Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Meal Planning 101

As a meal planning HATER for many years, I must say it has taken a small personal breakthrough for me to accomplish what you are about to see.  I am the kind of gal that RARELY uses a recipe, and LOATHES standing over a hot stove, especially on school nights when homework (or diapers, or our NEW PUPPY) are all awaiting my attention!  Meal planning just is not in my vocabulary.  We often throw something together at the last minute or settle for cereal on super busy nights.

Well, I finally got sick of that.  No longer am I standing in my kitchen, WELL past dinnertime, staring at the fridge wondering what I can concoct with the available ingredients.  Truly, it should be a food network series (if food network still had good old cooking shows, that is!) I was sick of the guessing game.

So, I made a list of the typical EASY meals I make for my family.  Then I charted them onto a 28 day calendar (so that I would have four weeks worth of meals).  I made sure to place the meals strategically. Like tacos on a night where there's football practice so I can guarantee a quick meal!

Then I made sure to have meatloaf and mashed potatoes two nights before shepherds Pie, so that I could make the pie using the leftover mashed potatoes.  A lot of thought went into the planning, and this is the hardest part.

Next, for each meal, I listed the ingredients it took to make it.  i omitted the obvious ingredients (like eggs, milk, or water to boil pasta, etc) because I know I always have those on hand.  This makes it easy to make your grocery list for the two weeks - and this REALLY helps know your grocery budget.

I just go through the ingredients for each meal and write out y list.  Then when i come across a duplicate ingredient (like onions) I make sure and increase the amount listed so I purchase enough for each meal.

Now, it may sound like a lot of work but it's the kind of job that if you do it right the first time, it pays off in the end and you won't have to do this dirty work again.  The rest is easy as you simply live with the certainty that you have EVERY ingredient you need for a wholesome dinner on a whim! No more drive-thrus, cuz we all know how I feel about those!

SO here is an image of my meal planning calendar:  It's very basic considering the fancy ones out there.  Websites sell meal planning software for an arm and a leg, but I'm a bit old fashioned.  Paper, scissors and tape is all it took for me.  This way I could move around the dinners as desired by simply unsticking my taped-on squares:)  This is VERY PROFESSIONAL, people!

Now for the disclaimer - weekday meals are simply fuel for my family.  There is NOTHING elaborate about these dinners.  I try to stay as simple as possible for my own sanity!  I often make the family much nicer meals but that's usually during the summer or on the weekends in the off-season! So the following meals are very simple, easy, quick ideas to throw together - AND they feed a family of 7 pretty darn well:)

As you can see, I am missing a couple of days worth of meals.  And that's a lot of Mexican for an Italian mamma, right?! Well let's face it, Mexican food is cheap and quick! Just my style!

Hopefully I will come up with some more EASY meal ideas soon.  I guess I should take a look at my recipes archive, huh?! But "easy" to me means it takes 30 minutes to make (Rachael Ray style) or I can prepare it ahead of time (i.e. crock pot).  So lasagne didn't make the cut:( I will work on getting recipes for most of my meals on the blog soon, but for now - here are some I've already shared:

Pasta & Gravy
Grilled Sausage & Zucchini Pie
Sloppy Joe's (Sloppy Giuseppes!)
Meatball Stew
Penne a la Vodka
Shepherds Pie Italiano

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Cupcakes in an Ice Cream Cone!

I had to make something for a bake sale and I had seen these done somewhere...maybe pinterest?  I thought I'd give it a try.....

And to save the general public from making the same mistakes I did, I thought I'd post some tips for a successful cupcake in a cone:

1.) Fill each cone with 1 - 2 TB batter.  NO MORE.  Trust me. The end.

2.) I used regular cake cones in a box, bought from the grocery store. I have heard of people using waffle cones but I am unsure as to how those would stand up - plus who wants to try that hard to make a cone stand up?! Really...

3.) Rest each cone in the muffin cups of a muffin tin (paper liners optional) as there could be some spillage, and this helps them to stand up well when baking.  It is also helpful to fill them when they're in there.

4.) Consider using a pastry tip and swirling the icing to make it look like soft serve.  That would be much cuter, in my opinion, then my uneven spreading of rainbow chip hydrogenated, icing.

5.) I only bought one box of cones and had batter left over.  I used it to make my daughters 3 little ramekins full of cake.   I figured I would have been able to get another dozen at least - so buy 2 boxes per one box of cake mix (or one batch of your cake recipe, if you're doing it right and baking from scratch!)

