Friday, December 26, 2008

The Great Cookie Bake-off of 2008

This Christmas season wrapped up the third annual Great Cookie Bake-off! With just about 5,000 cookies being produced from one KitchenAide stand mixer (with one bowl and handle attachment), 4 silpats, 4 baking sheets and one oven, I say I did A-OK. It took about 3 days, start to finish, and I lost most of my sanity.

On the docket was the usual crop of tasty nuggests: cream cheese cookies, thumbprints, buckeyes, delux sugar cookies, gingerbread men and ladies, russian teacakes, cherry snowballs and bourbon balls - this time with actual boudon! This year, as I always do, I tried a couple of new recipes. Some were successful, some were not. I realized that A.) I need a cookie press and B.) I can not make a pinwheel cookie look pretty to save my life!

English Toffee Bars

1/2 cup butter, 1 cup oats
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla
1 6-oz pack semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup almond brickle pieces (or a couple of chopped Heath candy bars)

Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large saucepan. Stir in oats, flour, brown sugar and nuts. Press mixture firmly in the bottom of a greased 13x9 inch pan. Bake in 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.

Meanwhile heat sweetened condensed milk and 2 tbsp butter over medium heat until bubbly, stirring constantly. Stir in vanilla. Pour over baked crust layer. Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with chocolate. Let stand for 2-3 min or until softened. Spread chocolate evenly over top. Sprinkle with almond brickle pieces. Cool. Chill for 5-10 minutes or until chocolate layer is set before cutting into pieces. Makes about 36 if you cut methodically. (I did not.)

I thought the English Toffee bars tasted like a candy bar, although there was nothing particularly Christmas'y about them. The recipe was easy and I was able to double it without a problem. The bars came out of the baking dish perfectly without any kind of hassel, which is always nice, and when the cookies were delivered to their recipients, this was the first cookie that about 75% of them went after.


For years and years I have tried to make macaroons. Each year I adapt the recipe just a touch, and each year the recipe fails. I was just going to give up on the idea of macaroons this year but looked at all the coconut I had leftover and changed my mind. I'm glad I did, because 2008 became my year for kicking coconut macaroon's asses! The cookie had always kinda melted into a flat mess that tasted really good, but did not resemble a macaroon at all. In this go'round, I added a little flour to stabalize the batter...and it worked. I came out with an army of perfectly shapped coconut macaroons!

(no fail) Plain Coconut Macaroons

3/4 cup sugar

2 1/2 cups shredded coconut

2 large egg whites

1 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1/4 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use silicon silpats. In a large bowl whip egg whites until frothy. Mix in all other ingredients. Dampen hands with cold water. Form 1/2 inch balls. Keep macaroons about an inch apart on baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool on wire rack.


Cheesecake Cookie Cups

1 package Nestle Toll House Refrigerated Mini Chocolate Chip Cookie Bar Dough

2 packages of cream cheese, room temp

1 can sweetened condensed milk

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 can (21 oz) cherry pie filling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Paper-line 24 muffin cups. Place one piece of mini chocolate chip cookie dough in each muffin cup, and press down slightly. Bake for 8 minutes of until cookie has spread to the edge of each cup.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth. Pour about 3 tbsp of the mixture over each cookie in cup. Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until set. Cool completely on a wire rack. Top each cheesecake with a level tablespoon of pie filling. Keep refridgerated.

You could use your own homemade cookie dough, if you so desire...but taking a little help when you can is SMART! Totally tasty and very much like the real thing.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ooooohhhhh, aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Some photos of a very successful Thanksgiving meal. (Minus the fire I started on the stovetop the previous night...a pot with vinegar spilled over then stunk up the whole place!) Desert recipes forthcoming.

Deviled eggs, risotto rice balls with marinara for dipping and jumbo shrimp cocktail in the background. There was also a cheese platter...but it didn't make it into the shot.

I am very proud of this turkey! I basted it every 1/2 hour and foiled where I had to to make sure that the skin tanned evenly all over.

Got out the good plates!

Caramel Pumpkin Pie. Yum-my. And, I'm not a fan of pumpkin pie.

A slow drizzle of chocolate ganache for the Chocolate Torte. (A little too chocolate'y for my taste - but everyone else raved about it.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

Where I ask, did this year disappear to? It doesn't seem right that it is already the end of November, especially since I just got used to writing/typing "2008" on all my business letters. My mother called me up a couple of weeks ago and tricked me into hosting Thanksgiving at my apartment. I'm pretty game for the adventure since I have been a very bad home cook lately. She tried to get me to agree that I would give her all of the leftover turkey - but funk that! I paid $44 dollars for that 20lb organic, corn-fed, farm raised piece of's going in my belly for days. Plus, I have never left her house with any kind of Thanksgiving rememberance of the meal!

Just for comparison, here is what I planned last year, and the year before.

And now...for this year's (not so) exciting offering. Or as I like to say - more of the same. There's a reason it's called "tradition."

To start:
Jumbo shrimp cocktail
Cheese and fruit platter
Risotto rice balls (because they were such a HUGE hit!)
Bacon wrapped pineapple

Butternut squash soup
Mashed potatoes
Fall fruit salad
Roasted brussel sprouts (not everyone is thrilled about this veg)
Tossed salad
Cranberry and pitted date conserve
Sweet potato biscuits

Chocolate torte with a chocolate ganache
Caramel pumpkin pie
Vanilla ice cream / homemade whipped cream

My sister also requested a cranberry jell-o salad, and since I want to make her smile, I just may make a small batch of, I have that Jell-O cookbook that I've been threatening to break out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spaghetti with Creamy Garlic Sauce

Everything's better with bacon, right? Does that question even have to be asked? Creamy pasta happens to be one of my major downfalls - and when combined with crisp bacon it means that I ate a whole lot of this meal, then passed out in a coma on the couch cursing at myself. The pasta itself is so rich and flavorful, not only from the glorious bacon that rests on top, but because it's also loaded to the gills with garlic. Hey, I'm not kissin' anyone right now...I can eat all the garlic I like. (And for those of you who are kissing someone, remember that two garlic breaths cancel each other out!)


