Monday, August 31, 2009

Apple Cheddar Chops

My Venture into Cheese Whiz
From time-to-time, Cracker Barrel serves a dish called Apple Cheddar Chicken. I've never had it before but my friend Sue has and she really likes it. Sue got a copycat version of the recipe from a friend and recommended that I try it. It was good but I instantly wanted to make some changes -- which I am sure comes as no surprise to neither Sue nor my mother.

In the original recipe, the crackers are baked on top of the apples for most of the baking time. Then, in the last few minutes, you add the Cheese Whiz and cheddar cheese to the top and return the dish to the oven for a few minutes. With the addition of the cheeses to the top, the crackers lose their crunchiness and, in my opinion, their textural appeal. In addition, I'm not sure I like the combination of apples with chicken. It's OK but apples and PORK make beautiful music together. I, therefore, decided to change the recipe to use pork loin chops instead of chicken breasts and put the crackers on the top so that they would remain nice and crunchy. Pork loin chops, by the way, only have about 2g more fat per serving than boneless, skinless chicken breasts so I did not radically change the amount of fat in the recipe. If you are worried about the fat content, it's the cheese you should be worrying about.

I have been called a cheese snob. I don’t like American cheese slices or any kind of process cheese. To me, process cheese is as much like real cheese as Tang is like freshly squeezed orange juice. I couldn't believe that I was about to spend money buying [gulp] Cheese Whiz. I couldn't buy the Cheese Whiz at my normal grocery store lest I be judged by the other shoppers and the 16-year-old kids who sack my groceries. For this, I had to go to Walmart – and chose one far from where I lived.

I arrived at Walmart – a store I normally avoid at all cost. I put on a trench coat but couldn’t find my sunglasses anywhere. Luckily, I found some purple sunglasses in the parking lot, put them on, and headed into the store. I prayed that I wouldn't run into anybody I knew. Not having purchased Cheese Whiz before, I wasn't exactly sure where to find it. After going up and down several aisles, I approached a woman with two small children and said "Excuse me but do you know where I can find the, uh, [in a very low voice] Cheese Whiz?" "CHEESE WHIZ?" she loudly repeated as I moved my hands up and down trying to shush her. Other customers looked up and disapprovingly scowled when they looked in my direction. I'm sure they were mortified to hear that I was looking for Cheese Whiz. That or it was the fact that I was sweating like a pig in a trench coat in 95F degree weather while my head was being squeezed like a vice by purple plastic sunglasses made for a 6-year-old. The woman kindly pointed me in the direction of the Cheese Whiz. I quickly found the almost-cheese-like product, paid for it, and hurried out of the store. I may have embellished this story a little bit but you can see what frame of mind I was in while having to purchase…gulp…Cheese Whiz.

Anyway, you have to try this recipe. And you know what? The Cheese Whiz wasn't half bad! I was pleasantly surprised. It truly was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. By the way, if you have a little girl who lost her sunglasses, let me know. I have a pair she can have. Enjoy – and happy Cheese Whizzing!

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Apple Cheddar Chops

1 TBSP vegetable oil
5 to 6 Boneless Pork Loin Chops (America's Cut) -- about 1" thick
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 21-oz can apple pie filling
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Cheese Whiz (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup total)
8 oz cheddar cheese, freshly grated (2% cheddar works great)
25 butter crackers (such as Ritz or Townhouse), roughly broken into small pieces
2 TBSP butter, melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350F. Salt and pepper the pork loin chops (both sides) and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

Add the juice of half a lemon to the apple pie filling and stir to combine. Set aside until needed.

Break up the crackers into small pieces (do not crush into small crumbs). Add the melted butter and stir to combine. Set aside until needed.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the pork loin chops and cook about 2 minutes or until the pork has browned on the first side. Flip and cook 1 minute longer. At this point, the pork will not be cooked through. Spray the bottom of a 9 x 13" glass dish with cooking spray. Add the chops in an even layer – leaving some space between each chop. Pile some apples on top of each chop.

Take the lid off of the Cheese Whiz and microwave it for about 20 seconds to melt it slightly. The glass gets hot so use caution when removing it from the microwave. Stir the cheese and add about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of Cheese Whiz to the top of each of the apple-covered chops. Sprinkle each chop with some cheddar cheese. Finally, add some of the cracker pieces to the top of each chop.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese has completed melted, the juices are slightly bubbling, and the crackers are dark brown. Let rest 5 minutes in the dish before serving.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

And the winner is...

Thank you to everyone who submitted potential names for my Hong Kong Potato Roll Thingies. The responses were REALLY creative! We had a really difficult time deciding which recipe name to select. After consulting with my mother this morning, we decided to award the US$25 gift card from Bed Bath and Beyond to:

Name: Katie L.
From: British Columbia, Canada
Recipe Name Submitted: Dill-icious Potato Rolls

Katie, by the way, has a wonderful cooking blog herself! Check out:

Congratulations Katie! Thank you all for entering the contest. I'll try to have more of these in the future!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dill-icious Potato Rolls (formerly known as Hong Kong Potato Roll Thingies)

My Venture into Bad Recipe Names

Hong Kong Potato Roll Thingies. The name doesn't exactly roll off your tongue. I developed this recipe years ago and never made the effort to properly name it. That's why I need your help. At the bottom of this page, you will learn more about a chance to win a US$25 gift certificate to Bed Bath and Beyond by thinking of a great name for this yummy recipe.

I've been to Hong Kong several times and used to frequent a western-style bakery that served the best French breads and pastries. One day, I tried one of their roll-looking things that were filled with, what looked to me like, shredded potatoes and dill. They were SO tasty and elegant looking. I had no idea what they were called because all of the signs in the bakery were in Chinese. The employees would not give any hint as to how they were made so I had to guess what was in them. Although I saw these in a bakery in Hong Kong, there is absolutely nothing Asian about them. This recipe is my attempt to recreate those wonderful potato roll thingies from just the memory of how they tasted.

On one of my frequent visits to that bakery over the years, I was in a hurry because I had several errands to do before a big meeting. It was raining cats and dogs but I braved the weather anyway just to get one of those tasty treats. The bakery was located inside a large department store. About 15 feet inside the store, you had to go over a 1-inch step. Well, it wasn't so much a step as it was a lip since it was only about an inch high. Over the years, I had seen my fair share of people tripping over it when they entered the store. What purpose did that little step serve? I have no idea. If the store had been located in the U.S., it would have been sued a million times.

In my haste, I wasn't watching where I was walking and my foot caught the edge of that little lip in the floor. Unfortunately, there was an old, Chinese lady who was walking toward me when I tripped. As I fell uncontrollably toward her, her eyes widened and she got the most horrified look on her face. You know, the same kind of look you'd have on your face if you looked up at the Leaning Tower of Pisa on the day it decided to fall on you. Somehow, I managed to pivot my big patootie out of the way and only grazed her as I fell face-first onto the floor. I hit the tile with a thunderous SLAP and then slid across the rain-slick floor for what seemed like a mile. The frightened old lady mumbled something in Chinese, whacked me with her umbrella, and walked out the door. Not speaking Chinese, I took that to mean "Oh, you poor man. Are you alright?"

