Sausage & Pesto Campanelle

After a weekend on the road and eating out, it felt good to be back in the kitchen on a Monday evening!  Taking my recipe for Basic Pesto I created this delicious combination that’s perfect for summer night with a glass of wine and crusty bread.

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SAUSAGE & PESTO CAMPANELLE

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1 1/2 Cups Basic Basil Pesto
  • 1 Lbs. Campanelle Pasta
  • 3 Links Sweet Italian Sausage, Casings Removed
  • 8 Ounces Fresh Mozzarella Balls
  • Red Pepper Flakes

Instructions

  • Prepare pesto per my recipe and set aside.
  • Place pasta in boiling water and cook 10-11 minutes.
  • While pasta is cooking, brown Italian sausage in a pan until cooked through.  Don’t break it all up completed as the dish is better with small and large pieces both.
  • Drain pasta and place in a large bowl.  Add in sausage, mozzarella and 1 cup of pesto.
  • Stir together until combined.  You may need to add more pesto depending on taste and personal preference.
  • Serve immediately and top with parmesan and red pepper flakes to taste.

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The combination of crumbly sausage, bright pesto and slightly creamy mozzarella that gives this dish great balance.  No fuss and few dirty dishes for a simply tasty dinner.  Enjoy it with a glass of wine and good company.  Dig in!

Twiisted Burgers & Sushi – Medina, OH

You don’t exactly expect to find the unusual combination of burgers & sushi anywhere, but especially not 30 miles south of Cleveland in Medina, Ohio.  The surprise and delight were both there though when we settled on this spot this past weekend for dinner with my aunt and uncle.  A few miles north of the town square, this free-standing building has a modern, but causal decor split into a dining room and bar with high top tables.  We were greeted quickly on a Friday night and sat immediately at a dining table close to the sushi chefs.

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Our friendly server took our drink order as we settled on various martinis, wine and a Kentucky mule.  There’s a good selection of cocktails, wines and craft beers and the prices are all reasonable.  With drinks in hand, we looked over the large menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and of course their signature burgers and sushi.  While we didn’t get any starters, the duck wings and pulled pork egg rolls sounded and looked amazing.

Two in our group had burgers.  This Fun-Gi was a fresh burger patty topped with a marinated portobello mushroom, roasted garlic mayo, onion straws, melted swiss and a fried egg.  My uncle thought it was awesome and it looked delicious!  My wife had the Twiisted Classic with bacon, cheddar, pickled onion, lettuce and tomato and was equally pleased.  Both were served on fresh brioche buns and were topped with a “sushi pickle” – dill and cream cheese rolled in rice and seaweed.  Your choice of sweet potato waffle or regular fries were hot and crispy, the latter served with house made ketchup.

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My aunt and I sampled a few sushi rolls which were fresh and well-prepared.  The traditional spicy tuna and Philly rolls were good and prepared well, but nothing special.  The specialty rolls though were fantastic combinations, and frankly, gigantic!  The Embassy is shrimp tempura, smoked salmon, avocado and cream cheese, tempura battered and fried, then topped with spicy crab, spicy mayo and eel sauce.  The Medina Bee (the high school mascot) is shrimp tempura, spicy crab, tuna and carrots topped with eel sauce, spicy mayo and wasabi mayo.  Equally tasty, both specialties were beautiful and expertly prepared.

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It was a surprising night out in Medina, but it won’t be anymore when we return again and again!  And there’s no doubt why the folks here have catered for the Indians, Cavs and many companies in the area.  Whether a weeknight, special night out or a group event, I suggest you add Twiisted to your list of places to visit.  You can find out more on their website at twiisted.com.  Dig in!

Sweet & Crunchy BBQ Potato Chips

I’ve always wanted to make my own potato chips!  And frankly, for as easy as they were, it’s silly that I haven’t up to this point.  Grilling steaks for Father’s Day made for a great excuse to come up with a BBQ potato chip recipe.  It took a little taste-testing, but the recipe below had the right amount of sweet, savory and salty to stand up to the bold flavor of a perfectly medium-rare NY strip!

