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Ever since I saw Lindsay Lohan’s character dunk an oreo in a jar of peanut butter in The Parent Trap, I was hooked on the snack. I found this recipe for a no bake bar [my first] and had all the ingredients on hand. Remembering how good peanut butter + oreos are together, I strayed from the recipe and added a touch of peanut butter to the mix. I also didn’t have a full package of oreos so I improvised and added some reduced-fat chips ahoys.

Cookies’n Cream Bars

  • 1 package oreos [I used Trader Joe's Joe-Joes  {like oreos but better} and again, only had half a package so I used some reduced-fat chips ahoys. use any cookies you have.]
  • 2 spoonfuls natural peanut butter
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 package mini marshmallows

Place cookies in a ziploc bag and crush [doesn't need to be a fine crush]. Place marshmallows, butter, and peanut butter in a large mixing bowl and microwave for 1.5 – 2 minutes or until marshmallows begin to puff. Remove and pour in cookie mixture. Stir to combine then transfer to a foil lined 8×8 baking pan. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove bars out of pan with edges of foil and cut into squares. Makes 9 large bars. Told you it was easy!

 

 

 

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{When life hands you mushy bananas…}

I had a couple bananas that were turning on me and it was the perfect time to bake a batch of banana bread. In the spirit of St. Pat’s I wanted to add some green flair to my grandma’s recipe but without any green food coloring in the cupboard I wasn’t sure how to pull it off. As my eyes settled on the basil pot on the windowsill it hit me, why not give the savory Italian herb a try? I had a hunch the subtle, slightly minty flavors of the basil would compliment the sugary sweetness of the banana nicely. Although I didn’t get the vibrant green hue I was hoping for, the incidental marrying of flavors was right on.

Basil Banana Bread

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3-4 ripe bananas
  • 1-2 tsp sour cream, if you have it
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1 bunch [4-5 large leaves] fresh basil, chopped

Reserve:

  • 1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 3-4 large basil leaves, chopped – for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix butter, sugar, bananas, sour cream, water, chocolate chips, basil and eggs thoroughly in big bowl with electric mixer. Mix remaining dry ingredients and add to wet mixture slowly [otherwise the flour will fly everywhere and make a huge lovely mess...]. When all ingredients are combined, gently fold in reserved chocolate chips with a spatula. Grease one large loaf pan. Bake in oven 35-40 minutes or until butter knife inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on rack, remove from pan, slice, top with reserved basil. Enjoy a piece for breakfast [wrap in a lightly damp paper towel and steam it the microwave for 15 seconds. Slather a pat of butter on top while still warm], or have a slice as a sweet after dinner treat.

 

 

 

 

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[lenten lunch]

Ladies + gents, the season of Lent is upon us, which you probably know means no meat on Fridays for the next 40 days. Typically I’ll forget about this until halfway through something extra meaty of course [like a cheeseburger], rationalize it by saying God wouldn’t want me to waste it, then proceed to polish it off and vow to remember for next Friday. This year I’m cracking down, baby. No meat on Fridays, period, and I’m making sure my butt is in a pew each and every Sunday. Although these are both things a good Catholic should already be doing, this former altar girl is trying to get back on track.

No meat, no problem. Here is a quick and healthy recipe for a tuna melt.

TGIF Tuna Melt

  • 1 can chunk light tuna, drained
  • 1 tsp low-fat greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp deli mustard
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp feta cheese
  • dash of kosher salt + black pepper
  • 2 ‘veggie slices’, cheddar flavor [see explanation w/photo below]
  • 2 slices good quality whole-grain bread

Mix first six ingredients together in a bowl, place mixture on top of bread and finish off with the veggie slices. Pop under a broiler in your toaster oven for 1-2 minutes, voila.

