Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I remember my mother often made chicken in the oven surrounded by potatoes, onions, and whatever other vegetables were available--sometimes peppers, sometimes spinach. Looking through my copy of Skinny Italian by RHONJ Teresa Giudice, I happened upon her take on this Italian classic. I decided to try her version, but deviated a bit in the method of preparation. What follows is a recipe for 6 servings using a combination of Teresa's and my approach to this homey meal.

For the chicken:
Six 6-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup white wine (I used my leftover Mateus)
1/4 cup EVOO
2 tsp dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp crushed hot pepper

Lightly pound each chicken breast until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Whisk the wine, oil, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper in a 13X9 inch glass dish. Add the chicken, cover, and refrigerate for 1 1/4 hours (no longer or you'll have mushy chicken).

While the chicken marinates, prepare the vegetables.

For the vegetables:
9 medium red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
6 large carrots, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
1 tbs EVOO
4 ripe plum tomatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
2 medium onions, sliced into 1/4 inch half moons
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tbs chopped fresh parsley

Toss the potatoes, onions, and carrots with the oil in a large bowl. Place them in the roasting pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

To finish:
Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Scatter the tomatoes over the vegetables in the pan, add the salt and pepper, and toss together. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and arrange them in the pan on top of the vegetables. Pour the marinade over all. Return to the oven and bake until the chicken is opaque when pierced in the center, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve hot.
You'll be looking at the clock while this dish finishes and the smells become impossible to ignore. Confirmed lovers of dark meat, DSO and I both loved this chicken. It was so moist and flavorful thanks, in part, to that marinade. Adding the onions in the beginning made more sense than adding them with the tomatoes, but what I'll be sure to do next time is uncover the vegetables after 30 minutes to allow them to carmelize a bit. Yes, there will be a next time. At 510 calories (49g carb, 16 g fat, 7 g fiber, 45 g protein), this is a healthy as well as delicious one pan meal.

Friday, July 22, 2011


One of the reasons steaks taste so incredible at a fine restaurant is that they are basted, liberally, with butter. When I saw this recipe in the August/September issue of Fine Dining, I knew I'd have to try this flavored butter the next time I craved beef. The original recipe serves 4, so I have plenty of martini butter left over. I've already used it on corn on the cob and I have a feeling it will be equally delicious on steamed broccoli and the pork chops I have in the freezer.

4 (9-10 oz) beef strip steaks, about 1 inch thick, trimmed of excess fat (I used bone in, though the recipe called for boneless)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup drained, pimento-stuffed Spanish olives (martini olives)
2 tbs vodka or gin
1 tbs dry vermouth
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 oz (4 tbs) unsalted butter, softened

Generously season both sides of the steaks with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. (I use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet and cook outdoors on the burner of my gas grill--no mess in the kitchen.) Add the steaks and cook 4 minutes on each side for medium rare. Let the steaks rest for 5-10 minutes while you prepare the martini butter.

Combine the olives, vodka, vermouth, Dijon, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse, scraping down the sides as necessary.

Divide the martini butter among the steaks, letting it melt a bit.
I love a dry vodka martini, but I loved these steaks with martini butter even more. This is not a healthy choice for dinner, but it isn't something we'll be eating often (sadly). The compound butter turned a simple steak into something absolutely mouth-watering. It was so rich that only an ear of corn and a salad was needed to make it a meal. I guess I was feeling nostalgic eating an old favorite like this compound butter because I picked up a bottle of Mateus to accompany our meal. If you don't care for steak, try the martini butter with your protein of choice; you won't be sorry.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Today I qualified for Social Security. When I look in the mirror I don't see a 62 year old who's been retired for 7 years--I am blind as a bat and stand across the room from the mirror. I know it's true, though, because I have the time now to write this blog, to devote hours to my passion for quilting and beading, and because I could vacation for 2 weeks on what I spend for moisturizer in a year.

