airman husband returning from a tour of duty and needed a lift to an Air Force Base in another city. She was excited to see her husband, but worried about the cost of a taxi ride. He thought of our parents when they were newly weds and liked to think that someone would have helped them. You can see why I love my brother. More than that, I admired him. In so many ways, he was and still is my hero.

My BrotherMy brother lived with Hubby, Kiddo and I for a while. When he became very ill, he moved in with our younger sister, a retired school teacher who lives in a small town two-hours north of here. She was in a better position to care for him in his final days. Our brother has been fitted with an LVAD (it’s a heart pump for transplant candidates to keep them going as they wait for a new heart). While waiting for a heart, our brother was diagnosed with cancer. Every minute we spent with him from that point forward was borrowed time that we will forever be grateful for. Every time I saw my brother, he asked the same question “What was that chicken you make with the olives? The one I really liked.” My baby brother was the pickiest eater on the planet. When he “really” liked something other than burgers and pizza, it’s high praise indeed! His favorite dish was my Spanish Chicken with Mushrooms and Green Olives. He always smiled when I answered him, remembering it fondly. Since his passing, whenever I make this dish I know he is smiling down at me. When I get to heaven, I’m going to make it for him again.

Spanish Chicken with Mushrooms & Green Olives
1 Can condensed Tomato Soup
1 1/2 tablespoons Italian Seasoning
1 tablespoon Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 package Chicken Thighs, about 1 lb
2 Cups Fresh Mushrooms, sliced (about 6 oz)
½ Cup Water
½ cup wine red wine
¼ to ½ Cup California Pimento-Stuffed Green Olives (more to taste)

In a bowl, mix soup with Italian Seasoning, Oregano and Garlic Powder. Set aside until ready to use.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until browned on both sides, about 5-6 minutes per side. Remove and place on warmed serving platter, tent to keep warm. If necessary, you can brown your chicken in batches, adding a bit more olive oil as necessary. Just remember, your skillet has to be large enough to hold everything including the sauce once the chicken has been browned.

Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook mushrooms until tender and liquid has evaporated, stirring often.

Stir in soup mixture, water, olives and wine. Heat to boiling. Return chicken to skillet. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook 15-20 minutes or until chicken is tender and is no longer pink, stirring occasionally. Remove chicken to serving dish, keep warm. Increase heat, stirring sauce until slightly reduced and thickened, about 5-8 minutes. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

Serve with plenty of warm bread to soak up all the goodness of the sauce.

Note: This can also be made with a combo pack of breast, thighs and legs – just cut the breast meat in half to make the chicken more uniformed in size.

Teriyaki Cocktail Smokies – What a Nice Surprise!

Last summer, my middle sister and her husband came for a visit. This is always cause to celebrate since they live in Eastern Central Oregon and we don’t see enough of them. The visit was a quick one – just a few days of visiting, playing games, swimming and most of all great family time.

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Bacon and Onion Hash with Fried Eggs

The luxury of being retired is that I have time in the mornings for breakfast. I simply adore breakfast. While my guys would rather sleep a little longer during the week than start their day with a nice breakfast, on the weekends breakfast is a must. As a lady of the house, after bidding the menfolk goodbye, I treat myself to a little something for breakfast. The house is quiet, and with a wonderful cup of French Pressed coffee in hand, I enjoy the beauty of yet another new day.

Lately I’ve been on a real potato kick. I’ve made hash brown patties, scrambled eggs with potatoes and sausage and potato-egg burritos. All these potato breakfast dishes left me with a real hankering for Corned Beef Hash. Alas, no corned beef in the house. Not even corned beef of the canned variety. I could have made Sausage Hash, but I used the last of our ground sausage to make Biscuits and Gravy. Then it dawned on me – why not use bacon?

It was yummy! Yep, this is a real keeper that I’m going to have to share with the fellows. I know my bacon-fend Kiddo is going to love it.