[in case you were wondering what the violently orange stuff is in the picture up top, i have to admit it's a cheese imposter. i saw these in the organic produce section at jewel and wanted to give them a try. they're pretty good and taste surprisingly like cheddar cheese - plus are much, much better for you. the orange color comes a natural food coloring, carotenal, which is derived from skins of oranges and tangerines. they're mostly soy and pack three grams of protein per slice. try these out!]

[i love LaBrea's whole grain bread. it's got a thick, crunchy crust and the inside is soft and chewy even days later. the bakery is based in california but they ship everywhere - i got this loaf at jewel]

 

 

 

 

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[nutella pillows]

You may have noticed navy + cream was out of commission the past week, and I’m pointing my finger at you, Snowmageddon 2011. Below, one of many eerie photos circulating the web that captured the mayhem.

[Lake Shore Drive, a highway that runs through Chicago, as it appeared the morning of February 2nd.]

Although the blizzard threw everyone out of whack, I secretly loved it. We spent the two blustery days holed up at Vince’s sister and husbands house lazing around in our pajamas playing board games, eating junk food and watching movies. The third morning Vince and I felt the twangs of cabin fever and we finally surfaced from their home, only to discover that Vince’s poor car was buried under a miniature Mount Everest. Two hours, a piece of cardboard, a borrowed shovel, and two good samaritans later, we managed to free his car from the snowdrift. That was about the time I started to simultaneously loath the snow and praise the Lord for my heated garage spot.

Blizzard business aside, this past week I discovered a new favorite holiday: World Nutella Day. Music to my ears. On February 5th, chocolate lovers like myself celebrate all of the goodness that is this delicious, sweet, and creamy Italian spread. I came across this yummy-sounding yet simple recipe on Picky Palate and thought it would be the perfect way to ring in Nutella Day.

Nutella Pillows

  • 1 package puff pastry, 2 pastry sheets thawed [you can find it in your freezer aisle]
  • 1 cup Nutella [available at most grocery stores, at Jewel it's located by the peanut butter and jelly]
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 1 egg + 1 tbsp water for egg wash
  • sprinkling of sugar
  • sprinkling of powdered sugar [optional]

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Cut each square of pastry into 4 equal size pieces.  Spread a couple tablespoons of Nutella spread onto the center of each pastry leaving 1/2 inch border around edges.  Top each with about 12-15 mini marshmallows and fold over to form a little triangle.  Crimp edges firmly with the tines of a fork.  Brush with egg white wash then sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Bake for 22-25 minutes or until pastry just turns golden.  Remove and let cool for 5 minutes, sprinkle with powdered sugar then dig in! Yields 8 pillows.

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It was the Monday coming off of a Bears playoff loss [frown] but a Steelers playoff win [semi smile]. Allow me to explain. Let it be known that under no circumstances am I a Steelers fan [I'm a proud Browns fan and always will be], but seeing as how my parents and extended family hail from Steel City, I’m happy for them. There, I said it.

Tonight, dinner needed to be easy. This high-fiber, protein packed salad was so quick & simple I’m not sure I can call it a recipe. I must advise you to take heed if you’re averse to the strong flavor of raw garlic. I happen to love it but many people don’t. Raw garlic has been proven to boost your immune system, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, among other health benefits. Though regarded as an herbal whiz kid, it will clear you sinuses as well as anyone within a five-mile radius. Your breath will be a lethal weapon, consider yourself warned.

Garlic + Bean Winter Salad

  • 1/2 cup cannellini beans
  • 1/2 cup shelled edamame beans
  • 1/2 cup chick peas
  • sprinkling of parmesan cheese

For vinaigrette:

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves
  • 1 palmful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • pinch of black pepper
  • pinch of kosher salt
  1. Combine the edamame beans, cannellini beans, chick peas, and parmesan.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together ingredients for vinaigrette. Pour over bean mixture until all ingredients are evenly coated. Enjoy!

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While perusing my new favorite grocery store, Trader Joe’s, I came across this sweet canister of Irish oatmeal. Satisfied with the retro aluminum can [my mind was already busy figuring out other uses for it once empty] I added it to my bounty and went on my merry way.

