Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer's Lighter Version of Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan is a standard at most Italian Restaurants and a favorite among diners of all ages. It also is quick to rack up the calories particularly after the initially healthy boneless skinless chicken breast is breaded, pan fried and covered in cheese. If you are like me, however, and are perpetually watching the scale tick, tick, tick ever higher and constantly fighting to keep the pounds at bay, this version provides all the flavor with much less guilt.

The place to start is with an easy homemade marinara sauce.  Just a few ingredients will result in deliciousness without much effort at all.  If, however, you are short on time, have a favorite jarred brand or just simply don't want to make homemade sauce for whatever reason, you are off the hook with me.  Grab your favorite standby and skip on to the next step.  For those who wish, here goes...

Easy Marinara Sauce  
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff in absolutely necessary, feel free to sub. reg. olive oil)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 large can whole Italian tomatoes (San Marzano variety is my fav. pick but any will do the job)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
bunch basil leaves, torn
splash (or two, or...) of red wine (optional)

In a large saucepan, add olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes.  Turn on burner heat to low and let the oil come slowly up to temperature until garlic becomes fragrant and begins to sizzle.  Do not allow garlic to brown, however.  Next, add the can of whole tomatoes, salt, sugar, oregano and wine if using.  Stir together and allow to gently simmer for about 15 minutes.  Once tomatoes begin to soften and break down after approx. 15 min. mash with a potato masher for a chunkier sauce or use an emmersion blender to a smooth sauce. Let simmer until thickened, approximately 10 min. more.  Add torn basil, taste and adjust seasonings and remove from heat. 

Marinara Sauce

Next step is to preheat your grill.  You should feel free to use whatever grill you prefer whether that is an indoor grill pan, an outdoor charcoal grill (just set it up for indirect heat cooking) or a gas grill set to a med. to med. high temperature. 

Take your boneless skinless chicken breasts and pound them out, between two pieces of plastic, until they are of a uniform thickness so they will cook evenly.  Season them liberally with salt, pepper and a good glug of olive oil.  Grill them (time will depend on the method you use) until they are almost cook through. 

Place the chicken breasts on a plate on "stand by" while you get set up to assemble the remaining ingredients.  Be sure to preheat the oven to about 375 degrees.  Place several spoonfulls of the marinara of your choice in the bottom on a casserole pan large enough to comfortably fit your chicken breasts without over crowding.  Most likely a 9x12 should do the trick.  Then, place the grilled chicken breasts atop the sauce and cover with a bit more sauce.  Top each chicken breast with a cheese blend of your choice.  This is the perfect time to use some lowfat Italian cheese blend, or perhaps even some fresh mozzerella, your choice.  You will want to top it with shaving of  Parmesan cheese (or I guess it wouldn't be chicken parmesan).  Bake in the oven for approximately 15-20min. or until the cheese it melted, the sauce is bubbly and the chicken it cooked through (165 degrees).

Serve remaining sauce with  side of pasta and a green salad for a delicious, healthful, easy and budget minded meal.

Time to eat

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Eve Ciopinno and the "365 Days of What I Have For Dinner" Finale!

Isn't it a really great feeling when you set out to do something that often ends up being a bigger commitment than originally thought and half way through you're not sure if you can pull it off, but you stick to it anyway and in the end the finished product is even better than you could have possibly ever imagined? That's precisely how I am feeling tonight!  I set out on a whim last New Year's Day to blog about what I, a relatively normal person (who, admittedly, is obsessed with cooking) could realistically put together every night for dinner (for 1 year) that was easy, healthful, budget conscious and delicious.  The goal, I guess, was to complete the challenge, contribute something that the readers would actually enjoy and perhaps gleen some useful information from, to have fun and to meet other fabulous foodies.  Well, I completed the task (YAY!), I had more fun than I honestly would have thought, I met so many fantastic people and I hope you, the reader, enjoyed it too and perhaps took away a tasty recipe at the same time.   

So, now that the year is over, what does that mean for "Amy's Dinner"?  First and foremost, it means a cookbook!!! I hope. Beyond that, I don't know.  I am certain that I want to continue cooking, writing recipes and photographing, but I am not sure exactly how to proceed with the blog.  What do you think?  As the reader you are the one who is important and I would like to get some input and receive suggestions from you.  I have thought about gimmicks (a traditional or regional recipe from each state) but, honestly, that feels a little fake and forced. Perhaps I could write some more detailed instructions based on dishes requested by you, the reader.  I could include a shopping list, additional photos, maybe a video or two and detailed instructions with corresponding photos.  Does that sound interesting?  Let me know....SERIOUSLY!  Perhaps I should continue with another "365 Days of What I Have for Dinner".  It's up to you! Feel free to comment here, send me an email to or leave a comment on my facebook page.  In any case, I think I'll take a few weeks off to regroup and maybe redesign the page a bit.  I'll plan on being back the middle of January!  Thank you for reading, it never ceases to amaze me that people are actually out there visiting.  I am sooooo appreciative of each reader and commenter!  Thanks, again, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

1 onion, halved and sliced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 box good quality fish stock (Kitchen Basics is a good brand)
1 can best quality crush or whole tomatoes
fresh thyme
fennel frons, chopped
fresh parsley chopped
1/2 pound shrimp, shelled and cleaned
1 tilapia fillet, cut in 2 inch cubes
1 pound mussels, cleaned
4 crab claws, cracked

In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil and hot pepper flakes over medium high heat.  Saute onions and fennel for about 10 minutes until cooked down and soft.  Add garlic and saute for just a minute to release the aroma.  Incorporate tomato paste and season with salt and pepper.  Deglaze the pot with white wine and let the alcohol cook down for about 3 - 5 minutes.  Add fish stock, canned tomatoes and thyme, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Let broth simmer for approximately 20 - 30 minutes. 

