Easy Peasy Chili…

There are certain meals that just become necessary to make once the weather gets cooler – pot roast, beef stew, roast chicken… And one of my all time favorite cooler weather meals has to be chili. It is so easy to make and I serve it with shredded cheddar cheese and diced sweet onion and boy or boy, does it ever stick to your ribs! Chili is the ultimate in comfort food on a crisp Fall evening.

What I like about chili is it’s so easy to make. There are a couple of hints to making a chili that suits our needs that I will share. But bottom line, the chili pot is your canvas and you can make chili basically any way you want. I will share with you my go-to recipe.

So let’s talk chili…

Chili Ingredients

Lesson Learned 1 – The onions: I use a large sweet onion when I make my chili. I dice the onion and use about three quarters of it in the chili itself. The rest I set aside and use as a raw topping when I serve the chili. I’ve found the best way to use these onions to enhance the flavor of the chili is to caramelize them. That takes a little time. The pictures below show how I dice the onions and the onions when they first become translucent. The photo below them shows when they are caramelized. Technically you can use them either way but I’ve found if you take the extra time and let them caramelize they add more flavor to the chili.

The challenge when you caramelize onions is the extra time. Normally I can get them the way I want them (as pictured below in the bottom photo) in about 15 minutes. If you want to cook your chili faster that may not be an option. But if you can take your time with this first step you will definitely taste the benefits of doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Learned 2 – The importance of seasoning during the initial stages: I find if I season the onions and the meat with salt and pepper each time during the first two steps the flavor of the chili is greatly enhanced. Besides is their anything better than the smell of onions seasoned with salt and pepper cooking on the stove? So after I season the onions and let them caramelize I add the meat and season the meat with salt and pepper as well. It may seem like a lot of seasoning but it actually is not.

After that I don’t add any more salt and pepper until the very end after all the ingredients have been added and combined. At that time I taste the chili to see if it needs anymore salt and pepper. Very seldom do I have to add any at the end. Seasoning the first two layers and then adding the other seasonings makes a big difference in the end result. Don’t forget to do this.

Lesson Learned 3 – When to add the garlic:  I’ve tried adding the garlic a couple of different ways and have landed on a preferred choice when I make chili. You can always add the garlic once you caramelized the onions but I prefer adding them to the ground beef just before I start adding the other ingredients. I allow them to cook in the meat for a minute or so until fragrant and then I continue adding the rest of the ingredients. I find this totally prevents the garlic from burning and better infuses the garlic into the chili.

Lesson Learned 4 – Chopping the green pepper: I guess I don’t actually chop the green pepper – it’s more like dicing. I like the pieces small so that they add flavor to the chili but aren’t necessarily highly visible. The green pepper flavor, in my estimation, balances some of the heat of the chili and adds a nice freshness to it. The pictures below show how I prepare the green pepper:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Learned 5 – Chili seasoning: I’ve experimented with a lot of different ways to season my chili and finally chose my preferred method. I use McCormick Mild Chili Seasoning Mix because we prefer our chili on the mild side but you can make it has hot as you like. McCormick has a few varieties of seasonings and if you can’t find a seasoning mix that gets you the heat you crave you can always add red pepper flakes. This seasoning mix contains a blend of chili pepper, paprika, cumin, onion salt and garlic. I also add about a teaspoon of chili powder and this combination of seasonings gives us the kind of chili we prefer.

Lesson Learned 6 – The mushrooms: I am a big fan of fresh mushrooms especially now when you can buy them in bulk. This time I had a jar of canned mushrooms in the pantry that I wanted to use so I went that route. Either way, add the mushrooms at the very end so that they don’t overcook. Generally I add fresh sliced mushrooms to my chili.

Lesson Learned 7 – A little bit of tomato paste helps thicken the sauce: Here’s a handy dandy little trick. Add about a tablespoon of tomato paste to the ground beef before you add the seasonings. This will help thicken the sauce. Look for tomato paste that’s sold in a tube. That way you’ll have no waste and can use it whenever you need versus wasting a whole small can.

Lesson Learned 8 – Simmering the chili: I’ve found the best way to meld all the flavors in the chili is to let it simmer for about an hour. Put your heat on very low and stir the chili occasionally making sure none burns on the bottom of the pan. Then the chili is ready to serve. And, of course, if you have the luxury, you can always let it sit overnight to let the flavors meld.

So that’s basically it. Once you’ve browned the ground beef and added the seasonings it’s just drop in and stir from there…

Stir in the diced tomatoes

Drop in the beans

Add the mushrooms and green pepper

IMG_5714

Stir and simmer for about an hour and you’re done. I serve this chili over rice, my husband’s preference, or over elbow macaroni, my preference. Or you can serve it plain. I add shredded cheddar and raw diced onion to mine, but you can top it with sour cream, guacamole, diced jalapeños, or whatever you like. I’ve been making this recipe for years and have it down to a science. It is unbelievably easy to make and so good. Try it. I know you’ll love it!

Easy Peasy Chili...

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 Tbs. butter (or 1 Tbs. butter and 1 Tbs. olive oil)

1 large sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds ground beef, 85% lean

1 Tbs. tomato paste

I pkg. McCormicks mild chili seasoning

1 tsp. chili powder

1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1 20 oz. can of chili beans in chili sauce

1 10 oz. can of sliced mushrooms, drained

1 green pepper, diced

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Serve with rice or elbow macaroni, optional

Toppings can include: Shredded cheese, raw onion, sour cream, guacamole, sliced jalapeño peppers, or whatever your preference

DIRECTIONS:

In a 5.5 quart dutch oven melt the butter. On a medium heat add the onions and cook until caramelized, approximately 15 minutes. Season the onions with salt and pepper while cooking. Push the onions to the side and add the ground beef. Layer the cooked onions on top of the beef. Break up the ground beef with a spoon and cook through, seasoning the ground beef at the beginning with salt and pepper. Once cooked, stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, approximately 1 minute.

Stir in the tomato paste and thoroughly combine. Stir in the chili seasoning and chili powder. Add the diced tomatoes. Stir to combine. Add the chili beans. Stir to combine. Cook for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and the green pepper. Gently stir to combine. Taste to see if any additional salt and pepper is needed.

Cover and simmer for one hour. Serve with desired accompaniments.

 

 

 

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Slow Roasted Chicken And Rice…

My last blog was about my favorite carb “taters”. This blog is about my favorite protein, chicken! I kid you not, I could eat chicken every single night of the week. Nothing tops it in my book. So, as with “taters”, I am always on the lookout for new chicken recipes and the easier the better.

Let me tell you, nothing can be easier than this one. It is pretty much a retro classic and so good to make when you have little time to prepare something. The only glitch is it takes 2 1/2 hours to roast in the oven, but it’s one of those recipes where you prep it and forget it.

This recipe relies on canned soup, cream of chicken and cream of celery, and with a little water, rice, poultry seasoning and carrots you have an entire meal in one pan ready to serve all at the same time. Plus it creates a fabulous aroma in your kitchen. You can’t beat that.

So let’s talk slow roasted chicken and rice…

Lesson Learned 1 – Buy chicken breasts with skin and ribs and debone the chicken yourself: You want to do this for a couple of reasons. First it is much less expensive to buy chicken this way. Second by leaving the skin on it keeps the breast nice and moist during the slow roasting process. Invest in a good boning knife and regularly maintain it with a hand sharpening tool like the one pictured to the left. It is surprisingly inexpensive and will keep your knife nice and sharp for a long time and boning the chicken breasts will be a breeze. These days it’s pretty hard to find boneless breasts with the skin still on so this may be the only way to do it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a rice mixture for an extra flavor boost: Go ahead, be adventurous and use a rice mixture instead of just plain white rice. You can use wild rice, basmati rice or the mixture that I use which is a combination of white, brown, wild and red rice and pictured to the right. You’ll be amazed at how it punches up the flavor volume and makes the dish even more interesting.

Lesson Learned 3 – If you use thick carrots cut them in half lengthwise: I found the best way to make sure that the carrots are soft roasted is to cut them in half lengthwise if they are an inch or more thick. If they’re thick and you simply cut them in chunks they will not be as tender. If you like a little more body to your carrots you can certainly roast them without cutting them in half. With this recipe I prefer the carrots soft roasted and found the best way to achieve that is cut any that are overly thick. The decision is totally yours.

There are not a lot of lessons learned to share on this one as it is so darn easy to make. I love this recipe because it is a great blend of convenience and good flavor and cooks in one pan. Try this one and I know it will become a staple in your home…

Slow Roasted Chicken And Rice...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 10 ounce can cream of celery soup

1 10 ounce can cream of chicken soup

5 – 10 ounces of water (the more water the creamier the rice)

3/4 cup of rice

1 Tbs. poultry seasoning

4 small or 2 large boneless chicken breasts with skin on

4-6 carrots sliced lengthwise and cut into chunks

1 tsp. McCormick Perfect Pinch Rotisserie Chicken Seasoning

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sized bowl combine the soups, water, rice and poultry seasoning. Chop carrots into chunks.

Spray a 9  x 13 pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spread the soup mixture across the bottom of the pan. Place chicken breasts on top of soup mixture. Arrange carrots around the chicken breasts. Sprinkle the top of the chicken breasts with the rotisserie chicken seasoning.

Cover with foil and roast in the oven for 2 1/2 hours. Do not remove the foil during the entire roasting process. Remove from the oven and uncover. If using large breasts, cut them in half before serving. Serve immediately.

Soup Mixture Ingredients

Arrange The Ingredients In A Prepared Pan

Cover With Foil And Roast

Serving Suggestion

Slow Cooker Honey BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches…

If you are looking for an easy, and I do mean easy, meal to prepare look no further. I served this meal a couple of times now and it always turns out perfectly and it’s always super delicious. I have to admit I was initially skeptical about how this would turn it, but it was absolutely fabulous. When you know you’re going to have a busy day and you still want to have a good meal at dinnertime, this recipe is the answer to that dilemma.

So let’s talk slow cooker honey bbq pulled chicken sandwiches…

Lesson Learned 1 – Try to use chicken breasts with the skin on: I normally buy chicken breasts with the skin on and rib portions attached. First they are cheaper when purchased that way and second it’s easy to remove the rib portion and you’re left with a skin-on breast. Chicken can dry out very easily in a slow cooker and often can get overcooked. With the skin on it gives the breast meat more moisture during the cooking process and that is what you’re looking for. But sometimes you just can’t find them that way and that’s ok as well. Both times I made this recipe I had skinless breasts in the freezer and so I used them. But in my experience with other recipes, skin on breasts are preferred when cooking them in a slow cooker.

It’s also important to season them as well. I seasoned mine with kosher salt, pepper and McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Rotisserie Chicken seasoning blend. I really like this blend as it gives the chicken a great rotisserie chicken flavor. Try it and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a slow cooker liner for this recipe: The sugar and honey in the bbq sauce can cause a mess that is very hard to clean up if it burns into your ceramic crock. Personally I am not a fan of slow cooker liners but I use them for this recipe. If you use one, clean up is a breeze and you don’t wind up with burnt bbq sauce all over your crock.

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t overcook the chicken: I know, easier said then done, but most people overcook chicken breasts no matter what cooking method they are using. Chicken breasts can be moist as well as cooked through but there is a fine line between when that occurs and dried out chicken.

My rule of thumb is I never cook half breasts (and the ones I used were quite large) for more than 6 hours on low in my slow cooker. A lot of recipes say to cook chicken between 6-8 hours. In my opinion a two hours difference in cooking times is huge. Whenever I’ve cooked chicken in a slow cooker for 8 hours it always turned out dry. But the other variable is your slow cooker. Not all slow cookers are created equal. Know your slow cooker and if for some reason you can cook chicken for 8 hours and it does not dry out that’s fine. But I bet if you cook it for only 6 hours you’ll get a much better result.

Lesson Learned 4 – You can cook a veggie with the chicken if you want to: The first time I made this recipe I only cooked the chicken in the bbq sauce mixture. The second time I added carrots. When it came time to shred the meat I just pulled out the carrots, put them on a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray and kept them in a warm oven until dinner was served. Make sure you use cooking spray on the foil as the remnants of the bb sauce on the carrots will stick to the foil and you don’t want the carrots sticking. Also make sure you don’t use overly thick carrots – they won’t cook through in six hours.

Lesson Learned 5 – Serve the chicken on good sandwich rolls: The sandwich rolls are also important. I served my chicken on brioche buns. I found them at Whole Foods and I have to admit they were a little pricey, $4.99 for six rolls, but boy were they worth it. They were just the perfect compliment to the bbq chicken. I’m not saying you need to invest that much in dinner rolls, but make sure they are fresh and soft. It makes a difference. I served the sandwiches with cole slaw and sliced tomatoes and the meal was a hit!

An easier, more delicious recipe you’d be hard pressed to find. Try it and let me know what you think…

Slow Cooker Honey BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches...

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

3 large chicken breasts, skin on preferred

1 18-ounce bottle of bbq sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s)

1/2 cup Italian salad dressing

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

1-2 Tbs. Perfect Pinch Rotisserie Chicken seasoning

2-3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch logs (optional)

Salt and Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Line the slow cooker with a slow cooker liner. Place chicken in slow cooker. (Place veggies in with the chicken). Season with salt, pepper and rotisserie chicken seasoning.

In a separate bowl combine bbq sauce, Italian dressing, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce. Pour over chicken. Place lid back on top of the slow cooker.

Cook on low for 6 hours. If cooking veggies, remove them onto a foil lined baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Keep in a warm oven until serving.

Remove chicken, take off any skin and shred the breasts using two forks. Place shredded chicken back in the slow cooker and cook on high for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour. Serve on dinner rolls.

Prime Rib Roast…

Happy New Year! I hope your new year is filled with good health and happiness. Mine started off with a bang as I finally ventured into making a prime rib roast. It’s been on my list of “ok, now you have to try this… you betcha can do this” and I decided to jump into the deep end of the pool on the first day of 2017 and tackle this one.

I’ll admit now I was a little nervous. After all prime rib, even when it’s on sale is expensive. And the last thing you want to do is ruin an expensive cut of meat. So you see, even the cooks who have been at it for a while can still get nervous in the kitchen.

And talk about expensive… I decided to check out a prime rib roast at Whole Foods. I only needed a small one, just enough for me and my husband. So, I asked for a two rib roast, between 4-5 pounds. That would give me enough for two people with one dinner of leftovers. The butcher handed me a package for a 4.4 pound roast and the price tag on it was $68.00! I almost choked. As I walked through the store I had many internal conversations with myself trying to see if I could rationalize spending $68 on a cut of meat, albeit prime. When I finally got to the cash register I handed the roast to the checker and said I was sorry but I just couldn’t rationalize spending that much for a roast for two people. She couldn’t have been any sweeter. She said not to worry, it was no big deal and that Whole Foods wants its customers to be comfortable and satisfied with what they purchase. She was great. She took all my guilt away.

Two-Rib Rib RoastI finally worked with a butcher at Safeway who cut me a two rib roast and tied the bones to the bottom as I requested. The roast coast $44 for a 4.3 pound roast. Still expensive, and choice but not prime, but I could rationalize that for a special meal more than $68.00. In the end the roast was fabulous so I was glad I opted for the less expensive cut. My next step was researching various cooking methods and determining what I felt would work for me. So I have some really good lessons learned to share with this blog…

Lesson Learned 1 – Let the roast sit out and get to room temperature: Many people are afraid to do this as they think the meat will spoil. Nothing can be further from the truth. In order to ensure that your roast cooks evenly you have to get it to room temperature. For my 4.3 pound roast I let it sit on the counter for 4 hours. Obviously the larger the roast the longer the time. I spoke with a co-work who made a 9 pound roast over the holidays and she kept hers out for 6 hours. Don’t be afraid to do this. You will be rewarded with an evenly cooked roast and it is perfectly safe.

Lesson Learned 2 – Choose the roasting method that is right for you: When I researched various roasting options, two methods seemed to be most prevalent. Both required cooking the roast at a very high heat for about 20-30 minutes. The difference was the next step. Some recipes suggested turning off the heat in the oven and letting the roast sit in there for several hours, making sure not to open the oven. Others suggested lowering the heat and cooking the roast at a lower heat for a certain amount of minutes per pound. Since everything takes longer to cook in high altitude, I chose the latter. I just didn’t see my roast cooking to medium rare with the oven turned off.

Lesson Learned 3 – Make sure your oven is clean: I cooked my roast at 450 degrees (some recipes call for 500 degrees) for the first 25 minutes. I have a brand new oven and it is really clean. I still set off my smoke alarm. (I forgot to put on the hood fan). My point is, at this high heat the roast will smoke and if you have a dirty oven everything baked on to the walls of your oven will smoke as well, just adding to the problem. So don’t forget to turn on your hood fan and make sure that oven is clean.

Prime Rib With A Garlic, Rosemary & Thyme RubLesson Learned 4 – A rub on the roast makes a difference: I used a rub consisting of olive oil, fresh garlic, fresh rosemary, thyme, and salt and pepper. What I found is the rub creates a delicious crust when cooked at those initial high temperatures. It added a fabulous flavor to the meat. I highly recommend the rub in this recipe. It tasted divine!

Lesson Learned 5 – Use a meat thermometer: The only way to truly know what’s going on with your roast is to use a meat thermometer. I like mine medium rare which means an internal temperature of between 130 – 135 degrees. Keep in mind when you take the roast out of the oven it will continue to cook as it rests, at least another 5 degrees. So if you want medium rare, take the roast out at 130 and you will be fine. This time I chose to make it rare as my husband likes it that way. That is an internal temperature of 120-125. You can easily just put a rare piece in a pan on the stove and heat it gently to bring it up to medium rare. Just keep an eye on it, as it will not take long to get it to medium rare.

Lesson Learned 6 – Let the meat rest: The roast looks so good when it comes out of the oven but you need to give it time to let its juices redistribute before you slice it. Otherwise all the juices will be on your plate and not in the meat. So let the roast sit for 20 minutes. Cover it with foil during that time and after 20 minutes it will be a perfect temperature for serving with the juices redistributed.

Lesson Learned 7 – Make your horseradish cream sauce to taste: Is there any better combination than prime rib and horseradish sauce? If you’ve never tried it you simply must. I will provide some basic guidelines for making this cream sauce but I found when I made mine that I needed to add a lot more horseradish. The jarred horseradish that I had was not overly spicy and so I needed more to get the flavor combination that I liked. But start out with a little horseradish and add from there. Depending upon the type of prepared horseradish you are using, a little may be enough. That was not the case for me.

As you can see there are many things you need to consider in order to make the perfect rib roast. But if you follow these lessons learned you will wind up with a flavorful roast cooked to perfection. Don’t be afraid to do a prime rib roast. You betcha can make this!

PRIME RIB ROAST...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

Prime Rib Roast1 4-5 pound rib roast, bones tied to the bottom

1 cup red wine (I used merlot)

1 cup beef broth

2 Tbs. garlic, minced

2 Tbs. garlic infused olive oil (you can use plain olive oil)

2 Tbs. fresh rosemary, minced

2 Tbs. fresh thyme, minced

1 Tbs. kosher salt

1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Horseradish Sauce:

1/4 cup sour cream

1 -2 Tbs. prepared horseradish

DIRECTIONS:

Remove the roast from the refrigerator and let stand for at least 4 hours. Preheat the oven to 450 and arrange the racks so that the roast will be in the center of the oven. Add the beef broth and wine to the bottom of the roasting pan.

Mix together the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme salt and pepper. Spread the mixture on top of the roast. Place the roast on a rack on top of the beef broth/wine mixture. (At this point if you have an oven safe meat thermometer you will want to put it into the center of the meaty part of the roast making sure to avoid contact with the bones. If you only have an instant meat thermometer you will need to check the roast at various intervals at 1 1/2 hours after lowering the temperature of the oven).

Roast at 450 for 25 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 350 and continue to roast for approximately 15 minutes per pound (at high altitude I found I needed 20 minutes per pound). For medium rare remove the roast when the internal temperature is 130 degrees. Let the roast stand covered with foil for at least 20 minutes.

While the roast is resting place the roasting pan on a burner with the rack removed. Heat the beef broth/wine mixture and remove any fat from the drippings. This can be used as au jus for the roast or gravy for mashed potatoes if you are serving them as a side dish.

For the horseradish sauce, mix the ingredients together, tasting the sauce to ensure you have the right amount of horseradish. Add more if necessary. Chill the mixture until it’s time to serve.

rub

rub ingredients

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

beef broth and wine bath

Prime Rib Roast

Prime Rib Roast

prime rib dinner

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter…

A couple of weeks ago a new Whole Foods store opened near my home. I’m not particularly a big fan of Whole Foods as some of their prices, in my opinion, are completely outrageous. But I do like the fact that if I need something, especially something out of the ordinary, I can always find it there. I also like the fresh seafood they carry. They often carry varieties of fish I can’t find in my local grocery stores. And the fishmongers will filet and debone any whole fish for you on the spot.

I went to the store on opening day and it was crazy. The place was packed but there were so many great things to see and sample. At one point they were cooking lobster tails and giving away samples of them. I actually found yellow grapefruit, which is my favorite. Most stores only carry pink grapefruit  and I prefer the tanginess of the yellow.

And when I walked by the seafood department I was so impressed with the variety of fish they had. For months I had been looking for red snapper filets and there they were, beautiful specimens, right in front of my eyes. I was so excited that I was finally going to be able to try out this recipe.

Now if you’ve not made a lot of fish and are unsure of your skill in this area, I would not start by making a recipe like this using red snapper as the fish. Not that this recipe is all that difficult but snapper is expensive (it cost me $20 for two filets). You might want to hone your fish making skills on less expensive types of fish like tilapia or cod before you venture into making red snapper. This recipe would work very well with either of those types of fish.

But lets talk about lemon red snapper with herb butter…

Lesson Learned 1 – Cut the lemon slices at least 1/4 inch thick: I cut my lemon slices about 1/8 inch thick and they cooked down more than I would have liked. They still infused the fish with great flavor, but you also use the lemon as a garnish when you serve the fish. By cutting the lemons 1/4 inch thick they will have more body after the cooking process.

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Lesson Learned 2 – Not all filets cook the same: It’s never one size fits all when cooking fish filets. Some may be longer and thinner while others are shorter and thicker. The trick is to try to get filets that are similar in size so that they all cook for the same amount of time. The last thing you want to do is overcook an expensive cut of fish like red snapper.

