Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fake Out Take Out Vegetable Fried Rice

I love making Chinese at home, but sometimes I get sick of plain white or brown rice. So the last time I made steamed vegetables, Sweet and Sour Chicken (which I have made a few times now and LOVE), I made a veggie stir fried rice as the side. It was delicious, I could eat that just by itself...and I actually had to since Jamie devoured the Sweet and Sour Chicken! I can't wait to experiment by adding stir fried chicken or shrimp, different veggies and maybe some pineapple or ginger.

Very Veggie Fried Rice

1 cup cooked cold rice (I find day old is best)
2 eggs, beaten
2-3 tsp vegetable oil, divided
1/2 -3/4 cup cup frozen peas, thawed
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 - 3/4 cup carrot, finely diced
1/2 cup mushroom, diced
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil, divided
2 tsp oyster sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the 1/2 tsp sesame oil, oyster and soy sauces in a bowl and set aside. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet (about 1 tbsp) over med-high heat. Add carrots, mushroom and garlic and saute for 3-4 minutes, or until softened. Remove from skillet.

Add another tbsp of vegetable oil to the skillet and heat. Add rice to skillet and stir making sure there are no clumps. Push the rice towards the sides so there is an open space in the middle of the skillet and add the egg. Let it set slightly before breaking up with a spoon into smaller pieces.

When egg is cooked through, add green onions, carrots and garlic, peas, salt and pepper to taste and soy mixture. Stir fry for 2-4 minutes or until heated through. Drizzle with remaining sesame oil.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Definately Not Your Campbell's Soup

Whenever I think of cream of mushroom soup, I automatically think of the stuff in the red and white Campbell's can. That was the essential ingredient to the very first dish I attempted to cook for Jamie - cream of mushroom chicken, which I served up with mashed potatoes from a box & frozen corn. Thankfully my culinary skills have greatly improved, although every once in a while, Jamie requests that dish. Every now and then, I'll make it, but I use fresh potatoes & vegetables ;)

But enough rambling....this post is actually about a wonderful homemade gourmet version of cream of mushroom soup. I have made mushroom soup before, but I tried to do it low-fat - it turned out to be a watery tasteless mess. This soup is definitely indulgent, not for those looking for a healthy dish. But every now and then it's OK to splurge, everything in moderation, right?

Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup
Barefoot Contessa/Food Network

Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 30 min
Serves: 5 to 6 servings

5 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms
5 ounces fresh portobello mushrooms
5 ounces fresh cremini (or porcini) mushrooms
I used a package of gourmet blend of mushrooms that included baby bella, shitake & oyster mushrooms
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1/4 pound (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 carrot, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme plus
1 teaspoon minced thyme leaves
divided Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a dry paper towel. Don't wash them! Separate the stems, trim off any bad parts, and coarsely chop the stems. Slice the mushroom caps 1/4-inch thick and, if there are big, cut them into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

To make the stock, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large pot. Add the chopped mushroom stems, the onion, carrot, the sprig of thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add 6 cups water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving the liquid. You should have about 4 1/2 cups of stock. If not, add some water.

Meanwhile, in another large pot, heat the remaining 1/4 pound of butter and add the leeks. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the leeks begin to brown. Add the sliced mushroom caps and cook for 10 minutes, or until they are browned and tender. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the white wine and stir for another minute, scraping the bottom of the pot. Add the mushroom stock, minced thyme leaves, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the half-and-half, cream, and parsley, season with salt and pepper, to taste, and heat through but do not boil. Serve hot.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The 5 1/2 Hour Sauce

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was watching the Food Network, and I saw a bolognese sauce being made. It looked delicious - even though I had just made another Ragu Bolognese alla Fettucine last month and still have some in the freezer, this recipe looked so good, I had to try it. It definitely lived up to my expectations, it was one of the favorite sauces that I've made.

And yes... it takes a while...but it's completely worth it and is a perfect thing to make for that chilly Sunday afternoon.

At first the vegetable mixture resembles baby food....

But here it is looking like a delicious meal in the making....