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SWEET & CRUNCHY BBQ POTATO CHIPS

Ingredients

  • 2 Lbs. Russet Potatoes
  • 1/4 Cup White Vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. Salt
  • 2 Tbs. Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Smoked Sweet Paprika
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Tsp. Onion Powder

Instructions

  • Peel and wash potatoes.  Slice about 1/8-inch thick using a sharp knife or mandolin (much easier).
  • Place potatoes in a large bowl and cover with cold water.  Toss with your hands, let sit for 10 minutes and then drain.
  • Pour vinegar over potatoes and then cover the rest of the way with cold water.  Allow to soak for 2 hours.
  • In a small bowl, combine salt, sugar, paprika, pepper and onion powder.  You’ve created BBQ seasoning!!  Set aside for when potatoes are cooked.
  • Drain potatoes and dry thoroughly.
  • Fry in small batches in 300 degree vegetable or canola oil.  Stir occasionally for even frying until light golden brown.
  • Remove and allow to drain on wire racks or brown paper.  Sprinkle with BBQ seasoning mixture and then place in a large bowl.
  • Continue with this process until all potatoes are fried, dusted and cooled.
  • Finally, toss the remaining seasoning over the bowl of potatoes and serve.

This is a very simple process that turns out delicious results!  My family said we will absolutely have to make these again in the future.  It was definitely a treat and a great causal side dish to serve with steaks.  The recipe above was easily devoured by a group of 8 people.  You can probably double it and still not have much left over.  Make ’em for your next occasion or when you’re experimenting on a weekend.  Dig in!

Senate – Cincinnati, OH

Having a summer lunch with my nephew, we wanted to check out somewhere kinda funky – he appreciates different food!  In the new Summit Park in Blue Ash (a Cincinnati suburb) Senate opened a new spot.  Now my nephew had been to the downtown OTR location, but this was my first time at either location.  The new store is a beautiful spot with tons of seating, indoor and out.  There’s tables, bar seats, banquets and a private room for meetings.  It’s open, bright and looks out onto the new park so it was a perfect setting for sports talk and mowing down some serious food!

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Senate is known for their gourmet hot dog combinations, but the menu has a wonderful selection of salads, shareable plates and sandwiches.  There’s also a great beer, wine and craft cocktail menu, but we settled on a few sodas while we looked over the ridiculous combinations.  My nephew ordered the Korean – an all-beef hot dog on brioche bun covered with homemade kimchi, short rib, pickled cucumbers and sesame seeds.  The thing was huge and looked amazing!  He devoured it and I honestly don’t know where he put it all!

I settled on the Trailer Park – all-beef hot dog on brioche bun with bacon, american cheese, cole slaw and crushed Grippos BBQ potato chips (btw, they’re the best EVER!).  The flavor and texture combination was amazing, although you need to unhinge your jaws to get your mouth around it all!  Now, there’s a few selections of sides, including duck fat fries.  We figured it was a “guys lunch” though so we went a little nuts and split the poutine.  Duck fat fries are smothered in cheese curds, braised short rib and gravy.  They could just lay that plate on the table and drop the mic – they were the richest, potato-iest, gooiest pile of heaven you’ll ever eat.  We couldn’t even finish them and we both wanted to cry.

Great service, perfect execution and a beautiful new store made this a really great afternoon with my buddy.  I highly recommend checking out any of their locations, but Blue Ash is a tough location to beat for atmosphere.  We are already planning our next trip for lunch or to dig into the Sunday brunch menu.  Stop by and have a pint and a dog, you’ll be hooked!  Find out more by visiting senatepub.com.  Dig in!

Crunchy Asian Slaw

BBQ season calls for coleslaw nearly every time, at least it does in our family!  I love traditional mayonnaise-y versions as well as vinegar-based slaws.  One of my very favorites is one my wife started making years and years ago.  This Asian-inspired version is tangy, crispy and nutty.  I honestly can’t get enough of it!

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CRUNCHY ASIAN SLAW

Ingredients

  • 1 Lbs. Bag Cabbage/Slaw Mix
  • 2 Packages Beef Ramen Noodles
  • I Cup Salted Sunflower Seeds
  • 1 Cup Slivered or Sliced Almonds, Toasted
  • 1 Bunch Green Onions, Chopped

Dressing

  • 3/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1/3 Cup White Wine Vinegar
  • 2 Envelopes Beef Flavor Packets (from ramen)

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Instructions

  • In a dry frying pan, lightly toast almonds over low heat until slightly browned.  Remove from heat and cool.
  • In a large bowl, mix together slaw mix, almonds, sunflower seeds, green onions and crushed ramen noodles.
  • In a small bowl, combine dressing ingredients and whisk together until dissolved and smooth.
  • Pour dressing over salad ingredients and toss to combine.
  • Chill for 2-4 hours and serve.

