Sunday, December 30, 2007

Oven fries

Admission: fries are one of my weaknesses. Come on, who can't resist a big plate of fries? Of course this weakness lends its hand to "a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips." So I figured that there has to be a better way of enjoying french fries other than picking them up through a window or dumping a bunch of frozen potato sticks onto a baking sheet. So in the spirit of eating a bit healthier and not letting our organically-spent money get flushed down the drain, I decided that oven fries would be a nice way to blend the two concepts.

Admission: these fries need a little work. They were right in line with what fries should be (without the deep frying of course) but lacked a little in the flavor department and were slightly chewy, which I think had to do with the type of potato rather than my overcooking them. After cutting the potatoes (about 1lb Russet potatoes) into the traditional french fry shape (think Wendy's not McDonald's), I drizzled them with some olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I think next time I'll use Idaho potatoes, change up the seasonings a bit (and add more), and cut the potatoes into more of a steak fry shape. Truthfully, I did consider quickly deep frying them first before baking but I figured that would defeat the whole purpose of going for a healthier version. I did bake them on a greased cooling rack which I found helped the cook and crisp the fry more evenly - and I won't change that technique next time. So yeah, overall not too bad but they need a little work next time.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes @ 425 degrees F

Serves: 2

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Whenever we make calzones I always want to pronouce it like Giada does: cal-zone-ase...but I always feel so stupid doing so - it just sounds too weird to me, even though I was raised saying many Italian foods like Giada does as my dad is 100% Italian. Does saying it like and Italian mean that the food will taste better? It sure sounds like it would, doesn't it? But no matter how I end up pronoucing calzones, it really makes no difference because they always turn out wonderfully. Really, how could you go wrong with two types of cheese baked in a pizza dough pocket? You can't.

I've made the leap into dough making this year and as the year comes to a close, I can honestly say that I'm proud of myself for doing so. I had always been so afraid to make dough for whatever the reason, but as it turns out, it's really so much easier than I had first anticipated. My most recent dough endeavor was for calzones, hence the purpose of the first paragraph - and you thought that I was just babbling. :)

The dough itself came out beautifully. I used a well-passed-around recipe on my cooking board: Jay's Signature Pizza Crust and wasn't at all let down. The dough was easy to make, easy to work with, and tasted wonderful. I'll double the recipe next time and freeze a good portion of it.

After you've got a good dough, the calzones pretty much come together by themselves. These were basic: layer ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, some sprinkled oregano, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and of course, Parmesan cheese (although I think I used Pecorino-Romano this time) on half of a rolled out piece of dough, then fold over, pinch the edges and cut a few slits in the top to allow for steam escapage (is that even a word??). Bake on a hot pizza stone or baking sheet for 15 minutes at 475 degrees F. Seriously, these couldn't be easier.
Active prep time: 15 minutes
Inactive prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 15 minutes
One calzone (half of dough recipe) serves: 2

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


We're always looking for new ways to finish up the leftovers in the house and inevitably there is always soft tortialla shells, red peppers, and numerous types of cheese. This time, we had nice piece of flank steak thawing and thus the steak and the leftovers turned into some kick-ass fajitas.

Let me say that Mexican food is not something I cook very frequently because in my attempts to use less processed foods, I've had to learn to make up my own spice mixes (or use recipes), and that has always been a bit unnerving for me. I mean, that's what a spice packet is for isn't it? And let's be honest, with a spice packet 99% of the time, the end-product tastes the way it should! Nevertheless, I did have some success recently which I think boosted my confidence and prompted me to take on other dishes, hence the fajitas.

Oh my goodness were these good!! The steak was cooked just perfectly - just shy of medium - and I have to give myself a big pat on the back for coming up with the right combo of spices for a dry rub. The peppers and onions really did need to be cooked "low and slow" in order to achieve the right consistency so as to not brown the onions so I didn't at all mind waiting nearly 30 minutes for them to cook down.

Beef Fajitas

source: Smells Like Home

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1 to 1 1/2 lbs flank steak
  • ground cumin
  • ground corinader
  • chili powder
  • garlic powder
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • For serving: soft flour tortillas, shredded cheese, sour cream
  1. In a heavy cast iron frying pan over medium low heat, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and butter until melted. Add peppers and cook for 3 minutes. Sprinkle on some of each of the spices - 3-4 shakes of cumain, corinader, chili and garlic powders should to it along with a couple pinches of salt and a few grates of black pepper. Add onions and cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring only occasionally, until onions and peppers are soft and close to caramelizing.
  2. While peppers and onions are cooking, sprinkle each of the spices on both sides of the flank steak and allow steak to come to room temperature before cooking.
  3. Remove peppers and onions from pan and set aside, keeping warm. Turn up heat to medium, add about 1 tbsp olive oil to the pan and swirl to cover the bottom of the pan. Place the steak in the pan and sear both sides for about 5 minutes each. Remove the steak from the pan, slice into thin pieces against the grain. If steak isn't cooked to desired "redness", finish slicing and return the slices to the hot pan. Return the peppers and onions to the pan and cook everything together for another 2-3 minutes, taking care to not overcook the steak.
  4. Serve on soft tortillas with shredded cheese and sour cream.

Prep time: 5-8 minutes

Cook time: 35-40 minutes

Serves: 2 (with some leftovers)

Chocolate Dipped Orange Heaven

I'm not sure if others have had similar experiences during childhood, but I must share this experience with you...

My brother and I were not allowed, under ANY circumstances, to eat mom's Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies. She only bought them for two reasons: 1.) we were taking a long car trip, or 2.) they were on sale and she had a coupon. No matter the reason though, these precious little commodities were not for kids. They were kept hidden, sometimes even in mom's purse, and if we ever came across them in our searches for a snack, we knew she had the cookies counted so if one was missing, she would know.

Flashforward to the present...
Since moving out of my parents' house years ago, I'm not sure if mom is still as compulsive about her Milanos as she once was but I do know that Pepperidge Farm has struck gold after releasing new flavors of their oh so simple and delicious original Milanos and they now boast 11 different flavors!! No, I certainly haven't tried them all but I definitely have tested out the orange Milanos and was not at all let down. In fact, they are so good that I was inspired to copycat them at home.

