Panzanella Salad

Last weekend was my sister-in-law’s wedding.  I first met Matt’s sister Nicole when she was a high schooler.  She was this perky, outgoing girl who immediately made you feel at ease. It was as if you had known her your whole life.  Because that is quintessentially Nicole.  She lives her life with her heart on her sleeve. Sharing intimate stories.  Gushing love.  Always being completely honest.  So if something is on her mind, she’ll let you know.  She’s always all in or all out.  It’s something I’ve always admired about her.

and then the little frog turned into Ben 😉

She was the first sibling of Matt’s and mine to get married.  So the wedding weekend was a bit surreal.  How can she be getting married? She is the little sister.  But she looked beautiful.  The wedding was beautiful.  The family time was beautiful.  There’s nothing like a wedding to make you feel grateful for family.

Matt with his little sister.

Matt and I were in the wedding party so we got to walk down the aisle together, which was pretty fun.  The two of us hadn’t been in a wedding party together since our own wedding.  Not having to worry about anything except being where we are suppose to was a great change in pace.  Our little boys were in the wedding too.  They wore little dress pants with suspenders and bow ties. And they were too adorable. Despite complete breakdowns and tantrums at the rehearsal dinner, both boys walked perfectly down the aisle and were quiet the entire wedding ceremony (and we are Catholic so we are talking an hour and a half mass).  After the mass, the boys went off with my parents while Matt and I jumped on the party bus for photos.

Matt insisted on finding his own bouquet and snagged a lovely bundle of sticks.

Of course, the wedding was a full on traditional Italian wedding.  Guests were greeted at the reception by a table of shots.  Each guest is to take a shots to toast the new couple for good luck.  Traditionally, those shots are taken with the bridal party, but I have no idea how those Italians do that and don’t get completely bombed.  Here, there were bartenders that just handed them out so we didn’t have to worry about spending the entire reception slurring our words (because I swear, I smell liquor and suddenly I am completely incapable of articulating a clear sentence).  Our meal included antipasto, a pasta plate followed by a meat plate.  The late night snack was a nacho bar (oh man, for Matt’s and my second wedding, we are totally stealing this).  The dessert table was full of almond cookies, biscottis, and canolis. Yeah, in case it isn’t obvious, food is an important piece of the celebration.

And a panzanella salad is one of my favorite Italian salads.  It is one of the few salads that Matt loves because a good quarter of the salad is garlic, butter toasted bread.  He calls it “the bread salad” and its one of the few salads where Matt gets seconds.  The combination of the toasted bread with cucumbers and tomatoes tastes like summer.  It’s a quick and easy recipe with just simple, real ingredients.  Real Italian cooking at its finest. So for your next celebration, if you want to toss in a little Italian tradition, try adding this bread salad.

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Fresh Salad Dressing

Well, I had another baby! On December 15, 2016, little Maxwell decided he wasn’t going to wait another second and was born.  And even though he was born on his due date, I was anything but prepared.  See, JR was 12 days late.  Yes, 12 days.  While I certainly was not rooting for another almost two week late baby, I had convinced myself that Max would not be showing up anytime near the 15th.  Perhaps sometime in the 20’s–like Christmas. But surely not on his due date.  So when my water broke at 9:40 p.m. on December 14th, I immediately panicked (our house was a complete mess. I had lost my phone. I hadn’t done laundry in weeks.) But after a mere two and a half hours of labor, Maxwell was born.  It was perfect.

little Maxwell Watson Cremona on his birthday. About 4 hours old here.

Of course, now that Max is here, I should be in the “lose the baby weight” phase. But there was Christmas.  Then New Years.  And donuts are freaking delicious.  Plus, who is going to eat all those Junior Mints?!  And while I am technically down to my pre-Max weight (note: not pre-baby), my belly is squishy.  It would be nice to be back to my law school size.  Since it’s the beginning of the year, I can jump on the “new year new you” bandwagon.  My social media has been swarmed with Whole30 posts so it is a constant reminder that I too need to be more aware of what I am eating if I want to see results.

