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I absolutely love to cook, and here are my top essentials I always keep on hand because I use them so much:

Olive Oil

olive oil

Olive Oil is my top staple that I always keep in my kitchen.  I use it in so many things, that I go through a lot of it.  Olive Oil gives most things a great flavor, and it is much healthier than using butter.  If you are saving an expensive bottle of Olive Oil only for special occasion, but aware that once you open the bottle it only lasts several months at the most.

Chicken Broth

chicken broth

Chicken Broth is another essential pantry item I keep in my kitchen.  I do like to make my own on occasion, but sometimes I do not have the time.   Regardless of whether or not you use Beef Broth, Chicken Broth or Veggie Broth, it is nice to have around.  It can be used for so many things such as soups, rice dishes, braising meat, sauces and so much more.

Minced Garlic

minced garlic

I keep minced garlic in a jar in my refrigerator just in case I don’t happen to have any fresh garlic in the house.  Fresh garlic is always better, but minced garlic in a jar is better than not having any garlic at all.  As an Italian, I tend to use garlic in just about everything, and it’s very healthy for you.

Assorted Vinegar’s

vinegars

I love finding new flavored vinegar’s to keep in my pantry.  I like to play around with making my own salad dressings.   Vinegar can also be used in homemade marinades for meat or sauces.  I use balsamic vinegar the most, but I also love the champagne vinegar from Trader Joes that I really love.

Dijon Mustard

dijon mustard

Dijon mustard can be used for so many different things such as salad dressings, marinades, dipping sauces, etc.  I have used Dijon mustard on filet roasts, salmon, chicken, and pork roasts.  Of course, I mix it with other things as well.  I have experimented over the years, so I have learned what taste best and what does not.  One that I really like is Dijon mustard and brown sugar on salmon.  I am not a huge salmon fan, but I do really like it that way.

Dried Herbs/Seasonings

dried herbs

When I don’t have fresh herbs, I like to have dried herbs to flavor the foods I make.  Top herbs that I find useful are:  Thyme, Oregano, Cayenne Pepper, Nutmeg, Dried Mustard and Italian Seasoning.

Canned Tomatoes/Fresh Tomatoes/Tomato Puree

Tomatoes

I cook a lot of pasta, so I always have these three things in my kitchen.  Tomatoes or puree can also be used for so much more like homemade salsa, Mexican rice as well as other rice dishes, etc.

Pasta/Rice

Pasta and rice

I always keep pasta and rice on hand.  If I am in a hurry and don’t really have time to plan a meal, I know that I can pretty quickly make a pasta dish, rice dish or casserole.

Valentine’s Day Desserts

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Here are some unique and classic twists on Valentine’s Day desserts to share with the one’s you love!

A sugar cookie that also serves as a love letter using a food-safe marker.

Double Cherry Slab Pie

Double Cherry Slab Pie

Double Chocolate Brownies

Double Chocolate Brownies

Lavender Lemon Pudding Cakes

Lavender Lemon Pudding Cakes

Red Velvet Heart Cake

Red Velvet Heart-Shaped Cake

Chocolate-Ancho Creme Brulee

Ancho Chilli and Chocolate Crème Brule

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cakes

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cake

Brownie Heart Cupcakes

Chocolate Heart Eclairs

I hope you enjoy and have a fantastic Valentine’s Day!

Sheri Negri
GourmetGirlDoesRE

 

Leg of Lamb Roast with Guinness Beer

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Ingredients:

  • 7 to 8 pound leg of lamb roast with bone in
  • 8-10 garlic cloves
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups Guinness stout beer
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons dried juniper berries (you can find at Whole Foods) – other substitutes could be dried blueberries or blackberries
  • 3 bay leaves
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  • Let leg of lamb roast sit for approximately 10-15 minutes to reach room temperature.
  • Insert 8 of the garlic cloves into meat by creating small wholes with a knife all over roast (both sides).
  • Baste lamb with olive oil, part of the chopped rosemary, salt and pepper.
  • In a bowl mix the Guinness stout beer, honey, chopped garlic (about 1 to 2 cloves), juniper berries, and bay leaves.  Note:  It is best to heat the honey so it blends with the bear mixture.
  • Place lamb roast into roasting pan.
  • Pour part of the mixture carefully over lamb roast.  Leave enough for basting.  Use a spoon to get some of the juniper berries, garlic and rosemary and place over the lamb.
  • Turn over down to 325 and place lamb into over.
  • Baste every 10-15 minutes.
  • Cook 13-15 minutes per pound for medium rare or until internal temperature reaches 130 to 135 degrees.  Lamb is best at medium rare!
  • Remove the roast from the oven, cover it loosely with foil and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes before carving. Serve with pan drippings.

