Antipasto Salad with Pepperoncini Vinaigrette

Greg and I have been into eating salads for dinner lately, and I think it's partially due to this one that I made two weeks ago. Entree salads are delicious! And they require so little effort that they practically make themselves.

This recipe drew me in like a moth to a flame. I'm sure I've shared my love of pickled, spicy, and spicy-pickled things with you before. What is not positively tantalizing about the sound of spicy, vinager-y salad dressing over cheese, beans, and vegetables? Hell, I'd just take the vinaigrette.

To get even more antipasto-y (and more entree salad-y), you could chop up some salami or pepperoni and sliced olives and toss them in there. My god. How good would that be?

Antipasto Salad with Pepperoncini Vinaigrette (from Vegetarian Times)
For the Dressing:
-1/4 cup olive oil
-3 pepperoncini peppers, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
-3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
-1 teaspoon dried oregano
-1/4 cup red wine vinegar

For the Salad:
-8 cups mixed greens or romaine (about 7 ounces)
-1/3 cup red onion, thinly sliced
-1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
-1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained

-3 ounces (or more) smoked provolone, cubed

1. Heat oil in small skillet over medium-low heat. Add pepperoncini and garlic, and sauté 2 minutes. Stir in oregano, and transfer mixture to bowl. Cool. Whisk in vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.

2. Toss mesclun and onion in large bowl with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Divide greens among bowls. Sprinkle tomatoes, chickpeas and cheese over salads, and serve.

-Serves 6 generously as a side, or 4 for a big entree salad

On a side note, The Mister and I will soon be heading out for a much anticipated trip to Spain! I am looking forward to eating and boozing my way across the country. Churros y chocolate come before culture. Museums? Pfft. Give me some Gambas al Ajillo, Paella y Sangria! Stay tuned...I'm sure there will be many cuisine-related photos to come.

Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cannoli


Before I made these cannoli, I had never eaten a cannoli in my entire life. I know, right? How weird is that?

The problem with making things you've never tried any variation of is, of course, that you have no idea what it's supposed to be like. Is the shell too thick? Is the filling not thick enough? These are questions that will only be answered by me actually going out and purchasing several different cannoli (oh, the horror!) for comparison's sake.

Of course, my guests had no problem whatsoever with eating these. So, even if I find out someday that they weren't "right," they were still delicious! And you know what I did with the leftover pistachio-dark chocolate chip crumbles? Used them as a sweet 'n salty ice cream topping. You should do that regardless of if you ever make this recipe or not.

My problem with cannoli is that you need special "cannoli forms" to make them. Buying special hollow metal tubes just to complete part of my baking challenge was like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. BUT, I found them on eBay for something like $3 plus $3 shipping. Sweet. And then I got to use them to punch holes in the middle of my doughnuts! So, not all was lost.

I found making the shells to be very easy all around. The dough is a snap, rolling it out is no problem, deep frying was easy, and the shell came right off the form. Easy peasey. What should have been the 'easy' part (making the filling) actually proved quite difficult for me. Apparently, I didn't grind the chocolate and pistachios finely enough. That wouldn't be a problem in theory, but I didn't think about the fact that I would be squeezing them through a pastry tip, and um....well....big chunks don't fit through pastry tips. After much messing around and frustration (with the filling rapidly getting warmer and runnier), I finally dumped it all into a large baggie, cut off the corner, and made non-pretty filling of the tube (I had to upend the shell, since the filling just came running out. This was a mess, albeit a tasty one. But, this is the beauty of always learn new things.

Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cannoli (from Love With Food)
For the Shells:
-1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
-1/2 tsp salt
-2 tablespoon sugar
-1 egg, lightly beaten
-2 tablespoon firm cold butter, cut in small pieces
-1/4 cup white wine
-1 egg white, slightly beaten
-Canola oil (or any oil) for deep frying

1. Sift flour, salt and sugar. Attach dough hook onto electric mixer. Add butter and 1 egg. Mix at low speed. Then add flour. Beat at low speed. Add wine, 1 tablespoon at a time a dough starts to form into a ball.

2. Remove ball of dough and wrap it in plastic wrap. Put in the fridge for at least 30 mins.

3. Roll out dough on a floured surface to about 1/16" (0.2cm) thick. To make petite cannoli shells, cut into 2" circles. You can actually wrap 2 petite cannoli dough around 1 cannoli form (see photo). For regular size cannoli, use a 3.5" round cutter.

4. For each cut out dough, roll it out more till it becomes really thin. Thinner the better to prevent your cannoli shells from being too thick. Then wrap thin dough around each cannoli form. Seal the edges with the egg white and flair the ends slightly. Do not allow egg white to touch the cannoli form. This will cause the cannoli to stick to the form after frying.