Thanks to the help of the butter cookie recipe I was given from Nestie Katie102006 during the WC Recipe Exchange (all recipes are desserts) that she organized, I was able to recreate the orange Milanos for Christmas this year. I realize making the connection between butter cookie and chocolate dipped orange heaven might be a stretch, but part of the fun of this exchange is that we can modify the recipe to our liking. Why a recipe exchange rather than a cookie swap, you ask? Well, Katie and I are part of an online community message board (called What's Cooking, hence WC) on where there is a whole slew of other young mostly married women who exchange recipes, stories, thoughts, jokes, and many many questions throughout the day, all day, 7 days a week. And since we're located all over the world, it's slightly impractical to mail a box of cookies to someone during the rush of the Christmas season with the expectation that they will arrive on time and not in a million pieces. So the idea of the WC Recipe Exchange was born. Now, I still don't know who's recipe this is because guessing who the owner of the recipe is is part of the exchange and we will find out after the cut-off date of December 22nd...but whoever you are, THANK YOU!!! This is a wonderful butter cookie recipe that not only stands beautifully on it's own, but also is the perfect base recipe to modify and is seriously one of the easiest cookie recipes I've come across in a while. Please see my modifications in italics below.

I'm also submitting this recipe to Susan (over at Food Blogga) for her Christmas Cookies from Around the World 2007 event as I think these little pieces of heaven will be a nice addition the huge array of cookies Susan is bringing in.

Butter Cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp almond extract (I used 1 tsp pure vanilla extract and 1/2 tsp pure orange extract)
  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • 3 tbsp course sugar
  • 2 oz bittersweet choclate
  • 2 oz semi-sweet choclate
  1. Cream butter. Gradually add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract. Gradually blend in flour.
  2. Separate the dough in half, leaving one half of the dough in the bowl. To this dough, add 1/2 tsp pure orange extract. Using a spatula work extract into dough so that it is evenly distributed.
  3. This recipe is meant for a cookie press, but I can never get my cookie press to work. So what I do is use a small cookie scoop and flatten the dough into discs. I think this dough could be rolled out and cut with cookie cutters as well. I rolled the dough into logs about 2 inches in diameter, wrapped them in clear plastic wrap and refrigerated for 4 hours. I sliced them with a sharp knife into 1/4" x 2" discs.
  4. Place cookies on ungreased baking sheet. Decorate with colored sugar, rainbow nonpareils, or press a thumbrint into the cookies and fill with jam. Also can be baked plain and iced with frosting when cooled. I used coarse sugar.
  5. Bake in 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Remove immediately to wire rack to cool.
  6. While cookies cool, heat chocolate in a double boiler. After cooling, dip the orange cookies in the melted chocolate and place on parchment paper to cool.

Active prep time: 20 minutes

Inactive prep time: 4 hours

Cook time: 8-10 minutes

A warm meal on a cold day

Southern New England saw it's first major snowfall of season last week and with that I felt compelled to make something warm and cozy for dinner. So with 10 inches of snow came a big pot of beef stew.

After only having made beef stew once prior to this, I have to admit that I'm still honing my skills with this one. Overall, the stew came out great; the veggies and potatoes were nice and soft, but the meat was a wee bit tough, most likely because I mistakenly allowed the stew to boil in the pot rather than simmer. Ah well...I'll pay more attention next time.

Beef Stew
source: Smells Like Home
  • 1 1/2 lbs stew meat
  • flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 lb white potatoes, peeled and cut into about 1" cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • approx 1 tbsp thyme (I used fresh)
  • approx 2 tsp rosemary (I used dried)
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup uncooked barley (optional)
  • cornstarch (if necessary)
  1. Heat oil in a large deep stockpot or dutch oven (I used 7 1/4 qt dutch oven).
  2. In a large Ziploc bag, toss meat in flour until well-coated. When oil is heated, cook meat for about 5 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove from pot and set aside. Add vegetables and cook for 7-10 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften. Add garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper and cook for 5 more minutes.
  3. Return the beef to the pot and combine with vegetable mixture. Add chicken stock and barley. Simmer over low heat for 1 hour. If after 1 hour the stew hasn't thicken, raise the heat and stir in a mixture of 1 tbsp cornstarch and 2 tsp cold water to the pot. Allow stew to come to a steady low boil and allow stew to thicken - should take about 5 minutes. Repeat the cornstarch step until the stew thickens to desired consistency.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 1 hr 15 minutes

Serves: 6-8

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Herb-Crusted Salmon

Kyle and I hit up Whole Foods Market for the first time last weekend as we transition our diet into eating solely organic foods and attempting to eat more locally grown foods. I must admit that he had a terrible time pulling me away from the butcher, the cheese monger, and the seafood monger and I'd estimate that nearly half of what we spent that day was divided between these three areas - and I'm not at all ashamed to admit it. I mean, Whole Foods is a 40 minute drive for us and I really didn't know the next time we'd be back (although little did I know then that we're going back tonight) so I loaded up the cart with great meats and cheeses that freeze well and was like a kid in a candy store at the seafood monger as I picked out wild shrimp and wild salmon - two things that we cannot find at the seafood counter in our local supermarket but that I feel are totally worth the extra money (although not that much extra because the wild jumbo shrimp were on sale for $10.99/lb - a bargain in my eyes!).

So back to the salmon. We don't eat a lot of fish. And while I have been fully aware of the health benefits fish provides, it's never been a big part of our diet because of two reasons: 1.) Kyle claims that he's never been a big fan, and 2.) I've been afraid to cook it for fear of it being horrible. I've recently decided that I've had enough of these two excuses and so fish will now be a more regular part of our weekly menus...starting with this salmon we picked up last weekend. I had no idea how to prepare it but bought it anyway, figuring that I can find a recipe when I got home. Well...uhh...I never really found an actual recipe that I wanted to follow but was inspired by Katie's herb-crusted salmon and decided to make a few changes. The salmon was paired with some herb-roasted potatoes (quartered small white potatoes, mixed with garlic powder, thyme, rosemary, Kosher salt, black pepper, and drizzled with olive oil then baked for 35-40 minutes at 400 degrees F) I got 2 big thumbs up from Kyle on this one, a real treat for me to see, and so as my fish confidence rises, you'll be seeing more and more fish dishes here. Enjoy!

