Saturday, September 27, 2014

Birthday Beach Weekend With Julie and Julia

So last weekend was my birthday weekend, no turning up went down, it was just very low key and relaxing. After the husband baked a batch of my favorite red velvet cupcakes and had fun playing with our cake decorator pen; we got the kids together. Then we headed out to Madeira Beach. We befriended one of Juliana's classmate's/ tablemate's parents, Randal got in touch with the Dad over the weekend and he suggested Madeira Beach.

John's Pass Boardwalk Village

Madeira Beach is a unique place. It's a lazy beach town, not unusual to come across shops that are closed with a personal note on the door like "out sick" or "out for family affairs today"...followed by apologies. The best asset of the beach is definitely its boardwalk village "John's pass" which has lots of character. I really loved the way the restaurants are all wood planked and have deck seating that faces the waterfront. There are lots of shops and the owners are very friendly. They mostly stand outside and people watch or enjoy the fresh air. If you enter their shop they will come in and greet you. Then, just leave you to browse and don't tail you as you do so. They aren't pushy or rude either. I LOVED that! I ended up buying a personalized locket from a jeweler. She gave me a discount after I shared that I recently moved to Florida. I missed out on the spice shop but hope to go back soon. I love spices and would be so lost in the kitchen without them!

The beach itself is just okay but the birds are something else! And I don't mean that in a good way! I have to warn you they are like the birds you see in that scene in Finding Nemo as they all scream "Mine! Mine! Mine!" but these birds were more like a John Singleton flick rather than Disney! There was a whole gang of them, they swooped down low over us as we ate our picnic lunch. And were even so bold as to peck into my son's Cheetos bag as he held it in his little hands. A large flock followed me to the trash can as I dumped chicken bones and paper plates. I'll be honest, I just tossed the plates in the trash can haphazardly as I ran for my life! Scared to be pecked to death lol. Don't bring food here!

I was watching Julie and Julia over the weekend for the very first time flipping through channels. I thoroughly enjoyed that movie! I was able to relate to both of the main characters in so many ways. The irony of just discovering this movie was all in the fact that I recently started a food blog though a few years ago it was just an idea in my head that I hadn't gotten around to yet. Ladies, I have to tell you life gets busy but as far as the creative ideas/ things you want to do that just get stored in the back of your head get out and do them! Life gets busy but sometimes we just need to keep things that we do for ourselves, regardless of what they are if its creative and you enjoy it, do it!

I started this blog to get back to blogging and to write about my interests, food, dining out, and travel. I had a personal blog years back that did not have a theme. It was originally created to keep in touch with a friend who moved to another state. I made a couple of good friends from that blog. And just like Julia, I have an "Avis" in my life thanks to that blog! She lives in NY and is now blogging again but for a cause/ support group she has started (My Mommyvents ). I was able to relate to other things like Julie's reaction and emotions to turning 30, to the frustration with her tiny apartment over the pizzeria, coming face to face with things that come up as you learn to be careful what you post in your blog. I was also able to relate to Julia, as she navigated a foreign place yet felt right at home at times. Then the simple things like she liked hats, I like hats. Later, as she came into her own, finding something just for herself (outside of being a housewife). I have juggled from at times being a "Domestic Diva" (aka housewife) to being a working mother and wife.

I made a simple dinner of cajun roasted chicken, tostones, and a kiwi-strawberry poppyseed salad for Sunday dinner. Though I was experimenting the salad came out exceptionally well! If I do say so myself :) I'll just give a run down of the salad and some tips about the tostones.


Kiwi-Strawberry Poppyseed Salad

Fresh kiwi (cut into small slices)
Fresh sliced strawberries
1 Cup of walnuts (plain)
1 Bag of fresh Spring Mix Salad Greens
1/2 Cup of your favorite poppyseed salad dressing (I used Panera brand)
Toss all of your ingredients together, the dressing as well. Cover your salad bowl, and shake everything up. I avoided using candied walnuts because once the poppyseed dressing is added it will really sweeten the greens as well as the fruit. Candied walnuts may be a bit overkill but it will depend on your taste buds. While I enjoy sweets my taste buds are like a moderator to my sweet tooth.

