Kitchen Quickie: Key West BLT

Lily, 13 months old in Key West (not in a bar).

When Lily was a baby, Mike and I went to Key West. I clearly remember our first meal–in a bar on Duval Street with, well, our baby. It was ridiculous. But we were hungry after a long day of travel and bar food fit our appetites. I ordered this amazing Shrimp BLT–it was perfect–a Key West spin on a classic.

This makes a great lunch and takes just a few minutes to pull together. Since I am a bit of a food diva, I love that this meal is a little extra special–who wants a plain jane sandwich?!  I always seem to have some shrimp in my freezer that I can defrost under cold running water quickly.

The recipe makes one sandwich–you can up size it to accommodate your crowd!

Crusty bread (try sour dough or something else fun)
6 medium shrimp, defrosted, peeled and tails removed
1/2 of one lime
Kosher salt
Black pepper
2 slices of uncured turkey bacon
3 thick slices of beefsteak tomato or other slicing tomato (I used an heirloom yellow beefsteak)
4 leaves of romaine or leafy green lettuce

Put it together:
1. In a grill pan or skillet, cook bacon. Crack some black pepper over top of bacon (makes it yummy!)
2.  Toss raw shrimp with the juice of the lime, kosher salt and pepper. Grill/sauteed shrimp along side bacon, about 3 minutes a side, until cooked through.
3. Toast the bread. Smear each slice of bread with mayo, top with a slice of lettuce, tomato slices (sprinkle with kosher salt), pile on shrimp and bacon.
 4. Cut in half. Grab a beer. And enjoy!


In Season: Squash Ravioli in Sage Brown Butter

I first laid eyes on the Kitchen Aid mixer pasta maker attachment when Mike and I were registering for wedding gifts. Frankly, it frightened me. I had visions of mangled pasta dough in a rainbow of colors stuck to the ceiling–a nightmarish scene in which the cat and I were entangled in sticky, inedible dough. There was flour everywhere and well, no one was going to eat homemade pasta anytime soon.

Seven years later and I am still without my pasta maker attachment–so a good Nana-in-training must improvise. For this ravioli recipe, you just need a package of won ton wrappers. For about $3 or less, you can get 50 of these handy little squares of dough that are perfect for wontons, dumplings and of course, homemade ravioli.
For the filling, I made use of squash puree from our Galeux d’Eysines squash. You can use any winter squash you like from butternut to pumpkin. You could even skip the fresh puree and use a can of pumpkin puree (although it won’t taste as fresh!).
And the best part: you can make a bunch quickly and freeze it–it cooks up in a few minutes and makes it a great meal to bank in your freezer. This recipe yielded about 30 ravioli.
1 large egg
1/4 cup romano cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
pinch of nutmeg
60 won ton wrappers (which is about 2 packages)
1 stick of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of fresh, chopped sage leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Steps to yumminess
1. Place squash puree, egg, romano and ricotta cheese and nutmeg in a food processor. Process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Make your ravioli, filling each with 1 heaping tablespoon of squash filling. Follow directions here (Ravioli making 101). Freeze ravioli (flat) for at least 30 minutes. You can leave any ravioli that you don’t intend to cook in the freezer.
3. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add ravioli and cook until it floats-about 3 minutes. Keep an eye on it–the ravioli will explode if you overcook.
4. While ravioli is cooking, melt butter over high heat (in a large pan). Add sage and cook until butter begins to brown and sizzle. Remove pan from heat, whisk in balsamic vinegar.
5. Use a slotted spoon to carefully remove ravioli from cooking water and place directly into brown butter sauce. Serve immediately.
A fab side for Squash Ravioli: I died and went to Rouge Salad.

Techniques: Homemade Ravioli 101

Making homemade ravioli can be super fast and super impressive using store bought won ton wrappers. These handy little packages of dough squares are inexpensive.
Here are step by step instructions on filling your own, homemade ravioli.
1. Grab your won ton wrappers, a couple cookie sheets, a small bowl of water, parchment paper and the filling of your choice.
2. Line each cookie sheet with a sheet of parchment paper. Lay out won ton wrappers in a single, non-overlapping (no touching!).
3. Then add a scoop of your filling–typically about 1 tablespoon-2 tablespoons a wrapper. Place the filling right in the center of the wrapper.
4. Moisten a finger tip with a small amount of water. Draw a line on water on the outside edge of each won ton wrapper. Just do a couple at a time (you don’t want the water to dry out before you top it!
5. Then place another won ton wrapper on top, smoothing the edges right up to the filling. Try to gently smooth out any air. Moisten your finger tip again and trace along the outside of the top won ton, to seal. Continue until all raviolis are filled and sealed.
6. Place cookie sheet of completed raviolis in freezer for at least 30 minutes–the longer the better. When raviolis are frozen, you can remove from cookie sheet to cook in boiling water (3-4 minutes until floating and remove with slotted spoon) OR freeze on cookie sheet overnight and then place in freezer bags for a future meal.

