Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Trick or Treat! A few great recipes for your Halloween parties.

Happy Halloween to all of my readers! I’m not so much into tricks, but, as you know, I do love treats. This week I would love to share some recipes that are perfect for the witching hour. I have included a couple of my favorite Trick or Treat after party snacks as well as a fun one you can make with your little ones.

Bloody Buffalo Fingers - These are basically a variation on my Buffalo Chicken.Just added a few spooky accessories. 

2 lbs chicken tenders – sliced in half long ways
1 C Panko bread crumbs
1 C Parmesan cheese
1 stick butter
1/2 C Frank’s red hot sauce plus more for garnish
Red food coloring
A package or 2 of long fake fingernails – I prefer black or red

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
In a mixing bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and cheese.
Dredge the tenders in the cheese/breadcrumb mixture and lay in a baking pan
Melt the butter and Frank’s Red Hot together in the microwave
Add some red food coloring to the butter mixture after it’s melted
Drizzle the mixture over the chicken
Bake uncovered for 45 minutes.
While chicken is baking, mix a little red food coloring and hot sauce together – about ¼ cup
After you plate the chicken tenders, drip the red hot sauce around them on the plate. Place a fingernail at the top of each tender. There you have bloody fingers! They’re spooky and yummy too. Just make sure nobody chokes on a fingernail!

Harvest  Dip  –  A sweet and sassy dip that’s great for fall. It’s delicious with sliced apples, pretzels, or graham sticks, and reheats so easily in the microwave. I’ve been making this dip since college. Yikes. My then boss, Laura Root, shared this recipe with me, and I have been making it for family parties ever since! Thanks Mrs. Root!

1 bag butterscotch chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2t cinnamon or more to taste
2T white vinegar.
Apples, pretzel sticks, and/or graham sticks for dipping

In a saucepan, melt the chips and condensed milk, stirring constantly. You want to watch this, because the chips can burn. When the mixture is melted and gooey, turn off the heat, and add the cinnamon and vinegar. Stir until combined. You can adjust the cinnamon and white vinegar amounts for tartness/sweetness. You can't really mess it up.

Dip away!

Ho-Ho Spiders- I’ve been making these with my kids for years at Halloween time. They are the perfect edible craft for a preschool Halloween party, because they are SO EASY. The kids love to get creative with the icing and sprinkles, as you can see by my pictures.

1 box Ho-Hos or other packaged chocolate cake treat
1 bag small pretzel sticks
Candy corn or tiny red cinnamon discs
Icing and sprinkles for decorating if you want it

Push 4 pretzel sticks into each side of the Ho Ho, giving the spider 8 legs.
Push 2 candy corns into the front of the Ho Ho for eyes
Or use icing and cinnamon discs to give the spider red eyes.
Decorate with icing or sprinkles if you’re feeling creative!

May you all have a safe and fun Halloween. May the weather in the Northeast remain dry and above 50 degrees for once so that the kids and parents don’t freeze. May you receive lots and lots of treats and no tricks!

Until next time – mangia!

Friday, October 23, 2015

2 Great Soups for Fall. And... Cake Mix Cookies - here's your chance!

     Fall is synonymous with pumpkin flavored everything - coffee, cookies, even ravioli.  I’m not a huge fan of pumpkin, but I do like Pumpkin Soup. Lots of area restaurants serve it this time of year. When you order Pumpkin Soup, you usually get the creamy version. I like this, but my favorite is a spicy Rachael Ray creation that I tweaked a few years ago. Today I’m going to share that recipe with you, and I’d love to hear from you if you try it!
     I’m also going to post the recipe for Italian Meatball Soup – an easy weeknight meal with only 5 ingredients. This is the easiest dinner I make, hands down, and definitely one of my daughters’ favorites. They were certainly happy last night when they heard that they were having it for dinner. Thursday nights are hectic for us – my oldest daughter has singing rehearsal at church from 4:30-5:30, and my middle one has guitar lesson from 630-7:00. Then the oldest has voice lesson at 8:00. Sound familiar? I need something that I can throw together quickly, and I sure don’t have time to fight anyone to get them to the table. My mother-in-law’s Italian Meatball Soup is the answer on these busy nights. Thank you Lori Faletti!

