Turkey Tetrazzini: My favorite thing about Thanksgiving!

Turkey Tetrazzini

I know Thanksgiving has long since gone, but since I just finished eating the last of the re-purposed leftovers, I don’t feel like I’m too out of the loop posting a turkey recipe. After all, even though chicken tetrazzini doesn’t have the same ring, it will taste just as good so really this recipe shouldn’t be stuck as a once-a-year indulgence.

If you’re unfamiliar with tetrazzini, it’s a glorious combination of noodles, diced turkey meat and rich cheesy sauce. It would be wrong to simply call it a casserole, though it’s baked to golden perfection in much the same way. I think it’s the ingredients that elevate it — tetrazzini uses a good amount of Parmesan, half-and-half (or heavy cream) and Sherry, making the sauce undeniably delicious.

Since there are tons of recipes for tetrazzini, I always have a hard time remembering each year how I made it the year before. This year I decided to go right to the best source — my mom. Growing up I was fairly obsessed with tetrazzini. I would beg her to to make it and then hoard the leftovers for my school lunches. (And being a good mom I think she let me get away with it.)

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Flavors of Fall: Squash and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

Acorn squash and ricotta stuffed shells

Every September I can tell when autumn is on its way because my friend Jenna is on Pinterest constantly. After months of being pin-free she’ll suddenly show up in my feed, pinning anything and everything that has to do with Halloween crafts, autumn foods and yes, even Christmas cookies.

I’d give her a harder time about it, but I am a year-round Pinterest user. There is not a month that goes by that I am not pinning pumpkin-spice treats, summer BBQ ideas or yet another macaroni and cheese recipe. One such pin, from early this spring, was a dish that I have been determined to make the second the weather turned cold:  jumbo pasta shells, stuffed with ricotta cheese, spinach and roasted squash, topped with sage and brown butter.

From the cheesy baked pasta to the brown butter sauce, it’s practically impossible to come up with a more “autumn” dish. (Unless you’re the guy who wrote this — I’m sure he could come up with something.)

And let me tell you, with every bite I found myself missing the sunshine a little less and looking forward to Halloween, roasted chicken and cuddling on my couch with my kitties. The squash adds the right hint of the season without being too sweet, the lemon zest brings some brightness and the copious amounts of cheese are there just to make you feel loved.

So if you’re still having a hard time adjusting to the fact that it’s almost October, you should make this very soon. I promise it will help!

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Dense, Delicious Melons (or utilizing culinary compression)

Compressed watermelon salad w. olives, feta, micro greens and olive oil

Compressed watermelon salad w. olives, feta, micro greens and olive oil

Nothing really says summer like watermelon. Even though I think it’s best au naturel — ice cold with a hint of salt — I also really love mixing it into a (mostly) savory salad. I was introduced to the idea while working the pantry station as a line cook years ago. On the menu was a salad of perfectly cubed watermelon garnished with crumbled feta, pitted kalamata olives, mint leaves and mint oil. Somehow, even though I was familiar with the classic melon and prosciutto pairing, this combination pretty much blew my mind.

I’ve since added that watermelon salad to my revolving summer repertoire where it has, for the most part, stayed the same. The salt from the feta and olives is outstanding with the sweet melon. For greens, I still use mint when I have it around, but have found spicy greens like arugula, baby mustard greens or nasturtiums also work fabulously. And a little red onion is just a good thing overall. In lieu of mint oil, I’ve found a drizzle of lemon juice or good extra virgin olive oil is all that’s really needed to “dress” this salad.

However, after this year, I’m adding a new modernist element to my old favorite — compression.

The first time I had compressed watermelon was Friday night when my parents were in town visiting. My husband made us an appetizer that was as gorgeous as it was delicious — sliced raw scallops marinated in olive oil, togarashi and lemon served with cubes of watermelon and heirloom tomatoes. While the whole thing was fabulous, it was the melon that made the dish so interesting. Compressed it mimicked the look of tuna, glistening and meaty. It was no longer light and airy chunks, but instead dense and toothsome jewels.

