Monday, August 31, 2009

A Perfect Marinade

Pork chops on the grill...that means Jon is coming up with another marinade! This one would also work well on chicken.

We decided on Asian flavors, and he kept if very simple. For 2 butterflied pork chops:

  • 1/3 c soy sauce
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 3 cloves garlic grated with a microplane
  • 1/4 tsp sesame oil
  • Handful freshly chopped cilantro

Marinate chops for 4-6 hours.

When Jon grilled the chops, he seared them over high heat first (400 degree grill), and then turned all of the burners to low and let them cook another 12 minutes (these chops were butterflied so they were somewhat thin). The result - perfectly tender and juicy chops.

The chops really took on a ton of flavor and color from this marinade - we were amazed at how good they were. Jon said that this combo of flavors - garlic, lime, and cilantro - is the new holy trinity for marinades and he wants to experiment with adding other flavors. Sounds good to me!

Mexican Style Chicken with Penne

Over the past few weeks I have been going through all of my Food and Wine magazines from the past two years so I can send them to the recycle bin. I now have a large folder full of recipes to try, including this one that I made for dinner over the weekend -
Mexican Style Chicken with Penne.

I read the recipe a few times and decided that I wanted to add a few things, including zucchini, green bell pepper, and jalapeno pepper. However when it came time to cook, my zucchini had turned to rubber (after only one day!) so I had to go without it. I think this was a good thing - this dish was perfect with only the tomatoes and peppers.

Below is the original recipe with my notes in italics.


  • 3/4 pound penne rigate
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (used a lot less than this, especially since I added chicken broth)
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch dice (I used 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Added: Adobo seasoning
  • 1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • Added: 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • Added: 1/2 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 large chipotle in adobo sauce, seeded and minced, plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce (This flavor is very overpowering to me, so I used maybe a third of the amount listed)
  • Added: 1/2 c chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn (I completely forgot about the corn....and honestly didn't miss it!)
  • 1/4 pound queso blanco or mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated (1 1/3 cups)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook until al dente. Drain the penne.
  • Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil.
  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add it to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.
  • Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat until the onion is softened and the chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes.
  • Add the peppers; saute 2 minutes.
  • Add the diced tomatoes, chipotle and adobo sauce and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the chicken broth, bring to a simmer.
  • Add the corn, season with salt and pepper and cook until the corn is heated through, about 1 minute.
  • Add the penne and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil (didn't add oil - I had enough liquid because of the broth) to the sauce and toss to coat.
  • Add 1 cup of the queso blanco and toss.
  • Transfer the pasta to bowls, sprinkle with the remaining queso blanco and the cilantro and serve.

We both thought this was great, especially for a meal that took about 15-20 minutes to cook. The peppers added great flavor, and of course we liked the touch of heat from the jalapeno. I think I made the right decision by cutting back on the chipotle and adobo sauce - the amount that I did add gave just the right amount of smokiness without being overpowering.

Twice Baked Potatoes

Last week, out of the blue, Jon said that I should make twice baked potatoes sometime. Jon asking for potatoes? He doesn't like potatoes. But if he's asking for them, I'll make them.

Twice baked potatoes seem very old fashioned to me - just good 'ol American food when meals always included meat, potatoes, and a veggie. And surprisingly, I can't remember ever having one. Well, maybe in a restaurant when I was a kid, but in my adult life, I don't think I have had a twice baked potato.

I looked at some recipes, but didn't feel that I really needed one. And then I had lunch with a friend and she told me how she makes them, and gave me a few tips. These potatoes are basically just a mix of baked and mashed, both of which are easy things to make, so I just pulled this together as I worked.

