back from hiatus

it has been faaaar too long! the end of the semester came and went and with it, the craziness of finishing the semester early, packing up my room, unpacking to repack and leaving for AUSTRALiA! for two weeks with my grad class. i got back, slept off the jet lag and booked it back out to Amherst for my summer job working in the Housing Assignments Office at UMass – a full-time gig that pays for the groceries, but tires me out too! I’ve been cooking in the meantime (of course) and can proudly say that for the month of June, I think M&I had something different every night – and that 85% of those meals were made from scratch. Watch out Food Network! Hah. Here’s a glimpse at what I’ve been up to… and a promise that more is to come! Unfortunately, the following pictures were all taken via camera-phone, but I am happy to report I spoiled myself with my second paycheck to buy a new digital camera! (My old one was a gift and thus, not totally my choice.. and besides, the battery charger is somewhere buried in my packed goods from my room at school.. and it was honestly easier (and kept me much happier) to do some Consumer Reports research and find a point &shoot I could enjoy! Anyway, here’s the glimpse to get your tastebuds going.. I’ll have a real post up this weekend hopefully! (It’s July 4th weekend and guests (family!) are coming to visit – it’d be a sin NOT to cook! ūüėČ

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cinnamon french toast bake

I am trying with all my might to keep up with this blog, but lo is it hard. A lot of my cooking has been sort of spur-of-the-moment and I never happen to have my camera around so it goes undocumented.. or else I think up some sort of meal and realize it’s probably not good enough for this thing, so while I cook often, not all of it makes the cut. Anywho! I felt the pressure last week and after a group project, quiz and exam, I felt the need to go home for the weekend and cook SOMETHING.

I decided to focus on breakfast for a change and because in my house, whatever you make for breakfast will disappear – good or bad. I ended up Googling my way around, stumbling off egg recipes and for some sort of “bake.” Ultimately, I found this Cinnamon French Toast Bake from Pillsbury which seemed to fit the bill as my whole family loves french toast and warm things and the occasional nuts-on-top. The recipe itself was about as easy as it gets and with minimal ingredients – just eggs (lots of them! …okay, 6), vanilla, cream, cinnamon and maybe some flour? and of course, Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. On top, I only ended up using one cansiter of the icing because I figured the less dripping sugar on top, the healthier. Somewhat, anyway. I’d definitely make it again, but probably bake it for another few minutes and maybe leave off the pecans (personal preference). Judging by what was left an hour after it came out of the oven though, I’d say it was a success.

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chicken cannelloni

I was going to start this off with “a few years ago,” but I did the math – and it was FIVE years ago. Anywho. Five years ago, my dad and I went to Florida over my high school winter break. While there, besides tasting “Alligator Bites,” we stumbled upon a restaurant called Romano’s Macaroni Grille, a restaurant I think we may have heard of from one of my dad’s coworkers, but I can’t remember details back that far. I ended up ordering the chicken cannelloni and was blown. away. “Hand-rolled pasta filled with roasted chicken, fresh spinach and melted cheese, then baked in an Asiago cream sauce. Topped with imported tomato sauce.”¬†.. how can you not devour it?! We asked about any locations they had up north and there’s 2 in Massachusetts, but they’re each about an hour from here — so there was only one real thing to do recently when I started craving just that – find a copycat recipe and make it myself.

Matt and I loved it, though next time I’m not sure I would mix the two sauces together because as I remember the dish in the restaurant, it was an asiago sauce with a small topping of tomato sauce on top of the actual pasta, as opposed to a complete mix of the sauces. Regardless, the dish was gone a day or two later (it makes ¬†a lot!) and I’d definitely make it again. It’s relatively easy, it’s just really about timing the cooking of the chicken with the cooking of the lasagna noodles – so the chicken has a little time to cool and the lasagna noodles don’t sit too long and stick together. Pictures & recipe…. Continue reading

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jumbo chocolate chip cookies

At the Auburndale book sale in early March, I snagged a few cookbooks, namely a Family Circle one which I am currently busy worshipping – so many great recipes and kitchen/cooking tips that I would never know otherwise! As most of my friends know, when I’m bored – I bake. So on a recent night, I broke out my brand new (okay, slightly used) Family Circle cookbook and flipped through for something on the dessert spectrum that was quick and easy and these cookies did it! They really are jumbo (we scooped dough by the 1/4 cup), but they are THAT good. I know every oven varies, but my first batch was in the oven for the just-perfect amount of time – long enough that they had cooked through, but short enough that they were just barely browned, still soft all around. I would definitely make these again and recommend them if you’re looking for something relatively easy, but sort of spur of the moment – and definitely go the extra step to buy chocolate chunks instead of chocolate chips .. it’s part of the jumbo experience! Pictures and recipe, right where they always are…

