Thursday, October 29, 2009

Simply the Best Curry Chicken Salad

It's that time of year... the trees are lustrous hues, the air is crisp(er), and the flu is going around like a bad catch phrase. My poor sister is the first in my family to become victim to the flu. Her school kindly said, "thanks, but no thanks" and sent her home. Presently she is quarantined in her room with a hefty supply of tissues and some on-demand movies, waiting for me to come home for the weekend with chicken soup -- my grandma's chicken soup, to be precise.

I don't mean to psych you out, but I'm not giving you the chicken soup recipe. I've been sworn to keep it secret by the powers that be (and the wrath of Flo). BUT what I can do is tell you what to do with the leftover chicken after you've made soup of any sort. Extra chicken that's begot from making stock is a magical thing: flavorful, moist, lean... perfect for chicken salad.

Let me tell you a little bit about this chicken salad:
1) No mayo, no sour cream.
2) There's curry powder in it.
3) It's amazing! You actually feel better after eating it.

Intrigued? Let's get started.

Simply The Best Chicken Salad
3 cups Shredded Chicken
*If you didn't just make soup, you can boil either a whole cut chicken, or just the breasts (if you only like white meat) until cooked.
1/4 cup Roasted Sunflower Seeds (no shell)
1/4 cup Dried Cranberries
1/2 Macoun Apple, diced small
3 tblsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tblsp Curry Powder (I like Red Curry)
Salt and Cracked Black Pepper

1) Mix the above ingredients in a bowl until well incorporated, let sit for 5 minutes for flavor to marry.

2) Enjoy!

Don't you love making salads? So easy! I felt very Emeril, as though I needed a BAM! when I threw my sunflower seeds into the bowl.

I had just came back from the gym, and this is just what the doctor ordered. I got a full serving of fruit (I made a bowl out of the other half of the apple), lean protein, healthy fats (olive oil is SO good for you), and fiber.

And, if that isn't enough to convince you, imagine the savory curry and chicken, combined with the sweet apples and cranberries, and the salt... then there's the crunch from the apples and the sunflower seeds... I can hardly contain myself. It's like a tasty party.

Simply the best.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sauteed Bok Choy and Shittake Mushroom Caps... Buddah's Delight!

Asian culture was a huge influence in my upbringing. My Aunt Debbie is my mom's sister. Growing up, she was one of my favorite people (still is). I knew her as being elusive, enigmatic, and adventurous. For the first chunk of my memory, she was living in Hong Kong. I don't remember exactly how long she was over there, I believe she was working for a bank. I do remember getting pictures in the mail, the best and most creative birthday presents ever (know anyone else who learned to use chop-sticks at the age of 4 with a Hello Kitty set?), and being completely enthralled in her bi-annual visits. She taught me as much as a 4-10 year old could absorb. I loved eating at Dim Sum restaurants with her, just to hear her order in Mandarin. She'd also pass along recipes she learned over seas, my mom had some too, and our home-made Chinese dinners were always my favorite meals.

We still make them frequently, and I've held on to most of the recipes, as well as branching out in to other Asian cuisine. My favorite times are visiting Debbie up in New Hampshire. We sit on the dock in the morning and plan a huge Chinese feast. I can remember piling in to her car and trucking down to Boston in the dead of winter to hit up the markets in China Town. Star Anise? Check. Szechuan Peppercorns? Check. Chicken Feet... ugh, check.

I promise there are no chicken feet in this recipe.

Sauteed Bok Choy and Shittake Mushroom Caps
1 Head of Bok Choy, chopped in to 1" pieces
(if Bok Choy isn't available, Chinese Cabbage will give you a similar flavor)
2 containers of Shittake Mushrooms, stemmed
2" of Fresh Ginger, pealed and chopped into sizable pieces
2 cloves Garlic, smashed and loosely cut
2 tblsp Vegetable or Peanut Oil
2 tblsp Sesame Oil
4 tblsp Soy Sauce

1) Over medium heat, heat vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok. Add the ginger and garlic and saute.

2) Once the garlic begins to brown, add the bok choy. Saute until the leaves begin to wilt.

3) Add the whole mushroom caps. If they seem too big to you, you can slice them in half, but there's something great about those big mushroom pieces. Add the sesame oil and sautee the vegetables until the mushroom caps are soft.

4) Finally, add the soy sauce. Just stir the vegetables until they are lightly coated. Transfer to a bowl and enjoy!

Tip: This dish takes less that 10 minutes to cook, so you want to make this last.

I'm sure I've said this before, but there are just some foods that make you feel good for having eaten them. This is one of those instances. Bok Choy is one of those veggies that stays crisp and flavorful and holds a lot of refreshing flavor, even after you cook it. Shittake mushrooms have this wonderfully earthy, meaty, flavor. They are by far one of my favorites. This is such a good vegetable dish to compliment any meal, and it's easy to make. I usually make it with a good piece of marinated steak or home made dumplings!

Yum! No forks allowed!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's Vichyssoise, Sir. It's supposed to be cold.. or not?

When I was a kid I used to spend a lot of time at my Grandma Crowley's house. I always looked forward to the summer because her lawn would become riddled with onion grass. One of my favorite things to do was to pluck the little onions, which I quite vividly remember always grew around the gazebo and behind the hydrangeas. I was like a pig with truffles when it came to onion grass.

I was caught, on more than one occasion, with the stem hanging out of my mouth -- which was probably not the best idea. Man, I loved that onion grass. I remember my grandma telling me that I could make Onion Soup... I couldn't think of anything that could possibly be better than onion soup. So, in the summer, I'd sit there with my sand-castle bucket filled with luke-warm water stirring onion grass. I didn't really get why she wouldn't let me use warmer water.

Thank God for adulthood. I still think about sitting in the sun behind the hydrangeas, picking onion grass, every time I cut open a leek.

I like to keep it in the family in this recipe, the onion family. Potato Leek Soup is one of my favorites, especially when the weather gets colder. In the warmer months, I eat it cold and call it Vichyssoise which is equally (if not more) fantastic. Traditionally, Vichyssoise is served cold... I like it hot, too. I think its just a question of semantics. If it's hot, it's potato leek. Cold = Vichyssoise. Either way, its taste is heartwarming.

Potato Leek [Vichyssoise] Soup
3 Leeks, chopped
1 Shallot, minced
5-6 Cloves of Roasted Garlic
2 tblsp Butter
2 cups Chicken or Vegetable Broth
2 Bay Leaves
1/3 cup half and half
Black Pepper

1) In a medium sauce pan melt the butter over low heat, add the shallots and one bay leaf. Saute until the shallots are soft and sweet.

2) Add the chopped leeks to the pot and cook until they are soft, about 10 minutes, remove the bay leaf.

3) Add roasted garlic, potatoes, and stock. Turn heat to high to bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the second bay leaf and keep the lid on the pot.

4) As the soup cooks down and thickens, add liquid to keep it the right consistency, alternating broth and water. Cook until the potatoes are soft.

*Something to keep in mind is that potatoes absorb salt, so you'll definitely need a generous amount. Just make sure you are tasting as you go.

5) With an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste, let cook for 10 more minutes.

6) Add half and half after the flavors have settled. Serve hot or cold!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Behind the Dinners: Meatloaf

They say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. To be honest, I think I have coerced most of the friends that I have in to letting me cook them a meal at one point or another. You know, to seal the deal.

I honestly can say, however, that never does Jim look at me more adoringly than when I am pulling a one-pound, zestfully seasoned log of ground beef out of the oven. There is something about this phenomenon that is tried and true. What is it about meatloaf that so captivates the men in our lives? Is there something in the glaze? Is there an unknown pheromone reaction that occurs when the ground beef and the egg meet? Oh no, I would have my money on their mommies.