     Last, I’m going to share my cake mix cookie recipe. No matter where I bring these shamefully simple cookies, people LOVE them. They ask for the recipe. They ask again and again, and I always say “3 ingredients plus whatever you like to add in.” My cousins beg me to bring them to birthday parties. My neighbors devour them. I make these on weekdays when my kids are on their way home from school, and they love to walk in the door and smell cookies.  I think the act of mixing the batter also calms my pre-homework nerves and makes me feel like I’m a good mom even though can’t quite understand my sixth grader’s math assignments. Ha!
     Enjoy the recipes, peeps!

Italian Meatball Soup


2 large 48 oz cans or cartons of chicken broth
1 28 oz can diced or crushed tomatoes
3 C frozen mini meatballs – these can be homemade or store bought. I get mine from the local Italian store
1 bag fresh, bagged pre-washed spinach
½ boz Ditalini or Elbow Macaroni

In a soup pot, bring broth and tomatoes to a boil.
Add meatballs and spinach.
Add noodles and cook until noodles are al dente.

Seriously. It’s that easy.

The pumpkin soup takes a little longer and has a few more ethnic ingredients, but it’s really worth a try if you like pumpkin and spicy foods. Now’s the time of year to do it!

Spicy Pumpkin Soup 


2T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 canned chile in adobo sauce, chopped.
1 14.5 oz can pumpkin
1 bottle of pumpkin beer or regular lite beer
1 large 48 oz can chicken broth
1 can black beans
Shredded rotisserie chicken
Sour cream
Chopped green onions
Shredded Mexcian cheese
Tortilla chips

In a dutch oven, saute your onion and garlic in olive oil. Season with salt, cumin and cinnamon.
Once onions are translucent, add the chopped chile in adobo. The adobo sauce is pretty spicy, so add more for extra kick or less for a milder bite.
Add in the pumpkin, the beer, the chicken broth, and black beans and let simmer for 30 minutes.
Stir in the shredded rotisserie chicken.
Ladle the soup into bowls and top with cheese, sour cream, onions and some chips.

Cake Mix Cookies

     I don’t love to bake, and I don’t love sweets. I’m much more likely to devour a bag of chips before a bag of chocolates, and I would much prefer to make a five course dinner than one fancy dessert. My mother-in-law, Lori, however, is the dessert queen. My husband once informed me that when he was a kid, they had a different homemade dessert every night after family dinner.
     I snort laughed at that one, because I definitely don’t make homemade desserts every night.
     I just make cake mix cookies. Often.
     Lori, the dessert queen, also introduced me to these easy cookies. She swears by using oil, but I NEVER use oil in cookies. Or margarine. I don't use margarine for anything. It's butter all the way for me.

1 box regular cake mix – any flavor
2 eggs
1 stick of butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Melt butter in a large microwave safe bowl
Add cake mix and eggs
Add whatever you want – choc chips, white chips, nuts, craisins, etc…
Bake for 10 minutes

NOTE: My family’s favorite is simple yellow cake mix with chocolate chips. I also make chocolate cake mix with chocolate chips, strawberry cake mix with white chips for Valentine’s day. I’ve used white cake mix and add pistachio pudding mix to the batter then add white chips. The cookies are green and cute for Christmas or St. Patrick’s day.

Bottom line – you really can’t mess these up. Be creative, and your family will love them.
Last week I used a white cake mix. I didn't add anything, but made them into sandwich cookies with Nutella filling.
Because everything is better with Nutella. EVERYTHING.

This week I made pumpkin ones with cinnamon chips! ‘Tis the season!

Next time, I’ll be posting my Halloween party snack ideas. Until, then, MANGIA!!!!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Aromas of Fall


      I love walking up to my front door and being greeted by the aroma of roasting garlic and herbs. It’s  like a big yummy welcome home, the scent wafting along the air and making me eager to step inside. Everywhere I’ve lived, my neighbors have commented that when they walk outside, they can smell my cooking. I love that. It reminds me of my childhood, when I could tell what my mom or Nana was making for dinner from halfway up the street.
     This week’s recipes are a tribute to fall, when Brussels Sprouts are sprouting and hearty greens like kale are filling on chilly days. These are easy and quick to prepare.  The roast pork recipe can be thrown together in the morning and put in the oven a few hours before dinner. The longer the flavors mingle during the day, the better the meat will taste later, so feel free to prep the pork roast before work and pop it into the fridge until cooking time. The salad is best when made ahead as well.
     Warning – the aroma of this dish is like an invitation to all who pass by. It will perfume your street with garlic and herb goodness.

