Monday, December 20, 2010


I find it really difficult to not say Braciola in a heavy Italian accent while using a hand gesture. Anyway, Braciola is a southern Italian dish that refers to a dish where a slice of meat is topped with different ingredients, rolled up and baked. This is easy to make and pretty economical, especially for entertaining, but it does take a while to cook. This is so the meat can become super tender. This recipe is courtesy of Giada de Laurentiis. It uses flank steak, which is baked and basted in marinara sauce. I made it for my annual get together with my closest and dearest friends. It is great dish for the holidays.

2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/3 cup grated Provolone cheese
1/2 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
4 Tbsps. olive oil
1 flank steak
1 tsp sea salt (I used Kosher)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
kitchen twine
1 cup dry white wine
3 and 1/4 cups marinara sauce (See the recipe here.)

In a medium bowl, stir the cheeses, bread crumbs, parsley and garlic to blend. Stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and set aside. Lay the flank steak flat on the work surface, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture evently over the steak to cover the top evenly.

Starting at one short end, roll up the steak as for a jelly roll and enclose the filling completely. (Some might fall out. It's ok.) Using kitchen twine, tie the steak roll to secure. Sprinkle the braciola with the remaining salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large, heavy, oven proof frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over a medium flame. Add the braciola and cook until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Stir in the marinara sauce. Cover partially with foil and bake, turning the braciola and basting with the sauce every 30 minutes, until the meat is almost tender, about 1 and half hours. Uncover and continue baking until the meat is tender, about 30 minutes longer. (I doubled the recipe so I transferred the meat and sauce from the frying pan to a roasting pan.)

Remove the braciola from the sauce. Using a large, sharp knife, remove the kitchen twine and cut the braciola crosswise and diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Transfer the slices to plates. Spoon the sauce over and serve.

Cran-Pistachio Cookies

I found a bunch of easy and festive Christmas cookie recipes on the Betty Crocker Web site. The best part about these is that they start with BC's sugar cookie mix as a base and then you just add some other ingredients. These stood out to me because my mom loves anything with pistachios, so I made some of these for her. I, of course, saved some for myself as well.

1 pouch (1 lb, 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
1 box (4 serving size) pistachio instant pudding and pie filling mix
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
1 cup dry-roasted salted pistachios, chopped ( I used my trusty baby food processor and pulsed until chopped a little bit)
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper. In large bowl, stir together cookie mix, pudding mix and flour. Stir in melted butter and egss until soft dough forms. Add pistachios and cranberries; mix well.

Using small cookie scoop or teaspoon, drop dough 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Press with fingers to slightly flatten.

Bake 9-11 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Store tightly covered at room temperature.

Makes about 48 cookies.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Snickerdoodles are my favorite Christmas cookie, maybe my favorite cookie, period, however, these might be my second favorite.

1 bag Hershey's Kisses Chocolates
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsps milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
granulated sugar for rolling the cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap the Kisses. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Beat butter and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a kiss into the center of each cookie, cookie will crack around the edges. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

BBQ Turkey Chili

This is great chili for a chilly night. It's a little bit healthier with the ground turkey. It has great spice and smoky-ness from the addition of barbecue sauce.

4 Tbsps olive oil
2 packages of ground turkey
4-6 Tbsps chili powder
2 Tbsps grill seasoning
2 Tbsps cumin
1 tsp crushed red pepper
3 Tbsps Worcestershire sauce
4 Tbsps hot sauce
1 large onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
1 bottle beer (I like to use Yuengling or Sam Adams)
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can red chili beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup smoky barbecue sauce
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
Optional toppings: shredded cheese, chopped red onion, scallions, sour cream, jalapenos, salsa, fresh cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add the turkey and season it with the chili powder, grill seasoning, cumin, crushed red pepper, Worcestershire and hot sauce. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon into small crumbles.

While the turkey is cooking, chop the onion and bell pepper. Once the turkey is cooked and no longer pink (takes about 10 minutes) add the onion and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes more. Add the beer, deglazing the pan and scraping up the drippings and cook off the alcohol. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, beans, barbecue sauce and corn. Bring the chili to a bubble and let simmer for 20 minutes.

Taste for seasonings. Add more hot sauce if it needs more heat. Ladle into bowls and add your choice of toppings. Serves 6, at least.

Friday, November 26, 2010

French Silk Pie

My husband's other favorite pie (see previous Pecan pie post) is French Silk. I knew others at Thanksgiving would like this one as well and since it was also my husband's birthday, I made this one as well. The recipe comes from Paula Deen's Best Desserts magazine.

2 and 1/2 cups crushed Oreo cookies (about a sleeve and half to 2 sleeves of Oreos from the package)
6 Tbsps butter, melted
1 and 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
10 (1-ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used two 4 ounce bars of Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chocolate)
2 cups miniature marshmallows
Garnish: Oreos, whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make cookie crumbs, just add the Oreos to a food processor and pulse until fine crumbs form. In a medium bowl, combine cookie crumbs and melted butter, stirring until combined. Press mixture into bottom of and up sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 8 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1/4 cup cream, chocolate and marshmallows. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth. Remove from heat, and let stand for 20 minutes. I actually like to let it stand longer, about 30 minutes or so.

In a medium bowl, beat remaining 1 cup whipping cream at medium-high speed with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. This takes a few minutes. You want the consistency to be slightly stiffer than whipped cream. Gently fold the cream into chocolate mixture. (Be patient, this may take a few minutes. You'll think the cream is melting into the chocolate, but it will firm up once placed to set in the fridge.) Spoon into prepared crust; chill for at least 4 hours, but overnight is best. Garnish with cookies and whipped cream, if desired.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Traditional Pecan Pie

I made this classic pecan pie two Thanksgivings ago and my husband, a huge pecan pie fan, loved it. I even loved it with my limited pecan pie experience. I believe I found it on This year, seeing as my husband's birthday falls on Thanksgiving, I am going to make it for him again. I like to serve it with a little fresh whipped cream.

1 (9 inch) Pie Shell, pre-baked 10-12 minutes
3/4 cup White Sugar
3/4 cup Light Corn Syrup
3 Eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 pinch Salt
1 cup chopped Pecans

1. Combine sugar, corn syrup, eggs, vanilla and salt in a large bowl.
2. Add pecans and coat nuts well.
3. Pour pecan pie filling into pie shell.
4. Bake 45 minutes in 350 degree oven. After 30 minutes, check to see if piecrust is getting too brown, if so cover edges with foil.
5. Do not overbake. Remove when pie filling is firm around edges, slightly soft but set in center.

Cooking Tip: Pre-Baked Pie Crust
Preheat oven to 350 F. With a fork, prick pastry piecrust shell in several places. Place foil over pie crust, allowing pie crust edges to be exposed. Fill with dried beans or rice to keep pie pastry flat while baking. Bake 10-12 minutes, remove and cool.