My filets were longer and thinner but still about 1/4 inch thick at the center. When I researched how to cook the snapper the overall consensus seemed to be at 425 for about 13 minutes. But you can’t always follow that. It is important when making fish to develop an eye for determining when the fish is cooked. I judge my fish by looking at the thickest part. It will start to look opaque at each edge and as the fish cooks the opaqueness fills in. When it is almost completely opaque on the side I know my fish is done. These particular filets only took about 10 minutes. So learn how to develop that eye. The filets you choose may have to cook for 13 minutes. I can only tell you that it will take time as well as trial and error to get good at cooking fish.

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t be afraid to make fish: I think the key to making fish is to err on the side of underdone. You can always put the fish back in the oven but you can’t do anything with an overdone dried out piece of fish. Be prepared to do that a few times.  It’s no big deal. I guarantee you that after a while you will develop that eye and become a master at cooking fish.

If you are looking to add more fish in your diet, this is a great recipe to start you on your way. Try it and let me know what you think…

LEMON RED SNAPPER WITH HERB BUTTER...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

2 lemons

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Non-stick cooking spray

4 (6 ounce) red snapper filets

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. freshly cracked pepper

2 Tbs. butter, softened

2 Tbs. fresh thyme, chopped

1 Tbs. lemon zest (the zest of a medium sized lemon)

DIRECTIONS:

Remove the filets from the refrigerator and let them stand for about 20 minutes. (this will take the chill off of them and make the cooking time more true. It is completely safe).

Zest one lemon and set aside. Cut lemons into 8 quarter inch pieces. Place slices in pairs on a rimmed baking sheet covered in foil and coated with cooking spray.  Place 1 filet on top of each pair of lemons. Combine salt, paprika, garlic powder and pepper and sprinkle over the filets. Bake for 10-13 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

While the fish is in the oven, combine the butter, lemon zest and thyme in a small bowl.

When fish is done, plate fish and lemon slices. Top each filet with the herb butter, spreading it to allow it to melt. Serve immediately.

Herb Butter Mixture

Herb Butter Mixture

Herb Butter Mixture

Herb Butter Mixture

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Holiday Breakfast Casserole…

I’m so sorry I haven’t posted in a while. The holidays are always hectic and it is tough to sit down at the computer and document the things I’ve been making. The good thing is there will be lots to come after the first of the year! And just in case you didn’t see it on my home page, the picture below is a link to some of my all time favorite holiday recipes (mostly cookies but there are other things as well). Just click on the picture and you’ll have some great recipes to try this holiday season.

17 Favorite Holiday Recipes

17 Favorite Holiday Recipes

The recipe I’m sharing today is one I made the other night for dinner. After I made it I thought, wow – this would make a great Christmas morning breakfast. You can make it the night before, refrigerate it and just pop it in the oven in the morning. It is very flavorful and it couldn’t be easier to make.

So let’s talk lessons learned when making this holiday breakfast casserole…

Cooked breakfast sausageLesson Learned 1 – You probably will not need an entire tube of breakfast sausage: This recipe is made in an 8 x 8 pan and serves four. Double it if you want to make it in a 13 x 9 pan. In the smaller pan you probably will not need the entire tube of sausage. Use as much as you like and if you are a true meat eater use the whole thing. We only needed about three quarters of the tube. We froze the rest to use later.

Lesson Learned 2 – Get the hash browns nice and crispy: The hash browns will soften in this recipe. By getting them crispy you add a nice flavor. If you don’t crisp them up they will get too soggy on the bottom of the casserole.

Crispy Hash Browns

Lesson Learned 3 – Substitute for fresh whenever you can: The recipe I based this on called for both onion and garlic powder. If you are in a rush you can certainly use them, but I used minced fresh garlic and chopped green onions instead. I think it made a world of difference in the flavor of the casserole.

Lesson Learned 4 – Add more cheese if you like: I made this recipe with a cup of shredded Jarlsberg. Next time I will use a cup and a half as I wanted it to be just a little cheesier. A cup works just fine. This is something you can experiment with and see what works best for you. But don’t use any less than one cup.

This casserole couldn’t be any easier, and as I mentioned earlier I actually made this for dinner but I felt with the holidays coming this recipe might be a good trick to have up your sleeve. Happy Holidays!

HOLIDAY BREAKFAST CASSEROLE...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound breakfast sausage

1 20 oz. bag of unfrozen hash browns (I used Simply Potatoes)

1 large garlic clove, minced (you can use 1/4 tsp. garlic powder as a substitute)

2-3 green onions, chopped (you can use 1/4 tsp. onion powder as a substitute)

1 cup shredded cheese (use any good melting cheese – I used Jarlsberg)

4 extra large eggs (use 5 if they are small)

1 cup milk

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large skillet cook the breakfast sausage until it is no longer pink. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Set sausage mixture aside.

In the same pan cook the hash browns until slightly crispy. Place them in the bottom of a lightly greased 8 x 8 pan. Top with sausage and cheese.

In a separate bowl combine the eggs, green onions and milk. (If using onion and garlic powder you would add them into this egg mixture). Pour over the hash browns, sausage and cheese. (Cover and refrigerate at this point if you plan on making this the next day.)

Bake for 35- 40 minutes or until the top is set and the edges start to brown. Let the casserole sit for 5 minutes and serve.

The Hash Browns Layer

The Hash Browns Layer

The Meat Layer

The Meat Layer

The Cheese Layer

The Cheese Layer

The Egg Mixture

The Egg Mixture

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Holiday Breakfast Casserole

Right Out Of The Oven

Holiday Breakfast Casserole

Holiday Breakfast Casserole

Holiday Breakfast Casserole

Holiday Breakfast Casserole

Gnocchi Italiano…

I really try to experiment with meals that are quick and preferably only need one pot. This meal fits the bill to a tee. The most difficult part of this meal is the prep, and I’m a prep kinda gal so I enjoy that to the max!

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we are remodeling our kitchen and this was the first meal I cooked on my brand new stove. I posted a picture of it online and got a ton of oohs and ahhs… one person commented on how beautiful it looked and wondered if that comment was apropos when referring to a stove – well all I can say is of course it is! Here’s my new baby – hello gorgeous!

my new stove

When we moved to a condo, I told my husband I would never move into a place where I could not have a gas stove or cook top. We moved into the model of the development we’re in and of course they had upgraded appliances in the model. The cook top that was is pictured below…

original cooktop

Although the cooktop was sleek looking, I just could not imagine myself cooking on it. Besides not being gas, I couldn’t get over the fact that it looked like I was cooking on Mickey Mouse! We removed it right away. Someone had lived in this condo before. The builder bought it back from the original owners and upgraded it to the model as there were still a few more buildings in the development plan and they needed to be able showcase what one of the units looked like. As part of the sale negotiations we asked the builder to leave the old gas cook top that had been replaced. We used it until we began the process of remodeling and finding our new stove. This is what we used in the interim:

the old cooktop

Our new stove is an LG. What’s interesting about it is the inside is purple.

The inside of the stove

Supposedly this color provides maximum heat transfer as opposed to a dark interior. I’m not sure that is the case, only time will tell. What I am sure of is I cooked two meals on/in it already and it seems to work perfectly. So I am a happy camper!

Now, let’s get back to the recipe. This meal combines ground sweet italian sausage with mini potato gnocchi, fresh mozzarella an your favorite marinara sauce. It couldn’t be simpler but it is oh so good. So let’s talk gnocchi italiano…

sweet italian sausageLesson Learned 1 – I used ground italian sausage but you can also use prosciutto: My husband needs to eat foods that are easy to chew and so I used ground italian sausage. If you choose to use prosciutto, use about 5 thin slices. Add them to the onions once they are translucent and cook them until they are crisp. Then follow the remainder of the recipe as is. I guarantee it will be equally as good.

Lesson Learned 2 – Pay attention to the type of marinara sauce you use: I used a tomato basil sauce. The brand I used was more expensive, but gnocchi and marinara saucewhen I looked at the ingredients they were all natural. There were no names that I couldn’t pronounce. Natural and organic foods are much higher in cost. That is unfortunate as I hate to think about all these chemicals we can put in our bodies every day. But heck, before I was born my mother drank and smoked and I’m still here. I guess the idea is why tempt fate. The better you take care of yourself the better your chances are of living a longer healthier life.

This recipe is pretty straightforward so there’s not many lessons learned to share. Start it off on the stovetop, finish it off in the oven, and enjoy an easy, flavorful meal!

GNOCCHI ITALIANO...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:
Gnocchi Italiano

Gnocchi Italiano

1 small onion, diced

1 Tbs. basil infused olive oil (can use plain EVOO)

1 pound ground sweet italian sausage

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup tomato basil sauce

1 one pound package potato gnocchi  (I used the mini sized gnocchi)

1 tsp. italian seasoning

1/8 cup grated parmesan

1/4 lb fresh mozzarella, sliced

Sliced green onions for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large oven proof skillet heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the italian sausage and cook through, about 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, cook gnocchi according to package instructions.

Add the garlic to the cooked italian sausage and let cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Drain the gnocchi and add to the italian sausage mixture. Stir in the tomato basil sauce, italian seasoning and parmesan. Mix well.

Add the mozzarella slices to the top of the mixture. Place the oven proof pan in the oven and cook until the mozzarella has melted and the gnocchi mixture is bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and garnish with green onions. Serve immediately.

Add the cooked gnocchi to the sausage mixture

Add cooked gnocchi to the sausage mixture.

Gnocchi, sausage and sauce mixture.

Gnocchi, sausage and sauce mixture.

Add the mozzarella slices.

Add the mozzarella slices.

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

Gnocchi Italiano

Gnocchi Italiano

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops With Roasted Italian Potatoes…

I know I have been remiss in posting recipes. As I’ve stated many times, my goal is one new recipe a week. Well, there is a very good reason that I’ve not been able to keep up. My husband and I downsized and moved from a house to a condo in July. It didn’t take us long to figure out that the look and functionality of the kitchen were not what we wanted. And so it began… shopping for granite, replacing appliances (stove top, microwave, oven and dishwasher – the refrigerator is ok so it may get a reprieve for a while). And now we are in the midst of taking it all apart and putting it back together again. You’ll feel my pain when you look at the picture below.

my torn apart kitchen

The good news is that I’ve lived through these types of remodels before and my husband always does a fabulous job. It was hard for us to move away from the home we lived in for over 15 years but it was a smart move. And once we tried to settle in we knew there were some things  preventing us from feeling like this was home. By making these changes our condo will definitely become our home with the kinds of conveniences and appliances we like.

One last thing about the remodel. The condo had quartz on the island and countertops. Although quartz is nice, we are granite people. We loved the granite that we had in our previous home. It was called Crema Bordeaux. When we went granite shopping we decided to be open to new possibilities. We walked through aisles and aisles of various types of granite. Wouldn’t you know it, we kept coming back to the slab of Crema Bordeaux. We decided not to fight it and went with what we’ve loved for a long time. The slab (which weighs 2 1/2 tons by the way) is pictured below.  The templates for the granite will be drawn at the end of this week with installation to occur right after Thanksgiving. Thank goodness we are going out to dinner on Thanksgiving! We should be up and running for Christmas. After all, there are cookies to be made!

Crema Bordeaux

So, this has been a very long winded way of saying that I’ve had to rely on my grill, built in oven (that will be removed when my gas stove is installed) and microwave to do the heavy lifting for meals.

My preferred way of cooking lamb chops is on the grill so this was a no brainer. With a hot grill you get a great sear and the chops take less time to cook. The potatoes are made in the oven and are so easy to prepare and they taste divine!  So here are a few lessons learned making the lamb chops and potatoes…

Lesson Learned 1 – The longer you can marinate the lamb chops the better. I always use loin chops and I find them meatier and juicier, but you can also use rib chops. I found that I can get between 6 – 8 one inch thick chops at a really great price at either Sam’s Club or Costco.

When buying lamp chops, try to pick ones that have a substantive tenderloin. Obviously, that is the most tender part of the chop. Marinating them overnight is optimum, but you can marinate them for as little as an hour as well.

Marinated Lamb Chops

Lesson Learned 2 – Don’t forget to let the lamb chops rest after you cook them: Lamb like beef needs to rest when your done grilling so that the juices can redistribute. Although they will look divine resist the temptation to cut into them right away. Cover them with foil and let them rest for 5 minutes and you will have tender, juicy chops.

Mint JellyLesson Learned 3 – If you’ve never had it, try some mint jelly with your lamb chops: I was introduced to lamb chops with mint jelly when I was a kid. I was at a friend’s house for dinner and this is what was served. I never had lamb before and didn’t know what to think. At the time I was not all that enamored with the flavor but was afraid to say anything to my friend’s mom so I just said it was fabulous. Because of that, she made lamb with mint jelly every time I came over for dinner. I learned to love it, and now it is one of my all time favorites. Just use a little jelly with a piece of lamb. The flavor combination is to die for!

Lesson Learned 4 – Not all types of potatoes cook at the same rate: I’ve found that if I am roasting yukon gold or red potatoes they take less time to cook than russets. In this recipe I used small yukon gold potatoes and halved them. At 425, these potatoes were fully cooked and beautifully crisped in one hour. They were heavenly.

Roast Italian Potatoes

So, if you want a quick, easy meal without using your stovetop this one’s for you. I roasted some cauliflower florets in the oven with the potatoes (I only roasted them for 1/2 hour) and had a fabulous meal. So try this one and let me know what you think.

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

8 one inch thick loin lamb chops

4-6 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbs. fresh rosemary, chopped

Zest of one small lemon

1/4 cup garlic infused olive oil (you can also use plain EVOO)

Salt and Pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Salt and pepper both sides of the chops. In a small bowl, combine garlic, rosemary, lemon zest and olive oil. Put the chops in a bag and pour the marinade over them. Seal the bag and turn it over several times to make sure the chops are coated on both sides. Marinate for at least one hour up to overnight, turning the bag at regular intervals to make sure both sides of the chops are evenly marinated.

Heat your grill to medium high heat (I have a Webber gas grill). Remove the chops from the marinade and sear them for 2 minutes on each side. Lower the temperature of the grill to medium heat and continue to cook for 5 minutes total. This cooking time will give you medium rare chops. Let the chops rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Roasted Italian Potatoes...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

15 small yukon gold potatoes, halved but not peeled

6 whole cloves of garlic

2 Tbs. dried oregano

1/4 cup basil infused olive oil (you can also use plain EVOO)

Flat leaf parsley for garnish, optional

Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Cover a large baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine the halved potatoes, whole garlic cloves, oregano and olive oil. Spread the potatoes and garlic cloves on the baking sheet making sure not to crowd the potatoes (they won’t crisp if they’re crowded). Salt and pepper the potatoes.

Roast at 425 for one hour turning the potatoes half way through the roasting time. Serve immediately.

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops With Roasted Italian Potatoes

Whatever You Like Quiche…

Quiche is a great way to clean out your refrigerator. It seems you can add whatever you like to a basic quiche recipe and get a fantastic entree. Whether it be meat, vegetables, herbs or  a combination of any or all of them, you can always come out with a great meal.

I’ve added many things to quiche like broccoli, carrots, peas, spinach, pearl onions, cauliflower, ham, chicken – it just seems the combinations are endless. So last week I looked in my refrigerator and I had some bacon, butternut squash cubes and chives and I thought, ok quiche!

There are a few things you need to think about in order to have a perfect quiche. But it’s not hard and once you figure it out your quiche will turn out perfect every time. I have a full proof recipe for the custard/egg part, it’s the crust and what you add to the filling that you need to think through. So, let’s talk about making quiche…

Beans used for blind baking a pie crustLesson Learned 1 – Whether you use a home made or store bought pie crust you need to blind bake it: Blind baking means you partially bake the pie crust before adding the custard mixture to it. That way the crust does not wind up soggy. The procedure is rather simple. Now I’ve mostly used store bought pie deep dish pie crusts. I take the crust out of the freezer and with a fork make some prick marks all over the bottom and sides of the crust being careful not to stick the fork all the way through the dough. This helps keep the dough from rising too much during the baking process. In order to ensure it stays flat I also cover the crust with parchment paper and weigh down the parchment paper with some uncooked beans I keep in mason jar in the pantry just for this purpose. You can also use pie weights. You can find those in most any store. Whatever you use, make sure the bottom and side are weighted down.

Bake the crust for about 20 minutes and then remove the parchment paper and weights and bake for another 10 – 15 minutes. If you use beans you may see a little moisture on the bottom of the crust after you remove the parchment paper. No worries, the moisture will be gone when you bake the crust for the additional 10-15 minutes. The blind baking process is done when the crust is just starting to turn brown.

If you use a home made crust you should set it up in a pie plate and then put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes before you do the blind baking. You want the dough to be a little stiff when it goes into the oven.

Cooked Butternut SquashLesson Learned 2 – To precook or not precook your ingredients before adding them to the egg/custard mixture: This is where you may have to learn by trial and error. Some ingredients you can just add but others need to either be cooked or partially cooked before you put them in the batter. I mentioned I decided to make a bacon, butternut squash and chive quiche. Bacon needs to be fully cooked, drained and cooled before adding it to the batter. The squash, if cut in small pieces about 1/2 inch square, can be cooked until the edges are just slightly turning soft and then drained and cooled before adding it to the batter. Chives you can just chop and drop in. I cooked the bacon first and then I cooked the squash in the bacon grease until it just started to soften. The result was perfectly cooked squash when the quiche was finished.

Bacon, cooked, drained and cooled

With cauliflower I found that if I cut the florets into bite-sized pieces I can just add them to the batter and I get perfect al dente pieces when the quiche is done. Carrots you will need to cook. I just add frozen pearl onions and they turn our perfectly. If you decide to use diced onion you will need to cook them. Ham is generally precooked so you can just cube it and add it. Spinach should be wilted and drained. Mushrooms should be cooked to release their moisture and drained. So you see, not one size fits all when it comes to adding ingredients to the egg/custard mix. But I know you’ll get the hang of it.  Just remember, you don’t want hot things or a lot of moisture going in to the egg/custard mixture.

Lesson Learned 3 – Let the quiche rest for about five minutes after you take it out of the oven: By doing this you give the custard a change to get a little firmer and the quiche will be easier to cut. Resist the temptation to cut it right away, no matter how great it looks!

Bacon, Butternut Squash and Chive Quiche

BACON, BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND CHIVE QUICHE...

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 nine inch frozen deep dish pie crust

2 cups filling ( I used 1 1/2 cups butternut squash, 1/2 cup bacon chopped and  2 Tbs minced chives)

2 cups good melting cheese, grated  (I used jarlsberg)

4 large eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 tsp. salt

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. Prick the bottom and sides of the frozen crust with a fork. Cover with parchment paper and weigh down with beans or pie weights. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, take off the parchment paper and weights and bake the crust for another 10-15 minutes or until it just starts to turn brown. Remove from oven and let cool.

Prepare the filling while blind baking the crust. Cook the bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels and cut into pieces when cooled. Cut the squash into half inch squares and saute in the bacon grease. Remove the squash when it just starts to soften and drain on paper towels. Mince the chives.

In a large bowl crack 4 eggs and slightly whisk to break the yokes. Add the milk, cream and salt and whisk thoroughly. Add your filling and stir to combine.

Put half the cheese on the bottom of the pie crust. Pour in the filling. Put the other half of the cheese on top of the filling.  Place the dish on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven at 350 for 40-45 minutes. Let stand for five minutes. Slice and serve.

Bacon, Butternut Squash and Chive Quiche

 Bacon, Butternut Squash and Chive Quiche

Meatballs With A Surprise Inside…

My “Best Ever Meatballs” is my go-to recipe for an hors d’oeuvre but I wanted to experiment with a meatball recipe that could serve as a entree and not an appetizer. I definitely wanted them to taste differently from the appetizer version and I also wanted to have some fun with them. So I decided to make these meatballs and I think they’ll be my go-to entree recipe.

This is a great recipe for a variety of reasons. I love it because the meatballs are easy to make, they’re delicious, they cook quickly, the cheese inside is a delightful surprise and it makes great leftovers! I have to say I cheated when I made these, I used pre-made mashed potatoes instead of making them from scratch. But by doing that I could have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. So it was worth the short cut.

So let’s talk meatballs with a surprise…

ground beef mixtureLesson Learned 1 – It doesn’t take many ingredients to make the meatballs flavorful: basically you’re mixing the meat with an egg yolk, some panko, minced onion, worcestershire sauce and dijon mustard – that’s it. Combined with the cheese inside and the beef gravy you get flavorful meatballs without a lot of work! The key is to make sure you combine all of the ingredients but not over work the meat. If you do you’ll have tough meatballs and you don’t want that.

Cheese Inside the MeatballLesson Learned 2 – A little bit of cheese goes a long way: You can use any kind of good melting cheese in the center of your meatballs. I chose one called Buttrekase, a cheese that originated in Switzerland and now produced in Wisconsin. It’s American name is “butter cheese” although it has no butter in it. It melts luxuriously and has a mild buttery flavor. This was a perfect choice for these meatballs.

You will get approximately 15 meatballs out of one pound of ground beef. You don’t want your meatballs to be too big, maybe an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. Make sure you cut pieces of cheese that are small enough to support a meatball that size. Then just take the meat mixture and wrap it around that cheese, pressing the meat together to try to minimize any holes. But don’t worry if cheese leaks out when you bake them. There will still be more inside.

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t over bake your meatballs:  Although the meatballs look large, remember that there is a good amount of cheese inside them. So I would not bake them any longer than 15-18 minutes. Keep in mind you will also be simmering them for a few minutes in the gravy once you take them out of the oven, so they have plenty of time to get cooked through.

The amount of meatballs you get with a pound of ground beef.

This has got to be one of the easiest recipes ever and produces a great meal in a short amount of time. I love topping a mound of mashed potatoes with these meatballs and then drizzling the beef gravy on top. Add a sprinkling of fresh cut flat leaf parsley and you’ve got a meal that looks as good as it tastes. Enjoy!