Good luck! And has anyone else made these? I want pics!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tomato & Cheese Stuffed Sausage Meatballs

Okay for any of you locals, the restaurant Twigs has a pretty eclectic menu and I love it!!! It's not an Italian place, but last time I was there I tried this dish that was basically a breaded meatball.  But it was Italian sausage and inside was gooey mozarella cheese and a cherry tomato.  Can you say incredible?

No, really.......can you say it? SAY IT! Okay, good:)

Truly - these were amazing! Naturally I had to make my own copycat version at home, and I think I pretty much mastered it!  To make stuffing easiest, I would suggest starting with a big patty of sausage meat cupped in your hand.  Then fill it with the cheese (a cube or two) and a cherry tomato (smaller tomatoes works best).

Then, get some more meat on top and roll it into a meatball over the stuffing.  Next, roll the ball in some Panko breadcrumbs and fry in oil on the stove top.  Drain on a paper towel, sprinkle with salt, and enjoy!! I love this with a side of marinara!

TIP: If your meatballs cook quicker on the outside than the inside, just finish them in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size:)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bite Size Caprese Salad!!

This is a fabulous summer party appetizer since it can easily be eaten without a plate and a fork!  

It's a casual twist on an elegant classic!! 

Just cut your cherry tomatoes, and place them cut side down on a plate.  Top with a basil leaf, and a cube or ball of fresh mozarella, and you're done!!!

Crack some fresh black pepper over the top and drizzle with balsamic and olive oil if you wish:)  Super easy and can be made ahead of time, the day of your party!  Buon Appetito!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Italian Mothers and Italian Mother-In-Laws

As I have embarked on the journey that is motherhood, I have learned some very valuable lessons - like not running over to my kid the minute they fall, otherwise they actually will cry....

Or how very cool ice cream can make potty training sound to a 3 year old...

And even the really important lessons - like what kind of mother I want to be to my sons and daughters when THEY are parents.

You see, I got lucky since my mom is a pretty typical Italian grandma that yells at my kids without any qualms......and I LOVE IT!! Saves me the work, right?!  But I know not all people LOVE that as much as I do.  Will I have to hold myself back when I am a Grandma?  Will I reserve myself with my son's future wife (you know, the wife he will choose from my pre-approved list of my friends' cute daughters) since SHE is the mom and I shouldn't step on her toes?

Yikes! (yes, I just said Yikes, and yes, it is still a cool word)

That is a scary thought.  I am used to being the boss around here, and besides how could ANYONE else step in and raise the flesh of my flesh better than I?  (By that I mean my grandkids, since I'm pretty sure I will still think I know everything when I'm 60)

And what about spoiling my kids?  You know Italian Mothers are known for this one.  It was true for me, but I make my kids do EVERY bit of work they can around here, after all I am the queen of Laziness, remember?!

Well, I have a reader who has her own issues with an ITALIAN MOTHER IN LAW!  Although this mom-in-law may not be trying to raise her kids, she has done a heck of a job raising her Italian son to only be happy with her very own cooking.  This has made it nearly impossible for his non-Italian wife to please his palette!

From what I hear this is the true story with Italian men.  I married an Italian guy - kinda. His DAD is Italian, not his mom, so there wasn't too much competition on that end.  But here is a portion of an email I recently received:


I've read your blog quite a bit, snatching a few minutes here and there. I wanted to contact you privately because something you wrote struck a chord with me.  I'm a non-Italian married to a full-blooded Italian for ten years.  We have six children, four boys and two girls, ranging from age nine down to a two month old. 
I was reading your post on your children's birthdays, with all the stipulations your kids like to make for their birthday dinners.  It made me wonder if everybody is like that.  My husband's mother was such a great cook and spoiled him so rotten that I cannot do anything to please him.  Nothing steals my joy so much as seeing him sit down to dinner with the usual disappointed expression on his face.  I'd bake and cook 'till I'd drop, with a kitchen that was a disaster, until I was muttering all the things I'd like to do to him under my breath!  What a life.
 I finally decided my health and sanity were more important than trying to cater to him and I gave up on him.  I am so tired of cooking and wearing my patience and health thin.  Now I save time wherever I can, use whatever ingredients I have on hand to put together simple healthy meals, and I TOTALLY ignore my husband!  And I actually can laugh again, enjoy life with my kids, and know what it's like to finally have peace and joy once more.
My point is that this isn't a pleasant way to live.  For the sake of your kids' spouses someday, please don't set up a situation in which nobody can compete with a large pot and a big spoon.  There were days I used to sit there staring at the big sauce spoon and the big sauce pot, just hating them because I knew I couldn't compete.  I have since learned that there are things I can't change.  

