Monday, November 14, 2011

Chicken Sauté Provençale Style

As I was looking back through the recipes I had posted in the last year I was amazed to find that I had not put this one up. It is absolutely one of my go-to recipes - just as appropriate for an important dinner with the boss as a quick weeknight meal - the epicurian equivalent of the perfect day to night outfit, as it were. This recipes embodies pretty much everything I love about cooking and reaffirms that good food does not have to be fussy or take hours, though those recipes have their place in my world as well.

This is good all year round. In the fall/winter I will pair it with green beans, rice and crusty bread for soaking up all the good sauce; in the spring/summer I will serve it with roasted asparagus and couscous for a lighter fare.

I originally found this recipe in one of my well-loved cookbooks, Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library "Healthy Cooking". The chicken dish is low in calorie (222 calories per serving) and high in flavor.

Couple of notes:
I would recommend using regular olive oil here. You want that olive flavor present and extra virgin just will not have enough presence. If it's all you have in the pantry, no sweat, but if you have a choice, use high test this time.

As always fresh herbs make a difference. I know this is my battle cry but with so many basic ones readily available now in the grocery store there really isn't a reason not to use them - it makes such a difference in the taste.

For the wine, cook with what you would drink with. If you don't want to have to open a bottle just to decant a 1/2 cup of wine or if you are an infrequent white wine drinker here is a tip. When you do drink white, save the last little bit of the bottle and pour it into an ice tray. Freeze the wine cubes and then pop them into a plastic freezer bag. Then when you need a touch of wine, you can put a couple of cubes in the recipe and you are good to go.

I always make extra sauce. It is delicious the next day poured over leftover rice or couscous and warmed quickly in the microwave.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Chicken Sauté Provençale

2 tablespoons good olive oil 
4 4-5 oz skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion (about half an onion)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 can chopped tomatoes (I use Muir Glen Fire Roasted, No-Salt Added Diced Tomatoes)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano ( substitute 1 tsp dried oregano)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Parsley for garnish

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add oil and warm.

When hot, add chicken, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook, turning the chicken once, 2-3 minutes each side. Chicken should be lightly browned on the outside.

Add the wine and bring to a boil.

Add tomatoes and oregano and return to boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover partially and cook 5-7 minutes. Sauce should have thickened and chicken have become opaque throughout when cut with a knife.

For party presentations, transfer chicken to a warmed platter. Spoon sauce on top, sprinkle with parsley and garnish with parsley sprigs. For a more casual meal, spoon starch (rice, couscous etc) on to plate and layer chicken on top. Spoon sauce over all and top with fresh chopped parsley. Serve at once.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Comfort Food Classics: Chicken Noodle Soup

As the weather finally gets colder and the days shorter I find myself making more comfort food. Chicken Noodle Soup is one of those recipes that I think people dismiss sometimes as too basic, but when made well can really taste simply delicious. I have played around with a recipe for years and even when my friend Paul asked me to resend a version I had sent him some time ago I wasn't sure if I could do that  - exactly - so this is where I am now. I can't really take any credit for the origins of this recipe. The base is a hybrid formed from the marriages of Williams-Sonoma and Barefoot Contessa recipes (not a bad coupling if I do say so myself). Over the years I have doctored and added elements that gave me the flavor I was looking for. Served with some crusty bread and a salad, this is the perfect quick weeknight meal.

Couple of notes: Fresh veggies and herbs are key here. It really does make a difference in the taste. If you can make your own stock that much the better but on a day to day basis I use Kitchen Basics, no salt added stock. I like to use half veggie stock, half chicken stocker for a richer flavor. When I am feeling horrible, especially if my nose if clogged I tend to like a lot of garlic, but if you are not a garlic lover, then just cut the amount to taste. If you are pressed for time a rotisserie chicken can easily be used. You may have to skim some fat off the soup before serving though.

This freezes pretty well, Just add some new stock to the frozen batch and reheat on the stove top. Enjoy!

Add caption

Chicken Noodle Soup

1 whole chicken breast, bone-in, skin on
Olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
4 small cloves garlic, smashed then finely minced
1 bay leaf
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
2 oz egg noodles
6 cups stock
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, plus some for garnish
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Baste the chicken breast with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast, skin side up for 25-30 minutes until just pink on the inside. You want the chicken to be slightly undercooked. Remove from oven. Allow to cool then skin and remove the meat from bone, cutting up the meat into 1-inch cubes. (You should have about a 1/2 pound of meat.) Set aside.

Heat a large pot on the stove. When hot add a small amount of olive oil and coat the bottom of the pan. Add in onions, celery and carrots and cook until softened, about 10-12 minutes. (Turn down the heat if veggies start to brown.) Once cooked, add garlic and cooked for another minute. Add the broth and bay leaf heat until slowly boiling. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface of the stock. Add noodles, remaining spices and cook about 8 minutes until noodles are almost done, then add reserve chicken, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 4 more minutes and then serve.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Broiled Salmon with Mustard Dill Sauce

They had beautiful wild-caught salmon at the store today that I just couldn't resist so tonight for dinner we are having Broiled Salmon with Mustard Dill Sauce. I love this recipe - it is deceptively easy to make but can be a real show stopper if you are looking for a nice "dinner for the boss" meal. I am serving it with a basic risotto and green peas. Simple clean flavors that taste good any time of year. To be honest I am not sure where this recipe originated from. It is one of those that I have been carrying around for years, written on a page torn out of my Daytimer - so that means I have had it for a really long time! It also means I probably saw it in a magazine at the doctor's office or at a friend's house, so my apologies to the original author. You are a genius whoever you are!

Couple of notes: Try and get as even a thickness as possible of fillet. I asked my fish guy to trim down a slightly larger piece for me to just get at the center of the fillet. If you don't you will almost definitely overcook the thinner pieces to get the thickest part the right temperature. For me If your fish counter at the market won't trim it for you it is worth it to buy a little extra, trim it up and have salmon that you can grind up for salmon cakes or some other application where it doesn't matter what the fish looks like.

The sauce makes way more than you will need/want unless you want to slather your salmon in sauce. That being said, it is very tasty and goes well with other fish and chicken. The recipe calls for heavy cream - I have used low-fat milk when it was all I had with less creamy and luxurious results but if it is just family dinner it will be fine. (If you are making it for the boss, pull out all the stops and use the heavy cream - it is worth it!) You can substitute dried dill for the fresh but the sauce will not have as nice a flavor. Worth it, I promise.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

Broiled Salmon

21/2-3 pound salmon fillet, preferably wild caught
Low-sodium soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

Preheat broiler.

Rinse salmon and pat dry. Arrange salmon, skin side down, in a foil-lined pan and rub thoroughly with soy sauce. Season salmon with salt and pepper and broil about 4 inches from heat 12 to 15 minutes, or until just cooked through. Transfer salmon to a platter and garnish with herbs.

Serve salmon warm or at room temperature with mustard dill sauce.

Mustard Dill Sauce

1/2 cup coarse-grained mustard
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup olive oil
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, or to taste

In a bowl combine well all ingredients and season with pepper. Sauce may be made 1 day ahead and kept chilled, covered. Let sauce come to room temperature and whisk before serving.

Monday, October 3, 2011

This dinner meal brought to you by the letter H: Healthy Halibut with Horseradish

Quite a few of you asked for healthy, quick dinners that don't skimp on flavor, so I did a little research and here is the first of hopefully many tasty options. This was a hands-down winner at the table, even tempting The Pods. In total, with prep time, the recipe took about 20 minutes to make, but you would never know from looking at it once it's plated.

