Cacio e Pepe Pasta (“Cheese and Black Pepper” Pasta)

cacio e pepe pasta

When my days are hectic and busy there is nothing I appreciate more than a quick and easy dinner. This Italian dish, which translated means “cheese and pepper“, is especially great because you don’t even need to boil the water first, you simply add the dry pasta right to a pan, cover with a little cold water and cook! The sauce is also a cinch to make and it consists of basic ingredients that are readily available in almost every home.

This recipe is right from one my favorite chefs, Alton Brown. He does such a great job of explaining the science behind cooking and then he follows up with easy step-by-step directions to create a yummy meal. You can find his original recipe right here . I followed the recipe exactly as written the first time but in subsequent makings, I adjusted down the amount of ground black pepper that is called for. I absolutely love pepper and I put it on everything but I did find that a 2 full tablespoons of pepper was a bit intense and overwhelming, especially for my kids. So I cut that back to only a tablespoon the next few times I made it. My advice is to start with just a small amount and then adjust accordingly as you cook. You can always add more if needed however, it is impossible to take it away once it’s been added. For a more hearty meal you can toss in some sliced grilled chicken or vegetables but it really is a wonderful dish simply as is.

One last note, I have found that the often times the cooking water simmers away before the pasta is finished cooking. If you notice the water getting too low, do not be afraid to add more to the pan, just get it back to a simmer quickly.  You will need at least 3/4 cup of the water to create the cheese sauce so don’t let your pan run dry, keep an eye on your water level. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dry spaghetti
  • 2 tbs Kosher salt
  • 1-2 tbs ground black pepper
  • 3 oz Pecorino-Romano cheese, finely grated 
  • 1 1/2 oz  Parmesan, finely grated 
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 to 1 cup starchy pasta water

Instructions

Add the dry pasta to a straight sided sauté pan then add the salt and just enough cold water to cover the pasta. Cover and set over medium-high heat.

When the water reaches a boil, remove the lid and decrease heat to medium to maintain a simmer. Stir the pasta every minute or so making sure the ends of the noodles stay submerged and that they aren’t sticking together.

While the pasta cooks, begin the sauce. Combine 1-2 tbs of ground black pepper, the Pecorino, all of the Parmesan and the olive oil in a large, deep mixing bowl. Work ingredients together with the back of a wooden spoon until a thick paste forms.

When the pasta has been simmering for 5 minutes, ladle 1 cup of the hot cooking water into a measuring cup then slowly drizzle 3/4 cup into cheese paste, mixing until smooth.

After the pasta has been cooking for 10 minutes start checking for doneness, you want it to be just barely “al dente” as there will be some carryover cooking in the next step.

Use tongs to lift the pasta out of the cooking water and allow to briefly drain before adding to the cheese paste. Grasp the pasta with the tongs and stir vigorously for 2 minutes (really use a lot of elbow grease here — this is not a light toss). The pasta will continue to release starch and the sauce will emulsify. Around a minute thirty you will see cheesy water magically transform into a proper sauce. If you find your sauce clumping, add a bit more of the pasta water and continue working the pasta.

Portion pasta into 4 bowls, top with a sprinkle of extra grated cheese and ground black pepper and serve hot.

Hard Cider and Brown Sugar Chicken

cider chicken

You guys, this was SO good! I mean REALLY good! There was so much flavorful, rich, sticky, yummy goodness. The best part? It’s so ridiculously easy to prep that you will have it all ready to go within in minutes. Bonus, it cooks quickly too so you’ll have dinner on the table in no time! I served the chicken with my Easy Peasy Seasoned Rice and steamed green beans.

I absolutely LOVE the New England region of this country so it’s no surprise that one of my most favorite cookbooks is from a true New England girl, Jessica Robinson. This recipe comes right from her cookbook entitled: New England Farmgirl: Recipes & Stories from a Farmer’s Daughter. It’s a really awesome cookbook filled with easy to make comfort food. I followed the recipe exactly however, instead of slicing the chicken into strips I chose to slice my chicken breasts and pound them thin. To cook them all evenly and at the same time I used my Presto 06852 16-Inch Electric Skillet with Glass CoverThis inexpensive skillet is worth having in your kitchen, click here , to read more about why I consider this appliance a kitchen “must-have”. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup hard apple cider
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbs molasses
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1-2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp ground mustard
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil

Instructions

Place the cider, brown sugar, molasses, salt, pepper, mustard and paprika into a large bowl or Ziploc® bag and mix until well combined. Add the chicken and allow to marinate for 2-4 hours.

