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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Chicken and Chorizo Pizza

Pizza night at our house is something the whole family loves, but this time we had a reason to like our homemade pizza even more.  After one crazy busy day last week, we decided to order pizza from one of the national delivery chains.  What a horrible mistake! 

After placing the order online, and seeing the $30+ price for two pizzas, we reasoned that this was a rare treat and it would make dinner quick and easy, with little to no clean up, and that would justify the cost. So we sat back and waited...and waited..and waited some more. After 55 minutes the delivery guy arrived with our pizzas.  The kids were starving and tired of waiting, and I was still not thrilled with the cost, but we dug into the pizzas.  The first bite delivered an undercooked crust and a barely visible layer of toppings. Yuck!  I made it through 3 bites and that was enough. The rest of the meal went in the garbage.  Come to think of it, I believe this was why we started making our own pizzas in the first place.

So, tonight we were looking forward to a delicious homemade pizza and we decided to add a little Mexican twist and create a Smoky Chicken and Chorizo Pizza.  For the crust we used our standard Bread Machine Pizza Crust recipe, and we chose to skip the traditional sauce in favor of a drizzle of olive oil and add a layer of smoky sun-dried tomatoes, then a layer of sautéed chicken and chorizo, followed by a light sprinkle of Mexican cheeses.  The smoke from the tomatoes and the chorizo were a great combination and added a great deal of spice to the chicken.  So yummy!

This recipe is a great way to use up leftover chicken breast that you might have on hand and you can add other ingredients to your liking.  This pizza would be delicious with sautéed onions or green pepper, or switch the cheese to a grated jalapeno-pepper jack cheese for even more spice.  The recipe below is for one pizza, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

To Make 1 Chicken-Chorizo Pizza

1/2 Recipe  - Pizza Crust
Garlic Powder
1/2 lb  Soft Chorizo
1-1/2 cups  Cooked Chicken Breast, chopped
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup  Smoked Sun-Dried Tomatoes, chopped
1 cup  Shredded Mexican Blend Cheese, or more to taste

Prepare the pizza crust in the bread machine, and prepare 2 pizza pans by coating them with olive oil.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, sauté the chorizo until cooked through, then add the chicken to the pan and stir.  Cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, then add the salt and pepper to taste.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Place half of the pizza dough on each pan, and spread the dough out to reach the edges, turning the dough over a few times to coat the dough with oil.

Sprinkle the edges of the dough lightly with garlic powder, then place the pan in the oven.  Bake for about 6 minutes or until the crust is lightly golden, but not fully cooked.

Remove the crust from the oven and coat the crust with a drizzle of olive oil, then add the chicken and chorizo mixture, followed by the tomatoes and finally the shredded cheese.

Bake for 12 minutes or until the pizza is golden and the cheese has melted.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Greek Pasta Salad

This is the second installment in our series of Salad Sunday dinners.  Throughout the summer months, we are going to try a new dinner salad each and every Sunday night, and we have lots of new recipes coming up.  Dinner salads are a great way to try new vegetables, vinaigrettes and dressings, or even a couple of new salad toppings.

Tonight we made a salad that can be served as a side salad or as a main dish for those warm summer evenings that are fast approaching.  This Greek Pasta Salad has a delicious mix of pasta, kalamata olives, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, a light olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing, and is topped off with a sprinkle of feta cheese.  If you want to increase the protein in this salad, you could easily add one cup of diced cooked chicken and it would taste great.

This is a very simple to prepare salad and it can actually be made several hours in advance.  The longer the salad has to marinate, the better the dressing will taste, so you could easily make the salad in the early afternoon and serve it for dinner.  Enjoy!!

8 oz  Dry Pasta, such as Mostaccioli Rigati or Penne, regular or whole wheat
1-1/2 cups  Grape Tomatoes, whole or halved
1 medium  Cucumber, peeled and cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed
1 or 2  Green Onions, chopped
1/2 cup  Pitted Kalamata Olives, cut in half
1/3 cup  Olive Oil
2 TB  Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp  Dried Basil (or 1 TB fresh, chopped)
1 tsp  Dried Greek Oregano (or 1 TB fresh, chopped)
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Freshly Ground Black Pepper
4 oz  Feta Cheese, crumbled

In a medium pot, cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain the cooked pasta, then rinse under cool water.  Transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl.

Add the tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, and olives to the pasta.

In a small bowl combine the olive oil, vinegar, basil, oregano and salt and pepper.  Whisk to combine then add to the pasta and stir gently to coat.  Refrigerate for 1 hour, if possible, and sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese just before serving.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Catfish Tacos

This recipe is a family favorite that we've been making for several years, so I was really surprised when I noticed we didn't have a picture of the tacos on the web site.  So, below is an update of the recipe, with a picture included.  If you like catfish, you are really going to love these tacos.

Catfish has a sweet flavor that tastes great when topped with a spicy Chipotle Slaw.  The slaw was something that took a lot of trial and error to get just right, because chipotle powder is a very intense seasoning. A little goes a long way!  The first few times we made the slaw, the chipotle flavor was a little too strong, and it overpowered the catfish.  So each time we made the slaw, we would reduce the amount of chipotle powder just a little, until we reached just the right amount of spice to go with the fish.