The original recipe comes from one of the first cookbooks I bought as an adult, "The Golden Door Cookbook" by Michel Stroot. I am not sure if it is in print anymore. I tried to buy it for a friend a few years ago, without success, but if you come across it in a used bookstore or online somewhere grab it. Michel is the original chef at the Golden Door Spa in Southern California - the zen oasis of healthy living and good food where you could go to work out and realign your life while still eating well. I will be honest and say that I bought the book for all the wrong reasons. I remember browsing in a little independent bookstore in Del Mar with a roommate and coming across this cook book on the sale table. I flipped it open to the center of the book and came across a photo of "Lobster-Filled Papaya". It is this saliva-inducing photo of a full lobster claw practically toppling off this mountain of large chuck lobster meat, balanced in a papaya half that compelled me to buy the book. I wasn't even really all that in to cooking yet, but that picture called to me - aspirational I guess. Anyway, I bought the book and have since then found a ton of really yummy things in it to make.

Couple of notes: If you can get fresh halibut great, but I used frozen steaks from the commissary and it was wonderful. I served the halibut with 5-minute couscous but I think it would also be really tasty with steamed red potatoes with parsley.

The recipe calls for savoy cabbage leaves to be steamed in a bamboo steamer but to expedite things I just julliened the leaves and steamed them in a little bit of veggie broth over medium low heat while the fish cooked in the oven. Keep an eye on the cabbage when you are cooking this way - you want them to wilt but not get soggy. If you can't find savoy cabbage, use what you can find fresh in the veggie section - it isn't as important to have the pretty frilly savoy leaves if you are going to cut it up.

The sauce will make way more than you need but I saved it and used it with a beef recipe a couple of nights later and it was delicious.

You will need a pan and cover that you can take from stove top to oven. I use All-Clad pans and they work beautifully. If you don't have a pan that you can do this with the alternative is to cook the fish, covered on the stove top for about 15 minutes, until the fish is opaque and cooked through. You will need to keep an eye on it on the stove to make sure that there is enough liquid in the pan and add more if needed. I used vegetable stock to refresh the pan once, on the stovetop.

Let me know what you think. I am still working on vegetarian recipes as well as adding more photos to the blog. Enjoy!

Baked Halibut on Savoy Cabbage

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 cup thinly sliced red onion (about half a small onion)
4 (4-oz.) halibut steaks
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 sprigs fresh lemon thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme with 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
Vegetable stock
3 savoy cabbage leaves per person, julliened
1⁄2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 lemon, quartered

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In small bowl, combine yogurt and horseradish; mix well. Set aside.

In large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add onion; cook and stir 4 to 5 minutes or until translucent and softened. Arrange halibut steaks in single layer over onion; add wine. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; place thyme sprigs or dried thyme and zest on fish. Cover and bake about 10 minutes until fish is opaque and cooked through.

While fish is cooking place sliced cabbage leaves in a pan with a 1/4 cup of vegetable stock. Cover and steam 8 to 10 minutes or until leaves soften.

To serve, arrange cabbage on each plate. Place fish and onion over leaves; ladle some of the cooking liquid evenly over fish. Spoon dollop of yogurt mixture onto each fillet. Garnish with lemon wedges.

Per Serving: 190 calories, 4.5 g total fat (1 g saturated fat), 26 g protein, 6.5 g carbohydrate, 40 mg cholesterol, 175 mg sodium, 1.5 g fiber.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Low-fat Pittsburgh Fare Fast - Kilbasa, Cabbage and Pierogis

The Other Half is from the Pittsburgh region and was raised on pierogis, cabbage and brat. This is also the man who thinks that Kraft Mac and Cheese and a can a tuna fish is the ultimate meal - one which is only made when I am not present in the house - but that being said he has come to appreciate my attempts to make his favorite eats a little healthier. I have to admit the first time I tried brats and cabbage I was not overwhelmed, but since it is a personal favorite of his I was on a mission to come up with a version that (a) the kids would eat; (b) was not going to kill anyone and (c) tastes good. To make it a quick to the table recipe I do use packaged pierogis - Mrs. T's low-fat Cheddar and Potato - but if that is not your speed this recipe is also really good with baked sweet potatoes, mashed or not or if you have the fortitude to make homemade pierogis. You can also buy jarred red cabbage if you are really pressed for time but I like the taste of the fresh cabbage as well as a little crunch. Even on an insane, then things happening at once kind of night I can usually get this on the table in 20-30 minutes. Enjoy!

Kilbasa, Cabbage and Pierogis

1 package frozen pierogis ( I used cheddar and potato but there are other options)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 small onion)
1 clove garlic minced
1 cup diced apple (preferrably golden but I have used others and it is fine)
8 oz shredded red cabbage (box grater or food processor works great for this, just keep it course); you can also purchase a package of precut red cabbage - usually with the coleslaw fixings in the veggie department
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1 package turkey kilbasa, cut into 1/2" pieces
chopped parsley

Cook pierogis according to package instructions. (The Other Half likes them boiled; I prefer them baked - both work.)

In large pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute about 2 minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute. Add apple, cabbage, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and cook, stirrig,  until cabbage is wilted - about 3-5 minutes. Remove from pan and cover to keep warm.

Add remaining olive oil to warm pan with kilbasa and cook 3-5 minutes, turning occasionally, until heated through and browned on both sides. Return cabbage to pan and toss to coat. Sprinkle with parsley.

Serve with pierogis.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pork Chops to Make a Bad Day Better

Okay. I have had a crummy week - no two ways about it. Lots of whining (or is that wining...?) that could be done but instead when things are glum I tend to cook. Everything looks better with a good meal in you, I think. So this week when I was at a rotten place I made a nice dinner for myself and The Other Half. I'm not sure if others would consider this comfort food but for me this recipe is warm and comforting and made a bad day just a little better.

This recipe comes from "The Naked Chef" by Jamie Oliver - one of my foodie crushes. I served it with creamed spinach (Green Giant, not homemade this time) and long grain rice. Because of the bold flavors in the herbs there are a variety of wines that would pair nicely with this. We chose a lovely Riesling that was a crisp, clean companion to the meal. Enjoy!

Couple of notes:

Buy nice thick single chops, or in the absence of that see if you can get double-rib chops - the butcher at your local grocery store should be able to cut them for you. If you get chops that are super large (more than an inch thick) you will want to pan sear them per the recipe and then finish them off in the oven at 375 degrees until the juices run clear and the core temperature is at least 145 degrees for 15 seconds with a meat thermometer (about 15-30 minutes depending on thickness, check frequently so they don't dry out). So important to check the temperature to make sure they are cooked all the way through!

Use fresh herbs - I know this is often my battle cry but in this instance it will make the difference between a chop that you eat and say "What was Nancy thinking?" and a chop that you eat and say "Is it okay if I pick the bone up and eat every last little morsel like I am at a Renaissance fair?"

If you don't own a mortal and pestle you can McGyver one using a wooden or heavy plastic bowl and a round fist sized rock wrapped in plastic wrap - you can find a good rock at almost any garden supply store. The other option would be to use a food processor - just don't work it too much - you won't get as nice a paste.

Pork Chops with Thyme, Lemon and Pesto

1 handful of thyme picked from stem
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove of garlic
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
(4) thick loin chops or two-rib regular chops
pesto (recipe below)

Using a mortar and pestle pound the thyme with 1 teaspoon of salt until it becomes a paste, then add the garlic and 1 teaspoon of black pepper and pound again. Stir in the lemon juice and zest and the olive oil. The paste should be the consistency of toothpaste.

Smear the mixture over the chops and leave out to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile heat a caste iron pan or stove top griddle on medium high heat. Place the chops in pan (they make a bit of smoke so get your fan on!). Cook on each side 4-5 minutes, letting each side get nicely charred and golden. Don`t let them burn - if it looks as if they are getting too much colour turn the heat down. They should take about 8 minutes to cook at a medium high heat. After 8 minutes total take the pan off the heat and check the chops temperature, inserting the meat thermometer from the side. When the temperature registers 145 degrees the chops are done.

Rest the chops for a few minutes while making the pesto, then spoon a dollop of pesto over them.


