Monday, January 30, 2012

Recipe Makeover - Veggie Lo Mein

When I was a kid, my parents always took us to Philadelphia's Chinatown for dinner and I LOVED it. I couldn't get enough of the tea, the wonton soup, the fried noodles with duck sauce and spicy mustard, and my favorite dish to order was Vegetable Lo Mein. Still, to this day, I always get Lo Mein when having Chinese food.

I have made Lo Mein at home before, but could never get the sauce just right... until last week that is! I think I finally figured out what makes the sauce. Besides the right flavors, it's flour! Flour mixed in with the broth and other liquid ingredients makes the sauce stick to the noodles and veggies. My Lo Mein was perfect!

Here is what I did -


  • 1 head of broccoli chopped into florets
  • 1/2 red pepper, julienned
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 sm can water chestnuts
  • 1 sm can bean sprouts
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 lb thick spaghetti
  • 1 tbsp oil (I used olive oil; vegetable oil would work well)
  • 1.5 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tsp flour
  • Approximately 1/2 c low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp mirin


  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop broccoli in for 2 minutes; remove and run under cold water. Drain and squeeze gently to get the excess water out.
  • Cook paste in the water you used to blanch the broccoli.
  • In a large saute pan or wok, heat oil over high heat
  • Add carrots and peppers; saute 3-4 minutes.
  • Add broccoli, garlic, bean sprouts, and water chestnuts. Saute 2-3 minutes.
  • In a bowl, mix the broth, soy sauce, and mirin with the flour. Add to the pan and bring to a steady simmer.
  • Add pasta and toss everything to coat.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Crock Pot Asian Pulled Pork

The theme for the most recent Taste of Home Cooking Recipe Swap was healthy dishes, and I was given this recipe for Crock Pot Asian Pork from Jenna's blog. There they were, those two little words... crock pot.

Confession - I have never cooked with my crock pot. Never. I used it once to keep meatballs warm at a party, but that's the most use it has ever gotten. I always figured that whatever I could do in a crock pot I could also do in my Dutch oven, so why bother with the crock pot? And believe me, as I started to cook my swap recipe I was tempted to just throw it all into my Dutch oven because it just didn't feel like I was cooking, but I stuck with it. The pork was amazingly tender and pulled apart very easily, but I'm honestly not sure if I'll use the crock pot more frequently - I love my Dutch oven. I will, however, be making this pork again!

Upon reading the recipe I immediately knew I had to change one thing - the use of splenda. I do not consider any artificial sweeteners to be healthy, at ALL. No nutra-sweet, splenda, "sugar-free" products or diet sodas here! So I decided to use agave nectar as a sweetener. Agave nectar is a lot sweeter than sugar or artificial sweeteners, so you don't need as much.

Below is the recipe using agave, and with a few other minor changes.


  • 2 lb lean boneless pork roast
  • For the pork: kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup low-sodium fat-free chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1.5 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger root
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I like to balance the sweetness with something spicy)
  • 6 baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • Toppings: fresh cilantro and sliced green onions


  • Season pork with salt, pepper, and garlic powder
  • Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat; brown pork on all sides, approximately 7-8 minutes.
  • Combine chicken broth, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, agave nectar, sesame oil, crushed garlic, ginger root, water, and optional red pepper flakes in the crock pot
  • When the pork is browned, place into the crock pot
  • Cook on low for 8 hours (I only had 6 hours so I cooked it for 3 on high and 3 on low). Note: your pork may not be completely submerged in liquid. If it isn't, flip it every 30 minutes or so.
  • About an hour before you're about to serve, remove the pork and shred it. Put the shredded pork back into the crock pot with the mushrooms until the mushrooms are soft and have absorbed some of the liquid.
  • Serve over rice and top with the green onions and cilantro

YUM! I loved the sauce - sweet, rich, and just a hint of spice - and the cilantro added the perfect fresh burst of flavor. The pork was so tender and flavorful, and my toddler even loved it! And I had so much fun taking pictures of this pork since I actually had some natural light when it was done, I'm going to share another one with you. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lager Braised Beef Short Ribs

Pennsylvania is home to one of the best beers around from the oldest brewery in America - Yuengling. And when at a bar in PA and you want a Yuengling, you only need to say that you'd like a Lager and everyone knows exactly what you want. I decided to use Yuengling to braise my short ribs over the weekend based on a recipe I saw on the Magic Hat web site. Below is my version using Yuengling. Ingredients

  • 2.5 pounds of bone-in beef short ribs (this was 8 short ribs)
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 carrots cut into chunks
  • 2 stalks of celery cut into chunks
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 8 oz Yuengling lager
  • 2 c beef stock


  • Heat oven to 300 degrees.
  • Put short ribs in a large bowl. Toss with the flour, salt, and pepper.
  • Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add short ribs and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  • Add onions, garlic, carrots, and celery to the pot; saute 10 minutes.
  • Return short ribs to the pan in a single layer, nestled into the veggies.
  • Add the thyme, chipotle powder, brown sugar, tomato paste, beer, and stock.
  • Stir everything together, cover, and transfer to the oven.
  • I cooked the ribs for one hour on 300 then 3 hours on 275. I still had about 30 minutes until we were ready to eat, so I turned the oven to 225 just to keep them warm.

