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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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Dijon and Breadcrumb Crusted Chicken Breasts

I’ve been on this mission lately to use whatever I already have in the kitchen to make delicious yet different meals. It’s quite the challenge but I think I’m off to a good start. Why the recent inspiration you may ask?

Here’s the thing. Cooking for one tends to leave a lot of left over ingredients, especially when it comes to herbs and veggies. So what to do with the rest of it? I certainly can’t bear to throw it away but sometimes I forget that I have it in my fridge and it goes to waste. So, in an effort to be more resourceful, I’m determined to find ways to make new meals using the same staple ingredients. Think I can do it?

I had leftover chicken and snow peas from a noodle dish I made for my cousin’s baby shower over the weekend. Everything else I already had in my pantry and fridge. I found this recipe through epicurious.com, one of my absolute favorites to visit when I’m searching for something unique. This one is a great find indeed. It adds a new twist to the regular bread crumb and egg routine. And don’t worry, this won’t taste like you’re eating chicken dipped in mustard at all, which was one of my primary concerns. (Not that I don’t like mustard-it’s delicious! But I didn’t want it to be too overpowering).

For two people, here’s what you’ll need:

2 chicken breast halves

¼ cup Italian style breadcrumbs

¼ cup cornmeal

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried parsley

salt and pepper

1 egg

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

olive oil

Step 1. Measure out the breadcrumbs, cornmeal, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.

Step 2. Mix the breading thoroughly. Taste and add more salt if needed. That’s right, I said taste! Bland breading makes a bland chicken, ya hear?

Step 3. In a bowl, crack open one egg and add the dijon mustard. I added a few drops of honey and hot sauce just to sweet and spice it up. I’m daring like that.

Step 4. Whip up the eggs and Dijon mustard until they are evenly combined in a golden-yellow eggy mixture. I added a bit of pepper because I like to live on the edge. Just a dash is all you need.

Step 5. Take out a non-stick frying pan, add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and heat on medium-high. While you’re heating the pan, take out the chicken breasts from the packaging. Slice the chicken breasts lengthwise to get thin cuts – highly recommend! Wash, pat dry, and plate. Season with a bit of salt and pepper.

Chicken breasts tend to be a bit thicker in the middle. If you don’t feel comfortable slicing it yourself, get your grocery store butcher to do it for you or take a mallet, put the chicken breast in between plastic wrap, and smash the living daylights out of it! Ok, not to that extreme, but you do want it somewhat flat.

Step 6. When the oil is hot and ready, dip the chicken into the egg mixture then dredge in the breading mixture. Make sure all surfaces are covered. Shake off any excess breading and place in the hot pan. Allow to cook for 3-4 minutes on one side or until golden brown and crispy.

Step 7. Flip over to the other side and also let cook for about 3 minutes, leaving heat on medium-high. Oooh my, this is the color and texture that you want. Droool. Turn off the heat and place the chicken on a separate plate. Done!

Pair the chicken with your favorite veggies and grains. I used brown rice medley from Trader Joe’s and steamed snow peas. I haven’t been excited about something so simple in such a long time. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have to purchase anything to make it, which is a rarity in this girl’s kitchen.

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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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Mussels in White Wine

As a young girl, I spent much of my childhood by the shore. There were many warm days spent on the sand and summer nights on the pier, a place of wonder and adventures. It was where my sister and I eagerly hoisted up our nets to see if the chicken we had laced up lured in a few crabs. They’re quick on their feet, those little critters. In between catching fish on the pier, dad showed us how to catch those critters before our hard work scampered back into the water. We learned quick.

It was a place where I gingerly avoided certain spots of squeaky, creaky boards, a place my sister and I would dare each other to run through. A place where the smell of salty air was refreshing, even though it turned my curls this way and that. The best part of course, was taking home our catch and savoring the freshness and magic of it all. I had no part in the magic. That was all dad’s doing in the kitchen.

This is one of my favorite seafood recipes because it looks incredibly fancy yet super easy to make. I got these fresh cultured mussels at the nearby Whole Foods at $8.00 for 2 pounds. Holy moly, that’s like at least 20 mussels. Definitely enough for date night at home. Cleaning and prepping mussels is the most important thing. You want to make sure these guys are squeaky clean, so here’s the how-to.

Step 1.Put the mussels in a large bowl with 2 quarts of water and 1/3 cup flour. Allow to soak for 30 minutes. What’s up with the flour you ask? I’ve read that it helps to dislodge any sand that may be trapped inside and the mussels eat up the flour, making them more succulent and juicy.

Step 2. Throw away any mussels that float to the top. After 30 minutes, drain and rinse thoroughly. Remove the “beard” from the outer edges if present. Take a brush to scrub the outer shells under running water if they are really dirty. Throw away any mussels whose shells aren’t tightly shut. Place in a separate bowl and set aside.

