Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Pastrami Story

If sandwiches are your thing, I bet you would find an authentic pastrami sandwich from a good New York deli to be a truly memorable experience.  One such sandwich made a profound impression on my husband on our last visit there - a full three years ago.  He's been pining for it ever since and decided that - since our kiddos/budget/job/life preclude us from frequent jaunts to the City - he was just going to figure out how to make one for himself.  I thought to myself, what a fun idea!  I didn't realize at the time that the fun idea was actually a rather involved and complicated eight day project.  Yes, I said eight.  No wonder those sandwiches are so good.  The first step is curing the beef brisket in an herb/spice mixture for a few days (with a turn required every 12 hours), then rinsing it, then cold-drying it in the fridge, then rubbing it again, then smoking it, then steaming it, then chilling and slicing it thin.  I mean, seriously?

I take no credit for all of this effort, as I was a mere bystander (and lucky taste tester) on this quest for deliciousness.  But even when I'm not responsible for the prep, I am excited to chat about it and give props to the responsible party.  Way to go, Ryan!! The result was a gorgeous, smoky, intensely flavored, though not quite as tender as intended (you can bet he's going to try it again), pastrami that we piled onto the requisite seedless rye bread with deli mustard and enjoyed immensely.  We thought a deli-type side dish like potato salad would be an appropriate accompaniment; however, I am generally not too roused by the mayo-laden version commonly available.  I located this fab recipe that just screams of acid with vinegar, capers and cornichon, and thought it would be perfect.  Adding a further dimension of complex goodness was the grilling of the potatoes as opposed to the standard boiling.   It was exquisite, and I will store it in my pocket for the future.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Goodies

Whether for gift giving, indulging, or the sheer festivity of the preparation, goodies at Christmastime are just the best.   Here is a sampling of some of the feel good yumminess that has added cheer to our holiday thus far:

Oreo Truffles

These heavenly morsels are no more than Oreos mashed with cream cheese and dipped in chocolate.  But they somehow feel decadent and kind of fancy.  They are lovely to be given as gifts and can be decorated in lots of ways.  My sister-in-law gave me this technique (its simplicity deems ineligibility for the "recipe" designation) years ago, and we've made them countless times ever since! 

I've referenced these little guys before, but here's the scoop:  Grind an entire bag of Oreos in a food processor until fine.  Add 8 oz of cream cheese, and process until the mixture becomes a uniform black "dough".  Scoop balls of the mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for at least 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, melt whatever kind of chocolate chips you like slowly in the microwave.  Then dip the balls in the chocolate and allow to set on parchment/wax paper/foil.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

All chocolate chip cookies are not created equal!  I won't pretend that mine hold a torch to so many marvels out there - my friend Allison's are insane, to name one.   But I can articulate what defines an awesome version of this classic in my book:  crispy outside, gooey (so not cakey) and slightly underdone inside, generous quantity of chocolate chips, and the slightest hint of salt on the end of a bite.  I know that last one is kind of weird, but man is it good.  Perhaps the two most important steps, I believe, are 1) ensuring that the butter is both unsalted and fully brought to room temperature, and 2) fluffing the flour so to not overmeasure.  These are a tad picky, but I have found that the texture is seriously affected by these ingredients.  The recipe I use - and tweak just a tad - is old school Betty Crocker.

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup unsalted, room temperature butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (I am hooked on Madagascar Bourbon)
1 extra large egg
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp plus a pinch kosher salt
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips (or whatever!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   Sift flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl, and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugars and butter together until creamed.  Add vanilla and egg, and beat again until thoroughly combined.  With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture until just combined - don't overmix.  Add the chips and give the mixer a couple more turns to incorporate.  Scoop with a 1-inch cookie scoop onto a silpat lined baking sheet, and bake for 8 minutes until the edges are just golden brown, and the inside is total goo.  Let them set up on the baking sheet for a couple minutes before trying to move them to a cooling rack.

Peppermint Marshmallows 

Why would someone bother making marshmallows when there are countless, perfectly tasty ones available conveniently pre-bagged at the store?  Well, because it's fun and completely festive.  Please note I do not make homemade marshmallows a rule at my house.  If I did, I'd ask someone to smack me.  But the holidays are different and warrant some special treatment to me. 

I don't think I ever really pondered how the marshmallow came to be, but if you find yourself giving this a go, hopefully you'll be as entertained and interested as I was.

