Brunch At Jenn’s: Harvest Fest 2017

I took a look back through my incredibly short archives and realized the last time I shared a post about my annual Harvest Fest brunch was FOUR damn years ago.

I’m sorry, darlings. I won’t let it happen again.

Suffice to say, the amount of food I serve and my style of entertaining has…evolved a bit since 2013.

Just a little.

Let me walk you through the process of hosting a brunch, @TheJennC style. It starts at least three or four weeks earlier, when I look through my Pinterest and cookbooks and try to decide what dishes and drinks to serve. I mean, it’s brunch, so there will of course be mimosas and coffee. A nice fruit plate is also a must, as is my oven-roasted bacon sprinkled with brown sugar and chile powder, and the cheesy hash brown casserole that my friends (apparently) cannot live without.  From there it’s a matter of what type of breakfast pastry/pancakes/waffles/etc. I’m feeling and what type of egg dish I want to throw together. There’s also usually a “desert” of some type served, and the past few years I end up making a couple of batches of French macarons as well. No matter how ‘simple’ I try to keep everything, from beginning to end it does add up to a fair amount of work. But I love to do it, and would hate to stop.

One thing that helps me is taking a day (or more) off from work – this year I had Friday off and was able to sneak out of work a tad early on Thursday. I got home Thursday afternoon and immediately started cleaning up the kitchen to set up for the macaron making, which didn’t actually happen until about 9 o’clock that night because I’m a professional goddamn procrastinator.

Classic me.

So I had the macarons done and was off to bed around 2 o’clock on Friday morning. I had a couple appointments and some errands to run early and my parents were coming by to do some work around the house; dad is in the middle of putting a fresh coat of paint on the ceiling in the living room and kitchen and we also wanted to clear out some old junk from the basement. So I was back up around 6:30 to shower, dress, finish up the dishes from the night before and write up my grocery and to-do lists.

I’m a to-do list kind of girl, I think I’ve mentioned in the past. I have full on notebooks for my to-do lists. I can’t think before I make a to-do list. I make to-do lists of my to-do lists.

I like lists, people. Lists are my thing. I list out everything I have to do that day before I can go to bed, then I list out everything I need to do the day of and the time I need to start the task (or have it completed) from the second I wake up until the second the food hits the table (yes, even showering and getting ready). It’s incredibly helpful to me to see everything I need to get done laid out and keeps me on task.

So, off to my appointments, grocery shopping, etc. and back to the house just a bit before noon on Friday. My dad was already at the house working, and I got straight into Cleaning Frenzy mode. I cleared the stuff up out of the basement that I wanted to leave for garbage collection and did the little cleaning around the house that I could while my dad had all his painting paraphernalia strewn about. He finished up and was out of my hair a little before 3, and I ran back out to the store to find the one thing I still needed that I couldn’t find at three other grocery stores earlier that day. (Yes, I was successful)

I returned home, finished all my cleaning with the exception of the floors, and moved on to prepping the little bit that I could for the next day. This included making the french toast casserole and a chocolate sauce, brewing up some coffee to chill in the fridge overnight, and getting my serving dishes, utensils, and decorations out.

Don’t ask what time I took that photo Saturday morning Friday night.

Off to bed for another four or five hours of sleep, and back up at 6:00 to shower and dress, and I was downstairs right around 7 am to get started.

The first thing I did was stir together the Chicory Coffee Milk punch and put it in the freezer to set for three hours. This is one of the recipes I found in my copy of Brunch at Bobby’s and it’s amazing. It’s supposed to freeze up and get slushy, but mine didn’t get so much slushy as super ice cold. I served it over ice and it was perfect. Boozy, creamy, a tad sweet, it gave my brunch a nice hint of southern charm. Look for it in an upcoming Cocktail Friday post!