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b’s birthday – part 2: checkerboard cake

I didn’t mean to wait this long in between posts about the same meal, but the rest of life sort of got in the way. SO! here’s part two. Like I said in my last post, B had had a pretty rough week before her birthday, so I was trying to make it extra special. I had also had a recipe for a checkerboard cake – from scratch – for a while and figured now (or then) was as good a time as ever.. so, I decided to sweat it out and cook it up!

After telling my sister about it, she showed me the pans they now MAKE specifically for a checkerboard cake! but at the time, I knew nothing of it, so while it’s not as aesthetically pleasing as perhaps that pan would’ve made, I tried pretty hard. I also asked B what her favorite candy/color was for decorating purposes, but “peanut m&ms” and “green” weren’t exactly what I expected in return.

So, while there’s now perfect-sized pans and box mixes that would’ve made this recipe way easier, there’s something to be said about the satisfaction that comes from imperfect checkerboard patterns and from-scratch cakes. Recipe and pictures after the jump.

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b’s birthday – part 1: pork chops with balsamic-maple glaze

holy birthdays! It seems all my cooking/baking these days has been for birthdays and this post – as well as tomorrow’s – are no exception. My friend B has been having a rough couple of weeks (that could be an understatement, with multiple hospital stays under her belt), but she was turning 22! and I wanted to do something special, so instead of just going out to dinner, I decided I’d cook her up something new, from scratch. Matt’s been proud of his risotto cakes since he learned how to make them a few weeks ago (and they are so delicious! – I may have him do a guest post soon just for them!) I wanted to let him make them for part of dinner – if not only to keep him busy enough in the kitchen to let me do my thing!

I’ve been struggling to come up with much to pair with risotto cakes. While they soak up sauces nicely, I’m hesitant to cook anything whose sauce doesn’t normally pair well with cheese/rice. B’s only stipulation was no seafood, so I started searching the interwebs for some sort of white meat (I still associate steak with potatoes and can’t convince myself to pair it with rice, ever). Matt and I had cooked pork saltimbocca with risotto cakes a few weeks back, but always wanting to try something new, I tried to find a different dish and found success at Elly Says Opa: Pork Chops with Balsamic-Maple Glaze. The only difference I made to the recipe was to add extra maple syrup, just to make sure it was a sweeter sauce to balance with the saltier risotto cakes.¬†We also made some green beans, but nothing too snazzy. Pictures and recipe after the jump.

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tortellini con piselli

finally, a cooking post! two weekends ago, for Sarah’s birthday, we went out to Vinny T’s for lunch. I usually don’t get that excited for Vinny T’s, even though my whole family loves it because I struggle to find something on the menu that doesn’t come with chunky tomato sauce or is too heavy and makes me contemplate truly rolling. out. of. the. restaurant. but on this particular saturday, i found it – THE dish. tortellini con piselli. it was so good that i decided i’d just have to recreate it myself. so, i did. the hardest part was definitely finding a good recipe for a light cream sauce – i didn’t want it to be too watery, but also not too creamy.

the ingredients themselves were pretty simple – a package of tortellini, half a bag of frozen peas, some¬†prosciutto¬†(the amount is really up to you, same with the peas, i suppose), half a bag of shredded italian cheese, a pint of heavy cream and a stick of butter (both for the sauce). I cooked the peas in the microwave and tried timing the tortellini cooking with the sauce, but was unsuccessful. The pasta ended up done much earlier than the sauce and I gave up on the sauce thickening when I started worrying the pasta would get cold and sticky, but it ended up working out well. I combined the pasta, peas, prosciutto and about half the cheese in the pot, and then covered it in the sauce. Because it was more watery than I intended, I ended up draining some of the sauce right out, which may seem wasteful, I suppose, but it allowed the sauce to drip into the creases of the tortellini without making the whole dish too watery. Next time, I’ll probably try to time the sauce better and get it more creamy than I had the patience for. After some slight drainage, I sprinkled more cheese on top and covered it for a few minutes to let the cheese melt. 5 minutes later, Matt, two friends and myself were seated silently, shoveling it in. Pictures and recipe (again) after the jump! Continue reading

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