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

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Crispy Butter Chicken

Crispy Butter Chicken is an Italian dish that is simply the best chicken dish I have ever eaten. It's really that good!  Using very basic ingredients, and some more of those salty little capers that I've been enjoying so much, this dish is all things.  It's fast to prepare, it's something your kids will love, and the flavors of capers, lemon, oregano and basil make the chicken incredibly tasty.  Oh yes, and it's cooked in butter.....lots of butter!

OK, I know this is the time of year when everyone is trying to eat healthy, but once in a while you have to splurge and enjoy a special treat for dinner.  And I can't think of a better reward for all your days of calorie counting than this mouth-watering chicken.  Enjoy!!

3  Boneless /Skinless Chicken Breasts, about 1-3/4 lbs, halved horizontally (5 - 6 oz portions)
1 cup  Flour
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1 cup  Italian Bread Crumbs
3 TB  Grated Parmesan Cheese
1-1/2 tsp  Dried Oregano
1 tsp  Dried Basil
4  Large Eggs
1-1/2  sticks  Unsalted Butter
3 TB  Capers, drained
2 TB  Lemon Juice

Use a meat mallet to lightly pound the chicken so they are an even thickness, about 1/2-inch thick.

In a shallow dish combine the flour, salt and pepper.  In a second dish combine the bread crumbs, cheese, oregano, and basil.  In a medium bowl scramble the eggs.

Working in batches with one piece of chicken at a time, dredge the chicken in the flour, then into the egg, then into the bread crumbs.  Press the crumbs into the chicken to help the crumbs adhere.  Place coated chicken onto a baking sheet.

In a very large skillet, melt 1 stick of butter over medium heat.  Add 3 pieces of chicken to the pan and cook until golden and crispy, about 4-5 minutes, then turn and cook 4 minutes longer.  Transfer the chicken to a serving dish and cover to keep warm.  Repeat with the remaining 3 pieces of chicken.

When all 6 pieces of chicken are cooked, add the remaining butter to the pan and stir.  Add the capers and lemon juice to the pan and stir, loosening any browned bits, and saute for 3 minutes until the sauce is warm.  Place one piece of chicken on each plate, and add a few spoonfuls of sauce over the chicken.  Serve extra sauce and lemon wedges 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. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Whitefish and Potato Chowder

I love to cook with almost any type of fish, but one of the most versatile and flavorful choices in the fish counter would have to be whitefish.  The medium-firm meat is higher in fat content which makes it an excellent choice for smoking or grilling, and also makes it difficult to overcook.  The meat holds together very well, so it works great in soups and chowders.

Tonight we used whitefish as the base of a hearty potato-vegetable soup.  Nothing too fancy here, just a handful of ingredients that let the flavor of the fish and potatoes shine through.  We used the lower starch Yellow Gold Potatoes for this chowder since they add such a nice yellow color to the soup, without the heavier texture you get from russet potatoes.

There's even a little bacon in the chowder because, well, everything tastes better with a bit of bacon! Of course, if you like things a bit more spicy, we have a solution for you, too.  My husband added several drops of Tabasco sauce to his bowl of chowder and he really enjoyed the extra heat.

This is a really easy soup to prepare and the mild flavors just might get your kids to eat more fish, which is always a good thing!  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

1 lb  Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup  Half and Half
1 cup  Milk
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Ground Black Pepper

1/3 lb  Thick Cut Bacon, diced
2 TB  Butter
1 medium  Onion, diced
1 stalk  Celery, diced
1/2 small  Red Pepper, cleaned and diced
1/2 small  Yellow Pepper, cleaned and diced
2 TB  Flour
1 cup  Dry White Wine
1 tsp  Dried Thyme
1-1/2 cups  Chicken Broth
1 bottle  Clam Juice
1 can  Yellow Corn, drained
1-1/2 lbs  Whitefish Fillets, cut into 2-inch pieces
Tabasco Sauce or Fresh Dill or Parsley for garnish

Place the potatoes, half and half and milk in a medium soup pot.  Add salt and pepper and cook the potatoes over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes simmer.  Lower the heat to medium-low and cook 7 minutes longer, or until potatoes are cooked through and tender.  Be sure not to let the potatoes come to a full boil, so you do not scorch the milk.

While the potatoes cook, fry the bacon in a large pot over medium-high heat for 5 minutes.  Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat, then add the butter to the pan, and reduce the heat to medium.  When the butter melts and becomes foamy, add the onions, celery and peppers, and stir together.  Saute the vegetables for 3 minutes, or until softened, then add the flour and stir to coat the vegetables.  Add the wine and thyme to the pot and cook for 5 minutes until the mixture reduces and thickens, then add the broth, clam juice and corn to the pot and stir.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes.

When the vegetables are soft, use a slotted spoon to remove half of the potatoes from the soup pot  and add the potatoes to the chowder.  Place the rest of the potatoes and milk into a blender and puree until smooth.  (You could also use an immersion blender for this step.)  Pour the potato mixture into the chowder and stir everything together. 

Add the whitefish to the chowder, pushing the fish down into the broth, turn the heat off and cover the pot.  Let the chowder rest for 5 - 6 minutes, then check the fish for doneness.  If the fillets are off-white and flake easily with a fork, they are fully cooked.  If the fish is not quite cooked, push the fish back into the broth and cover for a few minutes longer.

Serve the chowder in large bowls with strips of pepper, a sprinkle of fresh parsley or dill or a few drops of Tabasco Sauce for extra heat.  Serves about 6.  Enjoy!!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Asiago and Black Pepper Drop Biscuits

If you are looking for a light and flavorful bread to serve with a bowl of soup or a light salad, this is a great recipe to keep handy.  The Asiago cheese adds just the right amount of richness to these biscuits while the generous amount of pepper adds a bit of a bite.

These savory drop biscuits are easy to make because you do not have to roll or cut the dough, you simply drop tablespoons of the dough onto a baking sheet and they are ready to bake.  If you prefer a bit more salt, sprinkle Kosher salt or sea salt on the tops of the biscuits before baking.  Enjoy!!

1-1/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1-1/2 TB Butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup Fresh Asiago Cheese, grated
3/4 cup Fat-Free Buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and stir. Cut in butter with a pastry blender (or use 2 butter knives) until the mixture is a crumbly texture.

Add the cheese and toss well to combine, then add the buttermilk and stir just until moist.

Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and drop dough into 8 equal mounds. Bake for 13 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Spicy Italian Frittata

Tonight we decided to revisit one of my favorite breakfast recipes, our version of a Spicy Italian Frittata. A frittata is a type of omelet that has the ingredients mixed with the eggs instead of being folded inside the way you would cook an omelet.  This also makes it easy to cook a family sized meal in one pan.  With the spices in the Italian sausage and a little extra heat from Tabasco and taco sauce, this is a flavorful meal that the whole family will enjoy.

