Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onion Squares

We went to my parents' house for dinner - another opportunity for me to try a new appetizer. I browsed recipes on-line and decided on one I found on the Epicurious web site,
Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onion Squares. I made a few changes which I'll note in italics below.

The original recipe calls for a homemade crust (see above link for the full recipe). I didn't have time for this so I bought a refrigerated pizza dough by Pillsbury.

Topping Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large onions (about 2 pounds), halved, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary (I used dried rosemary)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
  • I added these ingredients: 4 tbsp mascarpone cheese; 6 cloves roasted garlic, chopped into tiny pieces


  • Melt butter with oil in large skillet over high heat. Add onions. Cook until onions are soft and beginning to brown, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes.
  • Add rosemary, sugar, and salt. Season onions to taste with pepper. Reduce heat to medium. Continue to cook until onions are soft and dark brown, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes; cool.
  • Roll pre-made dough onto a cookie sheet
  • Spread mascarpone cheese onto dough
  • Sprinkle chopped garlic evenly over the cheese
  • Spread onion mixture evenly over dough.
  • Sprinkle with blue cheese.
  • Bake until crust is golden and cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes (I baked it for 15 min according to the package directions on the pizza dough). Let cool. Cut into squares and serve.
I'd make this again, but since I'm not a huge blue cheese fan, I'd make some changes. I'd still use the mascarpone and garlic - I think they went perfectly. Instead of blue cheese, I think I'd use something else, like Gruyere or Parmesan. I might also add wilted spinach next time. However if you like the strong taste and bite of blue cheese, you'll definitely like it as is.

Restaurant Review: 552 Restaurant - Newtown, PA

Jon and I usually go out to dinner every Saturday night. We've been really busy and it's been a few weeks since we've gone out, so last night we decided to try somewhere new -
552 Restaurant in Newtown, PA. We were there a few times when it was the Stonehouse Bistro and the last time was a disaster. However the restaurant is now under new management, has new chefs and a completely different menu, and a few people have had good things to say about it.

Just in case you don't feel like reading a long review, I'll give our grade right now... D. Not even a D+. Just a D. Don't waste your time or money.

Let's get the good parts out of the way since they won't take too long...the bar had a good wine list, a very friendly bartender, cozy atmosphere, and comfortable leather armless bar-chairs. We enjoyed a glass of wine here before dinner, but started to wonder why there were only 6 other people in the bar (the bar could easily seat 30 or more, and it was 7 PM on a Saturday night). One other good thing - the restaurant has a very nice outside deck and dining area. We would have eaten out there if it wasn't so hot and humid last night.

Now I know this part of my review has nothing to do with the restaurant, but I can't let it go. There were 2 couples sitting down the bar from us - I'd say they were in their late 30s - and I couldn't help but overhear their conversation. The two women wouldn't stop talking about their diamonds and analyzing the size of every diamond in their rings. Annoying enough, right? Well then they told their husbands that since they had been married for 10 years, it was time for an upgrade, and that upgrades should occur every 10 years. She came up with this idea because one of her friends got a new diamond for her 10th and she seemed like the "keeping up with the Joneses" type. And one of these women actually said she'd rather have a new diamond than go on a nice, long vacation. I'm sure my husband would love for me to tell him that I'd rather get a new diamond than spend a week on vacation with him.

Ok, back on track. We were seated in the lower dining room where there were only 4 other tables of customers. Again, very strange for a Saturday night. I was seated facing the kitchen which has a large glass window allowing diners to watch the action. Usually these windows work well if they are actually low enough to actually see cooking, but this window cut off around shoulder height of the cooks and staff so you couldn't see a thing except for the occasional waiter pointing at the diners and talking, or the one waiter I saw sneaking food into his mouth from time to time. On the side of the kitchen is a hallway where lots of supplies and linens are stored. This really should be covered up - total eyesore.

Food - here is where the D grade comes in. I started with the special tomato soup described to me as a "tomato basil vinaigrette but warm and like creamy." I'm not lying. Still, I decided to order it. It tasted like Campbell's Tomato Soup with some pepper and cream mixed in. Jon's Caesar salad was soaked in dressing - not good at all.