The catfish can be prepared very quickly.  First the fish is dipped in a buttermilk and lemon pepper mixture, then in a breading of cornmeal, flour and seasonings.  Frying takes just about 8 minutes and you are ready to assemble your taco with slices of fresh avocado and a squeeze of lime.  Enjoy!!

1 1/2 pounds  Catfish Fillets, cut in half diagonally
1 cup  Buttermilk
1 tsp  Lemon Pepper
1 cup  Flour
3/4 cup  Cornmeal
2 tsp  Seasoned Salt
2 tsp  Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tsp  Black Pepper
Vegetable or Canola Oil, for frying
Flour Soft Taco Shells

Place catfish fillets on a plate and set aside.

In a large shallow dish, combine the flour and cornmeal with the salt, Old Bay, and pepper. In a second shallow dish combine the buttermilk and lemon pepper.

In a deep skillet, heat about 1/2 inch of canola oil until hot.

Dip the pieces of catfish into the buttermilk then in the flour/cornmeal mixture, pressing the breading onto the fillets to help it adhere. Gently place the fillets into the heated oil and fry the fish in two or three batches, about 3 - 4 minutes per side until cooked through and golden. Transfer the catfish to a paper-towel lined platter and let drain briefly.

Place a piece of catfish onto a flour tortilla shell, top with a scoop of Chipotle Slaw, drizzle with a squeeze of lime juice, fold the taco closed and serve with sliced avocado and lime wedges. 

Chipotle Slaw

This is not your ordinary coleslaw.  For this slaw we used a combination of thinly sliced green cabbage, some shredded carrots, along with lime juice, cider vinegar and chipotle powder, to create a zesty slaw that's a great addition to any summer dinner, but is even better as a topping for Catfish Tacos.

1/2 medium Green Cabbage, thinly sliced and coarsely chopped
1 Carrot, shredded
1/3 cup Sour Cream
1/3 cup Mayonnaise
1/2 - 1 tsp Chipotle Powder (1/2 tsp for medium spicy and 1 tsp for extra spicy)
4 TB Cider Vinegar
1 TB Lime Juice
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 tsp Sugar
1/4 tsp Celery Salt (optional)

In a large bowl combine sliced cabbage and shredded carrot and set aside.

In a glass bowl, combine remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour mixture over the cabbage and carrots and stir, making sure to coat all of the cabbage.

Refrigerate at least 2 - 3 hours or overnight for the best flavor. Serve with lime wedges.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Blue Stilton Stuffed Chicken over Sweet Potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Sweet Potatoes, peeled and chopped small
2 TB  Butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tarragon Chicken Thighs

I love fresh tarragon!  It has a very distinct anise flavor and it works well with chicken, fish or vegetables.  Although tarragon is used extensively in French cooking, it is not used very often in American cooking.  If you've never cooked with fresh tarragon, this is a great recipe to try.  Tarragon can be purchased fresh in your local market during the spring and summer months, and it can be purchased dried, but the fresh flavor is much more bright and aromatic.

For this recipe we wanted to showcase the tarragon flavor by using it with chicken.  Chicken thighs make an inexpensive dinner and they have much more flavor than the white meat, and tarragon adheres to the dark meat very nicely.

The seasoning for this recipe is super easy, by using a compound butter.  This is made with a mixture of butter, olive oil, minced garlic and chopped tarragon.  Mix the butter, rub it onto the chicken, pour a little white wine around the chicken, then pop it in the oven. Dinner is ready in about an hour.  Enjoy!!

8 - 10  Chicken Thighs
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper
4 oz  Salted Butter, softened
1 TB  Olive Oil
1 TB  Minced Garlic
2 TB  Chopped Fresh Tarragon
1 cup  White Wine

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Rinse the chicken thighs under cool water and pat dry with paper towels.  Place the chicken on a roasting pan and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl combine the butter, olive oil, garlic and tarragon, blending with a fork until smooth.  Rub a teaspoon of the compound butter onto each chicken thigh, rubbing half inside the skin and the other half on the outside of the skin.  This will help season the meat and keep it moist, while making the outer skin crispy.

Pour the white wine around the chicken thighs and bake for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and cook for 30 - 40 minutes longer, or until the chicken juices run clear and the chicken is golden and crispy.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Salmon Salad with Mango-Avocado Salsa

Salad Sunday is a new feature we've started at our house, and it's sure to be lots of fun as we work our way into the warmer summer months.  Making a dinner salad is a great way to save money by using lots of fresh produce that's currently in season.  It's also a great way to boost your fruit and veggie intake, which is something that's good for everyone, especially kids.

Another reason for our Sunday Salad idea is that Sunday is a really busy day at our house and making a salad is a simple way to get a healthy dinner on the table fast.  So check back each Monday for a new dinner salad idea.  We've got lots of great salads coming up.

