Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day Delight

The kids have been helping us cook for years, although the amount of time they cook has recently decreased with school and sports.  So, for Mother's Day I was pleasantly surprised to hear they wanted to do a "Chopped"-like contest for Amy to judge.  We had to make some slight modifications (considering they are 10 and 12 as well as NOT chefs.)  In the actual show, the contestants got baskets of unusual ingredients and have to cook something which included each in each course.  We got baskets of Amy's favorite ingredients which had to be used for each course.  Salmon, cheese, berries, etc.  What they came up with was absolutely fabulous!

Let's go in order of age.  Alex made an arugula salad with toasted pine nuts, Manchego cheese and oranges (the key ingredients), but it was his mustard dressing which was the hit.  Not too tart or sweet and fairly complex.  His salmon was cooked in an onion & marsala wine reduction - perfectly tender.  The dessert was the show stopper though.  He made a Greek yogurt parfait with fresh mango, raspberries and chopped almonds topped with whipped cream that he made himself.  Solid food done well and cooked perfectly.  He will make some lady happy!

Abby on the other hand was wildly inventive with her dishes with one huge hit and a big miss - but worth the effort!  She made a Nuoc Cham-style sauce (substituting olive oil and orange juice for the fish sauce) and wrapped that in fresh basil leaves.  It was so wonderful, I really thought I was eating an appetizer from a master chef.  Her main course lacked some cooking technique - but the sauce of her salmon was unbelievably good.  Butter, capers, onions, curry and feta cheese - with the first four ingredients heated on the stove and the feta added late.  I could have eaten that on cardboard and been HAPPY!  Her dessert was an inventive remix on the smoothie - which Amy called the crunchie.  It was the same concept, but Abby added almonds to the mix then topped with candied fruit and gummie bears.  It didn't work, but a big A  for effort.

All in all, a great display of cooking on Mother's Day which made their mom very happy.  And their dad proud.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Quick and easy comfort food

As I've gotten ready for a new assignment which will take me out of the house regularly, I won't have it so easy any more cooking dinner.  Thus, I've been shaking out some good and quick food options.

We buy the individually wrapped fish in the freezer section of the grocery store, so they are easy to defrost (i.e., stick them in a bowl of hot water for 10 minutes or so) and have ready to eat within a half an hour.  Plus, fish takes well to seasoning right before cooking rather than a marinate for meat.

This dish is a herb-coated fish broiled in the oven over warm polenta and topped with a puttanesca.  The fish is coated with sage, thyme, salt and pepper, put on a baking sheet for broiling.  The polenta is 3 cups chicken broth to 1 cup corn meal (I added oregano, salt and pepper to add some flavor) cooked 10 minutes then added some extra sharp cheddar cheese.  The sauce is simply a chopped onion and garlic sauted in olive oil for a minute; then add a can of tomatoes, a bunch of chopped kalamata olives, capers and oregano and allow to cook on medium high for about 10 minutes.

Serve with some white wine and it is a lovely meal without too much fuss or time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Appetizer Party

We had the neighbors over to an appetizer party.  It's great for us, because we can cook beforehand then sit down with people and eat, drink and be merry for the party.  Otherwise, we're always in the kitchen working hard to get everything out.

Our menu?  The Deconstructured Easter Ham.  Each dish had pork or ham of some sort in it...

Onion Tart:  a butter-tart shell with a creme fraiche spread and topped with caramelized onions and bacon - thanks to for the recipe which was originally from Bon Appetite.

Thai-flavored spare ribs: pork ribs marinated in a ginger, garlic, cilantro concoction which was just heavenly.  Now, the recipe - again thanks to - just said to marinate in the sauce, but I poured the marinate on top of the ribs for cooking which gave it some great punch.

Ham BBQ on Polenta Squares: the concept here was to create a mini version of BBQ sandwiches complete with the coleslaw on fried polenta squares, but that became too much.  The BBQ was literally pulled ham with BBQ sauce.  The polenta squares were made by pouring fresh polenta on baking sheets on the thin side and then set up in the fridge.  I then cut them into squares, removed a couple of them, coated them in olive oil and baked them until they were golden brown on top.  Flipped them and continued to bake until golden brown.  I topped some with sauted mushrooms for the none meat eaters.  They were quite good.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gingerbread Cookies (From Cook's County)

The daughter was in need of a sugary concoction recently and I didn't want to make the standard chocolate chip cookies.  Don't get me wrong, they are the gold standard for a reason!  But I wanted something different, so I went to the recipe holder and grabbed the Fairy Gingerbread Cookies recipe.  And, yes, you should have noted that I left Fairy out of the headline...didn't want anyone to get the wrong impression!  They are light, airy and so delicious that you shouldn't be persuaded to not make them because of the word.