The reason this recipe makes my list of favorites is because it also makes a quick and hearty weeknight dinner.  So, with our chilly weather, tonight was the perfect night to make breakfast for dinner.

This is a simple meal to prepare and if you already have the sausage cooked, the rest of the meal comes together in about 25 minutes.  Once you cook the potatoes, the eggs are scrambled in the same skillet and the seasonings are added at the end.  Very quick and easy.  We served our Spicy Italian Frittata with Asiago and Black Pepper Biscuits and a little hot salsa on the side.

6 medium Red Potatoes, diced
1 medium Onion, chopped
1/3 lb. (about 6 oz) Hot Italian Sausage, cooked and chopped
3 - 4 Jumbo Eggs, lightly scrambled
3 TB Sour Cream
3/4 cup grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
3 TB Taco Sauce
1/2 tsp Hot Pepper Sauce (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp Garlic Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
Green Onions and Sour Cream for Garnish

Place diced potatoes in a large skillet and add just enough water to cover potatoes. Cover the potatoes and simmer 6 minutes. Add chopped onion, hot sauce, garlic salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 5-6 minutes longer.

When potatoes are lightly browned, fold in cooked sausage. Move potato/sausage mixture to the side of skillet, add the eggs to the other side and cook about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Fold eggs into the potatoes and sausage. Add sour cream, grated cheese and taco sauce, stir gently into mixture, cover and remove skillet from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Top with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of green onions.  Makes 5 servings.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Garlic-Sweet Chili Chicken Stir-Fry

Tonight we made a yummy chicken stir fry with a bit of a Thai influence from red pepper and lime, and it was a great way to use lots of ingredients I already had on hand.  That's the best thing about a stir fry, it's not an exact recipe, but more of a guideline that you can adjust and remix the flavors that work best for you.


We started with a selection of colorful veggies, shredded cabbage, onions, carrots, red and green peppers, and snow peas and sauteed them in peanut oil with ginger and red pepper flakes.  You could also use broccoli, celery, bean sprouts or mushrooms.  Next, we sliced up some chicken breasts and gave them a quick marinade in soy sauce and garlic.  For a simple sauce we used sweet chili sauce blended with lime juice and just a touch of cornstarch.  This wasn't a heavy sauce dish at all, the sauce was more of a compliment to the veggies and other flavors, and that helped keep the dish light.

The flavors were amazing and I loved how the hint of lime balanced with the spiciness of the red pepper flakes.  It wasn't hot and spicy, just a bit of heat to round out the citrus.  Everyone gave this recipe a thumbs up, and the picky eater in our family even tried the red peppers and snow peas. There is hope for her!  Enjoy!!

1 3/4 lb  Boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts, thinly sliced
1/4 cup  Soy Sauce
2 TB  Minced Garlic
1 TB + 1 tsp  Peanut Oil, divided
1/2 tsp  Red Pepper Flakes
1 tsp  Grated Fresh Ginger
1 small Onion, thinly sliced
2  Carrots, julienned
1 cup  Snow Peas, trimmed
1  Green, Yellow or Red  Bell pepper, thinly sliced
3 cups  Shredded Green Cabbage
1/2 cup  Sweet Chili Sauce
3 TB  Lime Juice
1 tsp  Salt
1 TB  Cornstarch

Place the chicken in a glass bowl and add the soy sauce and garlic.  Stir to combine and marinate for 1 hour.

Add the peanut oil to a large skillet or a wok set to medium-high heat.  When oil shimmers, add the red pepper flakes and ginger and stir fry for 1 minute.  Add the chicken to the pan, reserve the marinade from the chicken and set aside, and stir fry the chicken until browned.  (You might need to work in batches so you don't overcrowd the pan.)  Remove the cooked chicken from the pan, and cover to keep warm.

Add 1 tsp peanut oil to the pan, heat until warm, then add the onion, carrots, and peppers.  Stir fry 2 minutes over medium-high heat, then add the snow peas and cabbage, stirring to combine.

When the cabbage has softened slightly, add the chicken back to the pan, stirring to blend in the chicken.

Combine the reserved marinade with the sweet chili sauce, lime juice, salt and cornstarch and stir.  Pour the mixture into the pan and stir, cooking 2 - 3 minutes until the sauce has thickened.  Serve with or without rice.  Serves 6.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mixed Seafood Paella

Tonight was my first attempt at making Paella, which is a Spanish dish of saffron rice, combined with a variety of meats and shellfish such as shrimp, lobster, clams, chicken, ham or chorizo.  Other ingredients might include garlic, onions, peas, peppers, or tomatoes, and the combination can easily change to use the foods available or to suit your own preference.

The inspiration for this dish came from a bag of mixed seafood I found at Trader Joe's.  I wanted to do something special with this seafood, not just a simple stir fry, and since I've always wanted to try paella, this was my chance. 

The seafood mix included shrimp, calamari rings and baby scallops, and there were enough in the package for about four servings.  To bring this up to serve six people, we added some fresh seafood, a dozen each of clams, mussels and large Atlantic shrimp.  The results were amazing, and although I might have to try this recipe a few more times to get that "authentic" dish, I was pretty impressed with the final outcome.  The broth was very similar to cioppino and the flavor of the chorizo enhanced all of the other ingredients. In the traditional recipe, all of the liquid is fully absorbed into the rice, but I really liked having the broth with the rice. (I don't think I would change a thing there because the broth was heavenly.)

Instead of the traditional paella pan I used my faithful stock pot and it worked out great, no special pan needed.  In place of arborio rice and saffron threads, I used a saffron rice mixture, and it was a perfectly seasoned shortcut. I was very surprised at how easy this dish was to prepare, so I'm sure we will be making it again, and I can't wait to try it on the outdoor grill.

This is a really fun dish to make and enjoy with guests.  There is something for everyone and one thing is for sure, there won't be any leftovers!  Enjoy!!

2 TB  Olive Oil
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1 medium  Onion, chopped
1 small Red Pepper, chopped
1 small Yellow Pepper, chopped
5 oz pkg  Riojano Sliced Chorizo
1 cup  Yellow Rice with Saffron
2 1/4 cups  Chicken Broth
1/2 tsp  Smoked Paprika
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1 cup  Frozen Baby Peas
12  Fresh Clams, scrubbed
12  Fresh Mussels, scrubbed
12  Fresh Shrimp, shelled and deveined, leaving tail attached
1 pkg  Trader Joe's Frozen Seafood Mix (shrimp, scallops and calamari), defrosted

Heat oil in a large stock pot or paella pan over medium-high heat.  When oil begins to shimmer add the garlic, onion, peppers and chorizo.  Cook until vegetables are softened, about 4 minutes.

