Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Potato and Veggie Bake

I guess that's what I'll call it!! I didn't plan on cooking this week since I'm teaching every night and Jon won't be home for dinners. But I wanted to make something this afternoon to have when I got home from class. I had to work with what I had, and that wasn't much since I didn't do a big shopping on Sunday.

I started pulling things out of the fridge, freezer, and pantry, having NO idea where I was going with it. I ended up with something that is NOWHERE near gourmet, but really good AND easy (28 minutes from start to finish). It's not that pretty but believe me, it tasted great and it was creative given what I had on hand, and that's why I'm sharing it with you.

First I took a potato (baking potato) and threw it in the mic for 8 minutes, flipping it over halfway through. Once it was done I chopped it into bite-sized pieces and threw them into a small baking dish.

In the meantime I chopped a tomato, steamed some frozen broccoli and cauliflower, chopped just a little bit of onion, and got out some roasted garlic that I never used yesterday. I melted butter in a small pan, added the onions for a few min, then added flour. Once it became thick, I added some cream (about 1/3 of a cup) and let it come to a simmer. Once it did, I threw in some grated asiago, pecorino romano, and Parmesan cheeses as well as some red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. I put the veggies and roasted garlic into the cheese sauce, and then poured the entire thing over the potatoes.

To get some protein, I mixed in some MorningStar Farms Recipe Crumbles (fake ground meat). I think this would also work with browned ground beef, ground turkey, or even chunks of chicken. Otherwise it's just a nice side.

Once it was all assembled I baked it on 400 for about 15 minutes. The result - a tasty, easy, comfort-food dinner in one dish!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

BBQ Baby Back Ribs with Potato Salad

We've never made ribs so we decided to try them today. We tweaked an Alton Brown Recipe called Who Loves Ya Baby Back that we found on the Food Network web site. They were very tasty and tender. It's a lot of work to make them, but I'd do it again.

Making the Dry Rub
(we cut this in half since we made 1 rack and the recipe calls for 2)
- 8 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder (we used a little more)
- 1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, cayenne pepper (we used more), jalapeno seasoning (didn't use this), Old Bay seasoning, thyme, onion powder
- we also added some garlic powder

Prepping the Ribs
Rub the ribs with the dry rub and put in the fridge for one hour. This is what they looked like:

Braising Liquid
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons each white wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
Mix the above ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Warm for 1 minute immediately before cooking ribs.

Cooking the Ribs
Put the ribs in a large baking dish; I used a throw away foil one to avoid a messy pan. Pour the braising liquid into the dish and cover tightly with foil. Cook for 2.5-3 hours on 250 degrees.

When you take the ribs out, pour the braising liquid into a small pot. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until it reduces by half or turns into a thick syrup consistency. Brush the ribs with the liquid. Here is what they looked like:

We then put them on the grill for a few minutes on each side. They crisp up very quickly - we probably could have done them for just a minute or two on each side. In the original recipe, Alton Brown puts them under the broiler instead of on the grill, but it was way too nice outside today to not use the grill!!

Waiting, waiting, and more waiting...
Since they take so long in the oven, we enjoyed a few glasses of wine (our favorite hobby!). Jon splurged at the wine store so tonight it was Stag's Leap Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon. So amazing!!! It is one of the best bottles we have had in a while - full bodied, deep, and "pretty yummy." Wish this was only 12.99 so it could be an every day wine! It was in the $40s.

Potato Salad
This is a recipe that started with my grandmother. My mom now makes it and I've perfected it as well. It's very simple, nothing fancy, but is SO good. Jon loves it and will ONLY eat MY potato salad!

- 2-3 pounds red potatoes, peeled and quartered (all pieces should be about the same size so they cook evenly)
- chopped veggies, tiny pieces: 1 stalk celery, 1 carrot, 1/4 (or less) red onion, 1/2 green pepper
- 5-6 tablespoons mayonnaise (I'll only use Hellman's and no reduced fat stuff either!)
- salt and pepper

Cook the potatoes in a pot of water (just covering the potatoes). Remove them as soon as they are fork tender. Let them cool on a cutting board, and then cut into bit sized pieces. Mix with the veggies and mayonnaise, but add the mayo slowly - you only want the potatoes coated, not dripping in mayo. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill for several hours before serving. You may need to adjust the mayo and spices before serving.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tortilla Pizza

I needed something quick tonight because I have a lot to do. I'm making a big batch of potato salad for tomorrow's dinner, and I'm going to bake Jon a cake. He is always asking for cake but luckily for me he's happy with box cakes - I'm a cooker, not a baker! I wasn't blessed with my dad's incredible baking abilities!