Kitchen Quickie: I died and went to Rouge Salad

Back in college, Mike worked at the swanky and marvelous restaurant Rouge on Rittenhouse Square. Mike learned so much about food and I got to partake in amazing, gourmet meals. One of my favorite dishes: the Bibb and Endive salad. This salad was topped with crunchy, spicy cashews and creamy roquefort cheese. It is simple and yet tastes complex and well, to quote Lily, “fancy!”

My version of this salad pulls together in less than 5 minutes! It is a quick and sophisticated side dish–perfect for Fall meals and for company. Instead of cashews, I use pre-packaged sweet and spicy pecans from Trader Joes. I love these pecans–they retail for $3.99 in South Jersey and really add a wow to the salad. You can find various sweet/spicy nuts at your local grocery store if there is not a Trader Joes nearby.

  • Spring Mix (I love the versions of pre-bagged spring mix that include fresh herbs. Trader Joes has a version as does Earth’s Best Organic)
  • Dried cranberries
  • Sweet and Spicy Pecans (from Trader Joes or substitute something you find locally!)
  • Gorgonzola cheese (or you can use plain jane bleu cheese. Not a fan of the bleus, try feta)
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette or, if you want to be super fancy, truffle oil and balsamic vinegar

Pile a generous handful of Spring Mix onto your salad plate. Top with a sprinkling of cranberries, pecans and cheese. Drizzle about 1/2 – 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette on top OR drizzle with truffle oil and balsamic vinegar. Salt/Pepper to taste.

Quichetastic Monday–Chicken and Asparagus Quiche

Of course there is a story behind my Chicken and Asparagus Quiche. I made a verison of this quiche for Lily’s first birthday party in 2007. The theme: Pink Poodles in Paris (she has always been fancy!) and the menu was French inspired with quiche, Nicoise Salad and other goodies. As usual I made way too much and had to freeze one of the quiches.

The quiche did not reappear until 2 months later. Lily was at CHOP and we were living in the pediatric ICU while she recovered from a brain tumor resection. Olga, Mike’s mom, was here running our lives while we fought for Lily’s and making sure we ate healthy food. Being the resourceful mama that Olga is, she dug through our freezer and found the quiche.

When we ate it for dinner, reheated in the PICU communal microwave and dished up paper plates–I traveled elsewhere. In my mind we were back at Lily’s very first party–back singing and celebrating and enjoying tastes of simple, delicious food.

The second time I made this quiche was for Karen–my childhood bestie. This August, I had the joy of visiting and celebrating the birth of her son, Andrew. Of course, I cooked–soup, stuffed peppers and this quiche.

The original recipe for this quiche came from a french cookbook I borrowed from my dear friend Tracy. My verison may differ slightly (I misplaced my copy of the original.). It pulls together super quick and can easily make two (you will have left over chicken and asparagus). Make two and share one with a friend!

The Stuff

1 pre-made pie crust

Asparagus–8 full spears plus 1 cup diced asparagus

1 cup of diced rostierrie chicken ( breast and thigh meat, save the extra meat for another quiche or salad; save the bones/carcus for making chicken broth)

4 eggs, beaten until frothy and fluffy

3/4 cup milk

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 T dried mustard

1cup grated swiss cheese


1. Preheat oven to 400F

2. Carefully roll out pie crust into pie pan and score the bottom

3. Sprinkle diced asparagus onto bottom of pie crust. Then sprinkle diced cooked chicken.

4. Fold 1 cup milk, garlic, mustard, swiss cheese and salt/pepper into the egg mixture.

5. Pour egg/milk mixture on top of asparagus chicken. Arrange remaining asparagus spears on top of uncooked quiche

6. Bake 45 minutes or until firm and slightly browned.

Staple recipe: Roasted winter squash puree

As I mentioned in my Coconut Lemongrass soup recipe, Mike and Lily grew a successful crop of Galeux d’Eysines–a beautiful, bumpy heirloom winter squash that looks like a warty pumpkin and tastes like a slice of squash heaven.

