Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Day 2008: Stuffed Pork Loin with a Mushroom-Wine Gravy

I had so much fun creating my Christmas Menu this year. I started discussing it with my family about a month ago and we all agreed that we wanted something different - not a turkey! We thought about a Mexican meal, or maybe Spanish, or Italian. I decided to use Italian cuisine as my inspiration, and came up with this menu:

  • Pork loin stuffed with a stuffing-spinach-red pepper mixture
  • Mushroom-wine gravy
  • Sides and Veggies (see this post): Cauliflower with Prosciutto and Tomatoes, Broccoli Rabe with Garlic, and Roasted Potatoes

The stuffed pork loin was my own creation. Here is what I did -
  • Whole pork loin; I had a 7 pound piece of pork so we cut it in half and used half for the stuffed pork loin, and the other half for pork chops.
  • 1 package prepared stuffing; I used stove top. I don't normally use or eat this stuffing alone or as a side, but it makes a great base when stuffing meat.
  • 1 c frozen spinach sauteed with 1 finely chopped red pepper, until the red pepper is slightly tender.
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Butcher's string
Cutting the pork was the hardest part. Take your time and make long, even cuts and you'll have great results.
  • First, make a cut down the side of the pork and almost all the way through to the other side. Open it like a book:

  • Pound out the pork. After this step, one side was still a bit too thick so Jon had another idea - cut the left side of the "book" to open another flap, sort of like a book flap. Be very careful not to cut all the way through. When you open this next flap, you'll have what looks like a tri-fold brochure:

  • Spread the stuffing in a thin layer onto the pork, and top with a thin layer of the spinach-red pepper mixture
  • Roll the pork - don't roll it so it's in the same shape and orientation that you started with or you'll put too much pressure on the cuts and it may break. Instead, roll it from what would be the tops of the brochure pages (like these analogies?). Tie the entire pork with butcher's string.

  • Rub some olive oil onto the pork and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Cook uncovered in a 475 degree oven for 20 minutes.
  • Turn oven down to 350 and bake covered for another hour, or until the temperature of the pork comes to 150-155 (it will raise another 5-10 degrees after cooking). Jon bought us a great probe thermometer that sits outside the oven, with a wire connected to a probe that stays in the meat the entire cooking. It was really cool to be able to watch the temperature rise, and not opening the oven door to test the temperature helps with the cooking time and temperature.
  • Let rest before slicing.
How beautiful is this pork?? Everyone stood around watching Jon as he sliced through the pork. There were many Ooohs and Aaahs as the spiral design in the center was revealed.

Mushroom-Wine Gravy
I found a recipe on the Epicurious site for a gravy that I liked so my sister jumped right into the kitchen and made it. We didn't use the roasting pan that the pork cooked in, but instead deglazed it with a bit of chicken broth, and then poured those drippings into a clean pot.
  • 3/4 lb sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic put through the garlic press
  • 1 c dry white wine
  • 1 c chicken broth
  • Add mushrooms and garlic to pan with drippings. Saute until mushrooms begin to brown, about 6 minutes.
  • Add wine and broth; boil until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, about 12 minutes. Our sauce never really thickened, so my sister made a slurry of 1/3 c chicken broth and 1 heaping tbsp flour and slowly added it to the sauce. It helped a bit. However, I kind of liked that it was more of an au jus rather than a creamy sauce.
Not only was this sauce delicious on the pork, it was perfect over the potatoes as well.
Here is my plate - I love all the colors!

I also loved my simple centerpiece -

And finally, our adorable dog being such an angel -

Christmas Day 2008: Apps, Veggies, and Sides

A holiday isn't a holiday without a lot of food. Jon always tells me that I make too much or that we have too much, but that's how I like it!!

My Christmas Day menu looked like this, and was an all day affair -
  • Antipasto: prosciutto, salami, provolone, Jon's homemade roasted red peppers
  • Chips and dip... we are a chip and dip loving family!
  • Boursin cheese with crackers
  • Roasted Garlic Soup (recipe found here)
  • And finally, dinner: stuffed pork loin with a mushroom-wine gravy, cauliflower with tomatoes and prosciutto, broccoli rabe with garlic, and roasted potatoes. Click here for my post with the pork and gravy.

Jon makes really good roasted peppers. Luckily all the ice on the deck melted on Christmas Eve so he was able to use the grill. He grills the red peppers until the skin is completely charred, and then immediately transfers them to a paper bag to sweat - this makes the skin easy to peel. After about 15 minutes he peels the skin off, removes the top and seeds, and slices them into strips. He then tosses them in just a touch of olive oil (maybe a tablespoon?) and one clove of pressed garlic. Aren't they beautiful?