I hurried and got up – confident my fall had set off seismometers 1200 miles away in Japan. I tried to look nonchalant as I picked up my glasses, which had been thrown off in the fall, and realized that I was no longer wearing my right shoe. I looked around the crowd of shoppers, who had witnessed my acrobatics and were trying not to laugh, but I could not find my shoe anywhere. Who would steal a size-11 penny loafer with scuff marks and uneven wear? I mean really! A shoe that big would fit a family of four in Hong Kong! Some nice girl approached me and said that my shoe had flown onto the nearby escalator and was on its way up to the second floor. I rolled my eyes and got onto the crowded escalator – worried that my fall had been caught on security cameras and the footage would be posted on the internet by nightfall. On my way up to the second floor, I looked up and could see people furrowing their eyebrows trying to figure out why there was a single shoe bouncing up and down at the top of the escalator without anybody around to claim it. I put on my shoe, gathered up what was left of my dignity, and made my way to the bakery – undeterred in my quest for those wonderful potato roll thingies. That day, I even bought two…and savored every bite.

After countless attempts to create a clone of those potato roll thingies, this is the closest I have been able to come. Sadly, that bakery is now closed so this recipe is my only tie to those WONDEFUL treats I used to buy in Hong Kong. You HAVE to try making them! Don't forget that I need your ideas for a recipe name! Scroll down to the bottom of this page to learn how enter the contest for a chance to win a US$25 gift certificate. Enjoy – and happy falling for this recipe!

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Dill-icious Potato Rolls
(Formerly known as Hong Kong Potato Roll Thingies)
(Printable Version)

2 TBSP butter
1 bunch scallions, minced (white and light green parts only)
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 TBSP crème fraîche or sour cream
¾ TBSP chopped fresh dill
½ c freshly grated parmesan cheese (or Romano cheese)
1 tsp kosher salt (or ½ tsp of table salt)
½ tsp black pepper
1½ c refrigerated hash browns (or frozen hash browns that have been thawed in the fridge)

9 Rhodes Roll Dough balls, defrosted in the refrigerator

Lightly spray a dinner plate with cooking spray. Place 9 frozen dough balls evenly spaced out on the plate – making sure that the rolls are not touching. Spray the rolls with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to slowly defrost for about 5 to 6 hours or overnight.

After the rolls have been defrosting for 5 to 6 hours, preheat the oven to 350F. Start the filling by melting 2 TBSP butter over medium heat in a small skillet. Add the scallions and garlic and cook until the onions are tender – about 4 minutes. Add the scallion mixture to a large bowl. To it, add the crème fraîche, dill, parmesan cheese, salt, and black pepper then stir to combine. Add the refrigerated hash browns and gently mix thoroughly. Divide the filling into 6 portions.

Butter or spray six wells of a muffin tray.

Take the rolls out of the refrigerator and cut 3 of the rolls in half. Pick up a whole roll and one of the halves and use your palms to smash them together. Do this with the remaining dough. You will have six flatted dough disks when finished. Next roll out one of the dough disks into a 4 1/2" circle. You should not need to use any flour. If the dough wants to stretch back, let the disks sit for about 5 minutes and then reattempt to roll them out. Place the rolled out dough in your cupped palm and add 1/6 of the filling to the center of the dough. Gently place the dough and potatoes in one of the muffin cups making sure that the dough is evenly spaced around the sides of the muffin cup. The potato mixture should be open at the top and should not be covered with dough. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Bake for about 18-22 minutes or until the dough is well browned. Serve them warm or at room temperature (they are great either way). Before serving, add a small amount of dill to the top as a garnish. Want to be daring? Add some chopped smoked salmon to the potato mixture before filling. Yum!

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1) You must be 18 years old or older to enter.
2) The prize is a US$25 gift certificate to Bed Bath and Beyond. Only one prize will be awarded.
3) Entrants must think of a name for the above recipe and email me their best idea. Be as creative as you would like. Only one entry per person. Send your idea for the name of the recipe to Remember – only one entry per person. Your email should include:
a) Your ONE idea for the name of the above recipe
b) Your complete first name and the first initial of your last name (such as
Michael J.)

c) The city and state where you live (international entrants should also include their country)
4) The winning name will be chosen by me after consultation with my mother. It is theoretically possible that two different people may submit the same idea for a recipe name. In the event this occurs and I chose that recipe name as the winner, the prize will go to the person who submitted the recipe name first.
5) Ideas must be submitted by Friday, August 28, 2009 at 11:59 pm (Central U.S. time). Entries after that date and time will not be considered.
6) I will post the winning recipe name, the winning contestant's partial name, and his or her location in my blog on Saturday, August 29. The winner will also be notified by email. In that email, I will request the winner's full name and mailing address for the gift card. The winner's full name and mailing address, however, will not be posted on my blog.

Ready to enter? Just email me at with your recipe idea and the other information required in #3 above. I look forward to reading your emails!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cooking Venture Newsletter

Hello Blog Buddies!

Sorry -- no recipe today. Instead, I wanted to share some news with you and give you a heads up about a fun recipe naming contest that I will post on Thursday. The winner will win a US$25 gift card from Bed Bath and Beyond.

It's hard to believe that my blog has been up and running a month already. I've posted almost 30 recipes and, hopefully, this will be the first of many to come. My blog is now averaging about 175 hits per day and is viewed worldwide! People email me almost daily to get cooking advice, request recipes, recommend changes to the blog, and more. Feel free to email me anytime at or add a comment to an individual recipe posting.

Here is some news I'd like to share:
1) For those of you who subscribe to my blog, you will notice that I have (temporarily) starting sending out a short teaser whenever I post a recipe. I was not happy with the way the blog software was sending out the automated emails and RSS feeds because the formatting was really strange. There was always a big gap under the picture and, unfortunately, I cannot modify those automated emails/feeds in any way. The blog software gives me a second option to send out a teaser instead. This teaser contains no formatting but has one disadvantage. To me, it is not intuitive what you click on in the teaser message in order to be sent to my blog. If you would prefer that I send out the automated postings the old way (which includes the image and full text) or the new way (with only a short teaser), please email me at and let me know which you prefer. Many of you may not have a preference – and that's OK. I just want to get a feel for what the majority of my readers would prefer.
2) If you have not yet subscribed to my blog, you can do so by entering your email on the right side of the screen (or subscribing via RSS feed). I will never sell or give your contact information to a third party. I hate spam as much as you do!
3) If you want to make public comments about a particular recipe, click on the "comments" link at the bottom of the recipe.
4) Do you know others who might enjoy reading my blog? If so, please ask them to check out Cooking Ventures at Several people have emailed me asking for permission to give a friend or a relative my website address. No need – my blog is public domain and can be viewed by anyone. The more, the merrier!
5) Tomorrow, I will be posting a special recipe – a recipe that I have not yet named because I can't think of what to call it! You'll understand why tomorrow when you read the post. I am asking all of my blog buddies to offer suggestions for a name. I will then look over all of your recommendations and decide on a winner. If I decide to use the recipe name that you submit, you will win a US$25 gift card from Bed Bath and Beyond. Be sure to read the blog tomorrow for full details. I'm toying with the idea of future giveaways on a regular basis so this may be the first of others to come.