*I usually cook the pasta while the mussels soak. Follow instructions on the box, then set aside.

For the rest of the dish, you’ll need:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons good olive oil

3 large shallots

5-6 cloves garlic

½ cup Trader Giotto’s Bruchetta (so much better than canned tomatoes)

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 cup good white wine

salt & pepper

*1 box of whole wheat fettuccine (optional)

*a loaf of crusty bread (also optional)

*recipe adapted from Ina Garten’s Mussels in White Wine, Barefoot in Paris via FoodNetwork.

Step 1. Chop the shallots, garlic, thyme and parsley. Uncork your wine, measure out a cup, then pour yourself a glass. Drink.

Step 2. Add the olive oil to the pan and heat on medium. When oil is hot, add the butter. Let it melt then add the shallots. Gotta give the shallots a head start then add the garlic about 1 minute in. Sautee the garlic 2-3 minutes but don’t burn.

Step 3. Add the bruchetta, wine, saffron, parsley, thyme, salt (just a touch) and pepper. Then feel your mouth start to water. Bring the mixture to a boil.

Step 4. When boiling, add the mussels, stir well, bring the heat down to medium, then cover the pan. Allow to cook for 10 minutes, until mussels open (Yea, that’s it !). Throw away any mussels that are not open. Stir them in the sauce one more time, and taste the sauce. Add more salt if needed. Turn off the heat, transfer to a large bowl and enjoy!

If you’re using pasta, you’ve got one more step to go:

Step 5. Turn the heat to low and slowly add the cooked fettuccine into the sauce and combine until evenly mixed. Bravo! Turn off the heat and serve. Enjoy with the rest of the bottle of white wine…if you haven’t finished it already *burp*

Why the Bruchetta? Traditionally, this recipe calls for canned tomatoes, but I find that using the bruchetta makes it a bit more special. I just love the richness of the sauce you can’t get from canned tomatoes. I use Trader Joe’s bruchetta called “Trader Giotto’s”. YUM on a piece of toasted french bread and especially in this sauce.

Oh my my my.. If someone made this for me on the first date…

Excellent for crusty bread.

Say no more, be still my heart.

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I put pea shoots in my cous cous, cous I felt like it.

First, I have to say, the baby pea shoots absolutely make the dish. I love the crunch and freshness it adds to the savory flavors from the chicken broth and sauteed onions. I love spring, and I loove spring veggies even more. Today was a gorgeous, sunny, 65 degrees Sunday. Siiiigh. I could live in this kind of weather forever. And cook this kind of food forever.

The thing I love about this cous cous is the texture. I can’t even describe how happy it makes my mouth feel. It’s firm but not chewy and I love how it’s slightly bigger than your typical cous cous. Anyhow, It’s super easy to make so here’s what you’ll need:

1 box Trader Joe’s Israeli Cous Cous

1 1/4 cup chicken broth

1/4 large onion or 1/2 medium sized onion

red bell pepper

orange bell pepper

baby pea shoots

salt & pepper

love

I bought a few of the baby bell peppers from Trader Joe’s as well…heck, everything in this recipe is from there. I made a list. I went to town. It happens. I prefer red and orange bell pepper over green because I feel they’re a bit sweeter and milder than the green kinds. I used about 1/2 – 1 cup diced.

Step 1. In a sautee pan, heat some veggie oil on medium then get to dicing the onion and bell peppers.

Step 2. When oil is heated, sautee the onions until caramel, wilted and see-through. I always love this part.

Step 3. Keeping the heat on medium, add the cous cous and fry it with the onions for about 2-3 minutes then add the chicken stock. Crank the heat to high until it starts boiling then lower the heat back down to low. Put a lid on it and wait about 15-20 minutes until the cous cous has softened and absorbed all the flavored goodness.

Step 4. During the last 5 minutes of cous cous cooking time, add the diced peppers directly on top of the cous cous. DO NOT mix. The steam will cook these babies up fine. Replace the lid back on the pan until the 15-20 minutes cook time for the cous cous is up.

Step 5. Then, keeping the heat on low, mix the cous cous and taste. Add salt if needed. Add a bit of pepper.

Step 6. Turn off the heat and add the baby pea shoots. Here’s a pic of the kind I got. Deeelicious. I love putting these on top of my soups, in between sandwiches.. fried rice.. oh.my.goodness.good.

Step 7. Serve! Yes. It’s that simple. I had this for dinner tonight with salmon but it would taste just as heavenly with grilled chicken, a side salad, or heck, all by itself. Enjoy!

And for those who are wondering which cous cous I used:


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Beef Stew

The Philly weather said 5 inches of snow. No biggie right? Sure. I’ve seen that before..once. Growing up near the beach, snowfall was a rarity and still continues to be. 5 inches would have been big news. Schools closed. Snowball fights ensued, and the snowman population increased 3%. After we’d come home soggy and blue with frostbite from playing outside all day, my sister and I always looked forward to the hearty stews simmering on the stove. Oh how it melted you to the core.