Bacon and Onion Hash with Fried Eggs
1 Russet Potato
2 Strips of Bacon
1/4 Red Onion
2 Eggs
Pepper to taste
Salt to taste

Wash and pat dry potato. Slice lengthwise into long, thin match-sticks. Stack sticks and slice again width-wise into small pieces. Place cut potato into a small strainer and rinse well. Empty potatoes onto a paper-towel lined microwave safe plate, spread out and set aside.

Stack bacon, cut lengthwise to create 4 long strips. Cut width-wise into smaller pieces. Set aside.

Cut thin slivers from a small red potato. Stack slivers and cut width-wise into small pieces. Set aside.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add bacon pieces and cook until just beginning to brown, stirring often with a wooden spoon.

While bacon cooks, place plate with potato pieces into the microwave and cook on high for 3-4 minutes, depending upon size of the pieces. You want the potatoes to be just cooked through.

While the potatoes are cooking, and the bacon has just begun to brown, add onions to the bacon. Sauté until onions begin to soften, about a minute or so.

Add potatoes to the skillet, season with pepper and continue to cook until bacon is crisp and potatoes are just beginning to brown, stirring as needed to prevent burning. Taste hash and season with salt, if necessary. (The bacon will render its own smokey-salty flavor).

In a small non-stick skillet, melt some bacon drippings (about a tablespoon or so). If you don’t have a jar of bacon drippings handy, a little oil with a little butter will do. Over medium heat, fry eggs until the whites are set, cooked through and the yolks are still runny. Give the pan a swirl now and then to prevent the underside of the eggs from browning.

Place bacon hash on a plate and spread out to fill the plate. Top with eggs, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper if desired.

Serve and enjoy!

Smoked Gouda Mushroom Soup

Inspiration is all around us. A while back, I came across a recipe for Mushroom Brie Soup from Sister Madly that looked lovely. I shared the recipe with Kiddo, wanting to get his take on things. After all, he is a wealth of opinions, especially when it comes to food. We both agreed, the original recipe was awesome, but we wanted to try Smoked Gouda instead. We are big fans of any smoked cheese, and are particularly fond of Smoked Gouda. As circumstance would have it, we just happened to have Smoked Gouda in the cheese bin of the refrigerator just wanting to be turned into something wonderful.

Hubby was out-of-town for a week on business, leaving Kiddo and I to try new recipes that we knew he wouldn’t care to sample. While he hails from Wisconsin, Hubby isn’t a fan of cheese, with very few exceptions. (Pizza, Lasagna and Patty Melts are just a few of those exceptions. Why Hubby will eat a Patty Melt but not a Cheeseburger is beyond my ability to comprehend).  We were looking for dishes that didn’t require a ton of work and that would cook up in a snap. It didn’t take us long to agree that our own rendition of Mushroom Soup with cheese had to be on our must try list.

This delicious, smoky soup really it the spot. Kiddo and I had a good time in the kitchen together, chopping, simmering and chatting. When it comes to a cooking partner, Kiddo is my best-bud. He’s been at my side in the kitchen ever since he could pull a step-stool up to the stove and we’ve developed a wonderful rhythm over the years. Kiddo is a lot like me, he’ll tweak as he goes and we bounce ideas off one another as we cook.

Smoked Mushroom Gouda Soup
16 oz mushrooms, sliced (Cremini or Button)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Large Shallot, finely diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2/3 cup dry white wine
3 cup chicken broth
8 oz Smoked Gouda, finely shredded
1 teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon basil
Fresh Ground Pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Butter
Additional Cheese for Garnish, if desired
Chives for garnish, if desired

Sauté mushrooms, garlic and shallot in butte until fragrant. Place into a heavy bottom soup or sauce pan. Add wine and simmer about 5 minutes.

Stir in broth, Gouda, and spices. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often.

Add cream and about 1 tablespoon butter. Let simmer for 5 minutes longer. Do not allow soup to come to a boil.

