Monday, December 21, 2009

Spiked Cranberry Sauce

Well hello there! It has been quite some time since I said hello. I have been crazy busy and feeling a bit under the weather, so while I have been doing some cooking, I haven't created anything new or blog-worthy in a while. Even my upcoming holiday menu is full of things I made before! Delicious things, but nothing new. Sometimes the old standbys are the best!

But, I do have this one new post. Yes, it is from Thanksgiving, and yes, my sister made it, not me, but if you are cooking a turkey for Christmas, you might want to try this cranberry sauce.

My sister found the recipe for Simple but Amazing Cranberry Sauce on the blog Savory Sweet Life. This recipe is the blog author's original recipe.
  • 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries
  • 3/4 c orange juice
  • 2/3 c brown sugar
  • 1/3 c white sugar
  • 2 oz gold rum


  • Place all of the ingredients in a sauce pan and cook on high for 15-20 minutes or until most of the liquid has reduced, stirring occasionally.
  • Note, the author notes that you will hear the cranberries popping and not to worry, this is what you want them to do.
  • Remove from heat and serve. This recipe can be made days ahead of time and brought to room temperature or slightly heated before serving (author doesn't note how far in advance is ok, but I would guess a day or two).

I'm usually not the biggest cranberry sauce fan, but I LOVED this one! I even had seconds. So if you are looking for something different to add to your turkey dinner, try this one.

Happy Holidays!!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Easiest and Creamiest Mac-n-Cheese....ever

Who doesn't love mac-n-cheese? I have made several variations, my most recent favorite being this one where I toasted the bread crumbs and herbs in butter before topping the mac and baking it. Delicious!

So a few months ago when I was going through old issues Food and Wine and ripping out recipes to try, I found one for Three-Cheese Mini Macs in the December 2007 issue. I shared the recipe with a friend who made it once using the muffin tins, and it was so good that she decided to make it in a casserole dish. She raved about it so much that I had to try it.

My adaptation of the recipe is below. For the original recipe using muffin tins, see the link above.

  • 1/2 lb elbow macaroni
  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 c light cream
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
  • 4 oz shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 lb deli-sliced American cheese, chopped
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • Salt and pepper


  • Preheat the oven to 425; grease a baking dish with 1/2 tbsp of the butter
  • Cook macaroni; set aside
  • Heat the remaining tablespoon of butter in a pot over medium heat. Whisk in flour and continue to whisk until you have a nice roux.
  • Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Remove from the heat and whisk in the American and cheddar cheeses. Adjust salt and pepper if needed.
  • Mix in the egg yolk
  • Pour the cooked macaroni into the sauce and toss until coated. Transfer the macaroni mixture to the prepared baking dish and top with the Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes until sizzling.

The American cheese may not be the fanciest cheese around, but it is what made this dish so creamy and delicious. And talk about easy - this took about 10 minutes to prep. I usually put chopped onions in my mac-n-cheese, and thought I'd miss them, but I didn't. I will still make other, fancier versions of mac-n-cheese, but this is my new go-to recipe.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Soup Sunday: Wild Mushroom and Rice Soup

Over the past year I have made a few variations of mushroom soup, including a
creamy pureed mushroom soup (never named it!) and mushroom, potato, smoked Gouda chowder. Last weekend I wanted to make a mushroom soup with rice in it, so I did a quick search on the internet.

I decided to us this recipe for
mushroom and wild rice soup as my inspiration. My major dilemma was that I could not find wild rice in my market! I looked everywhere (how annoying that they have rice in 2 different sections) and had to settle on a box of long grain mixed with wild rice...I threw away the seasoning packet it came with. My adaptation of the recipe is below:


  • 1 c cooked rice (wild preferred, I used a mix)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1.5 c mushrooms, chopped; I used a mix of white and shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/2 c dry white wine
  • 4 c chicken broth (or vegetable broth for a vegetarian version)
  • 1 c light cream
  • 2 pinches dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: black truffle oil for drizzling before serving


  • Heat butter in a large pot
  • Add onions and celery; saute 5 minutes until tender
  • Add mushrooms, saute 5 minutes
  • Add white wine and cook until absorbed, about 4-5 minutes
  • Add broth, thyme, pepper; bring to a steady simmer for 20 minutes
  • Stir in cream; season with salt if needed. Bring to a simmer for a few minutes before serving. Drizzle with truffle oil for serving.

This soup had a great earthy flavor, and while I liked it with the rice I used, I think it would be even better with all wild rice.

Old-fashioned home cooking - Meatloaf

When I think of meatloaf, I think of TV dinners or a family sitting around a kitchen table in the 1950s. I don't think I have ever eaten meatloaf before, and if I have, I must not have liked it and blocked it out.