Just before serving, turn the heat up until broth rapidly boils.  Add crab claws, cover and simmer for 5 minutes or so.  Next add fish, shrimp and mussels.  Nestle the seafood in the broth so that they are virtually covered.  Cover and let cook for about 5 minutes or until fish and shrimp is cooked through and the mussels have all opened (discard any which have not).  Garnish with fennel frons and fresh parsley. 

Friday, December 31, 2010

Steak and "Cook's Country" Crunchy Potato Wedges

For those of you who are passionate about potatoes, these Crunchy Potato Wedges are sure please your palette! Here in South Bend, IN our local supermarket makes a spud similar to these and I have experimented many times with my own variation in a feeble attempt to achieve the same equally flavorful and crispy exterior coating and the complimentary fluffy potato pulp inside, to no avail. Then, while browsing my local Sam's Club just a little while ago, I was perusing the culinary publications, as per my normal routine, and I was instantly awestruck by this recipe in Cook's Country magazine. It appeared to be the perfect technique for recreating my favorite 'taters at home. I was obsessed and could not wait until an opportune time to test the test kitchen's recipe would arise. I had already decided I would be dining on a meaty steak (pan seared in a cast iron skillet) and could think of no better accompaniment then these crunchy potato wedges. Hands down, bar none, absolutely the best potato I have ever eaten!!! It is a few more steps, granted, then simply baking a potato in the oven and plopping on a pat of butter and spoonful of sour cream, but I cannot stress how worth it the additional work is!

Crunchy Potato Wedges ...a recipe from Cook's Country
From the episode: Family Supper
Serves 6


4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 large russet potatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds), scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch wedges
1/4 cup vegetable oil or peanut oil, plus 3 quarts for frying
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda


1. Combine salt, pepper, onion and garlic powders, cayenne, and oregano in small bowl.

2. Toss potato wedges with 4 teaspoons spice mixture and 1_4 cup oil in large microwave-safe bowl; cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high until potatoes are tender but not falling apart, 7 to 9 minutes, shaking bowl (without removing plastic) to redistribute potatoes halfway through cooking. Slowly remove plastic wrap from bowl (be careful of steam) and drain potatoes. Arrange potatoes on rimmed baking sheet and cool until potatoes firm up, about 10 minutes. (Potatoes can be held at room temperature for up to 2 hours.)

3. Heat remaining 3 quarts oil in large Dutch oven over high heat to 340 degrees. Meanwhile, combine flour and cornstarch in medium bowl and whisk buttermilk and baking soda in large bowl. Working in 2 batches, dredge potato wedges in flour mixture, shaking off excess. Dip in buttermilk mixture, allowing excess to drip back into bowl, then coat again in flour mixture. Shake off excess and place on wire rack. (Potatoes can be coated up to 30 minutes in advance.)

4. When oil is ready, add half the coated wedges and fry until deep golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer wedges to large bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon spice mixture. Drain wedges on baking sheet lined with paper towels. Return oil to 340 degrees and repeat with second batch of wedges. Serve with extra seasoning on side.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wilted Spinach Chicken Salad with Lots of Tasty Bits

One of my very pet peeves is wasting food.  Though it seems that no matter how hard I might try, I consistently seem to have more food in the refrigerator than I can work into my meals.  This is especially true when in comes to vegetables.  Just recently, I had the best intentions to try out some new ways to eat brussel sprouts, despite my general dislike for them. I was even looking forward to enjoying them roasted with some sort of sweet and sour type glaze, so I bought a big bag and tucked it neatly into the vegetable drawer.  There the bag stayed until I just found them, unopened and well beyond their prime.  So, when I purchased a super sized bag of spinach greens at the supermarket this week, I was bound and determined not to waste one iron filled leaf.  I still have some left, but this wilted spinach salad was a great way to incorporate more spinach into your diet. 

Wilted Spinach Chicken Salad
1 cup shredded chicken
1/2 bag spinach 
thinly sliced sweet onion
1/4 cup cashew nuts (walnuts, pecans or other nut can be substituted)
1/4 cup dried cherries (raisins or cranberries can be substituted)
4 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
Blue Cheese Vinaigrette

In a skillet, saute mushrooms in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Add garlic and stir well to prevent garlic from burning.  Quickly add dried cherries and cashews to the pan and toss to combine.  Cook just long enough to warm the nuts and plump the cherries.  Set aside in a separate bowl for just a minute.  Add spinach to the hot pan and just toss to slightly wilt the spinach.  Add to a large salad bowl and top with mushrooms, cashews, cherries and onions.  Dress with blue cheese vinaigrette and enjoy. 

Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
crumbled cooked quality blue cheese such as Maytag
salt and pepper

Combine honey with the vinegar and season with salt and pepper.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil to form and emulsion.  Stir in crumbled blue cheese. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sausage Ragu with Penne

A hearty and satisfying pasta meal which is perfect for a cold winter's night and easy enough to make anytime! Make sure to freeze any leftovers from previous meals not matter how small.  You never know when it will come in handy.  A tiny amount of marinara sauce from my Christmas Eve meal was just the perfect amount to bring this dish together with no extra effort.

Sausage Ragu
1/2 pound bulk Italian sausage
1/4 cup onion, fine chop
1/4 sweet red pepper, fine chop
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
splash of dry white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup tomato sauce
fresh spinach leaves, to taste
salt and pepper
1/2 box penne pasta

In a large skillet, saute onions, sweet red pepper, red pepper flakes and garlic in olive oil until softened.  Add sausage and brown in the pan until cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.  Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine and scrape to remove any remaining brown bits. Add tomato paste, tomato sauce and season with salt and pepper.  Stir to combine and let simmer for about 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Toss in a handful or two of fresh spinach leaves.  Add pasta directly to the sauce in the pan and toss to combine.  Serve hot with a shaving of parmesan cheese.  

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Now That's A Pizza Pie!

Pizza is one of my all time favorite foods! Used to be that I thought I could only get really good pizza from a pizza parlor, but with this dough recipe from Chris Bianco that I found in "The Gourmet Cookbook" and some leftover marinara you can absolutely create some delicious pies right in your own kitchen. The one I made for dinner last night is topped with just fresh mozzarella cheese and shards of parmesan reggiano. The possibilities are endless, however! Substitute my ingredients for your own favorites and create your own Hawaiian Pizza, BBQ Chicken Pizza, Seafood Pizza, Cheeseburger Pizza or any other combination you dream up. While I cooked this one on a pizza stone in a 450 degree oven, I have also used this dough recipe for pizza on the grill and it worked out even better!

Basic Pizza Dough            ...adapted from a recipe by Chris Bianco in "The Gourmet Cookbook"
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and dredging
3/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

Stir together yeast, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1/4 cup warm water in a measuring cup and let stand until surface appears creamy, about 5 minutes.

Stir together 1 1/4 cups flour and salt in a large bowl. Add yeast mixture, oil, and remaining 1/2 cup warm water and stir until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour (about 1/2 cup) so dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Knead dough on a dry surface with lightly floured hands (reflour hands when dough becomes too sticky) until smooth, soft, and elastic, about 8 minutes. Form into 4 balls for individual pizzas and put on a lightly floured surface and generously dust with flour. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/4 hours.

To shape the dough, do not punch down. Carefully dredge 1 ball of dough in a bowl of flour to coat and transfer to a dry work surface. Holding one edge of dough in the air with both hands and letting the bottom touch work surface, carefully move hands around edge of dough (like turning a steering wheel), allowing the weigh of dough to stretch to roughly 4 inches. Transfer to a floured tray and work edges with fingers to get desired shape. Let side on tray for about 15 minutes before preparing as desired.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Super Simple Chicken Enchiladas

One of my favorite meals is always the one that follows a roast chicken dinner. Many times I crave a dish, such as this, which is comprised of shredded chicken but, honestly, I don't have the time or the inclination to roast a chicken in advance of preparing a meal. However, the convenience of having cooked chicken handy right in the refrigerator is indeed invaluable. It is so versatile that it lends itself to a multitude of cuisines from Indian to Italian to Thai to Mexican and countless others as well. Don't worry though, if you have a hankering for these easy chicken enchiladas and you did not have a roast chicken last night, this is a perfect time to take some help from the store in the form of a rotisserie chicken. Just bring it home, let it cool just until is it easily handled and shred. In a real pinch and have no time to get to the store? Simply thaw a boneless skinless chicken breast in the microwave, poach in salted water, shred and mix in a bowl with green tomatillo salsa. 

Easy Chicken Enchiladas
1 cup shredded chicken
3/4 cup favorite jarred Salsa Verde
jarred taco sauce
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
corn or flour tortillas
shredded cheese or queso fresco, crumbled (Mexican crumbling cheese)
lettuce, shredded
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
tomato, diced
red onion, diced
black olives, sliced
pickled jalapeno slices
fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly brush each side of corn tortillas with canola oil and stack them on the the parchment lined baking sheet. Warm in the oven for about 5 minutes or until pliable. Meanwhile combine shredded chicken, 1/4 cup of Monterey Jack cheese and 1/4 cup salsa verde in a mixing bowl. Fill each warmed tortilla with 1/3 of chicken mixture, roll tightly and place in a small casserole dish, seam side down. Cover with remaining salsa verde, taco sauce and Monterey Jack cheese. Bake for approximately 20-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly and cheese is melted. Let rest 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve over shredded lettuce dressed with hint of vinegar and seasoned with salt. Top with queso fresco, tomato, onion, olives, jalapeno and fresh cilantro.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Prime Rib of Beef

A very merry Christmas was celebrated at Nan's yesterday!  We had a wonderful holiday and Santa was very good to all. After a day of setting up computers and installing batteries and troubleshooting various electronic devices, my favorite gift was that I was able to enjoy this perfect Christmas dinner prepared by mom!!  This gorgeous standing rib roast cooked to a beautiful blushing pink, crispy potato skins and her famous dill marinated vegetables was the ideal Christmas dinner.  