For our entrees we both ordered the filet mignon, mine well done (I even specified that they could butterfly it), Jon's medium. I was shocked when our plates arrived... I've never seen filet served in thin slices. Isn't that how flank steak or London broil would be served? When I order filet, I want to be able to cut into it. My slices were small and round, and there wasn't an end piece to be found, and Jon's slices were wide and short, JUST LIKE London broil. And medium means pink center all the way through, right? Well at 552 Restaurant, "medium" means gray center, no pink whatsoever. When our waiter finally came back to ask how things were (more than halfway through our meal, too long considering the bus boy delivered our plates), his response to our complaint about Jon's steak was "maybe they switched the plates?" although he could clearly see that my steak was also very well done. No apology or solution offered. The sides weren't any better - dauphinoise potatoes layered with a mushroom mush, and rotten tasting sauteed spinach. How do you mess up sauteed spinach?

We should have called it a night and left, but decided on coffee/tea and dessert. The coffee cups were tiny to begin with, but then they only filled them halfway. My hot water for my tea was lukewarm and he didn't bring spoons. Once we asked for them, Jon was given one, but I was left to use my salad fork which was still on the table (along with the bread basket, butter plate, and bread plate...our table was not fully cleared after dinner). Jon's dessert, the chocolate truffle cake, was horrible. It wasn't sweet, but it wasn't rich either. Usually if a chocolate dessert isn't sweet, it's at least rich.

All in all, it was a disappointing night and unfortunately we wasted a good amount of money on the worst food and dining experience we've had in a very, very, long time.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Simple Summer Sides....and a Burger!

I'm 32 years old, I love to cook, and on Sunday I did something I've never done before - I made a burger. I was a vegetarian for 8 years so I have a good excuse. Also, Jon is the master of the burger in our house, but since he just got home from a long trip, I decided to take them on myself.

I followed the same "recipe" he does and just mixed a packet of dry onion dip mix into the meat and formed them into patties. I did, however, try to up the gourmet-factor on my burger. I made a small patty, topped it with mini mozzarella balls, and then put another small patty on top to form the complete burger. It was good, even if it was a little messy on the grill (sorry, Jon). It's hard to see the cheese in the picture - a harder cheese would probably work a little better.

I made a few very simple sides to go along with our burgers - macaroni salad, roasted tomatoes, and sauteed squash and zucchini.

Macaroni Salad
- Cook 1 box elbow noodles. Drain and run under cold water.
- Chop veggies into tiny pieces: 1/2 of a green pepper, 1 stalk of celery, and 1/4 of a red onion
- Grate 1 carrot into a bowl.
- Mix the noodles and veggies with about 4 tbsp of mayonnaise, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp black pepper. Adjust the mayo and spices to your liking. I had to add more mayo after the salad sat in the fridge for a few hours.

Squash and Zucchini
This one is so easy I'm not even going to use bullet points. Slice the zucchini and squash and then halve each slice. Saute in a pan with olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes for about 6-8 minutes.

Roasted Tomatoes
Another easy one - chop tomatoes and a few cloves of garlic. Put them in a baking dish with 1 tbsp olive oil and some salt. Roast in the oven on 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Stroganoff Casserole - vegetarian or full of meat!

Tuesday night, my neighbor Danielle and I drank a LOT of wine. All day Wednesday I was feeling a bit under the weather which always makes me crave comfort food. Last night I went with a stroganoff casserole.

Don't scroll down...I want you to read about this dish before seeing the picture. It doesn't look that good in the picture, but believe me, it is! Jon even likes it when I make it for him.

I make this casserole with MorningStar Farms Recipe Crumbles (fake ground meat). When I make it for Jon I use real ground beef.

- 1 bag fake meat or 1 lb real
- 1/2 bag egg noodles (I was out so I had to use shells)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 package dry brown gravy mix mixed with 1 cup cold water (I use the meatless gravy mix)
- 1/2 cup shredded cheese; I mixed cheddar and Parmesan
- 3-4 tbsp sour cream; I use light
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper to taste

- Cook noodles; set aside
- Brown meat; drain fat if you are using real meat, then add garlic, onions, and red pepper flakes
- Once the meat is cooked, turn off the heat and mix in the noodles
- Add the gravy and mix it all together
- Add the cheese, sour cream, and mix it until everything is coated. Also add salt and pepper at this point.
- Transfer to a baking dish and bake on 375 for 20-25 minutes or until your casserole is bubbly.

Finally, here is the picture. It's definitely better and looks better with egg noodles. I promise, it tastes great!!!

Update: Click here to see the recipe using egg noodles and real meat

Monday, July 16, 2007

Easy Summer Pasta: Penne in a Garlic Wine Sauce with Tomatoes and Basil

I needed something quick and easy before teaching my dance class tonight. Fresh tomatoes are always great, so I made a light pasta dish.