Tonight I made a pizza on a tortilla shell. They cook faster and are a great option when you don't have pizza dough in or when you need to use up tortillas.
I brushed the shell with olive oil and then topped it with cheeses - mozzarella, a little bit of asiago, and some ricotta. I added chopped tomatoes and spinach (wilted in the microwave for 20 seconds). I usually add roasted garlic but I didn't have any handy tonight. I finished it off with some garlic powder and red pepper flakes and then drizzled it with black truffle oil. It only took about 8 min on 400 to get nice and crispy.
Easy and delicious! Now I'm headed to the kitchen to peel a few pounds of potatoes...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Polenta with Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic on a Bed of Spinach

Tomatoes. You know what that means - Jon must not be home for dinner tonight!

I had a package of polenta from Trader Joe's that I wanted to use (another thing Jon won't eat), so I made polenta topped with roasted tomatoes and garlic and put it on a bed of sauteed spinach

Roasting the Tomatoes
I quartered 2 tomatoes and put them in a baking dish with a few cloves of garlic, salt, and some olive oil. I roasted them in the oven on 400 for 15-20 minutes then removed the skins.

Putting it all together
I sliced my polenta into 1.5 inch thick pieces and placed them in a baking dish. I then topped each piece with some of the chopped, roasted tomatoes and garlic. I sprinkled each one with some Parmesan cheese and drizzled them with some oil left in the pan from the tomatoes. They went in the oven on 350 for about 5 minutes until heated through.

In the meantime I sauteed some spinach in olive oil just enough to wilt it - about 2 minutes. When the polenta was done I put a slice on top of the spinach. They were almost too pretty to eat!

If you make your own polenta, transfer it to a flat baking dish once it's done. Let it cool and then use any shape/size cookie cutter to remove pieces.

I think these would be a great appetizer for a dinner party. I'd plate each one as I did tonight, and then I'd drizzle some olive oil from the tomatoes around each plate.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Horseradish Baked Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Sugar Snap Peas

I made up another new chicken dish tonight that I came up with when trying to think of a new sauce for chicken - I'll call it Horseradish Baked Chicken. I served it with roasted potatoes and sauteed sugar snap peas. Overall, everything was very good and I would make each dish again. However, the potatoes were a little to sweet to complement the chicken. Next time I'd do spicy potatoes.

- 1 pound boneless chicken breasts (I used boneless tenders)
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1.5 tbsp flour
- 1 cup milk
- 3 tbsp sour cream
- 3 tbsp horseradish
- 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- a few dashes each of cayenne pepper (optional), salt, and pepper

Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Add flour and stir. Whisk in milk, bring to a boil, then simmer about 3 minutes. Stir in the horseradish, sour cream, Dijon, and spices. Stir/simmer for a few minutes. Pour about 1/2 of the sauce over chicken in a baking dish (the rest is good heated up and served over your side - rice, plain potatoes, noodles, etc). Bake on 350 for approx 20-25 min til chicken is done. Turn the broiler on for 4-5 minutes to get the sauce nice and bubbly.

- 1 pound red potatoes, washed and quartered
- olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
- spices; I used salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley
- option: a few tsp Parmesan cheese

Toss potatoes with olive oil and spices (and cheese) and put into a flat baking dish. Bake on 350 for approx 30 minutes, or until tender. Be sure to flip your potatoes every few minutes so they get crispy all around.

- sugar snap peas - I used about 1 cup
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp olive oil

Bring a small pot of water to a boil, add sugar snap peas. In the meantime, heat oil in a pan, add garlic and saute. After 3 minutes, removed sugar snap peas from the water and add to the pan with the oil and garlic. Saute for 2 minutes.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Grilled Pork Chops

Jon is the master of the grill, so tonight the cooking was up to him - boneless pork chops.

