One woman's foray into cooking for herself, for her family, and for her friends. It's not always picture-perfect, sometimes a little messy,
but it's always delicious. Join me in exploring new recipes, savoring the "résultats" and learning from the "erreurs".


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo - My Way

I had this pretty pasta that I wanted to use. I figured a red sauce would cover it up too much, so I decided on an alfredo sauce. What I ended up doing was sauteing minced garlic in a little olive oil, then added a whole chicken breast cut into 1-inch cubes. Once the chicken was cooked on all sides, I deglazed the pan with a little white wine and chicken broth and let that reduce. Once reduced, I added half 'n' half and let that lightly simmer until thickened, at which point I added chopped flat Italian parsley and chopped sun-dried tomatoes. While the chicken was cooking, the pasta boiled away. When the pasta was al dente, it was mixed in with the chicken and sauce. Another easy dish. I was eating in less than 1/2 hour. Unfortunately, it didn't photograph quite as well as I would have hoped... But I'll have a glass of the white wine I used in the sauce... maybe you should, too! I'm hoping I'm well enough to make it into the office tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Another Easy Meal - Pasta!

As often happens when I slow down after working a lot, I came down with a cold. Once I lose my momentum, my body decides it wants to shut down instead of just slow down. And then I get sick. Happens all the time. I hate that. I woke up this morning with a pounding head, aching sinuses, sore throat, and fever. So, I called into the office, took some cold medicine, and went back to bed and slept until about 2:00 this afternoon. The head feels better, the throat is still sore, and the fever seems to be hanging on. A cup of tea was all I felt like this afternoon, but I finally got hungry about 9:00 this evening. The easiest thing I could think of was pasta with olive oil, garlic & pignoli (pine nuts). While the pasta is cooking, I thinly slice lots of garlic (at least 6 - 8 cloves) and throw them into about 2 - 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a saute pan, along with a handful of pignoli, and slowly heat through. The garlic gets translucent and nutty, and the pignoli get a nice toasty flavor yet still softened up a little. When the pasta finishes cooking, drain it and put it in the saute pan, mixing it up with the garlic mixture. Toss in a handful of chopped Italian parsley, season with salt & pepper, and dinner is done. I often grate a little Parmigiana Reggiano over the top, as well. My hunger is satisfied and so are my taste buds... and all that garlic has to be good for my cold... right?!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Breakfast


It's been a long couple of weeks working out of town (though enjoyable!). Yesterday was spent having my carpets cleaned and visiting with my good friend, Kimberly, and her new baby, Reese. What a cutie!! I didn't get much else done yesterday, and I still hadn't finished unpacking or doing laundry, but I was bound and determined to have a good breakfast today. And a good breakfast it was! Creamy scrambled eggs with fresh chives, bacon, and sweet potato home fries, seasoned with a little fresh rosemary (which got a little crispier than usual around the edges... but I love them!). A big mug of my favorite coffee, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, and I'm ready to get things done today!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Easiest Dessert Ever!

A great dinner deserves a great dessert. But after a rich comfort food dinner, like roast chicken and mashed potatoes, the last thing you need is a heavy dessert. Fortunately, I found these beautiful strawberries at the grocery store this morning. They're huge and perfect! Not one to leave perfection alone..., I mixed light sour cream with light brown sugar (to taste) to dip these gorgeous strawberries into - perfection meets its match!



Saturday, March 21, 2009

Comfort Food - Roast Chicken Dinner

Since I've been out-of-town for work all week, and eating either room service or at restaurants, I was hungry for a good old-fashioned home-cooked meal. One of my favorite comfort foods is roast chicken. Add mashed potatoes, corn and gravy, and it's a dinner that cannot be beat in my book! I tried the pre-salting method on the chicken and was very happy with the results. I didn't add anything else to the chicken before roasting - I prefer the high-heat roasting method, which consists of placing the chicken in a shallow roasting pan, into a 500 F. oven, checking that the chicken is not sticking to the pan at 10 minutes, and then again in about another 15 minutes. For a small roasting chicken of about 3 pounds, another 25 minutes in the oven is sufficient, then remove from the oven and let rest about 10 minutes before slicing.