Herb-Crusted Salmon

  • 2 6oz salmon filets (about 1 1/2" thick)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup garlic and herb breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • couple sprinkles of garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp milk
  1. In a medium oven-safe saute pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Pre-heat broiler in oven and move rack to middle of oven.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, adding the milk last and adding enough so that the mixture just starts to stick together when pressed.
  3. Cover flesh side of each salmon piece with breadcrumb mixture and carefully place salmon skin-side down in the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes.
  4. Transfer saute pan to oven and continue to cook fish under the broiler for an additional 3-4 minutes or until fish is firm and begins to flake. Be sure that the breading does not burn under the broiler. Using an oven mitt or pot holder, remove the pan from the oven and serve fish. Provided the fish is thoroughly cooked, it will come right off the skin as you eat it.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Artichoke and Sausage Stuffed Shells

Finally, a recipe from my "must make" list! I've been dying to try Giada's Turkey and Artichoke Stuffed Shells for ages but have had some reservation about it because I wasn't sure how it would go over with Kyle, although I know I shouldn't have any reservations about making any of Giada's recipes because they all turn out so wonderful. Once again, we were not disappointed by Giada!

We ended up swapping out the ground turkey for ground pork because it's what we had on hand and it certainly was a good move; the combination of artichoke with sausage is just heavenly! We didn't make the sauce in Giada's recipe because we're still working through the large pot of sauce that Kyle made over the weekend and I really don't think the recipe was missing anything without Giada's sauce. I didn't include the sauce recipe below but you can find it by clicking on the link to the original recipe above. All in all, this recipe is just perfect for a cold New England [pre]winter night and I can guarantee that they will be back on our plates before the winter is through.
In fact, these shells are also just the perfect dish to bring to Peabody's Housewarming Party this weekend! It's a potluck-style party and I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting to see what everyone "brings"! Not only are my stuffed shells incredibly tasty and will everyone at the party love them, the shells can be made in advance (and frozen if you wish) and they travel well (yes, even virutally). They can be baked after being frozen or refrigerated (baking time adjusted accordingly) and will turn out beautifully either way. And be honest, who doesn't love stuffed shells??
Artichoke and Sausage Stuffed Shells
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
  • 1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells (recommended: Barilla)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 pound ground pork (sweet Italian sausage)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/4 teaspoon
  • 1 (15oz) can artichoke hearts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 (15oz) container ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 5 cups sauce, homemade or jarred
  • 1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella (about 5 ounces)
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and partially cook until tender but still very firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain pasta.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and the garlic and cook until the onions are soft and starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the ground turkey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is slightly golden and cooked through. Add the artichoke hearts and stir to combine. Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. In a large bowl combine the cooled turkey mixture with the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, basil, parsley, and the remaining salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
    To stuff the shells, cover the bottom of a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish with 1 cup of sauce.
  4. Take a shell in the palm of your hand and stuff it with a large spoonful of turkey mixture, about 2 tablespoons. Place the stuffed shell in the baking dish. Continue filling the shells until the baking dish is full, about 24 shells. Drizzle the remaining sauce over the shells, top with the grated mozzarella. If freezing, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 1 day and up to 1 month.
  5. To bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake until the shells are warmed through and the cheese is beginning to brown, about 60 minutes (20 minutes if shells are unfrozen.)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes (fresh); 60 minutes (frozen)
Serves: 6-8

Sausage and Peppers

I have been made blatently aware that Kyle's favorite carnivorous choice is pork in [almost] any form: Italian sausage, breakfast sausage, ground pork, bacon, pork chops, roast pork, pork tenderloin. The only form of pork that he shys away from is ham (thankfully because I'm not a fan either). He recently confessed that if he was ever stranded on a deserted island and he could only choose one food to eat for the rest of his life, it would be pork. Such a man! I suppose this is the reason why I have so many pork posts in this blog and the reason why I have come to love chicken sausage as it's a great and less-fattening alternative to pork sausage.

So Kyle has been in a cooking mood recently. Last week it was the broccoli aioli, on Sunday he made a big pot of sauce, and on Monday night, he thawed the frozen hot Italian sausages from our favorite Italian deli on Long Island that he's been dying to have. He reserved these sausages strictly for sausage and peppers, a dish that he is totally in love with and only on a rare occasion will he let me make because of how much he enjoys making it. Sometimes I wonder if he loves sausage and peppers more than he loves me! (kidding)

Anyway, enough chatter about a dish I didn't even eat. Yes, that's right: he made sausage and peppers for what was supposed to be 3 lunches this week and only turned into 1 lunch because he couldn't restrain himself from eating the rest when he got home from work on Monday. For shame!

Kyle's Sausage and Peppers

  • 4 hot Italian pork sausages
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp plus 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 green peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 2 medium onions, sliced in half-moons
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  1. In a deep heavy-bottom pot or dutch oven over medium heat, heat 2 tbsp olive oil. Add sausages and cook, turning occasionally, until fully cooked, about 10-15 minutes. Turn the heat to low or medium-low if the sausages are browning to quickly.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat remaining oil over medium-high heat; add peppers and cook for 5 minutes then add onions, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes or until peppers and onions begin to soften. Reduce heat to medium. Add in garlic and cook for 2 minutes. If mixture becomes too dry, add some additional oil.
  3. Add wine to the pot containing the sausages and deglaze the bottom of the pot. Be sure to scrape the bits of sausages from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. When peppers and onions have softened, add to pot and turn heat to low. Stir to combine and cook for an additional 5-8 minutes, taking care to not let the garlic burn. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese before serving.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes
Serves: 2-4

Broccoli Aioli

One of my favorite meals that my parents make is aioli and when I lived at home, it was always a treat when that was on the menu because it's God-awfully fattening...butter, olive oil, spaghetti, Parmesan cheese, a ton of salt, and it was usually served with either pork chops or sausages...delish but completely artery-clogging at the same time. Unfortunately, it isn't one of the dishes that I've been able to perfect since trying my own hand at it. My mom keeps telling me that it needs to be heavily salted but some part of me is truly frightened to heavily salt anything for fear of cankles (fat ankles that look like an extension of the calf) and sausage fingers the next morning. So I've never made it since I've been with Kyle, although he has made it on a couple of occasions. It's one of those meals where you have all of the ingredients in the house already and it has come in very handy on the nights where we've stared at each with blank faces, shrugging our shoulders figuring out what to make for dinner because nothing sounds "good."

This exact situation happened last week, during my 'I don't feel like cooking because I'm still worn out from cooking Thanksgiving last week' week. So Kyle opened up the fridge, pulled a few things out and whipped up a great meal. What can I say? I have a husband who loves food and enjoys cooking! I guess it helps that he worked in an Italian restaurant/pizza shop for a few years 'way back when.'

