Sunday Family Dinner with All of the Crew

December 2015 SFD
About two times a year we can wrangle all five Nguyễn siblings at our monthly Family Dinners. It’s not for lack of desire but with one brother in New York, one seester in San Francisco, two seesters in Orange County and me in San Diego–it can be a logistical nightmare.

But when it does happen, it’s chaotically wonderful.

December 2015 SFD

With all of the sibs in town last month, we managed to squeeze Fam Din in between our Cousin’s wedding, multiple Christmas parties, and the most important— the release of Star Wars.

All very, VERY important events for us.

I’m not kidding gang–although I was off from work for the last two weeks of December, I was up in Orange County the entire time with some type of event each day. Let’s just say, at the end of my vacation–I needed a vacay from my vacay.

December 2015 SFD

But back to our Fam Din!

We held it the next day after our younger cousin’s amazing wedding. He’s been like a little brother to the five of us so it was extremely special to witness his truly perfect day. And because we knew it was going to be a fantastic party, we planned ahead for a very low key but comforting menu for dinner.

A nod to rustic Italian and Tuscan fare.

December 2015 SFD
And since I’m me, I couldn’t resist snapping away at some pics of the fam bam. How often do I get all of my kiddos (minus the fur babies) in one shot?

This particular one is freaking hilarious. Maya, Lucas, Nini and Nina are pros having been subjected to my photo shoots every month but the youngest three munchkins’ faces below have me DYING!

Leonidas is rocking the ultimate pouty face.

Kaelani has the petrified “Is this really my family?!?!?” look.

And Luna is giving me the “Hurry up before I flip over!” face.

Classic.

December 2015 SFD

Then at some point, I channeled the inner prom-photographer in me and snapped a couple of the sibbies.

Representing Tustin…..

December 2015 SFD
Representing San Francisco…..

Wait! How did Kaelani sneak in this one?

December 2015 SFD
Representing New York…..

Or is technically Manhattan?

Um. You get the picture.

December 2015 SFD
And finally, Representing Fullerton…..

December 2015 SFD
Somewhere along the lines, my two eldest munchkins, who are now both taller than me, decided to lick my face.

Gross.

But I probably would have done the same to them. Where do you think they’ve learned it from?

December 2015 SFD
And since our Leo was turning four a few days later, we decided to make Fam Din into a little party for him.

How can he be four already?!?!?

December 2015 SFD
Before dinner, we snacked on an overflowing tray of Antipasti from a local Italian market named Claro’s. They’ve got tons and tons of wonderful imported goods as well as delish cold cuts, cheeses, olives, sandwich counter and plenty of premade dishes you can take home.

Below is their sampling of Asiago cheese, Gorgonzola, bocconcini, salami, prosciutto sticks, olives and cherry tomatoes.

December 2015 SFD
For the main course, we had Roasted Rosemary-Garlic Whole Chickens with new potatoes. Seester marinated the chickens overnight and roasted two of them in the oven and one outdoor in her rotisserie oven. You just can’t beat a wonderfully flavored, juicy roasted chicken.

December 2015 SFD
And you just can’t have an Italian menu without a big ol’ bowl of pasta.

I whipped up a ginormous bowl of Cacio e Pepe using bucatini pasta–because I adore bucatini.

Butter, black pepper, Pecorino, and Parmesan.

December 2015 SFD

Eldest seestrah made Souffle al Formaggio Facile – a Tuscan cheese souffle with mixed greens. We’ve never had an Italian dish like this but heck –how could you go wrong with a cheese souffle???

In fact, this would be a great brunch dish with perhaps a poached egg nestled on top of the greens.

December 2015 SFD

As for dessert, the birthday boy wanted Chocolate Cupcakes and what birthday boy wants, he gets. Well, at least with desserts that is.

Seester P recruited the little munchkins to help bake up a batch of chocolaty cuppies with chocolate frosting –using our go to recipe from Ina.

The kids loved helping out–especially since they got to pipe the frosting on top.