Standing Rib Roast
1 5-6 lb. standing rib roast, bone-in
garlic powder

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Place standing rib roast in a roasting pan and season liberally with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Place roast in the oven for 15 minutes to form a crust.  Turn the oven down to 350 and roast and additional 15-20 minutes per pound.  The roast is a perfect medium rare when the internal temperature reaches 125 degrees.  Remove roast from the oven, tent with foil and let rest for 30 minutes before carving. 

Potato Skins
6 large baking potatoes
olive oil

Bake potatoes until tender and let cool until easy to handle.  Cut in half lengthwise and remove the potato pulp (reserve for another use).  Cut each potato half in half again.  In a small sauce pan, melt several tablespoons of butter and olive oil.  Brush each potato skin with the butter and olive oil mixture and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Bake in the oven until crispy (about 20-30 minutes depending on the temperature of the oven).

Dill Marinated Vegetables

Cut up broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, fresh mushrooms, cucumbers and any other favorite fresh vegetables, into bite size pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl. Prepare marinade.

1 cup canola oil
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon dill (fresh or dried, if using fresh increase amount)
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients together and pour over vegetables. Mix well and chill for at least 6 hours and preferably overnight.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Chicken Parmesan with Lemon and Garlic Scented Broccolini

Because I (and I'm sure others, too) have been over indulging in rich food and tasty sweet treats thus far this holiday season, I decided a Christmas Eve meal with a nod to the flavors of Italy would be a perfect change of pace.  After all, Christmas day will be all the rich and creamy crab dip appetizer followed by my very favorite savory standing rib roast.  This easy and delicious taste of Italy was a great way to kick off our family's Christmas celebration.    

Chicken Parmesan
chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1 egg, beaten
panko bread crumbs
parmesan cheese
fresh mozzarella cheese
marinara sauce
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place each chicken breast between 2 pieces of parchment paper and pound out to 1/4 inch thickness.  Set up a breading station with a plate of flour, a shallow dish with beaten egg and a little water, and a plate of bread crumbs seasoned with parmesan cheese and salt and pepper.  Dredge each chicken breast through the flour, coat with the egg and dredge in the bread crumbs.  Saute in a olive oil in a large preheated skillet.  Brown each side of the chicken for about 3-4 minutes, then top with marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese and freshly grated parmesan cheese.  Place skillet in the  oven and bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve atop a serving of spaghetti.

Marinara Sauce
1/3 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large cans of San Marzano tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
large bunch of fresh basil, torn

In a large sauce pot, place cold olive oil and garlic.  Turn heat on and gently bring up to temperature.  When garlic begins to sizzle add the tomatoes, salt and sugar.  Mash the tomatoes with a potato masher, your hands, or the back of a spoon until the sauce is a nice chunky consistency.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn off heat and add fresh torn basil.  Stir to combine.
Tuscan White Bean Dip
1 can cannellini or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon meyer lemon zest
juice of half a meyer lemon 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
salt and pepper 

Place all ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth.  Taste for seasoning and adjust of necessary.  Place in decorative serving bowl and garnish with meyer lemon slice, a sprig of fresh rosemary and a drizzle of best quality olive oil. 

I saw Ina Garten make a version of these sticky buns on her show "Barefoot Contessa".  I love the idea of using buttery, flaky puff pastry as an alternative to the more traditional yeast dough.  In this version, I changed up the ingredients a bit to make them more of a dessert than a breakfast item.  

Orange, Dark Chocolate, Hazelnut Sticky Buns                   ... inspired by Ina Garten 
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed but still very cold
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1/2 large Giardelli dark chocolate bar, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (400 if you are not using a convection oven).  In a mixing bowl, beat together 3 tablespoons of room temperature butter with the brown sugar until smooth.  Place a small spoonful of the butter in each of six cups of a muffin pan.  Top the spoonfuls of butter with hazelnut pieces.  Unroll the puff pastry sheet on a floured work surface.  Brush lightly with melted butter.  Spread the orange marmalade over the pastry leaving a 1 inch border all the way around.  Sprinkle over chopped dark chocolate and any remaining hazelnut pieces.  Gently roll in the form of a jelly roll, finishing with the seam on the bottom.  Trim off 1/2 inch piece from each end.  Cut the roll in half and then cut each half into thirds.  You will have 6 equal sized buns.  Place each bun with the spiral side up on top of the spoonfuls of butter in the muffin pan.  Gently press down so they fit snuggly in the cup.  Place the muffin pan on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until pastry is puffed and firm to the touch.  Remove from oven and let cool for just 5 minutes.  Turn buns out onto parchment paper and evenly distribute sticky topping.  Enjoy! 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Just a Sandwich

Yes, indeed, I took the easy way out for dinner last night.  In anticipation of a weekend full of cooking and a day consumed almost entirely by wrapping, I chose to forgo the stove, the oven and the pots and pans and assemble a sandwich instead.

