Braciola with Pasta – a recipe for entertaining

Many years ago I found this recipe in a food magazine though I’m not sure which one. I was intrigued and instead of pulling the recipe and adding it to the hundreds of recipes I stick into a “to-be-tried” pile, I immediately prepared it. It was superb and soon became my “go-to” recipe for entertaining my foodie friends. And when they asked me what the dish was called, I told them “Braciola” pronouncing it “brackee-ola”.

Then everything changed (keep in mind this was years before the Food Network). I was entertaining Basil, the cousin of Spence’s best friend. I told him I was preparing “brackee-ola”. Basil stood next to me, watching the preparation of the stuffing, the rolling of the steak. He said it looked remarkably like a dish his Italian aunt had made for years.

“What was it called?” I inquired.

“Brah-jool” was the way he pronounced it.

The wheels in my head were clicking…..”how is it spelled?” I asked with trepidation.

He wasn’t sure. I showed him the recipe. “That’s it” he exclaimed.

Fast forward, I know the pronunciation and the Food Network is now a part of my life meaning that I hear Giada and Rachael talk about Braciola (or the more common spelling Braciole) on a regular basis. Isn’t that the way it goes? Now that I’ve cleared that up, here’s the recipe:

Braciola with Pasta      8 servings

  • 1/2 c italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 c chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/3 c grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • 3 T capers
  • 2 T toasted pine nuts
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 t extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed (with garlic press)
  • flank steak, ask the butcher for the thickest one & have it butterflied
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 1/2 c marinara sauce
  • 1/2 c dry red wine
  • 8 ounces cooked pasta (16 oz uncooked) like fusilli

Combine the first 8 ingredients in a bowl, set aside.

Ingredients for the stuffing Ingredients for the stuffing

Unwrap the steak and unfold it (like a book) on the butcher paper. Use a meat mallet and flatten it to a uniform thickness. Cut 3-4 pieces of kitchen twine and slide under the steak as shown:

Have your butcher Have your butcher “butterfly” a flank steak

Spread the bread crumb mixture over the steak, leaving a bit of the edge uncovered. Roll up “jelly-roll” style, tie with twine. Refrigerate for at least a few hours, it’s even better if refrigerated overnight.

IMG_6495 Spread your stuffing onto the steak, just shy of the edges.
Roll up, pressing the steak into a tight roll. Tie up with the twine. Roll up, pressing the steak into a tight roll. Tie up with the twine.
Tied up, it looks like this. Now fold the butcher paper around it, wrapped up and refrigerate, at least a few hours, I prefer overnight......set it out at least an hour prior to cooking. Tied up, it looks like this. Now wrap the butcher paper around it and refrigerate.

Set the meat out at least one hour before cooking. In a large Dutch Oven, coat the bottom of the pan with the olive oil and set to a medium high heat. Place the meat in, turning to brown well on all four sides. Remove from pan. Add marinara and wine to pan, deglazing and bringing the sauce to a boil, add the steak and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer for 1 hour, turning the steak in the sauce a few times.

Remove the meat and allow to rest a few minutes, remove the twine. Put the sauce into a serving bowl.

After cooking, remove from sauce onto a cutting board. Rest for 5 minutes, cut and remove twine before slicing. This is what it looks like just out of the sauce.

Slice and plate, I added more flat leaf parsley to garnish.

Sliced and ready for serving on a platter, garnished with flat leaf parsley. Sliced and ready for serving on a platter, garnished with flat leaf parsley.

Serve the pasta, topped with a slice of the Braciola, then top with sauce. Open a bottle of red wine and enjoy!

Oven-Roasted Smashed Potatoes with Gremolata Topping

For an easy side-dish, great for entertaining, try my new favorite potato dish.

Oven-Roasted Smashed Potatoes with Gremolata       serves 4-6

  • 1 dozen new potatoes (you could also use redskin potatoes)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, whole & peeled
  • sea salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • olive oil

Fill a large pot with water and 2-3 heaping tablespoons of sea salt, bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and reduce heat to medium.  Cook until tender – use a sharp knife to test.  Drain and cool them for 5 minutes.


Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil. On a cutting board, place each potato under a spatula (or lunch plate would work), I use a heavy meat tenderizer from Williams Sonoma. Press down with even pressure – gently – smashing but not pulverizing.

My heavy-duty potato smasher.
Place each smashed potato on the foil-lined baking sheet.