12 oz. uncooked spaghetti, or pasta of your choice
1/2 lb sliced bacon, sliced into 1 inch pieces
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 1/2 cup milk
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese
2 tbsp butter
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (fresh, preferred)
1 cup frozen peas

Cook pasta according to packaged directions.

Meanwhile, crisp bacon and set aside on paper towels to drain excess fat.

In the same pan you used to crisp the bacon, add butter, onion and garlic and saute until onion is translucent. Add cream cheese, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper and gently stir until cream cheese has melted into a beautifully creamy sauce. Add peas. Once sauce is thickened, add drained pasta and toss to combine. Top with bacon!

When I make this again, I will probably substitute the peas for a little fresh baby spinach, because I felt that the dish needed a little more green in it. Can I also say "yay" that I got to use my pasta bowls for the first time ev-ah! (I've only had them for 4 years, but they were stored away in the attic.)

Be warned - like most pasta dishes, the leftovers were not as satisfying as the actual meal. The cream sauce solidifies (a little extra milk did loosen the sauce, but it wasn't the same) and the bacon loses some of it's crispness. My advice - make only what you plan to eat that night. If you want more, spend the 20 minutes and make it again...after all, you have that 1/2 package of bacon left!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pumpkin Empanadas

Let me start off by saying that I am not a big fan of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving - or anytime, actually. I prefer fruit pies or anything cheesecake or chocolate or better yet, any combination of the three. However, when I saw this recipe for Pumpkin Empanadas, I was intrigued and knew that I had to try them.

The result? A rich morsel of goodness wrapped in a light, flaky crust. The recipe promised that the empanada would taste like an individual slice of pumpkin pie. Not so, in my's more of a cross between a pumpkin pie and a super sweet pecan pie.


Filling ingredients:
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (I didn't have this, so I substituted 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg and 1/4 tsp ground ginger)
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Crust ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
8-10 tbsp cold water

Glaze ingredients:
1 egg
1 tsp water

In a saucepan, combine pumpkin, brown sugar, 1 tbsp butter, filling spices. Stir to combine some and cook over medium heat until mixture is thickened. Remove from heat, and cool completely (approximately 1 hour). Stir in pecans and set aside.

(OK - so I realize this is not the most appetizing of photos...but the filling is really tasty!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, salt and butter. Pulse ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pulse in enough water until dough is just moistened.

Divide dough in half. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface, until about 1/8 inch thick. (Keep remaining dough in the refrigerator so it remains cold.) Cut circles with a 2 1/2 inch cookie cutter. Place 1/2 tsp of the filling in the center of each circle. Fold one side of the circle over to form a crescent-shaped empanada. Pinch dough lightly to form a seam, then use the tines of a fork to seal the empanada closed. Place on a non-greased cookie sheet. Repeat until all cookies are made.

Whisk together egg and 1 tsp water in a small bowl. Brush egg mixture lightly onto empanadas. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are browned and glossy. Remove from oven and let cool. Eat warm!

Although I appreciate the absolute perfection that is homemade pie crust - the next time I make these, I will probably cheat and buy some pre-made crust to cut down on the mess and save time. The recipe also said that it would yield 4 dozen cookies...which is a total LIE! I got about a dozen and half out of my dough, with lots of filling left over. This did irritate me some, but I plan to make another batch tonight, so I threw the leftover filling in the fridge with a little plastic wrap to cover it.

I do think that a touch of "sugar in the raw" sprinkled over the top, pre-bake, would give these cookies a little somethin-somethin. All I'm thinking about today, is how good they would be with a side of vanilla ice cream!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ham and Lentil Soup

I had big plans for those lentils, I really did. But, then I made this soup and although it was tasty, it looked a wee bit unappetizing, and I became afraid. Afraid not of the lentils themselves - but of what they can become when matched with a immersion blender.

Silly, silly me.

So, after finding 3 bags of lentils (the green variety) in the pantry, I knew that I must search for a recipe that would highlight the little disc-shaped legume and bring it to it's former glory. Since I've been on a soup kick, it only seemed natural that the recipe I would give the thumbs up to would be...soup. Ham and Lentil Soup. Brace yourself for some serious "yum."


1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, washed and diced
8 oz. cubed ham
1 1/2 cups dried green lentils
4-6 cups of chicken stock
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1 can of stewed tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
2 cups baby spinach
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried parsley

Heat oil and butter in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots and celery and cook, stirring often, until onion becomes translucent. Add vermouth and continue to cook until vermouth reduces by half. Add ham, lentils and tomatoes - followed by 4 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil, and cook (with lid on) for about 15-20 minutes, or until lentils are al'dente. Take lid off, add spinach and season with dried herbs and salt and pepper. The spinach will immediately wilt down. If soup is too thick for your liking, add more chicken stock until it becomes the consistency you desire.

If you are not a lentil fan, prepare to be converted!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pasta Fagioli

I'm a sucka for soup.

I prefer cream based soups to clear broth soups in the winter, but in the summer I really like chunky, fresh from the garden (obviously, not my garden) "meal all in one" soups, that provide leftovers for days.

I've had this Pasta Fagioli recipe stuck in my head for days, after cleaning out my pantry and happening across 3 separate boxes of dilatini pasta and 5 cans of cannalini beans! Sometimes when I grocery shop, my stomach takes over without my mind realizing it - so it's no wonder I've been craving Pasta Fagioli...the ingredients were calling my name from behind closed doors for a few weeks now!

I really like this soup because it is not only simple and economical, but it feeds an army and is so tasty. Unlike some other soups, Pasta Fagioli is flavorful immediately. Try it, and get on the Pasta Fagioli Love Train!

All aboard! The Fagioli Love Train is departing!


2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, washed and chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1 large can (28 oz) of whole stewed tomatoes, with juice
2 cans white or cannalini beans, well rinsed
4-6 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked ditalini pasta (or any other small pasta)
2 tbsp dried parsley
2 tsp dried thyme

In a large stock pot, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic stirring occassionally until onion is translucent. Add bay leaf and red pepper flake and stir to combine. Add vermouth and cook until liquid reduces and alcohol cooks out.