- 8 oz dry pasta; I used penne
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 small onion, chopped
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup white wine
- a few leaves of fresh basil; I used basil from my herb garden
- mozzarella cheese; I used miniature mozzarella balls
- salt

- Cook pasta to al dente; drain and set aside
- In the meantime, heat oil in a large pan
- Add garlic and oil
- Add white wine and let simmer on medium for about 7 minutes
- Add tomatoes, some salt, and cook for 3-4 minutes
- Toss with pasta
- Add basil and a little more salt

I love how the juices from the tomatoes cooked into the wine to make an almost creamy sauce. Even though it was a pasta dish, it was very light and summery. Perfect for a summer night!

If Jon was home he would have added some shrimp - it would be perfect in this dish.

The Perfect Omelet

I know eggs aren't that impressive, but I've always wanted to make a perfect omelet. You know, the kind you see the chefs making at the omelet station at a breakfast buffet. I'd watch them in awe as they made flipping the omelet without a spatula look like the easiest thing in the world. I never dared to try it in my own kitchen (I'm sure Jon's happy about that since I cook and he cleans up!), but I have tried a few different ways to make a beautiful omelet. Well, I think I finally did it yesterday!

I melted butter in a non-stick pan. To it I added chopped tomatoes and green onions, and after 1 minute I added chopped spinach. After 4 minutes I set the veggies aside in a bowl.

In the same pan I melted a little more butter, and then added my eggs (the eggs had been whisked in a bowl with milk and pepper til light and full of air). I kept the heat on medium-low and just let the eggs sit. After a few minutes I did a slight turn of the pan to move the liquid around and off the center. Finally almost the entire egg was stiff except for just a little bit of liquid on top, but it was not a watery consistency at all. I threw the veggies onto the eggs, added some Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, folded the omelet, and let it cook for 2 more minutes.

It was picture perfect and delicious - just what I wanted!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Penne Pasta in a Garlic Cream Sauce with Peas

I needed to whip up something fast and easy tonight since we spent a few hours at happy hour. Pasta is always good for soaking up the alcohol, so it was the perfect option for tonight's dinner.


- 8 oz penne pasta
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed (I usually like to chop it.. chopping garlic can be very therapeutic, but not a good idea after a few beers at happy hour and then a bottle of wine on the deck)
- 1 cup light cream
- about 1/4 c (maybe more?) grated asiago cheese
- a few shakes of red pepper flakes
- 1 shake of cayenne pepper (optional, but we like heat in our kitchen)
- 2 tbsp dry white wine
- 1/2-1 cup frozen peas
- Option: sliced prosciutto (I would have used it if Jon liked it. Next time he's away I'll have to make this dish with prosciutto)

How I Cooked It...
- Cook pasta til al dente; set aside
- While the pasta is cooking, heat about 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan. Add red pepper flakes and garlic*, saute
* Some of my garlic toasted in the oil while I was taking a sip of wine, but it ended up being a good thing. It gave a few different garlic flavors to the dish so I'd definitely do it again, but on purpose next time
- Add white wine and stir
- Add cream and let simmer for about 5 minutes until it is lightly bubbling
- Add the peas and cheese, stir until slightly thickened. If using proscuitto, add it now.
- Add the pasta and toss. Top with some salt if needed.

This dinner was delicious!! Quick and easy, and the perfect thing after a few drinks at the bar.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Eggrolls and Vegetable Lo Mein

As I've mentioned before, there aren't any good Chinese restaurants in this area so I'm forced to make my own version of takeout. I decided on vegetable lo mein tonight, and since I was going to be chopping a ton of veggies, I thought I'd try to make homemade eggrolls too.

I chopped up a bunch of veggies into tiny pieces - Napa cabbage, bean sprouts, carrots, green and red peppers, green onions, water chestnuts, and carrots. I then sauteed for 3-4 minutes them in a little bit of oil and soy sauce.

Once the veggies were done, I took one eggroll wrapper and put it on a cutting board that had been coated in flour. I put one scoop of the veggie mixture diagonally onto the shell, and then folded it up from the bottom, then each side, and then rolled the rest of the shell around it, wetting it to keep it closed. I continued and was able to make 6 rolls.

When I was ready to cook them, I heated about 1 cup of oil in a large pan. Each eggroll only took about 3 minutes on each side to turn to a nice, golden brown color.

