Archive | November, 2009

Holiday Cookie Prep

30 Nov

This year, for the first time, I’m making Holiday cookies for more than just my family. This year I’m making them to order. All the trays will have the same cookies so I need to carefully select cookies that can be made in mass amounts and ones that will stay fresh for more than a few days. Right now, I’ll be making 7 trays, but hopefully that number will be going up.

Last year’s trays included, snowflake sugar cookies, chocolate chip, peanut butter, piped butter cookies, chocolate covered pretzels, and peppermint bark. Although, the selection was small, the trays were a big hit. This year I’d like to go a little bigger.

If you’ve been reading this blog on a regular basis, you know that I like to plan things. The cookie trays are one of my favorite things to plan. I search through my books and look online for the best looking recipes, both traditional and innovative. Sometimes I come up with my own, and I’ve even been known to add some handmade candies into the mix.

So far I have a running list that will eventually be cut down. Updates will follow, but so far I’ll be making: Peppermint bark, chocolate chip cookies, snowflake sugar cookies, chocolate covered pretzels, butter cookies and chewy gingerbread cookies. I do have some other favorite, like Mexican wedding cookies, lemon polenta cookies, chocolate sandwich cookies, and handmade truffles but we will see what I have time to make.

I’ll keep editing the list and if you see anything that looks good, let me know!

Always thinking of the next meal


Early Thanksgiving

23 Nov

So my mother-in-law celebrates Thanksgiving the Sunday before the holiday every year. It’s great because it makes the holiday family flip-flop that comes with marriage, a little easier. This year I was asked to bring desserts. As a rule, we celebrate my father-in-law’s birthday the same day that we celebrate Thanksgiving. This makes the dessert a little more difficult. Not that birthday cake is difficult, but a chocolate cake just doesn’t quite fit in with the usual requirement of pie.

So the menu had to fulfill the need and want of a variety of pies, and fulfill the want of a celebratory dessert that isn’t a pumpkin pie with a candle in it. So here’s what I decided to make. First, the traditional pie, caramel pumpkin pie. Second, the celebration, banana cream pie. Yes, I know that this is not a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, however, it is my father-in-law’s favorite. I also make an Italian apple cake, and sugar cookies for the kiddies. I felt like it was a bit of a hodgepodge combination, but it worked.

Thank goodness for the cookies too, because they were by far the most popular. Here’s the recipe:


1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
1 cup 10x sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).

2  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

And what to do with all those leftovers? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m completely over turkey chili. So I came up with this little beauty. It’s a leftover turkey pizza! I’m so excited about it, because it is seriously tasty. When you are doing your shopping, pick up a sack of pizza dough, or some Boboli bread. The day after, when you’ve returned from your black Friday escapades, simply put this pizza together for another simple family feast.

Thanksgiving Leftover Pizza

Pre-heat the oven with a pizza stone or cookie tray in it, to 400 degrees. When the tray comes up to temperature, take out of the oven and spread the dough or lay out the baked crust. Spread with leftover cranberry sauce. Layer with turkey and anything else that you might have remaining. (I would skip the desserts though.) Top with leftover cheese, or treat yourself and top with shredded gruyere. Bake for 15-20 minutes and then garnish with minced parsley, thyme, and sage. If you don’t have these herbs, use what you have, it is leftovers after all. You just don’t want to go back out to the grocery store. Ahem, LEFTOVER PIZZA, thank you.

Whatever your holiday holds, enjoy. It’s that once a year celebration that is all about eating, which is after all, the most important thing.

Always thinking of the next meal


Rockfish dinner

19 Nov

Tonight, the game plan was to pick up some mussels and try to recreate one of my favorite dishes from Bonefish, their version of mussels. When I arrived at the seafood counter after work, I was told that mussels would not be coming in until tomorrow and that the one remaining bag had been in the store since November 8. Ok, next choice, little neck clams. I thought I would make the same sauce recipe, but just use clams. Seemed simple enough, however, the clams were $10.50 for 24 clams. That seemed pretty high for a dinner for one, so what now?

I noticed that they had a beautiful looking piece of rockfish. I have never had rockfish, but I thought what the heck. I picked up a 6 oz portion for 6 dollars and felt like I could still make the sauce work.

What I wasn’t expecting was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. The dish wound up being seared rockfish with buerre blanc over roasted asparagus. Seriously, it’s not often that I toot my own horn, but are you looking at the picture? It was amazing!

Want to give this one a try? It is actually very simple. First, you don’t have to use rockfish. You can use any fish that you like including shrimp or scallops. Simply season and sear in hot oil. For the asparagus, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. The coup de grace, the sauce.

Buerre blanc is classic French butter sauce. It’s made by reducing shallots and wine together and then slowly wisking in small pieces of cold butter until the sauce is thick and flavorful. Traditionally, white wine is used in the reduction, but you can really use any wine that you like. If you like a red, then the sauce becomes, buerre rouge. It’s the same concept just a different color. Buerre blanc does take a little practice to perfect. You don’t want the sauce to break and just become melted butter. The consistency should be nappe or thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

I garnished with diced tomatoes and basil chiffonade. But again, you can use whatever you like.

