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Monday, December 31, 2012

Quick Chicken Chili with Black Beans

They say necessity if the mother of invention, and today that was very true.  We woke to a very cold morning and it seemed like it would never warm up.  (I know the Northern states are dealing with snow and freezing temperatures, but 32 degrees in Florida is just cold!)

With Christmas decorations to put away and a few hours of work to do in the morning, the last thing I wanted to do was go grocery shopping.  So, as I looked through the refrigerator and pantry I collected a few things to throw together that would be come a soup, or a chili, or maybe a stew.  All I knew was it needed to be spicy and warm!

So with some leftover roasted chicken, some black beans and this yummy Hot Pace Salsa, dinner evolved into a very quick and easy, Chicken Chili with Black Beans.   And was it ever good!  The final touch was a spoonful of roasted and toasted sweet corn on top of the chili.  Enjoy!!

1 medium  Onion, chopped
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1 small  Red Pepper, chopped
1 TB  Olive Oil
1 4 oz can  Diced Green Chilies
3 cups  Cooked Chicken, diced
1/2 cup  Pace Hot Chunky Salsa
1/2 cup  Water
1  15 oz can  Black Beans, drained and rinsed
1 TB  Cumin
1 TB  Garlic Powder
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
3 cups  Chicken Broth
2 cups  Dry Ditalini Pasta
1 cup  Half and Half
1 1/2 cup  Frozen Corn Kernels
1 TB  Water
1 TB  Butter

In a large soup pot, saute the onion, garlic and red pepper in the olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the green chilies, cooked chicken, salsa, water and black beans and stir.  Simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Add the cumin, garlic powder, salt, pepper, chicken broth and pasta to the pot and stir.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes or until the pasta is tender.  Add the half and half to the chili, stir and heat 5 minutes longer.

In a small skillet combine the corn, water and butter and cook over medium-high heat.  Saute the corn until the water has evaporated and the corn begins to browns slightly. 

Ladle the chili into bowls and top with a scoop of the roasted corn kernels.

Pumpkin Butter Smoothie

This yummy Pumpkin Butter Smoothie is a delicious way to start your day and, with only 3 or 4 ingredients, it only takes a few minutes to prepare.  As our first creation using Pumpkin Butter, it was a great success and will be perfect for our busy weekday mornings that start much earlier than I wish they did!

Coming in at about 215 calories and 20 grams of protein, this smoothie is full of yummy pumpkin flavor.  For an added boost of potassium, add half of a banana to your smoothie and you're still under 300 calories.

1/4 cup  Pumpkin Butter
1 cup  1% Milk
1/2 scoop  Optimum Nutrition Vanilla Ice Cream Protein Powder
1/2  Medium Banana, optional

Combine all ingredients in a small blender for 30 seconds and serve.

Pumpkin Butter

A few weeks ago, my family and I stopped by a local farmer's market where we discovered Amish Pumpkin Butter.  We had all tried apple butter before but pumpkin butter is a different thing all together, with a flavor similar to pumpkin pie, with lots of cinnamon and cloves.

This creamy spread is so delicious, we kept thinking of more and more ways to use it.  And as expected, the jar was empty within a few days.  So my mission was clear, I needed to make our own.

So far we have used this butter on pancakes and English muffins, and it also makes a great Pumpkin Butter Smoothie for a quick breakfast.  In addition to tasting yummy, it's also good for you! Just 1/4 cup of Pumpkin Butter comes in at about 55 calories and provides 150% of your Vitamin A requirements for the day.

2 15-oz cans  Libby's Pure Pumpkin
1 cup  Apple Juice
1/2 tsp  Allspice
1/4 tsp  Cloves
1 cup  Brown Sugar, packed
1 TB  Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp  Nutmeg
2 tsp  Apple Cider Vinegar

Combine all ingredients, except vinegar, in a large saucepan.  Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring several times.

Remove from heat and stir in the cider vinegar.  Cool to room temperature then transfer to a glass container and store in refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Roquefort Burgers

Ahh.. the creamy yumminess of blue cheese tucked inside of a juicy burger.  And this is no ordinary blue cheese, but Roquefort Cheese.  As we approach the end of this holiday season, sometimes a simple burger is just what we need for a weeknight dinner.  But we decided to give these burgers a little something extra.