Jon is also the master of marinades. Tonight he made one similar to what he used on our chicken skewers a few weeks ago (marinade was enough for 2 pork chops):

- 1.5 oz lime juice
- 1 oz scotch (Johnny Walker Red)
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 2 tsp each - cumin and chili powder
- 1 tsp each - cayenne pepper, onion powder, Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp each - coriander and white pepper

These amounts are approximate - he goes on feel and instinct (his words :). The chops marinated in a bag for about 2 hours. You don't want to marinate meats for too long when using lime juice as it will start to cook your meat.

To accompany the chops I made sauteed spinach and rice pilaf (just the boring stuff from the box). For the spinach I heated about 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan, then added about 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes and 2 cloves crushed garlic. I added 1 bag of baby spinach and let it wilt for about 3 min on low heat.

I love grilling in the summer - no cleanup!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Stuffed Tomatoes

Is there anything better than tomatoes in the summertime? I love tomatoes and tonight was the perfect night to make them since Jon wasn't home for dinner. He doesn't like tomatoes unless they are in my salsa ...how can you not like tomatoes?

Tonight's dish was tomatoes stuffed with a mixture of ground meat (I used the vegetarian recipe crumbles made by Morningstar Farms), rice, spinach, and spices. You could use any type of ground meat that you like. I don't eat it, but I imagine that seafood would work as well, such as ground shrimp. These are a great summer meal - just add a nice salad and crusty bread and you're set.

  • I took 6 vine-ripened tomatoes and cleaned them out. To hollow them, start by making a hole in the top with a knife (keep your knife angled and only go halfway down so you don't break the tomato). Remove the lid and scoop out the insides with a spoon, keeping the juices in a separate bowl. Put the tomatoes in a baking dish that has been coated with olive oil. I rubbed the tomatoes in the oil too.
  • Cook 1/2 c rice.
  • Cook ground meat. I added 1/4 of a small onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, a few shakes of red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and oregano to the meat while it was cooking. I also added a few tablespoons of the tomato juice. If you use real meat, add more juice. You could also add tomato sauce instead of the tomato juices.
  • Wilt a handful of fresh spinach. I used the microwave for this - 25 seconds on high does the trick.
  • Combine the rice, meat, and chopped spinach (add rice slowly - you may not need to use all of it).
  • Add some Parmesan cheese (just a few pinches).
  • Spoon the mixture into the tomatoes being careful not to break them.
  • Top with a little Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake on 325 for about 15-20 minutes until tender, but not falling apart.
How beautiful are they? They tasted as good as they look.

To change the flavor, change up your spices. For example, you could add chili powder, cilantro and cumin for Southwestern stuffed tomatoes (leave out the oregano, or use Mexican oregano). Be as creative as you'd like - that's the fun of cooking.

You could also make stuffed peppers using the same recipe. Tips if cooking peppers: coat the bottom of your baking dish with tomato sauce to keep them moist, add more juice/sauce to the meat mixture, and cook for about 25-30 minutes until tender.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Restaurant Review: Earl's Prime

Jon and I discovered Earl's about a year ago and it is still #1 on our list for steaks, overall food quality, service, and atmosphere. We've been back a few times, most recently on Saturday night. Although located in Peddler's Village, a country shopping village always filled with tourists on the weekends, the restaurant is the complete opposite of "country." They have done a great job with making you feel like you are in a NYC restaurant. It has a bit of a trendy feel, but is still very elegant, cozy, and quiet - much different than their biggest local competition, Marsha Brown's.

Every time we have been to Earl's the food has been amazing. We keep waiting for our first bad experience, but so far that hasn't happened. My only complaint is that their prices have increased quite a bit over the past year.

After Jon had the jumbo lump crab cocktail ($15) from their raw bar, we all started with the wedge salad. I wish I had pictures - the presentation of this salad is the best I've seen. It's a nice wedge of iceberg lettuce on a square plate surrounded by little piles of crispy prosciutto, tomatoes, very good blue cheese, and blue cheese dressing. We often recreate this one at home. Surprisingly this salad is only $5.