1/4 cup garlic, chopped (3-4 good size pieces)
3 healthy handfuls of fresh basil leaves
1 handful of pine nuts
1/4  cup Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and ground black pepper
lemon juice

Put your garlic into a food processor. Combine into a pulp with shredded basil leaves. Add the pine nuts into the mixture and pulse again. Turn out into a bowl and add half of the cheese. While gently stirring, add in olive oil until sauce starts to bind and becomes semi-wet in consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add remaining cheese. Add more oil as needed and then finish with a squeeze of lemon juice to keep the color bright and help bring out the flavor of the basil over the garlic.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Penne with Sausage, Porcini and Portobello Mushrooms and Syrah Wine Sauce

Here in the south we don't have a typical fall. Summer drags on into Indian Summer and then Fall slides in stealthily for a few weeks before bang - it is cold. So when the temperature drops in the slightest, as it did this week, I was ready with a favorite fall dish to compliment the nip in the air.

We invited friends over for the afternoon. You know this couple - they don't mind that your house is not perfectly clean and that the heathens are under foot - heck, they are right there on the floor reading the latest installment of the ToysRUs catalog with them and cow racing on Wii. Comfortable folks deserve comfort food, and this is one of my favorite dishes for just such an occasion. The recipe comes from this great cook book that I received from dear friend and fellow foody, entitled "The Wine Lover's Cookbook: Great Recipes for the Perfect Glass of Wine" by Sid Goldstein - I highly recommend picking up a copy if you can find it.

We started the day off with some olives, marinated artichokes and bruschetta while the kids ate their dinner and then once they were tucked in bed, made our own dinner.

Couple of notes: I have found it virtually impossible to find fresh porcini mushrooms, but the dried ones seem to be readily available in the super market. Most of the times I find them on the endcaps with other specialty items, in the produce section. If you can find fresh ones, jump on them - it really does enhance the flavor. I tend to use a broader variety of mushrooms then what is listed in the recipe. There are so many wonderful shrooms to choose from - take a look at what is available fresh at your local store and experiment.

The wine that you cook with should be one that you would be willing to drink with dinner as well. Don't skimp on this ingredient but don't break the bank. There are a nice variety of $10-$15 bottles of syrah our there that will be very good in the recipe. Alternatively you could also use a zinfandel if you have one that you like.

I buy a can of tomato paste, spoon it out a tablespoon at a time on to pieces of press and seal, seal up the packets and then freeze them in a bag. Then when a recipe calls for a tablespoon of tomato paste I don't have an open can sitting in my fridge waiting to get thrown away. Just peel off the press and seal, throw the frozen glob of tomato paste into the dish and watch it dissolve.

We served this with a toasted baguette, fresh arugula salad and fresh asiago cheese. For dessert we had dark chocolate covered strawberries and expresso.


Penne with Sausage, Porcini and Portobello Mushrooms, and Syrah
(makes 4 servings)

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
12 ounces Italian sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices (I use Botto's Hot Italian Sausage)
11/2 cups chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium onion)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
(1) package baby portobello mushrooms, chopped
3/4 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary or 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
crushed red pepper to taste (optional)
11/2 cups syrah
14.5 oz. can chopped tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried penne or other small dried pasta
Chopped pasta for garnish
Shredded asiago cheese

Soak porcini in hot water for 2 to 3 hours. Drain.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until good and hot. Saute sausage for 6 to 7 minutes, turning to brown on both sides. Remove with slotted
spoon, place on paper towels, and pat dry.

Add onions and garlic to pan and saute for 4 to 5 minutes, until onions are translucent. Add porcini, portobellos, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper, and continue sauteing for 3 to 4
minutes. Add wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer to reduce by half. Add tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Add reserved sausage and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Carefully add penne to boiling water and cook according to package directions or until it is al dente (about 8 -10 minutes). Drain and return penne to pot. Add sauce to pasta and mix thoroughly. Add a handful of chopped parsley.

To serve, divide pasta among 4 large pasta or soup bowls. Garnish with freshly grated asiago cheese.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Chicken with Figs, Two Ways

A recent offer of fresh figs sent me on a search for a good savory recipe that I could include them in. After much taste testing (mostly good, occasionally horrid) I ended up with two recipes that I wanted to share with you. The first is an elegant presentation - great for that "I want to impress the boss" dinner or if you want to make something nice for The Other Half. It comes from one of my go-to cookbook, "The Silver Palate" and is a definite crowd pleaser. The second is a much less fussy, though no less tasty recipe that my whole family will eat - even the pod who eats virtually nothing. 

Silver Palate Chicken with Figs 
Couple of notes: I could not find green peppercorns the first time I made this so I substituted black peppercorns instead. If you do that, cut the amount of peppercorns you use to 2 teaspoons - black peppercorns have a much stronger favor. FYI - I finally found the green ones by the pickling spices.

Take the time to marinate the chicken a day ahead. It really makes a difference in the depth of flavor. I served this with wilted spinach cooked with in chicken stock with a little garlic, salt and pepper, and jasmine rice.

2 chickens (2 and a half to 3 pounds each), cut into 8 pieces each
6 large cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup best-quality olive oil
4 teaspoons green peppercorns (packed in water), drained
1 cup imported black olives
1 and a half cups dried apricots
1 cup dried small figs or large fig fresh figs, cut into pieces
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup Madeira
1 cup large pecan pieces (optional but adds a nice crunch)
Grated zest of 2 lemons

One day before serving, combine the chicken, garlic, thyme, cumin, ginger, salt, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, olives, apricots, and figs in a large bowl.  Marinate covered in the refrigerator overnight.  Remove the bowl from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Arrange  the chicken in a single layer in a large shallow baking pan.  Spoon the marinade mixture evenly over the chicken.  Sprinkle with the sugar and pour the Madeira between the pieces. Cover the pan with aluminium foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake, basting frequently with the pan juices, until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a sharp skewer, 40 to 50 minutes.

Using a fork and slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, olives, and dried fruit to a large serving platter. Drizzle with a few large spoonfuls of the pan juices and sprinkle with the pecans.  Sprinkle the lemon zest over all.

Moroccan Chicken

The greatest thing about this recipe is the relatively low hands-on time. This is a great soccer practice night dish and is finished with couscous or rice and a nice salad to make a tasty and quick dinner. It is low in fat and calories but high in protein and fiber - an extra bonus if you are trying to watch your weight.

Notes: Fresh ginger spoils much quicker than I can use it so I often buy a large piece, cut it up into 1" sections and put them in a freezer bag in the freezer. When I need fresh ginger I take out a piece per tablespoon needed, let it defrost slightly, peel it with a peeler and then zest it with a microplane or mince it depending on the recipe. You get all the lovely flavor of fresh ginger but without all the waste.

I buy skin-on chicken breasts, then split and skin them. It's important to have the bone though - it helps to keep the chicken moist. The recipe is not as tasty if you use boneless breasts and dries out too quickly.

2 tablespoons olive oil 
1 spanish onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
(1) 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander (I prefer to use roasted ground coriander - it has a warmer taste) 
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
(6) 4 oz. skinless, bone-in chicken breast
(1) 15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
6 dried figs, cut in half or about a cup of fresh figs, cut into pieces
salt and black pepper to taste

Warm oil in Dutch oven or heavy pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and ginger and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes (with juice), broth, parsley, paprika, coriander, lemon rind, cinnamon and saffron. Add the chicken, placing breast side down in the pan), chickpeas and figs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for 45 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center when tested with a sharp knife.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sort of Shrimp Lo Mein

I am just back from spending a glorious vacation in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. (Hopefully the first of many as I fell in love with the area) We ate lots of fried foods: fried ochre, fried pickles, fried chicken, chicken-fried steak  - pretty much if you can fry it we probably ate it - and collard greens cooked in bacon (who doesn't love a green cooked in bacon). Lots of over-indulgence that results in my desire to now cleanse my body of this sluggish feeling. So this week has been all about cooking with fresh ingredients - what ever I can find at the local farm stand and winging it. This dish came to mind after finding some fresh green cabbage, bean sprouts and carrots at the Leaping Lizard's farm stand. Okay truth be told the first recipe to mind was cabbage and brauts (The Other Half is from Pittsburgh), but that didn't really seem to be heading in the right direction, so after some pondering I decided to make a lo mein-ish dish. I think the foundation recipe for this came from an every day cooking with Martha Stewart, that I have since then fiddled with pretty extensively. It was super easy to make, received rave reviews and was even better cold for lunch the next day. Hope you enjoy!