December 2015 SFD

I mean, c’mon. Look at that face.

Could anything be cuter????

December 2015 SFD

Okay…maybe these faces below.

Hey, it was his birthday– and the kid loves chocolate!

December 2015 SFD
And that friends, was only day 2 of my 14-day “vacation” in Orange County.

I’m still recovering. <3

This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Vino Galore!!!
Appetizers: Anitpasti – Asiago cheese, Gorgonzola, bocconcini, salami, prosciutto sticks, olives and cherry tomatoes
Entrees: Rosemary Garlic Roast Chicken, Roast Potatoes, Cacio e Pepe, Souffle al Formaggio Facile
Dessert: Rich Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream

Ultimate Stuffed Shells to Ring in the Holidays

Ultimate Stuffed Shells

Here we go….let the Holiday celebrations begin!

Thanksgiving….Friendsgiving….Hannukah….Christmas…Kwanzaa…Winter Solstice…Festivus!

Don’t get me wrong, I adore them all. I’m a holiday-lovin’ gal. Heck, I’ve had my Christmas tree up for over two weeks now but with all of these festivities, there’s a lot of cooking that’s required.

And as much as I’m down for long hours of cooking and baking, I also strongly believe in dishes that I can make ahead that can still carry the spirit and yumminess (is that a word?) of the special occasion.

Ultimate Stuffed Shells

These Ultimate Stuffed Shells really fit that bill. Not only are they bright and colorful but they are just down right comfort food—something like grandma would make. Well, not my grandmas…they were old school Vietnamese and would have stuffed tofu than pasta. But someone’s grandma would have made them and it’s like getting a big ol’ hug when you take a bite.

Why do I call these “ultimate” stuffed shells? Because they’ve got all of my favs in them–spicy Italian sausage, mushrooms, spinach, and tons of different cheeses. They’re pretty easy to make and are always a fan favorite when they show up on a spread.

And with that….Bring on the stretchy pants–I’m ready for some Holiday Eats!

ps. And since this is the time for giving, check out these adorable personalized cutting boards from our friends at Red Envelope. Perfect for any loved ones who enjoy a delicious Foodventure.

Cutting Board

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Ultimate Stuffed Shells
Serves approximately 6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
½ cup diced shallots
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup minced baby portabello mushrooms
8 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and excess water squeezed out
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese + 2 tablespoons, divided
4 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
½ cup fresh basil chiffonade (more for garnish)
kosher salt
black pepper
20 ounces marina sauce
20-24 jumbo pasta shells, boiled to just shy of al dente
4 ounces shredded mozzarella

Heat a large skillet with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add in the sausage and use a wooden spoon to crumble up the meat while it’s browning. Once browned, remove the sausage to a plate that has been lined with paper towels to drain.

In the same skillet, cook the shallots over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until tender but not browned. Add in the garlic, pepper flakes, thyme, oregano and mushrooms. Continue cooking for a few minutes until the mushrooms become tender. Add the spinach, parsley, nutmeg and continue to cook for an additional minute until combined. Transfer to a large bowl and cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Once the mixture has cooled, fold in the ¼ parmesan cheese, ricotta, beaten egg and basil until just combined. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Pour approximately 2/3 of the marina sauce into a baking dish. Spread the sauce evenly to coat the bottom. Fill each of the shells with heaping spoonfuls of the cooled mixture and place them in the dish on top of the layer of marina. Continue until all of the shells have been filled and are placed snugly amongst each other in the baking dish.

Spoon the remaining marina sauce over the shells and then the remaining parmesan and mozzarella cheese.  Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet (in case anything bubbles over during baking time). Bake the shells for 25 minutes and then remove the foil and continue baking for 10 minutes until the cheese bubbles and slightly browns.

Remove the dish from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Prior to serving, garnish with additional basil chiffonade and enjoy!

Crispy Roasted Porchetta for Sunday Family Dinner

Porchetta

I was first introduced to Porchetta by the beloved San Francisco truck, Roli Roti. A regular at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market, Roli Roti draws throngs of followers by the delicious scents of their slow cooked, free range rotisserie chickens. As the chickens spin on the rotisseries, the juices drip down on trays of roasted potatoes. Drools….