Cauliflower with Prosciutto and Tomatoes
I found this recipe on the Epicurious web site. The original recipe called for Serrano ham, but since I already had prosciutto on hand, I decided to use it.
  • 1 large or 2 small heads of cauliflower
  • 1/3 c chopped red onion
  • 1/3 c EVOO
  • 1 c grape or cherry tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch dice (I just halved them)
  • 1 lb thinly sliced Serrano ham, cut into 1/4 inch pieces (I used a handful of prosciutto, chopped)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 c finely chopped fresh Parsley


  • Cook cauliflower in a large pot of salted boiling water until just tender, 4 to 6 minutes (mine took about 10). Drain well in a colander, then transfer to a large bowl. (I used a long platter)
  • While cauliflower boils, cook onion in oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and ham and cook, stirring frequently, until just heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and parsley.
  • Pour tomato mixture over cauliflower and toss to coat, then season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This dish was a hit. Not only was it beautiful, it was delicious. The prosciutto was fine, but it didn't hold up as well as a thicker meat would have. I actually think that pancetta or bacon would be the perfect meat for this dish, or no meat at all!

Broccoli Rabe with Garlic
I love broccoli rabe. We usually have it with pasta, but it's a great veggie on its own as well.

I blanched the broccoli rabe in boiling water for about 3 minutes, drained it, and ran cold water over it to stop it from cooking. In the meantime, I heated about 3 tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan. To that I added 5 cloves sliced fresh garlic and about 1 tsp red pepper flakes. Two minutes later I added the broccoli rabe and about 1 tsp Kosher salt. Toss and serve!

I also made roasted potatoes - I simply halved new potatoes, tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and baked them on 375, covered, for 45 minutes. At the end I uncovered them and turned the broiler on for a few minutes to add some color and crispiness.

All of these sides were extremely easy, and the veggie dishes each only took 10 minutes.

Christmas Eve 2008

Christmas Eve is always a casual night with my family. We make lots of appetizers, have plenty of wine and other cocktails on hand, and usually end up watching A Christmas Story.

This year's menu included mini hoagies with all the fixins on the side - roasted red peppers, pepperoncinis, pickles, onions - chips, cheese and pepperoni, shrimp with cocktail sauce, crabcakes with a red-chili mayonnaise, and cracker-walnut chicken bites with honey mustard. Of course my dad also baked an amazing dessert, pumpkin cheesecake, but we all decided to have it for breakfast on Christmas since we were so full by the end of the night!

Jon makes the shrimp every year. His recipe can be found here.

My dad made the crabcakes. I don't have his recipe, but as soon as he sends it to me I'll update this post. They were beautiful crabcakes!! I made a dipping sauce to go along with it - red-chili mayonnaise. The recipe is from Epicurious.

  • 1 c mayonnaise
  • 4 tsp chili-garlic sauce
  • 3 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Mix all of the ingredients together and chill. The sauce became smokey after sitting in the fridge for a few hours. I'm not sure why!! It was interesting, but not what all of us expected.

I made chicken bites with homemade honey mustard. The chicken bites were inspired by an Olympic swimmer... I managed a team building event for a client and we had an Olympic swimmer join us (sorry, can't give any more info due to our contract with this person!!). Anyway, it was a cooking competition and this Olympian floated from team to team helping with recipes and cooking. One creation was chicken coated in Ritz crackers and walnuts, and then fried in oil. I decided to bake my chicken to keep it a bit healthier. Here is what I did (served 6 people, and then some!):

  • 6 chicken breasts chopped into two-bite pieces; I marinated them in a mixture of scotch, soy sauce, and garlic.
  • Breading: 1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed; 1/2 c walnuts, chopped into tiny pieces; 1/2 c Panko breadcrumbs; a few dashes of salt and pepper.
  • 4 eggs
  • Flour
  • Cooking spray


  • Prepare breading assembly line - flour on the end, egg in the middle, breading mixture on the end
  • Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray
  • Dip each chicken piece in egg, flour, then egg again, flour again, and then roll in the breading mixture. Place on the cookie sheet. Continue until you have coated all of the chicken, and then spray them quickly with cooking spray
  • Bake on 375 for about 12-15 minutes, flipping once.

This chicken was so crunchy! I loved the use of the walnuts - something I never would have thought to do since I'm not really a fan of nuts in cooking.

I also made honey mustard to go along with the chicken. There are so many recipes for honey mustard out there! I read a bunch of them and took what I liked. Here is what I did:

  • 8 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 4 tbsp Dijon mustard; I used stone-ground Dijon
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • Dash of cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients and chill.

This dip was delicious!! Just the right mix of sweet and tangy..I'd definitely make it again.

This was just the beginning of the holiday cooking - next up, Christmas Day Dinner!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lasagna Rolls

Using up what's in the fridge - the theme for last night's dinner.

