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Pancetta and Beans with Spinach

December 13, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

With the cold winter weather rolling in, now’s the time to start planning some good, old fashioned, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meals. The dish that I’m sharing with you today is one of my all time favorites. The simple, yet classic ingredients make for a wonderfully tasty and hearty comfort dish. Old-school Italian soul food at its best!

 

 

 

 

 

Pancetta and Beans with Spinach

4 oz pancetta, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 14.5 oz stewed tomatoes, drained
1 15 oz can cannellini or garbanzo beans (I use a mixture of both)
1 bag spinach
olive oil (if needed)
1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth (if needed)
salt and pepper

Sauté pancetta in a large pan over medium heat until crispy and fat is rendered, about 7-10 minutes. Remove pancetta and set aside.

Add onion to rendered fat in the pan, sauté until soft and translucent (you can add some olive oil if needed). Add tomatoes and beans, stir together, cook until heated.

Add the spinach, stir together. You can add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chick broth if needed, to help cook down the spinach.

Once the spinach is cooked down, add the pancetta back to the pan. Stir together, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve and enjoy with a loaf of crispy Italian bread!

 

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Crock-Pot Pulled Pork

December 2, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

Cooking a pork shoulder in a Crock-Pot or a slow cooker is a popular and easy method used for making pulled pork. While my personal favorite method is to slow cook it on the grill (you can find my recipe for grilled pulled pork by clicking here), I have tried a few different versions in the Crock-Pot as well. This version that I’m sharing with you today is my favorite Crock-Pot version. The pork shoulder gets rubbed down with a mixture of garlic powder, oregano, red pepper flakes and kosher salt prior to cooking, so barbecue sauce is not needed. Instead, I simply add two jars of pork gravy, which makes for a juicy, tender and delicious pot of pulled pork!

 

 

 

Crock-Pot Pulled Pork

1 large Vidalia onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 (5- to 6-lb.) boneless pork shoulder roast
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 (10 1/2-oz.) can condensed chicken broth
2 12-oz jars pork gravy
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Lightly coat the bottom of a 6-qt Crock-Pot with olive oil. Make 1-2″ deep slits around various parts of the pork shoulder. Rub the garlic powder, oregano, kosher salt and crushed red pepper all over the pork shoulder. Be sure to get the spices into the slits as well. Place onions in the pot, then place roast on top of onions. Pour broth over roast. Cover and cook (HIGH 6 to 7 hours, or LOW 8 to 10 hours) or until meat shreds easily with a fork.

Carefully transfer the pork to a cutting board. Remove and discard onions from the broth (you can reserve the onions to use as a topping, if you like). Add the two jars of pork gravy to the broth in the pot. Let the pork cool for 10 minutes, then shred with 2 forks, removing any large pieces of fat. Add the shredded pork back to the pot. Serve and enjoy!

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Roasted Italian Butternut Squash

September 29, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

Nothing says autumn like the sweet taste of butternut squash. Whether it’s roasted with a little cinnamon, butter and brown sugar, prepared as a hearty soup, or served as a seasonal ravioli, butternut squash is a definite fall favorite. This recipe offers a nice balance of sweet and savory. The Italian seasonings work really well with the natural sweetness of the squash. This is a great side dish to serve with any autumn-inspired meal…be sure to keep it in mind come Thanksgiving time!

 

 

 

 

Roasted Italian Butternut Squash

I like to slice the top half as rounds, and the bottom half as long slices – this makes it easier to work around the pulp and seeds, and makes for a rustic presentation.

1 butternut squash, peeled and sliced into 1/2″ slices
1/4 cup olive oil, plus additional if needed
1/4 tspn salt
1/4 tspn pepper
1/2 tspn garlic powder
1 tspn Italian seasoning

I personally prefer to use a baking rack sitting in a baking dish or on a baking tray for this recipe, to allow for even cooking on both sides. If you do not have a rack that fits into a baking dish, you can just use a lightly sprayed baking tray and flip the squash slices halfway through baking time.

Preheat oven to 400˚. Place squash slices on a rack that is sitting in a baking dish or on a baking tray (see note above regarding the rack). Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and Italian seasoning. Lightly brush the squash slices on both sides. You can lightly drizzle with additional olive oil if needed.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the slices start to brown along the edges, turning once at 15 minutes.

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Talking Turkey on the Grill

Holidays play an important part in my family’s deep-rooted traditions. A holiday wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t spending time together, most likely while enjoying a beautiful, home-cooked meal. While the ‘big’ holidays are always special, we also look forward to the casual, summertime holidays that are celebrated over grill-outs, cold beers and fireworks. Not only are these holidays fun and exciting, they are also stress-free! We’ve started the tradition a few years back of spending these summer holidays with our close friends, Chrissy, Carl and their son Lucas, who are as near and dear to us as our own family.

A few months back, as we were enjoying a Sunday dinner with our friends, we shared conversation about how much we love Thanksgiving dinner, and how it’s a shame to enjoy such a great meal only once a year. This immediately led us to deciding on having a Friendsgiving Dinner on Memorial Day weekend. The timing would be perfect – it would be exactly 6 months until the actual Thanksgiving holiday, and we would have the rest of the summer to grill up burgers and hot dogs. From there, the wheels were in motion and the menu was planned between all of us…and a new holiday tradition was born!

