Monday, June 18, 2012

Favorite Things

Here are a few of my favorite things from the past couple of weeks:

morning walks along the American River

Grandma Billing's famous lemon meringue pie. So happy I was able to make this with the captain. I hope I made grandma proud!

Giants games with the family.

Cherry season - hello roasted cherry brownies

pool time

BIG cookies

san luis obispo wine love <3

beautiful evening sunsets

pure exhaustion

my ever growing money tree at work.

Ps. If you haven't noticed, I've recently become obsessed with Instagram. If you have an iPhone, this app is a must get. What are you waiting for? Even better, it's totally, 100% FREE! If you want to follow me, just search for stracciatellabella. I can't promise what pictures you will see, but it is sure to be entertaining!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pesto Stuffed Chicken

This chicken so much more than pesto + chicken. It's pesto + chicken + roasted red bell pepper + mozzarella cheese. How good does that sound? Plus, you can bake it (which is what I do) or you can grill it (which is how my momma does hers). See, another recipe you can adapt to what you have in the kitchen. I could grill mine seeing as how I have a stove top grill pan, but do I really want to set off the smoke detectors and have the whole building evacuated? No, not really. I'll stick to the oven.

This recipe is one of my mom's originals. I can't remember the first time she made it, but when she did, it was so delicious. I clearly did not forget it and it is now one of my go to, super easy, can prepare ahead of time, pop in the oven when you are ready, recipes. Wow, that was a mouthful, but it's so true. It's five ingredients or less and it takes under 30 minutes to bake (depending on the size of your chicken breasts). To prep and get them ready to cook, you take one of your chicken breasts and slice it in half, well not all the way in half. You will want to create a pocket to hold the pepper and cheese. Don't worry if you are confused, I will show you a picture in a minute and you will see what I am talking about. It's easy. Promise. Would I show you something that was hard and that I couldn't do? No. 

Once you have the chicken breast with a pocket, rub it all over (inside and out with pesto) to coat. Here is a tip - if you have a huge jar of pesto, place some in a bowl so you don't contaminate the other stuff with chicken juice. In fact, before you even start, lay out a station that has your pesto, peppers and cheese ready to go so you don't go all touching everything with you chicken hands. Sorry, I'm a meat juice freak. Once they are rubbed with pesto, place the chicken breasts on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Then layer in the peppers (as much or at little as you like) and then put in a piece of cheese. I prefer to use string cheese because it's the perfect size to fit in the chicken pocket. You can use the whole stick or cut it in half. Once they are stuffed (make sure it's not too full so the cheese doesn't ooze out all over) and them put the chicken flap back on and you are ready to go. You can bake or grill right away for cover with plastic wrap or foil and cook them later (or the next day). Easy peasy and so delicious. I am willing to bet that you may make this for your next weekend dinner party or even your next backyard BBQ.

Not to forget - today is Father's Day! Is this a recipe perfect enough for Dad? It think so! Happy Father's Day to all the amazing dad's out there. I'll be spending the day with mine and you better be too! Love you Dad!


coating and stuffing station ready to go. no contamination here!

this is the flap you are looking for.

coated ALL over with pesto. it's the besto!


ready to enjoy with my fave sides!

Pesto Stuffed Chicken

2 chicken breasts
1 cup pesto (you may use less or more, but start with that and see if what you need)
1 jar roasted red bell peppers , drained
2 pieces of string cheese (or 1/2 cup grated or sliced mozzarella cheese)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with foil and place all ingredients in a row for easy assembling (see picture above). Take your chicken breast and slice a small pocket in each making sure not to cut all the way through, but to leave enough room for the cheese and peppers. Once each chicken breast has been cut, rub each one (all over, inside and out) with pesto. Coat well. Then stuff each chicken breast with the peppers and the cheese. Place the top flap of the chicken breast back on the top and make sure you have not filled it too full. You do not want everything sliding out when you're cooking it.

 If you are grilling, you can close it shut with a skewer or toothpick, but it may not be necessary. This is up to you. If you are grilling, cook until the chicken is cooked through (my guess is about 20 minutes, but I don't know for certain since I have never grilled this). If you are baking, bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the juices run clear. Once baked and ready to go, cover with foil and let sit for five minutes, then enjoy!

