The Superbowl is a national holiday in our house, and it doesn’t matter who is playing. Every year on Superbowl Sunday our kids come down with this, uh, weird ailment – we’ll call it Superbowl Fever – which invariably requires them to stay home from school the next day. It doesn’t usually matter who is playing or even what the half time show is, we just love the party and we don’t let it end because of a silly school night obligation to have a bed time.
In fact, the less we care about the teams playing, the better our menu usually is. The year that our Philadelphia Eagles played in the Superbowl, I can’t even remember what we ate. We were way too focused on the game, and what a glorious game it was! But most years, our Superbowl Sunday menu takes on a life of its own. And while the beer is always flowing, these Kickoff Cocktails are a tradition – almost a must-drink, just so you don’t jinx the game.
These Kickoff Cocktails are a nice balance of sweet and tart, refreshing and cheek-blushing. They don’t have any added sugars beyond what’s naturally occurring in the fruit juice. I’d rather save the calories for all the delicious football food. If they are too tart for your palate, go easy on the lime juice. I’m giving you the measurements in parts instead of shots or ounces so that you can make whatever size batches you want, from single cocktails to big pitchers.
I hope you’ll love these Kickoff Cocktails enough to make them part of your Superbowl Sunday tradition too. Enjoy!
January gets a bad rap, as far as months go. It’s the slump after the holidays, a time of year when everything is dead and the skies are often gray. There’s not much to look forward to until spring, which is several long months away. But I actually enjoy January. It’s a time of rest, recovery from the holidays, and renewal as we look towards a brand new year. For most of us, it’s also a time to put some healthy eating into action. One of the first things I do in January is make a big pot of this Creamy Vegan Celery Soup. It’s warm, hearty and comforting yet still light and cleansing. And nobody can believe it’s vegan! It’s great to have on hand during the week for a quick and healthy dinner.
You’re going to cook it low and slow, which will really allow the vegetables to soften and the flavors to develop. Then you’ll use an immersion blender (or a standard blender if you don’t have one) to create that creamy, silky texture. How much you blend it is totally up to you. I like to leave a little bit of texture in mine, but if you love a completely smooth soup, just blenderize to your heart’s content. Either way, the flavor of this Creamy Vegan Celery Soup will have you hooked – and it’s even better when you reheat it the next day.
The spice measurements I use are to my taste, which can be a very personal thing. For instance, the Big Guy thinks this soup is perfect but our son thinks it needs salt. You be the judge, and adjust the measurements accordingly.
But we all agree that the garlic toast on top is not to be missed – it’s perfect for dunking and sopping up all the soupy deliciousness. This soup is so low in calories that you can splurge on an extra piece of toast or two – and a second helping of soup while you’re at it. Here’s to healthy winter eating, foodies! Enjoy!
Coat the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pot with 1/4 inch of EVOO. Cook celery on medium heat until it starts to soften, 5-6 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, minced and granulated onion, celery salt and celery seed. Continue cooking until celery is very soft, another 7-8 minutes. Then add the diced onions. Saute until the vegetables are browned, another 8-10 minutes.
Add the vegetable stock and stir to combine all ingredients. Cover and simmer on low heat for at least 1 hour. Off heat, add the spinach and puree with an immersion blender. Alternately, allow the soup to cool, then transfer to a standard blender, add the spinach and puree until it reaches the desired consistency.
Slice sourdough bread into thick slices and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle 1/8 tsp. of garlic powder onto each slice of bread and top with fresh parsley. Broil in the oven for 2 minutes. Serve along with the soup.
Both of my parents were educators and very fortunately had their summers off. So every summer we would fly south to visit our aunt, uncle and cousins in Florida. I don’t remember how long we stayed (things always seem longer when you’re a kid) but it felt like months. It was probably only several weeks, but those memories go on and on. My aunt would always get Munchkins for us to eat on our first morning there – this I remember vividly because we never had Munchkins at home. And on at least one night during our visits, she would make her Classic Caesar Salad. I have memories of her standing at the kitchen counter over a huge bowl of lettuce, holding a salad tong in each hand, just tossing away. She said she got her Caesar dressing recipe from the chef at a Four Seasons Hotel that they had stayed at while traveling in Europe.