Meanwhile, rinse beans completely. Add beans, canned tomatoes with juice and chicken stock to pot. Bring to a boil and cook until vegetables are tender. Add herbs, and season with salt and pepper. Before service, add cooked pasta. (Pasta will absorb liquid, so I like to keep the pasta completely separate so it doesn't overcook, or "bloat.")

I've made this same recipe and added zuchinni and squash into the vegetable medley. I've also switched out the chicken stock for vegetable stock.

Some people are scared of red pepper flake, but I've found that if you add the spice at the beginning of the cooking process, it looses some of it's heat and adds just a small kick at the end when you are ready to serve it.

It's important to get a little of each ingredient on the spoon!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


As much as I would like to proclaim from the mountaintops that I can grow food from the earth with my own two hands, I cannot. I kill most things I look at. I try, I really do. I planted some parsley, basil and chives at the beginning of the summer - and they were growing nice and lush, until I forgot to water them.

Plants need water, plants need water, plants need water.

Lucky for me, a coworker has a much greener thumb than I, and she doesn't mind sharing her bounty, for which I am forever grateful. I left work last Friday with a huge bundle of fresh basil just wanting to be made into homemade pesto!


1 bunch fresh basil, leaves cleaned and removed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts*
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp grated lemon peel
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor, blend together basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon peel and juice and salt and pepper. While blending, stream in olive oil until the pesto reaches the desired consistancy. (I like it a little runny, so I use more oil.)

Pesto works well on meats such as chicken, beef and fish...and it of course, it is delicious as a pasta sauce. I like to also use it in soups for an extra punch of flavor, and I also add it to homemade pizza, under the tomato sauce.

Want pesto all year round? After preparation, freeze it in ice cube trays!

Of course, I went the traditional route and enjoyed this batch with some pasta.

*To toast your pine nuts: place nuts in a single layer in a dry skillet. Bring skillet to medium heat, shaking nuts every couple of seconds so they do not burn. When they turn a golden brown, take them off the heat. Toasting your nuts brings out the natural oils and develops the flavor. You can certainly make pesto without doing this step, but it won't be as tasty!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Simple, Cheap and Versatile...Jell-O

Who knew that Jell-O could be added to so many dishes?

My mom gave me her Jell-O cookbook, "The New Joys of Jell-O," that she received as a wedding gift in 1973. I'm figuring 1973 was smack dab in the middle of the great Jell-O boom, because according to this WHACK cookbook, you can add Jell-O to basically anything.

Don't believe it?

How about a stunning Salad Nicoise - as seen on page 67? The ingredient list: tuna, tomato, green beans, olives, green peppers, onions, hard boiled egg, lettuce, mayo, cream, anchovy and the seemingly secret ingredient...Lemon Jell-O! I'm imagining it to be the glue that holds the whole dish together. Those who threw up a little bit in their mouths, please raise their hand. (Yeah, me too.)

My favorite chapter happens to be "Things You Never Thought Of" because, really - the whole book should be titled that! I'm not going to spill the beans too much, but I'm thinking that it might be fun to host a little Jell-O party. I mean, this cookbook pretty much has a 5 course meal planned out, including appetizers. I'll blame it on having a broken oven. Dare me?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tomato Soup

For those who watched Top Chef Chicago as faithfully as I did - you will know that the true test of a chef (or, home cook in my case) is making a successful, yet simple homemade soup. Thank you Ming Tsai for that bit of wisdom!

I love soup. For some reason, I especially love soup in the middle of summer, which I understand is very strange for some. It's light and satisfying and you don't feel like a beached whale after dinner. That does have a certain summertime appeal, right? Unfortunately, Nathan doesn't appreciate a bowl of soup for dinner at any time of the year. For him, soup is a good starter - to be combined with his meat and potatoes. When he decided to cash in his free night at the casino, I decided to tinker around in the kitchen with a few basic ingredients.

I've been wanting to try my hand at a tomato soup for a long time...the thing is, I didn't want to spend a long time preparing it...nor did I want to handle potentially harmful salmonella-infused tomatoes!

What is nice about this tomato soup - besides it being absolutely bowl-liking delicious (I kid you not!) is that all of the ingredients are very basic, and will be found in a well stocked kitchen without any issue. Oh, and BTW...not only did I eat this soup for dinner, I also warmed up a little for breakfast, and took some for lunch the next day as well. I also made a notation to double the recipe next time!


1 28oz. can of whole plain tomatoes, in their juice
1 quart of vegetable stock
1 - 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 onions, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup torn fresh basil, plus more for garnish
salt and pepper, to taste
cooked rice*, optional
2 tbsp olive oil

In a large stock pot, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Drain tomatoes, reserving the tomato juice. Add drained tomatoes and vegetable stock to pot, stirring to combine. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the tomatoes break down slightly. Add basil and cook for another 2 minutes.

Take pot off the heat, and use a stick blender to puree soup to the desired consistency. Add cream and reserved tomato juice, if desired and stir gently to combine. Return pot to heat. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a scoop of cooked rice, and a little fresh basil for garnish.

*Use up those leftovers! Keep the rice separate from the soup until service, or the rice will suck up all the soup and become gummy. You can also substitute your favorite pasta, or omit the starch all together.

There is nothing better than fresh basil! It's one of those herbs that I have no problem growing myself, thank goodness!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Weekly menu planning

Sorry I've been absent for so long. I have a good excuse though - our oven is (still) broken. The stovetop work just fine, but the oven fills the house with gas and doesn't heat up. We almost killed ourselves! I didn't think I used the oven all that much. I do. When I can't use it is when I get these sudden intense urges to bake. My toaster oven just doesn't make the cut.