Garlic Studded Pork with Aromatic Herbs
1 3-5 lb pork roast (pork loin is great)
12-15 cloves of garlic
A handful of each - fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme, loosely chopped
1 tsp. each of salt, pepper and garlic powder
1 onion, sliced round
2 T Olive oil to drizzle

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Poke small holes into the roast with a knife, then stuff the roast with the whole garlic cloves and herbs, reserving some of the chopped herbs for the top of the roast.
Season the roast with the salt, pepper and garlic powder all over. Place in a roasting pan.
Lay the sliced onion on top of the roast.
Drizzle olive oil all over top of the roast.
Roast, uncovered, for 2-2 1/2 hours or until juices run clear.
Slice into 2 inch thick pieces and serve with mashed potatoes or buttered noodles for the kids. 

If your children are anything like my brother and I were, they will search for and then fight over the roasted garlic gems that reveal themselves once the meat is sliced down. Yummmmm!! This roast will make the entire neighborhood smell like Heaven!

Brussels Sprouts Napolitano
     So Named for my BFF who taught me to like the only vegetable I ever refused to eat. As my readers are well aware, I rave about my mother’s cooking. She is a genius in the kitchen almost always. The only exception is Brussels sprouts. She used to make steamed or boiled Brussels sprouts with butter and salt, and I HATED them. I hated the way they smelled and tasted. I hated their texture. So, when Brussels sprouts became a popular menu item at restaurants over the past couple of years, I was in no way up for ordering the stinky little mini cabbage balls. That is, until my fab friend, Jeni Napolitano, taught me how to make them taste yummy. I never thought it was possible, but it is! Now, not only do I love these veggies, but my kids do too. In fact, my finicky six-year-old can’t get enough of them. Brussels sprouts are in season right now, so go to your local farm market and get some!

1 lb fresh Brussels sprouts, sliced in half
2T Olive oil
1t Salt
½ t Paprika
3T Balsamic glaze

Heat olive oil in a pan on medium low. Add Brussels sprouts,salt, and paprika. Saute until sprouts are brown and slightly crispy on the outside. Remove from heat. Add balsamic glaze and stir to coat.

Kale and Cranberry Salad
This salad is best after it sits in the fridge for awhile, so make it ahead. It’s even good the next day. Kale does not wilt as easily as other greens; its thicker leaves are on the hearty side. This is so healthy and simple, and the pretty red cranberries look like candy. Your kids will want to try it.

5-6 C Fresh Kale leaves – you can buy the pre-chopped bags or chop it yourself. Either way is great.
½ C dried cranberries
1 medium red onion, sliced
1 can mandarin oranges in juice
½ C crumbled feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
3T olive oil

Drain mandarin oranges and reserve the juice.
Toss together the kale, cranberries, red onion and mandarin oranges.
Top with feta cheese.
Season salad with salt and pepper to taste.
Drizzle with olive oil.
Drizzle with the reserved mandarin juice.

This salad makes kale yummalicious, I promise. It’s a great party salad as well, if you want to use it as a side dish. Also, you can make this a filling lunch salad by adding some store-bought rotisserie chicken.  Superfoods rock!

Until next week, mangia!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Be Brave. Eat Ceci. My Favorite One Pot Meal - Ceci and Pasta.


~Just some yummies from my garden!!!

     Fall is a great time for one-pot-meals. Soups and stews that you can throw together fairly quickly for family dinners are great. To be honest though, I’m often a little suspicious of the one-pot phenomenon. I find that it more than occasionally can lead to mushy vegetables floating around in a soupy mix with meat that’s either gummy or tough. Nobody wants to dig into beef stew where you can’t tell the carrots from the potatoes.

    On a side note – I don’t make beef stew. I just can’t. 

