Ham, Gruyere and Apple Panini

ham-gruyere-and-apple-paniniWell hi there! Sorry for the silence in these parts the past few days. We unexpectedly adopted a kitten on Monday and the past two days have been full of vet appointments and crawling under the bed to socialize with our little Miss Elle. The inspiration for her name? That’s right, Stranger Things. We’re big fans of Eleven in this house. I’ll post a picture of the little lady as soon as she’s not curled up next to some old shoes shoved under my bed. No demogorgons allowed ūüėČ

Anyway, on to the main event today- a fantastic ham, gruyere and apple panini, perfect for pairing with soup on a chilly fall evening. I love putting apples into grilled sandwiches. The fresh, sweet crunch of thinly sliced apple is a wonderful complement to warm, melty cheese. This panini pairs apple, dijon mustard and hearty bakery bread with the classic combo of ham and gruyere cheese. The real showstopper here is a sprinkle of crispy sage leaves on the inside of the sandwich. It’s such a small touch but makes an enormous difference and really elevates the standard ham and cheese sandwich to something special. Of course you can make the sandwich without the crispy sage, but please please please, if you have an extra 3 minutes and some sage around, do it. Just heat a little bit of butter in the skillet you’ll use to grill the sandwich and crisp up the sage while you assemble the rest of the sandwich. One other tip- it is worth the effort to shred the cheese rather than slice it. The shreds melt more quickly and evenly, meaning that your bread won’t burn before the cheese melts. The resulting panini is far superior to anything you’ll find at the local sandwich shop. Pair with a bowl of soup and a glass of wine and you’re on your way to an excellent evening.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a kitten to go cuddle!

ham-gruyere-and-apple-panini

Ham, Gruyere and Apple Panini

Makes 1 sandwich. Double, triple, etc. until you’ve fed all the hungry people you need to feed.

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices hearty bakery bread, about 1/2 inch thick each
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup shredded Gruyere cheese (sharp cheddar can be substituted)
  • 2-3 thin slices ham (I used Citterio Rosmarino ham)
  • 3 thin slices of apple
  • 1 Tbsp chopped sage leaves
  • 2 Tbsp butter

Instructions

Heat 1 Tbsp butter in skillet over medium heat. When butter sizzles, add sage leaves and cook 3-4 minutes, until they are crisp but not burned. While sage cooks, prepare the rest of the sandwich.

Spread mustard on slices of bread. Sprinkle half the cheese over one slice of bread, then top with ham and apple. When sage leaves are crisp, remove from butter and sprinkle on top of apples. Top apples and sage with remaining cheese and close sandwich. Spread remaining 1 Tbsp butter on each side of the sandwich.

In the skillet used to crisp the sage, grill the sandwich over medium heat, about 3-4 minutes per side. Serve and enjoy!

 

Turkey Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup

 

turkey-sausage-kale-and-white-bean-soupWe’ve already addressed the fact that pumpkin season starts at exactly 12:01 on September 1st. But did you know that soup season also starts at that time? It’s true. It doesn’t matter how many 90-degree days we have in a row, as long as it’s September it is time for soup. Admittedly, I did not feel much like making soup last week. The thermostat in my car read 99 degrees when I got in to drive home from work almost every day. I’m lucky I had the energy to make it home at all, let alone stand over a hot stove to make soup. Luckily the weather this weekend cooperated and I was able to whip up this fantastic soup for the week ahead. I love making a big batch of soup on Sunday, as it makes a super easy and delicious dinner when I’m pressed for time later in the week.

I love this turkey sausage, kale and white bean soup recipe for a number of reasons. One, I usually have all of the ingredients on hand. I try to keep a pound of Italian turkey/chicken sausage in the freezer at all times. My pantry is always stocked with broth, canned tomatoes and cannellini beans. If I don’t have fresh kale on hand, frozen chopped spinach is an easy substitute. A splash of dry white wine, a couple tablespoons of tomato paste and a pinch of red pepper flakes round out the list. From humble, stand-by ingredients a hearty, tasty soup is born. I think this soup tends to taste better as it sits in the fridge, which means it’s a perfect candidate for Sunday afternoon meal-prep. However, if you haven’t planned that far ahead, it’s very quick to whip up on a weeknight. Paired with a sandwich, this is a great weeknight meal. Stay tuned tomorrow for an excellent sandwich pairing!

turkey-sausage-kale-and-white-bean-soup

Turkey Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb Italian turkey sausage, removed from casing
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/2 bunch kale, cleaned and chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

 

Instructions

Heat oil in stock pot or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add turkey sausage and break into pieces with wooden spoon or a potato masher. Once sausage starts to brown, after about 3-4 minutes, add onion and red pepper flakes and cook an additional 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add tomato paste and cook about 3 minutes, until it has darkened in color and some brown bits have formed on the bottom of the pan. Add white wine and scrape up brown bits. Reduce wine for about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 1o minutes, then add tomatoes, kale and cannellini beans. Season generously with salt and pepper. Simmer soup for an additional 10-15 minutes.