Always thinking of the next meal


Rediscovering Mangoes

18 Nov

I love mangoes, but since moving home to Pennsylvania they have kind of fallen out of my usual repertoire. I bought one to make a rice noodle salad with and then, well, I didn’t get to it. So, today I had a very ripe mango and needed to use it before it was over ripe and going no where but the trash.

Of course there were the typical uses like mango sorbet, salsa, and the like. But, I wanted something more. I wanted to play with my food 🙂

I you aren’t familiar with mangoes, they taste kind of like a tropical peach. They can be incorporated into any dish that call for peaches or any other stone fruit for that matter. They don’t hold up to long cooking processes, since they will break down and become mushy. However, these little gems are fantastic to cook with. They look a little intimidating with that large, almond shaped pit that needs to be removed. They do make devices to remove said pit, however they are unnecessary. Simply pull our your favorite vegetable peeler and chef knife. Now if your mango is seriously ripe this method may not work, but otherwise it will do the trick every time. Peel the skin from the flesh and using a corn holder hold the mango straight up. Use your knife, cut the flesh from the pit. Now you can cut your planks, sticks, and dices very easily.

Here are some of the ideas I had:

Mango sauce with basil

In a blender puree the mango pulp with 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and salt and pepper to taste. In a small sauce pan, heat the sauce through. When warm through, chiffonade 6 large or 8 small basil leaves and fold into  the sauce. Serve over chicken or fish.

Creamy mango dressing

1/2 of a large mango pureed combined with 1/4 cup of sour cream, 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, 1 teaspoon light rum, 1 teaspoon orange zest, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a salad of chicken, pine nuts, cilantro, red pepper, and golden raisin.

Healthy mango dessert

1 cup low fat vanilla dessert, topped with 1/2 cup diced mango, 1 tablespoon candied ginger, diced small, and 1/4 cup of granola. Serve chilled.

Always thinking of the next meal,


Dinner Party

16 Nov

Last night I played chef for 2 of my favorite clients. They asked me to go with them to a friend’s house to make dinner. I didn’t have much time to plan, so I kept the menu simple. A classic combination of French and my own personal flare. I love making things that are fresh and flavorful, but not overcomplicated. Here’s the menu:

Cheese Course
Le Coutances and Foi Epi with apples and French bread

French Onion Soup

Honey Mustard Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Ratatouille and Creamy Polenta

Classic lemon crepes with ginger cream

I wanted to start with French Onion simply because it’s classic, and easily turned vegetarian. With one client being vegetarian, I wanted to make something that wouldn’t make her feel like she was having a different meal than everyone else. French Onion Soup is typically made with beef stock and is not veggie friendly, but my version is. I substitute mushroom and vegetable stock to maintain the intensity of flavor that French onion usually has. By adding dijon mustard instead of worchestershire sauce you get a delightful bright flavor without the extra saltiness that worchestershire sauce can sometimes bring to the party. Top the whole thing with buttery nutty guyere cheese and this is one flavorful vegetarian version of French Onion soup.

Dinner needed to have the same intensity of flavor that also had a fulfilling flavor in a vegetarian version. The polenta and ratatouille made a satisfying main course for my vegetarian client, and adding pork tenderloin medallions to the other dishes, made for a well rounded meal. I served the pork with a honey mustard sauce that was equal parts whole grain dijon mustard and clover honey. I cooked the pork to a perfect medium and then added the sauce sparingly. The pork was so perfectly cooked, I didn’t want to mask the flavor or the color of the meat.

The flavor that tied all the dishes together was thyme. Thyme in the soup and thyme in the ratatouille pulled both courses together. Someone once told me that repeated an ingredient in 2 courses was repetitive, and repeating them in 3 was a theme. But, I think that the thyme was so subtle that it didn’t come off as the same thing.

Dessert was very simple. Hand whipped cream with a 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger, 1 teaspoon vanilla, a pinch of cinnamon, and 2/3 cup of powdered sugar. The cream was rich, but still light and refreshing. It was served on top of the lemon crepes. The crepes were made with a basic sweet crepe recipe and filled with a combination of lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar. The combination of lemon and ginger was a refreshing way to finish a meal of hearty flavors.

It was a great night. I had a lot of fun cooking and chatting with my clients. I hope to do it again soon.

Always thinking of the next meal.


Filipino Cooking Class

12 Nov



Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

Last night I was asked to to teach a class on traditional Filipino cooking. This was a very exciting venture for me, as I had never really cooked Filipino food before. I dabbled in Asian cookery while in school, but there’s nothing like being asked to teach a subject to get you interested and immersed in research.