Thank you all for allowing me to share my recipes with you! Enjoying – and happy cooking!


Monday, August 24, 2009

Sugar-Free Lemon Bread

My Venture into Figure-Friendly Desserts

I've been getting a lot of requests to post recipes for sugar-free desserts. I have several in my repertoire and plan to post more in the future. Figure-friendly desserts do not have to be bland and uninteresting. My batootie is big enough already so I'm thankful I don't have a sweet tooth. Every once in a while, however, I get hungry for something sweet. When I do, I particularly enjoy desserts prepared with fruits such as crisps and pies. I think that sweet-tart desserts are especially yummy. That's why I like this one.

This recipe is a variation of Ina Garten's Lemon Cakes. If you can afford the extra calories, try her original recipe sometime. The cakes pack a strong lemon flavor but I wanted to make them lighter. The flavor boost from ingredients like lemons is important when making sugar-free or reduced-sugar desserts. It also helps to mask some of the aftertaste that some sugar-free sweeteners can have.

Sugar substitutes are a great way to reduce you sugar consumption – but they are not perfect. Sugar does more than just sweeten foods. It also helps them to brown properly and can dramatically affect the texture of baked goods. Sugar substitutes, therefore, should not be truly called substitutes for sugar. They merely mimic sugar's sweetness but not its other qualities. However, for the big cost-savings in empty calories, I'm willing to put up with blonder baked goods with less-than-optimal textures. If prepared with regular sugar, this one loaf of lemon bread would have added more than 1500 empty calories to the loaf!

Don’t prepare this dessert and compare it to the original recipe. It's hard to find a sugar-free dessert recipe that stands up to a similar dessert prepared with sugar. It's not fair, after all, to make a hamburger with white turkey meat and then say it’s better when prepared with prime beef. Don’t call this diet food. Call it a tasty lemon bread – that happens to be sugar-free. Enjoy – and happy desserting!

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Sugar-Free Lemon Bread
(Printable Version)

4 TBSP butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 TBSP Splenda
Zest from 3 to 4 lemons (depending on their size)
1/2 tsp table salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or 3/4 cup all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup plus 2 TBSP buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

Lemon Syrup
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup Splenda (or to taste)

Lemon Glaze
1 cup Splenda (or to taste)
2 TBSP cornstarch
1 1/2 TBSP fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

Using a mixer, beat the butter, Splenda, lemon zest, and salt until light and fluffy (about 3 to 5 minutes). Add the eggs and mix, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix until combined. Slowly add the flour mixture until just combined (don't over mix).

Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray, pour in the batter, and bake until a toothpick comes out clean (about 35 minutes or so). Leave the bread in the pan for 10 minutes to cool. While the bread is resting, combine the lemon syrup ingredients. After the bread has rested for 10 minutes, carefully remove it from the pan and place it on a sheet pan. While the bread is still warm, slowly spoon the lemon syrup all over the bread – allowing it to soak into the bread as you add it. Allow the bread to cool completely.

When the bread has cooled, whisk the lemon glaze ingredients together and drizzle it all over the top of the bread.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Migas / Chilaquiles

My Venture into Leftovers

As promised several days ago, this will be my last post with Mexican food for a while. Yes, I'm sure you're all applauding right now.

Have you ever tried migas or chilaquiles? Some say migas and chilaquiles are the same food. Some argue they're not. Migas are typically made with eggs. Chilaquiles can be made with eggs but not always and may include other proteins such as chicken. Not wanting to jump into this debate, I use the word migas when I make the dish with eggs and use chilaquiles when I use other proteins. If you are a migas or chilaquiles culinary expert, feel free to chime in. Migas and chilaquiles are normally eaten for breakfast – but I have no problem fixing them for lunch or dinner.

Migas literally means "crumbs" in Spanish. It is the perfect way to use up leftovers – hence the reason I am topping the migas with the chili verde that I made a few days ago. I can honestly say that I have never made this dish the same way twice which is why it was difficult to post a recipe for it. I added some red onion this time but I often use scallions or yellow onions. Sometimes I use bell pepper and sometimes I use tomatoes. I have used both zucchini and squash. I've thrown in fresh spinach. I've used leftover black beans. Use whatever leftovers you have sitting in the fridge. Heck, throw in some leftover meatloaf! Well, maybe not meatloaf but you get my point.

Whether you call them migas or chilaquiles, make this dish. It's quick and easy. The "recipe" above serves 2 but you can easily double or triple it to feed a hungry family. Enjoy using up your leftovers!

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Migas / Chilaquiles
(Printable Version)

2 TBSP oil
2 corn tortillas, cut into strips or 1" pieces
1/3 cup chopped onions
1/3 cup chopped bell pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup salsa verde
1 TBSP butter
3 eggs, beaten
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 TBSP chopped cilantro (optional)
1/3 cup grated Monterrey jack, pepperjack, or cheddar cheese
Leftover Chili Verde (optional)
2 to 3 flour tortillas

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. When hot, add the corn tortillas in a single layer. Shallow fry the tortillas until brown then flip. Continue frying until the tortillas are brown and crispy. Drain on paper-towels. Set aside.

In the same pan, add the onions and cook a couple of minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook another couple of minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the salsa verde and stir it until it hisses and spits at you. When hot, move the ingredients to one side of the pan. Add the butter to the other side of the pan and allow it to melt. To the melted butter, add the eggs, salt, and pepper and scramble until the eggs are almost done. Combine the onion mixture with the eggs. Quickly add the chopped cilantro, cheese, and the tortillas you fried earlier. Stir to combine. Pour into a bowl or plate and top with chili verde (if you have any) and serve with some warm tortillas.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teriyaki Beef

My Venture into Teriyaki

I had eaten American-style teriyaki for years before traveling to Japan for the first time. I was unaware that the food you order in many Japanese restaurants in the U.S. had been Americanized to the point where it was no longer recognizable to someone from Japan. One time in Tokyo, I was having dinner with an alum of the university where I work. The menu was in Japanese but had beautiful pictures of various foods you could order. The alum recommended that I try the eel teriyaki – a dish for which this particular restaurant was famous. I had had a bad experience in Korea with a baby octopus and was, therefore, in no hurry to take the advice of someone recommending eel. My friend explained that, in Japan, seafood is the protein of choice for teriyaki. I love seafood but opted for the chicken teriyaki because the picture in the menu was out-of-this-world. In the U.S., teriyaki is often made with chicken breasts that have been cut into pieces and covered in a thin, sweet sauce. At this restaurant in Japan, the chicken teriyaki was prepared with thigh meat, grilled, and basted with teriyaki sauce that caramelized on the top of the meat – in much the same way Americans do barbecue. The sauce was prepared with a perfect balance of soy sauce and sugar – the ultimate salty-sweet combination. The flavor was definitely assertive. With one hand, it slapped you across the face with the salty kick of soy sauce and gently caressed you with the pleasant sweetness of sugar with the other. No boneless, skinless chicken breasts. No cloyingly sweet sauce. No extra sauce for your steamed rice. This was NOTHING like the way we do it in the U.S. How could the Japanese have gotten it so wrong?