Plus the recipe was so easy, the daughter could mix, pour and spread the cookies herself.

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
9 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature

1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and spray two cookie sheets with cooking spray.  It asks you to cover with parchment paper, but we skipped that step.

2) Combine the flour, toasted ginger (the recipe asks you to toast the dry ginger in a pan for 1 minute - we thought that was overkill), baking soda, and salt in a bowl.

3) In a mixer, mix well the butter and brown sugar until "light and fluffy" - we did it for about 2 minutes.  Add fresh ginger and vanilla, mix well.  Turn mixer on low and slowly add the dry ingredients along with the milk.  Alternate the two, so it isn't too sticky or too dry at any time.

4) Evenly spread 3/4 cup of batter on baking sheet with an offset spatula (used for spreading frosting on me it is easier.)  It is going to be really thin and likely have open areas where you can see the sheet.  Don't worry, it will expand and fill the space.  Plus, they will be nice and thin and light...The daughter did one and I did the other.  Both came out great.

5) Bake until deep golden brown - about 16-20 minutes.  Switch and rotate the sheet half way through to cook evenly.  Once out of the oven, immediately score with a pizza roller or knife into graham cracker shapes.  Let cool completely, then break cookies along the score marks.

You won't be able to eat just one!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


The best endorsement I get is the "Dad, can you make ____ for our _____ celebration at school?"  So the latest ad-lib fill-ins were Empanadas and Spanish...  Now, I'm a Midwestern boy through and through, so the recipe is tricky.  It actually comes from the snack bar manager at Fords baseball field where the kids play a tournament every summer.  The guy is nice and the empanadas are fought over.  Here is my approximation of the recipe.

I made the dough this time, although you can buy the dough at most grocery stores.  The filling is a great thing for the kids to help with - from cutting to cooking to filling.  Alex helped on this project and we had a good time, even if the whole process is a little long.  The results were worth it.

Empanada dough -
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 stick frozen butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg
1/3 cup cold water
1 Tbsp white vinegar

Filling -
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced or passed through a garlic press
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 lb ground turkey
2 Tbsp raisins (my kids don't like the raisins, so out they go)
Chopped olives, a generous amount
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained although reserving 2 Tbsp
Large bag of grated mozzarella cheese

1) Put flour, salt, and butter in food processor until butter is chopped into fine pellets
2) Lightly beat egg, vinegar and water, then pulse into flour a few times
3) Turn onto a floured surface and lightly work the dough until it forms a loose ball.  Don't overwork it or the butter will melt.  Wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate an hour.
4) Cut dough in half and roll out to 1/8 of an inch.  Cut out 6" circles from the dough.  Re-roll out and re-cut circles until both halves of the dough is used.  Put circles on sheet trays, cover with saran wrap and back into the fridge they go.
5) Prepare the filling.  Saute onions and garlic in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes.  Add the spices, cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).  Add the turkey, cook until browned.  Don't cover or it will be too liquidy.  Add the tomatoes and olives, cook until warmed through.  Take of the stove and cool.
6) Make the empanadas - put a tsp of filling in the middle of the empanada dough, top generously with cheese, wet the edges of the circle, fold and press ends together with a fork.  Set aside and make the next.
7) When the empanadas are completed, brush top and bottom with olive oil, place on the sheet pan and roast them until the dough is a light golden color.  You could deep fat fry them, but they become too oily.  Baked they are deliciously buttery.  Enjoy.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chicory smoked chicken

If you've ever had smoked cheese or fish, the flavor is just divine!  Well, I thought I could pull off smoking chicken - even though I don't have a smoker, never smoked anything before and thought it might make a colossal mess.  Ah, the bliss of ignorance.

Well, this recipe had great flavor, but my technique was WAY off.  So, you get to benefit from my experiment.  I used chicory coffee because I didn't have black tea bags on hand and it was better for it.  Have no fear, black tea, chia tea, peppermint, coffee all can work with the recipe.