This is an easy and delicious version that goes well with any grilled protein.  Try it as a perfect acidic side dish to fatty short ribs or pork shoulder!  Do you like thinks a little spicy?  A thinly-sliced or finely-diced jalapeño or serrano pepper would be great here.  I also like to add a little sriracha for a kick.  Either way, I hope you love it too.  Dig in!

Veggie Pizza

What a great Memorial Day weekend we had!  Perfect weather, swimming, grilling and fantastic food from friends and family made it a great three days.  One of the many dishes I made for one of the celebrations was veggie pizza.  A soft-baked crust, creamy ranch spread and fresh cut veggies, and a little optional bacon, make this a tasty grab-and-go snack.

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VEGGIE PIZZA

Ingredients

  • 2 Rolls Crescent Sheets
  • 8 Ounces Cream Cheese, Softened
  • 1 Cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 Envelope Ranch Dressing Mix
  • 1 Cup Shredded Carrots
  • 1 Cup Broccoli Florets, Chopped
  • 1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
  • 1 1/2 Cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 3 Green Onions, Chopped
  • 6 Strips Crispy Bacon, Chopped (optional)

Instructions

  • Spread crescent sheets on a large baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake according to package instructions and allow to cool.
  • In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, mayonnaise and ranch dressing mix until smooth.
  • Spread mixture evenly over baked crescent crust.
  • Top the mixture evenly, and all the way to the edge, with each of the toppings.
  • Finish pizza by sprinkling bacon on top.  Of course, this is completely optional if you would rather it be meat-free.
  • Refrigerate for 2 hours and serve.  Do not make this a day ahead as the crust will get  soggy if it sits too long.

This recipe is delicious and versatile.  The crust and spread make a great base for any seasonal vegetables.  Think about using crispy radish slices or a variety of peppers.  Utilize your herb garden and sprinkle some fresh parsley or chives on as well.  I hope you give it a try and share any of your ideas with me.  Dig in!

Tangy Blue Cheese Dip

Prepping for more holiday festivities I decided to make a new dip to go with some fantastic spicy buffalo ranch nacho chips we found at the supermarket.  And what better accompaniment to spicy buffalo than blue cheese?  This creamy rich recipe provides the right combo of cool and tanginess that’ll keep you dipping all night long!

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TANGY BLUE CHEESE DIP

Ingredients

  • 8 Ounces Cream Cheese, Softened
  • 1/2 Cup Miracle Whip
  • 4 Ounces Blue Cheese Crumbles
  • 1 Tsp. Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 Tsp. Celery Seed
  • 1/2 Tsp. Salt

Instructions

  • In a medium mixing bowl, stir together softened cream cheese, Miracle Whip and lemon juice until smooth.
  • Add Worcestershire, celery seed and salt and stir to combine.
  • Fold in blue cheese crumbles and transfer to a serving bowl.
  • Refrigerate for 4 hours before serving.  Serve with chips, vegetables or chicken wings.

Try finding Paqui Chips in your local grocer or super store as the Buffalo Ranch or Grilled Habanero are awesome with this dip!  Corn chips are also great at a crispy dipper.  You can thin this recipe out by adding whole milk until you get your desired consistency – this makes a tasty salad dressing too.  Dig in!

Cheesy Twice Baked Potatoes

I was fixing beef filet and shrimp for my wife’s birthday dinner last weekend and wanted to have potatoes as a side.  And while I love loaded baked potatoes, it’s sometimes easier and requires less stuff on your dinner table if you stir all the toppings into twice baked potatoes.  These turned out to be a family favorite in a hurry!

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CHEESY TWICE BAKED POTATOES

Ingredients

  • 5 Medium Russet Potatoes
  • 6-8 Strips Crispy Cooked Bacon
  • 2 Cups Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 1 Tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tsp Black Pepper

Instructions

  • Throughly wash your potatoes and bake directly on the top rack of your oven for 60-75 minutes at 425 degrees.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle.
  • Cut potatoes in half lengthwise.  Scoop out center leaving just enough potato in the skin to hold it together.  Place scooped potato into a medium size mixing bowl.
  • Place the skins on a baking sheet.
  • Add heavy cream to potatoes and use a hand mixer to combine until mixture is fairly smooth.  There will be some lumps – like all delicious mashed potatoes!
  • Chop cooked bacon and add to the potato mixture along with half of the cheddar cheese, salt and pepper.  Stir together with a wooden spoon to prevent the mixture from becoming too gummy.
  • Fill each potato skin with a scoop of the mixture until all of it is used.  They should be filled just to the edge, but not heaping.
  • Top each potato with remaining cheddar cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until cheese is brown and bubbly.
  • Serve immediately.