I was on the phone with my mom the other night asking her and my dad to come over for dinner. We talked about how comfort food sounded good, and she mentioned that she hadn't had meatloaf in years. I remember Jon making meatloaf before (I was a vegetarian though and wouldn't touch it), and nominated him to cook for us!

I was so impressed with this dinner! He made an amazing meatloaf and scalloped potatoes. I kept complimenting him on the meatloaf (we all did!) but he tried to play it off by saying "it's only meatloaf!!"

My favorite part was the part I was most unsure about - the ketchup topping!
His recipe is pretty simple -

  • 1 lb ground beef (90% lean)
  • 1 lb meatloaf mix (beef/pork/veal)
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c (+/-) breadcrumbs (you have to go on feel)
  • Salt and pepper (a few pinches each)
  • Ketchup


  • Mix all ingredients together and form into a loaf. Add more breadcrumbs if you need more help holding it together.
  • Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray
  • Place loaf in the center of the sheet and top with ketchup
  • Bake on 400 for 1 hour 20 minutes, or until internal temperature has reached 160 degrees.
  • Let rest on a cutting board for a few minutes before slicing and serving.

This loaf served 4 of us, Jon and I had dinner again, and my parents split another serving for lunch - so 7 nice sized servings total.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now I have to share this picture and story just because I find it so funny...

My mom was sitting in our family room when Jon pulled the meatloaf out of the oven. She turned around and saw it sitting on the cutting board and kept making comments about how beautiful it was, and telling us that we had to see it from her angle. Then she asked for my camera so she could take a picture of how pretty it looked... My mom cracks me up. So here it is, her picture of the meatloaf -

Monday, November 9, 2009

Orzo with Bacon, Spinach, and Mushrooms

The other day I went in search of a new idea for orzo on a cooking board I frequent. Elly recommended this recipe from her blog. As soon as I saw pancetta, I was sold. Any form of bacon makes everything better!

I used her recipe as inspiration, but instead of pancetta, roasted artichokes, and Swiss chard, I used what I had on hand - bacon, mushrooms, and spinach. My adaptation of her recipe is below.
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 slices raw bacon, chopped
  • 1 sm onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/4 c white wine
  • 2 c chicken broth
  • 1 c orzo
  • 1/2 bag fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat
  • Add bacon and saute until brown. Transfer to a paper towel with a slotted spoon.
  • Remove half of the bacon grease from the pan.
  • Add onions and garlic; saute 3 minutes
  • Add mushrooms, saute 1 minute
  • Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed
  • Add chicken broth and bring to a light boil
  • Add orzo, stir, lower heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 8 minutes or until orzo is done. I stirred it once after 5 minutes to keep it from sticking.
  • Stir in the spinach until wilted; add most of the bacon.
  • Season with salt and pepper as needed; top with bacon for serving.

Wow bacon! This was delicious! Thanks for the inspiration, Elly!

Risotto with Arugula, Mushrooms, and Gruyere

I love risotto and we eat it 2-3 times a month. Every time we grill steaks Jon requests risotto. I have tried a
ton of different variations, and am always looking for and trying new ingredients.

Over the weekend I came up with some new ideas, and decided to make risotto with arugula, mushrooms, and Gruyere cheese. I used my standard recipe and just added these ingredients.


  • 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 c arborio rice
  • 1/4 c dry white wine
  • 4 c warm chicken broth
  • 2 handfuls arugula, about 1/2 of a bag
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Gruyere cheese, about 1/3 c


  • Heat oil and butter in a large saute pan
  • Add shallots and garlic, saute 2 min
  • Add mushrooms, saute 2 min
  • Add rice and toss until coated, about 2 min
  • Add white wine and stir until wine has absorbed
  • Add broth, 1-2 ladles at a time. Once you start this step, you have about 17-18 minutes left until you use all the broth. Continue adding the broth; once you have used 3/4 of the broth, keep tasting the rice to see if it is done. It will be tender but not too mushy.
  • When you add the final ladle of broth, add the arugula and cheese. Stir until wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

This is my risotto when I added the final ladle - just a touch more liquid to be absorbed.

I loved the nuttiness of the arugula with the earthy flavor from the mushrooms - great combination. And the Gruyere cheese evened it all out - delicious!

Along with our steaks and risotto, we had some white asparagus, something I have seen a lot in the stores but have never cooked. I tossed it with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted it for 15 min on 400. I found that it took longer to roast than green asparagus, and had a more bitter flavor than the green variety, but was sweeter towards the tougher ends. We both agree that we prefer green asparagus, but it was nice to try something new.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Roasted Tomato Soup with Poblanos, Oregano, and Fresh Cheese

The past year has really flown. Why is the older you get, the faster the time seems to go? I don't know how it is fall already, don't know where October went, and can't believe the Phillies are playing in the World Series...feels like they just won. How was that over a year ago?

