Mama's Meatballs

I had the good fortune to have a mother and grandmother who were superb Italian-American home cooks. At their tables, I learned to make homemade pasta, stews, soups, cakes, pies and pastries, savory entrées such as roasted chicken Italiano, veal and eggplant Parmigiana, and, of course, meatballs.  I remember dinners on Thursdays and Sundays, with grandfather, mom and dad, aunts and uncles seated around the table. My grandmother served an amazing meal of chicken, home made ravioli, meatloaf, meatballs, roasted potatoes, and spaghetti aglio e oliio (spaghetti with garlic and olive oil). It was amazing enough that she did this alone (I was often by her side, watching faithfully), but she did it every week, twice a week and still managed to help my grandfather with his home-based business, wash and iron clothes for her two sons, and look after me.  My mother learned at her hand, and she was always cooking up something wonderful in our own kitchen, putting her own spin on age-old favorites.

In their honor, I present "Mama's Meatballs." The "secret" of this recipe is the right balance of meat to breadcrumbs, and the correct seasonings. I've changed the cooking method, as it eliminates unhealthy frying and also messy cleanup. After you've cooked the meatballs, all you need to do is roll up the aluminum foil and toss it in the trash. Your cookie sheets will be clean and there will be no frying pans to scrape clean!

I hope you will try this recipe, and enjoy it with your family and friends.


2 lbs. ground chuck
1-1/4 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
3 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tsp. fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Garlic and onion salt to taste -- about 1/4 tsp. each
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup whole milk, if desired
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, if desired


1. Preheat oven to 400F degrees.
2. Prepare two cookie sheets with heavy-duty aluminum foil, brush lightly with extra virgin olive oil.
3. Mix all ingredients in large bowl. Do not overmix or meatballs will be tough and chewy.

4. Using a cookie scoop, portion out meatballs (ensures all meatballs are the same size and cook evenly).

5. Bake at 400F for 20 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through and brown and crispy on outside.

6. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, then dunk them into your favorite Italian gravy. Serve with pasta, or on crusty rolls for a special Italian hero, topped with melted mozzarella!

Broccoli Rabé with Cavatelli

Spectacular broccoli rabé, sometimes misunderstood, always wonderful, and so easy to prepare and healthy to eat. This recipe will tell you how to get the bitterness out, and join it to creamy cavatelli for a flavor-punched side or main dish.


1 large head broccoli rabé, trimmed, rinsed in cold water, and drained well
4-6 large cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 lb. fresh or frozen cavatelli pasta
1/4 c. grated imported Parmigianno Reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste


1, Boil a large pot of water big enough to hold the entire head of broccoli rabé.
2. Immerse the broccoli in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes, or until tender. (This will reduce and/or remove bitterness from the stems.)
3. Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl of ice water.
4. Remove broccoli from boiling water, immerse immediately in ice water to preserve bright color and stop cooking.
5. Drain broccoli well, pat dry with paper towel to remove moisture.
6. In a large sauté pan, add olive oil, butter, broccoli and garlic. Sauté until wilted and shrunk, to desired tenderness. Remove from heat.
7. Boil cavatelli according to package directions, drain well and mix with prepared broccoli and garlic.
8. Season to taste with salt and pepper, top with shaved or grated cheese.

Buon appetito!

Red, White and Blueberry

More Memorial Day, Fourth of July (or any Sunday morning) fare ... fresh blueberry muffins.  They are quick and easy and really moist and delicious.  The secrets are sour cream, nutmeg and cinammon.  From start to finish, less than an hour. Here's the recipe:

  Preheat oven to 400ª. Bake at 350ª.

