Let’s Get the Meatball Rolling

shortcut sausage meatballs

hot and fresh out tha kitchen

Happy New Year, people! So far, it seems that 2014 is only about one thing: the cold.

Seriously, there’s something called a polar vortex screwing up all the weather across the US. The South is cold, the Northeast is freezing, the Midwest is like the Arctic. So, when it’s this cold out, I can think of only one thing to really warm me up: some hot – and fast – comfort food.

But first, let’s talk about meatballs.

I know. Everyone has their favorite meatball recipe. Grandma Whatever used to make them with so-and-so ingredient, and that means they’re the best meatballs on the planet. Sure, sure. We’re all entitled to our favorite meatball recipe. But sometimes you don’t have the time to let your meatballs slow-cook away all day in a pot of sauce. Sometimes you just want to stuff your face with meatballs before your nose falls off from frostbite. True story.

So when that happens to you, put Grandma Whatever’s recipe away, and whip up these bad boys instead. And in no time you’ll be enjoying heavenly little sausage meatballs, cooked (quickly) in a flavorful sauce.

Shortcut Sausage Meatballs
1 lb of Italian sausage (I used hot)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
½ bunch of scallions, diced
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Your favorite pasta (I used spaghetti)
Grated Parmesan, for garnish

Start by removing the sausage from the casings. Place into a medium bowl and gently mix together. Roll cherry tomato-sized meatballs and place on piece of wax paper.

shortcut sausage meatballs

hey fellas

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook until they’re brown on all sides. Add the scallions and oregano, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Next add the crushed tomatoes, ½ can of water and the bay leaves, and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until the sauce slightly thickens and the meatballs are cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of salted water until al dente. Then drain.

Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (Remember to remove the bay leaves before serving.) Plate the pasta, top with a few meatballs and spoonfuls of sauce, garnish with some grated Parmesan, and eat.

A Taste of Turkey Day

Sage & Cayenne Rubbed Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy


You know what I’m thankful for? It’s a short list, but a significant one.

My friends. My family. My cat.
Good TV. Bad horror movies.
Chocolate chip cookies and multigrain Scoops.
Beach days and carefree nights.
And, meals like this one.

I know everyone has their own Thanksgiving traditions, filled with comforting side dishes, weird classics (canned cranberries anyone?) and favorite desserts. And that’s what’s so great about this holiday. That no matter what’s on your plate, there’s always something to be thankful for.

Plus, it’s the one day of the year that you get to openly stuff your face without any judgement.

Also don’t think for a minute that you have to make a giant 23 lb turkey to enjoy the splendors of Thanksgiving. By all means, go for the big bird if you’re feeding an army of hungry family and friends. But if it’s just a handful of folks, go for a turkey breast. You’ll get all of the goodness with less fuss. A simple rub like this puts a different spin on your typical turkey day feast.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sage & Cayenne Rubbed Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy
1 3.5 to 4 lb bone-in turkey breast
1 1/2 teaspoon of sage
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 teaspoon of paprika
1 cup of chicken broth
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
Salt & pepper

Rinse the turkey breast with water and then lightly pat dry with paper towels.

In a small bowl, combine the sage, cayenne, salt, cumin and paprika. Gently rub the spices all over the turkey breast and let stand for 1 hour at room temperature. (Or, if you have the time: Place in the fridge uncovered overnight. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature before roasting.)

Heat your oven to 350º.

Place the turkey breast skin-side up in a roasting pan with a wire rack. Add the broth to the pan plus 1 cup of water. Roast for 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 155º to 160º degrees. Occasionally baste the turkey with pan juices to keep it moist. When fully cooked, transfer to a platter or cutting board and let stand 20 minutes before carving.

While the turkey breast is resting, make the gravy. Pour the pan juices through a strainer and discard any solids. In a small skillet, heat the butter over low heat. When melted and bubbling, stir in the flour and let cook for 3 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup of the reserved pan juices, and continue cooking over low heat until the gravy thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Carve the turkey breast into large slices, top with pan gravy, and eat.

Zucchini Linguine

roasted vegetable linguine

pasta party

My summer romance with zucchini is heating up again. I think corn is starting to get jealous.