Anyway, this aioli turned out great, and again, it needed salt. The broccoli was a really nice addition and didn't make it feel as fattening as it actually is...and I suppose the whole wheat spaghetti we used helped with that feeling too. It's a quick and simple meal and you really won't be let down - give it a try!!

Broccoli Aioli
  • 8 oz whole wheat spaghetti
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • lots of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. During the last 3-4 minutes of cooking, toss in broccoli and cook until pasta is finished. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add salt, pepper, and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes and then turn heat to low to keep warm while broccoli and spaghetti finish cooking.
  3. After spaghetti and broccoli are well-drained, add to frying pan and toss to coat. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Top with grated Parmesan cheese and serve with crusty bread.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Shepherd's Pie

I'll be honest, I never liked shepherd's pie. So every time Kyle has asked me to make it in the 5 years that we've been together, I've always turned my nose up...but he never really got my point because every so often the shepherd's pie topic would come up:

Him: "I can't understand how you don't like it! It's just meat, mashed potatoes, and a bunch of vegetables all thrown together and baked. What's not to like?"

Me: "I don't like my food to touch. The fact that the meat, mashed potatoes, and vegetables are all mushed together does not appeal to me at all."

But as we were trying to use up all the leftovers from Thanksgiving, I gave in. I don't know what came over me that night when he asked for it...maybe it was that I was having doubts about my plan for dinner that night (turkey pot pie) or because I figured it was time to give shepherd's pie another shot...I don't know but I quickly found a recipe and got to cookin' before I changed my mind.

"Who needs a recipe for shepherd's pie?" you ask. Well, I do. If I was going to give a long-requested and long-disliked (respectively, in our house) dish a shot, I wanted to do it right. Now let me say that I don't make many of Emeril's recipes because they usually involve too many ingredients, many of which I'm often unable to find at the grocery store...but this recipe really was great. I used what I had on hand and overall, I must admit, it turned out very well. I got a thumbs up and a few "mmms" from Kyle and now have a new-found respect for shephard's pie. Who knew??

Shepherd's Pie
source: Emeril Lagasse

Traditionally, shepherd's pie is made with lamb and "cottage pie" is made with beef. This is my twist on these 2 favorite English casseroles, substituting leftover roast turkey for the meat.

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Essence or Creole Seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, stemmed, wiped clean, and sliced (I omitted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups chopped or shredded roast turkey (white and/or dark meat)
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken stock or canned chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup green peas
  • 4 cups leftover mashed potatoes or Basic Mashed Potatoes, recipe follows (I used my leftover mashed potatoes)
  • 3/4 cup grated sharp or medium Cheddar
  • Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch square or 2.2 quart baking dish with the butter and set aside.
  2. In a large saute pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, Essence, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until the onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 20 seconds. Add the mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until thick, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the meat and stir well to combine. Gradually add the stock and then the peas, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture is thickened, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaf.
  3. Carefully transfer to the prepared dish and spoon the potatoes over the meat mixture, spreading to the edges. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake until the cheese is bubbly and the potatoes are crisp around the edges, 22 to 25 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 22-25 minutes

Serves: 4-6

Basic Mashed Potatoes:

  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled, quartered, cut into 1-inch wedges
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. Place the potatoes in a medium, heavy saucepan with enough salted water to cover by 1-inch. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, about 25 minutes.
  2. Drain in a colander and return to the saucepan. Over medium-low heat, cook the potatoes for 1 minute to dry. Add the milk, butter, cream, salt and pepper and mash until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

Apple Crisp

What would fall be without our favorite apple crisp recipe? I discovered this recipe years ago in my mom's old (read: vintage) Women's Day alphabetized volumes of recipes - yes, you may have seen them either in your mom's or grandmother's kitchen or at yard/tag sales. As much bad press as some vintage cookbooks have gotten in the "foodie" community, this collection of recipes continually has provided me with tried and true recipes. One of which being this fantastic apple crisp recipe. It really is the only apple crisp recipe I've ever used and Kyle and I love it so much that I don't ever feel the need to find a new one to try. Our love for this recipe is so great, in fact, that our wedding reception centerpieces were classy buckets full of apples (DIY) and we gave out this recipe (my slightly modified version of it) for our guests to take home. (and if I remember when I get home later, maybe I'll post a pic of the centerpieces here)

Apple Crisp
source: adapted from the Women's Day collection of recipes

  • 2 lbs cooking apples, peeled and sliced (about 5 1/2 cups) I recommend Macoun or Granny Smith
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon plus extra to sprinkle on top
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup cold butter, diced
  1. Put apples in a shallow 2qt casserole; add water.
  2. Combine sugars, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and flour in a separate bowl. Cut in butter with two knives or a pastry blender. Spoon mixture evenly over apples. Sprinkle additional cinnamon on top (to taste).
  3. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Uncover and back for an additional 30 minutes.
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Serves: 6-8

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Show me the gravy!

As a kid, my parents drove my brother and I all over the place: Niagara Falls, Disney World, Connecticut, Montana/Idaho, Hershey Park (PA). Driving truly sucked, especially with a bratty little brother in the back seat the whole ride...but that's another story for the couch so I won't go into it here. I suppose as a kid, I never really appreciated the opportunities to see the country that driving provided (which is why I self-medicated with Dramamine), but I did see the opportunities in tasting the local foods wherever we drove through or ended up. There's no question what my favorite local fare was and I looked for it on every menu at every truck stop, Denny's or IHOP we ever stopped at: Biscuits and Gravy. :: insert Homer Simpson drooling sound here :: It's not a dish that you can readily find here in the Northeast so it's always such a treat to order it, especially when I'm down South.

However, now I don't have to wait until I travel to find it!! My mom cut out a recipe for Biscuits and Gravy a few years ago from her local newspaper and it turns out that it's a wonderful and fairly authentic recipe that I've been making ever since. I'm sure the recipes in the South call for some form of lard to enhance the flavor (and of course further clog the arteries) but this recipe is pretty basic, and it's certainly not lacking in flavor. It happens to be Kyle's #1 breakfast request for special occasions, weekends hosting guests, and holidays - but I refuse to make it for any sort of random day because I feel that we should have a "special" breakfast made only a couple times of year so that the novelty of this great meal doesn't wear out.