Roquefort cheese has a unique flavor which pairs well with beef. We included the crumbled cheese inside the burger, then added about a tablespoon of cheese to the top of each burger and let it slowly melt. 

This is such a super easy burger, but the flavor is amazing.  If you are a blue cheese fan, but have never tried Roquefort cheese, this is going to be a real treat.

1 lb  Extra Lean Ground Beef
2 - 3 oz  Roquefort Cheese, crumbled
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper to taste

In a medium bowl combine the beef, cheese and salt and pepper, mixing by hand to form 4 patties.  For the best flavor, try to center a few larger pieces of Roquefort into the middle of each burger.

Grill the burgers over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, turn burgers over and cook 3 minutes.  Add a tablespoonful of cheese to the top of each burger and cook 3 - 4 minutes longer.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nutella Cupcakes

If you are looking for a delicious treat to bring to a holiday get together, this is a great alternative to cookies.  And it contains one of our favorite ingredients, Nutella Spread.

Nutella is a hazelnut and chocolate spread that has acquired a huge (and growing) league of fans.  My kids love this stuff!  So today we decided instead of cookies, we would try making a Nutella cupcake, and this recipe turned out great.  The cupcakes are moist and chocolatey, with the familiar hint of Nutella to accompany the chocolate.  The final touch was a drizzle glaze of melted dark chocolate that we made using Hershey's Dark Chocolate Morsels. These cupcakes are so good, but I must warn you, they are a bit addictive!  Enjoy!!

2 cups  Flour
2 1/2 tsp  Baking Powder
1/2 tsp  Salt
1/3 cup  Butter, softened
1 1/2 cups  Brown Sugar
1 tsp  Vanilla Extract
1/2 cup  Nutella Spread
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup  Milk
1/4 cup  Hershey's Dark Chocolate Morsels
1/4 tsp  Shortening (not butter or margarine)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare cupcake pans with 21 liners and set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Cream butter with 1 cup of brown sugar and vanilla until smooth.  Add Nutella and mix thoroughly.

Add the eggs and mix until combined, then add the remaining brown sugar and blend well. 

Add the flour mixture and milk, alternating in small amounts, beating well after each addition.

Pour about 1/4 cup of batter into each cupcake liner.  Bake cupcakes 25 - 30 minutes or until set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

To prepare the drizzle - In a microwave safe cup combine the dark chocolate pieces and the shortening and microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir and microwave for 10 seconds longer, if needed.  When the chocolate is smooth, drizzle over the cupcakes.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Homemade Irish Cream

As Christmas draws closer it's time for a little holiday cheer.  Definitely my favorite cocktail for the holidays, this recipe for Homemade Irish Cream is so simple to make and costs significantly less than the name brand Irish Cream. 

Any brand of bourbon can be used, even the cheaper selections of bourbon will work nicely.  My personal favorites would have to be Irish Mist or Canadian Mist.  Both are amazingly smooth and silky.  The best thing about this recipe is that it tastes even better than the brand name Irish Cream.  Enjoy on the rocks or add a little to your coffee.

 1 tsp Instant Coffee (try flavored coffees such as vanilla)
1 1/4 cup  Milk
1 TB Vanilla
1 TB + 1 tsp Chocolate Syrup
1 1/4 cup Bourbon Whiskey (Windsor, CC, Irish Mist)
1 - 14 oz can Sweetened Condensed Milk

Combine all ingredients in blender and serve on the rocks or stir into coffee.  Refrigerate and use within about 1 week.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Snowflake Dusted Brownie Cookies {#BloggersforSandyHook}

Today's post is a tribute to the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary.  At a time when we all wish we could do something, anything, to bring peace to the people of Newtown, CT, we are at a loss.  How do we offer comfort and condolences to total strangers when our hearts ache for them?

Well, when I came across this post, Bloggers Unite for Cookies & Crafts for Sandy Hook, at Crazy for Crust, I knew I wanted to participate.  Food bloggers are a great bunch of people and this is a wonderful way to show our united support to the community of Newtown.  On Friday, December 21st, we are showing our support by posting a cookie recipe or craft project as a Tribute to Sandy Hook. (You can also follow through #BloggersforSandyHook.)  Donations for the Newtown Youth and Family Services Organization can be made HERE.