I start with Barefoot's homemade marshmallow recipe, which is found after the toasted coconut (also delightful, by the way) discussion on the link below.  In lieu of vanilla extract, I use about a teaspoon of peppermint extract.  After it's smoothed into the pan for setting, I disperse a few drops of red food coloring, and then perform a Marth-done-proud completely amateur job of marbelizing with a wooden skewer.  Quick user note: dip your knife in warm water before attempting to cut these babies, and this experience will be far more enjoyable.  I learned the hard way.


This treat occurred on Christmas night after our our fam took a post-dinner walk in the snow.  My husband peeled off the kids' snow pants (to reveal the same jammies they slept in the night prior...I'm not ashamed to admit that I was in the same state), while I prepared my fave hot chocolate on the stove. If you're wondering, there's no recipe here...just divine chocolate flakes from Williams-Sonoma whisked into hot milk.  We snuggled up with our cocoa with only the fireplace and Christmas tree to light our cups.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Time Out!

Not the kid in the corner time-out, the mama is haggard and must take a breather time-out.  A simmering pot of goodness on the stove forces me to stop for a sec...really just because I have no choice when the most important ingredient to its success is patience.  The actual ingredients are mildly important too, but you know what I mean.   

Spaghetti with meatballs is a dish that warms you the whole way through, which is kind of convenient when it's 18 degrees outside.  After testing about a dozen variations of this combo over the years, I am pleased to report that I've found the keeper.  The meatballs have a wonderful texture and a delicious (and somehow subtle without being boring...does that make sense?) flavor.  I don't even recall from where I clipped the meatball recipe, and I've changed it a bit in my trials.  It's beautifully accompanied by Barefoot Contessa's sauce, which is rich and complex without being heavy. I am salivating as I type.  Here's the scoop:

Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti

Combine the following ingredients in a large bowl:

1 1/4 lbs ground turkey (85/15 is totally what you need here)
1/3 cup grated Parmigiana Reggiano
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 extra large egg
16 saltine crackers, finely crushed

Shape the mixture into about 15 meatballs (1 1/2 inches or so each).  Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, and cook the meatballs until browned on all sides. 

Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.  Add 1 cup of chopped vidalia onions, and cook until translucent, 8ish minutes.  Add 1 1/2 tsp of minced garlic, and cook for one minute more.  Add 1/2 cup red wine, and turn the heat to high.  Stir and cook until the liquid is almost entirely evaporated, about 3 minutes.  Stir in one 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes in puree, 1 Tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper.

Add the meatballs to the sauce, and simmer on low for 30 minutes.  Serve with the al dente pasta of your choice, and don't hate on the Parm topping.

Not pictured but certainly not lacking (sorry for the double negative, Mom):  glorious garlic bread made by 1) slicing a ciabatta loaf lengthwise in half, 2) slathering it with butter, 3) adding a few dashes of garlic powder, a good dusting of an Italian dried herb blend, salt and pepper, and 4) toasting it until golden brown and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  I'll pretend this doesn't negate the health points I earned for using turkey in the meatballs.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chicken Stew with Biscuits

The holidays seem to beg a bit of indulgence, and this dish fits the bill quite perfectly.  It's just a slightly less fussy version of chicken pot pie.  Aside from being snuggly and utterly delicious for both adults and small people, this meal can be conveniently made ahead and also easily feeds a crowd. 

As I've mentioned before, though Ina's very existence cooking borders perfection to me, I maintain that she is a bit heavy handed with onions.  I reduce the quantity by nearly half in this recipe and find nothing lacking.  Another note: it's a good idea to put a cookie sheet on the lower rack to catch over flow drippings from this baking dish.  I forgot to do that this time, and I've already schmutzed up my new oven as a result.  Otherwise, the recipe is straightforward and seriously yummy.

For my less naughty friends, here's a healthy and very tasty idea: Skillet Gnocchi with Spinach and White Beans.  This is a satisfying meal that makes great leftovers.  I also love how the prep goes from start to finish in 30 minutes and only dirties one pan (hallelujah!). The stewed tomatoes weirded out my kids a little, so if you've got picky ones, you might want to dice them up a bit to camouflage them.  I substituted baby spinach for chard in the recipe and also was just a tad more generous with the Parm.  Hey, it's the holidays.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Back in Action

I'm doing my happy dance because the kitchen is back in action!  I will post a pic when the finishing touches of the renovation are complete!  After being without a range for what felt like eternity, I was excited to break in the new one one with a totally tasty dish:  Asian Chicken Burgers with Plum BBQ Sauce.  This meal was born out of an appetizer recipe I found in Cuisine at Home years ago.  I first made it as an app and thought its deliciousness warranted a promotion to main course status.  Okay, so the prep is moderately unpleasant - unless you, for whatever reason, like the idea of dicing up boneless, skinless chicken thighs and grinding them up in a food processor.  I am asking for your trust that this is not a futile exercise; I am confident you will be super happy you did it.  The burger itself is surprisingly (chicken!) savory, flavorful and satisfying.  The sauteed pineapples and red peppers make a subtly sweet topper.  The sauce adds a scrumptious and tangy accent that leaves you with just the slightest bit of spice.  To convert this back to an app, just make the burgers smaller, skewer them with a piece of the pineapple and red pepper, and drizzle the sauce on top.

