Archive for August 17, 2015

Easy Bruschetta

Easy Bruschetta is quick and simple to prepare

Easy Bruschetta is quick and simple to prepare

When I’m looking for a simple, quick and easy dish to prepare at the end of a long day, I turn to a recipe that’s a favorite at our house.

I found EASY BRUSCHETTA always seems to hit the spot for us. We even enjoy it for breakfast. I’ll top the bruschetta with over-easy fried eggs and it’s a hit at the picnic table for a breakfast outing.

When preparing this dish I sometimes use the oldest loaf of French or Italian bread I have on hand. The older bread works best as it doesn’t become too moist under the ingredients. You can even purchase day-old bread for this recipe.

I slice the bread diagonally and usually about ¾ to 1 inch thick. Be sure to preheat your oven to 350 degrees while you’re preparing your ingredients.

Shredded  Mozzarella cheese added before baking

Shredded Mozzarella cheese added before baking

Place the bread slices on a baking sheet. You may want to put the slices in the oven for about a minute to lightly toast them before you begin layering the ingredients. Next cover the slices with the seasoned tomato sauce. If I’m in a hurry I just use plain old ketchup. It works fine, especially in a pinch. I use the back of a teaspoon to smooth the sauce (ketchup) out making sure the slices are covered completely with a generous amount. Sprinkle Italian Seasoning lightly over each slice.

Next layer your Canadian bacon over the sauce mixture. You can add as little or as much bacon as you wish. If you don’t have Canadian bacon on hand you can use regular sandwich-style ham, just cut it into sections to fit the bread slices.

Slice the tomato thinly and overlap it on top of the other ingredients. Here again, depending on your taste, you can cut down on the amount of tomatoes on each slice.

Top all this off with a generous amount of Mozzarella shredded cheese. Be sure to clean up any excess cheese on the baking sheet otherwise you’ll have a hard time cleaning up.

Place the baking sheet in the pre-heated oven for about 8 minutes. You’ll want to keep a close eye on it as ovens vary in temperature. When the cheese is melted like you want, turn the oven to broil on high and continue cooking for about 30 to 45 seconds to brown the slices slightly. Remove from oven, sprinkle with fresh basil, finely minced, and serve.

This dish makes enough for 3 to 4 people or you can enjoy the leftovers the next day. It keeps well in the refrigerator. This is also a recipe you can play with by adding any ingredients you like.

This is quick, simple and easy to make. It’s more filling then you might think.

One other note: you could even cut the slices into bite-size pieces, add a toothpick to each and have a tasty appetizer.

Have you made a dish like this before? What other ingredients would you try on it? Thanks for dropping by.

Cucina felice!

Easy Bruschetta

Prep time: 

Cook time: 

Total time: 

Serves: 3-4 Servings

  • ¾ Loaf French or Italian Bread
  • *Seasoned tomato sauce
  • 3 ½ ounces Canadian bacon
  • 1 Large tomato, thinly sliced
  • Shredded Mozzarella (to taste)
  • Italian Seasoning (to taste)
  • Fresh Basil (6 to 8 leaves, finely minced)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut the bread diagonally into ¾-inch slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet. You can toast the bread lightly for about a minute before adding any ingredients.
  3. Cover each slice of bread generously with the seasoned tomato sauce. Sprinkle with Italian Seasoning. Put slices of Canadian bacon over each slice. Add the thinly sliced tomatoes and top off with a good amount of shredded Mozzarella cheese.
  4. *Seasoned tomato sauce is just combining a can of tomato sauce with a mixture of herbs such as oregano, thyme, basil or Italian Seasoning.
  5. Place in oven for 8 minutes or until the cheese melts to the desired texture you want. Change oven to broil on high and cook for another 30 to 45 seconds until golden brown. Remove and top with fresh basil, finely minced, and serve.


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Alabama Restaurant Week

I Love Alabama Food logoWhen it comes to food, there’s nothing like home cooking. But there are times you just want to get out of the kitchen and let someone else do the cooking.

I’m a firm believer in patronizing local restaurants. It’s a great way to help your community thrive. Having said that, I also enjoy exploring new restaurants, trying new types of cuisine and discovering great new dishes. While doing that, you get to meet some amazing new people and find new places to visit along the way.

With that in mind I want to tell you about a fun and exciting event that begins today in the great state of Alabama where I live.

The Alabama Tourism Department is hosting Alabama Restaurant Week. This culinary event actually runs for 10 days (Aug. 14-23) and unites the diverse range of cuisine the state has to offer. It’s highlighted as “Savor the cuisine of Sweet Home Alabama with specially priced meals featured at restaurants during this I Love Alabama Food special event.”

