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.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Baked Orzo with Chorizo and Spinach

The other night I really felt like cooking, but didn't know when Jon would be getting home. I went in search of an idea for a dinner that could wait, like a casserole, and started by asking the girls on a cooking board I frequent.

I loved this suggestion blogged about on Cooking This and That. I looked at the original recipe, a Giada recipe for Baked Orzo with Fontina and Peas, on the Food Network web site, and after reading it decided to use it as inspiration but change a few ingredients and add others to match our tastes. The original recipe sounded great, but I wanted to turn it into a savory main course. My version is below.

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 pound orzo pasta
  • Chorizo; I used 2 links, each was about 6 inches long.
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup white wine, I used a dry Chardonnay
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 c shredded cheeses - I used a mix of mozzarella, Parmesan, and asiago
  • More Parmesan cheese, for the topping, about 1/4 c
  • 6 oz fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs


  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish.
  • Bring the chicken broth to a boil over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the orzo and cook until almost tender, about 7 minutes. Pour the orzo and the broth into a large bowl. Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a medium skillet.
  • Crumble the chorizo into the pan and cook until browned, about 8 minutes
  • Add the onions and garlic, saute 3 minutes
  • Add the mushrooms, saute 2 minutes
  • Add the wine, stirring to scrape up all the brown bits. Let simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the sausage mixture to the orzo in the large bowl. Stir.
  • Add the cheeses, stir
  • Pour in the cream and stir to combine everything
  • Pour the mixture into your buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake uncovered until golden, about 25 minutes. I turned on the broiler for the last minute or two.

These flavors all worked perfectly together. This dish was creamy and comforting, with just a touch of heat from the chorizo. And it served almost 10... we ate it 3 times, my mom had lunch, and my parents had dinner the next night!

I would love to make a large batch of this for a party. I would prepare everything up until before I added the cream. The cream could be stirred in before baking.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cheesesteak Omelet

Surprisingly, I had a small bowl of steak, peppers, and onions left after making Cheesesteaks this week. On our way to Vegas last month I enjoyed a cheesesteak omelet at the Philly airport, so I decided to make one for lunch with my leftovers.

  • 3 eggs, beaten with 1 tbsp half and half and seasoned with salt and pepper
  • Leftover steak, fried onions and peppers
  • 3 slices provolone cheese
  • Olive oil


  • Heat 1 tsp olive oil in an omelet pan; add steak, onions, and peppers. Saute until warm. Remove to a bowl and keep warm.
  • Wipe out pan and add 1 tsp olive oil over medium heat
  • Add eggs; move them around a bit with your spatula, and push the edges to form. Let it set for 2 minutes, and then swirl it, letting the still wet eggs run off to one side. Repeat this until you have a nicely cooked egg. If you need to or if you want to make sure both sides are fully cooked, carefully flip the egg over being careful not to break it. Having a good quality and well oiled omelet pan will make this easier.
  • Lay 1.5 slices of the provolone on half of the egg. Top with the steak/onion/pepper mixture. Top with the rest of the provolone, and fold the other half of the egg over to close it up.

What a delicious way to enjoy steak and eggs. Look at the fillings and oozy cheese as I cut into it:

This was so filling that Jon and I were able to split it. I think I might be adding cheesesteaks to our regular rotation just so I have an excuse to make this omelet again!

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Born and raised in Philly, this girl knows a cheesesteak. If you have never experienced a cheesesteak, you must do it in Philadelphia. If you ever see "Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich" on a menu in another city, stay away. A real cheesesteak will never be called a Philly Cheese Steak, nor will it have the word Sandwich in the title.

There are a few key things that make up an authentic cheesesteak. I had to teach them to Jon when he moved down here from Maine - I think some of our biggest fights were about what makes up a cheesesteak! 

First, you have to use an Amoroso roll. And if you don't live in the area, unfortunately, you can't get them. If you have to use another roll, make sure it's a thick, dense steak roll that is a bit tough on the outside, and soft on the inside. 

Second, I don't care what anyone says, Cheez-Wiz has no place on a cheesesteak. The cheese must be provolone or American. The tourist spots in Philly can keep their Cheez-Wiz (oh yea, stay away from the tourist traps if you visit. Instead hit up a local corner pizza shop). The steak - chopped, not a big slab of steak. Toppings - peppers and onions. No mushrooms, no lettuce or tomato, just peppers, and onions. And maybe hot peppers. If you want to get fancy, you can add pizza sauce for a pizza steak. 

Finally, the ends of your roll should be soggy and greasy halfway through enjoying your cheesesteak. You'll also have to learn "the lean" to eat the cheesesteak without getting it all over yourself - lean into the cheesesteak instead of trying to bring it up to your mouth. Last night I made cheesesteaks at home following all of these rules. 

