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Mini Caprese Wonton Bites

April 7, 2016 Menu No Comments

I have been using wonton and egg roll wrappers for many of my quick appetizer recipes for a few years now. I’ve stuffed them with everything from meatballs and cheese steak to buffalo chicken and vegetables. While the end result is always a crowd pleaser, I will admit that the actual stuffing and prepping phase could be a bit tedious. It’s not complicated, but rather monotonous to spoon, fold/roll, seal and repeat.

This past weekend I found the sure-fire method for stuffing and baking wonton wrappers, which involves very little time, yet still produces an amazing snack. By using a mini muffin tray, you are able to set up, fill and seal the wrappers quickly and efficiently. For my first attempt at the mini-muffin tray method, I used the classic caprese pizza ingredients: fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil, each sliced into small pieces. After lining up the muffin tin with a wrapper in each cup, I placed a piece of mozzarella, tomato and basil in each, then folded the wrappers over, slightly pressing down on them to seal them shut. After a quick hit of cooking spray and 10 minutes in the oven, my family and I were treated to some great tasting home made appetizers.

The filling combinations for this method are endless…and I plan on experimenting and sharing the results with you along the way. Definitely be sure to give this trick a try for your next round of party appetizers. They’ll be a thousand times better than the usual store-bought frozen variety, and you’ll be sure to impress your guests. This is also a great recipe to get the kids involved with…especially with the stuffing and folding of the wrappers!

The basic ingredients: mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and wonton wrappers.

The basic ingredients: mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and wonton wrappers.

 

Step 1: Line a mini muffin tin with 24 wonton wrappers, one wrapper in each cup.

 

Step 2: Fill each cup with a piece of mozzarella, tomato and basil.

 

Step 3: Fold the wrappers closed. Spray with cooking spray and place in 400˚ oven for 10 minutes, or until brown and crispy.

 

Remove from pan, serve and enjoy!

 

Bet you can’t just have one!

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Italian Eggs in a Basket

March 24, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

Eggs in a Basket has been a fun and popular breakfast item for many years. Quite a few versions of this meal exist, from the quick and easy Toad in the Hole* (using a juice glass to cut a hole in the center of toast, then frying an egg in the center of the hole), to lining a muffin tin with hash browns and bacon, then topping with a scrambled egg batter before baking.

In my version which I am about to share with you, we will be using dinner rolls that are hollowed out and baked with an egg poured inside. While this is also a very popular and common version of Eggs in a Basket, I’m adding a bit of an Italian spin to mine. Before cracking the egg into the hollowed roll, I add a slice of provolone cheese to the lining of the roll, then fill it with a tablespoon of bruschetta (home-made or jarred will work well). I also like to sprinkle some fresh herbs, salt and pepper on top of the basket for additional zing. These extra ingredients add a beautiful flavor and texture to an already classic dish. With springtime  finally in the air and Easter Sunday just a few days away, this dish will make for a great brunch item to serve to family and friends…and it’s just as easy to make a single serving for yourself during the week!

Italian Eggs in a Basket

The recipe is per serving. You can make as many, or as little as you wish!

The basic ingredients: eggs, bruschetta and dinner rolls

The basic ingredients: eggs, bruschetta and dinner rolls.

 

Slice a small portion off of the top of the roll, then hollow out the roll. Keep the sliced top for dipping.

Slice a small portion off of the top of the roll, then hollow out the roll. Keep the sliced top for dipping.

 

Line the rolls with sliced provolone cheese, then with a teaspoon of bruschetta (home made or store bought).

Line the rolls with sliced provolone cheese, then with a tablespoon of bruschetta (home made or store bought).

 

Gently crack an egg over the top of the roll. Top with salt, pepper and fresh herbs (basil or Italian seasoning work well).

Gently crack an egg over the top of the roll. Top with salt, pepper and fresh herbs (basil or Italian seasoning work well). Place on a sprayed baking sheet.

 

Bake in a 375˚ oven for 25-30 minutes, until the eggs are set, or to preferred doneness. You can place under a broiler quickly for well done yolks.

Bake in a 375˚ oven for 25-30 minutes, until the eggs are set, or to preferred doneness. You can place under a broiler quickly for well done yolks.

 

Serve immediately.

Serve immediately.

 

Lightly toast the bread toppings for dipping. Enjoy!

 

*Note – there is also a British version of Toad in the Hole, which consists of sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding, served with vegetables and onion gravy. Maybe I’ll consider adding an Italian spin to that dish somewhere down the line….

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Mini Timbale

March 11, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

In my last post, I shared with you my updated spin on the classic sausage and peppers, with the addition of rice and seasoned tomato sauce. Today’s post will put that recipe to excellent use, by using it as a stuffing inside of a timbale! For those of you not familiar with timbale, it is a dish that is prepared in a round pan (most often a spring form pan for a large size), that is lined with thin layers of eggplant, then filled with a mixture usually made up of a pasta base. The timbale is baked, then presented whole, which looks like a timbale drum, then is sliced and served. If you are a long-time reader of my food blog, you may recall my less-than-successful attempt a few years back at making timbale for my Mom’s birthday (click here for The Trials of Timbale).