The meat was falling off the bone tender - just the way they should be!! Short ribs are pretty fatty, so you might want to pour the gravy through a separator before serving.

I served the ribs over bacon-cheddar mashed potatoes - just perfect!!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cheddar-Bacon Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes have to be one of my favorite foods. And with bacon and cheese? Yes please!

Over the weekend I made Lager Braised Beef Short Ribs. The author of the inspiration recipe served them with cheddar-bacon grits. I decided to use potatoes instead of grits.

I don't measure my ingredients when making mashed potatoes - you just have to go by look, feel, and taste. So here is a loose recipe for the potatoes.


  • 2.5 lbs red potatoes
  • Salt
  • Butter - approximately 2-3 tablespoons
  • Whole milk - approximately 3/4 cup
  • 2 handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 5 pieces of cooked bacon, crumbled
  • Next time I will also add a tablespoon or two of sour cream
  • Put potatoes in a large pot of water; bring to a boil. Cook until fork tender, drain water and return pot of potatoes to burner over low heat.
  • Add butter, salt, and most of the milk.
  • Mix with a hand mixer until creamy and smooth, adding more of the above ingredients as needed.
  • Add cheese and bacon near the end, and garnish with more of the bacon.

YUM!!! Even better, these potatoes turn into great potato pancakes for breakfast the next day!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Simple Lasagna

I haven't made lasagna in years, but have been craving it recently so I picked up a box of the no-boil noodles. I didn't follow a recipe, only the instructions on the back of the box for how to make sure the noodles cook properly.

I made a very simple, basic, meat and cheese lasagna. Below is my recipe.


  • 1.5 lbs of ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb mix
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley, separated
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 24 oz jar of your favorite tomato sauce
  • 1/2 c water
  • 20 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 4 oz shredded mozzarella
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 oz fresh mozzarella
  • Handful of shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 box of no-boil lasagna noodles (12 noodles)


  • Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat
  • Add your beef and brown for a few minutes while separating the meat into small pieces
  • Add onions and garlic, let cook another few minutes, stirring continuously
  • Add the oregano, Italian herbs, and 1T of the dried parsley
  • Once the meat is completely cooked, add the jar of sauce. Pour the water into the empty jar, close it an shake it up, an pour that into the pan as well. Let simmer just a few minutes.
  • Mix the ricotta with the egg, salt, pepper, remaining parsley, and the shredded mozzarella.
  • Start to assemble the lasagna - start with a very thin layer of sauce at the bottom of a greased pan, top with 3 noodles laid crosswise (make sure they aren't touching - they will expand when they cook), then some of the ricotta mixture, meat, a few pieces of the fresh mozzarella. Repeat - noodles, ricotta, meat, fresh mozzarella; noodles, ricotta, meat, fresh mozzarella; last 3 noodles, rest of the ricotta, meat, fresh mozzarella, then the Parmesan.
  • Bake on 350 - covered for 45 minutes, uncovered for 15 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Perfect! Like I said, I have never used those no-boil noodles, but was pretty happy with how they worked. And wow, so much easier than boiling noodles and trying to get them out of the water and into a pan without breaking them or dropping them. This lasagna hit the spot!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

White Cheddar Chicken Pasta

This recipe has been making its way around the food blog world for a while, so I had to give it a try. It's a creamy and cheesy sauce with a hint of Dijon mustard served over herbed chicken and pasta - sounds delicious, doesn't it? It was!

The sauce reminded me a lot of the Dijon-chive sauce I made for pork, found here.

The recipe is originally by Homemade by Holman, and I first saw it on the Taste of Home Cooking blog. I made some minor changes, so my version is below.

For the chicken:

  • 1 pound chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 pound penne pasta
For the sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 8 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Parmesan cheese to taste


  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Season chicken with the dry mustard, thyme, salt and pepper
  • When pan is hot, add chicken and brown about on all sides until cooked through, about 8 minutes. Remove to a plate and cover with foil.
  • Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.
  • Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet you used to cook the chicken. Add garlic and onions and cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the flour and whisk to combine.
  • Add wine; cook about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to low and add broth, cream, thyme, oregano, and Dijon, stirring to combine. Cook about 5-7 minutes more until mixture begins to thicken.
  • Add cheddar cheese, stirring to melt cheese.
  • Add chicken and pasta and toss to incorporate sauce.
  • Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Loved this - nice and creamy, and I loved the combination of the sharp cheddar with the Dijon mustard. I will definitely make this one again!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chicken in a Tomato-Basil Broth over Cous Cous

Tomatoes and basil in any dish together scream summer to me. And since we are in the middle of winter (actually, not even.. we have quite a bit of winter to go), who doesn't need a little bit of summer?

