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Italian’s Doing What They do Best. PASTA! (And some chicken and salad too!)

Our friend Marco comes from Italy, and whenever he cooks we always enjoy an amazing dinner. The pasta is always fresh and the sauce is dynamite. Last week he cooked a great meal and I asked him to share his recipes, so I could share them with you! Here are his recipes for Pasta with Meat Sauce, and Roasted Chicken With Potatoes!

Fettuccine al Ragu’ alla Bolognese


First of all I want to say that there is nothing to do with the premade sauce that you buy at the supermarket. “Ragu’ alla Bolognese” is a special meat sauce that is typical of Bologna (Emilia Romagna, Italy). This is a recipe that my mother gave to me and it is really close to the original Ragu’ alla Bolognese.

Ingredients for 4 people:

Pasta, (we have several options) :

  • 1lb of short pasta (Rigatoni, Orecchiette, Farfalle, Shells, normally no Penne);
  • or 1lb of Fettuccine (do not use spaghetti or linguine);
  • or 2lb of  Tortellini or Ravioli without meat ( they can be with ricotta and spinach or cheese but no meat);


½ lb of pure ground beef (without any kind of marinating or added flavor)

3cups of smooth tomato sauce (Hunt’s is the recommended one)

1 small onion

2 carrots

4 pieces of celery

1 cup of red wine

Red pepper


OLIVE oil (do not use any other kind of oil)



Chop the onion, carrot and celery into very small pieces by hand or with an electric chopper but do not blend them. Chop the ground beef with a knife, in order to have very small pieces.

Cover the bottom of a large pan with olive oil (less then ½ inch thick). Add a small amount of red pepper (this is not a spicy sauce, so just a little bit of red pepper or none at all according to your taste). Turn the burner at medium heat). Let the oil and the red pepper get warm (do not fry) and add the chopped vegetables. Stir and let them cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and stir and keep chopping and mixing the meet with the vegetables  with a wood spoon and add salt to taste. When the beef is starting to turn brown increase the heat up to medium- high and add one cup of red wine. Stir and taste in order to adjust the salt.

When then wine has cooked down and the meat is cooked through (normally after 5 minutes) turn the heat down to medium and add the tomato sauce. Let it cook for about 15-20 minutes and keep covered, occasionally stirring, to make sure the meat does not burn. Burned meat ruins the sauce and is a pain to clean!

 Your Ragu’ alla Bolognese is ready, mix with your choice of pasta and add freshly grated Parmigiano cheese (no Romano!).

Coscie di pollo al forno con patate

Roasted Chicken legs with Potatoes and Rosemary


Ingredients :

Chicken legs



Dry rosemary


Olive oil



This recipe is very easy. Peal and cut the potatoes into small pieces(as small as you prefer). Marinate the chicken legs and the potatoes with salt, small pieces of garlic and dry rosemary all over the surface of the chicken and the potatoes. Put everything in a baking pan with olive oil (about ½ inch). The legs don’t have to overlay but they have to lay on the bottom of the pan. Add the potatoes over top and between the chicken legs. Let it marinate for about 3 hours and then cook it in the oven at 425 degrees.

It takes from 50 to 90 minutes (depending on the quantities). For 2 people it takes 50 minutes!

It seems long but you can marinate everything in the morning and leave it in the fridge (covered with cooking paper). Put it in a preheated oven 1 hour before dinner.

My Mediterranean Salad


This is a great accompaniment to pasta and chicken, very refreshing and very easy to make. You can add olives to the mix if you like, but there were a lot of people who don’t love them so I left them out.

½ Purple Onion, sliced

4 Ripened Red Vine Tomatoes, sliced and seeds removed.

1 whole cucumber, peeled and sliced into small pieces

1 can of artichoke hearts

Salt and Pepper to taste

Zesty Italian Dressing (add to taste, or if you choose you can use Greek dressing)

1 cup of Feta cheese

Add all the vegetables in a large bowl after chopped, and add the salt and pepper. Add dressing and feta. Mix and cover. Put in the fridge. This can be served immediately or it can marinate in the fridge for a few hours. Enjoy!

