Passport to Sicily

The only thing I miss terribly about Italy is the food — eating endless pasta for 9 months was delightful…until I stepped on the scale. I’m disappointed in myself since I really only tried pasta while I was abroad — I didn’t explore other Italian specialties such as the many varieties of salads and meat dishes. Thanks to Rachael Ray, though, I can now try a few delicacies thanks to this menu. This menu consists of Olive Rosemary Crostini, Pesce Spada Rollotini (Rolled Swordfish) and Fennel Slaw Salad. Let’s get cooking!

This past week I headed to my very rural hometown in Pennsylvania to have some downtime with my family before school started. My dad always enjoys evooing with me, so we decided to take on these recipes together.

I ventured to good old Giant Eagle on Friday to pick up all of the ingredients. Johnstown is so small that it doesn’t have a Trader Joe’s — it’s tragic. Giant Eagle isn’t too bad, though. Finding all the produce was easy, but I did have to substitute fennel for bok choy… this town is so small I knew I wouldn’t be able to find fennel anywhere. I almost had a perfect run here, but I was being picky. I wanted to buy fresh swordfish instead of frozen, so I went on a mad hunt around town for it.

My next stop was Walmart, which I should’ve known would be a bust because, let’s be real, Walmart isn’t classy enough to carry fresh fish. My last option was to drive 20 minutes to the opposite side of town and try my luck at the other Giant Eagle in Westmont. Once again, I was let down, and had to settle on frozen swordfish. I should’ve seen this coming from the start.

This meal was super important because not only was my immediate family eating, but my grandma Honkus was coming too, and I really wanted to impress her with my cooking skills (I don’t think she even knew I could cook). When she arrived I told her dad and I were preparing a special meal for her, then we all headed into the kitchen to get down to business.

Dad and I started with the slaw salad — we chopped up all of the vegetables: bok choy, radicchio lettuce, scallions, and parsley, and threw that in a bowl together. We let that sit while we each worked on our respective recipes. I put dad in charge of the crostini while I handled the swordfish.

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The first thing I had to do with the swordfish steaks was pound them until they were as thin as possible. I’m not going to lie, I had been looking forward to pounding this fish all week — it was a stress filled week, and this was a great way to let go of all my pent up tension. Next, I mixed the breading which consisted of bread crumbs, lemon zest, parsley & garlic. I covered the fish until they were fully coated, then rolled them up into tight bundles. Finally, the rollups were placed on the stove and cooked for 6 minutes total.

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While the fish cooked, I went back to the slaw salad, and added the few finishing touches: golden raisins soaked in orange juice, pine nuts, olive oil & balsamic vinegar. Dad handled the crostinis beautifully, and everything was ready to eat at the same time!

As a family, we sat down for the moment of truth. 3..2..1… Magnifico! The first bite of swordfish melted in my mouth. It was almost everyone’s first ever bite of swordfish, and everyone loved it. The crostini was the perfect side dish — bread is an absolute necessity. Since it was topped with fragrant herbs and olives, it was taken to a whole different level of tasty. The slaw salad was also a pleasant surprise. Slaw has always freaked me out, but this was refreshing and much needed with a heavy meal. Grandma kept saying how impressed she was with every dish — that’s when you know everything was good.

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Now time for the ratings. The Olive Rosemary Crostini receives ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts. Personally, I am not a big fan of olives, but they were perfectly prepared in this bread spread. Every herb complimented each other perfectly. The only thing holding this dish back from 5 hearts is the fact that it was just a tad bit too salty, but other than that, it was fabulous. Next, the Rolled Swordfish receives ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts. Swordfish is such an underrated fish, and every time I’ve made it, I’ve fallen more in love with it. The breading made for a crispy outside, with a tender, meaty inside. It was simply delicious. Finally, the Fennel Slaw Salad receives ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts. It was a shame that I wasn’t able to find fennel, but this was still a winning dish. As I stated above, the vegetables really balanced out a rather heavy meal. The slaw did have a slight bitter taste that I think would’ve been less prominent if all of the juices and vinegar were given a chance to sit and combine a little while longer.

It was great to impress Grandma today…and I’m totally fine with her thinking that this was a meal I learned to cook while in Italy. What she doesn’t understand about evoo won’t hurt her. I hope to surprise her with my cooking skills for many more years to come.

Until next week!