For this week's dinner we started off with a piece of seared salmon.  With just salt and pepper for seasoning, it's a healthy protein that cooks quickly and keeps the meal nice and light.  We placed the cooked salmon on a bed of mixed greens including spinach, radicchio, and romaine lettuce, then we were ready for a colorful salsa on top.

The salsa can be made an hour early to let all of the flavors blend, which makes dinner prep quick and easy.  Fresh mango, avocado, red onion and garlic are combined with a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, lime juice and honey to create a light and summery sauce to spoon over the salmon.

4 - 5 portions of  Salmon Fillet, skin removed
1-1/2 TB  Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Red Wine Vinegar
2 TB  Lime Juice
2 tsp  Honey
6 TB  Olive Oil
1/4 cup  Minced Red Onion
1 small  Jalapeno Pepper, minced
1 tsp  Minced Garlic
1  Mango, diced
1 Avocado, diced
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
Dash of White Pepper
6 cups  Mixed Greens or Romaine Lettuce, washed

Whisk together the red wine vinegar, lime juice and honey, then whisk in the olive oil.  When the vinaigrette is fully blended, add the onion, jalapeno, garlic, mango, avocado, salt and white pepper.  Stir with a spoon to combine, then chill until ready to serve.

In a large skillet, heat 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.  Season the salmon portions with salt and pepper.  When the oil is shimmering, place the salmon in the skillet, top side down and cook for about 4 - 5 minutes, depending on thickness, or until browned.  Gently turn the salmon over and cook 4 - 6 minutes longer or until cooked through, but still a little pink in the center.  Turn the heat off and remove the skillet from the stove to allow the salmon to rest until the salads are ready to be plated.

Place a bed of salad greens on each plate, then place a portion of salmon on top of the greens.  Spoon the salsa over the salmon and serve.  Enjoy!!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sauteed Collard Greens with Bacon

This was the main focus of our Southern dinner tonight, the Sautéed Collard Greens.  My husband brought these giant leaves home from work, saying all of his co-workers loved them, so maybe I could cook something with greens, too. Surprise!!

These huge greens were quite a mystery to me but I was pleased with the way they turned out.  In order convince my youngest daughter, a.k.a. - the picky eater, to try these, I knew I would have to include something to spark her interest, and I thought Bacon!  That almost always works.

So we started with sautéed bacon and onions, which is a great start for just about anything, then added the greens and let them cook down for about 20 minutes.  The greens were actually delicious with a flavor somewhat similar to cabbage, but also like spinach.  The 20 minutes of cooking time can be extended depending on your own preferences.  After 20 minutes they were nicely softened, but still tender-crisp.

Collard greens are very different but I can't wait to try them in other recipes.  They might even be good in a quiche, so stay tuned for that at a later date.

My daughter liked the greens, too.  She added a little dash of cider vinegar to hers, which is also the way she likes to eat spinach.  So whatever works for her, works for me. Collard greens might have a bit of a bad reputation, especially for Northerners, but they are definitely worth trying.  The nutritional content is pretty amazing, with just 46 calories in a 1/4 pound of greens and they are a great source of vitamins C, K, and fiber.

We served the Collard Greens with Crispy Crunchy Fried Chicken and Baked Corn PuddingEnjoy!!

1  lb  Collard Greens
1/4 lb  Bacon, chopped
1 medium  Onion, chopped
Water, if needed
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large bowl, wash the greens in cool water, then let them sit for about 15 minutes, then rinse once more under cool water.

Use a large knife to cut the center thick stalk from each of the large leaves.  Stack 3 or 4 leaves on top of each other, then roll them into a tube and slice the greens into ribbons.  Place the sliced greens into cool water until ready to cook.

In a large skillet, sauté the bacon and onion until both are softened.  Add the greens all at once to the top of the bacon and onions, but do not stir.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir the greens to combine with the bacon and onions, then add a little water, if needed, to allow the greens to continue to steam, cooking for 10 minutes longer, then serve.

Crispy Crunchy Fried Chicken

The inspiration for this meal was a bag of collard greens that my husband brought home from work.  His co-worker had been bringing these into work all week and everyone was quite excited to take a giant bag of "greens" home to cook for dinner or even breakfast.  My problem was, I had never even "seen" collard greens up close, let alone cooked them.  (Hey, I grew up in the north! lol)  So that was my challenge, to cook these collard greens in such a way that even our picky eater might just try a bite or two.

So tonight we made a very Southern meal of Crispy Crunchy Fried Chicken, Sautéed Collard Greens and Baked Corn Pudding.  You can't get much more Southern than that!  The recipe for the fried chicken was pretty simple and includes a mixture that I find works very well to help the coating stay stuck to the chicken.  A base of half and half (or you could use buttermilk) seasoned with lemon pepper, followed by a three part coating mixture of flour, to help the coating adhere and hold in the juices, cornmeal, for a touch of sweetness and a crispy crust, and panko crumbs for the crunchy factor. All of these combine to create a super crispy and crunchy exterior while the chicken juices stay in to keep the meat moist.

