Prosciutto Panini

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If you are looking for a hearty weekend lunch or a weeknight dinner that can be varied according to individual tastes, a sandwich is a pretty good place to start.  Making a Panini is an easy way to spice up the meal, especially in cold weather with a side of soup.  To make the Panini today I started with small loaves of half-baked ciabatta bread from Trader Joe’s.  A hearty bread such as ciabatta or sourdough holds up nicely to the heat you will be adding to cook the panini and allows for a lot of ingredients stuffed inside.  A little trick to add flavor and a little more crunch is to toast the inside of the sandwich first.  Today I really went wild toasting the bread in a cast iron skillet that had a thin layer of bacon grease and roasted garlic…delicious.

Like I said you can really make any combination you want, I will share what I used today as it was amazing!  This is enough for 4 small sandwiches.

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4 small loaves of ciabatta bread, fully baked.
3-6 Tbsp of oil of choice (I used bacon grease)
2-3 cloves of roasted garlic
8-10 slices of fresh shaved Prosciutto
4 Tbsp of light spinach and artichoke dip (see previous post)
fresh shaved parmesan cheese
4 thin slices of fresh mozzarella
1/2 avocado, sliced thin
1 handful of arugula
1 small zucchini thinly sliced, sauteed until cooked adente.

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1. Prepare your bread first: Cut loaves in half.  Heat heavy skillet over medium heat to warm bacon grease (or oil of choice).  Add thinly sliced roasted garlic to hot bacon grease, stirring for about 1 minute.  Place sliced bread in skillet cut side down to brown in bacon grease, when you remove bread try to keep the garlic slices on the bread for extra flavor.

2. Prepare your sandwich by smearing spinach and artichoke dip inside top half of bread.  Place a slice of mozzarella cheese on bottom side of bread, layer with zucchini, followed by prosciutto, avocado, a few pieces of arugula, fresh shaved parmesan (to make this a breakfast sandwich we added thinly sliced hardboiled eggs to a few as well).

3. In your heavy skillet on medium-low heat place the sandwich in the pan.  If you have a panini press, use it to smoosh the sandwich gently.  Flip over after a few minutes when bottom is browned and cheese is starting to melt.

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A few secrets to a good panini:

-Place cheese in sandwich twice, once on the bottom and once on the top of your pile-up, this will keep the panini together better once cooked.  You don’t have to use the same kind of cheese, I used mozzarella on the bottom and parmesan on the top.

-Slice all ingredients very thin so they can be layered smoothly to prevent them from slipping out when you take a bite or press the panini.

-Cook on lower heat for longer periods of time to allow center to get hot and cheese to melt.

-If you are using sliced bread (like a grilled cheese), butter the outside with a mixture of butter and mayonnaise (50/50 mix) to avoid burning while cooking.

-A classic combination that never fails: tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil, and a smear of pesto.


Light Spinach and Artichoke Dip

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Last weekend I made a vegan spinach and artichoke dip from (great ideas on this site).  I really enjoyed the idea of pureeing cashews with almond milk to make a dairy-free creamy base for a dip or spread.  I took the recipe a step or two in a different direction to make a vegetable based dip (no longer vegan) with peppers, basil, and a little parmesan.   After a few trials I found a combination that is really good and very healthy.  Earlier this week I baked it with chicken over a bed of onions, not bad.  The real winner came today when I used the dip as a spread on a prosciutto panini (recipe to come), it was perfect. The spread alone is a simple snack to bring to a gathering or to put out on football Sunday.  Serve warm with veggies, pita chips or toasted bread.  If you are into the dairy-free thing, skip the cheese.

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3/4 cup raw cashews
3/4 cup almond milk (more for consistency)
1/2 lemon, juice
2 cloves garlic
10 small fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (add more if you like it spicy)
1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 lb frozen spinach (you can use fresh as well, try 1 cup packed)
12 oz artichoke hearts (frozen or canned-drained)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese


1. Add cashews, almond milk, lemon juice, garlic, basil, salt, mustard, red pepper flakes, and jalapeno to food processor with “s” blade.  Process for 1-2 minutes until liquid.