Onto the hash browns. I’ve been making this slow-cooker version of Cracker Barrel’s famous hash brown casserole for a couple of years, and when I didn’t mention that I was making it for my New Year’s brunch this past January I could hear the pouts via text message, so I know it’s a must-have for every brunch at my place. (Yes, I ended up making it for New Year’s too. Spoiled-ass friends.) This creamy, cheesy casserole is super easy to make, and ready to serve after cooking on high for about three hours. I could have stirred it all together and had it ready to go the night before, but I had ZERO room in my refrigerator for it, so I opted to throw it together in the morning.

Then I made the batter for these Mini Pumpkin Churros, the recipe for which I also found in Brunch at Bobby’s. I thought they would be a perfect sweet companion to a fall brunch. I did not, however, stop to think about the amount of work it takes to fry a bunch of mini churros right before you’ve got a houseful of guests coming over, so if you’re hosting by yourself or don’t have a trusty assistant, I’d suggest trying those out another time.

You will thank me (and Bobby Flay) when you make them, though. Crispy, sweet, pumpkin perfection. The orange-chocolate dipping sauce makes a perfect companion.

By this time it was very close to 9 am, and I was expecting guests around 10, so I had to start hustling. I pre-heated the oven and started to prep my bacon. For 8-12 guests I buy two pounds of bacon and I usually end up with about two pieces left, if any. Line two baking sheets with foil, place a rack on each sheet and lay the bacon out on the racks. Sprinkle bacon with brown sugar, chile powder, and fresh cracked black pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes and serve.

Magic.

Before I put the bacon in the oven, I had to bake the Texas French Toast Bake. I’ve always been super skeptical about french toast casseroles – I don’t like super soggy french toast to begin with, and those make ahead casseroles always struck me as such. I had this french toast bake a few months ago for a breakfast pot luck at work, and loved it. It’s perfect – not super “eggy”, with a touch of crisp on the bottom. This one’s definitely in the rotation.

Now I was getting down to the wire. I grabbed my macarons out of the fridge to take the chill off, and started to warm up the chocolate sauce for the churros. Everything else was baking, warming, or chilling, and I still had a floor to mop and tables to set. So I did the quickest round of Swiffer-ing ever and set up my tables and kitchen island for serving.

For parties like this, I always use disposable plates, cups, and utensils, just to make clean up easier. I like to buy “nicer” disposables, but disposables nonetheless. I found that cute little blackboard to use as a menu board in the dollar section at Target, and some greenery (leafery?) at my local grocery store, along with decorative gourds, motherf*ckers.

The little fake pumpkins were from Target, along with the colored/wrapped led lights. The serving plates I’ve had for a few years; you can always find really nice ones at Marshall’s/TJ Maxx and the like.

Back to cooking! I started the oil for my mini churros, took the french toast bake out of the oven, upped the oven temperature and started the bacon. I grabbed my fruit from the fridge, rinsed what needed to be rinsed, and started cutting up the pineapple.

In between batches of churros, I plated up the fruit.

Pineapple, mixed berries, and concord grapes. I used my large cutting board simply because all my other platters were too small.

The first of my guests started arriving at this time, so I snagged the bourbon/coffee/cream goodness out of the freezer and placed that out on the table I had set up for the plates and such, along with the juice and bubbly for mimosas, and the Bloody Mary fixings my friends brought with them.

The macarons were vanilla-raspberry and pumpkin spice-cinnamon bourbon. Yes, I can make macarons. No, I will not be writing about it any time soon, because I don’t have them perfected just yet.

Crunch time. More people arriving, more things to finish. The churros were popping out left and right, and the more I made the more I realized…I didn’t need this many damn churros. So I stopped frying them up about half way through the batch of batter (Note to self: make half the amount next time), and moved on to more pressing issues, mainly plating the bacon and starting the cheesy scrambled eggs.

Super easy. Whisk up a whole bunch of eggs, scramble in pan, add cheese, serve.

And there you have it! Everything was a big hit, I had a super fun day with some of my very favorite people, and I think I’m almost recovered from the lack of sleep and day drinking.

