Monday, December 20, 2010


Bryant typically doesn't have much of a sweet tooth but every time I make biscotti, it disappears at an alarming rate. This is so good if you like something small after dinner - it's sweet without being overly sweet.  It's also perfect for dipping (or dunking) in coffee. We've tried a couple different combinations although almond is our favorite.  Adding a thin layer of melted chocolate to the outside is delicious as well for a slightly more decadent treat.

Taken from: AllRecipes
Makes approx. 36 cookies
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (didn't have on hand so I omitted)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups add-ins (pistachio nuts, slivered almonds, cranberries, walnuts, chocolate chips, etc, etc or any combination)
-Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
-In a large bowl, mix together oil and sugar until well blended. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in add-ins by hand.
-Divide dough in half. Form two logs (12x2 inches) on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Dough may be sticky; wet hands with cool water to handle dough more easily.
-Bake for 35-45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light brown (I like going for 40-45 minutes to make sure the biscotti comes out nice and crispy). 
-Remove from oven, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees F.
-Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices. Lay on sides on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake approximately 8-12 minutes or until dry. Cool.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Quinoa with Almonds & Cranberries

I served this quinoa with almonds and cranberries as a side dish to our delicious bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin and it was so light and easy.  It's a good combination of the sweetness from the cranberries, nuttiness from the quinoa and almonds, and sharpness from the vinegar.  It's also wonderful because this recipe doesn't require a lot of effort on your part and can sit for a while until you are ready to serve it (I bet having it sit longer would actually meld the flavors even more).

Quinoa is incredibly good for you - a grain that is gluten-free (if that's important to you) and much higher in protein and fiber than brown rice (quinoa's protein is also a complete protein source which provides all nine essential amino acids).  It's found more and more in regular grocery stores in addition to health foods and co-ops, Trader Joes, etc. 

Quinoa with Cranberries & Almonds
Taken from: A Hint of Honey
Serves 4-6

  • 1/3 cup pistachios, toasted in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant (I substituted slivered almonds because we always have some in the house)
  • 1 cup quinoa, toasted in a dry skillet over high heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes (forgot to toast this but it still turned out great!)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped (you can also add in 1/4 c. dried apricots although I omitted)
  • 1-2 stalks celery, sliced 
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt + more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
Honey Shallot Sherry Vinaigrette:
  • 2 tsp. shallots or red onion, minced
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
-Add quinoa, water, and salt to a medium sized pot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes, until the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is soft. Fluff with a fork and let cool.
-To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the shallot, honey, and vinegar in a small bowl. Slowly stream in the olive oil, while whisking constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
-Toss to combine the quinoa, nuts, cranberries (and apricots, if using), celery, and green onions in a large bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over top and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Brown Rice Risotto

I love risotto.  At first, I shied away from it since I figured that to get that creamy texture, they had to use tons of cream and fat.  When I checked out the ingredients, however, they only include rice, a little butter and LOTS of chicken stock.  I've also come to appreciate its versatility, too.  We had risotto with butternut squash which was delicious but you could use just a combination of just about anything you might want or have in the house - shrimp, scallops, chicken, peas, squash, leeks, mushrooms, etc.   I typically serve risotto as a side dish, but last night it was our non-meat meal (served with a bean salad on the side to add a bit more protein).

The only downside to this delicious dish is that risotto is a lot of work.  And brown rice just doubles the time.  But brown rice is all I keep in the house and I never remember to buy arborio so that's what I use (the extra fiber and nutrients from the brown rice are a plus, too).  However, as soon as you have a bite of risotto, you forget about the work and just enjoy the dish.

Although I haven't tested it yet, here's a blog post to how to make baked risotto.  It still takes 45 minutes to cook but at least doesn't require constant attention normal risotto requires: Ezra Pound Cake's Baked Risotto.