One month postpartum

That’s where this salad comes in.  It’s healthy and quick to make.  Plus, you can toss in as many vegetables you’d like, add chicken, salmon, etc., and make the salad more filling (and more of an entree v. side dish).  But, regardless of what ingredients you put in the salad, it is truly the salad dressing that holds it all together. My friend Mel shared her dressing recipe with me, and now it is my go-to dressing.  Ok, it is the only salad dressing I use these days. It’s light but full of flavor.  And I can eat a salad and still feel healthy that it isn’t covered in a creamy, fattening dressing.

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Loaded Potato Skins

Whenever my parents came to visit me in college, the first thing we would do is go out to eat.  As a freshman, I always wanted to go to the same place–Friday’s–so we could eat loaded potato skins.  After reaching the freshman 15, my choice of appetizers had to change, and I haven’t had restaurant potato skins since.

loaded potato skin bites

My love of the saltiness hasn’t died.  And with my lack of desire to ever make side dishes aside, this weekend I decided to try to recreate an old college favorite. I am proud to say I only ate two potatoes–letting Matt devour the rest of the plate.  The two were just enough nostalgia for my taste buds.  Although, I suddenly had the urge to play some good old fashion beer pong…

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Olive Pesto

Matt is a big snacker.  This snacking habit has only been encouraged by my particular “house rules” when it comes to dishes in the wood shop.  No glass, no fiestaware, and no silverware near the power tools.  So Matt made his own wood bowls that he fills with chips (that later become full of wood chips. somehow that doesn’t deter him from eating his potato chips).

Periodically, I like to surprise Matt with new dips for his chip addiction.  Last week was Matt’s half-birthday so I decided to try this olive pesto.  I know, I know.  Who celebrates half-birthdays?  But it all started several years ago when Matt went out to his friends for a couple beers.  It just so happened to be his actual half-birthday.  Somehow, the guys started saying it was Matt’s actual birthday and despite the reality that bartenders look at your ID–the bartenders bought it.  He had a night of free drinks, dancing on the bar, and running around ringing the birthday bell.  Ever since, we celebrate Matt’s half-birthday.  Complete with a half-cake and special dips.

Olive Pesto

This olive pesto was a fun twist on the traditional pesto that I love so much.  It was quick and easy to make, and it would probably taste delicious mixed with pasta.

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Kopanisti (Whipped Feta and Roasted Red Pepper Dip)

It’s been a while! I have so many new recipes to share and so many pictures to edit.  Hence the lack of new recipes.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for Thanksgiving.  Now that I have a full-time job, long vacations are far and few between.  No more month winter vacation or no class Fridays.  Eh.  The growing pains of becoming an adult.  So a 5-day weekend–it felt like winning the lottery!

This long weekend has been a great opportunity to make new, fun side dishes.  Honestly, with working every day, making multiple dishes each night is a bit of a handful.  So in my effort to learn to cook, my focus has been on main dishes.  Thanksgiving was a great chance to master some appetizers.

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Matt has always been a dip-guy.  He loves chips.  So when I found this kopanisti recipe, I had to try it.  This dip is great for pita chips, carrots, celery, and other finger veggies.  A great change from the usual french onion dip Matt has been devouring.

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Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Boats

Yesterday was Thanksgiving.  Well, at least in Canada.  And since I married a Canadian, it meant it was Thanksgiving in our house.  We invited some of our favorite friends over for a full-out Thanksgiving meal.  As expected, we all went around the table and said what we were thankful for.

It made me realize something.  I have the greatest life. I grew up in this quinessential small town where when you go to the grocery store, you know every single person there.  I was raised by a mom and a dad and a brother and a sister–a family who doesn’t always agree but always believes in the importance of standing up for what you believe in.

Forced family fun required special glasses–my mom, sis, and me
my brother and dad on vacation in mexico. ps. happy birthday brother!

I married a man who loves me just as much as I love him.  Who honestly would do anything to make me happy-including toying with the idea of buying me a french bulldog despite his so-so feeling about owning a puppy.  I married into a family that is extremely loving and welcoming.

sisters

My cellphone is filled with numbers of friends from across the states. Sure, some numbers haven’t been dialed in months, but the voices at the end of line are comprised of friendships that allow us to pick up right where we left off. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s what it means to have a solid friendship.  And all  of that, equals the greatest life.  Sure, there are things that could make my life easier, better, less of a hassle.  But I’ve never wished for a perfect life.  Just a happy one. And there is nothing greater than that.

five years and counting!