Once soup is done, remove from heat and add basil and parmesan cheese. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with additional cheese, if desired.

Serves 6.

Philly-Style Italian Roast Pork

philly-style-italian-roast-porkI like to root for the underdog, don’t you? For example, JC was my favorite member of *NSYNC, not Justin. I like to see the Cleveland Browns win once in a while. And as far as Philly food goes, a good roast pork sandwich will get my vote over a cheesesteak any day. It seems most people outside of the Philadelphia area know of the famous Philly cheesesteak, but not so many know about the roast pork sandwiches. People! You’re missing out! I was once one of the uninitiated before I moved to the area. When I thought of shredded pork sandwiches, I thought of barbecue pulled pork. Philly-style roast pork is a different beast entirely. I became a convert with my first bite. Succulent, luscious chunks of pork with browned, crisp edges swim in savory¬†broth that saturates the crusty bun. Topped with spicy banana peppers and sharp provolone cheese, it is a masterpiece of flavor and texture. Cheesesteaks are delicious, but roast pork is downright dreamy.

I love to make this Philly-style roast pork at home for a couple of reasons.¬†Of course, it’s delicious. The house smells incredible as the pork slowly roasts in the oven.¬†And OMG, the leftovers are divine and freeze really well. This is a great dish to make for a big game, tailgate or bonfire. It feeds an army, is hearty and delicious and can easily be made ahead. Meaning you are free to cheer on your team or catch on gossip.

While this recipe is simple, there are a couple of things to keep in mind to ensure you maximize the deliciousness. First, it is really worth the extra 10 minutes to thoroughly brown the meat on all sides before it goes in the oven. Obviously you will want to pat the pork shoulder dry with paper towels ahead of this step, to minimize splattering. Then get the oil good and hot and go at it. Next, since this recipe calls for a huge piece of meat, you’ll need a big cooking vessel. I used a 13 quart dutch oven. You could also use a roasting pan or even a 9×13 dish and cover with foil before putting it in the oven. If using either of these options, brown the meat in a very large skillet (unless your roasting pan is safe to use on the stovetop.) Finally, you cannot rush this. Check the pork after 3 hours, and if it shreds easily, it’s done. But if it doesn’t, just close the oven door for another hour and check it then. Cranking the heat too high will¬†not do you any favors.

The Philly-style Italian roast pork sandwich is the kind of underdog I can really get behind. Now if Notre Dame could just pull out a win… There’s always this weekend!

philly-style-italian-roast-pork

Philly-Style Italian Roast Pork

6-7 lb pork shoulder (either boneless or bone-in)
2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
¬ľ cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 cups white wine
1-2 cups water
5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

For serving: sandwich rolls, banana peppers, provolone cheese, broccoli rabe

Pre-heat oven to 325.

Prepare pork shoulder. Pat dry and trim excess fat (lots of fat will remain, that is fine). Mix salt, Italian seasoning and black pepper together in small bowl. Rub salt/herb/pepper mixture over all sides of pork shoulder.

In large dutch oven or roasting pan on stovetop, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Carefully place pork in oil and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Once pork is browned, reduce heat to medium and add onions and garlic to pan and cook 2-3 minutes, until translucent and fragrant. Add white wine and enough water to bring liquid about 1/3 of the way up the pork. Place lid on dutch oven or cover top of roasting pan tightly with foil. Cook 3-4 hours, turning the pork once per hour. When turning the pork, add water sufficient to come 1/3 of the way up the pork if some has evaporated. Pork is ready when it shreds easily with a fork.

Once pork is done, shred with two forks and toss with pan juices and onions. Remove herb stems, large pieces of fat and bone, if a bone-in pork shoulder was used. Serve on toasted sandwich rolls with banana pepper rings and provolone cheese. Sandwich can also be topped with sautéed broccoli rabe, if desired.

If making roast pork head, shred and refrigerate in pan juices. Heat in crockpot on low and keep warm until serving.

Serves 8-10.