Please feel free to comment! I know there are some of you who have already emailed me and have tried some of our recipes!

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Our Spanish Disaster – Sort of…

So far, all the dinners we cook have turned out pretty great. I think there comes a time in every cooks life where you look back at a dinner you made and think. oh gosh, that was pretty darn awful. Last week we decided to cook Spanish. I have cooked Paella once or twice in my life, Steve has never cooked Spanish food. We pulled a menu together and went at it the next day, me showing up early for prep. 10 people for dinner again (we’ll call them our “regulars”). Our friends have started to contribute to dinner which has made it more fun.

For an appetizer my friend Sabrina brought Spanish Fondue made from manchengo cheese (A Spanish cheese from the La Mancha region in Spain) . For dipping in the fondue we had Spicy chorizo and bread and olives. So yummy. You can find the recipe here. I highly recommend this recipe. I think fondue is a good way to catch up with friends, while doing something interactive (such as eating and dipping).

Our next course was our salad. When I saw the recipe Stephen had picked, I thought, no way people are going to like this. But it actually fit pretty well together. A mix of fresh cantaloupe, spicy chorizo and artichoke hearts, made this very balanced. It was sweet spicy and tangy all in one bite.

The Recipe is as follows:

Ensalada de Melon Chorizo y Alcachofa “Salad of Cantaloupe, Chorizo and Artichoke”


1 small cantaloupe
1 16 oz can of artichoke hearts
about 6 oz of chorizo
handful of fresh cilantro

6 TB extra virgin olive oil
1/2 TB red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 ts Dijon mustard – we ended up omitting this. We didn’t have a lot of mustard fans out there.
salt and pepper to taste

You can find the recipe online as well:

The salad is very easy to make. Chop the cantaloupe into squares after rind and seeds are removed, add cooked chorizo, sliced and chopped artichoke hearts. Add the chopped cilantro. Mix in the dressing and enjoy.

The Main Course:

Vegetarian Paella and Beef Stew

I’ve never made vegetarian Paella before. I have made Paella, but its been a while. This recipe is as follows:

  • A pinch of Saffron

  • 1/4 tsp of Cayenne pepper

  • 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz) of olive oil

  • 5 cloves minced garlic

  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped

  • 4 cups (32 fl. oz) vegetable broth

  • 2 cups (16 oz) rice

  • 4 medium tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

  • 1 zucchini peeled and chopped

  • 1 cup (4 oz)  green beans (we used freshly cooked)

  • 2 cups (14 oz) artichoke hearts, tough outer leaves removed and quartered (or 1 1/2 cans)

  • 1 lemon

  • Lemon wedges, to garnish

  • *Very important note* Before adding the saffron, you must soak in room temperature water. We soaked ours for about 30 minutes in a full regular sized coffee mug and it turned the water a rich yellow color.

  • Add the olive oil to a hot pan on medium low heat. Add onion and garlic. Saute until tender. Then add the zucchini. saute for 2 more minutes, along with the green beans and artichokes. While the vegetables are cooking, put the broth in a saucepan and bring it to a low simmer. Add in the saffron water, and the cayenne pepper. Set the heat to medium. Add the tomato, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Taste the broth and season if needed. Add the rice and saute for about 1 minute, until it starts to turn translucent, just like you would for a risotto. Spread out the rice evenly over the bottom of the pan. The broth should cover the rice. As the rice cooks down, arrange the vegetables on the top. Do not stir the paella only “shake” the pan occasionally. Cook this for 8 minutes and 3 minutes with the lid on to make sure the top rice is cooked. Serve hot when ready.

    *Important lessons we learned from this recipe: first, the rice had a great, rich buttery taste from the saffron. The paella definitely needed to be seasoned more. Make sure you taste the broth more frequently as it cooks down. Our needed more salt, pepper, and a dash more of cayenne. Also, make sure to keep the heat as low as possible. We kept ours on medium low, and that was WAY too high. The bottom was not burned but it browned and stuck to the pan. This leads me to the next mistake. Next time we’ll make sure to use more of a frying pan than a pot. All in all though, it was a pretty Summery and fresh paella.