Giving Thanks

On Friday evening I volunteered at Metropolitan Ministries with the women's group I'm in, High Hopes in High Heels. We were stationed in the food tent helping those in need "shop" for their Thanksgiving. The tent has these aisles with all different canned goods and boxed food placed on shelves. Those who came in had a list of items they were able to choose from. And we were there to assist them through the aisles and to restock the shelves.

It was a very humbling experience. No matter how much I complain about being broke or not having money to do this or that, I can't imagine what it must be like to not be able to afford to give your family a proper Thanksgiving dinner. Metropolitan Ministries does a lot of good things for our community and I was proud to help them out even if it was for only a couple of hours. The experience was heartbreaking at times, but I also enjoyed myself. Everyone was very nice and thankful for the help they were receiving. I would definitely like to go back for Christmas

If you'd like to help, you can for just $10. Text the word WINGS to 20222 to donate $10 and be someone's angel this Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pasta Primavera

Here is another good recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis. This one leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Use the pasta of your choice, your favorite vegetables and you can add chicken or leave it vegetarian. I used mostly bell pepper, onion and carrot because my husband isn't a fan of the squash family, but if you are less discriminatory, use the zucchini and summer squash that the recipe calls for. I also found a tri-color penne pasta that was a great fit in this dish.

What You'll Need:
3 carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
2 medium zucchini or 1 large zucchini, cut into thin strips
2 yellow squash, cut into thin strips
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs or herbes de Provence
1 pound farfalle (bowtie pasta)
15 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

How to Make It:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

On a large heavy baking sheet, toss all of the vegetables with the oil, salt, pepper, and dried herbs to coat. Transfer half of the vegetable mixture to another heavy large baking sheet and arrange evenly over the baking sheets. Bake until the carrots are tender and the vegetables begin to brown, stirring after the first 10 minutes, about 20 minutes total.

(I don't think I need to mention how awesome the veggies are in this dish. Those of you have followed this blog for some time, know what a fan I am of roasting vegetables. It adds so much flavor and allows the natural sweetness to come out of the veggies.)

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes, or according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Toss the pasta with the vegetable mixtures in a large bowl to combine. Add a little drizzle of olive oil if you're so inclinded. Toss with the cherry tomatoes and enough reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Season the pasta with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and serve immediately.

Lentil Soup with Beef

Recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis.

I am trying to be more adventurous by using ingredients that I don't have much experience with, and one of those ingredients would be lentils. I had bought some French green lentils at Whole Foods a little while back, so I finally used them when I made this soup a week ago. It was a big hit with my husband and I am so glad he likes lentils. They are a versatile, healthy ingredient that I will definitely be using more of. My next new ingredient to experiment with is quinoa. Stay tuned!

What You'll Need:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 and 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
6 (14-ounce) cans beef broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
2 cups (about 11 ounces) lentils, rinsed
1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

How to Make It:
Heat the oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper. Add half of the beef and cook until brown, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining beef. Add the celery, carrots, onion, garlic, rosemary, and oregano to the pot. Saute until the onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Return the beef and any accumulated juices from the bowl to the pot. Add the broth and tomatoes with their juice. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the meat is just tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Add the lentils. Cover and continue simmering until the lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in the parsley. Season the soup, to taste, with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Polenta Crostini with Tapenade

Here is another appetizer that I made for my jewelry party. This one also inspired by Sara Moulton, but I used my own tapenade recipe.

What You'll Need:
1 log of cooked plain polenta (I have seen this at Sweetbay Supermarket in both the pasta and produce sections. I don't remember seeing it at Publix, but some may carry it.)
a batch of tapenade

How to Make it:
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet. Tirm off and discard the crinkled ends of the polenta log; cut the remaining polenta crosswise into 16 slices. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil or butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add as many polenta slices as will fit in one layer and saute, turning once, for about 5 minutes per side, or until crisp and browned. Remove the polenta slices to the baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven. Repeat, adding another tablespoon olive oil or butter as needed, until all the slices have been browned.

Meanwhile make the tapenade, but it is much easier to make this in advanced.

To serve, divide the tapenade among the polenta rounds.

Sorry I don't have a picture of the finished product, but there was so much going on and my guests were arriving that I totally forgot to take a pic.

Marinated White Bean Toasts

On Saturday I hosted a Lia Shophia jewelry party. I of course had to have a few good snacks for everyone to enjoy. This one was a huge hit with my friends and is courtesy of my new Sara Moulton cookbook.

What you'll need:
1 small red onion (I suggest using less onion, unless you really like onion)
1 12-inch baguette
1/4 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 (15-ounce) can small white beans
1 Tbsp, plus 1 tsp fresh oregano leaves
2 Tbsps fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and ground black pepper

How to make it:
Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Finely chop the onion (about 1/2 cup) and transfer it to a small bowl; add ice and water to cover and set it aside for 10 minutes.

Trim off and discard the ends of the baguette; cut the remaining baguette diagonally to make 24 slices. Brush both sides of the slices with 2 Tbsps of olive oil (you may need more) and arrange them on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast them for 8-10 minutes, turning once until they are golden. Remove the toasts from the oven and set aside to cool slightly. Split the garlic lengthwise. Rub the toast slices with the cut sides of the garlic.

Rinse and thoroughly drain the beans. Chop the oregano (about 2 tsps). Combine the beans, the remaining 2 Tbsps olive oil, the lemon juice, and oregano in a medium bowl. Mash with a potato masher or fork, leaving some larger pieces.

Drain the onion, pat it dry, and stir it into the bean mixture along with salt and pepper to taste. Divide the bean mixture among the toast slices and spread the mixture to the edges. (I didn't do this last part. I just put the bean mixture into a bowl with the toasts surrounding it and let my guests top the toast on their own.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Artichokes and Peppers

This dish was adapted from a Food Network Kitchens recipe. I really liked this and it is pretty healthy. As you can tell from the picture below, I served it with roasted asparagus and roasted potatoes.

What You'll Need:
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each )
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, halved and sliced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped
1 and 1/2 cups jarred marinated artichokes, drained and patted dry
1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, sliced into strips (I actually roasted my own. Learn how to roast your own here.)
2 tablespoons dry white wine like pinot grigio
1 cup chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium canned
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves

How to make it:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the olive oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Lay the chicken down in the skillet and cook, turning once, until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a baking dish or roasting pan and bake just until firm to the touch, about 10 minutes.

(If you are going to roast potatoes. Put them in the oven at the same time you transfer the chicken to the oven. Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and dried herbs like oregano, rosemary or basil. Once you remove the chicken from the oven put the asparagus in, if serving, for 10 minutes. Leave the potatoes in. They should be done when the asparagus is done.)

While the chicken is finishing in the oven, add the onion, garlic, thyme to the skillet and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until brown, about 5 minutes. Add the artichokes and peppers and cook until brown as well, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the wine is syrupy and almost disolved, then add the broth and bring the mixture to a full boil. Simmer until the sauce thickens, and season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the butter and add the parsley. Pour the sauce over the chicken, and serve.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Snickerdoodle Ice Cream

I was so excited to see this new flavor of Blue Bell in the store tonight. Snickerdoodles are one of my favorite cookies and this little find just made my day. In fact, I think I'll go have a bowl now.