Lessons in Tostones...
I don't know how many times I #failed with green plantains/ tostones before I stumbled across a recipe on pinterest that saved my life! The trick is to boil them whole first! Something that I did not ever do during each subsequent #fail. Boiling will get the green plantain to tenderize, and to be less thick and tough. It will help the middle be more crisp on the outside and smash on the inside like a home fry. After the plantains cool from boiling, slice them in small round slices (like thick chips). Next, you want to smash each plantain with a fork to flatten them out some. Once flattened, somewhat, you will fry them in oil and add a little kosher salt to the tops as they fry (use the salt sparingly). Serve hot! In the words of Julia Child "Bon Appetite!"

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Dinner Worthy Blanco Mac N' Cheese

This post is long overdue! I really wanted to post it sooner. I had a birthday this past week on the 15th! The whole day I just couldn't stop thinking over and over..."So this is 30!?". It's a mixed bag that I won't get into this post. Our weekdays are so busy I knew that I wouldn't be able to celebrate until the weekend. I was hoping to hit the beach and dine out at a really good restaurant. I also found a nice piece of furniture that I really wanted. We found it at a local consignment shop in New Tampa that has become a favorite of ours. We're still furnishing our place.

Anyways, I made a white macaroni and cheese to go with the porkchops (it's pictured as the side in the last post); which was also once again me stepping outside of the norm and our typical box. I usually make a cheddar based macaroni and cheese with colby jack. Sometimes I make it even better with bacon on top. Usually that topping makes its appearance around the holidays, afterall everything in moderation. Ever since I saw the Neely's make their macaroni with a homemade cheese sauce it changed my life! One of my issues with a baked macaroni was getting a good coating of all the macaroni. With a cheese sauce, it helps rid your macaroni and cheese of bland uncoated macaroni and the dry crunchy ones too. Another plus to using a cheese sauce is contrary to what some may believe it doesn't result in a liquidy mac and cheese like the stove top boxed stuff. Once everything sets together the results will be a fluffy and moist macaroni and cheese with creamy goodness. I have to warn that the 4 cheese Italian blend has an aroma that can be a bit strong for some.


1 1/2 - 2 cups 4 cheese Italian blend
 1 cup of shredded mozzarella
 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese
 1 Quart of milk
 2 tablespoons of butter
1 tblspn of flour
 1 tsp of kosher salt
1 tsp of pepper (ground black)
1 large box of elbow macaroni (capitavi style work best because of the tiny grooves)

One of the keys to a good macaroni and cheese is not over cooking your pasta! Over cooking your pasta can ruin any macaroni and cheese. The reason being because it can ruin the texture and turn your noodles to mush, bits, and corners. You want to boil your macaronis until they are soft but not mushy, some call this aldente. If you slice a piece of pasta you can see just where the the texture and coloration begin to change. There should not be a crunch to your pasta but a bit of firmness at the center that you can see when the pasta is sliced. Boiling your pasta for no more than 3 minutes should achieve this texture.

Another key to achieving good texture is to run cold water over your pasta as you strain it, in addition you want to make sure there is no water left where the pasta is sitting on reserve. I usually spread the pasta out into a casserole dish at this point. The cheese sauce is rather easy. In a large saucepan you want to melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat until it sizzles. Then you want to add your tablespoon of flour. You want to whisk together to make a rue, the flour will be moist, clumpy and blonde in color when ready for the next step. Next, add in a half quart of milk. You want to whisk the clumps together to evenly distribute with the milk. Make sure that your temperature is not too hot or your milk will curdle ruining the sauce (meaning it will get grainy and your cheese will be gum and not sauce). After, you want to slowly add in your cheese blend and whisk briskly. You want to toggle your milk and cheese to get the right consistency. The consistency should be like a thick queso (basically like a nacho cheese sauce, when a utensil is placed in the sauce and taken out you should notice a bit of stretch), you may want to add your salt and pepper to the sauce and use an icing spatula at this point forward.