  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1/2 green pepper, sliced
  • Thinly sliced steaks. I used Landis steaks, made right here in PA, and found in the frozen section. You can also get a rib eye, freeze it, and then thinly slice it. Paper-thin. I used 6 slices per cheesesteak.
  • 2 Amoroso steak rolls
  • 6 slices provolone cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil


  • Heat about 2 tbsp olive oil on a large griddle.
  • Add the onions and peppers; saute until the peppers are soft and lightly browned, and the onions are nicely browned/fried. Like this -

  • Remove the peppers and onions from the griddle and keep them warm.
  • Add 2 more tbsp oil to the griddle. Add the steaks, like this -

  • Brown the steaks on one side, keeping them whole. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Flip the steaks, and using 2 spatulas, start to shred the beef. You want a bunch of bite-sized pieces of beef.
  • In the meantime, throw your rolls into a 350 oven for no more than 3 minutes to lightly toast them.
  • Once browned, separate the beef into 2 long piles that are the length and width of your rolls.
  • Top with provolone cheese, and throw a lid on top of each pile to get the cheese to melt.
  • Layer the peppers and onions onto one half of the roll; top with the meat. This way you will get a bit of onions and peppers in every bite.

I am very, very picky about my cheesesteaks, and I really outdid myself with these! Jon has also become picky about his cheesesteaks and he was impressed. They tasted exactly like a good cheesesteak that I'd get in a local Philly joint.

I served them with some fries, just store-bought frozen fries that I tossed with olive oil, salt, and garlic powder and baked until crispy.

Authentic Philly Cheesesteak recipe from a Philly girl! Shredded beef, cheese, onions, and peppers and the ever important Amoroso roll. #cheesesteak

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Potato-Green Chile Gratin

There are some days when I just feel like spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Even after a long or hard day, something about focusing all of my energy and thoughts on chopping and sauteeing and tasting and creating is very therapeutic. I can turn off my head, forget about everything, and just cook...

Jon grilled last night, so I decided to spend a lot of time on a side dish. I found the original recipe for this
Potato-Green Chile Gratin on the Epicurious web site. I made several changes, so my version is below.


  • Peppers; I used 3 Poblanos and 2 Anaheims
  • 1 large white onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 large Russet potatoes
  • 2.5 c light cream
  • 1 c shredded cheddar cheese; I used white extra sharp cheddar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Roast the peppers over an open flame until the skins are charred. Transfer to a bowl or paper bag and cover. After 10 minutes, peel away the skins. Remove the seeds and slice into thin strips.
  • Roast onions in a baking dish in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.
  • Cut potatoes into slices just a bit smaller than 1/4 inch each. I did this by hand and was pretty impressed with how even all of the slices were! Cover with water until ready to assemble.
  • Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a pot. Add garlic, saute for 2 minutes over medium heat. Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add half of the cheese; stir/whisk until creamy. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Butter the bottom of a large baking dish; I used a 9x13 Pyrex dish.
  • Drain and dry potatoes; place potatoes in a single slightly overlapping layer along the bottom of the dish. Top with some of the onions and peppers, then cheese, as well as a touch of salt. Continue making layers - potatoes, onions, peppers, cheese, salt, until you can end with a layer of potatoes. Pour the cream mixture over the potatoes and top with a touch more cheese.
  • Bake covered on 400 for 45 minutes; uncover and bake another 20-30 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes to set-up before slicing and serving.

Look at these beautiful creamy layers.

This dish was delicious, comforting, and worth the time. The roasted peppers added some smoke and a touch of heat, but the flavor was not overpowering at all. I'm so happy to have leftovers that will last me a few days - only 3 potatoes made enough to serve at least 6 people.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Spinach and Ricotta Pappardelle

This is another recipe I found in an old issue of Food and Wine Magazine, and saved for future use. I had the perfect opportunity to make it when my friend Jenny came over last night - she requested pasta. Here is a link to this recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Pappardelle.

I couldn't find pappardelle in our local supermarket, but they do carry it at Trader Joe's. I made 2 small changes to the recipe, noted in italics below.

  • 12 ounces pappardelle pasta
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped sage (didn't use this)
  • Added: 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Two 5-ounce bags baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pappardelle pasta until al dente. Drain the pappardelle thoroughly, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
  • Meanwhile, in a large deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the scallions and sage (garlic) and cook over high heat until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Add the spinach in large handfuls and cook, stirring, until wilted.
  • Add the pasta, butter and ricotta and toss.
  • Add 3/4 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water and the Parmigiano and season generously with salt and pepper.
  • Cook over moderately low heat, tossing, until the sauce is thick and creamy, adding more of the pasta water as needed.
  • Transfer the pappardelle to bowls and serve right away, with grated Parmigiano.

Once this sauce came together, I didn't even recognize it as ricotta. It was just a nice, creamy and cheesy sauce that stuck nicely to the noodles. Be sure to season it generously with salt and pepper - I tasted it before seasoning and it definitely needed it.

On top of being delicious, this one was quick and easy, but impressive enough that it didn't appear quick and easy. I will definitely make this one again, and will keep my changes of omitting the sage and adding garlic.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ginger-Soy Grilled Steaks

We seem to grill steaks once a week in the summertime, usually on a Sunday. Last weekend's recipe came from one of my favorite web sites for recipes, Epicurious. I chose this one for Ginger-Soy Grilled Steaks.

6 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons oriental sesame oil
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 cup chopped green onions
1 1 1/2-pound top sirloin steak (about 1 inch thick)

Blend first 5 ingredients in processor until almost smooth; pour into 13x9x2-inch glass dish. Mix green onions into marinade. Add steak and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day, turning steak occasionally.

The directions also called for boiling the marinade to make a sauce, but we didn't do that. Jon grilled the steaks to medium.

These steaks had great flavor, and the ginger really stood out as the prominent flavor. We marinated them for 6 hours, which was plenty of time.