Warm the oil and butter over medium heat. Add the chicken to the skillet and discard any remaining marinade. Cook the chicken for about 4-5 minutes per side or until cooked through. Remove from the pan and allow to rest on a plate for a few minutes. Drizzle with any remaining glaze from the pan. Serve hot.

 

“Elf on the Shelf” – Helpful Ideas to Make this Annual Tradition More Fun

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He’s almost baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!! The thought of this little guy making his appearance every year seems to strike fear and dread in the hearts of so many parents across the country. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t need to be such a miserable chore, In fact, I really love when our little “Hermie” makes his way back to our home. With just a little planning, a dash of creativity and a positive mindset this tradition can be not only fun, but something you actually look forward to year after year.

FIRST THINGS FIRST – CUT YOUR “ELF SELF” SOME SLACK

Nothing is fun when it starts to feel a like chore. So cut yourself some slack and don’t try to do too much or do everything perfectly. Regardless of what you think, you aren’t in competition with everyone else. So if having a North Pole Breakfast is too much for you, skip it. It you love being creative, go crazy with the mischief. If you barely want to do this tradition at all, do the bare minimum. Look, there is no ONE way to handle this elf and every mom and dad needs to what is best for them. In the end, this is just supposed to be fun and not a source of stress and anxiety. So follow these simple tips to keep your sanity this holiday season.

  • Don’t overdo it! You don’t need to do a big, elaborate setup for your elf every single day. Pace yourself and on most days, keep it simple. Sprinkle in just a few extra special setups here and there.
  • Use what you have around the house! Don’t make yourself crazy buying accessories for the elf, use what you already have. Take advantage of craft supplies, your kids toys, what’s in your pantry, etc.
  • Avoid elf mishaps, place him up high! Keep the elf high instead of within your kids easy reach. Countertops, wall units bartops, on top of furniture, etc. are all good places to place your elf. Avoid the floor, if possible, unless it’s in a room you aren’t often in or you know for sure your kid won’t be tempted to touch him.
  • Need ideas? Pinterest is a wealth of great information. You will find a ton of wonderful Elf on the Shelf® ideas there. Also, Google® is your friend, when you need some inspiration in a pinch, a quick search will provide you with everything you need.
  • Have fun! This isn’t suppose to be a miserable experience so try to have a little fun with it. Remember, the belief in Christmas magic is fleeting and before you know it your children won’t believe anymore. So take advantage while they are little and enjoy this magical time with them.
WELCOME BACK – NORTH POLE BREAKFAST

As we approach Thanksgiving, preparations are well underway for our annual, “North Pole Breakfast“. This is a very special breakfast that we have the day after Thanksgiving to welcome back our little elf. We have been doing this tradition for years now and it’s something that both of my children eagerly look forward to. Not only are they excited to see the elf but it’s a fun and festive way to officially kick off the holiday season!

norht pole bfast

On Thanksgiving night, after the kids are asleep, I get to work. I decorate the kitchen, put out the elf and elf pets and prep breakfast. Some easy and delicious things to make for breakfast and which can be prepared ahead of time are: Bacon and Cheddar Quiche , French Toast Casserole , and even Ooey Gooey Cinnamon Rolls . Another super cute idea, which is easier than making your own, is to buy store-bought Pillsbury® Cinnamon rolls and assemble the baked rolls on a platter in a Christmas tree shape. Tint the white icing with a little green food dye and sprinkle the “tree” with festive Christmas sprinkles. Other cute ideas for breakfast are white powdered doughnut holes otherwise known as, “snowballs” and mini muffins or as we like to call them, “elf muffins“. I also give them “jingle juice” which is any red colored beverage served in small, inexpensive milk bottles that I found at Michael’s®. I top them off with cute a Christmas colored straw. I always put out candy canes on the table and a few small Christmas chocolates as well. Get as creative as you would like for your breakfast but remember, do as much in advance as possible because your kids will wake up excited and ready to party in the morning so the less cooking you need to do that day, the better.