I recently spent 3 days at a Hudson River Valley Fiber Art Workshop at the Greenville Arms in the beautiful Catskill Mountains. Along with 8 other bead enthusiasts, I spent from 10-12 hours a day happily beading and laughing and, in general, having the kind of good time women have when they share a passion for art and living. The Greenville Arms is a lovely Bed and Breakfast and one of the specials on my last day was these pancake muffins with strawberry syrup. I did not try them, though they got rave reviews from all who did. I had already seen them on Chef Mark LaPolla's blog and decided to make them when I returned home. Since strawberries are no longer in season, I used some gorgeous fresh blueberries to make my syrup. I also halved the recipe, but got 12 muffins plus a small "cake" that resembled a Dutch baby.

Here is Mark's recipe with some notes from my experience:

Makes 24 muffins

Nonstick cooking spray

2-1/3 cups of all-purpose flour

1 cup of pastry flour

2 teaspoons of baking soda

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

6 large eggs, at room temperature, yolks and whites separated in two bowls.

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

6 Tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3-1/3 cups buttermilk, at room temperature (in a pinch, milk with a tsp of white vinegar will do)

Prepare the Muffins:

Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Generously spray two 12-cup muffin pans with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, mix the all-purpose flour, pastry flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until firm, but not dry. About 2 - 3 minutes. Set aside.

In another large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the mixer on medium-high until thick, ribbony, and lemon-yellow. About 6 minutes. Add the melted butter, sugar, and vanilla; mix on medium-low until combined. Add one-third of the flour mixture and mix on low speed. Add one-third of the buttermilk and mix to combine. Alternate adding the remaining flour mixture and buttermilk, ending with the buttermilk and mixing until just combined.

With a large rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped egg whites into the batter, leaving some streaks.

Fill the muffin pans, about 1/2 cup of the batter into each muffin cup. Bake, rotating the pans after 10 minutes, until browned on top and puffed, and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out dry, about 20 to 25 minutes total.

Prepare the Strawberries in Syrup

1 cup pure maple syrup

1 cup quartered, hulled ripe strawberries (fresh blueberries were a wonderful substitution)

In a small saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil over medium-high heat. Put the strawberries in the syrup and turn off the heat. Set aside in a warm spot.

To Serve:

Pop the muffins out of the cups and arrange 2 to a plate, spoon syrup and strawberries of the muffins, and then sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.

Have the sous chef take care of the dishes!
I didn't have pastry flour, but found a substitution using cornstarch. I was expecting these to behave and taste like popovers, but to my great surprise, they were a lovely cross between a cake-like muffin and a buttermilk pancake. Two was more than enough for a satisfying breakfast and, according to Chef Mark, they are even better after being frozen, defrosted, and reheated. A bit fussy to make, but a real treat for Sunday brunch.

Friday, July 15, 2011


I've written about indirect grilling before and when I saw this recipe in the August/September 2011 issue of Fine Cooking, I knew I had to try it. We eat a lot of chicken and I'm always on the lookout for different ways to prepare it. Summer is a great time to grill and both DSO and I love a good glaze, particularly one with an Oriental flair. Using this method of grilling prevents flare ups and ensures that the chicken will be cooked inside without being incinerated on the outside.

Since we prefer dark meat, I used 3 pounds of chicken quarters. There were leftovers for lunch the next day.

2 tbs dark brown sugar
1 tbs sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tbs minced fresh garlic (about 3 cloves)
2 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp dry mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 lb bone-in chicken pieces
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 tbs pure maple syrup
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs honey
2 tsp Asian sesame oil
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup peanut oil

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, paprika, garlic, 2 tsp of the 5 spice powder, mustard, 1 tsp salt, and 2 tsp pepper. Put the chicken pieces in a 9X13 inch baking dish and rub the spice mix all over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and no more than 6 hours.

Prepare a grill for indirect cooking over medium heat (this means heating all 3 sections of the grill, then turning off the back 2--those are the indirect cooking sections). In a small bowl, combine the hoisin, maple syrup, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, ginger, and the remaining 1/2 tsp of 5 spice powder.