Stir in the rice, broth, paprika, salt and pepper and bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until about half of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

Add the peas to the pot and stir gently.  Add the clams, mussels and shrimp to the pot, pressing the shellfish down into the rice and broth, then add the package of Seafood Mix, again lightly pushing the seafood into the rice and broth.  Cook for 4 - 5 minutes or until the shells are opened and the shrimp are pink and cooked through.  (Discard any mussels or clams that did not open.)

Serve the Paella with lemon wedges on the side and a glass of light red Rioja or Chianti wine.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Penne Pasta with Gouda and Prosciutto

Tonight's recipe is something that came together as a bit of a surprise.  We wanted to make salads for dinner with a little something on the side, and I had a few requests for mac n cheese.  But if I was going to make pasta, I wanted it to be special.  Not only did this dish taste great for dinner, the kids grabbed the leftovers the next day for lunch.  My youngest (a.k.a. - the picky eater) has even requested I make this again soon.  That's the ultimate compliment!

After a little fridge investigation, I found a wheel of smoked Gouda cheese and some prosciutto ham that I had picked up at Trader Joe's, and those became the base for this dish.  Although macaroni and cheese is not a difficult dish to make, there are a few ingredients that elevate simple pasta into more of a grown-up dish.  The key to really great macaroni and cheese is, dry mustard.  Regardless of which cheese or meat you choose to include, that little touch of dry mustard is what brings all of the other flavors together.

Another great seasoning to add to a creamy cheese sauce is white pepper.  Using ground black pepper is an option, but white pepper adds a mild, subtle flavor and it eliminates the little black specks in the beautiful white sauce.

The balance of flavors from the Gouda and prosciutto were amazing in this dish. Each bite had the salty, sweet edge of Gouda, but also the bits of slightly salty prosciutto.  This dish would be great served with steaks, a baked ham or is even suitable for Thanksgiving dinner.  It's that good!  Give this recipe a try and Enjoy!!

2 quarts  Water
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 lb  Dry Penne Pasta
4 oz  Prosciutto Ham Slices, chopped into small pieces
2 TB  Butter
2 TB  Flour
1 cup  Half and Half
1 1/2 cups  Milk
1 tsp   Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Dry Mustard
1/4 tsp  White Pepper
5 oz  Smoked Gouda Cheese, grated
1/2 cup  Grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly grease a medium casserole dish with butter and set aside.

In a large saucepan bring the water and 2 tsp salt to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until almost al dente, but not fully cooked.  Drain the pasta in a colander and set aside.

Add the prosciutto to the same pot and pour the pasta over the prosciutto.  Stir to combine and set the pasta aside.

While the pasta is cooking you can prepare the cheese sauce. 

In a small saucepan, melt the 2 TB butter over medium heat.  Add the flour, stir and cook for 2 minutes.  Slowly add the half and half, followed by the milk, whisking constantly to blend.  Add the salt, dry mustard and white pepper, and continue to whisk until the sauce is smooth and is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 10 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese a little at a time.  Continue to stir until the cheese is melted into the sauce.  Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and mix well to coat the pasta, then pour the pasta into the casserole dish.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake until the golden on top, about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Salmon with Mirin-Brown Sugar Glaze

I really love the guy who works the fish counter at our local market.  If you're going to cook fish, this is the guy you want to be friends with.  He even tells me when the seafood deliveries are made so I always get the freshest fish.  (I'm kind of picky about fish being ultra fresh, but you have to be careful.)

When I arrived at the seafood counter he asked what I was cooking today, which he always asks since he sees me in the store almost every day.  I gave him a rundown of the recipe and he searched through the case of salmon that had just been delivered and found fillets that were the perfect thickness for this recipe.

A beautiful piece of salmon like this only needs a few ingredients to become a delicious meal.  So, for this dish we went with an Asian-inspired sauce using mirin, which is a rice wine somewhat similar to sake.  The mirin adds a layer of sweetness to the fish without masking the delicate salmon flavor.

This is a really easy dish to prepare.  A quick 10 minutes in the marinade and about 10 minutes of cooking time and dinner is ready.

We served the salmon with a new Brown Rice Medley we found at Trader Joe's.  This rice blend contains long grain brown rice, black barley and daikon radish seeds and has a really great flavor.  The daikon seeds were very interesting and added a nice crunch to the blend and as a bonus, the mirin sauce tasted great serve over this rice. 

4  6 oz  Salmon Fillets, thick portions if possible, skin removed
Salt and Ground Black Pepper
4 TB  Mirin Sweet Rice Wine
3 TB  Brown Sugar
4 TB  Soy Sauce
2 TB  Rice Vinegar
1 Green Onion, chopped

Lightly season the salmon with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Use a large Ziploc plastic bag to mix the marinade.  Combine the mirin, brown sugar and soy sauce in the bag, mixing until the brown sugar is dissolved.  Place the salmon fillets in the bag and marinate for 10 minutes, turning over once after 5 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add a swirl of olive oil to the pan, heat until warm, then add the salmon fillets to the pan, top side down.  Cook for about 4 - 5 minutes or until browned, then turn the salmon over and cook 3 - 4 minutes longer or until browned on the bottom.  (You may need to adjust the cooking time a bit depending on the thickness of the fish.)

Transfer salmon to a serving plate and keep warm.  Add the rice vinegar to the pan and continue to stir until the sauce reduces slightly and thickens.  Pour the glaze over the salmon and serve with steamed rice and edamame.  The sauce is also excellent spooned over the rice.  Enjoy!!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Beer Braised Chicken Drumsticks

The process of braising meats is somewhat of a lost art, but one that we really should revisit more often.  For generations people have been using this method of cooking to cook meats low and slow, which helps the flavors develop and also helps tenderize the meat.  Not only does braising deliver a super tender cut of meat, it is also a very simple process.

Braising is simply browning meat, poultry or vegetables in fat, such as olive oil or butter, then tightly covering the pot and cooking the foods at a low temperature for an extended amount of time.  This works extremely well with less expensive cuts of beef.  If you find chuck, round or rump roasts on sale, these are all great cuts of beef that will benefit from the slow roasting effects of braising, and you can save some money, too.


For this dish we used chicken drumsticks, which I love to experiment with.  Chicken drumsticks and thighs have so much more flavor than white meat, and were even better in this dish when they were slowly braised in a rich, dark beer.  We added small pearl onions and a generous amount of mushrooms to give this dish a nice earthy flavor, and the white wine and herb broth brought all of the delicate flavors together.  Enjoy!!

1 TB  Olive Oil
10 - 12  Chicken Drumsticks (or substitute thighs)
1 cup  Flour
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Butter
1 TB  Olive Oil
2 cups  Frozen Pearl Onions, defrosted
16 oz  Button or Portobello Mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1  12 oz Bottler Dark Beer
1 cup   College Inn White Wine and Herb Chicken Broth
2  Bay Leaves
2 TB  Flour
2 TB  Milk
Additional Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper, as needed

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based pot, over medium-high heat.  (A cast iron dutch oven works great for braising.)  Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish.  Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, then add chicken to the pan and sear on all sides until golden brown, about 8 minutes total.  Remove the chicken to a platter and cover to keep warm.