Again, I was blown away.

Compressed watermelon

Compressed watermelon

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The best accompaniment for a new recipe is an old friend

Ricotta & Parmesan Stuffed Sweet Peppers

Ricotta & Parmesan Stuffed Sweet Peppers

Having grown up in a small town, it’s often hard for me to recall how long I’ve known someone or when I first met them. I’ve known my best friend, Nikki Sea, since before I can remember and most of my graduating class in high school I knew in preschool.

One of the people I have no recollection of being introduced to is my friend Florence. I actually remember her from my kindergarten class, though it’s very possible we met before that. While she and I were never really close, we shared enough mutual good friends to stay aware of each other throughout the years, though we could have very easily never spoken again after high school.

But strangely, as social media fate would have it, I can thank Myspace for reconnecting us about 6 or 7 years ago. I can also thank our shared love for drinking wine, eating good food and gossiping about our former schoolmates for cementing our growing friendship.

While she is currently living in Alaska, every summer Florence spends a few weeks in Portland, taking classes and tests for her studies. And every visit she sends me a text, sometimes after a full 12 months with no contact, saying she is in town. And just like that, it’s on — we do what we do best: we drink a bottle of bubbles and stuff ourselves silly while rehashing the past and catching up on the present.

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Baked Turkey Meatballs w. Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce

Turkey Spinach Meatballs

Turkey Spinach Meatballs

My obsession with tearing out recipes from cooking magazines has some serious downfalls (including the hoarding tendencies it brings out in me). The main issue is that sometimes I think I’ve torn out a recipe for something but I can’t exactly remember it. This means I often waste an exorbitant amount of time pawing through my files trying to find something in particular. Usually I’m victorious, sometimes I’m not.

Example: Last Friday, when faced with a pound of thawed ground turkey, I had a vague memory of recently seeing a recipe for turkey ricotta meatballs. I started digging through my “poultry folder,” but came up empty handed. I then dug through the “pasta folder” and the “yet to be filed” pile. No dice.

Undeterred, I scoured my Pinterest boards and went through all of my “likes.” Still nothing.

Disappointed in my lack of success, I eventually gave up on the search and turned to my old friend Google. After some browsing I decided on this recipe from Heather’s Dish. Even though I knew it wasn’t the recipe I had been thinking about, it looked like a winner — easy to make and fairly healthy — two big pluses in my book.

Of course, just this morning I realized that I should have checked my WordPress activity list because here it is, the recipe that inspired me! I guess I’ll have to give it a shot some other time.

I ended up using Heather’s recipe as a starting point, making some changes based on the ingredients I had on hand (and the fact that I forgot to buy ricotta!). I also threw in some extra goodies so at the end of the post I’ve included my version for these delectable little guys.

Turkey Spinach Meatballs -- about to be covered in (more) sauce and baked for 2 hours

Turkey Spinach Meatballs — about to be covered in (more) sauce and baked for 2 hours

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Inverting the Gratin

Upside Down Potato Onion Tart

When in doubt about what to cook for large family gatherings, I’ve found that anything combining cheese and potatoes is sure to be a hit. My favorite crowd-pleasing side dishes include twice-baked potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes and creamy potatoes au gratin, all made with copious amounts of cheesy goodness.

Keeping that in mind, I decided to make this gorgeous-looking upside down potato onion tart to go with last Sunday’s Easter ham. That decision was a difficult one as I had never made the recipe before and cooking something for a group of people without a trial run is a little unusual for me. I’m a firm believer in trying recipes out before subjecting people to them!

But this recipe looked fairly simple to make and just reading the ingredient list gave me confidence: potatoes, onions, cheese, butter, herbs. With such humble and tasty ingredients, how could it not turn out delicious?

Happily, it was everything I wanted it to be — the potato layers were sandwiched between caramelized onions and sharp pecorino, making this a truly decadent dish. The edges (my favorite part) were crisp and cheesy and the center was creamy and luxurious. Surprisingly though, for all that flavor, the recipe used only a bit of butter and didn’t even call for cream!

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