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2. Add red pepper, spinach, and artichokes to food processor and blend until combined to desired consistency.  Add more almond milk as needed.  If you are planning to serve this as a warm dip, just pulse in the vegetables to leave larger pieces of artichoke and pepper.  If using as a spread then pulse to the consistency above.  Stir in the parmesan cheese.

3. Spread the mixture into a small baking dish to heat for serving at 400 for 20-25 minutes.

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Butternut Ham Soup

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After making a ham last weekend I had another ham bone to utilize in a dish.  Instead of making split pea soup or red beans and rice, I wanted to make a fall soup without beans involved.  It took a lot of research to find a recipe that did not involve beans in some way, and when I finally found a reasonable recipe (vegetable ham soup on I make a few changes including incorporating a butternut squash I had sitting around.  I also made this soup in the crock pot instead of on the stovetop to get as much benefit of the ham bone as possible.


-1-2 Tbsp of olive oil or butter
-1 large onion, chopped
-6 carrots, peeled and diced
-4 stalks of celery, chopped
-3 cloves of garlic, minced
-10 cups of chicken stock
-4-5 sprigs of thyme
-1 Tbsp chopped parsley
-1 bay leaf
-1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
-3 cups chopped ham
-1 meaty ham bone
-ground black pepper to taste


1. Heat oil or butter in heavy pot over medium heat.  Cook onion, garlic, carrots, and celery for 10-15 minutes.

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2. Add squash, ham, and black pepper to vegetables.  Stir to warm.  Add chicken broth, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and ham bone.

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3. When warm, put in crock pot on low for 4-6 hours.

4. Remove thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and ham bone before serving.


Spaghetti Squash Turkey Bolognese

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My mission of reducing processed foods in our diet is reaching an all time high with spaghetti squash season.  This dish is easy, flavorful, and very healthy.  From what I have learned a bolognese is really just a meat based sauce, so you can substitute for any meat of choice if you don’t have ground turkey on hand.  This recipe started to develop for me after I read a recipe from Martha Stewart (we are totally friends 😉 ), then I added a few additions of my own…like more bacon…and wine…and mushrooms.  My husband really enjoyed this dish without me having to make regular pasta noodles, so I consider this a total success!


-1 medium spaghetti squash
-1 pound of lean ground turkey
-5 slices of bacon
-1 Tbsp garlic and chili pepper infused olive oil
-1 large onion, diced
-3 stalks of celery, diced
-1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms (any mushrooms of choice)
-4 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
-1 Tbsp fresh thyme
-1 tsp red pepper flakes
-1 tsp black pepper
-1/4 cup dry red wine
-1 15oz can of tomato sauce
-2 15oz cans of diced tomatoes


1.  Cut spaghetti squash in half, remove seeds, spray with olive oil and season with pepper.  Bake in oven at 375 for 45 minutes.  When it is fully cooked it is easily scraped out with a spoon to make spaghetti-like strands.

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2.  While squash is cooking, in a large heavy sauce pan cook bacon over medium heat until cooked through, remove from pot to use later.

3. Add 1 Tbsp of infused olive oil to pan with bacon grease along with onions, celery, mushrooms, garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes and black pepper, cook for 10-15 minutes until soft.

4. Remove onion and mushroom mixture and put in bowl for later use.

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5. Brown turkey in pot, breaking to crumble.  When fully cooked drain grease and add onion and mushroom mixture and crumbled bacon back to pot.  Add red wine and simmer for 5 minutes before stirring in tomatoes and tomato sauce.

6.  Let simmer for 30 minutes to develop flavor.

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7. Serve over spaghetti squash, add parmesan cheese if desired.

Pine Cones

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On a recent trip up to Wisconsin I collected a large number of pine cones from the woods around the cottage.  Before bringing them inside the house a very important step to take is de-bugging the cones!  Pine cones are a nice home for little bugs that can then run wild in your home.  De-bugging your pine cones is easy and there are several ways to go about it.  I used a soaking method instead of baking them in the oven, I just imagined the gas oven catching the pine cones on fire and burning down the entire condo building…you’re welcome neighbors.