Ladle into soup bows, be sure to get any bits of cheese that might have sunk to the bottom of the pot. If desired, garnish with a little fresh shredded cheese and chopped chives.

Serve with warm bread or buttery chive crescent rolls and enjoy.

Filetti di Salmone Pacchi with Provence Mixed Green Salad

First off, this recipe came to me about four years ago from That Skinny Chick Can Bake; who adapted it from her friend over at Manu’s Menu. So I wanted to give credit where credit is due and thank you both for the superb inspiration. As always, I did a little tweaking of my own, and I hope you do the same. The original recipe was part of Manu’s Italian Christmas Menu. I mention this with good reason . . .

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Egg Asparagus Milanese with French Popovers

I adore Italian foods. I adore French foods. So why not bring the two together at the breakfast table, with a few American touches? This beautiful breakfast was so easy to prepare, although the kitchen was turned up-side-down in the process.

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Baked Pork Chops and Vegetables One-Pan Wonder

I can’t believe yet another recipe inspired by Eat At Home Cooks – an entire dinner cooked up in a single baking pan! (Link to original: http://eatathomecooks.com/boneless-pork-chops-and-veggies-sheet-pan-dinner) While she uses small white potatoes seasoned with salt and pepper, I went with small red potatoes for added color and some fresh Rosemary to the mix. Our green beans are similar, but rather than use black pepper to season, I’ve gone with Lemon Pepper instead for a little added zip. Kiddo adores Lemon Pepper on his green beans, as do I. While she uses thin cut pork chops seasoned with Smokehouse Maple Seasoning, I preferred the thicker boneless chops seasoned with Mesquite. I mean, if you can cook an entire one-pound pork tenderloin in about 30 minutes, you should be able to bake up some yummy pork chops in the same amount of time, right? Although our seasonings were different, the same basic concept of baking everything together on one large rimmed baking sheet is the same.

Tasting is believing – and this one-pan supper is oh so wonderful. I had never “roasted” green beans before. They were delicious, tender without turning to mush. The potatoes took on the beautiful flavor of the Rosemary and the Mesquite Seasoning was the perfect final touch to the pork chops. Nothing dried out in the oven, each part of the meal cooked to perfection, each retaining their individual flavors – delicious!. A few minutes of prep work, a little seasoning and thirty minutes later you are sitting down to a bright, scrumptious meal. Yeah, this is one I’ll be repeating – maybe changing up the green beans for Asparagus just to give a little variation.

Baked Pork Chops and Vegetables One-Pan Wonder
olive oil, as needed
2 lbs small red potatoes, cut in half
1-2 tablespoons Fresh Rosemary, chopped
2 lbs fresh green beans, trimmed and cleaned
2 tablespoons Lemon Pepper
kosher salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
2 lbs. boneless pork chops
2-3 tablespoons Mesquite Seasoning or to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line one large, rimmed baking sheet with foil for easy clean up. Brush foil-lined pan with a little olive oil to prevent sticking and set aside.

Cut potatoes in half. Place potatoes in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil to lightly coat. Season potatoes with salt, pepper and Rosemary. Toss gently to blend. Nestle potatoes on one section of the baking pan.

Spread green beans next to potatoes. Lightly drizzle green beans with olive oil, then season with salt and Lemon Pepper. Toss to blend.

Baked Pork Chops and Vegetable One-Pan Supper (2)

Half of the baking sheet should now contain the vegetables, leaving the other half for the pork chops.

Drizzle pork chops with a little olive. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and Mesquite seasoning. Place on baking sheet seasoned side down. Drizzle top side with a little olive oil and season to taste.

Baked Pork Chops and Vegetable One-Pan Supper (3)

Place baking sheet in preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven and give the vegetables a good shake. Turn pork chops over, rotate the pan and return to oven. Bake about 10 to 15 minutes longer or until pork chops are cooked through and potatoes are fork-tender.

