Monday, October 31, 2011

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Happy Halloween, everyone! The cousins love roasted pumpkin seeds, and what better day than Halloween to share some roasting techniques and stories. Today you'll find out how  Jill first began roasting pumpkin seeds, and a read a little story from Lisa and Diana about their pumpkin carving experience growing up.

One of my best friends is an amazing baker. I, on the other hand, have never claimed to be a good baker. As you know, I'm more of a "little of this; little of that" kind of gal. My best friend Jo, an Italian gal from Staten Island, came over one day to bake. "Where are your measuring cups?" she asked. My answer was something along the lines of "Um, I think I have one, and it's in the dog food bin." Needless to say she was mortified! The very next holiday guess what I got from Jo? Measuring cups! And Jo encouraged me to "start small." I thought, OK, pumpkin seeds aren't really baking, but if I could master roasting pumpkin seeds, I may be well on my way to bigger baking adventures like pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie! So check out my roasted pumpkin seeds, which I think I have mastered if I must say so myself!
Jill and her friend Jo eating something
finger-licking good! 

Carve one pumpkin like you would as if you were making a Jack O' Lantern. Scoop out the seeds with a big spoon, then rinse the seeds until they are clean. Place seeds on a baking sheet with olive oil, salt and one teaspoon sage. Roast at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. When you take them out of the oven, sprinkle with just a little more salt. I also top with parmesan cheese. Happy Halloween!

Lisa and Diana:
When we were small, one of the best parts about Halloween, besides scoring some major amounts of Mounds bars, was getting to carve the pumpkin and roasting the seeds. Our mother would cover the kitchen table with old newspapers and place the big pumpkin in the center for us and our brother to adore. We rolled up our sleeves while our mother cut a perfect circle around the top of Mr. Jack O' Lantern. 

As soon as she grabbed the stem and wiggled the top off just so, we got to dig in and get our hands full of the wet, mushy pumpkin pulp and seeds. We still love the smell of the inside of a freshly cut pumpkin. The three of us would pull as much out as fast as we could and then, at warp speed, pick out the seeds from the orange strings. And when all was said and done, whichever one of us had the most seeds in their pile was the winner. 

Lisa and Diana's mom Pat with her secret
roasted pumpkin seed ingredient, Nature's 
While was one of us was claiming victory over the other two, mom put all the seeds in a white plastic colander (which we think she still owns), rinse them to remove whatever pulp we left behind, and pat them dry. She then placed them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, sprinkled them with Morton Nature's Seasoning, and put them in the oven preheated to 350 degrees.

When they were just starting to brown, she would move them around with a spatula ever so gently, flipping them over like a pro. The three of us stood around the oven, watching in awe as the seeds we had just pulled from their mother ship were turning into a delicacy we couldn't wait to eat. When they were dried out and golden brown on all sides, they were done!  She'd empty them into a huge bowl and the three of us would sit around it on the living room floor enjoying the seeds of our labor. Mom would say, "Don't eat them all; you'll get a stomach ache." We didn't listen. We'd eat every last seed. And the next day, our stomachs paid for it. And of course we heard, "I told you so!"

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chicken with Mozzarella and Prosciutto

My father used to tease my mother about how many times she made chicken during the week. He even turned the word into a game, “chicken!”  If anyone said the codeword “chicken” around my father that meant the game was ON! He would chase my brother and I around the house, tackle us to the floor and begin tickling us until we said “uncle.” And then, because my father was a such a buster, we had to name which we had to scream, “Uncle Butch!” or “Uncle Jimmy!” Sometimes he would release us, other times he would continue the tickling and say, "They told me to tickle you more!" Every time I make a chicken dish, I think of that silly game and how much fun we used to have.  It’s one of my fondest memories of my dad and my family. —Jennifer

Jennifer with her dad and brother.
What you’ll need:
1 package of chicken cutlets
1 package of fresh mozzarella (or you can use packaged/shredded as well)
1 package of prosciutto
4 tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tbsp of garlic powder
1tsp of salt(I like to use Kosher salt for all of my recipes)
1tsp of pepper

Flatten chicken cutlets until they are thin. This is my favorite part of the prep.  Lay the cutlets flat with plastic wrap on top. Take a mallet or a frying pan and bang the cutlets until they are nice and thin.

Mix the olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper together. Pour over the chicken and marinade for about an hour.

When the cutlets are done marinating, put the mozzarella and prosciutto on top.  

Roll each cutlet and put a toothpick in the center to hold it together. Put cutlets on a baking pan.