Side dish with leg of lamb roast:

  • Roasted sweet potatoes or Yukon gold potatoes – Cut potatoes into large pieces and place into bowl; mix salt, pepper, a small amount of olive oil and chopped rosemary, place potatoes into roasting pan before you place the lamb roast into the pan.  The flavors of the marinade on the lamb will soak into the potatoes creating a great flavor.

Cheeseburger Bites

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I came up with this new appetizer for the super bowl party I went to, and everyone liked my little cheeseburger bites.

This recipe makes 30 mini cheeseburger bites.

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages of puff pastry
  • 1 package of bacon
  • 1 package of ground beef or meat of your choice
  • 30 small slices of cheddar cheese (about 1/2 block of cheese)
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly into long stripes
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite spicy BBQ sauce (I used my homemade stuff)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Thaw the puff pastry – approximately 30 to 40 minutes.
  2. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a pan and cook the onions until caramelized on medium heat (approximately 15-20 minutes).  Set aside.
  3. Cut bacon into small pieces and cook until done and set aside.
  4. Lightly oil tartlet pans.
  5. Cut each puff pastry piece into 9 squares.
  6. Place all the puff pastry squares into the tarlet pan.
  7. In a bowl combine ground beef, BBQ sauce, parmesan cheese, and spices.
  8. Role the ground beef mixture into small balls and place in the puff pastry.
  9. Baste the top of the ground beef with a small amount of BBQ sauce.
  10. Add the caramelized onions on top of the beef, then add a slice of cheddar cheese and top with the bacon pieces.
  11. Cook in over at 375 for 25-35 minutes.
  12. Let cool, and then place on a platter to serve.

 

Stuffed Chicken With Tomato Relish

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Trying a new spin on stuffed chicken!

Ingredients:

4 thinly sliced chicken breasts
4 slices prosciutto
1 bundle of fresh basil
4 long slices of manchego cheese (or one of your favorite cheeses)
1 to 2 cups Italian bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 small carton of cherub tomatoes
1/2 yellow onion
1 roasted red bell pepper
1 cut white corn
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Pound out the chicken breasts and pat dry.
  2. Place the prosciutto on top of the chicken, then add the sliced cheese and 4 to 5 leaves of the fresh basil.
  3. Roll the chicken tightly and hold with a toothpick and set aside.
  4. Put beaten eggs in one bowl and the Italian bread crumbs in another bowl.
  5. Coat chicken with the egg mixture and then the bread crumb mixture.
  6. Place chicken in a pan and place in the oven for 20-30 minutes at 375.
  7. While the chicken is cooking, make the tomato relish.
  8. Either roast one red bell pepper yourself in oven before putting in the chicken, or buy already made from store.
  9. Cut the cherub tomatoes in half and place in bowl.
  10. Add chopped onion, chopped red bell pepper, chopped Italian parsley and corn.
  11. Stir relish mixture together and add salt a pepper to taste.
  12. Once chicken is done, take out from oven and let sit for a few minutes.
  13. Plate the chicken and relish and top with a balsamic reduction sauce if you wish!

Mushroom Bruschetta

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If you like mushrooms, you will love this recipe!

Ingredients:

  • 8 to 12 cups of your favorite mushrooms (I used crimini, baby shiitake & chanterelle)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • approximately 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • fresh Italian parsley
  • fresh rosemary
  • sea salt to taste
  • 1 baguette of french bread
  • 1 package herb goat cheese

Preparation:

To make the crustinis, cut the baguette into small slices; bast both sides with a small amount of olive oil (don’t use too much); use your indoor or outdoor grill to grill both sides (approximately 1 to 2 minutes on each side–you want the grill marks).

In a large frying pan melt the butter and olive oil on medium heat; add the mushrooms, rosemary and salt; don’t add the parsley until almost done; set aside and let cool.

Spread a small amount of herbed goat cheese onto the crustini and then top with the mushroom mixture.  Place on patter and serve.  As a garnish you can chop up more fresh parsley and sprinkle over bruschetta.