Meatloaf is like a default setting for home cooking. Very basic, always satisfying, goes with everything. This is why so many men have been fed innumerable slices of this delicacy in their childhood. Home late from school? Meatloaf. Running off to soccer practice? Meatloaf. What am I supposed to cook on a Wednesday? Meatloaf. Meatloaf brings them back to the warm comforts of home, to the caring arms of their mothers. Decidedly, meatloaf is the Oedipus Rex of home cooking. Importantly, a secret weapon in any respectable arsenal.

Basic Meatloaf
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 Egg
3 tblsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 Yellow Onion, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper

1/4 cup Ketchup
2 tblsp. Worcestershire Sauce
2 tblsp. A1 Steak Sauce
2 tblsp. Brown Sugar

Preheat oven to 350*f.
1) In a bowl, mix together the beef, egg, worcestershire sauce, onion, and a few cranks of salt and pepper.

2) Kneed together until thoroughly combined and shape into an oblong loaf, about 1.5" thick. Place the loaf on to a grate in a pan lined with tinfoil.

3) In a small bowl, mix together ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, A1, and brown sugar until uniform and thoroughly combined.

4) Glaze the top of the meatloaf with about 1/2 of the sauce, and bake in the oven for about 20-30 minutes.

5) When the meatloaf is basically done (after 20-30 minutes) and juices are running clear, add a second layer of glaze to the top. Open the oven and turn it to broil on High.

6) After 10 minutes or so (when the sauce is thick and mostly set) pull the meatloaf out. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so before eating.

Amazing, isn't it? It's astonishing how something so simple -- primal, even -- could bring so many people so much joy. If you're savvy, you'll make mashed potatoes and a salad to go with it. If you want the entire world to explode, you'll make mac & cheese instead of potatoes, totally nix the greens, and add a brownie.

There you have it, the Holy Grail of "mom's cooking". Keep it close, keep it safe. Good luck, and Godspeed.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Praise the Yucca

Behold the yucca root:

Yucca is a root vegetable native to arid environments in the North, Central, and South Americas, as well as the West Indies (or so Wikipedia tells me).

This is what I know about yucca:

1) Yucca chips are in the assortment of Terra chips that I enjoy so much.
2) Yucca is cooked the same way as potato (you can even mash it!)
3) I love yucca fries.

It was at Jim's request that I made yucca fries to go with our roasted chicken the other night. I thought it was a great idea because they're easy to make, you can dress them up, and they were still elegant enough to compliment my roasted chicken with thyme and bacon a la Tyler Florence. I made enough for Jim and I to eat with dinner, and then turned the remaining yucca in to chips.

Yucca Fries
1 Yucca Root
2.5 cups Vegetable Oil
1 tblsp Salt
2 tsp Pepper
1/4 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

1) With a potato peeler, peal the skin off of the yucca root.

2) Cut the Yucca down the middle lenghthwise, and then in to strips 1/4"-1/2" wide and 4" long.

The thinner the fry, the more crispy it'll be. The wider ones will be a little softer. If you cut them smaller than 1/4" they tend to get too crispy to eat, and if you cut them larger than 1/2" inch they take longer to cook. So, there's a method to my madness.

3) In a medium, deep sided pot, heat vegetable oil until it reaches about 300*f on a fry/candy thermometer. Drop in the fries about 10 at a time. They will come to the surface, and once they're golden brown remove them with a slotted spoon. Drain on a paper towel.

4) In the meantime, mix the salt, pepper, and cheese together on a piece of wax paper. Roll the fries in the seasoning while they are still warm.

5) Serve 'em up!

They yucca itself is a little peppery, which complimented the savory roasted chicken so nicely. The Parmesan cheese gave it a little body, and the salt... well, let's face it. A fry isn't a fry without some salt. Even a gourmet fry. They are healthier for you than regular fries, easy to make, and so tasty! They are really quite addictive.

P.S. That 2007 Red Bicyclette Chardonnay in the background is a great deal. It complimented the dinner so well. It is very smooth, subtly fruity, and for under $15 I was pleasantly surprised! Thanks to Paul (our third romantic diner) for the recommendation! It is always good to take a European with you when you go wine shopping.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Happy Birthday to Three!

A year ago today I posted a little ditty about the idea behind Romantic Dinner for Three, and a savvy Thai Red Curry recipe. Since then there have been many tasty recipes, lots of great feedback, and over 100 regular subscribers! Not bad for an on-the-fly idea! Between our Facebook Page, Blogger, and Twitter, this project has been slowly but surely picking up steam, and I'm so happy for it!

To celebrate our 1st Birthday, I thought I'd make a Chocolate Mousse. Whenever I say "chocolate", I always think of my Grandma Crowley who, despite her thick Queens accent, always pronounces it "CHUK-ah-LATTE", as though she had just stepped off a ship from the motherland.

I've never been a big cake person, I' need to be in a very selective mood for ice-cream, but I can't EVER say no to Chocolate Mousse.

Chocolate Mousse

3 oz. Unsweetened Baking Chocolate
1.5 cups Heavy Cream
1/2 cup Sugar

1) Heat 1" of water in the bottom of a double boiler.

2) In the top of the double boiler, melt the chocolate (cut in to at least 1/2 oz. pieces).
*Don't have a double boiler? Cool, me neither. Just use a regular sauce pan, and place an aluminum mixing bowl on top!

3) In a large mixing bowl, whisk the heavy cream and sugar until medium peaks form.

4) Mix up the melted chocolate to make sure it is melted and smooth all the way through. Remove it from the heat and quickly whisk in 1 cup of the whipped cream. Mix it until it is thoroughly combined, smooth, and uniform.

5) Add the mixed chocolate and cream to the rest of the whipped cream. Fold it together until mixed completely and there aren't any lumps!

6) Let it chill out for 3 hours.


Isn't it amazing? It's so easy, yet when you go to restaurants it's like this super special delicacy.
"Should I get the mousse? I don't knowwwww... Well, it is a special occasion!"

This recipe goes a long way, because it is rich and decadent, and luxurious, and wonderful to share with people. Put it in little parfait glasses, pretty bowls, ice cream cones, cupcake foils... It's very versatile as far as presentation goes, and oh so, so good.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Striped Bass: Two Ways!

Oh, it feels good to be back! After my family and friends caught over 200 POUNDS of fish while vacationing in Block Island, we were not quite sure what to do it all. While the fisher-folk were bringing in their catch, my mom, our friend, Brenda, and I were brainstorming about what to do with it all.

Sell it? Eh.

Perhaps we could give it to a restaurant and have them cook it for us... but who wants to pay for a dinner that they caught?

Then I had an idea: Why not have a last hurrah at our house in Fairfield and cook all of the fish. With that quantity the possibilities would be endless! It was settled. I started planning what I was going to do with these fish, while my mom took the helm with the rest of the sides.

Most of the fish caught were Striped Bass. Bass is such a delicious, meaty, light, white fish that you don't want to overwhelm with too many cumbersome add-ons. My mom prepped the Bluefish to be roasted with bacon, and I decided on Striped Bass with a Mango Puree, and Lemon Poached Bass.

Grilled Striped Bass

2 Striped Bass Fillets, scaled
4 cloves Garlic
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Pepper

1) In a food processor, combine garlic, oil, and mustard until emulsified.

2) Brush one side of the fish with the oil and garlic, top with salt and pepper.

3) With the grill on medium heat, lay the fish oil-side-down across the grates. Be very careful when you put the fish down. The grill is hot and wherever you put that fish is where its going to stay -- it sticks immediately. You'll know when the fish is ready to flip when you can slide your spatula under the fish and it lifts without sticking.

4) While the fish is on the grill, brush the garlic oil to the other side, flip when its ready.

5) When the fish is white in the middle (but not translucent) it is ready to come off. Be careful not to over-cook the fish, it doesn't take a lot of time (maybe 8 minutes on the grill). When it's good to go, use two spatulas to lift it so it is supported and doesn't fall apart when you transfer it to your plate.