Brown Rice Risotto
Taken from: A Hint of Honey
Serves: 8 side dishes, 4 main course
  • Any add-ins you'd like (just be sure to pre-cook anything beforehand and then set aside: squash, mushrooms, asparagus, shrimp, etc)
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup shallots, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup brown rice (or arborio)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (or 1 Tbsp. lemon juice + 1/4 cup water)
  • 3 1/2- 8 cups chicken broth (depending on whether you use brown or arborio rice, could also substitute some water for stock; I used about 5 cups of broth)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste
-Prepare add-ins by pre-cooking them beforehand (peas are an exception - they do not have to be pre-cooked).
-Heat 3 Tbsp. butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots/onions and cook for a few minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the rice and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring until nicely coated.
-While the shallots are cooking, bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan.
-Add the wine (lemon + water mixture). Slowly stir, allowing the rice to absorb the wine. Once the wine is almost completely absorbed, add 1/2-1 cup of stock to the rice. Continue to stir until the liquid is almost completely absorbed, adding more stock in 1/2 cup increments. Stir often to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking and stirring rice, adding a little bit of broth at a time, cooking and stirring until it is absorbed, until the rice is tender, but still firm to the bite (about 15 to 20 minutes for arborio and up to 1 hour for brown rice). Remove from heat.
Note: The stock amount given is approximate. You may need a little more or less. If you end up needing more stock and you find yourself without, just use water or any cooking water you might have used
-Gently stir in the Parmesan cheese and your add-ins. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

While the idea seemed a bit laughable to me at first (really? pig wrapped in pig?), this bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin is an incredibly delicious meal.  Pork tenderloin is very low in fat and wrapping it in a few pieces of bacon not only adds a lot of flavor but it also keeps the tenderloin nice and moist.  Roasted garlic and herbs add even more flavor to this delicious dish. 

As much as Bryant and I like bacon, we're a bit particular about the way it's cooked.  We like it crispy...the crispier, the better. I was worried that this dish would end up with soft bacon but it didn't at all -- searing the bacon gives it the crispiness it needs

I highly recommend having an instant read meat thermometer (I use mine ALL the time).  My tenderloin was still slightly frozen when I cooked it so I just kept testing it until it reached 150 degrees. After letting it rest about 7 minutes, we had perfectly cooked, slightly pink pork. I only wish that I had doubled the recipe.

Well done, Bobby Flay, well done.

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin
From: Bobby Flay
Serves 4
  • 1/2 head garlic, top sliced off
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 - 1 1/4 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves (I substituted 1 tsp.+ dried)
  • 6 fresh sage leaves (I substituted 1/2 tsp.+ sage leaves)
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (I substituted 1 tsp.+ dried)
  • 4-5 slices bacon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
-This step can be done ahead of time and roasted garlic stored in the fridge until ready to use: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place garlic in a small ramekin or oven-proof dish with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and wrap in foil. Bake until soft, about 45 minutes. When cool enough to handle, squeeze garlic flesh from head into a small bowl.
-In a small bowl, mix the herbs together.  Rub the top each tenderloin with the roasted garlic and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the herb mix over the garlic on the tenderloin. Wrap with 4 strips of bacon (5 if necessary) around the tenderloin and tie bacon in place with kitchen twine.
-Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat oil in a medium skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat. Sear the tenderloin until golden brown on all sides (for 2-3 minutes per side). If using a cast-iron pan, transfer pan with tenderloin into oven.  Otherwise, transfer seared tenderloin to medium roasting pan and place in the oven.
-Cook to medium doneness about 8 to 10 minutes (if using an instant meat thermometer, 145 degrees for more rare and 150 for slightly pink pork). Transfer tenderloins to plate, cover with aluminum foil and let stand 5-10 minutes. Remove twine before carving.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Best Blueberry Scones & Week's Menu Plan

Bryant actually introduced me to scones a couple of years ago and I just love them. I've ordered them at different coffee shops and bakeries. Well, that's not right; I used to order them at different coffee shops and bakeries.  And then I tried making this Cook's Illustrated recipe for scones and these homemade blueberry scones kind of ruined me for all others. They're so, so, so good.  Moist, incredibly flaky, sweet (but not overly sweet) and best when they're fresh out of the that's my kind of scone.  These are also great because you can freeze the raw scones and when you want one, you take it out of the freezer, pop it in a preheated oven and bake 25-30 minutes.  Not a bad way to start any day.