The Menu

We decided to stick with a traditional Thanksgiving menu: stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, cold apple cider, a pumpkin dessert and, of course…the turkey. Chrissy and Carl also kicked the mood up a notch by digging out their Thanksgiving decorations and playing A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving DVD…complete with popcorn as a snack. Since Memorial Day is the official kick-off to summertime (Carl’s awesome mojitos were a nice reminder of this), I thought it would be fun to cook the turkey on the grill. I have always heard that grilled turkey is fantastic, so what better opportunity to give it a go?

*Note – there was one additional item added to the menu, which I will be sharing in the future. Trust me, it’ll be worth the wait!

The Turkey

The first thing that I learned right out of the gate was that whole turkeys aren’t cheap this time of the year (and the local supermarkets aren’t giving away free turkeys with your bonus points). To not risk over-grilling a $45 bird, I decided to just go with a 6lb turkey breast. An additional benefit to going this route is that you can always purchase legs and wings separately, so you can prepare as many as needed. Being that this was my first try at grilling a turkey, I spent a good amount of time doing my research on the proper cooking methods. One of the key steps that I followed was to soak the turkey overnight in a brine. Not only does brining add flavor to the turkey, it also adds extra moisture to avoid the turkey from getting dried out while on the grill.

Brine Recipe
1-1/4 cups coarse salt
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 gallon cool water
Place water, salt and sugar into a large pot, bring to a slow boil. Remove from heat, let cool completely. Place turkey breast into pot, be sure to cover completely with brine. Cover the pot tightly with a lid, refrigerate for 8-12 hours. Rinse brine off of turkey breast before seasoning.

After rinsing the brine off of the soaked turkey, I brushed it with 1 cup vegetable oil, then coated the entire bird, inside and out, with 1 tbspn Italian seasoning and some salt and pepper.

There are a few methods for grilling a turkey that I found online. The most common method that I found and decided to follow was to cook the turkey sitting over a drip pan, using indirect heat. After warming the grill up to 350˚, I placed the seasoned turkey breast, skin side up, on a rack and placed it inside of a roasting pan. I added 1 cup of water to the roasting pan (adding additional liquid as needed while grilling, to prevent the drippings from burning. I sat the roasting pan over indirect heat and let it go for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the internal temperature of the turkey was 165˚. After removing it from the grill and letting it rest for 20 minutes, the turkey was ready to be sliced. While the turkey was resting, I put the drippings to good use by making a home-made gravy (click here for the recipe).

If you are looking for a new method for making a turkey, I highly recommend grilling it. There is minimum prep time and effort involved, and if you follow the brining method, you will be sure to end up with a turkey that is flavorful and juicy!

Whole turkey cooked on a gas barbecue, using a roasting pan. Image courtesy of istock.com

Whole turkey cooked on a gas barbecue, using a roasting pan. Image courtesy of istock.com

What, No Cranberries?!?

Aside from finding out that turkeys are not in large supply this time of year, it was also a challenge to find fresh cranberries for my home made cranberry sauce. Instead of resorting to frozen cranberries, I thought it would be fun to add a bit of a summertime flavor to the table by making Bon Appetit’s Cherry Compote recipe (click here for the recipe). This an excellent substitute to the traditional cranberry sauce. It offered a nice summertime sweet/tart flavor combination, and the leftovers worked very well served over vanilla ice cream!

You Can’t Forget the Pumpkin!

It’s no secret that I am a nut for all things pumpkin. Even though we are not in pumpkin season, we made sure that it would somehow be represented at our Friendsgiving meal. For dessert, my wife Daria made a pumpkin crisp that has been a signature at our family’s Thanksgiving dinner for a few years now. We made sure to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which put this dessert over the top!

Pumpkin Crisp
(Originally posted at myrecipes.com)

1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1 c. of evaporated milk
1 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 (18.5 oz) pkg butter-flavored yellow cake mix
1 c. melted butter

Optional:
1 c. chopped pecans
Ground nutmeg
Whipped cream
Vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350F.  Stir together the first five ingredients. Pour into a lightly greased 13×9 inch baking dish.  Sprinkle cake mix evenly over pumpkin mixture (if you wish to add pecans, sprinkle them evenly over cake mix).  Drizzle melted butter over cake mix. Bake at 350F for 60 – 65 minutes or until golden brown**.  Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  IF desired, serve with whipped cream, sprinkle of nutmeg or vanilla ice cream.

** If baking ahead of time, I baked for about 55 min then re-heat again for another 10 min before serving.

I am very fortunate to be thankful for a lot of things in my life, most of all for my family and friends. I am also thankful that we started a new tradition to look forward to every Memorial Day!

Here’s to friends…and Friendsgiving!

Friendsgiving mascots!

Friendsgiving mascots!

 

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The turkey breast, fresh off the grill!

 

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…and dinner is served!

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