To serve; plate chops on individual plates with plenty of vegetables. (No serving platters to wash).

Baked Pork Chops and Vegetable One-Pan Supper (5)

Enjoy!

 

Gourmet Bangers and Mash

I know what you are thinking – Gourmet and Banger in the same breath. Gourmet conjures up images of white linens, fine china and fancy foods while Banger brings to mind a pub. Oh, but presentation could transform a simple pub grub into a gourmet dish, right?

Have you ever wondered about the British Banger? I mean, why on earth would anyone call a sausage in casing a Banger? Although some claim that the term “bangers” has its origins in World War II, the term was actually in use at least as far back as 1919. The term “bangers” is attributed (in common usage in the UK) to the fact that sausages made during World War I, when there were meat shortages, were made with such a high water content that they were more liable to pop under high heat when cooked. This “pop” was a bang sound – leading to the affectionate term for sausage as “bangers”.

Much to my surprise, our grocery store carried authentic British Bangers. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Bangers, as it turns out, taste very similar to Bratwurst. If you cannot find Bangers, Bratwurst will work in a pinch.

This dish was very flavorful. The nutmeg in the “mash” gave them a lovely, sweet flavor. The gravy with finely chopped onions and a splash of wine was delicious. About the only thing missing was a pint of ale and a friendly game of darts.

Gourmet Bangers and Mash
Ingredients – The Mash
7 Medium Yukon potatoes, peeled
salt
1⁄2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 Pinch nutmeg
Salt & Pepper to taste

Peel and dice potatoes. Place in a heavy-bottom pot, fill with water enough to just cover potatoes. Season with a pinch of salt.

Cover pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once pot begins to boil, remove lid and continue to boil until potatoes are fork-tender; about 15-20 minutes.

Drain potatoes. Return to pot and allow potatoes to dry over low heat.

Warm milk with two tablespoons butter. Set aside until ready to use.

With a ricer or potato masher, mash potatoes. Once potatoes are mashed, add warm milk-butter mixture a little at time, mashing between additions. Continue to mash and add warm milk until desired consistency is reached. (Smooth and stiff). Season with a pinch of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover and keep warm until ready to plate. (Keeping in a warm oven is a great way to keep potatoes nice and warm).

 

Ingredients – The Sausage (Bangers)
6 Sausages (British Bangers or Bratwurst)
Olive Oil or Cooking Spray (Pam)

Lightly spray or brush an oven-safe grill-pan with cooking spray. (Just enough to prevent sausage from sticking to the pan.

Place bangers in pan and grill over medium heat until nicely browned, about 6-8 minutes. Rotate bangers and continue to grill until nicely browned on all sides.

Leave bangers in grill-pan and place in a warm oven until ready to plate.

 

Ingredients – Gourmet Pub Gravy
1 1⁄2 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Teaspoon Chicken bouillon granules
1 onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 Cup Red Wine
2 Tablespoons Butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat chicken stock with bouillon granules, keep warm until ready to use.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until onions just begin to brown.

Sprinkle onions with flour, cook 1 minute. Add Dijon mustard and red wine. Once wine begins to bubble, add warm chicken stock.

Bring to a boil, reduce to low and continue to cook until gravy thickens.

Whisk in 2 tablespoons butter, one 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting for butter to melt into gravy before adding second tablespoon.

Taste gravy, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve: Plate a rounded mound of mashed potatoes on individual plates. Place bangers along side mash. Spoon gravy around plate. If desired, garnish potatoes with a little chopped chives. Serve and enjoy.

Steak and Ale Pub Pies – Oh My

Every year, around Saint Patrick’s Day, there is a fun 3-Day Celtic Fair in Sonora, California. Sonora is one of those quaint Gold Rush towns that dot California’s Sierra Foothills, so named for the miners from Sonora, Mexico who established the town in 1848. This sleepy little hamlet nearly doubles in size during the Celtic Fair, the largest such gathering west of the Mississippi. It’s a real hoot.

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