*Note - This recipe is totally adaptable to a large group of people, just make sure you have enough of all ingredients!*

My favorite way to enjoy this chicken is with a big scoop of garlic and parmesan risotto and green beans with shallots (another mom recipe). So good and so easy - just cook up some shallots with olive oil until soft and tender. Season with salt and pepper and then toss in your cooked green beans. I love the ones from the frozen section at Trader Joes (just heat and heat!), but use fresh or whatever you like. The perfect side dish!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Flourless Double Chocolate Pecan Cookies

These are seriously the ultimate chocolate cookie. They are slightly crunchy on the outside, gooey and soft the inside and oh so ooberly chocolatey. Plus, they are gluten free! The perfect cookie for those with celiac disease or with a wheat allergy. BONUS!

I decided to make these when the captain and our friends Matt and Lauren took a trip down to Monterey and the Central Coast for Memorial Day weekend. I always, always, bring a sweet treat (it's just something I do and now can't not do it!) when we drive and since Lauren is watching the gluten in her diet, I knew these would be the perfect thing to make. There are only six ingredients (pow sugar, cocoa powder, salt, bittersweet chocolate, pecans and egg whites) and it takes only a few minutes to whip up. Get your muscles ready though, this dough is thick and takes big muscles to mix up. That and I would recommend using a big bowl so you can really get in there and mix it up. I used a medium sized one and let me say, mixing was kinda tough. I got pow sugar and cocoa powder all over me and the floor. I eventually got it all mixed, but I think a bigger bowl would have been better. Bigger is always better, right?

This recipe makes 12 really big cookies. My best way of telling you how big these are is that they are about the size of your hand. That's big. Some people may say that is the best size for a cookie, but I think they are best to share. Or you can have one to yourself. You may just go into a chocolate coma if you eat a whole one though. Or get chocolate sweats. The captain gets those. It must mean the cookies are good. At least that's what I tell myself.

These cookies are perfect cure all - PMS, the hangries (hungry + angry), broken hearts, bad days, or just to cure that chocolate craving.

the yummy line up

chopped chocolate

dry ingredients +  chocolate + pecans

egg whites

use those muscles to mix it up!

the cookies will grow, so spread them out with enough room!

baked and smelling so delish!

 Flourless Double Chocolate Pecan Cookies (A Martha Stewart Recpie)

3 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (or other type of nut)
4 large egg whites, room temperature

 Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa, and salt. Stir in chocolate and pecans. Add egg whites and stir just until incorporated (do not overmix). Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls, 3 inches apart, onto two parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets. Bake until cookie tops are dry and crackled, about 25 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool completely. (To store, keep in an airtight container, up to 3 days.)

Just like most cookies, these are great frozen. Just freeze and then when you're ready, take one out and heat up in the microwave for a just few seconds to warm it through. It's just like they are hot out of the oven - warm and gooey. YUM!

Cowgirl Quiche

Do real men eat quiche? Mine does. In fact, he ate this one and it's called cowgirl quiche. Perhaps if I told him the name, he wouldn't. That will be my little secret. Well, I guess it's not so much of a secret since I am sure the captain will read this and see it. Sorry dear.

Quiche is great and so, so versatile. Add what you like, take away what you don't. I know I say that a lot, but I love recipes that you can adapt to your liking. Not everyone likes every single ingredient in a recipe and if you can take it out or add something you like in its place, even better. Quiche starts with two main components - crust and eggs. For the bestest crust in the whole wide word (and I'm not just saying that), use this one! So quick, so easy, and so perfect to keep in your freezer for when a quiche is calling your name. Once you have the crust, then you need your egg base. Eggs + a good guzzle of milk + salt and pepper. That's it. Of course you can use cream or half and half if you are feeling naughty, but I usually use unsweetened soy or almond milk. Use what you have though. Once you have those two things, then comes the fun part - the fillings! One of my all time favorites is one of my momma's specialties - broccoli and cheddar. No matter how many times I make it, her's always turns out better. I guess that's just a mom's touch. Or ham, green onions and swiss cheese. That's another one she makes too. Those two are so yummy, but this time around, I wanted to step it up a notch and go cowgirl on this quiche. Nothing says cowgirl more than bacon, onions, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts. A classy cowgirl that is.