Let's see, there's some ricotta, half of a jar of spaghetti sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses... and in the pantry I have 4 leftover lasagna noodles from last week's chicken-veggie lasagna. Add in some onions, garlic, and spinach and I think we have something! Here is what I threw together -


  • Lasagna noodles (this recipe would have made 6, but I only had 4)
  • 16 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 c each (estimated) shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 sm onion, chopped
  • 1 package frozen spinach, thawed and very well drained (squeeze ALL of the water out!!)
  • Optional: red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Spaghetti sauce


  • Cook lasagna noodles
  • Heat olive oil in a small pan; saute onions and garlic until tender, about 3-4 minutes
  • Mix ricotta, egg, half of the mozzarella and Parmesan, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, cooked onions and garlic, and spinach
  • Once noodles are done, spread each one with the ricotta mixture. Top with a tiny bit of mozzarella and Parmesan. Roll it up and place in a baking dish, seam side down.
  • Once all of the rolls have been rolled, pour some spaghetti sauce over them and top with the rest of the shredded cheeses.
  • Bake on 375, covered, for approximately 30-40 minutes or until bubbly.
  • Let sit for 5 minutes before eating so they really set.

These were delicious and SO much easier than making a full tray of lasagna. And what a great way to use up those last few noodles that never would have fit in my baking dish when I made lasagna.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cauliflower Gratin

Cauliflower is something I don't cook that often. Most recently I tried pureeing it which was delicious, but not something I want to eat every week. A few years ago, way before I had this blog, I made this recipe for Cauliflower Gratin. I pulled it out of an old file and made it again last night.
  • 1 (3-pound) head cauliflower, cut into large florets
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Added: a pinch or two of dried thyme; 1 tsp dried parsley for some specks of color
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Gruyere, divided (Note - the price of cheese has gone through the roof, and I couldn't bring myself to buy Gruyere for $23.99/lb. Instead I used a mix of Jarlsberg and Asiago with the Parmesan)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs


  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain. (Note - it is very important to drain the cauliflower very well as it is a vegetable that holds a ton of water. You could even press on it a bit to make sure you get all of the water out).
  • Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes.
  • Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened.
  • Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, thyme, parsley, 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, and the Parmesan.
  • Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of an 8 by 11 by 2-inch baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top.
  • Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1/4 cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on top.
  • Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gratin.
  • Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.

For some reason my picture doesn't look all that creamy or cheesey, but it was! The cream sauce was so sweet and delicious, and I loved the flavor from the thyme and nutmeg.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shredded Pork - Mexican Style

Over the summer I made
Ropa Vieja, a Cuban stew of shredded beef, peppers, and onions. As we were eating it, I thought that the recipe would be a good base for a Mexican flavored shredded pork. My parents came over for dinner last night and my mom had requested Mexican when I asked what she wanted, so I thought it would be the perfect cold Saturday to spend in the kitchen making Shredded Pork, Mexican Style.

So the recipe below is a modified version of the recipe I modified for Ropa Vieja (got that??). The original recipe for Ropa Vieja using beef can be found in the link in the paragraph above.


For braising pork:

  • 1 bone-in pork shoulder; mine was 7 lbs
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 carrots, chopped coarse
  • 1 large onion, chopped coarse
  • 1 celery rib, chopped coarse
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed lightly
  • 1.5 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

For the second step:

  • 2 green bell peppers, cut into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 red onion, cut into 1/4-inch strips
  • Optional: chopped jalapeno peppers or another spicy Mexican pepper; I decided against them because my mom doesn't like things to be too spicy
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups braising liquid (will be left after braising)
  • a 14- to 16-ounce can whole tomatoes with juice, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 red bell peppers, 1 yellow pepper, and 1 orange pepper (great colors!!), cut into 1/4 inch strips


  • Place pork in a large kettle. Combine all braising ingredients and add them to the pot. Simmer, covered, 3 - 3/1/2hours, or until pork is completely cooked and tender. My pork was taking a really long time, so at about 3 hours 10 min I took it out, cut all of the meat off the bone, and returned it to the pot for another 20 min (I wouldn't have done this if I wasn't expecting guests for dinner, but I needed to move things along!)
  • Once pork is done, remove it from the pot to a large cutting board. Shred and set aside. The pork was so tender that it was very easy to shred it using 2 forks.
  • In the meantime, strain the braising liquid and discard all chunks of veggies. Return liquid to the pot and let it slightly reduce to no less than 2 cups.
  • Heat olive oil in a large pan. Add green peppers, red onions, and optional jalapenos. Saute 8 min, adding cumin and chili powder halfway through.
  • Add pork, tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper, garlic, tomato paste, and 1 cup of the braising liquid. Bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  • In a separate pan, saute the red, orange, and yellow peppers in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add peppers to pork/pepper mixture, and add more braising liquid if it looks to dry.
  • Let simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
  • Optional: At the end, top with some cilantro (I completely forgot!! I had been cooking for so long that I just wanted to eat).

This pork was so fabulously tender and flavorful. We ate it in hard taco shells, soft tortilla shells, and over rice. We also enjoyed some Mexican Potato and Corn Soup as an appetizer.