Add the butter and 1 TB olive oil to the pan.  When butter is melted add the onions, mushrooms and garlic to the pan and saute until tender, about 4 minutes.  Stir in the beer and continue to stir, reducing the sauce to about half.  Add the broth and bay leaves to the pan and stir.

Return the chicken to the pot, nestling the chicken into the sauce and vegetables, cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 45 minutes over medium-low heat.

When ready to serve, remove and discard the bay leaves, then remove the chicken to a platter and combine the flour and milk in a small bowl, stirring until smooth.  Add a few spoons of the braising liquid to the flour and milk mixture, then add the mixture to the pot.  Cook for 3 - 5 minutes until the sauce thickens.  Serve the chicken over rice or noodles with a generous spoonful of sauce on top.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chicken with Prosciutto and Spinach-Basil Pesto

A few weeks ago, we watched an episode of Lidia's Italy in America, which is a great PBS cooking show featuring Lidia Bastianich.  She was preparing a beautiful pesto that was made with a mixture of basil and spinach and I could not wait to try it!  I love anything with spinach, but using it as part of pesto just made so much sense.

First, I wanted to come up with a recipe that would highlight the pesto, so all of those bright flavors would come through.  So I decided on a stuffed chicken breast with a little prosciutto added in for balance, and the results were wonderful.  The recipe below is a slight variation of Lidia's.  We went a little lighter on the walnuts and a touch lighter on the oil, but you can easily adjust these to your own taste preference.

This was a super easy dinner to prepare and it's even fancy enough to serve guests.  We served the stuffed chicken with a few slices of fried polenta that were topped with a sprinkle of Italian cheese and a drizzle of the same spinach-basil pesto.

3  Boneless and Skinless Chicken Breasts, pounded out to 1/4-inch thick
Kosher Salt and Pepper
6  Slices Prosciutto Ham
1/2 to 3/4 cup  Chopped Walnuts
4 oz  Baby Spinach Leaves, stems removed
1 cup  Fresh Basil Leaves
2 cloves  Garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
3/4 cup  Olive Oil
1/4 cup  Grated Parmesan Cheese
Olive Oil

Lay the chicken breasts on a platter and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Place 2 slices of prosciutto ham on each piece of chicken, overlapping the ham slightly.  Set the chicken aside while you prepare the pesto.

Add the walnuts, spinach, basil, garlic and salt to a food processor and pulse several times to combine.  Add the olive oil in a steady stream and blend until you have a smooth paste consistency, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed.

Spread a few teaspoons of the pesto mixture over the slices of prosciutto, keeping the mixture about 1/4-inch from the edges.  Carefully roll the chicken into a bundle and secure the edges with a toothpick.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil to coat the pan.  When the skillet is very warm, place the chicken bundles into the skillet and brown on all sides, turning 1/4 turn every 3 minutes or so, until the chicken is evenly browned on all sides and the meat is cooked through.

Remove the chicken from the skillet and let rest for a few minutes, then slice the chicken bundles on an angle, move the slices to a plate and drizzle the chicken with a little olive oil if desired.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Crock Pot Spicy Black Bean, Ham and Chorizo Soup

Be warned, spicy is an understatement with this soup!  If you like hot and spicy soups, this could be just the recipe you've been waiting for.

This recipe is a twist on the classic Portuguese Bean Soup, but with a lot of extra flavor.  In place of the usual kidney beans and chicken stock used in the traditional recipe, we decided to try black beans and beef stock, with a can of diced jalapenos for added spice.  Yum!  Another layer of flavor in this soup comes from the sliced chorizo sausage.  This is a new product that I found at our local market, but any type of cooked chorizo would work fine.  If you can't find chorizo slices, even a good quality pepperoni would be a good substitute.

This is a super easy crock pot recipe that takes all of 15 minutes to prepare, then 5 hours of low and slow cooking time for all of the flavors to combine.  Enjoy!!

2 cups  Diced Cooked Ham, leftover ham works great
2 oz  Sliced Chorizo, sliced into quarters
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
1 carton  Beef Broth
1  15 oz can  Black Beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium  Onion, diced
1 medium  Green Pepper, diced
1 4 oz can  Diced Jalapenos
2 small  Carrots, peeled and shredded
1  Bay Leaf
1/4 tsp  Cumin
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Black Pepper
1/2 cup  Ditalini Pasta, or any small pasta

In a small skillet, saute the ham, chorizo slices and garlic for 5 minutes, or just until the ham is slightly browned on the edges.  Pour the mixture into the crock pot.

Add all of the remaining ingredients, except the pasta, and stir.  Cover the pot and cook on LOW for 4 hours.

After the 4 hours, remove the bay leaf, add the pasta and continue to cook on LOW for 1 hour longer.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Crock Pot Dijon-Beef Stroganoff

I don't use my crock pot nearly as much as I should, and I'm always reminded of that when a meal like this comes together so easily.  The next few months are going to be crazy busy around here, so  I'm going to do a little crock pot experimenting and see if I can come up with a few time-saver recipes that will make weeknight dinners a bit easier.

This is a great meal that we've made many times and it's perfect when you're in need of hearty comfort food. With a Dijon mustard and sour cream sauce, this crock pot version of Beef Stroganoff can be made with any type of beef, such as round steak, chuck, or even sirloin.  By using a crock pot, less expensive cuts of meat will cook low and slow and the results will be tender bites of beef that are loaded with slow cooked flavor.  So buy whatever cut of beef your local market has on sale this week and this great dinner will even be a bargain.

This meal takes about 15 minutes to prepare, then about 5 hours of cooking on LOW.  Adding the noodles and cream sauce during the last hour will bring all of those good flavors together.

1-1/4 lb  Sirloin, Chunk, Round Steak or other cut of Beef, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tsp  Olive Oil
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
6 oz   Portobello or Button Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thick
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1-1/2 TB  Soy Sauce
1 TB  Red Wine Vinegar
1-1/2 cups  Beef Broth
3/4 cup  Sour Cream
2 tsp  Dijon Mustard
1/4 tsp  White Pepper
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
12 oz bag  Wide Egg Noodles or Whole Wheat Noodles

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering, then add the beef and saute for 3 minutes, stirring a few times.  Add the garlic, mushrooms and black pepper and saute 4 minutes longer, until the mushrooms are just softened.

While the beef and mushroom mixture is cooking, add the soy sauce, red wine vinegar and beef broth to the crock pot.  Turn heat to LOW and cover the pot while you finish the beef.

Pour the beef and mushroom mixture into the crock pot, replace lid and cook on LOW for 4 hours.