How to Roast Peppers

My new favorite thing to do is roast my own peppers. I have done it a few times lately with all types of peppers, red bell and poblano, mostly. It sounds complicated, but is actually quite easy. Next time a recipe calls for a jar of roasted peppers, try roasting some fresh peppers yourself. The flavor is so much better. Roasted peppers are great to make sauces with, put on paninis or burgers, mix into casseroles or soups and chili.

If you have a grill or gas stove you can do this directly over the flame, but if you're like me and most people, you don't. No worries, an oven broiler works just fine.

Here is how to do it:

1. Lay clean peppers on a baking sheet. (Don't judge my old, crusty baking sheets. It happens after a lot of use.)

2. Preheat the broiler (to high, if you have a choice)

3. Place the oven rack about 4 inches from the flame. I like to put mine on the second shelf.Lay clean peppers on a baking sheet.

4. Now you must keep an eye on these. Don't walk away. The skin of the pepper will start to roast and turn black. You'll hear it pop from the heat. Turn often until all sides are charred. I like to use tongs to turn.

5. Once charred all around, remove the peppers from the oven. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

6. Once cooled the charred skins should easily peel off. Cut the tops off, cut in half, remove the seeds and the charred skin. The peppers are then ready to be added to your dish according to the recipe.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

This dish was adapted from a Food Network Kitchens recipe. My husband and I are on a big soup kick, and it hasn't even really cooled off that much here. I have a whole list of soups that I plan to make this fall and winter season. This one will definitely make a reappearance.

What You'll Need:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups half-and-half
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups broccoli florets (about 1 head)
1 large carrot, diced
2 1/2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated sharp white and yellow cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish

How to make it:
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook until golden, 3 to 4 minutes, then gradually whisk in the half-and-half until smooth. Add the chicken broth, bay leaves and nutmeg, then season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 20 minutes.

Add the broccoli and carrot to the broth mixture and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth; you'll still have flecks of carrot and broccoli. Return to the pot. (Or puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender.)

Add the cheese in batches to the soup and whisk over medium heat until melted. Add up to 3/4 cup water if the soup is too thick. (I didn't need to do this.) Ladle into the bowls and garnish with cheese. Serve with some crusty bread.

More New Gadgets

Having a Bed, Bath and Beyond three miles from house sounds like it would be pretty cool, but I really need to get these compulsive, before-dinner trips under control. This week I ran up there not once, but twice right before dinner to pick up items that I needed, or thought I needed, to make my dish.

The first trip was on Tuesday when I was making a cheesy corn souffle with poblano peppers and black beans. The recipe called for a shallow, 3-dish, which I wasn't sure what that was or if I had it. I have 1 and half quart dishes and 9x13 pans, but I didn't have anyting that said 3 quart. So I run up to BBB looking for this mysterious dish, which it turns out I already have. I didn't waste the trip, however. I left with a set of Pyrex glass storage bowls, which I have been wanting anyway. I am so sick of plastic storage containers that get all gross and warped in the microwave and dishwasher.
The second compulsive trip was on Saturday when I was making cream of broccoli and cheddar soup. It was the third time in about two weeks that I made a soup that needed to be blended. Usually I just transfer it to my food processor and blend in batches, but that is kind of pain, so I told my husband I wanted to go get an immersion blender and I got him to agree to buy. Score! I got this handy, dandy Cuisinart stick blender that is going to be very useful when I make marinara sauce, soups and even milkshakes or smoothies.

Even though these trips were spontaneous, they weren't wasteful. I got items that I have been wanting for awhile and will use over and over. Plus it's BBB so you know I had 20 percent off coupons that I used.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Iced Pumpkin Cookies

I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin pie. It's the more the texture than the flavor. I love pumpkin spiced food, especially Dunkin Donuts' pumpkin donut and these pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting. I am obsessed with pumpkin right now and decided to find a recipe for cookies. These are what I found. Very moist, almost cake-like cookies.

For the cookies:
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin (fresh or canned)
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached allpurpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the Icing:
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons whipping cream, fresh orange juice or rum (I used OJ, which wasn't overpowering, but added just a little bit of citrus, which accompanied the pumpkin well)

What to do for the cookies:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla and mix well. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir into butter mixture until well blended. Add nuts and raisins. Drop by teaspoonful onto parchment covered baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake about 15 minutes, or until golden. Cool.

What to do for the icing: Cream confectioners' sugar and butter. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. (If icing is too thin, add more confectioners' sugar; if too thick, add more cream, orange juice or rum.) Drizzle over cookies.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cooking Class with Sara Moulton

A few weeks ago I saw that the Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in Brandon, a big cookware store that also offers cooking classes almost daily, was hosting a special cooking class with chef Sara Moulton.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Sara she has had a long and accomplished career. If being Julia Child's sous chef isn't enough to impress you, Sara spent 10 years at The Food Network, recording 1,500 episodes with the majority of them being live shows; was the executive chef at Gourmet magazine for 25 years; hosted a PBS series called Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals and is still the food editor at Good Morning America. She has a new cookbook out called Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners, which she made four recipes from during her class last night. Her other cookbooks include Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals, Sara Moulton Cooks at Home and The Good Morning America Cut the Calories Cookbook.

Her new cookbook is all about getting dinner on the table during the work week. Like most women in America, Sara finds herself coming home from work and needing to get dinner on the table quick. Her new book includes 200 recipes, mostly entrees, that will help you get out of the dinner rut. You know the rut, making the same 5-10 recipes over and over.

Sara admitted to being a lover of breakfast for dinner, much like me, so I am very happy to see the new cookbook has a chapter all about breakfast for dinner! Other chapters besides the normal poultry, meat, seafood and side dishes, include appetizers for dinner, sandwich night, spectacular salads, soup suppers, vegetarian cornucopia, five-ingredient mains, and a few more.

At her class last night, Sara demonstrated how to make her scrambled eggs and smoked salmon crepes, garlicky green beans and shitake mushrooms, chicken pot pie soup and butterscotch pudding cake. Not only was it a thrill to watch Sara and learn from her, the best part was getting to try all her dishes. They were all delicious, and me and my sweet tooth loved the dessert.

Sara was wonderful; a complete delight, very nice and down-to-earth. The class was able to ask questions and nothing was off limits. She signed a copy of everyone's cookbooks, which was included in our sign up for the class. I'm very excited to start cooking from it. Stay tuned!

Sara has a great Web site with recipes, a blog, videos and more. You can also follow her on Facebook and twitter.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Penne with Sausage, Tomatoes and Ricotta

This dish was inspired by a recent visit to Carrabba's. It is actually pretty easy to throw together, takes very few ingredients, but has lots of flavor. I used a can of San Marzano tomatoes, which are a special variety of plum tomatoes that come from a small town of the same name near Naples, Italy. They're a little sweeter and less acidic. I added in some fresh basil and a dollop of ricotta cheese for creaminess. Bon Apetito!