Asian Chicken Burgers with Plum BBQ Sauce

1/3 cup plum jam (if you can't find this, you can use plum sauce from the International aisle at the grocery store and scale back the rice vinegar just a pinch)
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp store bought BBQ sauce
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
12 oz boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1" chunks
1/2 cup chopped vidalia onion
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1 egg white
Red bell pepper, cut into 1" pieces
Fresh or canned diced pineapple
2 Tbsp thinly sliced scallions, optional

Simmer first five ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat until thick, 7-8 minutes; keep warm.  Pulse chicken, onions, panko, seasonings and egg white together in a food processor until thoroughly combined.  Shape mixture into patties.  Heat a bit of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat, and brown patties until cooked through and transfer to a plate.  (I overcook them every time because I have a phobia about undercooking ground poultry...the fab news is that they're still delicious in this state!)  Saute bell pepper and pineapple until slightly caramelized.  Pile them around the burger, and then spoon the sauce over the top.

So while we're talking barbecue sauces, I'll share my hands-down favorite sauce, courtesy of Bobby Flay.  It has vinegar in the title, so naturally I freaked when I happened upon it.  The great part is that it requires no cooking!  You just zap everything together in a blender or (mini, if you've got it) food processor, and it's ready to go.  This sauce offers one of those scenarios where it takes serious control to avoid licking the plate.  Provided we're without company, I usually just do it anyway.  Anyway, this was one of the meals we prepared while sans stove.  Ryan grilled a spice rubbed flank steak while I assembled the sauce and served up some prepared tortellini salad from Whole Foods.  Aside: that salad is fiercely addictive with strips of zesty salami nestling among cheese-filled pasta, vinegar dressed olives, roasted red peppers and grated Parm.  Yum.  End aside. 

Sherry Vinegar Sauce

2 roasted red peppers, chopped OR 6 piquillo peppers, chopped
1/2 cup aged sherry vinegar
3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp prepared horseradish, drained
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp molasses
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

I'm just now realizing that this it not such a Christmasy post for December.  Let this not convey a lack of total giddyiness about the upcoming holiday!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


This is a picture of the first Thanksgiving meal I hosted five years ago.  I knew a food passion was brewing when the menu planning brought on a giddy rush and when I began to truly believe that the quantity of dishes had a direct correlation with the level of enjoyment.  More just had to mean better. 

So I know Thanksgiving is supposed to be about family, and yeah, it is always fabulous to get everyone together.  But to me, the first feeling I have when I anticipate this holiday is a rumbling in my tummy for the warm and savory flavors of this feast.  The turkey is clearly the star, and there are lots of ways to brine/rub/roast/fry/smoke a bird to perfection.  I shouldn't provide advice here though, as this has become a husband thing over the years.  I don't pout about being relegated to the side dishes though, because I love little more than the pile of gravy covered stuffing I look forward to each year.  So thus begins a sampling of my favorite side recipes....

Sage, Sausage and Apple Dressing - This is completely gorgeous as is, but I do typically omit the walnuts because of babies, allergies or aversions. 

Homemade Gravy - I mean, this is insane.  I also love that it can be made in advance. 

Sweet Potato Casserole - courtesy of my friend Jess:
Boil 5-6 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed for 20 minutes or until tender.  Drain and mash.  Add these ingredients to the potatoes:  1/2 cup sugar, 4 Tbsp room temperature unsalted butter, 2 room temperature eggs, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup room temperature milk.  Stir to combine and spread into a casserole dish.  Top with a mixture of the following: 1 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1 stick unsalted butter, 1/2 cup chopped pecans.  Bake for 35 minutes at 350; in the last five minutes of cooking, add (lots of) mini marshmallows on top!