8 - 10  Chicken Drumsticks
1-1/2 cups  Half and Half  (or buttermilk)
2 tsp  Lemon Pepper
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 cup  Flour
1 cup  Yellow Cornmeal
1 cup  Panko Breadcrumbs
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
Oil for Frying

Rinse the drumsticks and pat dry with paper towels.  In a shallow bowl combine the half and half, lemon pepper and 1 teaspoon salt.  Add the drumsticks to the mixture and marinate for 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, panko crumbs, 2 teaspoons salt and pepper, and stir.  Using tongs, remove the drumsticks from the marinade one at a time, allowing the excess liquid to drain off, then dip the drumsticks into the flour mixture, and place the coated drumsticks on a platter.

In a large heavy-based skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot and shimmering, carefully add the drumsticks to the oil and fry for 6 - 8 minutes or until crispy, then turn the drumsticks over and cook for about 8 minutes longer, or until the juices run clear.  (You may need an additional 3 - 5 minutes if the drumsticks are a bit larger.)

Drain the drumsticks on paper towel lined platter, then serve.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pork-Asparagus Stir Fry

Cooking with seasonal produce is a great way to find fruits and vegetables at their peak of freshness and also save a little money.  One of my favorite vegetables to cook with is asparagus, and I couldn't wait to try a new stir fry with it.

This is a quick and easy stir fry recipe that combines fresh asparagus, sliced red pepper and red onion with lean pieces of pork loin.  The finishing touch is a mild glaze of red curry paste, soy sauce and fish sauce.  If you like your stir fry a bit spicier, just add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes to the oil for an extra layer of heat.

1 TB  + 2 tsp  Peanut Oil, divided
1/4 tsp  Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
1-1/2 lbs  Boneless Pork Loin, cut into thin 1-inch long pieces
1/3 cup  Low Sodium Soy Sauce
1 tsp  Red Curry Paste
1 tsp  Fish Sauce
1 TB  Cornstarch
1 tsp  Sugar
1-1/2 cups  Chopped Fresh Asparagus Pieces
1 cup  Sliced Red Onion
1 cup  Sliced Red Pepper Strips
Cooked Brown Rice

Place the pork in a glass bowl and add the soy sauce, curry paste, fish sauce, cornstarch and sugar.  Stir to combine and let marinade for 20 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat.  (Add red pepper flakes at this point, stir fry for 30 seconds for extra spice.)  Add the pork and sauce to the wok and stir fry for 4 minutes, stirring constantly, until nearly cooked through.  (If needed, cook the pork in 2 batches.)  Remove the pork to a plate and keep warm.

Add 2 teaspoons peanut oil to the wok, then add the asparagus, onion and red pepper.  Cook for 3 - 4 minutes or until the vegetables are softened slightly.

Return the pork to the wok and stir to combine.  Continue to heat for 2 - 3 or until the pork is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.  Serve over cooked brown rice with a side of steamed edamame.  Enjoy!!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chicken and Asparagus with Tarragon Cream Sauce

After a busy day, it's nice to have a delicious go-to dinner that can be put together quickly, without too much prep, and can be served in one dish.  A meal that's something better than a salty, hamburger-and-pasta-in-a-box type of dinner would be even better.  This recipe is just that type of meal and it doesn't require lots of pots and pans to prepare.  Just one sauté pan for the main course and one pot to cook some noodles and dinner is served. 

This dish is assembled in three basic steps.  First sauté the chicken, then sauté some asparagus and mushrooms, then make a quick sauce of white wine, chicken stock, cream and mustard with a sprinkle of tarragon** to infuse a layer of elegant flavor.  Mix everything together, pour over noodles and dinner will be on the table in about 30 minutes.  This dish is fast and easy, but the tarragon cream sauce makes it nice enough to serve guests. Enjoy!!

2 TB  Olive Oil, divided
2 lbs  Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, thinly sliced into 1-inch pieces
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 lb  Fresh Baby Asparagus Spears, peeled, with ends removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 oz  Portobello Mushrooms, cut into thick slices
1 large  Shallot, minced
3/4 cup  Dry White Wine
1 cup  Chicken Broth
1/2 cup  Heavy Cream
2 TB  Coarse Grain Mustard
1 TB  Cornstarch plus 1 TB  Heavy Cream (if needed for thickening)
1 TB  Chopped Fresh Tarragon ( or 1/2 tablespoon dried Tarragon)
Prepared and Buttered Noodles

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the skillet in a single layer.  Cook the chicken for 3 minutes, turn and cook 2 minutes longer, until the chicken is beginning to brown but is not fully cooked through.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to a platter.  Cover and keep warm.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan, then add the asparagus and sauté for 3 minutes over medium-high heat, then add the mushrooms and shallot and cook 3 minutes longer.  Add the wine and cook until the wine has reduced, about 2 minutes.  Add the chicken stock, cream and mustard to the pan, stir and bring the sauce to a low boil.  Simmer until the sauce has reduced by half, about 6 - 7 minutes.  If the sauce is too thin, combine the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon heavy cream in a small bowl until smooth.  Add this mixture to the sauce and stir until thickened.