I am happy, however, that it is fall as it's my favorite time of year. Sweaters, changing leaves, crisp air, a fire in the fireplace, and the best part, soup. Sure, you can have soup in the middle of the summer if you so desire, but there is something about the change of seasons that makes me crave both cooking and eating soup.

Last week our dog gave me a birthday present (yes, we do that), the cookbook
"Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen."Over the past year I have really started to pay attention to this amazing chef, author,and culinary star who is dedicated to introducting America to authentic Mexican foods, my favorite kind of food! I have tried several recipes and loved all of them, had the opportunity to dine in one of his restaurants in Chicago, Frontera Grill, and really enjoyed watching him on Top Chef Masters. So needless to say, I was very excited to flip through my new cookbook. I immediately decided that I need to make every recipe in the book! Everything just looks and sounds THAT good.

I started with a recipe for Roasted Tomato Soup with Poblanos, Oregano, and Fresh Cheese found on page 124 of the book.

The first thing I loved about the recipe was the use of roasted tomatoes. There is something about roasting tomatoes that brings out a much deeper, more intense flavor.

The recipe used poblano peppers, my favorite Mexican pepper. It's such a versatile pepper and can be used in such a variety of recipes. It is good both sauteed and roasted, and always varies in heat - sometimes you'll get a pepper that is completely mild, and other times you'll end up with one that is eye-watering hot.

Finally, the recipe had a short list of ingredients, but from reading it I knew the flavors would be very intense, and they were. I love when you can get such depth of flavors from such a simple list of ingredients. Although the process of roasting and peeling both the tomatoes and peppers took some time, overall this is a very simple recipe in both process and ingredients, but it blew me away with flavor and texture.

The Recipe - The recipe below is Rick's recipe with my use of store-bought broth instead of homemade. I also simplified the wording in the directions, and took out options and just showed what I did. For the complete recipe, see the book (linked above). I recommend that anyone who loves good, authentic Mexican home cooking purchase this book!

  • 2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 6 medium-large) fresh poblano chiles;
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 4 cups beef broth (the original recipe recommends 6 cups of homemade beef broth)
  • 1 tsp salt, if needed
  • Mexican queso fresco


1. Roast the tomatoes. Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until the skins are blackened on one side then flip and broil the other side; this took about 20 minutes total. Cool, then peel, keeping all the juices. Puree the tomatoes in their juices to a rough puree.

2. Roast the Poblanos. Roast the poblanos 4 inches below a very hot broiler, turning occasionally until blackened on all sides; this took about 12 minutes. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand 5 minutes. Peel, pull out the stem and seeds, then rinse to remove any seeds. Slice into 1/4 inch wide strips.

3. Start the soup. In a medium size pot, heat the oil over medium to medium-high, then add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and oregano, toss a minute longer, then stir in the roasted poblanos to heat.

3. Finishing the soup. Add the tomato puree to the pot and cook over medium-high, stirring frequently, until thickened and reduced, about 7 minutes. Stir in the broth, partially cover and simmer over medium-low for 30 minutes. Season with salt, if needed.

Serve the soup topped with some of the crumbled cheese.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pork Chops with a Mushroom-Wine Sauce

It has been several days since I last posted - this week got away from me! Between work, my birthday, Halloween, and the World Series, I haven't been experimenting much in the kitchen, but instead have been remaking old dishes.

This dinner from last Monday is a bit of both something old and something new. We usually marinate and grill pork chops, but I decided to sear them in a pan and finish them in the oven so I'd have something to deglaze for a sauce. The sauce is a spin on the Mushroom-Wine Gravy I made for our stuffed pork loin last Christmas.


  • 2 pork chops
  • Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning (pinch each per side of chop)
  • Olive oil
  • 8 white mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 c white wine
  • 1/4 c chicken broth


  • Season pork chops with the salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning
  • Heat approx 1 tbsp oil in a pan over medium-high heat; preheat oven to 400
  • When the pan is very hot, add chops and sear until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to the oven until done (I took them out at 155 degrees, about 5-6 minutes). Remove from pan and keep covered.
  • Add another tbsp oil to the pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add mushrooms and garlic; saute 2-3 minutes. Add half of the wine and stir, scraping up brown bits. Add the rest of the wine and broth. Bring to a simmer for a few minutes. Serve over the pork chops.

This sauce was not only perfect on the chops, but I loved pouring it over the smashed potatoes. It was a light sauce with a touch of earthiness from the mushrooms. This didn't look or taste like a weeknight meal, but it was definitely quick and easy enough to pull together at the end of a long day!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pasta with a Creamy Leek Sauce

I picked up some leeks over the weekend with the intention of making soup. But I never got around to it, so I needed to find some other way to use them.