MEATBALLS WITH A SURPRISE INSIDE...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

(For The Meatballs)

1 pound 93% lean ground sirloin

2 Tbs. minced onion

1 egg yolk

3 Tbs. panko bread crumbs

1 Tbs. worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. dijon mustard

4 oz. good melting cheese (I used Butterkase cheese)

Chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

(For The Sauce)

4 – 6  cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 small onion sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbs. unsalted butter

2 1/2 cups beef stock, divided and unsalted

2 Tbs. corn starch

2 Tbs. ketchup

2 Tbs. worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a lipped baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.  Cut the cheese into about 15 small pieces. Combine onion, egg yolk, minced onion, bread crumbs worcestershire sauce and mustard until well combined. Add the ground beef and mix until just combined.

Divide the ground beef mixture into about 15 equal sized pieces. Flatten each piece, add a piece of cheese into the center and roll the meat around the cheese sealing it to the best of your ability.

Bake 15-18 minutes. While the meatballs are baking, make the sauce.

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until tender (5-8 minutes). Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (approx. 1 minute). Pour all but 1/4 cup of the beef stock into the pan. Mix the remaining stock with the cornstarch, making sure that the cornstarch is completely absorbed into the stock. Add that to the pan along with the ketchup and worchestershire sauce. Cook until thick. Salt and pepper to taste.

Take the meatballs out of the oven and add them to the sauce. Simmer them in the sauce for about 3 minutes. Serve warm.

Cooked onions and mushrooms

Simmer Meatballs In The Sauce

Meatballs With A Surprise

Meatballs With A Surprise Inside

Chicken, Cauliflower and Mushroom Casserole…

Casseroles can be deceptive. On the outside what you see is a one dish meal – couldn’t be easier right? But upon closer inspection you see a wide variety of ingredients that have to be “bake-off” ready in order to assemble the casserole. And if you don’t have those ingredients on hand, there’s a lot of work involved in putting a casserole together.  Just be aware of that, especially if you are prepping ingredients from scratch. Let’s face it, casseroles are basically designed to help you use your leftovers – sort of a “fooled you, you ate this the other night for dinner and here it is again, just dressed up differently!” But whether you are using leftovers or preparing ingredients from scratch there is nothing as comforting as a casserole. And besides, I’d rather be relaxing an hour before the meal than scrambling right up to the last minute before you put the meal on the table. For me, that is the beauty of a casserole.

Casseroles also feed my love of prepping things. So I’ll admit I made this the other day without using any leftovers. This was a from scratch casserole. But if you’re a prep nut like me who gets satisfaction out of chopping, mincing, dicing and slicing than it really is no big deal.

So let’s talk about making a chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole…

Casserole IngredientsLesson Learned 1 – Get all the individual ingredients prepped first: This is pretty much a rule of thumb for almost any recipe, but since there are so many different types of ingredients in a casserole I’ve found the best thing to do is to get everything “assembly ready” first. That way you’re much more organized and the casserole assembly process is a breeze. That means have the chicken cut up or shredded, slightly steam the cauliflower, sauté the mushrooms, either use leftover rice or cook your rice, and shred all of your cheeses.

And by the way, it is always better to shred your own cheese. Packaged pre shredded cheese has an “ingredient” in it, cellulose, designed to keep the shreds of cheese from sticking together. And guess what – cellulose is made from wood pulp. So unless you want to have a regular amount of wood pulp in your diet, I’d recommend shredding your cheese by hand. It’s not that hard and obviously healthier for you.

Lesson Learned 2 – A chicken casserole’s best friend – store bought rotisserie chicken: You can always roast the chicken you need ahead of time in your own oven, but it’s so much simpler just to buy store bought rotisserie chicken and use that. I bought a small chicken, removed and discarded the skin and shredded the meat. It saved a lot of time and believe me, no one knew the difference.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use any melting cheese you have on hand: I had gruyere and havarti on hand so I just combined those two for this casserole. To top the casserole I found a specialty cheese called buffalo wing artisan cheddar cheese. That cheese was great because it had a nice kick to it and added a unique flavor to the top of the casserole. Really, you can be inventive with your cheeses. You just want to make sure that whatever cheese(s) you use it is good melting cheese.

Lesson Learned 4 – Just slightly steam the cauliflower: I steamed mine for about 5 minutes. Really all you want is for them to just show the first signs of cooking. Remove them from the heat. No need to shock them. Just don’t feel that you have to steam them for a long time. All you really need to do is give them a little nudge.

Lesson Learned 5 – Once everything thing is prepped, assembly is a snap: Here is what the assembly looks like in pictures.

Line the bottom of a pan treated with non stick cooking spray with rice

Line the bottom of a pan treated with non stick cooking spray with rice

Put the cauliflower florets on top of the rice

Put the cauliflower florets on top of the rice

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower

Spread chicken mixture over the rice and cauliflower

Top with cheese

Top with cheese and pop into the oven

And there you have it. Forty-five minutes to an hour later you will be in casserole heaven. So try this one, play with the ingredients and as always let me know what you think…

CHICKEN, CAULIFLOWER AND MUSHROOM CASSEROLE

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1  Four pound rotisserie chicken, skin removed, cubed or shredded

1 small head of cauliflower cut into florets and slightly steamed (4 cups of florets)

8 large cremini mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in 1 Tbs. of  butter

1 1/2 cups cooked rice (cooked in low sodium chicken broth for additional flavor)

1 ten ounce can of condensed cream of mushroom soup

1 cup of sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 1/2 cups shredded melting cheese (I used a combination of havarti and gruyere)

1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded buffalo wing artisan cheddar cheese (for the top)

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 6 quart casserole dish with butter or spray it with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the dish with the cooked rice. Arrange the cauliflower florets on top of the rice.

In a large bowl combine the chicken, sautéed mushrooms, havarti and gruyere cheeses, sour cream, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower. Cover the casserole with the buffalo wing cheddar cheese.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. If need be, cook up to an additional 15 minutes longer. Casserole is done when the cheese on top is melted and the casserole is bubbly. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Chicken, cauliflower mushroom casserole

Chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole

Chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole

Chicken, Cauliflower and Mushroom Casserole

 

 

Baked Honey Mustard Salmon…

Once again I apologize to my readers and subscribers. I’m in the process of moving and have not been able to devote the time I would like to my goal of one new recipe a week. Hopefully within another month I will be back on track. Until then, I will publish when I can.

Today I want to write about honey mustard salmon. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll eat just about anything that’s honey mustard. To me that combination of flavors is second to none. I’ve often made chicken with it. So why not try marinating and baking one of my favorite types of fish, salmon, in a honey mustard sauce.

I like flavorful and simple recipes. I truly believe that the more simple the ingredients the better. This particular recipe fits that mold. One of my most popular posts these days is my recipe for Pan Fried Cod In Lemon Butter Sauce. I bet this one will become a reader favorite as well.

So let’s talk baked honey mustard salmon…

Remove the skin from the salmonLesson Learned 1 – Cut the skin off the back of the salmon: Salmon has a very thick skin that will prevent the marinade from completely permeating the filet. You need to remove it to get the best results. Because the skin is so thick it can be easily removed but you’ll need a very sharp knife to do the job. Don’t try removing the skin with a dull knife. You’ll wind up getting very frustrated and could potentially hurt yourself. Remember most knife accidents occur because of dull knives. Sharp knives are actually much safer to use and cause less kitchen accidents.

Honey Mustard MarinadeLesson Learned 2 – It’s best if you can marinate your fish for at least 3 hours: Although you can marinate this fish for a minimum of 30 minutes, I found that the honey mustard is better absorbed by the salmon the longer you marinate it. So if you can marinate the salmon for 3 hours.

Mix the marinade in a small bowl. Then take a gallon sized plastic bag, place the salmon filets in the bag and pour the marinade over the fish. Seal the bag, place it on a small plate and refrigerate. REMEMBER to turn the bag over several times while it’s in the refrigerator to insure the fish gets uniformly coated on both sides.

Marinate Salmon In A Plastic Bag

Lesson Learned 3 – Prepare your baking dish so that the salmon doesn’t stick to it: Keep in mind that this marinade contains honey and some of it will get dark and thicken during the baking process. If you ever tried to remove baked on honey from a baking dish you know how difficult it can be. That’s why it is so important to pretreat your pan. I usually line the pan with foil and then spray the foil lightly with olive oil cooking spray. That way the fish will lift off the pan without any trouble.

Let the salmon bake in the marinadeLesson Learned 4 – Use the marinade as a baking sauce: Once you put the filets on the baking sheet, cover them with the marinade. That way the marinade becomes a delicious sauce you can spoon over your filets before serving them. DO NOT use the marinade as a sauce directly out of the bag since it has been sitting over raw fish. But if you spoon that marinade over the filets and let it bake in the oven with the salmon, it thickens beautifully and becomes a safe and great sauce.

Don’t be afraid of making fish. The key is not to overcook fish. Follow this recipe cooking time to the letter and I guarantee you will have wonderfully moist and flavorful salmon filets. And as alway, why don’t you try this and tell me what you think…

BAKED HONEY MUSTARD SALMON

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

4 six ounce salmon filetsHoney Mustard Salmon

4 cloves garlic, chopped

6 tsp. dijon mustard

6 Tbs. honey

4 Tbs. dry white wine (I use Chardonnay)

1 small pinch of salt

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (you can use a little less if desired)

Chopped chives for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If the salmon filets have skin, remove the skin and set aside. Whisk together the garlic, mustard, honey, wine, salt and pepper until smooth. Place the salmon filets in a gallon size plastic bag. Pour the marinade over the filets and seal the bag. Massage the bag with your fingers to make sure all of the filets are covered. Place the bag on a small plate and refrigerate for up to 3 hours (30 minutes minimum), remembering to turn the bag over in the fridge every once in a while during the marinating process.

Prepare a baking pan by lining it with foil and lightly spraying the foil with olive oil cooking spray. Place the filets on the baking sheet and pour the marinade over the filets. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes. Plate the salmon. Pour any of the remaining sauce (baked marinade) over the filets. Garnish with chopped chives and serve.

Baked Honey Mustard Salmon

Serving suggestion: salmon with southwestern rice and oven roasted butternut squash

Serving suggestion: salmon with southwestern rice and oven roasted butternut squash

Honey Mustard Salmon

Juicy Oven Baked Pork Chops…

For a very long time I had not idea how to cook pork chops. When I was a child my mother would make a roast pork dinner and she always wanted to make sure it was cooked thoroughly so of course her roasts were always dried out. (sorry Mom…) That’s the way I grew up thinking how pork should be cooked. Needless to say, I was not a big fan of pork at the time – too dry and tasteless.

It’s only been within the last couple of years that I’ve learned how to cook pork. Most people think the meat has to be opaque white which is a fallacy. Once it gets to that point it is overdone and will most likely be dry and tasteless. When pork is done perfectly it should look like the picture below…

Juicy Oven Baked Pork Chops

Look at how juicy this piece of pork is. Pork that is done correctly will have a little bit of pink marbling in the meat as you can see in the picture. Most people, including myself, used to think that pork was not cooked thoroughly when it had a little pink in it. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I tested these chops in their thickest part with a meat thermometer and it read 140 degrees which is ideal. Let me tell you this pork chop was melt in your mouth delicious. And preparing it this way was not all that difficult. I want to share this recipe because it is so easy and I guarantee perfect results every time. But there are a couple of little secrets you need to be aware of and I’ll share them in my lessons learned.

So let’s talk juicy oven baked pork chops…

lodge-cast-iron-skilletLesson Learned 1 – Take my advice and buy a cast iron skillet: Recently I’ve been doing a lot of cooking in my cast iron skillet and I’ve learned to  love it! Cast iron is your best method for cooking. It may take a little longer to heat up (and really not all that much longer) but once it does it provides even heat that will not dissipate quickly. Plus it moves seamlessly from stove top to oven. And if that isn’t enough it is also one of the cheapest skillets you can buy. Depending on what size skillet you get you’ll pay somewhere between  $15 – $30. Now that’s a bargain! The main downside to a cast iron skillet is that it’s heavy to lift. But in my mind that does not outweigh the benefits. Just look at it as building up your upper body strength while preparing an absolutely delicious meal!

I have a 10 inch skillet and that is big enough for two pork chops the size required for this recipe so I’m writing this recipe for two. If you get a larger skillet you can easily do four chops. Nothing else in the recipe has to be adjusted significantly. Just make sure you know how many chops will fit in your skillet without crowding them.

You need to use center cut bone-in chops for this recipe. They should be about 1 inch thick. Chops of that size take up quite a bit of room in the skillet. So if you want to do more than two chops in one skillet get a skillet larger than 10 inches.

Handy Trick: One other trick I learned was to put the skillet in the oven and leave it there while the oven is preheating. Once the oven has reached 400 degrees you take the skillet out of the oven (make sure you use mitts because the pan will be hot) put it on the stove over medium high heat and then sear the chops one one side before turning the chops over and putting the skillet back in the oven. It’s a pretty nifty trick.

Lesson Learned 2 – Try brining your chops: If you’ve never tried brining you really should. Brining basically is marinating meat in a salt based liquid that has optional ingredients you can add to enhance the flavor of the meat. The purpose of brining is to break down the fibers in the meat ergo making it more tender. I recommend brining your chops for at least 4 hours, but even if you can only do it for 30 minutes it will make a difference in the meat.

Brining Your Pork Chops

Depending on the type of dish you use to brine the chops you may need more water than I suggest to make sure they’re covered. The chops need to be completely covered for the brining process to work. If you need to add more liquid than what I specify in the recipe just remember to add a tablespoon of salt for every additional cup of water. Also make sure that the salt is completely dissolved in the water before putting it over the chops.

The rest of the recipe is so simple it’s almost funny. This is quick and easy way for making the most unbelievably moist and tender chops you’ll ever have. Try it and tell me what you think.

Juicy Oven Baked Pork Chops…

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Juicy Oven Baked Porch ChopsFor the Brine:

3 cups water, divided

3 Tbs. Kosher Salt

2 Garlic cloves, smashed

1/2 tsp. black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

For The Pork Chops:

2 center cut bone-in pork chops, 1 inch thick each

1 Tbs. olive oil, optional

Salt and Pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Approximately 4 hours ahead of time brine the chops. Take 1 cup of water and bring it to a boil. Add the salt, garlic cloves, peppercorns and bay leaf. Stir continuously until all the salt is dissolved. Take the mixture off the heat. Add the remaining two cups of cold water. Do not put the pork chops in the brining liquid until the liquid has come to room temperature (this make take about 5 minutes or so). Place the chops in a shallow dish and cover them with the brining liquid. (the liquid should completely cover the chops). If you need to add more liquid refer to lessons learned above. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until time to cook.

Put the cast iron skillet in the oven. Close the oven door and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating remove the pork chops from the brine and pat them dry. Salt and pepper both sides of the chops.

When the oven has preheated remove the skillet and place it on top of the stove. Turn the heat under the skillet to medium high. At this point you can add a little olive oil to the pan if you desire. (I have a well seasoned skillet and did not need to add any olive oil. If you’re not sure how well seasoned you skillet is, add a little olive oil so the chops won’t stick to the pan). Sear the chops on one side for 3-4 minutes.

Turn the chops over and put the skillet back in the oven. Continue roasting the chops for an additional 7-9 minutes (the chops should register 140 -145 degrees in the thickest part of the meat). Remove the chops from the pan and place them on a plate to rest for about 5 minutes. Cover the chops with foil during this resting period. Serve immediately after the resting period.

Juicy Oven Baked Pork Chops

Juicy Oven Baked Pork Chops

Parmesan Crusted Halibut…

My husband and I have been trying to eat fish more regularly and so I’ve been experimenting with various methods of cooking different types of fish. Not all fish are created equal. I have to admit that it can be a little unnerving trying to master the art of cooking fish as it can go from underdone to overdone in the wink of an eye. But this particular recipe is very easy and if you follow the instructions you will have a delicious mouthwatering piece of fish.

Most of the work in this recipe is in the prep (that seems to be a recurring theme for me, doesn’t it). Creating the breading station and preparing the fish is what takes up the most time. But bottom line, within 20 minutes you can go from prep to table and that’s pretty quick. Your side dishes may take more time than it does to make this halibut recipe.

So let’s talk parmesan crusted halibut…

Lesson Learned 1 – Halibut is expensive: Compared to talapia, cod and catfish, halibut can be pricey. The filets I use in this recipe are frozen and between 5 and 7 ounces. They cost about $10 each. So depending on your budget halibut may be a special treat versus a dinnertime staple. I usually buy them when they go on sale at my local supermarket. Every once in a while they go on sale for 20% off and I stock at that time. Halibut freezes nicely so you don’t have to worry about getting it fresh which also tends to be more expensive than frozen. My advice is to check the specials at your local supermarket. Every once in a while halibut goes on sale and that is definitely the time to buy it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Follow the directions in this recipe: Although halibut is more expensive than other types of fish it has a nice meaty texture and is very flavorful if prepared correctly. That is why I cannot stress enough to follow the directions in this recipe. The overall tendency with fish (or maybe it’s just my tendency) is to cook it longer than you should. If you’re not sure it’s done, take a fork and try to flake off the end of one piece. If it flakes (as seen in the picture below) it’s done. Trust me, after you make fish more often you’ll be able to eyeball it to see if it’s done.  You can always put it back in the oven if it’s not but you don’t want to spend $10 for a piece of fish and overcook it.

Parmesan Crusted Halibut

If you’re planning on serving fish to company and are concerned about presentation make sure you are adept at cooking that type of fish so you don’t have to do the fork test. I can’t tell you how many times my husband got a piece of “forked” fish but never minded because he knew it would be cooked appropriately.

My husband absolutely loves this recipe and I think you will too. Try it and let me know what you think…

PARMESAN CRUSTED HALIBUT…

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

Parmesan Crusted Halibut4 five to seven ounce halibut filets, skin removed

1 extra large egg

1 Tbs. water

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1 Tbs. fresh thyme (just take the leaves off the stem – no need to chop them)

1/2 cup all purpose flour

Zest of one lemon (you can cut the remainder of the lemon into wedges and serve with the fish)

2 Tbs. olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400. Make a three part dredging station. Part 1 is the flour. Part 2 is the egg and water whisked together. Part 3 is the panko, parmesan, lemon zest and thyme combined.

Dredge a filet in the flour on both side. Shake off the excess flour. Dredge the filet on both sides in the egg mixture. Place the filet onto the bread crumb mixture and cover both sides pressing down on each side to ensure the breading adheres to the filet. Repeat this process with the other three filets.

Heat an ovenproof pan (preferably a cast iron skillet) over medium high heat. Once the pan is heated pour the olive oil into the pan and make sure the bottom of the pan is completely coated. The pan is sufficiently hot if the oil smokes. Place the filets into the oil and brown them for 3 minutes. Turn them over and put them in the oven for an additional 5 – 7 minutes depending upon the size of your filets.

Remove the filets from the pan and serve immediately.

Parmesan Crusted Halibut

Parmesan Crusted Halibut

 

Chicken Shepherds Pie…

After having made a delightful roast chicken (check out my roast chicken in a cast iron skillet recipe) I was faced with how to use the leftovers. Quite often I make a simple chicken salad consisting of cut up chicken, scallions, grapes, mayo and seasonings, but this time I wanted to do something different.

I’ve always liked the concept of shepherds pie. You basically take your leftover meat and mashed potatoes and create a pie that is oh so good – the true definition of comfort food. Most recipes I’ve seen suggest using frozen vegetables and if you’re in a hurry that will certainly work. But I like to use fresh vegetables whenever I can so I decided to do that instead. I also did not have any left over mashed potatoes so I just whipped up a batch. I’ve tried shepherds pies with store bought pre-prepared mashed potatoes or with instant mashed potatoes but I didn’t think the consistency was as good as when you use homemade mashed potatoes. But you can still use them if you want to.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is the beauty of this recipe is you can make it as simple or as intricate as you like. I still think taking the time to use fresh ingredients and home made mashed potatoes produces the best results. But the choice is yours.

So let’s talk chicken shepherds pie…

Sauteed vegetablesLesson Learned 1 – Use whatever vegetables you want or have on hand: This time I used the “trinity”, onions, celery and carrots along with some frozen peas. But really you can use anything you have. You just have to make sure that you sauté the vegetables to crisp tender before putting them into the pie dish. Next time I’m going to try using some broccoli and cauliflower heads chopped on the smaller side along with onions and carrots. I may even try adding pearl onions instead of chopped onions. It is important to cut the carrots small as they will take the longest to soften. I halved my carrots lengthwise and then halved them again before chopping them. That way they softened right along with the celery and onions. And if you’re using frozen peas (which I did) don’t add them until the very end. They thaw very quickly.

Lesson Learned 2 – Add the chicken at the very end: The chicken you use in this recipe is already cooked so your goal is to warm it through and not cook it to the point that you dry it out. All you really need to do is mix the chicken with the vegetables and then put the mixture into the dish(es) you will be using. The time the pie spends in the oven will be more than enough to warm the chicken through. You might want to take the chicken out of the refrigerator about a half hour before using it in the recipe. That way you will get the chill off of it and it will warm nicely in the oven.

Shepherds Pie FillingLesson Learned 3 – You can use individual pie pans or one 9 inch pie pan: I prefer giving everyone there own little pie but you can certainly bake this as one big pie as well and spoon out individual servings. Either way will work.

Lesson Learned 4 – Put the pie(s) on a foil lined baking sheet before placing them in the oven: I guarantee you, the pie filling WILL LEAK OUT of the pie dish. In order to avoid the filling dripping all over the bottom of your oven make sure the pans are resting on a foiled lined rimmed baking sheet. That way you’ll save yourself a lot of mess and clean up time.

Lesson Learned 5 – Use russet potatoes when making mashed potatoes: Russet potatoes have a lot more starch in them and hold up better in the baking process than other types of potatoes (at least that’s my opinion). Use russet potatoes and don’t make them too runny. Although I will write out some ingredients for making the potatoes use common sense when making them. If they already appear very soft after you mash them add very little liquid to them. If they are stiff, add a little bit of liquid at a time and see how they turn out when you mix them. Remember you can always add more of an ingredient if you need to. I think you get the best results when the potatoes have a slightly firmer consistency. If they’re too soft they will get even runnier in the oven, and you don’t want that.

Also another trick I learned is to add an egg yolk at the end of the mashing process. That gives the potatoes a richer color and more depth of flavor. Just make sure your potatoes are not hot to the point that they scramble the egg yolk. Chances are that will not be the case.