After a few years, I felt that it was time to once again give it a go at making timbale. Learning from my previous mistakes, I decided this time to make individual servings in ramekin dishes to help keep everything contained and not have it fall apart all over my kitchen counter. Because I was planning to use a much smaller container, I thought that it may not allow for much room for a pasta filling. This is why I opted instead for the sausage, peppers and rice filling. By adding the sauce to the filling, it would allow the ingredients to hold together as I packed it into each serving dish. Unlike my last attempt, I was also very careful not to use too much oil when preparing the eggplant slices. Adding oil to eggplant, especially when baking it, can be very deceiving. The eggplant has a tendency to soak up liquids like it were a sponge, but then it releases them as it cooks. My previous attempt failed because I used too much oil on my eggplants, which did not allow it to hold together once removed from the pan.

Thinly sliced seasoned eggplant on a lightly oiled baking sheet, baked at 350˚ for 5-10 minutes until softened.

Thinly sliced seasoned eggplant on a lightly oiled baking sheet, baked at 350˚ for 5-10 minutes until softened.

I started off by thinly slicing one large eggplant length-wise. I lightly sprayed a large baking sheet, and placed the slices on the sheet, lightly seasoning them with salt and pepper. I placed them in the oven at 350˚ for about 5-7 minutes…just long enough to make the slices pliable but not to where they would fall apart. Already I was off to a much better start! This left me with enough slices to line two single-serve ramekin dishes. Unlike a full size timbale, I opted to not add enough eggplant to enclose the filling. While this step is necessary with a full size, I felt that it would work fine with the smaller size, and especially with the tighter packed filling that I was planning to use. If you opt to use a pasta filling, be sure to account for more eggplant. I also suggest preparing the eggplant ahead of time and storing it in the refrigerator. The slices will stay soft enough to work with, but will not fall apart.

My sausage, peppers, rice and tomato sauce filling.

My sausage, peppers, rice and tomato sauce filling.

As I prepared my filling (you can click here for the recipe), I once again preheated the oven to 375˚. I lightly sprayed the ramekin dishes before lining them with the sliced eggplant. Although some pieces of eggplant were longer and larger than others, I put all of the slices to good use, making sure that the entire dish was lined. If you want to fully enclose you timbale, be sure to use larger slices off eggplant and have them overlap the edges of the pan, then simply fold over once the dish is filled. But again, because my filing was more compact that a pasta filling, I went with not completely enclosing the dish.

Ramekin dishes liked with the eggplant slices.

Ramekin dishes lined with the eggplant slices.

 

Tightly packing the ramekins with the filling.

Tightly packing the ramekins with the filling.

Once all of the filling was tightly packed into the ramekins, I placed them into the oven for about 30 minutes, until the outer edge of the eggplants started to brown and slightly crisp. I removed them from the oven, let them cool for a few minutes and very carefully ran a paring knife around the inner edges to separate the timbale from the dish. With a careful flip onto the dish and a few light taps, the timbale fell perfectly onto the dish. I quickly hit them with a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh herbs…and it was a thing of beauty! After years of disappointment, I had finally achieved making timbale. Not only did it look elegant, it tasted just as wonderful. It was a spectacular dish, put together with just a few simple ingredients. But a little bit of extra love took it a long way.

Carefully flipping the timbale onto the dish.

Carefully flipping the timbale onto the dish.

 

Drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh herbs.

Drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh herbs.

Regarding the filling – you can get as creative as you like. Pasta, ricotta cheese, various meats, shrimp or even vegetables would make for excellent fillings. You can also top it however you like once it is removed from the baking dish. A nice slice of mozzarella, some fresh tomatoes and basil…the options are endless!

IMG_6770

Perfection!

So there you have my triumphant return to attempting timbale, and I hope it inspires you to give this creative, impressive and filling dish a try!

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Sausage, Peppers and Rice

March 1, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

Sausage and peppers is comfort food at its best. Whether served as a quick sandwich or plated as a meal, there is nothing quite like this classic combination. Today’s recipe takes these two ingredients to a new level by adding rice, tomato sauce and smoked cheddar. Prep time and cooking time are both fairly quick, so this makes for a great weekday meal. And while it no doubt serves well on its own, it makes for an even better filling for another fantastic dish that I’ll be sharing with you in my next post.

My wife and I are both big fans of chicken sausage, which is what I used while preparing this dish. Of course, you can use whatever type of sausage that you prefer. And while I highly recommend a smoked cheddar for this dish, the choice of cheese again is up to you. Regardless of what ingredients you choose to use, you can bet that this dish will be a hit.

 

Sausage, Peppers and Rice

Serves 4

1 lb ground chicken sausage (or your preference), removed from casing
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1″ pieces
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tbspn olive oil
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 cup shredded smoked cheddar (or your choice of cheese)
salt and pepper
2 servings of cooked rice (white or brown)

Start by preparing the rice according to the package directions (microwaving it will work fine for this dish). Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the chopped peppers and shallot, cook until crisp tender. Add the ground sausage, stir. Cook until the sausage is fully browned, continuing to stir (this will help break up the sausage as it cooks). Once the sausage is fully browned, add the can of tomato sauce. Add the Italian seasoning, stir together. Let simmer for 10 minutes, until thoroughly heated. Add the cooked rice, stir together. Season with salt and pepper. Add the shredded cheese, stir. Serve and enjoy.

sausage1

sausage2

In my next post, I’ll show you how to incorporate this recipe into an amazing new eggplant dish!

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