I used a quart of homemade chicken stock for the gravy and then seasoned it with salt & pepper, fresh chopped parsley and thyme. I think that was the best gravy I've ever made. (Tip: For lump-free gravy, strain through a sieve before seasoning, and you'll end up with the smoothest gravy ever!!)

Simple mashed potatoes and corn from the freezer rounded out the dinner plate. I'm contented enough to face another week out-of-town! More real cooking next weekend!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pork Tenderloin

I love cooking pork tenderloin. My go-to way to prepare it is to make a rub of minced fresh rosemary, minced garlic, salt & pepper, rub it on the tenderloin, and let it sit for 15 minutes. Brown it on all sides in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on top of the stove, then put in a 425 F. oven for 20 - 25 minutes, until the meat is done. Remove the meat from the pan, and let it rest. Over medium heat on top of the stove, deglaze the pan with either red wine or marsala with a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary. Add a little chicken stock and reduce the mixture by half. Whisk in a tablespoon of butter and season with salt & pepper to taste. Strain sauce through a sieve, if desired. The sauce is not only wonderful over the meat, but is great over mashed potatoes if serving with your meal.

One thing I did do different this time, was to pre-salt the pork tenderloin 1-1/2 days ago, then removed the plastic wrap from the meat, and keeping it refrigerated, let it 'air dry' for several hours before cooking per the advice of Ann of Thibeault's Table. The meat was even more tender and juicier than usual. I will definitely try this technique on other cuts of meat and poultry!

This is another great mid-week meal. You can have a hot meal on the table in 45 minutes from the time you walk in the door after work and have often done that. Today the side consisted solely of a tomato salad made with 2 types of tomatoes, fresh basil, salt & pepper, balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil. Normally I would make some mashed or smashed potatoes and a salad or other green vegetable, like roasted asparagus or broccoli sauteed with garlic and olive oil, drizzled with fresh lemon juice. It's a great meal that tastes like it took a lot longer than it does!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Snap, Crackle, Pop

Okay, well, I didn't exactly "cook" dinner tonight. But I did splatter - does that count?? I had fully intended to cook a real meal. I even defrosted a pork tenderloin. But I decided to follow some of my friend Ann's (of Thibeault's Table) advice, and I've salted it and put it in the fridge. I'll unwrap it in the morning and cook it tomorrow night. According to Ann, it will be juicier and more tender. Dinner tomorrow night should prove to be tasty!! But for today, well... I didn't have Cheerios. ;-)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Shrimp Tacos

I like cooking with shrimp, particularly when making after-work meals. If they're frozen, they thaw quickly under cold running water. In a continuing effort to eat something a little more substantial than cold cereal for dinner, tonight I decided to go back to my file of shrimp recipes and chose this version of tacos. They're unbelievably easy and unbelievably flavorful. Another winning combination when cooking mid-week!

1/2 cup light sour cream
1 chipotle pepper, minced fine (chipotles are readily available from the supermarket and come in a small can with adobo sauce - use just one pepper, not a whole can of them)
2 limes—save 1/2 of 1 lime for sauce and slice the rest into small wedges for serving
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound peeled, uncooked medium shrimp, cut into smallish pieces
1 tablespoon all-purpose seasoning
10 corn tortillas
1/2 cup purple cabbage, shredded fine

In a small bowl combine sour cream, chipotle, and juice from 1/2 a lime, mix well and set aside.

Heat skillet really well and then add oil. Add shrimp and stir fry quickly—the shrimp will cook within 2 - 3 minutes. When almost cooked, sprinkle with the all purpose seasoning then squeeze juice from half a lime on top—give a final stir and you're done.

Warm the tortillas in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat (flour tortillas: about 30 seconds per side; corn tortillas: 1 minute per side). Serve by putting some of the chipotle cream on a tortilla, add a little cabbage, some shrimp and a final fresh squeeze from a lime wedge.