Bruschetta

And of course, they have the most mouthwatering Porchetta – an Italian pork roast scented with herbs and enveloped in crispy, crackling skin. They serve their Porchetta on rolls piled high with arugula leaves and needless to say, it’s heavenly.

Porchetta

We were feeling quite ambitious for last month’s Sunday Family Dinner and attempted our own version of Porchetta. We did have a little challenge deciding on which cut of pork to use as some recipes call for whole pork belly with the skin on and other recipes list boneless pork shoulders.

We ended up using both pork belly and pork shoulder rubbed with a TON of herbs and garlic. To cook the Porchetta we enlisted my sister’s rotisserie oven but were not able to fit all the pork in at once. As such, we cooked a portion of it in the oven. As I would imagine that most folks do not own a rotisserie, the recipe below lays out a traditional oven cooking method. The oven Porchetta really is delicious but if you can get your hands on a rotisserie, I would highly recommend it.

Chocolate Raspberry Cake

The pork was extremely tender and the crackling—OH THE CRACKLING! Deliciously crispy and juicy! Just forget about your cholesterol for the day because it’s so worth it! We served ours on ciabatta slices with a ton of arugula and Italian pickled veggies. The peppery, slight bitterness of the greens with the tang of the veggies helped balance out the richness of the Porchetta. To accompany our Porchetta sammies we served a fennel salad with citrus and roasted potatoes.

For appetizers, my sis T whipped up some Bruschetta and my niece made her infamous Raspberry Chocolate Cake.

Sunday Family Dinner

We were definitely pleased with how everything turned out and Dad even gave his stamp of approval. And although I’m a little hesitant to admit it, we even had a bit of excitement with a small little fire that occurred in the rotisserie oven. But don’t worry, it was quickly contained.

After all, it’s not a Sunday Family Dinner without a little adventure. :)

This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Various Vino
Appetizers: Bruschetta
Entrees: Crispy Porchetta with Ciabatta and Arugula, Fennel Salad with Citrus, Roasted Potatoes
Dessert: Chocolate Cake with Fresh Raspberries

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Crispy Roasted Porchetta

Ingredients:

1 cup fresh rosemary
10 sprigs oregano
10 sprigs thyme
1/2 cup Italian parsley
20 large garlic cloves
1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
zest of 2 lemons
kosher salt
black pepper
olive oil
5 pounds boneless pork shoulder (skin on) or pork belly with rib meat still attached (skin on)
2 pounds new potatoes, quartered
2 cups white wine or chicken stock

In a food processor, pulse together the rosemary, oregano, thyme, parsley and garlic. Add in red pepper flakes, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1/2 tablespoon black pepper and 1/2 cup olive oil. Pulse until a loose paste is formed.

If using pork shoulder, take a sharp knife and slice the pork open so that it lays flat. For both cuts of meat, score the skin of the pork. Heavily season the pork with salt and pepper. Rub the herb paste all over the inside of the pork, ensuring that you are able to get inside all the parts. Tightly roll up the pork and use kitchen twine to hold the roll together. Let the pork marinate in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours–but overnight would be best.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. In a large roasting pan, add the potatoes and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and then pour the white wine over them. Place a roasting rack on top of the potatoes. Rub the exterior skin of the porchetta with oil and season with additional kosher salt. Place the porchetta on the rack and roast for about 30 minutes until the skin becomes crispy and brown. Lower the heat to 375 degrees F, tent the the porchetta with aluminum foil and continue to roast for approximately 2 1/2 hours. Remove the foil, raise the temperature back to 425 degrees F and continue roasting the porchetta until internal temperature of the pork reaches 155-160 degrees.

Remove the porchetta to a cutting board and tent for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, turn on the broiler and roast the tops of the potatoes until they are crispy. Thinly slice the porchetta and serve warm with your choice of accoutrements.

