Monday, December 23, 2013

Cheese Biscuits and the Holidays

I've got time to squeeze in another post before Christmas, and I guess it's gotta' be another holiday baking post -- since that's been the majority of my focus in the kitchen for the weekend! Yesterday, I had a marathon baking session and turned out a batch of Butter Spritz Cookies and Cheese Biscuits. My mother always made Cheese Biscuits at Christmas, as did my Aunt Cissy, who gave her the recipe. No one loved to entertain like Aunt Cissy did. She always had a huge buffet on Christmas day, that included roast beef and country ham, as well as these Cheese Biscuits. Nothing goes with a holiday cocktail or a glass of wine quite like a cheese biscuit. Everyone always had fun at Aunt Cissys' parties -- she loved to laugh and tell stories, and she was a wonderful cook. There was always so much to eat, and she understood that you eat first with your eyes, so everything looked as good as it tasted.

I've updated her recipe only pertaining to the method for producing the cookies, not the ingredients. The original recipe clearly states the following, right at the top:


I can't find salted pecans in the store anymore, but I think the unsalted kind work just as well. I sprinkle just a touch of coarse Kosher salt on the pecans after I press them into the dough. And since so many people have nut allergies, and a few simply don't like nuts, I only place a pecan on about half of my cookies.  I also make the dough in my food processor. The dough is stiff and heavy, and I find the processor, fitted with a steel blade, is the easiest way to do it. I also use a mouli-grater for grating my cheese, but you could do that in your food processor as well. 
Cheese Biscuits

Cheese Biscuits

1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese
1 lb. all purpose flour (about 4.5 cups)
1 lb. butter, softened
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 T. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pecan halves (salted if you can find them)
1 egg + 1 T. of water for egg wash
paprika for dusting the tops plus a little coarse and/or Kosher salt for sprinkling the nuts

Grate the cheese. Put it into a large bowl or into your food processor. Add the flour, butter, cayenne, salt and baking powder. Mix until the dough comes together and cheese is completely incorporated. If not using the food processor, you may find your hands to be the best tool! At least that's what Aunt Cissy recommended in her original recipe! 

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

The original instructions call for the dough to be rolled or patted out at this point. Rolling dough is not my favorite thing, and frankly, I am not that good at it. I either get the dough too cold so that it's hard to roll or I let it get too soft and it sticks to everything! I think it is best to slightly chill the dough so that it holds together well and you can handle it. The method my mom came up with -- obviously rolling dough wasn't her thing either! -- is to divide the dough into 6 - 8 pieces and roll the pieces into "logs" about 1" to 1.5" around. If you roll your dough out, it should be about 1/4" thick and you should use the smallest biscuit cutter you have to cut out the biscuits. If you roll the dough into logs, cut the logs into slices about 1/4" thick. Place the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet -- they don't spread much, so you can place them fairly close together. Beat 1 egg with a T. of water in a small cup. Brush each biscuit lightly with the egg wash, and sprinkle over a dusting of paprika. Press a pecan half into however many biscuits you choose (and a few grains of Kosher or coarse salt, if you want). Bake for ~15 minutes. You must watch them as they can go from done to "browned" quickly and the taste will be off. Check them after 12 minutes. Browning them will definitely alter the taste! Makes about 12 dozen. This recipe can be easily halved or even quartered. 

Thanks Aunt Cissy, and Merry Christmas to you and yours! 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Triple Dark Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

I've been tinkering around with this recipe since I first made it (see my post here) one afternoon when I had a chocolate attack. I love the combination of dark chocolate and mint. It reminds me of my mom, who always kept a box of thin mints stashed in a cupboard, up high where we couldn't get to them easily. Apparently, she had her chocolate attacks too! Mom would have loved these cookies, of that I am sure!
My mom with 3 of her 4 grandsons one Christmas.

By adding and subtracting a few things from the original recipe, which I got from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, I've come up with a real winner of a holiday cookie! They look festive, thanks to the peppermint chips, and they are chewy and chocolatey in the best possible way!

I hope you enjoy them as much as we have! I've got to say, these may find a permanent spot on the Christmas Rotation! Thanks, Ree Drummond for the inspiration!

Triple Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

2 sticks softened butter
2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
3 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Triple Chocolate Chip Peppermint Cookies
2 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa (100% Cacao)
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 c. Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 c. Nestle's white chocolate chips + a few extra for decorating 
1/3 c. Ande's Peppermint Crunch baking chips or finely chopped hard peppermint candies + a few extra for decorating

Preheat oven to 350. Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add vanilla. In another bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa. Be careful adding the cocoa, or you'll end up with a dark chocolate snow storm on your counter. Add dry ingredients to the wet ones in 3 batches, mixing each in using slow speed.
Stir in all the chips until everything is just combined.
Using a large teaspoon or a smaller cookie scoop, add 1 T. portions to a baking sheet. I dotted the top of each scoop of dough with 2 or 3 white chocolate chips and a piece or 2 of the peppermint chips, so that they show and look pretty. Bake for about 10 minutes until they are just barely done. Cool for 4 minutes on baking sheet and move to a cooling rack for 10 minutes or until they are set. makes about 5 dozen + cookies.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pecan Tarts -- The BEST of the BEST!

The fall has FLOWN by and it's time to start making those Christmas treats! I can't believe how swiftly the autumn has come and gone, but with the weather we've had this week in Central Virginia, I know that winter is coming in fast! Even though we are ALMOST empty nesters, there always seems to be lots to do around the house and in the kitchen.

