Archive | February, 2010

Impressive dinners

25 Feb

Tonight’s dinner was a great one. I have pretty high expectations for myself and it’s not too often I think that a dinner is spectacular. Tonight was one of those dinners that you wish your stomach was bigger, just so you can keep eating.

The menu was seared pork porterhouse chops over white bean ragu and tamarind BBQ sauce. I know it sounds intimidating, but it really is simple. Start with the most important step, brining.

Make sure you brine your chops before you cook them. The cut that I used, is simply a bone in chop that has the loin and the tenderloin on the same cut. This meal will work just as well with boneless or even the tenderloin.

White Bean Ragu

1 can Great Northern Beans
1 cup red pepper, bruniose
1/4 cup white onion, bruniose
1/4 cup fennel, bruniose
1/2 cup carrot, bruniose
1 large clove garlic
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch dried thyme

combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the ragu has thickened. Season and serve.

Tamarind BBQ sauce

1/2 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons tamarind paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons honey
1 large clove garlic, minced

Wisk all ingredients together, adjust the cayenne to make the sauce to your heat levels.

Ragu in general gets better as it sits, so the leftovers (if there are any) will be better the next day.

Always thinking of the next meal


Marvelous Mushrooms

19 Feb

Mushrooms are amazing. They are so versatile. They are endless is variety and fantastic of flavor. The tastes can range from mild and meaty to intense and luxurious. Some mushrooms, like the truffle, are prized culinary ingredients. But mushroom can really add interesting complexity to any dish. I like to let mushrooms shine and but them in the fore front of a dish.

My standard mushroom of choice is the cremini or baby bella. These are great mushrooms to cook with or to eat raw. The hold up well to any cooking technique and and lots of flavor to soups and sauces. Although sometimes considered a base mushroom to support bigger flavors from more expensive mushrooms like porcini or morels, cremini mushrooms can also stand on their own. They are great to stuff and to marinate. While button mushrooms tend to be a little less expensive than creminis, their flavor is pretty non-existent.

One of my favorite dishes is chicken marsala. While it doesn’t give it away in the name, this is a very mushroom forward dish. The mushrooms are complemented well by the sweet, fortified wine and the richness of the butter. Actually you can make this dish with chicken, pork, beef or even tofu. You can even take the sauce and combine it with ricotta cheese and stuff ravioli with it. It’s a simple recipe, but it is so rich and satisfying.

Chicken Marsala
serves 2

2 6 oz portions of chicken
2 cups cremini mushrooms sliced
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup marsala wine
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons heavy cream, optional

Heat a sauté pan and add in oil. Season chicken and sear in the pan. Let cook for 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add mushrooms to the pan and let cook. Don’t move the pan. Seriously, let the mushrooms brown and without moving the pan. After a minute or so stir the mushrooms and then let cook without moving the pan for another minute. When the mushrooms are brown, add in the marsala wine and garlic. Let the wine reduce by half and add the chicken back to the pan. Cook until the chicken is cooked through. Turn off the heat and plate the chicken leaving the mushrooms in the pan. Add in the butter and swirl until the butter is incorporated into the wine sauce. If you want to add the cream, do it now. Pour over the chicken and serve.

This whole meal will take about 15 -20 minutes. Delightful! Pairs with red and white wine, but I prefer a merlot or carmenere.

Always thinking of the next meal


Homemade croissant dough

15 Feb

I love croissants. I mean what’s not to like about buttery, flakey, warm pasteries? Nothing. That’s the answer. Nothing. The only thing that I don’t like is the price. Croissants are typically very pricey. If you want the best, and life is too short not too, you’ll order them via Williams-Sonoma. You’ll pay a pretty penny for them too. I say why go through the cost when you can make them at home for less than 2 will cost you at the bakery.
Croissant dough is actually very easy to make, it just takes patience. While the steps are simple, there is a lot of down time while you wait for rising and chilling and baking.
Here’s the recipe:
14oz AP flour
.5oz sugar
8oz milk
.5oz yeast (approx. 1 packet)
.25oz salt
1.5oz butter + 8oz for later
heat the milk and add in the sugar and yeast. let the yeast dissolve and then add it to the other ingredients. let the dough rise for 1 hour and punch down.

Spread the dough out on a flat sheet and chill for 30 minutes. Then take the remaining butter and spead it on 2/3 of the dough. fold the unbuttered side 1/2 way into the buttered area. Fold the remaining dough over the top. roll to about 1/4 inch thick and repeat the process. Chill for 30 minutes and repeat the process. Do this 3 times total chilling for 30 minutes in between each fold. Chill over night.