I know a North Pole Breakfast might sound like a lot but everything you see pictured above are Christmas things I already had in the house OR things I purchased for cheap at the Dollar Store and use year after year. The Dollar Store is a great place to pick up cute things to use at the breakfast. They have a nice assortment of holiday paper goods, Christmas tins and baskets, elf themed decorations, tablecloths, elf hats, gift bags and more! On the backs of my chairs I place these adorable “Santa hats” that just slide over the chair and make everything look even more festive. The best part? They were just $1/each! Once you have all of your goodies pulled together, you’re ready to go every year!

elf bucket.jpg

Create an “elf bin“. I bought an inexpensive storage tote at Target and that is where I keep all of my decorations for the North Pole Breakfast along with our elf, elf pets, letters, and little goodies from the elf to the kids. It makes coordinating the elf’s return so much easier because everything that I need for a successful holiday season is all contained in one box which I keep in front of all the other Christmas boxes. A few years ago I typed up both my “Welcome Back” and “Goodbye” letters from Hermie and I keep multiple copies of each in the storage box and reuse the same typed letters every year. Trust me on this one, my daughter who is 10 years old with a memory like an elephant, still has never even realized that the letters are the same year after year. Having them ready to go saves you a lot of time and effort.

letter

Another tradition that we have at our North Pole Breakfast is that each of my children receive a gift from the elf. I don’t go overboard, just a few cute things to get them in the Christmas spirit. They each have an Elf on the Shelf® themed gift bag that I fill with chocolate Santa lollipops, holiday PEZ dispensers, coloring books, Christmas word searches, little notepads and pencils, Christmas themed Chapstick® and other cute things I find in the dollar section. In addition, every year they each get a special ornament chosen just for them to place on the Christmas tree. Sometimes I get them personalized ones but often I try to find an ornament that is meaningful to them in some way whether it’s a favorite hobby, character, toy etc. I love looking back at these ornaments every year and the kids get so excited to have a new and special ornament to hang on the tree. You don’t have to spend a lot, a few little things are all it takes to make them happy that morning and they really love getting a gift from their special elf.

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Lastly, no North Pole Breakfast would be complete without adorable matching Christmas pajamas! You can find so many cute choices at children’s clothing stores or even at Target or Walmart for cheap. I always give them their pj’s on Thanksgiving night because I love having pictures of them in the morning in their cute, festive, coordinated pajamas.

ELF BUSINESS

First things first, it’s time to remind your children of the rules. A good way to do that is to reread to them the book that came with your elf. Remind them that the elf’s magical powers only work if they don’t touch him. They can look at him, talk to him, show him things but “no touchy”! This reminder really makes your job easier because the last thing you want is for the kids to touch the elf, he falls down and then looks like some lifeless, splattered toy on the floor. You want to keep up the allusion and for the elf to stay put in whatever scene or mischief you create for him so the easiest way to achieve that is if the kids are reminded to just leave him alone.

Let’s face it, this elf has a job to do and that’s to keep our kids in line until the big day arrives. What good would the elf be if he didn’t give any status updates? I found this cute Daily Elf Report plaque at a nearby home store for less than $3. No matter where our elf shows up in the house, this little plaque is right nearby so the kids can see if they are behaving or need to do a little better. If you cannot find one of these, make your own reusable little sign. Anything that can give the kids a quick update will work fine, even a basic small white board will do.

naughty nice

On the rare occasion I need to check off “naughty” I also leave a written “Elf Report” so that they know what behaviors they need to work on. You can find a ton of these cute little printables right online. This one below is my favorite, click here to print out your own.

elf warning.jpg

Sometimes our elf likes to leave them a treat which is usually coordinated with whatever mischief he created the previous night. Again, the dollar sections in stores are a great place to pick up fun items such as Elf on the Shelf® themed toys, coloring books, Christmas candy and other cute little things. A fun gift to leave every so often is one of the “elf couture” outfits available for both the elf and elf pets. My kids get a kick out of these!

elg goodies

Occasionally the elf will leave them edible treats as well, such as special Christmas cookies, candies or the makings for hot chocolate. On the first on December he always brings them their chocolate advent calendars which my kids LOVE! They have so much fun counting down to Christmas and being able to eat a sweet treat each morning. Be as creative as you like with the gifts and treats, it really makes the whole Elf on the Shelf® experience so much more fun for them. One last tip, try to buy all of the treats and goodies at one time, store them in your elf bin and you’ll always have something on hand to pull out when you need it.

