Friday, January 27, 2012

Stuffed Pepper Stew

Joe is the executive Chef at Brooks Place Tavern, the restaurant where I'm currently employed. I call Chef Joe the "Soup Dude", because he is a stellar soup creator. His other foods are extremely good but the gift for soup making runs deep in his soul. I've been forced to recreate several of his recipes based on the fact that he keeps his recipes tucked safely away in his mind. I've mentioned his brilliance in the kitchen when it comes to the art of preparing perfectly balanced soup recipes, when I recreated his highly coveted Pumpkin Pie Soup. I'll have to pat my self on the back for that one as my recreated recipe was spot on!!  Chef Joe's recipe for Stuffed Pepper Stew is no exception to the rule.  Reminiscent of my childhood and the flavors of my moms stuffed peppers, this soup is hearty and filled with flavor.

Serves 6
2 pounds ground chuck
3 large green bell peppers, chopped
1 large white onion, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
8 fresh plum tomatoes, chopped
1 14 ounce can tomato sauce
1 14 ounce can water (use tomato sauce can)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked white rice

  • Brown ground beef in heavy bottom sauce pan on medium high heat, drain liquid
  • Remove beef from pan and set aside
  • heat canola oil in same sauce pan chop peppers, and onions medium dice and saute until onions are translucent
  • season with a pinch of salt and pepper. 
  • Add minced garlic and saute for 1 minute
  • add chopped plum tomatoes and cook until soft 
  • stir in tomato sauce brown sugar, bay leaf, garlic powder and return browned beef to sauce pan
  • cover and simmer on medium low heat for 1-2 hours 
To Serve
Ladle hot soup into bowls, add 2-3 teaspoons cooked white rice to each bowl, stir.  Serve with crusty bread

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nutella Hot Chocolate Espresso Hearts

I adore Nutella because it's one of the most delicious and versatile ingredients in my cupboard. Its rich chocolate flavor and creamy texture bring life to so many of my recipes.  My inspiration for this recipe came from my love of hot chocolate and espresso. 

As I was formulating my recipe for these tiny but powerful hot chocolate hearts, I thought to myself, "why not add a little hazelnut goodness to bring this romantic treat to newer heights?" I did just that with the addition of Nutella.  The outcome was a luscious sipping chocolate with an Italian flair.  The perfect sweet for your Valentine this year!
This recipe is has been entered into the Valentine's Day recipe contest at Cooking with NONA.     Click here to view the recipe gallery.          

Makes 1 dozen
1 cup Nutella
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1.7 ounce instant espresso/coffee
1 cup powdered cocoa
2-4 cups steamed milk or pipping hot water for lower calorie version

In a medium microwave safe bowl, melt Nutella and chocolate chips for 1 minute on high heat.  Stir until blended.  Cook for an additional 30 seconds if necessary to melt the chocolate chips.

Add instant espresso/coffee and blend until combined.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or until firmly set.

Spoon 2-3 tablespoons cold mixture onto a cool surface dusted with cocoa powder, roll into a ball, with fingers press ball into a 1/2 inch thickness, dust heart shaped cookie cutter with powdered cocoa and begin pressing out hearts.  Roll each shaped heart in cocoa powder and set on a cookie sheet.  Cover and refrigerate. 

To Serve
Steam milk until frothy or heat water to boiling, drop one Nutella Hot Chocolate Espresso Heart into a mug or espresso cup, pour hot liquid over heart, stir until melted.

Hearts can be refrigerated and kept for up to two weeks in an airtight container.  

Cooking with Nonna

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sicilian Cassata Torte

Valentines Day is fast approaching, making this month a sweethearts delight. Recipes and gifts for 'all things chocolate', will plague markets, television shows and cooking web sites, tempting us to indulge to our hearts content. Chocolate has long been linked to Valentines Day for it's rumored aphrodisiac qualities, not to mention it tastes damn good! So where did the idea of giving chocolates on Valentine's Day come from? From the moment chocolate was discovered!   