This was a lot of work, and I'm sure the recipe could be adjusted for the crock pot, but I really enjoyed the process and seeing and smelling everything come together. My house smelled heavenly all afternoon!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chicken-Vegetable Lasagna

Is there anything more comforting that baked pasta oozing with cheese?
My friend Stacey came over for dinner last night and since she's so great about trying my creations I decided to come up with something new. I didn't have a recipe for this but just thought about the flavors I wanted and went from there. Here is my recipe for Chicken-Vegetable Lasagna.
  • 12-15 lasagna noodles (I use the ones that have to be boiled before assembling the lasagna)
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt, pepper, dried thyme, dried rosemary, dried oregano
  • 16 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 sm onion, chopped (for sauce)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped (for sauce)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 24 oz light or heavy cream
  • 1/2 c tomato sauce (optional, I used this for color and flavor in my sauce)
  • Shredded Parmesan and mozzarella cheese
  • Finely chopped veggies: 1/2 green pepper, 1/2 red pepper, 1 stalk celery, 1 carrot (sliced thin rounds), 1 c frozen broccoli cut into tiny florets, 1/2 red onion, 2 cloves garlic


  • Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper; add thyme, just a touch of rosemary, and a touch of oregano. I didn't fully coat the chicken, but used enough herbs to give it flavor. Cook chicken in a pan over medium-high heat until cooked through. Let slightly cool and then dice. Set aside.
  • Mix ricotta, eggs, parsley, and some salt and pepper.
  • Sauce: Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a pot. Add onions and garlic for sauce as well as red pepper flakes; saute. Add cream and bring to a simmer. Add tomato sauce and stir, gently simmering. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in a small handful each of the Parmesan and mozzarella. Keep this on low heat, stirring occasionally, if you are not yet ready to assemble.
  • Cook veggies: Heat olive oil in a pan. Add red onion, garlic, celery, peppers, carrots and saute for 3 min. Add broccoli and saute for 1-2 more minutes.
  • Assemble lasagna: coat the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish with some of the sauce. Add 3 lasagna noodles. Top with ricotta mixture. Add a thin layer of chicken and a thin layer of veggies. Sprinkle with some cheese and top with sauce. Repeat - noodles, ricotta, chicken, veggies, cheese, sauce...ending with noodles, sauce, cheese.
  • Bake on 350 for 40 minutes covered, 10 minutes uncovered. Let sit for 15 minutes before slicing so it sets.

We all (even Jon) loved the flavor in this lasagna!! I think the herbs on the chicken added a lot of flavor, and using a tomato cream sauce instead of just a white or red sauce added color, creaminess, and flavor. Don't be shy with the sauce - I could have used just a touch more on each layer to keep it moister.

I was happy with this and will definitely make it again. Although it's a lot of work to get everything ready to assemble, each step is easy. And what's the best part? Leftovers!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Risotto with Asparagus-Shiitake Ragout

One of our favorite Saturday night meals is grilled filet mignon with risotto of some sort. I have made so many variations of risotto using many different ingredients. To see all of them, click on the risotto tag on the left side of this blog.

I browsed through recipes for ingredient ideas and liked what I saw on the Epicurious web site in this one for risotto with asparagus and morel ragout. I didn't follow their recipe for a basic risotto, but instead I made my basic risotto recipe and followed most of their recipe for the ragout.

My Basic Risotto

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped (I used a mixture of shallots and onions last night)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 c arborio rice
  • 1/4 c dry white wine
  • 5 cups chicken broth, heated (I used 6 cups last night since I needed some for the ragout; their recipe called for a mixture of broth and water, but I think you get better flavor when you use all broth, no water)
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
  • Optional: chopped parsley for some color


  • Heat olive oil and butter in a large saute pan
  • Add shallots/onions and garlic; stir until tender, about 2 minutes.
  • Add arborio rice and stir until coated
  • Add the white wine and stir until absorbed
  • Add the chicken broth, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly. Add more broth only when all of the broth in the pan has been absorbed by the rice. This process of adding broth takes anywhere from 17 to 25 minutes. Taste as you go along so you don't over or under cook the rice.
  • When you add your final ladle of broth, add the cheese, and stir until broth is completely absorbed.
  • Serve immediately

Asparagus-Shiitake Ragout

I couldn't find morels so I used fresh shiitake mushrooms.

  • 1 lb medium asparagus, rough ends removed; diagonally chopped into 1 inch slices
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 lb fresh mushrooms - I used about 1 c, maybe a touch more, sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 c broth from the broth being used for the risotto (see recipe for details)
  • 1/2 c frozen baby peas - I didn't use these
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
  • Chopped fresh chives


  • When heating the broth for the risotto, add the asparagus and let it cook for 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer asparagus to a bowl of ice water to stop it from cooking(I transferred it to a colander and ran cold water over it). Remove 1 c of broth from the pot and set aside to be used later.
  • When you have about 7 minutes of cooking time left on the risotto, start the ragout.
  • Heat 2 tbsp butter in a heavy skillet until foam subsides.
  • Add mushrooms and garlic, saute about 4 minutes.
  • Add the reserved 1 c of broth and bring to a boil.
  • Stir in peas, asparagus, lemon zest, and salt/pepper to taste. Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and whisk in the remaining 2 tbsp of butter. Adjust salt and pepper if needed.