Monday - Cream of Tomato Soup
Tuesday - Poached Chicken Florentine
Wednesday - Broiled Mahi-Mahi with Pineapple Chutney
Thursday - Capellini with Grilled Vegetables
Friday - Hamburgers with all the Fixins'
Saturday - Sausage Ravioli with Tomato-Basil Coulis

The original recipes will have to be adjusted as some of them require that gentle oven heat (or the broiler), but I'll make do. It's time to start blogging again!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Thai Lettuce Wraps

When I think of Thai food, I often think of overly complicated dishes with many steps done in a particular order with ingredients not found in many kitchens. I'm so silly, because in the end - none of that is even true. The most complicated thing about this dish was making the rice. And, who (besides Lisa on Top Chef) doesn't know how to make some kind of rice? I also think of my very special pan thai. (Cheating is OK!) Thai food has this way of ending with a "pretty" and a "yum." I think what draws me to this particular cuisine over and over are the vibrant colors, different textures and the break from the American norm of meat and potatoes. I went out to dinner with a couple of friends last week to a newly opened Thai restaurant, and tried the fried can bet I will be attempting to make those soon!

Give this recipe a shot. I promise you will not be disappointed in the outcome. It's lovely on a warm summer night! Plus, no silverware.


2 cups prepare Jasmine Rice
1 head of a leafy green lettuce (such as Boston), leaves separated, cleaned and patted dry
1 1/2 cups fresh pineapple, milled finely to a canned "crushed" texture
1 bell pepper (any color), diced
4 scallions, diced
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tsp minced garlic
4 tsp minced ginger
2 lb. lean ground pork
3/4 tsp chili paste, or Tabasco sauce (less if you want less heat)
1/3 cup Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Prepare rice according to package directions.

While rice is steaming, prepare lettuce leaves and set aside. Prepare pineapple, scallions and bell peppers and place each ingredient in their own small bowl.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add ginger and garlic and cook about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Immediately add pork - using a wooden spoon to separate the meat. Season with pepper. Add chili paste and stir to combine. Cook meat until done, approximately 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine brown sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and fish sauce. Add sauce to cooked pork and simmer for 1 minute. Turn off heat. Add chopped cilantro, and transfer to a serving bowl.

Assemble your lettuce wraps using each of the prepared ingredients, and enjoy.

Sometimes you just need to feel like a kid again, and eat with your hands. Pork and pineapple are such a classic combination, there was no doubt in my mind that this recipe would work and be great. Plus, it left ample room for ice cream.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Weekly menu planning

For the week of Monday 5/26 - Saturday 5/31:

The grill is out, and the propane is flowing! Thank goodness. It kills me to use the oven, until the a/c is up and running.

Monday - BBQ Grill Out: Baby Back Ribs, Sesame-Soy marinated Chicken, baked beans and salad
Tuesday - Thai Lettuce Wraps
Wednesday - Pasta with Peas, Cream, Parsley and Mint
Thursday - Brown Sugar and Ginger Glazed Salmon
Friday - Kat's Hamburgers Supreme
Saturday - Orzo with Grilled Shrimp, Summer Vegetables and Pesto Vinaigrette

Monday, May 12, 2008

Reward your Mama

Happy Mother's Day!!!

Tulips, fresh with morning dew, from my garden.

For the past couple of years, I treated my mother and sister to a gourmet brunch as a special Mother's Day gift. My mother has the craziest diet restrictions, so this is no easy feat. This year, my sister had to work Mother's Day morning, so while brunch was pretty much out of the question...dinner was not. Personally, I like brunch better because I never treat myself to yummy breakfast foods like french toast and sweet breads - my breakfasts usually consist of buttered toast and a glass of juice.

Each woman had a special mother really wanted Butternut Squash Soup. My sister asked for Corn Chowder. 2 soups you say? No problemo! My sister also requested cheesecake, minus the crunchy eggshells. Smartass. (My brother requested cheesecake for his birthday last year, and I didn't do what I tell everyone else to do: crack your eggs into a separate container. A small bit of eggshell got into the batter and disbursed so that every bite had a cruch to it! Apparently, no one likes that added bit of calcium in their cheesecake!) Good thing for her that I have been jonesing cheesecake for several weeks now, ever since I spied Amanda's salted caramel sauce on her blog.

So, this is what my menu looked like:

Butternut Squash Soup, with a bit of grated fresh ginger
Bacon, Potato and Corn Chowder
9-Grain Rolls
Pork Tenderloin with a Cherry Reduction
Cherry and Apple'sauce
Baked Potatoes
Grilled Skewered Vegetables (colorful bell peppers, yellow summer squash, mushrooms and tomatoes)
Cheesecake with Salted Caramel Sauce

Sometimes cheesecake can be a real hassel. My cheesecakes have a tendency to crack (and I mean crack!) and the result is not the pretty smooth cake that is always pictured in cookbooks. This time, I settled on a new cheesecake recipe that turned out really, really delicious. It was smooth and creamy and mile high! The baking technic was a little different than I had seen before, but it totally worked because it came out with only one small crack that was easily hidden with the caramel sauce. No gaping craters!!! Horray!

See? Isn't it beautiful? No trick photography here!


For the cheesecake:

5 (8 oz.) bricks of creamcheese,

1/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
5 large eggs
2 large egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Graham Cracker Crumb:

1 1/2 cups (5 oz) finely ground graham crackers

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 550°F.
Stir together crust ingredients and press onto bottom and 1 inch up side of a buttered 9-12'' springform pan. Set aside.

Beat together cream cheese, sugar, flour, and zests with an electric mixer until smooth. Add eggs and yolks, 1 at a time, then vanilla, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated and scraping down bowl between additions.

Put springform pan with crust on a large cookie sheet. Pour filling into crust (springform pan will be completely full) and bake on cookie sheet (to catch drips) in the middle of the oven for 12 minutes, or until puffed. Reduce temperature to 200°F and continue baking until cake is mostly firm (center will still be slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken), about 1 hour more. Turn off oven and allow the cake to sit on oven rack for another oven. Remove cake from oven and run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen. Cool completely in springform pan on a cooling rack. Chill cake, loosely covered, at least 6 hours. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. Serve as is, or with any kind of fruit, chocolate or caramel sauce.

