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Quesadillas Six Ways

So as it turns out, it’s your week to host game night at your place. That one house last Tuesday had pizza and the other apartment ordered a thousand wings to feed the masses. Now what? Should you do the same? Make your usual signature green bean casserole? Sure, you could go that route. Nothing wrong with that at all.

But here’s another suggestion that may take the fuss out of feeding a large, diverse crowd: Take a few staple ingredients then prep and separate them into their own serving bowls. Serve these with a choice of whole wheat, flour, and/or spinach tortillas and the possibilities are endless. Almost.

p.s. This is by no means a Mexican recipe; I just borrowed the concept, ya hear!

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 lb ground beef, cooked and sauteed with garlic and onions

1 package polksa keilbasa, sliced and cooked until browned

5 cups arugula

1 bunch cilantro

5 tomatoes, diced

4 cups sauteed mushrooms, green peppers, onions

gruyere cheese

cheddar cheese

2 packages of flour tortillas

sour cream

salsa

serves: 4-5

The pairings below are some of my favorites, but feel free to mix it up on your own and use whatever you have on hand.

Pairing 1: Ground beef, Cilantro, Tomatoes, Gruyere and Cheddar

I love cilantro..and I get a little heavy handed with this guy whenever I make my quesadillas. Yumm. A friend of mine, who can’t stand the stuff, likens the taste to soap. Tragic! I say. ‘Tis a wonderful flavor to be likening it to dove.

Pairing 2: Ground beef, Arugula, Tomatoes, Gruyere and Cheddar

Growing up, I didn’t like Arugula. I tried it for the first time when I was 10 years old at a fancy wedding, eating salad comprised of leaves that could have been pulled from my backyard. My suspicions were confirmed when the menu read, Dandelion Salad.

I admit, this first experience deterred me a bit from foraying into different salad greens aside from my beloved hearts of romaine, iceberg and butter lettuce. But I gradually developed a penchant for Arugula’s peppery, spicy taste after having incorporated it into a number of non-salad adventures. That’s another story.

Pairing 3: Polska Keilbasa, Sauteed Mushroom, Green Pepper and Onion, Arugula, Gruyere and Cheddar

Enjoying food is also about enjoying the texture. And I love a bit of crunch in my quesadilla. The green peppers do for me, what pickles do to my sandwich. You see what I just did there?

Use red, green, or yellow peppers. Use turkey sausage or brats. Whatever floats your boat, whatever makes your mouth water…

Pairing 4: Polska Keilbasa, Cilantro, Tomatoes, Gruyere and Cheddar

Here, I like tomatoes because of their acidity. For me, it helps to balance out the smokey, rich flavors of the cheeses and sausage. The cilantro.. we’ve been through this before. We’re in a long-term relationship.

Pairing 5: Polska Keilbasa, Sauteed Mushroom and Green Peppers, Ground Beef, Tomatoes, Gruyere, and Cheddar

See a trend here yet? Pick what you like, assemble, and you’re one step closer to a quesadilla catered to your taste. This could easily be vegetarian friendly if you added a few more ingredients to your options: roasted squash and eggplants, avocado, etc. Slurp.

Pairing 6: Tomatoes, Sauteed Mushrooms and Green Peppers, Ground Beef, Gruyere, and Cheddar

You know what else you can make out of these? Omelets. Yes. I just breakfasted this idea. Seems like I’m always finding ways to make more breakfast food. Including words that don’t exist. Like breakfasted.

Once you’ve made your way down the assembly line, the next step is to arrange your pickins on your tortilla of choice. Use a frying pan large enough to fit the tortilla with extra room to flip.

Keep the heat on medium to medium-low. It will be hot enough to melt the cheese, without burning the tortilla. Depending on how stuffed you make yours, cook time could vary from 3-4 minutes on each side. All ingredients here were cooked beforehand, so browning the tortilla and melting the cheese into stringy goodness is all that is left to achieve.

Guess which pairing I chose to use here…

Obviously, you’ll place the top half of the other tortilla on top, but for picture’s sake, I decided to leave it off. I’m all about color.

I make my quesadillas in halves because it makes flipping that much easier and less prone to stuffing spillage. Again, your preference. I’m no expert at quesadilla flipping, so these are tricks that make it work for me.

What’s great about this concept is that aside from the cooking and prep work, all these steps can be achieved by your hungry guests. They get an opportunity to be creative and make something unique for themselves while you make sure your green bean casserole will live up to its known standards.