I layered fire glazed ham, oven roasted turkey and a slice or two of Genoa salami on crusty peasant bread.  In my opinion, every good sandwich needs a crunch element too!  I sliced vine ripened tomato, sweet onion and crunchy lettuce and dressed them with a vinaigrette made from olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, Dijon, honey. oregano and salt and pepper.  I placed the dressed veggies atop some aged Vermont cheddar and, finally, gave the bread a little schmear of mayonnaise.  Yum! Anyway, who says you need to cook every night to get a good meal?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hoisin Beef with Aromatic Jasmine Rice

If your Christmas Day feast does not happen to end up like the one on "A Christmas Story" and you don't get to enjoy Chinese food from the only open restaurant because the dog ate the turkey you may, at some point, want to indulge by your own choice anyway. By making your favorite Chinese food at home, you can include your favorite ingredients, control the amount of heat, and I am certain it will be much healthier and equally delicious.   

Hoisin Beef
your choice of steak (flank, sirloin, filet, etc.)
1/4 soy sauce
2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
bottle hoisin sauce

In a zip lock bag, combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic and red pepper flakes.  Add the steak, turn to coat and marinate for 30 mins. to several hours.  Heat a heavy bottom skillet over medium high heat.  Lightly brush a the steak with hoisin sauce and pan sear for approximately 4 minutes per side for medium rare.  Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing.  Thinly slice and serve with Jasmine rice.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Roasted Chicken Salad with Bourbon Soaked Raisins, Toasted Cashews and Parmesan Croutons

Last night was salad night. As you know by now, I am not a huge fan of the cooked green vegetable, so every so often I feel like I should supplement my diet with a dinner salad.  I think, when making salad, it is important to consider the textures and flavors of the ingredients to make the salad interesting. You will want to have a serving of protein (meat, chicken or beans) and a good ratio of vegetables, fruit and nuts as well so that each mouthful is chock full of different textures and tastes. If it sounds like the components would compliment each other and taste good on a dinner plate, then they should work well in the salad. I chose to include some of the prominent flavors and ingredients associated with colder months including a roasted boneless skinless chicken breast, bourbon soaked raisin, homemade croutons, toasted cashews and maple Dijon vinaigrette, here's how I did it.

I simply seasoned a boneless skinless chicken breast with salt, pepper and olive oil and roasted it in the oven at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes. You can certainly use a bone in piece of chicken or take the help from the grocery store and include their rotisserie chicken. While the chicken roasted, I had plenty of time to prepare and assemble the rest of the ingredients. I started by making the vinaigrette. Making vinaigrette at home is one of the best suggestions I can give you. It is so easy to do, it gives you control of the ingredients and it is so much more delicious than any salad dressing out of a bottle. Start by grating a small garlic clove into a bowl, add about 2 tablespoons of Sherry vinegar (you can also use balsamic, red wine, champagne or whatever vinegar you like), 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of maple syrup (not the maple flavored pancake type, but the real thing), pinch of salt and pepper and about 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Whisk the ingredients together until they thicken or emulsify. Set aside to allow the flavors to develop.

The next step was to make the croutons. I had just purchased a loaf of crusty, dense, French bread which I sliced and cut into cubes. After I drizzled the bread cubes with olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper and sprinkled over some finely grated parmesan cheese I placed them on a baking sheet.  The croutons will be perfectly delicious after about 10-15 minutes in a 425 degree oven. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Even if you purchase nuts which have already been toasted, nothing can improve the flavor and texture of a nut more than waking them up with some heat from the oven or a dry skillet. I already had the oven fired up, so I added about 1/4 cup of cashews to a sheet pan and heated them for about 5-10 minutes. Be careful, though, and do not let them burn. Remove from oven and allow them to cool.

Ok, the rest of the process simply involves washing and chopping. I prepared 1/4 of a head of red romaine lettuce by chopping, rinsing and running it through the salad spinner until very dry. Nothing will ruin a salad faster than wet lettuce which will make everything else soggy and limp. I placed the lettuce in a large mixing bowl and topped it with raisin I let soak in bourbon for 30 minutes to plump, sweet white onion, English cucumber and extra sharp Vermont cheddar cheese. When the cashews and croutons had cooled, I added them to the bowl as well.

After the 40 minutes or so that the chicken spent roasting in the oven, I removed it and allowed it to cool for about 10-15 minutes. Once cooled, I added the chicken to the mixing bowl with the other salad bits and pieces. To dress, sparingly drizzle vinaigrette over salad and toss thoroughly to coat. Add vinaigrette a little bit at a time and toss after each addition until it is properly dressed. Serve on chilled dinner plates. Delicious and nutritious!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chili Chicken Taco

More tacos...  I should add up the exact number of times I have eaten tacos (or some variation thereof) this year.  I just can't help it, though.  They are just such a great "go to", tasty meal to come home to at night.  I always have the ingredients on hand which makes whipping them up any night of the week super easy!