The small amount of bold sauce on the chicken was tamed by the bland, white rice on which it was served. Any more sauce and the sodium level would have shriveled you up. Any more sugar and it would have been syrupy. The meat was succulent – almost falling off of the bone. Each bite had me craving for more. This was teriyaki the way teriyaki was supposed to be eaten. I only had one complaint. My dinner consisted of one chicken thigh on a little pile of rice, 2 pieces of sushi, a lettuce leaf with a slice of tomato on it, and some green tea -- for the bargain price of US$76. No wonder Japanese people are so skinny. They can't afford to eat! That was like a dollar for every grain of rice!

This recipe is my attempt to recreate the bold flavors of that wonderful teriyaki I had in Japan -- with a little twist of my own. Today, I'm using beef instead of chicken for a really, really good reason. Chicken was not on sale but flat iron steak was. Yep, that's the reason. I'm cheap. When making this, don't expect a thin, sweet sauce. The sauce should easily coat the meat when finished. When you add the meat to the top of the rice, don't add extra sauce or the dish may get too salty. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat and veggies out of the pan and leave the extra sauce behind. The sauce that clings to the meat should be more than enough to season the steamed rice. This recipe cooks up FAST so have everything ready when you turn on the skillet. Enjoy – and happy teriyaking!

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Teriyaki Beef
(Printable Version)

1 lb flat iron steak or flank steak, cut 1/4" thick across the grain and on the bias
1/4 cup regular soy sauce
2 TBSP rice vinegar

1 TBSP sesame oil
2 TBSP vegetable oil
2 TBSP flour
2 TBSP cornstarch

2 TBSP dark soy sauce (or 2 TBSP regular soy sauce if dark is unavailable)
2 TBSP regular soy sauce
1/2 cup water
2 TBSP rice vinegar
1/2 cup plus 3 TBSP sugar
3/4 tsp grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 pinches red pepper flakes

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4" strips
1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), cut into 3/4" pieces

Cut the steak across the grain and on the bias into 1/4" thick pieces. To cut the meat on the bias, position your knife on top of the meat (perpendicular to the grain), then tilt your knife at a 45 degree angle, then slice through the meat. Place the cut meat in a resealable bag, add the soy sauce and rice vinegar, then seal and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

After 2 hours, make the sauce by whisking together the soy sauces, water, rice vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

Add the meat to a colander and allow it to drain. While it is draining, combine the coating ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk. Add the meat and toss to coat evenly.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 TBSP oil. Add half of the coated meat in an even layer and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, flip, and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add the meat to a clean plate and add some additional oil to the pan if needed. Cook the other half of the meat and remove it from the pan when done.

Add the sauce, red bell pepper slices, and scallions to the skillet and allow the mixture to briskly simmer for 2 minutes. Add all of the meat to the skillet and toss to coat. Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the beef. Add the beef and veggies on top of a bed of steamed rice using a slotted spoon – leaving most of sauce in the skillet. This recipe serves 4 but can be easily halved to serve 2.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Peach Ambrosia Pie

My Venture into Pies Made from Salads

The recipe inspiration for this pie comes from a peach salad served at the Otis Café in Otis, Kansas. I got the filling recipe from a magazine years ago and, the filling by itself, is called the Otis Café Peach Salad. That peach salad (and I'm using the term "salad" generously here) is a favorite of my mother's. In addition to peaches, I've made it with both mangoes and fresh pineapple – both of which were wonderful. I'm sure it would be equally good with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, plums, and other fruits. If peaches are not your thing, swap out the fruit with something you like. If you don't want to make the crust, just make the filling and have it for dessert (or as a sweet side for a potluck, lunch, or dinner).

I think a gingersnap crust is perfect for this pie. Ginger pairs very well with peaches. It gives the pie just a hint of spice and a little extra crunch. If you don't want to go through the trouble of making the crust, you could buy a graham cracker crust or vanilla wafer crust – but I don't think it would be as exciting as a homemade gingersnap crust. Give this recipe a try sometime. Enjoy – and happy pie making!

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Peach Ambrosia Pie
(Printable Version)

1 1/4 cups finely crushed gingersnap cookies (about 25 of the hard-style gingersnap cookies)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 TBSP butter, melted

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1-14 oz can sweetened condensed milk, chilled
1/3 cup lemon juice, chilled
1-8oz whipped topping, chilled of course
1 cup chopped pecans
1-28 oz can sliced peaches (chilled), diced into small pieces

Roughly crushed gingersnap cookies for garnish on the top

Preheat oven to 325F.

Use a food processor to pulverize the gingersnap cookies into very, very fine crumbs -- as fine as you can get them. Dump the crumbs into a medium bowl. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter. Stir until the crumbs are evenly coated. Pour into a 9" pie dish and firmly press the crumbs into the bottom and sides of the dish. Bake for about 10 - 12 minutes. Let the crust cool completely before continuing.

Using the whisk attachment of your mixer, whisk the cream cheese until slightly fluffy. It is important that the cream cheese be at room temperature. With the mixer on low speed, add the sweetened condensed milk and whisk until combined – scraping the bowl as needed to make sure the cream cheese is completed blended into the condensed milk. Add the lemon juice and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the whipped topping and mix until it is well incorporated – continuing to scrape the bowl as needed. Using a spoon, stir in the pecans and well-drained peaches. Pour the mixture into the gingersnap crust. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving but preferably overnight. Top each piece of pie with some roughly crushed gingersnap cookies before serving.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pizza Burgers

My Venture into my Past

When I was in high school, my first job was at a burger joint called Big D – the home of the best onion rings in the world. The owners kept their onion ring recipe a well guarded secret and I'm still trying to perfect a copycat version of it. As soon as I do, I'll be sure to post it. Even though it was nothing but a fast-food burger joint, I learned so much working there. I did well in school but it's amazing how much this job taught me about the real world and all of those important things in life that you can't learn in a classroom. I learned about money, working hard, working with others, working with others you do not like, making do when times are tough, the importance of working as a team…and a lot about cooking. I strongly believe those experiences helped to shape the person I would later become. That's why I think that kids today, who never worked in high school or college, have a very different work ethic than those who did.