Oh so good with just a slight hint of lemon and orange flavors from the zests of the fruits. It made the cheesecake come alive and dance on your taste buds. Beware though, this cake is rich!!!! Cut small slices and don't be ashamed when you have lots leftover. Share the love by bringing the remaining cake to work!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Go To" Dishes

My new job sometimes requires me to pull some late nights. Since Nathan can rarely fend for himself, I often find myself searching out recipes that are quick and easy enough to prepare while half asleep. One pot/skillet meals are the best, because that also affords me a quick clean up (and who doesn't appreciate that?). The cherry on top - most of these meals are prepared without having to defrost the protein!

Sausage Bow Tie Pasta is one meal that I keep filed away in the back of my head because it takes about 15 minutes, start to finish, and is super tasty. Chicken and Wild Rice Almondine is another. Both fall into my ultimate "Comfort Food" category as well.


1 box long grain and wild rice, with seasoning packet (I use Uncle Ben's)
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into narrow strips
2 1/2 cups water
1 bag frozen green beans, any cut - I like the whole beans
2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper, to taste

Season chicken strips with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Saute chicken until browned. Add rice, seasoning packet and water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Add green beans and carrots and cook (covered) for another 5-7 minutes, until rice is completely done. Remove from heat. Gently stir in sour cream.

Meanwhile, in a small dry skillet, toast the almonds for approximately 2 minutes - watching them to make sure they do not burn. Garnish dish with toasted almonds. Taste for seasoning. Serve!

This meal is a winner every time. It has great texture from the rice and the almonds...and the green beans and carrots provide wonderful color and crunch, making it the perfectly pretty end-of-day-weekend meal. The sour cream holds everything together, lending a tangy and creamy consistency that is fork-licking good.

I always tell myself that I should double the recipe so that we have leftovers (Nate helps himself to seconds and thirds!) - but I have yet to do it...and I kick myself each and every time.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Weekly menu planning

Last night, I went through a couple of my favorite cookbooks, marking recipes that I wanted to try. For the life of me, I can not remember a single recipe that I book-marked - I was just so tired! I've picked my weekly menu based off of what I have available in my pantry and freezer, in hopes that I will spend my time at home doing things I enjoy and not in the market waiting in line at the register.

I'm also packing up my knives at some point this week and sending them to Shun for either a replacement or a grind down. Both my shantoku and pairing knives have chipped. The warranty department told me that the turn around time is approximately 2 weeks. I have no idea how I am going to function without them!

Monday - Wonton and Bok Choy Soup
Tuesday - Chicken with Mushroom Sauce
Wednesday - Potato tart with a side salad
Thursday - Country Fried Steak
Friday - Chicken and White Bean Chili
Saturday - Shrimp and Sweet Potato Cakes with Slaw

I also plan on making a special batch of brownies for dessert at some point during the week.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

200th Post! Let's celebrate with meat on a stick!

I never thought when I started this blog over a year ago that I would be celebrating my 200th post! Yippee!

I've always wanted to prepare beef (or chicken) satay, but I thought that I would need a lot of time set aside for the actual preparation...and that I would need to buy an expensive piece of meat...and that I would have to wait until our grill was up and running...and...

Yep. I had a lot of excuses. Fact of the matter is, I was lazy. You don't need a whole of time, because the marinating liquid is crazy flavorful - so the actual marinating part of the recipe can be done in about a half an hour - with cooking only taking about 8 minutes, tops. You can prepare the marinade in a bag so there's no extra dishes to do. Make broiler is your friend! I'm a believer now.


3 pounds beef flank steak, all fat removed, sliced at an angle across the grain
bamboo skewers, soaked in water

1/2 cup oyster sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
8 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 1/2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tbsp curry powder

dipping sauce:
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 tsp peanut oil
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup water

In a large kitchen bag, combine all marinade ingredients. Place sliced meat in bag, and seal. Set aside for 1/2 hour so that meat can marinade.

In a small saucepan over low heat, combine all sauce ingredients. Bring to a simmer. Let simmer for about 4-5 minutes, or until sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat and bring to room temperature. If sauce is too thick for your liking, thin it out with a couple extra tablespoons of water.

Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Thread skewers with meat and discard marinade. Broil meat for approximately 4 minutes on each side. Let meat rest 5 minutes before service. Serve with dipping sauce.

Meat on a stick is a fun way to eat dinner! I used a flank steak, which has a tendency to be tough - but with the help of the marinade...and the way that I sliced the meat, it actually was extremely tender and so full of flavor. Eat bite had a little hot, a little sweet and just a touch of spice. I've tried peanut butter dishes before with unsavory results - peanut butter is such a strong flavor that it gets old quick - but this dish definitely ranked high up in my book.

If flank steak isn't in the cards, go with your favorite cut of beef and either thinly slice it, or cube it - just adjust the cooking times for thicker pieces.

I served the beef satay with steamed brown rice and some grilled zucchini spears.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Weekly menu planning

This is the plan for this week:

Sunday - BBQ ribs with a pear, walnut and goat cheese salad
Monday - Satay of beef
Tuesday - Chicken Picatta
Wednesday - Marinated Tofu with red curry, peas and scallions
Thursday - Chicken Lasagna roll-ups
Friday - Pizza
Saturday - Grilled Salmon with lime-butter sauce

Alternate: Sausage and Pepper Bowties

Friday, March 28, 2008

Raid my kitchen, Top Chef!

My friend Patti is blogging Top Chef in a cool and interesting way - taking the presented challenges, and noting how she would present them to her "judges." That got me thinking...if I was living in the Chicago neighborhood the Chef'testants were savaging through, what I would I have to offer to the Block Party feast?

A look around my kitchen and pantry might surprise and delight some.