You can share in this project, too.  Grab your kids and spend an afternoon making cookies, doing some fun crafts, even cutting out snowflakes.  Have fun, hug them a little closer and be thankful that they are safe.

I've been on a chocolate cookie binge this season and this is another recipe to add to the files.  Tasting just like a brownie in a cookie-style package, this is a great cookie to leave for Santa.

2/3 cup  Shortening
1 1/2 cups  Packed Brown Sugar
2  Large Eggs
1 TB  Water
3 tsp  Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 cups  Flour
1/3 cup  Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp  Salt
1/4 tsp  Baking Soda
12 oz  Semi-Sweet chocolate chips
Confectioners Sugar for Dusting

In a large bowl, beat the shortening and sugar until smooth and fluffy.  Blend in the eggs, water and vanilla.  Combine the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda;  gradually add to the creamed mixture and beat just until blended.  Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

Drop by rounded teaspoons, about 2 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake for 8 - 10 minutes, or until slightly puffed and set around the edges.  Do not over bake.  Cool for 2 minutes on baking sheets before transferring the wire racks.  Lightly sprinkle the cookies with confectioners sugar while the cookies are still warm.  Allow to cool completely on wire racks.  Makes about 40 cookies.

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.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ham and Bean Soup

Many people like to serve ham for Christmas dinner and with the great sale prices this week, this is the perfect time to pick up an extra ham for quick and easy weeknight dinners.  I usually try to slice about 1/3 of the ham for sandwiches, then chop/dice the remaining ham and freeze it in individual baggies.  Add the defrosted ham to scrambled eggs, Chicken and Chorizo Jambalaya or soups.  Which brings me to this tasty family recipe for Ham and Bean Soup.

This is a great soup to prepare with leftover ham and the soup bone from your holiday ham.  (Don't throw away the soup bone!  There's a lot of flavor in there.)  This soup does take a little extra time to prepare, but the low and slow approach creates a soup that's full of flavor, with just a slight zing from a generous dash of hot sauce.  Enjoy!!

1 lb Dried Great Northern Beans, prepared in advance
2 quarts Water
1 Meaty Ham Bone
2 cups of Diced Ham
1 tsp Salt, or to taste
1 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1/4 cup Ketchup
1  small  Onion, chopped
1 Carrot, shredded
3 - 4 dashes Tabasco Hot Sauce (optional)

Place the dry beans in a medium soup pot and cover with about 2 inches of water.  Let soak for 6 - 8 hours, or overnight.  Drain the beans, then return to the soup pot.

Combine beans with 2 quarts of water.  Add all of the remaining ingredients to the pot and bring the soup to a full boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 2 - 3 hours, stirring occasionally.   Serves about 5 - 6.

Friday, December 14, 2012

My New Favorite Wine - 2009 Noceto Sangiovese

It's always exciting to come across a wine that has all of the flavors you love, and is still affordable.  And that's just the case with the 2009 Noceto Sangiovese, from the Vino Noceto Winery in Plymouth, California.

I always like to mention that I do not have any affiliation with this winery, or any others, but I do like to bring a little extra attention to wineries that offer such amazing products as this Sangiovese.  I especially like to bring attention to smaller wineries, whose wines are some of the best kept secrets in the business.

For our first tasting, we served this Sangiovese with our Shrimp and Blue Cheese Noodles and the wine was a beautiful pairing.  On the second occasion it also tasted great served with a simple grilled New York Strip steak.  The wine has a Chianti-style flavor and would also work beautifully with a Grilled Pork Roast with Cherry-Balsamic Sauce, various Italian dishes or even with a great pizza.

If you are still shopping for Christmas or New Year's Eve wines, or you are just ready to stock up your cellar for the new year, stop by the Noceto web site to see the entire selection of wines they have available, including a 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel, grown on vines dating back to the 1860's. Yum!  Since Old Vine Zinfandel has always been my favorite in the past, and I cannot wait to try this, my husband might be buying me a few bottles Zinfandel for Christmas...he just doesn't know it yet!  Enjoy!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chocolate Andes Creme de Menthe Cookies

These cookies are the second result of my cookie baking binge this week.  While I was successful in finding more of the Nestle Winter Dark Chocolate & Mint Morsels to make the Mint Chocolate Delights, I was pleasantly surprised to also find a package of Andes Mints that are now available in tiny crumbles called Andes Creme de Menthe Baking Chips. These mint pieces have the same peppermint flavor as the traditional mints, just cut into small slivers and chunks. 

