The Best Sloppy Joes Ever!

The perfect sloppy joe is not too tangy, a sauce with a balance of sweet and spicy. No ketchup. I think that ketchup must be the ingredient that I have never liked in homemade sloppy joe sauce.

A friend said to me, “Why would you make your own sloppy joe sauce?” I have become a big proponent of knowing what I am eating. With all of the preservatives and additives in a canned sauce, I think it’s a great idea to enjoy a DIY version.

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My kids love sloppy joes and these are easily prepared as a quick meal for a busy family.

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Here is the recipe:

The Best Sloppy Joes
Ingredients:
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp. Worcestershire
1 tbsp. Sriracha sauce
2 cups tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
Salt and pepper

4 your favorite sandwich rolls
Sliced jalapeños
Leafy lettuce
Pickles, sides

Directions:
Brown the ground beef, pepper, and onion in a pan.

Drain grease.

Add all other ingredients to the slow cooker and cook on low 4 hours.

Serve on sandwich rolls with a lettuce base, topped with jalapeños, a pickle, and your favorite sides.

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Enjoy!
Ciao!

Vallozzi’s Pittsburgh Italian Wine Dinners!

Vallozzi’s Pittsburgh, an Italian favorite in the Burgh, brings a chic edge to traditional Italian. The cuisine and the ambiance reflect a twist on the classics, while permiating comfort and style.  I have visited the downtown Pittsburgh restaurant before with friends many times for drinks, a pizza or an antipasto platter with wine, but never had the full dining room experience.

This time, they had me at Sicilian Wine Dinner…

One week per month Vallozzi’s is taking guests on a regional wine tour. The concept is innovative.  The course dinner is offered with or without wine pairings all week, in addition to the regular menu.  This On Demand wine dinner is awesome.  Not everyone in your party has to order the same way.  How much?  The Prix Fixe is $55 + $30 for all of the wine pairings.

Who else was in the restaurant?  Young trendy foodies, dressed to kill.  It was a Friday night.  There were a few generational family tables, and couples of all ages out for date night.  Point being, this Italian restaurant is totally not moth balls and red sauce.  It’s fun and hip and Italian, a rare combo.

This coming week September 19-24th the menu is from the Tuscan region. Let me begin by saying I was here for the food and friends. I dined with The Food Tasters Pittsburgh, Breelicious Bites, and Pittsburgh documentarian Rick Sebak.  If you want to hear about the wine specifics, I’m not sure. The wines were delicious, smooth, and arrived at the table so fast -because we were talking and eating-that I barely got the story. There was so much food! I did get one photo of one bottle.

Those of you who aren’t in Pittsburgh and won’t be traveling to Pittaburgh anytime soon, that’s ok. Have your friends over, grab some wine, and we will cook together ; )

We started with and a glass of Prosecco and an antipasto platter that blew me away! The choices, the quality, the freshness, were unmatched. The mortadella was a favorite!

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Primi, was the fried cuttlefish with pepperoncini, lemon, arugula, and a garlic aioli. Very similar to calamari it was something new for me!
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This dish…this dish was my everything about the dinner. Before I showed up i had my eye it. Food and smells sometimes take me back to my childhood. I remember my grandparents pan frying zucchini blossoms. I was young, but I remember the delicacy with which they were handled, and the joy that they brought my family. Excellent job, Chef. These were phenomenal.
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Eggplant Copanata with a twist!
The twist being a chickpea polenta.
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Now for the main courses, yep I’m serious.
Fettuccini al Nero di Calamari
I am not a fan of squid ink pasta, but the flavors were delicious!
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Farsumagru- Veal cutlet rolled with ham, sausage, cheese and pan braised with herbs, white wine sauce, eggplant coponata. This dish was ridiculously good! Ummm meat rolled with meat and cheese, yes!
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Tonna alla Pelermitana-
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Dentice all Forno con Cipolle e Brodo di Carne- Baked Sea Bream
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Dolci! Desserts and Limoncello – Sfingi Sicilian Donuts & Cannoli – the gelato was gone so fast I didn’t get a photo!  Those of you who watch the cooking tvshow I co-host Between The Eats know my favorite dessert every is Sfingi. These were incredible!
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Thank You, Vallozzi’s for a beautiful Sicilian wine dinner. See you in Tuscany!

Ciao!

Vallozzi’s Pittsburgh
220 5th Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA
412-394-3400

Butternut Squash Tortellini With Pumpkin Spice Brown Butter Cream Sauce!

The first ever pumpkin spice cheese launched last week so I had to try it!

Beemster developed a Pumpkin Spice Gouda, without pumpkin but with the perfect combination of pumpkin pie spices. I tasted it and decided it would be great in a brown butter cream sauce. When melted, this cheese is even better!