Next you want to remove the sauce from the heat as soon as the desired consistency is achieved to avoid grainy milk curdles and cheese gum! Slowly pour the sauce over your pasta and stir in. Add half of the shredded  mozzarella cheese in. Add some shreds to the top of your macaroni. You can also top with the Italian breadcrumbs. Once finished bake your macaroni and cheese at 350 degrees for at least 30 minutes. After the dish is baked allow it to cool for at least 10 minutes to set. If you don't allow the dish to set then there will be cheese and macaroni sliding everywhere lol. Allowing the dish to set will make it easier to serve in squares. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Spiced Rosemary and Garlic Porkchops...


In between bulk shopping (which I try to do at least once a month) on familiar turf at Sam's Club, we navigate the local grocery chains which happen to be unfamiliar, Publix, Winn Dixie, just to name a few. Of course, none of the grocery chains from back home are located in this region. I have to say I really do miss Wegman's! There just isn't anything like it here. However, nothing beats the fresh local produce from local farmers so I guess that is our trade off. Anyways, Winn Dixie was having a "BOGO" on porkchops and the husband wanted them so in the cart (or buggy as they call them down here) they went.

All I could think of was "Oh no! Not pork chops again!?" I don't know where the over indulgence stemmed from but I was "pork chopped" out! I had been over them for quite some time now. What do you do when you're tired of a food item yet are faced with having no other choice than to prepare it yet again? You put a new spin on it and prepare it in a new way. So I got to browsing online for inspiration (mostly Pinterest and Food network). I usually browse for inspiration and then try to make a recipe my own, I rarely follow it to a "t" unless I don't have familiarity with the cooking process or ingredients. Typically we fry our pork chops and/or smother them in gravy, which has been over done and also requires care. Porkchops are one of those meats that can get pretty dry and that's sugarcoating it because honestly Porkchops can become damn near unpalatable if you're not careful in your preparation. You can have yourself a fine cut of cardboard and sliced splinters.

Randal has two jobs as a cook at two different restaurants now, it's been almost a month at the second venue. He has been picking up alot of new skills to add to his growing cooking skill set. He told me that part of the prepping process at the second venue is that they do alot of "braising of the proteins" (meats). He makes me proud, soon he'll be teaching me new things. At the second venue they mostly work with other white meats such as turkey and chicken. Meats that are notorious for drying out if not prepped and cooked properly. I was first introduced to braising when my mother would make beef short ribs or roasts for Sunday dinners, which were always so tender and flavorful. I love braising meats because it locks in the juices, keeps them tender and can magnify the flavor.


5 Bone-in pork chops
1 tsp black pepper
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 mashed cloves of garlic
2 tblspns of extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp of allspice
1 tsp of nutmeg
1 or 1/2 tsp of kosher salt

First you want to season your chops. I usually start with the salt, pepper and oil. Then, I mash my garlic cloves in the garlic press and work in the mashed garlic shreds. I work everything in by rubbing all of the seasonings into the meat so as to evenly distribute and get a good season. I add the nutmeg and allspice next. Last, I add the rosemary leaves without the stems in the same manner. Then, I cover the chops and let them marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to an hour.

After the chops have marinated, prep an oven safe saute or saucepan over medium high heat. Begin, braising your chops...basically, you only want to brown the chops and not cook them through. The juices will still run red or pink if you poke the chop and that is okay. You can achieve this by cooking the chops no longer than 2-3 minutes on each side and removing from the heat immediately. If your pan is oven safe then add a half cup of water to the juices, enough to fill the bottom of the  pan. Return the chops to the pan or an oven safe casserole dish (or dutch oven). Bake at 350-375 degrees for 30 minutes (until juices run clear). Don't allow the your baking container of choice to dry out causing your chops to dry out keep it moist if juices and water evaporates. Top pork chops with baked or fried apples ( the nutmeg and allspice were used to complement this topping). Enjoy!

~Stay tuned for the side dish recipe entry “Blanco Mac n' Cheese"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ricotta and Italian Sausage Stuffed Calzones

It was the end of the Labor Day weekend, and most people were out getting the last savors of summer from swimming to barbecuing back home in Maryland. Randal had to work both restaurants Monday so I decided to catch up my blog entries with at least one of the recipes that I had previously written though I didn't get around to posting just yet. It's quite toasty down here in Florida with temperatures as high as 94 degrees almost daily. From what my neighbors tell me there will be no relief from those high temps until as late as November. So I take it there will plenty of time to continue barbecuing and swimming down here.

