Monday, January 28, 2008

Kentucky Hot Browns

I saw an episode of Throwndown with Bobby Flay on the Food Network recently where the challenge was Hot Browns, a dish I had never heard of but that looked absolutely amazing. I found Bobby's recipe and printed it out to use the next time I have leftover roast chicken or turkey.

But then SP said he had a craving for Monte Cristos and since the Hot Browns share some of the same characteristics, I decided to make them for dinner last night. I bought thickly sliced turkey at the supermarket deli counter that worked just fine, but I know this will be better with freshly roasted meat.

The recipe is simple to make since the sauce is basically mac & cheese sauce. I used some of the leftover bread I served with the burrata and even the tomatoes were OK for being way out of season.
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Chocolate Chip Cookies

We needed a dessert for Sunday's dinner and I have a huge bag of chocolate chips in the pantry leftover from Christmas, so SP suggested chocolate chip cookies.

As a disclaimer - regular readers know I'm not a baker. I make cakes using boxed cake mixes and canned frosting. I don't make my own pizza dough. The one thing I feel confident baking is banana bread. I can't even tell you the last time I made cookies (aside from the jam thumbprints at Christmas). I say all this because of this picture:

Not the prettiest cookies in the world, are they? I really had no idea how much they would spread during baking. SP asked me to make them on the larger side, so I did. When I opened the oven to flip the trays all the dough had basically pooled together into one giant cookie. All I could do was laugh.

The good thing is, despite their freakish appearance, they tasted great. Really cakey, with a lot of chips dispersed throughout the dough. Now I just need to work on my technique.
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Recently I saw an episode of Lidia's Italy where Lidia showcases burrata, a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream. SP went to a local Italian market looking for it last weekend and they special-ordered it for us. This is how it arrived:

... wrapped in leeks. I was really excited to try this cheese after seeing it on Lidia's show, so I served it exactly as she did:

... on top of grilled bread nestled in broccoli rabe sauteed with garlic and a drizzle of olive oil. I couldn't wait to cut into the cheese and see the oozing, creamy center but unfortunately our burrata didn't ooze. In fact, the center was mostly solid. It still had that creamy, buttery flavor, but the "wow" factor was missing.

I served this as a first course before we ate the rollatini. Everyone enjoyed it, but I think I need to find a market that sells it freshly made.
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Eggplant Rollatini

Eggplant rollatini. This is a recipe that we absolutely love but for some reason we never make. I realized a few months ago that I hadn't made it the entire time I've had this blog. I finally had an excuse to make it on Sunday when we had my parents over for dinner, so I took the chance to do a step-by-step tutorial in case anyone was interested. It's a very labor and time-intensive recipe, but the results are well worth it.

Like most Italian dishes I make, this is a Lidia recipe.

The recipe starts with 2 eggplants thinly sliced lengthwise. I always salt the slices of eggplant and lay them on paper towel-lined baking sheets to drain. Supposedly this takes some of the bitterness out of the eggplant:

While the eggplant is doing its thing I made the filling:

... which is 3 cups of ricotta cheese mixed with chopped parsley, salt, pepper and Pecorino cheese. Taste and adjust the seasonings before adding 1 beaten egg. I also made a quick tomato sauce using 2 cans of tomatoes, finely minced carrot, celery and onion, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Then I set up an assembly line:

... of a sauce-lined baking dish, basil and mozzarella cut into sticks. SP was in charge of frying the eggplant:

He dredged the slices in flour and then in egg before adding them to the hot oil. I love how crispy the outside gets:

Then it was my turn to roll the rollatini. You add about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta filling to each slice, top with a stick of mozzarella and some basil:

... then roll and place, seam-side down, into the baking dish. Repeat with each slice of eggplant until the dish is full.

We ended up needing a large 9 x 13" dish and another small dish to fit all the eggplant. Once you're done rolling, top the rollatini with the remainder of the sauce and some grated cheese:

Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving:

We had ours with salad my mother made:

... which included lettuce, tomato, cucumber, radish, croutons, sprouts, dried cranberries and pine nuts in a mustard vinaigrette.
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Sunday Breakfast

On Sunday SP asked me to make him a breakfast sandwich, but this time he asked for the sandwich on a bagel. We don't usually keep bagels in the house but he'd made a quick trip that morning for some last-minute dinner items and he'd picked up some bagels on the way.