The next day, roll the dough to 1/8 inch thick after letting it come to room temperature. cut into trianges and roll into cresent shape. brush with egg wash and bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

For the chocolate croissants just add approximately 1 tablespoon of chocolate chips in the middle of the dough before baking. For the danish, cut the dough into strips and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Twist the the strips into spirals and then form them into a circle. Press the middle down and fill with preserves or jam. Finish with a drizzle of light glaze.

This recipe is worth the effort. The pastry comes out irrisitably flaky and golden. Try not to eat them all at one sitting.
always thinking of the next meal

Starbucks Cinnamon Chip Scones

11 Feb

I love the cinnamon chip scones at Starbucks. I was looking around the web and all of the recreations were just missing the mark. None of them even came close to looking like the ones at Starbucks. Although some of the recipes that were posted elsewhere seemed to be decent recipes, just not the ones I was looking for.

It was up to me to figure this out on my own. Here’s what I came up with…

Starbucks Cinnamon Chip Scones

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of allspice
1 stick of butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup cinnamon chips
1/2-3/4 skim milk
1 egg, for egg wash

for glaze: 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon water

sift together the dry ingredients and work the butter in until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add in the chips and toss together. Slowly add the milk until the dough just comes together. Roll the dough out into a square that is approximately 1 inch thick. Cut into triangles and brush with egg wash. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Let scones cool completely and then drizzle with glaze.

These are pretty close to the ones at Starbucks. They are a little less dense, but not disagreeable. I think next time I’ll try buttermilk instead of skim milk and see how it comes out.

Always thinking of the next meal


Snowed in, liquored up

8 Feb

If you don’t live on the East coast, you might not know, but we were hit with 22 inches of snow on Saturday. To make things even more interesting, we are hearing predictions of another foot to a foot and a half this coming Wednesday. Ah winter, you make me miss Florida.

In any case, when you’re cooped up in the house all day, after all the cleaning, cooking, napping, TV watching and Wii playing, you need a drink. Thankfully we were stocked! It’s easy to make a dry martini, but it makes it more fun to come up with cocktails that add a little excitement to the snowy day. I’ll admit that our happy hour started a little before 5, but it was 5:00 somewhere, right?

I started the night with lemon basil martinis. They are refreshing and light. It’s a great one to stimulate the appetite too.

Lemon Basil Martini

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon basil, roughly chopped
2 oz lemon vodka
2 oz water

shake all the ingredients with ice

The the next martini I made is pictured above and I called it a breakfast martini…sounds weird, but I promise you it is fantastic!

Breakfast Martini

2 oz vanilla vodka
2 oz banana rum
1 tablespoon real maple syrup
pinch of cinnamon

shake all ingredients with ice

Give these a try on the next snow day, they are sure to cure cabin fever

Always thinking of the next meal


A delightful dip

7 Feb

7 layer taco dip is one of those things that almost everyone loves. Whenever you go to party you cross your fingers and hope that you’ll find that delightful combination of taco accessories will be sitting proudly next to a giant bowl of taco chips. It’s really simple. All you need is a large bowl and 7 ingredients. (I realize that 7 doesn’t really sound simple, but it is, trust me.)

This dip is all about assembly. You want to make sure that you layer the ingredients in an order that won’t cause any of the other layers to get squished or wilted. It looks the best in a glass bowl with nice high sides, but any serving dish will work.

Here are the ingredients in assembly order:

1 can refried beans
8 oz sour cream
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (preferably mexican cheese)
1 cup chunky salsa
1 cup shredded lettuce
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 tablespoon hot sauce

So traditionally, the 7th layer is typically slice black olives. Personally, I hate olives of the blackus cannious variety (i.e. canned black olives.) If you want to use them go ahead, and if you want to use good black olives like cerignola olives and slice them yourself that would be perfect.

This is a great dip to bring to a party, especially a football or tailgate party. There are a million variations to this recipe, but the concept stays the same. Here’s another version that I like. It’s a hot one…

1 block cream cheese, softened
1 pound ground beef browned
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz sour cream
1/2 cup salsa
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced

After layering, heat in the oven for 15 minutes at 400 degrees

Try this out at your next party!

Always thinking of the next meal


It’s nice to meat you…

4 Feb

You would think that living in Pennsylvania that venison would be easy to find. We can see deer at our front door for crying out loud! But, surprisingly, if you’re not hunting your own, it’s tricky to find. It’s not that I’m for or against hunting, it’s just I’m too impatient to hunt myself and too spontaneous to want to order meat via the internet.