We all ordered Filet Mignon for our entree. Everyone always yells at me for ordering it well done (when you used to be a vegetarian, you don't want to see red in your meat), but at Earl's the meat is such high quality and they cook it perfectly - even at well done my steak was still like butter. When our server brought the steaks she asked us to cut into them to make sure they were done to our liking. From medium rare and medium to well done, they were all perfect. I love Earl's Bearnaise sauce and want to try to make it on my own someday. The steaks come with one side, and tonight it was Peruvian potatoes. They were purple which was a little scary, but very good! We ordered the creamed spinach but weren't that impressed - it was more like creamy spinach soup - however my father-in-law's stewed tomatoes were very good. The filet is $40 for the 8 oz and $48 for the 12 oz. Sides are $5-$8 and they easily serve 2 people.

Dessert - Jon's 7 layer chocolate cake was amazing! I don't like sweets but this cake was very good. Rich, but not overly sweet. Jim was very happy to hear that they had the Penn State Creamery Ice Cream back on the menu. Peachy Paterno it was.

If we could we'd go to Earl's every weekend, but the prices definitely make it a place to visit every few months. Expect to spend at least $100 per person for drinks, salad, entree, a shared dessert, and tip - more if you have any appetizers or selections from the raw bar. But you won't be disappointed with the food or the service. We end up comparing every other restaurant to Earl's and so far none have come close. It's our favorite restaurant by far, and if you go you'll know why.

Chanterelle Mushroom Risotto

I seem to make risotto on a weekly basis so I'm always looking for different flavors and textures to add. Last night I made a very woody/earthy risotto by adding dried chanterelle mushrooms. Here is what I did:

- Pour 1 large can of chicken broth into a pot; add mushrooms (I used 1 package but 1/2 of a package would have been fine too). Heat for about 10 minutes. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and chop (the size is up to you).
- Then I started the risotto - melt butter in a pan, add 1/2 chopped shallot and 4 cloves minced garlic.
- Add rice, stir to coat. At this point I usually add 1/4 c white wine but I didn't have any open and wasn't in the mood to drink white tonight, so I just skipped it. It really didn't make a difference.
- Add chicken broth 1 ladle at a time, letting liquid absorb before adding more. I added the mushrooms with the first ladle of broth.
- At the end, add freshly grated cheese. I used pecorino romano, but Parmesan would work well too.

I loved it, Jon didn't, so I'll be making this one for myself when he's on the road! Sorry, no pics this time.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Spicy Pepper Chicken Strips

Tonight was the night to use up what I had in the fridge before the weekend. I wanted to do something different with the chicken I had so I made something close to buffalo chicken tenders. They had a bit of the vinegar taste of buffalo chicken, but with a different kind of spicy flavor.

I took 1 pound of boneless chicken tenders and marinated them in some Jalapeno Red Pepper Sauce from Trader Joe's. When I was ready to cook, I dipped them in more of the sauce (instead of using egg to get them wet), and then coated them in a mixture of bread crumbs, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, and a touch of salt. They baked for about 7 minutes on each side, and then I turned the broiler on for the last 2 minutes. Jon wasn't sure about them when they were cooking, but they ended up tasting great!!

I got a few "good job, dear" comments during dinner, then at the end of dinner he said "you're a pretty good cook, dear." If anyone knows my husband, you know this is like getting an 11 out of 10 :)

I served the chicken with mac-n-cheese (cheese sauce made of onions and red pepper flakes sauteed in butter, add flour, then milk, then a mixture of asagio, Gruyere, cheddar, and pecorino-romano cheeses poured over elbow noodles and baked) and squash and zucchini sauteed in olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and red pepper flakes.

Comfort food with a twist!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Quick and Easy - Pasta with Broccoli Rabe

This dish is something we go to when we don't have much time but still want a full meal that we know will be good. Sometimes Jon will make himself some spicy shrimp to go with it.

- 1 bunch broccoli rabe, hard stems cut off (about 3 inches)
- 8 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1/2 box pasta; Jon likes shells for this one
- red pepper flakes (I use about 30 shakes from the bottle)
- olive oil; probably about 1/4 cup
- Parmesan cheese
- salt

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook broccoli rabe in the water for about 2-3 minutes. Take it out with tongs (don't dump the hot water) and put it into a bowl of ice water. Take it out after a few minutes and squeeze out any excess water. Chop into 1-2 inch pieces.

Cook your pasta in the pot of water that was used for the broccoli rabe.

