Sunday, September 14, 2014

Soft Rosemary & Asiago Polenta

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. I was given free product to sample and to develop a recipe from Asiago Cheese Consortium. All opinions are my own. 

The inspiration for this recipe is from an amazing dinner that I had at Vetro 1925. This is one of our favorite restaurants in Fayetteville. I had the lamb, with herbed polenta and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. Amazing. 

I made my version of the polenta using two cuts of Asiago. I shredded a cup of authentic, fresh Asiago PDO and also cut another 1/2 cup of the same divine cheese into different-sized morsels. I wanted to make sure that plenty of cheese melted into the polenta, so that every bite had that savory, cheesy goodness. I also wanted to ensure that there would be plenty of chunks of Asiago within the dish. I love those hidden morsels of cheese that just burst when you take a bite. 

If you haven't cooked with real Asiago before, you're in for a treat. The Italian cheese (from the Asiago plateau) is made with cow's milk, which provides a sweet and slightly sour flavor. Real Asiago bears the mark "PDO", which means that it's made in a tradition that goes back a thousand years - make sure that you use the "real stuff". The flavor and quality are unbeatable. 

The polenta was so divine that I woke up craving it the next day. I made a quick baked egg breakfast by cracking an egg on top of a bed of polenta, roasted tomatoes, and - again - a bit more marinara (and perhaps just a few extra pieces of crumbled bacon). I baked for 30 minutes at 275 and sprinkled some Parmesan on top. Delicious. 

Soft Rosemary & Asiago Polenta
Serves 4-6

You will need:
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup freshly-grated Asiago cheese
  • 1/2 cup Asiago, sliced into chunks or coarsely diced
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil

  • Add chicken stock and garlic to a medium-sized pot. Cook on medium-high heat until the stock begins to boil. 
  • Reduce heat to low-medium and add cornmeal, stirring constantly. Break up any lumps that appear. 
  • Add salt, pepper, and fresh parsley. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the mixture has thickened. 
  • Remove from heat and stir in milk, butter, olive oil, and Asiago. 
  • Serve hot. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

{Crock Pot} Marinara Sauce with Italian Sausage

My family communicates primarily through food. While your mom might send a group text to your siblings with a "happy Thursday, love you!", my mom starts the group text with "wondering whether to do a peanut sauce or a curry with the greens?" or "what's everyone making tonight?". These texts then lead to a discussion, pictures included, of course, of what we are all making and our methods. Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, I could really save a lot of time by posting screen shots of these conversations instead of writing all these silly posts. Food-based family texts are all fine and dandy when the recipient is full, but they're sheer torture to receive during the day, especially if I've been too busy to have breakfast or lunch that day. Sheer. Torture. 

The main torture of late has been my mom's genius use of the bountiful harvest of tomatoes that her garden produced this year. She's been working on marinara sauce recipes and sending me pictures like this: 

After taunting me with photo after photo of magnificent marinara sauces for weeks, my mother finally made a batch for Husband's birthday so I could eat this famous sauce in real life. This did nothing to quell my craving. 

I decided to make my own version of her sauce, which is studded with olives, fresh herbs, and Italian sausage. My variety adds a couple of key ingredients to happiness: bacon and red wine. I also made mine in the crock pot, because slow-cooking sauce like this for eight hours releases magic flavor like nothing else. And because I'm a working lady and coming home to a decadent dinner is well worth the preparation in the morning, in my opinion. 

My marinara sauce recipe requires about half an hour of active time and will be ready to enjoy after 8 hours in the crock pot. The color of the sauce is a much deeper red than traditional bolognese or marinara. Excuse the horrible picture, but you need to see the color here: 

You can serve this with pasta if you like, but I have enjoyed mine plain, with a few pieces of toasted baguette. I also served the marinara with creamy rosemary and Asiago polenta - recipe posted here

Marinara Sauce with Italian Sausage
Yields 6-8 servings

You will need:
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon (not maple)
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup red wine (I recommend Chianti)
  • 15 ounces tomato sauce
  • 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes 
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper (adjust to taste)
  • 8-10 fresh basil leaves, loosely torn
  • 10-12 green olives, chopped
  • Dash red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf

  • Add olive oil, garlic, onion, Italian sausage, and sliced bacon to a large skillet. Set skillet to medium heat and cook until bacon and Italian sausage are browned (this took me about 20 minutes). Break up sausage into chunks as needed during cooking to keep the meat bite-sized. 
  • When the meats are cooked, transfer to a crock pot / slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients. 
  • Set heat to low and cook for 8 hours. Remove bay leaf prior to serving.   
  • Serve hot, over pasta or soft rosemary and Asiago polenta

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Creamy Corn & Bacon Dip

Today's recipe is my first official tailgate-ready appetizer of the 2014 football season! To celebrate the start of college football, and by that of coarse I mean comfort food, you're going to need a lot of dip recipes. 