    Estofado de Tenera “Spanish Beef Stew”

    INGREDIENTSabout 2 lbs of beef
    1 lb potatoes16 oz can artichoke hearts quartered
    8 white asparagus (cooked)
    2 cups beef stock
    1 cup red wine
    3 cloves garlic
    1-1/2 onions finely chopped
    1 leek finely chopped
    2 TB fresh flat-leaf parsley finely chopped
    5 TB olive oil
    1/2 cup flour

    Salt and pepper to taste


    Begin by cutting the beef into rough 2-3 inch pieces. Lightly coat them in the flour. Heat about 2 TB of olive oil in a skillet and sear all of the sides of the beef. Remove from the heat.

    In a large stock pot or heavy iron casserole, heat about 3 TB of olive oil and add the garlic, onion and leek. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the vegetable soften and become slightly translucent.

    Add the meat, red wine, beef stock and parsley. Cook over low heat for about an hour stirring occasionally.

    Peel and cut the potatoes into 1-2 inch rough pieces. Heat about 1/2 cup of olive oil in a pan and fry the potatoes until they are golden brown. Remove from the oil.

    As the beef is about done, add the asparagus and artichokes. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Cook for about 5 minutes. Just before serving, add the potatoes and cook for a couple minutes.

    *Changes for next time. Do NOT add the cooked potatoes, artichoke, and asparagus until the very end. They got pretty mushy and made the stew look gross. Not very appetizing.  It did taste ok, but again, more pepper for this stew.

    So in the end, we had a lot of fun cooking this stuff, but I should stick to what I said about menu planning before and test the recipes first. It definitely wasn’t my favorite cooking thus far. Maybe we’ll come back to it someday. Everyone had a lot of fun, and this whole dinner party thing is about trying new things right? That’s what we did.  Next week, our friend Marco will be cooking homemade pasta. He is straight from Italy and his pasta always has great reviews!

    Any comments or feedback you have, please feel free to email or post on here!

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    Dinner Party #2

    Dinner Party 2. Asian night! Why are we cooking? With any luck we are not just stuffing our faces as quickly as possible without taking time to enjoy what we are eating. My memories of the past that involve food were lively and bold. Fresh ingredients bought from markets where I couldn’t even understand what anyone else was saying. I only knew that the lady behind the counter was smiling and that whatever ingredients my mom just bought were going to end up making me smile. Tonight’s theme was about asian cuisine and trying bring back the flavors of my childhood. It is important to note that I had never made anything on the menu before. I only remember the flavors growing up and knew generally how to make them. With the guidance of my mom, my sister, and a little luck, this dinner was a great success! Any of the ingredients listed below that are not available at your local supermarket should be able to be found at an asian specialty store or online.

    Gỏi cuốn (Vietnamese spring rolls)
    -Bún (Vermicelli rice noodles)
    -Bánh Tráng (Vietnamese rice paper)
    -Pineapple poached shrimp
    -Pickling cucumber
    -Reduced pineapple juice
    -Hoisan sauce
    -Sriracha chili sauce
    Follow the directions on the Bún. Typically this involves bringing water to a boil, placing the noodles in the pot, and turning off the heat. Once the noodles are done, quickly cool them off under cold running water. Set the noodles aside in the refrigerator. Place a few cups of pineapple juice in a medium sized sauce pan and bring to a boil. Using a straining ladle, dip the shrimp into the pineapple juice until cooked. Feel free to practice on a couple of extra shrimp to work out the cooking times. When I made it, the pineapple juice quickly boiled over. Make sure you turn it down to a simmer after it comes to temperature. When the shrimp are cooked, place them into the refrigerator to chill.

    While the ingredients are cooling, prepare the vegetables. Wash some lettuce (preferably a softer lettuce like red leaf) and your pickling cucumber. Slice the cucumber in half then cut the halves into 1/4 inch pieces.