Couple of notes:
If possible make the sauce in the morning and then let it sit out on the counter covered, for the day until you are ready to cook. It tastes a lot better if you give the sauce some time to meld. Mirin is a rice wine and pretty widely available in most grocery stores in the asian food section. Start with an 1/8 cup of vinegar and then add more at the end of the day if you want a tangier taste. To blanche the bean sprouts drop them in a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds and then move them to an ice cold bowl to stop the cooking process. And most importantly have all your prep work done in advance - this recipe cook quickly.

Sort of Shrimp Lo Mein

8 oz. linguine
Course salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1/8-1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 head green cabbage, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
1 cup bean sprouts, blanched for 30 seconds
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup water or vegetable broth
Cilantro, for garnish

Combine soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, ginger, sugar and red pepper flakes and whisk lightly to blend. Cover and let sit for at least two hours and up to all day.

Heat water in a large pot with 1 tsp. of salt. When boiling, add half a box of linguine (about 8 oz.) and cook at low boil for 7-8 minutes.

While pasta pot is heating, heat oil in a large pan over medium high heat until flecks of water skitter across the surface when flicked on to the pan. Add half the garlic, the shrimp and cook 1.5 minutes. Make sure the shrimp have plenty of room in the pan - you want them to get a nice crust. Flip them over and add half of the soy sauce mixture, coking for another 1.5-2 minutes until all the shrimp have tightened up into little curls and turned a pink hue. Remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

Add cabbage, remaining garlic, carrots and bean sprouts, water or vegetable broth and cook 6-7 minutes until greens are just wilted.

When pasta is done, drain and put back in pot. Top with shrimp, and cabbage mixture, salt and pepper to taste. Add the reminder of the sauce and toss. Rinse and chop a handful of cilantro. Add and toss one last time. Serve while warm in large bowls.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Honey Mustard Turkey Burgers

One of the great ironies in my life is that as a lover of food and cooking, I am also the proud parent of one of the pickiest eaters on the planet. Seriously folks, I am talking about a kid who will eat seven things and most of them are breakfast foods. As a result I am constantly trying to find new ways to reinvent those few food groups that he will eat into something that the rest of the family will not look at and say "Baked chicken again...." Unbeknownst to me, apparently all you have to do to get your child to eat a new food is have your mother tell him to. Such was the case last summer when we were visiting my mother in the south. It was hot and as a result I was not in the mood for anything heavy. I had seen this recipe in an Eating Well magazine and thought I would give it a try. Though initially rejected, once Nana informed my oldest pea pod that turkey was just like chicken, it had honey in it - eat it up, my oldest paused, shrugged and ate the whole thing while I held my breath and tried not to make a big deal about it. So that is how the honey mustard turkey burger came to be added to our regular rotation.

I have made some tweaks to the recipe and changed up the accessories a bit to suit our tastes but you can get the basic idea and take it from there.

Couple of notes:

We cook these on our old school George Forman grill. I know, I know, but I have to say it makes a really good burger. It cooks both sides uniformly and quickly, doesn't require any extra oil or fat and the excess fat in the meat drain out. It is a bugger to clean but that is because ours is older than dirt. I understand that the new ones have removable plates... but I digress. Anyway, though the GF is our weapon of choice you could just as easily cook them on the grill or in a cast iron pan on the stove. 

We like to serve ours on English Muffins with swiss cheese, whatever fresh greens and sliced tomatoes from the farmers market, and baked sweet potato fries.

You will not have a lot of the honey mustard mixture left over once you have added the suggested amount to the turkey,  but we have found that it is plenty to lightly dress your burger and that they are already pretty flavorfull and juicy so you don't need a lot. If you want more topping I would suggest doubling the recipe. 

I hope you enjoy these as much as we do. I am still looking for suggestions for recipe to research/try so if you are looking for something specific let me know and I will go on the hunt!

Honey Mustard Turkey Burger
1/4 cup coarse-grained mustard (I use Grey Poupon)2 tablespoons honey1 pound ground turkey breast1/4 teaspoon salt1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Prepare a grill, fry pan or whatever surface you are cooking on. If neccesary brush with a little canola oil to keep burgers from sticking.

Whisk mustard and honey in a small bowl until smooth.

Combine turkey, 3 tablespoons of the mustard mixture, salt and pepper in a bowl; mix well. 

Form into four large or six small burgers. 

Grill until no pink remains in center, 5 to 7 minutes per side. 

Brush the burgers with the remaining mustard mixture. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Latin Pork Stew and Chocolate Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

I think one of the secrets to a great get-together is a menu that you can have 90-100% complete before your guests walk in the door so that you spend your time enjoying your company and not stressing out over whether something is burning, undercooked etc.

This weekend we had friends over for a game night and I planned a menu that included a pork stew, field green salad with lettuces I had gotten at the farmer's market in the morning, fresh bread from the local bakery and dark chocolate chip chocolate cookies. Our friends are wine lovers so they brought the wine. The stew is a one-pot wonder recipe I found in one of those "Best Of Good Housekeeping" cookbooks that I purchased a couple of years ago in a used bookstore - I love finds like this one - it is a gem. The stew was done and warm on the stove, the last batches of cookies in the oven or cooling, the bread warmed and the salad ready to be tossed and dressed when our friends walked through the door.

Couple of notes: As always, using fresh ingredients will really make this recipe pop. The Other Half is not a huge cilantro fan so I sometimes swap out half of the cilantro for flat leaf parsley and it still has a really nice taste. Take your time browning the pork in smaller batches - I usually put two spoonfulls into the pot at a time - you want that really nice crust that only space in the pot will give you. It makes a pretty generous amount of stew so for those of you not feeding an army I recommend making the full recipe and then planning on putting some in containers in the freezer - it freezes beautifully and might only need a little chicken stock added when reheating to keep it from getting dry. This is another Other Half favorite. It worked particularly well in this instance because one of our guests was lactose intolerant so I could not use any dairy.

I have modified the cookie recipe to be lactose free from an Ina Garten, Barefoot in the Kitchen recipe from the "Barefoot Contessa Parties!" cookbook. The original recipe is for a Chocolate White Chocolate Chunk Cookie - I just swapped out all dairy and replaced the white chocolate with dark chocolate (recipe to follow). Warning - these things are addictive!

Latin American Pork Stew

2 tsp olive oil
2 lbs. pork tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
(1) 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (I like to use Muir Glen's no salt added fire roasted diced tomatoes) or just shy of 2 cups of seeded, diced fresh tomatoes when they are in season
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin (if you can find roasted cumin the flavor is amazing)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground coriander (if you can find roasted coriander the flavor is amazing)
1/4 tsp ground red cayenne pepper
3 medium sweet potatoes (about 1.5 lbs), peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
(2) 15 oz. cans black beans rinsed and drained (I like to use Eden Organics because of the packaging - the cans don't leech anything into the beans)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large Dutch Oven (I use my cast iron oven), heat oil over medium high heat. Once hot add pork in batches and cook until lightly brown, about 5 minutes per batch. (Usually takes me 5-6 batches to get it all browned). Transfer pork to a bowl.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onions and cook in pork drippings until tender, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute longer.

Add tomatoes with their juices, cilantro, cumin, coriander, salt, ground red pepper and 2 cups of water. Heat to boiling. Stir in pork, cover and bake in oven for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and stir in sweet potatoes. Cover, return to oven and bake for 40 minutes or until potatoes are just tender.

Remove from oven and stir in black beans. Cover, return to oven and bake for 15 more minutes until beans are heated through.

