Sunday Family Dinner

The Birthday Boys GO BIG!

April 2019 Fam Din
What can I say about these two dudes?

Not only do they share a birthmonth but they also share a special connection – they’re the best of buds.

And they also share a similar sensibility of foods….

More on that later.

April 2019 Fam Din
To kick off Fam Din, we needed cocktails….something of the tropical nature as a nod to my BIL C.

April 2019 Fam Din
And what evokes “tropical” than a big batch of Blended Passionfruit Margaritas??

April 2019 Fam Din
Aren’t they lovely?

Slightly sweet, super tart and packed a punch that you don’t see coming.

April 2019 Fam Din
As for the food menu, the birthday dudes pretty much wanted ALL THINGS SEAFOOD!

Lobster, crabs, calamari….

I mean, no complaints here!

April 2019 Fam Din
First appetizer was per C’s request – Crispy Calamari with Marinara Sauce.

April 2019 Fam Din
V took the lead with this and we inhaled a few trays of them.

April 2019 Fam Din
C also wanted LOBSTAH!

Seester steamed several lobsters and shelled them. Look at all of those chunks of gorgeous meat!

April 2019 Fam Din
But hey–we just didn’t enjoy the meat.

Seester T took also took the lobster “tomalley”, aka “lobster fat” and mixed it with mayo and spices to create these decadent Lobster Tomalley Crostini.

SUPER scrumptious and a great way to use all parts of the lobster.

April 2019 Fam Din
Then it was time to get the Littlings‘ involved — even if Lucasaurus was one of the birthday boys.

April 2019 Fam Din
We had them trim greens beans that seestrah T used later to make Stir-Fried Garlic Green Beans. It’s a veggie dish that even the munchkins enjoy!

April 2019 Fam Din
Now back to some decadence….

If you’ve been following my Instagram, you saw that a few months ago, I finally got to try Beef Ribeye Cap Steaks – a beef cut that I’ve been coveting for a LONG time.

April 2019 Fam Din

The cap is the top, most tender and marbleized portion that runs above the ribeye steak.

It is so beefy, so packed with flavor….it’s incredible.

So although neither birthday boy explicitly requested it, we knew it would be a hit with them and asked brother V to cook some of up on the cast iron.

April 2019 Fam Din
After they had rested a bit, Nini sliced them up….

And she had a couple of onlookers — just in case she had dropped anything on the floor.

April 2019 Fam Din
Take a gander!

April 2019 Fam Din
Oh!

I almost forgot about these!

I decided to grill up some spears because they looked quite lovely that morning.

April 2019 Fam Din
After I pulled them off the grill, I topped them with a quick dressing I had made earlier to deepen their flavors.

Grilled Asparagus with Salsa Verde – awesome alongside any summertime meal.

April 2019 Fam Din
Lucas had two requests for dinner….crabs and mint chip ice cream.

Well actually, he also wanted plain rice too.

Our little Asian dude….

April 2019 Fam Din
Initially we were going to pick up several Dungeness crabs to steam up but when we got to the store—no Dungeness crabs were to be found!

DOH!

April 2019 Fam Din
So we took a quick run to Costco and picked up a few pounds of Alaskan King Crab Legs …. and as it turns out, those are actually Lucasaurus‘ fave.

April 2019 Fam Din
CAUGHT!

Fam on their devices during Fam Din!

BUSTED!

April 2019 Fam Din
We’ll give them a pass this time.

Back in the kitchen we returned our attention to the huge bowl of lobster meat.

April 2019 Fam Din
And with the assist of her kiddos, seester N created this STUNNING platter of Lobster Rolls.

April 2019 Fam Din
I know….

Calamari, Tomalley Crostinis, Ribeye Caps, King Crab….

April 2019 Fam Din
And now, Lobster Rolls, too?!?

I have no excuses….

…because I was too busy eating….

April 2019 Fam Din
Our plates, quite literally, ran over.

April 2019 Fam Din
Will these munchkins ever understand that eating like this isn’t “normal” for most 6-10 year olds?

But I’m okay with that because I’m banking that they’ll make these kinds of dishes for me when I’m 80 years old.