Near the end of the cooking time, boil the noodles in a large pot and cook until just al dente, but not fully cooked.  Drain the noodles.

Add the noodles, sour cream, Dijon mustard, white pepper and salt to the crock pot and stir very gently just to combine.  Replace the lid and cook for 30 minutes longer on LOW or until heated through.  Add salt or black pepper to taste.  Enjoy!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Catfish Chowder

There's nothing better on a cold, rainy night than a bowl of soup.  And if that soup has a piece of crispy catfish on top, that's even better!  This soup is one of our family favorites and it gave me one more chance to take advantage of the great sale price here locally.

This soup is served in a little different manner.  Instead of incorporating the fish into the chowder, the fillet is served on top of the chowder.  By placing the piece of fish on top of the chowder, you can spoon right through the fish and into the soup so you get all of the great flavors in every bite.  It also allows the fish to retain it's crunchy-crispy texture.  The chowder is completed with a spoonful of bacon crumbles on top.

The fillets we used tonight were on the generous side, and the 4 pieces of catfish were plenty for about 6 - 8 servings.  We cooked the fillets whole then sliced them in half and the portions were perfect.  This is a really great soup to serve kids, too.  Even our picky eater always gives it a thumbs up!

1/2 lb  Bacon, diced
1 small  Onion, chopped
1 small  Red Bell Pepper, seeded and diced
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
1/3 cup + 3 TB All-Purpose Flour, divided
1/3 cup  Cornmeal
1 tsp  Old Bay Seasoning
2 bottles (8 oz each) Clam Juice
6 medium Red Potatoes, peeled and diced
4 Catfish Fillets, about 1-3/4 lbs, rinsed and patted dry
1 cup Milk
1 cup Half and Half
1 can (8 oz) Whole Kernel Corn, drained
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp  Salt
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper

In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and set aside. Reserve all drippings.

In a large soup pot, over medium heat, combine 2 tablespoons of the reserved drippings, onion, bell pepper and garlic. Saute vegetables until softened, stirring often.  Add 3 tablespoons of flour and stir until the vegetables are coated, and flour begins to brown slightly.

Add the clam juice and potatoes to the pot and stir to fully combine the flour mixture. Bring soup to a simmer over medium-high heat, then turn heat to low, cover pot and continue simmering until potatoes are tender and soup has thickened, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low and keep warm.

Next, combine the 1/3 cup flour, cornmeal and Old Bay on a platter, and dredge the catfish fillets lightly in the mixture.  Shake off excess flour and place the fillets on a platter.

Place the frying pan with remaining drippings over medium heat and add 2 pieces of the coated catfish to the pan, but do not overcrowd.   (Cook the remaining 2 fillets in a second batch).  Cook the fish until golden brown on the first side, then turn the fillets over and continue to cook until fish is opaque and cooked through, about 10 minutes total. Remove cooked fish from pan and keep warm while you cook the remaining fillets.

While the catfish is cooking, you can finish preparing the chowder.  Add the milk, half-and-half, corn, nutmeg, salt and pepper to the soup and stir gently to combine. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, just until hot (but do not boil).

Ladle the hot soup equally into 6 - 8 wide soup bowls. Place a catfish fillet on top of the chowder in each bowl and sprinkle with bacon pieces.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lemon-Herb Baked Catfish

There are an endless number of ways to cook catfish, but it's often breaded with a cornmeal or panko-type coating and then deep-fried or fried in a skillet.  (Not a wonderful choice if you're trying to watch your calories.)  So tonight we decided to lighten things up a bit and go with a lemon and herb coating on the fish.

This is a light, healthy way to serve catfish and let the sweet flavor of the fish come through.  We used a mixture of common herbs and spices that you probably already have in your pantry, but if you are missing one or two of the spices, just go with the ingredients you do have available and the fish will still be delicious. If you can't find catfish in your local market, cod, snapper or halibut would work great as a substitute.

This is a simple, foolproof recipe and will only take about 30 minutes to prepare.  We served the fish with Saffron Rice and steamed veggies.  As a bonus, the lemon and herb sauce from the fish tastes great spooned over the rice.   Enjoy!!

1 1/2 to 2 lbs  Catfish Fillets (about 5 - 6 fillets)
2 tsp  Dried Parsley
1 1/2 tsp  Paprika
1 tsp  Oregano
1 tsp  Thyme
1 tsp  Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tsp  Dried Basil
1/2 tsp  Lemon Pepper
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Lemon Juice
2 TB  Butter, melted
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1 tsp  Lemon Zest

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the parsley, paprika, oregano, thyme, Old Bay, basil, lemon pepper and pepper in a small bowl.  Sprinkle the herbs mixture onto both sides of the catfish and place the fish in a buttered baking dish, so that the sides do not touch.

Combine the lemon juice, butter, garlic and lemon zest in a small bowl and drizzle the mixture over the catfish.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.  Serve with a spoonful of sauce over the fish and a few lemon wedges on the side.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Lemon Marinade Chicken Stir-Fry

Lemon Chicken is a popular dish that's available on almost any Chinese take-out menu.  The problem with the restaurant version is that it can be a very heavy meal because of the coating on the chicken.  With this recipe, we discovered a way to infuse a bright lemon flavor into the chicken, while keeping it light.

Instead of breading and frying the chicken pieces, we used a citrusy lemon marinade to coat the chicken, followed by a quick skillet saute.  If you are a fan of lemon and citrus flavor, this is one dish you are going to love.  We served this with two varieties of rice, Jasmati and brown, and both tasted great.

The prep time for this dish was only and 10 minutes, followed by a quick 10-20 minutes to marinate,  and cook time is right around 15 minutes.  Super fast, with a light and bright flavor.  Enjoy!!

Zest and Juice of 1 Whole Lemon
1/3 cup  Chicken Stock
1/3 cup  Soy Sauce
2 TB Brown Sugar
2 TB Honey
2 tsp Sriracha Chili Sauce
2 TB  Cornstarch
2 lbs  Chicken Breast, cut into bite sized pieces
1 tsp Sesame Oil
2 tsp  Peanut Oil
2 tsp Fresh Ginger, minced
1 TB  Minced Garlic
2 Green Onions, chopped for garnish
1 TB Toasted Sesame Seeds for garnish

Mix the lemon zest, juice, chicken stock, soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, chili sauce and cornstarch in a glass bowl. Add the chicken pieces to the mixture and marinate for 10-20 minutes.

Heat the sesame and peanut oils in a large skillet. Add ginger and garlic and saute about 1 minute. Add the chicken pieces, reserving the marinade, and saute the chicken until cooked through , about 5 minutes.

Add the reserved marinade to the skillet and simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened, about 5 - 6 minutes.  If the sauce is too thick, add one or two tablespoons of chicken broth and stir to combine.