What You'll Need:
1 package of hot Italian turkey sausage (or pork if you'd like), removed from the casing
1/2 an onion, chopped (white or yellow)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can of whole, peeled, San Marzano tomatoes
1 box of penne pasta
basil, about 8 leaves, plus 4 leaves
handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
0live oil
salt and pepper

How to Make It:
In a large skillet or pot, add a little olive oil and heat over medium to medium-high. Add the sausage and cook while crumbling. Once brown, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes or so.

At this point start to boil your water for the pasta and the penne once the water is boiling. Back to the sausage and onion mixture, add the can of tomatoes (and the juice), crushing the tomatoes in your hand as you add them. Season with a little salt and black pepper. Allow to simmer while your pasta cooks.

Roll the 8 leaves of basil together like a cigar, slice to make ribbons. Add the ribbons of basil to the sauce. Once the pasta is done, drain. Spoon into bowls, top with some of the sauce and finish with the additional basil leaves, chopped parsley, freshly grated parmesan cheese and a dollop of ricotta cheese.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

BBQ Stir Fry

I saw Sandra Lee make this on Money Saving Meals this weekend and I thought it looked really good. This is called a BBQ Stir Fry because the sauce in it is a hoisin sauce, which is a Chinese BBQ sauce. I've changed the recipe a little bit. For instance, she used beef and I decided to use chicken. Also, I'm not a fan of ginger, so I left it out. This recipe could easily be made vegetarian by omitting the meat. Add a little tofu for some extra protein.

I also got to use my new $5 wok from IKEA. Yes, I said $5 and it worked pretty great. This recipe calls for lo mein noodles, which should be pretty easy to find in the oriental section of your grocery store.

What you'll need for the stir fry:
1 pound chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
2 Tbsps canola or olive oil
2 carrots, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
2 stalks celery, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1/2 medium yellow onion, sliced
8 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1 (16-ounce) package lo mein noodles, cooked according to package directions

What you'll need for the Hoisin Sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsps tomato paste
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp hot sauce
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 Tbsps cider vinegar
1/8 tsp pepper

How to make it:
In a wok or large skillet over high heat add the canola oil. Add the chicken and cook until browned and cooked through. Set aside on a plate.

To the same pan the chicken was cooked in, add the carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, garlic, and broccoli and stir-fry until slightly tender but not soft, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken back to the skillet along with half of the hoisin sauce, and toss to coat the chicken. Add in the noodles, and toss, adding a little more sauce if you'd like.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Healthy Breakfast Obsession

I love yogurt parfaits for breakfast: yogurt, granola and fresh berries. I prefer vanilla yogurt, but I soon realized that most yogurts are full of sugar, even some of the organic ones. Many of the "light" yogurts are sweetened with aspartame, also not a desirable choice. So I have been on a quest to find a healthy yogurt that tastes great, but isn't full of sweetener.

I have concluded that Fage 0 yogurt is the best. It is a thick, creamy Greek yogurt that is fat free and has a ton of protein - 20 grams! However, the flavored ones have a lot of sugar, so my solution is to buy the plain then drizzle a little bit of honey on top. Then I top with granola and fresh berries. It is delicious, filling and healthy.
I feel that so many foods have a ton of added sugar in them that I have become accustomed to it and now when I eat something that has little sugar it doesn't taste right. I am trying to retrain my taste buds to not like supersweet.

Looks pretty good to me!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pantry Organization

So I finally cleaned out my pantry this evening. As you can imagine, I have a ton of food items in the pantry, but it also doubles as storage for some of my serving platters and cookware. To say it has gotten a little out of hand would be a huge understatement. Not to mention the leftover oatmeal and spaghetti debris that landed into every hard-to-reach crevice after two separate and unfortunate events that involved me being clumsy at two very inconvenient times.

My little project started out with the intention of just cleaning out the bottom so I could vacuum up the aforementioned debris, but it somehow evolved into cleaning out every shelf and organizing them. I wish I could take a picture of the finished product to share, but with my fridge directly across from the pantry, I don't have enough room. Even more so, I wish I had a before picture to share with you.

Anyway, here is how it is now organized. Top shelf is for cereals, pastas, chips and crackers. Second shelf is my baking shelf - sugars, flour, mixes, chocolate chips, etc. Third shelf is four my canned goods and vinegars. Bottom shelf is for rice and grains. Floor is for storage.

Some interesting finds:
  • Three bags of mini marshmallows - one full, unopened bag; one opened and half-empty bag and one really old, opened and half-empty bag.
  • Three opened bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips.
  • A soft, travel bag for a bottle of wine with two little wine glasses. (Totally forgot that was back there.)

Really, three bags of marshmallows and chocolate chips? This is what happens when you don't clean out your pantry for awhile - things just get lost in there.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

New Toys

I took a little trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond today, mainly because I needed a new nonstick skillet. I decided on this Cuisinart Green Gourmet. It is a newer line from them and boasts a ceramic base, scratch resistant nonstick surface and petroleum free. It's a little pricier, but I used a 20% off coupon.

The other new toy I bought was the Vidalia Onion Wizard. It makes chopping so much faster. I used it today for the onions, celery and carrots for my marinara sauce. It worked great.

Saucy Sunday

Making a big pot of homemade marinara today. Here is the recipe.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chorizo and Potato Quesadillas

I saw the host of Food Network's Mexican Made Easy make these quesadillas on her show this past Saturday and they looked so yummy I just had to make them. My husband loves chorizo, so I knew he would enjoy them. This is my spin on her dish. Click here to see all of the recipes from this episode.

What You'll Need:
Olive oil
2 links of chorizo sausage, about 1/2 a pound
1/2 cup onion, chopped
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
4-6 corn tortillas, about 2-3 per person
shredded monterey jack or cheddar cheese
sour cream, optional

How to make them:
Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium to medium high heat. Add a little olive oil, about 1/2 tablespoon. If the sausage is in a casing, remove it from the casing and add to the pan, break it up with a wooden spoon while it cooks until it is brown and crumbly, about 10 minutes. Remove from the skillet to a plate lined with paper towel to drain some of the fat and oil. Set aside.

Return the skillet to the burner. Add a little more oil if needed. Add the onions and potatoes, cooking until the potatoes are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Stir and toss often. Once the potatoes are done, return the sausage to the pan to reheat and mix with the potatoes.

Meanwhile heat a nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Once hot add the tortillas to warm and soften, add the cheese to melt. Once melted, move the tortillas to a plate, fill with a little of the chorizo and potato mixture, top with a little sour cream. Fold and enjoy.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bars

I made these bars for a Labor Day cookout. I think they were gone in 5 minutes, literally.

