Welcome October!  Fall is officially here in the northeast!  It is a bit nippy out and it has been raining for days!   We were in a draught so the rain is much appreciated, but the dark grey days make me want to grab a blanket and hibernate or layer up and make a mess in the kitchen trying out new recipes.   So let’s get to the menu for this week!  Sorry there aren’t a lot of pictures this week, but I think your mouth will water just the same!

Monday

Baked pastas are a wonderful way to warm up and decompress after a long day at the office. Monday’s are always hard for me.  Seems like my clients often use the weekend to think about how they want to move forward with certain projects and I’m hopping from one task to the next with the phone constantly glued to my ear. I breathe a sigh of relief when I enter my home on a Monday evening.  Since I come straight in to the kitchen it is even more comforting if I walk in and smell something amazing baking in the oven.  The best part about baked pastas is being able to prep them the night before.  That way whoever gets home first can pop it in the oven!  I have three boxes of lasagna noodles in the pantry so lasagna it will be.  I use homemade sauce that we canned the year before in my lasagna but if I am going to use a bottled sauce I tend to lean toward the Rao’s Homemade Marinara or if I’m trying to stretch my grocery budget, I’ll go for Bertolli.  If y’all are not familiar with Rao’s it is one of the most well known exclusive Italian restaurants in NYC.  It is the best jarred red sauce I ever had.

I like to cook up a mixture of Italian sausage (removed from the casing) and beef to add into the sauce.  You can use ground beef or in my case, I save the trimmings and tailings from the beef tenderloin when I cut it up into steaks and chop them very finely for my sauce.   Once that is cooked I drain the fat and add it to the sauce.

I cook the noodles al dente with a drizzle of olive oil in the water.  When they are done I rinse them with cool water so they don’t keep cooking.

Put a little bit of sauce on the bottom of my lasagna pan and start layering noodles – sauce – cheese, repeat.  For the cheese mixture I use 2 lbs of ricotta to 2 cups of mozzarella and a handful of pecorino romano.  I’ve recently learned that if you mix an egg yolk or two into the cheese mixture it is not at all watery.

On the top I like to put a nice layer of sauce to keep everything moist while baking in a preheated 350° oven for 45 minutes.  For the last 15 minutes, I top the lasagna with some fresh mozzarella from the farmer’s market and a sprinkling of finely shredded pecorino romano and let that get nice and melted.  Pull it out of the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes so it all sets up before cutting and enjoying.

Tuesday

Mom recently returned from Florida where she was visiting the latest addition to our family.  I wanted to greet her with one of her favorite meals from my kitchen that we simply call “Artichoke Chicken”.  This is a recipe I concocted in my kitchen one day when we learned one of our favorite restaurants, Picasso’s in Lodi, New Jersey, closed down and we were craving their signature dish – veal martini.  It was amazing.  Very similar to a francaise sauce but a bit richer and creamier and loaded with artichoke hearts.

You want to use thin chicken breasts or veal scallopini for this recipe.  What I do is wash 4 regular chicken breasts and cut them in half (like butterflying them and going all the way through) them I pound them out a bit further so they are thin but not beaten beyond recognition.

Preheat the over to 200/250.  Set a frying pan over medium heat and melt 2 tbsp. of butter and a few turns of olive oil.  I like a 50/50 ratio.

Prepare some flour seasoned with salt and pepper in a shallow dish for dredging.

Beat two eggs with 2 tbsp. water so it is slightly frothy.

Dredge the chicken or veal in the flour then dip into the egg before adding to the frying pan.

Cook the chicken or veal 2-3 minutes on each side till golden brown then remove them to a baking dish and place in the preheated oven to keep warm.  Keep going till all the chicken or veal is cooked.

Using the same pan, combine 1 cup chicken broth, the juice of one lemon and 1-2 cans of quartered artichoke hearts.  Simmer for a few minutes until the artichoke hearts are warmed through.  Then add 2 tbsps. of butter stirring gently so as not to break up the artichokes.  When that is all combined add in a hand full (1/2 to 1 cup) of finely shredded parmesan cheese.

At this point you can either add the chicken/veal back to the pan for a few minutes or just plate them up and top it with a nice amount of the sauce and artichoke hearts.

I typically will serve this with a parmesan risotto.  However, Picasso’s used to serve it with the best homemade potato chips.

Wednesday

sageandbutternutsquashburgerI’m in the mood for a really good burger.  Not your typical summer cheddar cheese burger with all the fresh garden fixings, but one that screams fall.  I found this recipe years ago in Everyday with Rachel Ray and made it with a few of my closest friends for a Friday night get together.  Earlier this week, my friend Tammy and I were having one of those “remember the butternut squash burgers” moments and I’ve been craving them ever since.  Since the butternut squash is once again ready in the garden and the sage plant has not yet been hit by frost, I thought it was the perfect time to pull this one out of the old recipe notebook.  Try it!  You will not be disappointed.    The sage, squash and fontina cheese really work so well together to create an amazing burger experience.

Thursday

Since the jalapeno popper chicken was such a hit, I thought I would try this recipe for slow cooker jalapeno popper chicken taquitos that I saw on one of my many crock-pot recipe groups.

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 8 oz package of cream cheese

1/3 cup pickled jalapenos – coarsely chopped

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp ground cumin

16 flour tortills warmed

2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese

salsa, sour cream, guacamole for the side

Place chicken in a 4 qt slow cooker.  Add chicken broth, cream cheese, jalapenos, garlic powder, sea salt and cumin.  Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.

During last 30 minutes of cook time, remove chicken to a plate.  Using a whisk combine cream cheese mixture until smooth.  Shred chicken and return to slow cooker, tossing chicken with cream cheese mixture.

Preheat over to 425.  Sprinkle cheese off center evenly between all tortillas.  Top cheese with 3 tablespoons of chicken mixture.  Roll tortillas tightly into log-shaped taquitos.

Place taquitos on a foil lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray.  Spray  tops of taquitos with cooking spray and bake for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and taquitos are lightly browned.

Serve with salsa and sour cream or maybe even some guacamole!

Friday

Soup! Not just any soup, Carnival’s Jamaican Red Bean Soup!  I literally got this recipe from the chef aboard a Carnival cruise ship. It was years ago (before kids) when my husband and I couldn’t get enough of cruising.  We took three cruises in one year!  During one of those trips, I asked the waiter for the soup recipe.  As a joke the chef printed it from their computer system.  It literally called for gallons of broth and pounds of beans and I truly intended to do the math to make it so it would feed a family rather than an army.  However, by the third trip, Carnival published its Carnival Creations cookbook which featured the Red Bean Soup on page 39 along with my second favorite – Black Bean Soup!   Here is the recipe.

1 lb dry red beans

6 cups beef stock

1 lb ham hocks (or ham bone)

1 Tbsp Margarine

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped tomatoes

1/2 cup diced potato

1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1Tbsp chopped parsley

*** the original recipe doesn’t call for it, but I like to add a chopped ham steak or left over smoked ham to the soup for extra flavor and heartiness.

Place beans in 5 quart dutch oven; cover with cold water.  Soak overnight; drain.  Stir in beef stock and ham hocks.  Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat.  Reduce heat to medium; simmer beans 1 hour until tender.

In a small frying pan melt margarine over medium-high heat.  Stir in onion and celery; cook until onion is tender.  When beans are tender add onion mixture and tomatoes, potato, thyme and bay leaf (and chopped ham if you want).  Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low.

Simmer 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender and flavors are well blended.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Remove ham hocks and bay leaf.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley upon serving.