The Best Blueberry Scones
Taken from: Cook's Illustrated
Serves 8
I've never tried them with anything other than blueberries (I wash and freeze them when they're in season so I can make these scones any time of year) but I'm sure you could substitute in other fruits or flavors, if you'd like.
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (8 Tbsp), frozen whole*
    1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries (about 7 1/2 ounces), picked over
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (I used low-fat
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces), plus additional for work surface
  • 1/2 cup sugar*
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
    *You'll need about 1/2 tsp of melted butter and 1/4 tsp. sugar to spread on top of each scone right before baking.
-Grate stick of butter on large holes of box grater into a bowl. Place grated butter in freezer until needed. Place blueberries in freezer until needed.
-If you are making some of these scones immediately, turn oven to 425 degrees.
-Whisk together milk and sour cream in medium bowl; refrigerate until needed. In a large bowl, whisk flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. Add frozen butter to flour mixture and toss with fingers until thoroughly coated.
-Add milk mixture to flour mixture; fold with spatula until just combined. With rubber spatula, transfer dough to liberally floured work surface. Dust surface of dough with flour; with floured hands, knead dough 6 to 8 times, until it just holds together in ragged ball, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.
-Roll dough into approximate 12-inch square. Fold dough into thirds like a business letter, using bench scraper or metal spatula to release dough if it sticks to countertop. Lift short ends of dough and fold into thirds again to form approximate 4-inch square. Transfer dough to plate lightly dusted with flour and chill in freezer 5 minutes.
-Transfer dough to floured work surface and roll into approximate 12-inch square again. Sprinkle blueberries evenly over surface of dough, then press down so they are slightly embedded in dough. Using bench scraper or thin metal spatula, loosen dough from work surface. Roll dough, pressing to form tight log. Lay seam-side down and press log into 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Using sharp, floured knife, cut rectangle crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally to form 2 triangles and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet.
-At this point, you can wrap the 8 scones in foil, place them in a freezer bag and then put them in the freezer for another day (or cook them immediately).
-When ready to make, heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray thoroughly with cooking spray).
-For each scone you're baking, brush top with 1/2 tsp. melted butter and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. sugar. Bake until tops and bottoms are golden brown: 18 to 25 minutes if at room temperature, 22-30 minutes if frozen. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Week's Menu Plan
Saturday: barbeque chicken with polenta
Sunday: Bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with pistachio & cranberry quinoa

Monday:  turkey pot pie
Tuesday: butternut squash risotto

Wednesday: Manhattan clam chowder 

Friday: pasta with bacon and peas

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sesame Noodles

This meal was great for so many reasons: fast (since I was feeling a bit lazy), adaptable (I threw it any extra vegetables we happened to have in the fridge), delicious (it tasted a lot like chow mein), and healthy.  So really, what's not to like? Although I typically measure every single ingredient in a recipe, even I could handle throwing some ingredients together; it also helped that the end result tasted like I had planned it all along.

With any stir fry, it's really important to have all your ingredients prepped and at hand.  There's just not a lot of time between start to finish to prep any ingredients.  But even including the prep time, this is still can be on the table in 30 minutes.