Beef stew. Classic. Comfort. Food. I followed a recipe on foodnetwork.com but I made a few adjustments here and there to make it my own. As you’ll see, it’s quite versatile and the only downside is the cook time. I suggest starting this in the a.m. so you’ll have it ready by dinner. Cook time: forever. Serves 3.

You’ll need:

Vegetable oil, for searing
2.0  pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
6 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3 cups beef broth
2 sprigs parsley & 1 sprig fresh thyme
6 small red potatoes
2.5 cups baby carrots
1 cup peas

 

Step 1: Wash and slice the veggies. I used red potatoes, but any should do – yukon gold, russet, fingerlings, whatever you have on hand. This stew doesn’t judge. Give em a good scrubbing, peel (I like keeping the skin on when I use reds) and slice into hearty chunks and set aside.  Then think about all the work you have ahead of you and consider making mashed potatoes instead…

I used baby carrots but you’re more than welcome to use grown up carrots too. Short cuts are ok every now and then. I have no idea why these look radioactive orange here.

Typically, beef stew calls for celery but I’m not a big fan of those, so I substituted them with peas. I don’t know what it is about celery but even slathering them in peanut butter can’t make a believer outta me. However, if you love celery in your stews, knock yourself out!

Step 2: Chop the aromatics and herbs. Snip off parsley leaves, give them a rough chop then set aside. Leave the rosemary as is. I used 2 sprigs but next time I’ll use just one. Using 2 was a bit too ‘herb-y’ for me.

Slice the onion into big chunks. Then cry a little because the fumes drive you to tears.

Crush the garlic cloves and give em a rough chop. Which reminds me, I need to get a new chopping board. This one’s lookin’ kinda rough. It’s well loved.

Step 3: Take the meat out, wash and slice into cubes. Or, you can do like me and let the cute butcher at Whole Foods cube them up for you. Why not? He offered when I said I was making a stew. He was nice like that.

Step 4: Take out a frying pan, drizzle a little bit of oil and heat on medium-high.  Season the beef with salt and pepper while you wait. When the oil is heated, add the meat cubes. Then Don’t. touch. them. Let them sizzle, let them sit and get seared into that golden brown crazy goodness.

This should be about 3-4 minutes. With a pair of tongs, flip the cubes on to the other side and repeat. When all sides are browned, remove the meat from the pan and set them on a plate. Turn the heat down to medium.

Step 5: Add the onions and garlic. Fry them in the leftover oil from the meat. Yes, I just said leftover oil.

Step 6: Keep frying until the onions are soft then turn the heat down to medium low. Watch out for the garlic and make sure it doesn’t burn. Burnt garlic transcends through everything. You can’t mask it. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Don’t worry if you have brown flecks of meat sticking to the bottom of your pan. We’ll lift those up when we make the sauce. It makes the stew taste unbelievable.

Step 7: Add the flour then add the beef broth. You can also use chicken, or vegetable broth. Stir until everything melds into a creamy gravy. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and taste again.

You’ll find the brown crisps will scrape off and lift off easily into the sauce. Taste it one last time and think about making this into a gravy for the mashed potatoes. Hmm next time.

I placed all the veggies into a slow cooker because I still need to get a deep stew pot. Silly me only brought a frying pan and a sauce pan when I moved. What was I thinking?

Two things: First, you can do this on a stove. Set the dial to low and let the meat cook slow  in a deep pot for 6 or more hours. The slow heat breaks down the collagen in between the meat fibers – that really makes for that soft and melt in your mouth beef.

Second. Don’t add the veggies with the meat like I did here. At the start of cook time, you should only have the meat, stock (with garlic and onions) and herbs. When I checked half way through the cook time, the veggies had already finished cooking while the meat was still half way done. I had to spoon out the veggies and put them aside until the meat was finished cooking.

Add the veggies halfway during the cooking time. Add the peas last. When I say last, I mean when you’ve turned off the stove and are ready to serve. They cook in no time and you want to avoid turning them brown.

Finally, taste it. Salt more if needed and serve. Then take a long nap because you have food coma.

I took the decadent route and made mashed potatoes to pair with this meal. I’ll post that recipe up sometime soon.  Serving options are endless: have this as is or serve it with a slice of crusty bread.  You could hollow out a sourdough and make a bread bowl out of it. Either way you have it, there’s nothing like a hearty meal like this to warm your soul when it’s a blistering 4 degrees outside.

The total snowfall measured around 18 inches the next day. What! They’ve got to give us a snow day now, I thought. But of course they didn’t. I suppose I should expect that in the northeast.

Until next time foodies,

Happy Cooking!

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