For the base:
Butter, for greasing
2 tablespoons sugar
10 chocolate graham crackers
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 to 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

To make the base:
Grease the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking pan with butter. In a food processor, process the sugar and graham crackers until you have the texture of bread crumbs. Add the melted butter and pulse a couple of times to fully incorporate. Pour into the greased baking pan and gently pat down with the base of a glass. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes until golden. When done set aside to cool.

To make the filling:
Add cream cheese, eggs and sugar to the food processor and mix until well combined. It should have a smooth consistency. Pour onto the cooled base and then cover with chocolate chips. They will sink slightly but should still be half exposed -- as the cake bakes they will sink a little more.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the center only slightly jiggles. Remove from the oven and cool completely before refrigerating for at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight. Once set, slice into bars.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pork Chops with Caramelized Onions and Apples

I don't know about you, but I am always looking for new ways to prepare pork chops, besides the standard breaded and pan fried. This is a good one I found in my latest issue of Cooking with Paula Deen. I have altered it just slightly.

What You'll Need:
3 slices of bacon
4 pork chops
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 white onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 Gala apple, cored, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary
3/4 chicken broth
1 Tbsp. butter

In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat for 7 minutes or until crisp, turning often. Remove bacon from the pan, discarding all but 1 Tbsp. of the drippings. Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper. Cook pork chops in reserved drippings in skillet over medium-high heat 4 to 5 minutes per side or until done. Remove from pan, and keep warm.

Add onion, apples and rosemary to skillet. Cook 4 to 5 minutes until browned and tender. Add chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Serve sauce over pork chops, and top with crumbled bacon.

Lamb Burgers

At a recent visit to our favorite neighborhood restaurant, Gino's, my husband and I enjoyed the most wonderful burger - ground lamb topped with feta cheese and a slice of grilled onion. It was so good I decided to recreate it at home.

What You'll Need:
1 lb. ground lamb
Greek seasoning
4 thin slices of red onion
4 slices of feta cheese (you can find a block of feta in most grocery store cheese cases)
4 bakery hamburger buns
Top with lettuce and tomato

Form the ground lamb into four patties. Sprinkle with the Greek seasoning. Add the patties to a preheated skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill for 3-4 minutes per side.

Once you flip the burgers, top with the feta so it can melt slightly. At this point, also add the sliced onion to the pan and grill on both sides. Add to the top of the burgers and serve on the hamburger buns with lettuce and tomato.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Steak and Potato Salad with Horseradish Dressing

I found this recipe at It immediately caught my eye because I love horseradish. Leftovers the next day are equally good cold.

What You'll Need:
1 pound baby potatoes, scrubbed
12 ounces green beans (about 3 cups), trimmed
1/2 cup sliced fresh chives or scallion greens
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar or red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sirloin steak or strip steak (1-1 1/4 inches thick), trimmed
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ears corn, husked (optional, if it isn't season)

How to make it:
Preheat grill to medium.

Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a large saucepan fitted with a steamer basket. Add potatoes, cover and cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board to cool. Add beans to the steamer basket, cover and cook until bright green and just tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Rinse in a colander with cold water until cool. Drain thoroughly and transfer to a large bowl. Cut the potatoes into halves or quarters and add to the bowl with the beans. Stir in chives (or scallion greens).

Meanwhile, combine sour cream, vinegar, horseradish, Worcestershire and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in oil.

Sprinkle both sides of steak with salt and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Oil a grill pan. Grill the steak about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare, 6 minutes per side for medium. Grill the corn, turning occasionally, until marked and tender, 8 to 12 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board; let the steak rest for 5 minutes. When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels from the cob (see Tips). Thinly slice the steak crosswise. Add the steak and any accumulated juice and the corn kernels to the bowl with the potatoes and beans; toss with the horseradish dressing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Beef and Snow Peas

My mom gave me this recipe. It is very quick and easy. A perfect weeknight dinner. I suggest doubling the sauce and using low sodium soy sauce so it isn't too salty. Since the beef doesn't cook for too long, you want to get a good cut of steak like sirloin for this recipe. Thinly slice the sirloin steak before cooking. Better yet, buy a package of stir fry meat, so it is already cut and trimmed for you.

What You'll Need:
3 Tbsps soy sauce
2 Tbsps rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound sirloin steak, thinly sliced
1 package of snow peas

In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and cornstarch; set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the beef and cook for additional couple of minutes, until browned. Add the snow peas, cook for a minute and then add the sauce, stirring once before pouring in. Increase the heat a bit until the sauce starts to bubble and thicken a bit. Just a couple of minutes.

Serve over basmati rice.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Paula's Rich Caramel Brownies

I made this a few weeks ago for a BBQ. They are one of the recipes from my Paula Deen's Best Desserts collector's issue. They are delicious, and rich is right. Have a big glass of milk nearby when consuming these squares of chocolate yumminess.

What you'll need:
1 cup butter
4 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 and 1/2 cups sugar, divided
5 large eggs, divided
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 (14-ounce) bag caramels, unwrapped (obviously)
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

How to make them:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13x9-inch baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil; spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a small saucepan, combine butter and chopped chocolate. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from heat, and cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat 2 cups sugar and 4 eggs at medium-high speed with a mixer until fluffy. Gradually beat in flour and salt. Stir in melted chocolate and vanilla. Pour batter into prepared pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine caramels and evaporated milk. Microwave on high, in 30-second intervals, stirring after each, until caramels are melted and smooth. Paula says it should take 1 and 1/2 minutes total, but it took a lot longer for me. Pour over brownie batter, gently spreading to edges.

Instead of microwaving, you could also use a double boiler. Place a Pyrex bowl over a pot of simmer (not boiling) water, but make sure the bowl isn't touching the water, otherwise the caramels will burn. Stir constantly until the caramels are melted.

In a small bowl, beat cream cheese with a mixer until creamy. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, beating until smooth. Beat in remaining egg. Spoon mixture over caramel layer, gently swirl batter with a knife. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Let cool completely. Cut into small squares to serve.

Makes about 2 dozen brownies.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fresh Figs

About a week ago, I saw on Facebook that Fresh Market had fresh figs coming in and I got really excited. I've had figs before at restaurants and catered functions, but I haven't actually ever made them myself. They're great in salads, paired with cheese and make a great appetizer.

I prefer black mission figs. Cut them in half, stuff with a little goat cheese and wrap each half with a piece of prosciutto. Roast for 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven. You could also use pair with blue cheese or fresh ricotta.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tuscan Pork Loin with Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette

Last night we had my parents and my husband's parents over for dinner. It had been awhile since we had either over, and I'm not sure if we've ever had both over at the same time. It was a very nice evening.

My number one rule when it comes to entertaining is making a meal that you can do most of in advance of your guests arriving, so when they do arrive you can actually entertain. So roasts are a great way to accomplish this. But since it is so freaking hot outside, I didn't want to make something too heavy or rich like say a pot roast.

This pork loin was perfect because pork is a lighter meat in the first place, but this vinaigrette isn't a hot or heavy sauce. It can be made in advance and served at room temperature. I served this with roasted red potatoes and a nice mixed green salad. I finished the meal with a nice seasonal peach crisp and vanilla ice cream.