April 2019 Fam Din
Here’s Leia patiently waiting for us to finish dinner so that we could start the next episode of Game of Thrones.

April 2019 Fam Din
And then it was dessert time!

My nephew/godbebe doesn’t enjoy cake. He likes donuts and mint chip ice cream….the green kind.

For his birthday dessert, I made him a quick Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Pie.

April 2019 Fam Din
The base was an Oreo cookie crust and then it was filled with mint chip ice cream. I topped it with fresh whipped cream, Andes mint chocolates (a nod to our Grandpa who used to give them to us as kiddos when we were good) and chunks of a new Oreo-Mint candy bar.

But here’s my confession…

I DIDN’T MAKE THE CRUST – IT WAS STORE BOUGHT!

We were running around that morning with so many errands that by the time I got to the store, I just picked up the crust thinking that it would save me time.

But when I used it…THE GUILT!

Really!! It would have taken me all of 15 minutes to make the crust but I took the short cut. Which I get…is fine in most cases. But I felt so guilty and came clean to everyone….. I made a vow to make it up at the next dinner.

April 2019 Fam Din
As for C….the man loves him some green tea. So this oldie but goodie came out again — Green Tea Match Tiramisu.

April 2019 Fam Din

Needless to say, these dude were very happy with their Birthday Menu. And how could they not – it was all decadently delicious!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY Lucas and C! 

April 2019 Fam Din

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This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Blended Passionfruit Margaritas
Appetizers: Crispy Calamari with Marinara Sauce, Lobster Tomalley Crostini
Entree: Beef Ribeye Cap Steaks, Alaskan King Crab Legs, Lobster Rolls
Sides: Stir-Fried Garlic Green Beans, Grilled Asparagus with Salsa Verde, Steamed Rice
Dessert: Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Pie, Green Tea Match Tiramisu

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Sunday Family Dinner

Brother’s “Simple and Easy” Family Dinner

November 2018 Fam Din
Us: “Brother, what do you want for your birthday fam din?”

Him: “Um…I don’t know. Let me get back to you.”

November 2018 Fam Din

Two weeks later….

Us: “Brother, you’ve got to decide what you want for fam din…it’s in a couple of days.”

Him: “Um……”

Us: “Yes?”

Him: “Um….how about something simple and easy, like Italian?”

November 2018 Fam Din

Us: “Itallian…simple and easy?? But ok, Italian it is!”

Brothers…..what are going to do with them?

But at least we had a theme so we were off to the races compiling an Italian feast for him.

November 2018 Fam Din
The day of I decided to bake up a tray of Rosemary Focaccia for us to munch on….and mostly because I’m a carboholic and love bread.

November 2018 Fam Din
While the focaccia dough was on its second rise, N made us a few cocktails using Italian sodas. These were her Blood Orange Spritzers and they went down way too smooth!

Dangerous!

November 2018 Fam Din
Of course, because it’s us, there was a Cheese and Charcuterie Board.

November 2018 Fam Din
Some classics you just can never have enough of.

November 2018 Fam Din
By then I had pulled the Rosemary Focaccia out of the oven. After it rested for a few minutes, we sliced it up and dipped it into balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

November 2018 Fam Din
Along with the rosemary, you may have noticed the large flakes of salt on the top of the focaccia. We’re BIG fans of Maldon and love putting it on everything– but if you’re not into it, a light sprinkle of fine sea salt would be fine, too.

November 2018 Fam Din
Nice little bites for appetizers, right?

But hang on…THERE WAS MORE!

November 2018 Fam Din

V & L brought made two more dishes for us to nosh on as appetizers.

First, was a big ol’ pot of Meatballs with Marinara Sauce. The meatballs were perfectly bite-size and tender!

November 2018 Fam Din
And second, they made Zuppa Toscana – a warm and comforting soup that had goodness like bacon, sausage, potatoes, kale and chicken stock.

November 2018 Fam Din
We hadn’t had a soup at Fam Din for quite awhile and we all loved it!

November 2018 Fam Din

Yes, for those of you that are keeping count–that’s a total of four appetizers.

Gluttons? Maybe.

But we REALLY like leftovers.

November 2018 Fam Din
Believe it or not, as soon as we finished with the last appetizer, we jumped back into the kitchen to get dinner ready.