Also if you want to be fancy you can use a pastry bag and pipe the potatoes on the top of the pie. I chose not to. I used a frosting knife and after I dolloped some potatoes on top smoothed them over the vegetables. Try to create some peaks with your potatoes. The peaks are what will brown in the oven and give the eye pleasing look as seen in the second picture below.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Fresh Out Of The Oven

Fresh Out Of The Oven

This recipe is the epitome of comfort food. Try it and tell me what you think… Enjoy!

CHICKEN SHEPHERDS PIE…

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

2 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 medium onion chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped

1 cup of carrots, chopped small

4 cloves of garlic, divided: 2 whole and 2 minced

4 Tbs. unsalted butter, divided

3 Tbs. flour

1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock

1 1/2 cups roasted chicken, cubed or shredded

1/3 cup frozen peas

1 1/2 cups loosely packed emmenthaler cheese (a good melting swiss)

1 large egg yolk

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 tsps. dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put the potatoes and two peeled cloves of garlic in a large pot and cover them with cold water (the water should be about an inch over the potatoes. Add a generous pinch of salt and bring the potatoes to a boil. Cook until tender about 20-25 minutes (the cooking time will vary depending on how large or small your cut the potatoes). The potatoes are done when they are fork tender.

Meanwhile in a large skillet melt 3 Tbs. of butter. Add the onion, celery and carrots. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook until crisp tender, approximately 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cloves of minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the flour and stir for about a minute to remove any “floury” taste. Add the chicken stock and continue to cook until the liquid thickens about 10 minutes. Add the cheese and oregano and stir until the cheese is melted. Taste the mixture and add any additional salt and pepper as needed. Add the chicken and peas. Stir to combine. Turn off the heat and let stand.

Drain the potatoes and put them back into the pot. Add 1 Tbs. of butter and cover for a few minutes until the butter is melted. Using a hand masher or electric hand mixer, mash the potatoes until most of the lumps are gone. Add the heavy cream (you may want to add it incrementally instead of all at once so that the potatoes don’t wind up to runny) and finish mashing. Separate an egg and put only the yolk into the mashed potatoes. Stir until completely combined. Add any additional salt as needed.

Place the vegetables mixture into the pan(s). Top with the mash potatoes. Smooth the potatoes over the top of the vegetables until they are completely covered. Place the pan(s) on a foil lined rimmed backing sheet. Bake until the potatoes are lightly browned and the vegetable mixture is warm and bubbly, approximately 20-30 minutes.

Chicken Shepherds Pie

Chicken Shepherds Pie

Hearty One Skillet Dinner…

I’m always looking to make something different but sometimes it needs to be different and fast. For those wanting that too, this recipe is for you. I was actually amazed how flavorful this was given the simplicity of the recipe. This recipe accompanied by a small salad and some crusty bread can be just what the doctor ordered.

There is nothing particularly fancy about this recipe. Probably the most unique thing about it is it contains both potatoes and rice. Surprisingly enough, the rice gives the dish a creamy texture and the potatoes, carrots and onions give it depth and bulk. There’s not even a lot of prep work involved and once everything is combined you just simmer everything for thirty minutes and voila, dinner is served!

Hearty One Skillet Dinner

So let’s talk hearty one skillet dinner…

Lesson Learned 1 – It’s important to cut the carrots and potatoes into small pieces: You want to make sure that the carrots and potatoes cook through and so they need to be diced a little smaller than usual. With the carrots I peeled them, cut them in half lengthwise and then each piece in half lengthwise again. Then I diced the carrots into about 1/4 inch size pieces.

With the potatoes I also tried to cut them into 1/4 inch sized chunks. It’s not necessary to drag out the ruler to make sure you have the correct size. Just know that you want the pieces small but not too small that they disintegrate during the cooking process.

Lesson Learned 2 – Check on the dish for moisture during the simmering process: You want to make sure that the beef stock reduces completely when you’re done but not so quickly as it causes the rice not to cook through and the rest of the mixture to stick to the bottom of the pan. Check on the liquid during the simmering process. If the beef stock has completely reduced and you still have more time to cook add some more stock. The amount of additional stock you add will depend on where you are in the 30 minute simmer process. I would start with a couple of tablespoons to a quarter cup and go from there. The main point is you don’t want the dish to dry out during the simmering process nor do you want to be left with soup after 30 minutes.

Lesson Learned 3 – If you want to shorten the overall time for this recipe prep most of the ingredients ahead of time: You can prep the onions, garlic, and carrots ahead of time – even the night before. Keep them in air tight containers or covered tightly in plastic wrap. I would wait until you begin cooking the meal to chop up the potato. The only way to keep the potato from oxidizing once it is cut is to put it in cold water. I’m not sure you’re going to want to have your potato sitting in water overnight or all day. Prepping ahead of time will take a good 15 minutes from the total time to make this dish.

Not only is this dish delightful the first time around but it is also great reheated. Try this one the next time you are short on time but still want something good. I think it just might become one of your go to favorites.

Hearty One Skillet Dinner…

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Hearty One Skillet Dinner1 1/2 pounds ground beef, preferably 93% lean

1 medium onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup chopped carrots

1 medium russet potato, diced

1 cup reduced sodium beef stock

1/2 cup uncooked long grain rice

1 Tbs. soy sauce

1 Tbs. olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil)

salt and pepper to taste

flat leaf parsley, chopped for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Add the olive oil to a large preheated skillet. Saute the onions until they are slightly translucent. Salt and pepper the onions while they are cooking. Once the onions are translucent, use a wooden spoon to push them to the side of the pan and add the ground beef, separating the beef with the spoon. Spoon the onions over the ground beef while it is cooking. Salt and pepper to taste.

Once the ground beef is no longer pink drain any excess fat, if necessary. Stir the garlic into the beef and onions. Cook until the garlic becomes fragrant – approximately one minute. Stir in the carrots, potatoes and rice. Pour the beef stock over the mixture and stir to combine.

Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the rice and vegetables are tender. (Make sure to check the level of moisture and add a little extra beef stock if it has completely reduced before the end of the cooking process). Stir in the soy sauce. Taste. Add any additional salt or pepper as needed.

Hearty One Skillet Dinner

Hearty One Skillet Dinner

Hearty One Skillet Dinner

Balsamic Chicken and Vegetables…

Once again, another chicken recipe. What can I say, I love chicken. I like this recipe because it is quick, colorful and ever so delicious. Just one half hour and you’re putting a great meal on the table.

So let’s talk balsamic chicken and vegetables…

The ingredients.

The ingredients.

Lesson Learned 1 – Preparation is the key to success in this recipe: This recipe cooks relatively quickly. It is important to have everything prepped ahead of time so that you can move seamlessly through the steps.

I got everything ready and had the ingredients in prep bowls so that I could add things systematically. Because this recipe cooks so quickly it would be difficult, if not impossible to prep things as you went along.

Lesson Learned 2 – Cooking with shredded carrots: Boy, did I learn my lesson on this one. When carrots are cut that thinly they cook very quickly. I added them in with the asparagus and tomatoes and they overcooked. If you decide to add shredded carrots to this recipe add them at the end when you put the chicken back in the pan.  That gives them only a couple of minutes to get warm which is what you want. As you notice in my final pictures you don’t see the carrots. They got so overdone that I just tossed them. True lesson learned.  (you see, even cooks that have a lot of successes can have failures too – it’s all part of the process).

Lesson Learned 3 – Use cherry tomatoes and keep them whole: You can use any kind of tomato in this recipe, but I found that if you use cherry tomatoes and keep them whole they cook in the same amount of time as the asparagus. The cherry tomatoes were just starting to burst at the time the asparagus became crisp tender.

Chicken TenderloinsLesson Learned 4 – Use chicken tenderloins for this recipe: You can buy prepackaged chicken tenderloins or you can cut your own from boneless skinless chicken breasts. Chicken tenderloins are slightly thicker than chicken cutlets (about a quarter of an inch or so) and they cook very quickly, I found cooking them for 3 minutes on each side and then adding them back to the pan at the end for a couple of minutes was more than enough time. The tenderloins were cooked and still juicy.

Lesson Learned 5 – Be careful how much oil you use: I cooked this in a well seasoned cast iron skillet so I only used about a tablespoon of garlic infused olive oil. You can use two tablespoons of oil or a combination of one tablespoon oil and one tablespoon butter but if you do, measure it and don’t eyeball it. You don’t want the end result to be greasy and if you’re not careful that’s what will happen. Less is more where the oil is concerned in this recipe.

This is a great recipe for a quick meal that tastes special. Try it and let me know what you think!

BALSAMIC CHICKEN AND VEGETABLES…

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

Balsamic Chicken and Vegetables1 Packet Italian Dressing Mix (make according to directions on the packet)

3 Tbsp. good balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 Tbs. honey

1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes, optional

1 – 2 Tbs. olive oil (no more than 2)

1/4 cup shallots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

6-8 chicken tenderloins

1 pound asparagus, trimmed

1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, left whole

1 cup shredded carrots, optional (see lessons learned above)

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a large prepare the salad dressing mix according to the instructions on the packet. Add the balsamic vinegar, honey and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

Heat oil in (preferably) a large cast iron skillet. Pat chicken tenderloins dry with a paper towel. Season one side with salt and pepper. Place the tenderloins seasoned side down in the heated oil. Season the other side of the tenderloins. Cook for three to four minutes on each side. Remove the tenderloins from the pan and cover them with foil to keep them warm.

Add the shallots and garlic to the pan. Cook for only a minute. Add half the salad dressing mixture to the pan. Add the asparagus and tomatoes. Cook for about 3 minutes or just until you see slightly cracking on the skins of the tomatoes.

Remove the veggies from the pan and cover them to keep them warm. Add the remaining salad dressing mix and cook stirring constantly until the liquid begins to reduce and thicken. Turn down the heat and the chicken and veggies back into the skillet. Cook for another two minutes. Serve immediately.

Balsamic Chicken and Vegetables

Serving Suggestion: Balsamic Chicken And Vegetables With And Individual Sweet Potato Casserole

Serving Suggestion: Balsamic Chicken And Vegetables With An Individual Sweet Potato Casserole

Roast Chicken In A Cast Iron Skillet…

Anyway you slice it, I like chicken. I don’t think there’s a chicken recipe out there that I don’t love. And I’m always looking for new ways to prepare chicken. Never in a million years did I ever think I’d find a new way to roast chicken. But I’m always learning new things in the kitchen, and this roast chicken recipe has quickly become my go-to way of making chicken.

This recipe is so easy and I say this, without reservation, it produces the best roast chicken ever! The most time consuming part of the process is making the rub and cutting the vegetables. The rest of the work is done by the cast iron skillet. Amazing!

So let’s talk roast chicken in a cast iron skillet…

Roast Chicken In A Cast Iron SkilletLesson Learned 1 – Cut the butternut squash and russet potato into large pieces: This recipe is designed for two with plenty of chicken remaining for your favorite leftover recipes (I used my leftovers to make chicken salad). The thing to remember is the chicken will be roasting at a high temperature, 400 degrees, for an hour to an hour and a half. If you don’t cut your squash and potatoes into large chunks they will become mush. I cut my squash into squares a little less than an inch thick and they turned out perfectly. I cut the potato in half lengthwise and then in inch and a half sized half moons and again they were perfectly done.

Lesson Learned 2 – Resist the urge to baste the chicken: In the past I would baste my chicken all the time thinking it would create a crispy skin. In actuality it does quite the opposite. Because you roast the chicken at a high heat all you need to do is brush the skin with some melted butter before you put it in the oven. Then leave the chicken alone.

At the half way mark baste the squash and potatoes with the liquid in the pan. That worked well and helped to soak the bacon and chive seasoning I used into them. But remember to leave the chicken alone.

Lesson Learned 3 – Once the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees, remove the skillet from the oven, cover it with foil and let is rest for 20 minutes: With chicken, turkey, steak, etc., it is so important to let it rest once the meat has reached its desired cooking temperature. That allows for all the juices to redistribute into the meat and not wind up running all over your plate. The chicken will carve easily if you let it rest.

I don’t think I will roast a small chicken using any other method than this one ever again. I was so amazed at how simple everything was and how delicious the chicken, squash and potatoes were. If you love chicken the way I love chicken, you simply have to try this recipe!

Roast Chicken In A Cast Iron Skillet…

  • Servings: 2 With Leftovers
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 five pound roasting chicken (I roasted a 5 1/2 pound chicken)

1 1/2 tsp. garlic, minced

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or you can used dried sage)

Butternut squash cut into large chunks (one small squash should be more than enough)

1 russet potato, halved and cut into 1 1/2 inch half moons

1 1/2 Tbs. bacon and chive seasoning

4 Tbs. melted butter, divided

1 tsp. garlic infused olive oil (you can use plain olive oil as well)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Clean and pat dry the chicken. Mix together the garlic, salt, pepper and thyme to use as a rub. Using your fingers, slide your hand between the breast skin and the chicken. Take the thyme mixture and rub it between the skin and the meat. Any remaining mixture can be rubbed onto the surface of the outer skin.

With a pastry brush lightly brush some melted butter on the bottom of a 10 or 12 inch cast iron skillet (I used a 10 inch skillet). Place the chicken in the skillet. Baste the top of the chicken with some butter.

In a large bowl cut up the squash and potatoes. Sprinkle them with olive oil and stir until the squash and potatoes are coated. Add the bacon and chive seasoning and stir until coated. Place the squash on one side of the chicken and the potatoes on the other. Pour the remaining melted butter over the squash and potatoes.

Roast for an hour to an hour and a half or until a meat thermometer stuck into the thickest area of the chicken between the breast and leg reads 160 degrees. (My chicken needed to roast for 1 1/2 hours. A smaller one should take about an hour). Half way through the roasting process baste the squash and potatoes with the juices that have accumulated in the skillet.

Once the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees, remove the skillet from the oven, cover it with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes. Carve and serve.

Roast Chicken In A Cast Iron Skillet

Roast Chicken In A Cast Iron Skillet

Roast Chicken In A Cast Iron Skillet

Salisbury Steak Smothered In A Mushroom Onion Sauce…

Want a meal that is a step up from just a regular hamburger? Try making salisbury steak. The key to the flavor in this recipe is the ingredients mixed in with the ground beef and the wonderfully decadent sauce. This recipe doesn’t take much longer to make than just a plain old hamburger and it adds a little flair to serving ground beef. So jazz it up next time. I’m sure your family will love it.

I first saw the Pioneer Woman make Salisbury Steak on her television program and she has a recipe for it in one of her books. I looked at her recipe and changed a few things up and both my husband and I said this was the most flavorful ground beef we’ve had in a long time.

So let’s talk making Salisbury Steak.

Lesson Learned 1: I found two secret weapon flavor enhancers – in her recipe, the Pioneer woman uses beef bouillon cubes in her ground meat and Kitchen Bouquet in her sauce to add depth of flavor. I found this stuff called “Better Than Bouillon” which is a roasted beef sauce made with seasoned roasted beef. It has a gel-like consistency. I used it instead of bouillon and I really believe it boosted the flavor – tons! I now use it even when I make hamburgers to kick the flavor up a notch. I think it’s great stuff. You should try it.

Flavor Enchancers

I used Country Bob’s original all purpose sauce to enhance the flavor of the sauce and the sauce was divine. I guess what I’m trying to say here is try different substitutions in recipes you make. You might find that you like the recipe with the substitutions even better than the original.

Lesson Learned 2: Try using seasoned panko bread crumbs instead of just regular seasoned bread crumbs: I think the panko gives the meat a nice texture as well as flavor and I found I could use a slightly lesser amount than regular bread crumbs.

IMG_9180You want to be careful not to overload your ground beef with bread crumbs. You’ll dry it out. After making hamburgers and meatloaf for years and now salisbury steak, I know how the beef should feel so that it will not be overly dry. It should feel moist but not overly sticky. This is something you’ll get a feel for over time. Don’t worry about it.  I always add about half the amount of bread crumbs the recipe calls for to begin with and add more from there. You can always add more and you don’t want to wind up with too much bread crumbs in the mix.

Elongated PattiesLesson Learned 3: Make sure you sufficiently elongate the patties:  Just like a hamburger, these patties will shrink and rise in the center if you don’t elongate them sufficiently and then put an indentation in the center to prevent them puffing up. You can see by my pictures that I didn’t quite nail that process. It doesn’t matter from a flavor perspective, just from a visual perspective. And visually you want to create a different look than that of just a plain old hamburger.

Lesson Learned 4: Used a cast iron skillet for this recipe if you have one: Cast iron provides you with the most even heat which I think is important when you’re cooking everything on the stove but especially ground beef patties. Invest in a basic no frills cast iron skillet. Depending on the size you choose, it could cost you between $15-$25 and will probably be one of the best cooking investments you’ll ever make that you will hand down to your grandchildren.

Patties cooked in a cast iron skillet

This recipe is a nice way to dress up ground beef. Try it and let me know what you think.

Salisbury Steak Smothered In A Mushroom Onion Sauce

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

PATTIES:

1 pound ground beef

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (I used parmesan herb)

2 Tbs. heavy cream

2 tsp dijon mustard

1 Tbs. Better Than Bouillon Roasted Beef Base

1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbs ketchup

Salt and pepper

1 Tbs. butter

1 Tbs. garlic infused olive oil (you can substitute plain olive oil)

SAUCE:

1 medium onion, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

6 – 8 baby bella mushrooms, sliced

2 1/4 cups beef broth (save 1/4 cup to mix with the corn starch)

1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbs. ketchup

1 Tbs. Country Bob’s all purpose sauce (or you can substitute a different steak sauce)

2 Tbs. corn starch

Salt and Pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Make the patties by combining all of the ingredients for the patties except the butter and olive oil. Make sure to sufficiently flatten the patties into an oblong shape and make an indentation in the center so they keep their shape.  Add the butter and olive oil to a cast iron skillet. Cook the patties on both sides. about 3 minutes per side.

Remove the patties to a plate and cover them with foil to keep them warm. In the same skillet (you can add a little more butter or oil if you feel you need it) sauté the onions and mushrooms until the onions start to brown slightly. Add the garlic and sauté another minute until the garlic becomes fragrant. Whisk together the two cups beef broth, worcestershire sauce, ketchup and all purpose sauce and add it to the onions and garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes.

Whisk together the remaining beef broth and corn starch until there are no lumps. Add to the sauce. Cook on higher heat until the sauce bubbles and starts to thicken.

Put the patties back in the pan and cover them with the sauce. Let them simmer for a couple of minutes. Serve immediately.

Salisbury Steak Patties Smothered In Sauce

Salisbury Steak Patties Smothered In Sauce

Salisbury Steak

Serving Suggestion: With Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Peas and Carrots

Serving Suggestion: With Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Peas and Carrots

 

 

 

 

 

Quick And Easy Baked Lobster Tails (no lie)…

I don’t know about you but for years I lived in fear of making lobster tails. Everything you read warns you not to overcook them because they will turn rubbery (much like calamari and shrimp) but because they tend to be pricier the fear factor increases exponentially.

Well no more! I decided over the holidays that I would tackle my fear of making lobster tails. In the past, I tried to make lobster tails mostly by broiling them. Sometimes I would be successful and other times not. But this time I tried baking them and I can tell you it will be my preferred method from now on. It is soooo easy and takes out almost all the guesswork (I wish I could say it takes out all of the guesswork but I would be lying) that you need not fear making lobster tails anymore. All you need is your oven set to 350 degrees and a good instant read thermometer.

So let’s talk oven baked lobster tails…

  1. What most people think is the hardest part – getting the tail out of the shell: This used to be one of my biggest challenges. All I can say is thank goodness we have YouTube – I found this video about removing the lobster meat from the tail and it was the absolute key to my success. I encourage you to watch it because this method works and is so easy. I baked my tails on top of the shell and this video shows you exactly how to get the meat out and rest it on the shell.

2. Let the lobster meat rest on the counter for about 15 minutes before baking: First and foremost it is absolutely essential that the lobster tail be completely thawed if frozen. I put my lobster tails in the refrigerator the night before and that did the trick. Most people are afraid to let fish rest a little on the counter like red meat. Of course you would never leave fish out to get to room temperature, but I found if you take the fish out of the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter for just 15 minutes before you cook it, it really helps the cooking time hold true. Don’t leave it out any longer than that, just enough to take the cold edge off the fish.

Baking lobster tails is so easy you’ll want to make them more often. Keep this recipe in your back pocket for when you want to impress, because impress you will!

Quick And Easy Baked Lobster Tails (No Lie)…

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

4 six ounce lobster tails

1 stick butter, melted for seasoning and dipping

Old Bay Seasoning

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove lobster meat from tail and rest the meat on the tail. Brush lobster meat with melted butter. Lightly sprinkle the seasoning on top of each tail.

Bake in oven for 15 – 20 minutes. (Check the tails at 15 minutes with an instant read thermometer. If the temperature reads 140-145 degrees, the tails are done). My tails baked in 17 minutes but I live in high altitude and food generally takes slightly longer to cook.

Serve immediately with drawn butter.

Lobster Tail

Lobster Tail and Filet Mignon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creamy Shrimp and Cauliflower Casserole

My goal with this blog is to make one new recipe a week. Sometimes that can be an arduous task and other times I can make a few in the same timeframe. I made this recipe a couple of weeks ago and absolutely loved it. I had a taste for shrimp and decided to try a different way of preparing it.

Casseroles can be deceiving. We tend to look at them as the convenience of a one dish meal with lots of different ingredients, and that’s true. What one forgets is that normally there is a lot of prep that goes into making a casserole, and so if you are not a prep person like I am, casseroles may not be the ticket for you.

So let’s talk creamy shrimp and cauliflower casserole:

Fresh uncooked shrimpLesson Learned 1 – Is your shrimp really deveined? Most people like to buy shrimp that is deveined with the shell removed so that they don’t have to do as much prep. But is shrimp marketed as deveined really completely deveined?  What I didn’t realize early on is shrimp has veins on both sides, the top and the bottom and when you purchase “deveined” shrimp only the top vein is removed. Next time you buy deveined shrimp check out the bottom and you will see that little black vein running through the bottom as well. Some people leave it in, I remove it. That adds to the prep time but then I’m not eating this disgusting vein once the shrimp is cooked.

For this recipe I got fresh shrimp from my fishmonger that was deveined on top but still had the shell, tail and bottom vein. I removed all of that before adding the shrimp to the other casserole ingredients.