Our most recent indulgence was for Thanksgiving morning breakfast and even with the hustle and bustle of preparing a turkey dinner for later in the day, there was still plenty of time to put this in our bellies because it's so easy to make. For this occasion, I didn't make biscuits from scratch (but have in the past), and used a can of refrigerated biscuits - no shame in that! I've never actually used the biscuit recipe below so I can't attest to how it turns out but it sounds like it would turn out OK. Please note that I've made some changes to the gravy recipe, which you can see in italics.
Biscuits and Gravy
source: Bev Bennett in Newsday, April 6, 2003

For the biscuits:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 to 5 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp minced chives (optional)
  1. Combine flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a bowl. Cut in butter until mixture contains small chunks of butter. Add 4 tbsp milk and stir. If dough is stiff, add remaining tbsp of milk. Knead in chives. Dough should be soft, but not sticky.
  2. Pat dough to 3/4 inch thickness on lightly floured board. Cut into 4 circles with 2 1/2 inch cookie cutter. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake in 425 degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
  3. Place on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before splitting open. Makes 4 biscuits.

For the gravy:

  • 8 oz bulk (ground) pork sausage in sage or hot seasonings (I use 12oz of ground breakfast sausage - either Jones' or Jimmy Dean)
  • 1 tbsp* flour
  • 1 cup* milk or combination of milk and half-and-half (should be room temperature)
  • freshly ground black pepper (lots!!)
  1. While biscuits are baking, brown sausage in a medium, non-stick skillet (it doesn't have to be non-stick). Do not pour off fat.
  2. Add flour to sausage and fat and stir to make a paste. Stir (whisk) in milk or half-and-half and cook over low heat (medium works better), stirring frequently, until sausage is hot and gravy is smooth and thick. (The mixture will need to come to a simmer before you get the right consistency.) Season generously with pepper.
  3. To serve, split each biscuit in half and top with 1/4 of the gravy mixture. Serve immediately. Serves 2.


  1. You might need a little extra flour and milk if you use extra sausage.
  2. Usually my gravy is a bit more "runny" than what these pics show but I was running low on milk that morning and had to make sure I had enough to last through the remainder of the holiday.
  3. This recipe easily doubles but I don't recommend fully doubling the milk. Add as much milk as necessary to bring your gravy to your desired thickness.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pumpkin in the form of cake

During this week of hectic preparations for the "kickoff of the holiday season" holiday, I decided to take a break last night and make something sweet to follow-up a great throw-together dinner of roasted garlic chicken sausage with quick homemade sauce over whole wheat spaghetti. In all honestly, I have been neglecting my beloved Kitchenaid Mixer and haven't yet had the opportunity to use it since Kyle installed an electrical outlet directly behind the mixer so that I wouldn't have to drag it (for it's too heavy to pick up) out from under the only spot on the counter where it would fit under the poorly-leveled upper cabinets all the way across to the closest outlet - nearly 4 feet away. I suppose his food-intuition (ie, man's intuition as opposed to a women's or mother's intuition) told him that I would be bringing him home some fantastic cake that I had made earlier that day at my parent's house because the outlet was finished and the counter was cleaned up by the time I came home - it was a complete surprise to me that he was planning to put this outlet in for me. This transaction suited us both perfectly.

So back to last night. I pulled this recipe off one of my new favorite website a few weeks ago and finally had some extra energy (and time) last night to make it. Kyle begged me to make cookie dough even though we didn't have any chocolate chips in the pantry - he just wanted the raw dough to snack on - but I stood my ground and promised him that this would be a great recipe, only going on the hunch that it would be though because how bad could a Martha Stewart recipe be? I haven't had a bad one yet...and this one keeps the streak alive. It turned out to be an amazing, mouth-watering, perfect fall-in-New-England pumpkin spice cake with a cream cheese frosting that will knock your socks off. It seriously was worth the wait and the agony of *watching* the cake cool down far enough so that I could frost and serve it.

I should note a couple of things here:
  1. As much as I was longing to try the honey cream cheese frosting, I omitted the honey because Kyle is allergic to it when it's uncooked. BOO!! Nonetheless, I added about 1 tsp of vanilla and between 3/4 and 1 cup of powdered sugar in place of the honey to assure that the frosting would be sweet enough.
  2. I've had a terrible time as of late adding melted butter to recipes that have eggs. I can't tell you how many times I've cooked the eggs in the wet mixture and had to start the recipe over. This time I decided to heavily soften the butter for the cake batter, but asked Kyle to do so in an effort to quicken the process since I was sifting the dry ingredients, cracking eggs, measuring sugar, etc. After he dumped his version of very soft butter into the bowl and I started mixing, hundreds of little tiny butter clumps arose, and I realized the butter wasn't nearly soft enough (why do I trust anyone other than myself?!?). But I perservered and put the batter in the oven, butter clumps included. It still turned out perfectly but I admit that I was very nervous during those 40 long minutes in the oven.
  3. I learned the hard way that it's necessary to adjust the oven temp when using dark pans. I baked this cake in a dark non-stick 9x9" pan at 325 degrees F rather than 350 and it was done just right.
  4. And lastly, Martha's recipe says that this cake yields 9 servings. One serving of 9 is a very rich serving, and the next time I make this recipe, I'll cut the cake into 12 pieces instead of 9.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Frosting

source: Martha Stewart


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice (or 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon each allspice and cloves)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin puree


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 bar (8 ounces) regular (or reduced-fat) cream cheese, very soft
  • 1/4 cup honey * I subbed 1 tsp pure vanilla extract and between 3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar for the honey
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin-pie spice. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, butter, and pumpkin puree until combined. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, and mix gently until smooth.
  3. Turn batter into prepared pan, and smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake 10 minutes in pan, then turn out of pan, and cool completely, right side up, on a rack.
  4. Make Honey Frosting: In a medium bowl, whisk butter, cream cheese, and honey until smooth.
  5. Spread top of cooled cake with honey frosting. Cut cake into squares to serve.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40-45 minutes

Yields: 9-12 squares

Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Cake

Who do I think I am coming up with a post like this? Smitten Kitchen? Yeah, I wish! Deb's blog (aka Smitten Kitchen) is seriously one of the most fantastic food blogs I've ever come across. And I'm not entirely sure how I stumbled upon it (although I know it was by accident about 6 or 7 months ago), but Kyle sure is thankful that I did - almost as thankful that I've found solice in so many of Giada's recipes. Deb's blog is incredibly well-written and witty, and of course it features some of the most drool-worthy food porn out there in the blog-o-sphere. (Like my attention to jargon there?) You'll be hard-pressed to find a better food least I've yet to find one (although, Culinary Concoctions by Peabody ranks right up there).