Return the chicken to the pan, including any of the collected juices, stir and simmer over medium heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle with the tarragon and stir to combine.  Serve over buttered noodles or rice.

** Note:  If you are not familiar with Tarragon, here is a little information on this tasty herb.  Tarragon is a slightly sweet, anise-flavored herb that is used in béarnaise sauce and is known as one of the four fine herbs of French cooking, along with parsley, chives and chervil.  Tarragon plants can be difficult to find.  When shopping for Tarragon plants, remember to purchase only the French variety.  Most local stores carry Russian Tarragon, which is a very mediocre substitute, or Mexican Tarragon, which is actually a very bitter weed.  In my opinion, neither of these should be used for cooking, but they are unfortunately sold and marketed for cooking purposes.  If you cannot find fresh Tarragon, substitute a 1/2 tablespoon of the dried variety.  Also, some markets now carry fresh Tarragon is small packages in the produce department.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Caribbean Seafood Sandwich with Lime-Dijon Vinaigrette

Summer has arrived early here in Florida with temperatures already in the low 80's.  Although my basil and tomato plants are very happy to have the warm temperatures, after a few hours of yard work,  we wanted something light and cold for dinner. 

We started by boiling some medium-sized shrimp.  Just a few lemon wedges, Old Bay seasoning and bay leaves are all you need for delicious boiled shrimp.  And they only take about 4 minutes to cook. Super easy!

Next, we chopped imitation crab meat into bite-sized pieces,  (This crab is also called surimi and is the same crab used in some sushi.)  and added a little minced jalapeno and green onion.  I used half of a jalapeno in this recipe, but I think I would use the whole pepper next time.  The heat from the jalapeno was really tasty.

Instead of a mayonnaise-based dressing we went with a simple and light Dijon and lime juice vinaigrette.  The flavors of the Dijon, lime and jalapeno all came through it this light, delicious coating and were a huge improvement over the customary heavy mayonnaise dressing.

We used Cuban bread to make the sandwiches because of its light, airy texture, and adding a drizzle of the vinaigrette to the sandwich allowed the bread to soak up some of that zingy flavor.  As an alternative, my daughter used the butter lettuce leaves to make "wraps" that were also delicious.  I'm sure this cool seafood sandwich will be a family favorite this summer.  Enjoy!!

1-1/2 lbs  Medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1-1/2 quarts  Water
1  Lemon,  cut into wedges
1 TB  Old Bay Seasoning
2  Bay Leaves
10 oz  Imitation Crab Meat, coarsely chopped
1 heaping TB  Dijon Mustard
1 TB  Lime Juice
2 TB  Red Wine Vinegar
2 tsp  Honey
4 TB  Olive Oil
1 TB  Minced Green Onions
1 TB  Minced Jalapeno Pepper ( use 2 TB for more heat)
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to taste
Cuban Bread, sliced lengthwise and into portions
Garnishes:  Sliced Tomatoes, Butter Lettuce, Avocado Slices, Chopped Green Onions and Lime Wedges

Place the water, lemon wedges, Old Bay and bay leaves in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, then add the shrimp to the pot.  Cook 3 - 4 minutes, stirring several times, until the shrimp are bring pink and cooked through.  Drain the shrimp and transfer to a platter to cool.

In a medium glass bowl combine the Dijon, lime juice, vinegar, honey, olive oil, onions and jalapeno.  Whisk vigorously to combine, then season the vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper.  Add the cooled shrimp and the chopped crab meat to the vinaigrette and stir to coat the seafood.

Slice the Cuban bread into the desired portions and cut out a wedge of the bread interior.  Place a scoop of the salad onto the bread, along with a spoonful of the vinaigrette.  Top with butter lettuce, and a few slices of tomato and avocado and a sprinkle of diced green onions.  Served lime wedges on the side.  Enjoy!!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Chipotle Shrimp Soft Tacos

Tonight we were in the mood for Mexican food.  Something spicy with a little chipotle pepper flavor.  I love cooking with chipotle peppers, and the adobo sauce the peppers are packed in adds a nice smoky undertone to any dish.  So when I went to the grocery and spotted Florida Gulf shrimp on sale, I started thinking...Shrimp Tacos!

We started off with some very thinly sliced red onions, and let them marinade in lime juice, almost like a ceviche-style mixture.  The lime juice worked its magic on the onions, adding a citrusy bite to the sweet red onions.

Next we let the shrimp marinate in a very simple mixture.  Olive oil, a few spices and a couple spoons of adobo sauce was all that was needed to infuse the shrimp with lots of flavor.

We wanted to add a sauce to the tacos, too.  Something light and not so strong in flavor that it would hide the seasoned shrimp.  So for the sauce we went with a simple, yet amazingly delicious sauce of sour cream, one chipotle pepper and a dash of milk to thin the mixture.  If you like things a little more spicy, just add a second (or even a third) chipotle pepper to the mixture.