When I was old enough, she taught me how to make it. It’s really easy, and it’s really – really – good. It’s the only Caesar dressing you’ll ever need. All I’ve changed is replacing storebought croutons with homemade sourdough ones. Don’t be grossed out by the anchovies. You can’t actually taste them in the dressing, and they add an amazing umami flavor that shouldn’t be missed. A can of anchovies usually has about twelve. This Classic Caesar Salad with Sourdough Croutons recipe only calls for four. You can lay a few on top of each salad for garnish if you’re so inclined, or toss the extra. Personally, I like to double or triple the recipe to have the dressing on hand in the fridge.
And the sourdough croutons are quiet simply the bomb. It’s tough to not pop them like potato chips and have enough left for the actual salad! Always be sure to toss the croutons together with the dressing so they can sop up some of the deliciousness.
3 hearts of romaine lettuce, rinsed and roughly chopped
4 anchovy fillets
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp. worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup EVOO
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
For the Sourdough Croutons
5 cups of sourdough bread cubes
1/4 cup EVOO
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Place bread cubes in a mixing bowl. Add oil, salt and pepper and toss well to coat. Spread bread cubes in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. In a small bowl, mash anchovy fillets with a fork. Add all other ingredients except for the oil and Parmesan cheese. Whisk together. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the oil into the mixture until combined. Whisk in the Parmesan.
Remove the croutons from the oven and allow to cool completely. Toss the lettuce, dressing and croutons together in a large bowl. Serve with additional Parmesan sprinkled over top.
I’ll admit, I’m a huge fan of dips. They’re kind of my specialty. My friends have joked that there’s never a time when there isn’t a dip served at my house. The Big Guy amuses himself by calling me the Dipmaster. He even has a little song he made up that he likes to sing in a Busta Rhymes voice – “I am the Dipmaster, the original Dipmaster”. Whatever! Dips are great. Besides a good cheeseboard, dips are my go-to for entertaining. Most of the time you can prep them in advance so that when it comes party time, you can enjoy hanging with your guests and not be stuck in the kitchen. This Cheddar Beer Dip is an old favorite. It’s a regular in the football Sunday lineup. Friends have called in advance to ask if I’m making Cheddar Beer Dip for the game.
It’s really nothing fancy, but it is SO good. The overall flavor profile is mild, so you want to make sure you use sharp cheddar. I prefer to use the orange kind vs. the white kind, only for color. It really doesn’t matter for the flavor, as long as the cheese is sharp. Also, the beer you use matters. Over the years, I have used whatever we have in the house – light beer, lager, stout and even ciders if our gluten-free friends wanted to enjoy the Cheddar Beer Dip. It’s all good, so feel free to experiment with how each beer changes the overall flavor and find what you like best. If you’re making this dip for the first time, I would recommend using a nice lager. As a rule of thumb, the darker the beer, the deeper the flavor of this dip will be. I recently used some Angry Elf that we had left over from the holidays and wow – that was good.
You can dip virtually anything into this Cheddar Beer Dip, but choose a sturdy dipper. Corn chips, pretzels, even veggies are good choices. You can prep this dip in advance and store it in the fridge for several days. It tastes best at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge before you plan to serve it. You’re going to love this dip, it is definitely addictive. Enjoy!
4 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/3 cup dark beer
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 large pinch of cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Serve at room temperature.
Wintertime in our house means pasta. Not just pasta. Pasta with rich, thick tomato gravy and usually a generous helping of meatballs and sausage. Most Sunday mornings there will be a huge pot of meatballs and gravy on the stove by 8am, and everyone is helping themselves throughout the day. This Baked Ziti with Tomato Gravy & Turkey Sausage is a household staple when it’s cold outside. It’s cheesy, saucy and oh so comforting. There’s nothing better to cozy up with when you’re watching playoff football or binge-watching your favorite series.
This tomato gravy is not sauce. I know that the terms sauce and gravy are often used interchangeably in non-Italian communities, but let me assure you – they are not the same! Sauce is marinara. It’s lighter, has more tomato texture and takes less time to cook. Marinara sauce is awesome to make in the summer with the fresh tomatoes from your garden. But gravy… now gravy is a whole different animal. A good gravy is made with a handful of this and a pinch of that. It’s slow cooked all day. Its aroma fills the house and the hearts of anyone who enters, and it gets better every time you reheat it. Better = thicker, richer and more soul-soothing.