5. Heat oil to 350F. If you do not have a cooking thermometer, dip one end of a wooden chopstick into hot oil. If the oil bubbles, then the oil is hot enough. Fry 2-3 cannoli form at a time till golden brown, about one minute. Remove with tongs and place on paper towel to cool. To remove cannoli shells from the form, use 2 pieces of paper towel to hold the form on each end. This will prevent you from being burnt from the hot cannoli. Then gently twist the cannoli and it should slide out. Let cannoli cool completely.

For the Filling:
-1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
-1 cup ricotta cheese (Note: It helps to drain the ricotta for a few hours beforehand. This is like it sounds... put it in a small-holed sieve or in cheese cloth and let drain into a bowl.)
-1 cup heavy whipping cream
-1/2 cup sugar
-1 tablespoon Kahlua (or Bailey's, or vanilla extract, or whatever floats your boat)
-1 cup unsalted pistachios
-Optional: Powdered sugar for garnishment

1. Add pistachios and chocolate chips into food processor. Grind till fine.

2. In another mixing bowl, beat whipping cream, sugar and vanilla (or baileys) till stiff and peaks form.

3. Gently fold the whipped cream with ricotta cheese. Add 2/3 of the pistachios and chocolate chips mixture. Put the other 1/3 in a bowl.

4. Add mixture into a piping bag or ziploc bag and it's ready to be piped into cannoli shells.

5. Pipe pistachio filling into cannoli. Dip each end of cannoli fillings into pistachios/chocolate chips mixture. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

-Makes about 15-20 cannoli, depending on their size

Apple Cider Doughnuts

Doughnuts look impossible to make, don't they? I think it's because no one really thinks of them as anything other than a quick treat from the 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts or the grocery store (mmm, yeah, tubs of doughnut holes...). Until I started food blogging and obsessively perusing others' sites, I certainly didn't think of doughnuts as something you could make at home. And even when I found out you could, it involved deep frying--something which, until recently, terrified me deeply.

But, here they are. Homemade donuts. And *I* did it! And they were easy (no, really). And they were @$*#in' fantastic.

I know what you're thinking. Heather, apple cider? Really? It's Spring. First of all, this is clearly a Fall treat. Secondly, where do you expect me to find apple cider in April? Well, first--nuts to you! Fall-tastin' treats are good all year round! Secondly, I substituted Mott's Natural Apple Juice for the apple cider, and it worked fabulously. So, there you have it. You no longer have an excuse not to make them right this very minute.

Apple Cider Doughnuts (from Sweet Pea's Kitchen, who got it from the Washington Post)
For the Doughnuts:
-1 cup apple cider or Mott's Natural Apple Juice
-3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface
-2 teaspoons baking powder
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
-4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
-1 cup granulated sugar
-2 eggs
-1/2 cup buttermilk
-Vegetable oil for frying

For the Glaze:
-1 cup confectioners’ sugar
-2-4 tablespoons apple cider or Mott's Natural Apple Juice

1. For the doughnuts: In a saucepan over medium or medium-low heat, gently reduce the apple cider to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the reduced apple cider and the buttermilk, mixing just until combined. Add the flour mixture and continue to mix just until the dough comes together.

4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and sprinkle them generously with flour. Turn the dough onto 1 of the sheets and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Flatten the dough with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Use more flour if the dough is still wet. Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes. Pull the dough out of the freezer. Using a 3-inch doughnut cutter or 3 inch biscuit cutter and a 1 inch biscuit cutter, cut out doughnut shapes. Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto the second sheet pan. Re-roll the scraps of dough and cut additional doughnuts from the dough. Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes. **NOTE: If you're making these for company, I think you would be safe to make them to this point the night before and remove them for a bit while your oil is heating up the next morning, to take a little chill out.**

5. Add enough oil to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 3 inches. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees. Have ready a plate lined with several paper towels.

6. For the glaze: While the cut doughnut shapes are in the refrigerator, make the glaze by whisking together the confectioners’ sugar and the cider until the mixture is smooth. Set aside.

7. To fry and assemble: Carefully add a few doughnuts to the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan, and fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Turn the doughnuts over and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on paper towels after the doughnuts are fried. Dip the top of the warm doughnuts into the glaze and serve immediately.

-Makes approximately 12 donuts and holes (though, since I didn't have a doughnut cutter, I had to use a cannoli tube for the center--which is a little too small width-wise. So, I combined doughnut holes to make them larger, leaving me slightly fewer).

Verdict: I think my feelings about these doughnuts were made perfectly clear above. I LOVE THEM. I am completely over storebought doughnuts. They do not even come close to the rich flavor and warmth of homemade ones. I think the word "perfect" was uttered with sugary crumbs spewing from our lips quite often while eating these little miracles.