What you'll need:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
2 tsp. chopped, fresh rosemary
1 tsp salt and pepper each
1 pork loin roast, (3 lbs) trimmed of fat and silverskin
1 and 1/2 pound red potatoes, quartered (figure 2-3 per person, depending on the size, and if they are really big, you might want to cut them in sixths instead of quarters)

What to do:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and coat a roasting pan with nonstick spray.

Combine the oil, garlic, rosemary and salt and pepper in a large bowl, set aside.

Trim pork of excess fat and silverskin, then tie with kitchen twine in three places, both ends and one in the middle, so that it keeps its round shape and stays nice and tight.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Using tongs, toss the pork in the oil mixture, coating all sides. Then sear on all sides in the skillet. See the picture below.

Once seared, transfer the pork to the roasting pan. Toss the potatoes in the remaining oil mixture. Add the potatoes to the roasting pan, surrounding the pork roast. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the pork and the potatoes and roast for another 25-30 minutes, or until the pork reaches 150 degrees. Remove from the oven and tent loosely with foil. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Slice into 1/2-inch thick slices and serve with the vinaigrette, recipe follows.

What you'll need for the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup shallots, chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp. garlic
1 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. capers, drained
1/2 tsp. salt and pepper each
3/4 cup olive oil

Pulse all ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor until tomatoes are minced. Slowly add the oil, blending to combine.

Serves 6-8. Sorry I don't have a picture of the finished product.

This recipe has been adapted from an issue of Cuisine at Home.

Here are some pics of the delicious peach crisp:

National Ice Cream Day

In honor of National Ice Cream Day (and month), I highlighted a few of my favorite local ice cream spots in my latest Tampa Food Examiner article. If you haven't been to any of these before, I definitely recommend them.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Great Brunch Spots in Tampa Bay

Check out my latest Tampa Food Examiner article for some great brunch spots in Tampa Bay. What's better than rolling out of bed on a Sunday morning and getting a great breakfast and mimosa? I can't think of anything.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

BBQ Chicken Pizza

Here is a great way to use that leftover barbecue chicken or pulled pork from Fourth of July weekend.

What you'll need:
1 pizza crust
1/4 cup or so of your favorite barbecue sauce
1 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 a red, yellow or orange pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 a small red onion, thinly sliced
leftover chicken or pork, shredded
pizza seasoning and garlic powder
freshly grated parmesan cheese

How to make it:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (or according to the package directions).

Spread barbecue sauce over the crust, sprinkle with mozzarella, top with pepper, onion and chicken. Sprinkle with a little pizza seasoning, garlic powder and freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Place in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. Until the cheese melts and the vegetables are tender.

Spinach, Mushroom and Feta Frittata

Frittatas are my new favorite way to prepare eggs. I love omelettes, but often have trouble with the technique of folding them over. A frittata takes care of that issue. It is a similar concept, but easier to make. It is almost a cross between a frittata and a quiche.

What you'll need:
2 tbsp olive oil
about 6 ounces of button mushrooms, sliced
half a sack of baby spinach
5 eggs
2 tbsp half & half
fresh parmesan cheese
2 tbsp butter
feta cheese
salt and pepper

How to make it:
Start out with a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, and once hot, add the mushrooms. Cook for about 5 minutes, until browned and softened a bit.

While the mushrooms are cooking, whisked the 5 eggs in a small bowl with 2 tbsps of half & half and a couple spoonfuls of grated parmesan. The cream and cheese add a little richness. I also like to add some fresh cracked black pepper.

Now back to the skillet. Once the mushrooms are done, season with salt and pepper. Add a few handfuls of fresh spinach to the skillet and toss until it wilts. (You may need to add a little bit more olive oil to the skillet first.)

At this point preheat your broiler to high.

Back to the skillet, pour the egg mixture over the mushrooms and spinach. Stir it a few times, add some feta cheese on top, and cover with a lid. Allow to cook for a few minutes, until the bottom is set, but still a little runny on top.

Place the skillet under the broiler to allow the top to cook. This will take a few minutes. Once it is set on top, remove from your oven, very carefully. Remember to use a potholder. Then cut into wedges like a pie. Makes 2 main servings or 3-4 side servings.

This is by far my favorite one I have made to date.

Risotto Cakes

I have posted about risotto cakes before. See here. I just wanted to share the picture of how they look when made. They are delicious - crispy on the outside, but still cheesey and soft on the inside. As my BFF would say - they are little clouds of heaven.

For a basic risotto recipe, see here.

Flag Cookie Cake

Here is the picture of my flag cookie cake that I made this Fourth of July. (The instructions are listed in the previous post.) It could probably have been a little prettier, but you get the gist. It sure did taste good though. There wasn't a crumb leftover.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fourth of July Desserts

Here is an article I wrote for Tampa Food Examiner on festive dessert ideas for Fourth of July. In full disclosure, I haven't actually made these yet, but they should work and I plan on making the flag cookie cake for my celebratory events. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chicken Tostados with Fresh Salsa

My husband and I love the blackened chicken tostados at Tijuana Flats, so I thought we should try making them at home. I must say, our first attempt was pretty successful. My husband did a great job blackening the chicken and making fresh salsa, but I was the mastermind behind the whole thing!

What you’ll need:
Olive oil
Corn tortillas (about 2-3 per person)
1 lb chicken cutlets
Blackened seasoning (we used a combo of cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and salt and pepper)
1 can refried beans
Queso Fresco (a Mexican crumbling cheese that I have only seen at Super Walmart) or you could substitute Monterey jack cheese
Toppings: hot sauce, salsa (see our recipe below), sour cream (my favorite condiment in the whole world), guacamole, jalepeno peppers, green or red onion

How to make them:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

With a basting or pastry brush, lightly coat both sides of the tortillas with olive oil and season with kosher salt. Place evenly on a baking sheet and place in the oven for about 15 minutes, until crispy, turn halfway through.

Meanwhile, season the chicken cutlets with the blackening spices - cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place in a cast iron skillet if you have one or you can use a nonstick skillet with the just a little bit of oil. Preheat the skillet to medium-high to high. Cook on both sides until cooked through, about 8 minutes total. Remove from the pan. Let cool slightly, then chop up.

Heat the refried beans in a saucepan on the stove. When the tortillas are done, spread a little refried beans on the tortillas, top with some chicken, crumbled queso and additional toppings of your choice.

What you’ll need for the salsa:
4 vine ripened tomatoes, cut into smaller chunks
Half a large white onion, cut into smaller chunks
2 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
A handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
If you like it spicier, add a jalepeno, remove the seeds and ribs

How to make it:
Place the tomato chunks, onion, and garlic (and jalapeno if using) into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until it reaches the consistency you like. Season with salt and pepper, add the cilantro and pulse a couple of more times to incorporate.