I know the flavor combination sounds a little odd, but just go with me here. I promise it's good. Plus remember, the captain ate it and he doesn't like artichokes. Well, this may again be a place where I didn't tell him it was in there. I'm bad. So so bad. I also decided to use peppered bacon to add that extra little spicy kick. Why not, right? It was on sale. Cook the bacon until slightly chewy, remove from pan and then cook the rest of the ingredients until soft and tender. Mix everything together with a little of your favorite cheese (okay A LOT of cheese) and place into the pie crust. Pour over your eggy mixture and you are ready to bake. In about 45 minutes to an hour, you will have a golden brown and delicious quiche waiting for you. Just remember to put your quiche on a foil lined baking sheet before you fill it with the egg mixture. This will help you transport it to the oven without the pie plate or tin bending and so if the egg mixture spills over during baking, it doesn't make a mess in your oven. I speak from experience. Trust me on this one. It's not fun to have your head in the oven cleaning it.

Get ready to enjoy one fabulous quiche that everyone will love. -not just cowgirls and not just real men. You can serve it for breakfast (my favorite way to enjoy it, especially with some fresh fruit!) or you can even serve it for dinner with a light salad and some sliced tomatoes. I'm getting hungry, are you? 

why is bacon so delicious?

cooking those onions

add in the chopped artichoke hearts and mushrooms

whisking the eggs and milk

add the filling ingredients to the crust

add the egg mixture. if you have too much don't pour it all in

see what happens when you pour too much eggs in - they spill out. This is why you use a pan lined with foil!

quiche is done and cooling!

Cowgirl Quiche (adapted from Pioneer Woman's newest cookbook)

about 1/2 pound bacon, cooked until chewy
1/2 - 1 whole onion thinly sliced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 can (14 Oz.) Quartered Artichoke Hearts
1 pie crust (homemade or store bought)
5 whole Eggs
1 cup milk (soy, almond, regular, heavy cream - whatever you have)
1 (or up to 1 1/2) cups grated cheese (I used swiss since I had it in the fridge, but use what you have)
Salt And Pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a skillet, fry bacon until crisp. Crumble and set aside. Pour out excess grease and wipe the pan (you can leave a little bacon fat in if you like, but I just poured in a splash of olive oil)
In the same skillet, add the onions and cook for a few minutes. Add mushrooms and artichokes and cook for a few more minutes. Salt mixture to taste. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 20 minutes. While that is cooling, roll out pie crust and press into a pie plate (I used a 9'' foil pie pan - makes for easy disposal!).  Put this plate on a foil lined baking sheet!

In a large bowl, beat eggs with the milk . Add salt and peper and any other spices you may like (chives or even a pinch of cayenne). After the mushroom mixture has cooled, toss in your cheese and bacon and then place the mixture into the pie pan. If it all doesn't fit that's okay, just get as much as you can in there. Then pour of the egg mixture to cover - if that all doesn't fit, make scrambled eggs with the extras!

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45-1 hour. You can bake for slightly longer if quiche is overly jiggly. Check the quiche at about 30 minutes and if it's getting overly brown, place a piece of foil over the top for the rest of the cooking process.  Once the quiche is done, remove from oven and allow to set for ten minutes before serving. .You can eat this right away, or let it cool completely and store in the fridge until ready to eat.

Now, doesn't that sounds delish? Best thing about quiche is that you can make it ahead of time or eat it the same day. If you make it ahead for eating tomorrow, just cool competently after baking and then cover with foil and place in the fridge. When you want a slice, just cut and heat up in the microwave. If you make this and then want to freeze it, bake, cool and then wrap and freeze. When you are ready to eat it, just take it out and let it defrost. Then you can heat it up slowly in the oven or slice and heat in the microwave. How easy is that?!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

French Style Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Nothing says classic ice cream flavor like vanilla. It goes with just about everything - brownies, pie, for ice cream sandwiches, topped with fresh berries or just by itself. You really can't go wrong with vanilla and everyone should have a pint of this in there freezer for a quick dessert. Do you already have some in your freezer? Go run and check. Hurry, go!

Making homemade ice cream is not as daunting as it seems. In fact, it's really easy. Although, once you start having homemade ice cream, you may not go back to buying it at the store (sorry Ben and Jerry's). Plus, the fun part of making your own is trying out new flavors and experimenting with what you like. You can add in fruit, chocolate, your favorite candies (chopped up of course) and even nuts. I bet you are already writing down all the flavor combinations you want to try, right? It's okay, you can admit it. I've already realized that this ice cream would be great with a peanut butter swirl and shaved chocolate and some salted peanuts. How good does that sound? I could so go for a scoop of that right now, it's so hot outside!