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When it comes to this Elf on the Shelf® business there is nothing more heart stopping than realizing right as your kids wake up that you FORGOT TO MOVE THE ELF!!!!! Don’t let this happen to you by simply setting a reminder on your phone for right before you go to bed. This will ensure that you never run into any problems because there is nothing worse than your kid waking up to find the elf sitting in the same place as the day before. Don’t ruin the magic, set a reminder. Oh, and should you STILL forget, make sure you have a few clever excuses up your sleeve such as, “The elf wasn’t feeling well so Santa told him to rest” or  “He broke his leg“. If you need a few more in your arsenal, click here for “25 Reasons Our Elf Didn’t Move“.

So what happens if you’re headed off on vacation this holiday season? The kids might be panicked that there elf won’t know where to find them. No worries, just bring him along. We’re going to Walt Disney World in December and I plan on tucking our elf away into one of the suitcases (carry-on, of course) and I will have him show up all around the hotel room while we’re there. I’ll keep the mischief simple and try to incorporate a little Disney magic into the fun as well. If you need a few more traveling suggestions for your elf, just click here .

Lastly, I like to photograph my elf every night, it’s a good reminder for me of the things I’ve done plus, when I am feeling stumped at night I have some inspiration to draw from. If nothing else, having the pics will be a nice reminder down the road of all the fun you had when your kids were little. Maybe one day they will carry on the tradition with their own children and those pics will come in handy!

FAREWELL ELF

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Inevitably, Christmas will roll around and it will be time to say goodbye. Our elf always leaves the kids a special plate and mug for Santa’s cookies and milk, carrots and food for the reindeer, the special Santa key so he can get into our house, a goodbye letter and his final “Naughty or Nice” report. I found these adorable Naughty and Nice cards at Target for under $3.

nice list

It’s always sad to say goodbye to our elf because the kids have so much fun in those weeks leading up to Christmas but at least we know that he’ll always be back. On Christmas Eve, before they go to bed, they say their goodbyes and it’s the one time they are allowed to pick up the elf because he no longer needs his magic as he will be returning to the North Pole on Santa’s sleigh. They like to give him a hug, a kiss and to wish him Merry Christmas. With that, another season of The Elf on the Shelf® comes to a close.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND HAVE FUN

I hope that these tips and ideas are helpful as you embark on another season with your own Elf on the Shelf®. Please feel free to comment below and share any of your own elf ideas! I’ve done so many fun things with our elf over the years but I’ve had a few standout favorites. Check them out below and let me know what you think. Happy Holidays to all!

SOME OF MY FAVORITE ELF ON THE SHELF® IDEAS

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Feeding the Ducks

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Christmas Trivia Challenge

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Oops! Reindeer Poop

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Potato Sack Races

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Potty Time

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Hot Cocoa Break

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Zip Line Fun

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A Friendly Reminder

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Elf Sandwich………Hold the Mayo!

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Story Time with Frosty

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Phone Calls from Santa

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Christmas Melodies

 

Butter Crumb Coffee Cake with Vanilla Drizzle

coffeecake2

A steaming hot cup of tea and a warm slice of coffee cake are the perfect snack on a chilly fall afternoon. This delicious recipe comes right from a wonderful cookbook that I own entitled, Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More: 200 Anytime Treats and Special Sweets for Morning to Midnight  by Carole Walter. It’s chock full of amazing recipes for all kinds of sweetly baked treats. Her recipe calls for a dusting of confectioners sugar on top of the finished cake but I decided to go for a vanilla drizzle instead because in all honesty, everything is just a little better with some icing!