·           1 stick butter, melted
·           ¾ c. sugar plus additional for sprinkling muffins
·           2 large eggs
·           1 ½  tsp. vanilla
·           1 cup sour cream
·           2 cups flour
·           ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
·           ½ tsp baking powder
·           ½ tsp baking soda
·           Ground cinnamon for sprinkling muffins
·            2 cups fresh blueberries

 Mix wet ingredients
·          Cream butter and sugar with hand mixer
·          Beat in eggs, one at a time
·          Beat in vanilla and sour cream

  Mix dry ingredients
·           Sift flour
·           Stir in ground nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt

·            Stir wet into dry ingredients
·            Fold in blueberries

  Spoon into 12 muffin cups, sprinkle tops with mixture of cinnamon and granulated sugar.

  Reduce heat in oven to 350. Bake @ 350 degrees for 25 minutes, until golden brown, or until
  toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean.

·           Add 1 ½ cups grated apples instead of blueberries
·           Add chopped pecans to topping
·           Fold in 1 ½ cups mashed bananas and ½ cup walnuts to batter
·           Use raspberries instead of blueberries

Orzo with Brown Butter and Sage Sauce

Fresh sage in the garden? We planted sage early this spring in our new container garden, along with basil, rosemary, thyme, lavender and parsley. Everything is growing like weeds, and we are having fun cooking with them.  For dinner last night, we roasted a chicken on high heat (400F) for two hours, using rosemary, thyme and extra-virgin olive oil.  It fell succulently off the bone, and the herbs were amazingly crispy and a perfect accompaniment to the chicken.

Tonight ... leftovers.  We decided to dress up one of our favorite pastas -- orzo -- and prepare it with a sage/brown butter sauce (noisette au beurre), mixed with heaping portion of freshly-grated Parmigianno Reggiano.

You can serve this flavorful side dish with chicken, pork, grilled fish, or just a big radicchio and romaine salad. Best of all, it takes only 10 minutes to make. Kids love it -- it's pasta, after all -- and the adults in your household will go back for seconds.

10-15 fresh sage leaves, bruised slightly
2 cloves garlic, chopped
8 oz. (1 stick) butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmigianno Reggiano cheese
2 tsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
3/4 c. orzo pasta
6 c. water to boil

1. Boil 6 cups water and add 1/2 tsp salt. and orzo. Boil for 10 minutes or until al dente.
2. While orzo is boiling, melt butter in a large skillet. Add garlic, and sauté gently until butter is browned but not burned.
2. Add sage leaves, sauté until wilted, and stir in lemon juice and parmesan cheese.
3. Drain orzo, turn into a heated casserole, and pour sauce over all. Serves 4.

Orzo with beurre noisette and sage sauce served with roasted chicken

Easy, Spicy, Juicy Baked Pork Chops

 I'm always on the lookout for easy-to-prepare dinners that are filled with flavor, and this one fills the bill on both counts. Taking less than 10 minutes to prepare, it bakes in a fast oven for 30-40 minutes -- while you relax, chill the wine, freshen the flowers, and set the table.  Added bonus: there's practically no clean-up -- all of the prep is right in the baking dish!

Low in calories and carbs, this recipe boasts a delectable rub that is both sweet and spicy, and seals in all the natural juices of the pork.  Serve simply with a crisp Beaujolais, a fresh salad of mixed greens, and a baked potato.

2 center cut loin pork chops (bone in)
1/2 tsp. each of :
   * Good-quality Hungarian paprika
   * Dried thyme
   * Onion salt
   * Garlic salt
   * Cayenne pepper
   * Ground celery seed
   * Freshly ground five-pepper peppercorns
2 tbsp. Crown Grade A Light-Amber pure maple syrup (see below)
1 tbsp. high-quality honey

1. Sprinkle all dry spices in the bottom of a ceramic baking dish.
2. Gently dredge chops in spice mixture, making sure mixture covers edges, bone, and both sides of chops.
3. Lay seasoned chops flat in baking dish.
4. Drizzle maple syrup and honey over chops.

5. Bake in 400F degree oven for 30-40 mins, or until chops are sizzling and cooked through. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

The Empty Nester Gourmet Recommends ...