I enjoyed this ragout because I was able to really taste and enjoy the vegetables instead of having them mixed in with the risotto. The asparagus was firm - overcooked asparagus would ruin this dish. The mushrooms added an earthy flavor, while the lemon zest gave it some brightness. It's hard to see from my picture, but there was a nice creamy sauce in addition to that pile of veggies. It ran all the way through the risotto giving it nice flavor, and was also tasty on top of the steak.

I have some leftover ragout so I'm thinking of making some oven-baked tofu bites tonight to use it up.

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cilantro Stuffed Chicken with a Roasted Poblano Sauce

I am back in the kitchen - finally! I love vacation but I definitely miss cooking after several days.

This chicken dish was from a recipe found on the Epicurious website for Cilantro Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Poblano Chili Sauce. I followed most of it with a few minor changes. My changes are noted in italics below, and I made the recipe for 2, not 4.
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1.5 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 cloves garlic (original recipe called for 1 clove for 4 breasts...but we love garlic)
  • Added: 1 tsp finely chopped onion
  • Added: dusting of chili powder, salt, cumin, and cayenne
  • Added: grated manchego cheese
  • Poblano sauce: 2 roasted poblano peppers, 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 small onion, 8 oz chicken broth, added 1/4 c light cream; added salt


  • Cut a pocket into each chicken breast.
  • Mix cilantro, garlic, onion, and manchego cheese; fill each pocket with the mixture. Coat the chicken with the spices and a touch of olive oil. Place in a baking dish and bake on 400 for approximately 12-15 minutes, flipping once.
  • Make the sauce: roast peppers (I do them right on the gas burner on my stove), peel skin off, and chop. I kept some of the seeds because we like heat. Then, heat olive oil in a small pot and saute onions and garlic. Add peppers and broth and bring to a simmer for 1 minute. Transfer to a blender and puree. Return to pot, add cream and bring to a simmer. Season with salt.
  • Serve sauce over chicken.

I love cilantro, and this chicken was just bursting with the flavor. The sauce had just the right amount of heat to complement the chicken without overpowering it. It was also a very easy dish, about 40 minutes from start to finish including the prep.

Celebrating My 200th Post with a Glass of Monte Bello...

Jon and I just returned from an amazing week in St. Thomas and St. John to celebrate our 5th anniversary just a few months delayed. We ate very well all week, but our favorite restaurant was Havana Blue at the Marriott Morning Star Resort in St. Thomas, a restaurant featuring Latin food.

As soon as we walked into the restaurant, we knew it was not run by the Marriott (this is a good thing). While all of the restaurants and facilities at the Marriott featured your typical beachy/resort decor, Havana Blue looked like a big city restaurant that had been placed on the beach. Dark wood, blue lights, lots of candles, loud music, and flowing white chiffon fabric gave the restaurant a trendy yet cozy feel.

Jon is always in charge of choosing the wine, and I knew he had something up his sleeve when he wouldn't share his choice with me, and only ordered by bin number. As soon as I saw the bottle being placed on our table and the smile on his face, I knew what it was - Ridge Montebello. This wine is something Jon has been eyeing at the wine store and on wine lists for a while now, especially because we love so many of the Ridge wines. I'll let Jon give the review...

"So, I’ve mentioned in previous posts some of the fantastic wines we’ve had: Ridge Lytton Springs (especially 2002), Eponymous, Opus One and so on, but on our vacation we had the opportunity to try one that I’ve only rarely seen – Ridge Monte Bello. Now, I’ve seen a few vintages in some of the better wine stores, but have never found this in a restaurant. At Havana Blue, though, on the menu they had a 2004 vintage, which proved to be the perfect complement to this fantastic dinner.

Side note: when I ordered, the sommelier offered that they had a bottle of 2000 vintage available along with the 2004. For some reason, I was suspicious that, being in the Caribbean with the heat, humidity and unreliable utilities, the 2000 may have had a tough time in storage, and ordered the 2004.

When the bottle arrived, I declined having it decanted, and instead let the waiter pour a taste. What emerged in my glass was nothing short of the most lush, decadent, sultry and smooth Cabernet Sauvignon blend I’ve ever had. The wine is deep red in color, with a full feel and surprisingly dry finish. This wine, an amazing blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc, easily surpasses anything else we’ve tried to date.

If you have the opportunity, save your pennies and treat yourself to a bottle of this for a truly special occasion. If you can find it, you’ll likely shell out in the area of $150.00 for a bottle, but for the right evening in the right company, this wine is certainly worth it."

The food at Havana Blue was just as good as our wine. We started with two appetizers - tacos de filet and lobster taquitos.