So, yes, I've been reading Smitten Kitchen, almost on a daily basis for a few months now (love Google reader!), and was so excited to read recently that Deb and her beloved blog were being featured in the Boston Globe - pretty big honors for a woman who creates some pretty big food out of her pretty tiny Brooklyn, NY apartment kitchen. It was reading the Globe article online where I found this recipe of Deb's that had been filed away in her blog archives and probably wouldn't have been found had it not been for the article (as much as I love Smitten Kitchen, I just don't have the time to peruse nearly 18 months of blog posts). So after wiping the drool off my keyboard, I printed out the recipe and immediately decided to make this for my parents while I was down to visit them on good 'ol Long Island (actually, not too far from where Smitten Kitchen makes it's home).

I took full advantage of my mom's new double-oven that weekend, but didn't dare ask to use the brand-spankin' new holy grail of kitchen appliances (aka the Kitchenaid Artisan Stand Mixer in Onyx) that I had given her the evening before for her birthday. As much as it killed me to restrain myself from asking to use it, I knew that the only person who should break-in the holy grail is its rightful owner. So I used a hand-mixer - no big deal. :)

It's difficult to explain how incredible this recipe turned out without, again, wiping the drool off my keyboard. The coffee cake was exactly how I hoped it would be - dense and flavorful but not crumbly...and it yielded a bonus of a mouthful of chocolate cinnamon flavor in every bite. Can you really get any better than that?? I have to admit that I made the mistake of not cutting the servings small enough (what???) because this cake really is filling. My cake yielded 24 pieces but 32 or even 36 pieces probably would yielded a more appropriate serving size. But nonetheless, neither I nor my parents (nor Kyle after I brought the leftovers home to him in CT) had any regrets about my making this cake. It's perfect for any occasion - brunch, dessert, or an afternoon coffee break - and I will without a doubt make this again.

Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Cake
source: Smitten Kitchen blog
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 16 ounces sour cream
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 12 ounces chocolate chips (which I tossed lightly in flour before adding to cake to prevent the chips from sinking to the bottom)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and 1½ cups sugar, then mix in the egg yolks and vanilla. Sift flour, baking soda and baking powder together into a separate bowl. Alternately add sour cream and then dry ingredients into butter mixture. Beat eggs whites until stiff, then fold into batter.
  3. Mix last ½ cup sugar and cinnamon together in a separate, small dish.
  4. In a greased 9″x13″ pan, pour in half of the cake batter. Sprinkle the top with half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture and half of the chocolate chips. Pour remaining batter on top, sprinkling the top with the remaining cinnamon-sugar and chocolate chips.
  5. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40-50 minutes
Yields: 24-36 pieces

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tara's Ultimate: Mac n Cheese

Cheese is love. Is there any dish more comforting than mac n cheese? You'd be hard pressed to find someone to dispute this and even harder pressed to find 5 people who are in love with the same mac n cheese recipe. It seems like there are hundreds out there...some similar, some very different, some with one type of cheese, some with at least 7 types (really though, why complicate one of the most basic comfort foods?), some with veggies, some with tuna, some with meat, some out of a box with cheesy powder, some out of a box with cheesy goop...overall, it really could be considered one of the world's most perfect dishes - dairy, carbs, protein, and veggies if one chooses to add them. What American doesn't love mac n cheese?? (oh and PS - I didn't arrange the cheese in the pic above in the shape of a heart; it just happened to fall that way as I was grating it.)

It's been at least 6 months since I've made my traditional mac n cheese. However, in that time, I did find a recipe for a more sophisticated mac n cheese; one that calls for prosciutto but when I decided to make my favorite version, I didn't feel like spending $20/lb on some extra protein for the meal. I was tempted to try Tyler Florence's Ultimate Mac n Cheese after oddly enough catching that specific show on Food Network yesterday (last week I put mac n cheese on the menu for last night) but decided that since I hadn't made mac n cheese in so long, I wanted to make sure that it was gonna be great - I passed over Tyler's recipe for fear of it being too different and not satisfying our craving for good mac n cheese.

Now, a little background on this's not some secret family recipe that has been passed down through the ages. Simply enough, it comes from the back of the Mueller's elbow macaroni box. However, it's the only recipe my mom has used for years and as I was preparing to move out on my own (now nearly 6 years ago), the only thing I asked for was for my mom to write down the recipe. Instead, she cut it off the next box she used and slipped it in my Christmas stocking (I moved right after New Years). Growing up, she used to add tuna fish (canned) and peas to the dish to round it out as a full meal but I stick to the basics. So yes, if you're wondering, I'm still using the exact recipe mom cut out for me (although I do tweak the types of cheese I use depending on what I have in the fridge - see below). When I misplaced the recipe card once a couple of years ago, I cut another one out of the Mueller's elbow macaroni box and believe it or not, it wasn't the same recipe! I about died when I realized that I didn't have the "right" one and immediately got on the phone with my mom for some help. Luckily, the "right" one resurfaced a few months later and I now keep it in a very safe spot. So here's my Ultimate Mac n Cheese....

Mac n Cheese
source: Mueller's elbow macaroni box

  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard (optional
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (I always use skim)
  • 2 tbsp margarine or butter
  • 2 cups (8oz) shredded American or cheddar cheese, divided (this time I used cheddar, fontina, and gouda)
  • 8 oz Mueller's elbow macaroni, cooked 5 minutes and drained (I don't necessarily use Mueller's elbows and usually cook them for closer to 6-7 minutes)
  • 2-3 tbsp ground-up cornflakes (not in the original recipe)
  1. In medium saucepan combine corn starch, salt, dry mustard and pepper; stir in milk.
    Add margarine/butter. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  2. Stir in 1-3/4 cups (425 ml) cheese until melted. Add elbows.
  3. Pour into greased 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with reserved cheese.
  4. Bake uncovered in 375 degree (200 C.) oven 25 minutes or until lightly browned. I bake for 15 then sprinkle the ground-up corn flakes to the top and continue cooking for 10 minutes.
Prep time: 12 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Serves: 6

Monday, November 5, 2007

Big Fat French Toast

Admittedly, I've only made french toast twice in my life - the first time was years ago and the second, more recently, was too much of a flop than I'd like to admit. But I had some pretty decent cinnamon swirl bread that I picked up from my favorite apple orchard last weekend that needed to be used up quickly before it started growing your biggest bread enemy and mine: mold. So yes, as much of a huge fan I am of french toast, it's never been a major player in my breakfast repetoire. However, after this attempt, I think I might see what I can do with it in the future...maybe adding fruit? or chocolate?? or fruit and chocolate together????