Ingredients (for 3 potatoes)
  • 3 baking potatoes
  • 3 tbsp sour cream
  • 1/3 c light cream
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Approximately 1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese
  • Freshly chopped chives


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Lightly coat potatoes with olive oil and place directly on the rack. After 30 minutes, take them out and pierce a few times with a fork. Return to oven for another 45 minutes to an hour, or until potatoes are fork tender in the center.
  • Cut off the long top of the potato; carefully scoop out the potato (transfer scooped potato to a bowl) leaving about 1/4 inch of potato on the inside of the skin. Return skins to the oven to crisp.
  • Mix sour cream, cream, butter, most of the cheese, salt, and chives with the potato. Whip or mash with a hand masher, depending on how whipped you want them.
  • Fill the skins with the mashed potatoes, and top with cheddar cheese. Return the potatoes to the oven for 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and is slightly bubbly.

Although these take a lot of time to make from start to finish, it isn't all active time. I served the potatoes with steaks that Jon grilled and some roasted asparagus - the perfect all American meat-and-potatoes meal.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Creamy Pasta with Chicken, Broccoli, and Carrots

On Monday night I made my Spicy Taco Soup, my new favorite spicy soup recipe. But since I had it for lunch on Tuesday, I didn't feel like eating it again Tuesday night. I was on my own for dinner, so I took a chicken breast out of the freezer and whipped up this creamy pasta dish.

Don't mind the reflection in the picture - I took it outside and got a reflection of our house in the plate!

  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped and tossed with salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika
  • 1 sm shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp white wine
  • 1 sm head broccoli, chopped into small florets
  • 1 sm carrot, julienned (got to use my new julienne slicer!)
  • Approximately 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 c light cream
  • Handful shredded cheese; Parmesan would work well; I used an Italian blend
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cooked pasta; I used thin spaghetti, but any shape would work


  • Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan
  • Add chicken, cook for 5-6 minutes, until you can't see any more pink on the outside
  • Add garlic and shallots; saute 2 minutes
  • Add wine, stir quickly, scraping up all of the brown bits
  • Add broccoli, carrots, and red pepper flakes. Let cooking, stirring a few times, about 5 minutes.
  • Move everything to the side of the pan and add the cream; bring to a steady simmer.
  • Mix in the cheese, add the pasta, and toss everything to coat. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Delicious, quick, and easy. My kind of dinner for one! And of course it was colorful - just broccoli and chicken wouldn't have been enough color for me. The orange carrots and red pepper flakes added an extra pop of color that made it pretty on my plate, and I also got some extra Vitamins A, C, and beta carotene.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Grilled Steaks with Sweet-Spicy Hoisin Sauce

Hands down, the best sauce for steaks I have ever eaten in my life.

This one doesn't need much more of an intro than that! After every bite I was exclaiming how good it was and mmm-ing (you know, saying Mmmm! several times). Jon finally looked at me and said, "I get the point!!"

I found the recipe in the August 2007 issue of Food and Wine Magazine and put it on the menu for Sunday night. I served it with another Food and Wine dish,
Caramelized Broccoli with Garlic.

One more picture before I get into the recipe -


  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 4 medium shallots
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp finely grated ginger (I used the microplane)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/3 c hoisin sauce
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 c chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp honey (I used just a touch less, maybe 2 tbsp, for fear it would be too sweet)
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 6 steaks (I used filet mignon that Jon grilled to medium)
  • 2 large sweet onions, sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick (I cut our onions into large rings)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • In a medium saucepan, heat 1/4 c oil
  • Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, crushed red pepper, and cilantro and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes.
  • Add the hoisin, soy sauce, and chicken stock. Raise the heat to moderately high and boil until thickened, about 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the honey.
  • Remove from heat and stir in the butter until blended; keep warm.

Cooking and plating the steaks -

  • Rub the steaks and onions with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the steaks over high heat for 4 minutes per side, or until nicely browned and medium-rare (we grilled them to medium). Transfer to a carving board and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • Grill the onions for 4 minutes per side, or until charred. Transfer to a platter.
  • Thickly slice the steaks and arrange on the platter over the onions. Serve with the steak sauce. Since we grilled filet, we each plated our own over the onions instead of slicing the steak on a serving platter.