Wayne's Cranberry Sauce - I am crazy about cranberry sauce.  I think many think about it as just "eh".  I, on the other hand, just love it and am thrilled to have it with leftovers for days and days.  For this recipe, I omit the walnuts and raisins, because they're just not my thing in cranberry sauce.   I add drained, crushed pineapple for texture and sweetness as well.

While most people are about to pop with discomfort by the meal's conclusion and prefer to retreat to the couch for some digestion prior to dessert, I am one that simply cannot wait to dive into a smorgasbord of sweets.  I find it a bit of a challenge to narrow down the options in this glorious category to a reasonable number that can feasibly be prepared and served fresh.  These three recipes are my faves:

Pecan Pie with Cream Cheese Crust -  This could be the best pecan pie I've ever had (though I seriously love my friend Kate's chocolate bourbon pecan pie).  Please note that this recipe needs to be made the same day to enjoy the optimum level of delicious goo.  Bonus: the crust is amazing, but also simple and forgiving.

Pumpkin Roll - My family can't get enough of this classic.  I am not certain as to the original source of this recipe, but my Mother-in-Law has made it for years and was kind enough to pass it along to me.  I increase the cream cheese quantity just a tad, because the innards are what makes it awesome.   

Grease and flour wax paper on a 10x13 rimmed cookie sheet.  Mix the following ingredients with an electric mixer and spread onto the wax paper: 

2/3 cup pumpkin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda

Bake at 350 degrees for 13 minutes.  Turn onto a dish cloth dusted with confectioner sugar.  Remove wax paper.  Roll till cool.  Unroll and spread filling - made of the following ingredients, beaten well - evenly all the way to the sides:

2 Tbsp softened butter
8 oz room temperature cream cheese
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar

Roll....refrigerate....slice and serve.

Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart - I don't want to offend at all here, but I personally find pumpkin pie boring and not altogether worth the calories.  Thank you to my BF Ina for this lovely deviation.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Grilled Cheese

The thought of gooey cheese oozing from a crusty, buttery sandwich takes me to a happy place.  I've learned of an ingredient that elevates the grilled cheese experience to the upper decks.  That, my friends, is bacon.  This is probably odd news to some who knew me as a relatively long-term vegetarian years ago.  But man, am I converted.  I hold crisp, thick-cut Black Forest bacon rather dear to my heart these days.  The sandwiches described below present two scrumptious opportunities to incorporate bacon into an already great and long-loved classic.

I've got to make a couple shout-outs to ingredients that aid in realizing the full potential of these recipes.  The first is bakery bread, which boosts flavor as well as the awesome crunch factor that seems (at least in my kitchen) next to impossible with the common grocery loaf.  I've used bakery white, sour dough, ciabatta, and various herbed varieties, and they are all great.  The second is a good sharp cheddar, which adds complexity and a nice offset to the other ingredients.  There are tons of other cheeses that make a gorgeous statement melting between two slices of bread (ex: brie, smoked turkey and cranberry conserve from Fall Marathon);  I adore all of them, but today I'm goobing on cheddar.

Martha Stewart offered a grilled cheese tribute with a few interesting variations in her magazine, and the combination of cheddar, bacon and pickles on sour dough just sang to me.  I had some white Vermont cheddar leftover from the apple and cheddar scones which I sliced thinly for the first layer.  Next I added three slices of bacon (um, it was a big sandwich).  These had been cooked for 20ish minutes in a 375 degree oven on a baking rack atop a foil-lined cookie sheet.  I am all about cooking bacon in the oven as opposed to the stove top, as it prevents splatter all over the kitchen and the necessity to flip, as well as keeps the bacon from swimming in the drippings.  The last component to the sandwich was dill stackers.  The bite of vinegar adds a proud "ta-da" in concert with the smoky bacon and rich cheddar.

The next sandwich (lacking a picture...sorry) comes courtesy of Tyler Florence, who wisely adds slices of Granny Smith apples and a touch of dijon mustard to the cheese and bacon combo.  I hesitated on the mustard step when I made these, because I was nervous that it would overpower the apples.  But I'm so glad I followed through, because it took the sandwich to a whole new level.  This is YUMMY, and a really fun lunch to serve to friends along with some veggie chips or sweet potato fries.

I will never turn my back on two American Singles nesting between whole wheat bread, cooked in a non-stick skillet and dunked in a bowl of tomato soup.  It's just fun to change it up every now and again.

Before I scoot, here's a quick note that posts of new creations may become a bit more sporadic as we finish a kitchen renovation.  I'll likely find something to ramble about anyway, but posts may be sans photos. I am planning to post some old favorite Thanksgiving recipes later this week!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunday Best

'Twas a tasty Sunday with a laborious - though totally worth it - lunch offset by a fast, easy, and equally delicious dinner. 

