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By learning about basic ingredients and how to use them, you can create simple, quick and delicious meals your family will love!!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

BLT, Fried Egg and Pepper Cheese Sandwich

Ok, envision for a moment what it would be like to work in a restaurant. While some of you may be familiar with the frantic pace, the long hours and the ever-changing schedules, others may have no idea what restaurant life is like.  Many people have asked me if it was "fun" to work in the food business and that question always makes me smile. While it is enjoyable to work with other foodies, sharing ideas and orchestrating the perfect dinner party, it is without a doubt, an incredibly demanding job.

Believe it or not, when working in a commercial kitchen, one of the most difficult things to do is to remember to eat!  Seeing so much food you sometimes simply forgot to eat.  Then you glance at the clock and it's 10 pm and the last time you ate was somewhere around 7 am.  Now you're starving and you want something that resembles comfort food, but is quick and easy to throw together.  This sandwich was very often a combination lunch-dinner-bedtime snack..and it is amazing!

The original recipe by Chef Thomas Keller was published years ago in Food and Wine magazine, but the sandwich idea itself has existed in the restaurant business for much longer.  It's a combination of a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich, a fried egg sandwich and a grilled cheese sandwich all put together into one delicious sandwich.  This makes a great dinner and you will absolutely love it!

Several Slices of Bacon, cooked and drained
Sliced Pepper Cheese or Provolone Cheese
2 Slices of Toasted Bread, I love using Italian Bread
Tomato Slices
Butter Lettuce Leaves
1 tsp  Butter
1  Large Egg

Place the toasted bread on a plate.  Place the pepper cheese on one side and spread mayonnaise on the other half and top with bacon, tomato and lettuce.

In a small skillet, melt the butter and fry the egg over medium heat, turning once so the egg is cooked around the edge but still runny inside.

Carefully place the sunny side up egg onto the lettuce side of the sandwich.  Place the other slice on top and slice the sandwich in half.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Spiced Pork Chops with Rosemary

I've always leaned away from cooking pork chops because they seemed so ordinary.  Add a little seasoning, then grill them, fry them, bake them and the flavor was always about the same.  Because of those boring chops in the past I was excited to try this recipe for Spiced Pork Chops.  It also gave me a chance to use some of the fresh rosemary from my garden.

This dish is a slight variation from the original recipe found in the Weeknights with Giada cookbook and it is definitely going to be a repeat meal and a family favorite.  I'm really enjoying this cookbook and I can't wait to try more of the recipes.  If you are not familiar with Giada, this is definitely a great book to pick up.  Her cooking is kind of Italian food with a modern healthy twist.  Best of all, her recipes are family-friendly and easy to prepare.

I did a little adjusting to the original recipe by toning down the red pepper flakes and increasing the amount of garlic.  I'm not really sure the red pepper flakes added that much to the sauce and I might leave them out completely the next time I make this dish. 

I also changed the sauce preparation a bit by adding the rosemary and onions to the skillet for a quick saute.  It softened the rosemary and really brought out the flavor.  The rosemary, combined with honey and balsamic vinegar was what really caught my attention.  The flavors came together beautifully and the chops were moist and full of flavor.  Be really careful not to overcook the chops so they will come out nice and tender.

1 TB  Olive Oil + 2 tsp, divided
6  Boneless Pork chops, 1-inch thick
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper
1/2 tsp  Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (original recipe calls for 1 tsp)
1/2 cup  Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 cup  Honey
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1  Large Green Onion, white and light green parts only, minced
1 1/2 tsp  Fresh Rosemary, chopped
4 TB  Unsalted Butter

In a large skillet heat 1 TB olive oil over medium-high heat.  Season pork chops lightly with salt and pepper, place chops in the skillet and cook about 5 minutes on each side until almost fully cooked through.  Remove the chops from the pan, cover and keep warm.  Keep the skillet handy for the final steps.

In a small saucepan add the red pepper flakes, vinegar, honey, and garlic, stir to combine and heat to a low boil.  Let simmer on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes until slightly reduced. 

Back to the skillet, over medium-high heat add 2 tsp olive oil to the pan, then add the green onions and rosemary.  Saute for 3-4 minutes until softened slightly.  Add the chops back to the skillet and reduce heat to low.