You can definitely make these ahead of time and bake in the evening or the next day.  You’ll need to extend to the baking time though to allow them to warm through.  Serve these on their own or with sour cream and chopped green onion as garnish.  Maybe you’ll whip up a batch for your picnic this weekend – try using 10 small russets instead to make 20 halves.  I know you’ll love these and your guests will too.  Dig in!

The Tousey House Tavern – Burlington, KY

We were looking for someplace unique for Mother’s Day dinner a few weeks ago and made a reservation at the highly-recommended Tousey House.  When we pulled up in front of the historic federalist-style home, I had a feeling we were in for a treat.  Beautiful decor throughout this period home provides a comfortable atmosphere with ample seating inside and out.  Whether inside, outside or in the tiny bar area, you’re swept away to era gone by.

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Our friendly server shared with us the menu and a few stories to introduce us to the location.  As expected, there’s a beautiful selection of southern fare along with some local and updated dishes.  While we didn’t have an appetizer, I was longing for the fried green tomatoes or shrimp and grits.  The goetta egg rolls really had me intrigued as well, but we were sticking to dinner and dessert.  Salads were fresh, crisp and a good portion size – the Ceasar looked especially good.  We went about ordering and enjoyed warm homemade biscuits with our drinks.

My wife ordered the ribeye which is served with a smoked tomato-rosemary demi-glace and crispy onions.  A huge piece of beef, it was cooked to perfection.  The sauce was a beautiful highlight to the tender beef.  A few people at the table ordered the Tousey Hot Brown – a traditional execution of ham, turkey, tomato and bacon served over toast points and covered in Mornay sauce and melted cheese.  While not as creamy as others we’ve had, it was delicious!  Being the traditionalist, I had to order the fried chicken.  The four large pieces (half a chicken) were lightly breaded and crispy golden brown.  It was a terrific execution and served with mashed potatoes (a bit average) and southern-style green beans.  We felt the southern hospitality as we enjoyed the home cooking and tasty favorites.

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We really enjoyed our dinner as well as a few sweet treats – it’s a variable dessert menu, but the chocolate cake and berry cobbler were grandma-worthy preparations!  Executive chef Jonathan Weiss has done a beautiful job with the menu and delivers on every expectation.  Open for lunch and weekend brunch as well, you’ll want to stop in or make a reservation soon.  It’s too good to not make a special trip!  Find out more about the history, location and menu at touseyhouse.com.  Dig in!

Creamy Chive Bacon Bites

We’re approaching the first big picnic weekend of the year and that means a lot of requests for side dishes, desserts and appetizers.  For a little something unique, easy to pick up and eat and not too tough to make, try these bacon bites.  Salty crispy bacon surrounds soft bread rolled with chive cream cheese provide the perfect balanced bite with a cold beer or chilled rose on a sunny afternoon!

CREAMY CHIVE BACON BITES

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Ingredients

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Remove bread from bag and cut off all crusts using a serrated knife.  I like to use this specific brand of bread because it’s thin-cut, but still sturdy enough to hold up to this recipe.  Plain white bread tends to turn to mush so don’t skimp here.
  • Allow cream cheese to soften or microwave for 20 seconds to make spreadable.  You can certainly make your own by adding 2 Tbs. fresh-chopped chives to 8 ounces plain cream cheese.  I just bought the stuff flavored at the store to keep it easy this time.
  • Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on a slice of bread and roll tightly.  You can push down slightly and roll with your palm to make sure it’s tight.  Continue until you’ve used all of the bread.
  • Cut bread rolls in half.
  • Using kitchen shears, cut bacon slices into thirds.
  • Wrap a third of a bacon slice around each bread roll and secure with a toothpick.
  • Place all finished rolls onto a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes turning once through the cooking process.  The bacon should be rendered, brown and crispy.  Be careful not to overcrowd the pan or they won’t crisp nicely.
  • Remove from oven and serve immediately.  These also hold up well in an insulated baking dish to take somewhere.

Your family and friends will love these tasty bites!  The bread soaks up some of the bacon grease and browns on each end to give you a little crouton texture along with the creamy middle.  With the toothpicks already inserted they’re a great grab-and-go snack for Memorial Day picnics or any other entertaining you’d like to do.  Dig in!