Chocolate Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature (in this instance I used Earth Balance Vegan Spread as a substitute)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup dutch process cocoa (Hershey's makes a nice one)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 bag dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and two sugars until lightly fluffy in the bowl and beat with an electric beater. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time and mix well. Add the cocoa and mix again. Sift together the flour, baking  soda and salt together in a separate bowl then slowly add to the chocolate mixture with the mixer on a low speed until just combined. Do not over mix. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop the dough on to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (not wax paper) or Silpat cooking mats (one of the best gifts I ever received) using a rounded tablespoon. Dampen your clean finger and press the dough slightly flatter. Bake for up to 13-15 minutes (the cookies should be slightly underdone). Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on the pan, then transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tasty tidbits about olive oils

A friend recently asked me what kind of olive oil I use. The simple answer is that I have two that I use – one that I use for almost all moderate heat cooking and a more expensive “premium blend” that I use for making dressing or for making dipping sauces. I use extra virgin olive oil about 90% of the time when I am cooking. The exceptions are when I am cooking on high heat or when I want the flavor that butter adds to the meal - even then I often use half olive oil and half butter to cut down the fat content.

Most often I purchase Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It seems to be readily available at a grocery stores just about anywhere we move to, and it has a nice balanced flavor that doesn’t take over the meal. For my money the Spanish olive oils are the best choice for a premium oil to use in dressings etc. I usual can find Columela, a slightly fruity oil that is not too peppery or heavy. As a side note if you have a Whole Foods near you their private label brand 365 is one olive oil I would use in place of both a premium and every day brand. Also worth noting is that my food goddess, Ina Garten really likes California Olive Oils. And if you are anywhere that you can get fresh olive oil jump on the chance though be warned – once you have tasted the real deal you may never want to go back to the more generic mass market versions.

There are a couple of things that you can do to protect and promote the flavor of your olive oil. Possibly the most important is not to purchase it in the mongo containers unless you are a super heavy user – like you are running a small bistro or catering business out of your house. An article that I recently read suggested that an olive oil should be used within one year of pressing, and that includes the time it takes to transport the oil to the store, that it sits on the shelf and then comes to your home. Over time the acidity of the oil will increase so though that mega jug at Sam’s may seem like a great bargain, as it sits there on the floor of your pantry, the flavor will change and eventually become more acidic and unpalatable. Exposure to light increases acidity as well. When purchasing olive oil don’t take the front bottle on the shelf – dig toward the back – those bottles have been exposed to less of the harsh store lights that can compromise the flavor.

For the life of me I am not sure why most oils are still sold in clear bottles. I guess it is an opportunity for you to buy a pretty dark glass or ceramic decorative bottle that you can fill with a small amount of oil, leave on your counter and then store the rest of your oil in the back of your cabinet away from the light as much as possible. The same goes for heat. Heat negatively impacts olive oil so try not to store you oil next to your stove or oven. Ideally oil should be stored in a slightly cool room – a.k.a wine cellar — but since most of us mere mortals don’t have a wine cave in our house (not yet anyway) the next best thing is to keep it at room temperature away from a heat source and in the dark as much as possible.

Lastly olive oil, much like wine, comes in a plethora of flavors from fruity to peppery, to a bold olive taste. Experiment with different types in small amounts to find the one that tastes the best to you. Fun Friday night idea – invite some friends over for a wine and olive oil tasting. Buy a baguette, slice it up, and pour small amounts of different olive oils into small dishes for folks to dunk into. Once you are done with the olive oil tasting you can vote then continue with other tapas – olives, an antipasto plate, nuts, figs and honey, some soft cheese – and have a lovely happy hour figuring out what olive oil is right for you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tuna Nicoise with Warm Potato Salad

Since so many of you asked for recipes that include the bounty of the garden and a fish recipe, this is my proposal for today. This is The Other Half's all time favorite recipe, even nudging out the roast chicken that he will tell people is the reason he decided to date me in the first place - but that is another story and recipe for another day. This recipe comes from Ina Garten's "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" - in my opinion a work of culinary genius in it's simplicity of style and big impact of flavor.

Couple of notes: 
Get a nice piece of tuna - it can be pricey I know, but it is worth it. And I will jump up on my environmental stump for a minute and say that if you can get wild caught friendly-to dolphin tuna your karma will be much better and, I like to believe, you will have a better tasting meal just for your good deed. But I digress... 

This meal is definitely better in the summertime when you can get fresh herbs, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes and arugula. And though it might seem like a lot of prep work it just requires a little time management to have an amazing meal. The vegetables can be swapped out for what is fresh at your farmer's market - just try to have a variety of texture, color and taste of your plate. I have used asparagus in place of the green beans when it was in season and also added grilled zucchini or squash a couple of times.

I make one batch of vinaigrette and use 3/4 in the potato salad and the rest to dress the meal but that is up to your discretion - we tend to like things lighter in the sauce department. If you think you might want to have more vinaigrette, just double the recipe. Add the olive oil very slowly to the other ingredients, whisking as you pour to make sure everything binds. You will know it is time to add more olive oil when you vinaigrette is milky looking.

Final note - this really is best eaten freshly made so if you think you might be pressed for time, try it on the weekend when you can hopefully carve a little time out with a glass of wine and some music going, to enjoy this process. The outcome is well worth the effort.

Grilled Tuna Nicoise
1 (1-inch-thick) fresh tuna steaks per person
Good olive oil 

Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/8 lb string beans, stems removed and blanched, per person (to blanch drop beans in a pot of boiling water for 3 minutes then take out and drop immediately in a bowl of ice and water to stop the cooking process)
French Potato Salad, recipe below
1 small ripe tomato per person, cut into wedges
1 hard-boiled egg per person, peeled and cut into slices
pitted olives

Blanche beans and prep your other vegetables. To grill the tuna, get a charcoal or stove-top cast iron grill very hot (I use my trusty cast iron pan). Brush the fish with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, both sides. Grill each side for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes for rare adding a 25 seconds for each level of wellness desired. (Be careful not to overcook the tuna or it will get tough.) Arrange the tuna, green beans, potato salad, tomatoes, eggs, olives, arugula on a plate.

3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar (I buy mine at Trader Joe's)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

10 tablespoons good olive oil 

Combine the vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Slowly whisk  in the olive oil to make an emulsion. Drizzle some over the fish and vegetables and serve the rest in a pitcher on the side.

French Potato Salad
1 pound small white boiling potatoes
1 pound small red boiling potatoes
2 tablespoons good dry white wine (cook with what you are willing to drink)
2 tablespoons chicken stock
1/4 cup minced scallions (white and green parts)
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves

Drop the white and red potatoes into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are just cooked through. Drain in a colander and place a towel over the potatoes to allow them to steam for 10 more minutes. As soon as you can handle them, cut in 1/2 (quarters if the  potatoes are larger, but try and keep the piecs a similar size) and place in a medium bowl. Toss gently with the wine and chicken stock. Allow to sit for 1-2 minutes for the liquids to soak into the warm potatoes before proceeding.

Add the scallions, dill, parsley, basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss. Add vinaigrette to the potatoes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

LIttle Hiatus and a new look for summer

Sorry for the break in blogging. Something pretty exciting happened and I have been taking a little time to investigate. In a complete "Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon" kind of way a friend sent a friend a link to my blog and I received and email asking me if I would be interested in an opportunity to read and test cookbooks supplied to me, then write a review. No pay but since it involved all the things I love to do - read, cook and eat - I really couldn't see any downside. And I get to keep the cookbooks! (I hope I can claim all of them as professional gear on the next move or we could be in trouble!) So I gave it a try and just sent it my test submission today. If they like it I will get to do more and be able to post the review on my blog as well as on the other site. All and all pretty exciting stuff. Who knows? Maybe this is the next chapter for me - time will tell. In the meantime I have a stack of recipes I want to share so I am back in the saddle and will start posting again directly. Julie recently asked for some fish recipes so I will start there. If there is a food group you would like me to blog about let me know and I will see what I have for recipes to share.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pot Roast so good it will draw the neighbors to your house

Tonight I made Pot Roast. The base recipe is from "The Silver Palate Cookbook", with some additional tweaks and adds that have been incorporated over time. This is another one of those tried and true, go to recipes that is a sure winner and can just as easily be dressed up for company as served to the family for some good home cooking.