Crown Maple Syrup

Certified Organic, Locally Produced, Available in Light, Medium and Amber

Excellent, high-quality maple syrup

Anytime Quiche Lorraine

Here's a wonderful Quiche Lorraine that you can serve for brunch, lunch, hors d'oeuvre or a mid-afternoon snack after the game on Saturday ... it works equally well hot, warm, room temp and even cold. Very easy to prepare, serves 4 to 8, depending on how and when you serve it. Great with a salad or soup, or just by itself with a cold glass of Chablis.

1 partially pre-baked pie crust (See note below)
1/2 lb. crispy, pre-cooked bacon
1 c. shredded Finlandia Swiss cheese (can substitute gruyere)

4 eggs
3/4 c. heavy cream
3/4 c. whole milk
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 tbsp. flour
Pinch of Kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Note: For partially-baked crust, roll out your dough and fit into a 9-10" quiche plate. Or use packaged crust. Cover dough with aluminum foil and fill with uncooked peas or beans. Bake @ 400F degrees for 7-8 minutes, remove beans or peas and foil. Prick bottom and sides of pastry with fork and bake 5 minutes more. Shell will be partially baked, but not browned. Allow pastry to cool before filling with custard mixture.

1. Pre-heat oven to 375F degrees.
2. In bottom of cooled pastry crust, place crispy bacon and shredded cheese.
3. Mix custard ingredients well with wire whisk. Pour over all.
4. Bake on a cookie sheet (to avoid spills in your oven) for 40 minutes or until the filling is nicely browned on top.
5. If serving hot, allow quiche to set at least 15 minutes before serving.

Savory Chicken Pot Pie

Here's a great way to use leftovers from a roast chicken. Steaming, piping hot from the oven, this homemade pie is a wonderful lunch or dinner entrée, loaded with vegetables, freshly sautéed mushrooms, and savory spices.  It takes only 50 minutes to cook, and 30 minutes to prepare. Served with a salad and an ice cold glass of beer, it's perfect for just the two of you (with leftovers), a  Friday night poker game with friends, or as an item on your buffet. Sure to please everyone from 5 to 50, and beyond.

Double crust pie pastry (refrigerated pie crust is fine) Or make your own!
2-1/2 cups cooked chicken, cubed (or turkey)
6 tbsp. butter
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced and sautéed
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup flour (if you substitute non-fat or low fat milk, add two additional tbsp. flour)
1-3/4 cups chicken broth
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, or fresh carrots (chopped), green beans (halved) and corn kernels
Egg wash: one egg, slightly beaten with fork, plus 1 tbsp. cold water
Freshly ground pepper, salt and paprika to taste
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped finely

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Press bottom crust into a deep dish pie plate and brush lightly with egg wash.

3. In a 2-1/2 quart saucepan, melt 2 tbsp. of the butter and sauté the onion until wilted and golden, about two minutes.

4. Over medium heat, add flour, salt and pepper and stir until well blended. Gradually add the chicken broth and milk, stirring. Mixture will thicken and bubble.
5. Stir in mushrooms, chicken and vegetables. Mix well.

 6. Remove from heat. Spoon mixture into pie crust.
7. Cover with top crust, seal edges and flute. Brush with egg wash, and cut slits in top of pie to vent.
8. Slip pie onto a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 50 minutes, or until top crust is golden brown.
9. Let stand five - 10 minutes before serving.

Risotto with Asparagus, Shrimp and Porcini Mushrooms

Ah, Italia. The flavors of Italy in the spring ... arborio rice, roasted shrimp and asparagus, and a hint of lemon zest to brighten it all up ... topped with parmesan cheese, of course.  One of the best taste combinations since Caesar Cardini tossed a few anchovies into a salad back in the day.

So if you are like most cooks I know, the rigors of making risotto from scratch isn't on your Top 10. Mostly, because everything else in the kitchen comes to a screeching halt, while you add broth and stir, add broth and stir, add broth and stir ...