I followed the recipe as written but like I so often do, I increased the amount of vanilla and I used vanilla paste instead so I got that nice flecking throughout the cake. I also added a light sprinkle of ground cinnamon to the batter for a little extra flavor and warmth. The highlight of any good crumb cake is the crumbs and these don’t disappoint. If you like a really thick layer of crumbs don’t hesitate to make and add more to the top. The crumbs are super easy to make and they are something that you can make ahead of time, freeze and just grab a few chunks whenever you need them. They are also delicious added to the top of a vanilla or pound cake, muffins or even pancakes! Throw some warm cinnamon apples on those pancakes as well and you have yourself an Apple Strudel pancake breakfast. Enjoy!

Ingredients

For the streusel

  • 2/3 cup ( 10 2/3 tbs) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • scant 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans, optional

For the cake

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbs baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature cut into small cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the vanilla drizzle

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 to 2 tsp pure vanilla extract or paste
  • 6 to 7 tsp half-n-half

Instructions

For the streusel – Place the butter in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan and heat over medium heat until almost melted. Remove from the heat and cool to tepid.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and nuts. Add to the butter and stir with a fork until blended and mixture begins to form crumbs. Gently squeeze the mixture with hands to form larger clumps and then break apart into smaller crumbs. Let the streusel sit for 10-15 minutes before using.

For the cake – Position the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Generously butter a 10″ springform pan, line the bottom with parchment and butter that as well. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, thoroughly whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the room temperature butter and work with your fingertips until fine crumbs are formed, the mixture should look “sandy”.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and vanilla. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the liquid. Gradually push the crumbs into the liquid beginning with the crumbs in the center of the bowl. Beat on low for about a minute or until the batter is smooth. Take note, the batter will be very thick.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Take a handful of the streusel crumbs and squeeze them to form a large clump, break the clump apart and sprinkle all over the top of the batter. Repeat until all of the streusel has been used. Lightly press the streusel into the batter.

Set the pan on a 12″ strip of aluminum foil and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and firm to the touch. A toothpick inserted should come out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and let stand on a cooling rack for 25 minutes. Gently run a knife around the edge to help release the cake the remove the outer ring of the springform pan. Place a piece of aluminum foil directly over the top of the cake cupping it around the side to hold the crumbs in place. Cover with a cooling rack and gently invert the cake. Lift the bottom of the pan off and remove the parchment paper. Cover with another cooking rack and invert one last time. Remove the aluminum foil allow the cake to cool completely right side up.

For the vanilla drizzle – Combine all of the ingredient and stir until well combined. If the drizzle is a little too thick, add a touch more half-n-half.

To finish the cake – Using a spoon or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off, drizzle the cooled cake with the icing. Allow to set for a few minutes and then serve.

Homemade Chunky Applesauce

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I am a HUGE fan of apples and I love to eat them every which way from Sunday. Raw, sliced on a ham sandwich, cooked alongside pork or chicken, on top of a fall salad, in cakes and cookies and as good old-fashioned applesauce. Apples are such a delicious and versatile fruit, the possibilities for using them up are simply endless. This is my favorite recipe for homemade applesauce because it’s not only scrumptious but it’s SO easy to prepare, it practically makes itself! It’s so easy that even your kids can help you make it!

I love to use a variety of different apples so that I get a more complex and interesting flavor. Some of my favorites are Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Pink Lady , McIntosh, and Lemonade apples. Of course you can use just one variety but don’t be afraid to try out different combinations as well. Traditionally applesauce has a smooth consistency however, I really love to bite into and taste the fresh apples so I like to keep my applesauce chunky. A simple potato masher is perfect for making chunky applesauce as it allows you to control the consistency to your liking. If you prefer a smooth applesauce, simply run the cooked apples through a food mill or blend using an immersion blender or countertop blender.

Last note, feel free to adjust how much sugar you use in this recipe. You can increase, decrease or eliminate it entirely depending on the level of sweetness you prefer. You can also adjust the spices as well. I tend to go light on the ginger because it can be an overpowering, bold flavor but if you prefer to use more, go for it! You can even substitute the ginger for apple pie spice, baking spice or any other warm fall spices that you may have handy. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 12 medium-sized apples, any baking variety such as Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, McIntosh, etc.
  • 3 tbs apple cider or apple juice
  • 3 tbs unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger

Instructions

Peel, core and dice the apples into large chunks.

