Feel like you can’t get it right when you’re in the kitchen? I’m here to tell you that happy recipes happen when you approach fresh ingredients with curiosity. Embrace the imperfections in your meals and learn how to make each meal more magical!
There’s a day to celebrate EVERYTHING. This one hit me in my kitchen!
I think some of the intimidation surrounding cooking is the thought that: “I’m not going to get it, right?” “It won’t turn out like the picture.” “It won’t taste like it should.”
If you feel like this before you begin, how are you going to cook with confidence? Let’s get rid of this stinkin’ thinkin’ and learn that no matter what you do, it will work out!
I’m working on a new book with just this idea in mind…
Create a dish that works for you with what you have on hand and the flavors you like. Then when you are comfortable with this, start experimenting with new flavors using your trusted basic recipe. Let me give you an example…Let’s make mac and cheese from scratch. We start with the sauce. Melt butter in a large pot or deep pan. Whisk in an equal amount of flour to form a paste (two tablespoons butter needs about two tablespoons flour). Now we’re going to stir in a liquid. You can stir in milk, half and half, chicken stock, or a combination of lemon juice, white wine, and stock…any liquid you use will work. Stir the mixture over medium heat until it thickens into a sauce.
Next, we add cheese. ANY cheese works. If you grate the cheese, it will melt quicker, but chunks of cheese are fine. You can add a combination of cheese and as much or as little as you want. Stir until the sauce is cheesy goodness.
Now you can flavor your sauce with any herbs or seasonings you like. Salt and pepper for sure, but try dried thyme or tarragon, onion and garlic powder, nutmeg, or chili powder. It’s yours to decide. Taste as you go and add a little at a time.
Finally, we boil the pasta, again any pasta you like. Once the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the sauce. You have mac and cheese ready to serve. Or you can pour the sauced pasta into a dish and bake it for baked mac and cheese. You can top this casserole with more cheese or breadcrumbs or crumbled potato chips or anything you like.
Got it? There’s no right or wrong. There’s only you having FUN in the kitchen!
Let’s do the same thing with a chicken breast. Slice a boneless, skinless chicken breast in half horizontally.
Then pound the chicken breast so that it is an even thickness. This will make sure it cooks evenly. Season the breast with salt and pepper and anything else you like. At this point, you can grill it and slice it for sandwiches and salads.
Let’s coat the chicken with anything we like. Brush it with mustard and dredge in breadcrumbs. Brush with mayonnaise and crust in crumbled cracker crumbs. Dust in flour and season with oregano. Anything you want to do will work.
Melt olive oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until golden on one side, turn, and cook on the other side. This will only take you a couple of minutes depending on how hard you hammered your chicken! Now you have a seasoned chicken breast that you can use for everything.
But let’s make it better! In the same pan, make a pan sauce by adding more olive oil. Cook your favorite vegetables like onions, peppers, garlic, celery…anything.
Deglaze the pan with about a cup of wine or chicken stock. Now you can add in other flavors. – For Chicken Piccata, add lemon juice and capers.
– For puttanesca add olives and tomatoes.
– You can add sliced artichoke hearts, freshly sliced fennel, spinach leaves.
Anything THING will work. It’s your sauce for your chicken breast. Add a bit of butter at the end of cooking for a buttery sauce, a bit of cream for a creamy sauce, a bit of tomato paste for a tomatoey sauce, mustard for a mustardy sauce. Got it? Again, any THING will work!
Here’s a preview recipe from the new book. Use it as a guideline to create your own chicken dish and share it with me and everyone else! Remember, an upsy daisey can turn into a creative opportunity!!! Especially in the kitchen.
Tried it? Tag it!
I would love to see what you did with this recipe. Share your creation by tagging #inthekitchenwithjorj and with Scrumptious Possibilities With Jorj, my free private home cooking group.
Place the chicken breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound the chicken to about ½-inch of thickness. Season both sides with some salt and pepper. Brush both sides with mustard. Dredge in breadcrumbs. Place the chicken onto a platter, cover with plastic wrap, and place into the fridge. You can do this several hours in advance. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken breasts until golden on one side, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Carefully flip and cook on the other side until golden, another 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter, tent with aluminum foil.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion to the pan and cook until just soft, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the wine, removing all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When most of the wine has disappeared, pour in the chicken stock and cream. Stir in the mustard. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the sauce until it begins to thicken. Add the chicken back into the sauce and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, another 4 to 5 minutes. Serve the chicken with the sauce and garnish with a bit of caviar on the top. I recommend sustainable American-produced caviar from Marshallberg Farms.
When the weather cooperates with the farmers, the bounty is just beautiful! This summer the sun shone through even when it rained! Our spring was cool and rainy, and the summer has proven to be warm, yet not hot. All in all, the mountains and foothills have flourished with lush greenery, abundant flowers and gorgeous, just gorgeous produce. It’s really, really hard to pass up the varieties of tomatoes, squash, lettuces and peppers.