Place in the oven preheated to 350 degree for about 30 minutes, until the cutlets are golden brown.

When done, remove the toothpicks and serve with your favorite salad or side dish.  

The way Jennifer's dad John usually looks after a good meal...happy and satisfied!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Italian Sausage (or Saus-eeeg, as we like to say) Soup

This soup is a meal. It's thick and hearty, and you will want to eat three bowls. (Doh! Did  did I just say that out loud?) Top it with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and a piece of crusty Italian bread and you're good to go. Before dinner, our grandma Rose would take the Italian bread and smack it on the kitchen table. That was her way of knowing that it was good loaf of bread...and she'd also get a kick out of scaring the bajesus out of us. We'd jump and she'd laugh, and her laugh was as hearty as the soup. We'd all crack up and then argue about who got the "elbow" of the bread. For some reason that’s the piece we all wanted. I think it was because that was grandma's favorite piece. Luckily, she always had enough bread on hand (or elbow) for all of us. —Lisa 

You'll Need:
½ lb hot sausage  (I like hot sausage but you can use sweet or a combination of both.) Remove casing.
2 cups cabbage, chopped
1 package frozen mixed peppers
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 qt chicken stock
1 qt tomato juice
½ lb pasta (I used penne, but you could use ditalini) 
8 oz can white beans
Parmesan cheese

In a large pot, brown sausage and keep chopping up with wooden spoon. Drain. Add cabbage, peppers, garlic, and sauté until cabbage is wilted and peppers are softening.  Add stock and tomato juice.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Add pasta and beans. Cook until the pasta is done. 

Garnish with cheese and a piece of Italian bread. (And don't forget to whack the loaf on the table before dinner. Your family will know you mean business!) 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rita's London Broil

This recipe comes from Jill's mom Rita, who is no stranger in the kitchen. Lisa, Diana and Jen still remember 'back in the day' the thrill of Sunday afternoon car ride from Cliffside Park to Washington Township—which seemed like a trip to the country—to play with their cousins Jill and Adam, and be treated to whatever Aunt Rita had cooking up in the kitchen. It was always something awesome and perfect for our weekend cousins get-togethers.

Jill, right, with her mom Rita.

For a 1 1/2 to 2 pound London broil:
Brown a 1 1/2-to-2-pound London broil in a flat griddle pan. Once browned on both sides, put the steak in a pan with a little water on the bottom and sliced onions, and bake in the oven (do not use the broiler) for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Take out of the oven even though the steak will still be very pink on the inside; it will continue to cook while cooling. Season with pepper. Use the juice from the pan to make a mild gravy by adding one gravy packet, 3/4 cup of water, tsp of low-salt soy sauce (my secret ingredient), a swish of red wine, and salt and pepper to taste.

The London broil also can be cooked over medium heat on the grill and sliced on an angle. If you cook it this way, you can grill onions on the side with mushrooms on the stove top. 

I like to serve my London broil with mashed potatoes, a veggie and a side salad.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Everywhere!

Here are recipes for Pumpkin Soup and a Pumpkintini (adults only!) sent in by Cousins in the Kitchen fan Judy Mastrangelo.

"Hey girls! Here are two of my favorites...both tried by Diana." (I certainly did and they are fabulous. Thanks Judy! —Diana)

Pumpkin Soup
1 shallot, chopped fine
2 tbsp butter
2 large cans of pumpkin puree (plain)
2 cans chicken broth, one large and one small
4-6 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp each salt and pepper
Pinch of each: rosemary, parsley, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger
1/2 cup cooking sherry
1 cup heavy cream (can substitute light cream or Half & Half)

Saute shallots in butter. Add chicken broth, then pumpkin and stir well. Add the remaining ingredients except the cream. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer five minutes. Add cream and blend well. Heat through, but do not boil.


2 parts vanilla vodka
1 part pumpkin spice liqueur
1 part Half & Half (fat free if desired)

Pour all into shaker with ice. Shake well, then strain into chilled martini glass. (You can pre-dip the rim of the glass with cinnamon sugar for added sweetness.) Garnish with marshmallow peep pumpkin. Enjoy!

 * * * *

This Pumpkin Soup recipe comes from one of Cousins' biggest fans, Maria O'Brien:

"I usually make this soup by making it up as I go along. Here is the best re-enactment I can offer:

Take one medium-sized pumpkin. Cut it in half and remove all the seeds. Put the two halves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray the pumpkin halves with Pam or rub them with a light coat of oil. Sprinkle with garlic salt and roast at 350 or 375 until the pumpkin is golden brown and soft. On separate baking sheet (without parchment paper) roast a handful of baby carrots. Same preparation (spray or rub with oil) and roast.