Chili Chicken
1 cup shredded chicken
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ancho, chipotle and pasilla ground chili powder
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 chicken stock
salt and pepper

Saute garlic, chili powders and oregano in 1 tablespoon canola oil to bring out the essence of the chili. Add tomato paste and saute for a minute and incorporate into the garlic and spices. Add shredded chicken, stir to combine and pour in chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for approximately 10-15 minutes or until sauce has reduced and thickened.  Great for use as a filling in tacos when topped with sauteed onions, peppers and salsa on a warmed corn tortilla!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pre-Christmas Hot Dogs, Baked Beans and Cole Slaw

If it were not for this lovely chocolate Christmas tree cake with peppermint icing, one may not even know we are only a week away from Christmas day, based on Nan's choice of dinner fare last evening.  While others may be dining on a pre-holiday meal choc full of flavors of the season such as a smokey glazed ham or a prime rib of beef or even roast turkey, but not at Nan's. She chose to take a culinary departure from the norm and served up a fun (and delicious) way to kick off a week of non stop eating!

Creamy Cool Coleslaw

1 package shredded cabbage
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine mayonnaise, cider vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl and incorporate into shredded cabbage. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Smoky Hot and Sweet Baked Beans
1 can vegetarian baked beans
2 slices thick peppered and smoked bacon, cut into 1/4 inches pieces
1/4 cup red onions, small dice
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chipotle puree
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bean pot or sauce pan, slowly heat bacon to render fat until crispy. Add onions and cook until transparent. Add garlic and saute just a minute or until fragrant and remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and remove from heat. Place in the oven and cook for approximately 30 minutes or until bubbly. Let sit a few minutes before serving.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Copycat Recipe Weekend - The Big Mac

When I was growing up the Big Mac was the ultimate burger.  Back then, in the 80's, it was still a substantial sized burger, unlike today's slider version, and it even had it's own theme song.  Remember "two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun"? 

I guess that's really all that needs to be said, but I'll elaborate anyway.  I made two relatively small hamburgers patties and cooked them in a skillet for about 3 minutes per side.  I placed the cheese over the burgers while in the skillet so it could melt.  Meanwhile, I made the sauce (see below).  Next, the assembly.  Oh, first the bun.  I had to sacrifice two buns, the top an bottom from one and half of the top of a second bun.  Then, on the bottom bun, a spoonful of sauce, chopped onions, pickle slices and lettuce.  Place one of the patties on top and place the middle portion of the bun over that burger patty.  Dress that one just like the other with sauce, onions, pickles, lettuce and the second patty.  Top it with the top portion of the bun and enjoy!

Special Sauce
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons ketchup
dash Worcestershire sauce
teaspoon sweet pickle relish
teaspoon dill pickle relish
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper

Combine the ingredients together in a mixing bowl.  Let sit in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.  Also great on corned beef sandwiches! 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Copycat Recipe for Bang Bang Shrimp

Is there anyone out there who does not love Bonefish Grill's Bang Bang Shrimp? I cannot imagine that there is. If you like shrimp and you like a bit of a kick you are sure to think this is one of best seafood dishes ever. I have tried to recreate their famous Bang Bang shrimp several times, have researched every recipe out there and have made some successful and some unsuccessful prototypes. This time, according to my dining partner, I came as close as possible to recreating an exact replica without it actually being the read deal. The secret to making it really authentic is deep frying the shrimp as opposed to pan frying.  I have pan fried on each previous attempt, but this time I used to handy dandy Cuisinart deep fryer.  A huge difference! Try it, and let me know what you think!

Because the shrimp will cook so quickly, once you get them in the pan, you want to have the sauce ready and standing by to pour over the freshly fried shrimp. In a mixing bowl combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise, a tablespoon or so of horseradish, 1/4 cup sweet Asian chili sauce and a few tablespoons of hot Asian chili sauce or Srirachi (if you want to start out a bit more cautious, add 1 tablespoon at a time of the hot sauce and taste. Add more until it's a spicy as you like it). That's it! Combine well and set aside until the shrimp is ready.

I purchased one pound of raw, shell-on USA shrimp and cleaned, de-veined and removed the shell at home. Next step is to toss the shrimp in some cornstarch which, when fried, will give the shrimp a nice crisp coating without it being too heavy. Cook the shrimp in the deep fryer for about 3 minutes total. Place the shrimp in a large mixing bowl while they are still hot and pour over the Bang Bang sauce. Toss well to coat, adding more sauce if necessary and tumble out onto a bed of crispy shredded iceberg lettuce. Top with a sprinkling of green onions and chopped fresh cilantro.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Roasted Chicken with Rice and Gravy

If I had to pick my favorite home cooked type meal, the kind of meal that your mom made for you,  it would definitely be this one.  Simply prepared roasted chicken pieces and perfectly steamed rice with gravy is delicious, nutritious and, to me, the ultimate in comfort food.  A great weeknight dinner that practically cooks itself.  Keeping individually wrapped pieces of chicken in the freezer and a well stocked pantry makes this a terrific "go to" meal anytime.  

Roasted Chicken Pieces
Variety of white and dark chicken pieces, skin-on and bone-in
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Pat chicken pieces dry and place in an oven and stove top proof roasting pan (stove top proof so you can make the gravy right in the same pan the chicken roasted in and scrape up the tasty bits).  Season with a drizzle with a little olive oil, a pat of butter and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for approximately 30 minutes depending on the size of the chicken pieces, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. 