This had a very distinct Thai flavor to it (Jon thought it just tasted very Asian, I guess the cilantro did it for me). I am so in love with this sauce and could have licked the pot clean. It's not hard to make either - there are a lot of ingredients but once you chop and prep, you only have about 15 minutes of cooking time. Try this!!

Caramelized Broccoli with Garlic

We usually roast broccoli, but I found a recipe while browsing an old Food and Wine magazine that looked interesting - Caramelized Broccoli with Garlic. It is from the October 2007 issue.
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 heads of broccoli cut into halved florets (so there is a flat side...I noticed this note after making the recipe, but my florets were just fine!)
  • 1/2 c water
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (omitted this)


  • In a large deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil.
  • Add the broccoli, cut side down. Cover and cook over moderate heat until richly browned on the bottom, about 8 minutes.
  • Add the water, cover and cook until broccoli is just tender and the water has evaporated, about 7 minutes (note - mine got a bit mushy so I recommend less time on this step).
  • Add the remaining olive oil along with the garlic and crushed red pepper; cook uncovered until the garlic is golden brown, about 3 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with lemon juice and serve.

This tasted a lot like roasted broccoli, but with a bit of a deeper flavor. As I noted, next time I will shorten the cooking time on the step with the water as my broccoli was just a bit overdone for my taste.

I served this with grilled steaks with a sweet and spicy hoisin sauce...quite possibly the best sauce I have ever tasted. Definitely check out that post.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Creamy Salsa Chicken

Did you ever have one of those days where you were craving something, could only think about that food, and couldn't relax until you finally ate it? That was me on Saturday. My mind was on Mexican food and I couldn't wait to cook that night.

I was on overload after reading Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless. I also browsed recipes online and came across a very simple one for
chicken baked in salsa. The author of this article states that the recipe is from another Rick Bayless cookbook, Salsas that Cook. I was surprised that such a simple recipe would come from Rick Bayless.

I made a few minor changes. First, here is the original recipe -

  • 6 large boned, skinless chicken breast halves
  • one 16-oz. jar of slightly chunky salsa, any flavor, as spicy as you like (Note: if the salsa is too thin, the sauce will be runny.)
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Brush the bottom of a 9x13 baking pan with a little oil; place the chicken breasts in one layer in the pan.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the cream and salsa; spoon salsa mixture over the chicken.
  • Bake on the bottom shelf for 30 minutes.
  • Top with the cilantro

Simple, right? I like my chicken golden brown, so I added a few steps to this recipe. I also cut it in half.

  • Trim chicken and sprinkle with ancho chili powder and adobo seasoning.
  • Brown in a skillet for 30-45 seconds per side. Transfer to a backing dish.
  • Top with the salsa and cream mixture and bake according to instructions above.
  • When finished, garnish with cilantro and queso fresco.

I think it is important to us a good salsa for this recipe - I chose Frontera Jalapeno and Cilantro Salsa and it was worth the $4/jar! Plus, I only had to use half of the jar for the recipe so we have some left to snack on.

For such an easy recipe, it sure didn't taste like one. I love this for a quick weeknight meal, but it's also so good that I'd serve it to guests. They'd never know I didn't slave all day!

I served it with another Rick Bayless recipe, Rice with Roasted Poblanos, Spinach, and Queso Fresco.

Rice with Roasted Poblanos, Spinach, and Queso Fresco

It's so secret that I love Mexican food and flavors. About a year ago I was introduced to the cooking of Rick Bayless, and ever since, he has been popping up everywhere! Or maybe I am just noticing him more. Either way, I love everything he does. I even had the pleasure of dining at one of his restaurants in Chicago, Frontera Grill, when I was there on business last month. If you go to Chicago, you must eat at this restaurant.