Okay…so maybe “gluttons” is more appropriate.

But we’re 100% alright with that.

November 2018 Fam Din
T took the lead on the pasta dish for the evening. She was interested in making some variation of stuffed shells and when given the choice for protein, Brother went for seafood.

And man oh man…was it decadent!

November 2018 Fam Din
The filling consisted of lump crab, shrimp and scallops—of which the latter two were blanched in lobster stock! There was also aromatics, seasonings, mayo and the tamales from the shellfish.

HELLA RICH and oh so delish!

November 2018 Fam Din
In addition to the stuffed shells, I made crispy Pork Milanese….because why not make another entree right?

November 2018 Fam Din
Though I did realize that we needed some greens to offset the richness of both of the entrees.

November 2018 Fam Din

With Nini’s help, I pulled together a quick salad of Arugula with Citrus and Parmesan Shavings.

And yes, it did make us feel better.

November 2018 Fam Din
Oh man…we were stuffed. And there was still the birthday dessert!

So we sent the humanlings off to walk the fur babies for awhile to burn off some of the dinner.

November 2018 Fam Din
Bella looks like a zombie.

November 2018 Fam Din
These two Cousies really like this pose a lot.

November 2018 Fam Din
Back in the casa, seester N put the finishing touches on the dessert she made – Tiramisu!

Her desserts are always so purrrrty.

November 2018 Fam Din

And Molto Delizioso!

November 2018 Fam Din
Happy Birthday V!

November 2018 Fam Din
And when all was said and done, we had a good laugh as we recalled all of the dishes we had made for Brother’s “simple and easy” dinner.

Brothers….what are you gonna do with them, right? ❤
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This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Blood Orange Spritzers, Various Wines
Appetizers: Rosemary Focaccia, Cheese & Charcuterie, Meatballs with Marinara Sauce, Zuppa Toscana
Entree: Seafood Stuffed Pasta Shells, Pork Milanese
Sides: Arugula with Citrus and Parmesan Shavings
Dessert:
Tiramisu

Condiments/Sauces

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Marinara Sauce

I make a lot of pastas and pizzas…. A LOT.

But I can’t help it – I’m Italian! Well, pretty sure I was in a past life at least.

So when a gal cooks a ton of pastas and pizzas, a gal has got to have a trusty marinara sauce that she can rely on. And I just so happen to have a great one that’s quite easy to make, especially in large batches.

Here’s how….

First, wrangle up some basic ingredients. A few aromatics, a couple of herbs & spices and of course, tomatoes. I prefer San Marzano tomatoes but any canned plum tomato will be fine.

Marinara Sauce

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and cook down some onions and garlic. Throw in some red chili flakes, oregano, fennel seeds and cook for an additional minute or two.

Marinara Sauce

While the aromatics are doing their magic, crush up a few cans of tomatoes. And because it’s fun to play with your food, I use my hands to do this.

Marinara Sauce

Add the crushed tomatoes and the juices to the pot and stir in some chopped Italian parsley and bay leaves.

Marinara Sauce

Simmer the ingredients, partially covered until it has reduced and thickened.

Marinara Sauce

Add the basil and puree the ingredients until smooth. Season with additional salt, pepper and that’s it!

Marinara Sauce

Simple to make and a delicious addition to any recipe that calls for a marinara. The sauce also freezes beautifully so you can always have it on hand.

Marinara Sauce

Told ya it was easy.

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Marinara Sauce
Makes about 6 cups

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 28-ounce cans whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes (or standard plum tomatoes)
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
2 dried bay leaves
1/4 cup chopped basil leaves
kosher salt and pepper
1 tablespoon sugar, as needed

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes until they have become soft and translucent. Stir in the red chili flakes, oregano, fennel seeds and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.

While the aromatics cook, pour the tomatoes into a large bowl with its juices. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes and discard any tough core pieces that may remain. Pour the crushed tomatoes and juices into the pot. Stir in the parsley and bay leaves. Allow the contents to come to a soft boil. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer, partially covered.