You all may have gathered at this point that I have a soft spot for recipes that: (a) can either be made in about 30-40 minutes or cook for longer periods of time, basically unattended and (b) have layered flavors. This is definitely one of those recipes.

The Other Half walked in the door saying that he could smell dinner out in the driveway and that the next door neighbor asked what time he should come over. Guess that's what comes from cooking something in the oven for 4 hours!

Couple of notes:

I start with a large cast iron dutch oven and let it sit on the burner on low while I am prepping the ingredients to go into the pot so that it gets thoroughly hot. Once ready to start cooking, turn the heat up to medium to warm your oil and then begin to add your ingredients.

Though the original recipe calls for a beef shoulder or cross rib roast rolled and tied, I usually buy the "pot roast" cut at the grocery store and it is fine. Actually The Other Half says he prefers it when I use the slightly less expensive cut of beef - it gets very buttery and falls apart so easily that you can almost eat the whole dish with a fork.

I have used a Gascon Malbec twice now making this recipe with very nice results.

I use baby carrots and cut them in half to save time and because we always have a supply in the house - that's what we feed the dogs as treats.

I like to put the dutch oven on top of a quarter sheet (cookie sheet) covered with tin foil. It saves the bottom of my oven from the inevitable spill and makes it easier to get the dish in and out of the oven - this sucker can be kind of heavy to move around.

I like to serve with crusty bread to soak up the juice and a green salad with a light vinaigrette dressing. Drink a glass of the Malbec that you cooked with and you have a most satisfying meal.

Pot Roast

3 1/ - 4 lbs. pot roast
Ground black pepper to taste (I usually use about a tsp)
3 Tbs olive oil
2 cups beef stock (I have also used vegetable stock with sodium free beef buillon mixed in)
2 cups dry red wine
1 bunch of parsley, chopped fine, plus additional for garnish
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
2 bay leaves
7 whole cloves
2 1/2 cups corsely chopped onion (I good size spanish onion does the trick)
2 cups peeled carrot chunks, 1-inch chunks
8 medium size potatoes scrubbed and cut into quarters
2 cups diced tomatoes with juice (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted Organic Diced Tomatoes)
1 Cup diced celery (about 2 good size spears)
1 package button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

Preheat oven to 350.

Rub roast with pepper. Heat olive oil in a heavy casserole, sear roast for several minutes on each side, browning well. Add onions and brown in meat fat for a few more minutes.

Pour in stock and wine and add parsley, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper and the whole cloves. Stir in carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and celery. Liquid in casserole should just cover vegetables. Add additonal stock, if necessary. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove, cover and bake in center of oven for 2 1/2 hours.

Uncover and add mushrooms. Cook another 1-1 1/2 hours, basting frequently, until meat is fork tender.

I would love to get some feedback and see if you are enjoying the recipes or if there is anything you would like me to talk about. Or if anyone would like to be a guest blogger I would love to hear from you!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tuscan Beef with Spinach

Wednesday nights are the crazy night in our house. The pods have activities in separate directions so we divide and conquer and then eat a late dinner once every one is in bed. Though we end up eating pretty late it is a time that I can make something that The Other Half really enjoys and it is a great way for me to wind down at the end of a really long day. Tonight I am going to make a favorite of ours, Tuscan Beef with Spinach. I originally found the recipe in a Good Housekeeping and for the most part have left it pretty untouched. I love the recipe because it is a one pan wonder and The Other Half loves it because it has pretty much all his favorite ingredients in it - unless I could find a way to add tuna - but that is another story for another post.

A couple of notes:
This is a dish that is definitely best made in a big old cast iron pan if you have one. You will need to give the steak room to cook and it is much easier to do the spinach in one or two batches max with a larger pan. I am lucky to have inherited my mom's cast iron - lovingly seasoned over many years - but you can find some very nice cast iron in the Lodge line without breaking the bank. Cast iron is always a great thing to look for at antique stores and yard sales - as long as it doesn't have rust on it you can clean it up, reseason it and be ready to go.

Secondly, this dish calls for top loin. I have tried nicer cuts of beef without much success and to be honest why spend extra money if you don't have to break the bank to have a nice meal.

We love the spinach cooked this way that I will make a double batch for us to enjoy. I just use a little beef broth instead of the chicken broth and it gets some of the nice flavor that comes from cooking the meat prior in the pan. 

Finally I always hear that you should put meat in a pan/on the grill and leave it alone - but in actuality I learned that about half way through the cooking process, especially with this type of process, you should flip your meat. The explanation I learned on the NPR show, The Splendid Table, is when meat is placed over high heat the juices will try and move away from the heat source. So by flipping it once during the cooking process you will redistribute the liquid and make sure that your less expensive cut of meat isn't the consistency of a shoe. Now don't get all crazy and keep constantly flipping it - once will do the trick nicely.

Hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

Tuscan Beef with Spinach - Serves 4

(2) 10 oz boneless beef top loin steaks, 3/4" thick, well trimmed
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
(1) 15 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (I have also used Navy beans)
1/2 tsp dried crushed rosemary (if you have the whole dried rosemary crush it up a bit with the back of a spoon in a separate dish before adding to the pan)
1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (depending on how much heat you like)
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 lb. fresh baby spinach, washed


Heat 12" skillet over medium high heat. I like to do my other prep work while the pan is heating - that way I know it will be thoroughly heated through. It's super important that you let your pan thoroughly heat. If you don't you won't get a nice crust on the outside of the meat, the juices will not be sealed inside and it will smoke like a bugger.

Pat steaks dry with paper towels. This is a super important step toward getting a nice crust on the outside of the steak. Sprinkle steaks with 1/4 tsp salt. Add steaks to pan and cook 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Add 30 seconds per side for increasing wellness. Transfer steaks to a platter, cover with foil and let rest for 10 minutes. This time is key - it allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. If you cut it too soon the juice will just run out on your cutting board - what a waste...

Reduce pan heat to low and allow to cool for 2 minutes. Take pan off heat and add olive oil and garlic, stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Place pan back on heat and stir in beans, rosemary, crushed red pepper, remaining 1/4 tsp salt and cook 1 minute.

Add chicken broth and increase heat to medium. Heat to boiling, then gradually add spinach, stirring until spinach just wilts - about 2 minutes.

To plate, slice the steak against the grain in 1/2" slices and arrange over top spinach bean mixture. Top with pan/beef juices.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hearty Meat Sauce, Bolognese Style

If I was stranded on an island with just one cook book which one would I take? Let me preface by saying that Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, is my gal but if I had to limit myself to one I don't think I could pick from her collection and leave the rest behind. Better to sacrifice them all and take Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything". Though the title is perhaps a bit tongue and cheek, at 944 pages it does cover just about every base and gives you a couple of really good easy-to-make recipes in every major food category. This is my go-to gift for young newlyweds or an amazing housewarming present for a burgeoning home cook.

Tonight I have invited a new friend and her little girl over for dinner so I wanted something that I could prepare in advance and was tasty but not too fussy. I tend to like "country" cooking -  regardless of the nationality - that is food that is simple but full of flavor. Bittman's recipe for Meat Sauce Bolognese fits the bill perfectly, and over polenta is rich and delicious without being overly heavy.

Though it takes about three hours to properly cook, the majority of that time is unattended. I usually serve this with a green salad and a nice crisp white wine, or on a colder day a zinfandel with a little richness to it. It makes about 4 cup of sauce - I tend to enjoy half now and freeze the rest for later when I am in a rush and need a quick, nutritious meal.

One note: Take the time to mince the onion, carrot and celery versus just chopping it up. It really does make a difference in the texture of the sauce and allows those components to really break down durning the simmering process.

Hope you enjoy!