Place the apples, cider, butter, brown sugar and spices into a large pot. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30-40 minutes or until apples are tender.

For a smooth applesauce – Blend using either a food mill, blender or immersion blender to desired consistency.

For a chunky texture – Use a handheld potato masher to mash the apples to desired consistency.

Whiskey Glazed Carrots

carrots

These are my favorite way to prepare carrots! It’s not only an easy recipe but also full of delicious flavor which makes these carrots a great side dish to almost any meal. They are perfect with a roast chicken, meatloaf or Thanksgiving dinner! This recipe comes from one of my favorite cooks, Ree Drummond who is better known as, “The Pioneer Woman“. Click here to link to her site.

The recipe calls for Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey® but really any good whiskey will work well. My personal favorite is Tullamore Dew® which is also what I use in my out-of-this-world Whiskey BBQ Cocktail Meatballs . Also, when I am in a rush and don’t have time to peel a bunch of carrots, I have used the small baby carrots instead. Just grab a paring knife and dice them up into small, thick “pennies”.  For an extra kick of flavor, top the finished carrots with chopped chives. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, divided
  • 2-3 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into thick circles
  • 1/2 cup Jack Daniels® or other whiskey
  • 3/4 – 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • ground black pepper, to taste
  • chopped chives, optional

Instructions

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over high heat. Add carrots in two batches, cooking for 60-90 seconds each batch. Remove from skillet.

Pour in whiskey and allow to evaporate 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium and add remaining butter. Once the butter melts, sprinkle the brown sugar over the top. Stir together and then add the carrots to skillet. Cover and continue cooking for 5 minutes.

Remove lid and add salt and pepper. Continue cooking until carrots are done and glaze is thick, about 5 more minutes.

Pour onto a platter and serve immediately. Sprinkle with chopped chives if desired.

 

Brown Gravy Meatballs Over Buttered Noodles

gravy meatballs

I absolutely love me some homemade meatballs and I could drink hot gravy by the gallon so I thought to myself, why not bring these two delicious things together? Brown Gravy Meatballs over Buttered Noodles is a really warm, cozy meal that is perfect for the cool nights of autumn. It’s also really easy to make and the best part?……………it’s kid friendly too! What kid doesn’t love buttered pasta and meatballs? My kids devoured this meal and even asked for seconds!

To make the meatballs, I used my Italian Meatball recipe but I just rolled them smaller into bite-sized servings. I like to bake them simply because you don’t have to pay attention as you do when frying but if you prefer to fry, that is perfectly fine too. You can even make these meatballs ahead of time which really speeds up the cooking of this meal. Simply thaw the cooked mini meatballs and add them right to the hot gravy mixture to warm through. So easy!

In our house we LOVE gravy and when making pasta dishes such as this one my husband specifically asks for his noodles to be very “saucy”. Therefore, I like to double the brown gravy so we have plenty to go around and if there are any leftovers, they will stay more moist in the fridge. You can use beef broth in this recipe as well but I much prefer beef stock as it has a much richer, beefier flavor. Kitchen Basics® brand is my go-to but any brand will suffice. Lastly, add as much (or as little) red wine as you’d like, no need to measure and be overly specific here. The red wine adds a really nice, rich flavor to the finished brown gravy. Enjoy!

Ingredients

For the meatballs

  • 1 lb of 80% ground beef or a combination of beef and pork
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 tbs fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 slices white bread, crusts removed and moistened with water

For the brown gravy

  • 2 cups beef stock, divided
  • 1 tbs cornstarch
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbs ketchup
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • splash of red wine

For the finished dish

  • 1 lb wide egg noodles
  • 6 tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • fresh parsley, for garnish

Instructions

For the meatballs – Preheat oven to 350ºF. Except for the white bread, combine all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix until just combined, do not over mix or the meatballs will be tough. Break off small pieces of the moistened bread and add it to the meatball mixture. Mix into the meat and then continue to add more bread until it’s all combined.

Form the meat into bite-sized meatballs and place them about 1″ apart on a sheet pan lined with a Silpat® or aluminum foil. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Alternatively, the meatballs can also be fried in oil until crispy and golden brown.