His sandwich:

... included bacon and scrambled eggs topped with melted Monterey jack cheese on an egg bagel.

I wasn't feeling like a breakfast sandwich so I opted to have my bagel (half a toasted sesame with cream cheese) on the side with my bacon and scrambled eggs, sans cheese:

I do love a simple plate of eggs, bacon and a toasted bagel. It's been ages since I've had a bagel at home and I enjoyed every bite.
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Pork Chops, Mashed Potatoes, Peas

I learned a valuable lesson last week - boneless pork chops are only good for certain preparations. Case in point - Smothered Pork Chops really should be made with bone-in chops. I only had boneless chops on hand, but that didn't stop me from making the smothered chops:

Don't get me wrong - there was nothing bad about the meal, it just wasn't as good as it could have been. I also didn't use enough cayenne pepper in the sauce so there wasn't that spicy undertone we love about this meal. I think I'll save this for when I have bone-in chops from now on. At least you can't go wrong with mashed potatoes and peas.
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Chicken Bacon Roulades

I feel like a broken record sometimes. I'm sorry for the lack of posts lately. I've been cooking some great meals, but somehow the evenings have gotten away from me.

Someone on a cooking board I frequent posted this recipe for Chicken Bacon Roulades awhile back and I finally got around to trying it.

We both really enjoyed this meal, although it took way more time to prepare then I initially thought it would. I didn't feel like loading up on potatoes, so I served a simple arugula and mushroom salad with the roulades:

I tossed the salad with a quick dressing made with red wine vinegar, minced shallot, oil, salt and pepper. It was tangy and really cut through the richness of the roulades.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Beef Picadillo and White Rice

I was looking through my copies of Everyday with Rachael Ray for a ground beef recipe when I came across this one for Beef Picadillo. I'm not sure when Daisy Martinez from Daisy Cooks! started working with the magazine, but this recipe is from her column.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical of this meal because the ingredient list was so short. I didn't think there would be much flavor, but boy was I wrong! I ate this generous helping and could have had more if I hadn't already been full. The flavors were excellent. I'm a huge fan of pimento-stuffed green olives because I love their tang and cilantro always adds great flavor to anything.

The only change I made to the recipe was to use fresh carrots instead of frozen. I already had a bag of frozen peas so I didn't want to buy a mix of peas and carrots. I chopped 3 small carrots and added them with the onions, olives, etc. to cook. Otherwise this could not have been an easier meal to prepare. The hardest thing is chopping the veggies and cooking the rice.
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Monday, January 21, 2008

Kicked Up Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

I'm not sure how the head of cauliflower got into my fridge. OK, the truth is it was on sale at the supermarket again and I feel like we need more vegetables in our diet in winter. Since we really enjoyed the Cauliflower Mac & Cheese I made last week I thought I'd made it again, with a few twists.

I had the day off yesterday so I was watching Ina. She was making mac & cheese with bacon and blue cheese, which I thought was a great idea. I cooked 6 slices of bacon in the toaster oven at 400 degrees until they were crispy. The cauliflower florest cooked in boiling salted water for 5 minutes and then I cooked half a box of cavatappi in the same water. Once they were cooked the pasta and cauliflower went into a large mixing bowl along with the bacon and some chopped parsley. I made a cheese sauce using butter, flour, 2 cups of milk, half a chopped onion, smoked paprika, 2 bay leaves, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and shredded cheddar cheese. The sauce was tossed with everything in the mixing bowl and then put into a buttered baking dish. I topped it with some panko and baked it for about 20 minutes.

The addition of the bacon was fantastic, although I can imagine bacon and blue cheese would be beyond rich. At least the cauliflower lets me believe mac & cheese can have some healthy qualities, although I know I'm deluding myself. That's the problem with winter - I want to eat hearty meals because it's so darn cold outside, but all the hearty meals end up being really unhealthy. I need to work on this.
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New Spice Rack & Fridge Meme

Awhile back my buddy Katie at A Byootaful Life posted a peek into her fridge meme of sorts. I thought it sounded like a neat idea and I've been meaning to do it ever since. Today seemed like the perfect day because I also wanted to showcase my brand new spice racks:

SP has been meaning to buy me a spice rack for ages, but we could never find one I liked. We scoured the home store yesterday looking for something, but everything we found was too long for the wall I wanted to use. And then there they were - the perfect shelves. These are actually trophy shelves, but who cares. They look great and fit all my spices nicely, with room to add more. Here's how the whole corner looks now:

Our kitchen isn't big so we took the eat-in space and bought a prep table for more counter space. I keep most of my kitchen gadgets in here and do almost all my prep work here. We even installed the spotlights I had over my prep table at the old apartment so I could have more light in that corner. Until this weekend all my spices lined the back wall, but now that they're up on the shelves I have much more surface area. I'm not planning to leave the mixing bowls there, but I haven't found them a home yet. A great big THANK YOU to my darling husband for installing the shelves this weekend!! You are my hero. :)

And now, on to the fridge meme. Here's the outside of the fridge. Whenever I look at a picture of the fridge it looks like a face:

And here it is with all the doors open:

OK....the left side - this has butter, sour cream, cream cheese, various mustards, ketchup, heavy cream, a few open bottles of wine, mayo and jams:

... and the right side - the butter dish, more ketchup (how did that happen?), salad dressings and sauces, pickled jalapenos, banana peppers, pickles, a container of chicken stock and 1/2 and 1/2 for SP's morning coffee:

Here's the body of the fridge. The top shelf on the right is where we keep things like milk, bottled water, OJ and cranberry juice. On the top left are various leftovers (I think I see some pasta and sauce, tomato puree and potato salad) and a jar of mustard. On the next shelf down is more tomato sauce (leftover Bolognese, I think) and some ground beef being defrosted. Then there's the cheese drawer, which has cheddar, Pecorino, mozzarella and a stick of pepperoni in it. The bottom shelf on the left is where I keep the eggs and bacon and on the right we've got SP's beer, more leftovers and a jar of salsa:

This is the crisper drawer on the left. I've got half an onion, some celery, 1/4 of a bag of baby spinach, cilantro and a dried-up sprig of rosemary in here:

... and the crisper drawer on the right has a bag of baby arugula, mushrooms, cauliflower, carrots, scallions, parsley and a red pepper in it:

There you have it! A peek inside the fridge of The Home Cook. Next time I'll give you a tour of the freezer drawer. Right now I've got a ton of freezer bags full of pork chops, ground beef, chicken breasts, tilapia filets, frozen pizza dough, English muffins, a few bags of frozen veggies, some shrimp shells for that shrimp stock I keep meaning to make and a huge drawer of ice courtesy of our ice maker.
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Guest Blogger

I've been asked by my blogging friend Katie to be a guest blogger over at her blog, A Byootaful Life. I'm not sure when she's planning to publish the post, but it'll be about Spaghetti Bolognese and Garlic Bread with Cheese. I'll post the link to the actual post once it's up.

Thank you, Katie, for the opportunity to be a guest blogger! I'm honored! :)
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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pork Chops in a Sweet Chili Sauce with Creamy Cilantro Potato Salad

In catching up on the posts from the tail end of The One Year Project I saw that they had given high praise to this recipe for Pork Chops in a Sweet Chili Sauce with Creamy Cilantro Potato Salad. Once again I have to say how happy I was that those guys decided to cook their way through Rachael Ray's 365: No Repeats cookbook. This recipe was something I probably never would have tried on my own, but it was a real winner in our house.

I hadn't told SP what we were having for dinner last night, so when he came home and found me cooking he was curious. He saw the bowl with the potato salad and said, "Is that potato salad?" with obvious excitement in his voice. The potato salad:

... was absolutely amazing. It had a slight spiciness to it that I couldn't place (probably from the red onion), and the flavors of the red pepper, celery, cilantro, garlic and red wine vinegar were great. SP absolutely loved it.

The thing that would have kept me from making this dish was the pairing of the potato salad with the sweet chili and onion sauce for the pork chops. I couldn't imagine how they would work together, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The pork chops were on the small side because I cut two huge chops in half, but the flavors of the sauce were amazing, especially mixed with some of the potato salad. I loved every bite of this meal.

Pork Chops in a Sweet Chili Sauce with Creamy Cilantro Potato Salad

2 ½ pounds russet potatoes (3 medium-large potatoes), peeled and cubed
Coarse salt
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
4 (1 ½-inch-thick) boneless center-cut pork chops
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1 heaping tablespoon chili powder (a heaping palmful)
½ tablespoon ground cumin (half a palmful)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 cups chicken stock or broth
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/3 cup mayonnaise
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves (a couple of handfuls), chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (eyeball it)
3 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, add some salt, and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or just until tender. Drain the potatoes and spread out onto a rimmed cookie sheet to cool quickly, about 10 minutes.