    Now prepare the sauce. Take a couple cups of pineapple juice and reduce it in a sauce pan. Be cautious that the heat is not too high or it will quickly boil over. When it has reduced to a syrupy consistency, add 2 tablespoons of hoisan sauce per cup of pineapple juice used and continue to heat. Now add the chili sauce to your taste. I added about 1 tablespoon total and it gave the sauce a very nice heat undertone. The consistency that you want while heated is velvety. If it is too thick, add some additional pineapple juice. If it is too thin then simmer for a little longer. When you are happy with the taste and consistency, pour the sauce into a bowl and place into the refridgerator. As it turns out, this was the most amazing dipping sauce for spring rolls that I have ever had. Ever.

    Wet a piece of rice paper and lay it in the center of a large plate. Place a small portion of bún near the edge (5″ long x 2″ wide) away from you. Lay a piece of cucumber and a piece of lettuce on the noodles. Place a couple/few pieces of shrimp along the vegetables. Roll the entire mass towards you once keeping the roll somewhat tight. Fold over each side so that each of the ends of the roll are covered and then continue to roll the rice paper towards you. This may take a few tries but the good thing is that the ingredients are recycleable 🙂

    Dip and enjoy! This can be somewhat messy so I suggest that everyone has their own dipping sauce!

    Won Ton Soup Made by our good friend Sherry. The recipe to come!

    Japanese style ginger salad
    -Spring salad mix
    -Grated carrots
    -Red onion
    -1/2 cup rice wine vineger
    -3/4 cups vegetable oil
    -1/4 or less cup sesame oil (depending on taste; sesame oil is strong so less is probably advised for most pallets)
    -1/4 or less cup soy sauce (depending on taste)
    -1/2 tablespoon sugar
    -1/2 to 1 tablespoon finely diced ginger

    Grate some carrots and slice some red onions. Place the spring mix into a mixing bowl and spread the carrots and onions around the top.

    Scrap the skin of the ginger off with a turned over spoon. Finely dice the ginger. Put the vineager, oils, soy sauce, sugar, and ginger into a blender and mix well. Pour over the salad and toss lightly. Although mixing in a blender is the best way to mix the dressing, it can also be done in a mixing bowl or a large dressing shaker.

    Vietnamese style BBQ

    -1/2 lbs (per person) Pork shoulder/butt precut by the butcher into 1/2″ slices
    -1 stalk Lemon grass
    -1/4 lbs (per lb pork) Brown sugar
    -1 (per lb pork) Scallion (green onion)
    -Vietnamese fish sauce
    -Jasmine rice
    Nước mắm (fish sauce)
    -2 medium sized cloves of freshly ground garlic
    -1/2 juicy lime
    -1/2 cup cold water
    -1/2 tablespoon sugar
    -Fish sauce (to taste)

    Trim off the outer layer of the lemon grass, rinse, and finely dice. Place this into a large sealable plastic bag. Clean and roughly chop the scallions and put them in the bag. Dump in the brown sugar. Now here is the tricky part. Fish sauce. For most people, fish sauce smells stinky and does not seem very desirable. I am one of these people. However! By the end of the cooking, the smell will not be there and you will be left with a wonderful flavor! If you’ve never used fish sauce before, you will want to start off with about 1/8 cup per 2 lbs of pork. This is not going to smell good but have faith! Add a cup of water and seal the bag. Mix well. If the mix does not seem thin enough than add a little bit more water. You are looking for a flowing consistency but not runny. Put the pork one piece at a time into the bag. Make sure each of the pieces is well coated and reseal the bag removing as much air as possible. Some times these cuts of pork will have bones. If this is the case, take care when coating the pork and sealing the bag. Put the sealed bag into the refrigerator on a dish that will catch any fluid just in case a hole develops because of the bones. An ideal marinating time is 24 hours but the minimum is 4.