I came home with a basket full…… (ok, two baskets and a bag) of tomatoes, peppers, chard, more peppers (shishito), basil and at least three varieties of baby squash. And the sunflowers… well I filled every vase in my house with these babies, the flowers of which were bigger than my hand!
Look at this haul:
I decided to make soup. The day was one of the few drizzle days signaling what I hope will be a long and languid Indian summer. I pulled out THE SILVER PALATE, one of my favorite cookbooks. There’s a recipe in there for a big batch of minestrone soup.
I used that recipe as I guideline, whilst merging my own farmer’s market ingredients, to create a soup that is just full of veggies, accented with spicy sausage and filling pasta. This recipe makes enough soup for you to share with friends or save for a busy weekday meal.
Maybe you can’t find a market near you, but don’t use that as an excuse not to make this soup. Grocery store produce will do just fine. And you needn’t worry about following an exact recipe… I sure don’t! Enjoy your soup!
Farmer’s Market Minestrone
serves a crowd
45 minute cuisine plus simmering
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 5 links Italian sausage, sliced into ½-inch circles
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 to 3 large carrots, peeled and diced, about 2 cups
1 medium zucchini, diced, about 1 cup
2 medium yellow squash, diced, about 1 cup
2 poblano peppers, seeded and deveined, diced, about 1 cup
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons coarse black pepper
Outer rind of 2-inch piece of Parmesan cheese
1 bunch of kale, stems chopped, leaves rolled and chopped
Parmesan cheese grated
Chopped fresh basil leaves
12 ounces small elbow macaroni
Heat olive oil in a deep soup pot over medium heat. Add the sausage and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the sausage from the pan. Add the onion, carrots, zucchini and squash to the pot. Cook until the veggies are soft and beginning to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the peppers and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes more.
Pour in the tomatoes and beef stock. Season with oregano, salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer. Add the sausage back to the pot. Tuck the cheese rind into the soup. Stir the kale into the soup. Add water to the pot to make sure all the ingredients are covered in liquid.
Continue to simmer the soup until the kale wilts and the cheese melts, at least 45 minutes and up to several hours on the stove over low heat. You can add additional water as needed. Continue to taste the soup and season with salt and pepper as needed. Add the macaroni and continue to simmer while the pasta cooks in the soup. When the pasta is plump and soft, the soup is ready!
Serve the soup with a garnish of grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of fresh basil on top.
There are over fifty Little Italy neighborhoods in the U.S., and today, Columbus Day, is a big deal for all of them. The celebrations marking the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America over 500 years ago began with weekend parades, and are being sucked up – sometimes in the form of pasta drowning in Italian style gravy – all day today.
I am familiar with and love quite a few of the big ones: the Little Italy of Cleveland, Ohio (close to where I grew up), Manhattan, The Hill in St. Louis, and handful of Little Italy’s out west where the cannoli and baked lasagna make you happy to be alive…I could spend hours studying old family recipes from these bakeries and romantic restaurants that burn away the hours on a Roman candle…. Here are my greatest Italian hits in pictures.
While I was dunking my favorite Italian cookie into a mug of espresso, I called up a Sicilian chef I met on an historic food tour of Boynton Beach this summer. Here she is in front of some goodies.
Chef Anna is from a village near Sicily. She and her family have managed Palermo’s in Boynton for decades. The bakery draws in all kinds of customers. Once, Charlotte York (actress, Kristin Davis) walked out of Sex & the City’s nearest Little Italy and straight into Palermo’s — celebrity photo on their site.
You can come into this colorful bakery and see a lot of history hanging on the walls. I asked Chef Anna what her favorite Italian dessert is, and she answered with one sweet word and this picture of it:
Cassata. It is a tort cake filled with ricotta cheese that involves a detailed process to cook, then intricately decorate. In fact, the making of the Cassata is considered a specialty talent done by skilled pastry chefs.
“The essence of Italian sweets goes back our ancestors, our grandmothers in Sicily who made sweets using naturally produced ingredients like honey,” said Chef Anna, adding that she just did a Cassata cake making demo in the culinary department at Macy’s.
Hmm…well, that’s food for thought. I love to bake and teach, so perhaps I will do a pastry inspired lesson with my next cooking class at the Diamond Creek Golf Club in Boone, NC.
My family style recipes, most ideally suited for culinary exploration on a leisurely weekend at home, can be purchased at Dorrance or Amazon, and is also available, with audio by me, at iTunes. Aaaaand…in my upcoming cookbook, CANVAS & CUISINE, the best culinary stops under the Tuscan sun are featured in chapter after chapter.
Caio – Happy Columbus Day! I leave you with my recipe for pumpkin risotto!
