Friday, December 26, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also loved my simple centerpiece -

And finally, our adorable dog being such an angel -

Christmas Day 2008: Apps, Veggies, and Sides

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Eve 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Mix all ingredients and chill.

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lasagna Rolls

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

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


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


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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cauliflower Gratin

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


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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shredded Pork - Mexican Style

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

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


For braising pork:

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

For the second step:

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


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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chicken-Vegetable Lasagna

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


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

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

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

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Risotto with Asparagus-Shiitake Ragout

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

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

My Basic Risotto

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


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

Asparagus-Shiitake Ragout

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

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


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

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

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

Hope everyone had a great weekend!