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I love pumpkin ravioli with a sage cream sauce in the fall for Sunday Supper with family or Halloween before trick or treat! This pumpkin spice cream sauce adds a richness that my traditional sauce lacks.

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Here is the recipe…

Butternut Squash Tortellini with Pumpkin Spice Brown Butter Cream Sauce

Ingredients:
12-15 homemade butternut squash tortellini, or your favorite store bought
1/2 stick butter
3 rosemary sprigs, small amount for garnish
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2-3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Beemster Pumpkin Spice Gouda cheese, additional for garnish
salt/pepper to taste

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Directions:
Melt butter in a pan by swirling over medium heat.
When mostly melted, add chopped garlic and rosemary sprigs.
Let it bubble until brown and thick.
Meanwhile, boil 2 quarts of water and add tortellini until floating.
Strain and set aside.
Add cream little by little, whisk, until desired golden brown color.
Remove from heat and whisk in grated cheese.
Top tortellini with sauce, grated cheese, and finely chopped rosemary.

I served this tortellini with rosemary roasted chicken quarters and a beautiful salad!

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Enjoy!
Ciao!

Sweet Pea Manicotti!

Sweet peas are so underrated. Always associated with baby food, I feel like they are the last ingredient we think of to make something serious. For example, my kids will have peas with something else, I will grab them as a garnish, but they are hardly ever the main act.

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So there is always that experimental Meatless Monday where various vegetables get new jobs. This particular Monday, I was looking for a manicotti veg and there was the bag of frozen peas. I blended the peas with ricotta, egg, and fresh grated parm for the filling. Just then Bella walked into the kitchen, “Is that mint ice cream?” she asked. Well, it looked like it!

I was thinking they are never going to eat this but I’m knee deep, so this is what we are having for dinner. The neighbor kids came over, who always love to help me cook, so I boiled the manicotti shells and the kids had a filling party. It was so great! We discussed the careful art of spooning the filling without tearing the shell, and filling each side so that the middle gets some, too.

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We blended some extra peas, ricotta, and parmesan cheese for the topping. All the kids loved it! Was it the sweetness from the peas? The fact that they were involved in creating the final product? Who knows? But I was thrilled! Make these for dinner because they are delicious, but more importantly so the kids can help and hopefully eat!

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Sweet Pea Ricotta Manicotti

Ingredients:
2 cups fresh whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 16 oz. frozen sweet peas – saving 1 cup
salt/pepper
8 dry manicotti shells

For Topping:
2 cups peas
2 tbsp. ricotta
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1 cup sliced cherry or grape tomatoes
2 tbsp. pine nuts
parmesan to grate on top

Directions:
Preheat oven 325 degrees.
Blend Ricotta, peas, parmesan cheese, and 1 egg.
Salt/pepper and set aside.
Boil manicotti shells 5-8 minutes until just under cooked.
Fill manicotti shells with ricotta pea filling with a small spoon or piping bag.
Spray 9X13 glass pan with non-stick spray.
Spoon left over filling in bottom of pan and spread with a spatula.
Line pan with one layer of manicotti.
Cover with foil and bake 20-30 minutes until filling is hot and starts to bubble.
Meanwhile, make topping. Blend peas, ricotta, and parmesan cheese.
Remove manicotti from oven and allow to set 10 minutes.
Plate the manicotti by placing them on a smear of topping underneath, one scoop on top, sprinkle with sliced tomatoes and pine nuts and finish with fresh grated parmesan cheese.

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Enjoy!
Ciao!

Fig Recipes!

‘Tis the season!  
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Fresh figs are out in full force in Pittsburgh.  A little early this year -usually they are peaking around mid-September. My favorite annual fig recipe is no recipe at all just fresh figs halved and drizzled with Balsamic Vinegar.  With this year’s batch, I made a few quick and easy recipes that anyone can enjoy!

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Fig & Prosciutto Salad with Aged Gouda and a Garlic Honey Vinaigrette

Ingredients:
3 cups baby greens /arugula mix, or your favorite salad base
6 slices prosciutto
2 Fresh Figs, sliced
2 tbsp. Beemster XO cheese ribbons, or grated

For the vinaigrette:
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup olive oil

Vinaigrette Directions:
Combine all in a sealable container, shake until well blended.

For the salad, build with greens base.
I like to roll the prosciutto (it kind of looks like flowers!) and place into the greens.
Add cheese ribbons and fig slices.
Drizzle with vinaigrette.

Enjoy!