Meat Sauce, Bolognese Style

2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 carrot,peeled and minced
1 celery stalk,minced
1/4 cup chopped bacon or pancetta (about 2 oz sliced meat)
8 oz. low fat ground beef (this will save you from having to skim a lot of fat off during the cooking process)
8 oz ground pork (or use all ground beef)
3/4 cup dry white wine or juice from the tomatoes (cook with something you would be willing to drink at the table - it makes a difference)
One 28 or 35 oz. can of whole plum tomatoes, drained, reserve liquid if you are using instead of wine (I like to use San Manzano tomatoes)
1 cup organic chicken stock combined with low-sodium beef bouillon
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional but I like a little heat)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup cream, half and half or milk
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Handful fresh basil leaves or italian flat leaf parsley if you want a more subtle end note

Heat olive oil on medium heat in a large pot or Dutch oven until hot. Add onions, carrots, celery and bacon and sautee until veggies are soft and meat is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Add ground meat, breaking up the meat into small crumbles, cooking until all traces of red are gone - about 5 minutes.  Add the wine or tomato liquid and cook until most of the liquid is evaporated, stirring occasionally, for about another 5 minutes.

Crush the tomatoes with a fork or with your hands until very well pulverized. Add them to the meat and pour in the stock. Bring to a nice rolling simmer and turn down to low. Allow to cook for about 1 hour, stirring occassionally and break up any big pieces of meat or tomatoes as you go.

After an hour, add salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to your taste. Stir well and allow to simmer for another hour, or until most of the liquid is evaporated.The sauce should be fairly thick when it is ready.

Add in the cream or milk, parmensan cheese and stir well. Continue to cook for another 15 to 30 minutes until the sauce is nice and thick and bubbly, stirring occasionally during that period. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.  Prepare quick cook polenta per package directions and seve immediately with a fresh basil or parsley chiffonade on top.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Uptown Chicken with Oh my Gorganzola Cheese Grits

I love, love, love when I find a recipe by chance and it turns out to be crazy good, and relatively healthy to boot. That is the case with this uptown chicken recipe - least we thought so. Probably the only unhealthy thing about it is that I defy you to eat just one "serving". Here is how I came across it...

For Christmas I received a huge, and I mean huge, basket of cookbooks from my mother-in-law, that she had won at a garden club luncheon raffle. She had bid on it with me in mind and like so many things of this ilk, as I went through the books, some were interesting and some not so much. After weeding it down to the ones I thought I would really use I started my process of evaluation that I think I mentioned in another post. If you are joining us late, I read through a cookbook and then make a list in the front of the book of any recipe that I might want to try. This particular one jumped out at me because of the ingredients list. To be honest I was not sure that it was going to be all that good - so I was more than happy when it turned out to be amazing.

I hope you all enjoy this as much as we did. The Other Half says it is a definite keeper. I found this recipe in "The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook", with a couple of tweaks. Enjoy!

Uptown Chicken

1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
(4) 4-oz boneless skinless chicken breast halves
2 tsp butter (can substitute olive oil spread or cooking spray if you want to reduce the fat)
1/2 cup chopped pancetta (substitute low sodium ham if you want to cut down on the salt/fat)
1/2 cup strongly brewed coffee (good use for the last little bit left in the pot)
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp brown sugar
(1) 8-oz. Package pre-sliced portabello mushrooms
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp water

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a large heavy-duty zip-lock plastic bag; add in chicken. Seal bag and shake to coat chicken.

Heat a large nonstick skillet on med-high heat. Add butter and melt.

Add chicken to skillet; cook 2 minutes on each side or until golden.

Combine pancetta, coffee, water and brown sugar in a small bowl. Once combined, pour over chicken and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover and reduce heat – allow to simmer for 3 minutes.

Add in mushrooms; recover and simmer 5 more or until chicken is done and mushrooms are tender.

Remove chicken and mushrooms with a slotted spoon and put on a serving platter and set aside. Cover to keep warm.

In a bowl, combine 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon water; whisk until smooth. (Super important or your gravy will be lumpy!) Add mixture to cooking liquid in pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute or until thickened. 

Gorgonzola Cheese Grits

(2) 14.5-ounce cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth 
3/4 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits 
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese  (about 4 oz)
1/3 cup fat-free sour cream 
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually add grits, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low; simmer, covered, for 5 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in remaining ingredients.

Plate grits first then chicken/mushrooms on top/slightly to the side. Spoon gravy over top. I served with a green salad and roasted asparagus.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pork Chops with Apples in a Port Wine Sauce

A lot of times when I cook the recipe drives what I make but occasionally the ingredients will make me go search for a recipe. On a recent shopping trip I found some gorgeous pork chops that were crying out to be purchased so I was happy to oblige. When I got home I did some research and found the recipe that follows. It spoke to me for a couple of reasons: (1) it was relatively quick which is key when trying to cook and make sure the two pea pods don't kill each other; (2) the ingrdients sounded rich and flavorful.

A couple of key things I found in putting this together. If possible buy and use the chops on the same day. Try and get the chops as close to room temperature as you can while safely handling the pork. I ended up having to freeze the chops and had some issues with temperature control of the meat near the bone. Though the recipe calls for 3/4" think chops I used much larger ones and just adjusted the pan time by a bit to accomodate the thickness. My chops were about an 1 1/2 thick so I upped the cook time by a minute on the first side and then played it by ear once I had flipped the chop over. This is one of those instances a meat thermometer is super handy. I used a large skillet - one where the onion had enough room to brown nicely and then chops were not crowded. I did use the bullion which is listed in the recipe as optional - used a low sodium brand so that I was adding a ton of salt.

We loved these and will definitely add them to the collection. I served them with brown rice and edemame.

1-2 pork chops per person, at least 3/4 inch thick
1 large apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (I used a granny smith but would be good with a red delicious)
• salt and pepper
• 1 large onion, sliced thinly
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1/3 cup port wine (I used Osbourne’s) 
• 1 packet chicken bullion (optional)
• 1/2 cup water
• 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• olive oil and a little butter

Sprinkle fresh pepper and about half of the thyme on one side of pork chop 

Preheat pan over medium heat.

Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil into hot skillet and add onions. Cook onions for 4-6 minutes, stirring frequently until they soften and brown slightly. Turn heat down if onions start to burn. Once onions are cooked take them out of the skillet put in bowl and set aside.

Put skillet back on heat, add a dash more olive oil, a 1/2 tablespoon of butter and
place your pork chops, spiced side down into hot skillet. Cook 3 minutes then season other side with salt to taste, pepper and additional thyme and place that side down for another 3 minutes or more, depending on thickness (see notes above). Chops are done when they have just lost their pinkish color in the middle. Remove chops to heated plates and allow to rest. They will continue to cook a bit once out of the skillet so watch them carefully.

Add apple and a 1/4 tablespoon butter to skillet and let brown, stirring frequently, cooking for 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and let cook ONE minute only, just for flavor - you do not wish to brown or burn the garlic.

Add port wine carefully to skillet, scrape bottom to remove brown bits. Add onions back to skillet and cook for two more minutes.

Add bullion paste, and water. Stir and let sauce reduce by a half. Add one remaining butter to remaining sauce. Mix well, taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Pour mixture over your pork chops.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Low Fat Fish Tacos with Black Beans & Brown Rice

I am still trying to get into a rhythum of posting so have some patience with me while I figure out how to work this into the schedule. I have so many recipes I want to share but as my mom always used to say - how do you eat an elephant - one bit at a time. So saying, on to the next bite...

After living in Southern CA in the 90s I am a big fan of the fish taco. I have never been able to recreate that same delicious flavor that they have out there, but I found this recipe and have since noodled with it a bit to make it a family favorite. Even the kids will eat these and it is a nice change of pace on taco nights from chicken or beef tacos.