Serve with Mango Puree. That's the kicker!

Mango Puree

2-3 Ripe Mangoes, sliced
1/8 cup Red Onion
1 Chili Pepper
1/4 cup Chopped Cilantro
1/8 cup White Wine
1/2 a Lime, juiced
2 tbsp Coconut Milk
1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1) Puree all of the ingredients in a food processor.


The simply grilled fish and the fresh mango puree compliment each other so well. It's one of those things that you feel good about eating, and it just tastes like summer. Its savory, sweet, and has a little kick. My ideal pairing? Have it with wild rice, a caprese salad, and a cold glass of dry white.

The grilled bass with mango puree is a great dish. If you ever want something that requires a little less attention, poaching any fish is the way to go. You just set it up and leave it be. You can even poach fish on the grill (which, ironically, is how I started my summer off). This recipe may seem a little cliche, but its always a crowd-pleaser and takes very little effort.

Poached Striped Bass

1 Striped Bass Fillet
1/2 Lemon, sliced into circles
1/4 cup fresh Dill (whole sprigs)
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
1/8 cup of White Wine (or water)
Tin Foil

Preheat oven to 350*f

1) Lay the fish out on a piece of tin foil that is 5" longer than your fillet.

2) Arrange lemon slices, dill, and garlic on top of the fish.

3) Squeeze the remaining juice in the end of the lemon on to the fish.

4) Take another piece of tin foil (same length) and lay it over the fish. Fold over two sides (make sure you fold it over a few times to prevent any leaking during the poaching process).

5) Pour the wine (or water) on to the fish and fold the remaining two sides to make a completely sealed pouch. Place the pouch on a baking sheet (in case it does leak).

6) Cook in the oven for 10-15 minutes.

The best part? You can't over cook it. An even better part? You can also just throw the pouch on the grill for the same results. That makes for one classy beach barbecue! Another super point: You can cook for your friends and you don't have to be standing over a grill or a stove the whole night, enjoy yourself!

This dish is great year-round, not to mention you can apply this poaching recipe to sword fish, salmon, and just about any other white fish. It is so good!

We had such a blast trying the different fish. In addition to the two recipes above, my mom roasted the Bluefish with bacon, and our friend, Tom Black, made the best fried fish and "hush-puppies" I've ever had. He has it down to a science!

There were lots of great sides, too. My mom made some baked clams, there was a Caprese Salad (compliments of Brenda), a refreshing salad with watermelon and feta cheese, and roasted potatoes. I think everyone had a great time. Brenda and her husband, Jim, were also kind enough to bring some Mudslide mix that brought all of us back to warm, salty nights on Block Island.

I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate one of my favorite seasons than by indulging in fresh fish, mudslides, salty air, and the heat of a grill. So, happy summer everyone! There are more recipes to come as I get back in to the groove. I hope you've all enjoyed the warm months, been thankful for the sunny days, and relish the remainder of season!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

aaaand we're back! Block Island Reviews!

Okay, sports fans. After this summer's hiatus, I am excited (SO EXCITED)to bring you updates galore! Okay, so the new recipes are actually coming on Monday, but man are they going to be good!

I officially said sayonara to my summer the way I have been for years, which is by spending a few days in Block Island with my family, some friends, and a Jim, on the Black Rock Yacht Club 'Anti-Cruise'. It's always a laid-back and relaxing time, where the biggest stresses are: "Am I going to tackle the hill on my bike to get to Mohegan Bluffs", and "who has the best lobster roll?" Well, before we start, the answers are "Yes" and "try 'em all".

This year something special happened. On Tuesday morning, three chartered fishing boats went out to sea with family and friends in the wee hours of the foggy morning. At 0830 hours the first boat returned full of happy men: 75 POUNDS OF STRIPED BASS CAUGHT! While preparing for my breakfast and coffee, we received good tidings from the second boat in: ANOTHER 75 POUNDS OF FISH! Stripes and Blues! By noon, all three boats were in, resulting in over 200 POUNDS of fish which yielded about 60 pounds of striped bass and bluefish fillet. HOLY COW MACKEREL!

So what's a food enthusiast to do? Last night we had a last hurrah with our Block Island crew to say so-long to summer and bask in all of our fishy glory. I'll save the details for Monday, when I'll be updating with Grilled Striped Bass with a Mango Puree, and Poached Striped Bass with Lemon and Dill recipes! Sound fun? Well it was.

Now that we're hungry, let's talk restaurants. Every vacation is a like a test. We go to different places to eat; we see what we like and what we don't; and we separate the good deals from the rip-offs.

Let's start with Champlain's Marina - This place advertises itself as a "resort", but we've been avoiding it like the plague since I was a ten-year-old. They have a movie theater, a restaurant, "bumper boats" (aka inner-tubes with dingy engines), and a small arcade. It's also the most crowded, noisiest place on the island, and not worth the effort. We ate at the Dockside Restaurant for lunch one day. The food was average, and after spending $13 Dollars on Fried Calamari w/Mango Coulis that tasted like rubber and honey-mustard, I found myself requiring a second lunch a few hours later.

If you're looking for a decent sit-down lunch, your best bets are the Tap and Grille at the National Hotel, or the Harborside Inn's Harbor Grill, both of which give you a diverse menu, generous portions, a reasonable price, and great views of the water.

If you are looking for a place to dock or moore your boat, I'd always recommend Payne's Dock in New Harbor. It's a friendly place that feels like home. It is less noisy/crowded than Champlain's, they have a bar, "Burger Bar" that serves lunch and dinner, and a snack bar that makes great clam cakes, lobster rolls, and by far the best homemade donuts I've ever eaten. There are also fishing charters, bike rentals, and kayak rentals near by. It's also a close walk to...

The Oar! The Oar is always crowded, but a good experience that everyone should do once. If you don't feel like waiting for a table for dinner, make sure you hit the bar for one of their famous Mudslides. Hang out in an adirondack chair overlooking the harbor, life doesn't get much better than that! They have great fish and they are reasonably priced.

We did dinner one night at Ballard's Inn ... lobster dinner to be exact. Located almost literally on the beach, we sat outside and watched a great sunset. They offered a fantastic spicy calamari dish, a very well done baked scrod, and the lobsters were cooked to perfection. Not to mention a raw bar with local shellfish. Prices were good. Not to mention, with 30+ people in our party, they were accommodating enough to make separate checks, and they got every order right. It was like Christmas.

As far as night life goes, it isn't a trip to the Block without a visit to the Yellow Kittens. A local bar with live music regularly and a good crowd. They have great beer on tap, too. I did get made fun of once for ordering a dark-n-stormy, but I won't hold it against anyone. I hear they have the best New Years party on the east coast, and I tend to believe it.

We played our mini-vacation fairly low-key. We dined casually, not venturing very far outside of tee-shirt friendly zones. The fish on the island is so fresh. If you're looking for a really special night, I'd encourage you to visit the restaurant at the Hotel Manises, which is a five star meal and accommodation from wherever you stand.

The best part is that Block Island is a great place to go in the last days of August and the beginning of September. First of all, the crowd coming off of the ferry isn't as big, so the island isn't as crowded. It's still warm enough to walk around, even in the fall. Most of the stores and restaurants are still open, and the rates are lower.

I personally wish someone could lend me a cool $3 million so I could build a house. I know those cheesy commercials advertise it as the "Bermuda of the North", but take it from someone who's been to Bermuda -- it's a good place to spend some time!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rigatoni with Sausage and Wine-Truffle Sauce

Jim is still away, so I've been struggling to make Romantic Dinners for Me. This is a great dish, and you can really make it to order.