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Spiced Fig French Toast
Ingredients:
8 thick slices Italian bread
4 eggs
1/4 cup heavy creme
3 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tbsp. ground ginger
1/2 tbsp. ground nutmeg
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
butter to coat the pan
fig spread or fig jam
maple syrup

Directions:
Mix eggs and cream until pale yellow.
Add all other ingredients and mix well.
In a pie dish, soak each side of the bread.
Heat butter in your largest pan.
Add bread slices, 2-3 at a time being sure not to crowd the pan.
Flip when the side is brown.
Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon.
Smear fig spread.
Pour warm maple syrup.

Enjoy!

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Prosciutto Ricotta Flatbread with Fresh Figs

Ingredients:
Prepared Flatbread or pizza shell
3 tbsp. Olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 slices of prosciutto
1 cup ricotta
2 fresh figs sliced
1 cup arugula
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

Directions:
Layer starting with brushed olive oil and garlic.
Add prosciutto slices and spoon ricotta.
Top with sliced figs and fresh grated Parmesan cheese.
Bake 425 degrees on a pizza stone until shell is golden and cheeses are melted.
Finish by sprinkling arugula and more fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!

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Toasted Pecan Honey Figs over Ice Cream
Ingredients:
1 fig sliced
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1 tsp. Sugar
2 tbsp. Fig spread
2 tbsp. Honey
Few pecans
Vanilla ice cream

Directions:
On a parchment covered cookie sheet, place fig slices and pecans in a single layer.
Warm honey and fig spread in a small saucepan.
Drizzle pecans and figs with honey mixture.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
Bake 350 degrees until figs soften, 5-8 minutes.
Top ice cream with all, drizzle additional warmed honey.

Enjoy!

Other recipe suggestions:
Simple Fig Toasts- fig spread, topped with your favorite cheese, meat, and sliced figs

Fig muffins/bread – sub fig for Banana or strawberries

Prosciutto Wrapped and Drizzled Figs

Enjoy!
Ciao!

Southwest Chicken Thighs!

Chicken thighs are the best! When cooked with the right technique, they get crispy skin and juicy, flavorful meat. My favorite cooking method is to brown skin-on thighs with a simple olive oil and seasoning rub, and throw them in the oven for the perfect finish.

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It took me a bit to master the art of browning the skin because I am too impatient. Did you ever go to flip and the skin detaches from the meat and sticks to the pan?
Uuugh!
The solution to this problem is making sure the pan is at a high heat and waiting to flip until the skin is crisp. If you can be patient, your chicken thighs will be perfect!

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Here is the recipe…

Southwest Chicken Thighs
Ingredients:
4-6 skin on chicken thighs
3 tbsp. Olive oil
1 tbsp. Garlic salt
1 tbsp. Chili powder
1 tsp. Cumin
1 tsp. Red pepper flakes
2 limes

Directions:

Preheat oven 350 degrees.

Rub chicken thighs with olive oil using fingers or brush.

Sprinkle with garlic salt, cumin, chili powder, and red pepper flakes.

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Heat your olive oil swirled pan to high heat.

Place chicken thighs skin side down and cook until seared and browned approx. 7-9 minutes.

Flip and brown other side of chicken.

Place pan in oven 12-20 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

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Remove from oven.

Place sliced lime on each thigh.

Serve with your favorite sauce and sides.

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Enjoy!
Ciao!

Mediterranean Flatbread!

Quick and easy dinners are always the goal with kids and a busy schedule. The challenge is creating a healthy meal including fresh ingredients, vegetables, and a ton of flavor, instead of resorting to processed pre-made frozen food choices. Flatbread is an excellent choice because it is a blank canvas.

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Any cuisine can be undressed and layered on a flatbread. For example, BBQ pulled pork makes a delicious flatbread. By layering the flatbread with pulled pork, red onion, bbq sauce, and sautéed greens, the sandwhich is transformed!

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I made a Mediterranean flatbread the other day with bell peppers, red onions, herbs, and a garlic olive oil base. Covered in Parmesan cheese, this flatbread is light and full of flavor. It would be delicious with mushrooms, tomatoes, or any of your favorite vegetables.

I had an abundance of bell peppers to use, so they were my main ingredient! Here is the recipe…

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Mediterranean Flatbread

Ingredients:

1 prepared wood grilled pizza shell, thin flatbread shell
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt/pepper
2 tbsp. chopped basil + some to sprinkle after cooked
2 tbsp. rosemary
2 tbsp. thyme
1 small orange bell pepper, chopped
1 small yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 small red onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup garlic spiced Italian olives, or your favorite olives, sliced
Fresh grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
chopped parsley for garnish

Directions:
Mix olive oil and garlic in a small bowl.
Brush shell with olive oil, garlic mixture.
Sprinkle with basil, rosemary, and thyme.
Top with pepper, red onion, and olives.
Bake 425 degrees on a preheated pizza stone 8-12 minutes until crust is golden and cheese melts.