This recipe was inspired by a recipe in the blog I was given for the most recent Taste of Home Cooking recipe swap. For this swap, instead of submitting a specific recipe, we simply submitted our blogs and were given another blog from which we could choose any recipe. The blog I was given was Does Not Cook Well with Others. I browsed through her recipes, and decided to use this recipe for Chicken Tomato Basil Cous-Cous Salad as my inspiration. The original recipe is a cold salad, but I wanted to bring the flavors of summer to a hot dish.

Here is what I did -


  • 1 box of pearled cous cous
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts pounded to 1/2 inch thickness
  • Salt, pepper, Italian herbs (I use McCormick Perfect Pinch Italian - it's just dried herbs, no salt)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 sm onion, chopped
  • 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar (regular would work fine, but I didn't want to change the color of my dish)
  • 3/4 c low sodium chicken broth
  • Handful of fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade
  • Optional: fresh mozzarella, about 1 tbsp per chicken breast, chopped


  • Cook cous cous according to package directions
  • Season chicken with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning
  • Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat
  • Add chicken; saute 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a dish and keep warm.
  • Add a touch of olive oil to your pan if it is dry. Add garlic and onions; saute 2 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes, saute 2 minutes.
  • Add balsamic vinegar and stir into ingredients for about 30 seconds.
  • Add chicken broth and half of your basil. Bring to a steady simmer.
  • Return chicken to the pan and let simmer 5 minutes.
  • Serve over cous cous, top with the tomato broth, basil, and and the fresh mozzarella

Yes, this definitely tasted like summer!! Now if only I could wear flip-flops instead of boots...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sweet and Spicy Asian Chicken with Brussels Sprouts

Last summer, Jon and I spent our anniversary dinner at Buddakan in Philadelphia, which is now on my list of top restaurants. Not only is the food out of this world, the atmosphere is so unique. From the two levels of interesting seating (complete with chairs with very life-like faces on them) and the loud music to the funky lighting and even a giant Buddha on one end of the dining room, this is a place you just have to experience. When our friends were coming to visit over the Thanksgiving holidays, I was excited to go back to Buddakan.

Everything we have tried there has been absolutely fabulous, but my favorite dish is one of their sides - Wok Charred Brussels Sprouts. They are so tender yet charred perfectly, and are served in a bowl with the most delicious sauce - flavors of soy and ginger and a few other things I just can't put my finger on (although I really want to recreate this dish!!).

I was craving these Brussels Sprouts a few weeks ago, and I happened to have some fresh ones in the fridge, so I threw together a chicken dish with Brussels sprouts that had flavors pretty similar to those at Buddakan. It was quick and easy too - another plus!

My recipe is my own creation, and was inspired by this recipe for Spicy Asian Chicken with Brussels Sprouts.


  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into disc shaped, 1/3 inch thick pieces (see pictures)
  • 2 carrots, chopped into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 c low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 c low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 c rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp chili garlic paste
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • Brussels sprouts - about 20 of them, cleaned, bottoms chopped off, then sliced into disc shaped pieces.
  • Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan or wok over medium high heat
  • Add chicken, saute 2 minutes
  • Add carrots, onions, and garlic; saute 5 minutes
  • Mix broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili garlic paste, brown sugar, and ginger; Add to pan, bring to a boil for 4-5 minutes.
  • Add the Brussels sprouts and let simmer 5 minutes.
  • Serve over rice or noodles.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mahogany Beef Stew

If I had to choose my favorite thing about Sundays besides having my family around, it would be cooking. Sunday is a day when I can spend some time in the kitchen creating something comforting and delicious for my family to enjoy.

So this Sunday I decided to make beef stew, but wanted something different than my favorite Guinness Beef Stew (which was my absolute favorite beef stew until about 4 hours ago...).

I came across a recipe for Mahogany Beef Stew on the Epicurious site and was intrigued by the use of tomatoes with Italian herbs along side hoisin sauce. I love both ingredients, so read the recipe, made a few changes, changed the cooking method a bit, and created the most amazing stew.