Restaurants participating in the event are asked to offer customers a pre-fixed two-course lunch and/or a three-course dinner. The two-course lunch is supposed to include a main course and either a starter or dessert. The fixed price per person for the lunch menus is $5, $10 and $15 (not including tax, tip and drink). The three-course dinner meal is supposed to consist of a starter, main course and dessert. The fixed price per person for the dinner menus is $10, $20 and $30 (not including tax, tip and drink). Patrons have to ask for the ‘Alabama Restaurant Week meal’ at a participating restaurant to get the special rate.

Not all restaurants in the state are participating as most chain restaurants don’t qualify. The tourism department wants to highlight restaurants owned and operated in the state. Sadly in some counties there are no restaurants participating. I found that a couple of restaurants in my county and in a surrounding county are participating so I’ll be checking them out.

If you live in Alabama or plan to visit during this special event, you can find out which restaurants are participating by clicking on the Alabama Restaurant Week website.

The restaurants participating in this event are a very diverse group accumulating in a smorgasbord of tasty meals to enjoy.

Have you ever tried a new restaurant as a result of a special event like this? If so, what was the outcome? Hop in the car and head to Alabama during this 10-day event to enjoy Alabama Restaurant Week.

Felice mangiare (Happy eating)!!

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BLT With A Twist

Fried BLT on a plate - The Surprised GourmetDo you sometimes just need a quick and easy meal? Then why not give the tried and true BLT a try with a little twist for a different taste?

When preparing this dish, I used a loaf of Italian Bread, but you could use French bread just as easy. I didn’t use regular loaf bread as that follows the traditional recipe and we’re looking to give this a few twists.

To begin with, I cut a large semi-ripe tomato into ¼-inch slices. I would have preferred to use a green tomato but didn’t have one handy at the time. I battered the slices in a mixture of corn meal mix, Lawry’s Garlic Salt, and fresh ground black pepper. Then I fried the slices in a skillet using Canola oil. When the slices were golden brown, I placed them on a paper towel to drain.Fried BLT shown open - The Surprised Gourmet

While the tomato was frying, I fried the bacon in a second skillet until it was crispy. If you prefer your bacon a little more flexible, that works too. Place the bacon on paper towels to drain when it reaches the desired texture you want.

Next using about ¾ of the Italian loaf, I cut the bread in half lengthwise. You can use the entire loaf if you so desire, depending on the amount of sandwich you want to make. I covered each half of the bread generously with mayonnaise. To add even more of a twist you could add mustard or use it instead of the mayo.

I placed a layer of spinach on one half the bread and topped that off with the slices of Kraft Velveeta Sharp Cheddar Cheese. Next I added the bacon and finish the sandwich off with the slices of fried tomato. Add the top half of your sandwich, press down and then cut into desired sections. This sandwich can be a bit messy so be sure to have plenty of napkins handy.

Fried BLT - The Surprised GourmetThis Fried Tomato BLT can be served alone or with a portion of homemade potato wedges (you can find out how to prepare them here).

When you finish with your frying, don’t throw the oil away. Save your bacon drippings and any oil left from the fried tomato. Put the oils in separate glass containers, cover them, refrigerate and use within a few days. You can filter the oil through a cheese cloth to remove any unwanted sediment.

Have you ever tried a Fried Tomato BLT before? Do you even like Fried Green Tomatoes? Care to share a family favorite sandwich or a quick meal with us?

Thanks for visiting, here’s the recipe.

Cucina felice!

BLT With A Twist


Serves: 2 to 3 servings

  • ¾ Loaf Italian Bread (or French Bread)
  • 1 Pack (12 ounces) Bacon
  • 1 Large Semi-Ripe Tomato
  • 1 Cup Spinach, Packed
  • 3 Slices Kraft Velveeta Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • Mayonnaise
  • Lawry’s Garlic Salt (to taste)
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper (to taste)
  • ½ Cup Corn Meal Mix
  • Canola Oil
  1. Fry the bacon until crispy and set aside on paper towels to drain. You can bake the bacon in the oven if you prefer.
  2. Cut the tomato into ¼-inch slices and batter in a mixture of corn meal mix, Lawry’s Garlic Salt and fresh ground black pepper. Fry the tomato in Canola oil (enough to cover the slices) until they are golden brown, set aside on paper towels to drain.
  3. Cut the bread in half lengthwise. Cover each side with mayonnaise to taste.
  4. Put a layer of spinach on top of one half of the bread and top with the slices of Kraft Velveeta Sharp Cheddar Cheese. Place the bacon next followed by the slices of Fried tomato. Put the top on the sandwich, pressed down and then cut into desired sections.


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Stuffed Jumbo Shells

Inside a Stuffed Jumbo Shell - TheSurprisedGourmetIt’s always fun to make a pasta recipe, even if it does take a little extra time.

There’s nothing like Stuffed Jumbo Shells to hit the spot when you’re craving a gooey goodness.

