Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pork Chops alla Pizzaiola

My friend C Laz recently raved about a pork chop dish she saw Giada De Laurentiis make. She said it was super simple and very tasty. Since we had some pork chops in the freezer, I decided to try the Pork Chops alla Pizzaiola:

.. which turned out to be quite tasty on top of creamy mashed potatoes. Even though my chops were boneless, they took a lot longer than the 3 minutes per side the recipe said, which meant dinner took much longer than I had anticipated. I hate cooking when my show is on in the other room; all that running back and forth so I don't miss anything really gets old after awhile. I think I need to start cooking much simpler meals on Tuesdays.

I served the chops with a salad:

... made with red leaf lettuce, carrots, cucumber, scallions, thinly sliced red onion and a little grated cheese.
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Monday, February 26, 2007

Turkey Stroganoff

Lately we've become disillusioned with ground beef. Even when we buy it with a higher fat content, it always seems to cook up dry and flavorless. Last week we experimented with ground turkey in Beefed Up Biscuits and not only was the dish much more moist and flavorful, we honestly couldn't tell we were eating turkey instead of beef.

And so we've started a quest to see which dishes work better with ground turkey. So far we're two for two with tonight's Turkey Stroganoff:

I used the Rachael Ray recipe I always use, but substituted the ground turkey for the beef. Once again, the meat was much moister and more flavorful. Later this week I'll be making turkey nachos. I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more ground turkey in our future.
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Roast Chicken Dinner

Yesterday was one of those perfect Sundays where you feel like you're living in a Norman Rockwell painting. Light snow started falling mid-afternoon as I was prepping ingredients and SP kept a beautiful roaring fire going for most of the day. Around 5 p.m. the house filled with the smells of roasting chicken stuffed with garlic, onions and celery.

I rubbed the chicken with melted butter, rosemary and thyme. I also cooked the bird at high heat so the skin would get browned and crispy.

In my family you have arrived as a cook when you can make gravy. Following my mother's tutelage, I cut up carrots, celery and onion and place those in the pan under the bird. After they have a chance to get browned a bit, I add chicken broth. When I took the roasting pan out of the oven, SP cringed at the thought of having to clean all the dark, burnt-on bits from the bottom. Never fear, I said, we want those bits for the gravy. Look at that luscious, dark brown color. I was quite pleased with myself.

No roast chicken dinner is complete without silky mashed potatoes smothered with gravy. We also had some of the roasted carrots from the pan and broccoli steamed in chicken broth. I added cheddar cheese for some flavor, but it ended up not being necessary because the gravy came out so well.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Phlogistic Pheast

For the last six years, friends of ours up in Long Island have hosted a spicy food party known as the Phlogistic Pheast. It's a potluck where everyone brings a spicy dish aimed at searing the tongues of the other guests. We all sit around their enormous dining room table sampling all the dishes and describing how we prepared the recipes. It's a night of good food and good conversation.

I'm sorry that the picture quality isn't great - the lighting wasn't very good and I was trying to snap pictures quickly before the hungry hordes descended.

Our dish was Flamin' Crustacean Annihilation (Hot Jalapeno Crab Dip):

... that we served with toasted baguette rounds. The dip was creamy and you could really taste the crab. What we liked most about it was that you took a bite and thought it was just crab dip, but then the heat from the jalapenos snuck up and hit you about a minute later. It was very addicting.

One of our hosts made Leapin' Lentils: Volcanic Vegan Victuals (Lentil Soup):

... which was basically a firey version of lentil soup. It turned out to be thicker than a soup, but the lentils were creamy and spicy.

The Calm Before The Storm (Mixed Greens Salad):

... was a salad made with fresh greens, chunks of tomato and peppers with some jalapenos thrown in for a little kick. I'm not sure what was in the dressing, but it was nice to have some crisp lettuce to counteract all the spicy food.

Eggplant-zilla (Stuffed Eggplant):

... was a tasty take on stuffed eggplant. Slices of eggplant were coated in firey spices and stuffed with beef before being baked so it looked like the eggplant was eating the beef. Very tasty.