Speaking of handfuls and pinches – I thought about giving you guys the specific measurements for this gravy. It may have been the right thing to do. But honestly? I don’t even have them myself! So I decided against it – instead, I’m going to give you the exact way that I was taught, the way I make it, and the way I’ll teach my kids to make it one day. Not with measurements, but with my gut and my heart. Don’t get frustrated if things aren’t exact, it’s the whole point of this type of cooking. You need to feel it before you taste it. Trust me, and more importantly, trust yourself.
This tomato gravy is delicious on its own, it honestly needs nothing. But it’s also so versatile and over the years I’ve used it in many dishes. Baked Ziti is a family favorite and it couldn’t be easier to put together. You’re adding turkey sausage to the pot of gravy raw and allowing it to cook for a few hours so it’s super tender. You’re boiling pasta and mixing it all together with some ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. It’s that simple. It’s my go-to dinner when we have friends over on a chilly night.
When you serve this Baked Ziti with Tomato Gravy & Turkey Sausage, be sure to have a big salad to go along with it. We like my Classic Caesar Salad with Sourdough Croutons, which you can also find on the blog. Add some crusty bread and a great bottle of red and you’re all set for a comfy, cozy winter night. Enjoy!
Coat the bottom of a large stockpot with EVOO. Add diced onions and minced garlic and toss in the olive oil until coated. Set the pot to medium heat. Once the garlic and onions start to sizzle and soften, add the diced sweet peppers and stir to combine. Allow this mixture to soften, 2-3 minutes. Add tomato puree and spices and combine well. Lower heat to a simmer. Peel the casing off the sausage links and break into bite-sized pieces. Drop the pieces into the gravy. Cover and simmer for at least 2 hours, occasionally stirring gently.
Boil the pasta for 8 minutes and drain. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, egg and 1 cup of shredded mozzarella. Add 3-4 cups of tomato gravy and sausage, depending on how saucy you like it. Add the cooked pasta. Pour the entire thing into a 9×12 baking dish. Dot with additional spoonfuls of gravy and sprinkle the remaining mozzarella over top. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, until cheese is melted.
I’ve made an observation – there are breakfast eaters and breakfast skippers. We all have that friend, or maybe its us, who simply cannot go about their day without eating breakfast first. I am definitely a breakfast skipper. Ask me to skip dinner and it’s virtually impossible, but breakfast? That’s an easy skip for me. When I do indulge in a good breakfast, it’s always on a weekend and it’s always gotta be really good. This Sausage, Egg & Cheese Strata is really – really – good. It’s definitely a weekend breakfast and requires a little extra effort, but is so worth it. It’s savory, satisfying and has all the components that make breakfast great – crusty bread, salty-sweet breakfast sausage, an eggy custard and creamy Gruyere cheese.
I love making this Sausage, Egg & Cheese Strata when we have overnight guests staying with us. It can be assembled the night before and popped into the oven in the morning. Its great for feeding a crowd, and you don’t have to play short order cook for each person’s preferences.
Speaking of preferences, feel free to adjust some of the ingredients to suit yours. Mild Gruyere can be substituted for aged Gruyere. Pork sausage can be substituted for turkey sausage. You can even use bacon in place of the sausage altogether. Whatever floats your boat. That’s the fun part about breakfast casseroles like this – lots of different flavor combos work.
For the bread, go to your supermarket’s bakery section and buy an unsliced loaf of crusty bread – French or Italian. Then slice it down at home. Bread is always better when you slice it at home vs. buying it pre-sliced.
This Sausage, Egg & Cheese Strata pairs well with a fresh fruit salad and mimosas. Always mimosas. Enjoy!
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Arrange bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 40 minutes. (You are just drying out the bread slices. You can skip this step if you have day-old bread.) Allow to cool and then butter each slice on one side with 2 tbsp of the butter.
In a nonstick pan, cook sausage over medium heat, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon. Once sausage has begun to brown, add shallots. Saute sausage and shallots for one more minute, until shallots become translucent. Add mushrooms and cook an additional 3-4 minutes, until mushrooms are soft. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Add wine to the pan and raise the temperature to medium-high. Allow the wine to reduce slightly while scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, half-and-half, reduced wine and parsley.
Butter a 9×13 baking dish with the remaining 1 tbsp of butter. Arrange half of the bread slices along the bottom of the baking dish in a single layer. Sprinkle half of the sausage mixture and 1 cup of cheese evenly over the bread slices. Repeat with the rest of the bread, sausage and additional 1 cup of cheese. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread. Cover with plastic wrap, weigh down with another baking dish and refrigerate overnight (or at least several hours).