You could also use ground beef, ground turkey or sirloin instead of blackened chicken.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Father's Day Gift Ideas

Check out my latest Tampa Food Examiner article on gift ideas for your foodie dad. Hopes this list helps some of you who haven't found a gift for dad yet.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Tampa Food Examiner

I am now writing on as Tampa Food Examiner. is a Web site made up of community journalists writing on a variety of topics. I, of course, will be writing about food and all that entails. I'll share recipes and write articles on local restaurants, markets, festivals, homegrown products and how-to's.

I just posted my first article on my experience at Datz Deli and making butter. I hope you'll check out my page frequently and become a subscriber. It's easy to subscribe; just click on the plus sign next to subscribe and enter your email address.

My hope is to post articles at least three times a week. If you know of any cool foodie events, festivals, new restaurants or any ideas you think I'd like to write about, please e-mail them to me at

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

I know a lot of people that love P.F. Chang's chicken lettuce wraps. Apparently Food Network does too because after P.F. Chang's wouldn't share the recipe, the Food Networks chefs recreated the famous chicken lettuce wraps and posted the link on their Facebook page. I saw it today and thought I would share it with all of my friends in case they ever wanted to make them at home. Here is the recipe:

Paula's Peach Upside Down Cake

You might remember my excitement a few days ago when I received my Paula Deen's Best Desserts magazine in the mail. Well, I have tried out a few of the recipes and so far the overall consensus is excellent, especially this peach upside down cake I made for a barbecue yesterday. Peach desserts are quickly becoming my favorite type of dessert. See the Easy Peach Shortbread Tart and the Peach Crisp I made last year. Not only do I love the flavor, but you don't have to worry about finding perfectly ripe peaches. If they are still firm, it doesn't matter because when they cook they will soften and the great flavor will come out.

1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 firm ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (I actually left this out because I am not a huge fan of ginger, but absolutely use it if you like it.)
1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature (I always prefer to use unsalted butter for baking)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 and 3/4 cup cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt (omit if you use salted butter)
2/3 cup whole buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick spray.

Pour melted butter into prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Top with peaches and ginger, if using; set aside.

In a large bowl or the bowl of your standing mixer, beat 1/2 cup softened butter with sugar at medium speed with a mixer until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; sift twice. Gradually add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beating until just combined after each addition. (So add a third of the flour, then half the buttermilk, a third of the flour, the rest of the buttermilk and finish with the rest of the flour.) Pour over peaches in prepared pan.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. (Mine took about 45 minutes, but it all depends on the oven.) Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges of cake to release sides. To flip seamslessly, place a serving plate upside down over the cake pan. Holding the two together, flip over and pull off the cake pan. It should come loose with no problem. Serve cake warm, I recommend a la mode.

Here's the cake right out of the oven.

Here's the finished product, upside down.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Making Butter

When I joined the group High Hopes in High Heels, I won a free "lunch box" from this great restaurant/market in South Tampa called Datz Deli. They hold these lunch boxes often and what they consist of is a three-course lunch plus a cooking instruction. So yesterday a few friends and my husband joined me at our lunch box where Datz's chef Nikki and cheese expert Travis fed us a delicious three course lunch and showed us how to make fresh mozzarella, ricotta and butter.

As an avid cheese lover this experience was incredible and Datz (it was my first visit) is one of the best places I have ever been. I wish I could work there, no I wish I could live there. Not only can you eat there, drink there and learn something there, you can buy awesome baked goods, cheeses, beers, wine, olive oil, vinegars, honey, pasta, coffee, etc., etc., etc. The owners really have something special going on.

Alright, so cheese and butter making. I never realized how easy it is to make fresh butter. But now that I do, you can be sure I'll be making it all the time now. To make fresh butter, you just take a jar. I'd start out with a small one. Fill it with ultra heavy cream, leaving a little space on the top. You can add a little sea salt if you'd like. Twist the lid on the jar and shake, shake, shake. It takes awhile, so keep shaking until it separates, forming into a solid. I would say it takes about 20 minutes. Your arm will be tired, but trust me, it is soooo worth it.

Our three course lunch consisted of panzanella salad, an easy salad that you can throw just about anything in, but typically it uses old bread, tomato and basil. We also had some of our fresh mozzarella and cucumbers in it. Our second course was a wonderful meat and cheese platter with different cheeses, cured and fresh meats like salami, candied walnuts, olives and various other items. Our final course was a cheese dessert. They took the fresh ricotta we made and served it with fresh blueberries drizzled with a lemon honey. So simple, yet so delicious.

It was such an amazing Saturday afternoon that I won't soon forget. Great friends and great food. Doesn't get much better.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Citrus Grilled Chicken Over Mixed Field Greens

Here is a very healthy, fresh and flavorful meal. Great for summertime!

2 lemons, zest and juice, divided
1 lime, zest and juice
1 garlic clove, passed through a garlic press
olive oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 chicken breasts, split in half into cutlets
mixed organic greens
roasted sunflower seeds
goat cheese

In a medium bowl, zest one of the lemons and the lime. Add the juice from both and the garlic. Whisk in some olive oil, about 1/3-1/2 cup. Place the chicken in the bowl and coat well. Let marinate for 10 minutes.

Heat a nonstick grill pan or skillet over medium high heat. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for about 4 minutes per side, until cooked through. Remove to a pan and let rest for a minute, slice.

For the dressing, whisk the juice from the other lemon with the mustard. Slowly add in a little olive oil, about 1/3 cup. Place some field greens on each plate, crumble a little goat cheese and sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Add some of the dressing and top with the chicken.

You could also use an orange along with the lime and lemon if you wanted.

Paula's Best Desserts

I am very excited because my issue of Paula Deen's Best Desserts came in the mail today. Stay tuned for an influx of sweet-related postings soon!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ina's Sun-dried Tomato Dip

This is one of my favorite dip recipes, probably because it has one of my favorite ingredients in it - Sun-dried tomatoes. I just love them. Anyway, I just joined this amazing women's networking and social group, High Hopes in High Heels, and I made this dip for an event we had last night. I am now the chair of the food committee, so I'll be posting a lot about the food I make for our events. This recipe is courtesy of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped (about 8 tomatoes, and I admit I usually throw in a little extra because I love them!)
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (use regular, lowfat or nonfat is just not the same)1/2 cup sour cream (here you can use light sour cream)
1/2 cup good mayonnaise
10 dashes, hot red pepper sauce (I like Crystal for this)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
assorted veggies and crackers

Puree the tomatoes, cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, red pepper sauce, salt and pepper in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the scallions and pulse twice. Serve at room temperature. I usually serve this dip with whole-wheat crackers, carrots and celery, but you can use any veggies you like.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Roast Chicken

I noticed my local grocery store had whole chickens for only .99 cents a pound this weekend! The voice inside my head said, "Sunday dinner, Sunday dinner." So that is what I did. You can't pass that up. A four pound chicken for $4? Crazy good deal. I made a traditional Sunday dinner with gravy, mashed potatoes and green beans.