The outcome - they were good, very crispy, and the filling was good, and I was pretty impressed with my rolling technique. They needed a dipping sauce and unfortunately I didn't have any hot Chinese mustard. I also needed one more flavor for inside the rolls, like some sort of spice, however I would definitely make them again.

Vegetable Lo Mein

  • Chopped fresh veggies: 1 green onion, ½ head Chinese cabbage, 1 red pepper, 1 head broccoli, ½ c shredded carrots, 1 stalk celery, and any others you like
  • 1 small can water chestnuts
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ can chicken broth
  • Sesame oil, about 2 tsp (or more if you like that peanut flavor)
  • Olive oil, about 2 tsp
  • Soy sauce, about 2 tbsp
  • Red pepper flakes, maybe 10 shakes
  • 1 box vermicelli or thin spaghetti
  • Option: add chicken, pork, or shrimp
  • Cook pasta; set aside
  • In the mantime, heat olive oil and sesame oil in a large pan or wok
  • Add garlic, saute. Add red pepper flakes.
  • Add all veggies except cabbage; saute 2 min. Add cabbage and saute 1 min
  • Add soy sauce and almost all of the chicken broth
  • Once cooked, either remove the veggies into a bowl or use a separate pot for the next step
  • Heat some oil, 2 tbs soy sauce, 1 tbs sesame oil, and the rest of the chicken broth. Add pasta and toss. Add cooked veggies.
I know it's not 100% authentic, but it tasted very good and was the perfect answer to our Chinese takeout cravings!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Buffalo Chicken and Blue Cheese Orzo

What goes better with buffalo chicken than blue cheese, right? I decided to make buffalo chicken bites tonight and wanted to make a side with blue cheese. I thought about doing oven baked fries with a blue cheese dipping sauce, blue cheese scalloped potatoes, and even blue cheese twice baked potatoes, but since Jon isn't a potato fan and none of my ideas seemed all that exciting, I decided to keep looking.

I then found a great recipe on - Caramelized Onion and Blue Cheese Orzo. THIS grabbed my attention so I decided to give it a try. It was amazing!!! I wasn't sure if this was the right side for such a casual chicken dish, but it was perfect. Jon even agreed with me.

Here is my recipe for the buffalo chicken bites:

- Trim chicken and cut into chunks. Marinate in Frank's Red Hot or some other hot pepper sauce for a few hours.
- When you are ready to cook, mix breadcrumbs, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Pour some of the hot pepper sauce into another bowl.
- Dip each piece of chicken in the hot sauce and then coat in the breadcrumbs and place in a large baking dish.
- Cook on 375 for about 15 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through. Turn the broiler on for the last few minutes of cooking.
- Remove the chicken from the oven and dip each nugget in Frank's Red Hot Sauce and then put into a serving dish. I didn't want them to get soggy so I didn't fully dip each piece in the sauce.

They were very spicy - just the way we like them! To make a less spicy version, don't marinate or dip the chicken in the hot sauce. Instead, dip them in flour, egg, and then the bread crumbs. Also, don't add cayenne to your breadcrumbs.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Pepper Steak over Rice

This is another dish inspired by food I've had in Chinese restaurants. It's very similar to the Beef with Broccoli that I make, and it's just as easy.

- 1 pound lean steak sliced into thin strips
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 red pepper cut into strips
- 1/2 green pepper cut into strips
- 1/2 yellow onion cut into strips
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 package dry gravy mix, mixed with 1 c cold water

- Marinate your steak in the soy sauce and Worcestershire for a few hours. If you don't have time to marinate, just add these sauces when cooking.
- Add steak to a hot saute pan. Cook about halfway draining some of the excess fat.
- Add the garlic (pressed), red and green peppers, onions, and red pepper flakes. Cover and let cook for about 3-4 minutes over medium heat.
- Add the gravy, stir, cover, and let simmer for about 15 minutes until the sauce thickens.
- Serve over rice.

This dinner takes about 25 minutes to cook, about 35 minutes including prep time.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Risotto Balls with a Garlic Dipping Sauce

Last night I made spinach-shiitake risotto (one post down). I made more than usual so I'd have leftovers to make something I've always wanted to try - Risotto Balls. I had them for the first time at Stephen Starr's restaurant in Philadelphia, Washington Square. Ever since, I've looked for them on every restaurant menu.