There are two main types of ice cream - French style and traditional. French style is an egg yolk and custard base while traditional is simply milk and cream. Both are fabulous, but I seem to favor the French style. There is just something about having that custard base that makes it so much more creamy. If you are scared of cooking the custard base (or scrambling the eggs), don't be. You just have to cook it low and slow and just keep stirring. Even if you get a few lumps, not to worry. Just strain it. It's happened to me before and as long as you run it through a fine mesh strainer, you will be just fine. No one will ever know. Unless you tell them like I just did. Oops.

Here is fun factoid - July is national ice cream month. Did you know that? I sure didn't. You don't have to wait until July to make this though. If you wait that long, I might hurt you. 


steeping the vanilla in the milk and cream mixture. can you see the bean peeking out?

yolky yolk yolks

whisk the yolks until smooth

add in the warmed and steeped milk mixture to the eggs

get your cream and straining station ready

just keep stirring, just keep stirring!

churn in your ice cream maker until firm - about 20 minutes

these containers are great for ice cream and you get 3/$1 at the dollar store!

French Style Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (

1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream, divided
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream, and the salt in a medium saucepan.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pan and drop in the vanilla pod.  Heat over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is warmed through.  Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let the mixture steep for 30 minutes.

Pour the remaining cup of cream into a bowl and set a fine mesh sieve over the top.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and place over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon (about 170˚-175˚ F).  Pour the custard through the mesh strainer into the bowl with the cream.  Stir in the vanilla.  Let cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate until completely chilled.  Remove the vanilla bean before churning. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions (about 15-20 minutes or until firm).

This ice cream is a great base for other flavors too. If you want to make a fruity ice cream, you can remove the vanilla bean (just use the extract) and then once the custard has cooled, add in your fruit puree. If you want to also fold in fruit, just make sure to do it after the ice cream is churned so you don't crush them all. Ta da, fresh ice cream!


Chocolate Coconut Mocha Cupcakes

These cupcakes are the perfect combination of chocolate and coconut. Now, I know coconut scares a lot of people (why, I don't know), so if you are weary of coconut, try these out. It will be like a baby step. Maybe I will even get you to start adventuring out with coconut. Just maybe. 

I should probably tell you that although I like coconut, it's not usually my #1 craving when it comes to desserts. When it's paired with chocolate, well, that's a whole other story. I have a mild weakness for german chocolate cake (hello carmel-y coconutty topping) and chocolate dipped macaroons. There is just something about coconut and chocolate that is so delicious. Nutty, sweet and just a bit salty. That salty and sweet will get me every time. Darn it!

Now to the reason I decided to make these bad boys - Matt's birthday! His wife, Lauren, decided it would be fun to throw him a surprise birthday BBQ at their place. I thought she was going to tell him right before we came over, but she decided to make it a true surprise and not tell him at all. You go girl! You should have seen his face when the captain and I came through the door! It was a great afternoon of friends, wine and BBQ. I couldn't have asked for a better afternoon and was so glad we were able to help him celebrate his last birthday in the states (they are moving back home to England in a couple of months, SAD). To send him off to the last year in his 20's right and to put the perfect sweet note to the end of the night, I thought these cupcakes would be the best way to fulfill the birthday boy's love of coconut. I think they did just that - a soft chocolate and lightly scented coconut cupcake topped with mocha frosting and toasted coconut. Is your mouth filling up with saliva yet? Mine is. 

As much as I loved these, I will say that I had one complaint. No one else seemed to care about this, but I sure did. I am anal about my cooking though. I am sure you already figured that out. The base of this cupcake comes out so light and airy that the dense frosting kinda smooshes it. You would probably never notice, but I felt obligated to tell you this. Now you can't say I didn't warn you. Nevertheless, you must try these. So good. So delicious. 

toasted coconut - place in an oven for 350 and stir every five minutes until golden brown

mixing the batter

look who I caught licking the bowl! here is your first glimpse of the captain. isn't he cute? I think so.

ready to bake

frosting all whipped up!

cupcakes ready to eat. please don't lick the screen.

Chocolate Coconut Mocha Cupcakes (

For the Cupcakes

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-3 teaspoons coconut extract (use more or less depending on how coconutty you like it)
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (I used instant decaf, but use fresh and fully leaded if you have it!)

For the Mocha Buttercream

4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 cups powdered sugar
3-5 tablespoons cold coffee (I used instant decaf, but use fresh and fully leaded if you have it!)