Clearly, it’s a win-win situation.

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Bell Pepper and Egg Breakfast

Since my recent obsession with Pinterest, I’ve been drooling over lots of easy foodie recipes and filing them away in my Tasty Notes pinboard. It’s where all my productivity has gone recently. What thesis paper? Nom nom nom.

 I chose to try this recipe in particular…ok, I admit, purely for the aesthetics of how the egg, cooked in sliced bell pepper rings, emulate images of, what else, flowers. Ahh, how cute is this! I thought. It was all downhill from there.

 And in all honesty, I have this ongoing love affair with eggs, and breakfast and brinner and I figured this was something I could work into my eggy cravings somewhere.  Mhmm, that’s it.

Here’s what you’ll need:

two eggs

1 bell pepper (or two if you like different colors)

shredded cheese

fresh basil

green onion

salt and pepper

Step 1. Wash and cut the bell pepper into ½ inch thick rings. Remove the white membranes from the inside. The first time I made this, I cut the rings a bit over half an inch because I wanted the ring to be thick enough to hold in the egg.  This will definitely vary depending on the size of egg you use and how big the rings are. Just have fun with it!

 Make sure to slice the rings as evenly as you can, with a non-serrated knife. If the rings aren’t straight, egg will leak out from underneath when you crack the egg into the ring.

 Step 2. Heat a non-stick pan on medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. At the same time, turn on the broiler on the high heat setting. If you can use a pan with a metal handle, do so. You’ll see why in a minute.

Step 3. When the oil is heated, add the bell pepper rings and allow to cook 2-3 minutes. Do not flip. Next, crack one egg into each bell pepper ring and season with salt and pepper. Allow 2-3 minutes to let the bottom of the eggs cook.

In the picture, the eggs are left sunny side up and more or less, raw, but I decided to cook the tops of the eggs by sticking the pan under the broiler for about 3 minutes to get the tops of the eggs cooked.

Don’t forget to use oven mitts to take out the pan! In my eager anticipation, I almost forgot to do this – not a good idea.

Step 4. Transfer the pepper-egg on top of toast or wheat sandwich thin. Sprinkle a little cheese and green onion on top and serve!

Or in my case, sprinkle a lot of cheese, chopped basil, and green onion. oh. my. sweet. breakfast. yes.

Add the cheese. Go ahead, add a lot. I won’t judge.. Melt it a little, so that it strings out when you bite into it. Use whatever cheese you have. Add chopped bacon. Smile, because that was a genius idea. Then make this again for lunch. (Guilty!)

I love the chopped basil and the cheese together. The basil gave it a bit of freshness that wasn’t too overpowering for the egg. Ah the egg. My life wouldn’t be the same without it.

Cheese, basil, bacon or just salt and pepper – try different toppings with whatever you have on hand. Have fun with it, it’s all about your foodie experience and how you make it unique each time. If you love it, make it and make it again and improve it. Share it. It’s the best thing about cooking.

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Mac and Swiss

What is it about macaroni and cheese that makes it taste so darn good? It must be the macaroni; it must be the cheese. It must be the fact that when mixed together, magic happens. That’s gotta be it. Although simple and seemingly plain, its sheer versatility adds much to its appeal. Tucked away in many traditions are countless varieties on what we claim is the best mac and cheese recipe ever. If you tell me this, I’ll believe you.

I love mac and cheese because it yields to creativity and many times it works. Once, a friend added steak from last night’s dinner into the mix, sprinkled fresh mozzarella on top, popped it in the broiler for a few minutes and served it with fresh diced tomato. Oh my goodness. My heart melted. Possibilities? They’re endless. From cheddar cheese to gruyere and bleu, one’s favorite mac and cheese is really, a personal thing.

This is by no means a recipe for ‘the best mac and cheese ever’, but it is a good place to start, especially if you like cheddar and Swiss cheese. This version highlights their piquant flavors, which is balanced quite nicely by the cream cheese. Expect a burst of sharp, creamy flavor – definitely the kind you won’t get from say, velveeta-type cheeses, which are much much milder. Mix in crispy chopped bacon and serve for dinner? Ohhh, you’ll make new friends.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1/2 box cooked pasta; whatever macaroni your prefer

1/2 cup cream cheese

1 cup swiss cheese

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese

salt, pepper, and parsley for garnish

Step 1. Cook pasta, following directions on box, then drain when cooked. Leave the pasta in the same pot.