Allow the sauce to simmer for 30-40 minutes, occasionally stirring. Once the sauce has thickened and reduced, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the basil leaves. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Using an immersion blender (or standard blender), puree the sauce until smooth. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Depending on the tomatoes, you may need to add a bit of sugar to cut down some of the acidity.

The sauce can be used immediately or can be refrigerated in airtight containers for up to 3 days. You may also freeze the sauce for up to a few months, however, this recipe is not intended for pressure canning/jarring. Pressure canning/jarring recipes require a high amount of acidity to avoid harmful bacteria.

Pastas/Noodles · Pork

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!

Appetizers/Small Plates · Sunday Family Dinner

Crispy Arancini stuffed with Mozzarella

Crispy Arancini stuffed with Mozzarella

Let me tell ya….

I’ve learned two things since we’ve started our Sunday Family Dinners.

Crispy Arancini stuffed with Mozzarella

First is that my family is obsessed with food. So obsessed that while we’re gorging on a deliciously bountiful Sunday Family Dinner, we already begin planning what’s on the menu for next month! We’ve got issues!

And second—we always, ALWAYS make too much food. It’s pretty ridiculous.

Crispy Arancini stuffed with Mozzarella

At our last European themed dinner, my family fixed up Chicken Marsala with Angel Hair Pasta, Beef Wellington with Green Peppercorn Sauce, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Antipasti of Grilled Vegetables, Crispy Arancini, and Chocolate Mousse in Phyllo Cups. A little overboard, eh?

But we’ve also grown up with the mentality that it’s always better to have more food than less food. After all, leftovers are delicious!

Crispy Arancini stuffed with Mozzarella

I jumped on the chance to make Beef Wellington for the fam bam. Unfortunately after all the time and effort (and stress!), it was just “meh”. Oh well, chalk it up to experience…..

Thank goodness my saving grace were the Arancini I made to snack on while we were fixing up dinner. These Arancini were made of mushroom risotto balls that were stuffed with mozzarella cheese and then breaded with Panko. I fried these beauties until golden brown and then made some marinara to dunk them in. They came out wonderfully crisp on the outside and rich and creamy on the inside. Delizioso!

I can hardly wait for our next Sunday Family Dinner coming up this weekend. It’s EXTRA special because all the Nguyen Siblings and their families will be attendance—gathered together from New York, San Francisco, San Diego, and Orange County. There’s no doubt it will be delish but more importantly, it will be filled with tons of love and laughter!

And as the cherry on top–our theme will be honoring the flavors of New Orleans! *drools*

Until next time!

This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Vino
Appetizers: Crispy Arancini with Marinara
Entrees:Chicken Marsala with Angel Hair Pasta, Beef Wellington with Green Peppercorn Sauce, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Antipasti of Grilled Vegetables
Dessert: Chocolate Mousse in Phyllo Cups

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Crispy Arancini stuffed with Mozzarella
Makes approximately 30-36 balls

Ingredients:

3 cups cooked Risotto, chilled
3 dozen ¼-inch pieces of mozzarella cheese
1 cup flour, seasoned with black pepper and kosher salt
3 large eggs, beaten
2 cups panko bread crumbs
vegetable oil
Marinara Sauce
Italian Parsley for garnish

Using a spoon or small ice cream scooper, spoon out 1 tablespoon of chilled risotto. Gently flatten out the risotto and use your index finger to press an indentation in the middle. Place one piece of the mozzarella cheese in the center and fold over the sides to cover. Use both hands to roll and evenly shape into a ball. Place the arancini on a wax paper lined plate and repeat until they have all been formed. Transfer the plate to the refrigerator and chill for 20-25 minutes.

While the arancini chills, take 3 shallow dishes and place the flour, eggs, and Panko bread crumbs into each. Fill a heavy bottomed pot with about 3 inches of vegetable oil and heat to 375 degrees F.

Working in batches, dredge a few of the arancini in the flour, then the eggs, and finally the Panko breadcrumbs to coat. Gently shake off the excess between each step. Place the prepared arancini on a cookie sheet that has been covered with cooking spray.

In batches, fry the arancini in the heated oil for 4-5 minutes or until golden browned. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Transfer to a platter and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately with warmed marinara sauce.

Pastas/Noodles · Pork · Sponsored

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.***