Several months ago I bookmarked this recipe for Fusilli with Creamy Leek Sauce on Food and Wine. But after reading the recipe, I realized I didn't have a lemon and didn't feel like running out! I also was in the mood for something creamier. I used the recipe as inspiration and came up with the following recipe -

  • 1/2 lb cooked pasta; I used what I had on hand, cappelini
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 leeks, dark green ends removed; white and pale green parts washed thoroughly and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/4 c white wine
  • 3/4 c light or heavy cream
  • Sea salt and white pepper
  • Cheese; I used a shredded Italian blend, approximately 3 tbsp
  • Tools: blender or handheld immersion blender


  • Heat olive oil and melt butter in a pan over medium heat. If you plan on using an immersion blender later in this recipe, use a deeper pot, not a pan.
  • Add chopped leeks and stir occasionally, letting them soften, for about 6 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, saute 2 more minutes.
  • Add the wine; cook slowly until it has completely reduced.
  • Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Remove from the heat and blend with a handheld, or transfer to a blender and blend. I pulsed my handheld through it quickly as I still wanted some texture and chunks of leeks, not a completely creamy sauce.
  • Add the cheese and stir. Adjust salt and pepper if needed. Toss with pasta and serve.

I loved this! What a great way to use leeks. They give such great flavor, close to that of an onion but sweeter. I served the pasta with some seasoned and sauteed chicken breast tenderloins.

Homemade Sauce and Meatballs become Meatball Subs

Sauces, soups, and stews always seem to improve overnight. The sauce and meatballs we made on Saturday were really, really good. And on Sunday I couldn't stop tasting the sauce as I was reheating it on the stove. I was so happy to have enough leftovers to share some with my parents, eat lunch, make tonight's dinner, and freeze 4 servings!

Jon spends his Sundays during football season out watching the Bills since we never get them on TV here. But since they were playing the Jets on Sunday, he was able to watch the game at home. At halftime, I put together these meatball subs.

Confession...I have never eaten a meatball sub. I wasn't a big meat eater as a kid, especially meatballs, and by 22 I was a vegetarian. But once I started eating meat again, Jon made meatballs and I was hooked - I love his recipe. And what better way to enjoy a meatball sub than with homemade meatballs and sauce?

Like with cheesesteaks, the roll makes all the difference. I only use Amoroso Rolls for cheesesteaks, so I also used Amoroso Rolls for our meatball subs.

I toasted the rolls in the oven for 30 seconds and then piled on the meatballs and sauce. I cut the meatballs into halves so they'd be easier to manage on the roll. I topped them with more sauce, a few slices of provolone, and put them under the broiler for about 3 minutes.

Comforting and delicious! And even better, a quick halftime meal so we can get back to the game!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nothing Beats Homemade Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce, as I call it, or gravy/tomato gravy, as others call it, is one of those foods that people are very passionate about. I'm sure major debates could be held to argue what makes the best sauce or gravy, and I have a feeling those debates could get ugly!

When I talk to friends or meet new people who like to cook, I like to ask what makes their tomato sauce the best. I have heard so many different responses - the type of tomatoes, the length time it simmers, starting it with meat, or simply because it's a secret family recipe that has been passed down for generations.

I have made tomato sauce several times, and the last time I made it, it was really good but I still felt that I could improve it somehow. So yesterday, on a cold and rainy Saturday after hearing Jon recommend meatballs and spaghetti for dinner, I set out to do just that. I looked back on all the times I made sauce, pulled together what I liked, and added a few new things. I think I have a winner here... this was the best sauce I have ever made.

The big difference this time was the use of red wine. I have heard people talk about it and they swear you can't make a sauce without it. Now, I agree!

  • 1 onion chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic pressed
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 sm can tomato paste
  • 3 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 28 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 c dry red wine
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning blend (marjoram, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, basil)
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 3 turns of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ c water (if it will be simmering for a while, wait 45 min or so to decide if you'll need it)
  • Pinch white sugar, if needed (wait an hour)


  • In a large pot or dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat
  • Add onions and garlic; saute until softened, about 5 minutes, adding red pepper flakes halfway through
  • Add tomato paste and stir until completely mixed
  • Add tomatoes and sauce, stir. Add wine.
  • Add Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Stir
  • Let simmer over low/medium-low heat, stirring every 15 minutes. After about 45 minutes, I noticed that it was a nice thick sauce, but I would be simmering for another 3 hours and didn't want it to get too thick. This is when I added the water.
  • After an hour or so, if it tastes too tart, add a pinch of sugar or two. I added one.
  • I let my sauce simmer for 4 hours before we ate. In the last 30 minutes, I dropped in the meatballs Jon baked. For the meatball recipe, click here.