Not For The Chicken Pizza:

... was absolutely incredible. It was definitely the most complex dish of the evening. He made his own pizza dough using all kinds of spices and added cooked chicken before baking it. Then he slathered on some apricot glaze and homemade BBQ sauce, along with three kinds of slow-cooked carmelized onions and two kinds of cheeses. It was rich and satisfying, sweet yet spicy.

Take A Chicken and Keep it Kickin' with Jalapeno Cheese Grits:

... arrived after we'd already eaten most of the food, but we all managed to find some room for this amazing combination. He marinated the chicken pieces overnight in buttermilk and hot sauce then coated it with an egg wash and seasoned flour before frying it. It was out of this world tender, with a great spicy kick.

I don't get to eat grits very often, so this was a real treat for me. He cooked the grits with some milk and butter and added sharp cheddar cheese and jalapenos for a kick. The grits were creamy and spicy and so good I had three helpings.

The Beef Dish That Shall Remain Nameless (Slow-Cooked Beef):

... was slow cooked beef in a spicy tomato-based sauce. It was served with flour tortillas, sour cream, shredded cheese and jalapeno slices. The beef was extremely tender and very flavorful - even though I was getting full by this point I still wolfed down two tacos.

Jerk Chicken Wings was a surprise:

... since they were actually a huge steaming pile of mussels cooked in beer with tomatoes, onions and spices. They were addicting. I must have eaten an entire plateful of these little goodies. Even the host's daughter, a professed hater of mussels, couldn't stop eating them

Fried Fired Fritters:

... were deep-fried wonton skins encasing gooey cheese and (I think) jalapenos. They were crispy and good. I only wish there had been more.

We even had spicy desserts, including Theezarintchust Spicy Cookies:

... made with huge chunks of chocolate, allspice, hot sauce, mace and pudding. I ate three, despite being so full I was falling into a food coma.

The other dessert was Habanero-Lime Cheesecake, which we had been warned was incredibly spicy despite its innocent appearance:

This was another dish where your first bite seems tame - it tasted like lime cheesecake - and then a few seconds later the heat of the three roasted habaneros that went into it whacks you upside the head. This was the only dish of the evening that literally took my breath away. But it was hard to stop eating, despite the beads of sweat on my forehead. Luckily they had vanilla ice cream to tame the flames.

As always, the evening was a huge success. We had a fantastic time and can't wait for the 7th annual Pheast next year.
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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pizza Friday

For Pizza Friday this week we actually had pizza. SP requested "that pizza you made for me when S and C came over," so I cooked two links of crumbled sweet Italian sausage with thinly sliced green pepper and onions. I threw in some sliced garlic as well, but I couldn't really taste it. The sauce was the last of the most recent batch I made so next week I'll have to make more.

It's a bright, sunny day out and you know how much cats love sleeping in the sun.

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Friday, February 23, 2007


I had to stop at Wegmans today to pick up fresh crab meat for a party we're going to tomorrow so I decided to see if their sushi was any good. I got the spicy tuna roll:

They make it with cucumber instead of avocado, but the tuna was fresh and the roll was actually spicy. It didn't have much flavor, though, which was disappointing. But $6 for 9 pieces is a pretty good value.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Chicken Korma

I learned a valuable lesson tonight - you can't take shortcuts when it comes to Indian food.

A few weeks ago we bought a jar of Patak's Korma sauce. We came home from the store, stuck the jar in the pantry and then promptly forgot about it. Then this week at the farmer's market we bought a beautiful head of cauliflower and while I was putting away other groceries in the pantry I came across the jar. I had a brilliant idea - I'd use the cauliflower in the korma along with carrots, potatoes, onions and chicken.

We had both been looking forward to tonight's meal since Sunday so you can imagine our disappointment when the meal was blander than bland. It literally tasted like nothing at all, a real shame since the beauty of Indian food is the complex spices.
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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Beefed Up Biscuits, Turkey-Style

I first made Beefed Up Biscuits in December and while we both liked the flavor (kind of like chili and cornbread) we thought it was missing something. As I was making the menu for this week I came across the recipe and SP suggested I use ground turkey instead of beef. Such a simple substitution turned out to be the key to elevating this dish from good to excellent.

