General, Product Reviews

Limoncello Love 🍋

It all started in 2011 when my (now) husband Chris and I took at trip to Walt Disney World. We’re both super into food and drinks and he and I aimlessly spent our first real trip together wandering around the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, tasting and sipping our days away. One night, we stopped to kill some time in Epcot’s Italy Pavilion before dinner, and that’s where it happened. Chris went into this little bar/wine spot and emerged with two shot glasses of a neon yellow-looking icy cold beverage. “It’s limoncello”, he said, “you’ll like it” (because I’m known to gravitate toward sweet and citrusy flavors). Well I did, and every year since then, we stop at that spot and now buy 4 shots (2 each!) and sip away as if we’re really in Italy.

A few years ago, we started buying bottles during each trip to bring home with us – we’re “Disney people” and typically go once a year. It was pricey at Epcot, but we had grown to love it so much, that we didn’t want to wait for our next trip to have it again, since we couldn’t find it locally until recently. Well, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, our trip that was scheduled for 2020 has now been rescheduled for 2022, but more importantly, WE RAN OUT OF OUR BELOVED LIMONCELLO! And to make matters worse, (another ‘due to the pandemic’ thing), the local wine shop we’ve been relying on lately has been unable to get it for us. Enter actor/writer/foodie Stanley Tucci…

Stanley Tucci starred in a wonderful documentary series on CNN called Searching for Italy. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a link to watch on Apple TV. If you don’t have Apple TV, I’m pretty sure you can find it through your cable’s On Demand feature on CNN.

In each episode, Stanley brought you to different regions – from the tiniest of towns to the sprawling cities, focusing on the food and history of each area. One that caught our eye was the episode featuring the Amalfi Coast. During that episode, he visited a limoncello producer that we literally paused and rewound and watched over and over to try and see the label on the bottle. We finally got it and started Googling. We came up with La Valle dei Mulini, an iconic brand from Italy that identifies the products of the historic Aceto Family, five generations of PGI Amalfi Coast Lemon farmers. Since 1825 they have preserved this passion keeping intact the craftsmanship handed down over time and using only the organic-certified lemons that they grow, harvest and select on their own. From producer to consumer, their products are authentic Amalfi.

We ordered a few bottles (how bad could it be, am I right?), and got our order confirmation. We were definitely a little nervous about ordering from outside the country, but we gave it a shot and waited for a tracking number. We checked email almost every day (impatient much??), and didn’t see one, but were happily surprised a couple of short weeks later to find a box at our door FROM ITALY!

We unwrapped and immediately put a bottle in the freezer to chill it up. The colder it gets, the more syrupy it becomes and it goes down smooth! There is definitely a different taste compared to what we’ve become used to – this is just the right amount of sweet and tart with bright citrus flavor, which I imagine can only happen if you get the good stuff direct from the source. So everyone, say a quick prayer for my husband, who will now be ordering limoncello from Italy a few times a year 😂

Next stop, making a plan to take that trip to Italy to drink this under the lemon trees! I found the perfect spot…

Photo Credit: Amazing Architecture – @Archi_Mondo Twitter

Recipes

Gruyere/Swiss Grilled Cheese

Yes, it’s another grilled sandwich post, but I just tried a new cheese blend from Trader Joe’s and feel the need to tell everyone how great it is 😂

This cheese is amazing! Sharp, creamy, and great for grilled cheese or melting into your homemade macaroni and cheese. The best part: it’s only $4.99 at my Trader Joe’s!

The how-to is as simple as just making grilled cheese how your normally make it, but some of my suggestions for success are below:

• Prepare your pan – either with butter or your favorite oil non-stick spray
• Use good bread: I used the Trader Joe’s Tuscan Italian bread – works perfectly!
• Prepare your bread: always butter the outside of your bread! It makes for a nice, golden brown crust
• Let the cheese start melting on the bottom halves before adding the tops and flipping (otherwise you’ll have shredded cheese everywhere!

Enjoy! 🧀

Recipes

Quick Cuban Sandwich-Inspired Grilled Sandwiches

I say ‘inspired’ because usually, a lot of time goes into a true Cuban sandwich. With tender slow-roasted pork typically as the main ingredient, a good Cuban basically consists of meats, cheese, pickles and mustard on a nice, crusty bread.