I don't mean to toot my own horn too much, but this sauce was perfect. It wasn't too sweet or too tart, but had the perfect balance of rich tomato flavor with just enough garlic and seasoning.

Three hours after devouring 2 meatballs and a plate of spaghetti with sauce, I pulled the sauce back out and ate it with some crusty bread. I already had some leftovers for lunch, and am looking forward to toasted meatball subs for dinner. I think I may even need to make chicken parm tomorrow just to use more of this sauce.

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. GO PHILLIES!!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tofu with Napa Cabbage, Carrots, and Sprouts in a Hoisin-Garlic Sauce

Tofu - must mean I was on my own again for dinner last night! Really, Jon doesn't know what he's missing.

Anyway, I had a bunch of ingredients left over from the spring rolls we made on my dad's birthday this weekend. I picked up some tofu and made this one up as I went along. It turned out to be a delicious and easy dish that I was able to enjoy for dinner and then lunch the next day. Tofu reheats fabulously in a covered dish for 2 minutes on reheat in the microwave.

  • 1 block extra firm tofu, pressed to get the water out, then cut into cubes
  • Handful each of julienned carrots, bean sprouts, and chopped Napa cabbage
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 c chicken broth
  • 1 tsp Hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 tsp chili-garlic sauce/paste
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce


  • Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large skillet or wok
  • Add tofu and cook 5 minutes, flipping often, until slightly browned on all sides
  • Add garlic, carrots, and sprouts; saute 2 minutes
  • Add cabbage; saute 2 minutes
  • Add chicken broth mixed with Hoisin, chili-garlic sauce, and soy
  • Bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes
  • Serve over noodles or rice. I served the tofu over some Chinese noodles I picked up at Wegmans.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vietnamese Dinner Part 3: Grilled Marinated Pork with Stir Fried Spicy Broccolini

Like we really needed an entree after all of the soup and spring rolls!

Dad's Birthday Dinner - The Menu

Third course: Marinated pork chops, stir fried spicy broccolini
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
We originally planned on making a Vietnamese pork chop dish of caramelized sugar and shallots, mixed with fish sauce and a few other ingredients, and then grilled. But after opening the jar of fish sauce, I didn't think I could cook with it. So we quickly did some research on Vietnamese marinades and sauces. We didn't find one that worked with the ingredients we had on hand, so we pulled a few ideas together and came up with the following marinade (for 6 pork chops):
  • 1/4 c low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Hoisin
  • 1 tbsp chili-garlic sauce
  • 1/4 c lime juice
  • 1 tsp grated ginger

We only had about 3 hours to marinate the chops, but this flavor really penetrated them! Unfortunately I was out of natural light by the time we got to the entree, but here is a pic of the chops:

To go with the chops I made a stir fried broccolini dish, an Epicurious recipe. I made a few minor changes, noted in italics below.


  • 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil or corn oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds broccolini, bottom 1 inch of stems trimmed
  • 1/2 cup water, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 small dried red chiles (such as chiles de árbol), seeded, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (I didn't use this)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  • Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over high heat.
  • Add broccolini; sauté 1 minute.
  • Add 1/4 cup water; cook, turning with tongs, until broccolini is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl and set aside.
  • Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to same skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté until soft and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add chiles and garlic; stir 30 seconds. Add remaining 1/4 cup water, fish sauce, sugar, and pepper.
  • Return broccolini to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.

Broccolini is the perfect mix of broccoli and broccoli rabe - it is the shape of broccoli rabe but without the bitter taste. I loved this dish, and it couldn't have been easier.

So that's a wrap on my dad's birthday dinner this year! It's going to be tough to top next year!

Vietnamese Spring Rolls with a Spicy-Hoisin Dipping Sauce

These spring rolls were course 2 in a Vietnamese feast for my dad's birthday.
The MenuEasy beef pho, or what we all named it, faux pho
Vietnamese spring rolls with chicken and shrimp; dipping sauce
Marinated pork chops, stir fried spicy broccolini (posts to follow soon)

My dad and sister ate a lot of spring rolls while in Vietnam. My sister told me that in some places, the rice paper wrappers were served hard, not soaked and softened like I read about online. I decided to go with softened wrappers.

I enjoyed spring rolls in a Vietnamese restaurant in Philadelphia last year, so I had an idea of what ingredients to use. I talked to my sister and we came up with this list:

- Chicken: thinly sliced, seasoned with salt and pepper, tossed with olive oil, ginger, and cilantro and sauteed.
- Shrimp: tossed with ginger and cilantro, sauteed in olive oil.