Since this was my firs time making them, I expected them to come out a little soggy or in funny shapes, but they were perfect! They tasted great, even better than some we've had at restaurants. Once the risotto is made they are very easy to put together.

I took about 3/4 cup leftover risotto. It's best if it is a day old.

Take a small ice cream scooper and scoop out a small ball. Form it into a round ball, flatten it a bit, insert a mini mozzarella ball, then re-roll it into a ball. Roll it in flour to coat and set on a plate. Continue this until all of the balls have been rolled. I then put them in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

When you are ready to cook them, heat about 1/2 inch of light olive oil in a saute pan. Dip each ball in egg and then a bread crumb mixture. Place them into the hot oil and cook on each side for about 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel so the extra grease is soaked up. They looked so perfect and crispy!

I made a dipping sauce to go along with them. I tweaked a recipe I got from Nestie bakingblonde on The original recipe called for thawed and drained frozen spinach, and did not call for sour cream. Here is my version:

- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 green onion, chopped
- juice of 1/2 of a lemon
- 2 tbsp sour cream
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the garlic and cook til lightly browned. Set aside to cool. In the meantime, mix the mayo, sour cream, lemon juice, and green onions. Add the garlic/oil once cooled.

The sauce was really good with the risotto balls, and they also would have been good with a marinara sauce or on their own. I'm really happy with the way everything turned out, and I think I'm going to sneak off to the kitchen for leftovers!!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Spinach-Shiitake Risotto with Grilled Filet Mignon

Whenever we grill filet I love to make risotto. As always, Jon was in charge of the filet.

Filet Mignon

He rubbed spices onto each filet in this order: onion powder, salt, cumin, cayenne, then garlic powder. They sat in the fridge for about 25 minutes before grilling. The "smoke" from the cumin was the perfect compliment to the risotto

Spinach-Shiitake Risotto

  • 5 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup of dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1.5 cups of arborio rice
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • shredded Parmesan and asiago cheeses (about 1/3 cup total)

Cooking it - you'll need 2 small pots and 1 large saute pan:

  • Heat about 2 cups of water in one of the pots; add spinach and cook for 1 minute. Remove it with a slotted spoon and press the water out. Set spinach aside, squeeze the water out, and chop it. Keep the spinach water warm on the stove. OR: stir in the spinach at the end as it will wilt from the heat of the rice.
  • In another pot, heat your chicken broth. Add the mushrooms and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Removed the mushrooms, chop, and set aside. Keep the broth warm.
  • In your saute pan, melt the butter
  • Add garlic and shallots; sautee
  • Add rice, stir for about 30 seconds
  • Add white wine and stir until the liquid has absorbed
  • Add 1 ladle of the spinach water; stir until the liquid has absorbed. Continue this process using the chicken broth, and ever now and then add some of the spinach water.
  • After about 18 minutes, add the chopped spinach and mushrooms
  • After about 20 minutes your rice should be tender. Add your final ladle of broth. When it is halfway absorbed, add your cheeses. Stir until all of the liquid has absorbed.
  • Flavor with salt and pepper if needed.

We had some French bread leftover from last night's dinner so I decided to make some homemade croutons. I tossed torn up pieces of the bread with olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and Parmesan cheese. Bake them on a cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, tossing halfway through. I turned the broiler on for the last 2 minutes. to give them a nice color.

Stay tuned - tomorrow I plan to turn my leftover risotto into mozzarella stuffed risotto balls!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

I made a really yummy stuffed chicken tonight. Mine was a little different than Jon's (mine is pictured above, his is at the end of this post) - he doesn't like prosciutto so I only used it in my chicken.

How I did it...

  • I took three thinly sliced chicken breasts and pounded them out just a little more.
  • The stuffing was layered on top of the chicken like this - 1 slice of prosciutto, a few pieces of fresh spinach, tiny chunks of Gruyere cheese, tiny pieces of chopped red pepper, and garlic (roasted for me, raw minced for DH).
  • I rolled the chicken up and tied each piece with kitchen twine. A tip I picked up for rolling chicken - put a piece of plastic wrap under the chicken and use it to get a good hold on the chicken and to roll it tightly.
  • I drizzled each roll with EVOO and sprinkled them with some Italian breadcrumbs.
  • They baked on 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. They were so pretty when we sliced into them!

I served the chicken with plain white rice and roasted broccoli (broccoli tossed with EVOO, salt, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes). I had some tomatoes that needed to be used so I roasted them in olive oil with a few cloves of garlic - what a perfect, summery side.