I knew just the recipe to try for my first experiment with these chips.  The base of this cookie is the same dough from the Triple Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter.  This recipe combines unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder which creates a very elegant, silky chocolate flavor.  If possible, try to use a Dutch-process cocoa powder for a darker color and more complex flavor, but regular cocoa powder also works well.

For this recipe, I used 6 ounces from the 10 ounce bag of Andres Chips and that amount seemed to add a nice balance of that familiar peppermint flavor to the chocolate.  This cookie has definitely been added to our list of favorite cookies.  Enjoy!!

1 cup  Flour
1/2 cup  Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp  Baking Soda
1/4 tsp  Salt
4 oz  Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
1 stick (4 oz)  Unsalted Butter
1-1/2 cups  Sugar
1 tsp  Vanilla Extract
2 Large Eggs, beaten
6 oz  Andes Creme de Menthe Baking Chips

Preheat oven to 325.  Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

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

In a medium saucepan, melt the unsweetened chocolate with the butter over low heat, stirring frequently.  Scrape the melted mixture into a medium bowl to cool.

When the chocolate has cooled, add the sugar and vanilla and stir to blend, then add the eggs and stir.  Next add the flour mixture and stir until you have a smooth dough mixture, then stir in the Andres Mint pieces.

Drop rounded teaspoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets and flatten the cookies slightly.  Bake for about 13-14 minutes or until the cookies are slightly firm, but still soft in the center.  Slide the parchment paper with the cookies onto wire racks to cool.

Triple Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Filling

We have enjoyed these cookies each Christmas for the past dozen years or so and I always look forward to making them.  (Warning: These cookies are highly addictive, which is why I try to only make them during the holidays!)

This dark chocolate sandwich cookie contains three types of chocolate and the filing is a simple natural peanut butter.  When preparing the cookies, try to keep the portion of dough to just about a teaspoon so the cookies are not too large.  Since you will be stacking two of the cookies together, you don't want the cookies to be too overwhelming.  Although in this case that could be a good thing..lol.

These cookies make a wonderful gift for friends and family.  The flavor is so unique and decadent that all of the recipients will be delighted.  Enjoy!!

1 cup  Flour
1/2 cup  Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (Dutch-process if available)
1/2 tsp  Baking Soda
1/4 tsp  Salt
4 oz  Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
1 stick (4 oz) Unsalted Butter
1-1/2 cups  Sugar
1 tsp  Vanilla Extract
2  Large Eggs, beaten
4 oz  Milk Chocolate Chips
1/2 cup  Smart Balance Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Preheat oven to 325.  Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the unsweetened chocolate and the butter over low heat, stirring frequently.  Scrape the melted chocolate into a bowl to cool.  Stir in the sugar and vanilla and blend.  Stir in the eggs,  followed by the flour mixture and blend until you have a smooth dough, then fold in the milk chocolate chips.

Drop the dough by rounded teaspoons, about 2 inches apart, onto the prepared baking sheets.  Flatten the cookies slightly and bake for 13-14 minutes or until he cookies are firm outside but still soft in the center.  Slide the parchment paper with the cookies onto a wire rack to cool.

When the cookies have cooled, spread the flat side of half of the cookies with about 3/4 teaspoon of peanut butter, then top with the remaining cookies

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mint Chocolate Delights

Yum!  When chocolate and mint come together in a cookie, it's a pretty great cookie.  What makes these cookies even better is that they taste exactly like the Thin Mint Cookies you can buy from the Girl Scouts!  You have GOT to try these for yourself!  I used the recipe on the back of the package to see how these little chips would taste and the recipe is remarkably easy and the cookies are well named, Delights.

I found the Nestle Winter Dark Chocolate & Mint Morsels at our local Target store and it seems like Target might be one of the few stores that sell the seasonal Nestle products.  I have yet to find these at any other area store, so grab them while you can!

Today turned out to be a 2 for Tuesday Cookie Day, as I was able to finish two batches of cookies in the same day.  Needless to say, the kids were happy to taste test for me.  It seems like once the house is decorated for Christmas the baking mood strikes.  I'll post our second cookie project shortly, but for now, here is a picture of the finished Christmas Tree and the yummy cookies.