I don't have a quirky story for this one. It's a go-to recipe. My mom made a variation of it all the time at home, and I basically ran with it. It's easy to make, tastes fabulous, and people usually love it. It's wonderful fresh, and just as good left-over. There is a lot of depth of flavor, and you can play around with what you put into it. GO!

Rigatoni with Fennel Sausage and Wine-Truffle Sauce
1 package of Sweet Sausage (with Fennel Seeds)
1 bunch Fresh Asparagus
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes
1 tblsp Butter
1 Clove Garlic, chopped
1 medium Shallot, sliced thin -- against the grain
1 cup White Wine
1/2 cup Chicken Stock
1/2 tsp Truffle Oil

1 lb Rigatoni, cooked al dente -- save 1/2 cup pasta water before draining

Preheat oven to 350*F

1) Cook sausage on a sheet in the oven for 15-20 minutes. You don't want to cook them all the way through, you just want them to firm up. It's okay if they're a little pink on the inside. This makes it easier to cut them.

2) Remove sausage, place asparagus on the same pan (whatever grease came from the sausage will cook the asparagus). Cook for 10 minutes -- they should be slightly softened, but still firm, and bright green.

3) Cut the sausage in to 1/2-inch pieces. Quarter the asparagus, disposing of the last quarter (the thick stem).

4) In a saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots, cook until they are soft and begin to caramelize.

5) Add the sausage in one layer, brown each side.

6) De-glaze the pan with white wine. Add pasta water, chicken stock, and truffle oil. The starch in the pasta water will help the sauce thicken. Let this cook down for 5 minutes or so until it begins to thicken.

7) Add the whole cherry tomatoes and pasta to the pot, cover and cook until the tomatoes burst. Stir occasionally to make sure that the pasta is coated and cooking... about 5-7 more minutes.

* If your sauce seems to be cooking down too fast, you can alternate adding more liquid to it. The chicken stock will add some body to the sauce, the wine will thin it if it gets too thick.

8) Once the tomatoes burst, gently squish them down so that they break a little bit. Add the asparagus, stir, and let all of the flavors settle for a minute.

9) Serve it up in a big pasta bowl! Have some freshly grated parmesan cheese to top it off.

This dish is such a home run. It's great because it's easy to adjust the quantity, so you can make it for two, or twenty! You could even go nuts and serve it with the Roasted Garlic Bruschetta. Try it my way, and play around and see how YOU like it!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Here we go!

So, there are some good things in the works!

1) You might notice that up in your little address bar that the domain has changed! I finally took the plunge! We are now located at Don't worry, good ol' blogspot will still get you there.

2) Romantic Dinner for Three now has a Facebook Page! I thought this would be a great way to make Romantic Dinner more interactive. Post questions, see what's cooking, make requests, leave some love, and show me your romantic dinners!

3) Hopefully some new web development will be in the works soon! I want you to be able to search recipes through some nicely organized archives, and make the site more professional and appealing.

4) Don't forget to add Romantic Dinner if you are on Twitter!


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sunday Roast (Photo)

Hi, all! I don't usually mix business with pleasure... or pleasure with pleasure? Anyway, the photograph below has been submitted to the Gender Roles category at JPG Magazine. It is a tongue-in-cheek commentary about stereotypical expectations of the female gender. I have so enjoyed seeing what messages people are taking from it. A picture really is worth 1,000 words!

If enough people vote for it, it will be printed in the next issue of the magazine. It has already had a great response. I think has a shot!

Summer Pot Roast

While perusing the grocery store for meal ideas the other day, I happened to notice that top-round roasts were on sale. "Too bad it isn't the middle of winter," I thought. Truly, there is nothing better than a soupy, chock-full-of spuds, pot roast on a cold, dreary day. But... pot roast in the summer?

Well, despite being June, these days have certainly been dreary. With a Betty Crocker/Stepford Wives image in my head for an upcoming photo competition in Gender Roles, I thought I'd indulge my crummy weather instincts and go full steam ahead with the roast. My excuse? It's a prop!

After seeing some fresh herbs and great looking carrots, I had a great idea for a prettier, more warm-weather version of my favorite pot roast. Good for the picture, better for my belly.

Summer (Pot) Roast
1 Beef Roast
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups Burgandy (or other heavy red wine)
Remember: Quality ingredients go a long way!
5 Medium Carrots, cut diagonally in half
5 Red Potatoes, diced in to 1.5" pieces
2 Medium Red Onions, Quartered
5 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
3 tblsp Salt
2 tblsp Black Pepper
1 tblsp Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 275*f

1) In a dutch oven, heat olive oil and minced garlic over medium heat until garlic begins to sizzle.

2) Generously season the beef with salt and pepper, add to the dutch oven and sear on all sides to seal in the juices and crisp the outside (if there is a side that has more fat on it, let it cook a little longer).

3) After all sides of the beef are browned, deglaze the pot with Burgandy. The wine will bubble up and then begin to reduce rather quickly. Add the thyme sprigs and let the wine cook down for a minute or two.

You can add the thyme sprigs whole because all of the leaves will fall off the stems as it cooks.

4) Make sure that the beef is not stuck to the pan, scrape up any bits with a wooden spoon. Add potatoes, carrots, and onion to the pot (in that order). Cover with lid and put the whole pot in to the oven. You want to add the potatoes first because they'll soak up some of those good juices as they cook.

5) Cook in the oven for 1 to 2 hours until roast is cooked to taste. This timing all depends on the cut of meat you are using. You can use a meat thermometer. I set my timer for 30 minute intervals. As soon as it is tender I take it out to prevent over-cooking and drying it out.

The great thing about this roast is that the juice from the meat, the wine, and any liquid that came out of the veggies is all contained in the dutch oven. The meat stays nicely seasoned on the outside, and is tender and moist. The vegetables are so flavorful, and the thyme is fresh tasting but warms you from the inside out. It's great for this "between-the-seasons" weather we've been having.

Regardless of the season, it's easy on the eyes and tastes even better!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No Frills Frittata

I think brunch foods have to be some of my favorites, because you can get away with eating them at any point in the day. The first time my mom made a frittata for dinner I thought she was nuts ("We're having eggs for dinner?"). When I realized that you could put whatever you wanted in it... well then it was a whole different ball game.

This is a go-to Sunday morning dish for me. As long as you have a few eggs and a vegetable, you're good to go. Taking after my dad, I've been known to throw in the leftovers from the previous nights dinner, but let's not get carried away.

That's exactly how I came to make the one this morning: I have eggs. I don't want fried eggs (again). I have leftover veggies and cheese from Fajita night. Kielbasa? FRITTATA!

Here we go.

No Frills Frittata
6 Eggs
1/4 cup Milk
1 tblsp Coarse Mustard (Like Gray Poupon)
1 tblsp Dried Basil
1 cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese (shredded)

2 tblsp Butter
3 Red Bliss Potatoes (sliced thin)
1 small container Baby Portobello Mushrooms (sliced thin)
1 Bell Pepper (red or yellow, sliced thin)
1/2 Red Onion (yep, sliced thin)

3 Plum Tomatos (sliced... thin)
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese (grated)

Pre-heat the oven to 350*F.

1) In a large skillet, melt 2 tblsp of butter over medium-low heat.

2) Once the butter is melted, add the onion and peppers. Saute them (slowly) until the peppers are soft and the onions are translucent. Add the mushrooms and saute them until they are reduced.

3) Add the potatoes and turn the heat up to medium. Let the potatoes cook, stirring occasionally to let them brown. Cook them until they are al dente (if you don't want mushy taters. If you like them mushy, cook them until they are soft). Remove from heat.

4) In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, milk, mustard, basil, and cheddar cheese. Whisk until fluffy (like you were making scrambled eggs).

OKAY. So normally you would saute your veggies, etc. in an oven-safe pan (like a le creuset or cast iron pan), and then transfer the pan directly into the oven. If you don't have a pan like that (I don't), you can prep your filling, mix it with the egg, and then put it in a greased pie pan.