What you will need:

– 1 large bucket

– 2-3 gallons of warm water

– 1 cup of household ammonia (I’ve seen vinegar be used before, if you don’t want to use ammonia)

– Newspaper

– Large plastic bin to hold cones for drying

– Pine cones

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1. Start by putting 1 cup of household ammonia into the large bucket and filling 1/2 way with at least 2 gallons of warm water.

2. Pull out needles and dirt as able before putting all the pine cones into the ammonia water, fill up as needed with warm water to cover the cones.

3. The cones will float, so make sure to mix up occasionally or use a heavy bucket on top to submerge cones as able.

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4. Allow the cones to soak for about an hour, then rinse well with water.

5. Next you want to lay the cones out in the large plastic bin lined with newspaper.  I brought the cones inside at this point to dry, otherwise I was afraid they would get new bugs in them while drying outside.

2013-10-07 18.50.11The cool thing about pine cones is that they close up when they are wet then open back up when they are dry.  So when you are picking pine cones don’t be afraid to grab the ones that aren’t open, they will open up once they are clean and dry.  I found a bunch of really little pine cones that I’m excited to use in a small centerpiece or two this winter.


-White Cones- you can soak in bleach water instead of ammonia water, you need to let them soak longer (like 8-10 hours) before rinsing.

– Shiney Cones- after de-bugging spraying with a clear polyurethane spray and let dry as recommended on spray can.

– Glitter Cones- after de-bugging you can decorate the cones with glue and glitter, a fun craft project for little kiddos!

Vegetarian Squash Boats

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On my way home from a Fall weekend with my girlfriends, I found what appeared to be the worlds largest zucchini at a farmer’s stand in Wisconsin .  When I went to cut into it I was surprised to find out it was not a zucchini, but some sort of squash as it was hard and had a pumpkin-ish smell.  I did some research and I think what I had was actually a squash called Mo Qua.  My game plan completely changed with this discovery, I decided to make a roasted stuffed squash instead of grilled zucchini rings.  Usually I stuff squash with meatballs, pretty much the only way to get my husband to eat acorn squash, but I didn’t have any ground meat on hand so I made this veggie mixture instead.  Turned out to be amazing, sliced and served with salmon to complete the meal.  This stuffing will work in any squash, usually I prefer butternut or acorn squash for stuffing.

Stuffing Ingredients:

– 1/2 onion, diced
– 1 green pepper, diced
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, center stem removed
– 1 Tbsp fresh basil, roughly chopped
– 1 large tomato, diced
– 1/8 cup sliced kalamata olives
– 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
– 1/4 cup bread crumbs
– 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
– salt and pepper to taste


1. On a baking sheet roast the squash of choice by cutting in half, removing seeds, spraying with olive oil, and seasoning with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven at 350 for 40-60 minutes, until pierced easily with a fork.  For a harder squash (butternut or spaghetti) , poke it with a fork throughout and put in the microwave for 5-7 minutes to soften up enough to easily cut in half.

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2. Make stuffing by sauteing onion, pepper, garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme, salt and pepper in a skillet over medium-high heat with olive oil.  Saute for 10 minutes on medium heat before stirring in the diced tomatoes, olives, and fresh basil.  Stir and cook for 5 minutes before gently folding in the Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.  Mixture should be soft and cohesive, if it is too wet add more bread and Parmesan, don’t over mix.

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3. When your squash are roasted remove from oven and carefully stuff with stuffing.  Return to oven and roast at 350 for 10 minutes or until stuffing looks a little browned.

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Pumpkin Crumble

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After getting rave reviews of the apple pie, I decided to make another baked good just in time for the weekend.  Traditionally I stay away from making baked goods, because I just eat them…very quickly.  I find if I don’t make a cake, I won’t eat a cake.  However, my in-laws are coming to town this weekend and I decided it would be good excuse to make something sweet to share while they are here.  This is a recipe I found online on a blog ( that is really healthy, delicious, and relatively easy.  Instead of making 3 small mini loaves, I made one regular size loaf and 6 muffins with a batch.


– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
– 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice- 1 tsp baking soda
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1 cup pumpkin puree
– 1/3 cup coconut oil
– 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
– 1/4 cup applesauce
– 2 large eggs
– 1 tsp vanilla extract

Crumb topping ingredients:

– 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
– 1/4 cup sugar- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
– 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat bread pans with a thin layer of butter, then lightly flour so the bread doesn’t stick when removing from pan.  Do the same to muffin tin unless you are using cupcake papers.

2. Make crumb topping: Combine ingredients in a medium sized bowl and set aside.

3. Make cake mix.  Combine the dry ingredients together in a large bowl: flours, sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

4. In a small bowl whisk together the wet ingredients: pumpkin puree, coconut oil, butter, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla.

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5. Stir together the wet and dry cake ingredients gently, take care to not over mix.

6. Fill the cake pan and muffin tins just over halfway full with cake mix.  Sprinkle generously with the crumble topping, pushing gently into the batter.

7. Bake the muffins in the oven for 30 minutes and the cake loaves for 45-60 minutes.  the center will be spongy and a toothpick inserted should come out clean.

The apple sauce and coconut oil make you feel like you are eating a healthy snack and allow the cake to stay extremely moist.  All the moisture of the cake is counterbalanced by the crumbles on top.  These can get messy, try serving with a fork and plate so you don’t lose the yummy crumbles.  This can also be a good dessert served warm with vanilla ice cream.


Spicy Spaghetti Sauce with Turkey Meatballs

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Knowing how to make a good spaghetti sauce is a necessity in every at home cook’s life.  There are plenty of spaghetti sauce jars to pick from at the grocery store that are okay in a pinch, but nothing compares to a homemade sauce that spent all day on the stove perfecting.  This is a spicy sauce that is hands down the best I’ve ever made.  I added turkey meatballs while cooking, which were perfect and flavorful.

Sauce Ingredients:

– 2 Tbsp butter
– 2 tsp fresh sage, minced
– 2 tsp fresh parsley, minced
– 2 tsp fresh basil, minced
– 1 Tbsp dried oregano
– 1 Tbsp dried basil
– 2 tsp red pepper flakes
– 1 dash of salt
– 1 tsp pepper
– 3 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
– 1 onion, diced
– 1 red bell pepper, diced
– 1 green bell pepper, diced
– 1 jalapeno, diced
– 1 hungarian pepper, diced
– 1/4 cup red wine
– 4 15oz cans of tomato sauce
– 2 cups chicken broth

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1. In a large sauce pan turn heat to low/medium-low and brown butter with the fresh herbs for a few minutes.

2. Add the dried herbs, garlic, onion, and peppers and saute for 10 minutes over medium heat.  Add red wine and simmer for 5 minutes before adding tomato sauce and chicken broth.

3. Allow sauce to simmer on low for 1 hour, then puree with an immersion blender or transfer to stand up blender and blend in batches.

4. Continue to simmer while making meatballs.

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Turkey Meatball Ingredients:

– 1 lb ground turkey
– 1 lb hot sausage (jimmy Deans)
– 1/2 lb ground pork
– 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
– 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
– 1 medium onion
– 1/2 jalapeno, diced
– 1/2 cup bread crumbs
– 1 large egg
– 1 tsp red pepper flakes
– 1 tsp oregano
– 1 tsp salt
– 1 tsp pepper
– 1 tsp garlic, minced

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Meatball Directions: 

1. Combine all ingredients except for the meat in a large bowl, mix well.

2. Add meats and mix with hands thoroughly before rolling into balls.

3. Place meatballs into pureed sauce and simmer on low for 2+ hours, stirring occasionally.

2013-10-04 16.40.45 2013-10-04 16.47.57I served the sauce over thin spaghetti noodles, but it is also excellent over spaghetti squash as a healthy alternative.  Expect leftovers if you are serving less than 10 people.  The turkey meatballs are perfect for a meatball sandwich the next day.


Split Pea Soup

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After making a bone in ham, the next natural meal is split pea soup.  Making the soup in the crock pot makes for an easy weekday meal.  I found this recipe online a year ago from Whole Foods, very simple and flavorful.  I prepped everything the night before so starting the slow cooker in the morning would be as easy as can be.