Some tips for your next brunch:

Start planning early. Pre-buy your booze, dishes, utensils, and decorations.

Hit up Aldi or another discount grocery store for your essentials, and then go to the fancy grocery store for the specialty items.

If you need to clean your house (like I always do), start early in the week to avoid last minute/late night speed cleaning (like I always do).

Set out extra chairs/tables/etc. the night before. Set out dishes and decorations too.

Pre-make and prep what you can the day or night before.

Get out of bed a half an hour before you think you need to.

CLEAN AS YOU GO. Start the morning off with an empty sink and dishwasher to avoid a back up in the sink.

Always take help from your friends when they offer, even if it’s just to clean the fruit or grab a dish from the cabinet.

Sit. Drink. Laugh. Enjoy yourself. And leave the dishes for Sunday.

Philly Cheese Steak Rolls

Okay, so here’s that recipe I promised you almost a week ago.

I’m terrible at this, aren’t I?

But I’m really good at some other things, so it evens out. Kind of.

Anyway, these are the cheese steak roll ups that I made for my birthday game night last month. They were super easy to make and really tasty. You can make them ahead, freeze them and bake them whenever you need them too.

What you’ll need:

Thin sliced or shaved steak (see below – you can usually find it in the frozen meat section), frozen puff pastry sheets, a good sized onion, sliced bell or banana peppers (or both, depending on preference), sliced american or provolone cheese, one egg, and some sesame seeds (again, your preference). To season the meat mixture I used salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and a little bit of Dijon mustard.

Set frozen puff pastry out to thaw for about 30-45 minutes. Peel the onion, cut it into halves or quarters and slice thinly. Saute onion in 2 Tb olive oil until softened and slightly browned (Add sliced bell peppers – if using – and cook until soft). Cut the shaved steak into bite sized pieces and add to pan, saute with onions until just cooked through. Add salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard. Stir together and set aside, letting cool slightly.

Whisk the egg with a tablespoon of water in a bowl to make an egg wash. Roll one sheet of puff pastry out with flour into an approximate 12 x 16 rectangle. Pile approximately one half of the meat mixture down the length of one end of the dough. Top with sliced banana peppers (if using),

And then the sliced cheese.

Roll meat and pastry tightly end to end. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds (or poppy seeds, or caraway seeds…you see where I’m going here. You can also go seedless if you prefer). Repeat with the remaining puff pastry and meat mixture.

Rest on a baking sheet in the refrigerator for an hour to set. This step isn’t a necessity, but it will allow the pastry to slightly firm back up and make slicing the roll much easier. If you have the time, rest it; even for a day or two, as long as it’s wrapped in plastic.

To bake:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice rolls into 12 slices; about 1 inch thick. Bake on a lined cookie sheet 10-12 minutes, then flip and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the pastry is nicely browned.

Serve warm with some marinara sauce on the side.

And watch them disappear.

Philly Cheese Steak Rolls

  • 1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 package shaved steak, chopped fine
  • 1 medium to large onion
  • 1/4-1/2 cup (or more) sliced banana peppers (if desired)
  • 1/4 – 1/3 lb sliced deli cheese of your choosing
  • 1-2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 tsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 Tb Olive oil
  • sesame seeds, for sprinkling

Slice the onion thinly and add to a sautée pan over medium heat with olive oil. Sautee until lightly browned and add chopped steak. Cook until just browned, add salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard. Stir together and set aside.

Roll out one sheet of thawed pastry on a flour-topped counter with a rolling pin. Pile one half of the meat mixture down the length of one end of the pastry. Top with sliced banana peppers and cheese, and roll from meat to other end tightly. Repeat with other sheet of pastry, remaining meat mixture, peppers, and cheese.