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and sprinkle the 1 remaining cup of cheese over top. Bake for 55 minutes, or until edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan. Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.
If there was ever a dish that brings back vivid childhood memories, is steeped in tradition and is totally droolworthy, it’s Potato Latkes. The Jewish holidays are big on symbolism, and because Hannukah is a celebration of a supply of oil that was only supposed to last for one night but miraculously lasted for eight nights, we celebrate by eating foods that are fried in – you guessed it – oil. So yes, we are actually mandated to eat fried foods. And yes, it’s awesome.
I remember the process of making Potato Latkes being a long one. My grandparents stood at the kitchen counter, each grating potatoes one by one on box graters. My mother would then fry the grated potatoes in peanut oil until they were golden brown and then set them onto paper supermarket bags that lined the countertops. They were crispy around the edges, warm and soft in the middle, with just the right amount of salt. We would happily attack the mountain of potato pancakes, taking several onto our plates, smothering them with sour cream or applesauce or sometimes both. The whole house smelled like a deep fryer, and would stay that way for several days after the celebration.
I wish my grandparents were around to see how much easier it is now to make Potato Latkes using the grater attachment of a food processor. This handy tool cuts the prep time by 80%. If you don’t have one, a box grater still works just fine, and allows for more family togetherness and memory making (looking on the bright side).
I have never wavered from my family’s recipe for Potato Latkes. They are, hands down, the best latkes I’ve ever had. The only thing I’ve changed is the oil that I fry in. I find that using vegetable oil instead of peanut oil yields a lighter, more golden-colored latke. Everything else is the same as what generations before me have done.
Sour cream is still my favorite Potato Latke topping, but if I want to feel fancy, I’ll add some caviar, smoked salmon or creme fraiche on top. A runny egg is also an awesome latke topper. You can really let your imagination run wild. But every year on Hannukah, just once, I will top my latke with applesauce. Because that’s how my Pop Pop used to like them.
8 russet potatoes
2 yellow onions
2 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 quart vegetable oil
Peel potatoes and onions and grate, using the large holes of a box grater or the grater attachment of a food processor. Place grated potatoes and onions in a large bowl. Add flour, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Heat 3/4 inch of oil over medium heat in a deep, wide skillet. There should be enough oil in the pan so that the latkes can float. Using a slotted spoon, transfer 3-4 tbsp. of potato mixture into the pan and use your spoon to gently shape and flatten the pancake. Once the edges start to turn golden brown and latke releases from the bottom of the pan, its time to flip it over. Allow both sides to reach a golden brown color and remove with a slotted spoon. Place latkes in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
I grew up on smoked salmon. Every Sunday we would travel a mile and a half to my grandmother’s house for brunch, and the menu was always the same – bagels and lox. And funny, I don’t recall ever getting tired of it. We would all sit around her dining room table and assemble our bagels, layering cream cheese, lox, kippered salmon, tomato, cucumber and cheese. Some of us added a slice of onion and even a shmear of mayo. Some of us ate our bagels open-faced, others as a big sandwich. We each had our own method of building our bagel and lox. As I grew and left home, family brunches brought us all back together and the menu remained the same. My husband once joked, “Every time someone in your family sneezes, we have fish for breakfast.” These Smoked Salmon Canapes bring back those familiar flavors without delivering the calorie bomb of a bagel.
In fact, they are an ideal way to get your smoked salmon fix if you’re trying to avoid carbs in general. They’re easy to assemble, look deliciously gourmet and are a perfect partner to a glass of bubbly.
When you make these Smoked Salmon Canapes, the most complicated thing you’ll do is prepare the cucumber – which is also ridiculously easy. All you’ll do is drag the tines of a fork down the cucumber skin to make vertical lines, so that when you slice the cucumber into rounds, they have pretty little ridged edges. This added texture will also make it easier to grip these little beauties with your fingers.
I have often found it challenging to go to parties when I’m trying to eat clean. When I bring a tray of these Smoked Salmon Canapes, they make an elegant addition to my hostess’ spread and also give me something I know I can eat guilt-free. Win win! Give them a try, and happy clean eating!