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Enjoy!
Ciao!

Lemon Basil Ricotta Linguini

Summer pasta, even the words seem a bit redundant, can be a light, quick and easy meal filled with flavor.

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The trick is using only a few, really great ingredients. Buy good ricotta for this dish. A lasagna, or even manicotti can mask a skim or grocery store brand by doctoring it up with Parmesan cheese and herbs. This dish is raw, ricotta is the creaminess, the coating of the noodles, so it better be fabulous!

Lemon pretty much replicates a perfect sunny day. When paired with basil, the results are delicious! Here is the recipe…

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Lemon Basil Ricotta Linguini

Ingredients:
3 tbsp. Olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 lb. fresh linguini
1/4 cup pasta water (reserved from cooking- or less depending on absorption)
1 small lemon, 3 tbsp. Lemon juice
1/2 cup basil, chopped some whole leaves for garnish
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
Lemon rind for zest
Fresh grated Parmesan
Salt and Cracked black pepper

Directions:
Boil 2 -3 quarts of water salt and add linguini.
Cook until aldente, 7-9 minutes.
Drain and reserve 1/4 cup pasta water m.
Heat oil in a pan, add chopped garlic and soften. Be sure to lower heat so garlic doesn’t burn.
Add pasta, lemon juice, ricotta, basil, and 1/2 pasta water to a mixing bowl.
Whisk until incorporated.
Slowly stir into pasta in a circular motion.
If needed, add more pasta water spoon by spoon so there is not too much liquid.
The ricotta slightly melts and grabs the noodles.
Add fresh grated Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with leaves, zest and Parmesan cheese.

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Enjoy!
Ciao!

Mediterranean Tuna Salad!

This summer salad is packed with proteins, good fats, and so super healthy! But that’s not the point. It is delicious. My mayo haters will be happy because this Mediterranean tuna salad is made with an olive oil coating instead of mayo!

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I love adding garbanzo beans because it bulks up the salad, fills you up and adds protein at the same time.

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Caperberries are brand new to us. Chef David and I used them on a recent Between The Eats Tapas and Pinchos episode, and my family fell in love with them!

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The fruit, berries of the caper, are like olives but smoother. I can’t wait to try them in a martini!!
Here is the recipe…

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Mediterranean Tuna Salad
Ingredients:
2 cans, chunk light tuna in water, drained.
2 cans garbanzo beans, chickpeas
1/2 small red onion, chopped
2- 3 tbsp. caperberries
2-3 tbsp. sliced olives
1/4 cup olive oil
lemon juice, 2 lemons
salt/peper

parsley, chopped for garnish
Baby spring mix, plating

Directions:
Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl, except for parsley and lettuce.
Chill 2 hours.
Plate tuna salad on a bed of baby spring mix.
Top with extra caper berries, and chopped parsley.

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Enjoy!
Ciao!

Sicilian Garlic Oregano Grilled Potatoes!

Quick and easy summer recipes continue with grilled sliced potato recipe. Bursting with flavor, these potatoes have an herb salty garlicky bite with the creaminess of the sour cream finish! These potatoes are fabulous with summer seafood!

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Sometimes I grate Parmesan cheese over the grilled slices and forget the sour cream!

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A tip that I recently learned from my co-host Chef David on Between The Eats is that you want to place the potato slices in cold water and bring the pot up to a boil. By doing this the inside and outside of the potato have a chance to get to the same temp for even cooking. This eliminates the outisde of the rounds smushing. Has this ever happened to you? It’s the worst! Your recipe will become starchy from broken potato pieces falling off.

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Here is the recipe…

Ingredients:
2 large potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch slices
2 tbsp. Olive oil
1 tsp. Onion powder
1-1/2 tbsp. Dry oregano
Salt/pepper to taste
3 cloves roasted garlic, minced
3-4 tbsp. Sour cream
Parsley or chives

Directions:
Boil sliced potatoes from cold water until a knife test shows just softened, but still firm potatoes.

Drain and cool 5 minutes.

Meanwhile heat the grill to a medium flame.

Add potato slices, olive oil, oregano, onion powder, garlic, salt and pepper to a Gallon ziploc bag.

Gently coat potatoes being careful not to smush.

Place a piece of foil on the grill grate, and line up the potatoes being careful not to overlap.

Grill 4-7 minutes until bottom is golden brown and flip. Grill another 3-5 minutes until done.

Remove from grill, toss with sour cream, sprinkle with chives or parsley and serve.

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Enjoy!
Ciao!