3. While the potatoes are cooking, preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons of the EVOO (twice around the pan). Season the pork chops liberally with salt and pepper. Place the chops in the skillet and sear for about 2 minutes on each side to caramelize. Transfer the chops to a rimmed cookie sheet and place in the oven to finish off, 7 or 8 minutes, until the meat is firm to the touch, cooked through but not tough. Remove from the oven and let the chops rest, covered with a piece of aluminum foil, for a few minutes.

4. While the chops bake, return the skillet to the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of EVOO, three quarters of the chopped onions, the chili powder, cumin, two thirds of the chopped garlic, the brown sugar, salt and pepper. Cook the mixture, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer until reduced by half. Once reduced, turn off the heat and whisk in the cold butter.

5. While the sweet chili-onion sauce is cooking, in a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, cilantro, the remaining chopped onions, the remaining chopped garlic, the red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add to the dressing the chopped celery and red bell peppers. When you are ready to serve, add the cooled potatoes. Stir the potatoes to combine, and check the seasoning. Pour the sweet chili-onion sauce over the rested pork chops; serve the creamy cilantro potato salad alongside.
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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fish Cakes with Red Pepper Gravy and Spinach Mashers

I absolutely love this recipe for fish cakes. This is the third time I've made it and every time I remark how easy it is to make, that it tastes amazing and is gorgeous on the plate.

Fish Cakes with Red Pepper Gravy and Spinach Mashers
Rachael Ray

3 large starchy potatoes, peeled and cut cubed
1 lemon
1 1/4 pounds fresh cod fish
1/4 cup vegetable oil, eyeball it
2 teaspoons seafood seasoning blend, (recommended: Old Bay) 2/3 palm full
2 ribs celery and their greens, finely chopped
1 small yellow skinned onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, a few sprigs
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, a handful
Black pepper
1 egg
2 cups plain bread crumbs
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup cream or half-and-half
1 pound triple washed spinach leaves, stemmed and chopped

Place potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water. Put a lid on the pot and bring the water up to a boil. Salt water and cook potatoes until tender, 15 minutes.

Bring 1/2-inch water to a simmer in a large nonstick skillet. Zest a lemon and reserve. Cut lemon and season the fish the some lemon juice and salt and add to the simmering water. Cover pan and cook fish 8 minutes.

Remove and flake fish into a bowl. Discard water and wipe out pan, returning it to heat over medium flame and add 1/4 cup vegetable oil. To the fish, add reserved lemon zest, seafood seasoning, celery, onion, thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper to fish. Add egg and 1 cup of the bread crumbs. Form 8 fish patties and toss in remaining bread crumbs to set the patties.

Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil to the cleaned out pan and heat over medium flame.

Cook patties in the oil for 4 to 5 minutes on each side until golden and reserve under foil or in warm oven. Return skillet to heat again over medium flame and melt in 2 tablespoons of butter then add the red bell peppers and shallots and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add in flour and cook a minute more. Whisk in broth, thicken, and season with salt and pepper to make savory red pepper gravy.

Drain cooked potatoes and return to hot pot. Add in remaining butter, garlic and 1/4 cup cream or half & half. Mash and season the potatoes with salt and pepper. Fold in spinach leaves until they all wilt into potatoes.

To serve, pile spinach mashers on plates and top with patties and gravy.
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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Balsamic Chicken with Mushrooms

SP was a huge fan of this meal the last time I made it and it didn't disappoint last night either:

I used chicken breasts this time. I was never a fan of dark meat, but the thighs are so cheap I figured I could live with it. Once we went through the family pack from the wholesale club I decided it was back to breasts. I really enjoyed the flavors from the shallots, thyme and balsamic. Definitely a winner.
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Pasta and Garlic Bread

Monday is grocery night so we needed something quick and easy for dinner. Since neither of us were hungry when I got home from work (SP was still sick) we did the shopping before we ate. We were famished when we got home, so I whipped up a quick pasta sauce and served it over ziti:

For the sauce I chopped the remains of a red onion I found in the fridge and cooked that in some oil with garlic, dried oregano and tomatoes, salt and pepper. It thickened up as the pasta cooked and was absolutely delicious. One of the best sauces I've made lately.