Steamed CauliflowerLesson Learned 2 – This is what the prep entails: Not only do you have to prep the shrimp, you need to cut up and steam the cauliflower, cut up the spinach, melt the butter, grate the cheese and chop the parsley. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it does take a little time. My advice here is to grate your own cheese versus using prepackaged shredded cheese. Prepackaged shredded cheese has an additive in it that prevents the cheese shreds from sticking together. Anytime you can eliminate any additives in your food the better. Sure it takes a little more time, but consider the cumulative effects of those additives in your body over several years. Isn’t it worth a couple of extra minutes to grate the cheese yourself and eliminate those additives?

Lesson Learned 3 – Like most casseroles, you can decide what cheese works best for you: When I made the casserole I used a combination of gruyere and pepper jack cheeses along with the romano. I wasn’t sure if using just pepper jack alone would overpower the casserole. Next time I’m only going to use pepper jack and romano. I like the tang pepper jack gives the casserole and I don’t think it will be too much. Experiment with the cheese you like. Just make sure you are using a good melting cheese.

All Casserole Ingredients Mixed Together

I really liked this casserole, and it was a new way for me to serve shrimp. Try it and tell me what you think.

Creamy Shrimp and Cauliflower Casserole

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Creamy Shrimp and Cauliflower Casserole1 small cauliflower cut up and steamed until fork tender

1 cup fresh baby spinach, chopped

1/3 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped in large chunks

1/4 coconut milk

3 Tbs. melted butter, slightly cooled

1 extra large egg, beaten

4 baby bella mushrooms quartered

1/2 cup grated Romano

1 cup grated cheese (I used a combination of gruyere and pepper jack)

1 tsp. italian parsley, minced for the casserole and an extra tsp. or so for garnish

1 tsp. garlic powder

1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 1 quart casserole dish and set aside.

In a small bowl combine the egg, coconut milk, garlic, parsley. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Put the cauliflower in another bowl and add the grated cheeses and egg mixture. Stir until the cauliflower is evenly coated. Add the shrimp, spinach and mushrooms and stir to combine.

Pour into prepared pan. Top with a light dusting of bread crumbs (you may not need the entire 1/3 cup). Bake for 25 – 35 minutes. (You want the cheese to be melted and the shrimp to be pink. I live in high altitude so it took me 35 minutes. At sea level I would start checking the casserole at 25 minutes).

Transfer to a plate and garnish with some additional chopped italian parsley and serve.

Ready for the oven

Fresh out of the oven

 Creamy Shrimp and Cauliflower Casserole

Chicken Meatballs In Cheesy Tomato Cream Sauce…

I was in search of somewhat quick comfort food meal that was a little bit out of our ordinary faire. My husband suggested trying to make meatballs with ground chicken and I took it from there.

Meatball IngredientsI’d never made meatballs with anything other than ground beef so I was interested to see how they would turn out. They were fabulous, but I have to admit they still tasted like a regular old meatball to me. It was fun experimenting with a different spin on meatballs and the meal was absolutely divine with very little fuss.

So let’s talk chicken meatballs in cheesy tomato cream sauce…

The meatball mixtureLesson Learned 1 – Although in the end they may taste similar, working with ground chicken is different than working with ground beef: Because ground chicken is leaner you have to be careful how you mix it and how much you cook it. Otherwise you will be stuck with dry, tasteless meatballs.

First of all, to keep the mixture moist I added a tablespoon of sour cream and 1/4 cup milk along with an egg. I will warn you now, the mixture will be very moist as seen in the picture to the left. I started out with 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs and wound up adding about 1/4 cup more. Keep in mind you do want the mixture to be very moist, probably more moist than you think. Although it seemed a little strange at first, this consistency produced tender, juicy meatballs.

You also want to make sure you don’t overcook the meatballs. I formed the meatballs using a well rounded teaspoonful of the mixture and rolling them in my hand. I arranged them on a pan lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray. They went under the broiler for about 6 minutes and then I cooked them through in the simmering tomato sauce. The pictures below show the meatballs before and after going under the broiler.  There appears to be only a slight difference. You put them under the broiler to “set” them so when you take them out they are only somewhat cooked. But trust me, the tomato sauce will do the rest of the work and you’ll have fabulous and tender meatballs in the end.

Meatballs Before Going Under The Broiler

Meatballs Before Going Under The Broiler

How The Meatball Should Look After Coming Out From The Broiler

How The Meatballs Should Looking Coming Out From Under The Broiler

Lesson Learned 2 – Use good ingredients: I always remember Ina Garten saying that you need to use good ingredients in order to have the best outcome. I am especially referring to the tomato sauce you use. With this particular recipe I used a tomato basil sauce. Now you may turn up your nose on “organic” but I actually spent time reading the labels on many sauce jars and was surprised by some of the ingredients in them. I finally settled on a little known organic brand that had only fresh clean ingredients and no chemical sounding names. It was a little more expensive, but I felt good about what I was eating and the sauce was divine. It’s your choice. I just get a little uncomfortable putting ingredients into my body that I cannot even pronounce.

Mozzarella PearlsLesson Learned 3 – Use only a small amount of mozzarella pearls: I was happy to discover that you can buy mozzarella in a size called “pearls”. They are much smaller than mozzarella balls and just the perfect size for this recipe.

You may think you want to put in more than what is called for in the recipe but I would advise against it. Too many mozzarella pearls and your sauce will get overly thick and gloppy. You want the flavor of the mozzarella and a slight texture of melted stringiness in the cheese. In this case a little goes a long way. If for some reason you add too much and your sauce gets too thick, simply add some of the pasta water to the pot to thin the sauce. Or you can use chicken broth and get the same result.

You can find mozzarella pearls in the dairy case next to the fresh mozzarella. This was quite a find for me as I can envision using them in a lot of other recipes.

Adding Mozzarella Pearls To The Sauce

Mozarella Pearls Added To The Sauce

The biggest part of the work in this recipe is assembling the meatballs. If you are pressed for time prepare the mixture the night before. It takes no time to roll them up and put them under the broiler. The rest is basically adding them to the sauce, heating the sauce while cooking the pasta and adding the mozzarella at the end. My husband gave a two thumbs up to this recipe, so you know it has to be good!

Chicken Meatballs In Cheesy Tomato Cream Sauce…

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1/2 – 3/4 cup italian style panko bread crumbsChicken Meatballs In A Cheesy Tomato Cream Sauce

1/4 cup whole milk

1 lb. ground chicken

1 egg

2 Tbs finely grated onion

1 Tbs. fresh parsley, minced

1 Tbs. sour cream

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

2 cups pasta (I used a pasta called orecchiette)

Pasta water, if necessary to thin out the sauce

1 jar organic tomato basil sauce

1 Tbs. tomato paste

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup mozzarella pearls

Fresh parsley or basil, chopped for garnish.

DIRECTIONS:

For the meatballs: Set your oven rack in the center of the oven and put the broiler on high. In a large bowl combine 1/2 cup panko, milk, chicken, egg, onion parsley, sour cream, salt and pepper. The mixture will be very moist. If too moist add a little more panko being careful not to make the mixture too dry. Take rounded teaspoonfuls of the mixture and roll into meatballs approximately one inch thick. Spray a foil lined pan with cooking spray and arrange the meatballs on the pan. Broil the meatballs for 5-6 minutes until very lightly golden.

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. While the pasta is cooking put the tomato sauce in a deep pan, and heat. Once the sauce is warmed through add the tomato paste and stir until combined. Add the cream and simmer for a few minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer for an additional five minutes. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce. Add the mozzarella pearls and stir until melted. If pasta sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water to thin it.

Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve immediately.

Tomato Basil Sauce With Orecchiette Pasta

Chicken Meatballs In A Cheesy Tomato Cream Sauce

Chicken Meatballs In Cheesy Tomato Cream Sauce…

Grilled Salmon In Foil Packets

It’s getting close to the time when grilling food will be less and oven prepared food will be more. Well, this recipe gives you that grilled look from being baked in the oven in a foil packet. What I like about this recipe is it’s so easy to prepare and cook, so even if your a novice at cooking fish this recipe will turn you into a pro!

So let’s talk about grilled salmon in foil packets…

Two Six Ounce Salmon Filets

Two Six Ounce Salmon Filets

Lesson Learned 1 – The portion size for salmon: I had a butcher tell me that the correct portion size for salmon is eight ounces. I don’t agree with that. I think it is six ounces. If you’re feeding big eaters get eight ounce portions, but for most six ounces is more than enough. Both six and eight ounce portions cook for approximately the same time, give or take a few minutes for the larger size portion. Stick with a 6 ounce portion and the cooking time in the recipe and the salmon will turn out perfectly every time. I have a wonderful grocery store nearby that always has large pieces of salmon in the meat case. I get the butcher to cut them fresh for me every time. I also ask the butcher to cut the piece from the center and not from the ends.

Lesson Learned 2 – Removing the skin from the salmon: This is probably the most time consuming part of the entire recipe. You need to remove the skin of the salmon before baking it. Now you can always ask a butcher to do that, but I prefer doing it myself as I like to make sure that I am removing the skin with the least amount of flesh attached to it. But if you’re afraid to do it or feel like you don’t have the time, just ask your butcher.

Removing the skin from the salmonTo remove the skin you need to work with a very sharp knife. I use a boning knife. Start at the thick end of the filet and see if, by hand, you can slightly lift up part of the skin. Normally you can. Then place the blade of the knife up against the skin and slowly begin to move the knife down the skin. While your moving your knife, try to get as much of your hand holding the skin and pull toward the thin end of the filet as you move the knife.

This process may take a little time and you want to make sure you are removing mostly skin and not flesh. That is why you need a very sharp knife for this. Otherwise you may sacrifice a lot of the salmon to the skin. Take your time and don’t get frustrated. Just continue to methodically move the knife down the skin will pulling the skin toward the thin side of the filet.

That grilled look from baking in the ovenLesson Learned 3 – Getting the grilled on the salmon filet by using a foil packet: Once the salmon has marinated you just put it in a foil packet on a baking sheet and roast it in the oven for 15 minutes. No need to prep the foil in any way. Since the marinade has brown sugar in it, the bottom of the salmon will slightly caramelize. When removing the salmon from the packet simply flip it over when you put it on the plate and the salmon will look like it was made on the grill. It’s so easy and such a neat trick!

This is my go to salmon recipe. I love it because it is quick and easy and, by the way, did I tell you it’s pretty darn delicious. So try this one and tell me what you think…

Grilled Salmon In Foil Packets…

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

4 six ounce salmon filets, skin removed

1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup water

half of a third of a cup of vegetable oil

2 medium-large garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves, slightly chopped (I used lemony thyme)

1 tsp. lemon pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Put the brown sugar, soy sauce, water, oil, garlic, thyme and lemon pepper into a bowl. Whisk completely making sure to incorporate all of the brown sugar into the liquid.

Place the salmon filets into a resealable bag. Pour the marinade over the filets. NOTE:  You may need to use a spatula to get the residual brown sugar from the bottom of the bowl into the bag. It is important that as much brown sugar as possible is in the marinade mixture while the filets are marinating. Marinate the filets for 3-4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with foil. Using a piece of additional foil for each filet, loosely wrap the filet in the foil folding the edges up at the ends to make a packet. Place all the packets on the foil lined pan.

Bake for 15 minutes. When removing the salmon from the foil, make sure to flip it over so the caramelized side is on the top when serving. Serve immediately.

The Marinade

The Marinade

Marinate Filets In A Resealable Bag For 4 Hours

Put the salmon and marinade into a resealable plastic bag…

A Foil Packet

Salmon in a foil packet…

Serving Suggestion: Grilled Salmon with Panko Crusted Tomatoes and Roasted Baby Red Potatoes...

Serving Suggestion: Grilled Salmon with Panko Crusted Tomatoes and Roasted Baby Red Potatoes…

Pork Medallions with Marsala Mushroom Sauce…

There’s almost nothing that beats a good pork tenderloin. I’ve mastered the art of cooking this very tender cut of meat and am always looking for new ways to prepare it. I made this recipe the other day and it hit the spot. It’s a shining example of what comfort food is all about.

You can easily find pork tenderloins in the grocery stores packaged in a variety of marinades or plain. For this recipe I chose a lemon pepper marinated loin. You can choose whatever you want. Just make sure whatever marinade you choose will blend nicely with the marsala mushroom sauce.

What’s also great about this dish is it’s pretty easy and quick to prepare, so instead of having the same old boring thing for dinner you can make this and get it on the table in half an hour. I served it over store bought pre-made mashed potatoes (I like the Bob Evans brand the best) with a side of marinated grilled zucchini. it was fabulous!

So lets talk pork medallions with marsala mushroom sauce…

Two Inch Thick Medallions...Lesson Learned 1 – Cut the tenderloin into 2 inch medallions: Two inches is the perfect thickness to cook in the allotted time. Remember pork tenderloin is just like a boneless, skinless chicken breast. Both can be extremely flavorful and tender but most people tend to overcook them. A slight pink in the center of the pork is perfectly fine. Overcooking a piece of meat that has minimal to no fat like this can be a little tricky. If you cut the medallions to two inches in thickness, three minutes on each side should do the trick (you will also simmer them in the sauce for a couple of minutes at the end).

Make sure you start with a hot pot. That is why you use a combination of both butter and oil in the pan. Butter has a lower smoke point and the oil offsets that so you can get the pan warmer without burning Nicely Seared Medallionthe butter while still getting the butter flavor. You want the pork to get a nice sear. At about three minutes you should easily be able to turn the medallion over without it sticking to the pan. If not, let it cook a little while longer. Don’t force the meat from the pan. When the meat is adequately seared it will automatically release itself from the pan and you will be able to turn it over easily. The picture on the left shows the type of sear you want to get on your medallions. Don’t worry, the pan will do all the work for you if you are patient. The second side should cook within 2 -3 minutes.

Simmer the medallions in the wine sauce for a few minutes before servingLesson Learned 2 – Don’t crowd the medallions while searing them: If you have to, cook the medallions in batches. If you overcrowd them in the pan they will steam instead of sear. Once you return the medallions to the sauce you will simmer them for a couple of minutes to complete the cooking process (picture to the right). Searing will insure that you keep all those wonderful juices in the meat.

Lesson Learned 3 – Shut off the heat and take the pan off the stove when adding the Marsala and white wine to the pan: Recipes quite often forget to mention this, and this is an important safety tip. Any type of alcohol added over a heat source can cause a fire flare up. You want to avoid burning yourself or setting the house on fire. So be on the safe side. Take the pan off the heat source, add the wine and then return the pan to the heat. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

I cut the entire tenderloin into medallions used six for this recipe and froze the rest. This recipe is designed to serve two bigger or three smaller appetites but you can easily increase the ingredients to serve more.

Pork Medallions With Marsala Mushroom Sauce

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:Pork Medallions in a Marsala Mushroom Sauce

2 Tbs. unsalted butter

2 Tbs. olive oil

6 two inch thick pork medallions (I chose a lemon pepper marinated tenderloin)

1 large shallot, minced

1/2 cup Marsala wine

1/4 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay)

2 Tbs. heavy cream

1 Tbs. cornstarch

Salt and pepper to taste

4 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced

DIRECTIONS:

Heat olive oil and butter over medium – high heat. Add pork medallions and brown on both sides – approximately three minutes on each side. Remove medallions from pan to a plate and cover with foil to keep them warm.

Add shallots and mushrooms to the pan and stir until coated with the pan drippings. After the mushrooms have slightly softened, remove the pan from the heat. Add the Marsala wine, chicken stock and white wine. Place back on the heat and continue to cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Combine heavy cream and cornstarch. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Add the cream mixture to the pan and whisk into the sauce until it starts to thicken. Taste the sauce to see if it needs salt and pepper. Season to taste. Return the pork medallions to the pan an simmer in the sauce for about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Serving Suggestion: Pork Medallions Over Mashed Potatoes With Grilled Zucchini

Serving Suggestion: Pork Medallions Over Mashed Potatoes With Grilled Zucchini…

Pork Medallions With Marsala Mushroom Sauce: so easy and great for any week night meal!

Oven Baked BBQ Ribs…

The Fourth of July is less than a week away and that normally means outdoor parties and lots of barbecuing – hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken wings and ribs. And quite often if Mother Nature decides to rain on your parade, you’re left with a conundrum of how to get that great barbecue taste without using the grill –  especially for those ribs. Fear no more. I have a great recipe that can be made all year round. This recipe provides great barbecue flavor without the use of a grill (if you so choose).

My oven baked barbecue ribs are made in the oven and finished off either on a stove top grill, broiler or outdoor grill. I guarantee you, you’ll think these cooked on the grill the whole time. The trick to getting that barbecue flavor without cooking on the grill is pretty simple, liquid smoke. And cooking the ribs low and slow in the oven keeps them moist and tender. Try this recipe and you’ll enjoy barbecue ribs all year long!

Rub Ingredients

Rub Ingredients

Lesson Learned 1 – Less is more with liquid smoke: Liquid smoke is what gives the rub for these ribs that barbecue flavor. But be careful because it can be an overpowering ingredient. I get pretty heavy handed with it because I love a heartier flavor and smell, but be aware that might not be your preference. I would try 2-3 drops initially with the rub ingredients. After mixing all the ingredients together take a test whiff. If you cannot smell smokiness or you want more smokiness then add a little more. I use about 6-8 drops but I would not recommend it for everyone initially, especially if you’ve never used liquid smoke before. You can always add more.

You can also brush the ribs with liquid smoke before applying the rub. This will give them an even deeper smoky flavor. Either way be careful until you are comfortable with the amount of liquid smoke that is right for you to use.

Lesson Learned 2 – Peel off the tough membrane that covers the bony side of the ribs: You may not readily see it but you will know it’s there when you try to eat the ribs. I am referring to the tough membrane that covers the bones. I’ll warn you up front, it can be a challenge to remove it. For me, there are times it comes off easily and other times I have to fight with it. Take a sharp paring knife and start at the large end of the bones. Insert the paring knife between the membrane and the bones working it back and forth until you get enough membrane that you can easily grab. You can also use the end of a spoon or kitchen sheers to loosen the membrane. First try and loosen the membrane all the way across the top. Then begin pulling it downwards over the bones until you’ve removed it.

If you buy your ribs at a butcher shop you can ask the butcher to do this for you. Some butcher shops do this automatically before putting the ribs in the meat case. Make sure you ask the butcher if the membrane has been removed. If it hasn’t have the butcher do it for you. That should be an expected service. If you buy your ribs prepackaged you’ll have to do this yourself. Can you leave it on? Certainly, but you will get a crispy tasteless substance on the bottom of your ribs. If you encounter a stubborn membrane just leave it on. You don’t have to eat it. It’s just a slight nuisance when you’re eating your ribs.

IMG_5753Lesson Learned 3 – Foil is your best friend while making this recipe: Besides making the foil packet for the ribs I recommend you also line the jelly roll pan you bake them on with foil. That way if any liquid leaks out of the packet it will not burn into your pan. Remember you are working with a brown sugar rub, and if the brown sugar leaks out it will create a baked on nightmare. If you line your pan with foil clean up is a breeze.

Lesson Learned 4 – You have three ways to finish off this recipe: Once you remove the ribs from the oven you can either finish them off on a grill, under the broiler or on a stove top grill. I always finish mine off on the grill because I have a gas grill and it’s easy to use on short notice. If you finish them off under the broiler or on a stove top grill remember to protect your pans. Either use foil (if you’re finishing them off under the broiler) or cooking spray if you’re finishing them off on a stove top grill. At clean up time you’ll be glad you did.

Oven Baked BBQ Ribs…

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

4 lbs. of pork ribs

3/4 cup brown sugar

Liquid Smoke, to taste (I use 6-8 drops)

1 Tbs. paprika

1 Tbs. garlic powder

Your favorite barbecue sauce

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Peel the tough membrane off the back side of the ribs (see lessons learned above). Mix together the brown sugar, liquid smoke, paprika and garlic powder. Apply the rub to both sides of the ribs.

Lay ribs on a sheet of foil (with substantial overlay) shiny side out and meat side down. Lay another layer of foil on the top of the ribs. Join the top and bottom pieces of foil together and crimp. Crimp the edges all the way around the ribs facing up. Line a jelly roll pan with foil. Place the ribs packet(s) on the foil lined pan.

Bake for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until the meat starts to shrink away from the bone. Remove from oven. If using a grill, during the last half hour of oven baking light your grill and get it up to a temperature not exceeding 375 degrees. (If using a grill you might leave the ribs on for a little less time than if using a broiler. You don’t want the ribs to burn). If using a broiler, set it on high with the oven rack a good 10 – 12 inches from the heat source.

Place ribs on the grill bony side up. Brush on the sauce. Cook for a couple of minutes. Turn the ribs over. Brush on sauce. Cook for another couple of minutes. Take off the grill and serve.

The Ribs Right Out Of The Oven

The Ribs Right Out Of The Oven

Oven Baked BBQ Ribs

Oven Baked BBQ Ribs

Ground Beef and Crispy Potato Casserole…

Lately I have been posting a lot of baking recipes so I thought this time I’d go for something savory. I had some ground beef in the refrigerator and I started to think about how I could prepare it in ways other than more traditional faire like burgers, meatloaf or tacos. Then I thought about Shepherd’s Pie. I’ve made Shepherd’s Pie with left over pot roast (the traditional recipe) and I’ve also made a Turkey Style Shepherd’s Pie but I didn’t have any left over mashed potatoes and didn’t feel like making some.

What I did have was a bag of frozen diced potatoes and a bag of frozen vegetables and the recipe grew out of that. I also had a hodgepodge of shredded cheeses in my refrigerator and I decided to try to incorporate that – sort of a clean out your fridge and freezer type of recipe. I never could have imagined how tasty this would be. After we had this for dinner my husband was already looking forward to eating the leftovers.

The most time consuming part of this recipe is assembling the ingredients but once that’s done, like any other casserole, all you do is pop it in the oven and wait for it to do its thing. This recipe requires using two pots and a casserole dish but believe me the end result is worth it. Try it out and see what you think!