Pumpkin Risotto with Wild Mushrooms
MAKES 6 SERVINGS
1 quart home made chicken broth, or low sodium chicken broth
Whisk the chicken broth and pumpkin puree in a pot over low heat. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Season with sage, salt and pepper. Stir in the rice and cook to toast, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Pour in the wine and cook until the liquid disappears. Stir in a ladleful of warmed broth. When the liquid is absorbed, add another ladleful of broth. Continue until all of the broth has been absorbed. This should take about 20 minutes. The risotto will be wet, not sticky, chewy on the outside and tender on the inside. Stir in the butter, half and half and Parmesan cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with fresh parsley.
Yes, this is just as delicious as it sounds, and surprisingly quick to make. In place of traditional mushrooms, the Marsala sauce combines thinly sliced fennel, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes with the wine. Truffle mustard adds a unique depth of flavor– one you will want to incorporate into other dishes.
This veal, like so many of my recipes, comes from a delicious memory. In the early days of my marriage, my husband and I would travel to my in-law’s home on Sunday night where my mother-in-law, Mary Jane, served veal marsala almost every time.
And why wouldn’t she? It was a winner!
I loved the tangy, rich sauce and the thin, lightly breaded veal cutlet. She bought the meat from a local butcher and he did the pounding for her. The end result is a tender, wine-laced bite that literally melted in my mouth.
My twist on the traditional recipe is to substitute Mary Jane’s sauce staple that includes thick slices of earthy mushrooms and replace them with fennel, artichoke, and sun-dried tomatoes – an ode to all tastes Italian and one of the best recipes in my latest cookbook.
This is hardly the only recipe from the Skillets and Saucery chapter of SUNDAY BEST that yields a melt in your mouth, romantic dinner best served with wine. I like to post the seared, braised and grilled dishes from this chapter maybe more than all the others, because they encourage passionate home cooks to use their imaginations.
Let me know if you made anything particularly luscious in your kitchen this weekend!
Sunday Best Veal Marsala
Makes 4 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 (3 to 4-ounces) veal cutlets, pounded to 1/8-inch thickness
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 small fennel bulb, tops trimmed, cored and thinly sliced, about ½ cup
6 to 8 medium artichoke hearts, thinly sliced, about ½ cup
¼ cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
½ teaspoon dried French thyme
1 cup Marsala wine
½ cup homemade chicken broth, or prepared low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon truffle mustard
Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan over medium high heat. Season both sides of the veal with salt and pepper. Place the cutlets into the pan and cook until golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and brown the other side, 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove the veal to a platter.
Place the fennel, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes into the pan. Cook until the vegetables are soft and golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle the veggies with thyme. Pour the wine into the pan. Cook until the wine reduces by half. Pour the broth into the pan. Stir in the mustard. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer the sauce for 1 minute. Place the veal back into the pan. Simmer until the veal is cooked through, and the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.
When I was a kid, my mom would drive to the corner Italian restaurant to pick up a pizza that was assembled, but not yet baked. She’d get home and place the pizza in the oven. She’d call us to the table and we ate hot, right-out-of-the-oven pizza, burning our mouths on the cheese. I guess some things just leave an indelible mark! For this reason, I’m not a fan of pizza delivery. No matter what they do to improve the box, the pizza still tastes like cardboard to me.
For this reason, I like to make pizza at home. Pre-made pizza crust has improved dramatically from that cylindrical can of dough. Now you can purchase hand-rolled, fresh dough in the deli department of the grocery store. Pizza sauces have evolved as well. You can find sauces made with organic ingredients, little to no sugar in the recipe.
Add to this, the fact that you can purchase pancetta already diced and pepperoni already sliced, and making pizza at home is a no brainer. Here’s a recipe for my family’s favorite pizza. It goes without saying, that you can add any toppings you and your gang like! Just make sure no one burns their mouth on the cheese!
Hubby’s favorite pizza is loaded with meat, meat and more meat. I prefer pizza at home with a ton of veggies. My PPP Pizza merges the two. We combine pepperoni, pancetta and bell pepper with diced mushrooms and lots of Mozzarella cheese. It’s the perfect weeknight meal for two. Just add a veggie salad and a glass of wine!
PPP Pizza With a couple of M’s
Serves 2 to 4
30 Minute Cuisine
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 prepared roll pizza dough
1 (12-ounce) jar prepared pizza sauce
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 pint baby Portobello mushrooms, stemmed and diced, about 2 cups
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
4 ounces sliced pepperoni
1 large bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
½ small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Preheat the oven on it’s highest setting. Drizzle one tablespoon olive oil into a large baking sheet with rim. Press out the pizza dough into the baking sheet. Pour the pizza sauce over the dough.
Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into a small skillet over medium high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until golden and crisping, about 3 to 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to a paper towel lined plate. Keep the oil in the pan to cook the mushrooms.