This time I’ve roasted some zucchini slices along with fresh asparagus and combined them with stewed tomatoes to make a very rustic sauce. (It would have been more rustic if I used fresh tomatoes too. Oh well. Next time.) I then tossed the sauce with linguine for a truly summer-y supper. It’ll fill you up but not in that heavy-brick-in-the-stomach type of way that’s not very fun to have on a warm evening.

Roasted Vegetable Linguine
2 small zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced ½ inch thick
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed & cut into 2 inch pieces
1 small onion, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon of cracked red pepper flakes
1 14.5 oz can of stewed tomatoes
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
½ cup of grated pecorino romano cheese plus more for garnish
½ lb of linguine
Handful of fresh basil, chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt

Heat your oven to 425º.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Toss the zucchini and asparagus with a tablespoon of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with sea salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 20 minutes.

Heat another tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Increase to medium-heat, add the stewed tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.

Cook the linguine until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of cooking liquid and drain. Add the linguine to the skillet with the sauce. Add the roasted vegetables and a little of the reserved cooking liquid (more or less depending on how thick you want the sauce) and toss to combine. Garnish with additional cheese and basil, and then eat.

Light the Grill En Fuego

chorizo burger

relish this

Is it loco to put chorizo in a burger? I don’t think so, considering Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner. I’ve been calling this my South of the Border burger, because it’s got a mix of Mexican flavors and some nice heat. The onion & jalapeño relish, especially when using HOT jalapeño slices, may seem a tad loco, but it’s actually fantastico. The red pepper mayo adds more flavor and some subtle heat. Okay, so maybe this burger is hotter than I realized, which is why I should really call this the En Fuego Burger. But whatever you call it, this is a tasty way to celebrate. Along with a margarita, of course.

Chorizo Burgers with Onion & Jalapeño Relish and Red Pepper Mayo
For the burger:
1 1/4  lb of ground sirloin
1 large link of chorizo, casing removed & inside crumbled
1 small onion, grated
1 teaspoon of Adobo seasoning
½ cup of breadcrumbs
4 slices of Monterey Jack cheese
4 whole wheat hamburger buns

For the relish:
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, finely sliced
½ cup of bottled hot jalapeño slices, drained
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
Salt and pepper

For the mayo:
2 medium jarred roasted red peppers, drained
1/4 cup of mayonnaise
1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine the ground sirloin, chorizo, onion (just grate it right into the bowl), Adobo and breadcrumbs, but don’t overmix. Shape into 4 patties, and then put on a plate and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the relish. Add the olive oil to a skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and jalapeño slices, stir in the brown sugar and season with a little salt and pepper. Sauté for about 15 minutes, occasionally stirring, until the onions and jalapeños have caramelized. Let cool to room temperature.

When ready to eat, preheat your outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to medium-high heat. Add the burger patties and cook about 10 minutes on each side – which may be a little longer than you normally grill, but make sure the chorizo is cooked through. Add cheese slices on top of the burgers during the last 5 minutes of grilling.

While the burgers cook, make the mayo. Combine the red peppers and mayonnaise in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. (This can be made ahead of time; in fact, the flavors will be even better if you let it sit in the fridge overnight.)

To assemble the burgers, spread some red pepper mayo on the bottom of the buns. Add a burger, a spoonful of onion & jalapeño relish and then the top buns. Then eat.

Dressed for Success

maple dijon vinaigrette

someone left that jar ajar

Your favorite grocery store probably has an entire aisle devoted to salad dressings. And while there are plenty of good ones out there, there are just as many as not so good ones. Some taste bad, and others are simply bad for you. (I know–where did this health conscious guy come from??) But you can make your own quick and tasty dressing at home, with ingredients you already have in the pantry. This is one I’ve been making a lot lately, and it’s helping me eat more leafy greens. (There’s that healthy guy again.) I like to pour it over a spring mix and toss in a small handful of walnuts.

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of maple syrup
1 tablespoon of minced shallot
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
Salt and pepper

Combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, maple syrup, shallot and garlic in a jar and shake well to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour over your favorite leafy greens and enjoy.