The tacos de filet were miniature corn-cilantro tortilla shells topped with grilled filet mignon, a tangy salsa, Manchego cheese, and cilantro. Heavenly is a word I'd use to describe this appetizer! The only downside was that there were only 4 - I could have eaten 20! It was pretty dark in the restaurant so I didn't get great pics of the food (and Jon probably would have crawled under the table from embarrassment if I turned the flash on...). Here are the tacos de filet -

The lobster taquitos featured miniature blue corn hard taco shells stuffed with a nice piece of Caribbean lobster meat, salsa, and cilantro. I don't eat seafood but I ate one of the taquitos. Crunchy with sweet and tender lobster meat topped off with the flavor of cilantro - refreshing and delicious.

For entrees, Jon had snapper (we can't remember exactly how it was prepared, we drank too much during the rest of our vacation :) and I had chicken breast stuffed with Manchego cheese, topped with a Cuban red sauce, and served with pigeon peas and rice. I couldn't get enough of this meal and practically had to be rolled out of the restaurant! Everything was so delicious, perfectly seasoned, perfectly prepared, fresh, and featured all of the flavors I love the most.

Finally, after dinner we had another drink at the bar when I noticed the saying on the back of the servers' shirts - this about sums up our experience at Havana Blue -

Now it's back to reality...can't wait to plan our next vacation!

Bubbles and Squeak

Sounds like a funny drinking game, or some sort of dance step, but Bubbles and Squeak is actually a traditional dish from the UK of fried meat and cabbage. Over the years it has evolved into a fried dish of any sort of leftover, usually involving potatoes.

It has been a while since I cooked (lovely week spent in the Caribbean - restaurant reviews and food pics to follow) so I wanted to do something that I could post in my blog this week! My parents made Thanksgiving dinner this year, and while eating, my mom and sister told me about a show on the Food Network where they made Bubble and Squeak from their leftovers. On Friday, I made my own version with their leftovers.


  • Leftover mashed potatoes
  • Leftover stuffing, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated white cheese (cheddar, Parmesan, asiago, etc)
  • Dried parsley for color
  • Optional - leftover veggies or turkey, finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • Bread crumbs

Basically, all you do is mix up the leftovers, cheese, and spices, then form patties. I dipped each patty in egg, bread crumbs, and then fried in olive oil for about 3 minutes per side.

The Sauce...

On the show my mom saw, they took beef broth and corn, heated both, and then pureed the mixture with an immersion blender. Here is what I did -

  • 1 can chicken broth (vegetable broth would be tasty, too)
  • 1/3 bag frozen corn
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 c heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese

I heated the broth and corn and then transferred it to a food processor and pureed it. Then I mixed the flour with the cream, and slowly added it to the mixture along with the cheese. Blend well and season with salt and pepper. Return the sauce to the stove to reheat.

This wasn't the prettiest sauce, but surprisingly it was very good! Sweet and creamy, and the perfect taste for the potato-stuffing patties.

So there you have it, I made use of leftovers for my first blog post in 2 weeks. After the next week of business travel and meetings, I'll be back in the kitchen - I can't wait! I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Soup Sunday - No Fuss Chicken Noodle Soup

It has been years since I last made real, homemade chicken soup, and that is because of my super simple n0-fuss recipe. I developed this one on my own, with some inspiration coming from my parents, specifically the trick to puree half of the veggies.

I'm sure I'll make real chicken soup again some day when I have a lot of time, but I needed something quick today. Also, there are some really good low sodium canned chicken broths out there which makes cheating a little easier - the Swanson's Low Sodium Natural Goodness was the perfect base for this soup today.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 76 oz chicken broth (1 large can and 2 small cans), or whatever amount you'd like
  • Roughly chopped veggies: 1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 2 carrots, 1 celery stalk
  • Finely chopped veggies: 1/4 onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk
  • 2 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • Approximately 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 oz egg noodles
  • Heat olive oil in a large pot
  • Add roughly chopped onions and garlic, saute 3-4 minutes
  • Add roughly chopped carrots and celery; add sage
  • Stir for 2 minutes and then add broth, dried thyme, and bay leaf
  • Bring to a boil then keep at a simmer until veggies are soft
  • Turn heat to low, remove bay leaf and puree veggies using a handheld immersion blender (or transfer to a blender if you don't have an immersion blender).
  • Add finely chopped veggies to the broth and simmer until soft.
  • Cook egg noodles separately and add to each serving of soup. I cook the noodles separately so they don't soak up too much of the broth.
Why do I puree the vegetables? It gives the soup beautiful color and texture - it's thicker than just a broth soup. Also, it's a great way to sneak in some veggies if you have kids who aren't fond of them (not that I have kids but I think it's a pretty good trick). But I also like chunks of veggies in my soup which is why I add fresh veggies after pureeing the soup.
Sure, chicken soup made from real chicken and/or a chicken carcass is pretty hard to beat, but for a quick (45 minute?) soup that tastes like the real thing, my recipe satisfies that craving!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Chinese Roast Pork, Noodle-Veggie Stir Fry

Saturday night used to be date night out, but recently it has become date night at home. I was craving Chinese food, and wanted to use the noodles my dad brought me from Philadelphia's Chinatown.