All of these bold flavors came together beautifully and this meal will definitely be added to our regular rotation of dinners.  This meal is very quick to prepare and can be ready start to finish in about 30 minutes, and any leftovers make a great lunch the next day.  Also as a side note, the chipotle sauce was simply heavenly and I know it would be wonderful on chicken sandwiches, or as a base for chicken salad, so you might see those recipes pop up here very shortly.  Enjoy!!

1/2 medium  Red Onion, thinly sliced
1 TB  Lime Juice
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 lbs  Medium Raw Shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 TB  Olive Oil
2 TB  Minced Garlic
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
3 tsp  Adobo Sauce
1/2 tsp  Smoked Paprika
3/4 cup  Sour Cream
1 - 2  Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
1 tsp  Adobo Sauce
1 - 2 tsp  Milk
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to taste
Soft Taco Tortilla Shells
Garnishes:  Sliced Fresh Avocado, Fresh Lime Wedges

In a small glass bowl, combine the onions, lime juice, salt and pepper.  Stir until coated and set aside.

In a medium glass bowl, combine the shrimp, olive oil, garlic, pepper, adobo sauce and paprika.  Stir to evenly coat all of the shrimp and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

To make the chipotle sauce, use a small blender cup and combine the sour cream, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, 1 teaspoon milk and salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.  If mixture is too thick, add the additional teaspoon of milk and blend.  Adjust the salt and pepper here, if needed.  Chill the sauce until ready to serve.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the shrimp and marinade in a single layer and sauté for 5 - 6 minutes, stirring frequently and turning the shrimp over to cook evenly.  When the shrimp are pink and cooked through, remove pan from the heat.

To serve place a soft taco shell on a plate, place several pieces of shrimp in the center of the taco, add slices of avocado, a scoop of the marinated red onions, and a drizzle of the chipotle sauce.  A squeeze of lime is optional, but adds a beautiful, crisp citrus flavor to the taco.  Serve with Spanish rice.  Makes about 6 servings.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pork Chops with Mushroom Gravy

This recipe is a family favorite and we've made it many times over the years, but it has always been made with a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup.  We've really been making an effort to use less processed foods, especially those with too much salt, so when my kids requested this for dinner, I thought it was time to reinvent the recipe a bit and make the gravy from scratch. 

Homemade gravy is a snap to make and it really doesn't take very much time.  A little butter, flour and some drippings from the chops, plus a handful of sautéed mushrooms was all I needed for a flavorful, creamy sauce.  For this recipe I used Portobello mushrooms, but it would also be great with a combination of oyster or shiitake mushrooms or whatever varieties you can find at your local market.  The mushrooms add a wonderful earthy flavor to this gravy, and that is something you will never find in a can.  Enjoy!!

2 tsp  Olive Oil
1 medium  Shallot, minced
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
1 tsp  Dried Thyme
5  Boneless Center Loin Pork Chops (about 3/4-inch thick)
2 TB  Butter
8 oz  Assorted Fresh Mushrooms (Portobello, Shiitake, Oyster or a mix of all 3)
2 TB  Flour
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
3/4 cup  Chicken Stock
1/2 cup  Half and Half

In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering.  Add the shallot and garlic and sauté 3 minutes, until tender.

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper, increase the skillet to medium-high heat, and place the chops in the skillet.  Cook 4 - 5 minutes on each side until golden and nearly cooked through.  Transfer to a warm plate, cover with foil and keep warm.

Add the butter to the skillet, stirring to loosen any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet.  Add the mushrooms and sauté for 3 minutes until softened, then add the flour and pepper to the mushrooms and stir to blend.  Add the chicken stock and half and half, stirring constantly until the gravy is smooth and creamy.

Add the pork chops back to the skillet, including any juices that may have collected on the plate.  Turn the chops over in the gravy to coat them and blend in the juices.  Continue to cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.  Serve with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed veggies.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rosemary's Ham and Split Pea Soup

Cooking a recipe that is a family favorite can be a little intimidating, especially when the recipe is from your husband's family! But I think this soup was pretty close to the original.

Since we moved out of state several years ago, this is an annual tradition that my husband has missed, so I figured it was time to try and recreate this soup.  My mother-in-law (Rosemary), would use the leftover Easter ham to create a thick, creamy ham and pea soup, with just a hint of clove in the background.  The addition of celery, carrots and potato makes this soup a hearty meal.

This soup does take some time to prepare, but the hands-on time is minimal.  Just let the soup cook low and slow and you have a pot of soup ready in about 2 1/2 hours. Serve with crackers, either crushed right into the soup or on the side.  The family is equally divided on the proper method of how the crackers should be served, lol.  Enjoy!!