Mary Honkus

 

Little Bites Party

Going on vacation is always fun — there’s relaxation, no worries, and ENDLESS FOOD. I recently returned from a semi-vacation (more like a work trip) with constant snack food. Designers will spend hundreds of dollars to create a dress, but will refuse to spend more than $5 on food. My diet consisted of cheese cubes, popcorn, and questionable alcohol concoctions. Needless to say I’m very happy to be back home and able to cook some REAL food…even though it may be in the form of little bites, it’s still real food. Today’s menu consists of Lemon Pepper Chicken Tenders, Chickpea and Rosemary Dip with Zucchini “Chips”, and Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Portobellos. Let’s get cooking!

It’s been a super rainy day in the city, which always puts a damper on having to go to the grocery store, but since I have a buddy, it makes things a little better! My pal Christy recently moved to the city from upstate, and let me tell you guys we’re practically soulmates — we always go to Trader Joe’s together. I went over to her place around 12:30, and after having a spiked seltzer – or 2 – we made our way uptown.

This Trader Joe’s visit just happened to be the most monumental visit ever because I was able to find Every. Single. Ingredient. I don’t think that has happened once in all of evoo. I was literally jumping for joy — I looked like a mad woman…if only the other shoppers understood.

I headed home to take a nap, then walked over to Christy’s at 5:30 to get down to business…too bad she was still napping so our cooking adventure was delayed by like 30 minutes.

Once she was awake and ready, we threw on our aprons and got to work — sort of. See, it was a busy evening at 312 because everyone was preparing for a major roof party. How major of a party, you ask? Let’s just say an ice luge in the shape of the Eiffel Tower was arriving as I was trying to prepare the marinade for the chicken. I was unable to help lift the luge up 7 flights of stairs since I was busy mixing together lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil, but I assure everyone that it made it to the roof safely.

Once the ice sculpture was in place, Christy cooked the chicken while I threw the ingredients for the dip in the food processor *cue the ‘that was easy’ button.* Then we both prepared the portobellos while Christy simultaneously did her makeup for the party. It was sort of a hectic cooking experience because people started to arrive while we were still in the kitchen. Honestly, everything was a blur, but somehow we managed to put it all together and make it look pretty, too!

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We created a little space in all the chaos to sit down and have our moment of truth. 3..2..1…Diving into that stuffed mushroom was all I needed – no seriously, it was the first thing I ate all day and I was starving. I have never been a huge fan of artichokes, but spinach and artichokes mixed together inside of a mushroom completely changes the game. We waited a little too long to eat the chicken tenders and they were a bit cold, but still the flavor was fabulous, and that dip…I can’t call it dip anymore it’s freaking rosemary hummus RACHAEL RAY!! The hummus was out of this world! Although, the zucchini chips were meh, so we replaced them with Triscuits. I actually took the hummus next door where Kansas and I ate it all instead of being social at the party — because priorities.

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Now time for the ratings. The Lemon Pepper Chicken Tenders receive ♥♥♥ (3) hearts. I am actually disappointed because these could have been so much better if they were actually served warm. This is totally my fault though, I need to get better and making sure all the dishes are completed at the same time. These were still delicious, though, and super lemony. The Chickpea and Rosemary Dip with Zucchini “Chips” receives ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts. This was definitely the hit of the night. I didn’t realize how easy it was to make hummus, and I think this is my new party dip (plus it’s healthy!) This would’ve received  5 hearts if it wasn’t for the Zucchini Chips — they were completely bland and probably would’ve been better if they were seasoned and/or baked. Finally, the Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Portobellos receive ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts. this was spectacular and filling, although I would’ve been happier with less artichokes…those things can really be overpowering.

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I learned one very important thing today: cooking before a party may seem like a good idea — ya know, fuel up before you poison your body with alcohol — but this cooking adventure was so hectic. Hopefully next week will be calmer for my own sanity…but knowing me and my friends, we’ll probably do it all over again just like this — kids in our 20s, we just never learn.

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus

 

Snack Attack Party

When I was younger, I always pictured myself throwing fabulous dinner parties once I was married. The kind of dinner parties with hors-d’oeuvres followed by a mouth-watering feast that the guests would rave about for weeks — all made by moi. While those dinner parties are between 12-15 years away still, I see no harm in practicing for them now…which is exactly what this menu was made for. Tonight we have Grilled Polenta Crackers with Roasted Red Pepper Salsa, Lavash Pizzas with Smoked Cheese and Ham, and Rachael’s Chimichurri Chicken Bites. Let’s get cooking!

I headed out to Trader Joe’s in the afternoon after a leisurely morning of reading. The items I had to pick up were pretty basic, and the line wasn’t unbearable for a weekend afternoon. I really prayed that I wouldn’t have to go to Fairway, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find fresh oregano or lavash bread at good ol’ TJs. Luckily, it was a quick skip through Fairway to get the two items I needed.