I used to bake hundreds of cookies -- yes, literally hundreds -- when my kids were younger. That was back in my Room Mother/Sunday School Teacher/Children's Choir Director/Cub Scout Mom days. In those days there was ALWAYS an occasion to pass out Christmas Cookies, often 2 or 3 a week! While I miss those days, I honestly DON'T miss those marathon baking events! I must have spent hours in the kitchen. At our house, just because you spent all afternoon making cookies, that did not eliminate the need to cook dinner! On days like that, I was always grateful for the big batches of spaghetti sauce or bags filled with "taco meat" that I'd made and frozen for those busy, busy days.

This year, I've asked each person in the family to name one treat they consider their favorite and the most important to usher in the season. The oldest son spoke up first, and since he has a December birthday, he got first consideration. While I've already made pans and pans of "Nuts and Bolts" (that's amped up chex mix for you non-southerners) this weekend I made his favorite, Pecan Tarts.

I got this recipe from a family friend many years ago. I've made it every Christmas since receiving it. While the tarts are a little trouble to make, you are rewarded with rich, crumbly pastry filled with nutty, sticky pecan goodness. Truly, they are well worth the trouble. You'll need at least 2 of those mini-muffin tins to create these treats. Four is better, so you can get one batch in the oven and make up another one, ready to bake. You'll need lots of these treats, I promise!

Pecan Tarts
For the Dough:
1 stick salted butter, softened
3 oz. cream cheese ("Lite" is fine) softened
1 cup flour
Mix these ingredients together, until all the flour is incorporated and the butter and cream cheese is evenly distributed. Make the dough into a flattened, round disk. Chill in the frig for 20 - 30 minutes to firm up the dough so that it's easy to handle. Make 24 small balls and press each one into a mini-muffin cup that has been sprayed with non-stick vegetable oil. Gently press each ball into the muffin cup to form a shell, using your fingers to press the dough up the sides of the cup so that it just reaches the top. Set aside while you make your filling.
Pecan Tarts, ready for the oven.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
For the Filling:
3/4 c. chopped pecans
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
In a bowl, stir together all the ingredients until well mixed. making sure there are no "clumps" of brown sugar. Put a heaping tsp. of the filling into each muffin cup, so that the filling is just below the line of dough at the top of the cup. Don't overfill them, or you'll have a sticky mess on your tins and they'll be harder to get out of the pan. 
Bake the tarts for 20 - 25 minutes, until a crust forms on the tops of the tarts. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Loosen each tart gently with the tip of small, pointed, sharp knife. Let tarts cool completely on a cooling rack or  on wax or parchment paper before storing in air tight tins. Will keep up to 30 days if stored in a cool area in a well sealed container. Makes 24 tarts. 

Pecan Tarts, ready to eat! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chicken Caprese Pasta

Is there anything that screams summer more than local tomatoes and basil? Paired with fresh mozzarella, a classic Salad Caprese is our idea of heaven, and is eaten over and over again, as long as the tomatoes continue to taste like real tomatoes! Here in the Richmond, VA area we are fortunate enough to have an abundance of locally grown, globally renowned Hanover Tomatoes. Hanover County is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Midlothian, where I we live, and we bask in their tomato-ey glory all the late long summer.

Since I believe you've GOT to give credit where credit is due, I made this dish after watching a segment on the Today show featuring the Scotto family of "Fresco" restaurant in NYC. It was about making different recipes with only five ingredients. I just so happened to have those 5 ingredients on hand: Chicken breasts, fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, basil and pasta. They weren't counting staples like olive oil, garlic, onions, salt and pepper. (Watch them do it here.)  I didn't make my dish exactly the way they made any of theirs, but something sorta' like what they made, kind of a mashup of their pasta salad and the sauce for the chicken parmesan. I also made a nice fresh salad with a quick vinaigrette. I'll include that recipe after the Chicken Caprese Pasta. I like my chicken sliced over the top of the pasta, but hub likes  his chicken breast left in one piece! You pick which one YOU like best:
Chicken Breast sliced on top of Chicken Caprese Pasta!
Chicken Caprese Pasta with a WHOLE Chicken Breast on the side...
This comes together SO quickly, providing you've got your ingredients prepped and ready to go. So, wash your lettuce and basil, get out the garlic, olive oil, wine vinegar, kosher salt and pepper. Set your salad bowl on the counter, and put a big pot full of water and a frying pan on the stove. Almost ready, now go! 

Chicken Caprese Pasta for Two
2 chicken cutlets, or chicken breasts pounded out thinly
6 oz. penne or other sturdy pasta (I had small shells on hand, so that's what I used)
olive oil
1 1/2 c. diced fresh tomatoes
2 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into about 1/2" pieces
6 - 8 basil leaves, rolled and sliced
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 c. diced onion
1/4 c. dry white wine, optional

Kosher salt and Freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the chicken and pat it dry. Season both sides with a little kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Bring a big pot of water to a boil and cook pasta until just barely "al dente" -- use just barely the minimum cooking time. Drain it well. While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 T. olive oil (medium to medium high heat) in a large frying pan with a heavy bottom. Add the chicken and quickly sear it, first on one side and then the other, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside. In the same pan, add 1 T. of olive oil, the garlic and the onion. Scrape up any brown bits left on the bottom. Turn the heat down and let the garlic and onion soften for a few minutes. At this point, I added a little Italian white wine, because I happened to have some, but that is totally optional. Add the tomatoes, a pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Cover the pan and let it cook for 10 minutes. Add the chicken back into the pan along with the basil, cover and cook for 5 more minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken once again to a serving plate, and add the drained pasta into the sauce. Heat the pasta in the tomato sauce for several minutes, stirring to combine and to finish cooking the pasta. Right before serving, add the fresh mozzarella. Serve with your chicken breasts and a green salad. Black olives are optional! 

Here's how I make an easy vinaigrette:

In a jar, add 1/2 c. olive oil. To that, add 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/4 tsp, freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 tsp. garlic powder OR 1 small garlic clove, grated, 1 tsp. dried oregano and 1T. fresh lemon juice. Then add 3 T. red wine vinegar and a scant tsp. of dijon mustard. Now, shake, shake, shake. Pour what you need over your salad and save the rest for another day. It keeps for at least a week in the frig, I've kept it for up to 2 weeks with no problem. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Happy Birthday, Julia!

Today is the 101st anniversary of the birth of Julia Child, one of my kitchen heroes. Here are a few of my own tributes to the very first TV Food STAR!

Beef Bourguinon

The VERY Best onion soup!

Happy 100th Birthday, Julia Child!

I'll be blogging again soon. I've had my arm in a sling from a carpel tunnel flare up, and since my job requires that I type and use the computer, that's just about all I've been able to manage! Thanks for your patience and check in with me again soon. In the meantime, cook like Julia!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Clams Casino

Clams Casino sounds fancy, but all it really is is clams made the "house" way. In our family, it involves lots of butter, bacon, bread crumbs, garlic, lemon and maybe a little parmesan cheese. Making them is a little bit of a chore, but they are inexpensive this time of year and really, quite a treat. These little bite sized morsels of briny wonderfulness have graced many a family gathering table, and always make an appearance when we go to the beach, be it Duck, NC, VA Beach or Bethany Beach. On Father's Day, they made an appearance in my kitchen, at the request of the Father of My Children.
Clams Casino, with bacon, butter and lots of goodies.
Here's how to make them -- This is a method as opposed to a recipe.
Purchase the smallest clams you can find (often called "cherrystone"). Figure at least 3 - 4 clams per person. Wash them well, scrubbing off any muck. Soak them in bowl of cool water for at least 30 minutes - an hour is better, changing the water about half way through. This will give them a chance to disgorge any sand. Some folks add a little flour to the water, but I never do. Toss out any clams that are wide opened, they are dead.
Preheat your oven broiler or get your grill nice and hot. Put the clams on a baking sheet and let them cook about 5 minutes until they pop open. Watch them closely and when they are popping open, they are done. Remove from the heat and discard any clams that have not opened. Again, they are already dead and could be spoiled, don't take a chance.
Let them cool a few minutes and melt a stick of butter. Squeeze in a the juice of half a lemon, and add little minced garlic, if you like that. Not much garlic or it will become overpowering. Some folks add a little Old Bay seasoning, and that's good too, but, again, don't add much, maybe 1/2 tsp. or even less.
Cook 4 - 5 pieces of bacon, so that it's almost, but not quite cooked, and then cut the bacon into 1/2" or smaller pieces. When the clams are cool enough to handle, Carefully remove the top shell and gently loosen the clam from the bottom shell with a small knife or a spoon. Leave the meat in the bottom shell. Wipe down the baking sheet and put the prepared clams back onto it. Sprinkle some plain breadcrumbs over each clam -- just a little bit, so you can catch the butter. If you like, sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top of that, we love that but it's not traditional! Carefully pour a little butter onto each clam and then add a piece of bacon on top of that. Run them under the broiler or put them back on the grill until the bacon is fully cooked and they are lightly browned. Voila, Clams Casino my way. Feel free to make them your way, but this is how we do it!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Adventures in Baking and a Chocolate Emergency: Double Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

I got bored today and I wanted something chocolate. I started rummaging around on the top shelf of the pantry where I keep my baking supplies. I don't bake nearly as much as I used to, since most of the time it's just me and my hub. Our younger son is home for the summer from college, so that justifies just a little bit of baking, right? Plus, there was that chocolate craving thing happening.

After a minute of shifting around some bags and boxes, OUT JUMPED a half of a bag of Nestle's White Chocolate Chips....Hhmmm I thought, I saw some cookies with white chocolate chips on the Food Network on Saturday.....OH Happy Coincidence!!! And Bless You, Ree Drummond!!

I only made 1/2 of her recipe because I only had 1 cup of those Nestle's Morsels....but I did have everything else!! I quickly retrieved the bag of Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips I keep hidden in the very bottom back of the bread drawer for those chocolate emergencies (that's normal, right?) and I was off in a flash, gathering eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla etc. I love it when I can make a smaller batch of some homemade goodies. That way I don't feel nearly so guilty about putting  temptation in our path to healthy living. Here's her recipe but in the meantime you can enjoy my pictures. Can't you almost taste the ice cold milk I washed them down with??

Here they are cooling off:
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookes

And here they are right before I started wolfing them down with some milk:
And another good thing, I even had enough parchment paper to line the cookie sheets, so the clean up was minimal. They were yummy! Next time, I am going to add 1/2 cup of chopped nuts, probably either hazelnuts or macadamia nuts. They needed just a little crunch! Next time you are bored, start rummaging and see what you can come up with! Adventures in baking!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What I've Been Tasting This Week

As part of my ongoing wine education, I wanted to post a few tasting notes on some wines I've been sampling and tasting this week. I've got a sweet little part time job doing "Wine Tastings" in grocery stores. It's very part time, but a whole lot of fun! On Friday, I was at a Fresh Market passing out two wines that would be great summer sippers.

The first one was Starborough Sauvignon Blanc. This is a New Zealand wine:

This wine is best served chilled. At first taste, you immediately taste bright grapefruit flavor,  which is very crisp on the tongue. A little hint of lemon sneaks in there as well. There is also a slight mineral taste that reminded me of the bottled water we used to drink in Europe when I was a little girl. This is very crisp and refreshing, but perhaps a little to much mineral for my personal taste. I will say that the mineral taste receded after it had been opened for a while. It retails in Central VA for around $10.

The second wine I opened yesterday was the Garnet Pinot Noir from Monterey, California.

As is common with a pinot noir, this was a lighter style red. It was fairly complex, even on the very first sip. Ripe cherries and raspberries were first on the tongue, and it had a nice, mouth filling feel to it. A little hint of strawberry jam came to the front after it was opened a little while longer. There was a definite woodsy finish to this wine, a little oaky but not too toasted, which I don't love. Slightly out of my normal purchasing price range, this one retails around here for around $19. Would I buy it again? Yes, especially if it was on sale!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

My Dad and D Day

I am thinking of my dad tonight, the 69th anniversary of the D Day invasion. That was the event that turned the tide of war and defeated the Nazis. My dad always wanted to be a soldier. .He was a football star at Newport News High School in VA. He entered the army at the tender age of just barely 17, so that he could serve his country. He got a special waiver. His mother had to sign off for him to go in early. Dad was eventually awarded a Silver Star for his heroic efforts. He never talked about the scary stuff of war. He was proud that he'd been part of the elite paratroopers who'd been dropped behind the lines the night before D Day. When I was a little girl he'd show me his clicker that they'd used to find each other, in the dark. He talked about warming up a can of corned beef hash on the side of a tank, and how it was the best thing he'd ever eaten. He had a love of canned corned beef hash until he died. 
Canned corned beef hash remains one of my secret favorites to this day.

Sometimes, he'd say that he'd never go camping again. He'd laugh and mention that he'd done it once, and it was called World War II. 

He was  a hero and a gentleman. It's taken me most of my life to realize that. 
After WWII L.A., as his family called him, came home with his Silver Star in a body cast -- and stayed in it for 18 months after being shot numerous times -- and later went to OCS. Above is a picture of him, sometime in the 50's, as a young officer, in Paris, when he was in the Transportation Corps. I was born in Paris, where he served for several years. He and my mom posted to Paris right after they were married.  He served under Gen. Eisenhower.and was very proud of that. He's the 2nd from the left, the other men that are not in uniforms are "Free French" resistance fighters. 

My dad remained in the Army for most of his life. He ended up with degrees for a Master of Transportation Management and a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from William and Mary as well as a very early Associate Degree from Stanford in Computer Programming. He served in 3 wartime theaters, WWII, the Korean Conflict and Viet Nam. His medals included the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, several Purple Hearts and many, many more. He was honored  to have come up through the ranks, and that he had gotten an infantry pin, which only an enlisted man can get (I hope I am remembering that story correctly!).

Here he is, getting a medal around 1960. 
 Col. L.A. Tyree
My Dad

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Crab Cannelloni with Roasted Garlic Shrimp

A few years ago, on the way home from a trip to the river, we stopped and bought several pounds of fresh crabmeat. We ate one of them, I am thinking I made crab cakes, but we froze 2 more pounds for the holiday season. I love to make hot crab dip when I entertain, and the price of crab goes up astronomically around the holidays here in VA. I'd also planned a luncheon for a group of ladies. I was looking for something to make a pound of crab meat feed a lot of people when I came across Giada's recipe for Crab and Ricotta Cannelloni on the Food Network website, so I made that. It was a HUGE hit, but I knew I could put my own spin on it and make it more my own. I've made it twice more, changing a few things up, and the last batch hit the nail on the head, flavor wise, at least for our family. This recipe makes 12 - 14 filled cannelloni shells, so it will feed 6 - 12 people, depending on what else you are having with it. One cannelloni for lunch is quite enough, it's a pretty rich recipe. For dinner I'd count 1 1/2 to 2 per person.  
A special thanks to my sweet cousin from across the country who took these pictures! It was great having you here! 
Crab Cannelloni with Roasted Garlic Shrimp

Crab Cannelloni with Roasted Garlic Shrimp
1 package cannelloni or manicotti pasta tubes ( 12 - 14 pieces )
1 lb. lump crabmeat, picked over for shells
1 c. low fat ricotta cheese
1 egg + 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl
1 c. grated parmesan, divided use
1/4 c. fresh basil, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
White sauce, recipe follows
Roasted Garlic Shrimp, recipe follows.

Butter a 13' X 9" baking dish. 
Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain well and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the crab, eggs, ricotta,  3/4 c. parmesan, Old Bay, salt, pepper and basil. Mix gently until just combined, being careful not to break up the crab too much. Fill each cannelloni shell with the crab mixture. Place them in the baking dish. Cover with the white sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 c. parmesan cheese. At this point you may bake the casserole or cover it and hold it for up to 2 days. To bake, bring it to room temperature and bake covered at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until the edges are bubbly and starting to brown slightly. Remove from oven and add the roasted shrimp on top. 

White Sauce for Cannelloni
5 T. butter
1/4 c. all purpose flour
3.5 cups 1% milk, warmed up a little in the microwave
1/2 c. dry white wine or champagne (I used Korbel Brut Sparkling wine)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour until it is completely incorporated into the butter. Add the milk, stirring constantly. After a few minutes, add the wine, salt and pepper. Continue to warm the sauce, stirring so that no lumps form. It will begin to bubble around the edges. Turn the heat down to low and add the nutmeg. The sauce will thicken quickly, but you don't want to let it get to a full rolling boil. When it gets thick and easily coats the back of a spoon, turn it off and cover it until you need to use it. 

Roasted Garlic Shrimp
24 large or extra large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
Mix the above ingredients together and spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place the shrimp into the oven for the last 8 minutes you are cooking the crab cannelloni. The shrimp are done when they are opaque. Remove both dishes from the oven and arrange the shrimp on top of  the crab dish. 
I also made a yummy green salad, with fresh strawberries and blueberries, red onion, toasted pine nuts and feta cheese, lightly dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. It was yummy! Nothing like fresh berries when they are in season!! 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Leftover Salmon again?

A little while back, I posted about a Cedar Plank Salmon that I had cooked on the grill ( see post here ). Since there are only 2 of us at home these days on a permanent basis, just me and the hub, once again, I was faced with leftover salmon. I've had salmon leftover before (salmon spread ) and we always enjoy it. However, I wasn't sure how the cedar plank salmon would be as a spread, since the glaze on it was fairly strong. So, I made some wraps for lunch a few days later. My husband loved them -- the smoky flavor was fairly pronounced,which added a lot of interest and unusual layers. They were vaguely Asian in flavor, but I used high fiber soft flour tortillas to wrap them in, so lets call them Asian Fusion Wraps!

Asian Fusion Wraps

2 cups Hoisin glazed salmon, leftover from Grilled Cedar Plank Salmon
2 cups broccoli slaw mixture (or any slaw mixture your family likes)
1 T. lime juice
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
a pinch of salt
2 T. hoisin sauce
2 soft flour tortillas
In a small bowl mix the dressing for the slaw, using the lime juice, vinegar, soy, sugar and salt. Add the slaw mixture and combine with the dressing. 
 Let the slaw sit for about 30 minutes so that the flavors combine. Start building your wraps, by smearing a little Hoisin sauce on each tortilla and adding the salmon. 

Top each one with some of the slaw. 

Roll those babies up and enjoy your treat! Leftover salmon is the BEST!!!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How about a little wine?

I've been taking an online class about wine for the last 2 weeks, and I've created a blog post detailing what we've been tasting at our house and out and about. I've got a job -- yes a real job -- to demonstrate wine at different grocery stores. I taste each wine when I open it and then talk about it all afternoon, hopefully selling a few bottles along the way. It's awesome and I love it! Here's a link to my blog about my recent adventures in wine land:

I hope you enjoy reading about what I've tasted and learned! I did!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Not just any Spring Chicken!

Spring has finally sprung in the Richmond, VA area, and it couldn't be any prettier around my neighborhood. Redbuds and phlox are blooming, azaleas and dogwoods are budding up. Every yard is showing off some jonquils and maybe a few tulips or early iris. All this flora makes me want to cook in a spring like fashion, even though we are not exactly spring chickens anymore!

Phlox out by my mailbox

This dish was a little more complicated than I sometimes attempt on a weeknight, but the smells and fresh tastes that it produced made it worth the extra trouble. Purchasing boneless, skinless thighs sped things along a little, and having rosemary on hand in the yard makes for easy inspiration. It grows so abundantly, I've just GOTTA' use it, right? If you haven't got rosemary growing in your garden, get some -- it's easy to grow and will even thrive in a container. The one that grows in my yard was transplanted here after living in a pot on the deck at my last house. I first put it in my little bed around the patio, but it outgrew that spot and currently resides over by the fence. It's now about 13 years old and spreading with abandon. It's even got little light purple flowers on it!

Rosemary by the fence

Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Spring Onions and Rice Pilaf
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
10 green/spring onions, ends trimmed, halved lengthwise
1/4 c. flour, seasoned with a little salt and pepper
2 T. + olive oil
4 sprigs rosemary
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, divided use
1/3 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. chicken stock
salt and pepper
Rice Pilaf (recipe follows)]
Zest the lemon so that you have about 1 T. of zest. Cut the lemon in half, and thinly slice it. Cut 2 of the slices in half, so that you have 4 small quarter pieces. Wash and dry your rosemary. Put the flour mixture into a pie plate or something similar for dredging. Lay one chicken thigh on the cutting board you use for meat (or a clean plate) and spread it open carefully. You can tell that there is a top to it and a bottom, where the bone was removed. Open the "bottom" and lay a sprig of rosemary and a quarter slice of lemon into the cavity. Close the "flap" back over this and carefully roll the thigh in the flour mixture. Set aside. Repeat this with the other 3 thighs. You can secure them with twine or an uncolored toothpick, but I found that the lemon and rosemary stayed inside when I made this without the trussing. (Plus I'm kind of lazy about things like that, especially on a weeknight!)

Get your pan ready on the stove -- you'll need an ovenproof skillet that all 4 thighs will fit into. Preheat the oven  to 350 degrees. Heat the pan a little. Pour 1 T. of the olive oil into the pan. Drop the halved onions into the olive oil and saute' quickly, until they just begin to wilt. Remove them from the pan and set them aside. Add the other T. of oil to the pan. Heat the pan until the oil begins to shimmer, and add the thighs to the skillet. You may need a little more oil. Cook them for about 5 minutes, so that the flour browns. Turn them over carefully -- I used a fork along with a small spatula - make sure that the lemon and rosemary remain in the cavity. Let the thighs cook for another 5 minutes to brown the other side. Remove the chicken to a plate and add the garlic, wine, and stock or broth to the pan. Add the 6 lemon halves to the liquid. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and a little fresh ground black pepper. Cook for 5 -7  minutes over medium to high heat, reducing the sauce by about 1/2.

Sauce reducing in pan

Put the chicken back into the pan and place into the preheated oven. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes until the juices run clear when thighs are pierced with a fork. Taste the sauce and add a little salt and pepper if needed. Put the spring onions back into the sauce, garnish with a little more fresh lemon and serve over rice pilaf.
Chicken thighs ready for the oven

Rice Pilaf with Artichokes
2 c. chicken stock or broth
1 tsp. butter + 2 tsp. Olive oil
1/3 c. brown rice
1/2 c. white rice
1/3 c. orzo or broken vermicelli
2 T. minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 8 oz. pkg frozen artichokes, thawed and well drained
2 heaping T. Parmesan cheese
In deep saucepan, heat the oil and butter together until the butter melts. Add the garlic and olive oil and saute a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add the vermicelli or orzo and saute' this mixture until the pasta begins to brown, at least 10 minutes, over medium heat, stirring often. Add all the rice, stir into pasta mixture and then add the stock. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, bring this up to a boil, cover the pan and turn it down to a lower heat, so that the mixture just barely bubbles. When all the liquid is absorbed, add the artichokes and Parmesan cheese. Stir them into the pilaf and cover to warm the artichokes through, about 5 minutes. Serves 4 - 6. Good leftover, just heat in the microwave.
Lemon Rosemary Chicken Thighs with Rice Pilaf

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cedar Plank Salmon with Soy Glaze

 Last time I blogged, I wrote about being in a chicken breast rut, but we were in a salmon rut too. Salmon is another one of those things I buy every month. Now that there are usually just 2 of us for dinner, I buy a big piece from a big box store and cut it into 2 pieces. I usually oven poach it (Here's my post about how to do that ) or cook it with a lemony herb mixture on top (here's that method ). Anytime I have any leftovers, I make salmon spread, a wonderful appetizer or sandwich spread ( recipe here ). Obviously WE LIKE SALMON but it was time to try something new! After browsing some recipes on my favorite spots, here's what I came up with. It was delicious and it was definitely DIFFERENT. While it took a little time to reduce the glaze, it was not hard to do. If you don't have a cedar cooking plank, they are easy to find -- anyplace that has a good kitchen supply department will have them. You need to soak it for an hour or 2  in plain old tap water before using, but that's pretty simple. I actually had  everything in my pantry for this dinner except the fresh ginger. Give this a try next time you fix salmon and you want to step it up a bit!

Cedar Plank Salmon with Soy Glaze
Put your plank in water to soak, according to the directions on the package. I soaked mine about 90 minutes.
For the glaze:
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. soy sauce
2 T. hoisin sauce
1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 tsp.)
1 2" piece of ginger, peeled and grated
Place all ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Turn down the heat to low and let the sauce reduce until about 1/2 in volume.
Preheat your grill to hot cooking temperature.
You will need about 1 - 1.25 lbs of salmon, cut to fit onto the plank. Lay the salmon on the plank and brush it with the glaze.

Salmon on Grill
Place the plank onto the grill and close the lid. Let it cook over medium heat for about 6 minutes. Brush on a little more glaze after 3 - 4 minutes.  Don't worry about the smoke or the slight charring on the edge of the plank -- that's where the good smoke flavor comes from. I left mine on for 8 minutes and it was almost too dry. It cooks pretty quickly, but it will depend on how thick the salmon is. Salmon is cooked when it flakes easily with a fork or knife tip inserted into the thickest part.
I served my glazed salmon with some Pot Stickers from Trader Joe/s and stir fried veggies. Cut a lime and squeeze that over the salmon right before you eat it -- yummy! I prepped the pot stickers and vegetables before I began cooking the fish, so that when it went on the grill, everything was ready to eat when it was done. I also reheated the leftover glaze and we used it to drizzle on the salmon and the potstickers. The glaze recipe is a KEEPER! (Probably be good with chicken or pork too!)
Glazed Salmon, Pot Stickers and Stir Fried Vegetables for dinner!

Here's how I did the veggies:
Stir Fried Vegetables
1 tsp. peanut oil
1 small onion, sliced
2 cloves minced garlic
2 ribs celery, trimmed and sliced
1 c. shredded cabbage
6 button mushroom, sliced
16 snow peas, washed and threads removed
1 tsp. peeled ginger, grated
1 T. soy sauce
a little salt to taste
In a medium to large non-stick skillet, heat the peanut oil until it starts to shimmer (hot). Add the onion, garlic and celery. Stir that around for 2 - 3 minutes until the veggies begin to soften. Add the soy sauce and ginger to the pan and then add the cabbage and cook for another 2 -3  minutes, stirring periodically. Don't let them brown. Lastly, add the mushrooms and snow peas. Sprinkle the pan with 2 T. water, turn down the heat to medium, cover it and let the mixture steam about 5 minutes. Any combination of vegetables your family likes will work, but this is what I had on hand.

Stir Fried Vegetables

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In a chicken breast rut?

Do you buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts from the big box stores, frozen in a big bag? I do and have done so for years. It's an economical way to stock your freezer and they are pretty healthy, as meat goes. The easiest way to deal with them is simply to marinate them in Wishbone Lite Italian dressing and grill them. When my children were little, we cooked that alot, once prompting my husband to declare, "If I see another grilled, boneless, skinless chicken breast, I am going to puke!" I believe that was in the "grilling them to leather stage", his own fault, as he would not listen to me about length of cooking time, etc. Fortunately, he's gotten over it, now pays attention to the amount of time you should cook them, and we get much better results!

Speaking of MUCH better results, here's a delicious take on those ubiquitous breasts, pan fried and simmered briefly with a herb infused mushroom wine sauce that is a great dinner for two or more! I combined several recipes I looked up -- don't you just love I didn't have EVERYTHING for any one of the recipes I liked, so I "winged" it. Don't you love it when your kitchen experiments work out deliciously? We'll definitely be having this again!

Chicken breasts with Mushrooms and Wine

Chicken Breasts with Mushrooms and Wine
Serves 2
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thawed if frozen
1/4 c. all purpose flour, mixed with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and a pinch of black pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
8 oz. creminini "baby bella" mushrooms, sliced
1/4 c. Vidalia or other sweet onion, or shallots
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 c. dry white wine (I used pinot grigio)
1/2 c. low sodium chicken broth or stock
In a large, non-stick pan, melt the butter with the olive oil, over medium-high heat. Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour mixture, and place them in the pan. Cook the breasts for 4 minutes on each side. They should be lightly browned. Remove and set them aside. Add the mushrooms, onions, garlic and herbs to the pan (if you need to, you may add another tsp. of olive oil).
Mushrooms, onion, garlic and herbs
Cook the vegetables and herbs briefly, 3-4 minutes, stirring them around. Add the wine and broth to the pan. Bring this to a boil. Turn it down a little and let the mixture reduce for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed (how much depends on your broth). Put the chicken back into the pan and cover it.

Chicken breasts simmering in wine and mushroom sauce

Cook for 8 more minutes and voila', perfectly cooked chicken and mushrooms. Serve with brown rice and steamed broccoli with little cheese grated over it.

Chicken and Rice and Everything Nice!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Very Veggie Pizza

As part of our ongoing journey to eat healthier, we are forgoing our usual Friday night pizza and switching it up to a Veggies Only pizza. So far, our favorite one for take out is the thin crust vegetarian from Pizza Hut. However, this one, that I made, has been the overall favorite. It hardly qualifies as cooking, more like assembling, so easy to do on a Friday night.

It was super simple to do! We bought a pre-made, thin pizza crust from the supermarket. First, I spread 2 T. pizza sauce over the crust and sprinkled that with 2 T. low-fat mozzarella cheese. Then I topped it with a clamshell of cherry tomatoes, cut in half, some sliced  red onions, a roasted red pepper from a jar, 1/2 a green pepper, and a can of sliced mushrooms. All good for you, right? Then I measured out 2 ounces of feta cheese and crumbled that over the top of the veggies. We baked it according to the directions on the crust, making sure not to overcook it. Using no meat and controlling the amount of cheese is the key to keeping this pizza "healthy" and good for you. I had put so many vegetables on it that we did not miss the cheese. Additionally, we limited our servings to two slices each, but they were so loaded down, that was plenty. Quick, healthy and delicious.

Another favorite way is to make my own crust (recipe here), top it with a little pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese, then pile on lots of peppers -- fresh green, roasted red, drained banana ones from the jar, and a few sliced olives. Not quite as low fat, but very, very tasty!
Lot of Peppers Pizza with Olives
Go veggie with your pizzas! They are really really good!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Thai Chicken Skewers With Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

Ok, here I am, a little out of my comfort zone -- Thai Chicken Skewers with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce, Potstickers and Snow Peas. I've gotta' confess -- I'd never cooked Snow Peas before and a I'd never even tasted a spicy peanut dipping sauce! That being said, it turned out well! After all, we KNOW that EVERYTHING Tastes Better when it's cooked on a stick, right? As we continue our quest to eat seriously healthy, we've got to mix it up, or we'll get bored, and that's never a good thing.
Thai Chicken Skewers with Potstickers and Snow Peas

First, I marinated the chicken breasts about 30 minutes before I skewered them. I mixed up the dipping sauce too, so the flavors would have a little time to meld. This is a lighter take on peanut sauce, cutting down on fat and calories by using some non-fat greek yogurt, instead of all peanut butter. While the chicken skewers were grilling, I cooked the Pot Stickers Straight from Trader Joe's! (Here's an earlier post about that store) and steamed the snow peas quickly when the chicken came off the grill. This meal took less than an hour, start to finish, including the time the chicken was marinating. It was easy, quick and tasted great AND it's healthy eating! Bring on the skewers and fire up the grill, it's a keeper! This would also be good served with some fresh veggie rolls that you can make or buy at the market. As an added bonus, if you should have any leftover chicken, you can create wonderful wraps for lunch with it. Try shredding up some cabbage, add a little hoisin sauce and wrap it up.

Thai Chicken Skewers
1 boneless chicken breast for every person, cut into large bite sized chunks
3 T. soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
1 T. fish sauce
1 heaping tsp. brown sugar
1 T. rice wine vinegar
This is enough marinade for 1 - 2 breasts. Whisk everything together and pour over your chicken. Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Preheat the grill and when it's hot, thread the chicken on to skewers. If using bamboo, be sure to soak them first.
While the chicken is marinating, make the Dipping Sauce.
Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce
3 T. plain non-fat Greek yogurt
1 rounded T. smooth peanut butter
juice of half a lime
2 - 3 T. rice wine vinegar
zest of 1/2 lime
a pinch of dried hot pepper flakes (big pinch if you like it spicy)
1 T. minced fresh cilantro (optional, but we like it)
1 scallion, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Whisk together the yogurt, peanut butter, lime juice, vingar and zest. Stir in the hot peppers, cilantro and scallion. Let this sit for awhile so that the flavors have a chance to meld.
Prepare your potstickers according to the package directions. Make them from scratch if you want, but I promise, the ones from Trader Joe's are pretty darn good! Steam your snow peas briefly while the chicken is resting. Drain them, add a pinch of butter or soy sauce and salt very lightly.
Grill your chicken skewers 6 minutes on each side. Let them rest and remove from the skewers.
Steam your snow peas briefly while the chicken is resting. Drain them, add a pinch of butter or sesame oil or soy sauce. If you don't use the soy, salt them very lightly.
Voila! Easy, huh? Good too!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Portobello Mushrooms: Take Two

Stuffed Portobello Mushroom Burgers with Crunchy Winter Salad

We're trying to eat seriously's a challenge at our house. I love to cook and my husband loves to eat. Well, that's not exactly fair, since I love to cook and eat. As part of our quest to eat healthier, last  night I made Stuffed Portobello Mushroom Burgers with Crunchy Winter Salad, and it was delicious as well as being seriously healthy!   (
Here's my other portobello recipe ) And, here's the best part,  everything I made took me about 30 minutes AND it was pretty economical. Make your salad and set it aside, then start with the stuffing and cooking up the mushrooms. They were really, really good, even my meat loving husband thought so. He admitted to being full, in spite of no potatoes, no real dressing on the salad and LOTS of veggies. Score!

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
2 portobello mushrooms
olive oil and balsamic vinegar
1 tsp butter
1 medium onion, sliced
2 - 3 cloves of minced garlic
2 handfuls fresh spinach
1 link turkey Italian sausage**
1 slice Alpine Lace reduced fat Swiss Cheese
1 roasted red pepper, cut in half (from a jar is fine)
2 burger buns, your favorite, I recommend whole grain or "white/wheat"
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
First prepare your stuffing: In a small non-stick frying pan, melt the butter with a few drops of olive oil. Add the sliced onion and cook until lightly browned but still slightly firm. Remove the onion to a bowl. Slit the casing of the sausage with a sharp knife and push out the meat into the same frying pan (discard the casing). Cook over medium, stirring and breaking up the meat, until the sausage is crumbled and brown. Add the garlic, and the onions to the pan along with the spinach. Sprinkle with a little Kosher salt and fresh pepper, stirring to incorporate the spinach. Cook for 1 minute. Cover and set aside. The heat will continue to wilt the spinach.
Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel. Using a spoon, remove the stems and most of the gills from them. A spoon works well for removing the gills. 
Preheat a grill pan over medium high heat. Brush the mushroom caps with a little olive oil. Put them on the grill and cover them loosely. Cook 5 minutes on each side, watching them so they don't burn. Use a sturdy spatula for this, so the mushrooms remain whole. You can press them down slightly so that they maintain good contact with the pan, but don't break them if you help it.
Place the mushrooms on a cookie sheet or baking pan and fill them with the sausage/onion/spinach mixture. Place 1/2 of roasted red pepper on top of each one. Put them into the oven for 5 - 7 minutes. Add 1/2 slice of the cheese to each mushroom during the last minute of cooking. While the stuffing heats through,, grill the buns in the same pan you used to cook the mushrooms, over medium to high heat. You kind of want to toast them a bit. Press them down gently with the back of the spatula so that they crisp up and get sturdy -- the mushrooms are heavy and juicy!  Top the toasted roll with your stuffed mushroom. Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar. Serve with Crunchy Winter Salad, recipe below! Enjoy!!

**Cooks Note: To make this meal totally vegetarian and even healthier, eliminate the turkey sausage from the stuffing and crumble in some tofu or the veggie sausage crumbles that you find in the freezer section of the grocery store. OR add more spinach or some sauted, finely chopped zucchini.  I bet it would still be yummy. DON'T eliminate the balsamic vinegar, though, it really makes a difference!

Crunchy Winter Salad
1 small Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, washed, halved and chopped
1 small carrot or 2 baby carrots, grated
1 ring canned pineapple, cut into small pieces (get the kind packed in it's own juice, not syrup)
1 - 2 thin slices red or purple onion, cut into small pieces
zest from 1/2 a lemon
1 oz. coarsely chopped walnuts
1 T. pineapple juice (from the can is fine)
1 tsp. lemon juice
Mix all the above together in a bowl. Serve it over:
2 handfuls washed and chopped romaine lettuce
2 handfuls washed and stemmed spinach, torn up a little
This salad is crunchy and really, really good! Any kind of nuts would probably work, but I was thinking along the lines of a Waldorf salad, sorta' deconstructed!

Friday, January 4, 2013