Source: Sam Zien from Just Cook This/ Discovery Health Channel

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shrimp Scampi

This is another get-it-on-the-table-in-less-than-30-minutes dish. The most time consuming part of this recipe is cleaning the shrimp. Once your shrimp are prepped, everything goes pretty quickly. Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta and turn your oven's broiler on. Once your water is boiling, put your pasta in and start your shrimp scampi. Some good bread to sop up the delicious garlicky, lemony 'broth' and a vegetable or salad, and dinner is on the table in less than 1/2 hour. Seriously.

2 pounds large, unshelled raw shrimp
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne
1/4 cup lemon juice

Rinse shrimp; shell and devein, leaving tails on. Wash under cold running water. Drain; pat dry with paper towels.

Melt butter in 13- x 9- x 2-inch baking pan. Add oil, 2 tablespoons parsley, the minced garlic, salt, cayenne, and lemon juice; mix well.

Add shrimp, tossing lightly in butter mixture to coat well. Arrange in single layer in pan. Broil, 4 - 5 inches from heat, 3 minutes. Turn shrimp; broil 1 to 2 more minutes longer, or until shrimp are pink.

Using tongs, remove shrimp to heated serving platter. Pour garlic mixture over all, or pour it into a small pitcher, to pass.

Sprinkle shrimp with remaining chopped parsley. Garnish platter with lemon slices, if desired.

Makes 8 servings.

Source: The New McCall's Cookbook, copyright 1973

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Quick & Delicious - Dinner after Work

Chicken with Garlic & Parsley

I must confess: dinner after work often consists of a bowl of Cheerios. So when my friend Linda of How To Cook a Wolf fame clued me in to this recipe of Jacques Pepin's, I had to try it. Few ingredients, few steps, and a delicious hot meal is on the table in less than 1/2 hour. How can you beat that? Thank you, Linda!
Chicken Breasts with Garlic and Parsley
3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (each about 7 ounces), cut into 1- to 1-1/2 inch cubes
1 tablespoon Wondra flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lemon, quartered
Dry the chicken cubes with paper towels and toss them with the flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until very hot but not smoking, add the cubed chicken, and cook in one layer, turning occasionally, for about 3-1/2 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the garlic and parsley in a small bowl. Add the butter and the parsley mixture to the skillet and saute for 1 minute longer, shaking the skillet occasionally to coat the chicken.

To serve, divide among four plates, add a wedge of lemon to each plate, and serve within 15 minutes.

Source: Jacques Pepin Fast Food My Way, copyright 2004

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Italian Food, the Sequel

Dessert First...
My friend Ann at Thibeault's Table recommended I make her Cassata Cake to serve as dessert for my little Italian dinner party. I've been wanting to make it for some time, and, of course, as is the case with all of Ann's recipes, this one certainly did not disappoint. The moist poundcake is split into layers and filled with a sweetened ricotta mixture, then the entire thing is 'frosted' with whipped cream. It was the perfect ending to our Italian meal.

Cassata Cake (Sicilian Ricotta Cheesecake)

Cake Base
1 cup unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs
2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons lemon juice (Brandy, orange ligueur or Amaretto)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

Cream butter until light and add sugar gradually. Beat eggs in one at a time. Add vanilla and flavourings.

Stir or sift dry ingredients together and stir into egg mixture quickly. Pour into pan and bake 1-1/4 or 1-1/2 hours.

Note: This cake improves with age and freezes well.

Filling, Icing and Final Assembly
1 pound ricotta cheese
2/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla
2 ounces of liqueur (Orange, Cognac, Amaretto, your choice)
2 oz. semisweet chocolate grated
1/4 cup candied fruit

Icing

2 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup sifted icing sugar
2 oz liqueur (use the same as above)

Beat the sugar into the cheese. Add vanilla, liqueur, fruit and chocolate.

Slice the cake into 3 or 4 layers and spread each with some fo the cheese mixtuer reshaping the cake into a loaf as you proceed. Finish with a layer of cake. The cake will keep, well wrapped, two days at this point.

A few hours before serving whip the cream until light and add the sugar and liqueur. Continue beating until quite stiff.

Spread a coating of cream ocer the sides and top of the cake. Place the remaining cream into a piping bag and decorate the cake. It could be garnished with pistachio nuts , chocolate curls or strawberries. This cake is very rich so serve thin slices.