4-6 breast of chicken
12 bags of tea (or 2 Tbsps of chicory coffee)
1 Tbsp of brown or white sugar
2 tsp Black peppercorns
2 tsp Coriander seeds

1) Roast the peppercorns and coriander seeds on the stove.  When toasted, remove from heat, cool slightly and grind them up coarsely in a mortar.

2) Coat the chicken on both sides with spices, salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for 4 minutes, turn over and roast for 4 minutes.  The chicken should be just cooked .

3) While the chicken is roasting, line a large skillet with aluminum foil.  Place well mixed tea and sugar on the foil and covering the entire bottom of pan.  Place a metal rack above the tea mixture and turn on the stove to a medium to medium-high heat.  Transfer chicken onto the rack and cover the pan with aluminum foil.

4) You should see smoke coming out of the foil within 2 minutes.  Turn down heat slightly, cook for 8 minutes.  Take off the heat, leave the aluminum foil on and continue smoking for another 15 minutes.

5) Transfer to plate with rice or, in my case, couscous with vegetables and enjoy.

Shrimp Stock

We will always buy the frozen shrimp which you have to peel yourself.  I used to be frustrated having to peel all of those shrimp constantly thinking "isn't there an industrial process to remove these shells?"  Okay, well the thought never crossed my mind, but I didn't like having to peel shrimp until I discovered fish stock.  OH BOY, that changed my mind.

Its delicious and deliciously simple.  Put the peeled shells in a colander when peeling shrimp.  Then put about 3 Tbsps of olive oil in a well headed stock pot, add the shrimp shells when the oil is very hot.  Cook the shells, stirring lightly, for about 5-7 minutes.  They should be a deep red color and look well dried.

Quickly 3-4 whole, peeled cloves of garlic, 1 thickly sliced onion, the tips of celery (especially the leaves), lots of pepper plus a generous pinch of red pepper flakes.  Cook until fragrant - about 2 minutes.  Then fill the stock pot with 8-10 quarts of water, add two bay leaves and plenty of salt.  Turn down the heat and let simmer for an hour.

Strain the stock and refrigerate, if using within a couple of days, or freeze, if using later.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mushroom Barley Risotto

This is the last blast of cold air before spring.  Generally, I am no longer interested in the standard winter vegetables, hearty soups and heavy meals.  So, to spice it up some, I changed a familiar recipe - risotto - by using barley as the grain rather than rice.  It was delicious and incredibly good for you as well.  As you can see with the photo, it is also rich and hearty befitting good winter food.

Plus, you'll definitely need the kids' help for this one.  I generally chop the onions which the daughter then browns when I chop the mushrooms and garlic.  She'll start the risotto stirring and I'll finish.  Then, with a flourish, she'll add the cheese.  It is family cooking at its best.

Quart or so of chicken stock (homemade is best, but canned will work)
Still in the Pot!!!

  • 2 tsp butter
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 large, diced onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup barley
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 lb mushrooms, sliced (I used white cap, but any you like)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup Gruyère cheese, optional (can use Edam)

  • Directions
    1) Melt butter in large stock pot on medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until starting to brown (about 7 minutes.) 
    2) Reduce heat to medium.  Add mushrooms and garlic to pot along with olive oil.  Cook until mushrooms are dark in color and beginning to get tender (about 5 minutes.)
    3) Add barley, thyme and oregano to pot; stirring for a couple of minutes to absorb the existing liquid.
    4) Start adding enough chicken stock to cover the barley; bring mixture to boil. Simmer until most of stock is absorbed, stirring frequently, then add more stock to cover the barley.  Simmer, stir, add - simmer, stir, add, until the barley is tender, about 40 minutes.
    5) Take the pot off the heat, add salt, pepper, a little more broth (otherwise the risotto hardens) and the cheese.  Stir until cheese is melted.  Serve right away.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mu Shu Pork

I confess, I've been very bad at keeping the posts flowing.  Mostly because I'm slightly forgetful and will make a meal - like Corned Salmon for St. Patrick's Day - and then forget to take a picture of it for the site.  BLAH to me!