Drizzle the potatoes generously with olive oil, sprinkle sea salt and black pepper over them. (I also put the garlic cloves that boiled with the potatoes on the sheet pan)


Heat oven to 450 degrees. Bake the potatoes for 18-20 minutes, remove, flip each one. Drizzle with more olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Bake for another 18-20 minutes. Remove the pan from oven, turn off heat. Top the potatoes with Gremolata (see recipe below) and place the pan back in the oven for 5 minutes and serve.



  • Zest from 1 orange, 1 lemon and 1 lime
  • 1-2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1 t coarse black pepper
  • red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup chopped parsley

I use a mezzaluna given to me by my lifelong BFF, to chop the parsley and garlic, having first place the citrus zest, salt and pepper under the parsley and garlic. Cover until ready to serve.

This is what is looks like:

Gremolata – delicious!

Keshi Yena – “Chicken Stuffed Cheese”

I made quite possibly the most unusual dish in my culinary journey for last night’s dinner.  Let me recap how this came about. About 30 years ago, I traveled to Aruba with my stepbrother, meeting my dad and stepmom who were enjoying the winter at their timeshare.  I’ve always wanted to return for a romantic adventure and just last week, Spence and I committed to a 2015 autumn vacation in Aruba.  This week I’m visiting my stepmom and shared my travel plans soon after my arrival. Excited, we started talking about the food (not shocking for those who know me – a big factor in my travels) and she mentioned the Aruban dish, Keshi Yena.  By the vacant look in my eyes, she clearly deduced that I’d never heard of this.  She described it, I was intrigued.  The following morning, I’d culled a number of Pinterest recipes and reviewed them with her.  There were variances but we settled on one was closest to her memories, headed to the grocery store and made it last night. Can I just say here, OMG!  It was AMAZING.  Full of flavors, none overpowering just complimenting each other.  I dreamt about it, I awoke thinking about it. And when I go to Aruba, of course, I will seek it out.  The history relating to the origin of this dish is quite fascinating and I’ll share it following the recipe:


  • 2 cups cooked chicken, cut into small pieces (I highly recommend a rotisserie chicken – light & dark meat, easily obtained in today’s world at most supermarkets. It truly amps up the flavor!)
  • 1 lb Gouda cheese, sliced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 2 cornichons, minced (small dill pickles)
  • 1 large green pepper, chopped 8 green olives, sliced (about 1 1/2 Tbsp)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 – 1/2 c golden raisins
  • 1 Tbsp yellow mustard
  • 1/2 c ketchup
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 c cashews, chopped/ground – use a food processor – if not, chop very fine

Step One:  In a skillet, saute the onions and garlic in butter until they are softened.  While that’s happening, prep the other ingredients – except for the gouda – in a large bowl and gently mix together.

Step Two: Add the meat mixture to the skillet and using two wooden spoons, incorporate the onion and garlic butter into it.  Let this simmer on a low heat, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes.

Step Three: I used a medium size, 2 inch deep oval casserole – square is fine – but deep is necessary.  Butter the casserole or baking dish.  Slicing your gouda, begin by placing a layer in the bottom of the dish – think “puzzle”, cover the bottom completely.

Step Four:  Start ladling about half the meat mixture over the cheese “puzzle” in the bottom of the dish and cover completely.  Now going around the entire rim of the dish, place slices of gouda along the inside perimeter of the dish, creating a two inch high “rim” of cheese around the edge of the meat mixture. (remember, it’s called Chicken Stuffed Cheese, you’re building up the cheese to surround the meat.)

Step Five: Add the remaining meat and complete the cheese “puzzle” on top of the casserole covering the entire top.  It will look like this:

Notice the cheese rim along the inside edges…..

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 – 50 minutes.  After removing from the oven, let it rest a minimum of 5 minutes before serving.

Just out of the oven, the aroma is tantalizing...
Just out of the oven, the aroma is tantalizing…it takes will power to wait those 5 minutes.

We served this in a bowl with a glass of Pinot Grigio which was the perfect pairing.

Here’s a bit of history that I found while researching the recipe, (source Huffington Post). When it came to the table, the Dutch liked their Gouda cheese, and their Edam cheese — both of them shipped to Curaçao in round formats. The Dutch “masters” couldn’t be bothered with the rind of these cheeses, so the milky-creamy part at the center of the cheese got scooped out and consumed; the hollowed-out cheese shells were returned to the kitchen as refuse. Often, the slave is wiser than the master; they certainly were in this case. The kitchen workers noticed other foods coming back from the dining room — such as pieces of chicken and other meats, left over from stews. It was a logical leap from there: Season the meats, add something a little sweet (like raisins), add some favorite island ingredients (today, olives are common), stuff the cheese shells with the meat mixture, and steam the stuffed cheeses gently in a bain-marie for a few hours. The result is a perfect marriage of cultures: the stolid creaminess of the North meets the lively spiciness of the South.