- Napa cabbage
- Thinly sliced carrots (I used my julienne slicer)
- Thinly sliced cucumbers (also used my julienne slicer)
- Bean sprouts
- Cilantro
- Mint

Stacy put the sauce together from
this recipe for a hoisin dipping sauce found on the Epicurious web site. Easy, fragrant, sweet, and spicy! It also worked well with the noodles as well as on the pork in our next course. Mix these ingredients together:

  • 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
Putting together the rolls...
My sister, because she was good at rolling the rolls and she also had freshly manicured hands, did a step my step demonstration of making the perfect roll -
Before making the rolls, heat water in a large, flat pot/pan. Holding the paper at one side, dip it into the water until the entire thing is covered. Be careful to keep it from folding as it gets very sticky. Place softened paper flat on a plate.
Step 1 (top left): Place your ingredients near one end of the paper, and in a long, piled stack. She chose carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, mint, cilantro, and chicken. Don't put too many things in your pile - Jon made this mistake and ended up eating it like a salad!
Step 2 (top right): Fold the near end over the ingredients, covering totally.
Step 3 (bottom left): Fold both sides in to close up the ends of the roll
Step 4 (bottom right); push the ingredients into the roll as you start to roll it toward yourself. This keeps everything tight and in place.
The finished roll - she's pretty good!

These little rolls are full of fresh and healthy ingredients, and I prefer them over the fried version. I have some leftover ingredients, so tonight I think I'm going to saute some tofu to use with the veggies in a few rolls.

We took a little break from eating between this course and our final course...this is a lot of food! But everything is so light and healthy that you don't feel uncomfortably full. Up next, grilled marinated pork chops and stir fried spicy broccolini.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Faux Pho... Part 1 of a Vietnamese Feast for My Dad's Birthday

My dad and sister recently traveled back to Vietnam for the trip of a lifetime. You can read about it in my dad's blog, Back2Vietnam, found at

Ever since they returned, they have been raving about the food. So for my dad's birthday we decided to cook him a Vietnamese dinner.

The first course had to be Pho, his favorite food in Vietnam. My friend Quyen gave me her mother's recipe and it looks amazing, but I just didn't have the time for it. I will definitely be trying it sometime soon! So instead, I went in search of an easy Pho recipe. I found
this recipe for easy beef pho, and after showing it to my sister, we decided it had the right flavors and ingredients to satisfy our dad's Pho craving!

The Menu

Easy beef pho, or what we all named it, faux pho

Vietnamese spring rolls with chicken and shrimp; dipping sauce (post to follow soon)

Marinated pork chops, stir fried spicy broccolini (posts to follow soon)

I made a few minor changes to the Pho recipe; my version is below.


  • 12 cups beef broth
  • 4 limes (3 for soup, 1 for serving)
  • 14 oz rice sticks
  • 3 green onions
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 3 jalapenos
  • 1 pound beef sirloin


  • Bring beef broth to a boil in a large stock pot with the juice of 3 of the limes. Let stock boil for 15 minutes, then turn to a simmer for an hour so it reduces a bit for richer flavors.
  • In a separate pot, bring water to a boil and cook rice sticks according to package directions. Drain rice sticks.
  • While noodles are cooking and stock is heating, prep the condiments. Slice green onions on a long diagonal. Roughly chop cilantro. Rinse basil, dry, and put on platter for service. Slice remaining limes and arrange next to basil on serving platter. Thinly slice jalapenos and arrange on serving platter.
  • Season the beef with salt and pepper and grill to medium or medium rare. Slice beef into a thin a slice as possible with a very sharp knife.
  • When noodles are cooked and drained, divide among six bowls. Ladle hot stock over each bowl of noodles. I then let everyone choose their own condiments to complete their soup.

This was my first experience eating Pho, and now I know why my dad and sister raved about it! It was delicious! I never knew that cilantro, lime, and chilies were used in Vietnamese cooking. All of the ingredients are so light and fresh, and we had fun slurping the noodles. My sister told us that a good slurp is a way of complimenting the chef.

The best part about this meal was making it for my dad, and watching his reaction to seeing the food being brought out to him in the dining room. He looked like a kid on Christmas :)

Gnudi...or naked ravioli

A few weeks ago I was looking for ideas to use up some ricotta (been traveling so I'm a little behind on blogging!). Elly recommended this Giada recipe for Gnudi. I had never heard of it before, so did some research and found out that gnudi is pretty much ravioli without the pasta...just the filling.

I used fresh spinach instead of frozen. I threw a full bag of it into the water as it was coming to a boil, and removed it after 30 seconds. After squeezing out all of the water, I roughly chopped it. I also added 2 cloves of garlic to the recipe.