Since we'd gone to the store before dinner I was able to pick up a baguette for garlic bread with cheese:

We haven't indulged in this for awhile, but we both needed some comfort food. It was heavenly. I made a garlic butter using butter, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley and spread it on the baguette. I shredded cheddar, mozzarella and Pecorino and layered those on top. The bread baked to 400 degrees until the edges were crispy and the cheese melted. Yum!
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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pork Chops, Mashed Potatoes, Peas

SP is still sick with a serious head cold and I was going a bit stir-crazy after sitting home with him all day yesterday, so I decided to run out to the wholesale club this morning. We've been out of shampoo for a week at least, not to mention our freezer was looking a little bare. I stocked up on pork chops, ground beef, chicken breasts and frozen tilapia. It's great to see the freezer full of meat and fish again - I'm really looking forward to all the meals I'm going to cook in the coming weeks.

After doing all the cleaning, shopping and taking care of a sick husband all weekend, I wanted some comfort food. A family favorite are pork chops pounded thin and coated in egg and then bread crumbs mixed with Pecorino cheese. I served them with mashed potatoes cooked with garlic and frozen peas:

It was a hearty, satisfying meal. Poor SP couldn't taste a thing, but he cleaned his plate nonetheless. A good start to what's shaping up to be a good week of cooking. I love when I've got a full freezer. One of these days we'll actually get the coffin freezer for the garage and then I'll really stock up at the wholesale club. I can only imagine how crazy that bill will be!
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Saturday, January 12, 2008


When I made this week's menu the plan had been to go to Red Robin on Thursday for my free birthday burger, but by the time Thursday rolled around SP's head cold had worn him out and he was in no shape to go out. I had a feeling he'd want Chinese food on Friday so I made Friday's pizza on Thursday:

... with pepperoni and black olives. The shape was a little off, but the pizza tasted fantastic. At least I thought so - SP can't taste anything right now, poor guy.
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I know it doesn't look like much, but this was dinner on Wednesday:

Originally the plan was to make chili, but SP was coming down with a head cold and didn't feel like chili, so I took the chili and layered it in a casserole dish with chopped scallions, black olives, salsa, cilantro and cheddar cheese and baked it in the oven until the cheese melted. We ate this with tortilla chips, more salsa and sour cream.
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Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

The latest issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray has a kid-tested recipe for Cauliflower Mac & Cheese. I had a head of cauliflower that needed to be used up, so I figured I'd try it out:

I absolutely loved this dish. The cauliflower added something interesting and different to the regular noodles and cheese, the sauce had great flavor from the sharp cheddar and the Dijon mustard and it was really easy to make. SP also thought it was good, but he said it was a bit soupy. I didn't want to make too much of it since I didn't know if it would be good, so I cut the pasta in half, but left the sauce proportions alone. Next time I'll probably make my usual mac & cheese recipe and just add the cauliflower.
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Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Some of you may remember that SP's mom makes enchiladas every year to give away as Christmas presents. We needed a quick dinner last night so I popped the pan in the oven (still frozen since we hadn't planned ahead) and they heated through for about 45 minutes until SP got home.

I had mine with sour cream and salsa.
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Fried Chicken & Biscuits

SP has been craving fried chicken recently so that's what we had for Sunday dinner:

I tried a new recipe that involved marinating the chicken in buttermilk and seasonings and then dredging in seasoned flour. I knew I should have double-coated the chicken, but I was following the recipe to the letter. Unfortunately most of the coating fell off during the cooking process. I wish I could remember what recipe I used the last time I made fried chicken (which, admittedly, was ages and ages ago).

To go with the fried chicken SP made biscuits:

These things are ridiculously good. But really, how can you go wrong with butter? He doubled the recipe and made larger biscuits so they'd be more substantial. Absolutely fantastic!

My plate:

... with a chicken breast (moist and juicy), a biscuit and mashed potatoes.
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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Pizza Friday

We had Pizza Friday on Thursday last week:

... topped with pepperoni and black olives. I made the sauce using Red Pack tomatoes and it was fantastic. I love when the pizza comes out just the way we like it.
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Mac & Cheese

Last Wednesday I had milk that needed to be used up, so I made mac & cheese:

I added the remainder of the gorgonzola to the cheese sauce and it was outstanding. I love when I have little bits of cheese leftover that I can just throw into the cheese sauce to see if they work. The bite from the gorgonzola made this version very rich, but oh-so-satisfying.

We also had the rest of the warm spinach salad:

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