I frequent the smittenkitchen site, which I'm kind of embarrassed to share since it makes this blog look so very amateur. On it, I came across a recipe for Apple and Cheddar Scones, which screamed from the screen for me to try them, like, immediately.  I thought pumpkin soup would be a nice flavor companion, not to mention a festive Autumnal partner, for the scones.  So thus, this cozy Sunday lunch was born.  

Pumpkin Soup

This recipe came from a soup cookbook my Great Aunt Marilyn gave me years ago (contributing editor Debra Mayhew).  It is straightforward, while remaining interesting - and of course, yummy.  I sort of dreaded the process of breaking down the pumpkins and the mess that would result.  But in the end, I actually found it kind of therapeutic.  I followed the recipe's suggestion to pre-roast the pumpkin for added flavor.  I just tossed the cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted for about 10-15 minutes at 375 (the temp required for the scones).  In addition, I made the following minor changes:  1) replaced vegetable stock with chicken stock, because, well, I forgot (twice) to pick it up at store; 2)  used dried tarragon instead of fresh, as I didn't realize my plant outside had already given up its fight against the frost; and 3) reduced the quantity of milk from 2 1/2 cups to about 1 1/2, so to lessen dilution of the texture and flavor of the pumpkin.   I'm providing the recipe below as I prepared it.  I added roasted pumpkin seeds leftover from our carving adventure the weekend before as a "why not?" garnish that I think led Ryan to a momentary eye roll.  Hey, it looked pretty.

 In lieu of a food processor, I used my immersion blender, an adored past Christmas gift from my in-laws. This tool conveniently saves time and minimizes clean-up, and I also think it's fun to use.  Okay, I'll stop rambling now and give you the recipe:

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Add 1 large sliced onion and cook for 10 minutes over medium low heat, stirring frequently.  Add 6 cups pumpkin that have been cut into large chunks (and roasted if desired), along with 3 cups sliced potatoes and stir well.  Cover and sweat over low heat for 10 minutes until the veggies are almost tender, stirring occasionally to keep them from sticking.  Stir in 2 1/2 cups chicken stock, a pinch of nutmeg and 1/2 tsp dried tarragon, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the veggies are completely tender.  Allow the soup to cool slightly.  Use a food processor or immersion blender and process until smooth.  Pour back into pot and add 1 1/2 cups milk.  Heat slowly and taste - adding 1-2 tsp of fresh lemon juice and extra seasoning as necessary.

Apple and Cheddar Scones

Drum roll....  The only modification I made was to use half and half instead of heavy cream, as I keep it around to dress my coffee anyway.  Even with this decadence-reducing substitution, they were insanely, ridiculously good.  Her entry describes them as addictive, and this is entirely accurate.  Consider yourself warned.

Grilled Sea Scallops with Green Onion Relish and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

Whoever decided to marry scallops with bacon deserves a big, fat round of applause.  And leave it to Bobby Flay to heap on even more perfection in the form of, you guessed it, vinegar.       Unfortunately, this recipe is not available online, so I'll have to send you to his Grill It cookbook in order to avoid being busted by the copyright police.  As we've made nearly 20 recipes out of this book (all of which have been truly delicious), I can say that it is a totally worthwhile investment!   

In an effort to not sign off on a completely useless note, let's talk scallops for a sec.  Being able to achieve that beautiful color without overcooking the scallops is something that takes some practice; well, at least it did for me.  My first scallops were rubbery and heinous.  The key, regardless of whether you cook on a grill or stove, is a screaming hot surface, which sears quickly without cooking the inside to oblivion.  

PS.... The side dish is simply zucchini sliced on the diagonal, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grilled alongside the scallops.  Easy and delicious.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


How do you appropriately celebrate eight happy years of being married to your best friend (and the two precious souls that entered the world as a result)?  Eat, of course!  We contemplated going out for a restaurant experience, but instead opted for a dinner date in the comfort of our home - to commence subsequent to said little souls slumbering peacefully in their beds.  We also seek any excuse to make the following meal, and were pleased to have this superb celebratory occasion.