My friend recently let me borrow her Rick Bayless cookbook, Mexico One Plate at a Time. The other day I sat with it for about an hour learning about Mexican cooking and falling in love with the recipes. I bookmarked many of them to make over the next few months! On Saturday I chose a side dish as my first recipe - rice with roasted poblanos, spinach, and feta cheese - and served it with another Rick Bayless dish of chicken baked in cream and salsa. The only change I made was a suggestion in the recipe - I used queso fresco instead of feta.


  • 3 medium fresh poblano chiles
  • 2 cups chicken broth or water (I used broth)
  • Salt (I didn't use any)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
  • 1.5 cups white rice, preferably medium grain
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 cups loosely packed sliced stemmed spinach leaves
  • 1.5 cups coarsely crumbled Mexican queso fresco (or firm goat cheese or feta)

Directions (in my own words; see the original recipe in the book for Rick's commentary)

  • Roast the chiles over a gas flame. Once all the skin is charred, approximately 5 minutes, transfer to a bowl and cover for 10 minutes. Remove the skins, seeds, and stems, rinse, and chop into 1/4 inch pieces.
  • Heat broth in a small saucepan. I did not add any salt as the recipe noted.
  • In a separate 3-qt saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. At onions and raw rice; stir regularly for 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for a few seconds. Make sure the grains of rice do not brown.
  • Add the warm liquid and chopped roasted chiles. Stir, cover, and cook on the lowest heat setting for about 15 minutes.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and add spinach, distributing it over the rice, but not stirring. Cover the pot and let is stand for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, test the rice. Mine was done and all of the liquid was absorbed, but if this isn't the case for you, Rick suggests sprinkling 2 tbsp water on top of the rice and returning it to low heat, covered, for 5 minutes.
  • Uncover the rice, sprinkle with cheese, and fluff everything together with a fork.

After trying and loving this recipe, I definitely need to cook my way through this cookbook! I loved the method of frying the rice before adding the liquid, much like making risotto. The roasted poblanos added just a touch of heat, and the queso added a creamy saltiness. If you make this recipe, definitely try to find queso fresco instead of using goat or feta cheese. I found it at Wegman's, and have also purchased it at Mexican market in the past.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Crispy Tofu with Garlic and Broccoli in a Soy-Hoison Sauce

Whenever I make tofu, I make things up as I go along, never following a recipe. I love how versatile tofu is, the different textures available, and how you can add so much flavor very easily.

You guessed it, Jon wasn't home for dinner tonight! I usually cook tofu when he isn't home, and decided to make a variation of my
Crispy Tofu with Mushrooms and Garlic.

  • 1 block firm tofu, cut into thirds
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Approximately 1 tbsp chopped white onion
  • 2 tbsp cooking sherry
  • 1 small head broccoli, chopped into florets
  • 14.5 oz chicken broth
  • 1/4 c low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp Hoison
  • 1 tsp (or less) red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 green onion, chopped


  • Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add tofu; remove after 5 minutes. Drain and press some of the water out. Chop into bite sized pieces.
  • Heat 2-3 tbsp olive oil in a large non-stick pan
  • Add tofu and cook until browned on all sides, about 12-15 minutes. Once cooked, remove tofu and let drain on a plate covered with a paper towel. Note - the tofu will still be somewhat wet so be careful when you add it to the oil! I wore an apron tonight to protect me from the splatter.
  • Add the onions and garlic to the pan; saute 2 minutes.
  • Add cooking sherry, cook 1-2 minutes.
  • Add broccoli and red pepper flakes; saute 3-4 minutes.
  • Add chicken broth mixed with soy sauce, brown sugar, and Hoison. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Remove a few tbsp of the sauce to a small bowl and whisk in the cornstarch. Pour the mixture into the pan and stir.
  • Return the tofu to the pan along with half of the green onions. Let simmer for a few minutes.
  • Serve over noodles and top with the rest of the green onions.

This sauce was so wonderfully flavorful, and the red pepper flakes added just a touch of heat to keep it from being too sweet. I love browning tofu like this - the outside gets nice and crispy, and the sauce really sticks to it.