My variation, let’s call it a ‘deli-improvised’ version, is quick, easy and full of flavor. And, it makes a great dinner option when you’ve run out of ideas! Bonus: it only uses one pan (easy clean up!). The best tip I can offer is to work quickly, since your pan is heating up as you start piling up your sandwich.

Add these items to your grocery shopping list (amounts will vary depending on how many people you’re feeding) and watch the slide show below for the step by step how-to!

  • Good bread: I used what my supermarket calls “Italian Panne”. It’s a round, crusty Italian bread that’s ideal for panini, avocado toast and grilled cheese.
  • Deli Sliced Boiled Ham – sliced thin
  • Deli Sliced Roasted Turkey – sliced thin
  • Deli Sliced Swiss Cheese – sliced thin (I used Jarlsberg)
  • Sliced Pickles – I used Vlasik Stackers Kosher Dill (they’re sliced lengthwise and fit perfectly on these sandwiches!)
  • Yellow Mustard – up for debate – we only had Spicy Brown in the house at the time and it worked just fine, however I think if you’re a yellow mustard lover, go with that!
  • Olive Oil Cooking Spray – to coat pan and bread tops

Recipes

Summer Black Bean Salad

This refreshing salad makes a great side for any summer meal – from sandwiches and burgers to tacos and fish – this recipe can be completely customized to your liking and it never disappoints!

Things to keep in mind: if using avocado, always add it just before serving to avoid browning. Also, this salad is great when made ahead and chilled, so make it the night before (or a few hours before) your meal and the flavors will really pop when it has time to sit and marinate.

The basics: black beans, avocado, tomatoes, peppers, red onion, limes, and garlic.

Summer Black Bean Salad (serves 4-6)

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tomatoes (I used Roma), chopped
  • 2 ears fresh corn, removed from cob – feel free to replace with frozen corn or canned (drained)
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 large avocado
  • 2 fresh peppers (I used a combo of red and orange, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon if you’re using pre-minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • fresh cilantro, to taste
Chop and dump!

How to – the easy chop and dump method!

  • Rinse and drain black beans, put in a large bowl.
  • Remove corn from cob and add to bowl.
  • Chop all vegetables and add to beans.
  • Add garlic, olive oil, lime juice, and cilantro if using, and stir to combine.
  • When ready to serve, chop avocado and add to salad. Mix again and serve. Store leftovers in a sealed container.
The delicious end result!
Recipes

Bakin’ Bacon

If you’re in the market for flat, crispy bacon – you’ve found the right post!

Baking bacon in the oven is quick, easy, and surprisingly mess-free! I was terrified that I’d set my oven on fire, imagining bacon grease splattering everywhere, but I’m happy to report that didn’t happen at all.

Crispy, and flat! Great for piling on sandwiches 🥓

How to: simply preheat your oven to 400°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Line bacon on top of foil (slightly overlapping is ok) and bake for 20-25 mins (or until done to your desired crispness).

Clean up is easy: remove bacon slices and drain on a paper towel. Allow sheet pan to cool and remove foil with drippings.

Recipes

30 Minute Main: Instant Pot Chicken Legs

Got 30 minutes? Then you can make some really great chicken legs for dinner! These easy chicken legs start out in your Instant Pot and finish off under the broiler (or in a super hot oven) for an end result that’s moist and tender inside, and crispy outside. Starting off in the Instant Pot simply speeds up the cooking process (and retains those juices!), so you’ll have dinner on the table in no time at all. Tip: at the 15-minute mark, make your sides so that your complete meal is done all at once!

This recipe is just three easy steps:

  1. Season your chicken legs
  2. Place into your Instant Pot (on top of the trivet to prevent burning)
  3. When done, finish off in a hot oven or broiler to crisp up the skin

My all-time favorite flavor booster is Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning. I literally use it every day! From chicken to steak to roasted veggies and eggs, it adds that perfect little bit of flavor and tastes great on everything. In this recipe, I mixed up my dry rub and ground a hefty amount of this into the mix.


Instant Pot Chicken Legs
Serves 4
Total Time 30 mins


You’ll Need:

  • 3-4lbs Chicken Legs
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: paprika, chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper (and if using, Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning)
  • 1 Cup water or chicken broth
  • Your favorite BBQ Sauce (I love Sweet Baby Ray’s)

How to:

  1. Combine all of your spices in a bowl and rub all over chicken legs.
  2. Place trivet inside the Instant Pot and add 1 Cup of water (or broth) to the pot.
  3. Pile up your chicken legs on top of the trivet.
  4. Close lid and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes (turn off Keep Warm feature).
  5. While cooking, preheat oven to 500 degrees F and make your sides.
  6. When done, quick release your pot and allow the steam to fully exit. Once pressure sensor drops and all steam has been released, set a timer for 5 minutes and let it sit.
  7. Once finished, your chicken legs are cooked! You can eat them as is, or if you prefer a crispy skin, line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray. Then, coat legs with your favorite barbecue sauce and place in the 500 degree oven for 10-15 mins.