IMG_4961Lesson Learned 1 – There is some prep to this recipe: But tell me now, what from scratch recipe does not require some prep. You brown the onions, add the meat and seasonings, add the veggies and cook thru till warm while in another pot you make the homemade cheese sauce. But at least this way you know every ingredient that is going into the recipe and that’s the beauty of making it from scratch – you control all of the ingredients.   There are ways you can shorten the prep time by perhaps using a prepared cheese sauce but  now that I’ve mastered making my own sauces and gravies I very seldom, if ever, revert to buying them packaged or jarred. And really, you have to admit, homemade tastes so much better. So take the time to do the prep – it’s worth it.

kicproductimage-120658Lesson Learned 2 – It’s easy to adapt this to a meatless recipe: Quite often I post on my Facebook page a picture of the next recipe I will blog as a teaser for what’s to come. This time when I posted a picture for this dish I got two very specific comments. The first was that I should write a recipe book and I am seriously thinking about doing an ebook. (Have any of you done that – would love to hear your story). The second was that you could substitute veggie crumbles for the ground beef in this recipe. To be honest, I had never heard of veggie crumbles before and I wondered why you would substitute the meat for veggies when veggies are already included in the recipe. But I was thankful to learn about this. A few of my friends who are not carnivores say they use these crumbles when making chili or tacos and they tell me it’s a great substitute. So I wanted to offer that piece of information here. This is definitely the kind of recipe that could use the crumbles as a substitute for the ground beef. I am not recommending any particular brand. Both MorningStar Farms and Boca make the crumbles. I just wanted to give you an example of what you might consider.

Lesson Learned 3 – Any frozen vegetables will do: I had some frozen broccoli, cauliflower and carrots and I add them to the recipe. You can also use frozen mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, green beans and corn). Just remember to make sure the pieces are not too large. I found I had very large cauliflower pieces so I cut them in half to make sure they would cook. You can also add fresh vegetables. I would cook them until slightly softened and then put them in the casserole. I think I am going to try fresh vegetables the next time I make this. Regardless, my husband told me that this recipe is definitely a keeper!

IMG_5019Lesson Learned 4 – This recipe makes great leftovers: The recipe as written serves 6 and my husband and I could not eat the whole thing the first time. We had it two days later as leftovers and it tasted equally as delicious as when it was first made. The best way to reheat this is to first take the casserole out of the refrigerator and let it sit on the kitchen counter for an hour. That takes the chill off. Then reheat at 375 for 45 minutes. (maybe 30 minutes at sea level). Make sure you reheat it covered in foil as the cheese will burn if you don’t. The ends result is piping hot and just as delicious as the first time around. This recipe is a winner out of the gate and as leftovers.

Ground Beef And Crispy Potato Casserole…

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

1/2 large onion, diced

1/2 tsp. oregano

salt and pepper to taste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 – 2 cups frozen vegetables

3 Tbs. butter, divided

2 Tbs. flour

2 cups milk

1 cup shredded cheese (I had a white cheddar and gruyere blend)

1/c cup sour cream

1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped

Frozen, diced potatoes (enough to cover the top – not quite a full 32 oz. bag)

Flat leaf parsley, chopped for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 10 x 10 casserole dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large skillet heat 1 Tbs. of butter. Add the onions and cook until they start to become translucent (about 5 minutes). Salt and pepper the onions during this process. Add the ground beef and oregano. Cook until the meat is mostly cooked through. Add the garlic and vegetables and cook until the vegetables are slightly heated. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper if needed. Once the vegetables are slightly heated, remove the mixture from the heat and set aside.

In another skillet melt the remaining 2 Tbs. of butter. Add the flour and whisk for about a minute. Add the milk and continue to whisk so the mixture stays smooth. Once the milk heats it will start to thicken. When the milk reaches a desired thick consistency (this takes about 5 minutes), turn off the heat and add the cheese. Whisk until the cheese melts. Once the cheese is incorporated into the milk mixture add the chives and stir to combine. Taste the cheese mixture and add salt and pepper, if needed.

Add the sour cream to the meat mixture and stir to combine (You need to do this when the meat has slightly cooled so the sour cream does not curdle). Spread the meat mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Cover the meat mixture evenly with the frozen diced potatoes. Pour the cheese mixture over the potatoes.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes. For the first 20 minutes cover the casserole with foil, then remove the foil and bake for the remaining time. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Add the sour cream to the meat mixture and spread in the bottom of the dish...

Add the sour cream to the meat mixture and spread in the bottom of the dish…

Arrange an even layer of frozen potatoes over the meat...

Arrange an even layer of frozen potatoes over the meat…

Pour the cheese sauce over the potatoes...

Pour the cheese sauce over the potatoes…

Fresh out of the oven...

Fresh out of the oven…

Ground Beef and Crispy Potato Casserole...

Ground Beef and Crispy Potato Casserole…

Pan Seared Halibut With Sweet Pepper and Mushroom Relish…

I never thought the day would come when I became more adept at cooking fish, but it has and there’s no one happier about it than me. The challenge now is to find a variety of ways to make fish more interesting. And I think this recipe does the trick.

Cooking any kind of fish can be tricky because there is a fine line between the fish being underdone and overdone. It takes time and experience to get a feel for cooking fish but it is a skill that is well worth the energy. We try to have fish a couple of times a week now and I am constantly researching creative but easy ways to serve it. I really like this particular recipe for its flavor, and the relish is easy to prepare and can accompany just about any kind of mild white fish (or even grilled chicken).

IMG_4276Lesson Learned 1 – When pan searing fish, use a combination of butter and olive oil to cook the fish: You use this combination for a reason. Olive oil has a higher smoke point than butter and by combining them you can cook the fish at a higher temperature without burning the butter and you’ll still be getting that rich butter flavor. For this particular recipe I had pieces of halibut that were 1 inch thick and about 2 inches by 1 1/2 inches in length and width. Obviously the thicker the piece of fish the longer the cooking time. These particular pieces took between 9 – 10 minutes to cook.

IMG_4266Lesson Learned 2 – You can be creative with the relish ingredients: I chose a relish that was a combination of a yellow sweet pepper, Roma tomato, shallots, baby crimini mushrooms and minced garlic. I liked the combination of flavors and colors. But really you can make it out of anything you have on hand. I decided to cook the relish and the fish in two separate pans versus cooking the fish and keeping it warm in foil while I made the relish in the same pan as the fish. This particular relish took about 10 minutes to cook so it closely matched the cooking time of the fish filets. I started out sautéing the peppers and mushrooms for about 4 – 5 minutes. Then I added the shallots and garlic and last the tomatoes. I was able to time it so that the fish and the relish were done almost at the same time. The trick is to know your relish ingredients and how long they take to cook so you can cook them in the proper time and order. If for some reason you can’t time them to be done closely together, my recommendation would be to cook the relish and keep it warm and cook the fish so that it can be served immediately.

If you think you’re not a fish lover then you definitely have to try this recipe. I’ve written this recipe to serve two but you can certainly adapt it for more servings. The relish is a great enhancement to the fish and will make you think differently about serving fish regularly. Give it a try and tell me what you think!

Pan Seared Halibut With Sweet Pepper and Mushroom Relish…

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

2 (6 ounce) halibut filets

3 Tbs. olive oil, divided

1 Tbs. butter

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 -2 tsp. garlic powder

1 – 2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning

salt and pepper (to taste)

1 shallot, sliced

1 – 2 cloves of garlic, minced (again to taste)

1/2 cup sweet pepper, any color

5-6 medium sized baby crimini mushrooms, sliced

1 medium – large size Roma tomato, seeded and chopped

1 Tbs. sherry cooking wine

1 Tbs. flat leaf parsley, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

Combine flour, garlic powder and Old Bay Seasoning. Dredge the fish filets on both sides in the flour, shaking off any excess. Set aside.

Heat 2 Tbs. of olive oil in a pan. Add peppers and mushrooms and sauté for approximately 3-5 minutes. Once you’ve started cooking the peppers and mushrooms, heat the remaining olive oil and butter in another pan until the butter is melted. Season the fish filets with salt and pepper and add them to this pan seasoned side down (I also added a touch of Old Bay Seasoning on top along with the salt and pepper). Season the other side of the filets with salt and pepper (and Old Bay, if desired). Let the filters cook for approximately 4-5 minutes before turning. Cook on the second side until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork (approximately another 4- 5 minutes). Keep in mind that the thickness of the filet will determine the cooking time, obviously the thicker the filet the longer the time.

Once the peppers and mushrooms in the other pan have softened add the shallots and garlic and cook for an additional 2- 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sherry cooking wine and cooking for another couple of minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the parsley and serve over the fish filets.

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Lasagna Roll Ups

I recently came across a recipe for lasagna roll ups. The recipe intrigued me because one of the go-to recipes I regularly make and really enjoy is chicken roll ups, so I thought making a lasagna version might be interesting. I particularly liked the idea of rolling the noodles with a ricotta mixture instead of layering them flat as in traditional lasagna. The original version of this recipe was for veggie lasagna which I knew would probably not be a big hit with my husband so I decided to work with the concept and create a recipe that would appeal to the carnivores of the world. But you can certainly make this a veggie dish and it will be fabulous.

Lesson Learned 1 – There is a lot of prep work to this recipe: If you’re not a prep person, this might not be the recipe for you. I find it cathartic to chop, mince, slice and dice but not everyone feels that way. You also have to cook the lasagna noodles ahead of time and arrange them individually on wax or parchment paper so they remain straight and don’t stick together before you roll them up with the cheese. The key to this recipe is making sure everything is prepped up front, including cooking and separating the noodles. If you do that, assembling it is a breeze. All I can say is that regardless of the work, this recipe is worth it.

IMG_3630Lesson Learned 2 – Cut all the veggies for the sauce to a similar size: This is important so that you don’t overcook or undercook any of them. Don’t throw them all in at the same time. Saute the onions, peppers and mushrooms first, then add the garlic followed by the squash. By the time the squash is crisp tender everything else will be ready as well.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use fresh mozzarella and shred it yourself: I think fresh mozzarella tastes better and it definitely melts better giving you that gooey consistency that we all love. It takes a little extra time but it’s worth it. Then again, if you don’t have the time or want to shorten the prep process you can always use shredded mozzarella.

Lesson Learned 4 – Establish a process for assembling this: You can organize cooking and assembling this recipe any way you want but the key is to be organized when you make it. Think through what process might work the best for you before making this dish. That way you won’t feel overwhelmed by all of the various steps.

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Lasagna Roll Ups

This recipe is enough to serve six. And although the lasagna noodles look small when you take them out of the package, they plump substantially when you cook them. One noodle roll up is more than enough for the average appetite.

The original recipe was designed to be frozen once assembled and baked off frozen at a later time. You can certainly do that but if you do make sure to use a meat thermometer to test the temperature of the center of the lasagna to ensure it’s heated all the way through.

My husband REALLY liked this recipe. In order to make it more carnivore friendly I added my homemade meatballs on top when I served it. I cooked the meatballs separately and just heated them through before I served them on top of the lasagna. If you don’t have time to make meatballs you can add partially cooked ground italian sausage to the sauce or just do what I did and use a sauce that already had sausage in it. Or you can simply leave it as a veggie dish. Any way you adapt this recipe, I know you will like it.

Lasagna Roll Ups…

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

PASTA:

6 lasagna noodles cooked according to packaged instructions

SAUCE:

2 Tbs. olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small onion, diced

1 small sweet pepper, diced

4-6 large cremini mushrooms, chopped small

1/2 medium size zucchini, diced

1/2 cup white wine

1 24 ounce jar of pasta sauce (I used Classico with sausage)

1 6 oz. can of tomato paste

16 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Grated parmesan for sprinkling on top

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

RICOTTA FILLING:

16 oz. ricotta cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1 egg

1 TBS. flat leaf parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Drain them and place them flat on a wax or parchment paper lined sheet pan. Make layers of individual noodles as needed separating each layer with a sheet of wax or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large skillet heat the olive oil. Saute the onions, mushrooms and peppers for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds to a minute). Add the zucchini and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the wine and salt and pepper the mixture to taste. Pour in the jarred sauce. Add a can of tomato paste. Stir until combined and warmed through. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Combine all of the ingredients for the ricotta filling. Taste before adding salt and pepper as the parmesan is salty. Salt and pepper to taste. Line up the flat lasagna noodles and divide the ricotta mixture into six equal portions. Spread the mixture over each flat noodle. Roll each noodle tightly with the filling.

Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of a 2 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle some mozzarella and parmesan over the sauce and top with a teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Place the rolled lasagna noodles on top making two rows of three each. Pour the remaining sauce over the noodles. Generously top with mozzarella and parmesan. Sprinkle the remaining Italian seasoning on top of the cheese.

Tent the casserole dish with foil and bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake for additional 5 minutes or until the cheese on top is browned and bubbly. You can also turn on the broiler for the last 3 – 5 minutes and put the casserole dish under the broiler. If using the broiler, keep an eye on the casserole so as not to burn the cheese on top.

Let sit for 5 minutes and serve.

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Chicken Parmesan For Two…

Once again this young girl’s fancy turns to a chicken recipe, and this time with an Italian flair. What can you say about chicken parmesan that doesn’t scream delicious. Breaded chicken, marinara sauce, fresh basil leaves, provolone and parmesan cheeses. Sounds like a killer combo to me. And I like my little twist on this recipe, incorporating whole basil leaves under the provolone. This one got a two thumbs up from my husband, so you know it’s got to be good.

Lesson Learned 1 – You need to be organized for this recipe: This recipe has several different steps that can either work like a charm or throw you for a loop. Make sure you prep everything ahead and the process will be a breeze. Preheat the oven, set up the dredging station, grate the parmesan, lay out the basil leaves and provolone slices, have pans ready for the excess marinara and frying the breasts and so on. The key to success here is not only in the ingredients but also in the preparation.

Lesson Learned 2 – Grate fresh parmesan and don’t use the canned stuff: There is a difference. Grated fresh parmesan has a fuller, more robust flavor. It also melts better and tastes less salty. And it’s not that hard to do. I cut small pieces off a brick and put them in my mini food processor. I pulse the processor a few times just to get it started and once it appears the pieces have been broken down I just let the processor go. I guarantee you it’s worth the effort.

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Lesson Learned 3 – Use less marinara sauce than you think: You want to make sure the chicken doesn’t get too soggy. Use only a little bit of marinara in the bottom of the pan and spoon only about a tablespoon on top of it before adding the basil and provolone. Keep the leftover sauce warm on the stove and you can add more to the chicken when you serve it if you like. Or you can do what I did and use it to top a side of spaghetti.

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Lesson Learned 4 – Use fresh basil leaves if at all possible: The fresh basil leaves provide great flavor to the chicken. You can sprinkle the chicken with dried basil if that’s all you have, but fresh is so much better. Top the basil with a slice of provolone and you’re ready to go.

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Lesson Learned 5 – You can use just one chicken breast for this recipe: I only used one large chicken breast for this recipe. I buy breasts whole with the bone and ribs attached and bone them myself. I halved one of the breasts and it left me with two perfect portions that were 1/2 inch thick. If you have thicker breast meat you’ll need to pound it down to 1/2 inch thick in order for the chicken to cook in the allotted time. Many people shy away from boneless skinless breasts because they think they’re too dry when in actuality they overcook them. Boneless chicken breasts can be very tender and juicy if cooked properly. Follow the allotted time in the recipe and you’ll have great results.

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While I was making this my husband said, “Wow, that’s a lot of work.” For someone who enjoys the prep part of preparing a meal, I didn’t find that to be the case. But as I mentioned earlier, you definitely have to be organized when you make this recipe. Get everything ready up front so that all you’ll have to do is move seamlessly between each step of the process.

I’ve written this recipe for two people but it can be easily adaptable to 4 or more. You’ve got to try this and let me know what you think. It’s definitely worth it!

Chicken Parmesan For Two…

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 large boneless chicken breast, halved and pounded to 1/2 inch thick (if needed)

1 cup of flour

1 cup of bread crumbs, plain or seasoned

1 Tbs. italian seasoning

1 Tbs. garlic powder

1 cup of grated parmesan, halved

1 egg

Splash of milk

1 small jar of marinara sauce

4 large basil leaves

2 slices of thinly sliced provolone

Canola oil

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set up a dredging station for the chicken with 3 separate dishes (I use paper plates for two of them and that works just fine). Combine the flour, garlic powder and italian seasoning on one plate. In a rimmed dish, beat the egg and milk together. Combine the bread crumbs and half the grated parmesan on another plate.

Dredge both sides of a chicken breast in the flour. Dip the breast into the egg mixture coating both sides. Dredge the breast in the bread crumb mixture and set aside. Follow the same process with the second chicken breast.

In a large skillet heat the canola oil until it looks shimmery. Use enough canola oil so that when the chicken is added it sizzles around the chicken. Add the chicken breasts and cook for 3 minutes on each side. Once done on both sides, place the chicken breasts on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Lightly coat the bottom of a baking dish with marinara sauce. Arrange the chicken on top of the sauce. Put a tablespoon of marinara over the each breast. Sprinkle the remaining grated parmesan on top of both breasts. Top each breast with two large basil leaves and place a provolone slice over the basil.

Bake the chicken for 15-20 minutes. Serve.

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Serving Suggestion: chicken parmesan with garlic roasted asparagus and spaghetti

 

 

Old Fashioned Pot Roast…

Was there ever a comfort food that will chase away the blues on a cold, snowy Winter day better than a simple pot roast? Making a pot roast reminds me of home, with great smells in the kitchen and the anticipation of that roasted goodness that only comes from cooking something low and slow.

le-creuset-signature-7.25-qt.-flame-round-french-ovenThere are various ways to cook a pot roast. Although I’ve made them several times in a slow cooker, I prefer to use an enameled cast iron pot (I use Le Creuset but there are many different varieties out there). I find that enameled cast iron provides an even, controlled heat and I think that consistently  allows for a more tender pot roast.

I also find enameled cast iron to be easy to clean, especially after something has been cooking for a long period of time. The main drawback with enameled cast iron is that it is heavy. I mean after all, it is cast iron. So just be prepared to flex your muscles a little bit and you will be fine. Enameled cast iron can be expensive, but I’ve had some of my pots for over 20 years and although the enamel may be slightly stained, they still work like a charm. In the end, you only get what you pay for…

The beauty of making pot roast is that it is so simple to make and your entire meal winds up being in one pot. The oven does all of the work and you are rewarded for your patience with one of the best comfort food meals of all time. So, here are some lessons learned that will make you a master at making the perfect pot roast:

IMG_2702Lesson Learned 1 – Brown the meat and veggies before putting them in the pot: The cooking method used for making pot roast is called braising. When you braise something you cook it for a long period of time in liquid. In the end, this technique does not provide eye pleasing color although it renders deliciously moist meat and vegetables. Taking a few minutes to brown the meat on all sides and to brown the vegetables will provide something that not only tastes divine but is also eye pleasing. It is worth the time to do it. Remember, you eat with your eyes first.

IMG_2711Lesson Learned 2 – Cut the veggies into big chunks: Regardless of the size of the pot roast, you will be braising the dish for several hours. You don’t want your veggies to fall apart in the process. Make sure you cut them into big chunks. That way the will stand up to the braising time.

Lesson Learned 3 – THE ONLY WAY IS LOW AND SLOW: The only way to wind up with a tender, moist pot roast is to cook it low and slow. Pot roasts are tough cuts of meat (I used a chuck roast in this recipe) and if you don’t take the time to slowly break down the fibers in the meat you will wind up with a tough, uneatable meal. Most recipes that I researched called for cooking a 4-5 pound roast for four hours. I’ve also seen cooking temperatures vary from 275 to 325. I live in high altitude and I’ve learned the hard way that everything takes longer to cook here. I cooked my pot roast for 4 hours at 275 and the last hour I raised the temperature to 300. The pot roast texture turned out perfectly.

The pot roast will tell you when it is done. If you go into the pan and stick your fork in the roast and it does not go in and out easily, the pot roast is not done. I tried this trick after 4 hours of cooking and the fork did not go into the meat easily. After 5 hours the fork went into the meat like the meat was butter. At that point I knew it was done.

I prefer cooking the roast at 275 and cooking it a little longer. I find the lower temperature and the longer braising time does not annihilate the vegetables. Everything turns beautifully.

Lesson Learned 4 – Braise with red wine and beef stock: Once again I’ve seen various suggestions on the type of braising liquid to use with pot roast. I can tell you from experience that nothing beats a combination of red wine and beef stock. This combination not only gives you fabulous drippings from which you can make a homemade gravy, but it also fills the house with the most delightful smells during the cooking process. Part of the comfort of making a pot roast are the smells you get while the roast is braising. Use red wind and beef stock and you won’t regret it.

When you braise a roast you fill the pan with liquid until it reaches half way up the sides of the meat. Don’t cover the meat completely with liquid. If you do, you will poach the roast and not braise it. You don’t want to do that.

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All of these tips will help you make the most delicious pot roast you’ve ever tasted. If you’ve never made a pot roast before, try to be a little flexible in your cooking time until you figure out the time and temperature that works for you. I highly recommend you keep your oven temperature at 275. If you live at sea level, a 4-5 pound roast may only take 4 hours to braise. That did not work for me in high altitude. I will include both of these recommendations in the recipe.

Try this one the next time you are in need of some old fashioned comfort food. It truly hits the spot!

Old Fashioned Pot Roast

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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IMG_2731INGREDIENTS:

1 4-5 pound pot roast

1 large sweet onion peeled and cut into quarters

4 carrots peeled and sliced into 2-3 inch pieces

4 parsnips peeled and sliced into 2-3 inch pieces

3-4 red potatoes (depending on size) washed and cut into large pieces

1 cup dry red wine

3 cups beef broth

2-3 Tbs. of olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil)

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 sprigs of fresh thyme

dried (or fresh rosemary) 1 tsp. or 2 sprigs

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Heat a large cast iron dutch oven over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the pot roast. Once the dutch oven has heated, add the oil and make sure the bottom of the pan is completely coated. Sear the roast on all sides for about a minute or two. Remove the roast from the pan and set aside.

Add more oil to the pan if needed. Add the carrots and parsnips to the pan and sear until lightly browned on both sides, about a minute or two. Remove and set aside. Add the potatoes to the pan, flat side down and sear for a couple of minute until tops are lightly browned and slightly crisped. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the wine to the pan. Stir with a whisk to remove all of the bits from the bottoms of the pan. Once that is done add the roast back to the pan. If using dried herbs instead of fresh, add to the beef stock and combine.  Pour in the beef stock into the pan making sure that the liquid only goes half way up the sides of the meat. Arrange the carrots, parsnips and potatoes on the side of the roast. Place the onions on top of the roast.