For the gravy – Whisk together 1/2 cup beef stock and cornstarch in a small bowl, set aside. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a pan. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until golden brown and translucent, about 3-4 minutes.

Whisk together the remaining 1 1/2 cups beef stock, Worcestershire and ketchup and mix until well combined. Add to the pan along with a splash of red wine. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat and gradually whisk in cornstarch mixture. Cook until the sauce has thickened, about 3-4 minutes. Add more beef stock as needed until desired consistency is reached.

To finish – Add the cooked mini meatballs to the sauce and stir to coat. Keep warm over low heat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the egg noodles to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and toss with the softened butter.

Place the buttered noodles on a large serving platter and top with the brown gravy meatballs and sauce. Garnish with parsley, Serve hot.

**TIP – Make the mini meatballs ahead of time and freeze them for later use in this dish. Thaw the cooked meatballs and then add them right to the hot gravy mixture to warm through. Proceed according to recipe instructions.**

Autumn Spiced Apples

cinnamon apples

Spiced apples are absolutely one of my most favorite things in the whole world. They are warm, delicious, cozy and remind me of everything autumn which in my opinion is the best time of the year! This is one of those recipes where being accurate and measuring is completely unnecessary, I like to fly by the seat of my pants with this one. I add a “little bit of this” and a “little bit of that” until I stumble upon the perfect amount of spice and flavor. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different spices and apples, you simply cannot go wrong here. Since this is such an easy recipe to master, try letting your kids in the kitchen with you so they can give it a whirl themselves!

My favorite apples to use when I am making this recipe is a combination of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp. The Granny Smith apples add just the right amount of tartness to balance the sweetness and they hold up well when cooking. Honeycrisp apples are the perfect blend of sweet and tart and work really well in cooking as well but are also excellent apples to grab and eat raw. When making spiced cooked apples you can slice them up in nice big wedges or dice them up as I did above. To get nice, even pieces and speed up the cooking process I used my Vidalia Chop Wizard . It’s a great little gadget to quickly chop and dice veggies and fruit and it’s worth the small investment especially for those who aren’t comfortable with their knife skills.

I love to top my pancakes with a huge scoop of warm spiced apples, drizzle them with a little Apple Butter Syrup and then top it off with a nice dusting of confectioners sugar. It is the perfect Sunday morning treat especially on those cool, crisp fall days. They are also delicious stirred into yogurt or as a topping on your vanilla ice cream. Serve alongside pork, top your chicken, spread on toast or even eat them straight! They are so delicious no matter how you eat them and they are the perfect accompaniment to many dishes. Turn on your creativity and whip up a batch today. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 3-4 apples, any combination of varieties
  • 1-2 tbs unsalted butter
  • splash of apple cider OR apple juice
  • few sprinkles of granulated sugar
  • few pinches of ground cinnamon, apple pie spice, baking spice, nutmeg OR other spice
  • dash of pure vanilla extract

Instructions

Wash, peel and core the apples then slice or dice them up. In a small saucepan set over medium heat melt the butter. Add the apples, cider or juice, sugar, spices and vanilla extract. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender but not falling apart. Adjust seasonings as needed and serve warm or store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Brown Butter Sugar Cookie Peach Cobbler

peach cobbler

What is better than crunchy, buttery sugar cookies and warm spiced fruit? How about when you put those two things together to make a delicious cobbler! This super simple dessert is made mostly from ingredients that you have around the house in addition to a pouch of sugar cookie mix and frozen fruit, which is always good to keep stocked in the freezer. This is such an easy and delicious dessert to make when last minute company shows up, they will think you were baking for hours when in reality this recipe takes just a few minutes to pull together. Be sure not to skip browning the butter, it takes just a few minutes but will impart layers of warm, nutty flavor to the cookie topping.

The recipe was adapted from the site, tablespoon.com and you can find the original recipe right here . Although the recipe calls for peaches, you can easily substitute in any fruit that you desire. With fall upon us, warm cinnamon apples would make for a perfect cozy, cool weather dessert but berries, nectarines or even pears would also make for a yummy dish as well. Cinnamon is called for however, apple pie spice, baking spice, nutmeg or any other warm, fall spice would be equally delicious too. Experiment with the fruit and spices until you find something that you love. Enjoy!