 

Pumpkin Bread with Sweet Cream Cheese Butter

pumpkin-bread-with-sweet-cream-cheese-butter

Between us, I was all about pumpkin way before the current pumpkin-spice craze. An early adopter, if ¬†you will. For starters, I was obsessed with those little mellowcreme pumpkins as a little girl (not really pumpkin, but still.) I’ve always been a pumpkin pie enthusiast and would beg my grandma to let me help her bake Thanksgiving pies…or at least lick the bowl. I live for pumpkin pie for breakfast. Pumpkin pancakes, too. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is my second favorite Peanuts special (A Charlie Brown Christmas¬†is number one, obvs.) I put Pumpkin Pie Spice in my coffee all year round. If pumpkin ravioli are on the menu, that’s what I’ll order. When the horrific¬†pumpkin shortage threatened fall baking, I hoarded as much as my pantry could hold.¬†My point is, I really, really love pumpkin and have for a long time. Also, for the record, Hocus Pocus was my favorite fall movie WAY before it was cool.

Pumpkin bread can be overshadowed by its’ more glamorous and fancy compadres, like cupcakes and pies. But when done well, it’s a real treat. There’s nothing like a warm slice of pumpkin bread and hot cup of coffee on a quiet autumn morning before the rest of the house is awake. A few moments of delicious solace before the craziness begins. Of course, those moments are ruined by dense, bland, overly sweet pumpkin bread. My beloved pumpkin deserves better. Unfortunately, since pumpkin is by nature so moist and thick, many recipes result in a heavy pumpkin brick, rather than a little slice of heaven.

Luckily, I happened upon this recipe¬†and now¬†rest assured that wet, heavy and bland pumpkin bricks are a thing of the past. This bread is substantial but not dense. The earthy, sweet flavor of pumpkin shines through, complemented by the traditional spices. I’ve used pumpkin pie spice to simplify things, but of course you can create your own mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. The pumpkin and spices are cooked on the stovetop to evaporate moisture and concentrate pumpkin flavor. Cream cheese is added to the batter to add richness and a little edge to cut through the sweetness. The topping is cinnamony, brown sugary goodness. And, while completely optional, I added a cream cheese butter that flirts dangerously with the idea of being frosting. But if we call it butter, then it’s appropriate¬†to put it on bread which means it is a perfectly acceptable breakfast. Right? Right. You can always count on me for a good rationale ūüėČ

This recipe makes two loaves, which means there’s plenty to share. Keep one for yourself and give another to a neighbor or co-worker. Or eat one now¬†and keep one in the freezer,¬†in case of a pumpkin emergency. Happy fall baking!

pumpkin-bread-with-sweet-cream-cheese-butter

Pumpkin Bread with Sweet Cream Cheese Butter

Ingredients:

Topping

  • 5 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1 Tbsp softened butter
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Bread

  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk, mixed with 1 tsp vinegar or lemon juice and allowed to sit 5 min (or buttermilk)

Sweet Cream Cheese Butter

  • 4 Tbsp softened butter
  • 8 oz softened cream cheese
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

Combine ingredients for topping in a small bowl with either fingers or a spoon until the butter is incorporated into dry ingredients. Set aside.

Prepare loaf pans. Spray two 9 by 5 (or 8 1/2 by 4 1/2) inch loaf pans with baking spray. Place loaf pans on a rimmed cookie sheet and set aside. Preheat oven to 350.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a medium saucepan, cook pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice over medium heat about 6-8 minutes, until thickened and slightly dark. Turn off the heat and add both sugars and vegetable oil. Using your fingers, break cream cheese into small pieces over pumpkin mixture until all cream cheese has been added. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes to warm the cream cheese, then whisk until no lumps of cream cheese remain.

Whisk eggs and milk/acid mixture (or buttermilk) together, then whisk into pumpkin. Add flour to pan and gently fold into pumpkin mixture until combined. Divide batter evenly between pans and sprinkle topping over the pans.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. Remove from oven and allow to sit in loaf pans for 15-20 minutes. Then carefully remove loaves from pans and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

To make sweet cream cheese butter: whisk all ingredients together until smooth. You can also mix ingredients with hand or stand mixer.

Makes 2 loaves and enough sweet cream cheese butter for each loaf.

Bread recipe slightly adapted from¬†America’s Test Kitchen

Tortellini Rosa

Tortellini Rosa 1Well, hello from the other side of Labor Day weekend! I hope you were able to have some fun and relax. Are you all hot-dogged and hamburgered out? Summer is, unofficially at least, over and we’re back to school, schedules and busy weeknights. Quick and easy recipes are a necessity. This time of year,¬†if you don’t have a plan for dinner, you’re looking at PB&J or Cheerios. Luckily you do not need a lot of time or energy to get this tasty and satisfying Tortellini Rosa on the table. Getting back into the swing of things can be a real drag, so¬†cheese and carbs are here to help.