I'm a firm believer in the idea that you can't have too many good recipes of any variety. There's always room for another chocolate chip cookie variation. Also, it's time to admit that corn dip is probably my favorite dip variety. It's bad. It's good. The last corn dip recipe that I shared was a south-of-the-border inspiration based on Mexican street corn. This week, however, I've been thinking about tailgate inspiration, so I took the flavor from Mexico up to comfort food land (it's a place, don't worry about it). 

Today's recipe is designed with college gameday in mind. I think that this corn dip recipe is perfect for sharing with your friends and friendly strangers as you tailgate this fall. It's a comfort food, to be sure, loaded with cream cheese and bacon. The base flavor of toasted corn (cooked with the bacon for maximum flavor) gets a bit of kick from fresh jalapeno and a dash of hot sauce. The recipe isn't too spicy, tamed by the addition of cream cheese. 

Dig in, cheer loudly, and best of luck to all of your teams today (so long as you aren't playing Arkansas)!

Creamy Corn & Bacon Dip
Serves 6 as an appetizer

You will need:
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon (not maple)
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cans yellow corn, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 jalapenos, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce (I use green Tabasco)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1-2 tbsp. milk
  • 1/3 cup parsley, chopped

  • Heat a large skillet to medium. Chop bacon into slices no larger than a 1/2 inch. Add to skillet and cook for a couple of minutes until just beginning to brown. 
  • Add onion, garlic, corn, salt, and pepper. Cook on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until bacon is cooked and corn is toasted and slightly brown. Stir occasionally to keep anything from burning. You may need to add a bit of olive oil during cooking if your bacon is very lean. 
  • Stir in jalapeno, bell pepper, and hot sauce and reduce heat to low. 
  • Add cream cheese and let it melt for a minute or two, stirring to incorporate it into the rest of the ingredients. Stir in milk. If the mixture is too thick for your preference, add additional milk. 
  • Transfer to a serving bowl and stir in parsley. Serve hot. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Asiago and Thyme Dip with Portobello Mushrooms

This is a sponsored post. I was given free product to sample and to develop a recipe from Asiago Cheese Consortium. All opinions are my own. 

I've been craving travel something fierce lately, and when I say "travel," of course I mean I'm ready to go back to Italy (I've only spent a total of seven or so months there, all trips combined, so I need at least another five months if I'm ever going to write a book called My Year in Italy, which will definitely be turned into a movie). 

While in the midst of my travel-hankering, I received a box containing real, authentic, straight-from-Italy Asiago Cheese PDO. PDO, by the way, means Protected Designation of Origin. When you see the letters "PDO," you know that you're getting true Asiago Cheese - a product that is produced, matured, packaged, and distributed in compliance with Asiago DOP Cheese Production Regulations. 

I was very excited to try out the cheese and spent a good afternoon sipping wine on the deck while getting inspiration with these great recipe ideas

I have to say that authentic Asiago cheese tastes markedly different than non-PDO Asiago that I've had before. I wasn't expecting the texture; the fresh cheese has small holes in it and is soft and somewhat spongy. The flavor is fresh, milky, and somewhat sweet - nothing like the bland, hard stuff that I had tried previously. 

I invited some of my favorite ladies over and made a hot, bubbly dip loaded with cheese, onions, mushrooms, and spinach. This creamy dip combines fresh herbs (thyme and oregano) and earthy portobello mushrooms with mellow, flavorful authentic Asiago Cheese PDO. 

I thought that the recipe would serve six, and I'm still sure that it would, but we ended up just eating the entire dish as happy hour turned into dinner! No complaints here. Toast some baguettes, chill a couple of bottles of Pinot Grigio, and invite some friends over. It's about to get cheesy. 

Asiago and Thyme Dip with Portobello Mushrooms
Serves 6 as an appetizer

You will need:
  • 1 large Vidalia onion or other sweet yellow onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • Dash salt and pepper
  • 2 Portobello mushrooms, washed, gills removed, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach 
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley (or 2 tbsp. fresh)
  • 1 cup grated authentic Asiago PDO
  • Preheat oven to 350. 
  • Saute the onion in a large skillet on medium heat with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for about five minutes, until skillet is fragrant. 
  • Add sliced mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce and cook for an additional ten minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Once mushrooms are cooked, add spinach first, then remaining ingredients. Leave heat on just until spinach is melted. Stir a few times to make sure that the ingredients are evenly mixed. 
  • Transfer the dip to a 9x9 oven-proof baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for about 30 minutes, until dip is bubbly. 
  • Serve hot with toasted baguette

You can find authentic Asiago Cheese PDO from Italy at these retailers: 