This scrumptious dessert has been entered in Cooking with Nona Valentine Chocolate Dessert Contest. Click here for more details and to visit the contest photo gallery.

The history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica. Chocolate, the fermented, roasted, and ground beans of the Theobroma cacao, can be traced to the Mokaya and other pre-Olmec people, with evidence of cacao beverages dating back to 1900 BCE.
Chocolate played a special role in both Maya and Aztec royal and religious events. Priests presented cacao seeds as offerings to the gods and served chocolate drinks during sacred ceremonies. All of the areas that were conquered by the Aztecs that grew cacao beans were ordered to pay them as a tax, or as the Aztecs called it, a "tribute".
The Europeans sweetened and fattened it by adding refined sugar and milk, two ingredients unknown to the Mexicans. Source: Wikipedia

A classic Sicilian cake, rumored to be linked to the island's Arab period because of the candied fruit mixed into the ricotta cream, among other things, it's actually much older: The word Cassata derives from the Latin Caseus, which means cheese. In other words, Cassata is one of the world's first cheesecakes.

Cassata is a traditional sweet from the province of Palermo, Sicily (Italy). It is similar to the French gateau. The word ”Cassata” comes from Arabic gashatah (cf. Latin caseata, anything made of cheese) and was first introduced during the Arab rule in Sicily from the 9th to the 11th century.
Source: Wikipedia 

My recipe for this Traditional Sicilian Cassata Torte is made with a few variations to suit my taste. I've omitted the candied fruit, substituting freshly grated lemon zest, sliced almonds and diced semi-sweet chocolate. The Nutella and Chocolate Chip frosting tops off my Cassata Torte in grand fashion!

2 10 ounce loaf frozen pound cake, thawed
5 tablespoons Galliano Liqueur
2 8 ounce packages cream cheese
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
3 eggs
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, chopped
2/3 cups slivered almonds
zest from 1 whole lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
juice from 1/2 lemon

1 cup Nutella
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  • Cut pound cake into 16 1/2-inch slices (there will be about 1/4 cake left) Sprinkle both sides of sliced pound cake with 3 tablespoons Galliano Liqueur.
  • butter the bottom and side of a 9-inch spring form pan, cut a round of parchment paper to fit bottom of pan and butter, place parchment in pan
  • Arrange cake slices around sides of pan. Add remaining slices to the bottom of pan cutting pieces to fit, set aside
  • For filling
  • In a large bowl combine cream cheese, ricotta cheese, 3/4 cups sugar, and flour. Beat with electric mixer on medium high until smooth and fluffy (about 2 minutes)
  • Add eggs, almonds, chopped semi-sweet chocolate chips, 2 tablespoons Galliano, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla and almond extracts. Beat until just combined
  • Pour cake into lined pan and spread evenly.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until edges appear to be set and center appears nearly set when gently shaken.  Do not over cook.  Cool on wire rack for 30 minutes
  • Losen edges of torte with a dull knife, remove sides of springform pan and cool for additional hour, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 6-24 hours

To Serve:
Heat Nutella and chocolate chips in microwave set on high for 1 minute, stir to combine, heat additional 30 seconds if chocolate chips are not melted completely.  Pour chocolate over top of cake. 
Serve with drizzle of strawberry and chocolate sauce

A perfect Valentine's Day dessert for your special someone! Filled with rich decadent flavors, this creamy, chocolaty treat will set the mood for a night filled with desire.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Classic Ruben Sandwich

Classic Ruben Sandwich

I remember eating my first Ruben Sandwich at a traditional Jewish Deli in Denver Colorado.  The kitchen was Kosher where the meat was prepared from scratch.  Years of cooking knowledge and mamma's recipe, made for a flavorful, lean, and juicy pastrami.   Homemade kraut with a sprinkling of caraway seeds added during fermentation, gave the kraut a tart but smooth flavor.  The Swiss cheese and rye bread were both imported. 