Whisk egg in a bowl with 1-2 Tbs cold water to make an egg wash. Brush egg wash over rolled pastry and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Set rolls on baking sheet in refrigerator for at least an hour to over night.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice roll into 12 1-inch slices and place on to lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes on one side, flip, and bake an additional 5-10 minutes, until the pastry is browned and the cheese is melted.

Remove from baking sheet onto serving platter, and serve warm with a side of marinara sauce.

Enjoy!!

 

 

 

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Birthday Game Night, Complete with Snacks

I celebrated my birthday a couple weeks ago in my usual fashion – an all-night rager at a local club that didn’t end until the local police showed up.

Kidding. I actually just hosted game night with some of my favorite people. I love a good game night party – it’s super informal, you just need a few finger foods, a big bowl of popcorn, a plate of cupcakes and plenty of booze.

This year I knew I would be out of the house most for of the day leading up to the party and therefore wouldn’t have a ton of prep time so I came up with a super simple menu – a couple parts make ahead, one part crock pot, and one part big old bowl of stove-popped popcorn. I’ll start with the dips – I stirred together a spinach dip and served it with some cut up veggies, pretzels and store-bought pita chips.

Always a classic. If you don’t know how to make a spinach dip by now… Here you go.

I also served something that became a new favorite this year, Mexican Street Corn dip. A friend of mine served it at a Cinco de Mayo party and I bugged her for the recipe immediately. I think I’ve made it four times since May. The recipe calls for you to stir everything together on the stove but I just throw it all together in the crock pot and let it rip for an hour or two, it’s perfectly gooey and melty, plus it stays warm throughout your whole party.

Ugh. It’s so good. Serve with lots of tortilla chips. It reheats fantastically, too.

I made some stovetop garlic parmesan popcorn as well. Just pop the corn, melt some butter with some cracked peeled garlic cloves, allow to infuse, drain and pour over the popped corn, and sprinkle some fresh grated parmesan cheese on top.

That was the easy-peasy, throw-together-at-the-last-minute stuff. The make ahead stuff was easy too, but just a tad more time consuming so I started the night before.

I made these Chocolate Hazelnut cupcakes with a toasted bourbon meringue frosting, because they sounded rich, decadent and delicious and it was an excuse to use my food torch so OF COURSE I was going to make them.

Mine didn’t come out quite as pretty as the original recipe (I don’t think I gave the meringue enough time in the mixer), but I enjoyed them immensely.

As a sort of “main dish” to all this finger food, I was in the mood for something cheesesteak-y. Let’s be honest, when am I not in the mood for something cheesesteak-y? Cheesesteak anything is amazing. But for my birthday I decided to dress it up just a tad in some puff pastry. Roll, slice, bake, done.

I’ll give this a full write up in my next post, because I’m getting a little long winded here, and I just wanted to share birthday goodies before September is over. I’ve got a few other recipes waiting for write ups, and Harvest Fest brunch is coming next week! I’m still working out my menu for that but I think it’s going to be a good one. I’m so excited for fall and what the rest of this year brings!

But for real in the meantime? I might need to make the cheesesteak rolls again. Yum.

 

Post Number 200! An Update and A Recipe.

Hello there, and welcome back to my little blog. I know blogs are so early 00’s but I still read them, so I figure other people out there do too. (And thank you for doing so!)

So, life update. I’m still working like crazy at both jobs. I did make a conscious decision to take fewer hours at my second job, but I still end up working quite a few days a month there. I’m still waiting to hit that Powerball. No word yet.

The cats are good boys. Dean is getting super chubby despite the fact that I do NOT over feed them – I just feel like some cats are pre-disposed to be chubs.

He’s super cute though. Even when he is grumpy as hell.

Made a few changes around the house – I got a new stove! My old one was giving out on me last year, which I finally noticed the week I was baking all my Christmas cookies. Of course. So between holiday gift cards, cash, and a little help from mom and dad, I was able to get a new stove. Best part? Convection. Fancy!

I’m still getting the hang of her, however. I was used to the old stove that didn’t get as hot or cook food as fast. I gotta keep on my toes with this one!