Menu -
- Chinese Roast Pork
- Stir Fry with Noodles, Veggies, and Homemade Stir Fry Sauce

Chinese Roast Pork
I followed this recipe on the Epicurious web site for the marinade. Instead of a pork tenderloin, I used 2 thick boneless pork chops. I adjusted the amounts slightly; what I did is noted below.

  • 2 pork chops
  • 2 slices fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 5 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dry cooking sherry
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsps hoison sauce
  • 1/4 tsp sesame oil


  • Marinate the pork for at least an hour, flipping a few times during the process.
  • Preheat the oven to 425.
  • Cook the pork in a covered dish for about 40 minutes, flipping a few times and basting with the marinade every time you flip.
  • Slice and serve.

The marinade made the chops so tender and full of flavor. I would love to use this marinade when grilling chops, and also want to try it with a pork tenderloin.

Stir Fry with Noodles and Veggies

My dad bought me a package of dry noodles the last time he was in Chinatown. They are about the width of fettucine, but a bit longer and they cook a lot faster.

  • 8 oz noodles, cooked (they took about 4-5 minutes to cook) and then rinsed with cold water.
  • Chopped veggies: 2 green onions, 2 cloves garlic, 1 head broccoli, 1/2 red pepper, 1/2 carrot, handful of sprouts, 6 shiitake mushrooms, 1/2 head Napa cabbage. Feel free to add anything else you like - water chestnuts, bamboo, and celery would have been a nice addition.

Homemade stir fry sauce; whisk together the following ingredients:

  • 4 oz chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Hoisin sauce
  • 2 tsps garlic-chili paste
  • 1 tsp cornstarch


  • Heat approximately 2-3 tbsp olive oil in a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add green onions and garlic; saute 1 min
  • Add broccoli, mushrooms, red pepper, carrots, and sprouts. Cook, stirring frequently, about 4-5 minutes. If the pan gets too dry, add a touch more oil.
  • Add cabbage and stir until wilted, about 1-2 minutes.
  • Push veggies to the sides of the pan and add stir fry sauce (be sure to whisk it before adding). Let come to a light simmer.
  • Add cooked noodles and toss in the sauce until fully coated. Once coated, stir with the veggies. Serve immediately.

This was a really simple meal making use of some great flavors - ginger, soy, hoison, and heat from the garlic-chili paste. The marinated pork perfectly complemented the flavors in the stir fry. I think the stir fry sauce would have been a bit too sweet without the addition of the garlic chili paste, so I'm glad I thought to add it at the last minute.

Comfort Food Casserole - Inspired by Beef Stroganoff

I posted this recipe once before, but I shouldn't have. I used shells that time because I didn't have egg noodles, and I used MorningStar Farms recipe crumbles - sort of like fake ground meat. So this is my post re-do with the real ingredients. It's a great casserole for a cold night, and the leftovers reheat well. I sometimes add a touch more sour cream when reheating it just so it doesn't get too dry.


  • 1 lb lean ground meat
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Approx 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley flakes
  • 1 package dry gravy mixed with one cup of water, heated
  • 8 oz egg noodles, cooked
  • 6 oz sour cream
  • 1/2 c shredded cheese, I like to use a Mexican blend


  • Heat a large saute pan and add ground meat. Cook until just about done and drain off any grease.
  • Add onions and garlic; cook a few minutes
  • Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and parsley.
  • Transfer meat to a large bowl; mix with the cooked egg noodles and hot gravy. Let cool for about 15 minutes. Taste the mixture and adjust salt and pepper if needed.
  • Add sour cream and most of the cheese. Mix well.
  • Transfer to a casserole dish and top with the rest of the cheese
  • Bake on 350 for about 20-25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.

There is nothing fancy or gourmet about this dish, but it's very tasty and comforting, especially on a cold night.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pasta with Hot Italian Sausage, Broccoli, and Red Peppers

Quick and easy - this would probably qualify as one of Rachael's 30 minute meals. This is my own recipe.

  • 1/2 lb pasta - I used farfalle
  • 1/2 lb hot Italian sausage, casings removed and chopped into 2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 sm onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 c dry white wine
  • 1 head broccoli, chopped into small florets
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 3/4 c low sodium chicken broth
  • Approximately 1/2 c shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Cook pasta
  • In the meantime, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pan
  • Add sausage and start to crumble it with your spoon as it cooks; about 10 minutes.
  • Add onions and garlic, stir
  • Deglaze pan with white wine, scraping up brown bits
  • Add broccoli and red peppers; stir
  • Add chicken broth and stir; let simmer for about 8 minutes
  • Add some of the cheese
  • Add pasta and the rest of the cheese; toss to coat

Flavorful and simple, this was a nice one pot meal for a night when you don't have much time to cook, but want a hearty dinner.

Soup Sunday - Onion & Barley Soup with Swiss Cheese Flans

I think I should change the title of my blog to Soup Sunday! Things have been so busy during the week and I have been traveling a lot, so Sunday has really been my only day to cook.