In the freezer:
1 whole beef tenderloin, fat and silver skin removed
2 lbs frozen cooked homemade beef/pork meatballs
1 lb raw shrimp
chicken - drumsticks, thighs, boned breasts and boneless, skinless breasts
juice concentrate
frozen vegetables: green beans, corn, peas and Italian Stir-fry medley
homemade chicken stock
puff pastry

In the fridge:
block of Parmesan cheese
fresh mozzarella
herbs: Italian parsley, tarragon, chives and a huge punch of basil
citrus: oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit
pint of heavy cream
vegetables: carrots, broccoli, baby spinach, peppers, English cucumber, leeks, scallions, radishes, mushrooms, butternut squash, beets
vinegar: balsamic, champagne, white, red wine and apple cider
fruit preserves
condiments: ketchup, mustard (3 kinds), mayo, soy sauce, hot sauce, chocolate syrup
wonton wrappers
active yeast

In the pantry:
baking supplies
dried fruit
Oil: vegetable, extra virgin olive oil, peanut, canola and sesame
sesame seeds
chocolate: chips, chunks, slabs (milk, dark and white)
canned/jarred products: chickpeas, anchovies, sardines, condensed soup, beans, salsa, fruit, tomatoes
pasta of all shapes and sizes
rice: brown, white, wild
peanut butter: crunchy and smooth
bread crumbs: Italian style and Panko
tomato sauce
dried beans and legumes
nuts: walmuts, pinenuts, almonds
chicken and beef stock

I'm pretty well stocked, and I think that because I cook with so many fresh ingredients, they'd probably all be taken in an instant.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It's bread...that tastes like puddin'

I have an issue with textures, which is why I have never tried bread pudding until recently. Bread is for sandwiches or toast. Or, so I thought.

A trip to the buffet changed my mind. They had a slight menu change, and replaced my beloved banana cream dream with bread pudding. "Oh yuck" I thought, but took a spoonful to try anyways. Oh my goodness gracious!!! I waited 30 *mutter, mutter* some-odd years to try this stuff?! Why am I such a fool? The crust on top was nice and dense, and the insides were so creamy and full of vanilla flavoring, yet the whole dish was so rich, which made it so sinfully delicious.

When I started to talk to my Aunt J. about Easter dinner, I knew that bread pudding had to make it onto the menu. Lucky for me, she was down with it - - and I began the search for a bread pudding recipe that would awaken our taste buds out of a sleepy winter slumber.


1 jar of purchased caramel sauce
1/4 tsp kosher salt (table salt would make the dish way too salty)
8-9 slices potato sandwich bread, very lightly toasted, torn into large pieces
3 ripe bananas, mashed
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/3 cup whole milk
2 1/2 tbsp sugar, divided
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

To make 1 large bread pudding dessert: Spray one pyrex 8x8x2'' glass baking dish with a non-stick cooking spray, such as PAM. Pour enough caramel into the dish to coat the bottom. Arrange half of the torn bread into the baking dish. Spoon about 3 tbsp caramel sauce over bread. Spread mashed bananas over bread, then arrange second half of torn bread on top, fitting layers snugly. (Like a dessert lasagna!)

In a medium bowl, whisk together half and half, eggs, milk, salt, 1 1/2 tbsp sugar and vanilla until combined. Pour 3/4 of custard into baking dish, and let stand app. 30 minutes until the bread absorbs the prepared custard.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pour any remaining custard onto bread mixture. Brush any exposed bread pieces with melted butter, and drizzle top with 2-3 tbsp caramel sauce. Sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake bread pudding uncovered for 55-60 minutes, or until middle is set. Remove and let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream and a final drizzle of caramel sauce.

To add a touch of whimsy, I also fried up a couple of plantains as a garnish - but next time I will just leave them out...bread pudding shouldn't be so fussy.

Additional preparations...

To make 8 individual portions: Butter eight 3/4-cup ramekins. Spoon 1 generous tablespoon caramel into each ramekin. Tear each bread slice into 6 squares, for 48 pieces total. Set 1 tbsp of mashed banana on each bread square. Arrange 6 banana-topped bread squares standing on edge, side by side in each prepared ramekin, fitting snugly.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, milk, 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, vanilla and salt until combined. Pour enough custard into each ramekin to reach top. Let stand until bread absorbs some of custard, about 30 minutes. Reserve any remaining custard. Meanwhile, position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 400°F. Pour remaining custard into ramekins. Brush exposed bread pieces with melted butter, and drizzle with caramel sauce. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Set ramekins in large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake puddings until set and knife inserted into custard comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove from pan; cool.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chickpea Cakes

Chickpeas are just about my favorite food. I've played around with chickpeas before on this blog with some pretty fantastic results - but this recipe takes the "cake"...uh...literally. Think crab cakes, minus the crab and made with chickpeas instead!

CHICKPEA CAKES with a Blood Orange Sauce

For cakes:
2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 small garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 eggs
3 tbsp flour
1 tsp curry powder
4 swipes of whole nutmeg on a microplane grater
2 tbsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper, to taste

For sauce:
1/4 cup blood orange juice
2 tbsp grated blood orange zest
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup orange marmalade
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp butter
Orange sections (optional)
Cherry tomatoes (optional)

Fill a food processor with chickpeas, garlic, basil, scallions, eggs, flour, curry, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pulse to combine. (I left mine chunky for added texture.)

Heat oil in a large frying pan until hot. Scoop out chickpea mixture into large baseball sized rounds, and place in pan. With a spatula dipped in water to prevent sticking, gently flatten each chickpea round slightly. Fry for approximately 4-5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan bring together juice, zest, stock and orange marmalade to a boil. Reduce to about 1/2 cup. Season with salt and pepper and add butter to give the sauce a glistening look.

Arrange chickpea cakes on a plate and garnish with halved cherry tomatoes and blood orange sections. Drizzle orange sauce over the top. If desired, juilenne a little extra basil on top.

I served ours with a couple of slices of roasted pork loin and additional blood orange sauce (I made a double batch of the sauce.) It really brought a touch of Spring to our evening! I was surprised at the texture and flavor that the chickpea cakes gave...the curry was definitely the dominant spice. If you don't like curry, then reduce / omit / replace it! The original recipe actually called for cilantro - but the basil looked so nice in the store that I couldn't pass it up...and I'm really glad I made that change. The basil leant a sweet scent to the entire dish without being bitter or overpowering. Super good!