Working in the exciting world of fast food was not always full of glamour and intrigue. After four hours of working in a hot kitchen, I smelled like a greasy hamburger after I got off work. There was a small, stray dog that always hung out near the restaurant. He was very friendly and always tried to sniff and lick my pants after I got off work. I think he thought of me as nothing but a big, walking pork chop in denim. I couldn't drive down the street with the windows up because the smell of my clothes was overwhelming. If I stopped at a convenience store after work, other customers would sniff the air and say "Do you smell cheeseburgers?" I'd walk into my bedroom and smell hamburgers from the dirty clothes I threw in the hamper from the previous day's work and instinctively wanted to say "Would you like fries with that?". To this day, the smell of a fast-food restaurant is a real put-off.

My burger-perfumed clothing was not the most embarrassing part of that job. The most mortifying thing was having to drive my family's big, 'ol station wagon – the Sherman-tank of family vehicles. And it wasn't one of those cool-looking, green ones with the luggage rack and the fake, wood paneling on the sides. It was yellow -- and not some ordinary yellow. It was painted from scraps at the bottom of a barrel where ugly paint was thrown to die. My father equipped the car with a glasspack muffler that, instead of quieting the car, only made it louder. When sitting at a stoplight, the car would idle and go "blub, blub, blub, blub, blub…" When I accelerated, the car would cough and gasp and then go "BLUB, BLUB, BLUB, BLUB, BLUB…" It was so embarrassing. You'd think he put that muffler on to warn people "HEY - LOOK OUT! A 17-year-old boy is at the wheel!". Wait. I'm beginning to wonder if he bought that muffler on purpose. Hmm.

Anyway, today's post plays homage to my fast-food days at Big D. They used to make the best Pizza Burgers. This recipe is pretty close to the way we used to make them. So all of you moms and dads out there – make your kid get a part-time job when they're in high school. Don't think of it as a job. Think of it as a valuable learning experience for when they get a real job later on. Enjoy – and happy reminiscing about YOUR first job!

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Pizza Burgers
(Printable Version)

1 lb bulk Italian sausage
4 to 6 TBSP of chopped onion, diced
Pizza sauce
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
Parmesan Cheese
Mozzarella Cheese
4 hamburger buns, toasted

This is more of a method than a recipe. Don't get hung up on measurements. It is easy to halve or double depending on the number of people you are feeding.

In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the buns.

While the buns are toasting, cut the Italian sausage into four pieces. Flatten each piece into a patty about 1/4" thick.

When the buns are toasted, remove them from the skillet and add the sausage patties. Sauté until browned then flip. Sprinkle some onions on the top of each patty then add a couple of spoonfuls of pizza sauce to the center of each patty. Top with a good amount of both parmesan and mozzarella – trying to keep everything mounded in the center of the patties and away from the sides. As it heats, everything will spread to the edges. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water to the skillet and immediately cover. Cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes or until the sausage is fully cooked and the cheeses have melted. Serve on the toasted buns with your favorite chips.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Easy Tostadas

My Venture into Leftovers
I'll bet you guys are really sick of my posting Mexican recipes, aren't you? You might recall that earlier this week, I posted a recipe for Chili Verde. And then yesterday, I posted a recipe for Quick Refried Beans. Now I've got Mexican leftovers coming out the whazoo! In the spirit of getting everything used up, I made some tostadas using some leftover refried beans and topped them with some leftover chili verde – killing two birds with one stone. Yummalicous! Technically, a tostada that is topped with chili verde is called a "special" (at least in my part of the country) but let's not get caught up on semantics.

This recipe is such a quick and easy way to use up leftovers. I have a small amount of chili verde leftover from earlier in the week so I'm going to subject you with one more Mexican recipe. I'll post that recipe in a few days but you'll have to wait in suspense to see what I make. After that, I promise not to make any Mexican food for a while. Oh my gosh, what am I saying?! I never thought I'd hear myself utter those words. Well, technically, I've still never uttered those words since I'm typing and not talking.

Anyway, did you know that "tostada" means "toasted" in Spanish? With that in mind, I think they should change the cocktail's name from "margarita" to "tostada" because I usually feel toasted after I drink one. I know, I know! It's a bad joke but it's been a long day and I really need a Diet Coke. On that note, I wish you well as you venture into the crazy world of leftovers. Enjoying – and happy toasting!

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Easy Tostadas
(Printable Version)

2 or 3 flour tortillas
1 recipe for Quick Refried Beans

Topping Options:


Cheddar Cheese


Sour Cream

Leftover Chili Verde

Prick the desired number of tortillas with a fork several times in order to keep them from inflating when heated. Deep fry the tortillas in oil or shallow fry in a skillet until golden brown and crispy. For a healthier alternative, brush each tortilla (front and back) with oil and bake on a sheet pan at 350F for 7 minutes, flip, and bake another 3 to 4 minutes or until the tortillas are crisp.
Spoon some hot refried beans on the tortilla shells. Top with your desired toppings.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Homemade Ketchup (Catsup)

My Venture into Classic American Condiments

Why on earth would anybody go to the effort of making their own ketchup when you can buy it already made from the store? Why would anybody make their own marinara sauce instead of buying it from the store? Or their own cookies? Or their own bread? People make things from scratch when they want to control the ingredients, make it healthier, make it cheaper, or make it better-tasting. Commercially made ketchup is made with a lot of high-fructose corn syrup and is cloyingly sweet. If you are worried about your family consuming too much corn syrup, give this recipe a try.

When I was growing up, my mother would make homemade ketchup using fresh tomatoes from our garden. It was heavenly! If you have a lot of extra tomatoes in your garden, use them to make some homemade ketchup! While I love mom's original recipe using fresh tomatoes, it is really a labor of love. In addition, the various varieties of fresh tomatoes that might be used in making the ketchup cause inconsistent results. In addition, you can only make ketchup during the summer when tomatoes are in season. After all, you would not want to spend the time and money in making homemade ketchup using those tasteless things that you have to buy during the winter. For this reason, I adapted mom's recipe to use canned, whole tomatoes. Upon reading this, my mother is probably rolling her eyes. The reason I decided to use canned tomatoes is because they are picked at their height of ripeness, are inexpensive, available year-round, and produce consistent results each and every time. In addition, using canned tomatoes significantly cuts the total prep and cook time since you do not have to blanch and peel eight pounds of tomatoes. For those of you who wish to use fresh tomatoes, check out this recipe from Karen in Colorado. Her recipe closely resembles my mother's.

The bad thing about making homemade ketchup is the amount it splatters while cooking. When I was growing up, we even had ketchup stains on the ceiling above the stove. I used to tell my friends that it was blood from a neighbor who knocked on the door when mom was trying to watch "Dallas" on TV. If you valued your life, you never interrupted my mother during Dallas.

This recipe is well worth the effort so make it today! Enjoy – and happy condimenting!