Perfect Rice
1 cup white rice
2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter

Melt butter in a saucepan (in the chicken roasting pan) over medium heat and add the rice. Stir completely to coat each grain of rice with the butter. Season with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and some fresh ground pepper. Add 2 cups of water, cover with a lid and cook without peaking for 18 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Easy Gravy
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup of chicken stock or water
pan drippings from roasted chicken

In a sauce pan combine butter and flour and cook over medium heat for about 1-2 minutes until raw flour taste is gone. Whisk in the chicken stock and pan drippings and simmer for about 5-10 minutes until thickened. Season with salt and pepper. If it gets too thick add a bit more stock. If too thin simmer a tad longer until it reaches the perfect consistency.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Panko Crusted Salmon with Sesame Noodles and Cucumber Salad

A nice light and much healthier meal last night to break up some of the, shall we say, substantial dinners I have been indulging in over the holiday season thus far.  This is my favorite way to eat salmon right now.  The bit of bite from the dijon and wasabi, tempered by the honey and the hint of  panko crunchiness is delicious and would have been perfect with just the cucumbers and perhaps a bit of Jasmine rice.  For my taste, the cold sesame noodles were overkill in the flavor department and I was not wild about the peanutty taste with the salmon.  I did enjoy them, however, on their own and do intend to try them again, but perhaps with the addition of chicken instead.

Sweet Wasabi Mustard Glaze

salmon fillet
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
panko break crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place heavy bottomed, oven proof saute pan in the oven and preheat for approximately 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine wasabi paste, mustard and honey in a small bowl. Pat salmon dry, season with salt and pepper and liberally brush with mustard wasabi glaze. Press panko bread crumbs firmly into the flesh of the fish so that it sticks to the glaze. Remove the saute pan, carefully, from the oven and add 1 tablespoon of canola oil. Place salmon, skin side down, in the pan and return to the oven. Cook for approximately 12 - 15 minutes or until center is pink and the bread crumbs turn golden brown.
Cold Sesame Noodles
lo mien noodles (cooked, drained and rinsed)
2 tablespoons peanut butter
splash water
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
dash sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon asian chili paste
2 scallions, minced
In a mixing bowl combine peanut butter and water until it reaches the consistency of thick cream.  Add garlic, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, honey, chili paste and 1 scallion and stir to combine.  Combine peanut sauce and cold noodles together.  Garnish with additional scallions. 
Asian Cucumber Salad
1 hot house cucumber (peeled, if desired, halved and sliced)
1 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
dash sesame oil
garlic chili paste, optional
Place prepared cucumber in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl combine remaining ingredients and pour over cucumbers.  Stir well to combine.  Serve cold. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Steak Tostadas

I have always either purchased pre-made tostada shells, which I don't particularly like because they are usually broken in tiny pieces and they taste like cardboard, or I fry fresh corn tortillas.  However, frying has not always worked for me because the corn tortillas sometimes get soggy and not crispy enough or they burn on the edges or they are too greasy.  Last night I thought I would test out an oven technique thinking that perhaps a slower heating of the tortilla would result in an even crispy result.   Happily, it did!  

I placed two fresh corn tortillas on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and brushed them lightly with canola oil (if you are feeding a bigger crowd, you can certainly prepare as many at one time as your sheet pan will allow).  I placed them in a 350 degree oven for about 10-12 minutes turning them often.  When finished, the result was a substantial, non-greasy, very crispy tostada shell without frying and much less expensive than buying the boxed variety in the store.  Top them with anything from ground browned meat, chicken, turkey or pork, shredded chicken or sliced steak.  Chop a variety of vegetables such as tomato, onion, fresh cilantro and include shredded cheese, hot sauce, salsa, and home made guacamole. 

The Best Guacamole

ripe avocado
serrano pepper, finely diced
red onion, finely diced
garlic clove, minced
cilantro, chopped
pinch cumin
lime juice

In a bowl combine serrano pepper, red onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, cumin and salt. Fold in avocado, mashing with a fork to incorporate well with other ingredients and to reach desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cheese Steak Sandwich

A cheese steak to rival the best restaurant sandwich is but moments away and easy enough to do right in your own kitchen. Any cut of steak works perfectly well including flank, skirt, strip, or for a special treat, rib eye. Simply cook off the steak as you normally would (preferably on the grill weather permitting or skillet seared in the winter).  Let the steak rest for about 10 minutes then slice very thin. Meanwhile, in a hot saute pan, saute the onion and sliced green pepper in a little butter for just a moment until they softened and just started to caramelize.  Then into the pan with the sliced steak just to warm it a bit.  After loading it all onto a french baguette I placed it in a hot oven, open faced, until the cheese melted.  I added a little mayo and a slather of horseradish and cheese steak perfection was achieved.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Potato Pancakes

I can remember my mom making these potato pancakes from as far back as my memories go.  The authentic version calls for grated raw potato but we have always found this to be a great use for leftover mashed potatoes.  Fortunately, I had lots of mashed potatoes after the Braised Country Ribs and Mashed Potatoes dinner we enjoyed just the other night.  Instead of trying to resurrect the fluffiness of the mashed potatoes to enjoy with the rest of the leftovers I was heating up, I decided to reach back into the memories of meals past and recreate the delicious potato pancakes I recall so well. 