Step 2. On medium-low, add the cream cheese, swiss cheese, and cheddar cheese in small quantities. Mix until evenly combined then add more. Then sneak in a few bites of cheese. I won’t tell.

Step 3. Continue until all cheese is evenly mixed and melted. There’s something about the way swiss cheese melts that I love. The stringy quality – there’s nothing quite like it. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix and taste, and taste some more. Done!

But don’t feel compelled to stop here; sauteed onions and polska kielbasa, broccoli and bacon, chicken and sundried tomatoes, hamburger and…it’s enough to keep me up for hours. But if you enjoy the simple things, I won’t hold it against you.

Make your own perfect mac and cheese. Then share it with me.

This version has a tendency to dry out after popping leftovers in the fridge since the recipe calls for solid ingredients only. Heating it thoroughly with a splash of cream or milk however, restored the macaroni back to creamy goodness.

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Weekend Chicken Carbonara

This weekend, I visited my sister in Maryland for a bit of countryside, a breath of fresh air, and because I just missed her so. We spent the day strolling around the quaint little town of St. Michaels, an enchanting little place tucked away by the Chesapeake Bay.

Along the water, we found bed and breakfasts covered in overgrown ivy, snuggled up next to some of the most beautiful Victorian homes I’ve ever seen. The folks seemed all tan and glowing, so carefree, without a care in the world where their next step took them. It was clear people came here to relax and unwind. How could I resist such an invitation?

My sister and I grew up learning how to cook together. As children, we were our dad’s best sous chefs, mincing garlic, chopping tomatoes, whipping eggs into a nice froth, and so forth. Through the years we’ve honed what I like to call a nice cooking harmony in the sense that we just know how each other works in the kitchen and what to do next that it hardly needs verbalization. Needless to say, it gives me absolute joy each and every time we get to cook together. This weekend, we did just that, starting with one of her personal favorites, Chicken Carbonara.

When I arrived at her house, she had already started grating the Parmesan. “We’re using Giada’s recipe by the way”, she says, “..with a bit of my twist to it”. Of course you are! For once, someone telling me what to do in the kitchen. It was a nice change, but don’t get ideas.

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 chicken breasts

1/2 lb. ziti pasta

1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley

1/4 cup fresh basil

4 egg yolks

4 strips of bacon

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

2 tsp. minced garlic

olive oil

salt and pepper

1 tbsp. finely grated lemon peel

Adapted from Giada di Laurentiis’ Chicken Carbonara recipe, Food Network

Step 1: Grate the Parmesan Cheese

Step 2: In a separate bowl, add the whipping cream, then add the Parmesan Cheese. Don’t mix just yet.

Step 3: Wash and chop the parsley

Step 4: Wash and chop the basil

My sister’s kitchen has a wealth of colorful bowls and plates and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to photograph them every chance I could. Ah I can’t wait until I get a kitchen of my own, with room for tons of dishes and color, and copper pots.. but I digress. Here’s the chopped parsley.

And the chopped basil. I love this wooden bowl.

Step 5: Add the chopped parsley, chopped basil, and 4 egg yolks to the cream and grated cheese. The fourth one took a dive beneath the surface and the third yolk is barely hanging on! I would too if I was swimming in a pool of yummyness. Mix this thoroughly until everything is evenly combined. Then place the bowl in the fridge while you get the rest of the ingredients ready.

Step 6: After you’ve rolled up your bacon to look like flowers, unroll them, stack them on top of each other and slice them into bite size pieces. You can trim off the fat from the bacon and use double the number of bacon strips if you’d like. Set these aside.

Step 7: Begin cooking the ziti pasta. Follow instructions on the box and add salt and a bit of olive oil to the water. When the pasta is done, drain but keep the pasta warm. Their heat will help cook the cream and egg yolks later on.  I love using ziti for this because in some magical way, the carbonara sauce finds its way inside the ziti. I can’t even describe what biting into that is like. Life-changing, I think.

Step 8: In the meantime, while you’re waiting for the water to boil, heat a non-stick frying pan with olive oil on medium heat. Once hot, fry the chicken breasts until they are cooked. Set them aside to cool a bit before you start shredding them by hand. Or you can use two forks and shred them this way while they’re still hot.