I found out that I already had the foundation of what Filipino cooking is all about. The Philippines are islands that have a patchwork history. With influences from Thailand, Spain, Japan, India, and a whole host of others, traditional Filipino food has elements from all of these cultures. The food follows the balanced of Thai food, being sweet, sour, hot and salty. Although most Filipino dishes tend to be far less spicy than Thai dishes. You also see more rice noodles and less rice, than Japanese and Spanish dishes, but it is certainly still important.

For the class, I did, Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce, Pansit, and Chicken Adobo. Spring rolls are more traditional in Thai cooking, but I wanted to teach the technique of rolling. My client had asked for me to teach her how to make lumpia, but I couldn’t find the specific wrappers and there wasn’t enough time to make the dough for homemade wrappers.

We started with the Spring rolls. I came with some of the vegetables julienned already (to save time) and we cut some of the cucumbers and herbs together. I rolled the first few to show my client how to do it, and then she took over. Although, a little nervous at first, she got the hang of it pretty quickly. I think that the most difficult part of cooking, is getting over the fear that you’re going to mess something up. We also mixed up some super simple peanut sauce. Here’s the recipe:

Peanut sauce:

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 cup warm water

wisk all the ingredients together and serve at room temperature

After snaking on the spring rolls, we moved on the pansit. Basically, pansit is the Filipino version of fried rice or lo


Pancit with fried tofu

mein. Choose vegetables that you like and juilenne them. Because my client is a vegetarian I loaded the veggies up. I used red and green bell peppers, onions, cabbage, carrots, and scallions. She eats eggs, so I hard boiled some eggs to throw in too. We stir fried the vegetables and then added in the soften rice noodles. Tossed to combine and then added in about 1/2 cup of soy sauce. Stir and fry and plate. Garnish with the chopped scallions. We topped our version with fried tofu to add some protein to the dish.

To fry the tofu, use firm tofu pat dry. Dredge the tofu pieces in cornstarch and in very hot oil, cook the pieces until they turn light brown. They won’t be super dark brown, but they will have a light crust around the edges. You can certainly make this dish with shrimp or chicken, just follow the same frying method with the cornstarch.

The last dish we made was chicken adobo. This was one that we made specifically for her husband, who misses his mother’s version. I knew that I had no chance of reaching that level of expectation, since I had never hear of this dish let alone made it before. But I gave it a try and was thrilled with the result. You know you’ve done something right, when the client’s husband walks in the door and says it smells like home.



Chicken Adobo with sweet rice

The adobo chicken is basically a version of coq au vin or any other braised chicken dish. You start by searing the chicken and then building the base of flavor in the same pan. This dish uses garlic, lemon, rice vinegar and soy sauce as the main flavors. Again, emphasizing the sweet, salty, and sour. I wanted to serve it over rice, but not boring rice. The original recipe I found called for added Sprite to the chicken while it was braising. So I decided to make the rice with the soda and some lemon zest instead of just plain water. The experiment was a huge success. The rice was very citrusy and slightly sweet. Since the chicken was lemony and tangy, the sweet rice added just enough balance to perfect the dish. Again we garnished with chopped scallions.


The class was great. We talked about ideas for the next class before I left and I can’t wait to do it again!

Always thinking of the next meal (and class,)



Yes, I do love sausage

10 Nov

IMG_0935One of my favorite all time meals is sausage and peppers. It’s rustic and beautiful. The sweetness of the peppers and the onions make the spices in the sausage sing. A match made in heaven.

When I make my version I use plenty of mild Italian sausage with lots of fennel and black pepper. I made this last batch when I was up visiting my brother. On his recommendation, I went to this little Italian market called Lino’s. If you are in the neighborhood, it’s a must. They make 3 different kinds of sausage in house. I bought the mild and was delighted to find huge pieces of peppercorns, garlic and fennel seed inside. They also used natural casings so when the sausage cooks, it makes the sausage crisp up on the outside. It was also very moderately priced at 2.29 per pound.

Back to the recipe. I like to make lots of extra onions and peppers to go with the sausage. Maybe it’s the idea that if I eat more vegetables I won’t feel as guilty eating the sausage. When making the dish for more than 2, adjust the ratios as necessary. Here’s what I do:

Sausage and Peppers

1 pound mild Italian sausage
1 large red bell pepper, julienne
1 large green bell pepper, julienne
1 large yellow onion, julienne
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the sausage into 2-3 inch pieces and sear in a hot pan. Let the sausages cook for 10- 15 minutes and then remove from the pan. Add the peppers are onions into the pan to sauté. Let cook until soft and season with salt and pepper. Add the sausage back into the pan and heat through.

Now, how do you complete the meal? Well I serve mine with my mom’s recipe for garlic roasted red potatoes. But you could certainly serve it over pasta, or rice. It is also fantastic served on a hoagie roll with a little brown mustard. Like I said this a rustic dish that should be treated that way. No need for fancy sauces or plating. Just serve it. The flavors are warm and hearty. Great for the cooler nights of late fall and early winter.

Always thinking of the next meal