2 cups  Flour
2/3 cup  Baking Cocoa
1 tsp  Baking Soda
1/2 tsp  Salt
1 cup  (2 sticks) Butter, softened
2/3 cup  Sugar
2/3 cup  Brown Sugar
1 tsp  Vanilla Extract
2  Eggs
1 - 10 oz pkg  Nestle Toll House Dark Chocolate & Mint Morsels

Preheat oven to 325.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.  Beat butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla until creamy, then blend in the eggs.

Gradually blend in the flour mixture and then stir in the morsels.  Drop dough by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheet and bake for 11 - 13 minutes until cookies are puffed and centers are set.  Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Makes about 40 cookies.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Catfish Po'Boy with Creole Slaw

Well, today was my lucky day.  I have been hoping to find catfish on sale and today was the day.  For some reason the price of catfish has skyrocketed over the last few years. The fillets we used to pay $2 per pound for are now almost $10 per pound. For catfish!  Catfish is one of my favorite varieties of fish, but when it costs more than salmon?  Well, salmon will win every time.

Many Po'Boy sandwiches have a mayonnaise-based sauce or dressing, and I was hoping to avoid that on this sandwich.  The catfish needed to be crispy-crunchy without drowning in sauce.  I also wanted to try out a Creole-style slaw to go on top of the fish.  A slaw that would add crunch, but not be drippy with dressing, and this recipe came together perfectly.

For the slaw I started with a bowl of finely shredded cabbage and one shredded carrot.  Then I added a few basic slaw ingredients like mayo, cider vinegar and a bit of sugar.  But I wanted this to have a Cajun flavor, so I needed to spice it up just a bit.  A little Creole mustard and a pinch of paprika were all it needed.  I prepared the slaw about 3 hours before dinner, so it was still nice and crunchy when we assembled the sandwiches, but the cabbage had absorbed the flavors nicely.

We served the catfish on hoagie rolls and added a few slices of these beautiful orange tomatoes we found at the farmers market.  The tomatoes have a slightly citrusy flavor and they combined nicely with the fish and slaw.  A few squeezes of lime juice on top were the only "sauce" this sandwich needed.  Enjoy!!

To Prepare the Slaw
4 cups  Shredded Cabbage
1  Carrot, shredded
1 TB  Sugar
1/2 cup  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
1/4 cup  Apple Cider Vinegar
2 TB  Creole Mustard
1/4 tsp  Paprika
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Black Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl and stir to evenly coat all of the cabbage.  Refrigerate at least 2-3 hours.

To Prepare the Fish
3  Large Catfish Fillets (about 1-3/4 lb), cut in half
Canola Oil for Frying
2  Large Eggs
2 TB  Frank's Hot Sauce
2 TB  Heavy Cream  or  Milk
1/2 cup  Cornmeal
1/4 cup  Flour
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Black Pepper
1 tsp  Onion Powder
1/2 tsp  Paprika
1/4 tsp  Cayenne Pepper
Sliced Tomatoes for Garnish

In a medium bowl combine the eggs, hot sauce and cream or milk and stir well.  Set aside.

In a large bowl or dish combine the remaining dry spices and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add a 1/2-inch of canola oil and heat until shimmering.  Dip the fillets one at a time into the egg mixture, then into the cornmeal coating.  Place each piece into the skillet and cook about 5 - 6 minutes, or until browned and crispy.  Turn the fish over and cook for 5 minutes longer.  Transfer to a paper towel lined baking sheet to drain.

Serve the catfish fillets on hoagie rolls with sliced tomatoes and a spoonful of the Creole slaw on top.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Swai Fillets with Kumquat Butter

Between living in Phoenix and now Florida, we have been most fortunate to be on the receiving end of many baskets of fresh citrus fruits.  Residents of the southern sunbelt always have an overabundance of lemons and limes at home and they are more than happy to share their harvest with their coworkers.

That was the case this week when my sous chef came home from work with something new, a bag of kumquats.  (Kumquats?  What do you do with those?) These cute little fruits look like small oranges, and when I scratched the rind they even smelled like oranges. But how do you peel such a tiny thing?  Well, you learn something new every day!  When my husband asked the same question of his coworker, he was told to eat the entire thing, rind and all, which seemed a bit weird.  So we did what most skeptical parents would do, we let our oldest daughter try one!  Turns out she loved these juicy little fruits and so did we.  The rind was sweet while the center was juicy and tart.  A very interesting flavor that I could not wait to experiment with.