While your pumpkin and carrots are roasting take basic chicken stock—one or two boxes depending on how much soup you want, and heat it in a pot. Start with one box and you can always add more stock.  Add a cup or so of peeled baby carrots and a medium-sized onion and boil in the broth until soft.

Once the pumpkin is roasted, scrape out the "meat" and put it in the soup. Take out your handy-dandy stick blender and zizz up the contents of the pot.

Serve hot with the roasted carrots as a garnish for the top of the finished soup. If you want to play around with adding heavy cream you can but I never do.

OK...Now see if you can make it!"

* * * *

This yummy recipe comes from a Cousin herself, Lisa:

Pumpkin Muffins with Brown Sugar Topping

I admit it, fall is my favorite season. I love the falling leaves, the crisp chill in the air and the smell. Oh how I love the smell.—hot apple cider, cinnamon and of course, pumpkin. I stand by the thermostat and count down the days until I can shut off the air and open the windows. As soon as I can do that, it's time to make pumpkin muffins with brown sugar topping. It makes me smile…☺  So go open the windows and make these muffins. Ah, Autumn, I’ve missed you so!

For the muffins you'll need:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp plus 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp baking soda
1½ tsp salt
3 cups sugar
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin (I use Libby’s 100% pure pumpkin)
4 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup water

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray large (12 count) muffin cups and 1 loaf pan. (This recipe makes enough for both.)

Combine the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Set aside. In a mixer combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil and water. Beat until mixed and then add flour mixture. Beat until mixed and spoon batter into muffin cups and loaf pan.

For the topping you'll need:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
¼ cup diced, chilled butter

Clean the mixer. Combine the brown sugar and flour. Mix well and then add the diced butter and mix until just crumbly. Add topping to each muffin and the loaf.

Bake the muffins 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Bake the loaf 50-55 minutes until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Get yourself a tall glass of milk, put on your most comfy PJs, and watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown." It doesn't get better than this.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chicken and Gorgonzola Meatballs

I do meatballs the way some people do burgers—different protein, different veggies, different cheeses. I've done everything from tuna meatballs to this recipe for chicken and gorgonzola meatballs with caramelized onions...pretty ridiculous, right? I came up with this one day when all I had was some ground chicken and gorgonzola cheese, which I normally crumble on my salad. I also had leftover tomato basil sauce and an onion. I love mixing things together to create something new. Some people would love a cream sauce with these meatballs, but I'm not a fan so I chose to stick with a traditional tomato sauce, but it's great either way. These meatballs also can be made mini and dipped in ranch or your favorite dressing. Have fun with this and enjoy this delicious creation invented simply because I hadn't gone food shopping in a while. And if you want to eat these babies straight out of the pot, knock yourself out. I've done that, too, standing at the stove while sipping a glass of wine. —Jill

Here's what you'll need: (Serves four)
1 lb ground chicken
Gorgonzola cheese (or blue cheese if you prefer), crumbled
1small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese, shredded
2 tbsps oregano
Basil (optional, but I am lucky enough to have a neighbor who grows tons of it so I throw it in everything!)
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

Caramelize onion in some olive oil on medium/med-low heat until golden brown and soft. (You don't want to fry the onion, just carmelize it.)

Put the caramelized onion in a bowl and mix with the ground chicken, egg, breadcrumbs, oregano, (some basil if you choose), two big palm fulls of the gorgonzola cheese, a palm full of the parmesan cheese and the garlic. (You can sauté the garlic first if you don't want a strong garlic flavor.)

Mix everything together with your hands and form into meatballs. You can cook the meatballs a few ways:
Bake on a cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or sauté in a pan with olive oil, searing on all sides and then drop into the tomato sauce to cook the rest of the way through. Or you can sauté on all sides, lower the heat, cover the pan and let the meatballs cook thoroughly.