This recipe is pretty simple and I figured I would jot it down here so that I can use it in the future and if anyone else out there is as inept at making french toast as I have been, there is now a simple recipe for you to use too. :) Considering my lack of french toast making skills, I didn't actually use a recipe, but kinda made it up as I went along...that IS what cooking is about sometimes, isn't it?

French Toast
source: Smells Like Home
  • 8 thick slices of bread, preferably a few days old, about 1" thick each
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 2 tbsp half n half
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • butter, cinnamon-sugar mixture (2 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon) for serving, and maple syrup
  1. Heat a griddle or large non-stick frying pan to medium heat. Meanwhile, beat eggs, milk, half n half, vanilla, and cinnamon together in a large bowl.
  2. When griddle is hot, soak bread in egg mixture until softened and place on griddle. Repeat for remaining slices of bread. Flip after about 3 or 4 minutes (bottom will be browned) and then move cooked french toast to a warmed plate in a warm oven until all the bread is cooked.
  3. Top each piece with a small pat of butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture, and serve with maple syrup, if desired.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 8-10 minutes

Serves: 4

Girls Fondue Night

Bringin' back a little of the 70s here but who cares? I've got 2 fondue pots and had the itch to use them recently as I was planning on having a couple of girlfriends from college for dinner while I had a dear friend from freshman year of college stay for the weekend. (As an aside: I went to a small state school in [way] upstate New York for my freshman year of college and then transferred to another school in Connecticut where I finished my final 3 years. My friend, Kristin (Kris), and I lived on the same floor freshman year and have remained friends ever since - it's been 10 years now since I transferred to CT - yikes how the time does fly!! The pic below is us with a couple friends from that year. I'm at the top, Kris is on the bottom right with the hat on.)

OK, enough memories and back to the food. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pics of the fondue but I can truly say that both fondues (pizza and Italian cheese) came out great and the fondue idea overall was a big hit. We were able to sit around, pick away, and chat while the fondue vanished. It really was quite a relaxing dinner. Instead of a meal I was slaving over in the kitchen to prepare, I had the pizza fondue all cooked before the girls arrived and kept it warm on the stove while we had appetizers. For the cheese fondue, I prepped everything a day in advance (including the dipping items) so literally all I had to do was toss the ingredients in a pot on the stove, cook to the right consistency, and pour it in the fondue pot. I opted for the electric fondue pot for the cheese fondue so that the heat could be kept a bit more stable and put the pizza fondue in a traditional fondue pot with a Sterno underneath (covered half-way because the flame was too high).

As I mentioned, both fondues went over with rave reviews. For dipping items, I kept it simple: roasted garlic ciabatta bread, another kind of rustic bread called rustica (I don't make these things up), blanched broccoli florets, and red peppers cut to about 1 1/2" pieces. The cheese fondue had a real nice deep flavor with the combo of Gruyere and Pinot Grigio and the pizza fondue really does taste like pizza (it's a recipe my mom either found or made up years ago. She used to make it on cold winter nights and we ate while sitting in front of the fire.)

Overall it was a fun night with great friends and delicious food and I'm thinking about making it a yearly tradition so we'll see what kind of fondue next year brings!

Italian Cheese Fondue
source: Giada De Laurentiis
  • 8 ounces grated Fontina
  • 8 ounces grated Gruyere
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 6 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 2 cups dry white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
  • Freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • Bite-size pieces of focaccia, sliced salami, fresh fennel, Belgian endive, steamed broccoli florets and asparagus spears, for dipping
  1. Toss the Fontina and Gruyere cheese with the cornstarch in a medium bowl to coat.
  2. Saute the pancetta in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat until crisp and golden, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a plate. Pour off any excess oil.
  3. Pour the wine into the same saucepan and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium. Whisk 1 handful of the cheese mixture into the wine until it is almost melted. Repeat with the remaining cheese mixture in about 4 more batches. Continue whisking until the cheese is completely melted and the fondue bubbles, about 1 minute. Stir in all but 2 tablespoons of the pancetta. Season the fondue with pepper, to taste.
  4. Transfer the cheese mixture to a fondue pot. Sprinkle with the remaining pancetta and chives. Set the pot over a candle or a canned heat burner. Serve with focaccia and vegetables.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10-15 minutes

Serves: 8-10

Pizza Fondue

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 2 cans (10.5oz) pizza sauce (I used about 2 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce)
  • 1 1/2 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 1/2 cups (10oz) shredded cheddar
  • 1 cup (4oz) shredded mozzarella
  • Italian or French bread for dipping
  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, brown onion and ground beef. Drain.
  2. Stir in sauce and seasonings and heat through. Add cheese by handfuls, stirring each handful until cheese is almost fully melted.
  3. Pour into fondue pot and keep hot while serving. Serve with bread cut into pieces or serve over toasted English muffins for lunch.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 6-10

Chicken Quesedillas

A while back I found pre-cooked southwestern seasoned grilled chicken strips (by Perdue) in the grocery store and had the wonderful idea of making quesedillas with them. That was a couple of years ago and I guess the popularity of the southwestern variety has faded because it has become increasingly difficult to find them in the grocery store when I need them. In essence, I gave up on finding them and decided that I could make this chicken for my quesedillas just as good at home - and without any of the artifical additives I suppose were in the pre-packaged stuff.

These quesedillas are always a nice treat and are especially easy and inexpensive if you've got what you need in the house already. I always tend to have leftover flour tortillas from other meals I've made with them and they end up sitting the fridge for a couple of weeks before I realize that I have to use them before they go bad. Use whatever cheese you have in your cheese drawer - cheddar, Monterey jack, gouda, fontina, a shredded taco or mexican mix, mozzarella, doesn't matter - they'll all work perfectly. And for the chicken, if you want to buy the pre-package stuff, go for it, but making it at home is just as easy and quite cheaper. Marinate in the suggested ingredients below or just sprinkle some of your favorite seasonings on the raw chicken and grill until fully cooked. Add a few veggies if you'd like - sauteed peppers and onions would work great but I only had onions in the house the night I made them so that's what I used. Serve them alongside some rice and beans or on their own - with sour cream of course for dipping. :) Good stuff here....