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce Pasta with Beef Tenderloin


I've been jonesing for beef lately. Greg and I don't eat a lot of meat in general, but we definitely don't buy beef very often. It's better for our arteries (and vegetarian food is cheaper to make), so I'm cool with it. But sometimes, I get the red meat itch. It's probably an iron deficiency or something, but I consider it divine intervention from the great cow in the sky.

Knowing my proclivities for all things cheese and pasta, you can imagine the way this recipe struck me last week. "MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. THERE IS BEEF TENDERLOIN AND PASTA AND GORGONZOLA CREAM SAUCE, GREG! GORGONZOLA CREAM SAUCE AND BEEF TENDERLOIIIIIIIN!" Greg was slightly less animated than me (it's hard to beat me in a test of food-related animatedness), but said something along the lines of "Ohhhh-h0-ho-ho, my god."

So, I ponied up an obscene amount of money for a beautiful 1 1/2 pound beef tenderloin. I think you could easily use a skirt steak to save money--and you should if you're not making this for company. I did make this for special guests, so they got the good stuff. And it was worth it. This pasta is magical.

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce Pasta with Beef Tenderloin (from Great Chicago Italian Recipes)
-1 pound of Farfalle pasta
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1 tablespoon butter
-1 bunch long green onions, chopped
-2 cloves garlic, chopped
-8 baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
-1 pound beef tenderloin, cut into thin strips (**To stretch this a bit more, or to add a little more heft, you can put in 1 1/2 pounds of beef.**)
-1/2 cup black mission olives, pitted and sliced
-1/2 tsp of salt
-1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
-1/2 cup white wine
-1/2 cup beef broth
-1 cup of heavy whipping cream
-6 fresh sage leaves
-6 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
-1/4 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
-1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese

1. In a large pot of salted boiling water cook the pasta until al dente. Around 10 to 12 minutes.

2. In the meantime, in a large frying pan heat the oil and garlic. Saute the onions, garlic and mushrooms for 2 minutes. Stir in the beef and cook until the outside surface no longer pink.
Stir in the olives and season with the salt and pepper.

3. Add the wine and the broth and reduce by half.

4. Add the cream and the sage and cook for about 5 minutes more. Add the gorgonzola cheese and stir until melted. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.

5. Garnish with parsley and serve with Parmesan cheese.

-Serves 6 amply

Verdict: Incredible. The sauce was sharp with lovely gorgonzola flavor; rich, but not too heavy. I loved that it was studded with tender mushrooms and olives. The beef rounded out the pasta; tender and flavorful--the perfect understated complement to the powerhouse sauce. I would make this again in a heartbeat, whether for company or just us.

BBA: Cinnamon Buns

I have a confession. I have a big problem. A compulsion.

When people come to visit us, I cook a lot of food. I mean, I really tend to go overboard. Yes, it's an act of love, and pure, tail-wagging excitement that they're visiting. But the problem is that I get a titch obsessed. There is always extensive planning that happens. For DAYS. And really, life needn't be that complex. I should really learn to simplify.

A simple joy in my life are cinnamon rolls. I think that's the case for most people. They're something that can really wow guests for any sort of breakfast or brunch. But these 'simple joys' become complicated if you try to make them the day of--they take at least 4 hours. And I dunno about you, but I sure as hell don't get up at 4am for any guests, no matter how much I love them.

The good news is that you can make these sweet beauties the night before (without baking) and then bake them up fresh in the morning. If you have even less time, you can bake them, glaze them, wrap with saran wrap and aluminum foil, and freeze them. This is what I'm doing for my guests who will be coming down on Friday night. My hope is to pull them out on Saturday morning, put them in a pan covered with foil, pop them in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes and have ooey gooey buns in no time flat. Simple!

Cinnamon Buns (slightly modified from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart)
-6 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
-1 teaspoon salt
-5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
-3 tablespoons powdered milk
-1 cup warm water (approximately 115 degrees)
-2 teaspoons active dry yeast
-3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-1 large egg, lightly beaten
-1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
-1/2 cup brown sugar mixed with 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
-2 cups powdered sugar
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
-Approximately 3 tablespoons warm milk
-Chopped pecans to top

1. Cream together sugar, salt, and butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or by hand).

2. Dissolve dry milk and yeast in 1 cup of warm water. Let stand for 5 minutes until bubbly. Add to the creamed mixture, along with the flour. Mix to combine. Whip in the egg and lemon zest. Mix on low speed until the dough forms a ball. You may need to add more flour to make the dough form a ball--add a little (~1 tablespoon) at a time until this happens.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 12 minutes. The dough should be silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. Oil a mixing bowl and place the dough inside, turning to coat. Cover with saran wrap and ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

4. Mist the counter with spray oil, transfer dough to counter. Flour your rolling pin to prevent sticking. Roll the dough out into a rectangle that is 12" tall by 14" long. Pour the brown sugar-cinnamon mixture onto the dough, pressing in lightly. Roll the dough away from you, like you're rolling a cigarette. You may want to press the seam together. Place the log seam-side down on the counter and cut into pieces. For large rolls, you can cut into 8-10 pieces.