By the way, I can't even talk about what a crazy meatball sandwich this makes—add some lettuce, a slice of tomato, some spicy mayo...OK, I can't go there, it's so great! However you like your meatballs, I hope this will become one of your favorites.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Escarole and Beans

If you asked me when I was young how to spell ‘escarole’ I would spell it the way we say it, “shcarole.”  I didn’t know that it started with an ‘E’ until I started making it and had the produce man at the Stop & Shop on a mad hunt for  “shcarole,” only to find I was looking for something that didn’t exist. Escarole, however, definitely does exist and it can be found right next the heaping mound of Romaine lettuce. Whenever I make or eat this dish I think of my Uncle Jim. He’s the one who helped me perfect the recipe. He loved how I made it so much that one Christmas he bought me a serving platter especially for my "shcarole" and beans (see picture below).  Now that he has passed, this recipe takes on even more meaning.  It reminds me of the times we had laughing, talking about food and life in general. This one’s for you Big Jim! I'm sure you can smell the garlic from Heaven! —Jennifer

What you’ll need:
2  32 oz boxes of chicken broth (you can use reduced sodium if you like)
4 cloves of garlic
1 package of hot Italian sausage (some people use sweet or both)
4 15 oz can cannellini beans
2 large bushels of escarole
1 tablespoon of EVOO

How to prepare:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cut off the bottom of the escarole and place the leaves in boiling water (this will remove the dirt). I like to add 2 cloves of chopped garlic to the boiling water; this gives the escarole more of a garlic taste in the soup.

Grill the sausage and cut into chunks.

Strain the escarole after 8-10 minutes in the boiling water.

Place escarole back into pot with the two boxes of chicken broth. Add 4 cups of water and the sausage. Chop 2 cloves of garlic and place in the soup. Once around the pot with EVOO.

Let simmer on low for two hours. Stir occasionally.

Thirty minutes before serving, drain and add the 4 cans of beans. I love cannellini beans, so I use a lot of them, but you can use less.  Don’t put the beans in too early or they will become mush. 

Serve piping hot with crusty bread and a little parmigano cheese on top! Delish!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Panko and Coconut Chicken

This is a dish my sons ask for once a week. And I don't mind because it's easy to make and the leftover chicken is just as good the next day. It took me a few tries to get the coating right. Coconut isn't easy to work with—it doesn't readily stick to the chicken and burns easily when frying. Needless to say I've had some miss-fires on this one, but now I think I have it down to a science. If you're a coconut lover, you'll love this recipe because you get to eat the coconut as you're cooking. Well, at least I do!—Diana

You'll need:
1-2 lbs chicken
2 eggs
All-purpose flour
Olive oil for frying
Peach mango salsa (optional)

My family likes the chicken cut into strips, but you can do cutlets as well. Coat the chicken in flour. (With strips, I find the easiest—and neatest—way to do this is to put the flour in a quart-size storage bag (I add some pepper) and add a few pieces of chicken at a time to coat.)

Make an egg wash in one bowl, put the coconut in another bowl, and the panko in a third bowl. (Next week I'll show you my favorite kitchen accessory that makes this process so easy). My favorite brand of panko is Roland all-natural whole wheat panko that you can find at Trader Joe's (see picture below). Take the flour-coated chicken, dip into the egg wash, then the coconut, and then the panko. (I've tried this several different ways—a mixture of the panko and coconut together; coating the chicken in the panko first and then the coconut; and with and without the flour. Trust me...flour, egg wash, coconut, panko in that order is the way to go.)

Fry the chicken in the oil on medium heat (too high will burn the coconut) until golden brown on both sides. Depending on the thickness of the chicken, after frying I may put the chicken on a baking sheet covered with tin foil in the oven on 350 degrees for 15 minutes just to make sure it is cooked thoroughly.

Top with peach-mango salsa for added sweetness and it's a chicken dish that tastes more like dessert!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cheesy Sausage Bread

What to do when you have some dough left over from making about 200 zeppoles? Make cheesy sausage bread, of course!  It's easy and a great snack for these chilly fall nights when you’re watching your favorite television show.  It’s even better if you have some leftover gravy to dunk it in.  —Lisa

For this bread I had about 3 pounds of dough that I let sit a few hours and rise so it doubled in size. Remember to let the dough rise in a bowl covered loosely with a damp towel so it doesn’t dry out while sitting. 

In addition to the pizza dough you’ll need:
8 hot sausages
1 lb packaged mozzarella, diced
1 egg, beaten

Parboil the sausage and cut into small pieces. Then fry in a little bit of olive oil until cooked thoroughly.

Cover a large surface with flour and roll out the dough so it’s the size of a large cookie pan. Spray the cookie pan with non-stick cooking spray. After the dough is rolled out and thin (but not so thin that it will tear) add the cheese and then add the sausage so that it covers all but a one-inch border around the dough.  From the short end, roll the dough up and seal the ends. Brush the beaten egg onto the top of dough.

Cook at 350 degrees for about 75 minutes until the top of the bread is lightly browned. Let cool before slicing and serving.