Last night I set about making a batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies with my new purchase. I’d never seen Irish oats before, much less cooked with them, so I assumed they were the same as Quaker’s. Ah-hem, I was wrong:

This is how they appear cooked. I think they look more like rice than oatmeal but I was determined to see how they tasted in the cookie so I forged ahead. I found a way to use them in place of the “rolled oats” the recipe called for – in my case the recipe asked for 3/4 cup rolled oats so I placed 3/4 cup cold water and 3/4 cup Irish oatmeal in a pot and brought to a boil. Once cooled, I continued with the recipe as usual.

Irish Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature [if you use salted butter just don't add the extra salt]
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt [again, omit this if you are using salted butter]
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats [to use Irish oatmeal, use the method I described above. you just need to pre-cook it a bit because it's starchier than rolled oats]
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F [175 C]. Lightly grease cookie sheets.
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar until smooth [you don't need a mixer. i hand-mixed with a spatula]. Stir in the egg and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, stir into the creamed mixtute. Finally, stir in the oats and chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoons onto the cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. [My oven completely ignores things like temperature settings and is a blazing inferno no matter what the set degree, therefore my cookies were done in 7 minutes. Keep an eye on them, they'll burn quickly.] Remove from baking sheets to cool on wire racks. Makes around 18 cookies.

*adapted from this recipe


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As I’ve mentioned, Giada DeLaurentiis is one of my favorite chefs and TV personalities. Giada was trained at the renowned Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and while there she picked up on the Parisian philosophy surrounding food, which is essentially quality over quantity. A great Parisian meal could entail several hunks of exceptional artisan cheese, some crusty, thick slices of French bread, and a glass of wine. It’s a simple but fulfilling meal.

Last night I took a cue from this philosophy and made a clean, Parisian-inspired meal of my own. It’s all about incorporating a myriad of rich flavors without being overindulgent. Although a departure from my traditional comfort food go-to, spaghetti, it’s a dish that is satisfying in it’s own right and is just as fun to eat as it is to prepare. Bon appetit!

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[coffee break]

{ slam dunk }

Sometimes all it takes is a little cup of jo and a homemade pizzelle [made by your talented mama] to kickstart your morning routine. I like my coffee sweetened with some good old-fashioned sugar and milk. Over Christmas the girls in my family made a couple batches of my mom’s lightly-sweet and satisfying vanilla pizzelles. Behold, a recipe that’s been in our family for generations and guarantees a deliciously delicate cookie every time.

Pizzelles

  • 6 eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups of flour (approx)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 4 tsps baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp anise or 2 tblsp vanilla

Beat eggs adding sugar gradually. Beat until smooth. Add cooled melted butter and vanilla or anise [some people don't care for the black licorice flavor of anise]. Sift flour and baking powder and add to egg mixture. Dough will be sticky enough to be dropped by spoon in pizzelle maker. Cook in pizzelle maker and then store in airtight container.

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My family typically does a big [and I mean big] Italian feast for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’re talking eggplant parmesan, lasagna, stuffed artichokes, hot peppers, and meatballs all loaded with my mom’s homemade sauce. Of course we never leave out the traditional American staples of turkey [one deep fried and one oven roasted], cranberry sauce [jarred and homemade, because some people prefer one or the other], stuffing, mashed potatoes, crusty bread, green bean casserole, and on and on and on. What can I say, we’re Italian and eating good food is in our DNA.

With that being said, my family is doing Christmas very different this year. From the venue to the menu, we’re shaking things up. Instead of dinner, we’re opting to do brunch. Everyone seems to be curiously excited about how this will pan out. The ever present pot of simmering sauce will be noticeably absent from the stove, but I trust there will be new tantalizing treats on the table that will have us wondering how we ever did without.