5) At this point either a) add the egg to your oven-safe pan and stir slightly to incorporate. Or, b) add the sauteed veggies to your egg mixture and stir to incorporate. Then transfer the contents of the bowl to a greased pie pan.

6) Lay sliced tomatoes around the top of the frittata. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

7) Cook on the middle rack of an oven for 20 minutes at 350*f. Increase the temperature to 400*f and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Once the cheese begins to brown, remove from the oven and let cool.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Can You Dig This Jam (Cookie)?

I've always had a soft spot for thumbprint cookies (or any excuse for eating jam). A while back I discovered that Ina Garten has the best dough recipe. I've made a few small alterations to make it do what I wanted to in the oven. Because the dough is so easy, I always thought it was kind of a cop-out to just put some Smuckers in those suckers. I'm a sophisticate, right?

So I've developed a really phenomenal Mixed Berry Jam (if I do say so myself) to liven up this cookie party. It uses four different kinds of berries, fresh OJ, and Ruby Port for a complex sweetness that will make your mouth water.

Jim Says: "Those cookies are really good, I ate one last night."
(I've literally caught him munching on them all day).
I may have had one with my coffee this morning for breakfast.
They are ridiculously irresistible.

So first, prepare the jam.

Port-Berry Jam
1 cup Ruby Port
1/2 cup Raspberries
1/2 cup Blackberries
1/2 cup Blueberries
1/2 cup Strawberries (quartered)
1/2 cup Sugar
2 tblsp Apricot Jam

1) In a small sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine the port, sugar, berries, and jam.

2) Bring to a boil, reduce to medium-low heat.

3) Simmer/reduce, stirring frequently. Cook until the jam becomes syrupy. Remember that it will thicken when it cools, a candy thermometer should read 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

4) Transfer to a small bowl and cool in the fridge.

Trick: To get my jam to cool faster, I filled a larger bowl with ice-water and set the small bowl with my jam inside it. I whisked the jam to help the heat escape. It was cool enough to work with within 10 minutes!

Thumbprint Cookies
2 sticks Butter
1 cup Sugar
1 Egg Yolk
3 cups Flour
1 tsp Salt
1/4 cup Port-Berry Jam
1 Egg (whipped) + 1 tblsp Water for Egg Wash

1) With an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and egg yolk.

2) Gradually sift in Flour and Salt, mixing on low.

3) Once the dough is thoroughly combined, place it on a floured surface and roll in to a disk. Wrap in wax paper and cool in the fridge until ready to use, a minimum of 30 minutes.

after it cools...

4) Break off pieces dough and roll them in to 1-inch balls. Place the dough-balls on to a cookie sheet.

5) Take your 1/4 tsp measuring spoon, and use the back of the spoon to make an imprint in to each cookie.

6) Brush each cookie with the egg wash.

7) Fill the indentations with 1/4 tsp of jam each.

8) Bake at 350*F for 20-25 minutes!

VOILA! These are some good cookies! The dough is buttery and subtle, and then you get punched with this great jam. You can use jarred jam, but I'd encourage you to try the above recipe at least once, it's easier than it sounds (and I could eat it with a spoon)! Plus, it always sounds good when you slip into a conversation that you made your own jam!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Spin-Art Rangoons

I don't think that I'm alone when I say that I could probably live off of spinach-artichoke dip. It never ceases to amaze me that the two foods that freaked me out the most in my childhood now comprise one of my favorite appetizers.

Now I've made spinach-artichoke dip many a time, always with the same end result: A delicious treat that is never cute to eat. A natural-born slob, it usually ends up falling off the chip and in to my lap. I love having meaty chunks of artichoke in my dip, but alas this makes smoothe dipping a near impossibility.

Last time I was in the food store, a solution came to me like a vision. Wanton wraps. These "rangoons" of sort are the perfect way to serve this great dip. The wrap gets golden and crispy, the dip gets hot and melty, and your lap stays clean. This treat also steps up your hors d'oeuvre repertoire. Lastly but definitely not least(ly?), they very simple to make.

They look pretty, taste great, and don't require a fork. What more could you want?

Spinach Artichoke Rangoons

1 bag Baby Spinach, chopped
1 can Artichoke Hearts (in water), chopped
2 tblsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 cup Ricotta Cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 cup Cream Cheese
1 package Wanton Wrappers (can be found in the organic/vegetarian section)
1 small bowl of Water
1/4 cup Canola or Vegetable Oil (for frying)

1) In a large skillet, over medium heat: heat olive oil and minced garlic until the garlic becomes fragrant and begins to crisp.

2) Add spinach and saute. The spinach will reduce (a lot). After it wilts, add the artichoke hearts. Cook until they are soft.

3) Transfer spinach and artichokes to a medium bowl. Add ricotta, Parmesan, and cream cheese. Mix thoroughly, let cool to room temperature.

Now for the fun part.

4) Take one wanton and lay it flat on your surface. With the water, wet the edges of the wanton.

5) Spoon a tablespoon of the dip in to the center of the wanton.

6) Lay a second wanton over the dip and seal the edges.

Repeat these steps until all of your rangoons are prepped.

7) Heat oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot enough (I test by spritzing water in it and seeing if it spits), add the rangoons. Fry until golden brown on each side, let drain on a paper towel.

(My apologies for the photo quality. This was a very spontaneous project and I only had my phone on hand)

These little treats are so warm , cheesy, creamy, and crispy; a textural experience for your mouth. They are so flavorful and the filling goes a long way. I'm sure I'll be busting these out at parties for years to come!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Some Things Are More Important Than Food.

Dear Perez Hilton,

I am a supporter of gay marriage. I am a believer in equal rights. I am also a supporter of the freedom of speech. You know, that little thing known as the First Amendment, on which you have made your dubious career. While I do not agree with Miss California's views, I do support her right to have them. Due to your presence at the Miss America pageant, and your question, Miss California lost the crown, and maybe she should have. Your question was fair and concise. But I especially like how you phrased "why or why not" at the end, and left out the part where if she didn't agree with you, you would drag her name through the mud and villainize her internationally.

You take pride in your ability to "make or break" a person's career with a few swift strokes of your keyboard. I don't know that anyone would deny that you have a disproportionate amount of media sway. Perhaps you should consider that before lambasting a person just because they don't agree with you. You speak of justice, equality, and America. I'm not sure where "think like me, or I'll throw a tantrum" fits in to that.

I expected better from a self-described proponent of equality.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hold The Phone...

Did anybody notice...

...that the roasted chicken and roasted pork recipes were sort of similar? Let me break it down:

When roasting, the garlic/thyme/rosemary trilogy is a fail-safe. It goes great on almost anything.

They key in the pork recipe was the marinade. The addition of wine (or a vinegar) actually started breaking down the pork before we stuck it in the oven. It really permeated the meat and infused it with great flavor. This also helps in the 'juicy and tender' department. The herbaceous crust adds a little more bang for your buck. You could marinate boneless-skinless chicken breasts in the same manner with great results.

With the chicken, the oil was infused with the spices. When cooking bone-in chicken with the skin on, it's really important to use a fat (like oil or butter) to crisp the skin. Otherwise, you're going to end up with rubbery skin which isn't very appetizing. I prefer to cook chicken this way because the skin and the bone actually help keep the chicken from drying out.

I have so many more great roasting recipes to come, but if you're just getting interested I'd encourage you to try these methods. Feel free to e-mail if there are any more questions!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Triple-Threat Pork Tenderloin

Now, hear me out. I've said in the past that I am not the biggest fan of pork products (outside of the context of bacon, of course), but I am starting to see the light.

I made pulled pork for Jim and Paul one night, and I bought too much tenderloin (Paul somehow convinced me that we would need 2 lbs. of pork each). I stuck one in the freezer with the intention of giving it away, since I never planned to use it.