Serve on Jasmati or brown rice and sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds. Serves 6-8.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pizza Night

Have you ever made a homemade pizza?  A seriously delicious pizza with all of your favorite toppings in just the right proportions?  Well, it's less work than you think and you might just create the best pizza you've ever eaten!

Pizzas have come a long way in recent years, especially when it comes to the homemade version.  You no longer have to rely on the Chef-Boy-in-a-box crust mix (thank goodness!) because making your own crust is as simple as throwing a handful of ingredients into a bread machine, and your pizza dough is ready in about 90 minutes.  You can find our recipe for Pizza Crust here.  If you don't have a bread machine, many grocery stores also have prepared crust dough in their bakery section.  Our local store offers several different flavors of crust including multi-grain and Parmesan.  Once you decide on the crust you can move on to the toppings.

Pizza toppings are endless.  Start with choosing a protein such as diced cooked chicken, cooked shrimp or crab, lean ham, cooked Italian or regular sausage, or just some pepperoni.  Next add a few selections of vegetables such as thinly sliced peppers or onions, sliced fresh tomatoes or mushrooms, or green or black olives.  Or you can get a little more adventurous and try asparagus, artichokes, sliced pepperoncini peppers, sun dried tomatoes or even eggplant.

Then there is cheese.  You can't have a pizza without cheese and this is a great way to personalize your pizza, just the way you like it.  Beyond mozzarella and cheddar, try crumbled feta or blue cheese (both of which are yummy with diced chicken), or try adding a thin layer of creamy ricotta cheese.

The final step is choosing a sauce for your pizza.  There are many varieties of flavored tomato sauce available that already have garlic, oregano or basil included, but you could also choose pesto sauce, Alfredo or barbeque sauce or just a simple marinara.

For our pizza tonight, we chose a homemade roasted red pepper sauce. For this sauce I like to buy the red peppers that are packing in olive oil with whole garlic cloves.  Use a small blender to puree 1 whole pepper, plus one of the garlic cloves with 2 tablespoons of cream cheese and you have an instant sauce. 

Next, we started with sliced chorizo, and added several of our favorite toppings, black olives, thinly sliced artichoke hearts, shaved Serrano ham and a light topping of smoked provolone cheese.  The pizza was so full of flavor and it was something you could never find on any take-out menu. 

Another great combination that we enjoy is a Shrimp, Spinach and Red Onion Pizza with an Alfredo-type sauce.  For this pizza we actually used the same sauce as we used in the  Chi-Chi's Seafood Enchiladas, but you could also use a store bought sauce for convenience.
My favorite homemade pizza would have to be Shrimp, Crab and Asparagus Pizza with a cream cheese sauce.  This recipe has actually been a long kept secret and we've made it many times.  This is an ideal way to use up any leftover shrimp and/or crab from a Low Country Boil, because the seafood is perfectly cooked and seasoned and can be added to the pizza with very little prep.
For the Crab Pizza
1 Pre-Baked Pizza Crust (as above we used the bread machine dough)
1 can  Asparagus Cuts
1/3 cup  Minced Red Onion
Cooked Shrimp and/or Crab, remove any shells and chop the seafood into small bite-sized pieces
4 oz  Grated Italian 6-Cheese Blend
2 oz  Grated Cheddar
Pizza Sauce
3 oz  Cream Cheese, softened
2 to 3  TB  Sour Cream
1-1/2 tsp  Real Horseradish (not the creamy kind)
1/2 tsp  Lemon Pepper
Combine the ingredients in a small glass bowl and blend with a fork until creamy.  If the mixture is too thick to spread, add additional sour cream, one teaspoon at a time, until the mixture is spreadable.
Spread the mixture onto the pre-baked crust, add a layer of the cooked shrimp and crab, then a layer of asparagus, followed by the onion and then the cheeses.  Bake at 425 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and golden.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Roquefort Red Potatoes

These yummy potatoes are made with one of my husband's favorite cheeses.  Roquefort cheese is a slightly salty type of blue cheese made from sheep's milk, and the flavor combines well with many dishes.  A few appetizers like Roquefort Deviled Eggs or Stuffed Olives really highlight the tanginess of the cheese, and it would also works nicely in a ham, mushroom and onion quiche.

Roquefort also goes well with beef, in the form of Roquefort Burgers, or for tonight with a simple grilled steak.  Using red potatoes and adding a drizzle of creamy buttermilk and some crumbled Roquefort cheese on top, these potatoes are super easy to prepare and actually look quite elegant when served with a beautiful New York Strip steak.  Enjoy!!

8  Medium Red Potatoes, scrubbed and sliced in half
1/3 cup  Lowfat Buttermilk
2 oz  Roquefort Cheese, crumbled  (or substitute Blue cheese)
Salt and Black Pepper to Taste

In a large pot, add 3 quarts of water, 1 tablespoon salt and the red potatoes.  Bring the potatoes to a boil and cook until the potatoes are fork tender.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the potatoes to a baking dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then drizzle the buttermilk over the potatoes.  Add the crumbled Roquefort cheese evenly over the potatoes then bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees or until the cheese is melted and the potatoes are slightly browned on the edges.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Salmon on Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

When my husband told me our local market had salmon on sale this week, I wanted to come up with something new and yummy to take advantage of the rare sale price.  The only problem was, this idea came to me in the middle of the night!  (It's really sad when you start dreaming of tomorrow night's dinner!...lol)

So I ended up dreaming about this classic 1970's-style spinach salad that was served at a little Irish Pub we used to frequent.  It was topped with sauteed onions and mushrooms, and a warm bacon dressing, and it was absolutely amazing.  I'm not even sure if the Pub is still open, but that salad was definitely memorable.

Then I started thinking about the Salmon BLT we made recently.  Salmon wrapped in bacon, served on sourdough bread..yum!  Salmon and bacon is my new favorite combo in any way, shape or form!

The results of all of this was simple.  Combine the spinach salad, with a seared salmon fillet and you have one delicious dinner.  And so it was.  We added the cute little sliced eggs, which my daughters loved, and the tangy, slightly sweet, slightly acidic dressing brought all of the flavors together.  This is truly a classic salad brought up to a new level, and made into a complete meal.

If your children are a little leery of eating spinach, this is a great way to get them involved in making dinner.  Show them how to take the stems off of the spinach, then let them make the egg slices and get the plates ready.  If your kids get to help prepare the basics of the meal, they might just learn to like spinach!  Enjoy!!

1/2 lb  Bacon
1 cup  Thinly Sliced Red Onion
8 - 10  Button Mushrooms
1 tsp  Worcestershire Sauce
1 1/2 lbs  Salmon Fillets, about 1-inch thick, cut into 4 potions, skin removed
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper
4 TB  Red Wine Vinegar
2 tsp  Sugar
1 tsp  Dijon Mustard
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 bag  Baby Spinach, rinsed, dried and stems removed
3 Hard-Boil Eggs

In a large skillet, fry the bacon until slightly crisp, then remove the bacon from the skillet and drain on a paper towel.  Reserve skillet.