Step 9: After the chicken is done, heat a deep pot with olive oil on medium heat. When hot, add the garlic, followed by the bacon. Continue until the bacon is crispy and golden brown. Then take a piece out to taste its done-ness. Then proceed with two or three more pieces. Don’t feel bad about it.

Step 10: Add the shredded chicken to the bacon. Mix, mix, mix. Then turn the heat down to medium-low. At this point, the pasta should be almost done cooking if not already drained and kept warm. Delicious things await.

Step 11: Take out the carbonara sauce mixture from the fridge and gently pour it on top of the chicken and bacon. On top of this, add the warm pasta. Mix and taste. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Mix some more. Taste some more. Sneak a bite while she’s not looking. Then sneak more bites. Then pass the point of not caring if she catches you. Because it’s just that. good. Oof. Turn off the heat, transfer into a separate bowl and serve.

I know this will continue to be a favorite of ours for a long time to come and I hope you enjoy it too!



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Scallops, Lemon Pepper Pappardelle and Sundried Tomatoes


Let’s make it a date night. I mean it. I have to admit, I absolutely love dressing up and dining al fresco, especially during cool summer nights (but who doesn’t!?). However, there are times when a lovely home-cooked dinner and a movie will suffice. I love those kind of nights too, don’t you? Especially when the beau washes dishes? Absolutely.

At Trader Joe’s the other day, I came across their flavor infused pasta and I thought, hmmm!! Date night material? Possibly! I decided on the lemon pepper and found to my delight, a delicious recipe on the back of the package. Ohhh it was bound to be good, just from the looks of it. Olive oil, a bit of lemon and some parsley? Yes, please!

This has easily become one of my favorite summer dishes. It is light and refreshing as it is rich with flavor. Oh and the possibilities are endless! If you don’t like scallops, you can easily substitute it with prawns, chicken, or leave it vegetarian as it is. Slurp.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 package of Trader Joe’s Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta

olive oil

non-stick cooking spray

1/2 lb scallops

1/3 cup sundried tomatoes

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

salt and pepper

1 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

Step 1: Cook pasta to al dente then drain and set aside. Season the water with a bit of salt while the pasta cooks. Mix and spray the cooked pasta with a bit of non-stick cooking spray after draining out the water. This will keep them from sticking to each other, which they love to do!

Step 2: While the pasta is cooking, heat a non-stick frying pan with enough olive oil to cover the surface.  In the meantime, give the scallops a nice wash, pat them dry then season with salt and pepper.

Step 3: When the pan is hot, add about a 1/2 tbsp of butter then add the scallops. Sear on one side for about a minute then flip the scallops on the other side then sear for an additional minute or two. They shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to fully cook. Next, take the scallops out and place them on a separate plate.

Step 4: Add the cooked pappardelle pasta to the same pan the scallops were cooked in. Add the lemon juice, and the sundried tomatoes. Mix until evenly combined. Taste. Add a bit of salt and pepper if needed. Add the scallops. Mix. Taste. Sprinkle in the parsley. Mix. Good enough for your taste? Then it’s done!

I’m dying to try this version with prawns too. And chicken. And possibly just portobello mushrooms. Or all three. OH and can you imagine adding just a sprinkle of fried bacon bits? Oof. Needless to say, many nights of dining-in to come – and I’m perfectly ok with that. Enjoy!

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Avocado & Shrimp Summer Salad

Oh summer, how much do I love you? Let me count the ways…

The advent of summer brings many wonderful things, some of which entail the likes of outdoor festivals, sundresses, warmth, and my absolute favorite, farmer markets. Philadelphia is chock full of local finds and depending on which part of the city you wander off into, you’re bound to find something fresh and homegrown. It tickles my fancy.

It’s not easy being a locavore on a student budget, which is why I look forward to summer markets. Most fruits and veggies are in season and their abundance keeps costs low, allowing me the luxury of making fresh favorites like this.

I love this salad. It’s delightfully fresh and light yet filling. Oh and did I mention it’s super easy to make?

Here’s what you’ll need:

butter lettuce

grape tomatoes

croutons, whichever you prefer (i love cheese garlic)

craisins

sliced almonds

1/2 avocado

3-5 pieces shrimp, cooked

1 lemon

extra virgin olive oil

sesame oil

salt and pepper

Step 1. Wash and chop the butter lettuce. Butter lettuce. Doesn’t that just sound so decadent? It’s one of my absolute favorites, aside from mixed greens. The leaves are creamy and soft (buttery, if you will) yet they don’t wilt as easily when tossed with dressing. Packaged butter lettuce is just as fine! It usually comes mixed with radiccio, which adds a nice crunch.