After the sauce has reduced, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter.  This will slightly thicken the sauce and give it a nice shiny glaze.  Pour the sauce over the chops in the skillet and heat 2 minutes longer.  Serve chops with garlic mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and a nice cold chardonnay.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Chicken Fajitas

This is a great way to serve spicy Mexican food while going a little lighter on fat, sodium and calories.  Through a little experimenting I came up with this fajita seasoning mix that adds a lot of flavor to the meal without all of the sodium that the store bought packages contain.  Just as an example, one national brand packet I read had 260 milligrams of sodium per serving, and the package stated it would serve 8.  It's kind of hard to believe you will get much flavor into your food if that little packet is to actually season enough food for 8 people.  It's almost all salt.
To make this recipe healthier we included lots of sliced veggies and mixed up a seasoning mixture that is light on salt and loaded with zesty flavors.

Fajita Seasoning Mixture

1 TB  Cornstarch
2 tsp  Chili Powder
1/2 tsp  Salt
1 tsp  Paprika
1 tsp  Sugar
1/4 tsp  Poultry Seasoning
1 tsp  Onion Powder
1 tsp  Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp  Ground Cayenne Pepper
1/2 tsp  Ground Cumin

In a small glass bowl combine all ingredients and set aside while you prepare the chicken and vegetables.

1-1/2 - 2 lbs  Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into thin strips
1  Large Red Onion, cut into thin slices
2  Large Green Peppers, cut into thin slices
2 TB  Canola Oil
Regular or Whole Wheat Soft Taco Sized Tortillas Shells
Queso Fresco Cheese, crumbled for garnish
Lime Wedges, for garnish
Avocado Slices, for garnish

In a large skillet heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the chicken strips to the pan and stir to coat the chicken with the oil.  Sprinkle the seasoning mixture over the chicken, reserving 2 teaspoons.

Cook the chicken until the edges start to brown, about 3-4 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the onions and peppers to the pan, but do not stir just yet, but cover the pan and allow the veggies to steam for 5 minutes.

Remove the lid from the pan and sprinkle the veggies with the remaining fajita mixture and stir to combine the veggies and the chicken.  Continue cooking for 3-4 minutes until the chicken pieces are no longer pink.

Spoon the mixture onto tortilla shells and sprinkle with Queso Fresco cheese, if desired and serve with a few lime wedges and avocado slices for toppings.  Enjoy!!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

California Rolls

About 2 years ago I bought a sushi set with the intent of learning how to make California Rolls, also known as Inside Out Rolls, and other types of sushi.  As usual, I was hoping to find the time to make the rolls but never got around to it.  Well, this was the day to learn about sushi.

The sliced rolls always look so pretty when you order them at a Japanese restaurant, but dining on sushi can be quite expensive.  By making your own rolls you can change the ingredients to suit your own taste and also save a lot of money.  Even better, they are actually very simple to make and I was surprised at how much fun they were to assemble.

The California Rolls are made of fairly common ingredients like crab, avocado, cucumber and sushi rice, along with a few unique items like nori seaweed and sesame seeds or sesame oil.  We went with these standard ingredients for this first batch but in the future the possibilities are endless! I can't wait to try these with different types of fillings.

2 cups  Rice Select Sushi Rice
2 1/2 cups  Water
2 TB  Rice Vinegar
2 TB  Sugar
1 TB  Kosher salt
1 cup of Water
1 TB  Rice Vinegar
1 package Nori Seaweed
1  8 oz pkg  Crab Meat or Imitation Crab Sticks
1  Avocado, thinly sliced and sprinkled with lemon juice to prevent browning
1  Cucumber, cut into thin matchsticks
Sesame Oil  (or Sesame Seeds, optional)

Place the rice in a mixing bowl and cover with water.  Swirl the rice in the bowl and pour off the water when the water becomes milky-white.  Add more water and repeat the process until the rice water is clear. This will take 3 or 4 rinses.

After the final rinse, place the rice in a medium saucepan with 2-1/2 cups of water.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook 18-20 minutes, until water is absorbed, remove from heat and let rest covered for 5 minutes.

Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a glass bowl and microwave mixture for 40 seconds.  Stir mixture until salt and sugar are fully dissolved and set aside.  Place the rice in a large non-metallic bowl and let cool for 10 minutes.  Stir the vinegar mixture into the rice, carefully stirring to coat all of the rice.  Allow the rice to continue to cool to room temperature.

Now you are ready to roll.  For quick preparation, place the bowls of ingredients in a row in front of you and place a bamboo mat on the counter, covering the mat with plastic wrap.  Combine the 1 cup of water with 1 TB of rice vinegar in a glass bowl and set this nearby.  This will be used to keep your hands moist while making the rolls.

Using a sharp knife, slice 1 sheet of nori in half and place it on the covered mat.  Dip your hands in the water/vinegar mix and then spread a layer of rice over the nori, pressing the rice all the way to the edges. The rice will be about a 1/2-inch thick. Now carefully turn the rice-covered nori over so the nori side is now facing up.

Spread a thin smear of sesame oil across the center of the nori from left to right. Now place a layer of crab, again working left to right, followed by a layer of cucumber and a layer of avocado.

Start rolling the mat up and over the ingredients, pressing the filling inwards, and roll almost one complete turn, stopping to press and firm the roll and the ends.  Complete the roll, making sure the plastic wrap doesn't get rolled inside.  Remove the wrap and carefully move the roll to a cutting board.  Slice in half and then cut each half into 3 slices, for a total of 6.

Place the slices on a plate with a serving of pickled ginger, a small dollop of wasabi and a dish of soy sauce for dipping.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wine Poached Swai Fillets with Pasta

Tonight we decided to take Swai Fillets to a more sophisticated level.  If you are not familiar with Swai, it is a type of catfish with a mild flavor and is a great bargain at just $3 - $4 per pound.

To start this dish, we quickly seared the fish for just a few minutes in olive oil, butter and garlic, then finished the cooking process by poaching the fish in white wine with a little lemon juice.  Poaching is a great way to infuse lots of flavor into the fish.

I removed the fish from the pan long enough for the sauce to reduce, then added a few spoons of cream cheese to create a slightly thickened garlic, wine and cream sauce.  Yum!  I added the pasta to the sauce then added the fish back to the pot, just long enough to bring the temperature back up.  The pasta will also help thicken the sauce and all of those flavors with blend together.

The fish was light and flaky, and you could taste the distinctive flavors of the wine, lemon and even the thyme. Adding a sprinkle of Parmesan-Romano cheese added a finishing touch of flavor to this dish.  Even better, start to finish, the dish was ready to serve in about 30 minutes.  Enjoy!!

2 TB  Olive Oil
2 TB  Butter
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1 tsp  Dried Thyme
1 8-oz Bottle Clam Juice
3/4 cup  White Wine
1 tsp  Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1 lb  Dry Penne Rigate Pasta **
4 -5  Swai Fish Fillets, cut into 3-inch pieces
2 - 3 TB  Cream Cheese
Grated Parmesan-Romano Cheese for Garnish

In a large pot, add 2 quarts of water and add 2 teaspoons of salt to the water.  Bring water to a boil and cook pasta just until al dente.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil, butter and garlic, stirring until the garlic begins to brown slightly.  Add the fish to the skillet and quickly sear one side of the fish until the edges are opaque.

Add the thyme, clam juice, white wine, salt and pepper and bring mixture to a low boil, gently stirring the fish, then turn the fillets over.

Cook the fish 2 minutes longer, then use a slotted spoon to remove the fish to a platter.  Cover and keep warm.

Turn the heat to medium-high and bring sauce to a boil, continuing to boil until the sauce is reduced by half.  Add cream cheese 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sauce has thickened slightly.  Add the pasta to the skillet, stir to combine and allow the cream cheese to fully melt.

Add the fish back to the skillet and stir gently, spooning the sauce over the fish.  Cook over low heat 3-4 minutes, just until the fish is heated through and serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan-Romano cheese. Serves 6.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Citrus Pork Kabobs

We are having so much fun creating new kabob recipes and this recipe was a complete and delicious success.  I've been trying to come up with a pork kabob recipe and decided to combine several recipe ideas into one.  When cooking pork you will want to make sure the pork is cooked thru, but try not to overcook the meat or it will be tough and chewy.  The pork can be juicy and still be cooked thru, just aim for an internal temp of about 145 degrees.  A handy meat thermometer makes this easy to check.

The combination of sweet, "citrusy-sour" and spicy flavors come together to create a really great tasting glaze on the pork.  The sweetness of the pineapple is followed by a zing of Serrano pepper and, when combined with a creamy coconut infused rice, all of those distinct flavors create an amazing meal.  If you have never tried to make your own kabobs, this is the recipe to try first!