Recipes

Baby Back Ribs (in the oven!)

Happy 4th of July! 🇺🇸

Nothing quite says American BBQ than baby back ribs. Mine are fall-off-the-bone delicious and super easy to make in the oven. Start with a dry rub first for the most flavor, then finish them off with your favorite barbecue sauce.

Before, during and after! Approx 3-4 hour cook time plus 15 mins under the broiler.

You’ll need:

  • 1/4 cup sea salt
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 3-4 pounds baby back pork ribs (2 to 3 slabs)
  • 2 cups your favorite BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray’s)

How to:

  • Preheat oven to 275° and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Mix up dry ingredients and rub each rib slab with mix. Wrap slabs in heavy-duty aluminum foil; place on sheet pan.
  • Bake 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove from oven, and unwrap ribs and discard foil and drippings. Place ribs directly on sheet pan and brush with barbecue sauce on top of each slab. Return to oven; bake at 275°F until ribs are tender and meat is pulling away from bones, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  • After cooking, brush with barbecue sauce again and raise oven temperature to 450° F. Cook an additional 10-15 mins. Cut up ribs and serve!

General

My Year with Anosmia

an·os·mi·a / aˈnäzmēə, aˈnäsmēə / noun MEDICINE

  1. the loss of the sense of smell, either total or partial. It may be caused by head injury, infection, or blockage of the nose.

It took me a year to talk about this on here, but I figured it might shed some light as to why I haven’t completely dived in to sharing my fabulous recipes as I originally wanted to. While most of the world was smack in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, I decided to spice things up a bit.

On June 28, 2020, I had an accident. One that was incredibly preventable and in retrospect, one of those “what was I thinking” moments as an almost 48 year old person. I was outside with my teenager who had just gotten a new skateboard (yep, it’s exactly what you think happened). I was telling her stories of how in my younger days, I (kind of) skated and was able to do (easy) tricks, etc. I thought it would be a great idea to hop on and at least show her how to balance, and roll around – nothing fancy. Putting on a helmet didn’t even cross my mind since I was being “careful” and not doing anything fast/scary/risky. Or so I thought.

To make a really long and traumatic story short, I fell. And I fell hard. After a CT scan and x-ray at the emergency room, I was diagnosed with a bad concussion and a closed fracture of the occipital bone – which is that bone in the back of your head, just above your neck and apparently a hard one to actually break (so HUGE SHOUT OUT to that low bun I decided to wear in my hair that day that softened the blow and protected me). The headache was incredible. I was dizzy, nauseated, off-balance, all of the typical concussion “things” but I feel like I felt them times ten after having pretty easily recovered from a very mild concussion the year before (and a cooking related one! – a roasting pan fell from a shelf onto my head). Anyway, on the way home, we stopped to pick up McDonald’s since we had missed dinner earlier and despite everything that was going on – I was starving. I was handed a bag of fries and chicken nuggets and I noticed something weird right after my first bite. My Mickey D’s was super salty (way more than usual). I kept eating just to eat ‘something’ to mesh with all the Tylenol in my stomach, and chalked it up to the fact that I was crying heavily for the last few hours, and as a result, my nose was really congested (it was almost like when you’re sick, and things don’t taste right), so I let it go for the night.

The next couple of days went by and I was still loaded with congestion and bad headaches. My nose alternated between running and clogged. Having a sinus headache + a back of the head, head injury headache was definitely no fun. After a week of televists with my doctor and my complaining about the headaches and the lack of smell and taste (and a Covid infection ruled out), I was passed on to a great neurosurgeon who took one look at me through the screen and noticed that I had a black eye. I noticed it too, but assumed I had bumped it on the water bottle I was holding when I fell. Not the case. In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

When you hit the back of your head, the brain is forced back then bounces foward, basically smashing into the front of your face, and in my case, causing the black eye and the shearing of my olfactory nerves (those little things you need to smell). I was happy to finally hear that “this happens” and much more often with an injury like mine. The headaches would go away they said, but the Anosmia was another story. No time frame, no ‘cure’, no magic pill. Not what I wanted to hear.