Pecan Turtle Power

pecan turtle cookies


Everybody knows what turtles are, right? No, I’m not talking about those shelled reptiles, regular and/or the mutant ninja variety, although those are all pretty awesome. I mean those incredible chocolate-covered clusters with caramel and nuts. It’s the type of treat usually found at quaint candy shoppes alongside homemade fudge and peanut brittle. But if you don’t live near one of these shoppes, they can be hard to find. So in a totally radical move, I decided to reinterpret those candies into cookie form. And add peanut butter, toffee and – since it’s National Pecan Month! – some pecans. Dude, I know. I have a slight obsession with making cookies that include every flavor under the sun. I also made my very own salted caramel sauce because, well, why not? It’s way easier than you could imagine, and makes for a bodacious treat all its own.

Pecan Turtle Cookies
For the cookies:
½ cup of unsalted butter, softened
½ cup of sugar
½ cup of brown sugar
2/3 cup of chunky peanut butter
1 large egg
2 cups of all-purpose baking mix
1 cup of milk chocolate toffee bits
1 cup of salted caramel sauce (see below)
1 cup of pecan halves
2/3 cup of semisweet chocolate chips, melted

For the salted caramel sauce:
1 cup of sugar
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened and cut in pieces
½ cup of whipping cream
2 teaspoons of Maldon flaky sea salt

Heat your oven to 350º.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugars and peanut butter until light and fully. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Add the baking mix a little a time until well combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Stir in the milk chocolate toffee bits.

Roll the dough into tablespoon-sized balls, place on an ungreased cookie sheet and then flatten with the bottom of a glass (or your fingertips). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, make the salted caramel sauce. Place the sugar in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat. When the sugar starts to melt (keep an eye on it – it could burn quickly), whisk to remove any clumps. When the sugar turns a deep amber color, carefully whisk in the softened butter. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cream until smooth. Then whisk in the sea salt. Let the caramel cool to room temperature, and then place in the fridge to cool completely. The sauce will thicken as it cools, but should still remain sticky and liquidity. (Any unused sauce can be kept covered in the fridge.)

Once the cookies are cool, pour a spoonful of salted caramel sauce over each one and top with one or two pecan halves. Drizzle with melted chocolate chips and let set.

Little Tarts, Lotsa Flavor

mini romesco tarts

bite-sized wonders

These appetizers will have people thinking you’ve spent all day crafting miniature tart shells and a laboring over a special sauce. Well, the sauce is special but super easy. Romesco is a bit like a red (pepper-y) version of pesto, since it has nuts and olive oil, and is made entirely in a food processor. I couldn’t decide which cheese to use, so I bought some mild gouda and this Catamount Hills cheese from Cabot Creamery, which is an Italian cheese that’s like a cross between Swiss and Parmesan. I think I prefered the “bite” of the Catamount Hills, but any cheese that melts nicely would work really well. You’ll definitely have some romesco sauce left, which would make a nice dip for crackers or breadsticks.

Mini Romesco Tarts
1 cup of roasted red peppers, drained
2 cloves of garlic
cup of toasted almonds
cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar
Pinch of red pepper flakes
24 mini phyllo tarts, defrosted
½ lb of cheese, cut into cubes
Dried oregano

Start by making the romesco sauce: Place the roasted red peppers, garlic cloves, almonds, olive oil, red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

Heat your oven to 425º.

Place the mini phyllo tarts on a baking sheet. Spoon a little bit of sauce into each tart and then add a cube of cheese. Bake for about 8 minutes or until the cheese melts. Sprinkle dried oregano over the tarts and serve warm.

Colonel Mustard (Chicken) in the Kitchen

Chicken & Brussels sprouts with mustard sauce

this totally cuts the mustard

There shouldn’t be any mystery to why I love this recipe. My chicken obsession gets stronger every week, and now Brussels sprouts are gaining a similar (healthy?) fixation. Here both are covered in a flavorful mustard sauce – a sauce so good you’ll want to eat it with a spoon.

Quick story: One of my favorite movies as a kid was Clue, that madcap adaptation of the board game. Even now if I stumble upon it on cable, I have to watch it. It’s so silly and yet so clever. I’ve dreamed of hosting my own dinner party with Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum, Miss Peacock and the rest. (Well, without all the murder and dead bodies.)