Sesame Noodles
Serves 4
Feel free to use all kinds of vegetables - cabbage, bell peppers, snow peas, shelled edamame, mushroom, green onions, broccoli (pre-cooked), red onions, carrots, etc.
  • 1/2 box of whole wheat spaghetti (approximately 6-8 ounces)
  •  2 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp. light soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced (or pressed through a garlic press)
  • fresh ginger, peeled and grated (I used about a 1/2 inch piece)
  • 1/2-1 red bell pepper (chopped or cut julienne into thin strips)
  • 1/2 -1 green bell pepper (chopped or cut julienne into thin strips)
  • 1/2 small red onion, cut into thin strips
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1/4 napa or red cabbage, cored and cut into thin strips
  • Feel free to add/remove any vegetables
  • sesame seeds
  • crushed red pepper flakes
-Bring water to boil.
-As water heats, prep garlic, ginger and vegetables.
-Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to directions (continue prepping vegetables while the pasta cooks). Drain pasta.
-Heat a large skillet or wok to high heat.   When pan is very hot, add 2 Tbsp oil.
-Add garlic and ginger and stir.  Add vegetables immediately and cook for about 1-2 minutes.
-Add pasta to pot. Add soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar and toss to incorporate all the ingredients.
-Remove from heat and serve with sesame seeds and crushed red peppers.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chocolate Caramel Crackers

This weekend was a flurry of baking for me. I know that many people bake cookies around the Christmas holiday but this is one of the first years that I've actually participated in the tradition. I was making cookies for our church and for the base so I wanted to make a couple different kinds. (Of course, I made Bryant's award winning cookies but felt that I couldn't just stop there.)

Enter: Chocolate Caramel Crack(ers).  The blog Smitten Kitchen, who is my go-to for all things dessert and/or butter, appropriately nicknamed these Crack(ers) because these are so darn addictive.  And it's true! I was torn between "get-these-cookies-away-from-me-right-now" and "I-don't-want-to-share-these-with-anyone-else."  Let's just say it's a good thing that I promised these beforehand.

They're also incredibly simple to make -- definitely one of the easiest cookie recipes.  With just a handful of ingredients, it doesn't take too long to make these, either.

So if you happen to be doing any holiday baking, I highly recommend these.  Just keep them away from me.

Chocolate Caramel Crackers
Taken from: Smitten Kitchen
Makes 30-40
  • 4 to 6 sheets matzo or approximately 40 Saltine crackers or crackers of your choice
  • 1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into a few large pieces
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • A big pinch of sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips (or chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate)
  • 1 cup toasted chopped almonds, pecans, walnuts or a nut of your choice (optional)
  • Extra sea salt for sprinkling (optional)
-Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet completely with foil, and then line the base of the foil with parchment paper, cut to fit.
-Line the bottom of the baking sheet with matzo or crackers, covering all parts.
-In a medium heavy-duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and stir it over medium heat until it begins to boil. Once it has begun boiling, let it bubble for three more minutes, stirring it well. It will thicken a bit as it cooks. Remove from the heat and add the salt and vanilla, and then quickly pour it over the matzo or crackers. You’ll want to spread it quickly, as it will begin to set as soon as it is poured.
-Bake the caramel-covered crackers for 15 minutes, watching carefully as it will bubble and the corners might darken too quickly and/or burn (I just checked it every couple minutes). You can reduce the heat if you see this happening.
-Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand five minutes, and then spread them evenly across the caramel. An offset spatula works great here. If you’re using them, sprinkle the chocolate with toasted chopped nuts and/or sea salt.
-Once completely cool (this process can be sped up by throwing the baking sheet in the fridge), break it into pieces and store it in a container. It should keep for a week (ha).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Roasted Cauliflower & Week's Meal Plan

I have to admit, it's probably a good thing that I'm sharing a vegetable dish along with this week's menu plan because this week is full of MEAT.  I've been waiting for quite a few types of meat to go on sale to use a few (highly anticipated) recipes and they finally did...all at the same time.   I actually had a hard time figuring out how to squeeze in one vegetarian meal for the week and I finally had to force myself to freeze some of the meat for another week.