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Homemade Ketchup (Catsup)
(Printable Version)

2-28 oz cans whole tomatoes
1 small onion, roughly chopped
3 TBSP tomato paste
1 cup sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Add half of the onion and one of the cans of whole tomatoes to a blender. Purée for at least 30 seconds or until the mixture is well liquefied. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a dutch oven and strain the tomato mixture into the pot. Use a spoon to help coax the purée through the strainer. Discard any solids that stubbornly refuse to go through the strainer. Repeat with the other half of the onion and remaining can of whole tomatoes.

Add the tomato paste and sugar to the pot and whisk to incorporate. Turn the heat to medium and allow the mixture to come to a vigorous simmer. Once the mixture is vigorously simmering, set your timer for 50 minutes and allow the tomato purée to reduce (uncovered!) -- stirring periodically but more often as the mixture gets thicker. I highly recommend that you use a splatter screen to rest over your pot while the tomatoes are simmering. As the mixture thickens, it may splatter and the screen will keep the ketchup in the pot where it is supposed to be.

After 50 minutes, add the vinegar, salt, and spices. Whisk to incorporate. Continue to simmer (with the splatter screen on) until the mixture thickens to the consistency of ketchup – about 25 to 35 minutes longer. I like mine on the thick side so I usually go the entire 35 minutes.

Once the ketchup has reached the desired consistency, transfer the ketchup to a container (preferably glass so it will not stain) and allow it to cool. When cool, cover and refrigerate. It will keep for about 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge. Like mustard, homemade ketchup will eventually separate so be sure to stir it before using.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quick Refried Beans

My Venture into Quick and Easy Mexican Food

I am almost mortified to post a recipe on my blog where the primary ingredient comes from a can and can be on the table in less than 5 minutes. With this post, my reputation as a genuine foodie may be in serious jeopardy. Let me first start by saying I normally make refried beans from scratch. That is, I pick through and wash dry pinto beans, let them soak overnight, and then let them simmer for 2 hours in onions, garlic, and spices. They taste great – but they are a serious time commitment. Sometimes when I come home from work, I'm too pooped to take 3 hours to make a gourmet-licious meal fit for a king.

Enter a can of refried beans. A working man's best friend. When I was growing up, my mother always made refried beans from scratch. I was an adult before I even tried canned refried beans for the first time and my first impression was not good. They are incredibly bland. They lack the depth of flavor that comes with cooking your own beans from scratch over a period of hours. The texture is odd and the smell can sometimes be unappetizing. They are, however, inexpensive and quick to heat up. The above recipe is my attempt to make canned refried beans more palatable. Are they as good as homemade? Of course not. However, they are just fine for a quick, Tuesday-night dinner. Sometime, I'll post my recipe for homemade refried beans from scratch – but not today. Today, we are recognizing the fact that we don't always have the time to make a lavish dinner when we come home from work at the end of the day. Give this quick and easy recipe a try. Enjoy – and happy eating!

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Quick Refried Beans
(Printable Version)

1-16 oz can of refried beans
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp table salt) or to taste
2 TBSP water

Mix all of the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 2 to 3 minutes or until the beans are hot – stirring once during heating.

Serving ideas:
Use as a side dish or in burritos, chimichangas, tostadas, dips, and more.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chili Verde

My Venture into New Mexican Cuisine
If you have never been to New Mexico, go! It's a beautiful state with wonderful cuisine. My dear friend Judith recently went on a vacation to New Mexico and brought me back some fresh Hatch peppers. Hatch peppers are a special cultivar of Anaheim peppers, which are normally quite mild. Hatch peppers have been specially bred to be spicier and, I think, more flavorful than their Anaheim brothers. Fresh, green chilis and red, dried chilis both play important roles in New Mexican cuisine. Stews and sauces made with these chilis have a beautiful color and are often served on top of other foods to augment the flavor of a dish. In restaurants, you might hear a waiter say "Red or Green?" – asking which sauce you prefer on top of your food. If you're like me and have trouble deciding, just say "Christmas" and they'll put a little of both sauces on top.

After getting the peppers from Judith, my mind was awash with ideas of what I could make. It is a rarity for me to get fresh Hatch peppers so I wanted to make something special. So many ideas and so little time! I finally decided to make some Chili Verde. This green chili is made with a tomatillo salsa, pork, and spices and simmered until the pork is falling apart. Oh, it is so good. I add it on top of EVERYTHING. I even have to resist adding it to my Cherrios.

Some of you may not be familiar with cooking with tomatillos. Tomatillo means "little tomato" in Spanish. They look like small, green tomatoes and their flavor is somewhat reminiscent of an unripe tomato. I would describe them as being slightly acidic with a refreshing citrusy overtone. Although they look like tomatoes, they are actually members of the cape gooseberry family. A papery husk surrounds the tomatillo and has to be peeled off before cooking. The husks come off easily but leave a sticky residue behind so the tomatillo needs to be carefully washed before using.

There are SO many foods that you could serve with chili verde. Over the next week or so, I'm going to post some examples of how you might use this flavorful stew. This recipe takes some time and effort to make but, I assure you, it's worth it. Thank you Judith for the beautiful chilis! Enjoy – and happy cooking!

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Chili Verde
(Printable Version)

5 lbs pork shoulder, excess fat removed and cut into 3/4" pieces
Liberally salt and pepper to taste

Tomatillo Puree:
1 3/4 lbs tomatillos, de-husked and cleaned
7 hatch chili peppers (or a mixture of 3 poblano peppers and 2 jalapenos)]

2 medium onions, chopped
1 head of garlic, all cloves minced
1 1/2 TBSP dried oregano and more as needed
2 tsp cumin and more as needed
3 cups chicken stock for a thicker stew (4 to 5 cups for a more traditional, thinner stew)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 tsp kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp table salt)
1/2 tsp black pepper

The Night before Cooking the Chili Verde
Cut up the pork shoulder into 3/4" pieces, removing excess fat. Liberally salt and pepper the pork, transfer to a large bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Move your oven rack to the highest position and set your oven to broil.

Place the uncut hatch chilis or poblanos on a sheet pan. Broil until they are charred and blackened, turning once during roasting (about 5 minutes per side). Place the peppers in a paper bag or bowl, cover, and allow them to steam. After 10 minutes, peel and discard the outer, charred skins. Remove the seeds and discard. Add the meat of the pepper to a blender.

While the peppers are roasting, de-husk and wash the tomatillos. Place the tomatillos on a sided cookie sheet. Larger tomatillos should be cut in half at the equator and placed cut-side down. When the peppers are done roasting, broil the tomatillos until the tops have blackened – about 7 to 11 minutes. No need to flip during roasting and no need to de-skin. Add the roasted tomatillos to the peppers in the blender. Puree until smooth. Add the mixture to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until needed the next day.

On the Day of Cooking the Chili Verde
Preheat the oven to 300F.