I had been wanting to make a citrus-based Swai dish and this recipe was the perfect solution.  Quickly searing the fish is a great way to highlight the natural flavor of the fish, while combining the bright flavor of the kumquats.  Be sure to serve a few sliced or whole kumquats on the side.  This fish is delicious served with a light rice pilaf and a simple veggie.  Enjoy!!

Kumquat Butter
3 TB  Butter, softened
6  Kumquats with seeds removed
1 tsp  Lemon Zest
1 tsp  Orange Zest
1 tsp  Minced Fresh Ginger
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
Pinch of Black Pepper

After you have removed the seeds from the kumquats, (you can use a small knife to do this), finely mince the kumquats, including the rinds.  Combine the kumquats with the butter, lemon and orange zest, ginger, salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the fish.

5  Swai Fillets (about 2 lbs)
2 tsp  Butter
2 tsp  Olive Oil

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Rub the fish fillets generously on both sides with the citrus butter, then place the fish in the hot skillet.  Cook fillets for 4 - 5 minutes then carefully turn the fillets over and cook 4 minutes longer, or until fish is opaque in the center and slightly browned.  Serve immediately.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


This is a yummy alternative to pizza that we used to make when our kids were very young, and they always loved them.  Little did they know, I was just trying to get them to like spinach. (It worked!)

A calzone is a type of rolled, stuffed-in-the-center type of pizza that has many variations.  The dough is traditionally similar to pizza dough, but the filling is where the differences really begin.  Calzones  are often filled with several types of cheese, with ricotta being the base of this creation.  Some restaurants will include meats, olives or sauce inside of the calzone, so the filling combinations are endless, and you can easily create your own favorite filling.  For our calzones, we like to keep the sauce on the outside, but you could also incorporate the sauce into the filling mixture.


We started with an easy bread machine dough that is rolled out into squares.  Each square is lined with a meat, cheese and spinach filling, then rolled over into a rectangle.  The edges are sealed with a fork, then spritzed with a bit of olive oil and baked.  Serve with a spoonful of seasoned tomato sauce on top.  Enjoy!!

Calzone Filling

15 oz  Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese
1 cup  Grated Cheddar Cheese
1/2 cup  Grated Mozzarella Cheese
3 oz  Diced Pepperoni
10 oz  Frozen Spinach, cooked, cooled and well drained
1/2 lb  Fresh Sausage, cooked and drained
1 tsp  Dried Oregano
1 tsp  Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Calzone Dough in the Bread Machine

1 cup + 2 1/2 TB  Water
2 1/2 TB  Olive Oil
3 cups  Bread Machine Flour
1 tsp  Salt
1/2 tsp  Sugar
2 tsp  Garlic Powder
1 1/2 tsp  Bread Machine Yeast
Calzone Filling
Flour, if needed
Olive Oil Spray

Combine all ingredients in the bread machine pan and set the machine to the Dough Setting.  At the end of the first kneading cycle, press the stop/clear button and let the dough rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until almost double in size.

Punch the dough down and remove from the bread machine pan to a lightly floured cutting board.  Let rest for 5 minutes.  The dough will have a very smooth texture.

Using a dough slicer or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 6 equal portions.  Use a rolling pin to roll each piece of dough into a square about 6 or 7 inches across.  (Add a few teaspoons of flour to the cutting board surface if the dough is a bit sticky.)

Place 3 - 4 tablespoons of calzone filling onto the lower half of the dough, then gently roll the dough over and crimp the edges using a fork.  You can also roll these up "burrito-style" by folding in the edges and rolling the dough so none of the filling is visible.  Place the calzones on a baking sheet and continue with the remaining calzones.

Lightly spray the calzones with olive oil and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden.  Serve with a spoon of seasoned tomato sauce** on top.

**Note:  To make a quick sauce for the calzones, heat an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce in a small saucepan.  Add Italian seasoning, some fresh basil if available, a little garlic powder, salt and pepper and heat until warm.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Indonesian Nasi Goreng

Don't let the tricky name scare you away, because this is a delicious stir fry dish that's actually quite easy to make.