Lightly brush the chicken pieces with the peanut oil and arrange skin side down over direct heat. Cover and cook until the grill marks form, 3-5 minutes. Flip the chicken and repeat so there are grill marks on both sides.Brush the chicken with the glaze, flip over and  move the chicken to the indirect heat, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Turn chicken over, brush with the glaze and cook for 20 minutes more or until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees for breast pieces, 170 degrees for dark meat. Brush more glaze on the chicken, move to direct heat for 30-60 seconds, flip chicken and repeat. Serve immediately.

Using both a spice rub and a glaze really amped up the flavor profile of this dish. The chicken was succulent inside and incredibly flavorful throughout as well. In the future I think I'll make legs and thighs on the bone rather than the quarters just because they're easier to pick up and eat. There's no comparison between boneless chicken and chicken on the bone. The latter is always more flavorful and juicy. We enjoyed this chicken with some potato salad and fresh corn on the cob. The recipe is definitely a keeper.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


When the lovely Kim from Stirring the Pot posted this recipe, I knew it would be cutting the queue so as to appear on our dinner table as soon as possible. I confess I don't own any of Rachel Ray's cookbooks nor have I watched her TV show very often. Seeing this dish on Kim's blog, it occurred to me that I may not have given her a fair chance before banishing her from The Food of Love kitchen. I prepared the dish just as Kim adapted it below:

Spinach and Artichoke Mac 'n' Cheese
Adapted from Rachel Ray's Look + Cook
Serves 6-8

1 pound cellantani
2 tablespoons EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 large Vidalia onion, finely chopped
 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups 2%milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 (14-ounce) drained artichoke hearts, chopped
1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted & wrung dry in a kitchen towel
Black pepper
1-1/2 cups shredded Italian Fontina cheese, plus additional for sprinkling on top
1-1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional for sprinkling on top

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta, salt the water, and cook the pasta to al dente.  While the pasta water comes to a boil, place a medium pot over medium-low heat with EVOO and the butter.  Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes.  Heat the broiler and position the rack in the middle of the oven.  Turn up the heat under the pot to medium-high and sprinkle the flour into the pot.  Cook for about 1 minute, then whisk in the wine and cook for another minute to burn off the alcohol.  Whisk the milk into the pan and bring up to a bubble.  Add the nutmeg, artichokes, spinach, and salt and pepper to the sauce and simmer until thickened and the vegetables are warmed through, 2-3 minutes more.  Add 1 cup of each of the cheeses to the sauce and stir until melted.  Toss the prepared sauce with the cooked pasta and transfer to a casserole dish.  Sprinkle the remaining Fontina and Parmigiano over the top and brown under the broiler for about 3 minutes.
I knew from the description of this dish and the gorgeous photo Kim took that this was going to be a delicious dinner and I was right. DSO and I both love spinach artichoke dip; we are also big fans of mac n' cheese. So, what's not to love when you combine the two? The creaminess of the sauce, broken up by chunks of artichoke and spinach, was as big a hit in the middle of summer as I know it will be when the leaves are falling. Leftovers--and there are plenty of those--make a great side dish with almost any protein. Make this soon; you won't regret it. And Rachel, my apologies.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


While I almost always read the books suggested by the foodie book club,Cook the Books, I don't always find the time to participate in cooking something based on the selection. I was determined to get back in the swing of things despite deadlines for finishing my latest quilt, a family wedding, and life, in general.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen raises an issue dear to a foodie's heart:  do certain foods really have the power to control our emotions?  Claire Waverly, a successful caterer, prepares dishes with the mystical plants that grow in her garden. If it sounds like a familiar theme (e.g. Like Water for Chocolate), I would venture to say that is because those of us who take our food seriously believe that food can and does alter moods and emotions. How sisters Claire and Sydney resolve their long-standing issues and how Claire finally uses her special gifts to transform her own life are questions I'll leave you to discover by reading this charming southern novel.

While no mention was made in Garden Spells of the caper, in biblical times the caper berry was purported to have aphrodisiac properties. In fact, the Hebrew word for caper berry abiyyonah (אֲבִיּוֹנָה)  is closely linked to the Hebrew root אבה, meaning "desire". That said, I decided my offering for this Cook the Books' event would be "Voluptuous Veal Piccata." I based my recipe on one I found in Skinny Italian, one of Teresa Giudice's (Real Housewife of New Jersey) cookbooks. While the veal was relatively healthy, I served it with creamy polenta (yes, it has heavy cream in it) and some lovely roasted asparagus. 