When the sandwich arrived to the table, it was piled so high that even my big mouth couldn't fit around it's girth for the first bite!  The sweet, creamy texture of the homemade 1000 Island dressing brought my delicatessen eating experience to a happy crescendo!

Serves 4

1 pound thinly sliced pastrami
1/2 pound thinly sliced Swiss cheese
1 loaf dark rye bread or Black Forest Rye
1 8 ounce can sauerkraut Bavarian style with caraway seeds
3 teaspoons butter
1/4 cup home made 1000 Island dressing (recipe below)


Heat a non stick skillet to medium high, melt 1 teaspoon butter, add 1/4 pound pastrami and 1/4 cup kraut to hot pan.  Diced the ingredients together using a spatula and cook for 2-3 minutes, separate ingredients into two even piles, reduce heat to medium, add one slice of Swiss cheese to each mound of pastrami, cook for 1-2 minutes more or until cheese has melted.


While pastrami is cooking, toast bread and butter each side while still warm. Add 1/2 tablespoon 1000 Island dressing to each slice of bread.  Layer first mound of meat mixture over toast and then the next mound over the first.  Cover with remaining slice of bread (I call this the double stack). Slice sandwich in half and serve immediately.
1000 Island Dressing
2 tablespoons real mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon sweet relish
Mix ingredients in a small bowl and set aside until ready to use.  Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, in a covered container.


Serve with crinkle cup potato chips and a big Kosher Dill Pickle!!
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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Announcing the WINNER - "Is Your Batter Better?" Fish and Chips Challenge 2011

And The Winner Is??? 

Several months ago I asked my readers, "Is Your Batter Better?" In my first ever blog cooking challenge "Is Your Batter Better?" Fish & Chips Challenge 2011. The challenge turn out was small but the recipes were giant sized!!  I received two amazing entries that filled my mouth with crispy crunch and my belly with sweet satisfaction! 

Joy, the owner of kitchen flavours shared her recipe for Fish & Chips, with Tartar Sauce and Corn Salad and Shirley from Shirley's Luxury Haven shared her recipe for Light & Crunchy Fish and Chips .  I found both dishes to be supremely tasty, truly satisfying for my Fish and Chips cravings.  My family enjoyed both recipes as well!

I was thrilled when Joy decided to enter the challenge given the fact she is not much of a Fish and Chips gal!  Luckily, her kiddos were more than happy to be her taste testers giving her a thumbs up for her efforts!  I loved Joy's idea of frying a spoon full of batter before coating the fish.  A perfect way to taste for seasoning and crispness. The addition of paprika and pepper to dredge the fish prior to coating with batter, added a ton of flavor. Her batter was really tasty and had a glorious crunch!

Shirley had some great tips on how to ensure a really crispy batter by using beer or soda water.  I've employed this method and find it works very well.  However, I've never tried using ice water as an aid for crispness.  This method works wonderfully!  I also really like the idea of using newspaper to serve the fish to soak up any excess oil!  Her recipe was filled with flavor and a delightful crunch.

So who's recipe won this challenge?  I loved both recipes so much that I couldn't chose just one, so I'm awarding both entries the Badge of Honor!!  Congratulations Joy and Shirley, you are the winners of "Is Your Batter Better Fish & Chips Challenge 2011! 

Please pay Shirley and Joy a visit to view more of their amazing recipes and congratulate them on a job well done! 

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Kraft Philadelphia Indulgence

Dark Chocolate Nilla Nanners

Kraft has just released their newest and most decadent  product yet... Philadelphia Indulgence! It comes in three flavors, Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and White Chocolate.  Available is most stores, this is a must try product!

Spoon it straight from the tub and spread this creamy goodness on just about anything you can imagine.  Here are a few of my creations! By the way, my favorite is the White Chocolate with pretzels!  YUM!

Milk Chocolate Almond Popcorn

White Chocolate with Salted Pretzels
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Conifer Colorado, January 6, 2012 Sunrise taken from my front porch

I'm still figuring out the settings on my camera so these are somewhat out of focus however, the colors are just breath taking!

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