Mushroom Calzones–Portable Goodness.

Mushroom Calzone

Know what one of the perks of having extra pizza dough in your freezer is?

Calzones.

Also known as “homemade hot pockets” in my book…..not just delicious but portable, too!

Just like pizza toppings, anything goes when it comes to filling calzones. Veggies, meat, cheeses—they can even be made into desserts. This time I opted for a mushroom medley which was perfect when dunked into marinara sauce.

Enjoy!

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Mushroom Calzone
Serves 2

Ingredients:

8 ounces Pizza Dough
1½ cups sliced assorted mushrooms
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 pinches red chili flakes
¼ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
¼ cup pepper jack cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon parmesan cheese, grated
cornmeal, optional
1 cup marinara sauce
kosher salt
black pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a skillet, heat one tablespoon of olive oil with the butter. Add in garlic and sauté for one minute. Toss in mushrooms, chili flakes and thyme leaves and sauté until the mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat and season with kosher salt and black pepper. Allow the mixture to cool.

On a floured surface, roll out the pizza dough to a circular shape and until it reaches ½ inch thickness. Fill one-half side of the dough with the mushrooms mixture and cheeses, leaving an inch or so border around the edge. Carefully fold the dough over itself. Roll the edges up and press to seal. Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal and slide the calzone on top. Brush the calzone with olive oil and lightly sprinkle kosher salt on top. Bake the calzone for 18-20 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with marinara sauce to dip.

Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli

I’m kind of in love.

With this soup, that is.

It’s warming and fulfilling with tons of veggies, beans, sausage, and pasta. I also threw in some beautiful Swiss Chard at the end for some added texture and flavor— but any type of dark, leafy green could do the trick. Extra veggies never hurt a gal, right?

Depending on how you like the consistency of your soup, you can either add or limit the amount of chicken broth. I personally like mine on the soupier side so I can dunk some crusty bread in.

But one thing is for certain. No matter how you prefer it, this Pasta e Fagioli is the ultimate comfort food.

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Pasta e Fagioli
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
1 cup white onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, finely minced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups low sodium chicken broth, or more depending on desired consistency
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 dried bay leaves
¾- 1 cup macaroni noodles, or other short pasta
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 cups Swiss Chard, cleaned and roughly chopped
kosher salt and black pepper

In a large dutch oven or stock pot, heat olive oil over medium. Add sausage and use a wooden spoon to crumble up the meat. Continue browning until the sausage is barely pink. Add the onions, celery, and carrots to the pot and sauté until the vegetables have softened. Add in the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes with its juices and Cannellini beans. Add chicken stock, thyme and bay leaves. Partially cover and bring the pot to a boil. Remove the lid and stir in the pasta. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until pasta is al dente—about 9-10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves and thyme stems. Stir in the cheese and Swiss Chard. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Spinach and Sausage Lasagna Rolls

Spinach and Sausage Lasagna Rolls

“I love Pasta…… I love Pasta…..I love Pasta…….Yea, yea, yea, yea!”

In case you didn’t get that….that was my “pasta song”.  I’m a horrible singer and I really don’t like karaoke.  But I just adore pastas so much that I just have to sing it out sometimes.

Spinach and Sausage Lasagna Rolls

One day I came home from work to find a box sitting at my front door. And in that box, there were PASTAS!!!!!!!

Oh yes—it was a red letter day. :)

Spinach and Sausage Lasagna Rolls

Thanks to , I had lasagna sheets and penne rigate at my disposal! They feature pastas that are lower in carbohydrates, high in fiber—and most importantly, delish!

Spinach and Sausage Lasagna Rolls

I took this opportunity to make lasagna rolls filled with spinach and sausage. Rolls are a fun way to change up traditional lasagnas and since the edges are usually my favorite part (due to the extra crispiness) rolls are the perfect way to go.

And on that note…..

“I love Pasta…… I love Pasta…..I love Pasta…….Yea, yea, yea, yea!”

Yeah….I should just stick to cooking.