And just as Minnesota is notorious for, we skipped straight from summer to a cold fall. Because of the early morning frosts, our garden had it’s last harvest.  I completely stripped my plants from any and all usable ingredients.  It was overwhelming how fruitful my hall was!  I felt so lucky to have so many fresh veggies to work with at this late in the season.

 

Per usual, my jalapenos grew out of control!  I wanted to figure out something fun to make with them!  And that’s how my bacon-wrapped jalapeno boats were born!

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Twice-Baked Butternut Squash

How do people do it?  Hold a full-time job.  Work out.  Make dinner.  Spend time with a significant other.  Practice a hobby.  And still go to bed at a decent hour.  After one month of working full-time, it has definitely readjusted the way I look at the working world.  Much respect.  I have no idea how everyone does it.  It’s clear that I am still acquiring my sea legs.  Hence the lack of posts in the past month.

This recipe is not tailored for the working-folk.  Today, I came home from work at 7:15. I had called Matt at 6:30 asking him to start this recipe.  Yet we didn’t eat until 9:15!!  I haven’t had dinner this late since I lived in Spain. As my roommates in Spain quickly learned, I fucking hate cena (late dinner).  So save this recipe for the weekend.  A day when you come home early.  Not a day when you have to work all day.

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Orange Bell Pepper and Basil Bruschetta

Today was harvest day at the Cremona house.  With my handy shears, I plopped tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapenos, serranos, green beans, and an orange pepper into my basket.  When I was done, I looked like I raided a farmer’s market.

I am so proud of my orange bell pepper.  Last year only my green peppers grew so I was thrilled when this year turned out to be different.  I didn’t want my miracle pepper to go to waste.  This pepper needed to be used in a truly fun recipe.  Something unique where the flavors of the pepper stood out.

my orange pepper in its natural habitat.
Matt arrange them like this, claiming they were on a cucumber sled.

This twist on the traditional, tomato-based bruschetta was excellent.  The orange pepper makes the bruschetta sweeter and crunchier.  Next time I make this I think I’ll use different color bell peppers to see how that mixes up the taste.

 

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Beet Chips

My friend Krystal is a member of this vegetable co-op where every Thursday she gets a box full of fresh veggies from a local farm.  I am the lucky person who gets extra veggies when her crisper is already filled from the week before.  In her box this week were some beets which she gifted to me.

 

I’ve honestly never had beets before.   I certainly had no idea how to prepare them.  In fact, my only interaction with the vegetable was through the cartoon Doug.  Matt has been craving snack foods a lot lately.  Every night he is rummaging through the kitchen looking for something to nibble on.  He has always been a fan of chips, and his stash of ketchup chips is running thin.

And that’s how beet chips were born.  The creation in this dish caused possibly the most “damage” my hands have ever had to go through in the kitchen.  My hands were stained red, and I cut my fingers on the slicer 4 times.  There was a real labor of love.  While the recipe I followed recommend slicing the beets as thin as possible, Matt and I both liked the thicker pieces.  So try some thicker and thinner slices to see where your taste buds land.

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Spicy Cucumber and Red Onion Salad

Our garden has really started to take off. My orange peppers are slowly turning colors, tomatoes are becoming plump, and I have more hot peppers than I know what to do with! As expected, the cucumbers have taken the lead as the highest producer. And that is ok with me.

apparently growing at massive speeds isn’t enough for my plants. they now are showing off their contortionist skills.

Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE cucumbers.  I can thank my father for this obsession.  Growing up, my father had a small vegetable garden.  Every summer, he harvested his cucumbers to make a dill cucumber salad.  It has always been one of my favorite dishes.  This year, we have so many cucumbers that we’d be eating this salad every day for every meal if we wanted to use up all our cuc’s.  So I’ve been making modifications to his salad to spice up our veggie side dishes.

freshly picked cucumber from the garden.

The spicy peppers rival the cucumbers in multiplicity so I added a pepper to our salad.  It was a bit too spicy for poor Matt (he’s a bit of a wimp when it comes to heat) so I added less red pepper flakes.  I recommend opting for less heat at first and add more to taste.

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