And....finally it's ready to be devoured :)

Pasta Bolognese
Food Network/Secrets of a Restaurant Chef

Prep Time: 45 min
Cook Time: 4 hr 30 min
Level: Intermediate
Serves: 6 to 8 servings

1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
4 cloves garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
Kosher salt
I also added freshly ground pepper and two cloves of minced garlic
3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination I used 1 lb ground sirloin, 2 lbs ground chuck
2 cups tomato paste
3 cups hearty red wine
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
1 pound spaghetti I used a combination of whole wheat penne & rotini
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
High quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing

In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop.

Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE BEEF! Brown food tastes good. Don't rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.

Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don't be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will). Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the spaghetti. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned it doesn't matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the ragu from the pot and reserve.

Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining ragu. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano and a generous drizzle of the high quality finishing olive oil. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano.
Serve immediately.....and ENJOY

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Don't Like Pulled Pork? Try Chicken!

Everyone has heard of pulled pork, Jamie likes it, but I'm not really a fan of pork. So I thought, why not do it with chicken instead? I've made this a few times now over the past couple of years, but I always forgot to blog it. It's just so easy & makes great leftovers.

Crock pot BBQ Pulled Chicken

3 chicken breasts
1 bottle of BBQ sauce, I used Sweet Baby Ray's Honey BBQ
1 medium onion, thickly sliced
1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 bottle of beer, I used an amber ale

Mix together sauce, liquid smoke, garlic, onions and beer in the crock pot and set to low. Rub salt and pepper over chicken breasts, and place in crock pot and lightly covered with the sauce mixture.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Depending on how big or how fast your crock pot is, you may need to add more beer or sauce if it gets too dry. Remove the breasts, shred with forks, serve on a large bun and with additional sauce if desired. Also, I have taken it out a little early, shredded the chicken, removed some of the excess liquid in the pot, and returned the shredded chicken and set it to warm for 30 minutes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Comfort in the Crock

Since moving to Tennessee, I really haven't used my crock pot all that much....but the winter weather is definitely here, so I hope to add many more recipes to the newly created Crock Pot category.

I love chili -it's so easy, makes enough for many meals, freezes well, contains ingredients I usually have on hand and it so comforting -but I wanted to try something a little different. This recipe was all of that & more, it'll be a staple in my house. The best way to describe this dish is that it is sort of a chili meets chicken tortilla soup. By using chicken breast, including tomatoes & beans, along with lower fat toppings, it is hearty but but won't make you feel guilty about enjoying a great big bowl.

Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup


1 onion, chopped
1 (16 ounce) can chili beans
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained I used 10 oz frozen corn
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer I used Corona and a squeeze of fresh lime juice
2 (10 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained I used 28 oz petite diced tomatoes, with juices
I added a 3 oz (approximately) can of green chilies, drained

1 (1.25 ounce) package taco seasoning I made my own seasoning mix, recipe below
3 whole skinless, boneless chicken breasts
shredded Cheddar cheese (optional) I used 2% Mexican shredded cheese blend
sour cream (optional) I used fat free
crushed tortilla chips (optional) I used baked chips

Mexican Seasoning:

1/2 tbsp mexican chili powder
1/2 tbsp ancho chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle seasoning
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried cilantro (I would prefer fresh, didn't have it)


1. Place the onion, chili beans, black beans, corn, tomato sauce, beer, and diced tomatoes in a slow cooker. Add taco seasoning, and stir to blend. Lay chicken breasts on top of the mixture, pressing down slightly until just covered by the other ingredients. Set slow cooker for low heat, cover, and cook for 5 hours.

2. Remove chicken breasts from the soup, and allow to cool long enough to be handled. Stir the shredded chicken back into the soup, and continue cooking for 2 hours. Serve topped with shredded Cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and crushed tortilla chips, if desired.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Back With Banana Bread

I made this wonderful banana bread with the assistance of my mom who was visiting for the holidays. Between burning my hand on the stove while making fajitas the week before, and being sick with no appetite, I only have a couple of posts to catch up on. But I'm finally feeling better, so I hope to make some new dishes & get back to more blogging this week.

I have been making the same couple of banana breads/muffins for a while now, and I was looking for something a little different. This one had pecans in it and a little bit of a different technique for mixing the bananas, both of these things added great flavor & texture.