Step 2. Wash and slice the grape tomatoes. I could eat these suckers all day long. Yum. Have leftovers? They’d be good in shrimp scampi too, ooh.

Step 3. Assemble croutons, craisins and almonds. Contrary to the picture, I don’t measure these out (I don’t own small bowls, so here’s me getting creative, haha). I love craisins, so I tend to put more of those in the mix. These are plain almonds, but roasted and salted almonds are crazy delicious too.

Step 4. Score and scoop out 1/2 an avocado. To be honest, this salad recipe idea started with my ongoing love affair with this buttery fruit. Avocados are the best during warmer months and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t try to use it in almost anything I make. Fresh guacamole or just drizzled with a bit of honey, I like trying new ways to enjoy this summer star.

Step 5. De-vein and cook the shrimp for about 3 minutes in boiling water. Allow to cool then chop into bite sized pieces. Then eat a few pieces. Then decide you should have cooked more shrimp. Always the case for me, anyway.

Step 6. In a large bowl, mix all salad components together. Add more toppings if you desire. Then eat one more piece of shrimp and promise you won’t eat more till the very. end. Break that promise.

Step 7. Make the salad dressing. In a separate bowl, add the juice of 1 lemon, sans seeds. Measure this, then add exactly the same amount of extra virgin olive oil. It’s a one to one ratio if you will. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper then whisk, whisk, whisk.

Step 8. Taste and add more salt and pepper to your liking. Finally, add 1-3 drops of sesame oil. I mean it. 1-3 drops only, maybe even less. You want that subtle savory flavor but a drizzle of this will overwhelm your dressing. If it’s your first time making this dressing, add the sesame oil a drop and a taste at a time. You’ll be surprised how much a little goeth a long way.

Step 9. Drizzle the dressing all over the salad then mix, mix, mix. Ahh, summer in my mouth at its finest.

For lunch or for a light dinner, this salad is a favorite, time and again. Make it for your friends, bring it to a picnic, or enjoy it for yourself. Until next time foodies!

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Deep Fried Oreos

Deep fried what?! Uh-huh. A decadent cookie-doughnut so sinfully easy to make it requires hardly any effort at all.  That could be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it, yes?

Treats like this take me back to state fairs I frequented each summer with friends and family alike. My sister and I shared a humongous turkey leg, maybe a corndog, and possibly a funnel cake depending on which rides we had yet to try.

I have to admit, I’m not much of a sweet tooth myself but I can’t resist to share this with you since I know many adventurous foodies alike would probably be willing to try these at least once…or twice…or three times. They’re just addicting like that.

You’ll need:

Vegetable Oil

Funnel Cake Batter

A bag of regular Oreo cookies (Double stuffed, if you dare)

Step 1: In a deep pot, heat enough oil to fully submerge an Oreo cookie.

Step 2: While waiting for the oil to heat, make the funnel cake batter according to the directions on the box. or pail.

Step 3: Before coating the cookies, make sure the oil is has reached the right temperature. I usually do a quick test by dropping dollop of batter into the oil. If it browns too quickly, it’s too hot and if it sinks to the bottom with no bubbles, the oil is not quite ready.

You’ll know the oil is ready when you see bubbles and the test batter floats to the top after a few seconds, showing a golden brown color. Fish it out quick! It’ll continue to cook for a few more minutes out of the pot.

Step 4: Dunk the Oreo into the batter and give it a good coating.

Step 5: Immediately after the dunking, gently drop the cookie into the oil. Be careful of oil spatters! I would only do 3-4 cookies at a time since they do cook fast. The batter usually takes only 3 minutes to fry.

Step 6: When the batter looks golden brown, use a slotted spoon to scoop it out and place on a paper towel-lined plate.

Wait until cool enough to dig in your chompers! Got a big glass of milk? Oh, it’s over! Forget about it. Yum.

Glaze it with a simple sugar glaze coating for an extra decadent treat..oh my my my. Many thanks to F. for this recipe and for subsequent enthusiastic ideas on other goodies to deep fry. I keep them close to my heart.

Happy cooking, y’all!

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