Some changes I made - I seared the beef in one pan and the onions in another, then deglazed the beef pan with the red wine. I used half the wine required by the recipe and replaced the other half with beef broth. I added some cayenne pepper to cut the sweetness because sweet-spicy works great with hoisin and a spicy ingredient, like in this hoisin steak sauce (red pepper flakes would work very well too). I also doubled the amount of tomatoes, increased the cooking time, and kept it low and slow all day. So if you make this recipe, give yourself about 4-5 hours of cooking time before you plan to eat it.


  • 3.5 to 4 pounds chuck roast cut into 2 inch cubes
  • For the beef: 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp cayenne or red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, 1 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil for your pans
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 c Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 28 oz diced tomatoes with Italian herbs, and the juices
  • 6 oz hoisin sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 carrots, sliced into one inch pieces
  • 1 c beef broth (1/2 c, and 1/2 c mixed with 2 tsp cornstarch)
  • Equipment: one large stainless saute pan for searing the beef and one large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot for cooking the stew


  • Toss meat with the olive oil, salt, pepper, flour, and cayenne/red pepper flakes
  • Heat olive oil in both the saute pan and Dutch oven, both over medium-high heat
  • Add meat to the saute pan, brown on all sides
  • At the same time, add onions to the Dutch oven and saute 8-10 minutes
  • Transfer the beef to the Dutch oven
  • Add wine to the saute pan where you cooked the beef, bring to a simmer and scrape up all the brown bits. Transfer the wine to the beef/onion mixture in the Dutch oven.
  • Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, and hoisin to the Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then let simmer over medium/low heat for 2-3 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so.
  • Two hours before you are ready to eat, add the 1/2 c beef broth, the 1/2 c beef broth mixed with cornstarch, and the carrots to the pot.
  • Let simmer until you are ready to eat, stirring every 15 minutes.
  • Remove bay leaves and serve.

The flavors in this stew were so intense and delicious. I served it with mashed potatoes and LOVED the gravy over the potatoes. I will absolutely make this one again - I'm already excited for leftovers tomorrow!!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Asparagus-Ham Frittata

A Frittata is such an easy, elegant dish to serve for breakfast or brunch. You can add any meats, cheeses, or veggies that you like, making the flavor options endless. Here is a recipe for another frittata in my blog, broccoli-red pepper-potato.

This post is a bit late as I made this asparagus-ham frittata for my mom's birthday back in November. But I have a few minutes now and this dish was too good not to share.

If you make this, be sure to buy a really good aged white cheddar (nothing already shredded in a bag - go for a block and shred it yourself) as well as a tasty ham - the strong, savory flavors of these ingredients really make this dish!


  • 10 eggs
  • 1/4 c light cream
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, top half only, sliced into 1-inch pieces on the diagonal
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/4 c shredded aged white cheddar
  • 4-5 slices deli ham; I chose ham off the bone.
  • A few pinches of salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning (contains marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil)
  • 1 tbsp butter and 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Whisk eggs with cream, salt, pepper, herbs, and most of the cheese
  • Add butter and oil to an oven-safe pan over medium heat. I used a 10-inch stainless frying/saute pan.
  • Add onions and asparagus; saute 3-4 minutes
  • Add ham; spread everything evenly in the bottom of the pan.
  • Turn heat to medium-low. Pour eggs into pan and run your spatula through the eggs in quick back and forward motions for 10 seconds or so. Also run your spatula around the edges to form a nice, clean edge.
  • Let cook on the stovetop for a few minutes, top with the rest of the cheese, and then transfer to the oven. Cook until completely set, about 15 minutes.
  • Slice and serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bacon-Blue Cheese Dip

Another holiday appetizer!

Bacon makes everything better, so when I first saw this dip on the blog Pink Parsley, I knew I had to make it. We went to visit my cousins over the holidays, so it was the perfect opportunity to make this dip.

Yes, I loved it, and yes, I did reheat the leftovers for 2 nights (I doubled the recipe so I'd have leftovers...). This dip is very rich and isn't something I would make a habit of eating every weekend, but for a party, football game, or the holidays, this dip is sure to be a hit. Just make sure you make a little extra in case you can't get anywhere near it during your party!


  • 7 slices bacon, chopped (preferably thick-cut, applewood smoked bacon) (I used reduced sodium bacon)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened (reduced fat is fine)
  • 1/3 cup half-and-half, heavy cream, or Greek yogurt (I used half-and-half)
  • 4 oz crumbled blue cheese
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh chives
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grapes, for serving
  • crackers, for serving
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cook the bacon in a skillet until browned and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
  • Pour off all but about 1 tsp fat, and add the garlic. Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Beat cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth.
  • Add the bacon (reserve a small amount for garnish), garlic, half-and-half, blue cheese, and chives. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Spoon into a lightly greased serving dish, and bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Garnish with reserved bacon and allow to cool slightly before serving. Serve with grapes and crackers.