    While you have some time, prepare the sauce. If you have a morter and pestel, use it to obliterate the garlic; if you do not have one, finely dice and smash the garlic. Place garlic into a mixing bowl along with 1/2 of a squeezed lime and 1/4 cups of water. Add 1/2 tablespoon of sugar. Now mix well the ingredients and taste. This mixture should taste of garlic and lime. If one ingredient seems to be overpowering the other, then balance with whatever ingredient is more masked. If both taste overpowering, add a little more water and a little more sugar. Next add the fish sauce. You are looking for a light chardonnay color. Mix and taste. Here is better to be safe by adding the fish sauce slowly and tasting often. Typically a diced red chili is then added for additional flavor but for this particular meal, one could not be located in time.

    Take the pork out of the refrigerator about an hour before you grill so that it is able to come to room temperature. Set the grill to medium-high and watch carefully. Due to the nature of the pork cut there is typically a high fat content and fire is a risk. I lost one of 12 pieces of pork due to flames. You will know that the pork is done when it has a rich reddish brown color on the whole piece. Let sit for a few minutes to cool down enough to handle. Slice into 1/4″ – 1/2″ strips and serve on warm rice drizzled with the nước mắm.

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    My Favorite Appetizer

    The definition of an Appetizer- food or drink to stimulate the appetite… and then keep on going if you can! I love appetizers and I have a couple of favorites I have collected throughout the years. The first one I stumbled upon very recently…Bacon Wrapped Red Skin Potatoes. Who would have thought? But let’s be realistic…how could you not have thought? I originally got a variation of this recipe from (one of my favorite go to sites, has a TON of amazing recipes), but I changed it a little. In that recipe, it called for olive oil and rosemary, both were unnecessary to me…and everyone hated the sauce that went with it. So I nixed them.

    -Bacon Wrapped Redskin Potatoes

    1 1/2 lbs of redskin potatoes, cubed

    1 lb of bacon sliced in thirds

    salt and pepper to taste

    1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese


    dice potatoes in cubes. Wrap in bacon and secure with toothpicks. Sprinkle with Salt and pepper and bake until potatoes tender and bacon is crispy at 350 degrees , about 10-12 minutes.

    When out of the oven and bacon is crispy, top with shredded cheddar cheese. serve immediately.

    This pic isn’t the best, my camera died, so I thank my blackberry phone for this pic!

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    Dinner Party #1 – Ann Marie Cooks

    Dinner Party 1. Menu Planned. It’s all ready. Theme, Italian.  Simple. Easy. The idea is to make something good, that everyone will love. Everyone loves pasta, and it’s so easy to make. In total, we had about 10 people over. This was my very first dinner party besides cooking for family, so I was very nervous and excited. Normally my mom is in the kitchen or I am cooking for no more than 4 others. The menu is as follows:


    -Chopped veggies and dip (always a hit and everyone loves them). Make sure to chop up some extras in case you run out, we used grape tomatoes, carrots, celery, and cucumbers. We also got a dill veggie dip that was store bought, but if you’re feeling like homemade is best, here’s an awesome recipe from  Trust me, you’ll love it!

    -Zesty Lemon Foccicia The bread I made was a simple recipe out of the bread machine, let the dough rise, flour your hands and stretch the dough out like a pizza. I like the foccicia thin ( it will rise in the oven). Once ready, time to season.

    1/4 cup Olive oil

    Salt and pepper to taste

    red pepper flake

    1 medium sized garlic clove, chopped fine

    Freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1/2 lemon

    Wisk together ingredients and spread on the dough, cook until slightly golden on top, about 6-8 minutes. Slice when warm into strips, and serve with goat cheese.

    Main Course-

    -Spicy Roma Tomato Sauce with Artichokes and Parmesan Cheese

    4 Garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped (add more or less to taste depending on what you like)

    1/2 of a small vidalia onion chopped fine

    1/4 cup Olive Oil

    1/2 cup of your favorite red wine

    2- 3 fresh ripened Roma tomatoes, chopped and de-seeded

    1  large can of diced roma tomatoes (We used two large cans for 10 people)

    1 can of artichoke hearts

    4-6 leaves of fresh basil, chopped

    1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes

    Salt and pepper to taste

    Freshly grated parmesan cheese

    1 lb of linguine (2 lbs for 10 people)


    In a large pot on medium-low heat, add olive oil, once heated add onions, saute for 2-3 minutes until tender. Add garlic, cook for another 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir in red wine. Let cook down for 5-7 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, half the basil and canned diced tomatoes. Let cook down for 30 minutes, or until a thick sauce (sauce will be watery at this time, you’ll want to cook it down so a lot of the water evaporates).