Given the recent economy and my continuing education, I've been making strides to be a savvy spender. Last week I realized that I had the tenderloin in my freezer, and it didn't make any sense to go out and buy something else for dinner. I had vague memories of my mom buying tenderloin that had been roasted and encrusted in herbs, and that got my wheels turning. The end result was a juicy, tender, lean, savory tenderloin with BIG flavor. It is elegant and impressive.

I have been converted. Pork-done-right is great.

Triple-Threat Pork Tenderloin

First marinate the tenderloin for 30-minutes to 1-hour using the following:

Triple-Threat Marinade:
2 cloves Garlic
5 sprigs Fresh Thyme (or 1 tblsp. dry)
2 sprigs Fresh Rosemary (or 2 tsp. dry)
1/4 cup White Wine
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1) Combine above ingredients in a food processor until incorporated and well chopped.
2) Marinate meat in a seal-able freezer bag.

When the pork is done marinating, remove it from the bag and dry it off using a paper-towel. Now on to Threat #2. (Preheat your oven to 400*f)

Herb Crust:
5 sprigs Fresh Thyme
3 sprigs Fresh Rosemary
1 tsp Black Peppercorns + 1 tblsp Cracked Pepper
2 tsp ground Sea Salt (or table salt)
1/4 cup Olive Oil

1) With a mortar and pestle, grind together thyme, rosemary, and peppercorns. This breaks them up and releases herbaceous goodness,
2) Next, with a brush, coat the tenderloin lightly with olive oil.
3) Lightly sprinkle the pork with cracked pepper and salt.
4) With the herbs ground in the mortar and pestle, use your hands to coat the tenderloin, pressing them in so they sit closely on the meat. The oil kind of works like a glue, and is the component that's going to make the outside nice and crispy (since tenderloin is a lean cut).
*Do steps 2-4 to one side at a time.

- Set up the pork on a roasting pan. If you don't have a roasting pan, line a cookie sheet with tin foil, and use a rack so that the pork won't be sitting directly on the pan. Lightly tent the pork with foil.

- Keeping the oven rack in the middle, place the pork in the oven and roast it for about 10 minutes, remove the foil and roast it for another 10 minutes or so (until a meat thermometer reads 150*f or juices run clear when you cut in to it). The inside shouldn't be pink or raw looking.

- Remove the foil and let it broil on high for 5 minutes to brown the crust.

- Flip the tenderloin over and broil for another 5 minutes to brown the other side.

- Remove from the oven and let it sit for a few minutes before serving.

This pork is so good, it might even be one of my new favorites. Jim and I finished almost the whole thing by ourselves, and I couldn't help but snack on it the next day. It isn't hard to make and it's so flavorful that there is no need to pull out any crazy tricks for the rest of the meal. I made steamed green-beans and couscous to compliment this dish. It's definitely one I'll be making again soon!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Crispy Broiled Chicken

For as long as I can remember, baked/broiled chicken has been one of my favorites. It was not, and is not, uncommon to see my mom, my two sisters, and I, fighting over which piece had the crispiest skin with the most seasoning.

Well, I'm In all of my glory because Jim thinks the skin is gross. Know what that means? I get all the crispy pieces I want!

This is one of my favorite ways to eat chicken, it cooks slowly on the bone so it stays nice and moist. Then, for the last 15-20 minutes you pop it to broil to crisp it up. Who says you can't have the best of both worlds?

Broiled Chicken
1 Whole Chicken - Skin On, separated in to breasts, wings, legs, and thighs
**You can also purchase the pieces separately.
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 large Garlic Cloves
2 tsp Rosemary
2 tsp Thyme
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 Degrees

1) On a baking sheet arrange the chicken in to an even layer, skin side up.

2) In a food processor, combine olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and thyme. Pulse a few times to mix.

3) With a pastry brush, brush a generous layer of oil and spices on to each piece of chicken. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper, salt, and cracked black pepper.

4) Cover loosely with tin foil. Bake in oven, covered, for 20 minutes.

5) After 20 minutes, remove foil. Turn heat in oven up to 375 Degrees, and bake for about 10 minutes more minutes, until the skin begins to look golden-brown.

6) Once the chicken begins to brown and crisp, switch the oven to Broil on High. You won't need to move the rack. The real purpose here is just to make that skin nice and crispy, and seal in the juices. Watch carefully to make sure that it doesn't burn!

7) Once you're nice and crispy, pull the chicken out and let it settle for a few minutes before serving.

Bon Appetite! This chicken is so flavorful and savory. It's makes a great dinner, and is relatively inexpensive to make. It also makes for great chicken sandwiches the next day. I served mine with a wonderful salad and wild mushroom risotto. It would also go great with some sauteed vegetables and wild rice... the possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Good News Bears!

Well, I'm excited.

Per usual, this morning I rubbed my eyes awake, stumbled wearily downstairs, made some coffee before acknowledging anything else, and checked my blog stats...


Yesterday, Romantic Dinner For Three TIPPLED it's daily hit record. Not only that, but we had substantial hits from over 25 different countries.

You folks must really like salad.

I wanted to thank everyone for their support. Keep your eyes peeled! There's more to come!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sort-of-Dorf Salad (Healthy!)

I love a good Waldorf salad.
I needed a salad to go with the broiled chicken and wild mushroom risotto I made the other night, and a Waldorf salad seemed to be a perfect match.

Hmm, what would I need?
Apples... don't have any.
Walnuts... severely allergic.
Raspberry Jam, YE-, uh, no... no raspberry jam

I had to be resourceful, and the results were phenomenal. I liked this salad better than any Waldorf I've ever had. It was fresh tasting, not too sweet, and complimented my savory dinner perfectly.

Sort-of-Dorf Salad with Apricot Vinaigrette

For the Vinaigrette:
1 tsp. Red Wine Vinegar
2 tsp. Apricot Preserves
2 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1 tblsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1) Whisk ingredients together in a small bowl.
**You can finagle this to suit your own taste. If you think it's too sweet, add a little more mustard. If you think it's too vinegary, add a little more olive oil.

For the Salad:

I used Olivia's Organic mixed greens (which includes: spinach, frisee, radicchio, arugula, and lettuce).

Add: 1/4 cup Shelled Sunflower Seeds (toasted)
1/2 cup Dried Cranberries

Dress and toss with Apricot Vinaigrette to taste.

The sunflower seeds give it a little crunch and a subtle nutty flavor. The dried cranberries are a really nice substitute for apple, because they're sweet and a little sour. The apricot vinaigrette is actually less sweet than a raspberry vinaigrette and has a nice fresh flavor that compliments the rest of the salad nicely.

I'm sure this salad will have a permanent place in my kitchen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Beef Goulash (Healthy!)

In August of 2007 I had the distinct pleasure of accompanying the Porteus brothers on a trip to Eastern Europe. Jim's brother Sam was in the Czech Republic teaching conversational English, and the rest of us couldn't resist jumping at the chance to visit him.

We spent most of our time in Most, CZ. We then traveled down through Prague, to Budapest, and spent a week in Slovenia before making our way back up. To date, that trip was the most fun I've had, and an amazing experience. I can't wait to pack up my backpack and a weeks worth of clothes to do it again.

Of course, I could never tread new ground without taking in the culinary experiences to be offered. Eastern Europe is a very "meat-and-potatoes" area. Most of the meals consisted of a meat with some sort of gravy and a heavy starch. We quickly became fond of knedliky (Czech Dumplings), Svickova (marinated beef and gravy), and duck dishes.

Throughout our travels, on every menu we came to glimpse upon, there was always Goulash. Beef Goulash varies a little from country to country, but essentially is a beef and red pepper stew. Not only does this warm my bones in the winter, but it takes me back to those wonderful times I had with Jim and his brothers gallivanting through Europe.

I've tried multiple recipes, and what I've ended up with is bits and pieces of my favorite recipes, plus my own additions, ending up with a really fantastic dish.

Sam said it was some of the best goulash he's ever had, and he should know he lived in traveled through Eastern Europe for over a year (eating a lot of goulash).

Beef Goulash
7 slices Center-Cut Bacon (chopped)
3 Beef Shanks
2 lbs. Stewing Beef (plus) 1 lb. Marrow Bones
2 tsp Sea Salt
6 cloves Garlic (chopped)
1 large Leek (chopped)
1 tblsp Caraway Seeds
2 tblsp Flour
4 Roasted Peppers (chopped)
3 tblsp Paprika
1/4 cup Red Wine
15 oz. Crushed Tomatoes
2 cups Beef Broth
5 Yukon Gold Potaos (cubed)
chopped Parsley

1) In a large pot, over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove from pot and drain.

2) Add to rendered bacon fat, chopped garlic, leeks, and caraway seeds. Saute until leeks and garlic are soft.

3) Add beef and marrow bones, salt with sea salt. Let cook until brown on all sides. *If using shanks, cut meat off the bone and into 2 inch cubes after browned and return to the pot.

4) Slowly add flour with a sifter, mixing intermittently to avoid clumping. Let cook for about two more minutes.

5) Add, bacon, roasted peppers, and paprika. Saute to combine.

6) Add red wine to deglaze the pot, scraping up bits that might be stuck to the bottom.

7) Add tomatoes and beef stock, turn heat to high and bring to a boil.

8) Add potatoes, turn heat to low, cover and simmer.

9) Cook covered, over low heat, for two hours until beef and potatoes become very tender. Remove bones.

10) Serve with chopped parsley.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Valentines Day Dinner II: Roasted Garlic Bruschetta (Healthy!)

A great accompaniment to a dish like broccoli rabe is roasted garlic bruschetta. Essentially you roast the garlic in its bulb until the garlic becomes so soft and sweet that you can squeeze it out of it's clove. It's SO much better than butter!

Roasted Garlic Bruschetta
1 bulb Garlic
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 loaf Italian Bread, sliced
Aluminum Foil

Preheat the oven to 350*f
1) Place the garlic in the center of a piece of tin foil.

2) Drizzle 1 tsp. olive oil on to the garlic.

3) Close the foil around the garlic so that it is completely encased.

4) Bake in oven for 30-40 minutes until soft.

After that comes out...

5) Arrange sliced Italian bread on a baking sheet.

6) Brush each piece with the remaining 1/4 cup of oil.

7) Bake until they begin to turn golden brown (about 10-15 minutes).

Now the garlic should be cool enough to handle, and you can spread it on the bread. I like to leave the garlic in the bulb and put it in a small bowl. That way people can pick the piece they want, and the inner cloves continue to soften from the heat.

Cooking garlic like this makes a great appetizer or side. It's wonderful for parties, too, because it takes very little preparation but looks and tastes impressive. You don't have to tell anyone that the garlic did all the work!

This meal is another that takes very little effort, but will stand up to the critics. Spending Valentines Day at home? Cooking for your honey? It doesn't get much more romantic than this!

Valentines Day Dinner Part I: Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Aioli (Healthy!)

This dish is one of my Grandma Leonard's favorites. She gets it from an Italian restaurant in Huntington, Long Island, called Sal D's. They know my Grandma well there, she and my Pop-pop have been patrons for years.

After Pop passed (2005), we were out visiting Grandma. Trying to decide what we wanted for lunch, Grandma said that she wanted Broccoli Rabe Aioli from Sal's. It was the first time I had ever tried it, and it immediately became one of my favorites.

With tons of garlic, caramelized nice and slowly in olive oil, sweet fennel sausage, and leafy broccoli rabe, this dish is hearty but not heavy. Add roasted garlic bruschetta, a good glass of white wine, and a few candles, and you might as well be sitting in a Sicilian bistro.

Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Aioli
1 pack Sweet Italian Sausage
1 bunch Broccoli Rabe
5 cloves Garlic, smashed
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tblsp Red Pepper Flakes

1) In an 8x8 baking pan, cook the whole sausage in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

This first step is important. If you don't cook the whole sausages before you go to cut them for the dish, they won't hold their form and you won't be able to slice them as thinly.

2) Slice your sausages into 1/4 inch pieces.

3) In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.

4) Saute garlic and sausage until the sausage is brown and starts to crisp.

*It is also important to keep the stove on a medium to low heat. Cooking the garlic slowly will ensure that your garlic tastes sweet, and not sharp or burnt. It also helps to caramelize the garlic, and sausage.

5) Remove the sausage from the pan.

6) Add broccoli rabe. Continuously toss with tongs in the oil until the leaves wilt, the stems are al dente, and the heads soften.

Some people cut half the stems off. The stem probably holds the most bitterness in this vegetable, but it's up to your personal preference. These flavors all compliment each other very nicely, so I tend to keep the stems on.

7) After the broccoli rabe is cooked, add the sausages and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Saute until incorporated.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Roasted Peppers (Healthy!)

Ok, ok, ok. I know it's been a while, but there's been lots going on! I have some great new recipes in the works for you (goulash, hummus, and more!), and a new website is in the works! It's all very exciting, but it doesn't leave much room for posting.

Over the holidays, I got a lot of e-mails asking about appetizers and sides. In my responses I completely neglected one of the greatest antipasti elements of all time: Roasted Peppers.

If you're like me, and you have two Italian grandmothers, you eat a lot of antipasti dishes. Particularly at my Grandma Crowley's house I can rely on a hefty tray of olives, salamis, cheeses, and of course, roasted peppers.

Your typical margarita salad has fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and tomatoes. I like to use roasted peppers instead. After years of picking them up at the deli or grocery store, my mom decided to start making and jarring her own peppers. I learned the process by watching her, and was surprised to find that it's actually really easy. Now you can do it too.

Roasted Peppers

7 Red Bell Peppers, seeded and cut in half
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic

1) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

2) In a food processor, pulverize the olive oil and garlic.

3) Arrange pepper halves on a baking tray, fitting as many as you can.
Unless you want a designated pepper pan, make sure you line your pan. The sugar from the peppers WILL ruin your non-stick cookie sheet!

4) Brush the peppers with the garlic/oil mix so they are completely coated.

5) Bake at 400* until the peppers begin to shrivel and the skins start to burn, about 20 minutes.

6) Let them cool until they can be handled.

7) Peel off the skins.
The skins should have started separating from the peppers already, so it should not be hard to peel them. If the skins haven't started to separate, stick them back in the oven for another 5-7 minutes.

Once your peppers are peeled you're ready to go! Put them in a bowl, or a jar. They'll go great on a sandwich or by themselves. Eat them with eggplant or cheese! They are so versatile, you can't go wrong!

Another great thing: Sometimes red peppers are on sale for a relatively cheap price. Buy a ton of them! You can roast them and jar them in oil. They will have a longer shelf life, you'll stretch out your dollar, AND you'll always have roasted peppers!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Grilled Chicken Breast with Pineapple Chutney (Healthy!)

The winter months are tough for many people. It's January, and that means the days are short and the thermostat is hitting single digits. I've always said I'm like a bear: I do well in the summer, but as soon as winter hits I want to eat more and sleep more, and don't try and wake me because I'll be cranky! I mentioned earlier that one of my goals this year was to keep away those winter trials and tribulations. I can attribute my success this year to getting regular exercise, letting go of unnecessary stress, and eating well. This is a great recipe to add to your Winter Survival Kit.

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Pineapple Chutney

When the weather outside is frightful, and all you can think about is what you ate over the holidays, it's time to take your brain (and your stomach) south of the equator. The flavors are fresh and zesty, the colors are vibrant, it's like Carnival on a plate! The best part? This is one healthy dish!