The name, Nasi Goreng, translates into "fried rice" in Indonesia, and the dish has many variations.  It can be served as a breakfast dish by serving the rice with more egg, it can be made suitable for vegetarians by omitting the chicken and/or shrimp, or you can prepare the dish with just chicken.  Either way, it is a quick and simple stir fry and makes a great weeknight dinner.

Cooking with a wok (or a large skillet will work too) the first thing to do is prepare all of your ingredients.  Have everything ready in advance and this meal will come together very quickly.

First, prepare a sauce of red chilies, chili paste, lobster or shrimp base, minced garlic and soy sauce. (You can use a small food processor to puree this if you would like a smooth mixture, but I liked having the pieces of garlic and chili in the sauce.)  Next chop the cucumbers and tomatoes and place in smalls bowls.  Then slice the chicken into strips and you're ready to go.

You can also vary the amount of heat in this dish, since this dish as written was not overly spicy. The chilies I used were a little mild, and next time I might try using Thai chilies for a more intense heat, or maybe add a teaspoon or two of Srirachi Sauce for extra heat. You can easily adjust the spice up or down for this recipe according to personal preference.  This dish got a thumbs up from the kids, even the picky eater, so I'm sure it will be added to our list of Go-To weeknight recipes.  Enjoy!!

4 - 6  Red Chilies, seeded and thinly sliced
1 TB  Roasted Red Chili Paste
2 tsp  Lobster or Shrimp Base
2 TB  Minced Garlic
1 TB  Soy Sauce
Peanut Oil for Stir-Frying
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/3 lb  Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, cut into strips
1 lb  Medium Raw Shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 cups  Cooked Rice (Jasmati, Long Grain or Brown Rice will work)
1/3 cup  Soy Sauce
1 cup  Diced Cucumber
1  Large Tomato, chopped
Lime Wedges for garnish

In a small bowl combine the minced chilies, chili paste, lobster or shrimp base, garlic and soy sauce.  Stir and set aside.

Heat the wok (or large skillet) until very hot, add 2 tsp peanut oil and swirl around the wok.  Add the beaten eggs and gently swirl the eggs so they spread out in the wok, to create a large thin crepe.  Carefully flip the eggs over, cook for 1 minute until set, then transfer the eggs to a plate to cool, then slice the eggs into thin strips.

Reheat the wok and add 2 teaspoons of peanut oil, then add the chicken and half of the chili and garlic mixture.  Stir to coat and cook the chicken until it is no longer pink.  Remove the chicken from the wok and keep warm in a large bowl.

Reheat the wok, add 1 teaspoon oil, then the shrimp and the remaining chili and garlic mixture.  Stir and cook until the shrimp are cooked through and pink.  Transfer the shrimp to the bowl with the chicken and keep warm.

Reheat the wok and add 1 tablespoon of oil, then add the cooked rice, and stir constantly over medium-high heat for 4 minutes.  Add the soy sauce to the rice, stir, then add the chicken and shrimp to the wok.  Continue to turn the mixture until everything is warmed through.  Season with salt and pepper, as needed. 

Spoon the mixture into serving bowls and sprinkle with the strips of egg, then a spoonful of cucumber and finally the tomato on top.  Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over the dish. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chi Chi's Seafood Enchiladas

The inspiration for this recipe came from a jar of Better Than Bouillon Lobster Base.  I bought the base to make a Lobster Bisque during Soup Month, and it was wonderful.  But since I still had quite a bit of the lobster base left I wanted to find a tasty way to use it.

After a little research, I discovered that this type of base is the key ingredient in Seafood Enchiladas, which were a signature dish at the now-defunct Chi-Chi's Restaurants.  These little rolls of seafood seemed to have had quite a following, even years after the restaurants were closed, so I thought we would try them out.

I did change the recipe slightly.  Instead of using the 4 oz can of shrimp called for in the recipe, I substituted 1 cup of diced cooked shrimp.  The 100-count salad shrimp work great for this and are pretty inexpensive, but I just cannot get myself to cook with canned shrimp.  (Shrimp in a can just seems so wrong.)

This recipe turned out pretty good, but it still left me puzzled.  I read dozens of reviews for this recipe and they all said that these taste exactly like the original restaurant recipe.  And they did taste just like restaurant version, and the kids loved them.  But they still need something. A little oomph.  The biggest problem with restaurant food is that it almost always need more spice and flavor.  And that was the case here.