1 pkg  Hurst's Ham Peas Green Split Peas
1  Large Meaty Ham Bone
2 cups  Cubed Ham
2 quarts  Water
1  Whole Onion
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Cloves
2  Bay Leaves
2 stalks Celery, diced
3 large  Carrots, peeled and chopped
2 medium  Potatoes, peeled and cubed

Rinse the peas in cool water several times, return peas to the pot and cover with 2 quarts of water.  Add the ham bone and the cubed ham to the pot along with the whole onion (leave the onion whole so it can be removed later),  then add the salt, pepper, cloves and bay leaves.  Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After 90 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove the whole onion and discard, then remove the ham bone and place on a plate.  Remove any extra ham from the bone, return the ham to the pot and discard the bone.  Stir the soup and add the celery, carrots and potatoes to the pot.  Continue to simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes or until the veggies are very tender.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If a thinner soup consistency is desired, add a bit more water during the last 30 minutes of cooking.  Serves about 8 - 10 large servings.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Shrimp and Blue Cheese Noodles

Tonight we revisited a favorite family recipe, Shrimp and Blue Cheese Noodles.  This is probably my favorite seafood and pasta meal because the flavors are just a really unique combination. We used to make this dish years ago when my kids were very young and I wasn't sure if they would even remember having eaten this dish before.  But once they smelled the garlic, shrimp and blue cheese aromas filling the kitchen, they were excited to try this again.

Once again the combination of a few simple ingredients come together in an easy to fix dinner that can be ready in about 30 minutes.  Serve with a side of steamed spinach or asparagus and a few stuffed clams shells and you have a tasty meal on the table in no time. 
1 lb  Raw Shrimp, about 30, peeled and deveined 
2 tsp Minced Garlic
2 tsp Olive Oil
3 oz Cream Cheese, sliced
4 oz Blue Cheese Crumbles at room temp (or Gorgonzola)
1/3 cup Milk
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 lb  Regular or Whole Wheat Linguine
Grated Parmesan and Romano Cheese

In a large pot, heat water for the pasta, adding pasta when water boils. When pasta is to an al dente stage, turn off the heat and keep warm, but do not drain yet.

While the pasta is cooking, using a large skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering, then add the garlic. Lightly saute the garlic over medium heat for 3 minutes.

Add the shrimp to the garlic in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cook about 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat just until shrimp begins to turn pink, then turn the shrimp over.

As soon as you turn the shrimp, add thin slices of the cream cheese on top of the shrimp and reduce heat to medium-low.

Once the cheese starts to melt, drain the pasta and add the pasta to the shrimp mixture.  Add half of the blue cheese to the pan and fold mixture over gently. Add the milk and the remaining blue cheese and stir until the cream cheese is fully melted and all of the noodles are coated. 

Portion noodles and shrimp out onto warm plates, top with a sprinkle of fresh Parmesan and Romano cheese and serve.  Serves 4.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Smoky Pork and Chorizo Tacos

If you're tired of boring ground beef tacos, this is a great way to upgrade taco night.  These Pork and Chorizo Tacos get their great smoky flavor from canned chipotle peppers with adobo sauce.  If you're not familiar with these little peppers, this is a really simple recipe to experiment with chipotles. 

Chipotles are jalapeno peppers that have been smoked and dried, then packed in a smoky, spicy red sauce.  One word of caution, different brands of chipotles can vary tremendously in flavor and heat.  For some recipes one pepper will add just enough spice, but with other brands you might need two or three peppers for the same dish.  The important thing here is to taste test.  Start with the single pepper and a little adobo sauce, taste the sauce, and if it is too mild you can always add more peppers or sauce.

If you have leftover peppers when you are finished with this recipe, there are many ways to use up the extras.  Store the remaining peppers, with the adobo sauce, in a small glass jar covered with plastic wrap.  These can be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks without spoiling.  For a quick sandwich spread, you can puree the peppers and sauce with a few tablespoons of cream cheese.  Or they can be chopped and added to omelets, soups, chili, or polenta.  You can even freeze the leftovers in a small Ziploc bag.  The next time you are making chili, just break off a piece and add it to the chili pot. The added smoky flavor will transform any dish into something amazing.  You can find canned chipoltes in the Mexican foods section of your local grocer for about $1.00 per can.  Such a bargain!

This recipe uses pork sirloin, which is a juicy, full of flavor cut of pork.  When combined with spicy chorizo, onion, garlic and a few spices, you get a smoky taco that just needs a few toppings to be the perfect masterpiece.  We added sliced avocados, crumbled queso fresco cheese and, for the more daring, heat-loving diners, a little hot salsa for even more heat.  Enjoy!!

2 lbs  Pork Sirloin, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/4 tsp  Thyme
2 Bay Leaves
1 TB  Olive Oil
1/2 lb  Fresh Chorizo, casing removed
1 small  Onion, chopped
1 TB Minced Garlic
3/4 cup  Crushed Tomatoes
2 or 3  Chipotle Peppers in Adobo, plus 2 tsp sauce
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1 tsp  Sugar
Soft Tortillas
Garnishes: Avocado slices, sliced onion, chopped tomato, salsa

Place the pork in a large pot, cover with water and add the thyme and bay leaves, then simmer the pork over medium heat for 30 minutes or until tender and cooked through.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked pork to a plate to cool.  Reserve 1 cup of the broth and discard the remainder.

When the pork is cool enough to work with, use two forks to shred the meat into small pieces and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the chorizo and cook 10 minutes, breaking the meat up with a spoon.  Add the pork, onion and garlic, stir and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the reserved broth, tomatoes, peppers, adobo sauce, salt, pepper and sugar, stir and cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat.  Adjust the sauce as needed by adding a bit more salt, pepper or adobo sauce.