Our kids have recently shown a desire for Chinese food.  I hesitate to make it since the recipes I find will often produce results which are greasy, slimy or generally gelatinous - or all of these traits!  Reading Cook's Country magazine - thanks, Mom for the subscription - which is the magazine produced by the geeks of America's Test Kitchen ( who subscribe to the cooking philosophy of "I can make that just as flavorful with half the fat and ingredients you can pronounce!"  In other words, right up my alley.

I substituted ground turkey for the pork and we loved it, so don't see why you can't do the same.
Picture from Cook's Country magazine
1 lb. pork tenderloin (cut into 1/2 inch strips)
1 Tbsp. Asian chili-garlic sauce
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
8 oz. shitake mushrooms (we used reconstituted dried mushrooms)
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
14 oz. coleslaw mix (cabbage and carrot strips)
1 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp. dry sherry
3 scallions
8 flour tortillas, warmed

1)  Toss pork with chili garlic sauce.  Heat 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil over medium-high heat until just smoking.
Add pork - watch out for the oil splatter - and cook about 3-5 minutes or till pork is no longer pink.  Alternately: saute ground turkey until cooked and add in chili-garlic sauce; stir well

2) After removing meat from pan, add mushrooms and remaining oil.  Cook until mushrooms lightly browned - 5-7 minutes.  Still in ginger until well mixed add coleslaw mix.  Cook until cabbage is wilted (about 3 minutes)

3) Stir in pork, 1/2 cup Hoisin sauce and sherry, cooking about 1 minute.  Put into serving bowl, top with scallions and serve with warm tortillas.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Delicious Brussel Sprouts - yes!

I have this terrible aversion to Brussel Sprouts going back to when I was knee high to a grasshopper (just wanted to say that!)  My mom who I don't think reads this blog, had a habit of boiling them and then putting butter on them for dinner.  GROSS!

The best way to have Brussel Sprouts in my opinion is the combination of pan fried and roasted.  Start with a pan you can put in the oven.  I love to use my big casted iron skillet which I bought one year with my Xmas money.

Heat the pan over medium-high heat without the butter in it.  Cut the Brussel Sprouts in half.  After 2-3 minutes of the pan heating up, drop in the butter.  It should sizzle right away.

Spread the butter around the pan then lay the brussel sprouts flat side down in the pan.  Let them cook for 5-7 minutes undisturbed (yes, DON'T stir or flip or nothing)  Put the pan in the oven under the broiler for 3-4 minutes (or less) until the tops start to brown.  Scoop  them right onto plate and watch them get eaten!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pozole - Hominy Soup

We have a few friends and "family" - people who we'd like to be our family, but we aren't actually related to them - in Delaware who we visit occasionally.  On one of our visits, we were heading home to New Jersey with the kids in the back seat - and we were all hungry.  Thus we stopped at Kukuroo Restaurant in Newport, DE.  You couldn't miss the bright yellow, orange, and red colored building.  It served the best Mexican food I've ever eaten.  Honestly, if you live in northern Delaware, you need to go tomorrow.

Anyway, Amy opted for the Chicken Pozole, or Hominy, Soup.  The stuff smelled so good, looked delicious and tasted so heavenly I was looking to kiss the chef!  Luckily, we had moved to the car by then.  Here is my approximation of the recipe.

2 medium onions
Olive oil
3-4 Ancho Chiles, chopped finely
1 Morita Chile, reconstituted and chopped very fine
2 Tbsp oregano
3 lbs. chicken breast
4-5 cups of chicken broth, preferably homemade
2-3 jalapeños, diced 
5 garlic cloves, minced finely
4 tsp. ground cumin
3 cans of hominy
The juice of 3 limes plus 1 lime, cubed
1 avocado, cut into 1/2" cubes, optional
Scallions, sliced
Fresh cilantro, diced

1) Heat olive oil in large soup pot over medium-high heat and add sliced onions.  Sauté until onions begin to soften.
2) Add chiles, oregano and chicken breast.  Coat chicken breast well and add cups broth right away. If you cook the chiles without the broth, you might find yourself having several coughing fits.
3) Braise chicken until tender enough to shred easily, about an hour. Remove chicken from the pot, let cool slightly, then shred into strips.
4) Add chicken back to pot along with hominy and lime juice. Simmer for 10 minutes
5) Ladle soup over avocado pieces in serving bowl.  Top with green onions and cilantro.  If you have toasted tortilla strips, add them into the soup, too.  If you only have crusty bread, it will still compliment this heavenly soup.