Wash and dry the cucumber. Drag the tines of a fork down the cucumber lengthwise, to create vertical lines from end to end. Continue turning the cucumber and dragging the fork down so that there are vertical lines all around the cucumber. Slice into 1/4-inch rounds.
Top cucumber rounds with 1/2 tsp. of creme fraiche, smoked salmon and garnish with a sprig of dill.
Each holiday season, my girlfriends and I get together for an annual tradition we call “Cookies and Wine”. It is an all-out baking extravaganza that has been known to last 8+ hours (depending on how much wine is involved). Our list of cookies has morphed over the years – we try to introduce a new cookie each year, and sometimes cookies will drop off the list if they don’t make the cut. And, of course, we have our perennials – those cookies that were on the original Cookies & Wine list (which is now just a faded piece of looseleaf paper in my personal cookbook) that we always look forward to making year after year. These Chewy Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies with White Chocolate are perennials. They are my father-in-law’s favorite, and I’d never dream of showing up to Christmas without a special box just for him.
The original recipe for these Chewy Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies with White Chocolate wasn’t very chewy. It was delicious, bursting with cranberry tartness and white chocolate sweetness, baked into the nostalgic texture of the traditional oatmeal cookie. But. There are crunchy oatmeal cookies and there are chewy ones. And I wanted – no, I needed – for this cookie to be chewy. So I (gasp) changed the recipe. I added molasses and altered the butter content, which would not only change the consistency, but the color as well. I was so nervous! I mean, you really shouldn’t ever mess with a perennial. If it came out terrible, it was all on me.
I’m happy to say that the end result was absolute chewy, sweet-tart perfection. And guess what? They were chewy the next day. And the day after that. Yes, they stay chewy! And yes, they passed the father-in-law test (in case you were wondering). I don’t know if this means that I’ll go back to the Cookies and Wine list and start modifying things with reckless abandon. No, I’ll be content to bask in this win for a while. Enjoy!
In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar and molasses in a stand mixer or with an electric hand mixer until fluffy. Combine oats, flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until combined. Fold in the cranberries and white chocolate morsels. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop dough in heaping tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake 14-16 minutes until cookies are golden. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to cooling racks.
Have you ever had pan-fried polenta? It’s funny, every time I make this easy appetizer, polenta gains new fans. It’s usually something that my guests have never had, or at least not in this way. It all started because I was avoiding gluten and found that when I went to parties, I was usually relegated to either the crudite or the chips and dip. Both fine options, but these Warm Polenta Rounds with Pesto Chicken & Roasted Red Peppers are better – I promise. And once you see how easy it is to make them, you’ll be dreaming up all kinds of toppings for your pan-fried polenta.
Polenta is made from cornmeal and has origins in Italy. It is usually served in its creamy, porridge-like consistency and used in place of pasta as a base for meats or seafood. For this festive appetizer, we use polenta that comes in a tube. Instead of cooking it down with some water or broth to get the creamy consistency, we are keeping it in its tubular shape and simply slicing it into circles. These little circles will make the base for our pesto chicken.
To keep things super low fat, you can simply use nonstick cooking spray to pan fry your polenta. Of course, a little olive oil in the pan will add flavor, but you can leave it out if you’re watching calories. The pesto chicken has plenty of flavor to go around. The easiest way from A to B is to grab a jar of premade pesto, but if you have an extra 10 minutes, make my Basil Pesto Sauce. You won’t need it all for this recipe so you can save the rest for future use.
The roasted red pepper adds a pop of color and makes this appetizer very Christmasy with the red and green. If you’re not a big roasted reds fan, dice up a few sundried tomatoes and sprinkle on top. While you make Warm Polenta Rounds with Pesto Chicken & Roasted Red Peppers, I’ll be brainstorming on some other fun ways to top polenta rounds. Enjoy!
1 tube of polenta
2 cups of cooked chicken breast, shredded
3/4 cup pesto sauce
roasted red peppers, sliced into 15-18 ribbons
Heat a pan over medium heat and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Slice the polenta into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Fry in batches, 4-5 minutes on each side, until browned and golden. Remove polenta rounds and place on a serving dish.
Lower the heat to low and add the shredded chicken and pesto sauce. Coat the chicken in the pesto sauce and saute just enough to warm it. Top each polenta round with a dollop of shredded chicken and one ribbon of roasted red pepper. Garnish with toasted pine nuts.