Today's soup is Onion & Barley Soup with Jarlsberg Flans. The original recipe can be found
here ( I cut the recipe in half and used Jarlsberg Swiss; I think Gruyere would also work well.

My recipe, including the amounts I used, is noted below.


Soup (about 4 servings)

  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 4 cups sliced onions
  • 1/4 cup pearl barley
  • 3 tablespoons dry Sherry
  • 5 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 2 pinches dried thyme
Flans (2)
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • Handful sliced onions
  • 1/4 cup light cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Added: 2 fresh sage leaves
  • Added: approx 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • Added: chopped chives, approximately 1 tsp
  • 1/2 cup (packed) grated Jarlsberg cheese
To Make the Soup -
  • Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat.
  • Add onions; sauté until caramelized, about 30 minutes.
  • Add barley and Sherry; cook 30 seconds.
  • Add chicken stock and thyme. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Can be made up to one day in advance. Cool, cover, and chill. Bring to simmer before serving.
To Make the Flans -
  • Preheat oven to 300°F.
  • Place two 3/4-cup custard cups or soufflé dishes in baking pan.
  • Melt butter in heavy skillet over medium heat.
  • Add onions; sauté until tender but not brown, about 8 minutes. Add sage near the end of cooking the onions.
  • Cool slightly; transfer to blender.
  • Add cream, eggs, salt, and pepper; blend until smooth.
  • Stir in cheese.
  • Divide custard among prepared cups.

  • Fill pan with enough hot water to come halfway up sides of cups. Bake flans until centers are softly set, about 30 minutes.

  • Cool flans 10 minutes in pan. Cut around flans to loosen; turn out each in center of soup bowl. Ladle soup around flans and serve.

Another soup success! This was almost like a lighter French onion soup, but without the bread, and with the cheese in the form of the flan. Jon thinks beef broth would work as well, but it would be a heavier and richer soup. The presentation was beautiful - I would love to serve this soup at a dinner party.

The flan was delicious! I could have eaten it on its own. The changes I made - less onions, added sage, added white pepper, added chives -really worked and the result was a savory and creamy flan. This soup will be good for lunch tomorrow even without the flan as I only made 2 to try tonight.

Have a great week everyone!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Soup Sunday - Caramelized Onion & Potato Soup with Bacon

This recipe is my own recipe, inspired by the bag of potatoes I bought yesterday and my craving for caramelized onions - I love them!

I love my roasted potato-onion-garlic soup but felt like something other than that today. I thought about the ingredients for a bit - I knew caramelized onions and potatoes would be the focus, but how would I bring it all together? I decided to use bacon grease to caramelize the onions, thyme to add flavor, vermouth to deglaze the pan, a touch of cream at the end after pureeing most of the potatoes, and would finish it off with some crumbled bacon on top. A touch of shredded Gruyere would work well on top also, but I didn't have any in the house.

So here is my newest soup creation - Caramelized Onion & Potato Soup with Bacon

  • 5 pieces of raw bacon
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, roughly chopped (but small enough to be bite-sized)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme, maybe a touch more
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1/4 c dry Vermouth
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 medium-large potatoes, diced (I used red potatoes; Yukon Gold potatoes would probably work well too)
  • 5-6 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • Kosher salt, black pepper
  • 1/2- 3/4 c light cream
  • Optional: white truffle oil


  • Heat soup pot over high heat; add bacon and cook until crispy being careful not to let the bacon or grease burn. Transfer bacon to paper towels and set aside.
  • Dispose of all but one tablespoon of the bacon grease from the pot. Add 1 tsp olive oil and turn heat to low/medium low.
  • Add onions and a pinch each of thyme and sugar. Cook the onions over low/medium low heat until caramelized, approximately 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions will turn a beautiful golden-brown color when cooked, but the bacon grease will also make them golden brown so don't let that fool you into thinking they are fully cooked/caramelized.
  • Turn heat to medium, push onions to sides of pot, and deglaze pan with vermouth, stirring and scraping up brown bits for about 2 minutes until liquid is absorbed.
  • Add carrots, celery, and potatoes. Season with more thyme, salt, and pepper. Stir until everything is mixed together.
  • Add broth and bring to a boil; lower heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
  • Turn heat to low. Using a hand-held immersion blender, puree most of the potatoes. I pulsed the blender so I'd still have some chunks of potatoes.
  • Add cream to soup and adjust spices. Let simmer for a few minutes.
  • To serve - ladle soup into a bowl and top with some crumbled bacon. I also drizzled white truffle oil on top. Gruyere cheese and parsley would also make beautiful toppings.

I am very happy with this soup. It is hearty, fragrant, and full of flavor. It has some sweetness from the onions, but is also rich from the bacon and potatoes. It was fairly simple as well - it took about 90 minutes from start to finish. Another Sunday, another soup, and I am happy to add this one to my list of favorites!

And since this is my first time blogging in a week, congratulations to the PHILLIES!!!! Phinally, after 28 years, they are World Champions!!