I used this dish as a side, but they can easily be converted to cover all parts of the meal! These cakes would be fabulous as an appetizer if made smaller, and could also be breaded with Italian breadcrumbs or panko crumbs and fried as you would for risotto rice balls. The next time I make them I will surely put the front and center as the main part of the meal, along with a salad.
I'm sorry - it's pretty obvious that chickpeas in general excite the heck out of me!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fennel and Sausage Strudel

Phyllo dough scares me. I've used it once or twice, with great results, but it doesn't matter, my mind still thinks what it wants. And, truth be told - once you have all of your ingredients ready to go, the use of phyllo is actually painless and easy.

Some time ago, I found a recipe for fennel and chorizo strudel in the Culinary Institute of America's Gourmet Meals in Minutes cookbook that I glanced at, saw phyllo, made a mental note and filed it away in the depths of my mind for months. (The picture is actually featured right on the cover!) This week I finally pulled out the phyllo sheets to defrost so I could make a variation of this recipe that intrigued me so - replacing the chorizo, which I do not like, with good old Italian Sausage.

FENNEL AND SAUSAGE STRUDEL (makes two six inch strudels - enough to feed 4 people)

8 sheets of prepared and thawed phyllo dough
1 stick of butter, divided
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 oz. ground sweet Italian sausage
2 tbsp fresh tarragon
1 tbsp fresh chives
1 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs, divided
1 egg
pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter. Saute sausage and onion until sausage is fully cooked. Add fennel and continue to cook until fennel is tender. Set aside and let cool until mixture is room temperature. Finely chop herbs. Add herbs, bread crumbs and egg to cooled mixture and stir to thoroughly combine. Season with pepper. (No need to add salt - the sausage is salty enough!)

The chives add such a nice flavor to the overall mixture. Save a little for some garnish at the end.

Prepare your workplace for the phyllo. Melt remaining butter, and dampen a clean kitchen towel. (Use the kitchen towel to cover the phyllo you are not using so that the dough does not dry out and become brittle while you are working.) Place one sheet of phyllo on a piece of parchment paper. Brush melted butter on phyllo, working away from you. Sprinkle a thin layer of bread crumbs on buttered phyllo, and repeat with remaining dough until you have 4 complete layers.

Spread 1/2 of sausage mixture on one end of the phyllo, and carefull roll up, tucking the ends under slightly and placing the strudel seam side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat all steps to create another strudel roll.

Brush strudels with remaining butter and dust another layer of bread crumbs on top to assist with browning and flavor. With a very sharp knife, score the top of the strudel rolls to make cutting the final product easier. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned and flaky.

Although I served this for dinner, it would make an absolutely awesome appetizer if made into a thinner roll and cut into bite sized pieces. I loved the way the phyllo crisped up and became this buttery, flaky covering for the flavorful sausage interior. Be warned though - it is incredibly rich.

These strudels would also be incredible (and a little healthier) with ground chicken, or even a spinach mixture for all the vegetarians out there! I may even try the technique stuffed with spinach and artichoke dip for Easter, so that no one has to mess with broken tortilla chips!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patty's Day!

While others are filling their blogs with Corned Beef and Cabbage recipes, I thought I would go the sweet route and tell/show you the cookies I made last night in celebration of this Irish holiday!


1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp mint extract
bag of large marshmallows
chocolate frosting
Green spinkles, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, sift all dry ingredients - flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add milk, extracts and egg beating well to throughly combine. Turn mixer onto low and beat in dry ingredients a little at a time until all of the dry is incorporated into the wet. Use a 2 inch cookie scoop to drop dough onto a silpat lined cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut each marshmallow in half. Place one half of a marshmallow onto the hot cookie, pressing gently, and return to oven for an additional 2 minutes. (Any longer and the marshmallow may fall off the cookie!) Remove from heat and let cook on a wire rack.

Once cooled, ice each cookie with the prepared chocolate frosting, completely covering the marshmallow center - making it a 'surprise'! Store in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cooking with Fruit: blueberries

This week I am cooking with fruit. Citrus is the obvious choice, of course - but I am trying to think a bit out of the box. Tonight's chicken recipe was inspired by a drink I had this past antioxidant martini. (As I explained to the liquor store clerk, alcohol may be bad for you - but the add-ins negate all of that, making it healthy. I'm pretty sure he already thought I was drunk.) Hang in there, the martini recipe will follow...


1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup pomegranate juice, such as POM juice
1/2 cup blueberry preserves
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh blueberries
Chicken of your choice, cooked how you like it*

To make blueberry sauce, bring chicken stock, POM juice and blueberry preserves to a boil and reduce to about 1/4 cup. Add fresh blueberries and heat until warmed through. Spoon over chicken.

*I started my chicken on the stove top in an oven-safe skillet. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil and sear both sides. Finish chicken in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and juices are clear. You can also bake, grill or pan fry boneless skinless chicken breasts, bone-in thighs or drumsticks - your imagination is a good thing!

I served the chicken with some roasted purple cauliflower (Nathan thought I dyed it myself!) and baby carrots. So colorful! And purple!

Everybody's had raspberry chicken...blueberry is a nice spin. And now, for the perfect liquid accompaniment:


For the blueberry puree: 1 cup blueberries, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup fine sugar all blended together.

For the drink: 1 oz Stoli blueberry vodka, 2 oz POM juice, 1 oz triple sec, 1/2 oz freshly squeezed orange juice, 1/2 oz prepared blueberry puree. Shake all ingredients with ice. Garnish with orange peel.

Now normally, I would post a picture...however, after one of these (...OK, OK - it was 3) picture taking was not a high priority. Tee-hee.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Move over McD's

I made the most outrageous hamburgers the other night! They were juicy, flavorful and huge. We don't eat many hamburgers at home since Nate tends to eat fast food at lunchtime, and I tend to stay away from ground beef as much as possible unless I get a craving for meatloaf. Hamburgers to us are mainly a summer party food that we enjoy at our family and friend's homes. However, being a little stir-crazy played havok on my meal planning this week! I want summer here and now!