  • Sam's Club
  • Harris Teeter (Mid Atlantic and South East)
  • Whole Foods Market
  • Bristol Farms (California)
  • Central Market (Texas)
  • Wegmans
  • Kroger
Delis and Gourmet Food Stores
  • Vince and Joe's Gourmet Market (Michigan)
  • Dolce Vita Italian Grocer (Phoenix, AZ)
  • Di Bruno Bros (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Murray's Cheese (New York)
  • Ceriello Fine Foods (New York and Baltimore, MD areas)
  • Agata & Valentina (New York)
  • Hometown Provisions (Lancaster, PA)
  • Di Bruno Bros
  • Murray's Cheese
  • Alma Gourmet

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bacon Jam

I know that the title of this recipe sounds like one of those ridiculous bacon-with-everything pairings that have been popular of late. Although I (and really, honestly, everyone else in the world) think that bacon is delicious, I don't like the oneupsmanship with the strange bacon combinations. I tried a bacon chocolate bar and I actually gagged a bit. I don't want bacon in my cupcake. Please remove the bacon from my Bloody Mary. AND PUT IT BACK ON THE PLATE WHERE IT BELONGS. That's really been my attitude. I don't go "all caps" for nothing. 

That brings me to this recipe. Bacon jam. The distinction here is that this recipe brings out the bacon flavor and changes the context from crunchy meat stick to spreadable indulgence. The flavors are designed to make the bacon stand out, just to allow bacon to be transferred to multiple carb mediums (crackers, savory french toast, grilled cheese, BLTs, etc.).

This is the kind of recipe that is perfect for a weekend afternoon that you will be home all day and don't have a ton of energy. You get to feel productive by having something to show for the day, but you don't really have to do much. The hardest part of the recipe is the sheer torture of smelling bacon wafting through the kitchen for hours before you can indulge. If you can handle that challenge, try this recipe. 

The flavors are deep and rich. The jam has tangy vinegar (balsamic and malt) and garlic. A strong hit of coffee flavor cuts the sweetness of the maple syrup. Cayenne, cumin, and paprika add a bit of heat to the brown sugar. 

I had it slathered on a toasted slice of multigrain bread and topped with an egg for breakfast. Husband had it as a dip with corn chips. I served it to my more refined friends with wine a few days later and they enjoyed the jam on water crackers. 

Husband brought some to work and said that it was a hit (although that is unconfirmed). He said that his co-workers who asked to take some leftovers home mentioned spreading it on burgers. We hadn't thought of that - points for creativity. 

Bacon Jam
Adapted from The Perfect Pantry
Yields ~3 cups

You will need:
  • 3 pounds bacon
  • 3 Vidalia onions, diced
  • 9 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup malt vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups strong-brewed black coffee 
  • 1 tsp. each black pepper and sea salt
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • Cut bacon into approximately 1-2 inch pieces. Add the bacon and diced onions to a large skillet or pan and cook bacon on low-medium heat 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally. 
  • Add garlic and cook, stirring every few minutes, for an additional 10-15 minutes, until bacon is cooked and onions are transparent. 
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. 
  • Once the bacon has cooked, stir in the bowl of remaining ingredients. Leave heat on medium and bring mixture to a boil. Let boil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. 
  • After boiling,  transfer the mixture to a crock pot. Cook for an additional 1 1/2 hours on high, then reduce to low and cook for 1 1/2 more hours. 
  • Turn off heat. Transfer to food processor and blend to desired texture. 
  • Refrigerate for at least four hours prior to serving to let the jam firm up. 
Bacon jam can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Zucchini Bake with Pesto & Thyme

If you are a summer gardener, you probably have more zucchini than you know what to do with. If you frequent your local farmer's market, you may have forgotten that you already bought zucchini at the store last week, bought a dozen gorgeous squash specimens from your favorite stand, then realized at home that you have more zucchini than you know what to do with. It could happen to anyone. Either way: if you may have more zucchini than you know what to do with, I have just the recipe for you. 

As you may have surmised, I am not much of a gardener. I am, however, a farmer's market enthusiast. Here's my similarly enthusiastic local-market-loving dog:

And some other nerd who gets way, way too excited when he sees other people after a recent foray to our farmer's market: 

Once I had realized that I had suddenly invested heavily in zucchini, I set about developing a recipe for zucchini that would be a change from the delicious grilled variety that we have been having for dinner every single night. Ketch pulled his composure back together when I finished my recipe for this zucchini bake and sat like a proper good boy asking for a sample (with an incredibly serious fact, I might add): 

His intense begging is justified: this zucchini bake is a top notch way to diversify the zucchini flavors you may be used to this summer. The dish isn't "eggy" enough to qualify as a traditional frittata, in my opinion. Eggs serve as more of a binding agent for all of the delicious flavors; the egg flavor isn't pronounced in the least. That said, I wouldn't hesitate to serve this for brunch or breakfast. 