    In another large pot cook linguine as directed until al dente. Drain all but 1 cup of the pasta water. Pour Linguine in with the pasta sauce and mix in over heat. stir until sauce fully coats the pasta. Add in freshly grates parmesan or have your guests add it themselves.




    -Romaine Salad

    2 heads of Romaine Lettuce

    1/2 cup of chopped red onion

    1 cucumber, peeled and chopped

    2 chopped tomatoes

    1 tblsp of Pimentos

    Salt and Pepper to taste (the key to a good salad)

    Fresh grated cheese (Pick your favorite.. we used parmesan)


    Juice of 1 lime

    1/4 cup Olive oil

    1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

    1 tsp of balsamic vinegar

    salt and pepper to taste

    -Garlic Bread

    1 loaf of french bread, sliced in half and sliced down the center

    Pre heat over to 350 degrees. Drizzle olive oil on the top of the bread. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic salt. Top with mozzarella cheese. Bake on a sheet pan until cheese is melted and bubbly.

    -Grandma’s Spiedini

    2lbs of boneless, skinless chicken

    1-2 cups olive oil

    2-3 cups of breadcrumbs

    1 cup diced tomato

    1/2 cup onion

    1 cup romano cheese. cut in small slices

    2 tblsp of butter.

    Chicken, before it cooking

    Slice chicken into 2 inch wide strips, put chicken in a ziplock bag and flatten with a mallet or the bottom of a glass, until desired thinness (about 1/4 inch thick). Dip chicken in olive oil, then in bread crumbs. Add onion, tomato, and romano cheese. Roll chicken up and put in a baking pan. Top with bits of butter. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until golden.




    Ok, I made brownies out of the box, I admit it. It was a definite time saver. They were yummy though!







    This was a very good basic first menu. All in all I would say it was successful.  I plan on getting more technical later, but prepping and organizing really allowed me to enjoy the dinner party and catch up with friends. Next time, Steve will be cooking…Stay tuned!



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    Dinner Parties – Do you really need to write a menu in advance?

    The answer, in short, is absolutely. Planning and writing a menu in advance is key. For one thing, it keeps you organized. When throwing a dinner party, organization is key. If you're having 10-12 people over, most people can't just throw something together with what they have (unless you're really good and have a LOT of extra food around). Let's take a look at some other key points:

     -Budget. Making a menu gives you a realistic idea of how much you would like to spend.  For instance, if your budget is $100, what can you buy for the amount of people you are having over? You could probably make chicken, but steaks might be over budget.

    -Assess your cooking skills. Have you made this particular dish before? Were you successful? If you decide to make a dish you've never made before, it's best to do a dry run about a week before. That way, you can make changes to the particular dish, or the menu. It makes the day of the dinner party a lot less stressful.

    -See how much time you need to cook everything. You don't want to be in the kitchen the whole time during your party. You want to enjoy it too!

    -Lastly, after the dinner party, look at the menu. What did you like? What did you dislike? Make changes accordingly, even jot it down directly on the menu. If the menu was successful, no harm in using it again! Next time, you know exactly what you need and how much you're going to spend, even if it's 6 months from now. Keep a folder with menus in it.

    This should make a pretty good start to a dinner party. Remember, Organization is key!

    Other links to consider:  -This link is key when deciding serving portions - This link talks about balance and even availability of different foods during different seasons. Cooking in season can be much less expensive and everything in season tastes better too. It's a win/win! -Epicurios talks with Chef Gordon Ramsay about creating an allstar menu for guests! His main point, keep it simple!

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