My loaf pan was a little smaller than the one specified in the recipe, resulting in a few more minutes cook time and a browner top & time I would pour some of the batter in muffin tins (or maybe just get a bigger pan!)

Banana Bread with Pecans
Food Network/Tyler Florence

Prep Time: 25 min Inactive Prep Time: 1 hr 10 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 15 min

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 overripe bananas
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
Mash 2 of the bananas with a fork in a small bowl so they still have a bit of texture. With an electric mixer fitted with a wire whisk, whip the remaining bananas and sugar together for a good 3 minutes; you want a light and fluffy banana cream.

Add the melted butter, eggs, and vanilla; beat well and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated; no need to overly blend.

Fold in the nuts and the mashed bananas with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Give the pan a good rap on the counter to get any air bubbles out.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Don't get nervous if the banana bread develops a crack down the center of the loaf; that's no mistake, it's typical. Rotate the pan periodically to ensure even browning.

Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes or so, and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing. Toast the slices of banana bread, dust with confectioners' sugar, and serve.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another Restaurant Favorite At Home

Over the holidays I made another recipe from Good Things Catered that we loved. Spinach artichoke dip is one of my favorite appetizer at restaurants, so I decided to give it another shot at home. A few months ago, I made a different recipe with all low fat/free ingredients, and it just did not taste right. This recipe did not disappoint, it was wonderful, cheesy & had so much flavor. I think that roasting the artichokes, using fresh spinach, and using a mixture of cheeses makes it so much better. I served it with grilled slices of Italian bread, tortilla chips and homemade pita chips.

Roasted Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Good Things Catered


2 (14 oz) cans of premium artichoke hearts
3 Tbsp olive oil
salt and ground black pepper
16 oz. baby spinach leaves
1 medium onion, minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/4 c. mayonnaise
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. assorted cheeses, grated (I used pecorino, parmesan, asiago, mozzarella, and fontina)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp minced thyme leaves
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese, grated


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line baking sheet with foil. Toss drained artichokes with 1 tbsp oil, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp ground black pepper. Spread out over the baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, until browned at the edges, about 25 minutes.

Let the artichoke cool and chop coarse. Meanwhile heat 1 tbsp oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium high heat until just shimmering.

Sauté spinach until wilted and drain thoroughly and transfer. Add the remaining 1 tbsp oil to pan and add the onion. Cook for until softened, about 5 -7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to bowl with spinach.

Stir in mayo, cream cheese, cheeses, lemon juice, thyme, and cayenne until uniform. Add more cheese as needed...I did ;)

Gently fold in artichokes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer mixture to large baking dish and sprinkle with parmesan. (Here you can cover and refrigerate up to three days if needed)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake dip uncovered until hot throughout and top is golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Let cool at least 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sugar, Sugar

We've had some friends and family over during the holidays, so I'm a little behind on my blogging. I hope to catch up in the next few days, so here's something that should have been posted a couple of weeks ago.....

.....I'm not exactly a fan of Christmas, but I have always wanted to make my idea of Christmas cookies (sugar cookies with frosting) from scratch. I was always too afraid until now - so I went for it, and they were fabulous (as the title of the cookies would suggest!). Please ignore the not-so-great frosting job, I need to work on that, don't let that deter you from this recipe. It was easy enough for a baking rookie like me, but tasty enough to satisfy the experienced baker.

I put plenty out for Santa with a tall glass of milk & carrots for the reindeer, I hope he enjoyed them :)

Fabulous Sugar Cookies
Found On Good Things Catered, from A Year in the Kitchen

1 1/2 c. butter
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. powdered sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 Tbsp lemon zest
5 c. flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Powdered sugar, for rolling


-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Cream butter and sugars in a mixer for 5 minutes.
-Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly.
-Add vanilla, almond, and lemon zest.
-Sift in flour, baking powder, and salt a little at a time.
-Do not over mix, this process should take about one minute.
-Chill dough for up to a week in the fridge, or roll out and cut right away.
-Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and bake cookies for 7-8 minutes.
-Wait until cookies are cooled before icing.

It all depends on how thick you cut the cookies, and I forgot to count how many I made, but they make anywhere from 30 big cookies, to 80 small.