Remove 3 tablespoons of bacon grease from the large skillet to a small saucepan and set aside.

Remove 4 tablespoons bacon grease from the large skillet and place in a small skillet.  Add the onions, mushrooms, and Worcestershire sauce to the small skillet and saute vegetables over medium heat until caramelized.  Reduce heat to low and keep warm.

While the onion and mushrooms and cooking, increase the heat for the large skillet to medium-high.  Season the salmon fillets with salt and a generous coating of pepper, then add fillets to the large skillet.  Cook the salmon for about 4 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown, then turn fillets over and cook for 4 - 5 minutes longer, or until lightly browned on both sides.  Now turn the burner off while you prepare the dressing.

Back to the saucepan, add vinegar, sugar, Dijon mustard, and salt to the bacon grease and heat over medium-low heat.  Whisk to combine and keep warm while you assemble the plates.

Place a handful of baby spinach on each plate, then top with a spoonful of sauteed onions and mushrooms, then a salmon fillet.  To complete the salad add a sprinkle of chopped bacon, a few slices of hard-boiled eggs and a generous drizzle of warm dressing.    Serves 4.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Skillet Meatloaves

Well, it looks like another chilly week here in Florida and tonight we needed some warm comfort food.  Since we've been trying to eat a bit lighter the past few weeks, it was time for something a little more hearty. So when I found this old recipe tucked away in my files, it sounded like the perfect solution.

According to my scribble of notes, the last time I made this was somewhere around 2002, and even though my husband and I remember it was quite yummy, the kids didn't remember it at all.  So it was time to revisit the mini meatloaf.  Instead of making a large meatloaf and baking it in the oven, the mixture is divided into smaller mini meatloaves and cooked in a skillet.  The portions cook quickly and a smooth onion gravy is made in the same skillet. Super easy!

1 3/4 lbs  Extra Lean Ground Beef
1 slice  Wheat or White Bread, cubed
1/8 cup  Milk
1  Egg
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Allspice
3 TB  Tomato Paste
1/4 cup  Finely Chopped Onion

3 TB  Butter
1/4 cup  Chopped Onion
3 TB  Flour
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1 1/4 cups  Beef Broth
1 1/2 TB  Ketchup
2 tsp  Spicy Brown Mustard
2 TB  Steak Sauce

Place meat in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center of the meat.  Add the bread to the center, then pour the milk over the bread to moisten.  Add the egg, salt, pepper, allspice, tomato paste and the onion to the bread and combine all of the ingredient, mixing by hand.

Form the mixture into 8 oval patties, about 3/4-inch thick, then place the patties in a large skillet and brown over medium-high heat for 6 - 7 minutes on each side.  While the patties are cooking, cover the pan with foil and leave the foil vented slightly to allow steam to escape. 

Remove the browned patties to a platter and return the skillet to the heat.  Reduce heat to medium and add butter and onion to the skillet, stirring to combine any browned bits.  Cook onion for 2 minutes or until softened, then sprinkle the flour and pepper over the onion.  Cook mixture for 1 minute, then whisk in the beef broth, stirring until smooth.  Bring sauce to a simmer, then add the ketchup, mustard and steak sauce, stirring to combine and adding additional broth if the mixture is too thick.

Pour gravy over the meatloaf patties and serve with garlic mashed potatoes and a steamed veggie.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chicken Piccata

Years ago, I used to make Chicken Piccata at least once a week for dinner.  It was my absolute favorite dish, partly because it was a super easy and fast meal to put together when I was short on time, and also because I just loved the flavor.  The lemon and white wine sauce combined with sauteed onions and garlic is a match made in culinary heaven.  The finishing touch was a spoonful of baby peas sprinkled around the edge of the dish.

The reason I say years ago is that this was the first meal I cooked for my then-future husband. But as it turned out, he didn't like it!  Crushed and offended, I wondered if I would be able to transform his beer and Molinari's-pizza-and-wings taste buds and bring him into the world of grown up foods.  Fortunately, for him and for me, he did like the next meal I prepared, and the ones after that were well received, too, so I decided to keep him anyway.  Even though he didn't like my Chicken Piccata...sigh.

So here we are, 17 years later and I finally decided it was time for Chicken Piccata to again make an appearance on the menu.  Not only did my husband approve, but the meal received a thumbs up from the kids, too.  It was well worth the wait!

2  Boneless/Skinless Chicken Breasts, butterflied into 4 thin fillets
3/4 cup  Flour
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
4 TB  Butter
2 TB  Olive Oil
1 TB  Minced Fresh Garlic
1 medium Onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup  Lemon Juice
1/2 cup  Chicken Stock
2 TB  Capers
Cooked Pasta

For this dish you will need thin slices of chicken breast.  To do this lie the chicken flat on a cutting board and use a very sharp knife to carefully slice horizontally through the middle of the chicken, so you have 4 thin fillets.

In a shallow plate combine the flour, salt and pepper and very lightly dredge the chicken fillets.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and saute for about 3 minutes or until tender.  Remove the onions to a platter and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan.  Once the butter is melted and begins to sizzle, add the chicken fillets to the skillet and cook for 3 - 4 minutes or until lightly browned, then turn over and cook for another 3 - 4 minutes.  Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

Add the lemon juice, stock and capers to the pan, stirring to loosen any browned bits, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Test the sauce to see if you need a bit more salt.  (Usually I add about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt at this point.)

Return the chicken pieces and onion to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove the chicken and onions to a platter and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan. Whisk until the butter is melted and combined, then pour the sauce over the chicken.  Top with a sprinkle of parsley and serve over cooked pasta with a side of baby peas.  Enjoy!!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Bourbon Chicken

Bourbon Chicken is a common dish served in many Chinese take-out restaurants.  Even though the dish contains no bourbon whatsoever, that's the name they gave it.  And it's always been one of my favorites.

This recipe is very similar to General Tso's Chicken, but it has the healthy advantage of sauteing the chicken instead of frying. 

I was surprised how well the sauce came together using just a few simple ingredients and the flavor was delicious.  The apple juice and brown sugar add just a hint of sweetness, while the cider vinegar adds a little bite.  A perfect combination.

If you're thinking about ordering Chinese take-out tonight, save yourself some money, skip the heavy dose of MSG and cook this for dinner.  It can be ready to serve in about 40 minutes.

2 lbs  Boneless/Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 TB  Olive Oil
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
1/4 tsp  Ground Ginger
3/4 tsp  Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/3 cup  Apple Juice
1/3 cup  Light Brown Sugar
2 TB  Ketchup
1 TB  Cider Vinegar
1/2 cup  Water
1/3 cup  Soy Sauce
1-1/2 TB  Cornstarch
Cooked Brown Rice and Steamed Edamame

Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add chicken pieces and cook until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.  Set aside.