Cover and roast for 4 hours (if high altitude roast at 4 hours at 275 and one more hour at 300).  The roast is ready when it is fall apart tender and a fork inserted into the meat goes in and out easily.

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Browned and ready to go into the oven…

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A beautifully braised pot roast…

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Serving suggestion…

Lemon Chicken With Garlic And Capers…

If you happen to glance at my recipe page and notice a plethora of chicken recipes there’s a reason for that. I simply love chicken, no two ways about it. A lot of people blog a wide variety of recipes. I simply blog recipes that I like. If my recipes don’t fit the bill for you, no worries. There are so many websites to choose from these days so I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for if it’s not here.

Not only do I blog recipes that I like, but also ones that are simple but can challenge you in some regard to move yourself out of your comfort zone. My goal is to be your test kitchen by doing the work up front and giving you insights on how to be successful. I wished for a long time that I had someone who would do that for me. It can get frustrating when you fail to get things right time after time. So hopefully I can demystify a few things for you, and I hope I can learn some things from you as well.

So back to this chicken recipe. It’s relatively simple. What takes the most time is the prep. But I love to prep. Chopping, mincing, dicing, slicing – it’s therapeutic for me. Don’t let the prep make you shy away from making this. So much can be done ahead and then once it’s time to cook, everything goes relatively quickly. I made this with a brussels sprouts, pancetta and sun-dried tomato side and it was a little tricky balancing the steps between both. But it was all worth it when my husband kept saying, “This dinner is really good.” Enjoy this recipe and my lessons learned…

IMG_2614Lesson Learned 1 – Cooking with lemon slices: First you need to slice the lemon into even-sized thin rounds. The best way to do this is with a mandolin slicer. In a past recipe I spent quite a bit of time talking about how great a mandolin slicer can be and also how dangerous it can be to use. Just be careful when you use one. But as you can see from the picture, the mandolin will give you even-sized thin rounds.

IMG_2625In the recipe you actually sauté the lemon rounds. It gives the chicken and sauce a delightful flavor and also serves as a garnish for the chicken when you serve it. The trick is to cook them quickly, no longer than about 45 seconds. Once you notice the lemons starting to turn brown, as you can see in the picture to the right, remove them from the pan. You want them to be slightly browned but you don’t want them to loose their shape or too much of their sections.

Lesson Learned 2 – Make sure the chicken breasts are no thicker than 3/4 inch: The thin breasts cook quickly, about 4 minutes per side. I took regular chicken breasts and with a sharp knife cut them in half. That gave me 3/4 inch pieces. You can also take a breast and pound it out to that thickness and then cut it into portion size pieces. Whatever is easier.

10-piece-2.25-10.25-glass-bowl-setLesson Learned 3 – Be organized when making this recipe: I like this recipe not only because it’s flavorful, and believe me it is, but because once you’re done with the prep, the rest is a breeze and goes quite quickly. But the trick is to be organized and have everything prepped up front. I systematically go through the list of ingredients and see what needs to be done with each. Then I put each ingredient into little prep bowls and set them aside until it’s time to use them. Just be careful, you don’t want to prep some things too far ahead. Something like flat leaf parsley that you use for a garnish is best prepped right before you want to use it. If I’m not sure about something I prep it, cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator until it’s time to start cooking. I am not suggesting doing your prep hours in advance. I normally start, depending upon the requirements of the recipe, about an hour before I plan on cooking it. The key is to have everything chopped, diced, sliced, etc., before you start. You will have no time to do this work once you start the cooking process.

Now that I come to think of it, this really applies to any recipe. It is so important to understand it and stick to the process, especially when you’re learning to maneuver your way around a kitchen. Ready recipes thoroughly (at least twice all the way through), understand the terminology, prep ahead and go through the process as designed. This will help to ensure your success with any recipe.

I really like this recipe and will definitely make it often. I hope you try it and let me know what you think.

Lemon Chicken With Garlic And Capers

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 small lemons cut into thin rounds

1 1/2 tsp. of sugar

4 cloves of garlic, halved

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts 3/4 of an inch thick

2-3  Tbs. olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil)

2 Tbs. butter

2 tsp. grated shallot

1/2 tsp. grated garlic

1/2 tsp. dried oregano (use can use 1 fresh spring as well)

1 fresh thyme sprig (you can use dried – I preferred to have at least one herb fresh)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup unsalted chicken stock

1 tsp. flour

1 Tbs. capers, drained and rinsed

flat leaf parsley for garnish, optional

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Slice the lemons and combine in a bowl with the sugar and garlic. Set aside. Season chicken with salt and pepper. In a large skillet over medium high heat add the oil. Swirl to coat the pan. Add the chicken to the pan and cook about 4 minutes each side. Remove the chicken front the pan, put on a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

If needed, add some oil to the pan and add the lemon mixture. Cook stirring occasionally until the lemons start to turn a light brown. Remove the mixture from the pan and set aside.

Add 1 1/2 tsp. butter to the pan and once melted add the grated shallots, grated garlic and herbs. Cook for about a minute. Add the wine and deglaze the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until the wine is almost completely evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Add the flour and stir for about a minute, just to remove any floury taste. Add the chicken stock and whisk while bringing the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to whisk until the liquid has thickened and reduced by a third. Remove herb sprig(s) from pan. Add a remaining butter and capers. Stir until the sauce gets shiny. Add the chicken and lemons back into the pan. Cover the chicken with the sauce, cover the pan and cook for and additional 2-3 minutes. Serve garnished with flat leaf parsley.

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Turkey Pot Pie…

For some reason I am not a big fan of having turkey on Thanksgiving but I LOVE having turkey  on  Christmas Day. This year we had three guests for Christmas dinner and that precipitated making a whole turkey versus just a turkey breast. I had plenty of practice over this past year making bone-in turkey breasts but I never really had a lot of luck making a whole turkey, that is until this year…

I found two tricks that finally rendered me a perfectly cooked bird. One, making sure that the bird was completely defrosted (and I found it takes longer than what is written which is one day in the refrigerator for every four pounds –  plus the importance of removing the guts as soon as possible so you don’t harbor an ice ball in the cavity) and second to roast it at 350 when conventional wisdom says to roast the bird at 325. Needless to say, my bird turned out perfectly this year – the very first time I’ve ever done a whole turkey the right way. So if you are struggling with making a whole turkey, have faith. It only took me several years to finally get it right!

But, this blog is not about roasting a turkey. It’s about what you can do with the leftovers. And for me, one of the best comfort food recipes you can make with leftover turkey is turkey pot pie. And believe me, you will have greater success making this than learning how to roast the perfect turkey.

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I like this recipe because you can use just about anything you have leftover in it. I had some mushrooms that I cut up and sautéed and had a bag of frozen vegetables that had green beans, corn, peas, carrots and celery. But you can use frozen peas and carrots, or a broccoli cauliflower medley – really any bag of frozen veggies you have will do the trick. It really takes no time to put together the filling and within 25 minutes after that you have a delicious meat pie that no one will ever consider a leftover. Here are some lessons I learned while making this recipe:

Image 1Lesson Learned 1 – Don’t take the easy way out and use canned soup for the filling: Have you ever read the labels of many canned soups? The amount of sodium in them is unbelievable. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a proponent of no salt, but when you use processed foods sodium is used as a preservative as well as a seasoning. It is so easy to make the filling from scratch and you can use unsalted chicken stock which has only 5% sodium in it versus the 36% sodium you get in a canned soup! That’s a big difference.

One thing I learned as I became more adept in the kitchen is how easy certain things are to make that I had been, out of habit and lack of knowledge, using previously as pre-prepared or processed. True sometimes they can be very convenient, but when you look at what you may be putting into your system on a regular basis it makes you take pause. Making a simple roux and using unsalted chicken stock creates the same creaminess and flavor as a canned soup, and I would venture to say it gives even greater flavor. I also know that time is a factor for most people and therefore convenience is important. But believe me, in this case, making a simple roux and using unsalted chicken stock takes no time and in the end is much better for you.

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Lesson Learned 2 – If you really want convenience, use prepackaged pie crusts: I am still in the process of mastering the homemade pie crust but must admit that part of my reluctance to do so is based on the fact that the ones you can by pre-made are so darn good. If you are a purist, then make your own pie crust. There are tons of recipes out there to choose from. But for me, I like the convenience of the pre-made dough. The trick is to let the dough come to room temperature before using it. Don’t just let it sit in the fridge and then pull it out and use it. Let it sit on the counter for about an hour and the dough will not only be easier to work with but also will give you the best results.

Lesson Learned 3 – Working with pie crust dough: I unrolled the pie crust dough and put my pie dish on top of it.  I used small individual pie plates six inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches deep (I had to use both pieces of dough), and cut out a piece of dough that was one inch longer than each dish all the way around. Don’t be fooled into thinking your pie crust needs to look pretty. Once you have the filling in the dish, put the pie crust on top, fold the edges under and crimp them. Cut a couple of slits in the center to let out the steam. Be prepared, you will probably have some mixture dripping out of the sides while it cooks. That is the beauty of the pot pie. What I did to mitigate the mess was to put both dishes on a foil lined baking sheet that was sprayed with cooking spray. That way any dripping during the cooking process did not stick to the baking sheet or prevent me from removing the dishes from the baking sheet.

This is a pretty basic recipe and one most cooks, even the novice ones, can master the first time around. And it is so darn good. I like the idea of making individual pot pies, but you can also adapt this recipe by putting it all into a 10 inch cast iron skillet and topping the skillet with the pie crust. Then you’ll have one big pie that you can proportion out.

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Turkey Pot Pie…

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups diced cooked turkey

1/2 tsp. dried sage or poultry seasoning

1 tsp. sweet paprika

3 – 4 Tbs. butter

3 – 4 Tbs. flour

I 16 ounce bag of frozen vegetables, a vegetable medley preferred

1 cup pearl onions, frozen or jarred

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups low sodium chicken broth

1 cup heavy cream

I package store bought pie crusts

1 egg, slightly beaten with a dash of water

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large deep pan melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add the pearl onions and frozen vegetables and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, paprika and sage. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. (At this point look at the amount of butter you have in the pan. If there is hardly any, add another tablespoon and melt it. Just make sure you use equal parts of butter and flour). Sprinkle the flour all throughout the pan and whisk it with the vegetable mixture for about a minute. Add the chicken stock and stir until it starts to thicken. (You will notice it thickening once it begins to get hot and bubbly. If it does not thicken, you can always add an additional amount of a little flour and water whisked together to get it to thicken). Once it has thickened, add the heavy cream and turkey and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Take the mixture off of the heat.

Lightly flour your counter and unfold one pie crust disc. Place a 6 x 1 1/2 inch individual glass pie pan on the crust. Cut the crust so that the edges are 1 inch longer than the outer edges of the pan. Repeat this process with the second piece of dough and pie pan.

Spoon the prepared filling into each pie pan. Place the dough over the top of each pan, tucking the excess edges under themselves. Crimp the edges with your fingers.  Whisk together the egg and water and brush the crusts evenly with the egg wash. Using a sharp knife cut two vents in the center of the crust.

Place the pie plates on a baking sheet that is lined with foil and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the inside mixture is bubbly and the crust is golden brown.

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Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza…

I was born and raised in Chicago. In fact, I spent most of my life there. And I know that quite often if someone says they are from Chicago you eventually find out they lived in one of the adjoining suburbs. But not me. I was born on the South Side, raised in Brighton Park went to college in Illinois and moved to the North side when I got my job with the Chicago Park District. I lived on the North Side in the Lake View area until we moved from Chicago in 1999.

I live right outside of Boulder, Colorado now and although this is God’s country there are certain things I will always miss about Chicago. I miss the various modes of transportation in Chicago, especially cabs. I miss the diversity of Chicago, it doesn’t really exist here to the same degree. And I miss the food in Chicago – the restaurants are beyond compare and often within walking distance of where you live.

I think two of the hallmark foods associated with Chicago are hot dogs and pizza. There are strict rules you must follow when preparing and eating these culinary delights and are they ever worth it. Every once in a while I get such a taste for a Chicago-style hot dog or some deep dish pizza. You just can’t find anything comparable here.

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Pizza Ingredients…

So it was to our delight when a friend of ours emailed us and said he saw online the recipe for deep dish pizza from one of the most renowned pizza parlors in Chicago. The recipe was published by a disgruntled employee. It’s my understanding that it was only online for a short time, but time enough for some to grab hold of it. Our friend was one of them and he emailed the recipe to us.

We’ve made this several times and each time we get better at it. And beyond compare, this tastes exactly like the pizza we used to get in Chicago. So it is my pleasure to share it with you and also to give you my lessons learned after making it for several years.

RECIPE RATING: A++++++ If you love Chicago style deep dish pizza you will LOVE this. We could not believe how good it was when we first made it. Nor could we believe how it tasted exactly like the pizza we used to get at one of the most well known pizza establishments in Chicago. I won’t name it so that I can share the recipe with you. This pizza is to die for! You simply must try it.

IMG_1953Lesson Learned 1 – Invest in a deep dish pizza pan: We use a pizza pan that is twelve inches in diameter by 2 1/2 inches tall. It is the perfect size for this recipe, crust and all. When you get it, make sure you season it before you use it. If the pan does not come with seasoning instructions, just go online and look up how to season a pizza pan. Our pan is so well seasoned that the pizza pops right out. This type of pan is a must for this pizza recipe.

IMG_2454Lesson Learned 2 – Follow the recipe down to the letter: If you want the pizza to taste like Chicago style pizza, you cannot stray from the basic ingredients. The only culinary license you have are the “toppings” so to speak. By that I mean will it be only a cheese pizza, sausage and mushroom, will you add green peppers or olives? That you can choose. But the basics must remain the same. One of the key ingredients is the sauce (or gravy as the true Italians call it). There is a very specific brand of sauce you must use and, at least out here in Colorado, it is not available in local grocery stores. It is called 6 & 1 All Purpose Ground Tomatoes with added extra heavy puree. For those of you living in Colorado you can find it at Valentes Italian Deli in Westminster. For my Chicago friends, I am sure if you have an Italian Deli near your home they will have it. The owner of Valentes told me that people drive from four different states to pick up cases of this stuff. And you must use only this. Otherwise you will not get the consistency or flavor that you want. Regular canned tomatoes from the grocery store are too watery for this recipe. 

Lesson Learned 3 – Be patient: you may find that it will take a couple of times to master this recipe. Our challenge was the crust and getting it so that it wasn’t too thick. Eventually we figured out how to roll it out so that we had very little adjusting to do when fitting it into the pan. For us, making the dough was easy but getting it to fit in the pan and not be too thick was the challenge. All I can say is that this recipe is definitely worth the trial and error for putting it together, especially if you love Chicago style deep dish pizza.

Anyone who has ever lived in Chicago or loves Chicago style deep dish pizza will love this recipe. Feel free to pass it on. It’s a great way to get great Chicago pizza no matter where you live. Enjoy, and I’d love to hear from you once you’ve made this!

Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Medium/Hard
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup water

1/3 cup oil (80% corn oil/20% extra virgin olive oil)

1 packet quick rise yeast (only if using the dough the same day, otherwise regular yeast)

1 Tbs. sugar

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

3 cups bread flour

1/4 cup corn flour or corn meal (if using cornmeal sift before combining with bread flour) plus extra to sprinkle on the bottom of the pizza pan

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. dried basil

Sliced mozzarella, enough to cover the bottom of the pizza (do not used packaged grated mozzarella)

1 28 oz. can of 6 & 1 All Purpose Ground Tomatoes (see picture above)

Grated Romano and Parmesan blend (enough to cover the top of the pizza)

Other pizza ingredients: (if using sausage or pepperoni precook until 75% done – ingredients like green peppers, mushrooms, etc., cook and add as dry as possible so as not to make the crust soggy)

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl combine water (temp. no higher than 115 degrees for quick rise yeast), yeast, sugar and cream of tartar. Whisk until dissolved. Stir in oil. Combine flour and cornmeal and mix with yeast until consistency of dough is no longer sticky. Remove from bowl and knead. (I use my stand mixer with the dough hook and knead for about 4 minutes – if you don’t have a stand mixer knead by hand for about 10 minutes). Roll the dough into a ball and very lightly coat the outside of the dough with oil. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a dishtowel and let rise for a minimum of 4 hours (or overnight if not using quick rise yeast).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat a 12 inch by 2 1/2 inch pizza pan with butter and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal. Punch down dough (it will rise quite a bit) and roll it out on a lightly floured surface to allow for 1/4 inch of dough all over the pan including the walls of the pan. Arrange the dough in the pizza pan. Place dough in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and cover the dough with mozzarella slices. Top with other ingredients (sausage, mushrooms, etc.) and top with the ground tomatoes. Lightly sprinkle with oregano, garlic salt and basil. Top with the Romano/Parmesan blend. Place back in the oven and continue baking for about 25 minutes.

Turn off the oven. Remove the pan from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes on the stove and then put the pan back in the cooling oven for about 5 minutes. (this is necessary for the pizza to set).

Slice and enjoy!

The dough will rise quite high...

The dough will rise quite high…

The pizza dough...

The pizza dough…

Roll out the dough to a quarter of an inch to cover the bottom and sides...

Roll out the dough to a quarter of an inch to cover the bottom and sides…

Dust the bottom of the pan with cornmeal...

Grease the pan with butter and dust the bottom with cornmeal…

Arrange the dough in the pan (it doesn't have to be pretty)...

Arrange the dough in the pan (it doesn’t have to be pretty) and cook for 5 minutes…

After baking crust for 5 minutes, top with mozzarella slices...

After baking crust for 5 minutes, top with mozzarella slices…

Add your preferred ingredients (we used sausage and mushrooms)

Add your preferred ingredients (we used sausage and mushrooms)

Top with sauce, seasonings and parmesan/romano mixture...

Top with sauce, seasonings and parmesan/romano mixture…

Chicago-style deep dish pizza

Chicago-style deep dish pizza

Chicago style deep dish pizza

Enjoy a slice tonight…

Happy Thanksgiving Leftovers…

Happy Thanksgiving to all. And as you begin to wonder what you’ll do with the mound of turkey leftovers you’ll soon have in the refrigerator, think about making Shepherd’s Pie Turkey style(click on the red colored link for the recipe and lessons learned). 

Shepherds Pie Turkey Style...

Shepherds Pie Turkey Style…

I am thankful for everyone who takes the time to read this blog. Hopefully my lessons learned have helped you become more adept in the kitchen. Have a great Thanksgiving Day and thanks again for following this blog. It means a lot!

Soon I will venture into my holiday cookie baking ritual. Much more to come. Please feel free to share your favorite holiday recipes with me. I’d love to try some of them. Happy Thanksgiving!

And don’t forget:

cooking

 

 

Pan Fried Cod With Lemon Butter Sauce…

My husband and I have gotten into eating more fish lately and so I’ve become a student of preparing fish. Baking, broiling, grilling – you name it, I’ve been trying it. I will be the first to admit fish is tricky and the only advice I can give is to keep making it until it becomes more intuitive. Don’t be afraid to flip it back on the heat if you find it is not cooked through. I would much rather do that than serve overcooked fish. You can’t take that back. Preparing fish in an art that comes about from trial and error. But I guarantee its worth the blood, sweat and tears.

Lately I’ve made a lot of fish filets, mostly pan frying them and I think I’ve got it to the point where I’ve learned how to judge when the fish is cooked. Normally I try to buy a filet that is between a 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. That way I know that about 3 – 4  minutes on each side under medium high heat will do the trick.

What’s great is grocery stores are now stocking more fish both fresh and flash frozen. The filets I’ve been buying are flash frozen and shrink wrapped and I find they thaw and cook beautifully. The only fish that I’ve tried a fews times that doesn’t seem to hold up well in this process is swordfish. Regardless of what I do it always seem to turn out tough. So if I plan on serving swordfish I buy it fresh. Otherwise fish like, grouper, salmon, cod, flounder, halibut and the like all seem to hold up well being flash frozen. It’s a great convenience when you decide at the last minute that you want to make fish for dinner, which was the case with me last night.

Recipe Rating – A: I’ll clue you in, the first few times I tried recipes like this the results were not nearly as good. As I mentioned earlier, preparing fish is something of a acquired skill. The only thing I will tell you is to err on the side of undercooking versus overcooking. That way you can always flip it back in the pan if need be. I would also advise that if you are not a seasoned cook to avoid serving fish at a dinner party. Be patient. Wait until you’ve mastered the skill of preparing fish before you venture into doing that. Don’t set yourself up for failure. And don’t let what I’m saying make you shy away from fish. It is definitely worth it to master this skill!

IMG_1715Lesson Learned 1 – Preparing the fish: This recipe has a very simple preparation for the fish. After the fish thawed and I removed it from its shrink wrap, I took paper towels and dried the fish thoroughly. Then I dusted the fish with flour on both sides and seasoned it. This time I used a Penzy’s seasoned blend called “Forward”. The blend consists of black pepper, onion, paprika, garlic, turmeric and spice extracts of celery, rosemary, thyme and basil. Although it sounds like seasoning overload, the blend actually created a nice all-purpose seasoning and it worked well with the fish. Don’t be afraid to experiment here. What I do is open my seasoning blends and smell them. I can tell by the smell what might overpower the fish. A nice all purpose blend works well to compliment the taste of the fish, as it did in this case.

Shallot and Garlic Sauted in White Wine and Lemon Juice...

Shallot and Garlic Sauted in White Wine and Lemon Juice…

Lesson Learned 2 – Making the butter sauce: I have to admit making this sauce was rather easy. I discovered that starting it about 15 – 20 minutes before serving works well. I found it interesting that you sauté the shallots, and garlic in wine and lemon juice without using any oil or fat. You add heavy cream and butter near the end. At one point you are making the sauce while simultaneously cooking the fish, but at that point you’re only doing the finishing touch of adding the butter to the sauce, so it’s easy to multi-task. You can also make it ahead, just make sure to keep it warm on a very low flame. This is a very rich sauce. Be careful. You only want to add a little to the fish. You don’t want the taste of the fish to be lost in the sauce. Add just a little and you will have a decadent delight. The recipe below is more than enough for two people. You can easily double it if you plan to serve more people.

The Finished Butter Sauce...