In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large pan. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, saute. Be careful not to burn the garlic - you are only trying to heat and infuse the oil.

Once the pasta is done, add it to the oil. Add the broccoli rabe and toss. Add some salt and cheese.

Quick, super easy, and very tasty!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Crispy Tofu

I said I wasn't going to have much time this week, but this dinner (or snack) only took 5 minutes. I got hooked on tofu when I was a vegetarian and still enjoy it. Unfortunately Jon doesn't eat it so I only cook it when he isn't home. With this dish, he doesn't know what he's missing!

I took 1 block of extra firm tofu and sliced it into three large rectangles. It's important to press it - place between 2 layers of paper towels and place something heavy on top for about 30 minutes to press the water out.

I then cut each large rectangle into three smaller ones. I sprinkled each one with a tiny bit of cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, and chili powder.

For the breading - I mixed 2 eggs with some soy sauce in one bowl. Yes, it looked a little gross, but believe me, it worked! I mixed the breading in a separate bowl. I had to mix some bread crumbs in with my panko since I didn't have enough panko to use on its own. I also added some garlic powder and red pepper flakes.

I dipped each piece of tofu in the egg and then the breading, and then put it in a large pan that had been coated with vegetable oil. Each piece cooked for about 30-45 seconds per side and that was enough time to get them to a nice crispy, golden brown.

Dipping sauce: soy sauce, 1 shake of sesame oil, 1 chopped green onion.

They came out so nice and crispy that it was almost like eating a mozzarella stick. I may have to make these again when Jon is home - he just might like them!!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sunday Dinner

We had my parents over for dinner tonight so I took the opportunity to try out a new appetizer.

I had a lot of cilantro left over from making my salsa yesterday and wanted to use it up. I made a Mexican hummus with "fresh" tortilla chips. I found a few ideas for the hummus on various websites and then played around with different ingredients and flavors as I always do - this is the recipe I created:

- Saute 1/2 of a chopped yellow onion and 4 cloves minced garlic in olive oil.
- Put 2 cans of drained garbanzo beans (chic peas) in a food processor. Add cooked onions, garlic, 2 cloves minced raw garlic, about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a few shakes of red pepper flakes, approximately 1.5 teaspoons salt (just do it to taste - you can always add more later) and the juice of 1/2 of a lime. Blend until smooth.
- Put the hummus mixture in a bowl and stir in 2 chopped green onions, 1 chopped jalapeno, a few dashes of Tabasco, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and cumin.
- Once all of that is mixed together, stir in about 3 tablespoons of sour cream.
- Cover and chill for a few hours. Once you are ready to serve it, stir it again and adjust any of the seasonings. I topped mine with tomatoes, but you could also mix them in.

When I was making this I really wasn't sure about it - it tasted very sweet and sort of blah. But once it sat in the fridge for a few hours it was great!! We all loved it!

What goes better with a homemade dip? Homemade chips!! Well, semi-homemade (God, I sound like Sandra Lee) since I didn't make the tortilla shells, but that's something on my to-do list for this year. I took 8 soft tortilla shells and brushed them with olive oil. I sprinkled just a tiny bit of salt, cumin, chili powder, and onion powder on each one. Pile them up and slice like a pizza. Spread the pieces on a cookie sheet and bake on 400 for about 7 minutes. Be sure to watch them - once they get crispy they will really burn quickly. Mine turned out a beautiful golden brown.

For dinner Jon grilled some sirloin steaks that he had marinated in a Guinness Marinade for red meat that my sister brought home to us from her trip to Ireland. He put some salt, pepper, and onion powder on the steaks first and then let them relax in the marinade for a few hours before grilling them. Poor guy had to grill the steaks in the pouring rain, but even with the conditions he was able to make them look beautiful and taste great - look at those perfect grill marks!

I made my favorite side dish - garlic parmesan/romano risotto - and some roasted asparagus to go along with the steak.

My parents tried a dessert recipe that they found in the latest issue of Kraft's food and family magazine. It was a no-bake berry cheesecake with a graham cracker crust. It was really yummy and light which was perfect after a heavy meal.

It's going to be a busy week this week so I doubt I'll be trying anything new that I can post over the next few days, but you never know. Have a great week!