Seared Filet Mignon with Caramelized Onions and Blue Cheese

I will not rant yet again about my love affair with caramelized onions ( Hodgepodge and The Onion) - which I suppose are kind of like my new cereal and milk.  I will, however, rant about the combination of the savory and buttery steak, sharp blue cheese (or Gorgonzola) and sweet onions that play off one another in perfect harmony.  A forkful of these three components is so completely to die for that my pace of consumption halts from its typical wolf mode to the way a cow savors a pile of grass with, well, the opposite of urgency.  I always poke fun at the commercials where a woman dressed in silk takes the most painfully slow bite of a chocolate morsel and then stares away in space for a ridiculous 15 seconds.  But, though entirely unintentional, it is quite possible that I actually look like that when I eat this feast.  Wow, did I just admit that?  On to the recipe: 

Roasted Asparagus

I think roasting is my favorite way to prepare asparagus, and it's mindlessly simple.  Trim and toss the asparagus on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes (depending on how thick the stalks are), turning once along the way.  Done!

Peanut Butter Pie

I decided at about 4:00 sitting at my desk at work that I wanted this dessert to put the exclamation point on our celebration that same evening.  As such, I did a speedy online search to locate a simple, but acclaimed recipe and took a second to peruse the reviews.  Why not garner wisdom from those that have done some homework?  And if you find a recurring theme from their commentary, look at it as a probably reliable and free nugget of insight to make your life a bit more delicious and perhaps easier.  The nugget I located was to jack up the peanut butter quantity and ease up on the whipped topping to give it some more richness.  Seemed like a no-brainer to turn up the decadence, so I made this modification.  Given the time crunch, I took the suggestion of the recipe and opted for a pre-made chocolate crust at the store.

Happy Anniversary, Ry! xo

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I don't have a theme to offer today, so here goes on a random assortment of yummy meals.

Roasted Vegetable Wraps with Sesame Sauce and Salad with Restaurant Ginger Dressing

You know the ginger dressing you get on a crispy iceberg pile right between the miso soup and sushi entree?  Well I love that stuff, and I've been curious to give it a go at home.  When a lovely friend passed on a tasty recipe for a sesame sauce (discussed below), I thought this was a fab opportunity to try it as an accompaniment.  I just Googled "Japanese Restaurant Ginger Dressing", and clicked around until I found one from a reputable source that was well tested with high marks.  I, too, give this a thumbs up and am psyched to have found the formula for that restaurant goodness at home.  By the way, it doesn't get much easier than zapping all the ingredients (including an unexpected one: ketchup!) in a blender!   

The sesame sauce recipe suggests it to be served over or alongside roasted vegetables.  I used that strategy but opted to do so in a wrap in order to give it a shot in a starring role.  For the veggies, I thinly sliced zucchini and eggplant lengthwise and lined them up on a cookie sheet with sliced red onion.  I brushed them generously with olive oil, then sprinkled them with kosher salt and pepper on their way to a 400 degree oven.  They roasted for about 25 minutes total, with a flip halfway through.  I stacked the veggies on a burrito sized flour tortilla, and then topped them with the following sauce. This recipe makes a boatload, so you might want to cut it in half.

Sesame Sauce

2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped ginger
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 1/2 cups mayo (recipe calls for 2 cups, but I thought that was a bit much)

Put first 5 ingredients in small saucepan and boil until reduced by half.  Remove from heat.  Whisk together last 3 ingredients until smooth and light brown.  Then pour saucepan mixture in and whisk until combined.  

Ravioli with Caramelized Fennel

My obsession with all things caramelized continues.  I found a(nother!) clip in Real Simple with 10 ideas for cheese ravioli, and this one spoke to me.  I fell in love with fennel on a trip to Italy when our friends Amy and Roberto served it raw as a palate cleanser.  Well it gets even better when it's cooked.  I've carried on about this before, but I'll take another opportunity to praise the magic that happens in 30 minutes as a standard onion - and fennel bulb in this case - transform into a gorgeously sweet, complex jam.  You should so try this. 

In a large skillet, cook 1 thinly sliced fennel bulb and 1 sliced onion in butter over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until golden, 25-30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Meanwhile, prep the ravioli...which is almost too easy to call it prep.  Just drop store-bought fresh cheese ravioli into boiling salted water for 10ish minutes.  When it's done, toss it into the saute pan with the onions and fennel, along with 1/4 cup (or a little less) reserved pasta water, and 1 Tbsp butter.  Sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds (the green part) and freshly grated Parmesan. 