Dad also helped me refresh the living room with a new coat of paint. It had been a pretty butter yellow for years but I was ready for a change. I wanted something a little neutral but dramatic, and I thought a medium beige-ish gray would be perfect.

And it is.

And finally, my biggest life update: there’s a boy. In my life.

Yes, a boy. We’ve been dating since October. I like him. That’s all you get.

Onto the recipe! I had this one in my brain for a couple of weeks and took advantage of a day off recently to give it a go. It’s easy enough to pull together on a week night yet just ‘fancy’ enough to serve to someone special for an at-home date night.

I love corn served alongside scallops, I think the sweetness of the corn complements the succulent butteriness of the scallops, and the pop of heat from the roasted poblano pepper gives the puree a great kick.

I started with a few ears of corn, four or five. Shuck and remove silk, drizzle with olive oil, and season with a little salt and pepper. Grill on high for approximately 10-12 minutes until roasted on all sides.

Grill the poblano pepper for a few minutes on all sides until the skin is blackened and blistered.

Remove from grill and place in a zip top bag or a covered bowl for a few minutes until the skin softens and you’re able to remove it easily. Remove the stem and seeds, and dice the pepper. Remove the corn from the grill and cut the kernels off the cobs.

Place half of the corn in a blender and puree until smooth.

Edit: This is where my pretty new stove’s super-hot burners kinda bit me in the butt, I had to move so fast to make sure nothing burned that I couldn’t take any more photos of the action. Whomp whomp.

Add pureed corn to a medium saucepan, stir in remaining corn and diced poblano. Add 1 TB butter, a splash of cream or half and half, 3 TBS parmesan cheese, a pinch of salt and fresh ground black pepper. Heat on medium low until the butter melts and the mixture bubbles slightly.

In a large saute pan, heat a few tablespoons of butter until melted. Pat the scallops dry and season with a little salt and pepper. Add to the pan with melted butter and cook on both sides until browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the heat and serve immediately with the corn and pepper puree.

I served it alongside these easy sautéed green beans.

Yum. Tender, perfectly cooked scallops. Sweet, creamy corn with just a touch of char, and the perfect amount of heat from the poblanos. I highly recommend this one before the corn is all gone for the summer.

Sautéed Scallops with Roasted Corn and Poblano Puree

  • Large Scallops, 4 per person
  • 4-6 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned
  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 5 Tb butter
  • 3 Tb grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 Tb half and half, milk or cream
  • salt and pepper
  • Other seasonings, as desired for corn puree (I used a little of this.)

Brush a light coating of olive oil over the ears of corn and season with salt and pepper. Grill corn until roasted on all sides, approximately 10-12 minutes. Grill poblano until charred and softened, approximately 10 minutes. Place poblano in a zip top bag and allow to cool. Remove blackened skin from the outside, remove seeds and stem, and cut into small dice.

Remove corn kernels from cobs. Puree half of the corn in a blender until smooth. Pour the puree into a small saucepan, add the remaining corn kernels and diced pepper, 1 TB butter, cream or half and half, parmesan cheese, and desired seasonings. Stir over medium low heat until incorporated and the mixture starts to bubble lightly.

Melt remaining butter in a pan over medium heat. Pat scallops dry on a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Sautee scallops in pan until brown and just cooked through, approximately 3-4 minutes per side, depending on size of scallops.

Serve scallops immediately over corn puree and enjoy.

 

 

 

Lightened Up Buffalo Chicken Meatballs (21 Day Fix-Friendly)

The problem with posting so sporadically to one’s blog is that one doesn’t always remember what one posted last before starting the next post. Hence, the back-to-back buffalo chicken-themed dishes.

We’ll just have to push through.