Jumbo Shell Mixture
This is how the sauce mixture should look as it cooks.

This recipe takes a little time, but has so many possibilities. If there are leftovers you can make so many other recipes from that. A good thing about being the cook to me is that you get to taste your mixture as you go along.

As you prepare the cottage cheese mixture, finely chop the spinach. I never use baby spinach anymore. I found that the regular spinach contains small leaves and the cost is much more reasonable.

The cottage cheese mixture comes together with the chopped spinach

This Stuffed Jumbo Shells dish is most delicious right out of the oven, but it is one you can prepare ahead of time, refrigerate and warm up when guests arrive. It also makes a lovely dish to share with someone having a house-warming party, birthday or get an old-fashion get-together.

While this meal is cooking you can sit back and relax with your favorite wine or beer. Some might suggest certain wines or beer to go with this dish, I say just enjoy your favorite beverage whatever it might be. Check out the directions below and try your hand at this tasty entrée.

**You can adjust the amounts of seasoning in this recipe to your taste. I’m of Italian descent and tend to go toward a stronger flavor in my dishes.

Thanks for stopping by today and viewing this recipe. I hope you give it a try. If you do, let me know what you think.

Cucina felice!

Stuffed Jumbo Shells
Jumbo Shells ready for the oven
  • 12 ounce package Jumbo Shells
  • SAUCE:
  • ½ Onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
  • 3 Tablespoons Canola oil
  • 2 Medium ribs of celery, leaves included (cut length-wise, then dice into ¼ inch pieces
  • 3 Heaping Tablespoons minced garlic (or 6 whole cloves of garlic, finely minced)
  • 3 Tablespoons dried Italian Seasoning
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 8 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 (14 ½ ounce) Cans diced tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground salt (Sea or Kosher)
  • 2 Cups water
  • 2 Cups cottage cheese
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 Cups Italian Cheese Blend (Mozzarella, Provolone, Parmesan, Romano, Fontina and Asiago)
  • 2 Cups packed fresh spinach, then finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground salt (Sea or Kosher)
  • 1 Large egg, beaten
  1. Put Canola oil in 6 quart sauce pan on medium heat. Add onions and celery to oil and sauté for 3 minutes. Turn down the heat just a little so the garlic won’t burn and then add garlic of your choice. I use Spice World Minced Garlic, but you can use 6 whole cloves of garlic finely minced. Continue to cook for another minute.
  2. Add the Italian Seasoning and let cook until the seasonings releases some of its flavors. Next add the tomato paste and tomato sauce. Give it a good stir combining all the ingredients well and cook another one minute stirring occasionally. Add two (14 ½ ounce) cans of diced tomatoes. Stir well, add ground salt, black pepper and water. You can add more salt and pepper as needed for your taste.
  3. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer on low for approximately an hour, stirring occasionally to keep the mixture from sticking.
  4. While the sauce is cooking, prepare the stuffing mixture.
  5. Meanwhile, heat about 4 quarts of water in another 6 quart pan for the shells. Read the directions on your pasta package to regulate the right amount of water for the amount of pasta you’re using. You may need more or less water boiling depending on the amount you’re preparing.
  6. Use an immersion blender and puree the cottage cheese. Add oregano and stir. Next add the cheese blend and mix well. Finely chop the spinach and add to the cottage cheese mixture. Add salt and mix well. It’s not necessary to use baby spinach as the regular pack of spinach works just as well at a better price. Finish the stuffing by adding the egg, well beaten, to help bind the ingredients. Cover and set aside. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  7. When ready to prepare the shells, pour a portion of the sauce mixture into a large casserole dish. Drain the shells and fill with the cottage cheese mixture and place in the casserole dish on the sauce mixture. Use about 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons of mixture or fill to your desired thickness. Fill shells carefully as they will tear apart, but not to worry you can easily repair them. After the shells are laid out in the casserole dish, ladle sauce over the top of them.
  8. If you have shells (broken or otherwise) left over, don’t worry. You can use them in another pasta dish or you can chop them up and put them in any leftover sauce you might have from this recipe.
  9. After the shells are covered in sauce, place aluminum foil over the casserole pan. Place the dish in a pre-heated 350 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes. Take from oven, remove foil, top with shredded cheese (any flavor of your choice such as sharp cheddar or fresh grated Parmesan) and place back in the oven just long enough to melt the cheese topping. The cheese will actually begin to melt and you don't necessarily have to put it back in the oven if you desire not to.
  10. Garnish with sprigs or finely minced fresh basil for a splash of color and enjoy.

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Simple Pleasures Breakfast

Enjoying breakfast outdoors

Enjoying breakfast outdoors

Do you and your family have a favorite breakfast ritual? Is there anything special that y’all do concerning breakfast on those days everyone can enjoy it together?