Fish Taco

2 Tbsp lime juice (I use Nellie & Joe's Key West Lime Juice)
1 Tsp ground cumin ( I like to use McCormick's roasted cumin)
1 Tsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Cilantro
1 Pound firm white fish (Eg. cod, halibut - doesn't have to be an expensive cut of fish since you are going to marinate it and cut it up)
Corn tortillas
Salsa -  choose your heat
Arugula, shredded
Shredded cheese of choice - kids like montery jack, I like manchego for its buttery flavor
Black Beans (recipe below)

1. In a ziplock bag combine lime juice, cumin, olive oil and cilantro, then add fish. Allow to marinate in refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Coat a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray ( I actually use olive oil in an atomizer as my spray).

4. Place marinated fish in dish and discard  remaining marinade. Bake 15-20 minutes until fish flakes easily.

5. Warm tortillas.

6. Cut fish in to small chunks and strips.

Classic Black Beans
This recipe came off the back of a can of Goya Black Beans and are so good that I can eat them just by themselves in a tortilla for lunch on the go.

1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 cup chopped green onions, green parts only (about 4 onions)
3 cloves garlic, minced
15.5 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
8 oz can of corn kernel, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup water
1 tsp ground oregano
1 packet Sazon Goya without Annatto (easily found in grocery store in mexican food aisle)
1 Tbsp Cider vinegar

Heat oil in a pan over edium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until tender but not browned (5-8 minutes). Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

I like to serve it with shredded arugula which adds a nice peppery flavor, salsa, shredded cheese, brown rice and black beans (recipe above). You can also include chopped veggies like cucumber and peppers to make a yummy burrito.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A good read and luxurious eggs

I don't know about you but one of my guilty pleasures is to read, actually read, a cookbook. I read through it, writing down any recipe that catches my eye, and writing notes in the margin of thoughts that catch my attention. I keep the list tucked in the inside cover and work my way through it, writing notes to self for future use on the recipe as I go. It is probably the closest I will ever come to journallng and I love reading through the notes at a later date to remind myself what my  impressions were. If the list is short and the comments few, then the cook book is not a keeper.

Sometime not long after "Julie and Julia" came out The Other Half found a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child, and purchased it for me thinking that this filled a glaring ommission in my ever growing cook book library. As I sat down to read through I was happily suprised at what a little gem it was and started making my list of all the recipes I wanted to try. That is when I came across a recipe for scrambled eggs that may in fact be life changing.Who knew that scrambled eggs were supposed to be so velvety and rich in the most wonderous of ways. Even my oldest pea pod - a child who happily proclaims he only eats five things - started asking for "those eggs" on a regular basis. On a busy day I often serve them for dinner with a green salad, crusty bread, a hunk of cheese and a cool crisp glass of white wine (for the adults - pea pods get milk). They are an equally lovely way to wake up in the morning but I have to say that there is an elegance in their rich simplicity that I find almost better suited for later in the day. The original recipe is for 4-5 servings. If you want to make adjustments up or down there are a lot of great websites for converting yields. I recommend using

The key to this recipe is to constantly stir the egg over gentle heat and to take them off just a bit before they are done to the consistency you enjoy. The eggs will continue to cook for a bit after they are off the heat, and you add the last bit of butter. If you are like me and up until now, overcooked your eggs, you may be surprised by how smooth and satiny the texture is when prepared properly. I know it might seem like a lot of prep and effort just for eggs - perhaps another reason why I tend to make them at night - but it really is worth it. Like so many other of Ms. Child's recipe that I have learned to love - if you take the time and follow the steps - the outcome is well worth the effort. Enjoy!

Fork or small wire whip
Mixing bowl
7-8" pan (non-stick if possible, it really helps with this recipe)
Rubber Spatula

8 eggs (or 2 eggs per person)* - allow them to warm up to room temperature if you have time
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tsp water or milk (the milk makes it just a little creamier)
3 1/2 Tbsp softened butter - I like to use unsalted butter and then season to taste. Leave the butter covered and out for the afternoon to soften it.

*If you are trying to watch your egg content you can substitute one egg per person with egg beaters or egg whites - it will change the consistency some but is still very tasty

Beat eggs in bowl with seasonings and water or milk for 30 seconds, until just combined.

Smear bottom and sides of pan with 2 Tbsp of butter. Heat pan on medium low heat.

Pour in eggs, stirring SLOWLY but continually, moving all over the bottom of the pan. After 2-3 minutes the eggs will gradually heat and start to thicken like a custard. Start to stir rapidly, moving the pan on and off the heat as needed until the eggs have almost thickened, or almost cooked to the consistency you like. Remember that eggs will continue to cook after you have taken them off the burner, so it is good to take them off just a smidge early.

Once the eggs have reached your desired consistency, stir in remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp of softened butter, which will stop the cooking process. Add any additional seasoning you desire and top with chopped parsley.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Friday night pizza - malaysian style

Before the economy went into the tank, we used to order in pizza every friday night. Now in an attempt to tighten our belts and save a little money we make pizza, and it has evolved into a fun family ritual. I use a ready made crust - usually Pillsbury Classic in a can - but the fun part is the toppings. Though my heathens are definitely more on the traditional side - turkey pepperoni and lots of cheese - I try and find some more interesting ones for myself and The Other Half.

I have had this recipe in my arsenal since my days living at 331 in Cerro (more than an address it's a lifestyle...) but I have only recently been able to pull it out and dust it off at home because I was able to find a workable substitute for the peanut butter. Try Sunbutter - sunflower oil butter if you have the same issue. It has the same creamy consistency as peanut butter with a similar taste and because of the strength of the other ingredients you don't notice the slight difference in aftertaste.

The original recipe was in a Cooking Light magazine. It is super fresh and full of flavor and there are never any leftovers. As I progress in this process I will try to take and post some photos but for now the words will have to do.

Malaysian Chicken Pizza

  • 3/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger or 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger (1/4 teaspoon if you like things spicy)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter (creamy or chunky works fine - the chunky adds a nice texture)
  • up to 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, depending on how hot you like your food
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • a dash of olive oil
  • 1/2 pound boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (rotisserie chicken works great in a pinch)
  • at least 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded reduced-fat, reduced-sodium Swiss cheese*
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese*
  • 1 pizza crust
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
* I am pretty liberal with the cheese because we like cheesy pizza
Prepare oven and crust per package directions.

Combine first 8 ingredients in a bowl; stir well with a whisk.

Heat a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Add chicken, and sauté 2 minutes. Remove chicken from pan.

Pour rice vinegar mixture into pan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook mixture 6 minutes or until slightly thickened. Return chicken to pan; cook 1 minute or until chicken is done. (Mixture will be consistency of thick syrup.)

Sprinkle cheeses over prepared crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border, and top with chicken mixture.

Bake on bottom rack in oven per the crust instructions. Sprinkle with green onions.

Place pizza on a cutting board; let stand 5 minutes then cut and serve.

We like to have it with a green salad with sesame ginger dressing.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Here we go...

As one of my new year inspirations - hate the idea of resolutions - I decided to start a blog about cooking and my adventures in eating. I love food, a littel too much some times I suppose but good food falls in the category of "life is too short to miss this".

So to begin with let's start with the disclaimer: I am not a chef, caterer or any other sort of expert in the food industry. In my previous life I was a creative services director (translation = I managed creative folks) until I married in my late 30s and quickly started a family. I am now working on my second career as a stay at home mom to two wonderful heathens and food experimenter. Over the last few years my interest in cooking has grown exponentially and I now look for any opportunity to try a new recipe. I find cooking to be very relaxing and my husband is by and large, a willing victim of my culinary experiments. I am a recipe kind of gal and will not usually go off-road until I have made something several times and feel confident that I have the taste and texture correct. I often post dishes and dinner menus of facebook and have friends ask for the recipe so I thought this would get me one step closer to doing that, rather than sending out individual emails.

As to the name of my blog, no I am not trying to set back the rights of women a generation - one of my favorite authors is Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, and I take much of my inspiration from her. That and I hate shoes and socks so in reality you will usually find me cooking either with bare feet or in flops. My other half has suggested that I do a Julie and Julia and cook my way through all the BC cooksbooks but as much as I love them, there are just too many good recipes out there to just stick with her, but you will find I often use Ms. Garten's recipes as the cornerstone of a menu.