Sunday, June 30, 2013

Spicy Dill and Garlic Pickles

I canned these pickles exactly one week ago and they were finally ready today.  Let me just tell you, these were incredibly easy to make and worth the wait.  I am going to give a few away as gifts to some of my co-workers who always bring me vegetables from their gardens.

There is something about a homemade pickle that simply warms my heart. It's like you can taste all of the aromatics in each bite.  I made mine extra "garlic-y" with a good amount of spice.  If you prefer these to be less spicy, reduce the red pepper flakes to just a pinch.  I used standard 16 ounce mason jars.

Cucumbers are in season now so go grab some and turn them into pickles!

Apparently soaking them in ice water overnight helps to maintain the "crunch".

When putting the pickles in the jars, remember to leave room for the dill, garlic and shallots.  

Homemade Crunchy Dill and Garlic Pickles
Adapted from HealthyForTwo.

(for each 16 ounce mason jar)
2-3 pickling cucumbers 
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and then smashed with flat knife
1 tablespoon thinly sliced shallots
4 sprigs fresh dill 
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds 
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
pinch of sugar
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water

Wash pickles and place them in a bowl of ice water over night.  Cut pickles in half or spears and place 2-3 pickles in each jar.  Push garlic, shallots and dill into the jar around the pickles.  Add bay leaves, salt, red pepper, mustard, coriander, peppercorns and sugar to jar.  Pour in vinegar and then fill to the brim with water.  

Shake each jar a few times to mix all of the ingredients.  Put in the refrigerator for one week, shaking each jar once a day.  Pickles will be good for about  a month.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lasagna with Homemade Meat Sauce

One of the most difficult things about creating this blog has been actually measuring and calculating the correct measurements for all of my personal recipes.  As we all know, when you bake, the ingredients have to be exact.  But cooking is an entirely different story.  

I have been making this lasagna for a very long time and have always just thrown in the ingredients as I go, never minding to the amounts.  Everyone would ask me for the recipe but I could never give it to them as it changed from time to time and was always in my head, not on paper. 

This blog serves as my online cooking diary, documenting all of my favorite recipes and sharing them with you.  This lasagna is very hearty and makes about 3 trays.  It is a classic recipe full of flavor but more importantly, full of cheese!  It is a great dish to share with family, friends, neighbors or someone who could use a little TLC.   

My husband just ate a leftover piece, came into the room and told me it was was the "best lasagna I've ever made". With that being said, I think I will stick with this recipe.   

Brown the meat and then drain the fat

Add the onion and garlic

Whole, peeled tomatoes packed in sauce really deepen the flavor

This is what it looks like after the tomato paste has been added

Squeeze the tomatoes with your hands, crushing them through your fingers.  Do this slowly and keep your hand in the pot or you will have tomato juice everywhere...

I guess if I had a secret ingredient, it would be fennel seed.  Most lasagna recipes do not call for this much but I just love the flavor it lends to the dish.  I crush mine with my mortar and pestle but you can also use your knife. 

It seems like a lot of spices but it works... I promise.  

Now let it cook for at least 2 hours, covered.  I made mine the night before and after it was done cooking, threw it in the fridge so the flavors can marry overnight.  

Before you assemble, make sure you prepare all of your ingredients.  Make the ricotta mixture and slice the mozzarella cheese.  

Slice it thin.  The combination of the fresh mozzarella and shredded works very well together.  

Time to put it all together... spread the meat sauce on the bottom of the pan. Make sure you remove any bay leaves when you spread the layers of sauce.  They will be very easy to pick out.   

Add the noodles and spread with ricotta. 

Top with fresh mozzarella....
And fill in the gap with the shredded mozzarella.  

Top the cheese with more meat sauce, grate some parmesan, and then repeat, starting with more noodles. 

This will be the top of the lasagna. It is a little different than the filling.  

Top with sauce...

Then dot some ricotta...

Finally top with more fresh mozzarella. I forgot to take a picture of the final product but after this, I added some shredded mozzarella and fresh grated parmesan.  


makes three 9x13 pans that can be wrapped in saran wrap, then foil and placed in the freezer for up to one month

Meat Sauce

2 pounds ground beef
2 pounds ground sausage
1 1/2 onion, chopped
8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
18 oz tomato paste
2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes, 32 oz each
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon fennel seed, crushed
1 tablespoon thyme
1/2 tablespoon granulated garlic
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
6 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups beef broth

In a large stock pot,  brown sausage and ground beef.  Drain fat.  Return meat to pan and add chopped onion and garlic, cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add tomato paste and stir until meat is thoroughly coated. 

Add whole, peeled tomatoes; crushing tomatoes in hands before adding them to the pot.  Make sure you add the sauce from the can as well.  Once tomatoes and completely crushed, add salt, basil, oregano, fennel, thyme, garlic, onion powder, bay leaves and red pepper flakes.  Stir to combine. 

Add beef broth and turn heat to low.  Cover and cook for at least 2 hours, stirring every 20-30 minutes.  This sauce is better if it sits in the refrigerator overnight but can be used after cooked for 2 hours.  

Ricotta Filling

48 oz ricotta cheese
1/4 cup fresh grated parmigiano reggiano
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
3 eggs

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl until completely combined.  