Since April I’ve been participating in a health and fitness accountability group on Facebook. If you’re on Facebook at all I’m sure you’ve heard of them. If not; they’re organized via Beachbody “Coaches” that post daily challenges, inspiration, and encourage you to check in with your daily workouts and food logs. And in case you’ve been living under a rock, Beachbody is the company that floods your early morning television with infomercials for programs like 21 Day Fix, Cize, P90X, etc.

I’ve been taking it slow, especially in the beginning because of a knee injury this past spring, but now I’m fully on board with a cardio kickboxing-type workout called TurboFire and I follow the 21 Day Fix container system diet. It has really helped me get back on track with my weight loss, which sadly fell off course last year. Say what you will about multi-level marketing type business; it’s working for me so I’m sticking with it.

The main goal of the 21 Day Fix eating plan is “Clean Eating”; no white flour, no sugar, no processed foods, very limited dairy, organic produce and meats (when possible). This has been an adjustment for sure – I haven’t been a big consumer of processed/boxed foods in a long time, but flour? Sugar? Artificial sweeteners? NO DAIRY ARE YOU SERIOUS? BUT CHEESE, MAN. (Well, 21 DF does allow a few cheeses in a small amount). To make this change has definitely been a challenge, but I’m adjusting well. There are a couple things I refuse to give up – namely the sweetener and half and half in my morning coffee. Since I drink two cups a day at most, I figure what Autumn  doesn’t know won’t kill her.

To keep in line with my new eating plan I’ve researched lots of recipes online (Pinterest is a big help with this), and thanks to my challenge groups I won Autumn’s book of recipes called Fixate (honestly, the recipes in that are great, even if you’re not following the plan). I’ve also started remaking some of my go-to recipes along the 21 DF guidelines. This was one of my first successful forays into “Fixifying” an old favorite, buffalo chicken meatballs. The original recipe wasn’t that bad, with the exception of the butter in the sauce, but when you serve the meatballs alongside super creamy ranch or blue cheese dressing, it’s a no-go. So I made a (semi) Fix-Approved dip to accompany the meatballs as well.

You just mix some ground chicken up with whole wheat bread crumbs, grated onion, one egg, parsley, and seasonings, form into balls with your hands (or a mini ice cream scoop), and bake.

While the meatballs are baking stir together greek yogurt, white vinegar, spices, and a small amount of blue cheese crumbles and set aside. Note: Blue cheese isn’t specifically allowed on the Fix, but it’s such a small amount and you’re only using 2 TB or so of the dip, so. Pick your battles, I guess.

Melt a tablespoon of coconut oil in a pan and stir it together with your favorite hot sauce. Toss the meatballs in the hot sauce mixture.

And serve immediately, with the dipping sauce and some veggies on the side.

Who needs wings? Not this lady.

Lightened Up Buffalo Chicken Meatballs with Blue Cheese Dip

Servings: approx. 5, 6 mini meatballs each

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c whole wheat bread crumbs (I had panko style on hand)
  • 1/2 medium onion, grated
  • 1/4 c. parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 TB (unrefined extra virgin) coconut oil
  • 1/3 c hot sauce (I use Frank’s)

Mix all ingredients together well. Form into balls (use a mini ice cream scoop, if you have one) and place onto a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray (coconut oil preferred). Bake at 375 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until cooked through. Melt coconut oil in a large pan and add hot sauce. Stir together to combine completely. Add cooked meatballs and toss in the sauce to coat well. Serve with dipping sauce and vegetables of choice.

Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce

  • 2/3 c fat free greek yogurt
  • 3 TB white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 2 dashes Worschestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese

Mix all ingredients together, stir to combine. Serve with meatballs (approx 2 TB per serving)

 

As far as container counts are concerned for you 21 Day Fixers: I am not affiliated with Autumn Calabrese or her master nutritionists. I am just a lil baby blogger, and this is by no means 100% accurate so don’t take my word for it: I’m calling one serving of 6 meatballs with one green container’s worth of veggies and 2 TB of dip: 1 Red, 1 Green, and 1 Orange. Possibly 1 t but that’s debatable. Not counting a blue either, since it’s such a small amount of cheese in the dip. (I know those blues are precious!)