-1 (16oz) package of dried green split peas, rinsed

-1 meaty ham bone

-2 cups of diced ham

-1 cup sliced carrots

-1 cup chopped yellow onion.

-2 ribs celery plus leaves, chopped.

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1 bay leaf

-1/4 cup fresh parsley

-salt and pepper to taste

-6 cups chicken broth.

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(Everything prepped to go in the refrigerator for morning)


1. Layer in crock pot in this order, do not mix or stir.  Cook on low for 8 hours.

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2. After the soup has cooked remove the bone letting meat fall off into the soup, remove bay leaf and stir well.


Brown Sugar Glazed Ham

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When I think of ham, I think of large holiday gatherings with family and friends.  Making a ham is easy, healthy, affordable, and a perfect gateway meat to leftover meals.  In addition to a delicious meal, I find making a large roast on the weekend can be a huge help to week night meals.  This weekend we made a ham, taking care to save the bone to use a few days later for split pea soup.

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– 1 fully cooked bone in half ham, 7-8lbs

– 25-30 whole cloves

– 1/4 cup brown sugar

– 2 Tbsp mustard

– 2 Tbsp (+) fresh lemon juice

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1. To prepare ham, place cut side down in roasting pan and score through fat and skin.  Make cross-hatch lines about 1 inch apart, taking care to not cut down into the meat.

2. In the center of cross-hatch marks, pierce with whole clove.  I do this to the entire exposed surface of the ham.

3. Cover ham for the first half of cooking with foil.  Bake at 325 for 2-3 hours or until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees (as long as the ham was purchased fully cooked).  If you are cooking a ham that was not fully cooked, you will want to cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

4. When there are about 30 minutes left in cooking time, drizzle ham with a glaze made of mixed brown sugar, mustard, and lemon juice.

2013-09-29 17.52.295. Let the ham rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.


Roasted Garlic Red Skin Mashed Potatoes

No Fall or Winter feast is complete without mashed potatoes.  Ever since I was a kid I have been a mashed potato snob, I always demanded the real thing, none of that boxed stuff.  While I love classic mashed potatoes, I can’t help but try to enhance it.  I recently gained a new appreciation for roasted garlic, the flavor is soft yet powerful at the same time.  If roasting garlic seems frivolous or too time consuming, try popping a few cloves in the oven with a main dish to roast for sides (such as this one) or smearing on bread.  The process is totally worth the effort in my opinion.

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– 2 lbs of red skin potatoes, diced evenly

– 1/4 stick of butter (or more to taste)

– 2 Tbsp fresh chives, roughly chopped

– 1/4 cup of milk (more or less for consistency)

– 1/4 cup of sour cream or plain greek yogurt.

– 3-4 cloves of garlic, roasted and mashed

– salt and pepper to taste


1. Roast the garlic:  Cut the top off of the cloves leaving skin intact, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Loosely wrap in foil and roast in oven at 325-350 for 45-60 minutes.  I stuck this little foil pouch in with the ham while it was cooking to save time.  To prepare garlic for mixing, remove roasted cloves from oven and push pulp out of skin and mash with a fork or knife.

2. Prepare your potatoes and cover with cold salted water, bring to a boil and cook until fork tender.  Try to not overcook.

3. When the potatoes are cooked, drain water and mix with remaining ingredients in standing mixer or hand mixer, take care to not over work.

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Roasted Carrots and Fennel

Easy but healthy sides are an important part to every meal.  Roasted vegetables are a great part of winter weather cooking when grilling is not an option.  For tonight’s meal I kept it simple, and the fresh garlic and ginger make it taste like a much more complicated side than it really is.

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– 6 carrots

– 1/2 bulb of fennel

– 3 cloves of garlic

– 1 Tbsp ginger sliced

– grape seed oil

– salt and pepper

2013-09-26 19.23.42Directions:

1. Slice carrots and fennel, mix together with garlic and ginger.

2. Drizzle with grape seed oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Spread out on cookie sheet and roast in oven for 15 minutes at 350, then mix and turn temp up to 450 to finish roasting about 10 more minutes or until fork tender.