Potato Pancakes
leftover mashed potatoes
1 egg
a little grated onion
bread crumbs

Preheat a large skillet and about 2 tablespoons of butter.  In a mixing bowl combine the mashed potatoes, egg, grated onion and bread crumbs.  When the pan is hot, drop a heaping tablespoon of potatoes into the pan and mash them down to form a pancake.  Let cook for about 5-10 minutes on medium low heat without moving them in order to ensure the formation of a nice crust.  Carefully flip them over and finishing cooking on the other side. Traditionally served with apple sauce or sour cream, but I like ketchup.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Banana Caramel Cashew Bread

This cold and snowy Sunday afternoon was the ideal time to spend making some Christmas treats.  One of my favorites, Banana Caramel Cashew Bread, is a moist and sweet treat with the just the right amount nutty saltiness from plump cashews.  

Banana Caramel Cashew Bread (makes 3 mini loaves)
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 stick butter, softened
1 egg
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cashews, chopped
1/2 cup caramel bits 

Heat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the lowest position.  Grease mini loaf pans with butter.  Mix sugar and butter in a large bowl.  Stir in egg and mix until very well blended.  Add bananas, sour cream and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Stir in flour, baking soda and salt until just combined, being sure not to over mix or bread will toughen. Stir in nuts and caramel pieces.  Divide batter among 3 pans and bake for approximately 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes.  Loosen bread from sides of the pan, remove from pan and cool bread on wire racks.  Once cool, wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 4 days, refrigerate for up to 10 days or freeze for up to 1 month.     

Slow Apple Cider Braised Country Pork Ribs and Sauerkraut

To me, there are few better aromas than the slightly pungent but equally enticing smell of sauerkraut slowly simmering on the stove while nestled around some meaty country pork ribs.  Particularly on a cold evening.  So on this second consecutive wintery and snowy weekend in a row, it seemed the perfect time to indulge in a pot of this ultimate comfort food. What better to serve this meal with than a side of billowy and buttery fluffy mashed potatoes?!   

Country Pork Ribs and Kraut Braised in Apple Cider
1 large jar of German sauerkraut (not Bavarian which is sweet)
country pork spare ribs
1 granny smith apple, peeled, seeded and cut into eighths
1 McIntosh apple, peeled, seeded and cut into eighths
apple cider
dry white wine
2 tablespoons fennel seed, coarsely cracked
coarse ground pepper
sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large oven proof skillet or dutch oven heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat until just smoking. Combine fennel, salt and pepper and liberally season pork ribs. Place ribs in hot skillet and brown on all sides. Remove ribs to a plate. Add apples to the skillet and cook just a minute to two to absorb some of the flavor in the pan. Add about 1 cup of white wine and deglaze the pan. Add sauerkraut and pork ribs back to the pan and pour over enough apple cider to cover half way up the ribs. Tightly cover and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until pork is tender and falls off the bone.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Yukon Gold potatoes

Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Place over a high burner and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to keep potatoes at a gentle boil and cook for approximately 15 minutes or until they are fork tender. Heat a couple of tablespoons of butter and a 1/2 cup milk or so together. Drain potatoes and return to hot pot. Pour milk and butter mixture over potatoes and mash together. Add several tablespoons of buttermilk and stir vigorously. Add salt and pepper  to season and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ultimate Nachos

What to do with a some leftover pork taco meat from the day before? I had the usual dinner at my mom's on Friday and she suggested we make nachos from my leftover ground pork taco meet because it is one of her favorites and something she would not ordinarily make for herself, or if she does she swears that she can never make them to her liking. So when ever she needs a fix it's Amy to the rescue. By the way, the only reason my nachos might be better, in her eyes, is because she is always stingy on the cheese due to her fear of too many calories, too much fat, yadda, yadda, yadda, while I (when it comes to nachos) am concerned only with the taste. The key to delicious nachos is cheese and plenty of it. Also it's a good idea to layer the chips, meat, cheese, onions and jalapeno slices on a baking sheet, pop it in the oven to melt the cheese and heat everything up. Then top it with some freshness! A fresh salsa or relish on top is a great contrast to the rich warm meltiness. I like to make a chunky salsa of chopped tomato, avocado, black olives, fresh cilantro, salt and lime juice. Top it all with a little hot sauce and maybe some sour cream!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pork, Beans and Rice Burrito

Who does not love a burrito?! Whether stuffed with chicken, beef, pork or just beans, it is certainly one of the favorites on the menu in Mexican restaurants and taco stands. But if you don't have a great Mexican restaurant in your area, or you just want to be able to recreate one of your favorite south of the border treats at home, give a burrito a try. Consider using leftover pork from a roast, store bought rotisserie chicken, sliced steak from yesterday's cookout or even some seasoned and browned ground beef or pork. If you have vegetarian friends, or you happen to be a non meat eater yourself, leave the meat out all together and stuff your burrito full of black beans, refried beans, rice and lots of vegetables.

Do like I did and fill your burrito with ground pork, black beans, white rice, shredded cheese, onion, jalapeno slices, black olives, sour cream, hot sauce and salsa. Don't limit yourself to these ideas, but feel free to experiment and use any ingredient from your refrigerator or pantry that sounds tasty. Think outside the box and enjoy!