I used the same recipe as last time, substituting about a pound and a third of ground turkey for the ground beef. I also increased the amount of cumin to 2 tablespoons (we really like cumin) and added a dash of cayenne pepper to kick up the spice level. As always, it's a good idea to taste the mixture to determine whether you think it needs more of something - I tweaked this a few times before deciding it was perfect.

Just like last time I made the filling yesterday to save time tonight. But instead of baking the biscuits and meat mixture together, I baked the biscuits alone on a baking sheet. After I seperated the biscuits (we bought a can of 8 large flaky biscuits), I topped each with some grated cheddar cheese. What started as a way to save even more time (there was traffic coming home and I didn't walk in the door until 7:40 and Gilmore Girls is on at 8) turned out to be a revelation. The dish works much better this way because the biscuits get nice and crispy and the cheddar bakes beautifully into the top of the biscuits. Add a dollop of sour cream and you've got a real winner. It took all of my will power not to eat another helping.
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Monday, February 19, 2007

Cheese Enchiladas

My buddy D made cheese enchiladas awhile back that got me jonesing for enchiladas. I used the same recipe she used but they didn't turn out the way we'd hoped.

For staters, I bought a pound of pepper Jack cheese because I wanted the enchiladas to be spicy. The cheese couldn't have been more bland. Obviously this is not the recipe's fault, but it was a disappointment. Another problem we had was the sauce was chunky from the onions and the prepared salsa - we both prefer a smooth, thin sauce for our enchiladas. The final problem is evident in the above photo: the tortillas fell apart. Disintegrated is actually a better word. I fried them in oil like the recipe said, but they turned to mush.

Don't get me wrong, the flavor was fine and we ate more than half the pan for dinner, but now SP is on a mission to make enchiladas like the ones we get at our favorite Mexican restaurant. It's going to take some tweaking, but we'll get there.
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Mac & Cheese

Since I've been sick for the past few weeks I haven't been drinking much milk, but I keep buying some thinking I'll feel better and want to drink it. Last week we felt awful as we threw away amost an entire half gallon that had gone bad, so when another half gallon was on the verge of meeting the same fate this weekend I decided mac & cheese was in order.

I used my go-to recipe from Joy of Cooking, adding in a small chunk of grated Swiss and some Dijon for added flavor. I don't know if my tastebuds are still adjusting, but it tasted off to me. I think I used too much Dijon (at least that's what SP said). I also had a snack about an hour before we ate dinner so I wasn't particularly hungry last night. I'm going to have leftovers for lunch and I'm hoping to enjoy it more.

EDIT: The mac & cheese tasted much better today. Maybe it was because I was actually hungry or maybe the flavors mellowed a bit overnight, but the Dijon flavor was much less pronounced. Very tasty.
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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Broccoli Calzones (Pizza Friday)

To quote my darling husband - "Last week you made pizza dough stuffed with meats and cheeses. This week you made a calzone."

That is a high compliment coming from a man who told me he wasn't sure he wanted me to make calzones for dinner last night. Initially we were going to have broccoli, garlic and ricotta pizza but then I decided to take the toppings and make them into calzones. He was rightfully skeptical after the dry calzones we had last week, but now we know for sure that was due to not having enough ricotta cheese.

This time I brushed the tops of the calzones with oil and sprinkled on some kosher salt. SP said that is a must for every calzone I make from here on out.

An innards shot, complete with gooey, melted mozzarella and ricotta:

I used a 15-ounce container of ricotta for the filling and it was the perfect amount. I also cut up one large stalk of broccoli into a fine dice and cooked it with some olive oil and a lot of minced garlic. Red pepper flakes added a nice kick and helped balance out the rich and creamy ricotta. The rest of the filling consisted of diced mozzarella, grated Pecorino, one egg, salt and pepper.

SP ate his calzone with some marinara, but I thought it was perfect on its own. The calzones are huge so we always eat half and save the other half for lunch the next day. I can't wait to heat mine up later.