For the Garnish

1 1/2 cups coconut, lightly toasted (see recipe notes below)

For the Cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add in the coffee and mix until just combined, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. The batter will be thin. Using a large scoop (about 3 tablespoons), distribute the batter into the prepared muffin tins -filling about 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 18-22 minutes (check at about 15), or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then remove them onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

For the Mocha Buttercream

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, vanilla, and salt on medium speed until creamy. In a large bowl, sift together the cocoa powder and confectioners' sugar.
Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter and mix at low speed until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Once all of the dry ingredients have been incorporated, add in 3 tablespoons of cold coffee. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and beat the buttercream for about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. If you want your frosting a little thinner, gradually add in more coffee, 1 teaspoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Frost your cooled cupcakes and garnish with toasted shaved coconut.

Please note that this recipe makes 24 cupcakes - 24 perfectly delicious cupcakes. You can always halve the recipe and make just a dozen, but if you are going to make a mess in the kitchen, make a mess  (wise words of the captain) and make all of them. Bring the extras to work, bring them to a neighbor, or make them for yourself!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad

This pasta salad is not like your normal picnic pasta salad. When I think of pasta salad I often think of macaroni salad. You know, your typical mayo based pasta salad with pickles.  Lots of pickles! I am not sure why I always go to macaroni salad, but I just do. It's a great accompaniment to a BBQ (mmm burgers!), but I don't always want a pasta salad covered in mayo and one that leaves me full and feeling heavy. That's just me though. If you like mayo only pasta salad, run away from what I am about to tell you. I wish you don't run though - this pasta will knock your socks off. I promise you that. It's so delicious.

This pasta salad is loaded, LOADED with flavor. The best part is that it is super easy to make and throw together - less than 20 minutes!  The dressing can be made a day ahead of time and you can chop the olives and halve the grape tomatoes early too! Don't you just love do ahead recipes? I know I do. It makes me less stressed in the kitchen. I will be the first to admit that not only am I bossy in the kitchen, I can get pretty cranky too. Just ask the captain. Poor guy has to put up with me. Guess he must still like me if he's been around this many years, right? Right!

Okay, back to noodles. I had my eye on this Pioneer Woman recipe for awhile (when do I not have my eye on one of her recipes - she is awesome!) and then the perfect time came to make this (and boy does it make enough to feed a crowd!). I made this last month for our Mother's Day BBQ and it was the perfect side dish to go with the burgers and grilled veggies. The sauce is super easy to throw together. Just blend (or using a food processor) sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper. Five ingredients or less? Yes, yes! Pioneer Woman's recipe called for a whole cup of olive oil, but I cut it down to 3/4 cup. Don't ask me why, I just did. If you are feeling sinful, go ahead and use a whole cup. I won't tell anyone. Once everything is blended, boil the noodles (I used whole wheat for added fiber and vitamins, but you can use regular pasta if you'd like), drain and then toss half of the dressing on the noodles. You can always add more, but start with half and then add more to coat to your liking. Then toss in the grape tomatoes, olives, parm cheese and basil. Toss everything and you are ready to enjoy. The flavor this salad gives you is a blend of pasta puttanesca and caprese salad. Don't know what either of those are, don't worry. It's just delicious. Best of all, since there is no mayo in this salad, you don't have to worry about it sitting out for hours on end if you make it for a BBQ or party. That is if it lasts that long. Trust me, it won't.

dressing ingredients

blending - this garlic from trader joes is the best!

blended and ready to use when I make the salad.

salad ingredients. get ready!

noodles boiling away

grape tomatoes, olives and cheese!

adding in half of the dressing

tossing together

ready to eat. how good does that look!?!

Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad (

1 jar Sun-dried Tomatoes (7 Oz.)
4 cloves Garlic
3 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt And Pepper, to taste
16 ounces, weight Corkscrew Pasta
1 jar Kalamata Or Assorted Olives
1 pint Ripe Cherry Tomatoes (cut In Halves)
10 leaves Basil (10-15 Leaves), Chopped Or Julienne
1-1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese, Freshly Grated

For the dressing, in a blender combine sundried tomatoes (drain the oil they are in), garlic, salt, pepper, and vinegar until tomatoes are chopped. Continue blending while drizzling in olive oil until mixed together. Can be made the day ahead or the day of.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water until no longer hot.
Pour 2/3 of the dressing over the pasta. Add olives and toss together. Add remaining ingredients, tossing together and adding more dressing until the salad is coated to your liking. Serve on in a big bowl with an extra sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

 This pasta is great the day it's made, but it's even better the next day!