We love squash in our house–mashed,roasted,pureed or in a pumpkin pie–we will eat it! Part of our addiction is purely superficial–squash is gorgeous. It comes in greens, oranges, creamy white, yellow and in smooth,bumpy and ridged textures. I love the shape of butternut squash–it reminds me of a bell and of course, I adore the stringy insides of spaghetti squash–nature’s low-carb answer to pasta. Sweet sugar pumpkins are adorable in their perfectly rounded symmetry.

When I was doing a little research for this blog post, it occurred to me that I had no idea if squash was a fruit or a vegetable or something entirely different like a legume. Botanically speaking, squash is a fruit. In cooking, squash is used as a vegetable and it is a fantastic substitute for meat.

Lily helped with every part of this recipe–she helped plant, water, nuture and then reveled in the end result–a warty, orange beauty that would be transformed into delicious recipes for our family. I had Lily help me make the puree and taught her a little French along the way. Galeux d’Eysines translates to mean “Warts from Eysines (a town in France),” a detail Lily found endlessly fascinating. Lily now has a little French in her tool kit (as every fancy girl should) and I have the sweetest memory of my little girl Bonjouring, Oh La Laing and cooking with me. When we eat something prepared with this puree, we eat a little of Lily’s first French lesson–I can’t think of anything more delicious.

Try this staple recipe with any winter squash you like and then use the puree to make fabulous things like squash soup, pies, squash ravioli or squash souffles–stay tuned to Nana’s Fabulous Life for oodles of great recipes.

Buy locally–it is a way to be sustainable and help your local farmer continue to bring you beautiful, nutritious produce for years to come.

To make and freeze the puree you will need:
2 or more pounds of your favorite winter squash; olive oil; some brown sugar; parchment paper; baking sheets; a food processor or blender; quart sized-freezer bags

The work:
1. Preheat oven to 400F. Select your squash, cut in half and remove the seeds and cut squash into chunks about a couple inches in size.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place squash, flesh side up on the paper. Drizzle with olive oil and then rub a small amount of brown sugar into the flesh of the squash.

3. Turn the squash face down and place in oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes until skin is easily pierced with a fork.

4. When squash is cool enough to handle, use a soup to scrape it into your food processor. Puree in batches until smooth.

5. Pour in 1 cup increments (I eyeball it out) into freezer bags. Label, date and freeze flat. Use in your favorite recipes (and soon to be faves!).

Soupy nights: Autumn mushroom and wild rice soup

While dark chilly rainy days can wear on the soul, I love the potential it brings–potential for soup, tea, red wine, an afghan and a book (or a movie or some knitting or all three all at once for people like me who cannot sit still, even when sitting). It is a delicious, cuddly time of year.

This soup is super earthy and grounding. The rich broth and meaty mushrooms pull you right back down to your plate. With each hearty bite, you can taste Fall and the harvest. And it is an easy way to go meatless–the mushrooms and wild rice are super filling.
Allow about an hour to prep and cook the soup. You can use any combination of mushrooms you like–I used shitake, baby bellas, white buttons and baby petites (which I left whole). My girls helped by washing the mushrooms with a damp paper towel.
If you don’t have vegetable broth, but do have chicken broth, feel free to substitute. You will find dried porcini mushrooms in or near the produce department. If you can’t find porcinis, try any other dried mushroom.

Soupy stuff:
1/2 ounce dried porcinis
kosher salt/pepper
1/2 cup wild rice
EVOO, a few tablespoons
10 cups assorted mushrooms (My combo: 5 oz shitake, sliced; 8 oz, baby bellas, sliced, 6 oz baby petites, left whole; 8 white button, sliced)
3 leeks, white and pale-green parts (save the tops for broth!), quartered length wise and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chianti
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1. In a sealed ziploc bag, crush up the dried procini mushrooms, until they are a coarse powder.
2. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to boil, then add a pinch of kosher salt and wild rice. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low. Cook under tender, 45-50 minutes. Drain and set aside.
3. In a large pot, heat about 1 tablespoon of EVOO over medium-high heat. Begin cooking the mushrooms in batches (1/3 at a time) with salt and pepper until browned and tender, about 7 minutes, per batches. Add more EVOO before adding a new batch of mushrooms. Set cooked mushrooms aside.
4. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Melt butter, added sliced leeks. Cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent about 5 minutes. Stir in porcini mushroom powder, cook 1 minute. Add chianti and soy sauce, cook 1 minute more.
5. Add vegetable broth to pot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, reduce heat to medium and cook 20 minutes. Stir in wild rice, heavy cream and parsley. Serve with crusty bread