I headed home content that I bought everything I needed, and that my friends were bringing over the last few ingredients…or so I thought. We were supposed to cook at my friend Christy’s apartment, but she called me as I was about to head over saying she was ill, aka still hungover. Once again drinking got the best of one of my friends. Since we lost Christy, I quickly tidied up to cook at my place. It was the first time doing evoo at my apartment since I moved, so it needed to look nice and neat.

Instead of having Taylor and Krystyna pick up the items Christy was supposed to bring, I ran over to Food Emporium…mainly because I knew the ingredients would be difficult to find, and I didn’t want to wait too long to start cooking.

I know I have said in the past how much I dislike Food Emporium, but seriously DON’T SHOP THERE!! I only picked up a jar of roasted red peppers, a jar of kalamata olives, an itty-bitty bottle of evoo, and paper towels and my total was $25. Twenty-five freaking dollars for four items. I almost fainted at the price. The amount of money I spend for evoo really gets to me sometimes.

I hurried home to wait for Krystyna and Taylor, but they got held up at the same Food Emporium! They were in the check out when the cashier asked another employee to price check theIR thyme. She disappeared and still hadn’t returned 10 minutes later. Everyone was getting antsy and confused — it turned out this girl decided to go on her break instead of price check. Food Emporium: get your shit together!!

After what felt like an eternity, my friends showed up and we got down to business. While I chopped some ingredients, I assigned both Taylor and Krystyna to char some jalapeños over the stovetop flame. I gave them wooden skewers without thinking…and they caught on fire multiple times. Luckily, both girls were quick enough to react and blow them out every time.

Once the jalapeños were blackened, we chopped them and threw the peppers in the food processor along with paprika, parsley, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, onion, and garlic to make the marinade for the chicken. We plopped the chicken into the marinade with some evoo, and Krystyna stirred for about 10 minutes to make sure everything was well covered.

While Krystyna manned the chicken, Taylor and I worked as a team to clean the food processor for the Roasted Red Pepper Salsa. I made the salsa and grilled the polenta while she made the lavash pizzas — we had some great teamwork going on. Since the pizzas only took about 8 minutes to make, Taylor also grilled the chicken.

Things were finally coming together: Krystyna topped each polenta “cracker” with salsa, and I cut up the pizzas. Together we made a lovely spread on my dining room table, and a few minutes later the chicken was ready, too.

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Before we took the first bite we popped open a bottle of wine, and poured ourselves some into red solo cups, ya know, cause we’re classy. We then piled our plates with each little bite-sized delight.

Finally, it was time for the moment of truth. 3..2..1… These little bites had some of the biggest flavors. I had to stop myself from eating so fast. I first tried the polenta and salsa, and man, there were so many textures and aromas going on at once, I simply could not understand how all of it was happening in one little bite. Next, I tried the pizzas, and though they were a little soggy from the fresh mozzarella, they were still delicious…I think I ate 4 squares in under a minute. I tried the chicken last, and you know what they say: always save the best for last. The sauce on these chicken bites was unlike anything I had ever had before. All of the herbs surprisingly blended together beautifully and the chicken itself was extremely juicy. We all stuffed ourselves full from these tiny bites, but it was so worth it.

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Now time for the ratings. The Grilled Polenta Crackers with Roasted Red Pepper Salsa receives ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts. Though this was delicious and flavorful, the more we ate, the more olive-y the salsa became. None of us are huge olive fans, so that is why this dish is one heart shy of 5. Also, this is a snack that should be eaten before it gets cold — the polenta started to get a bit soggy from the salsa which wasn’t the best. The Lavash Pizzas with Smoked Cheese and Ham receives ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts. These pizzas took my tastebuds back to Italy — it reminded me of their light pizza pies in bite-size form. It doesn’t get better than the simplicity of fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and arugula…plus any pizza is good pizza. Finally, Rachael’s Chimichurri Chicken Bites receive ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts. This chicken was the juiciest I have had in months, and I’m pretty sure we have the sauce to thank for that. Seriously, this was one of the best sauces EVER. I think I may have to incorporate it into more of my meals — which is saying a lot since I rarely make any dish twice. These little bites made huge lasting impressions on all of us.

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Little bites made by 3 girls with big personalities. I know I said at the beginning of this post that I want to wow all my neighbors and friends with hors-d’oeuvres like these one day, but if I make snack bites like these in the future, I’ll end up eating them all before anyone arrives…sorry in advance future dinner guests!!

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus