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Showing posts with label Special Occasions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Special Occasions. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

July 4th Foods

The 4th of July is a great day to kick back with a cool drink, throw a few burgers on the grill and just relax!  But maybe this year you would like to cook something different, not just burgers.  Maybe kabobs would be a tasty change, or a giant pot of Low Country Boil, or try a new side dish like Grilled Tomatoes with Mozzarella Cheese and Fresh Basil or Chipotle Slaw to add a spicy kick to your meal.

Whether your day includes lounging by the pool or staying inside and out of the heat, fix yourself a cool Caribbean Blue Iced Tea and enjoy this mid-summer holiday.

Here are some other cool menu suggestions for your July 4th feast.
Smoked Chicken Quarters

Country Style Pork Ribs with Mustard and Dry Rub Marinade

Low Country Boil with Crab Legs, Shrimp, Red Potatoes and Corn on the Cob
A Low Country Boil is an easy one-pot meal
Smoked Pork Butt 
Caribbean Blue Iced Tea

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How Do You Cook a Standing Rib Roast (Slow-Roast Method)

It's Christmas Eve so it's time to revisit one of my favorite recipes, the Standing Rib Roast...a.k.a. Prime Rib!  We will be cooking this for dinner tonight and it is always a delicious meal to look forward to. 

There are many ways to cook this delicious cut of beef, and we've tried several, but we agree that this method delivers the most mouth-watering, evenly cooked, perfectly rare to medium-rare roast.

This recipe is adapted from an Alton Brown recipe that actually called for using a terra cotta pot (?!) in the oven. What? Well, since I didn't have a terra cotta pot to use, I improvised and used your basic foil and it worked out great!  One useful tool when cooking a large roast like this is a digital thermometer. This is a great way to keep a close eye on the temperature without opening the oven door and letting the temp drop each time.

For this roast we used a 9 pound 4-rib standing rib roast.  This size of roast will serve about 6 people for dinner, plus you will have a little leftover beef for French Dip Sandwiches the next day.  Also, don't throw away the bones which are full of flavor.  Add them to a pot of French Onion Soup and serve with the French Dip.

This method is so simple and the end result is a perfectly cooked rare to medium-rare roast with a crisp and tasty crust.  Place your oven rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven, but not on the bottom notch.  You want the heat to circulate well.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Allow the roast to stand at room temp for 1 hour before roasting.  Place the roast on a foil covered pan, with a rack if possible, to allow for drainage.  Rub the beef with olive oil, then coat with kosher salt and a thick layer of coarse ground black pepper.  Simple salt and pepper make this roast delicious! 

Insert a probe thermometer into the center of the roast, without letting the tip touch the bone.  Cover with a sheet of heavy duty foil and place the roast into the oven and cook to an internal temp of 120 degrees. (Note: The 9-pound roast took a bit over 3 hours to reach 120.)

When the roast reaches 120 degrees, remove from oven, keeping the roast covered, and allow the temp to rise to 130 degrees.  (This will take about 10 minutes.)  While waiting for the temp to rise, increase the oven temp to 475 degrees.  When the roast reaches 130 degrees, remove the foil and place the roast back into the oven and bake about 10 minutes until the desired crust has been achieved.  Remove roast from the oven and allow to rest 5 - 10 minutes before slicing.

A great trick for slicing prime rib is to use an electric knife.  Place the roast on a large cutting board.  Using the rib bones as a guide, cut along the top of the bones to separate the roast from the bones.  Set the bones aside and slice the roast into individual servings.  Save the rib bones (freeze if needed) to use in French Onion Soup.  Serve with Horseradish Sauce, a salt-crusted baked potato and steamed asparagus.  Merry Christmas everyone and enjoy!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling

My last baking project for the year turned out the be one of the best tasting desserts I've ever made.  I wanted to make something special for New Year's Eve and I have always liked serving cupcakes, so these Reese's PB Cup-inspired cupcakes were perfect.

These little gems do require a bit more time to prepare, but the final result is worth it.  Making the cupcakes can be done a few hours ahead, then the filling and icing can be finished in about an hour.


I have always loved the idea of filled cupcakes.  You can use a simple pastry cream or a fruit-based filling, or something like this peanut butter filling which is a super easy mixture of peanut butter, butter and powdered sugar.  These cupcakes would also be delicious with an Irish cream or coffee-flavored pastry cream.  Oh, the yummy combinations are endless!

The tops of the cupcakes were finished with a rich chocolate ganache icing, which is a combination of semi-sweet chocolate chips and cream.  This was my first experience making this icing and it was a little tricky to work with, but I loved the way the tops were nice and shiny after they hardened.  But this step does require patience!  The trick here was to allow the icing to cool completely before adding the second layer of icing.  To help the hardening process along, I chilled the cupcakes for just a few minutes after the first layer of icing, then again after the second layer, and it worked out great.

You might notice the cupcake in the top picture is not quite as shiny as the others.  Ah, yes, patience!  Just in case you panic, like I did, and you're afraid the icing is not going to harden, adding a little sifted powdered sugar to the icing works well, also.  This will help the icing harden quicker, but the icing is a bit less shiny.  Be patient with the icing and it will work, I promise!  These cupcakes are incredibly good and well worth the extra time involved. Enjoy and Happy New Year!!

3/4 cup + 2 Tb  Cocoa Powder
1/2 cup  Boiling Water
1 cup  Buttermilk
1-3/4 cups  Flour
1-1/4 tsp  Baking Soda
1/4 tsp  Baking Powder
1/4 tsp  Salt
1-1/2 sticks  Unsalted Butter, softened
1-1/2 cups  Granulated Sugar
2  Eggs
1 tsp  Pure Vanilla Extract
1 cup  Creamy Natural Peanut Butter
3 TB  Unsalted Butter
2/3 cup  Confectioners Sugar
1 cup  Heavy Cream
8 oz  Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350.  Line 24 muffin cups with foil or paper liners.

In a medium heatproof bowl combine the cocoa powder with boiling water and whisk until a smooth paste forms.  Whisk in the buttermilk, stirring until combined.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, use a mixer to combine the the 1-1/2 stick of butter with the granulated sugar, blending until fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla, then beat in the dry ingredients and the cocoa mixture, alternating the flour mixture with the cocoa mixture.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling about 2/3 full.  Bake for 22 - 24 minutes or until the cupcakes are springy when touched on top.  Cool the cupcakes in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

In a medium bowl, beat the peanut butter with the 3 tablespoons of butter.  Sift the confectioners sugar into the mixture and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Spoon all but 3 tablespoons of the peanut butter mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch star tip.  Push the tip of the pastry bag into the top center of a cupcake, and gently squeeze the peanut butter filling into the cupcake.  You will feel the cupcake expand just a bit, as you do this.  Repeat until all of the cupcakes are filled.

In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat.  Add the chocolate chips to the cream and let stand for 5 minutes.  Whisk the chocolate into the cream until smooth.  Let the icing stand for 15 minutes so it will cool slightly.

Dip the top of each cupcake into the icing, letting the excess drip back into the pan.  Transfer the cupcakes to a rack and chill for about 10 minutes or until the icing has hardened.  Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the icing a second time, then place the cupcakes on racks and chill until the icing has set.

Spoon the remaining peanut butter filling into the pastry bag and pipe a small rose in the center of each cupcake.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake

For Christmas Eve I wanted to come up with something really decadent and, of course, that meant something chocolate!  Plus, I bought some beautiful strawberries this week so I knew I wanted to incorporate those in the dessert, too.  I started off thinking about chocolate mousse, and wondered if I could use some individual Hershey's Bliss Dark Chocolates that I had on hand as the base of the recipe.  Hmmm.  Can you do that?

So that's where this recipe began. I found an old recipe for mousse and adjusted it a bit here and there until I thought it would work (and being Christmas Eve I was really hoping and praying that it would work!).

I really don't do a lot of baking, but when I do, it's got to be chocolate and this recipe turned out amazing. The cake has a smooth and creamy texture that just melts in your mouth and is so delicious, it doesn't even require frosting.  Although this cake is made in an 8-1/2 inch pan, it will easily serve 8 people, and maybe 10 if you want to go with smaller slices.

When making this Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake you'll notice there are not a lot of ingredients.  Just the basics are needed, chocolate, butter, sugar and eggs. How easy is that?  That's my kind of baking.

If possible, try to buy superfine sugar for this recipe, which can be found at most grocery stores.  Since it is more finely granulated, the superfine sugar dissolves almost instantly.  This type of sugar is also great to use when making meringues.

This is a beautiful dessert to serve for any special occasion and it is very easy to prepare.  I hope you get a chance to try our Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake this holiday season.  Enjoy!!

10-1/2 oz  Hershey's Bliss Dark Chocolates (1 bag + 8 additional pieces)
5 oz  Unsalted Butter
4 TB  Superfine Sugar
6  Eggs, separated
Butter, to grease the pan

Confectioners Sugar for Garnish
Strawberries for Garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-1/2-inch spring form pan and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolates and butter over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until melted and smooth.  Remove pan from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl whisk the eggs whites until they are stiff peaks; set aside.  In another bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar until combined and set aside.

Once the chocolate has cooled slightly, slowly stir the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate.  When combined, use a spatula to fold the egg whites into the batter until fully incorporated.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake on the center oven rack for about 23 - 25 minutes or until the center is just set.  (If you touch the center of the cake it should bounce back slightly.) The cake will have risen at this point, but will deflate as it cools.  (Don't panic when it begins to deflate, this is what creates the mousse texture.)

Cool the cake completely then dust with confectioners sugar and serve with sliced strawberries.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Creamy Asparagus and Brie Soup

For our second day of Soup Month 2013 we are going a little more fancy with a special occasion soup, and we combined two of my favorite ingredients, fresh asparagus and silky Brie cheese.  This soup is definitely not low-calorie, but with its rich, creamy and almost velvety texture, I wouldn't change a thing. 

Asparagus Brie Soup would be great served as a first course for a holiday dinner, and would pair nicely with Prime Rib, roast pork loin or even grilled salmon or swordfish.  You could even serve it with a mixed greens salad and a glass of Chardonnay for a lighter meal. 

This is a very easy soup to make and tastes better than any restaurant soup I've ever tasted.  Start to finish, this soup will be ready to serve in about 40 minutes.

The Brie used in this recipe is one of my favorites, Saint Andre Brie, which is available at most larger grocery stores. With a slightly salty, buttery flavor, this cheese combines beautifully with the asparagus.  There are many varieties of Brie on the market, some are inexpensive and others can get quite pricey, but this Brie offers a consistent flavor at a reasonable price.  I discovered this brand over 20 years ago and it's still my favorite.  (If you cannot find Saint Andre Brie at your market, look for a soft-ripened Brie and it should work nicely.)  Enjoy!!

1/2 lb  Fresh Asparagus Spears, peeled* and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup  Salted Butter
1/3 cup  Flour
3 cups  Chicken Broth
1 cup  Heavy Cream
1/2 cup  Dry White Wine
5 oz  Saint Andre' Brie Cheese, rind removed
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  White Pepper, or more to taste
Homemade French Bread Croutons or Store Bought Croutons for Garnish
Blanched Asparagus Spears for Garnish

In a large saucepan, sauté the asparagus in butter until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears.  Stir in the flour until blended and cook for 2 minutes or until the flour is golden brown.

Slowly add the broth, cream and wine to the pan and bring the soup to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

Use a stick blender (or a standard blender) to puree the soup until creamy and smooth.  Cut the brie into small pieces and add the pieces to the soup.  Add salt and white pepper, adjust to taste, and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes over low heat.  Ladle the soup into small bowls, add a crouton and a few pieces of blanched asparagus for garnish and serve.

* Use a potato peeler to lighter peel the asparagus and remove the tough outer skin.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Braised Chicken and Mushrooms with Mustard Sauce

Whew, what a busy month it's been!  After a visit from relatives and a quick trip to Universal  Studios,  it's time to get back to cooking. 

I've been wanted to try this recipe for quite some time because I love to cook chicken breasts on the bone, and braising adds lots of flavor to the chicken, while keeping the meat moist and juicy.  Cooking the meat with the bones on does add a little extra time to the cooking process, but the extra flavor is well worth the additional time.  Once again, cooking low and slow delivers excellent results.

This recipe seemed so simple, I wasn't sure what to expect, but to my surprise, this dish is not only very simple to make, the flavor is rich and elegant enough to serve as a special occasion dinner.  The final touch to this dish is the brown mushroom sauce that pulls all of the flavors together.

Herbs de Provence is a new seasoning blend that I was not very familiar with, but I was excited to try.  Basically a combination of thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, chervil, bay leaf and savory, this blend includes all of the classic French herbs in one jar.  Even with a cabinet full of herbs and spices, this one is something extra special, and I can't wait to try it in other dishes.  The flavor is just incredible.

This dish starts with braising the chicken in olive oil and butter, adding sliced mushrooms, white wine and the herbs, then slowly cooking the chicken in the braising liquid.  When the chicken is cooked, the sauce only takes 5 minutes to prepare and dinner is ready.  Serve with wild rice and steamed veggies.  Enjoy!!

3 - 4 large  Bone-In Chicken Breasts, skin on
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
3 TB  Olive Oil
3 TB  Butter
10 oz  Mushrooms, sliced
1 TB  Herbs de Provence
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup  Dry White Wine, divided
2 heaping TB  Dijon Mustard
1/3 cup  Heavy Cream

Rinse the chicken under cool water and pat dry with paper towels, then season generously with salt and pepper.

In a large deep pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat, then add the chicken to the pan, skin side down.  Brown the chicken on all sides, about 12 minutes total.

Remove chicken from the pan to a platter and add the mushrooms to the pan.  Sauté mushrooms for 5 minutes, scraping up any browned bits.  Add the chicken back to the pan, sprinkle the chicken with the herbs, then pour the 1/2 cup of white wine around the chicken.  Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 - 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and juices run clear.  (The chicken breasts we used were fairly thick, so they needed the full 40 minutes.  You could also use chicken thighs instead of the chicken breasts.)

Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a platter.  Cover with foil to keep warm.  Add the 1/4 cup white wine to the pan, stirring to blend, and simmer for 3 minutes.  Add the mustard and cream to the pan, increase the heat slightly to medium, and stir until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.  Serves about 6.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Blue Stilton Stuffed Chicken over Sweet Potatoes

Every time we shop at our local Trader Joe's grocery, we have to spend a few minutes perusing the cheese counter.  Not only can you pick up some great bargains, but the selection of cheeses is quite extensive.  You can buy Saint Andre' Brie, which is one of my longtime favorites, or choose from many varieties of Gruyere, Goat cheese, Parmesan Reggiano, or even a simple Pub Cheese Spread to serve on crackers.

Today we bought a wedge of Blue Stilton cheese and we were thrilled with the delicious results.   This type of blue cheese is actually quite unique.  Blue Stilton can only be made in 5 counties in England, in order to be called Stilton.  These are many companies that try to duplicate this cheese, but they can never match the flavor of the real thing.  Stilton has that familiar blue cheese taste with a smooth and creamy texture, and it made a great filling for a chicken breast.

By making a small slice lengthwise down the side of each chicken breast, we stuffed a spoonful of Stilton into each piece of chicken.  Next, we seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper, then gave it a quick sear in a very hot skillet coated with olive oil and butter.  Super easy.  After that, the skillet went in the oven for about 10 minutes to finish cooking the chicken.  It also gave the chicken a nice golden finish on the bottom, so we serve the chicken bottom side up and it was beautiful.

The chicken was served on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes, and the final touch was the Blue Stilton Sauce.  White wine, olive oil and butter are combined with a bit of cream and some more Blue Stilton.  Once the cheese is melted, the sauce can be spooned over the chicken and potatoes before serving.  Not only was the sauce delicious with the chicken, it was even better combined with the potatoes. 

This is a very simple dish to prepare and actually looks quite elegant when served.  Be sure to serve the extra sauce on the side.  It is sure to get rave reviews.  Enjoy!!

4  Chicken Breasts, about 5 ounces each
4 tsp  Blue Stilton  (I sliced 4 long wedges of cheese)
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper
3 TB  Salted Butter
1 TB  Olive Oil
1 TB  Minced Garlic

1 TB  Olive Oil
2 TB  Butter
1/4 cup  White Wine
1/2 cup  Heavy Cream
4 oz  Blue Stilton Cheese

4 Sweet Potatoes, peeled and chopped small
2 TB  Butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the sweet potatoes in a pot of salted water and cook until tender.

Slice the chicken breasts lengthwise to form a pocket, and stuff one teaspoon of cheese into each piece of chicken.  Roll the chicken slightly to seal and secure the cheese so it does not leak out once melted.  Use 2 toothpicks to tightly close the pocket, then season the top of each chicken breast with salt and pepper.

In a large ovenproof skillet, heat 3 tablespoons butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.  Add the chicken breasts to the skillet, seasoned side down, and cook for 4 - 5 minutes or until golden, then carefully turn the chicken over. Cook an additional 3 minutes, then transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked through and the juices run clear.

To prepare the cheese sauce, in a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil, add the white wine and simmer the mixture until the wine has reduce by half.  Add the cream and stir until warm, then add the Stilton and remove the saucepan from the heat.  Continue to stir the sauce until the cheese has melted.  Add a pinch of salt, if needed.

Drain the potatoes and mash until very smooth, then add the butter, stirring to combine.

Place a serving of sweet potatoes on each plate, then place a piece of chicken onto the potatoes, placing the bottom side up.  Spoon the Stilton sauce over the chicken and serve the extra on the side.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Pork Chops with Capers and Olives

This is not your ordinary boring pork chop!  This pork chop is bursting with the bright flavors of capers and olives and is super easy to prepare.  I also think this a very elegant dish and it would be a great meal to serve guests.

I've really grown quite fond of capers recently and I love finding new ways to use them.  If you are not familiar with capers, here is a little background on these tasty little buds.

I say buds because that's just what capers are, baby flower buds.  They grow on small bushes in the Mediterranean, and are used quite extensively in Italian recipes.  Capers are usually sold packed in brine but they can also be purchased salted.  These little buds add a tangy flavor to many foods and they taste great with salmon, chicken or veal dishes, too.  The are also pretty inexpensive at about $1.49 for a small jar.  Well worth every penny!

The capers, combined with a cup of Italian olives, a little white wine, chicken broth and half and half, made a delicious, creamy sauce.  For this recipe you could use heavy cream, which will create a slightly thicker sauce, but tonight we opted for half and half to keep the sauce light, and we were thrilled with the results.  If you've never tried cooking with capers, this recipe is a great place to start.  Enjoy!!

5 - 5 oz Pork Chops, about 1/2-inch thick
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper
1 TB  Olive Oil
1/2 cup  Dry White Wine
1/8 tsp  Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1 cup  Italian Mixed Olives, pitted and sliced in half
2 TB  Capers, drained
1  Bay Leaf
1/2 cup  Chicken Broth
3/4 cup  Heavy Whipping Cream or Half and Half

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper.  Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat and add the oil.  When the oil shimmers, add the chops and sear for 5 minutes, turn the chops over and  sear 5 minutes longer, until the edges are golden.

Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining ingredients, except for the cream or half and half.  Bring the mixture to a simmer and continue to cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Remove the chops from the skillet to a platter and keep warm.  Increase the heat to medium-high and add the cream or half and half to the pan.  Simmer the sauce for 3- 5 minutes to reduce and thicken.  Add extra salt and pepper if needed, and pour the sauce over the pork chops.  Serve with rice or linguine noodles. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Roquefort Cheese Appetizers

With its creamy-rich texture and distinct, somewhat salty flavor, Roquefort Cheese is kind of the Cadillac of cheeses.  Roquefort is a type of blue cheese made from sheep's milk and it has a very unique flavor. It's also one of my husband's favorite cheeses.

So, when I came across this cheese at our local market I couldn't pass up the opportunity to make a few appetizers for the upcoming holidays. 

First, we started with olives.  Big queen-sized olives.  These would be the perfect shell for the creamy Roquefort.  The best part is, this isn't really a recipe as much as just an assembly project, and a great project to get your kids involved in. 

To make the olives, remove the pimento from the center of the olive, if necessary, and use a small spoon (a baby spoon works great!) to fill the olive with the cheese.  It takes a bit of patience, but the results are delicious. 

Our second project was deviled eggs.  We started with a small batch of 6 hard-cooked eggs, sliced in half and the centers placed in a medium bowl.  Place the egg whites on a plate and set aside.

Crumble the egg yolks lightly with a fork and add a pinch of salt, (not too much is needed because the cheese is slightly salty), 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and 1 tablespoon of Roquefort cheese.  Crumble the cheese into the mixture and blend with a fork until the filling is very smooth and creamy.  Use a small spoon, or a piping bag if you want to get fancy, and fill the egg whites with the yolk filling.  Place a small sliver of Roquefort cheese on top of each egg half and serve.

The best thing about appetizers like this is that they can be prepared hours before a party.  Just cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Very Relaxing Thanksgiving

To me, the real point of Thanksgiving is to relax and enjoy the day with family.  And that is just what we did this year, with a trip to St Augustine Beach, FL.  This quiet little town has become our favorite destination for the Thanksgiving weekend.  It's not a busy tourist trap and the beach is pretty empty, except for a few surfers and after-dinner strollers trying to walk off their feast.  Peace, quiet, sand and surf make for an enjoyable day.  Except when the winds are up and over 20 mph!

Yes, this year turned into a blustery vacation.  The temperatures were nice and the sun was shining, but the winds made it feel like you were in downtown Chicago.  Our usual turkey sandwiches on the beach turned into sandwiches and hot soup in the hotel room, but afterwards we were ready to head back out to watch the waves. 

On our way home from the beach, we stopped by a farmer's market stand and found a few delicious goodies that we couldn't pass up.  Apple butter was a must on my daughter's list, and we tried our first jar of pumpkin butter that was simply the best thing you have ever tasted! 

Next we came across these beautiful orange tomatoes.  I didn't know what I was going to make with them but I had to take them home.  Once we cut into the first tomato the answer was very clear.  Salsa!  We chopped up some jalapeno and onion along with one tomato, then added a dash of lime juice and a teaspoon of salt.  Simple and wonderful.


Our last find was my favorite, fresh Atlantic shrimp.  These giant beauties were swimming in the ocean in the morning and dropped into a yummy batch of Low Country Boil for dinner.  We added red potatoes, spicy kielbasa, lemons, corn on the cob, and a few snow crabs to the pot with a generous spoonful of Old Bay and dinner was ready in about 20 minutes.  The perfect ending to a wonderful weekend!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner Options

So here we are, just 5 short days from Thanksgiving.  Do you know what you are going to serve your family?  Are you going the traditional route with a Roasted Turkey and all the usual trimmings or are you looking for something a little different?

Many people are shocked at the thought of serving anything other than the traditional turkey dinner.  But what if you don't really like turkey?  What if you've cooked so many turkeys in your life you just don't ever want to have to cook another turkey?  Well, that would be me.  And you know what, Thanksgiving without turkey can be pretty great!

A few years ago I decided to break free from the traditional turkey dinner and cook something I really wanted to make, a Low Country Boil.  And you know what?  Everyone loved it and not one person missed the turkey!  Giant pieces of king crab legs, juicy jumbo shrimp, red potatoes and corn on the cob with some spicy kielbasa sausage thrown into a big kettle of boiling goodness.  The meal was delicious, and even better, the entire dinner was cooked in one pot!  Without the piles of pots and pans to wash after dinner, we were all able to sit back and enjoy the rest of our day.  That's when I knew it was OK to break tradition, and I haven't cooked a turkey since!

The next year we made a Standing Rib Roast with Oven Roasted Potatoes, another year it was Filet Mignon with Mushroom and Wine Sauce and one year it was San Francisco-Style Cioppino.  New and exciting recipes like these give everyone something new to look forward to each year, instead of the same roasted turkey. 

We always include our kids when planning our Thanksgiving Day meal each year, and we plan Christmas and New Year's Eve Dinners the same way.  Everyone makes suggestions and when the time comes, everyone pitches in to help prepare the meal.  The kids have learned so much by helping plan these dinners and we have created some great memories. 

So if you're tired of turkey or maybe you just don't like turkey, do something different!  Think outside the box this year and try making something new, exciting, and wonderful for your Thanksgiving Dinner. Enjoy!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sausage Stuffing with Sage

The secret stuffing.  Sausage Stuffing with Sage, to be exact.  It's the recipe that has never been formally written down, and yet all of my sisters and I know the recipe by heart.  Some of us make this stuffing better (me) than others (them), but we won't get into that..LOL.  Homemade stuffing is easy to make and is much better than pouring dried crumbs out of a bag and soaking them with broth! (Dreadfully bad stuff.)

Everyone in my family remembers the early Thanksgiving mornings, with my parents getting everything ready for the day.  Dinner for a family of 8 was no easy task, and the number of guests grew each year as spouses and grandchildren were added to the gathering.  I think we topped out at almost 30 people one year, and that meant two things, we needed a BIG turkey and a LOT of stuffing! 

My Mom always prepared this stuffing so she had enough to stuff a 20-22 pound turkey and also have a 13 x 9-inch pan on the side, which is a lot of stuffing.  For this recipe I've cut the portion down to serve about 8 - 10 people, with a bit left over for the next day.  (The leftovers are even better!)  

This year, make your own homemade stuffing to share with your family and create your own Thanksgiving memories.  Those memories will last a lifetime.  Enjoy!!

2  Loaves of White, Wheat, Pumpernickel Bread, etc (day old bread works best)
1 stick  Butter
1 large  Onion, finely chopped
2 - 3 stalks  Celery, finely chopped
1 tsp  Salt
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1 TB  Dried Ground Sage
1 lb  Sage Sausage, browned and crumbled into small pieces
3  Large Eggs
Chicken Broth (optional-as needed)
1 can  Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan and set aside.

Break the bread into 1-inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl; set aside.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and celery and saute for 5 - 6 minutes or until softened.  Add salt, pepper, and sage to the skillet and stir to combine.  Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

Pour the mixture over the bread pieces, then add the cooked sausage and the eggs.  Blend the stuffing to fully combine all of the ingredients.  (You can use a spoon, but this step is much easier to do if you mix it with your hands.)  The texture of the stuffing at this point will be a little different depending on the type of bread you use.  If you are using a dense wheat or pumpernickel-type bread it will absorb more moisture than white breads, and there are two ways to add moisture to the stuffing.  If needed, add 1/4 cup of chicken broth to the stuffing and stir to combine.  (You want the stuffing to be moist but not soaked or watery.)  For more of a creamy texture, add a few tablespoons of cream of chicken soup, as needed, to moisten the stuffing.

Scoop the stuffing into the baking pan, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover the pan and cook for 15 - 20 minutes longer or until crispy and golden on top.  Enjoy!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Soups for Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Day is quickly approaching and we have some great ideas for you today.  Serving soup as a first course is a great way to begin your Thanksgiving meal.  Just don't be tempted to buy a store-bought soup because you're afraid you won't have time to prepare a pot of soup.  It can be done!

It's often said that a great bowl of soup always tastes better the second day it is served, so make the soup one day early and refrigerate it until the big day.  The next day you can heat up the soup, or to make it even easier, use your crock pot to heat the soup while you prepare the rest of the meal.  For soups that need to be served soon after they are prepared, there are even a few soups that are quick to prepare.

Here are a few soup suggestions that are simple, they can easily be reheated the following day and they will be a beautiful addition to your Thanksgiving Dinner.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup - This soup reheats very well and offers a classic touch of fall.  It would be delicious served alongside turkey, chicken or a roasted pork loin.

Savory Pumpkin Soup - Nothing says Thanksgiving better than Pumpkin. This soup reheats very well and would also coordinate well with turkey, chicken or roasted pork.

Creamy Trio of Mushrooms Soup - This earthy mushroom soup reheats well or you can make it the same day since preparation is very quick and easy.  This soup is a wonderful first course when served with Standing Rib Roast, roast pork loin, or lamb.

Creamy and Elegant Lobster Bisque - This soup is best served as soon as possible after cooking because of the delicate lobster, but it is quick to prepare.  This soup would pair well with roast turkey and oyster stuffing or a Standing Rib Roast.

Classic French Onion Soup - This soup can be made 60 - 90 minutes in advance and kept in a crock pot until ready to serve.  French onion soup pairs well with almost any main course, but goes especially well with Standing Rib Roast.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Continuing with our pre-holiday preparations, it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the Sweet Potatoes!  But instead of serving the super sweet, marshmallow topped version this year, try serving the real thing, Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

This recipe lets the natural flavor of the potatoes shine through, with just a touch of honey added for sweetness.  For extra flavor you can add orange juice or maple syrup to the finished potatoes.  This works really well if you are serving a baked ham.

If you have any sweet potatoes leftover, you are in for a treat.  We have several delicious ways to use up any extras such as Sweet Potato Bread, Sweet Potato and Oatmeal Muffins, or Sweet Potato Cookies with White Chocolate Chips and Cranberries.

6  Medium Sweet Potatoes, scrubbed
3 cups  Water, or enough to cover potatoes
1 tsp  Salt
1/4 cup  Butter, softened
3-4 TB  Honey
1/2 tsp  Salt

Cut off the ends of the potatoes and peel, removing any bruised spots. Chop potatoes into small 1-inch cubes, place in a large saucepan and add the water and salt.  Boil about 20 minutes or until just fork-tender.  Drain potatoes, return to the pan and add the butter.  Whip with an electric mixer until potatoes are smooth, then add honey and 1/2 tsp salt.  Serves 6-8.

For Orange-Flavored Sweet Potatoes: Add 2 tablespoons orange juice along with the honey.
For Maple-Flavored Sweet Potatoes: Prepare as above, substituting maple syrup for the honey.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Asparagus Casserole with Crunchy Onion Topping

With Thanksgiving Day quickly approaching, many people are making plans for the big day.  And with those plans come many questions.  What should I serve?  How many people will I be feeding?  Which wine should I buy?  Do I have to make turkey?  Ahh!  So much stress over one meal.  Why do we do this to ourselves?

To answer the above questions, I will be posting for the next 9 days, tips, hints, recipes and suggestions to help make your Thanksgiving Day a little bit easier.

Today we will start with Asparagus Casserole.  Although most people will stick with their family traditions, this recipe will update a family favorite and will have your guests asking for the recipe.  This is one of the rare occasions when I use a canned soup, but this stuff is just so good!

I made up this recipe when I was living in California.  The stores were closed and I didn't have green beans on hand, just a can of asparagus.  So this recipe was created based on the classic French's Green Bean Casserole, I just substituted the asparagus for the green beans.  Not being a big fan of green beans, I always knew there had to be a way to update the original recipe with a vegetable that I liked and asparagus is a delicious improvement.  Take this to your next holiday dinner and everyone will be pleasantly surprised.  Enjoy!

1  10-3/4 oz can  Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup
3/4 cup  Milk
1/8 tsp  Black Pepper
1 cup  Crunchy French Fried Onions
2  15 oz cans  Asparagus Cuts
1/2 cup  Crunchy French Fried Onions for Topping

In a medium casserole dish, mix soup, milk and pepper until combined.  Add onions and asparagus and combine gently so you don't crush all on the onions.  Smooth the mixture into the casserole pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until hot and crispy on top.  Top with the 1/2 cup of onions for the topping and bake 5 more minutes, then serve.  This recipe can easily be doubled.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Shrimp Bisque

For day 26 of Soup Month 2012, we decided to go with a luxurious bowl of creamy Shrimp Bisque.  This is a great special occasion soup and would be delicious served as a first course for New Year's Eve alongside a perfectly medium-rare Standing Prime Rib Roast.

The secret to a successful bisque lies in the stock.  Making your own stock does take a little extra time, but the depth of flavor you get from a slow-cooked stock is amazing!  For extra seasonings, we added just a touch of old bay to the stock to round out the shrimp, and the tomato paste with garlic adds just a hint of garlic to the background of this soup.  Enjoy!!

2 lbs  medium Shell-On Shrimp (41-50 size)
4 TB  Butter, divided
1 medium  Yellow Onion, diced
2 medium  Carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium Celery Stalk, diced
1/2 tsp  Old Bay Seasoning
2  Bay Leaves
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Tomato Paste with Garlic
4 cups  Water
4 TB  Flour
3/4 cup  Dry White Wine
1 tsp  Lobster Base
1/4 tsp  Cayenne Pepper
1/2 cup  Heavy Cream

Peel the shrimp and reserve the shells.  Chop the shrimp in half and place in a glass bowl;  refrigerate until needed.