 

“Italian Sub” Salad

Well that was an unexpected absence. The past four months since I last posted have gone by in an absolute blur and I have absolutely nothing to show for it, besides my muffin top.

Stress eating is a hell of a thing.

ANYWAY.

I used to work in the deli department of a small grocery store in the Pocono Mountains. For those of you not familiar with the Poconos (And there’s like ten of you that read this blog regularly, I know you’re familiar with the Poconos. This is for the OTHER ten people that might stumble upon my ramblings and need a little back story, I’m saying.), there is a large population of people that have transplanted from New Jersey and New York to the area over the past 30 years or so  and have made it their home.

With New Yorkers and New Jersians (Jersey-ites?) come New York and New Jersey foods. Excellent pizza, Italian bakeries, bagels, and delis are all over Monroe County, and the deli I worked in was…

Eh, it was alright. It was cramped and the floor was sticky sometimes and it was a revolving door of college-aged losers (OH HAYYYYYYY) that were too young to go to the bars every night but needed money for the movies and Chinese food. We made awesome homemade salads and gigantic sandwiches and sold good cold cuts. I mean the really good ones.

I blame this job for my deli and sandwich snobbery and that pesky 50 lb weight gain after high school. (Hey, it had to come from somewhere, y’all.) To this day, I refuse to buy cold cuts from certain stores, and am very particular about the Italian subs I order.

The subs we made back in that deli were great – meat, cheese, and veggies stuffed to almost bursting on soft, chewy Italian rolls delivered to us every morning. Our Italian subs were my personal favorite – black pepper-coated ham, spicy Capicola ham (or Gabbagool, as my regulars would call it), hard salami, and sharp provolone cheese. I always preferred mine with lettuce, tomato, a couple hot peppers, and lots of oil and vinegar. Oh, dudes. You think Wawa‘s Italian subs are good? PFFT. Wawa ain’t got nothing on these. (But FYI Primo‘s Sharp Italians are pretty close.)

Unfortunately, the store I used to work in burned down a few years back and was never rebuilt. So you may never know the delight that is a Hilltop Market Italian sub made by yours truly. But you can have this salad, which might be a close second.

Gather your ingredients:

Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, red onion, pepper ham, hard salami, capicola ham, provolone cheese, sandwich pepperoni, and jarred hot pepperoncini peppers. For the dressing, a little mayo, white vinegar, salt, pepper, and a mess of grated parmesan cheese.

First, the dressing.

Mayo, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add grated parmesan. Whisk violently.

Okay, maybe not violently. Set aside.

Chop up romaine, slice cherry tomatoes in half, slice onion thinly. Add to large bowl.

Like so.

Prepare the cold cuts by layering the pepper ham, capicola, salami, provolone, and pepperoni on top of each other. Roll the entire thing like a log, and slice.

Thusly.

Assemble your Avengers salad: Place sliced rolled cold cuts on the lettuce mixture, and add sliced pepperoncinis. (Or don’t, if you don’t like delicious hot things. No judgement.)

Yes.

Drizzle with creamy parmesan dressing. Serve.

You can add or subtract any cold cut you desire, use different dressing, add some good crunchy/chewy croutons, etc. It’s kind of hard to mess up a salad, no? Unless you use bad cold cuts. Then I don’t know you.

“Italian Sub” Salad with Creamy Parmesan Dressing

  • 1 head romaine lettuce, shredded
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • Sliced black pepper ham
  • Sliced spicy capicola ham
  • Sliced hard salami
  • Sliced pepperoni (look for sandwich or “slicing” pepperoni, not the small slices for pizza
  • Jarred hot pepperoncini peppers

Toss lettuce, tomato, and onion in a large bowl. Stack sliced cold cuts and cheese. Roll into a log and slice. Top salad with rolled cold cuts and pepperoncinis. Top with dressing and serve.