Ingredients

For the fruit base

  • 2 12 oz. bags of frozen sliced peaches, thawed
  • 2 tbs granulated sugar
  • 2 tbs cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 tbs fresh lemon juice, about 1 medium-sized lemon
  • 3 tbs unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

For the cookie topping

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker™ sugar cookie mix
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 1tbs coarse sparkling sugar

Instructions

Heat oven to 375°F. Spray a 13×9-inch pan with cooking spray. Scatter peach slices evenly in pan. Sprinkle granulated sugar, cornstarch, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and the lemon juice evenly over top, stir to combine. Top evenly with 3 tablespoons cubed butter.
In a small saucepan, heat the 1/2 cup butter over medium heat and cook 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown, stir frequently. Pour into large bowl. Add to the bowl the cookie mix, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and the egg and stir until a soft dough forms. Spoon the dough evenly over the top of the peach mixture. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until cookies are golden brown and edges of fruit filling are bubbly. Cool 10 minutes before serving.
**Tip – This dessert is best served warm and topped with a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream**

 

Chef Emerson’s Homemade Ciabatta Bread

Em Ciabatta

(Pictured above is the loaf that was made by my daughter at cooking school)

What is more delicious than the smell of fresh homemade bread? How about fresh homemade bread that is baking right in your own oven? This simple recipe comes directly from the children’s cooking class at Sur La Table that my daughter has participated in for the third year in a row. This recipe requires a little advanced preparation as you need to prepare the “sponge“, a fermented bread starter, the day before but once that is ready to go it’s really a very easy recipe for both kids and adults to make. The end result is a delicious, crusty, warm loaf of bread perfect for sandwiches or as a side to your meal.

Ciabatta, pronounced [tʃaˈbatta], is one of my most favorite breads. I love the crusty cracked outside and the soft, delicate inside. The word ciabatta is Italian in origin and translated it means, “slipper” which is descriptive of this bread’s distinctive flat, tapered shape. Ciabatta bread originated in the region of Italy known as Liguria and quickly spread across the country in popularity. Depending on the region of Italy you are in, ciabatta bread can vary in its texture from soft and porous to a more crunchy, firm crust with a dense crumb. Here in America it is easily found in most supermarkets and bakeries and has what is commonly known as an “open crumb” structure. This is due to the use of a sponge, otherwise known as a “starter“, that is added into the dough preparation. Regardless, it is a wonderful and delicious bread that is the perfect accompaniment to any meal. Enjoy!

Ingredients

For the sponge

  • 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbs warm water (110°F to 115°F)
  • 1/3 cup water, room temperature
  • 1 cup ( 4 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

For the bread

  • 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbs warm whole milk (110°F to 115°F)
  • 2/3 cup water, room temperature
  • 1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups bread flour OR unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt

Instructions

To make the sponge – In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the yeast and warm water and let stand for 5 minutes until the yeast dissolves. Mix in the room temperature water and flour until well incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the sponge stand at room temperature at least 12 hours and up to one day.

To make the bread – In a small bowl stir together the yeast and milk and let stand for 5 minutes or until it looks creamy and a little bubbly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, blend together the yeast mixture, sponge, water, oil and flour at low-speed until the flour is just moistened.

Beat the dough at medium speed for 3 minutes. Add the salt and beat for another 4 minutes on medium. Turn the dough out into a large bowl coated with olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until it’s doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. The dough will be bubbly and quite sticky.

Line a rimless baking sheet with a 12X12″ piece of parchment paper and generously dust with flour. Turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface and cut in half using a bench scraper or knife. Transfer the halves to the prepared baking sheet and form into irregular ovals about 9″ long. Dimple the loaves with floured fingers and dust the tops with flour. Cover the loaves with a damp kitchen towel. Let them rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425°F and place a pizza stone in the center of the oven.

Transfer the loaves on the parchment paper sheet to the pizza stone. Bake until pale golden and the loaf sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped with a finger, about 20 minutes. Using a large spatula, transfer the loaves to a wire rack to cool.