For our family, it’s eating outdoors on the picnic table when the weather permits. And we have been known to eat out there even when the wind was blowing so hard you had to anchor everything down to keep it on the table.

There’s just something about eating outdoors, looking out over the lake that enhances any meal. Maybe it’s because the experience relaxes you and you’re able to enjoy your meal that much better without the interruptions you have indoors from TVs and such.

You can take simple dishes and make them an enjoyable meal. You have little stress preparing the food and the time to enjoy the simple pleasures of those you’re with.

Cutting the ingredients for the muffin

Cutting the ingredients for the muffin

One of our favorite breakfast meals is homemade fries and an English muffin filled with ham, scrambled egg and a slice of Kraft Velveeta Sharp Cheddar Cheese. Pair that with a cup of fresh ground Dark Italian Roast coffee and you have a delicious combination.

A meal doesn’t have to always be fancy and elegant to be enjoyed. The time you spend enjoying the meal with family and friends is what makes it special.

I start with four average size potatoes, wash and pat dry. Then cut them into wedges leaving the skins on. Put enough Canola oil in a skillet to cover the potatoes completely. Turn the oil on high to begin with. Once it’s heated up, turn the heat to medium, add potatoes carefully and cook until golden brown, turning occasionally.

The home fries cooking in Canola oil

The home fries cooking in Canola oil

While the potatoes are cooking, cut English muffins in half and toast. Just pop them in the toaster to achieve your desired texture.

Using a cookie cutter (or plastic Tupperware container like I do), cut the ham and cheese into circles the same size as the muffins. Scramble your eggs, but leave them in an omelete-like texture so you can also cut circles out of them. You can add the excess pieces from the circles to the muffins if you want a little extra in your muffin. You can add butter, mayonnaise, mustard or nothing to your muffin before you begin assembling it.

Ready to enjoy

Ready to enjoy

When the potatoes are done, carefully remove them and place on paper towels to drain. Quickly sprinkle your choice of seasoning on them. I use Lawry’s Garlic Salt and fresh ground black pepper for a nice bite.

Assemble your muffins and home fries on a plate, grab a cup of coffee and joins us at the picnic table. It’s a great way to enjoy good food, good company, and watch the boaters go by.

Cucina felice!

Simple Pleasures Breakfast


Serves: 2

  • 4 Average size potatoes
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 2 Slices Kraft Velveeta Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 4 Slices cooked sandwich ham
  • 2 English muffins
  • Canola oil
  • Lawry's Garlic Salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  1. Wash and dry potatoes, cut into wedges. Heat Canola oil in skillet (enough to completely cover potatoes). Once oil is hot, turn down to medium heat and carefully add potatoes. Cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
  2. Scramble eggs in a splash of Canola oil. Cook until the texture of an omelet and remove.
  3. Cut English muffins in half and toast.
  4. Using cookie cutter, cut circles the size of the muffins in the eggs, ham and cheese. Excess from the circles can be added to the muffins.
  5. You can add butter, mayonnaise, mustard or nothing to the muffins and then begin your assembly. Place the ham, cheese and egg on a muffin half, top with the other muffin half and place on a plate.
  6. When the home fries are golden brown, carefully remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain. Sprinkle your choice of seasonings (garlic salt, black pepper, etc.) on the fries while they are piping hot. Add to plate with English muffin and serve.
  7. The home fries are good by themselves or dabbed in your favorite condiments.


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Stepping Into A Brave New World

Hi all!

Enjoy a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage as we visit. Thanks for stopping by.

This is my first post to begin my new venture into blogdom as The Surprised Gourmet. Come on in, have a cup of coffee (or your favorite beverage) with me, relax and let’s talk about food, family, fun, and life in general.

I’m a Southern gentleman who traces his love of food back to the traditions of his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. I enjoy traditional cooking, but also love to experiment with new foods and methods.

Bear with me as I navigate this new course and learn the ins and outs of blogging. I’m here to share my love of cooking with you, along with tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way to make cooking easier and more fun. In exchange I hope to learn from you as well.

As I’m just getting started, I’m not associated with all the social media links I need to be even though they’re listed in my sidebar. I’ll get connected to all of them soon and hope you’ll connect with me there as well. I hope to be blogging at least 2 to 3 times a week, but in the beginning I’ll probably just be blogging on Mondays and Wednesdays.

I look forward to getting to know y’all and share my enthusiasm about cooking. There’s just something about preparing food and eating that brings family and friends closer together. Whether it’s a complex elegant meal or a simple sandwich, it’s all about enjoying the process as well as the end results.

So I invite you into my virtual kitchen, have a cup of coffee (or tea), sit back and relax as we browse through recipes and talk about food, family and life in general.

Cucina felice! (In case you’re wondering, that’s ‘happy cooking’ in Italian.)

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