Chicken Quesedillas
source: Smells Like Home
  • 4 (10") flour tortillas
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (pounded to 1/2" thick) or tenderloins
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (I used a mexican mix)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, ground coriander, salt and pepper, all to taste (or use whatever you like/have on hand)
  1. In a Ziploc bag, add lime juice, honey, olive oil, and dry spices; blend well. Add chicken and allow to marinate for 10-15 minutes.
  2. While chicken is marinating, in a medium-sized frying pan, heat oil and butter over medium heat and add onions. Cook until very soft, about 10-15 minutes.
  3. Grill until fully cooked. Slice chicken into 1/2" by 3" (approximately) strips. When chicken is almost finished cooking, heat a griddle or large non-stick frying pan to medium-high heat. When griddle is hot and chicken is finished cooking and is sliced, place tortilla on the griddle. Add cheese, onions, and chicken to one half of tortilla half. Carefully fold over empty half to sandwich the filling between the two halves of the tortilla. When the bottom half is browned and cheese is starting to melt, carefully turn over to brown the uncooked half. When cheese is melted and quesedilla is browned, remove from griddle. Repeat with all tortillas.
  4. Serve with mexican rice, beans, and sour cream.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Serves: 2-4

Monday, October 22, 2007

Menu Plan Monday - Week of 10.22.07

Friday: leftovers/clean out the fridge night
Saturday: homemade pizza
Monday: sausage and peppers
Tuesday: pasta fagioli
Wednesday: leftover pasta fagioli
Thursday: chicken quesedillas
For more menus like this one, check out Laura's blog: The Org Junkie

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette

How much better does food get in the fall than when you combine the best of the harvest in butternut squash with caramelized onions in a buttery and flakey crust? doesn't get much better than this. This one's is a winner, people. I knew immediately when I saw the post for this show up on my Google Reader that it would be making an appearance in my kitchen very shortly. I had all of the ingredients except the fresh sage, for which I substituted dry sage, and after having recently made a tart-like sweet version, I knew that I was capable of making this one. There was no question what I'd pair this with - the maple braised pork chops I had planned to make yesterday - which worked out perfectly since the chops were in the crockpot and I'd have some extra time to devote to preparing this galette.

As Deb at Smitten Kitchen encouraged her readers to make this, I'll do the same. This galette isn't something you should pass up because it might look a little intimidating - believe me, it's easier than any single or double-crusted pie you'll ever make. And the results are just phenomenal. The crust in one word: absolute perfection. It's flakey, buttery, and light...and the filling is all that I expected it to be soft, sweet, savory, with a little bit of a bite from the gruyere that I used rather than the fontina the recipe calls for. I'll make this again and again, and am considering making it this weekend for my girls-night-in dinner party.

I did follow the directions as they were written: freezing the flour mixture and butter for an hour first then preparing the dough by hand and refrigerating it for another hour. While at first glance, this seems a little time consuming, there's not a whole lot of actual preparation going on, and the refrigeration time gave me plenty of time to roast the squash, caramelize the onions, and do a few dishes. ;) Overall, the recipe was quite simple but result was extraordinary!

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette
For the pastry:
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut intopieces
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup ice water

For the filling:

  • 1 small butternut squash (about one pound)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons butter (if you have only non-stick, the smaller amount will do)
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced in half-moons
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • ¾ cup fontina cheese (about 2½ ounces), grated or cut into small bits (I used gruyere)
  • 1½ teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves
  1. Make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Place the butter in another bowl. Place both bowls in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the butter to the well and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Prepare squash: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Peel squash, then halve and scoop out seeds. Cut into a ½-inch dice. Toss pieces with olive oil and a half-teaspoon of the salt and roast on foil lined (for neatness sake) sheet for 30 minutes or until pieces are tender, turning it midway if your oven bakes unevenly. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Caramelize onions: While squash is roasting, melt butter in a heavy skillet and cook onion over low heat with the remaining half-teaspoon of salt and pinch of sugar, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden brown, about 20 minutes. (This took more like 30 minutes on low to medium-low heat) Stir in cayenne.
  4. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Mix squash, caramelized onions, cheese and herbs together in a bowl.
  5. Assemble galette: On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. (I used a piece of parchment paper on the sheet) Spread squash, onions, cheese and herb mixture over the dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Fold the border over the squash, onion and cheese mixture, pleating the edge to make it fit. The center will be open.
  6. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide the galette onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Serves 6.

Active prep time: 40 minutes

Inactive prep time: 2 hrs

Serves: 6

Maple Braised Pork Chops

I'm always looking for a new recipe for pork chops because there are only so many times I can marinate them in Italian dressing and dry them out on the grill. Kyle and I have both come to love Giada's parmesan-crusted pork chops but in all honesty, they tend to be a bit unfriendly to those looking to watch calories. I ran across this recipe while perusing through Joelen's blog (a fellow member of my favorite cooking message board) and knew that I needed to try it. In fact, I passed the recipe along to one of my friends who made the chops (although the recipe does call for ribs) that same day and let me know that her hubby (who isn't a huge pork chop fan) raved about them...that's what sealed the deal for me.

I broke out the crockpot yesterday afternoon, determined to get my money out of it (even though I got it on sale at Williams-Sonoma last winter for about 40 bucks), mixed up the quick spice rub, rubbed the chops down, and got them cooking. The result was more than worth the 6 hour wait for them. The chops came out with the meat falling off the bone and flavor was a nice mix between sweet and savory; the maple in the background of everything is what made this dish. I'll admit they did come out a little dry so next time I'll cook them for 5 to 5 1/2 hours rather than 6, but because they tasted as good as they did, a little dryness didn't matter all that much.

Maple Braised Pork Ribs

1-2 lbs pork ribs (I used bone-in chops)
maple rub (recipe below)

Maple Rub
  • 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • splash of worchestershire sauce
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock for the bottom of the crockpot
  1. Combine above ingredients in a bowl. Consistency will slightly clumpy and paste like. Coat pork ribs with this paste using your hands - a basting brush isn't as effective.
  2. Place coated pork in a dutch oven or in a shallow baking pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 300 degrees for 3-4 hours OR Place coated pork in your crockpot and cook on low for 6 hours. (I think 5 to 5 1/2hrs in the crockpot would be enough time)

Prep time: 5-10 mintues

Cook time: Oven: 3-4hrs Crockpot: 5 to 5 1/2hrs

Serves: 4