Add the remaining ingredients to the skillet and increase heat to medium-high.  Stir until combined and bring the sauce to a simmer.

Add the chicken pieces back to the skillet and bring mixture to a low boil as it begins to thicken.

Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.  Serve over hot brown rice, with a side dish of steamed edamame.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin in Mustard Sauce

Keeping with our light dinners this week we started with one of my favorite cuts of pork, a boneless pork tenderloin.  This cut of meat can be simply dressed with salt and pepper and roasted to create a delicious meal.  But tonight we decided to get a little fancy.  Using a rustic combination of sauteed fresh spinach, mushrooms and garlic as a filling, and the final touch was a mustard and white wine sauce.

This recipe does call for a little fancy knife work, but don't worry, once you get the hang of it, it's very simple.  For this dish we used a 1-1/2 pound tenderloin, and trimmed off any excess fat, then butterflied the tenderloin by making a horizontal slice lengthwise into the tenderloin, about 1 inch into the meat, but not all of the way through.  Unfold the meat to the right, then cut another lengthwise slice, and unfold again.  Repeat these steps until the tenderloin is opened out like a book and is about a 1/2-inch thick.

After that, all you have to do is apply a few layers of ingredients to create the filling and you're ready to cook. Serve with a small scoop of mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and dinner is complete. Enjoy!!

1-1/2 lb  Pork Tenderloin, butterflied
2 TB  Olive Oil
1 TB  Minced Garlic
6 large  Mushrooms, button or portobello work fine
3 cups  Fresh Spinach
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper
Olive Oil
2 - 3 TB  Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
2 - 3 TB  Italian Style Breadcrumbs
1/4 cup  College Inn White Wine Chicken Broth (or use plain chicken broth)
1 TB  Dijon Mustard
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
3 TB  White Wine
3 TB  Half and Half
1 tsp  Cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Heat an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat and coat with 2 tablespoons olive oil.  When the olive oil is shimmering, add the garlic and saute 1 minute.  Add the mushrooms to the skillet, stir and saute for 3 minutes until tender, then add the spinach to the skillet.  Saute the spinach until wilted, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of ground black pepper.

Spoon the spinach and mushroom mixture into a bowl to cool and set aside.  Reserve skillet.

Unfold the pork tenderloin on a cutting board and drizzle with olive oil.  Next, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the pork, followed by a layer of breadcrumbs.  Spread the spinach and mushroom mixture over the pork, staying 1-inch away from the edges. (This will keep the filling from leaking out.)

Now it's time to roll the tenderloin back together.  Start with the original interior of the loin, and carefully roll the pork back into a roast shape, pressing slightly to compact the filling.  Once rolled, you can use cooking string to secure the roast or just use a few metal skewers or toothpicks to secure the seam.

Using the same skillet as before, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.  When the oil shimmers, place the pork in the skillet and sear the meat on all sides, about 8 minutes total, being careful not to loosen the seam.

Place the skillet into the oven and cook for about 25 minutes or until the interior temperature reaches 140 degrees.  Remove the roast from the oven, and cover with foil for 10 minutes to rest.

In a small skillet, combine chicken broth, Dijon mustard, pepper, and white wine and stir until simmering.  In a small cup, combine the half and half and cornstarch, then add the mixture to the mustard sauce, stirring until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Slice the pork into 3/4-inch slices, spoon the sauce over the pork and serve.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Salmon BLT Sandwich

Salmon is one of my favorite varieties of fish.  You can prepare salmon in so many ways and the fish will always taste amazing. And that's just the case with this Salmon BLT Sandwich, a twist on the classic BLT.  This is a delicious way to serve a healthy portion of salmon as a sandwich with the added treat of a little bacon, fresh tomato and spinach.


Another surprise to this sandwich is the simple caper and dill dressing.  If you aren't familiar with capers, or have never cooked with them, they are a great item to keep on hand.  You only need a single teaspoon for this recipe and they add a bright zing of flavor to the dressing.  I'm sure we will be using this same dressing with many others dishes in the future.  Enjoy!!

1/2 tsp  Dried Dill
1 tsp  Capers, very finely chopped
1/4 cup  Light Mayonnaise
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

1 lb  Salmon Fillets, skinless, cut into 4 portions
Salt and Pepper
8  slices  Bacon
1  large  Tomato, sliced
1 cup  Fresh Spinach, washed and patted dry
Sliced Sourdough Bread, toasted

In a small bowl combine the dill, capers, mayo and pepper.  Stir to combine and chill until ready to serve.

Place the salmon on a serving platter and lightly season both sides with salt and ground black pepper.  Wrap each salmon fillet with 2 slices of bacon, wrapping the bacon around, then overlap with the second slice, until the salmon is wrapped snug with the bacon.  Repeat with the remaining pieces of salmon.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat until hot.  Place the salmon in the pan and cook for about 4 - 5 minutes until the bacon is browned, then turn the salmon over and cook 4 minutes longer.

Serve the cooked salmon on toasted sourdough bread, with sliced tomatoes, fresh spinach and a dollop of the caper and dill dressing.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pretzel Crusted Chicken

The holidays are such a wonderful time of year.  Lots of great meals to share with friends and family, yummy Christmas cookies everywhere, not to mention parties with a generous spread of brie cheeses, chocolate truffles and more than our share of wine. It's no surprise that most of us are left with a bit of a snug waistline come January 1st.

So now that the holidays are behind us, we've been enjoying a few weeks of light, simple dinners and tonight was a tasty example.  Cooking dinner at home is a great way to cut back on calories because you can control all of the ingredients.  For this recipe, we used lean deli ham and a good grainy mustard and stuffed the ham inside of the chicken breasts, kind of Cordon Bleu-style.  In place of a rich sauce, we coated the outside of the chicken with crushed pretzels which added a touch of salt and a great crunch.  Lots of flavor, lots of crunch, easy on the calories.

This is a super easy dinner to prepare and can be ready in about an hour and can be prepared with ingredients that most people will have on hand.  It's also a favorite with kids.  Serve with a steamed vegetable or a simple salad and dinner is ready. Enjoy!!

4  Boneless, Skinless, Chicken Breasts, about 2 lbs
8  Thin Slices of Deli Ham, (smoked ham works great)
1 1/2 TB  Your Choice of Course Grain Mustard  or  Dijon Mustard  or  Honey Mustard
1 cup  Crushed Pretzel Crumbs
1 TB  Melted Butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.

Slice the chicken breasts horizontally, cutting about 3/4 through the chicken, to create a pocket.  Spread a generous coating of mustard on the inside of each chicken breast, then roll 2 slices of ham and stuff into the chicken.  Press down slightly to level the chicken.

Brush the top of the chicken with melted butter, then press the pretzel crumbs firmly onto the chicken.  Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown on top and the chicken juices run clear.