  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 pound frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (I used 1 bag of fresh spinach)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Added: 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus 1 cup for coating
  • 1 jar store bought marinara sauce, heated


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. (this is when I quickly wilted the fresh spinach)
  • In a large bowl, mix ricotta, spinach, Parmesan cheese, eggs, and yolks.
  • Stir in nutmeg, salt, pepper, and flour.
  • Form mixture in to small, flattened balls (this is easier to do if your hands are wet).
  • Dredge the formed gnudi in flour to coat, tapping off the excess. Slide formed gnudi into the boiling water. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan; work in batches if necessary.
  • Remove the gnudi using a slotted spoon after they float to the top and have cooked for about 4 minutes.
  • Arrange gnudi on a platter and lightly drizzle with marinara sauce.

Having never had gnudi, I didn't know what to expect. They were good, but I could taste too much of the flour. The recipe made 10 nice sized gnudi.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tofu Parm with Spinach and Mushrooms

As you probably know by now, whenever Jon is away, I cook things he'd never eat. What's the number one thing on his "do not eat" list? Tofu.

I make a lot of Asian inspired tofu dishes, but was craving Italian flavors and red sauce tonight. I looked for inspiration on the cooking board I frequent, and the girls had a lot of great suggestions. I'm bookmarking all of them for future use as I was too lazy to go to the market to get the ingredients I didn't have on hand.

So instead of following a recipe, I did what I love best - created as I cooked. I pulled out a few things I had, and just started cooking. I came up with a delicious tofu Parmesan style dish with sauteed mushrooms and spinach.

Ingredients (amounts are approximate)
  • 1 block extra firm tofu
  • 1/2 c bread crumbs mixed with the following spices:
  • Spices: salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, onion powder, red pepper flakes
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 c marinara; I used Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic Marinara.....sooo good for a jar sauce!
  • 4 oz fresh spinach
  • 1/2 c chopped fresh mushrooms
  • 1/2 c shredded cheese; I used a mix of mozzarella, asiago, and Parmesan


  • Cut a block of tofu into 12 squares
  • Heat oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium heat
  • Dip tofu in egg, then coat in bread crumbs
  • Add tofu to pan and fry until golden-brown, about 2 minutes per side.

Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. This could have been eaten as is just dipped in some marinara sauce!

  • Pour half of the sauce in the bottom of a baking dish
  • Add tofu in a single layer, and top each piece with a bit of the sauce and cheese.
  • Clean out pan and add 1/2 tbsp oil
  • Saute mushrooms 4-5 minutes. Sprinkle over tofu into baking dish.
  • Saute spinach until wilted. Spread over the tofu.

  • Top everything with more cheese.
  • Bake on 375, covered, for 20 minutes.

If you haven't eaten tofu yet, this may be the way to try it. There were so many flavors from the spices in the bread crumbs, and great textures from the crunch breadcrumbs, mushrooms, spinach, and cheese.

The great thing about a tofu dish like this is that it is full of protein, so it is filling - no need to fill up on pasta.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Creamy Chicken and Noodle Casserole with Spinach and Mushrooms

Last week when I was looking for an idea for some sort of dinner that could be prepared ahead of time and then baked, the author of the blog Savory Safari suggested
this recipe for Chicken, Spinach, and Mushroom Casserole. I put it my list of things to make this week.

I made several changes to her original recipe - seasoned and cooked my own chicken instead of using rotisserie chicken, omitted the bacon, and added garlic (of course!). Also, I saved some time by cooking the chicken on Sunday while doing some other things in the kitchen. My version of the recipe is below.


  • 2 boneless chicken breasts
  • For the chicken: white truffle oil, dried thyme, white pepper, salt, paprika
  • 1/2 pound egg noodles
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 10 oz. mushrooms
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 3 large handfuls of fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup grated cheeses; I used Asiago as well as a Italian blend in the bag - mozzarella, provolone, and asiago
  • Bread crumbs for the topping, about 1/2 c
  • Salt and pepper


  • Drizzle some white truffle oil onto the chicken breasts and season lightly with the thyme, white pepper, salt, and paprika. Pan fry until golden brown and cooked through. I did this step the day before I was planning on making this casserole. When I was ready to cook, I roughly chopped the chicken into bite sized pieces.
  • Cook the egg noodles; drain and set aside. Run some cold water over them and toss with olive oil to keep them from sticking.
  • Preheat your oven to 400
  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet
  • Add onions and garlic; saute 3-4 minutes
  • Add mushrooms and cook 5-6 minutes
  • Add wine and let simmer until it has absorbed
  • Add the chicken broth, salt, pepper, and pinch of thyme. Let simmer until it has absorbed.
  • Turn heat to low and add the cream. Stir and let cook until it comes to a light simmer.
  • Mix in 3/4 of the cheeses
  • Transfer noodles to a baking dish; add chicken and mix. Pour cream/mushroom mixture over noodles, add the spinach, and stir until everything is combined/coated.
  • Top with bread crumbs and the rest of the cheeses.
  • Bake, covered, on 400 for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and turn on the broiler for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.