I had made a baked lasagna the week before this recipe came to fruition. I took a trip to Sam's to buy the ingredients because I intended to make a large batch of it so that I could freeze it for the week; to have for lunch or dinner again. My husband loves lasagna and will eat it until it's gone! I make a mean lasagna thanks to my mother showing how it was done when I was young. I learned yesterday while watching The Chew that often times if you cook with your children in the kitchen, involve them or allow them to watch you they will be more open to trying new foods. In my case not only will they be more open to having an adventurous palette but they will also develop an even more adventurous cooking repertoire of their own. Needless to say, some are just picky you could show them the culinary world and they just want their burger, chicken nuggets, or pizza slice. Calzones come very close to a pizza slice and will probably please any pizza lover just the same.

I had alot of ingredients leftover like ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and Italian sausage. Often that is what happens when you shop in bulk. It can be a dual edged sword but it's a necessity especially when you cook as often as we do and make things in large batches. Anyways, I had frozen everything that was unused along with the leftover lasagna except for the mozzarella. I will be honest and say that this recipe originated from a #Fail attempt at creating homemade ravioli pasta from scratch. I think the main source of my failure was that I just didn't get the dough flat enough, and as I cooked them they turned into dumplings. My husband tried to fry the raviolis and it was just a hot mess lol. It happens to us too. We have those moments in the kitchen. The best way to recover along with the best thing to do is to re-purpose what you already have before you start over. And that is just what I did! I had alot of the ricotta and sausage stuffing mixture leftover to re-purpose.

A Useful Method:
One of the methods used in this recipe really changed my life. I try to use as much fresh ingredients as I can when I can. I could remember when an old Facebook acquaintance had commented on my usage of canned stewed tomatoes. I was watching Disney Junior one night with the kids. The cooking segmnent that comes on in between commercials. Anyways, that's where I learned how to stew tomatoes! You take your two tomatoes and make an "x" at the top with a knife, you can even use a butter knife. Next, you boil them in hot water until they blister (3 mins). Then you remove the tomatoes from the water and place them in an ice bath. You peel the skin off and they are ready to use!


4 Italian sausages (meat removed from casings and cooked to crumbles)
2 stewed tomatoes (vine ripe or romas)
1 cup of "rich tomato puree" (2 tomatoes, 2 tblspns of olive oil, 2 cloves of garlic, 4 basil leaves, 3 sprigs of fresh oregano leaves---dry will also work. You can make this ahead of time and keep on reserve)
1/4 cup of Italian breadcrumbs
1 quart of ricotta cheese
2 cups of self rising all purpose flour
1-2 cups of shredded mozzarella

I started making a dough using all purpose flour and Italian breadcrumbs in a bowl, I added a tsp of canola oil and 1 large egg. Then, I slowly added ice water mixing until I had a nice sticky but moldable dough. I set the dough aside in a ziplock in the refrigerator to rest for at least half an hour. I made a homemade sauce from stewed tomatoes and a rich tomato puree`; you can make this ahead of time or allow it to cook down on a medium low heat for at least 30 mins. This allows all of the flavors to render (combine) together. Some will cook their sauces for longer like 45 mins to an hour. You want to becareful not to cook the sauce on a temperature that is too high because the sauce can burn and taste bitter.

My ricotta and Italian sausage mixture was already made ahead of time, however I will give a quick run through of how it was done. I removed four Italian sausages from the casings and cooked down to crumbles until browned. I mixed them in with the ricotta cheese and added a pinch of kosher salt and pepper (to taste).

Once the dough had enough time to rest, I rolled it out into 2 large discs. You may want to work on a surface dusted with flour. I allowed the sauce to remain somewhat chunky (the consistency of sauce will be a personal preference). I topped one half of the disc with a generous amount of the ricotta and sausage mixture, followed by tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella. I folded the other half over, and sealed the seam by pressing down on the edges of the dough. A fork can be used. When finished, you should have a nice crescent shape. I baked until each calzone was a golden brown. You can dust the outside of the calzone with butter and an Italian seasoning blend. You could also brush with egg if you like. However, I did not dust with egg. I baked until both calzones were a golden brown (at least 35 mins). Then allow to cool for 5 mins. Enjoy!