Spoon the pork mixture into soft taco shells and serve with an assortment of toppings including avocado slices, queso fresco cheese, salsa, chopped onion or tomato.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gingerbread-Guinness Cake

This is a great cake recipe I came across several years ago and with this being St Patrick's Day, this was a great weekend to test a Gingerbread-Guinness Cake.  The cake was moist, rich and full of that distinct Guinness flavor, but it was not an overly sweet cake.  It needed a little surprise on top, and the final touch was a dollop of Cinnamon-Vanilla Whipped Cream and a drizzle of chocolate.


You will have to use some patience while cooking this cake.  During the cooking process it may seem like more of a science experiment than a recipe. The beer foams when combined with the baking soda and looks a bit like a small volcano.  But fear not, the foam will subside and leave a mixture that smells incredible.  The cake does a little more volcano action while cooking.  The top foams and rises, then relaxes and becomes something that looks more cake-like.  If you are cooking this for your family, not only will your kids love to watch this cake being made with all of that foaming action, they will love the end result. This cake received three thumbs-up from the under-21 crowd. Enjoy!!

1 cup  Guinness Stout
1 cup  Molasses
1-1/2 tsp  Baking Soda
3  Eggs
1/2 cup  Sugar
1/2 cup  Brown Sugar, packed
3/4 cup  Canola Oil
2 cups  Flour
2 TB  Ground Ginger
1-1/2 tsp  Baking Powder
3/4 tsp  Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp  Ground Cloves
1/4 tsp  Ground Nutmeg
1/8 tsp  Ground Allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan with parchment paper, then butter the parchment and the sides of the pan.

In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, combine the Guinness and molasses and bring to a boil.  Turn off the heat and add the baking soda.  Allow the mixture to sit for several minutes until the foam begins to dissipate.  Then stir for a few minutes until the foam is gone and the mixture has cooled slightly.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and both sugars, then whisk in the oil.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice.  Combine the stout mixture with the egg mixture, then whisk this liquid into the flour mixture, adding a small amount at a time, and stir until blended.

Pour the batter into the lined pan and bake for 60 - 70 minutes, or until the top springs back when gently pressed.  Do not open the oven door until the cake is almost fully cooked, or the center of the cake might fall slightly.  (Patience here, try to wait until at least 50-55 minutes into the cooking time to check for doneness.)  Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes, then loosen the sides of the pan with a knife and release the sides of the spring form pan.  Cool completely before slicing.

Serve with a dollop of Cinnamon-Vanilla Whipped Cream and a drizzle of your favorite chocolate syrup.

Cinnamon-Vanilla Whipped Cream

1 cup  Heavy Whipping Cream
1/8 cup  Sugar
3/4 tsp  Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp  Vanilla

Pour heavy cream into a chilled bowl.  (If you have a stand mixer this works great.  Just pop the bowl into the freezer for a few minutes.)  Beat the cream on medium speed and slowly add the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.  As the mixture begins to thicken slightly, increase the speed to medium-high and whip until the mixture is thickened.  Serve immediately.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Guinness Chili

Anything you cook with Guinness Beer is going to be blessed with its thick, dark and rich flavor, and this bowl of Guinness Chili is no exception.  The secret ingredient in this chili is a square of unsweetened chocolate, which adds a nice background flavor to the beer, beef and spices.  The spices are actually very minimal, with just a small amount of cumin and chili powder to provide that familiar chili taste.

This recipe was a real experiment and it was amazing how the flavor of the sauce changed the longer it was allowed to simmer.  If possible, hold off adjusting the amount of salt until the last 30 minutes of cooking time.  Just one teaspoon of salt at the end was the only seasoning needed.

This chili does need a little extra time to simmer, but it is well worth the wait.  We served this chili on top of whole wheat linguine noodles, with a sprinkle of sharp cheddar cheese and fresh minced red onion.  A simple bowl of deep, dark chili with the unmistakable flavor of Guinness.  Cheers!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

2 lbs  Beef Chuck, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 TB  Olive Oil, divided
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tsp  Chili Powder
1/2 tsp  Cumin
1 small  Onion, diced
1 TB  Minced Garlic
14 oz can  Crushed Tomatoes
1/2 cup  Water
1 tsp  Sugar
1 bottle  Guinness
1 oz  Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
1 tsp  Kosher Salt, if needed

In a large Ziploc bag, combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin.  Push the mixture around to blend, then add the beef to the bag.  Marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Brown the beef in the oil for 5 minutes while stirring, then add the onion and garlic to the pot, stir and cook 5 minutes longer.  Add the tomatoes, water, sugar and Guinness to the pot, bring to a simmer and add the chocolate, stirring until melted. 

Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2-1/2 hours, then adjust the seasonings as needed.  Add an additional 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, or a pinch of chili powder for more spice, if desired.  Serve with a sprinkle of sharp cheddar cheese and minced red onion and a cold bottle of Guinness.

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.