Notes: This cake can also be iced with chocolate icing and it can be made into a round instead of in a loaf.

Ann's Notes: I usually add extra chocolate to the filling and leave out the candied fruit.

Source: Bonnie Stern via Thibeault's Table

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For dinner, I made manicotti. Start by making crepes, filling them with the same ricotta mixture I use for lasagna. I also made a pot of sauce, meatballs and sausage (we'll save that for another post!) Salad consisted of greens, orange, yellow & red tomatoes, and a balsamic vinaigrette of minced shallots, Dijon, salt & pepper, balsamic vinegar, tangerine and traditional extra virgin olive oil. Of course, garlic toasts rounded out the meal. The house smells great when there's a pot of sauce simmering away on the stove!!

Manicotti

Crepes
6 eggs
1-1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups water

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl with electric mixter. Let stand 1/2 hour or longer.

Slowly heat a crepe pan or 8-inch skillet. Add about 1/4 - 1/3 cup of crepe batter, swirling batter to cover bottom of pan. Cook over medium heat until top is dry but bottomis not browned. Stack with waxed paper as they cool.

Filling
2 pounds ricotta cheese
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, diced
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Combine ingredients. Spread about 1/4 cup of filling down the center of each crepe; roll up. Spread bottom of 12 x 8 x 2 inch baking dish with marinara sauce. Place filled crepes in single layer over sauce. Cover filled crepes with sauce; sprinkle with additional grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Bake, uncovered, at 350 F. for 1/2 hour.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pork Roast with Sagey Onions

This is the first recipe I ever used for pork roast as a young, new bride. The sage is obviously a dominant flavor in this dish, but a delicious one! Onions are cooked until tender and then seasoned with sage and placed as a bed for the partially roasted meat as the meat continues to cook. I would normally use a pork loin roast when making this dish, though I used a shoulder roast this time. My sides were roasted pencil thin asparagus (one of my favorite vegetables!) and smashed baby Yukons, seasoned with salt & pepper and a smidge of Dijon mustard, which provides for a nice change in flavor from the usual mashed potatoes!


Roast Pork with Sagey Onions



4-pound boneless pork top loin roast (double)
Salt
Pepper
2 pounds yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1-1/4 teaspoons ground sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Gravy (recipe to follow)


Place pork roast fat side upon rack in shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle meat with salt and pepper. Do not add water. Do not cover. Place in oven and roast at 325 F. for 1-1/2 hours.


Fill a medium pan with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Add onions. Cover and bring back to a boil. Cook until tender, 15 to 20 minutes; drain. Chop onions coarsely; stir in sage, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Remove pork and rack from pan; pour off drippings, reserving 1/4 cup. Mound onion mixture in center of pan and place pork on top. Continue to roast until meat thermometer registers 165 F., about 45 minutes - 1 hour.


Gravy

Mix reserved 1/4 cup drippings and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat; stir in 2 cups water. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.


Source: Betty Crocker's Cooking American Style - A Sampler of Heritage Recipes, copyright 1976

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lasagna

I love Italian food. All kinds of Italian food. Spaghetti & meatballs. Osso buco. Veal Scallopine. Manicotti. And lasagna. I don't put meat in my lasagna. Or in the sauce I use to make lasagna. I've just recently come to realize how alien that seems to many people, but that's how my dear Mom always made it, so... I usually make a batch of meatballs and cook up some sweet Italian sausage on the side, garlic bread and a green salad to go with. One of my favorite meals!

Lasagna Cheese Filling

2 pounds ricotta
8 ounces mozzarella, cubed (plus additional for topping)
1/3 cup grated parmesan (plus additional for topping - Parmigiana Reggiano is my favorite)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Mix all ingredients.

Spread your favorite marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9-inch square baking dish. Layer lasagna noodles over sauce, then spread one-third of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Repeat noodle/ricotta layering two more times. Over last layer of ricotta mixture, place another layer of noodles. Pour sauce over lasagna so that it completely covers last layer of noodles. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella and grated parmesan over top of sauce. Bake at 350 F. for 35 - 40 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Darling Bakers' Beach Party

The Darling Bakers had a "beach party" yesterday! Here's how I got in the beach mood for my version of the party.
Having to beach it in landlocked Dallas, Texas took a little imagination (and several trips to places like Ross, Tuesday Morning, Pier One, etc...) So, I layered the table with a beach blanket first to get me in a beach frame of mind. A few little shells, some pretty little flip-flops, a sand bucket & pail, and a few other things really got my juices going!

Among all the little treasures I found, a message in a
bottle washed up on my table.

Pour soul!!

On to the food!

My little party started with Baked Clams (served here on a bed of coral-colored lentils to keep them from flying around the platter.)

The main course was Chilled Lobster and Asparagus with a Shallot-Tarragon Vinaigrette. Evidently there was a run on fresh tarragon in the Dallas area this week as there was none to be found ANYWHERE. So, I substituted minced, fresh chives and a pinch of dried tarragon. To add to the summer-at-the-beach feeling, Sparkling Lemonade with Fresh Raspberries was the beverage of choice. Ahhh...

For dessert, I tried a new recipe for Ricotta Pots with Raspberries. Very light, very souffle-like, the perfect ending for the meal.

Thanks to the Darling Bakers for coming up with such a fun idea. It was a great way to spend a chilly weekend!

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The recipes:

Baked Clams

1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped
salt & pepper
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 egg, beaten
2 cans minced clams, drained
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, divided

Saute the onion, pepper, celery, and mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of the butter until tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in the beaten egg, the minced clams, and 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs.

Separately, mix together 1/2 cup of bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon melted butter.

Spoon clam mixture into shells. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixtgure over the top. Bake at 350 F. for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are dark golden brown.

**********

Sparkling Lemonade with Fresh Raspberries
Serves 6

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
1/2 cup sugar syrup (recipe below)
6 splashes of club soda or seltzer
1 cup fresh raspberries
6 lemon slices for garnish

In a pitcher, combine the juice, sugar syrup, and 1 quart of cold water. Mix well. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Pour the lemonade over ice-filled glasses, adding a splash of club soda or seltzer to each glass and stir. Garnish with raspberries and lemon slice.

Sugar Syrup
Makes about 2-1/2 cups

In a heavy saucepan, bring 4 cups sugar and 2 cups water to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 2-3 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar completely. Remove from heat, cool, and refrigerate in a covered container. Will keep for up to 3 weeks.

Source: The Beach House Cookbook, copyright 2005

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Chilled Lobster & Asparagus with Shallot-Tarragon Vinaigrette
2 servings

4 quarts water
2 tablespoons salt
2 (1- to 1-1/4 pound) live lobsters
1/2 pound fresh asparagus
1/4 cup olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced
3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 small head Bibb lettuce
Garnishes: fresh tarragon sprigs, lemon wedges

Bring 4 quarts water and salt to a boil in a large stockpot. Plunge lobsters, head first, into boiling water; return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes; drain and cool.

Remove meat from claws and tails. Chill lobster meat.

Cook asparagus in boiling water to cover 3 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain and pat dry. Set aside.

Combine olive oil and next 7 ingredients in a jar; cover tightly, and shake vigorously.

Arrange lettuce leaves, lobster, and asparagus on plates; drizzle with dressing. Garnish, if desired.

Source: The Coastal Living Cookbook, copyright 2004

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Ricotta Pots with Raspberries
Serves 4

4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1-1/3 cups fresh ricotta
1/4 cup finely chopped pistachio nuts
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar (see note below)
7 ounces (about 1-2/3 cups) fresh or frozen raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 4 1-cup capacity ramekins or souffle dishes.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Beat in the vanilla sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks and superfine sugar until thick and pale. Add the ricotta, pistachio nuts, lemon rind, and juice and mix together well. Fold the ricotta mixture into the beaten egg whites, stirring gently until just combined.

Divide the raspberries among the ramekins and spoon the ricotta filling over top. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned. Dust with confectioners sugar to serve.

Note: To make vanilla sugar, split a whole vanilla bean in half lengthwise and place in a jar of superfine sugar (about 2 pounds). Leave for at least 4 days before using.

Source: The Quick Recipe Cookbook, copyright 2000

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