Saturday, March 31, 2012

Strawberry Jam

I went strawberry picking on Friday since the unusually mild temperatures and recent rain produced an early season of strawberries. With the help of a friend, I found an organic farm about an hour away where you can pick your own strawberries. The strawberries were absolutely perfect and I found it very easy to pick them. I gathered just under 15 pounds of berries in a little over an hour and I was very particular about picking the perfect berries. I really wanted to make several different kinds of jams after experimenting with store-bought strawberries in the fall.

The farm that I went to is a small, family run operation with a wonderful atmosphere. I drove over an hour to get there and once there realized I only had $10.00 in cash on me and some debit/credit cards. The first thing I asked was whether or not they accepted credit cards, which they don't. The owner assured me that it was no problem, as long as I paid my $10.00 and left my name with a note for the remainder of what I owed. The total for my berries came to $42.00 which left me with a balance due of $32.00. This is a relatively small amount, but the fact that I left with my berries and the promise of sending the rest of what I owed, kind of restored my faith in humanity. I know that I will certainly be going back to this farm for many of my produce needs and just for the record, I already mailed my $32.00 check this morning.

These are the strawberries I came home with.

These are all the jars of jam I ended up with by the end of the day on Saturday.

I started by making a double batch of ordinary Strawberry Jam on Friday afternoon which gave me 5 pint sized jars and 9 half-pint jars.

I started right back in this morning by making Strawberry Amaretto Jam, which is just ordinary strawberry jam with Amaretto added in just before canning. I ended up with 8 half-pints and one small jar. I then moved on to Strawberry Rhubarb Jam which netted me 7 jars. My last couple of pounds of berries went into Strawberry Lemon Marmalade which made 8 jars. I ended my venture with 38 jars of homemade jams and marmalade.

I felt very productive after 24 hours of being immersed in strawberries. I often feel like I could have been born in another decade or century with my "back to roots" philosophy of food. I love going to the source and producing every day products.

Strawberry Jam
Adapted from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving

2 quarts strawberries
1 package powdered pectin
1/4 cup lemon juice
7 cups sugar

Wash strawberries; drain. Remove stems. Crush strawberries one layer at a time. Combine strawberries, powdered pectin, and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skin foam if necessary. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

I love listening for the sounds of each jar snapping as it seals when it cools on the counter after the processing time.

I really enjoy this whole process of turning fruits into a sweet, soft spread to enjoy with homemade breads. Yum! My dilemma will be which jam to try first.

Tofu Scramble

I turned to breakfast for inspiration for Thursday's vegan dinner. I had some leftover tofu that I needed to use up and so I thought a tofu scramble would be the perfect use for it. I broke the tofu into pieces with a fork and sauteed it with chopped onions, and red and green peppers. I then added a little bit of Earth Balance (butter replacement) along with some salt, pepper, garlic powder and turmeric. The turmeric helps to add the yellow color or eggs in addition to adding some flavor. It really resembles scrambled eggs. I also served some vegan sausage links and pumpernickel toast.

The perfect vegan breakfast for dinner.

My menu for the day:

Breakfast: Toast with peanut butter and banana
Lunch: Sunshine Burger (vegan burger) on a whole wheat bun with ketchup
Dinner: Tofu Scramble, Vegan Sausage Links, Pumpernickel Toast

Tofu Scramble
Adapted from

1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/4 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 greem bell pepper, diced
1 block tofu, drained and pressed
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons butter substitute
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (optional)

Slice the tofu into approximately one inch cubes. Then, using either your hands or a fork, crumble it slightly.

Saute onion, pepper and crumbled tofu in oil for 3-5 minutes, stirring often. Add remaining ingredients, reduce heat to medium and allow to cook 5-7 more minutes, stirring frequently and adding more oil if needed.

My rating:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Roasted Potatoes, Chicken Sausage and Peppers

Dinner tonight was an absolute cinch to make. I only had to cut up some vegetables, toss them with some olive oil and seasonings and spread it all on a sheet pan. I cut up some chicken sausage and nestled the pieces in with all the vegetables and roasted everything in the oven for about 45 minutes. It could not have been easier and was simply tasty. It was a great day to have something this simple for dinner since I watched my 21 month old grandson this afternoon and then ran to a 4:00 bridal fitting with my daughter. It was nice to come home and toss dinner in the oven.

Roasted Potatoes, Chicken Sausage and Peppers (serves 4)
Adapted from

1 1/2 pounds (about 3 large) russet potatoes
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered, layers separated
2 red bell peppers, seeds removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 leek, cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds and soaked to clean
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon dried rosemary (crushed in the palm of your hand)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Non stick spray
1 pound Italian chicken sausage, each link cut into 6 or 7 slices

Cut the potatoes into small 1 x 1/2-inch pieces. These take the longest to cook so cutting them small ensures everything cooks evenly.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet (or two small ones) with non stick spray to prevent the potatoes from sticking.

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, onions, peppers, leeks, olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic powder. Mix well to be sure every is coated with oil and seasoned evenly. Pour onto the prepared baking sheet and place in the center of the oven. bake for 15 minutes. Toss everything with a spoon to make sure nothing sticks.

Add the sausage to the baking sheet with the potatoes and vegetables and continue to roast, tossing once or twice for 25 to 35 more minutes, or until your potatoes are cooked through. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your potatoes and sausage, keep an eye on them so they don't burn.

My rating:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mongolian Beef

Tonight's dinner was inspired by my cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu on Saturday. I loved this dish when I had it on Saturday and decided it would be perfect to make the dinner with the girls. Mine turned out a little spicier than the chef's version, but we love our food with a little spice. I would probably cut down the spice a little if I were making this for a crowd. The recipe called for a skirt steak, but I substituted a flatiron steak and it worked just fine. I put the steak in the freezer for about 45 minutes before slicing it very thin against the grain. The thinly sliced meat then went into a marinade for just a few minutes.

The next step was to stir fry the vegetables with a couple of dried red chili peppers for a minute or so before removing them. The marinated beef was stir fried in batches so the wok would not be too crowded. Once all the beef was browned, the vegetables went back in along with some bean thread noodles and a sauce and all was allowed to warm up for a couple of minutes. The bean thread noodles had been covered with room temperature water and allowed to soak for 15 minutes prior to being added to the stir fry.

This dish is really quick and easy to make which is perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Mongolian Beef (serves 4)
Le Cordon Bleu Master Chef Cooking Class

1 pound skirt steak (or flatiron), thinly sliced cross grain
2 egg whites
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of sugar

1 package (3.75 ounces) bean thread noodles
3 dried red chili peppers (use only one to lower heat level)
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, julienned
1 leek, sliced into half moons, soaked to clean and then dried
2 cloves garlic, sliced

4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili paste (use 1/2 tablespoon to lower heat level)
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Sugar to taste

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water

Mix egg whites, cornstarch, white pepper, salt and sugar. Add beef slices and let marinate for about 5 minutes or longer if desired.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, chili paste, hoisin sauce, white vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Set sauce aside.

In hot wok add canola oil and stir fry dried chile peppers, red bell pepper, ginger, leeks and garlic for 1-2 minutes. Remove vegetables from wok and set aside.

Add marinated beef slices in batches to not crowd the pan and stir fry until browned. Remove beef as it browns. Once all the beef is browned, add it all back into the wok along with the stir-fried vegetables. Add the drained bean thread noodles and the sauce and continue stirring until heated through.

Add the water to the cornstarch to make a slurry and add slurry as needed to thicken sauce and add gloss to the dish.

My rating:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Fennel and Mushroom Pie

I can't believe how long I believed I didn't like fennel. I would definitely not order anything in a restaurant that had fennel in it and now I love its unique flavor. I have had it raw, shaved into a salad and tonight it had it cooked in this pie. Of course the pie had many other flavor components in addition to the fennel. It had carrots, onions, garlic, mushrooms, fresh parsley and basil and a combination of mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. I forgot to mention the mashed potatoes that were also a part of this pie.

This recipe did use a fair number of pots and pans, but it was delicious.

Fennel and Mushroom Pie
Adapted from

1 pound new potatoes, scubbed and sliced
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 fennel bulb, roughly cut
1 large carrot, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup fresh basil
6 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
6 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender. Drain, then mash. While potatoes are still hot, mix in the milk and butter.

Cook the fennel and carrot in salted boiling water for about 7 minutes, until tender. Drain, and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a saute pan, add onions, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until they begin to brown. Add the garlic, and cook for another minute. Add the mushrooms, and cook for another 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle half the bread crumbs over the base of a shallow, ovenproof 9-inch baking dish. Add half the mushrooms and onions, fennel, parsley, basil, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, and potatoes in layers. Repeat the layer, finishing with potatoes. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until heated through. (If you use a pie plate, place the plate on a baking sheet before you slide it in the oven to catch any spills.)

Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting.

Our rating:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pad Thai

I had the pleasure of attending a Master Chef cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu on Saturday and it was fabulous. It was a Christmas gift and I got to choose which class I wanted to attend so I chose "A Taste of Asia". I know I have mentioned how much I like Indian food and Thai food but I also love Chinese stir fries, sushi and pretty much any Asian food I have had the pleasure of eating.

I loved the format of this class - the chef demonstrated 4 of the 5 dishes we would make and then we broke out into groups. There were 4 different stations and each one was set up to make one of the dishes the chef had demonstrated. We learned how to make Pad Thai, Sichuan Green Beans, Mongolian Beef and Beef Banh Mi Sandwiches. We all ended the class by making sushi and some tuna rolls. I happened to be at the Banh Mi sandwich station and with 2 other people, got to make the sandwiches for the 8 of us in attendance. It was a lot of fun and I walked away with a much better knowledge of Asian foods. It was the perfect Christmas gift!