The last time Ryan and I went to the Italian market I was referred to a shop that specialized in game meats. When we walked in, no joke, it looked scary. There were heads and skulls and very large knives everywhere. There were also 2 huge butcher blocks that were so well used that they were actually warped into bowls. I hate to say that the guy at the counter looked like a cliché but he did. He was at least 6′ 4″, bearded and lumberjack in build. Thank God we were in there for meat and not to ask for forgiveness. Anyway, we asked for venison and at $16.99 per pound, 1 pound it was. He only had chops, frozen, and 4 to a pack. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it would do. I know I probably over paid, but sometimes you just want something unique.

Now you might be asking yourself why I’d be so interested in venison anyway. Well, it’s probably the least gamey tasting game meat. It’s very lean and easy to cook. Venison chops are great to grill or pan sear. Because it’s so lean, it does not do well in a long, wet cooking process like braising. Venison is also easy to sauce. It pairs well with almost anything that goes with pork or beef. I like to make pan reduction sauces and last night was no different. I made a wild blueberry cabernet sauce. This is a great go to sauce since it goes great on venison, salmon, and pork. Here’s the recipe:

Wild Blueberry Cabernet Sauce

1/2 cup cabernet
1/2 cup frozen wild blueberries
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon allspice
salt and pepper to taste

After your protein has finished cooking, remove it from the pan and wrap in foil. Add the wine into the hot pan and let cook for a minute or 2. Make sure your pan is off the heat when you add the wine so that you don’t start a fire. Then add in the blueberries and allspice. Let cook on medium high and reduce by half. Turn off the heat and season. Swirl in the butter (a.k.a. monte au buerre) Serve over your protein.

If you live in PA and want venison and don’t live near the Italian market, before venturing out, ask your friends if they have any. Of course after telling my tale of adventure and intrigue more than 1 person told me they had a freezer full of venison that they would have happily given me. So instead of a little venison for $16.99 I could have had my heart’s desire for free! Oh well, maybe when I start looking around for boar or bison I’ll ask my friends first.

Always thinking of the next meal


Eggs, versatile and delish!

2 Feb

For me mornings mean eggs. Both me and the hubby love them. We like them anyway you can cook them. Ryan likes them a little more well done than I do, but that’s one of the best things about eggs, they cook so fast, so you can make everyone happy in a quick minute.

This morning I made one of our favorites, eggs in a basket. I’m not really sure of the origin of this easy, delicious meal, but it’s one that is sure to impress. Here’s the recipe:

Eggs in a basket
serves 2

2 slices bread
2 eggs
2 slices cheese, we use American but cheddar or swiss would be great
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a griddle on medium heat and add in the oil
2. remove the center of the bread from each slice leaving about 1 inch from the crust, you can reserve the centers if you want to, but it’s not necessary
3. Add the bread into the pan and allow to toast slightly.
4. Crack an egg into the center of each slice and season
5. Let the egg set for about 3 minutes
6. Flip the bread and add the slice of cheese and finish cooking

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, that this will definitely make you feel like a king. Eggs have gotten a bad wrap recently, and I’m feel the need to dispel the myths. Eggs, like everything else, are fine in moderation. If you cook them in healthy oils, like olive oil, they can be a great addition to any diet.

If you are watching what’s going into your belly, just substitute use 2 egg whites for 1 whole egg.

Always thinking of the next meal


My name is Katie and I’m a choco-holic

1 Feb

Seriously, I love chocolate. Recently I’ve been eating a lot of dark chocolate (60% or higher). I read recently that dark chocolate is good for you. Honestly I don’t really care, I just love it! Chocolate is one of those things that when you want it, it doesn’t really matter how you get it. For me, my favorite way to get it in in brownies. I’m sure that I’ve written previously about how brownies are the ultimate in comfort food. It’s true for me. I can remember when I was growing up that my mom always had a box of brownies stashed somewhere in the pantry, just in case the chocolate craving hit. Before I went to school, I did the same. You can whip those babies up in about 45 minutes and have your craving satisfied.

Unfortunately, I’ve developed a craving for not only eating rich decadent brownies, but I love making them from scratch. I’ve found a few recipes that work great and few, well, not so much. Here are the two that I’ve been making:

Ina’s Brownies


Both are great, although the first recipe does make a lot more than the second. In my mind that’s not really a bad thing. Give them both a try and let me know what you think.

Always thinking of the next meal