Gourmet Food and Wine Tasting

Just before I headed to visit my stepmom in Florida, she’d left a voicemail on my home phone.

“Are you interested in a gourmet food and wine tasting dinner on the day after you arrive? Let me know”

I called back, “I’m in!”

Here was our menu:

IMG_5368My stepmom and I were joined by four of her friends and started with a pre-dinner cocktail.  Moving into the dining room, seated overlooking a lake I observed all the attentions to detail including this snazzy “butter rose”:


Here were our courses:


The little corn pudding (to the left) was exquisite! Everyone was applauding it. Like a little corn custard cloud. Oh my!


Somehow, to my dismay, I missed taking a picture of the next course which was beautifully presented and delicious.  Sorry about that!


And last, we were offered a lovely ruby Port to cap off the evening.

IMG_5385I was in a wine and foodie state of bliss and went to sleep recounting each course as I drifted into dreamland.  Every bite was delightful, artistically plated and the wines were superb.  The Rose and Pinot Noir were my absolute faves!

Crispy Baked Maple Sriracha Glazed Chicken Wings

Oven baked crispy coated chicken wings that get tossed in a sweet, sticky and spicy maple sriracha glaze when they come out of the oven.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 to 60 minutes
Total time: 60 to 75 minutes
Yield: 2 to 3 lbs chicken wings

2 to 3 pounds chicken wings, cut in pieces, wing tips removed
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp salt
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1-2 tbsp Sriracha sauce
2 eggs
3 tbsp water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Sift together the flour, black pepper, cayenne pepper, ground ginger and salt to form a dredging mixture.
Whisk together the water and eggs to make an egg wash.
Dip each wing into the flour dredge, then in the egg was and back into the flour dredge again.
Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and lightly drizzle or spray the tops with a little more olive oil.
Bake at 375 degrees F for about 45 to 60 minutes. Flip the wing pieces at half way through the cooking time.
When they are crispy and fully cooked toss them into the Maple Sriracha Sauce
While the chicken is baking, prepare your sauce by slowly simmering together the maple syrup and Sriracha sauce. The volume of the sauce after it has simmer enough should be reduced to about a half cup.

Note from Chef Laura: I made these the other night for dinner, quick and easy!  The flavor was fabulous – crunchy, sweet and spicy!

Recipe and Photo by Barry C. Parsons, courtesy of Pinterest

Raspberry Walnut Baked Oatmeal


Within the last two years, a former co-worker turned our little band of foodies on to baked oatmeal, a concept we’d known nothing about but that has since been showing up everywhere.  The variations are endless and delicious and it’s a great way to start the day making enough for a quick breakfast for the rest of the week.

I hadn’t made it for a while yet it’s been on my mind, especially during these cold winter mornings.  So today, culling a myriad of suggestions from Pinterest and other sources, then surveying my ample pantry and freezer ingredients to see what I had available, I came up with this delicious recipe of my own. Enjoy!

Raspberry Walnut Baked Oatmeal                              serves 6

2 cups old-fashioned whole grain oatmeal

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar packed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Mix dry ingredients together, set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter an 8×8 baking dish.  In a separate bowl mix together:
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Add to dry ingredients.  Fold in:
  • 1 2/3 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 2/3 cup coarse chopped walnuts

Pour into baking dish.  Bake for 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.  Serve with or without milk.

Chef’s note:  you can substitute blueberries, strawberries, dates, dried apricots, pecans, almonds, almond or soy milk – you get it.  It is the ultimate easy way to use what you have on hand, what’s seasonal and what sounds good.

Butter Baked Rice

BUTTER BAKED RICE         serves 4-8

  • 1 c long grain brown rice (white rice may be used as well)
  • 2 c boiling water
  • 5 T butter
  • 1 3/4 c chicken stock – heated (see Chef’s Note below)
  • 1-2 t garlic seasoning blend (I love Melting Pot’s Garlic & Wine Seasoning)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2-3 T chopped parsley (I prefer flat leaf but curly parsley works fine here)

Butter Baked Rice - a crowd pleaser

Preheat oven to 325. Soak rice in 2 cups of the boiling water for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse. Try to remove as much of the water as you can by gently pressing it or dabbing with a paper towel. Then in a large skillet, melt the butter over a medium low heat. Stir in the rice and keep stirring gently until all the butter is absorbed. This should take about 8 to 9 minutes. Add the butter rice to a 2 Qt casserole. Add the heated chicken stock pouring over the rice. Add garlic seasoning, red pepper flakes and sprinkle the parsley on top, stir. Cover tightly and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.