Our tenth anniversary is coming up and I know we'll go to another fancy Italian restaurant in which the conversation (or monologue) will center around the merits of the various dishes.  Then we will watch Ciao Italia together and I will give him Mary Ann Esposito's latest cookbook as a's sort of a symbol that I know when to give up and bow out graciously....marriages get a bit crowded when you have to share it with other interests.  I used to try to fight it, but learned that it would be better for me and the kids to learn where my place is. 
Please take this in the spirit in which it is sent -- I love your blog and it's really cute, just wanted to mention this.

Long time reader, first time commenter

Here was a part of my response:

Thank you very much for your comments!!  Lucky for me, my husband's mother is not Italian, only his father is.  Also, the Italian cooking is fabulous on my side of the family, not his....and yet I do not even live up to my family's standards!! You see, I am a generation removed from the large families of my great grandparents.  My parents, Aunts, And Uncles did not have a lot of small children running around like I do, and therefore had more time to cook!  You know as well as I do - that cooking is not easy, especially with picky palettes and lots of them!

However, birthdays are the one time I let my children pick their favorite meal and spoil them rotten!! I do NOT cook like this every day - and believe me, whatever I'm cooking is what's for dinner - like it or not!  I am simply too busy to do otherwise!  There is an old Italian saying that says, "Mangiare Cuesta Minestra, O Saltare Cuesta Finestra."  LIterally, it means "Eat this soup or jump out this window!" -  A take it or leave it mentality!  I live by this:)

I understand your frustration and believe that it is not ALWAYS the case with Italian husbands, perhaps often but not always.  Food for Italians is  a memory in and of itself.  SO the food that your husband goes on about is really a memory and a feeling.  It is LOVE for Italians!!  I guess what I am trying to say is that your husband may inadvertently insult you with his disappointment in your lack of Italian cooking, when in actuality he's simply reliving and relishing a memory that is so hard for us Italians to part with.  A smell, a taste or a song is meaningful to all people - it's humanity's way of recognizing familiar things.  For Italians, we recognize much with our stomachs - with our palettes, if you will! I don't know how else to describe it...

How do you describe it?   Am I doing my son a disservice by making him homemade Italian meals that his future non-Italian (yikes!) wife cannot compete with?

IT'S FIG SEASON!!! Fig jam and goat cheese with truffle honey on toast!

GREAT Summer appetizer or party snack here.... Little toast or cracker with goat cheese, fig spread and a drizzle of truffle honey!! A sprig of rosemary and you are lookin pretty snazzy! YUM!!

WAIT! Where do I find ingredients for this?! 
Goat Cheese - look for a log of goat cheese that you can spread on yourself. ( NOT spread goat cheese on yourself...just get a log of cheese that allows YOU to determine the amount you would like to spread on SOMETHING, like a cracker, or toast, not on you.) In other words, don't get the goat cheese crumbles.  Look at Costco or in your gourmet cheese section at the grocery store.

Fig Spread/Jam - I always have luck finding this in the gourmet section of TJ Maxx, or Trader Joes.  But while you are at TJ Maxx, do not pass up the chance to get yourself some Himalayan Pink Salt which I LOVE! And you might also want to stop by the housewares aisle to get yourself a nifty spanking spoon wooden spoon for making some awesome Sunday Gravy. And maybe the clearance rack to snag a cute dress for your daughter.........or five cute dresses, whatever.

Truffle Oil/ Truffly Honey - Trader Joes, or any good Italian Deli/Specialty shop!  I found white and black truffle oil at T.J, Maxx.  You could use either oil or honey for this appetizer - although the honey lends a certain sweetness that is perfect with the sharp, tangy goat cheese.

Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon with Balsamic Sauce

The best Filet Mignon I've ever had was at Smith & Wollensky Steak House in Las Vegas.  It was Steak Au Poivre, which is crusted in cracked black pepper with an equally peppery sauce to accompany it.  Ooooooh and Ruth's Chris Steak servd in melted butter is a close second...

However, since I will likely never live up to either of these entrees, I try to create my own gourmet sounding recipe here in my humble kitchen.  I tell you now, people, there is no easier way to impress with such little effort that with a BALSAMIC REDUCTION!

Doesn't it just sound fancy?!  Well it's not difficult, you really can't mess it up, and it tastes INCREDIBLE!
1.) Coat your filet with freshly cracked black pepper and some freshly ground pink salt (MY FAV!)

2.) Sear the Filets, then transfer them to a 300 degree oven to finsih cooking to your liking.

3.) Add 1-2 TB butter to the pan, stir up all those yummy bits of cracked pepper.  Add in mixture of 1 cup Balsamic Vinegar and 1 TB brown sugar (or 1 tsp agave) and reduce on medium-low heat until thickened.

4.) Pour over cooked filet and serve! THis is even better with some crumbled goat cheese on top! 

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