I brought this to a work potluck lunch with the assumption that everyone would see it as a casserole or side dish. I noticed, though, that my co-workers seemed to think it was a dip (or maybe they always eat casserole atop corn chips). So, I think you can serve this recipe as a breakfast, a side dish, or, apparently, an appetizer. 

Zucchini & Thyme Bake with Pesto
Serves 6-8

You will need:
  • 2 large zucchini or summer squash (or one of each), ~4 cups total, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
  • Dash each salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup pesto
  • 2/3 cup shredded cheddar 
  • 1/3 cup feta
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce (optional)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan (to sprinkle on top, optional)
  • Preheat oven to 375. Grease or spray a 9x9 baking dish. 
  • Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat and add olive oil, garlic, onion, and sliced zucchini. Stir in salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 10-12 minutes, until zucchini has started to brown, stirring occasionally. 
  • While the squash is cooking, prepare the egg mixture. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs first, then add in sour cream, pesto, thyme, cheddar, feta, sundried tomatoes, and hot sauce (if using). 
  • After the zucchini mixture has cooked, transfer to the baking dish. Top with the egg mixture and stir gently to evenly distribute. Sprinkle Parmesan on top, if desired. 
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the dish is "set" (i.e. the dish doesn't "jiggle" if you touch it). 
  • Serve hot. 
Note that this dish isn't great leftover. I recommend eating it when it is prepared or the next day. Reheat in an oven for best flavor. Do not freeze for later use. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Summer Salad Inspiration

I wanted to share some of the salad success stories I've had this summer. Instead of posting exact recipes with step-by-step instructions and quantities, I'm posting the combinations that I found truly divine and plenty of photos to guide you and your cutting board to salad nirvana. Adjust the ingredients, add things you like omit things you don't, or just be inspired when you're in the kitchen from the pictures.

I'm from a family of devout salad eaters. My mother has mastered the art of salad. I am not quite on her level yet, but I'm carrying on the torch of salad-loving as best I can. Her level, by the way, is unattainable to mere mortals like us. Here's a gorgeous salad she threw together for a casual family dinner that featured my new favorite salad combination: cherries, corn, basil, and cucumber. I'd never thought to combine these ingredients before I tried her salad and now I'm hooked. 

Salads: the most forgiving and easily customized of all meal options. I would love to hear some of your favorite salad combinations too - leave a comment and let me know what you've been eating this summer. Here are a few salad ideas that I think are just great:

Sauteed Tomato & Avocado Vertical Salad

Slightly cooking the tomatoes for this elegant vertical salad releases infinite flavor (aided by a bit of sugar and salt in the cooking process). This salad is perfect for a dinner party. Or, truth be told, you can enjoy it like I do: with the addition of bacon and a soft-fried egg for a brunch salad. I like using a variety of tomatoes to add color. 

You will need:
  • Avocado
  • 2-3 tomatoes, varying sizes and colors
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt, pepper, and a dash of sugar
  • Kale
  • Baby spinach
  • Slice two to three tomatoes of varying sizes and colors horizontally. Saute on medium heat in a skillet with balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of sugar (the sugar opens the flavor of the tomatoes tremendously). Cook for three to five minutes, until tomatoes are just starting to brown. 
  • Toss a mix of baby kale and spinach in an herby vinaigrette. Spread salad greens on a plate. 
  • Layer cooked tomatoes and avocado on top of salad greens. Drizzle extra balsamic vinegar to finish, if desired. 

Grilled Steak & Zucchini Salad in a Romaine Boat

This recipe is a total show-stopper that I think is a perfect compromise meal. Husband wants steak, I want salad. I like steak; he likes ranch. We can even share cooking duties (i.e. I can put him to task on the grill while I pretend that it takes forever to slice lettuce in half). The salad is so easy, fresh, and filling. 

You will need:
  • Grilled steak
  • Grilled zucchini
  • Grilled onions (optional)
  • Sauteed mushrooms (optional)
  • Avocado
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Romaine lettuce (1/2 head per serving)
  • Ranch dressing
  • Prepare romaine by cutting in half lengthwise. Arrange lettuce with the cut side facing up (a "boat" or "bowl" shape). Remove a few layers of the romaine in the middle to make room for the ingredients. 
  • Top romaine boat with grilled zucchini, grilled steak, cherry tomatoes, and slices of avocado (plus optional ingredients, if using). 
  • Drizzle ranch on top and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, if desired. 

Supreme Summer Salad

I didn't know what to call this salad. I wanted to use literally every ingredient in the name. I think this flavor blend captures summer perfectly. It's a light, fresh salad that is perfect served with white wine and a cheese board for a simple dinner on the deck. 

You will need:
  • Pineapple (use fresh, not canned)
  • Green bell pepper
  • Avocado
  • Chevre
  • Pistachios
  • Dried cranberries (I prefer low sugar)
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Salad dressing of choice (a citrus vinaigrette is ideal)