EDIT: I had the other half of my calzone with some marinara and it was outstanding. I was surprised it was so good considering I don't use sauce when making the broccoli pizza. I think calzones are just made for dipping.
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Friday, February 16, 2007

BBQ Chicken and Cheddar Sandwiches

In every issue of Cook's Country (a magazine put out by the people at America's Test Kitchen) they feature quick weeknight meal ideas. One that caught my eye was the BBQ Chicken and Cheddar Sandwich made with bacon, cheddar, BBQ sauce and chipotle on a roll.

It was very simple to make, but I didn't like the flavor. Granted, my tastebuds still aren't completely recovered from the sinus infection, but it just didn't taste good to me. I think it was the BBQ sauce we used. Growing up we always bought a certain brand (the name is escaping me at the moment), but I couldn't find it in the supermarket last week. We ended up buying Jack Daniels sauce and I think that whiskey flavor was what put me off. Everything else was good - the bacon, the smoky spice from the chipotle, the melted cheddar - but that sauce just didn't work for me. SP begged me to make these again, so I'll see if I can find the BBQ sauce I like (Mom, if you read this, please comment and tell me what the sauce is!)
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Thursday, February 15, 2007


Yesterday was a very strange day. SP woke up, showered and got dressed for work only to find out his office was closed. We didn't get that much snow but apparently the roads were really bad because of ice. I called my office to see if they needed me to come in and ended up agreeing to work the second half of my shift. Of course it stopped snowing once I got to work but started right back up as I was driving along the back roads that lead to my house. It was a harrowing few minutes as I drove past a field with no snow fence. With the wind blowing the snow all around I couldn't see the road in front of me.

Thankfully I thought ahead and made the chicken, onions and peppers for last night's fajitas the night before, so all we had to do was make some Goya yellow rice, heat up the filling and assemble the fajitas.

I made my fajitas with a few pieces of chicken, some onions and peppers, salsa, sour cream, shredded romaine, sliced black olives and shredded cheddar cheese. They were messy, but good.
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Monday, February 12, 2007

Grilled Pork Chops

We're supposed to get some snow this week so SP took advantage of the dry weather to grill some pork chops. We also had couscous cooked with chicken broth and scallions and a garden salad.

It was his first time grilling pork and he was sidetracked by a woman at the door trying to gain support for the Clean Water Act, so the chops got a little overdone. They still had great flavor from the grill and a nice deep color.

I'm amazed at how fresh and tasty the salad fixings have been given that it's February in the Northeast and everything is imported from warmer climates. I diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, scallions, red onion, mushrooms and carrots and tossed that with some chopped romaine. SP found some sliced black olives leftover from the calzones so we threw those in as well. I had mine with Caesar vinaigrette and grated cheese.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunday Dinner

In our house, Sunday is the only day we can have a nice, leisurely meal early in the evening. SP wanted to cook tonight and we decided on spaghetti, salad and garlic bread. He made a vegetable sauce using chunks of green pepper, onion and mushrooms cooked with garlic and a little red pepper flake. He simmered the tomato sauce for a few hours until it becamse nice and thick. For something a little different we had it over shells.

For the bread we decided to keep it simple with just butter, garlic and parsley:

For the salad I cut up some scallions, mushrooms, red onion, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and carrot that was then tossed with romaine. I dressed mine with a Caesar vinaigrette and some grated Pecorino:

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Calzones (Pizza Friday)

My buddy D has been making calzones a lot recently. Add that to the fact that I had been meaning to try a recipe I saw Dave Lieberman on The Food Network make awhile back and calzones were added to this week's menu.

I cut the dough I buy from the Italian bakery in half to make two calzones and rolled it out into large, thin circles. I made the filling using pepperoni, thinly sliced ham, sliced black olives, diced mozzarella, ricotta cheese, Pecorino and one egg. I put the filling on half the dough, brushed the edges with olive oil and sealed them. Then I brushed the tops with more oil and added a sprinkling of grated Pecorino.

I baked them on the pizza stone for about 10 minutes, until the inside was warmed through, the cheese melted and the dough nicely browned. As you can see, my first attempt (the calzone on the right) was a little misshapen. The one on the left looks much better. SP likes the crunchy, bready edges so he got the misshapen one.