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Spinach and Sausage Lasagna Rolls
Serves 4

Ingredients:

8 lasagna sheets
¼ cup shallots, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
½ pound Italian sausage
1 (10-ounce) bag frozen spinach, thawed and excess water squeezed out
1 teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried chili flakes
¼ cup goat cheese
¼ cup cream cheese
3 cups marinara sauce
1½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
kosher salt
olive oil

Soak the lasagna sheets in hot tap water for 8-10 minutes or boil the pasta sheets for 1/2 the time listed on the box.

In a skillet, heat olive oil and sauté shallots until they are translucent. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add the sausage to the pan. Use a wooden spoon to crumble the meat and break into small pieces.  Once the meat is no longer pink, add the spinach, thyme and chili flakes. Season with kosher salt. Remove pan from the heat and add goat cheese and cream cheese. Stir to combine.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and drain the lasagna sheets. Spread about one cup of the marinara sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Set aside.

Spoon/spread about 3-4 tablespoons of the spinach-sausage mixture across each lasagna sheet. Carefully roll up each sheet and place the rolls, seam side down inside the baking dish. Cover the tops of each roll with a few spoonfuls of marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.  Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for about 20 minutes.

To serve, warm up the remainder of the marinara sauce. Add a few spoonfuls to the bottom of the plate and place rolls on top.

*** I received to sample, however, all views and opinions expressed are my own.***

Macadamia Nut Pesto Pizza

Macadamia Nut Pesto Pizza

I could eat pizza all of the time.

Which, lucky for me, is brilliant since I’ve worked for universities for the past 10+ years. And if you didn’t know it before, the most popular equation on college campuses is Pizza = College Students.

True story.

Macadamia Nut Pesto Pizza

In an effort to further explore the versatility of pesto, I turned to slathering pizza with this herbaceous mixture. And not just any pesto—-but Macadamia Nut Pesto! Thanks to an excess of macadamia nuts I had in my pantry (I was on a mac nut baking binge) I was able to create another version of pesto by substituting pine nuts with them.

The natural creamy rich taste of macadamia nuts was a perfect marriage to pesto and offers some solid health benefits, too.

I made my Macadamia Nut Pesto a tad on the thicker side since I knew I wanted to use it as a “sauce” for my pizza. But if you prefer a looser consistency, just stream in a tad more olive oil when processing it. I also was pretty heavy handed with the amount used for the pizza so adjust according to your preference.

And with college football gearing up this weekend, this unique spin on a pizza pie will be a sure fire win for any game day celebration!

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Macadamia Nut Pesto Pizza

Ingredients:

16 Ounces Fresh Pizza Dough
8 Ounces Grilled Chicken Breast, sliced
1 Cup Crimini Mushrooms, sliced
1½ Cups Macadamia Nut Pesto*
8 Ounces Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, sliced
¼ Cup Yellow Cornmeal
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Macadamia Nut Pesto:
2½ Packed Cups Sweet Basil
½ Cup Roasted Macadamia Nuts, unsalted
2-3 Garlic Cloves, finely diced
½ Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
Juice from 1/2 Lemon
Approximately ½ – ¾ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste

Prepare Pesto. In a food processor, pulse garlic and nuts. Add basil, cheese, lemon juice, and salt/pepper. With the food processor on, stream in olive oil and blend until the pesto is fully incorporated. Be sure to scrape down sides in between steps. More olive oil can be added if a smoother, loose texture is desired. Refrigerate until ready to be used.

Place pizza stone or large baking sheet in the middle rack and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly dust your surface area with flour. Take dough and stretch into your desired shape. Once the oven reaches its temperature, pull the baking stone/baking sheet out of the oven, and sprinkle cornmeal on the surface. Carefully slide the dough on top and bake for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is lightly golden. Remove the crust from the oven and brush with olive oil over top. Spread an even layer of pesto over the crust. Top with the chicken, mushrooms, and cheese. Return the pizza back to the oven and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until all the cheese has melted and pizza is golden brown. Serve with additional parmesan cheese and red chili flakes.