So, what now?

After being told there was nothing to do but wait, I was directed to an ENT for one final opinion. He literally saw me for 15 minutes and handed me a printed sheet about smell training with scented oils and instructions to do regular sinus rinses. I did both of those things diligently for the first three months with little progress. The most smell I got was being able to kind of ‘feel’ a cold sensation in my nose, (but not really smell) peppermint oil. I dove deep into the internet, reading article after article – even 16-page scientific documents – all while trying to just be patient. I read about other people’s experiences with anosmia recovery and it’s hit or miss. But those stories also sparked a whole new level of panic (thanks, internet) – I worried all the time about what I couldn’t smell… what if there was a fire? A gas leak? Did I put deodorant on? Is the raw chicken good? Does the trash need to go out? All of that. It’s unreal how something like scent is so taken for granted. Regardless, I was on a mission to heal myself and had to succumb to relying on the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms to do their jobs. My husband and daughter are now the sniffers for me when it comes to food, trash, etc…

My takeaway from all of the articles I read had me come up with this supplement “therapy” that I’ve been using for the last few months. Please don’t assume that my list is a cure and always ask your doctor before you start taking anything, but this regimen has been safe for me and the only thing that’s given me any improvement in a year:

– Regular multivitamin + extra vitamin C and D
– 600mg Alpha Lipoic Acid
– MegaRed Advanced 600mg Omega3 Algae Oil
-15-30mg Zinc Picolinate
– I drink a lot of turmeric and ginger tea (anti-inflammatory)
– And today, I’m adding CoQ10 because I started “researching” again, and read some good things about it

The current list of things I CAN smell is:

Oranges, cut grass, my shampoo, Ellia Blended Oils in “Let it Go” and “Fight It” (each definitely smells different), lemons, and most recently garlic and onion (but they kind of smell the same). I’m also getting some smells from things like the Febreeze in the work bathroom, but can’t pinpoint a scent – it just smells sweet. Another point too is that I have not smelled anything gross, so that’s been a huge plus, I guess? I am trying now to focus on smelling everything I can that’s a fresh, not a manufactured scent. So flowers, or any fruit or veggie I cut up, you can bet I’m sticking my nose in them.

What I really miss now are things I loved to smell, like clean laundry from the dryer, brownies baking in the oven, summer, Yankee Candles (!), or my Grandma’s house; and tasting real food. Everything I’ve eaten for the last year has gone from being all about flavor to all about texture. Crunchy, creamy, spicy, salty… I was never one for a lot of spice, but now I add red pepper flakes or Trader Joe’s Bagel Seasoning on just about everything because I can get that little bit of flavor through, which makes me feel like there’s still some hope. Burgers, which I used to love, just taste like metal to me right now. And the big question – CILANTRO – yep, it tastes like soap to me now (it didn’t before)!!

If you’re reading this, and you or someone you know is going through the same thing, just remember that you’re not alone. In my “research”, I found so many posts like this from real people and many have recovered, it just took a lot of time and patience. I’m still suffering with some mild, post-concussion headaches, but the loss of smell is truly one that’s debilitating. I’d also love to compare notes if you’ve gone through this and gotten your smell back – contact me and share your secrets! Meanwhile, I’ll keep cooking my best and sharing my tried-and-true recipes with you!

Art, General

Reintroducing… my Etsy Shop!

I’ve been a hobby artist all my life. I’ve always loved painting, drawing, and doodling. About 15 years ago, I loaded some work into my Etsy shop, and I’ve been selling my artwork on and off ever since.

In my shop, you’ll find original paintings, mostly watercolors, and mostly florals and plants (because I’m obsessed!). I hope you’ll take a look around and find something you like. I’m currently offering a discount code to anyone that purchases after seeing this – a little blog test of sorts 🙂 – so use code CROCKPOTS at checkout for free shipping on any order, USA addresses only. Expires 12/31/2021.

Original art is a really great way to decorate your space with something that no one else has! I never create or sell prints of my work, so you can rest assured that the art you receive is 100% unique and there will never be another exactly like it.

I also take on commission work (custom orders), so if you have an idea for something you’d like me to paint – message me here with your ideas and pricing. Take a peek at my latest work below, and visit my Etsy shop for the full assortment of available pieces!