 

Turkey Meatloaf

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Here is an easy and healthy meatloaf recipe.  My husband doesn’t like meatloaf, but he liked this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 package ground turkey
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning (you can also do fresh thyme, oregano, and/or Italian parsley)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 to 1 cups spicy BBQ sauce (see my recipe below)
  • 1 egg white
  • Other finely chopped veggies optional

Preparation:

Cook onions in a frying pan with a approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil until the onions are traslucent.  Let cool and then mix with the rest of the ingredients until everything is evenly mixed together.

You can use a loaf pan, or a larger pan and just mold the turkey mixture into a rectangular shape.  Make sure you spray the pan with cooking spray beforehand.  Top the uncooked meatloaf with more BBQ sauce and cook at 375 for 30-38 minutes.

Sheri’s Kick Ass BBQ Sauce Recipe

  • 50 oz. ketchup
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons dried mustard
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon cayanne peppeer
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon chili flakes
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons chili powder (I like ancho chili powder best)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper
  • kosher salt to taste

Combine ingredients into a large pot.  Bring to a boil then simmer for 50-60 minutes.  Let sit, and then put in glass containers to store in the refrigerator.

I made this recipe and gave as Christmas gifts this year.  I put them in cute jars with custom labels.  Everyone whose tried it so far really likes it.

Spicy Chicken & Eggplant Pasta

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I just created this new recipe this week for my friends, and they enjoyed it.

Ingredients:

  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into large pieces
  • 2 cups sun-dried tomatoes, Julienne style
  • 10-15 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • fresh oregano to taste
  • fresh thyme to taste
  • fresh basil to taste
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
  • 1 large can of tomato puree
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Baste chicken breasts with olive oil, salt and pepper; bake chicken in the oven at 375 for 35 minutes (turn after 20 minutes); let cool and cut into bite size pieces; set aside.
  2. Cut eggplant into large pieces; place in a roasting pan; drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper; put in oven at 400 for 20-30 minutes; take out of oven and set aside.
  3. Add approximately 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil into skillet and add chopped onions; cook at medium high heat until onions are translucent; add chopped tomatoes, and minced garlic; cook for approximately 10 minutes, and then add the eggplant, garlic and spices; cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, and then add tomato puree, heavy cream and the chicken; simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes and serve over your favorite pasta; top with fresh parmesan cheese!

Pumpkin Gnocchi

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Ingredients:

  • 1 (15 oz.) Can Pumpkin Puree (drain excess water)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Dash Of Nutmeg
  • 2 3/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/3 Cup Melted Butter
  • 6-7 Finely Chopped Sage Leaves
  • 1 Large Clove Garlic, Minced
  • Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:

  1. Mix together the flour, pumpkin and seasonings to make a soft dough.
  2. Add additional flour if the dough is sticky or does not hold together.
  3. Divide the dough into 6 parts, and on a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a rope about 1 inch in diameter.
  4. Cut the rope into 1 inch pieces and roll each lightly along the floured surface.
  5. Roll each piece of dough over a wooden paddle with ridges or over the tines of a fork to form grooves in the dough.
  6. Place on a lightly floured baking sheet. You can refrigerate the gnocchi until you are ready to cook them.
  7. Bring a large pot of lightly salted wanter to a boil and cook the gnocchi until they rise to the surface (approximately 2 to 3 minutes).
  8. Strain and set aside.

Butter Sage Sauce:

  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet on medium heat and add chopped or whole sage leaves.
  2. Add gnocchi to skillet and stir for a minute then take off the heat.
  3. Serve gnocchi and add freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Mac & Cheese

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Check out my Mac & Cheese recipe.  I made it as an appetizer and put it into little cups on Thanksgiving.  It was a big hit!  You can use whatever cheese you want.  I have experimented using many different types of cheeses, and I have found using Gruyère and Fontina cheese is the best!  I have also used smoked Gouda and Fontina which is pretty darn good as well.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons powdered mustard
  • 6 cups milk
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 package Gruyère cheese, grated (approximately 12 oz.)
  • 1 package fontina cheese, grated (approximately 12 oz.)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon or more of cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions:

  •  Preheat oven to 350.
  • Cook macaroni in a pot and set aside.
  • In a separate pot melt the butter and then whisk in four and mustard; continue to stir for about 5 minutes to get rid of all the lumps; stir in milk, onion, bay leaf, paprika, and cayenne pepper; simmer for ten minutes then remove the bay leaf.
  • Temper the eggs and then stir in 3/4 of the grated cheese; add salt and pepper.
  • Oil the casserole dish and add the pasta.
  • Pour milk and cheese mixture over pasta evenly and top with the remaining cheese.
  • Sprinkle Italian bread crumbs over the top and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.