So, a dinner party like that probably isn’t in my future. But now I can wholeheartedly say that Colonel Mustard did it. In the kitchen. With the knife. Oops, I mean a skillet.

Chicken and Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Sauce
– 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
– 2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard
– ¼ cup of low-sodium chicken stock
– 1 tablespoon of butter
– 12 oz of Brussels sprouts, trimmed & halved
– 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
– Salt and pepper
– Olive oil

Heat your oven to 450º.

Season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of oil in large oven-proof skillet over high heat. Add the chicken and brown on both sides, about 6 minutes. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Heat another tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and sauté for about 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. Add the vinegar, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until crisp-tender.

Remove the chicken breasts from the skillet and keep warm. Heat the skillet with the pan drippings over medium-high heat. Stir in the mustard and chicken stock, scraping any brown bits from the bottom, and bring to a boil. Next add the butter and simmer until the sauce thickens. (Note: The skillet will be hot directly from the oven. Use a potholder for the handle. Seriously!)

Plate chicken breasts and Brussels sprouts, top with a few spoonfuls of sauce, and then eat.

A few close-ups. It was hard to pick a favorite side of my plate.

chicken & Brussels sprouts with mustard sauce

hey chick

chicken & Brussels sprouts with mustard sauce

hello sprouts

And: if you’re looking for some Clue, here’s a link to one of my favorite scenes.

Creamy, Dreamy Fettuccine

fettuccine with creamy red pepper & goat cheese sauce

supper’s ready

Mac and cheese is something we all know and love. I’m all for making the traditional stuff, when I have the time. But I’m also okay with the stuff from a box, usually because it’s quick and easy, and I got home late from work and I’m starving and just want to eat already. But there are other options that are just as fast. Like making a simple sauce from roasted red peppers and goat cheese, then tossing it with fettuccine. It’s got the lets-eat-already quickness that I need with the rich, homemade taste that I want.

Fettuccine with Creamy Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Sauce
– 1 small yellow onion
– 3 cloves of garlic
– 1 7oz jar of roasted red peppers, drained & chopped
– ½ teaspoon of Italian seasoning
– ¼ cup of low-sodium chicken (or veggie) stock
– ¾ cup of crumbled goat cheese (or feta)
– ½ lb of fettuccine
– Salt and pepper
– Olive oil
– Small handful of parsley, roughly chopped
– Sliced grilled chicken (optional)

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the red peppers, Italian seasoning and pepper to taste, and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Place the mixture into a food processor along with the chicken stock and goat cheese. Process until combined and smooth, about 30 seconds. Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine according to the directions. Drain and then toss with the sauce. Stir in the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Plate, add a few slices of grilled chicken and eat.

Cream of the Chop

pork florentine

a different take on creamed spinach

In honor of Christopher Columbus and his special day this past weekend, I celebrated my Italian ancestors with a twist on an Italian classic: pork florentine. You could use thinly sliced chicken cutlets if you want, because no matter what you cover with this spinach cream sauce will taste awesome. And depending on how generously you cover each chop, you’ll have a good amount of sauce leftover. Toss it on some penne or fettuccine the next day, and it’s buon appetito!

Pork Florentine
6 oz of baby spinach leaves, chopped into large pieces
1 lb of thinly sliced boneless pork chops (about 4 to 5 chops)
4 tablespoons of flour, divided
½ of a white onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of chicken broth
½ cup of heavy cream
1 cup of grated Parmesan-Reggiano
Salt and pepper
Garlic powder
Olive oil

In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the spinach and saute until wilted. Lightly season with salt, transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Season the pork chops with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Place 2 tablespoons of flour in a shallow bowl and lightly dredge the chops, shaking off any excess flour. Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the pork chops and cook until brown on both sides and completely cooked through. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil.

Add a tablespoon of oil to the skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour and cook until fragrant. Slowly add the chicken broth and heavy cream, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper and let simmer until sauce thickens, occasionally stirring, about 6 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the spinach and Parmesan-Reggiano.

Plate the chops, top with the spinach cream sauce and eat.