Jon and I really enjoyed this. It was so different from our usual spicy, garlicky dinners!! I think this would even be good without the chicken for a creamy noodle-veggie casserole. Looking forward to leftovers tomorrow - casseroles make the BEST leftovers!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Creamy Broccoli Soup with Cheddar Crisps

It is that time of year again - soup!!! Mmm, how I love soups, stews, and chili.

This weekend I pulled a recipe out of an old Food and Wine magazine -
Creamy Broccoli Soup with Cheddar Crisps.

Now if I would have read the soup recipe before putting in in my recipe file, I never would have chosen it. Onion, celery, garlic, broccoli, and water...that's it. Not even salt and pepper? That sounds like the blandest soup ever. So of course I changed it up and came up with the following:

Soup Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 heads of broccoli, chopped into florets
  • 6 c vegetable broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 c heavy cream


  • Heat olive oil in a soup pot
  • Add onions, garlic, and celery. Saute until soft, about 7 minutes.
  • Add broccoli and broth; bring to a simmer until broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes.
  • Transfer everything to a blender (in batches) and puree until smooth.
  • Return to the pot and season with the salt, black pepper, and white pepper.
  • Add cream and bring to a slow simmer. Serve with cheddar crisps.

Cheddar Crisps

Crispy little wafers of cheddar to garnish the soup - sounds good to me. But again, the Food and Wine recipe was way off. The directions say to bake them on 400 for 18 minutes... I put a tray in the oven and set my timer to check them in 9 minutes. After only 9 minutes, half of the advised cooking time, the crisps were black.

So I tried again - 7 minutes is the magic time.

What I liked about these crisps was how they harden as they cool, so you can form them into different shapes.

I'd love to use these as a cup for a small salad by pushing them around a mug or cup, but with Parmesan like these crisps I made once to garnish mashed potatoes.

Chili Pork Loin in a Tequila-Lime-Tomatillo-Poblano Sauce

Whenever we cook pork it is usually in the form of pork chops, so when I saw boneless pork loins on sale this weekend, I decided to pick one up. When we were in Las Vegas I had a great pork loin dish at Emeril's restaurant, Table No. 10, so I took a look at his recipes on the Food Network web site.

After browsing a few recipes, I decided on
this one for Chili Pork Loin. I made a few changes, and feel that my title better describes the dish, although it's a bit long!

The sauce is what made this was sweet at first taste followed by some tartness and finally some heat. Perfect all around -

  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground red chilies
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (I used Mexican oregano)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (2 to 2 1/2-pound) pork loin
  • 1/4 cup corn oil (I used light olive oil)
  • 1 cup chopped white onions
  • 2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled and roughly chopped (I didn't roast them, but simply seeded and chopped them - I don't think it made much difference)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 3 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • 10 ounces tomatillos, peeled and roughly chopped (this was 6 small tomatillos)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (this was 2 limes)
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


  • In a bowl, mix together the sugar, chilies, salt, oregano, thyme, and pepper. Rub evenly onto the pork, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Remove from the refrigerator and let meat come to room temperature.

  • Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork and sear until the meat is browned on all sides. Remove the meat from the pan.
  • Add the onions, peppers, and garlic, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, tomatillos, and bay leaf, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  • Add the lime juice, tequila, and cilantro, stir well, and bring to a boil.
  • Return the meat to the pan. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the meat is tender, 45 minutes, stirring and basting occasionally.

  • Remove from the heat. Transfer the pork to a platter and tent to keep warm.
  • Transfer the contents of the pan to a blender and puree on high speed. Return to the cooking pan and cook until thickened. Adjust seasoning, to taste. (I didn't want a completely pureed sauce so instead of using a blender, I transferred the contents of the pan to a small pot and pulsed my handheld immersion blender in it a few times)
  • Spoon the sauce onto a platter. Carve the meat and arrange on top of the sauce. Drizzle with the cilantro oil and serve immediately. (I used more sauce on top instead of the cilantro oil)

I wouldn't change a thing about this recipe, my changes, and how it was prepared. I loved the complexity of the flavors from using sweet, tart, and spicy ingredients. The pork was deliciously tender, and only needed to be served over some rice to complete the meal. And although it takes 3.5 hours from start (the rub and sitting in the fridge) to finish, it's not a labor intensive dish, once all the chopping is done.

I can't wait to make this one again, and if we do decide to serve Mexican inspired dishes for Christmas (why not do something different, right?), this pork just might be the focus.