Serves 2-4
1 lb veal scaloppine, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbs EVOO
1 cup dry white wine
2 tbs unsalted butter
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbs drained capers
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbs chopped fresh parsley

Pound the veal between 2 sheets of waxed paper until about 1/4 inch thick. Mix the flour, salt, and pepper and place in a shallow dish. Dredge the cutlets in the mixture, shaking to remove excess flour.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the veal to the pan, in batches without crowding, to brown--1 minute per side. Remove the veal from the pan and set aside.

Add the wine to the skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Boil until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the butter, lemon juice, capers, garlic, and parsley. Return the veal to the pan and cook, turning the veal to coat with the sauce, until the veal is tender, about 1 minute more. Serve hot.
This is a very simple recipe, but it is delicious. Served over creamy polenta, it was, indeed, voluptuous. Was my SO more amorous after finishing it? Some things are better left to the imagination. Be sure to head over to Cook the Books to see what other members are cooking up for Garden Spells.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


It was time for something new! I love my pasta pesto salad and my antipasto salad, but let's face it, sometimes you just want to move out of your comfort zone and treat your taste buds to something different. For my cousin's annual Father's Day picnic, I decided to try out one of Ina's pasta salads, this one in her Family Style cookbook.  The recipe that follows is a modified version of her recipe. I've added some roasted red peppers which I'd just made and increased the amount of pasta. To adjust for that, I doubled the dressing.

Serves 6 - 8
3/4 lb fusilli
Kosher salt
olive oil
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and diced
1 lb fresh mozzarella, medium diced
10 sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped

For the dressing:
10 sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained
4-5 slices of roasted red peppers
4 tbs red wine vinegar
12 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, diced
2 tsp capers, drained
2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 cup freshly grated pecorino-Romano cheese
1 cup packed basil leaves, julienned

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions. Add salt to the water after it comes to the boil. Drain well and allow to cool. Place the pasta in a large bowl and add the tomatoes, olives, mozzarella, and chopped sun dried tomatoes.

For the dressing, combine the sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, capers, salt, and pepper in a food processor until almost smooth.

Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients, sprinkle with the cheese and basil, and toss well.

This salad gets better as it sits, so make it a few hours ahead, if you like.
This was a delicious dish and one that I will make again and again. The dressing would be equally delicious on a green salad. I particularly enjoyed the saltiness of the capers and olives juxtaposed with the sweetness of the sun dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers. The corkscrew shape of the pasta was perfect to catch all that wonderful dressing.

Friday, July 1, 2011


I probably haven't eaten regular kielbasa in years; it's just too filled with fat to be a regular on our menu. Luckily, there are several more healthful versions of this sausage--turkey kielbasa or a light version of pork kielbasa. I prefer Hillshire Farms turkey kielbasa and was pleased to find a recipe in the July/August issue of Food Network Magazine that I could make more figure friendly. My modified version follows.

Serves 4
1 lb Hillshire Farms turkey kielbasa
2 tbs whole-grain mustard
2 tbs apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, sliced
1 box mini pierogies, do not thaw
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

Preheat a grill to medium. Grill the kielbasa, turning until marked, 8 - 10 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep in a 200 degree oven.

Meanwhile, whisk the mustard and cider vinegar in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in 2 tbs olive oil until smooth.

Toss the onions and pierogies with the remaining 2 tbs oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, covered, until the pierogies thaw and the onion begins to turn golden, 5-10 minutes. I used a grill pan to prevent food from falling through the grills.

Slice the kielbasa into pieces and add to the bowl with the mustard dressing. Add the pierogies and parsley and toss gently. Divide among 4 bowls.
What an easy dinner this made! The dressing is what pulls this meal together and makes it special. It also saves calories since I generally eat my pierogies with sour cream and/or applesauce. Another keeper, particularly during warm weather.