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2-3 Tb white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup grated parmiggiano-reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper.

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl and pour over salad (use more or less vinegar to get desired consistency).

This is so easy and delicious it almost feels wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup


It’s fall, y’all! No way to deny it anymore. The days are shorter, the nights cool and crisp, the leaves have started changing, and I’m fighting with every fiber of my being the urge to turn the heat on in my house until November 1st. The arrival of fall brings with it my most favorite “season” of all…soup season!

Don’t get me wrong, I could(and do) eat soup during a heat wave in July, but there’s just something infinitely more comforting about tucking into a bowl of steaming hot goodness while you’re cuddled on the couch on a chilly autumn afternoon; wearing flannel pj pants, fuzzy socks, and a big cozy sweatshirt; wrapped in blankets while your two purring cuddle monsters perch precariously on your lap trying to see what you’ve got there, momma.


These two. Menace to society, they are. Not to mention a threat to my sanity and glassware.

ANYWAY. Back to soup. I could eat soup almost any day of the year, but I always seem to specifically crave it when I’m feeling under the weather. Which I was after returning from vacation the other week. Those damn airplane germs get me every time. So before I fully succumbed to sinus ickiness I dug out my soup pot and got cooking.

Since I was in the mood for something with Mexican flavors (am I ever *not* in the mood for Mexican? No.), I went with a simple chicken tortilla soup – chock full of fresh veggies, beans, a little heat, and served up with a touch of freshness with some cilantro and lime at the end.

Firstly I baked a couple boneless skinless chicken breasts in the oven, 375 for 25-30 minutes, or until cooked through. I don’t like to poach my chicken in the broth, I think roasting in the oven gives a better flavor ( it’s even better when the chicken is roasted over some root veggies with the bone in and skin on, but I used what I had on hand here). Dice the chicken up and set aside.

Now get to chopping all those veggies. Onion, garlic, celery, and bell peppers. Maybe some carrots if you’re so inclined (I was carrot-less this time around). Dice everything up fine and sauté in olive oil over medium high heat until the onions are nicely translucent, the celery has softened, and the peppers have slightly browned.

Seasoning time. Add salt, pepper, onion powder, cumin, coriander, chili powder, and chipotle powder to vegetables. Stir in tomato paste. Cook for a couple of minutes to toast spices and paste in the oil.

Onto the canned goods. I love canned beans for soups and chilis, they’re such a big time saver. Be sure to drain and rinse that liquid off though, it’s a bit salty. Drain and rinse two cans of black beans and add to the pan. Add two cans of diced tomatoes with chilis (Ro-Tel), including liquid and stir. Bring to a low simmer.

Add six cups of chicken stock and the diced chicken and bring the soup to a simmer over medium heat. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Chop cilantro finely and add to soup (if desired, I know some people aren’t cilantro fans). Serve with desired additions — wedge of lime, shredded cheese, tortilla chips, even a touch of sour cream or guacamole.

Note: This makes a lot of soup. You can absolutely store some of this in the freezer.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Makes approximately 12-14 cups

  • 12-16 oz boneless skinless chicken breast, baked and diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, any color, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes with chiles, with liquid
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 can tomato paste
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 2 TBS fresh cilantro, chopped fine
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • Tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, fresh lime wedges, and some additional cilantro, for serving.

Saute onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic in olive oil until onion is translucent and vegetables are slightly browned. Add all seasonings and tomato paste, stir to combine, and cook for a couple of minutes to allow spices to toast up a bit. Add drained and rinsed beans and tomatoes and chilis with liquid. Add cooked diced chicken, chicken stock, and bring to a simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add chopped fresh cilantro and serve with desired toppings.

It’s good for what ails ya.

You can also check out some of my other fall soup recipes — they’re all ridiculously delicious and super simple to make.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Creamy Cauliflower Soup (my personal favorite!)

Easiest Butternut Squash Soup Ever

Enjoy! And happy fall!