5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat. Put the pieces on the baking sheet, placing them 1/2" away from eachother (close, but not touching). Spray with spray oil, cover loosely with plastic wrap. Proof at room temperature 75-90 minutes, or until the pieces are or are nearly touching eachother. At this point, you can put them in the fridge for up to 2 days, pulling the pan out to proof 3-4 hours before baking.

6. Preheat the oven to 350 with rack in the middle of the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until buns are golden-brown. Cool the buns on the pan for about 10 minutes. While they're cooling, mix up your fondant glaze icing by placing the powdered sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Add the warm milk 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking until it reaches the right consistency--thick and smooth, but able to be dripped without too much effort. When the buns are warm, but not hot, sprinkle chopped pecans in the crevices of the rolls, then use a fork to drizzle the glaze across the tops.

-Makes 8-10 cinnamon buns

Verdict: Ridiculously amazing. Ridiculously easy to make. The buns are soft and tender all the way through, with just a hint of a crusty outside. The lemon zest adds a uniquely delightful twist to an otherwise ordinarily flavored dough. The sugary-cinnamony innards are not unlike what you find at Cinnabon. In short: Awesome. SO much better than my last attempt at cinnamon rolls.

Vegetable Manicotti alla Vodka

Why is it that some of the world's tastiest foods are the ugliest to photograph? I don't see a way of making manicotti baked in chunky vodka sauce look anything but a gory crime scene (albeit a crime scene involving spinach and artichokes). It's really unfortunate, because, if I don't mind saying so myself, this recipe rocks.

I was having one of my typical fits of indecision while making the grocery list for the week. I kept waiting for one of the thousands of recipes at my disposal to jump up and slap me in the face with its awesomeness. But NOTHING was exactly what I wanted. What I wanted was this recipe....cheesy, creamy, spicy, comforting, and stuffed with vegetables. What's a girl to do? Well, make it up, of course.

I am extremely pleased with the outcome of this meal and would be remiss in not recommending it to you. Of course, if you want to save yourself extra dirty dishes, time and money, I'm sure you could buy a jar of vodka sauce and pour it on top of the manicotti. But if you have the time and/or mad phat multitasking skills, making your own sauce is definitely worth it.

One word of warning: Don't eat the filling before putting it in the pasta. It's delicious, but if you eat it, you may find yourself without enough stuffing for the manicotti.... hence my 11-12 manicotti shells directions below. Oops.

Vegetable Manicotti alla Vodka (from moi)
For the pasta and filling:
-11-12 manicotti shells, cooked, drained, and cooled
-8-10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1/2 large onion, chopped finely
-2 large cloves garlic, minced
-5 large mushrooms, chopped finely
-1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped finely
-2/3 cup ricotta
-2/3 cup shredded parmesan
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-Scant 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Preheat oven to 350. Coat a 13x9 pan with cooking spray.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Saute for a few minutes. Add artichoke hearts, and cook for a few more minutes. Set aside briefly and TRY not to eat it all. It'll be hard, but try. I know it's delicious, but you need it.

3. Put spinach and the cooked onion mixture into a large bowl. Add ricotta, parmesan, salt, pepper, and oregano. Mix until thoroughly combined.

4. Stuff the manicotti with the mixture. It is easiest to use your fingertips.

For sauce:
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-Approximately 1/3 of a large onion, chopped
-2 large cloves garlic, minced
-28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
-2/3 cup heavy cream
-1/3 cup 2% milk
-1/3 cup vodka
-1 teaspoon flour
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
-1/8 teaspoon cayenne
-1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, sautéing for 3-5 minutes or until softened.

2. Add crushed tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and you're left with thick crushed tomatoes, approximately 8 minutes. Add cream, milk, and vodka, stirring to combine. Add flour and whisk in. Let the mixture cook for 2-3 minutes, lowering the temperature to prevent scalding. Stir in the spices and remove from heat.

3. Pour the sauce over the manicotti. Spread evenly in the pan. Cover with tin foil and cook 20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook another 10 minutes

-Serves 4 (makes approximately 12 manicottis)