In a large saucepan, melt 1 TB butter over medium-high heat.  When butter begins to simmer, add the onions, carrots, celery, Old Bay, and bay leaves and saute for 3 minutes.  Add the reserved shrimp shells on top of the vegetables, sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir and cover the pot.  Cook for 5 minutes longer, until the shells are pink and vegetables are softened.

Increase the heat to medium-high, add the water to the pot and stir to combine.  Bring stock to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.  Use a colander lined with a paper towel or coffee filter to strain the stock through to filter out the solids, then discard the solids.

Rinse out the saucepan and return to the stove.  Over low heat melt 3 TB butter.  When the butter is melted, add the flour to the butter and blend with a spoon to create a roux.  Keep stirring until mixture is a golden brown, about 3 minutes.

Add the white wine and lobster base to the pot and stir to combine, then add the reserved stock to the pot.  Bring mixture to a low boil, then add the cayenne and the shrimp to the pot.  Stir and simmer for about 5 minutes or just until the shrimp are pink.  Reduce the heat to low, add the cream to the pot and season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed. 

Serve this soup with crusty french bread or baked clam shells.  Serves 5 - 6 as a main course, or about 8 as a first course. 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!!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Seared Salmon with Balsamic Glaze

Once again, it's so amazing that a handful of simple ingredients can produce such a wonderful and  healthy meal.  As a bonus, this dinner requires minimal prep time and less than 15 minutes to cook.

Salmon is a great go-to meal for weeknight dinners because of the quick cooking time.  It can be grilled, broiled or even cooked in a skillet on the stove top and there are many tasty sauces that can be made ahead of time and are ready to serve at dinnertime.  In addition, it's mild flavor makes it a favorite for children.

For this dish, a sweet balsamic glaze is the perfect addition to this pan-seared salmon. Brown sugar balances the acidity of the vinegar, to create a glaze that can be used for vegetables, fish or even chicken.  Don't worry, you don't need a $50 bottle of balsamic to make this simple glaze, just use any dark balsamic available at your local market and the results will be just as delicious.

1 cup  Balsamic Vinegar
2 TB  Brown Sugar
2 tsp  Lemon Juice
1 tsp  +  1 TB  Olive Oil - divided
4 Salmon Fillets - about 4 -6 ounces each, deboned and skin removed
Salt and Pepper

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the vinegar and brown sugar to a boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and syrupy. When reduced, it should measure about 1/3 cup.

Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Season salmon fillets with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet over high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When oil is hot, but not smoking, add salmon and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Carefully turn fillets over, spoon about 1 tablespoon of glaze over the salmon and cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until just cooked through. **Note: You want to be sure to use a very hot skillet to get a good sear on the outside of the salmon.

Transfer salmon to individual plates and drizzle with additional balsamic glaze. Serve with a side of rice, steamed asparagus and maybe a few hush puppies for the kids.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Guinness Three Ways

My Sous Chef/Photographer has submitted his birthday dinner request and it consists of, what else, BEER!  Not just any beer, but Guinness.  Smooth, rich and velvety Guinness. And we are going to enjoy this delicious beer in three different ways in honor of his birthday on March 16th and St. Patrick's Day on March 17th!!
It's sad that he was born one day too early to be a St. Patrick's Day baby, because he does do his part to celebrate this special holiday. Without a single drop of Irish blood in his veins, he has enjoyed (endured?)  almost 16 years of me cooking St. Patrick's Day food such as Irish Soda Bread, Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Irish Beef Stew with Guinness, plus more than a few bottles of Guinness.  (That's what you get when you marry an Irish girl!)

For his birthday dinner we will be starting off with Irish Lamb Stew served with Irish Soda Bread.  My daughter had a slight look of horror in her eyes when I said we would be eating lamb, so we'll have to work on her a bit.

Dessert will cap off the night with Chocolate Guinness Cake and Guinness Ice Cream.  Check back soon for more details and recipes.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Super Bowl Foods

It's the biggest day of the year for football fans...Super Bowl Sunday!!  This year is even more special because the big event is being held in my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana.  And guess what, all those years of waiting for the Super Bowl to be in Indy and now I don't live there...boo.

Well, regardless of your location, and even if you aren't a big football fan, this is a great day for people to get together and share some delicious food and fun drinks. (Even if you are only watching the game for the fun commercials!)

Check back often over the next 3 weeks as we revisit some tasty finger food recipes, such as Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings and introduce a few new favorites, along with some great drinks to go along with all of the snacks.