Heat a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 TBSP oil to the pot. When shimmering, add half the pork pieces and brown. After adding the meat, don't stir the meat so that the pork can develop a brown crust. Flip when the pork has browned. When fully browned, transfer to a clean plate. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot and brown the remaining pork pieces. After removing all pork from the pot, add the onions and a little salt and pepper. Stir the onions around. As they release their moisture, you will be able to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. After about 3 minutes, add the garlic and cook 1minute longer. Next, add the oregano and cumin and cook 1 minute longer. Add the pork and any accumulated juices back to the pot. Pour in the chicken stock. Add the cilantro and the tomatillo puree that you made the night before. Add the salt and pepper. Bring up to a boil, cover the pot, and bake the chili verde for 3 hours – stirring once halfway through.

After 3 hours, taste for seasoning. At this point, I normally add 1 more teaspoon each of dried oregano and cumin. You may also need to add more salt and pepper, if needed. Stir, recover the pot, and continue baking 30 minutes longer.

When finished, the pork should be fork tender and falling apart. Serve the chili verde on tostadas, chilaquiles, burritos, chimichangas, or in a bowl with some fresh tortillas. The chili verde is even BETTER the next day.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rhubarb Crisp

My Venture into Eating Vegetables for Dessert

The rhubarb industry needs to hire a better public relations firm. For whatever reason, rhubarb has gotten the shaft – no pun intended. It needs to stop hanging out with prunes and brussel sprouts and start hanging out with trendy vegetables like jicama and white asparagus (not that I'm prejudiced against green).

Most people who claim to hate rhubarb have never, in fact, ever tried it. A few years ago, I brought a rhubarb dessert into the office and people devoured it. While scrambling for seconds, many of my coworkers exclaimed "THIS is rhubarb?!" This dessert is wonderfully tart and refreshing to eat. My taste buds absolutely dance when I eat it. When I developed this recipe, I considered swapping out half of the rhubarb for strawberries – which is commonly done in many rhubarb desserts. Then I thought, "It's time that rhubarb stop being relegated to the back of the bus and being paired with trendy berries in order to be accepted." Rhubarb lovers unite!!! This dessert is for you! It's unapologetically tart. Let's stop being ashamed to eat this wonderful vegetable and proclaim our love for this second-class citizen of the plant world. Make this dessert, step out of the culinary closet, and proudly eat it in front of your friends and family members. Leave the closet for the health nuts who say they only eat healthy foods while secretly wolfing down drumsticks from KFC.

If you've never had rhubarb, here is your chance to introduce your taste buds to a new friend. You won't regret it. Enjoy – and happy puckering!

P.S. This is going to be a busy week for postings so be sure to check the blog everyday!

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Rhubarb Crisp
(Printable Version)

5 cups rhubarb, cut into a small dice
1-3 oz box of strawberry jello
1 cup plus 2 TBSP sugar for a tart crisp (increase to 1 1/4 cups sugar for a less-tart crisp)
3 TBSP cornstarch

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
12 TBSP butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, combine the filling ingredients and stir to combine. Pour the rhubarb mixture into an 8x8" glass dish. Use the back of a spoon to make sure the rhubarb is well packed and even on top.

In another bowl, combine the topping ingredients. Using your hands or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it is very well combined. All of the flour should be moisten with the butter when finished. Grab a handful of the topping and squeeze it in your hand. Gently break of small chunks of the topping all over the rhubarb. Repeat with the remaining topping. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the rhubarb is bubbly. Cool to room temperature before eating.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Crab Salad

My Venture into Seafood Salads
I live in Kansas. Beef country. Seafood lovers are few and far between. Despite that, I can't help but love seafood in all of its glorious forms. My mother dislikes seafood so she rarely cooked fish when I was growing up – except for the occasional fish stick on Fridays during Lent. Nowadays, I eat seafood every chance I get.

My love affair with seafood started many years ago when I visited Asia for the first time. I can honestly say I have never had fresher seafood. One time while in South Korea, I was invited to dinner with a group of businessmen. I was the guest of honor and was treated like a king for a night. They took me to a fancy, schmancy seafood restaurant that was all the rage in Seoul. Since the menu was all in Korean, I asked my hosts to order something for me. After much discussion, they decided on a dish. Word of advice: When you're in another country, never let a stranger order something for you. If you have a queasy stomach, I recommend that you read no further.

When the food arrived, the waiter placed a big bowl of soup in front of me and all of the businessmen oooohed and aaaaahed at the beauty of my dish. I looked down at the bowl and it was a brothy soup made with lots of veggies and noodles and was topped with a baby octopus. It was truly a sight to be seen except for one small detail. The baby octopus…was still alive. Upon seeing that, a whole range of thoughts and emotions came flooding into my head. I wanted to scream like a school girl and go running from the restaurant but I quickly dismissed that option. I considered the possibility that it was an oversight and the chef simply forgot to cook the little sucker. From the pleased looks on my hosts' faces, I gathered that the dish was supposed to have been served this way. For those of you who have ever had to call the waiter because you found a fly in your soup, try having a LIVE OCTOPUS in it! I could not return this disgusting but exquisitely prepared dish. It would have insulted all of my hosts and, obviously, I couldn't do that. That meant [gulp] I had to eat..the baby...octopus. Not only did I have to eat him but I had to eat him fast because the poor thing was getting irritated from sitting on top of hot soup and was constantly trying to escape so I had to keep flicking him back into my bowl. I felt like every eye in that restaurant was on me as I picked up my chopsticks. I looked up and the businessmen were smiling and nodding in encouragement. As my hand drew closer to the octopus, the little guy raised one of his tentacles and reached out to grab one of my chopsticks and I thought, "Oh, geez, we got a fighter." It took every fiber of my being but I ate the whole thing. So, when I say I like fresh seafood, I don't like it THAT fresh. I don't want to have to fence my seafood with a pair of chopsticks before eating it.

I shouldn't have told you that story. Now I'm too grossed out to eat that big bowl of crab salad sitting in my fridge. Anyway, the next time you can't get your kids to eat their veggies, give 'em a choice between broccoli and a live, baby octopus. They'll make the right choice. If you live on the coast and have access to fresh crab, by all means, use it instead of the imitation stuff. Just make sure the crab is not alive and kickin' before serving it to your guests. Enjoy – and happy fencing!

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Crab Salad

(Printable Version)

Chunky Ingredients:
3/4 cup red onion, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 1b. imitation crab, chopped
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

3/4 cup mayonnaise (light mayo works OK)
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish (sugar-free works great), drained of excess liquid
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 TBSP chopped fresh dill
1 tsp lemon juice
2 pinches of salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 paprika

In a large bowl, combine the red onion, celery, imitation crab, and hard-boiled eggs.

In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients. Add the dressing to the bowl containing the crab mix and gently stir to combine. If the mixture looks a little dry, add some additional mayo. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Cover and refrigerate for two hours before serving.