The Finished Butter Sauce…

Lesson Learned 3 – The power of garnish: I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating. You eat with your eyes first. I can’t tell you how many times I get comments like, “that looks delicious!” Now I can understand how something tastes delicious but I’m not sure how delicious can be determined by your eyes. But in reality it is, and I’ve found one of the best way to dress up a dish is to garnish it with parsley or chives. Just that pop of color adds to the “looks delicious” factor. Adding garnish is so easy and creates a visual excitement before the dish is ever tasted.

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I served steamed broccoli and cauliflower along with Trader Joe’s chicken fried rice with the cod (BTW, that chicken fried rice is very good and easy to prepare).  The meal was a hit. A friend of mine posted on Facebook that cod has a bad rap and I tend to agree. I’m not sure why. It is a mild white fish that can be prepared in a variety of ways, is complimented by a variety of seasonings and is relatively inexpensive compared to other fish. So, don’t shy away from it. This recipe will work well for any white fish like halibut or grouper. Just make sure you don’t overcook the fish. You want the fish moist, tender and flaky. And when you add that butter sauce, well all I can say is it’s to die for!

Pan Fried Cod With Lemon Butter Sauce

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Lemon Butter Sauce:

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 shallot. chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 large dash of Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 stick of butter

Salt and pepper to taste

A dash of hot sauce, if desired

For The Fish:

2 cod filets between 1/4 and 1/2 inches thick

1/4 cup all purpose flour

Spice Blend of Choice (I used Penzy’s spice blend called “Forward” – see reference in blog)

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 Tbs. butter

Salt and pepper

Fresh parsley or chives for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Begin by preparing the butter sauce. Heat a sauce pan over medium high heat. Add the wine, lemon juice, garlic and shallots. Cook for about three minutes or until the shallots turn translucent. Add the Worcestershire (and hot sauce if desired – I did not add hot sauce) and simmer until the mixture becomes syrupy.

Stir in the cream and cook for about 1 minute. Whisk in the butter a few pats at a time until it becomes fully incorporated. Serve immediately or keep warm until ready to serve.

In a large skillet melt the butter and olive oil. On a plate mix the flour with some salt and pepper. Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Dredge both sides of the fish in flour. Shake off the excess. Sprinkle the spice blend on top of the filets. Once the skillet is heated and the butter melted add the fish seasoned side down. Season the other side with the season blend. Cook the fish for 3-4 minutes on each side.

Pour a little bit of the sauce on the bottom of the plate. Put the fish on top and pour a small portion of the sauce over the filet. Garnish and serve immediately.

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Pan Fried Cod With Lemon Butter Sauce...

Pan Fried Cod With Lemon Butter Sauce…

Pan Fried Cod With Steamed Vegetables and Chicken Fried Rice...

Pan Fried Cod With Steamed Vegetables and Chicken Fried Rice…

To Die For Honey Mustard Chicken…

For those of you who have read my blog you know that chicken is my favorite. I cannot think of any way you can make chicken that I wouldn’t like. And since my husband is eating less and less red meat these days, my new recipes tend to center around chicken, turkey, fish, pasta and ground beef. You won’t hear me complain.

So I am always on the lookout for new chicken recipes and I found one on, yes you know, Pinterest and thought I’d try it. I’ve experimented with various honey mustard chicken recipes in the past but I liked this one because it suggested doing a honey mustard rub on the chicken as well as baking it in a honey mustard sauce. Needless to say, when my husband says “this one’s a keeper” I know this has been the best recipe yet.

Recipe Rating – A++ – this recipe is so flavorful and the sauce is just divine, great for crusty bread dipping. It isn’t difficult to make and is now one of my all time favorite ways of making chicken.

Lesson Learned 1 – Chicken thighs or breasts: The original recipe called for using chicken thighs. My husband is not a big fan of chicken thighs (I know, he’s probably the only one in the world). So I decided to make this with boneless breasts. It turned out perfectly. Most people shy away from cooking with chicken breasts. They think they are too dry. But the problem really is that most people cook chicken breasts far too long. I cooked mine at 375 for 25 minutes and they were moist and tender (I also kept the skin on the breasts). Chicken breasts lend themselves well to this recipe as the sauce gives them tremendous flavor. So don’t shy away from using chicken breasts – just be careful not to over cook them.

IMG_1123Lesson Learned 2: Buy chicken breasts with the rib meat attached and bone them yourself: I’ve found that I can save money buy purchasing chicken breasts with the ribs attached and bone them myself. It is a little bit of work but I think it’s worth it. Plus it’s getting harder and harder to find boneless chicken breasts with the skin still on them. I like to cook them with the skin on as I think that adds moistness and flavor. You don’t have to eat the skin, but I think it’s a great flavor enhancer in the cooking process. Just be careful when boning the breast. You want to finish with all of your fingers. The main thing is to use a very sharp boning knife. If you don’t have one then don’t do this. You’ll wind up either cutting yourself of getting frustrated because the process is taking to long. Sections of the ribs lie very close to the meat and you need to have a knife that can easily slice between the marrow and meat. Believe me, the only way to do this is with a high quality, very sharp boning knife.

IMG_1137Lesson Learned 3 – Let the meat marinate with the mustard rub on it for at least an hour: The skin and breast meet will be slippery so the rub will slide around on you. Get as much as you can on both sides and then cover it with plastic wrap and let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour. As soon as you brown the meat the rub will come off. Don’t worry, it’s just more flavoring for the sauce.

Lesson Learned 4: The best sauce ever: I’ve made different versions of honey mustard sauces but I have to say I prefer this one. I like it because it has a nice balance of mustard and honey and also uses a little chicken stock. The stock tempers the sauce thickening process.  A sauce made with IMG_1131honey that is not diluted in this manner can stick to the pan and cause a baked-on mess. This sauce is so good that you’ll want to eat it with a spoon or dunk your bread in it. I also recommend using a seasoned cast iron pan when making this for a variety of reasons. First, cast iron is one of the best conductors of even heat. It takes cast iron a little longer to heat up but it holds heat well and it provides even heat. Second, a well seasoned cast iron pan is even better than a non-stick pan and that’s a plus when cooking with a honey based sauce. Third, cast iron moves seamlessly from stove to oven and I really like that. Some people treasure their cast iron pans so much they hand them down through generations. Yes, the pans are heavy, but they are relatively inexpensive (unless you invest in enameled cast iron like Le Creuset) and are oh so worth it!

I know I will be making this recipe often, it’s that good. This time I served it with rice and a steamed vegetable medley, but this would also be great with a baked potato and a vegetable of your choice. I can’t wait to make this again. I really hope you try it!

To Die For Honey Mustard Chicken

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

IMG_1147INGREDIENTS:

2 boneless chicken breasts, skin on preferred (you can use chicken thighs)

3 Tbs. Dijon mustard

3 Tbs. whole grain mustard

3 Tbs. honey or more to taste

3 Tbs. chicken stock

1 Tbs. olive oil

2-3 rosemary sprigs

INGREDIENTS FOR THE RUB:

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 Tbs. whole grain mustard

salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Mix together ingredients for the rub. Rub both side of the chicken breast with the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl whisk together the mustards, honey and chicken stock. Add additional chicken stock to taste and until the sauce reaches the desired consistency. Set aside.

Heat a cast iron pan. Add oil and sear both sides of the chicken breast until golden brown, approximately 2-3 minutes per side. Add mustard sauce, sprinkle with rosemary. Place in oven and roast until the chicken is cooked through – approximately 25 – 30 minutes.

Spoon sauce over chicken when serving.

Ready To Go Into The Oven...

Ready To Go Into The Oven…

Fresh Out Of The Oven...

Fresh Out Of The Oven…

Succulent Chicken Breast With Honey Mustard Sauce...

Succulent Chicken Breast With Honey Mustard Sauce…

Serving Suggestion" With Rice and Steamed Vegetables...

Serving Suggestion” With Rice and Steamed Vegetables…

 

Italian Sausage Tortellini Bake…

When I start to feel that Fall nip in the air I tend to think casserole. There’s just something about taking a bunch of ingredients mixing them together, sprinkling them with cheese and baking them off until they’re golden brown and bubbly. That says Fall to me.

IMG_0723I’m fond of this particular casserole for a variety of reasons. It’s one that helps you empty out the refrigerator, it’s easy to prepare and it also makes great leftovers. It started out with a package of cheese tortellini that I needed to use and then I morphed it into a dish that added a sautéed vegetable trinity, mushrooms, Italian sausage and a variety of cheeses. Needless to say that for a refrigerator clearing recipe it turned out mighty fine. And as with any casserole, all the work is in the prep. Once you’ve got it all together the oven does the rest.

Recipe Rating: A – easy to make, tons of great flavor – a stick to your ribs kind of dish.

IMG_0740Lesson Learned 1 – The beauty of this recipe is its adaptability: The basis for this recipe is tortellini, spaghetti sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese. You can do a down and dirty quick casserole with just those ingredients. Cook the tortellini according the packaged instructions, combine with sauce, top with cheeses and bake at 375 for 30 minutes. That’s it.  I had some celery, red pepper and mushrooms that I wanted to use. And I alway like to include onions and garlic whenever I can. To give the casserole more protein I added some italian sausage and I wound up with a “souped-up” casserole.

IMG_0748Lesson Learned 2 – The importance of deglazing: I prepped the ingredients for this casserole in the same pot in stages. I cooked the Italian sausage, browned the mushrooms, sautéed the onions, celery and pepper along with the garlic and at this point I had some lovely crusty bits on the bottom of the pan. I’ve learned over time that you never neglect those crusty bits. I’ll fill you in on a secret – that’s where all the flavor resides! I took a small amount of red wine (maybe one turn around the pan’s worth) and this nice cloud of smoke arose. After that I grabbed my trusty wooden spoon and voila – the crusty bits easily came off the bottom of the pan and combined with the other ingredients. Heaven!

IMG_0743Lesson Learned 3 – All ovens are not created equal: The cooking time in this recipe is based on my oven. When I researched similar recipes they said to bake this in the oven anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. I baked mine for 50 minutes and it turned out nicely browned, bubbly and hot all the way through. Get to know your oven and adjust the baking times accordingly. Since I live in high altitude I know that just about anything I cook in the oven will take longer than what is written in most recipes. So check your casserole at about 30 minutes and go from there.

This is a great fall supper. I served with with some roasted asparagus and crusty bread and it was a hit. Enjoy!

 

[recipe: title=”Sausage and Tortellini Bake…” servings=”6-8″ time=”1 1/2 Hrs. Including Prep” difficulty=”easy”]

Fresh out of the oven...

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. ground Italian sausage, cooked – drained on paper towels

1 9 oz. package of tortellini, cooked according to packaged instructions and drained

1 medium sized onion chopped

3 medium sized celery stalks diced

1 sweet pepper, chopped

1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 8 oz. package baby bella mushrooms, sliced

1-2 cups shredded mozzarella (half queso mozzarella preferred)

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese or half parmesan, half romano

1 24 oz. jar of spaghetti sauce

Olive oil

1/8 cup dry red wine

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375. Cook tortellini according to packaged instructions. While the water is coming to a boil for the tortellini, add 1 Tbs. of olive oil to a hot pan. Cook Italian sausage until there is hardly any pink left in the meat. Drain sausage on paper towels and set aside.

In the same pan saute the mushrooms until lightly golden. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. In the same pan add a little more olive oil and sauté the onions, celery and garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Once slightly soft and translucent, add the chopped garlic and cook until fragrant – about 1 minute or less. Add the red wine and deglaze the pan. Add back the Italian sausage and mushrooms and heat through.

Drain the tortellini. In a large bowl combine the tortellini and sausage mixture until well combined. Pour mixture into a 3 quart casserole dish. Top with mozzarella cheese and then with grated parmesan (I used a grated parmesan and romano mixture as I had both cheeses in the refrigerator) Bake at 375 for 50 minutes (depending on where you live you may want to start checking this at 30 minutes) or until casserole is browned and bubbly.

[/recipe]

 

Ready to pop into the oven...

Ready to pop into the oven…

Fresh out of the oven...

Fresh out of the oven…

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Chicken Cutlets with Thyme Mustard Sauce…

I’m always looking for a quick and easy dinner recipe and I’m always on the hunt for new ways with chicken. This particular recipe definitely fits the bill in both areas. I like this recipe for a variety of reasons but mostly because it’s so easy and so flavorful. If you’re a chicken fan like I am, this recipe will become one of your favorites.

Recipe Rating – A+: This recipe is so good and easy to prepare that even I was a little amazed. My husband, who normally just gives me either a thumbs up or thumbs down on a new dish, felt compelled to comment. He must have said at least three times, “this chicken is really good.” That in itself is super validation for this particular recipe.

IMG_0548Lessons Learned 1 – Never underestimated the power of having a glass of wine while preparing a new recipe: I just had to put this in here. Usually I am a little nervous when trying out a new dish. Those few sips while I’m cooking away make the experience pleasurable. Add a little music to the mix and I begin to feel like Julia Child’s got nothing on me. I know I’m being slightly tongue and cheek here, but the idea is to do whatever you can to make the experience a good one. Anything that helps you enjoy the process is worth it. Have fun in the kitchen. I know I do.

Lesson Learned 2 – Prepping ahead always makes it easier: A couple of years ago my husband got me a Christmas gift of some cooking classes. One of the things that really stuck with me from those classes was the importance of prepping all of your ingredients first. Cooking time should be cooking time and not prepping time. So mince your shallots, slice your mushrooms, chop your garlic and thyme, measure out any ingredients that you don’t feel comfortable eyeballing, such as the sour cream, wine and mustard, and have everything set and ready to go before you start the cooking process. You’ll find it will help keep your kitchen cleaner and more organized and that will also make the experience better.

IMG_0544Lesson Learned 3: Don’t be afraid to substitute herbs: I used thyme in this recipe because I have it growing in my garden, but fresh tarragon would also work very well. My only caution would be not to substitute dried herbs for fresh ones. I think using fresh thyme provided more depth of flavor, especially with the short cooking time in this recipe.

Lesson Learned 4 – Cooking with chicken cutlets can be tricky: By chicken cutlets I mean boneless skinless breasts that either have been cut or pounded to about 1/4 inch thick. I actually found them at my local grocery store so that made it even easier. Chicken cutlets take no time to cook at all and you can easily make them taste like leather if your overcook them. I cooked mine for 3 minutes on each side before taking them out of the pan and preparing the sauce. I kept them on the plate covered with foil which resulted in some minimal carry over cooking. Once the sauce was made I put them back in the pan and let them simmer in the sauce for no more than two minutes. They came out juicy and tender.

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This is a great recipe for the burgeoning chef. The only area I would caution you on is to make sure not to overcook the cutlets. Because they are so thin they cook in no time flat. There is not a lot to prep for this recipe and within 20 minutes, including prep, this chicken is ready to plate. I served it with roasted butternut squash and balsamic roasted potato wedges and it was a big hit. Try this one. I know you will like it.

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Chicken Cutlets with Thyme-Mustard Sauce…

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:IMG_0597

2 TBS. extra virgin olive oil

1 pound chicken cutlets, 3-4 pieces

6 ounces baby bella mushrooms, optional

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

1 medium size shallot

I clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. flour (for the sauce – additional needed to dust cutlets)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup sour cream, light preferred

1 TBS. dijon mustard

2 TBS. chopped fresh thyme leaves

DIRECTIONS:

Do all prep work first. Chop the shallots, mince the garlic, chop the thyme and measure out any remaining ingredients that you do not feel comfortable eyeballing.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Dust cutlets lightly with some flour. Sprinkle cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper. Add oil to the pan. Place the cutlets in the oil and cook for 3 minutes on each side. Remove cutlets from pan to a plate and cover with foil.

Add some additional olive oil to the pan. Saute mushroom until lightly brown. Add shallots and cook for about 1 minute. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute. Sprinkle flour over shallots and mushrooms and cook for an additional minute stirring constantly. Add wine and bring liquid to a boil. Stir with a spoon to loosen all the brown bits in the pan.

Lower heat. Add mustard, sour cream and thyme. Stir until combined. Add chicken back to the mixture and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Add some additional thyme as garnish when serving.

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Serving Suggestion: Chicken with Roasted Butternut Squash and Balsamic Roasted Potato Wedges

Serving Suggestion: Chicken with Roasted Butternut Squash and Balsamic Roasted Potato Wedges

Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta…

The weather is starting to turn. The temperatures are dropping and you can definitely feel Fall in the air. And for me Fall means cranking up the oven. I love grilling and I love dining al fresco but there is nothing like the smell of a pot roast slowing cooking in the oven. The aromas throughout the house make you want to curl up in front of the fire place with a glass of wine and just be glad you’re alive. I guess that’s why so many of these Fall dishes are called comfort food. They make you feel warm and cozy inside, even while they’re roasting away in the oven.

And this time of year I am also scrambling to figure out how to use my tomato crop. I never know from year to year how my tomato plants will fare but this year, due to the great growing conditions, I got a bumper crop. I was also fortunate this year. Just as the zucchini production began to wane the tomato production came into full force. And there are only so many salads you can make. So with all of these tomatoes I was on the hunt for a recipe that would not only warm the house but help me use a bunch of them. When I saw that this recipe called for 28 ounces of crushed tomatoes I thought to myself, heck – no need to buy a can, I can cut up what I have and that will do the trick. And did it ever. I got a delicious casserole and was able to use quite a few of my tomatoes in the bargain.

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I will say I was a little surprised at how long it took to assemble this casserole. But I think the main reason was that I hand chopped all of the tomatoes and that took the bulk of the time. I was also able to use some of my remaining fresh basil so that was a plus. I substituted bacon for pancetta (our local grocery store was out of it) and that worked well too. So all in all, a flavorful recipe that helped me use some of my garden bounty. Here is my recipe rating and lessons learned:

Recipe Rating: A- Great comfort food recipe: This a such a good recipe on a variety of levels – not only does it taste great but being able to use garden tomatoes and basil was definitely a plus. If you don’t have the tomatoes or the time to chop them just use a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. That will work equally as well and will be much quicker.

IMG_0383Lesson Learned 1- You can substitute bacon for pancetta: You probably know already that when you don’t have or can’t find pancetta you can use bacon as a substitute. But did you know the difference between them? Both are made from pork belly and both are cured for a length of time. The major difference is that bacon is smoked after it’s cured and pancetta is not. So using bacon as a substitute will add a slightly smokier flavor to the dish. Needless to say, I used bacon and it turned out great. And I will definitely try this using pancetta to see if can discern a noticeable difference.

Lesson Learned 2 – How to perfectly align the stovetop cooking time: I found that if you start out by boiling the water for the ziti and then start the other ingredients right after you put the ziti into boiling water you can align the cooking times of all the ingredients. Keep in mind that this means that all the chopping and non-cooking prep is done prior to this, but once that’s done both the non-pasta and pasta ingredients cook within a similar timeframe. That allows you to do the final casserole assembly easily.

IMG_0404Lesson Learned 3 – The fresher the ingredients the better: Granted this is the first time I tried this recipe but I think the garden fresh tomatoes and basil made the flavor superb. I realize that having garden tomatoes in most areas is a once a year treat. If you have to use canned tomatoes I would recommend San Marzano tomatoes as they are known for their sweet flavor. At least don’t substitute dried basil for fresh basil in this recipe. If you don’t have basil in your garden buy some fresh at the grocery store. It will make a difference.

Lesson Learned 4 – The wonder of queso mozzarella: In the grocery store with the ethnic cheeses I found something called queso mozzarella. Using it I found it gives a creamier texture to recipes calling for mozzarella cheese. What I do is blend half queso and half regular shredded mozzarella when recipes calls for mozzarella. I think it melts better. And keep in mind, any prepackaged shredded cheese has an ingredient in it that keeps the shredded cheese from sticking together. That same ingredient also prevents it from melting as thoroughly as freshly shredded cheese. So the queso mozzarella helps to combat that. It’s very soft and takes no time whatsoever to grate.

Ready to pour into the casserole...

Ready to pour into the casserole…

Lesson Learned 5 – Take the time to grate fresh parmesan: We all love the convenience of pre grated parmesan cheese. I’ve used it over and over again in recipes, that is until I discovered the difference between packaged and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Freshly grated parmesan melts better and is bolder in flavor. And it is very easy to do, especially if your have a mini-prep processor like I do. All you have to do is cut the parmesan into small pieces, put it in the mini-prep and process it until is is grated. If you haven’t  tried it you really should. It makes a noticeable difference.

Lesson Learned 6 – Using a garnish: Garnishes are just that, something that dresses up the look of a dish but not essential to the recipe. I love Italian parsley for this purpose. I grew Italian parsley in a container on my deck this summer and it grew like a weed. I loved being able to go and snip off a bunch when I needed to.  That way I could control the amount I had versus buying a big bunch at the grocery store and throwing half of it away. Italian parsley is great as a garnish. Simply chop a little and sprinkle it on top of a dish and voila, it looks like the work of a professional chef. Never underestimate the power of a garnish. It can make a dish look fancy with no effort at all!

Ready to pop into the oven...

Ready to pop into the oven…

If you’re like me and you like casseroles you will love this dish. It’s also reheats well and is great for leftovers. Warm your house up with this one. You won’t regret it!

Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

12 ounces of ziti pasta

4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced

1 large onion, diced

2-3 cloves of garlic (to taste)

1 pound ground Italian sausage

1 cup dry red wine

1 can of diced tomatoes (28 ounces), or diced garden tomatoes

Generous handful of fresh basil (approx. 1/2 cup)

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup mozzarella cheese, divided  (1/2 cup queso and 1/2 cup shredded preferred)

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 Tbs. Italian seasoning

Italian parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Do all the prep work first: slice the bacon into lardons, chop the onion, mince the garlic, and grate the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the ziti and cook according to the package directions. Meanwhile in a large pan cook the pancetta for about 3 minutes (you don’t want to crisp it). Add the onion and sauté for an additional 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant (30 seconds to 1 minute). Add the sausage and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Add the wine and cook for approximately 3 minutes. Use the wine to deglaze the pan.  Stir in the tomatoes and basil. Reduce the heat and cook for only a couple of minutes.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pan. Stir in the ricotta and half of mozzarella. Put into a 9×13 baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan. Sprinkle Italian seasoning on top of the cheese.

Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes or until the casserole is bubbly and the cheese is nicely browned.

Straight Out Of The Oven...

Straight Out Of The Oven…

Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta

Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta