Welcome to my world!

I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Updated (and easy) French Classic = Rockin' Good Date Meal

We absolutely love a good steak meal, but unless a special occasion comes up, we don't like spending $100+ at a fancy place.  A great twist (and weeknight friendly take) on a fancy meal is the French classic steak frites, which is just a another way of saying steak and french fries.   There's also another classic (and very tasty) French dish steak au poive that combines a pan-sauteed steak with a brandy, peppercorn, and cream sauce.

I'm not saying steak with "fries" will be a 30-minute meal.  It did take about an hour with prep, but for a special date night in, you can make the meal (with prime-grade beef!) for about $30 (all ingredients included).  For those not familiar with grades of beef, prime is the best and the grade most often used by fine steakhouses.  Some fancier grocery stores do carry this, and I purchased mine at the local grocery store.  It's about $25 per pound, but with two 6-oz steaks, it came to about $20.  Choice is the most common grade available at grocery stores and still is tasty (and less expensive).

The rest of the meal is fairly inexpensive - parsley, thyme, rosemary (can use dried thyme and rosemary from your pantry), 1/2 lb of mushrooms, 2 russet potatoes, a little beef stock, butter, black pepper, and heavy cream.  The only other "special" ingredients are a little cognac (you can substitute sherry in a pinch) and veal demi-glace (more on that later including a substitute).  And again, if you go to a steak restaurant, a fancy meal with steak, potato, and side dish will easily run $30 or more per person.  Even with the "fancy" ingredients, this costs less than half of that.  While I've made a pretty lengthy description and set of instructions, this is for 3 recipes and it's so that everything will come together at the same time to serve.  Happy eating!

Yummy good!
Tips and Tricks:
- Buy pre-sliced mushrooms to save on prep time (I use a mix of baby portabella and white button mushrooms)
- Veal demi-glace is found in the frozen foods section of many grocery stores and usually comes in 1/2 cup portions.  If you can't find it, or don't want to spend the money, boil down 1 cup of beef stock to 1/2 cup, then add a slurry made with 1 tsp corn starch and 2 Tbsp cold water
- Take the steaks out of the fridge and season with salt and pepper before you start making the mushrooms.  They will be ready to go when you are
- To cut potatoes, slice them in half long-ways, then slice in half again, then slice those in half again (you will have a total of 8 pieces).  Cut those in half to make 16 shorter pieces
- If you don't have fresh herbs, used dried.  Won't be quite the same, but still tasty!
- Cognac is the traditional choice for this dish, but it's still good with sherry or vermouth!
- Do NOT substitute the heavy cream.  The sauce will need to boil and unless heavy cream is used, the sauce will separate.  If you boil it down too much, mix in a little more heavy cream to thin the sauce back out.  (Trust me, this works!)
- Line the baking sheets with tin foil for easy clean-up

Steak Au Poive, Glazed Mushrooms, and Spiced Potato Wedges

1. Season steaks, heat oven, prep mushrooms
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with tin foil.

Remove steaks from fridge and sprinkle with salt on both sides of steak (about 1/2 tsp salt per steak) and 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper (split between the two steaks). Let steaks sit at room temperature while prepping the potatoes and mushrooms.

Slice (or buy pre-sliced) 1/2 lb of mushrooms.  After slicing, place in zip-top bag and add 2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried chopped), 1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried chopped), 1/4 cup Italian parsley chopped (optional), and 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil.  Add a little salt (about 1/2 tsp) and pepper (1/4 tsp). Seal bag and mix.  Let sit about 10 minutes.

2. Prep and bake potatoes
While mushrooms are marinating, prep potatoes.  Cut each potato in half long-ways, then cut each half into two wedges.  Cut those wedges into two wedges (total of 8 wedges per potato).  Cut the wedges in half (total of 16 pieces).  Add potatoes to zip-top bag with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp garlic, and 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (can add less if you don't want as spicy).  Add 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper, seal bag, and toss to coat.  Place wedges in single layer on the tin foil-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 450 until wedges are golden brown and crisp, 25 - 30 minutes.  Turn once during baking.  You can keep them in the oven when done to stay warm.  Just turn off the oven.

3. Bake and sauté mushrooms and reduce beef stock
Add mushrooms in a single layer to foil-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 450 degrees (can bake while potatoes are cooking) for 5 minutes until softened and tender.

While baking the mushrooms, in a small saucepan, add 1 cup beef stock and bring to a boil.  Boil until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 5 - 8 minutes.  If you're substituting stock for demi-glace, double the amount to boil.

While mushrooms are baking, heat a cast iron (preferred) or non-stick skillet with 1 tsp olive oil over medium heat.  When mushrooms are done baking, add them to skillet along with veal demi-glace.  Reduce until the sauce coats the mushrooms, about 5 minutes.  Add in 1 Tbsp butter and stir.  Remove mushrooms from skillet and keep in a bowl until ready to assemble dish.  Wipe out skillet with a paper towel.

2. Cook steaks and sauce
Heat skillet to medium-high heat with 1 tsp olive oil and 2 tsp butter.  Once butter is melted and foaming subsides, add the steaks.  

Reduce heat to medium and cook about 5 minutes per side for 1-inch thick steaks for medium-rare.  Cook longer if you prefer meat done to medium or well.  Remove steaks from pan and let rest 5 minutes (or up to 10).

For the sauce, in the same skillet, add reduced stock and scrape sides and bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to get the browned bits.  Add in 1/4 cup of cognac and reduce liquid by half (this can go fast!).  Add in 1/4 cup heavy cream and stir.  Bring to boil and reduce by half.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  If sauce reduces too much, add in more cream to thin out (helps if sauce is too salty as well).

3. Remove potatoes from oven and plate
To plate, put steak on plate, add mushrooms and drizzle with sauce.  Put additional sauce around meat on plate and add in potatoes.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A 3-Hour Pork Stew in Only 35 Minutes!

While I probably try more recipes from magazines than cookbooks these days, I'm making a conscious effort to select at least one recipe a week (or more) from one of the many cookbooks I own.  Maybe it's guilt or the thought that I shouldn't have a cookbook I don't use, but it's something I'm committed to.  One cookbook I received as a gift is a compilation of recipes called "Best of the Best" by Food and Wine.  Essentially, they release a cookbook that pulls the "best" recipes from the "best" cookbooks of that year.  It's actually a great concept since I don't want to necessarily own all of those cookbooks, but I might like a few of the recipes from each.

In the cookbook, I found a pork posole recipe that looked mouth-watering good.  Pork shoulder, hominy, and a homemade tomatillo sauce that's added at the end for a flavorful stew.  Problem is, I had to cook this on a weeknight with limited time AND I wanted to make it a bit healthier.  How to accomplish?  Take a lighter cut of pork, sub frozen corn for hominy, punch up the corn flavor with a secret ingredient (hint: you probably have this snack food in your pantry), and use pre-made tomatillo salsa.

I browned up a pound of pork tenderloin that is cut into small cubes, added in some diced onion, poblano, and a little jalapeño for heat (you can omit the last item to make it more kid-friendly), and cooked until soft.  Then, I added 1 quart of chicken broth 1/2 package of frozen corn, and one jar of mild tomatillo salsa.  Brought to a boil, simmered 10 minutes and served.  While that was cooking, I microwaved a package of the 90-second rice to mix in (though you could cook rice in the soup or separately).

Pork, rice, sour cream, and cilantro - yum!

But the true test, how did it taste?  Well, my pickiest critic (my sweetie) ate two bowls.  I'd say that it passed the test!  Serve this with your choice of toppings - shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, lime wedges, and fresh cilantro are all options.  Happy eating!

Quick Pork and Tomatillo Stew

1 Tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and ribs removed, chopped
1 lb pork tenderloin, cut into small cubes
1 jar green tomatillo salsa (mild)
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 package frozen corn
1 cup tortilla chips, crushed.
1 cup rice, prepared according to package directions
Chopped cilantro and sour cream, for garnish

In kettle, heat canola oil over medium heat until shimmering.  Add onion, poblano, and jalapeño (if using).  Cook until onion is translucent.  Add in pork tenderloin pieces and sauté until lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper.  Add in jar of salsa, chicken broth, corn, and tortilla chips.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a summer.  Simmer 15 minutes or until pork is cooked through.  Check for seasoning.  To serve, divide rice into 4 bowls, ladle in soup and garnish with cilantro, more crushed tortilla chips, and sour cream, if desired.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spicy Sriracha Shrimp

Like spicy? If you do and haven't discovered the greatness of Sriracha, this recipe is for you.  For the unfamiliar, Sriracha is like a spicy hot wing sauce with extra garlic.  It's pretty spicy, so if you aren't a fan of of that, rachet down the quantity of the sauce and substitute chicken broth or something not spicy. A couple of years ago, I saw a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine by a chef named Sean Baker from the restaurant Gather.  It was called "Buttered Shrimp" and involved the greatness of Sriracha with butter, mint, and basil.  I liked the idea of Sriracha and butter, but not necessarily the rest of the ingredients.

After two years of saving the recipe, I finally got around to experimenting this week.  Out was the lemon and mint.  In was green onion and lime zest.  I also lowered the amount of spice to our taste.  I cannot say this is a recipe for young families, but it would be great for a quick adults-only dinner or could easily be modified to turn this into an appetizer for a party.  I've given two variations as well.  One incorporates vegetables for a curry-style supper and the other modifies the recipe for serving as an appetizer. Happy eating!

A great balance of spicy, herbaceous, and tangy flavors

Spicy Sriracha Shrimp

Serves 3 - 4 (Main dish)
2 Tbsp butter
5 Tbsp Sriracha
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 31-40 count)
1 Tbsp lime zest
2 Tbsp basil, minced
2 Tbsp heavy cream

Melt butter in non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add Sriracha and stir to combine.  Add in garlic and green onions and saute 1 - 2 minutes.  Add in the shrimp and saute until cooked through, 5 - 8 minutes.  When nearly cooked, add in the lime zest, basil, and heavy cream.  Serve with rice and vegetables.

*To make this a heartier Thai curry-style dish, on medium heat, add 2 tsp. oil to a skillet and saute some chopped bell peppers (of various colors) - about 1 - 2 cups, 8 oz quartered baby bella mushrooms, and a can (about 15 oz) of quartered artichoke hearts in water, drained.  Once heated through and cooked to your liking, remove from heat and place in a bowl.  In the same skillet, prepare the shrimp, substituting coconut milk for heavy cream.  The sauce should be slightly looser, so add a couple extra tablespoons of the coconut milk and more Sriracha to your taste as needed.  Also increase lime zest to 2 Tbsp.  Combine with the vegetables.  Serve with jasmine rice.

* To make this into an appetizer, slice a long, thin baguette and toast slices in the oven at 350 degrees until crispy.  Prepare shrimp as directed, but zest 1 additional Tablespoon of lime zest and 1 Tablespoon of basil for garnish.  Once bread is toasted, place 1 - 2 of the prepared shrimp on each toast (whatever fits), then sprinkle with zest and basil.  Serve immediately.  If you want, mini frozen shrimp (thawed) may be used instead of large shrimp (they will cook in 1 - 2 minutes) to serve shrimp toast style.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bacon + Cinnamon = Brunch Heaven

By now you know I love bacon.  It's one of those foods that goes with just about everything and is appropriate for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  With the spring forward time change, I found myself in a weird place last Sunday where I wanted breakfast, but it was already 11 am and I wanted some savory for lunch too.  I had a can of "whomp biscuits" (you know, the kind you whomp on the counter to open?), about 4 slices of thick cut bacon, and my pantry at my disposal.  Then, lightbulb!  I thought about cinnamon rolls and thought "bacon cinnamon rolls!"
I had to put this in here as a preview of what's to come! :)

But cinnamon rolls involve making a dough, allowing time to rise, etc.  And I didn't want brunch at 2 pm, so, why not speed up the process by using that can o' buttermilk biscuits and creating muffins?  And I've seen recipes before involving snipping biscuits and making monkey bread.  Winner!  But how to do it?!  So, in case you're wondering, here's a step-by-step pictorial of how it's done!

1. Prep your bacon for cooking.  I chose to bake mine at 350 degrees
for about 20 minutes (thick cut bacon) until it was crispy, but still a little chewy.

2. While the bacon cooked, I prepped my other ingredients  -
combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl,
Melt 6 Tablespoons of butter in a separate bowl, and open the biscuits

3. After opening the can of biscuits, I put them on a cutting board
and used a dough scraper (from the dollar store) to cut
 the biscuits into 4 pieces for a total of 40.
(You can cut biscuits with scissors or a knife too)

4. After bacon was cooked, I let cool for a few minutes
and then chopped up into small pieces.  A few pieces may
have been for my kitchen helpers (aka my kitties)
5. I sprayed the muffin tin with non-stick spray, then
began the dipping process.  The dough was dunked into the
melted butter, then the brown sugar/cinnamon/salt mixture.
I put two nuggets into the tin, then a little bacon, then two more
pillows of love, followed by more bacon.  A total of 10 muffins.

6. Here are the prepped muffins topped with bacon
and some of the leftover brown sugar mix.
7. Into the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes
(put a cookie sheet under the tin to catch any bubble-overs)
or until done.  (Your oven may be hotter or cooler,
so keep an eye on them after 10 minutes) 

Cinnamon-Bacon Monkey Bread Muffins

1 can refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (10 count)
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter, melted
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray.  Open can of biscuits and cut each into 4 pieces (total of 40 pieces). In a bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt.  Mix to combine.  In a separate bowl, melt butter in microwave (about 1 minute on high). Dip two dough pieces in melted butter, then roll in cinnamon/brown sugar mix.  Place two pieces in the tin, then sprinkle a little bacon over.  Dip two more pieces of dough and place on the first two pieces.  Sprinkle with a little more bacon.  Press down slightly to help the 4 pieces stick together.  Repeat this process for the remaining 9 muffins.  Place in oven (put a cookie sheet under to catch drips) and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes (keep checking after 10).  Remove from oven and serve immediately (there will be gooey caramel at the bottom of each tin).  Happy eating!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chicken Parmigiana - Italian-American Comfort Food Classic

Was needing to find a downtown restaurant for some dinner plans and the search led me to the Dallas area of the West End.  Back in the heyday, it was THE spot to go and be seen.  Though the days are long past, a Yelp posting for Spaghetti Warehouse got me happily reminiscing about meals past.  Back then, one of my favorites from their Italian-American specialties was chicken parmigiana.  Honestly, it's an abomination of calories (KFC should take lessons about using that chicken as part of a sandwich), but was oh-so-tasty!

Granted, these days, I'm more likely to seek out a kale salad than a deep fried chicken bomb, but every so often, nostalgia calls.  Luckily for me, this month's Cook's Illustrated was at the ready to accommodate my chicken parm craving with a boastful recipe claiming to be the best chicken parm.  Hmmm...

What can I say, it was the right recipe on the right day!  I won't reprint their recipe (that whole permission thing), but what I will say is here are some of the techniques they taught me that helped make it easily a top 5 chicken parm WITHOUT being deep fried!  Yum!

You know you want some!
The zen of chicken parm:
- Season the chicken with salt and leave out 20-30 minutes  before breading.  Added great flavor and no need to salt the flour, bread crumb mix, etc!
- Mix egg and a little flour to coat the chicken.  Then, dip in breadcrumbs mixed (1:1 ratio of cheese and Panko bread crumbs was my preference) with Parmesan cheese and some seasonings (garlic powder, oregano, pepper, etc.).  (No extra salt was even needed!)
- The BEST hint? Pan-fry breaded chicken in oil (shallow fry), then drain on paper towels. Put the chicken on a cookie sheet and sprinkle HEAVILY with mozzarella (fresh shredded) and/or a mix of mozz and a more melty cheese like Fontina.  Broil until bubbly, THEN put on tomato sauce over the cheese.  Keeps the breading crispy that way.

I served with cooked spaghetti and some whole wheat garlic bread for some tasty eats.  Happy eating!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Heidelberg Soup - Potato Cheese Goodness

It's funny how sometimes a cookbook just appeals to you and it's the first one you seek when searching for inspiration.  Years ago, my mother-in-law gave me such a treasure for Christmas, "The Recipe Hall of Fame Cookbook." It's one of those cookbooks with food you likely grew up eating and has a mixture of regional favorites from throughout the country.  Though my style of cooking tends to avoid processed foods more these days, I still reach for this when seeking comforting cuisine and crowd-pleasing potluck favorites.  It's a bit well-loved at this point, full of bookmarks and comments, but isn't that the fun of a favorite cookbook?

One recipe that always receives rave reviews and something I make each winter is Heidelberg Soup.  I'm not sure of how "authentic" this recipe is, but I have modified it to add more veggies and some porky goodness to suit our tastes.  I will say, there are few things more satisfying in winter than a steaming bowl of soup love with crusty bread and a salad. I love, love, love this recipe! Happy eating!

Heidelberg Soup

(Serves 6 - 8) Inspired by "The Recipe Hall of Fame Cookbook"
5 medium potatoes, peeled and large diced
1 large onion, medium dice
5 cups water
1 - (16 oz) package steam-in-bag frozen vegetables (recommend carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower blend)
1 - (16 oz) package steam in-bag frozen broccoli florets
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup (if allergic to mushrooms use 2 cans cream of celery)
1 pound Velveeta cheese, cubed
1 can mushrooms, drained (optional)
4 slices bacon

To prepare bacon, place slices between 2 - 3 sheets of paper towels and microwave on high 1 - 3 minutes or until mostly rendered and slightly crisp. (Microwaving time will vary based on thickness of bacon and degree of crispness you like).  Chop bacon and set aside.

To prepare soup, add potatoes, onion, and water to soup pot or large Dutch oven and bring to a boil.  Boil until tender, about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook frozen vegetables according to package directions.  When potatoes are cooked, add vegetables (including mushrooms if adding) and soups.  Stir in Velveeta until melted and heat until bubbling.  Top servings with bacon and serve with crusty bread and salad.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Five Crowd-Pleasing Pinterest Favorites

I spend WAY too many hours on Pinterest these days, but it's for a good cause - FOOD!  I still love trying recipes from magazines and my cookbooks, but even my favorite cooking magazines are on Pinterest!

Over the past several months, I cooked a lot of the recipes I've pinned.  Since I've pinned over 300 (and counting!), I can't say I'm close to cooking all of them, but here are some that received RAVE reviews from family and friends when I made them.  If you're looking for crowd-pleasing items for a Superbowl party or a casual get-together, put these on your list.  Happy eating!

1. Sweet pork love.  This is my variation on a recipe from tastykitchen.com using bacon, cocktail wienies, butter, and brown sugar.  Anyone who loves pork products will go crazy for these.  Any guy gathering needs a batch (or two!)

2. Jalapeño-ranch dip.  There's this restaurant from Austin, TX called Chuy's.  On request, they will bring you a ranch-jalapeno dressing/dip for your tortilla chips.  Trust me - ASK FOR SOME!  It elevates ranch to new heights.  I found a dip recipe on Pinterest that's very similar from the site plainchicken.com, though I change it up by making it thicker (I use fat free Greek yogurt and reduce the mayo) and add extra cilantro.  Super yummy!

3. Sopapilla cheesecake bars.  Golly these are good!  You combine the taste of a sopapilla (those pillows of fried dough perfection topped with cinnamon and sugar) with a cheesecake filling.  The best part is how easy they are to make - crescent roll dough from a can, cream cheese, sugar, eggs, butter, and cinnamon/sugar.  Yoza!

4. Hawaiian roll ham sammiches.  Great guy food and a nice change from traditional sandwiches.  I made these over the holidays to high praise.

5. Ro-Tel chilaquiles  casserole.  This is a terrific brunch or breakfast dish for a crowd and almost everything is a pantry staple.  Ro-tel (tomatoes with chiles), canned chili, tortilla chips, chili beans, and cheese.  This is also really good for a hearty breakfast after a late night out.  Definitely recommend when doing heavy shopping as it will tide you over until lunch!

I hope you have fun with my current top 5 Pinterest favorites.  Let me know what your family thinks!