Serving Ideas:
Serve on a bed of your favorite salad greens or make a sandwich using Greek pita, bolillo rolls, tortillas, or your favorite kind of bread. You can also serve this as an appetizer with your choice of snack crackers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


My Venture into Savory Pies

Everybody needs a good quiche recipe. This is my version of Quiche Lorraine. My version uses ham instead of bacon, milk instead of cream, and gruyère instead of the traditional Swiss. It's a cinch to throw together and is perfect for brunch, special breakfasts, or even a light dinner.

I normally make my own pie dough from scratch. I think refrigerated pie dough, although very convenient, loses out in the taste category. To make it easier, I used store-bought pie dough for this recipe but, by all means, make it from scratch if you have the time.

My mother is an awesome cook and has always made her own pie dough. One time several years ago, I made individual chicken pot pies for my mother and sister and decided I would try using refrigerated pie dough to see how it worked. Since I had always made pie dough from scratch, this was truly an experiment. I made the pot pies and took them over to my mother's house to bake. When I walked in the door, my mother greeted me and looked down at the pot pies. Although I don't use my mother's pie dough recipe, she can certainly tell what homemade pie dough looks like. You can't fool an experienced pie baker! Mom furrowed her brow and accusingly asked, "Is that store-bought pie dough?!" I explained that it was but assumed that it wouldn't be a problem to try it just this once. She responded dryly by saying "Oh, sure, sure. No problem. You almost split me in half during child birth but, yeah sure, store-bought pie dough is no problem." Before my mother married my father, she used to be in a convent and was practicing to be a nun. That convent must have taught a class in how to guilt people – a class in which I'm sure she received a stellar grade. So, if you are making this for your mother, take a few extra minutes and make the pie dough from scratch.

You and your family are going to LOVE this quiche. If you make it, they'll shower you with flowers and gifts. Well, if not that, at least maybe they'll do the dishes. In any case, enjoy – and happy eating!

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(Printable Version)

1 refrigerated pie dough (or make your own)

1 TBSP butter
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup ham, finely diced

4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 pinches salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp paprika

6 oz gruyère cheese, finely grated
2 TBSP parmesan cheese

Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position. Preheat the oven to 325F.

Unroll the piece of pie dough. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough a little thinner – making the circle about 1" larger in diameter. Place the dough in a 9" deep-dish pie tin, fold the edges under, and flute. Refrigerate while you are preparing the other ingredients.

Heat one tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they are very soft and just beginning to brown – about 10 minutes. Add the ham and cook about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one minute longer. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, mustard, salt, pepper, and paprika together. Pour the custard over the onion mixture. Add the cheeses and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake for 50 to 58 minutes or until the custard has set and the top has nicely browned. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting. This quiche is equally good served warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ranch Chicken and Potatoes

My Venture into the Outback

I love Outback Steakhouse. They have great food but you walk in a size 6 and waddle out a size 16. The cheese fries with bacon and ranch dipping sauce are out of this world but they are a coronary just waiting to happen. I'm not much of a steak eater so I normally order a chicken or fish dish. They used to serve (and probably still do) a dish called Alice Springs Chicken. It is a chicken breast that has been marinated in honey mustard sauce, topped with mushrooms, bacon, and cheese then baked to perfection. Very tasty but a bit fattening. Add to that the cheese fries, a salad with fat-laden croutons, some of the Bushman Bread bathed in butter, and a delectable dessert and you will have consumed the same amount of calories as the average Ethiopian does in a year.

I came up with this recipe as a way to get some of the same flavor profiles without all of the guilt afterwards. In one dish, you get some chicken, potatoes, ranch dip, mushrooms, cheese, and bacon – with a lot less calories and fat but all of the same great taste. This dish is perfect for small dinner parties. I like to serve it in individual au gratin dishes but it also works great "family-style" in a larger glass dish. The recipe can be easily doubled or tripled if you need to serve more people. You HAVE to try it! G'day mate – and happy eatin'!

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Ranch Chicken and Potatoes

(Printable Version)

Ranch Dip
8 oz light sour cream (or regular sour cream)
1-1/2 TBSP Ranch Dip Mix (from a 1-oz packet)

2 chicken breasts
1 tsp of Ranch Dip Mix
3 TBSP of the prepared Ranch Dip as prepare above

Mushroom Topping
1-1/2 TBSP butter
8 oz white mushrooms, sliced
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 TBSP water
2 tsp soy sauce
Pepper to taste

Ranch Potatoes
2 cups cubed frozen hash browns (such as Ore-Ida Southern-Style Hash Brown Potatoes), thawed
1/2 TBSP oil
The remaining Ranch Dip Mix

Additional Toppings
4 oz 2% sharp cheddar (or regular sharp cheddar), shredded
2 to 3 TBSP of real bacon bits (sold in the salad dressing aisle)
1 scallion (the light and dark green parts), chopped

Prepare the ranch dip by mixing the sour cream with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the ranch dip mix.

Add one teaspoon of the powdered ranch dip mix to the chicken breasts and massage into the meat. Place the chicken in a sealable bag and add 3 tablespoons of the prepared ranch dip to the breasts. Seal and use your hands to massage the dip all over the chicken then refrigerate for 3 hours. Cover the remaining prepared dip and refrigerate it until it is needed later. Reserve the remaining powdered mix for use on the potatoes.

After the chicken has marinated for three hours, preheat the oven to 400F. Start the mushroom topping by heating a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the butter. As soon as it melts, add the mushrooms and flatten them into an even layer. Sprinkle the shallot over the mushrooms and sauté for three minutes without stirring. After three minutes, reduce the heat to medium, stir, and heat an additional three minutes. After three minutes, stir again, and heat an additional three minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, and some pepper then cook for one minute longer. Add the water and soy sauce, stir, and allow the liquids to evaporate (about 30 to 45 seconds longer). Spoon the mushrooms onto a clean plate.
While the mushrooms are cooking, add the frozen cubed potatoes to a microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and heat for two to three minutes, stirring them once during heating. Add 1/2 tablespoon of oil to the heated potatoes and toss. Sprinkle the leftover powdered dip mix over the potatoes and some black pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

After the mushrooms have finished cooking, wipe out the skillet, add one tablespoon of oil, and increase the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot, add the marinated chicken. Add some pepper to the top of the each breast. Sauté on the first side for two minutes, flip, then sauté the other side for one minute longer. Place the chicken into two individual au gratin dishes or two small pyrex dishes (or add both pieces to one 8x8" glass dish). The chicken will not be fully cooked after three minutes but will finish cooking in the oven.

Add one cup of the potatoes around the sides of each chicken breast. Spread 2 tablespoons of the prepared ranch dip on top of each breast. Pile some of the mushrooms on each of the dip-covered breasts. You may have some of the mushrooms leftover. If so, use them for another purpose.

Add two ounces of cheese in a heaping pile to each of the chicken breasts. If any of the cheese gets on the potatoes, don’t worry. Bake for 17 minutes. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the bacon bits to top of the chicken and potatoes in each dish. Bake another 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and garnish each chicken breast with a dollop of the prepared ranch dip and some of the chopped scallion.
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