This dish is inspired by a former favorite at a neighborhood restaurant that’s since been taken off the menu. Fortunately it is easy to recreate and I think my version is even better than the original (though I may be biased.) Cheesy tortellini are combined with 1/2 cup each of Italian pantry staples: black olives, artichokes¬†and¬†roasted red peppers. Pancetta adds meaty richness and blue cheese adds a decadent tang. Add spinach for some healthy greens. Everything is mixed into a slightly spicy and super easy creamy tomato sauce. I use a full teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Between the cream and the cheesy tortellini, there is plenty of richness in the dish to balance it out. If you’re heat shy, you can scale back to 1/2 a teaspoon. Dinner will be on the table within 30 minutes and you’ll only have a skillet and stockpot to clean up afterwards. So you can move on to whatever else your evening has in store, whether it be soccer practice of a Netflix binge.¬†I’ll cross my fingers that it’s the latter.

Tortellini Rosa 2

Tortellini Rosa

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz dried tortellini (I used Barilla Collezione Cheese and Spinach Tortellini)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 oz pancetta, diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup black olives, chopped
  • 2 cups spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/4 cup basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

In large stock pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt the water and add tortellini. Cook tortellini 2 minutes short of cooking time on package. Drain.

While tortellini is cooking, prepare the sauce. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. When oil shimmers, add pancetta and cook until crisp. Remove pancetta from skillet and pour fat from skillet, reserving 1 1/2 tablespoons.

Return skillet to heat and add reserved fat. Add onion and cook 2-3 minutes, until translucent. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook 3o seconds, until fragrant. Add wine to skillet and reduce for about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and water to skillet and cook until sauce has thickened, about 3-4 minutes. Add artichokes, roasted red peppers, olives and spinach. Cook until spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes.

Add tortellini to skillet once it is ready. Cook tortellini in the sauce for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add  heavy cream, stirring to combine. Add pancetta and blue cheese to skillet. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper to your preference. Sprinkle basil over skillet and serve.

Serves 4

Sweet and Smoky Oven Baked Ribs

Sweet and Smoky Oven Baked Ribs

OMG. Is this the longest week ever? I feel like weeks before long holiday weekends always last an eternity. This is like the third Thursday this week. But sadly¬†the long weekend will be over before you can say “pumpkin spice season”. Oh yes friends, the most wonderful time of the year is almost upon us. I can almost smell the spiced cider. However, before we dive into leggings and scarves and boots (oh my!), we have to give summer a¬†proper, if unofficial, sendoff. What better to say “so long” to the season that turns¬†me into a sweaty, sticky, falling-apart mess than with sweet, messy, falling apart baby back ribs. Ever the bigger person, I’ll treat summer infinitely better than it’s treated me. Seriously though, enough with the heat waves.

For the longest time I was under the impression that ribs were difficult to make, so I didn’t bother. Justin loves the pre-cooked, pre-sauced packages of ribs that they sell at the grocery store, so we would pick up a rack of those whenever the mood struck us. But about 2 years ago I decided to take the plunge and make the ribs myself. This is one of those situations where a tiny bit of effort yields huge rewards. You will never go back to pre-made ¬†ribs again. And truly, it could not be simpler. Mix up a sweet and flavorful spice blend with ingredients you probably already have in the pantry, rub it onto the ribs, and cover ¬†and refrigerate them for 4-24 hours. You can get away with 2 hours in the fridge, but if you can at all plan ahead, it is worth it. Then bake the ribs in a super low oven, which allows them to become mouth-wateringly tender. The meat literally falls off the bones. Two¬†coats of your favorite barbecue sauce and a quick spell under the broiler and these ribs are done. The result is insanely sweet, succulent and slightly smoky- just what ribs should be. And since you’re eating them at home, you can make as big a mess as you’d like. Take that, summer. I mean… Bon Voyage!

Sweet and Smoky Oven Ribs

Sweet and Smoky Oven Baked Ribs

Ingredients:

  • 2 racks baby back ribs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • tiny pinch of ground cloves (less than 1/8 tsp)
  • 1¬†cup your favorite barbecue sauce

Instructions:

In a small bowl, mix ingredients from brown sugar through cloves.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Pat ribs dry. If silver skin remains on the ribs, remove it(see here for a how-to.) Rub spice mixture generously over all sides of ribs. Cover baking sheet tightly with foil and place in the refrigerator for 4-24 hours.

When ready to bake ribs, remove them from refrigerator and pre-heat oven to 250. Bake ribs, covered, about 3 1/2 to 4 hours, or until they are tender and meat pulls easily away from bones. Remove ribs from oven and remove foil cover. Pre-heat broiler. Brush ribs with half of barbecue sauce and place under broiler about 3-4 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove ribs from oven and brush with more sauce. Place ribs back under broiler for another 3-4 minutes. Remove ribs from oven and cut along bones into pieces. Serve with remaining barbecue sauce.

Serves 4.