I served the calzones with a marinara sauce I made using garlic, red pepper flakes, dried oregano and tomatoes that I slow-cooked for a few hours. It was nice and thick and spicy.

Here's an inside shot. SP and I agreed that the filling was a little dry. I had bought a 2-lb container of ricotta when I made the stuffed shells and I thought I would have enough leftover for the calzones, but I ended up using some of the cheese when I made spaghetti earlier in the week so there was maybe a little more than a cup of ricotta for two calzones. Not nearly enough, in our opinion. Next time each calzone gets a full cup.

Just for fun, here's a picture of the amaryllis my mother got me for Christmas. It was already starting to grow when I took it out of the box (forced flowers) so I stuck it on the window seat in the kitchen where we get a lot of light and it started to bloom this week. I love the vibrant red color of the flowers.

And because I know everyone likes seeing pictures of our cat, here he is (not blinking, for once).

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Pierogies and Broccoli

It's been a long time since I made pierogies and broccoli and since I'm all about revisiting old favorites right now this meal was at the top of the list.

I like to top my pierogies with bacon crumbles that I cook in a skillet to render the fat. That fat is then used to slowly caramelize the onions. Once the pierogies have been boiled they're tossed in the skillet with the onions. SP and I like a large dollop of sour cream with our pierogies.

To cook the broccoli I add the florets to a large pot with some chicken stock, cover it and allow the broccoli to steam in the stock. Once the florets are tender they're put in a bowl with some grated cheddar cheese and then I cover the bowl with tinfoil so the cheese can melt.

EDIT - Click here for a complete How-To for making this meal.
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Italian Dinner

I'm always amazed by the texture of angel hair. It's just so fine it's almost not worth chewing. I wouldn't say it's in my top five favorite pastas, but SP loves it so we buy it. It was the only long pasta we had on hand last night so I ended up using it with my quick-cooking marinara with ricotta and it ended up working rather well.

During my extended stay on the couch this past weekend I saw Lidia make a beautiful quick-cooking marinara and then use it in three gorgeous dishes. One of those dishes was a big ol' plate of spaghetti tossed with the sauce and served with a huge dollop of creamy ricotta cheese. Since serving pasta with ricotta is a new favorite at our house, it seemed like the perfect weekday meal. I served mine with our usual cheesy garlic bread.
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Monday, February 05, 2007

Back From The Brink

It wasn't a good weekend. What started as an irritating cough on Monday morphed into what I like to call The Cold From Hades. On Wednesday I thought I was on the mend, but then Thursday came and brought with it sinus pain and a runny nose. By Friday I was bleary-eyed, coughing and sneezing, wishing I wasn't one of those people for whom cold medicine is a cruel joke. I spent the whole weekend laying in bed trying to remember what it felt like to be well. I haven't been this sick in I don't know how long.

Needless to say I didn't do much cooking over the last few days. Somehow I managed to make buffalo chicken pizza for Pizza Friday:

... but I couldn't taste anything by that point so I don't know if it was any good. SP seemed to enjoy it, so it must have been OK.

In honor of my impending wellness, SP cooked dinner tonight. In keeping with the "revisiting old favorites" theme, he made his gold standard:

... pork chops, mashed potatoes and corn with a Dijon cream sauce. Since Dijon is a strong flavor, I was actually able to taste the sauce, which I think was the best he's made yet.
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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Fettuccine Alfredo with Sausage

The last time we made fettuccine alfredo it wasn't very creamy or saucy. I figured maybe the problem was with the pasta, since we were using dried instead of fresh. Last week at the store we saw some fresh fettuccine so I bought two packages in order to test my theory.

I followed the same recipe I always use from Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen, adding in some cooked sweet Italian sausage for SP, and the results:

... were silky and creamy. The noodles were light and fluffy and held up nicely to the sauce. I thought it was perfect but SP didn't agree. He said the fresh pasta was lacking any bite, any resistence. He actually prefers the dried fettuccine. I think my next experiment will be with the sauce I saw on America's Test Kitchen. Lidia's calls for egg yolks and chicken stock, while the ATK uses only heavy cream, butter and cheese.
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