32 ounces of fresh mozzarella, slice into thin slices
1 block of parmigiano reggiano, for grating
2 large bags of shredded mozzarella or Italian mixed cheeses
3 boxes of no-boil lasagna noodles

Cover the bottom of each 9x13 pan with meat sauce. Then layer the ingredients in the following order:


fresh mozzarella slices
shredded mozzarella
meat sauce
grated parmigiano reggiano
fresh mozzarella slices
shredded mozzarella
meat sauce
grated parmigiano reggiano
meat sauce
dots of ricotta
fresh mozzarella slices
shredded mozzarella
grated parmigiano reggiano

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  If desired, brown top with broiler or kitchen torch.  Remove from oven and let sit for at least 30 minutes.  Slice and serve. 

It's even better the next day!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies you will ever make

Look. No. Further.  I have found the recipe that puts any other chocolate chip cookie recipe to shame.  I cannot take credit for it as it is actually a recipe by Jacques Torres, but after following the instructions step by step, I will never try another ccc recipe again.  

You know when you go to a bakery and just can’t figure out what they do to get the cookies so big, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside? Well this recipe is the answer.   This recipe has a few unconventional steps and ingredients but I am convinced they make ALL the difference.

·       The combination of both cake and bread flour.  Don’t substitute all-purpose.  I was able to find the cake flour (also called pastry flour) at our local Heinens.

·       You have to let the dough sit for at least 24 hours.  This is probably the most difficult part of the recipe because that delicious dough is just sitting in your fridge for a whole day.  Wait my friends… trust me, it’s worth it.

·       Use the best chocolate you can find.  No Toll House chips, please.  Buy the blocks or bars of chocolate and then chop it up into various sized chunks.  While doing this, you get tiny shards of chocolate that create ooey-gooey chocolate pockets throughout the entire cookie.

·       These cookies are big.  If you don’t have one, invest in a standard ice cream scooper.  It is the ideal tool for forming perfectly shaped and sized cookies.

·       350 degrees for 18 minutes was the perfect time for me.  When in doubt, take them out earlier as opposed to later.  Once cooled, the center will be soft and chewy.

I am beyond ecstatic that I finally found and tried this recipe.  Follow these steps precisely and I promise, you will never have to even look at another chocolate chip cookie recipe again.  This will be in my arsenal for years to come.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl

Mix the butter and sugar together for 3-5 minutes until fluffy... this is what it will look like. 

Here it is after I added the eggs and vanilla,  about to add the flour mixture

This is what the dough will look like sans chocolate

Like I said, use good chocolate and a sharp chefs knife to chop it

I know.. it looks like a lot of chocolate but trust me, it is the perfect amount

The finished dough!  Now you have to wait 24 hours before you can bake it.  Good luck... 

You want the dough to be airtight.  Place saran wrap directly on top of the dough so no air gets through.  

Only 6 cookies per sheet.  These babies are big and need room to spread out.  

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies you will ever make
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake/pastry flour 
1 2/3 cups bread flour 
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda 
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder 
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt 
2 ½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¼ cups light brown sugar 
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons  granulated sugar 
2 large eggs, room temperature 
teaspoons pure vanilla extract 
1 ¼ pounds (20 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into various sized chunks
Sea salt, for garnishing 

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the cake flour, bread flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

Add butter to standing mixer with paddle attachment.  Add brown sugar and once that is completely mixed, add granulated sugar.  Beat until  light and fluffy; about 4 minutes. 

With mixer running, add one egg at a time, mixing completely after each addition.   Add vanilla and mix until combined. 

Turn mixer on low and gradually add 1/3 of the flour mixture at a time until completely incorporated.  

Add chopped chocolate to mixing bowl and mix until chocolate bits are thoroughly distributed through dough.  Place saran wrap directly on top of dough and refrigerate for at least 24-36 hours.  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

When ready to bake, remove dough from refrigerator at least 1 hour before to allow it to soften. 

Line pan with parchment paper or silpat.  Use a standard ice cream scoop to form 6 even balls spaced at least two inches apart.  If you don't have a scoop, used a 1/3 cup measuring cup.  Sprinkle a small amount of sea salt on top. 

Depending on the oven, bake for 15-20 minutes.  Mine took 18 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool on pan for 15 minutes.  Remove and cool on rack for another 10 minutes.  

Serve with a tall glass of milk and a smile.  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Fresh Ricotta Parmesan Pea Dip

I created this recipe a few years back originally intended for a ravioli stuffing.  It was delicious in the ravioli but I came to realize the the spread was good enough to stand on its own.  

As a child, I hated peas. I would go to extreme measures to pick them out of anything and everything.  But as they say, your taste buds change every two years (I don't know if that is true or not but it sounds about right) and as an adult, I have come to love peas.  

This is a perfect summer dip.  Try to use fresh peas if possible but frozen will work fine.  I was planning on grilling the bread but we are fresh out of propane, so the broiler had to do.  If you want to get even more creative, try adding some crumbled bacon bits or hard boiled egg on top.  

Don't overcook the peas.  Nothing is worse than dark green, mushy veggies.  You want to keep them a vibrant green!

Fresh Ricotta Parmesan Pea Spread 

1 1/2 cups peas
1 1/4 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup fresh grated parmesan
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
salt and pepper to taste

Add peas, ricotta, parmesan, lemon zest, red pepper and garlic to food processor.   Pulse until combined.  Keep the peas somewhat intact as you want to have some texture in this spread.  

Serve this with french bread, pita bread, crudites or crackers.  Garnish with some olive oil, peas and shaved parmesan cheese.  

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