In the hamburger meat: 85% lean ground beef, italian bread crumbs, an egg, salt and pepper, dried parsley, onion and garlic powder and a touch of paprika.

On the hamburger: Toasted hard roll, american cheese (not on mine), lettuce, tomato, red onion, brown mustard, ketchup and mayo.

On the side: my potato salad - which consists of potatoes, hard boiled egg, red bell peppers, carrots, english cucumber (skin on), dill pickles, salt and pepper, dried parsley, mayo, italian dressing and dijon mustard.

On our faces: A serious smile! I will never doubt my indoor hamburger-making abilities ever again.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Braised Pork

Slow cooking is definitely an art that I am growing more familiar with. I officially gave up trying to make anything taste good in my crock pot. That thing hates me, and turns everything into gourmet dog food. I've tried all the tricks of the trade (searing meat first, low and slow, adding vegetables last, upgrading to a better machine) but it seems as though I do not have the magic touch with crock pots, which happens to be fine with me. Personally, I never found fulfillment in coming home to a dinner already prepared...I need that 10-15 minutes of prep and chop time to get any aggression I may have out!

What I do enjoy is 'slow' cooking in the form of braising on the stove top in a nice big pot. We are late eaters (there is definitely not enough time in the day!) so I can still work all day then come home and have dinner ready at our regular time....I just start cooking a tad earlier than usual.


1 lb pork of your choice - I did boneless pork chops on accident...they were packaged to look like boneless short ribs and I was totally fooled!
5 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 1 inch pieces
1 large onion, quartered
1/2 lb baby red skinned potatoes, halved
2 cups sliced button mushrooms
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
2 cups red wine
beef stock
1 large can of pureed tomato
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp sugar (optional)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Add olive oil to a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Season pork on both sides with salt and pepper. Sear pork on both sides until nicely browned. Add carrots, onion, potato and mushrooms to pot with meat. Add wine, tomato puree and enough stock until the liquids completely cover all of your vegetables. Add herbs and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for about an hour or until the meat is extremely tender and the liquid has reduced and thickened. Add balsamic vinegar, then taste for seasoning. (I added the sugar because the tomato puree I used wasn't as sweet as I wanted it to be.)

Serve alongside your favorite steamed rice.

I was pleasantly suprised that the carrots still had a little bite to them - which is good since mushy vegetables suck! The balsamic vinegar gave just a little bit of tang, which cut through the tomatoey gravy nicely. And, can we talk about the pork? It was fork tender and melt in your mouth good.

The recipe would rock with beef as well.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Aphrodisiac Cooking for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day - a day to show your love to the special person in your life. If you play your cards right, what you feed your loved one could enhance the rest of your evening, if you catch my drift! Some foods that are known to have aphrodisiac qualities - like asparagus, almonds, avocados, bananas, basil, coffee, figs, honey, libations, rosemary, strawberries and oysters. Cayanne and chili are known to rev up the lovin' as well.

If you've been watching Food TV, you'll also know that chocolate is a must-have for any Valentine's cooking...and that chocolate is not just an ingredient for desserts. Case in point, Ellie Krieger's "Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Rosemary, Chocolate and Wine Sauce." Chocolate and beef...a classic combination? Oh yes. And I am not kidding. Make this sauce with your favorite cut of meat, and you will be on the way to the bedroom in no time!


1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 tablespoon unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, carrot and celery and cook, stirring a few times, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the wine and broth and stir in the tomato paste. Add the bay leaf and thyme and bring to a boil. Simmer until the liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 40 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a small saucepan. Stir in the cocoa and rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Serve on the side with the sliced tenderloin.

This sauce is slightly bitter, due to the wine and cocoa powder, and blends really nicely with the buttery texture of the beef fillet. Nathan thought it was a bit too bitter - - so taste it before serving, and add a tsp or two of honey, if desired, to sweeted the sauce up just a touch.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Doughnuts or donuts? Who the heck knows..."doughnuts" makes my poor spell check go crazy, throwing red squiggly lines all over the place, but "donuts" is the incorrect spelling according to all of my cookbooks and the recipes listed on the internet! Whatever way you spell it, just call them delicious.

Last Thursday I had the most intense craving for doughnuts. Cake doughnuts, in particular. Moist, dense little circles of pleasure covered in sugar or dipped into a glaze. I thought about them all day. Now, I could certainly run over to Duncan Donuts and pick up one on the way home to satisfy the craving, but with my luck they would be out of my favorites or they would be stale. So, why not make them at home? After all, any well stocked (or even partially stocked) pantry has all the ingredients you need to make these fresh...

BASIC CAKE DOUGHNUTS (and doughnut holes!)

3 cups of flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 beaten eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
cooking oil for deep fat frying
Glaze: 2 cups powdered sugar, 3-5 tbsp water. In a bowl, mix together sugar and water until you have achieved the desired consistancy.

Combine 2 cups of flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium mixing bowl. In a large mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid Mixer) combine eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat about 3 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken slightly. In a smaller bowl, combine milk and butter. Alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture to egg mixture, beating well after eat addition. Stir in remaining 1 cup of flour. Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.

Heat cooking oil in a large, deep skillet until temperature reaches 375 degrees.

Meanwhile, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a 1-inch thick slab. Cut dough with floured doughnut cutter (size of your choice), dipping cutter into flour between cuts. Reroll as necessary.

Fry doughnuts, 2 or 3 at a time, for about 1-2 minutes on each side, turning once with a slotted spoon. Drain fried doughnuts on a rack or on paper towels. Repeat with remaining doughnuts and doughnut holes. If desired, shake warm doughnuts in a plastic zip lock baggie with cinnamon and sugar. Or, dip tops in a simple glaze.

Tip: Do a "test fry" with one doughnut, so that you can gage the correct frying time and thickness of your dough. My first batch came out perfect on the outside, but raw on the inside - and that is not good eats! I simply flattened out my donuts more and that did the trick. Oh, and make a double batch...they are that good. (And, not greasy believe it or not!)