Chef’s Note: You can substitute the heated chicken stock with vegetable stock for a vegetarian version. If you should have any leftovers, throw it into a pan with chopped veggies, a shot of soy sauce and make a quick fried rice.  See my 1/6/2015 post for Arancini (or click the link below)- using the leftover Butter Baked Rice – for an easy appetizer, side or vegetarian main dish! 


Olive Tapenade (for Bruschetta)

This is one of my favorite go-to recipes for appetizers. I had this years ago in a restaurant and it was so tasty I wrote down everything I could identify and have made it ever since.  I’ve even had numerous guests who at first said “oh I don’t care for olives” but trusting enough in my culinary skills to try it and viola! Everyone loves it – not a crumb left at the end of the party.  And this is actually better if you make it ahead – 24 hours minimum or even better a few days.  I serve this atop little slices of baguette, first drizzling a bit of extra virgin olive oil on the slices, giving them a few minutes in a 350 degree oven, then adding a spoon of the tapenade on each slice, then back for 5-10 minutes. I’m making this today for a party on Saturday so thought I’d share it with my followers.

Olive Tapenade 

Weight Watchers Smart Points 1 (serving size 1/2 tablespoon)

  • 1 5.75 oz jar green olives with pimento
  • 1 6 oz can black olives (any size)
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1 t coarse black pepper
  • 1/3 c extra virgin olive oil

Finely chop both kinds of olives and garlic cloves.  I use a hand-chopper (Pampered Chef) to achieve a very fine texture.  Stir olives and garlic together.  Add oregano and black pepper to olive mix, stir to blend.  Add the olive oil and give a final stir.  Place in a covered container to refrigerate for 24 hours or longer.

Note from Spence’s Girl:  If you have more tapenade than bread, this is excellent tossed into a pasta sauce or used as the olive salad component of a muffalletta sandwich!

Five Bean Salad, my way

Five Bean Salad
Five Bean Salad, my way

I LOVE FIVE BEAN SALAD.  So great to take to a potluck or picnic (no mayo), it’s a favorite of ours to have as our salad or veggie side with any number of meals year round. It makes a lot and only gets better each subsequent day.  It keeps for up to two weeks in the fridge but never  lasts that long!  I use my mom’s recipe but tweak it in my own way to give it a bit more pizazz!

Five Bean Salad, my way

serves 15                      Weight Watchers Smart Points 7

1 can garbanzo beans (or chickpeas as they’re also known)
1 can great northern or navy beans
1 can cut green beans
1 can dark red kidney beans
1 can wax beans
2 large shallots finely minced or red onion finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4-5 finely chopped peppadew peppers (these come in a jar) or substitute 1 tablespoon chopped pimento
1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeños (first removing ribs and seeds) or green pepper if you can’t take the heat.

Drain and rinse beans and put into a large serving bowl. Add the shallots, peppadew peppers and jalapeño, stir taking care not to break the beans.


3/4 c red wine or champagne vinegar
3/4 c vegetable oil (canola or olive oil)
1/2 c sugar
1-2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
sprinkle of red pepper flakes

Mix this together well – making sure that the sugar has “melted” into the marinade. Pour over the beans and stir together. Refrigerate. Stir every 30-60 minutes to further distribute the marinade. This is best made at least 8 hours prior to serving.

Permission to eat dessert first?

My mom makes the BEST PIE CRUST known to man or woman.  And usually while spending the summers in Michigan, she makes several to leave behind in my freezer.  But time got away from us and it didn’t happen this year.  While I’ve made them successfully, using her recipe, it’s been 30+ years since the rolling pin and I have made contact.  With all the other from-scratch cooking this week coupled with my fear of failure for an epic meal such as Thanksgiving, I sought out several yummy new non-pie recipes.

Spence will tell anyone (whether they ask or not) that he doesn’t eat sweets.  And to a degree, that was true for many years – pecan pie was his birthday “cake” or Haagen Daz Rum Raisin Ice Cream were his sweet go-tos.  But slowly, over our 24 years together, he’s been seduced by my tiramisu, Kahlua cake, apple crisp etc. and I notice he’s discovered his sweet tooth.

Through the resources of Pinterest, I went searching for some holiday-ish sounding desserts and found Pumpkin Pie Bars and Gooey Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars.

They’ve just left the oven, the house smells insanely good and I haven’t had breakfast – just tea.  Since it’s just us and dinner is hours away, would it be wrong to try one of each bars?  Right? I knew it – everyone agrees, I can feel your support.   Thank you! And Happy Thanksgiving.

Both of these recipes can be found on my Pinterest Board called Desserts and Sweets!