I have said it before and I'll say it again - if you haven't already, try tofu! I know the name doesn't sound very appetizing and people usually cringe at the mention of it, but once you try it I think you will like it!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Stir Fry...On the Grill?

This week I planned a full week of menus, but by Tuesday threw them out the window. We have been very busy and have a lot going on, and we also leave for Vegas Friday. I had planned on making a nice stir fry with shrimp on Tuesday night, but was not in the mood to cook at all. However, I still wanted to use all the veggies I bought so I threw everything into a foil packet and put it on the grill.

So while this isn't a real stir fry, it had most of the ingredients and a very similar flavor. This is the furthest thing from gourmet I have ever cooked and I don't know if I should be proud of it or not, but it was delicious and that is all that matters sometimes! Here is what I did -

  • Lay out a few pieces of foil, folding together the edges in the center to make a seam in the bottom of a bowl-like shape
  • Place 2 packets of ramen noodles in the bottom of the "bowl" and pour approximately 6 oz chicken broth over them.
  • Chop/prepare your veggies and toss them with some soy sauce, red pepper flakes, and olive oil. I used broccoli, snow peas, red pepper, yellow pepper, onions, and garlic. I also recommend water chestnuts, bok choy, celery, sprouts, and carrots.
  • Pour all of the veggies on top of the noodles, and pour in another 4 oz or so of chicken broth (I used almost an entire small can).
  • Wrap tightly and place on a hot grill for 12-15 minutes, shaking every few minutes.

Done!! This was cooked alongside 2 skewers full of shrimp tossed with oil and spices (not entirely sure what Jon used, but they looked and smelled delicious, and he said the tasted great).

Ramen noodles cook quickly, so they work well in this dish. I'm not sure how it would work with traditional noodles that take longer to quick.

So the next time you turn on your grill, think outside the box. You can do a lot more with it than just grill meats and dogs!

Off to Vegas - see you next week!

(Disclaimer: this post has an Asian tag only because of the flavors and type of dish. I am not claiming it to be authentic in any way!!).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Grilled Mojito Chicken

A few months ago I bookmarked a recipe I saw on the blog
Proceed with Caution - it was for mojito chicken and looked like something I wanted to try! She mentioned in her blog that she wanted to try grilling it next time, and since Jon was in the mood to grill, we did just that.

The original recipe is by Guy Fieri (love him!!)and can be found
here. Since I used boneless breasts and a grilling method instead of cooking it on the stove top and in the oven as the original recipe noted, I am listing my own directions below.


  • 1 (2 1/2 to 3-pound) chicken (I used 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Marinade Ingredients

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl:

  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sliced garlic
  • 1/4 cup dark rum

Mojito Glaze Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions -

  • Heat the grill to 400
  • Combine all the dry spices and rub chicken with spice mixture
  • In a large mixing bowl combine all the ingredients for the marinade, then add chicken to marinade and refrigerate for several hours
  • Remove chicken from marinade and shake off excess marinade and add chicken to the grill. Cook until nicely browned on each side or until chicken has internal temperature of 165 degrees F. on an instant-read thermometer.
  • In the meantime - make the glaze (these are Guy's directions): In medium sauce pot, place rum, chicken broth and brown sugar. Reduce by 1/3 over high heat. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together water and cornstarch. When rum mixture is reduced, add cornstarch mixture slowly to simmering liquid and whisk for 3 minutes, until 50 percent thicker. Keep in mind that you might not need all of it. When glaze is at desired thickness, add mint leaves and transfer to small bowl. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  • Brush both sides of the chicken with the Mojito Glaze and let it cook for another few minutes.

This chicken had a very nice, subtle flavor. Finishing the chicken under the broiler with the glaze would have given it a nicer, crispier finish, but we still got the slightly caramelized finish we were hoping for.

The next day I turned the third chicken breast into chicken salad - now that was delicious! I used onion, red pepper, and mayonnaise - so simple but with the flavor from the chicken, simpler was better.