1/2 cup  Pineapple Preserves
1 Whole Serrano Pepper, finely minced (use a jalapeno if more intense heat is desired)
1 TB  Lime Juice

1/2 cup  Orange Juice
1/2 cup  Lime Juice
2/3 cup  Olive Oil
3 cloves  Minced Garlic
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

1  Fresh Pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into 3-inch chunks
1 large  Red Onion, cut into chunks
1 large  Green Pepper, cut into large chunks
1-1/2 lbs  Lean Pork Tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes

Coconut Rice
2 cups  Long Grain Rice
2 cups  Canned Coconut Milk
2 cups  Water
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 can  Black Beans, drained and rinsed
Lime and Orange Wedges for Garnish

Using a large zip lock bag, combine the orange juice, lime juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Add the pork pieces to the mixture and zip bag closed, turning bag over to coat the pork.  Refrigerate and allow to marinate 2 - 4 hours.

In a small glass bowl, combine the pineapple preserves, Serrano pepper and 1 tablespoon lime juice.  Stir to fully combine and set aside at room temp for about 1 hour until ready to use.  (** Prepare the glaze in advance so the flavors have time to blend.)

Combine the rice, coconut milk, water, salt and pepper in a large saucepan.  Bring mixture to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low and cook for 15-18 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.  Let rice stand 5 minutes and fluff with a fork, then add the black beans and stir.

Drain the pork and discard the marinade. Thread the pieces of pork onto metal skewers alternating with pieces of pineapple, green pepper and red onion.

Grill the pork kabobs over medium-high heat for 8 - 10 minutes or until no longer pink inside, brushing with the glaze after each turn.

Serve each kabob with a scoop of coconut rice and orange and lime wedges for garnish.  Enjoy!!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Marinated Strawberry Shortcakes

What could be more traditional than Strawberry Shortcakes on the 4th of July?  Strawberries are at the peak of the season right now and the ones we picked up are sweet, juicy and HUGE!  I couldn't wait to serve these on a simple pound cake, but I wanted to add just a little oomph.  Just a little something to make the strawberries shine.  The answer..was rum!

This is a short and simple recipe and can be pulled together quickly.  Since I was a little short on time, I used a pound cake mix and baked it in 2 8" x 4" loaf pans.  This way the cake cooks in just 30 minutes and you have 2 short cakes that slice up perfectly.

For the strawberries

3 Cups  Strawberries, divide in half, cut 1/2 into small pieces, the other 1/2 into larger pieces
3 TB  Sugar
1 1/2 TB  Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum
1 1/2 TB  Dark Rum

Combine the strawberries, sugar and rums in a glass dish and stir.  Allow to marinate at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.  If you only have one type of rum that works fine also, just use 3 TB.

To serve, cut 2 slices of pound cake and place one on a plate.  Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of berries onto the cake, top with the second slice of cake and add 2-3 additional tablespoons of berries.  Top with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of powdered sugar and serve.

So simple, so quick and a great dessert for a hot summer night.  Enjoy!!

My Liebster Blog Award Nomination!!

Thank you to Ormond Dinners/Eating Dinner With My Family for nominating my blog for the Liebster Award.  I am so excited and honored to receive this award.

The Liebster Blog Award is awarded to blogs with less than 200 followers, and is a great way to introduce others to some of the wonderful, lesser known blogs out there, especially food blogs.  It's also a great way to connect with other foodies.

The "rules" for this award are as follows:

1. Send thanks to the blogger who gave you the award.
2. Link back to the blogger who awarded you.
3. Copy and paste the Liebster Blog Award on your blog.
4. Nominate 5 of your favorite blogs to receive the award.
5. Let those bloggers know you have nominated them by leaving a comment on their blog.

Although it's very difficult to choose just 5 favorites, following are my nominations for the Liebster Blog Award:

1. With  A Glass - Sissi's site introduces the reader to delicious Korean and Japanese recipes and the photos are wonderful.

2. Baker Bettie - When you see the ooey, gooey cookie recipe on this site, you will definitely go back for more sweet treat recipes.

3. Home Cooking Memories - Comfort foods are brought up to a new level on this site. Lots of yummy entrees, desserts and more.

4. She Makes and Bakes - This site provides a variety of delicious recipes.  The Key Lime Cupcakes are amazing!!

5. Jeff's Plate - A great variety of sweet and savory recipes.  Be sure to check out the Apple Nachos..yum.