And if you are intimidated by anything other than a plain old white button mushroom, it's time you tried the magnificent porcini.

This recipe takes care of all that by using a packaged risotto, complete with funghi porcini ... about the best we've tried.  You can find it on your local grocer's shelves, where rice is sold. And here:

For extra depth and flavor, we roasted the shrimp and asapargus in the oven separately, then added them to the cooked risotto, with the zest of one lemon. A dash of grated Parmesan at table side is all you need to complete this one-pot (minimal clean-up!), delectable entrée.

Number of servings: 3-4
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Cook time: 18 minutes
Level: Easy

One package Vigo Alessi Imported Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 lb. fresh asparagus, washed, with tough ends removed
1 lb. fresh shrimp
Zest of one lemon
2 tsp. grated parmesan (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 400F.
1. Place asparagus spears on baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and one tablespoon of the olive oil. Using hands, mix to combine thoroughly. Arrange asparagus in single layer. Roast in oven for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool.

Raise oven temperature to 425F.
2. On the same baking sheet, mix shrimp, minced garlic, one tablespoon of olive oil using hands, to combine thoroughly. Roast shrimp for 10 minutes.

3. In a heavy saucepan, follow package instructions for making risotto.
4. While risotto is cooking, cut the asparagus spears into 2" pieces, and zest the lemon. Set aside.
5. When risotto is ready (18 minutes), remove from heat. Stir in the shrimp, asparagus and lemon zest.

6. At table side, dust with grated or shaved parmesan. Serve with a salad and a nice dry white Italian wine, like a Pinot Grigio or Frascati. Buon appetito!

Winning Hearts with a Heart!

Tell each other sweet nothin's over a heart shaped butter cake bursting with strawberries and vanilla-scented, sweetened whipped cream. This one is so easy to bake and assemble, you can do it in the morning, let it set during the day, and have it for dessert for three or more days. It also freezes really well. Serve it with a glass of sparkling Prosecco, or for the purists, a big frosted glass of milk.

Spicy Shrimp and Peanut Sauce

 We love the taste and flavors of Asian food, especially when they have a sassy kick and bite.  I spike up this one-pot meal (which takes less than a half hour start to finish) with red pepper flakes and a finely-diced chili pepper. It's impossible to have only one helping, so I always make a large amount. First time, I serve it hot out of the pot with a glass of Chardonnay or Pino Grigio. Cold leftovers are sensational with a frosty Kirin beer. Both hot and cold versions go well with a tossed salad of lettuce, carrots and miso ginger dressing.

One package of Udon noodles (find in your grocer's Asian food aisle)
One bottle of Peanut Sauce (Our favorite: Whole Foods Organic 365 Private Label)
2 lbs. cooked shrimp
3 large cloves fresh garlic, chopped finely
One bunch scallions, cut on bias, into 1/4" pieces
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fresh ginger, diced finely, or 1/4 tsp. dried ginger
Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
1 small jalapeño pepper, diced finely
1/2 hothouse or organic cucumber and 2 tbsp. cilantro for garnish
Lemon wedges for serving

Chop cilantro, peel and julienne cucumber, and set aside for garnish.

Boil water for noodles.  While noodles are boiling, heat butter and olive oil in large non-stick pan.When butter is sizzling, add shrimp and garlic. Cook until shrimp give up their liquid, about three minutes. Push to one side of pan and add scallions. Sauté until scallions are wilted, 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, diced jalapeño, ginger, salt and pepper to taste.  Cook another minute.  Add 1/3 cup peanut sauce. Mix well, turn off heat.

Drain noodles. Pour into serving bowl, add rest of sauce, and mix well.

Add shrimp mixture to noodles. Mix, garnish with cucumber and cilantro, serve with a wedge of lemon.  In the photo below, I added a tiny stalk of broccoli for extra crunch. Enjoy!!

Happy New Year!