This roasted cauliflower recipe is good...surprisingly good.  I actually wasn't expecting that much from this dish (I like cauliflower but don't love it) but since we like roasted vegetables, I decided to give it a try.  Let's just say it was so good that Bryant and I were actually snacking on it. (Seriously, how often do you do that?)  Bryant didn't have time to eat lunch the next day at work but somehow, he made time to eat his leftover cauliflower.

Roasted Cauliflower
Taken from: Cooking with My Kid
Serves 3 (this recipe can be easily doubled)
  • 1 large head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional; I omitted)
-Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. While chopping the cauliflower, place a baking sheet in the oven to preheat (this cuts down on the baking time if you're a little pressed for time).
-Place cauliflower in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Remove baking sheet from oven and quickly spread out cauliflower.
-Roasted for about 10 minutes, and then flip the florets to get them evenly browned and caramelized. Continue roasting about 10-15 more minutes.
-If desired, add pine nuts and then serve immediately or let cool to serve at room temperature.

Week's Menu Plan 

Sunday: Braised onion brisket w/ roasted vegs

Monday: Arroz con pollo

Tuesday: Sesame noodles

Wednesday: Blackened salmon with brussels sprouts

Thursday: French Dip Sandwiches (leftover from the Braised onion brisket) with salad

Friday:  Chicago style pizza (with sausage, mushrooms, peppers, onions)

Saturday:  Breaded chicken stuffed with scallions and blue cheese, served with roasted cauliflower

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Poor Man's Beef Wellington

I have to say, I've never had a proper beef wellington but the idea of beef in a puff could you go wrong?  However, you have to shell out quite a bit of money for beef tenderloin, one of the most expensive cuts of beef; enter the poor man's version of a beef wellington: a ground beef wellington.  And since I was bringing this to feed 3 hungry boys at the hospital, I just happened to have the perfect audience. 

The ground beef wellington was so good, too! You can make one large wellington or 4 individual ones (I even cut the individual ones in half).  First of all, it's just an impressive presentation of a golden brown crust and the smell just fills the room.  Bryant actually commented that tastes a little like a Shepard's pie in a flaky crust (it was from Jamie's Food revolution cookbook by Jamie Olivier, a native Brit).  While the ground beef wellington was great just the way it was, I'd like to tweak it next time by increasing the vegetables a bit and perhaps try serving it with some kind of sauce (maybe a spicy sauce?). I actually served it all on it's own but I think it would be good with a salad or (my next post) roasted cauliflower.

I have a feeling Bryant will be asking for this again...

Ground Beef Wellington
Taken from: Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution
Serves 4-6 (or 3 really hungry boys)
If your puff pastry is in the freezer, make sure to defrost it by sticking the 2 sheets in the refrigerator the night before.
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • 1-2 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1-2 stalk celery, diced
  • 1-2 potato, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4-8 fresh mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 twigs fresh rosemary, leaves pulled off the stems and chopped (I had to use two large pinches of dried rosemary)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 egg, beaten together in a small bowl
  • 3/4 - 1 pound ground beef (make sure to use at least 90% as the fat will actually drain onto the baking sheet!)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a bit of flour
  • 2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted if frozen

-Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large skillet on medium low, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, onion, carrot, celery, potato, mushroom and rosemary. Cook, stirring, about 8-10 minutes. Add the frozen peas and stir for about a minute more.  Place this mixture in a large bowl and set it aside for a few minutes to cool a bit.
-To the large bowl with the vegetable mixture, add the ground beef, half the beaten egg and salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix it well.
-On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry. You can put the two sheets on top of each other and roll out one big rectangle (about 14×16″) and make a large Beef Wellington or cut that into 4 smaller rectangles to make 4 smaller ones.
-Place 1/4 of the ground beef mix onto the long seam of each rectangle, brush the outside long edges with some beaten egg and roll up lengthwise, pinching the edges together to seal. Put on a large cookie pan, seam side down.  Repeat for each. (I actually had enough leftovers for a 5th.)
-Brush the tops with the rest of the egg and bake for an hour at 350 F.