Place the mushrooms into the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate.
Lay the pepperoni slices onto the pizza. Continue adding the bell pepper slices, pancetta, mushrooms and onion. Sprinkle the cheese over everything. Place the pizza into the oven and cook until the crust is golden, the cheese has melted, and the veggies are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cut the pizza into 8 pieces. Sprinkle with fresh basil and drizzle with a bit more olive oil.
I’m not sure if this is an authentic Italian recipe or a Northeast American Italian recipe. I do know this, though: there are as many traditional family variations of this pasta sauce as there are Italian Nonnas. What is common is the freshness of the ingredients. Freshly diced onion, minced garlic cloves and fresh basil leaves are used in place of dried herbs and spices. I use Italian canned tomatoes, but if you’re being totally authentic, you can peel and hand-mash sweet plum tomatoes into the sauce.
Where the difference lies is in the meat. If you add meat to the sauce, it’s called gravy. And get a load of this gravy — it’s not finalized yet, but the aroma filling your kitchen is going to make you wish it were!
I like mine with beefy short rib, Italian sausage and of course, meatballs like these!
Others prefer to slow cook braciola in the sauce. Both Sunday sauce and Sunday gravy benefit from slowly simmering all-day long. This can be accomplished in a large pot on the stovetop, in a slow cooker or my preference, in a Dutch oven, cooked in my oven, set on low heat. Regardless of which you use, the pot does matter. You need a heavy pot to handle the day-long cooking.
Browning the meat is essential to get those yummy flavors into the pot, as well as searing the tenderness into the beef and sausage. In contrast, when you add the onions and garlic to the pot, you want softness, not too much color. Make sure to turn down the heat so you don’t burn the veggies. Deglazing the pot with a bit (or a lot) of wine, gathers all those tasty brown bits for the start of the sauce.
Whichever sauce you choose, make a big batch. Leftover gravy not only freezes well, but you can use the sausage and meatballs in hoagies; the short rib meat is an excellent filling for ravioli. Making Sunday Gravy on Sunday is freeing! The recipe allows you to prepare it in the morning and walk away for hours. When it’s time to call the family to the table (and they will be pestering you all day from the aroma wafting around the house), drop the pasta into boiling, salted water and take the top off that simmering pot. The rich sauce is done and ready to ladle. If you’re more of a visual learner check out my #AtHomeIntheKitchen segment below…
And here’s the recipe for nonnas, nanas or just about anyone who loves a good pasta!! A disclaimer, though: a starving grandchild ate every last meatball from my plate before I took this shot…
Serves 6 or more
All Day Cuisine
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 meaty beef short ribs
3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons coarse black pepper
4 links Italian sausage
2 large white onions, peeled and diced, about 2 cups
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 2 tablespoons
2 cups red wine
2 (28-ounce cans) crushed tomatoes
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 quart homemade beef stock, or prepared low sodium broth
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
12 (2-inch) meatballs (see Cook’s Tip for recipe)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 pound dried fettucine pasta
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven (or large pot) over medium high heat. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Brown the short ribs on all sides until they are well browned. This should take you about 10 minutes. Transfer the short ribs to a platter.
Cut the sausage links in half creating two smaller links. Cook the sausage in the oil until well browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the sausage to the same platter as the short ribs.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions to the oil, and cook until softened and beginning to turn golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic. Pour in the wine. Simmer until the wine almost completely disappears. Pour in the crushed tomatoes. Stir in the tomato paste. Pour in three cups of the beef stock. Stir in the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Add the short ribs and sausage back to the sauce. Cover and simmer on very low heat until the rib meat is falling off the bone, 4 hours or more on the stove top, 8 hours on low in a slow cooker, or 6 hours in a 250°oven.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place the meatballs onto the baking sheet and gently roll them in the oil. Bake until the meatballs are cooked through and the outside are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Gently place the meatballs into the sauce. Add the fresh basil. Simmer for at least another 30 minutes. If your sauce is too thick, you can add more beef stock. If your sauce is too thin, you can stir in more tomato paste. Taste and add more salt if you like.
Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to the directions on the package. Drain the pasta and pour into a large bowl. Ladle some of the Sunday Gravy over the pasta and toss to coat the noodles. Ladle more sauce over the pasta and include the short rib meat, sausage and meatballs. Sprinkle with additional fresh basil. Serve family style with grated Parmesan cheese on the side.
You can purchase prepared meatballs in the butcher department of the grocery store. But, if you would like to make your own, it’s easy to do. Soak 2 to 3 slices of bread with about ¼ cup milk for 10 minutes. Place ¾ pound of lean ground beef with ¾ pound ground pork in a small bowl. Season with ½ teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Add the bread and any excess milk to the meat. Use your hands to gently combine all the ingredients and form into 2-inch balls. The gentler your hands, the fluffier the meatball.