This year I’m making these deeelicious cinnamon buns using a recipe that claims they taste identical to Cinnabons [and they actually do]. Just look at these things [I'm sure that photo above got your tongue wagging]. This was my first stab at making bread [which was the base of the bun], but it was easy enough and besides, I dare you to mess up a recipe that is essentially butter, cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar. They were velvety and sweet and the frosting oozed with decadent gooeyness. I also loved how the kitchen smelled like cinnamon ‘n sugar for the rest of the night.

[fresh from the oven]

Homemade Cinnamon Buns

for dough:

  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 packet of dry yeast

for filling:

  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened

for frosting:

  • 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm milk. Let it stand for 10 minutes, until yeast is foamy. Heat oven to 200F, then turn it off. Mix in the sugar, butter, salt, and eggs. Add flour and mix well. Knead the dough into a large ball, using your hands dusted lightly with flour. Put in a bowl, cover and let rise in warm oven for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  2. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter.
  3. Roll dough into a 16 x 21 inch rectangle. Spread dough with butter and sugar/cinnamon mixture. Roll up dough and cut into 12 rolls. Place rolls in a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 400F.
  4. Bake rolls on a lower rack in preheated oven until golden brown, about 12 minutes. While rolls are baking, beat together cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and salt [note: I actually doubled the frosting recipe and suggest you do the same]. After taking it out of the oven invert the pan so that the drippings re-coat the buns. Spread frosting on warm rolls before serving. Yields 12 rolls.

[into the oven you go]

[sure beats a scented candle]

[ready for their close-up]

*i can’t take all the credit. adapted from this recipe.

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I want to come back in my next life as Giada DeLaurentiis. If you’re not familiar with Giada, you should be. She is the gorgeous, sugary sweet, incredibly talented Le Cordon Bleu trained face of Food Network. Oh and did I mention she was born in Rome? *sigh*. I DVR all of her shows and watch them religiously, my favorite being Giada at Home. It’s so touching to see how tight-knit she is with her husband Todd. They’re both in their forties [you would n.e.v.e.r. know it. She serves as further inspiration to maintain my skincare regimen as seen here] and have been a couple for 12 years. It’s also no secret how much she adores her daughter Jade, a.k.a. “Jadey”.

Giada’s meals are tasty, yet she always keeps an eye on things like sodium and fat content, which makes life easier. It also explains how she is a professional chef and yet is the size of a toothpick. Aside from her cooking talents, Giada has a flair for design, which she may have picked up from her hubby who happens to be a fashion designer for Anthropologie. Coolest. Couple. Ever.

Earlier this year, my two worlds collided [in a good way] when I found out that Giada was teaming up with the other love of my life, Target, to debut an exclusive collection of kitchenware designed by Giada. You can see the collection here.

Anyways, I was watching an episode of Giada at Home where she was cooking up these adorable little Cornish game hens and I thought I had to give them a try. After picking some up at the grocery store I came home and realized I didn’t have nearly enough ingredients for Giada’s roasted citrus-herb recipe, so I settled for my own variation. The birds came out juicy and succulent with crispy, sweet skin. Turns out my hens might just give Miss Giada’s a run for their money.

Rosemary-Clementine Cornish Game Hens

  • 2 Cornish game hens
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 clementines
  • zest of 2 clementines
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 1 medium white onion

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rub hens with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place a clementine, an onion slice, a garlic clove, and a sprig of rosemary into the cavity each bird. Stuff garlic cloves under the skins. Place rest of onion around the birds. Arrange in a large, heavy, roasting pan. Drizzle more olive oil on top of hens. Roast in preheated oven for 25 minutes.

Reduce temperature to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together wine, clementine zest, chicken broth, and a drizzle of olive oil; pour over hens. Continue roasting about 25 minutes more, or until hens are golden brown and juices run clear.

By the way, as you can see by the photos I attempted to ‘truss’ my birds with kitchen twine. I think I fudged up the wings. This video explains how to do it.

I served my birds with a baked potato and poured the sauce from the dish over the baked potato – muy delicioso.

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