Grilled Chicken
5 Chicken Breasts (boneless, skinless)
2 Cloves Garlic
1/3 Cup Fresh Cilantro
1/2 Cup Lime Juice
1 1/2 Cups White Wine

1) In a food processor: Zap garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc).

2) With the flat side of a meat tenderizer, beat the chicken breasts so they thin a little. No need to go overboard, they just need a few good whacks.

3) Twenty minutes before you're ready to cook the chicken, put breasts and marinade in a plastic ziploc bag to marinate. It's important not to keep the chicken in there too long, the acids in the wine and lime juice will actually start to cook the chicken a little, so keep your timing in mind.

*For this recipe, you could begin marinating the chicken when you begin simmering the chutney.

4) When you're ready to cook, grill the chicken over medium heat. Cooking them slowly over a low heat makes for juicy, tender chicken. Grill them for about 5-7 minutes on each side, until cooked all the way through.

5) Top with Pineapple Chutney!

Pineapple Chutney
(I got my original recipe for pineapple chutney years ago, and honestly cannot remember the source. I've changed a few things around and made it my own, but have to say the original mastermind of this one was somebody else.)

2 tblsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tblsp. Cumin Seeds
1 tsp. Mustard Seeds
2 tblsp. fresh ginger, diced
1 Yellow Onion, diced
4 Jalapenos, seeded and diced
3/4 cup Tequila
1 Pineapple, chopped
1/2 cup Lime Juice
1/2 cup Raw Sugar
1/2 cup Fresh Cilantro, chopped

1) In a saucepan, over medium heat, add olive oil, cumin, and mustard seeds to the pan.

2) Saute the seeds until begin to brown. Put a lid on for a few minutes, because the mustard seeds pop and fly.

3) After the mustard seeds calm down, add ginger, onion, and jalapenos. Saute until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

4) Add the tequila to the pot, let it simmer until the alcohol cooks off. The tequila will almost completely evaporate.

5) Next, add the pineapple, lime juice, and sugar. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer.

6) Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. The chutney will start to thicken and the flavors will blend together.

7) Remove from heat and add cilantro. Salt and pepper to taste.


A Good Point

Caroline wrote, "My first thought family is going to love this chicken but...not with jalapenos and tequila."

Tequila and jalapenos are not for everyone, they are definitely the ingredients that give this recipe an extra kick! However, if they're not your cup of tea you can use 1/2 a bell pepper instead of jalapenos. You can also leave the tequila out!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are the world's favorite comfort food. They're good for sick days, snow days, holidays, bad days, and every-days.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from my mom was this: Bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies when moving in to a new place. It will instantly make your new digs smell like home!

With more chocolate chip recipes out there than you can imagine, it's hard to find one you can trust. The root of this cookie is the recipe that my mom has been making for as long as I have been alive (at least). Over the years it has evolved, step by step. Last week I made one final alteration to bring you the recipe below.

I am honored to present you with...

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookie

2 cups Ground Oatmeal
1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 cup Salted Butter, Softened
3/4 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 Banana, pureed
1 Egg
2 cups Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350*f.

1) Combine flour, baking soda, sugar, and brown sugar in a medium sized bowl.
2) In a large bowl bowl, beat together butter, vanilla, egg, and banana.
3) Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat on low until combined.
4) Stir in ground oatmeal with a spoon. The mixture should be thick and somewhat coarse.
5) Stir in chocolate chips.

6) On a baking sheet, use teaspoons to spoon dough into little balls on the cookie sheet. Because of the butter the cookies spread, so make sure they have a little room to grow. Make them as evenly sized as possible to keep from burning.

7) Bake at 350*f for about 10 minutes, until edges start to brown. Let cool on the sheet before transferring them to a cooling rack.

These cookies are great! The oatmeal makes them taste nutty, the banana gives them something special. They have a quintessential home-made taste and are guaranteed to brighten any day! Especially a cold day.

Need convincing?

I told my friend Mark that I was making chocolate chip cookies at work. His reply was "I don't really like cookies." I know, it's crazy. I assured him he'd like my cookies, but I wanted his honest opinion.

I sent him a couple and received a phone call within minutes to tell me how much he enjoyed them. He even called back later to say, "Jenny, I'm not pulling your leg, these are really good cookies."

But don't take my word for it, try them for yourself! Hopefully it'll be a chocolate chip recipe you'll use for years to come!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Something Completely Different

And now for something completely different.

I've mentioned before that I come from a long line of "cooks". We all know the old adage, "too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth". For this reason, I chose to take a back seat in the family dining department for this holiday season. This turned out to be to my benefit. Sitting at the island, sipping coffee, and watching my mom and Grandma Leonard prepare our Christmas dinner always puts things in to perspective for me.

They stood above a massive beef tenderloin. I commented on the size and glanced wearily at the price tag, wondering if Success would ever allow me to prepare such an impressive piece of beef. We were not able to find a roasting pan big enough to house this thing. I noted that if we tucked the thin end under, it would fit and also cook more evenly. My grandmother agreed. My mom wanted to just cut it off, but eventually followed suit.

As we took out the chopped liver that my grandmother made as an hors d'oeuvre, she made mention that it would taste different because our electric mixer made it more "whipped" than usual. I thought it still tasted great, and my mom gave me a look that was clearly saying "it's fine, who cares".

I have watched this dynamic between my mother and grandmother for years. My mom's style is very impromptu. She cooks with a complete absence of fussiness, which can be mistaken for carelessness if you aren't watching closely. No matter what the steps in between, the end result is always something good. She never fails to impresses, especially when entertaining.

My Grandma, on the other hand, is incredibly fastidious. When I was a child, I used to help her make the giblet at gravy at Thanksgiving. Making gravy is nothing short of an art form, and my grandma was adamant in leaving this impression on me. Once, as a teenager, I had been stirring the gravy over a low simmer for what felt like an eternity. My grandma saw the slight wane in my interest and yelled from across the room, "If you aren't going to stir it with love, you aren't going to stir it at all!" I quickly stepped up my game. She would stop by every now and then to ask me if I was still stirring it with love. I now stir everything with love.

What I wound up with is what I consider a happy marriage of their two approaches. From my Grandma Leonard, I have retained the fastidiousness and a passion for a wide variety of culinary styles, tastes, and procedures. From my mom, a low-key attitude; A gift that enables me to be at ease and stress-free in the kitchen, no matter what's catching on fire. Sitting in the kitchen, watching the two of them, only strengthened my realization that as long as I am cooking and creating, I'm happy. There are few things which I hold as much passion for, and my kitchen is my oasis. I can visit Italy, France, Asia, Russia. I can be in a five-star bakery, restaurant, or burger joint. The best part is watching the faces of the people I love as they enjoy the sensory experience I've prepared for them.


In this new year, per usual, I have plans. "Oh God, here we go again," was my sister's remark. Don't worry, they aren't big, wild-and-crazy plans. They're more on the level of, "I want to try to make a danish".

I plan on expanding this blog. I will continue to post recipes and stories, but I intend to show a broader spectrum in the skill level to include some more advanced recipes. I truly want this to be a well-rounded archive.

I also intend to expand the "brand", if you will. Pursuing publication and credit in the year to come will be paramount.

If all works out, there should be more Q/A entries. I was pleasantly surprised with the number of e-mails I received with questions and asking for suggestions for the site, and I look forward to posting some of those. I would love this site to become more interactive. Keep them coming!

Finally, I have been inspired to learn. I am going to actively seek to expand the experience and learn as much as I can.

I can't give it all away, I do have some surprises up my sleeve.

I just want to thank everyone who reads, asks, and e-mails. I hope you all spend the new year rediscovering your passions and pursuing your dreams. Learn as much as you can, and share it with as many people as possible.

Be happy, be healthy, and enjoy!