    I make Ceci and Pasta, instead.

    This was my favorite meal as a kid. My brother’s too. The second we arrived home after school, and opened the front door, the aroma of garlic and basil would greet us with a sweet and spicy hello, and, oh mama, we knew what was for dinner. I felt grateful on those days, and, now, as a mom of three, I know it can take a lot to make your kids feel grateful. 

     This is a simple peasant dish from Italy, but it packs a ton of flavor and as much spice as you want. If you or your kids want to tone the crushed red pepper down, by all means do so. I even have a version of this that uses cumin and cinnamon to give the meal more of a Middle Eastern flair. My great Italian friend, Carly Abruzzo, shared her Turkish version of Ceci and Pasta with me, years ago, and my family loved it.

     Some of you are wondering right now – what the heck is a ceci? How do you even say it? It’s pronounced like sketchy but “chetchy,” and ceci is the Italian word for chick pea. Now, over the web waves I can hear you closed-minded eaters saying “oh hell no,” and imagining your kids gagging on the little beans. Please don’t despair. Don’t stop reading.

     Chick peas are an excellent source of protein and fiber.
     They are inexpensive and easy to find, and you can get them canned or dried.
     They don’t have strong flavor, so kids will keep eating them if you get them to try just one.

     My kids dig the balsamic coated ceci out of our salads at dinner. I’m always chastising them to use a fork. My dear friend, Rachel Spirer used to call me a chick pea whore, because every time she came down for lunch with her then preschooler, there were chick peas on the table. And my daughter was inhaling them. They are a staple in my pantry, and if you introduce them the right way, your kids will like them too.

     Enjoy the recipes below. As promised, Ceci and Pasta is a quick weeknight meal. I added my recipe for roasted ceci – great for a little snacking and especially for my Aunt Lina who also loves ceci. Also, I’ve included a recipe for an awesome ceci salad –great for a picnic or party.

Ceci and Pasta
     This hearty Italian stoup, served with a side salad and some crusty bread is the perfect weeknight meal. It’s also a Lenten favorite, because it’s protein packed, but meatless.

2T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion or 1 bag frozen onions
2T chopped fresh basil
1t crushed red pepper seeds
1t each Salt and pepper
1 28 oz can tomato sauce
1 C hot water
1 can ceci beans
1 C uncooked short pasta (elbows or ditalini work well)
Grated Parm or Romano to serve

In stock pot or dutch oven, fry garlic and onions in olive oil with salt, pepper, basil and crushed red pepper. Cook until onions and garlic are translucent.
Add sauce and water and let simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Add ceci and noodles and cook until noodles are al dente.
Ladle into soup bowls and serve with grated cheese on top.

NOTE: If you’d like to make the Middle Eastern version of this soup, substitute ½ tsp cinnamon and ¼ tsp cumin for the basil and crushed red pepper. This is wonderful as well, and your kids will love the flavors, especially the cinnamon.

Roasted Ceci
     The trick to this awesome and healthy snack is to let the beans dry for at least ½ hour after you drain them. They need to be completely dry to get the crunchy texture that makes them a favorite for munching.

1 can ceci
1 tsp each of salt, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, pepper
2 T olive oil

Drain ceci and lay on a paper towel to dry completely. Once the beans are totally dry, place them ina  bowl and toss with olive oil and spices. You can really use any spices you like. The ones above are just my fave. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes or until browned and crispy. These are way tastier than microwave popcorn and a healthier choice for family movie night.

Minty Fresh Ceci and Tomato salad
     This salad pairs well with everything. If you’re having a cookout, this is a great, healthy alternative to things like potato or mac salad. The lemon juice and herbs mingle to create a burst of fresh flavor that everyone will love. And, if you have leftovers, it’s even yummier the next day.

3 garlic cloves, minced
6 scallions – white and green parts, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 can ceci beans
1T chopped fresh mint
½ C chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ C olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
½ C feta cheese

Directions – Toss veggies, herbs, and beans in a large bowl. Add seasonings, olive oil and lemon juice and stir. Add feta cheese and toss again. Voila!

I hope these recipes turn you and your family into chick pea fans (or as Rachel would put it – chick pea whores.) Happy ceci eating.