So on that note, I am on a mission to update these little seafood enchiladas into something new.  I will report back soon with the updated version, but in the meantime, give these a try and enjoy!

6 TB  Butter
1/2 cup  Flour
1/2 tsp  White Pepper
2 TB  Lobster Base
3 1/2 cups  Milk
1 cup  White Wine  or  Cooking Sherry
8 oz  Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
1 cup  Cooked Shrimp, diced
2  8-oz pkgs  Imitation Crabmeat, flake Style, chopped
10  6-inch  Flour Tortillas

To make the sauce, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the flour, stir and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the white pepper and lobster base, stir and cook for 1 minute.

Add the milk and white wine, stir, then add the cheese to the pan.  Cook over medium heat until the sauce is thickened, then remove the pan from the heat to cool slightly for about 10-15 minutes.

To prepare the crab mixture, combine the crab and shrimp in a medium bowl and add 1-1/2 cups of the sauce and mix well.

To prepare the enchiladas, lay the tortillas flat and spoon 2 - 3 heaping tablespoons of the crab mixture down the center of the tortillas.  Place the flap over the crab mixture, then roll.  Place the rolled enchiladas flap-side down in a 9"x13" baking dish.  Continue with the remaining tortillas, then pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas and top with the shredded cheese.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and just slightly golden.  Serve with Spanish rice, refried beans and a few lime wedges.

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.

Szechuan Pork Stir Fry

One of my favorite time saving appliances is my electric wok.  You can combine almost any protein with a handful of vegetables (anything you have on hand will work just fine), and a quick sauce and you have dinner on the table in no time. 


Another reason I love to cook in the wok is that it's so much fun to experiment with different ingredients and see how close I can get to the flavors you find in a traditional Chinese take-out meal. For example, tonight I wanted to make a Szechuan-style spicy sauce and I happened to have some pork on hand, so I started there.  After thinly slicing the pork, I added cornstarch, soy sauce and garlic powder for a marinade.  Next, I sliced a green pepper into strips and placed those in a small bowl. (Using small bowls for the ingredients is ideal for cooking with a wok.  Just line up all of the bowls in order as they are called for in the recipe, then you are ready to toss everything into the wok as needed.)

The Szechuan sauce gets its heat from crushed red pepper, which is infused into the dry roasted peanuts with a quick stir-fry.  This step is very "aromatic" to say the least.  The heat of the wok really brings out the full strength of the red pepper and the smell is spicy and delicious.

After quickly stir-frying the pork and peppers, a blend of chicken broth, vinegar and white wine add a nice balance to the spicy red pepper.

Cooking with a wok is super easy, but you could also use a large non-stick skillet with equally good results.  This is also a great recipe to start with if you are new to stir-frying.  It's super easy, fast and the taste is even better than take-out Chinese.  Enjoy!!

1 3/4 lbs  Boneless Pork, cut into thin strips
5 TB  Soy Sauce
4 TB  Cornstarch, divided
1 tsp  Garlic Powder
3 TB  Water
2 tsp  Peanut Oil
1/2 cup  Dry Roasted Peanuts
1/2 tsp  Crushed Red Pepper
1/2 tsp  Minced Fresh Ginger
1 medium Green or Red Bell Pepper, cut into strips
1 cup  Chicken Broth
2 TB  Rice Vinegar
2 TB  Dry White Wine
1 tsp  Sugar

In a medium glass bowl, combine the soy sauce, 1 TB cornstarch and garlic powder, add the pork strips and marinate for 15 - 20 minutes.

Heat 2 tsp peanut oil in a large wok over medium-high heat.  Add the peanuts, crushed red pepper and ginger to the wok and stir-fry for 2 minutes.  Remove peanuts to a bowl and set aside.

Add 1 tsp peanut oil to the wok, then add the pork, and stir-fry for 3 minutes.  Add the green pepper and stir-fry for 2 minutes longer, stirring and turning frequently to cook evenly.

Combine the broth, vinegar, wine and sugar in a small glass bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Add mixture to the wok, stir well, cover and simmer for 3 minutes.

In a small bowl combine 3 TB cornstarch and water, stir, then add the mixture to the wok and stir until the broth thickens, about 3 - 5 minutes.

Serve over steamed brown rice with a bowl of steamed edamame.  Serves 6.  Enjoy!!