Vegetable Chowder

I am always on the hunt for make-ahead, kid-friendly meals.  In addition to these traits, this dish is HEALTHY and freezes well!   It becomes beautifully thickened by pureeing a third of the mixture (in a blender or even better, with an immersion blender in the pot itself).  I love this soup, but I do think more seasoning improves it.  In addition to what's suggested by the recipe, I season with salt and pepper in step 1.  I also substitute the salt with garlic salt in step 4.  PS - I use frozen cut green beans as a time-saver.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sweet Potato Cakes with Sage

 It's a tad deceiving that I've headlined this post with a side dish, but I wondered how many would actually dig into an entry titled "Smoked Meatloaf and Sweet Potato Cakes with Sage".   I realize that the standard meatloaf (we'll get to the "smoked" part in a second) doesn't do it for most people.  I'm totally with you when I take a moment to relive some past meatloaf experiences (elementary school cafeteria, anyone?).  But I actually dig a good meatloaf and appreciate its kid-, freezer-, and leftover-friendly qualities.  We even ordered it out at a restaurant once (Lulu's, Richmonders) at the exuberant behest of the server, and it was as amazing as she promised.  It's no surprise that my two favorite meatloaf recipes come from my two favorite domestic ladies: Ina and Marth.  I've referenced Ina's turkey meatloaf recipe before (in Make Ahead), and it's quite good.  Today I am providing Marth's beef/pork version that is, believe it or not, packed with vegetables.  I've made this in a loaf pan as suggested and was a little weirded out with it sort of swimming in fat at the end.  (Sorry, I know that it totally not appetizing...just trying to provide fair warning.)  Here's a picture of the loaf - in all its smoked glory - instead just mounded onto a pan where the drippings can disperse away from the meat a little more easily.

Now, the cooking technique.  The average sane person doesn't fire up a smoker once a week.  So you can obviously do this in the oven - which is what the recipe recommends, after all.  For those that do have an interest in using a smoker or indirect heat over the grill, this strategy imparts tremendous flavor and really takes it from good to wow.  Ryan was especially proud of the smoke ring (grill speak) he achieved.

Finally, the delicious, healthy, and completely simple side:  sweet potato cakes with sage.  I found a blurb in Real Simple magazine listing six interesting uses for sweet potatoes, and this was one of them.  Seasonal ingredients are just the best, because they are the most fresh while being the least expensive!  I happen to adore sweet potatoes, so I was excited to happen upon some fun new treatments.  The article didn't provide any cooking instructions or quantities, so I just made it up as I went along, and it turned out to be a success.  Honestly, with fragrant, savory sage and beautiful fresh sweet potatoes sauteed in olive oil, it would be kind of tough to go wrong. Here's the scoop:

Sweet Potato Cakes with Sage

Peel and coarsely grate two large sweet potatoes, and place them in a large bowl.  Mix in about 1/3 cup grated onion, 1/2ish tsp of salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, one beaten egg, 2 Tbsp flour, and 1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage.  Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a pan and drop spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the pan.  Do your best to resist playing with them until you can see evidence of some browning on the bottom.  Otherwise, they'll fall apart!  When you peak underneath and they stay together, it's safe to turn them.  Once browned on both sides, serve them topped with a nice dollop of sour cream.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Apples x2

We have finally reached the bottom of the apple picking barrel, thanks to apple golden raisin stuffed pork tenderloin with a side of braised red cabbage with apples.  This is one of those sneaky little dishes that manages to look impressive while being totally uncomplicated.   More importantly though, it's cozy and full of flavor.

To start, you need a 3ish pound boneless pork tenderloin.  Ask someone at the meat counter to butterfly it for you so you end up with a nice, flat rectangle.  You can certainly ask to have it butterflied on the spot.  But a note to those with kiddies:  I've started calling ahead to have the meat butterflied in an effort to avoid meltdowns of the 18 month or 4 year old variety.  I just march right up and pick up my order without having to wait in the non-line (why no numbers, Whole Foods, why?) hopeful to lock eyes with the meat guy/gal before the last cow comes home.  I digress...  The stuffing is embarrassingly easy; I just jazz up the instant kind they sell in a bag with sauteed onions, apples and golden raisins.  I always keep golden raisins around.  They add great sweetness and are more interesting and complex than the traditional ones.

Here's the general can change this up a million ways, so have fun!

Apple Golden Raisin Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

3-3 1/2 lb boneless pork tenderloin, butterflied
Instant Chicken Flavor Stuffing (I just use the WF store brand)
1 small onion, chopped
2 cooking apples (ex: Jonagold, Golden Delicious), peeled and chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a saute pan, cook the onions and apples in bit of olive oil over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare the instant stuffing separately.  Add the onion/apples mixture to the stuffing, along with the golden raisins, and stir to combine.  Allow to cool slightly.