For the perfect roast chicken:
Pull out the giblets. Mine mysteriously didn't have any, but the directions on the package said to remove them. So a good rule to live by, always check for giblets because you never know. Instead of stuffing the bird with stuffing, I like to stuff it with half a lemon, a couple cloves of garlic and half an onion. (Adds lots of moisture.) I tie up the legs with twine and tie the wings closely to the body. (See picture below.) Keeping everything nice and tight keeps the bird really juicy. Now you can either rub olive oil all over the bird or you can take room temperature butter and spread over the bird and under the skin. Either way, season well with salt and pepper all over.

Place in a roasting pan on a rack. Bake at 350 for 20-23 minutes per pound. So I baked my four pounder for about 90 minutes. The juices between the leg and breast should run clear or you can put a meat thermometer in the breast and it should read 165 degrees.

Gravy is super easy. Don't let it intimidate you. Start off by making a rue. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium to medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, add 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Whisk until the flour is incorporated and golden brown. Voila, you've mad a rue. Add some of the chicken juices. (Super great flavor here.) While whisking, slowly add some chicken stock or broth, about a cup, maybe more, until it reaches the consistency you like. Season with salt and pepper.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Barefoot Wine and Bubbly

So I had seen Barefoot Wines in the store, but had never tried them. Then last weekend I volunteered at a local art festival, Chalk Walk, where we sold wine and beer. Barefoot Wines had generously donated the wine and had local reps there serving. I tried their Moscato. It was delicious, very sweet and fruity. Perfect on a hot, summer day. I have since purchased the pinot grigio for cooking and the riesling. The best thing about the wines are they not only have won a bunch of awards, but they are very affordable. My store has them for $6.99 a bottle. Check out all of their wines here.

Chicken Cacciatore

This is my version of chicken cacciatore created by looking at a couple of different versions and using what I had around my house. It was my first time making it and I must say, it came out pretty good. My husband even went back for a little a bit of seconds, which is always a sign of success. I'll definitely be making this again.

2 Tbsps olive oil
1 and half pounds chicken breast, cut into 2-inch pieces
salt and pepper
1/4 thick-cut pancetta or bacon, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
12 ounce package of mushrooms, sliced (any kind you like, regular button, baby bellas or portabellas)
1/2 cup dry red wine (I used a white because that is what I had, but a red would probably be better)
1 cup beef stock (could also use chicken stock, but the beef adds a richer flavor and goes well with the mushrooms)
1 (15 ounce) can of whole, peeled tomatoes
1 (8 ounce) can of tomato sauce
1 tsp tomato paste (enriches the tomato flavor)
a handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 lb whole grain spaghetti

Season the chicken cubes with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and chicken. Let the chicken cook for 3-4 minutes, then turn it and brown the opposite side for 2-3 minutes. Once the chicken is brown and cooked through, transfer it to a plate and reserve.

At this point, put a large pot of water on to boil. Once it comes to a boil, add a generous amount of salt, add the spaghetti and cook according to the package directions.

Return the skillet to the heat and add the bacon to the pan and let crisp for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, stir for 30 seconds, then add the mushrooms and brown for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until deep brown and tender. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper after they've browned. (At this point the pasta water should be boiling and you can add the spaghetti.)

Add the wine to the pan with the mushrooms to deglaze the pan and reduce it for 30 seconds, then stir in the beef stock, tomato sauce and peeled tomatoes, crushing them in your hand as you add them to the pan. Add the tomato paste. Bring the sauce up to a bubble and add the chicken back to the pan. Simmer for five minutes. Add the parsley.

Drain your pasta and divide among four plates. Top with the cacciatore sauce and serve with grated cheese.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May: National Salad Month

May is National Salad Month, which I was unaware of until I came across this article in the St. Petersburg Times. The food editor has developed a list of salads, one for each day of the month. A few of them sounded quite good - such as the salad nicoise, chopped Mediterranean and salmon hash - so I thought I would share the list with you.

Check them out here.

Here are some dressing recipes to accompany the different salads.

I hope you'll try some out and share your thoughts with me. When I try some I'll let you know how I like them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book Club: Before I Fall

Here is this month's book club read: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. It is actually a young adult read, I'll admit, but it deals with a very mature subject: what happens right before we die. It is about a popular high school girl named Sam who dies and relives the day of her death seven times to try to make things right. Through the process, she gains a little perspective and discovers the true value of everything she's about to lose.

My thoughts? I liked the book, but was hoping for a little bit of a different ending, but I guess if it had been different, the lesson would have been lost.

Update: Cinco de Mayo

As previously posted, I planned to make Food Network's Pork Carnitas for Cinco de Mayo. See the post here. Well, I did make them and they were absolutely delicious. I think I only made one substitution in the recipe and a couple of changes to the process.

Instead of the fresh chiles, which I couldn't find at my store, I used a small can of diced green chiles. And where it says to microwave the garlic and chiles to soften, I just skipped that step. So you basically throw everything in the food processor for the sauce and reduce it down with chicken broth.

I suggest making the sauce the night before, so in the morning all you have to do is cut up the pork shoulder into big chunks and pour over the sauce. I also cooked it on low for 8 hours instead of on high for 5 hours. Hope you'll try this recipe and enjoy it. They were a little spicy, but not overwhelming.

I also made a big batch of fresh guac to go along with the tacos.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Super Easy Vinaigrette

This is a really easy and elegant vinaigrette. I made it the other night to dress some mixed greens to accompany fried tilapia my husband made. There is just something about a nice, simple sample with fried food that is so right.

juice of half a lemon
tsp of dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice and dijon mustard. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little dressing to mixed greens or a prepared salad and toss well. Be careful not to overdress the salad or it gets soggy.

This is a great go-to salad dressing that takes just a couple of minutes to make.

Ham and Spinach Hash

It is no secret that I love breakfast for dinner. Here is a dish that is great for breakfast or dinner. Yay, brinner!

1 large ham steak, cut into small cubes
olive oil
half a red onion, chopped small
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes (or 6-8 small ones), cubed
1 sack of baby spinach
4 eggs
salt and pepper

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, add a teaspoon of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the ham. Brown for a few minutes while stirring often. Once the ham is a little brown, remove to a plate.

Return the skillet to the heat and increase the heat just a little bit. Add a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of butter. Once melted together, add the potatoes. (Add more oil if needed.) Season with salt and pepper. Toss every so often, so the potatoes brown on all sides. After about 5-10 minutes, add the chopped onion. Continue to cook until the potatoes are brown and tender, about 15 minutes. When the potatoes are done, return the ham to the pan to reheat and add the spinach in batches and toss until wilted down.

While the spinach is wilting, heat a griddle or skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Once hot, add a tablespoon of butter. Crack the eggs onto the skillet and fry until done to your likeness. I like mine a little runny, or over easy, so once the egg whites are actually white, I flip the eggs and immediately turn off the heat and after a minute I remove the griddle to my plate.

One the eggs are done, scoop some hash onto a pan and top with a fried egg. Serve with a piece of multigrain toast.