Roll out the tenderloin flat and sprinkle it with about 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Spoon a few generous scoops of the stuffing into the middle of the meat, then roll one side to the other.  Turn it seam side down, and tie it closed in two or three places with kitchen twine.  Brush the roll with olive oil, then salt and pepper it again. 

Roast on a sheet pan for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and roast for 20-30 minutes more.  You're looking for an internal temperature of about 137 degrees in the meat.  (Note that the stuffing will register at a higher temperature.)

Though the braised red cabbage doesn't photograph so well, please trust me that it is truly delicious - thanks in large part to my friend, apple cider vinegar.  If you're not a cabbage fan, this side just might convert you.  It is tangy, sweet and savory all at the same time.  The apples offer a welcomed textural change from the cabbage - which, by the way, makes me feel healthier with every bite.

When flipping through my recipe binder recently, I noticed that I had unknowingly clipped two different recipes for braised red cabbage - who knows how long ago.  I guess I've been subconsciously longing for this dish.  And I'll tell you that it was totally worth the subconscious wait.  Incidentally, I didn't even select one of the recipes I clipped, and went instead with Tyler Florence, because his stuff is just awesome. One note: I omitted the fresh dill because I forgot to buy it.  I'm sure it's lovely in the dish, but I didn't miss it!

Before I sign off, here's round two of the Parmesan Polenta from TV Dinners Unplugged.  The leftover polenta set nicely in a baking dish.  I cut it into squares, fried it in super hot olive oil to give it a nice crust, and served it with store bought marinara sauce.  Yay for a totally new dish!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

TV Dinners Unplugged

TV dinners always have a protein, a starch and something green.  Other than that, the dishes I'm sharing today bear little resemblance to the little cellophane covered trays from back in the day.  Well, at least I am hopeful that they are slightly more exciting.  I grew up, not on TV dinners, but on plates that always had a protein, a starch and something green.  There is something comfy and satisfying about checking all of these boxes with a single plate.  While I did not plan to conform to this structure for two consecutive dinners, it happened to end up that way.  So I'm paying tribute to it in this post. 

Before explaining the preparations, I'll note that these photos seem to depict rather immense piles of food.  Though that's kind of the way we roll in my house, these quantities appear more generous than they were in reality.  It must be the camera angle or something; I just don't want you to think we make an absolute rule of gorging ourselves.  Well not every day, anyway.

Dinner #1:  Mongolian grilled flank steak with grilled potatoes and lemon broccolette. 

Flank steak is an awesome, under appreciated cut of meat.  It drinks up marinades beautifully and grills quickly.  Don't forget to cut it against the one wants to eat shoe leather (we learned that the hard way in Ryan's early grilling days).  If you don't have the time or interest to fire up the grill, you can use a grill pan on the stove.  Okay, here's the wonderfully flavorful marinade, courtesy of Weber. 

1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp dry sherry
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

For the starch, we simply cubed russet potatoes, tossed them in olive oil, generous shakes of salt and pepper, and grilled them in a grill basket.  They take on an awesome, smoky flavor over charcoal, but since they darken fairly quickly, they'll need to be finished over indirect heat.  Same point on the cooking technique:  If grilling isn't going to happen for you, feel free to do these in the oven instead (400 degrees for about 30 minutes....flip once or twice along the way).  

Broccolette, otherwise known as baby broccoli, is super tasty, fresh, and a nice departure from standard broccoli crowns.  We just steamed it for about 10-15 minutes until tender but not mushy, then gave it a drizzle of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of kosher salt.

Dinner #2:  Balsamic roasted chicken with Parmesan polenta and peas. 

The chicken is easily prepped ahead since it marinates in a baking dish that goes straight into the oven at cooking time.  The marinade is boiled down at the end and thickens to a gorgeous sauce for serving.

Upon reflection, the polenta was a little fussy for a week night... I sort of regretted taking that on, but the end result was pretty yummy.  Speaking of taste, the recipe was just for plain polenta; the Parm part was a spur of the moment addition (about 1/3 cup grated).  I really live on the wild side.  The image next to the recipe shows it in solid form in a baking dish.  I served it in an organic mound, but then did put the leftovers (lots!) in a square baking dish to set.  For round two - whenever it will occur - I'll slice, bread, and fry/saute the squares (or appetizer-sized rectangles?) and serve them up with some marinara sauce. 

The peas don't warrant discussion. But if you must know, I just microwaved them (frozen) in a covered bowl with a few tablespoons of water and flavored them with an itty pat of butter and shake of salt.