For dinner tonight, I made the Pad Thai which had both chicken and tofu and turned out quite spicy (obviously the chef used a different kind of chili paste than I had in the refrigerator). Gerry and I both loved it, but it was certainly a little on the hot (spicy) side to serve to anyone else. I'm looking forward to trying this recipe again to be able to tone down the spice level. I have made the adjustments in the recipe below.

Pad Thai (Serves 2)
Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu

6 ounces rice sticks/pad Thai noodles, soaked in cold water for 2 hours or as long as overnight
2 ounces firm tofu, drained, cut into medium dice and patted dry
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 chicken breast, boneless, skinless, sliced thinly cross-grain
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced

Sauce Mixture:
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons garlic chili sauce
2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

To finish:
3 cups bean sprouts
2 stalks green onions, sliced diagonally
1/4 cup cilantro, diced
1/3 cup peanuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
Fresh lime juice

Combine the 2 tablespoons fish sauce with the two tablespoons sugar and marinate chicken slices in it for at least 10 minutes. The tofu cubes can be cut and dried at this time and other ingredients assembled.

Saute chicken in some Canola oil, seasoned with salt and pepper until golden. Remove chicken and set aside. Deglaze the pan with vinegar and then add a little water, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Stir in the Thai sweet chili sauce, garlic chili sauce, Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and cayenne pepper and once well combined, remove from heat and set aside.

In a large, nonstick skillet, saute tofu in oil and season with salt and pepper, remove and set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat oil, add beaten eggs, stirring constantly, add bean sprouts, sauce, drained noodles, reserved chicken and tofu, minced garlic, and scallions. Stirring constantly, allow mixture to warm through and combine. Add a splash of rice vinegar and continue stirring.

Garnish with cilantro, chopped peanuts and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

My rating:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

French-Onion Salisbury Steak

Since we both love French-Onion Soup, I knew this recipe would be a winner for us. It had the toasted bread with cheese, topped with a burger and covered in a sauce containing onions and beef broth with other ingredients similar to the famous French Onion Soup. This recipe did not disappoint me in any way; it was the best of both worlds, a burger combined with the flavors of the soup. I made a side of glazed carrots and dinner was fabulous.

French-Onion Salisbury Steak
Adapted from Cuisine at Home for Two

For the Salisbury Steaks:
3/4 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced scallions
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons olive oil

For the Onion Sauce:
1 cup sliced onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
2 tablespoons dry red wine
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

To serve:
Cheese Toasts (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley, divided
1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

Combine ground beef, 2 tablespoons parsley, scallions, salt, and pepper; shape into two oval patties. Place 2 teaspoons flour in a shallow dish; dredge each patty in flour.

Heat oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add patties and saute until browned, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove patties from pan.

Add onions to pan; saute 5 minutes over medium heat. Stir in garlic and tomato paste; saute until paste begins to brown, about 1 minute. Sprinkle mixture with remaining 1 teaspoon flour; cook 1 minute. Stir in broth, wine and thyme.

Return patties to the pan and bring sauce to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover pan and simmer patties in sauce for 10 minutes.

Serve patties on Cheese Toasts with onion sauce ladled over. Garnish with parsley and Parmesan.

Cheese Toasts

2 slices French bread or baguette, cut diagonally 1/2-inch thick
1 tablespoon softened butter, divided
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
Pinch each paprika and salt
2 tablespoons shredded Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place bread on a baking sheet.

Combine butter, garlic, paprika, and salt. Spread on one side of each bread slice. Combine Swiss cheese and Parmesan; sprinkle on buttered bread slices. Bake croutons until bread is crisp and cheese is bubbly, about 10 minutes.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Applesauce Muffins

I decided to blog about my breakfast since it was so good. For this week's Vegan Thursday, I started my day with a Mango Tango Smoothie and an applesauce muffin that I had stashed away in the freezer from a couple of weeks ago. It was a fabulous way to start the day.

Here is my menu for the day:

Breakfast - Mango Tango Smoothie, Applesauce Muffin
Lunch - ALT Avocado, Lettuce & Tomato with sprouts on Pumpernickel bread with Vegenaise
Dinner - Sunshine Burger, Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Applesauce Muffins
Adapted from Fat Free Vegan Recipes

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup sugar
replacer for 1 large egg (1/2 tablespoon Ener-G mixed with 2 tablespoons water)
3/4 cup soymilk
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the first 5 ingredients together, and then add all the wet ones, mixing just until moistened. Fold in the raisins and then fill paper lined muffin tins full. Bake 20 minutes.

Makes 1 dozen

Mango Tango Smoothie
Adapted from Vegan Planet

1/2 large mango, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 banana

In blender container, blend mango and orange juice until smooth. Add banana and continue to process until smooth and thickened.

My rating for both recipes:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shrimp Bisque

Have you ever noticed that when you are in a routine, everything flows along smoothly, but if you break that routine, it's really hard to get back into the groove? That's exactly what has happened to me with this blog. I have had a couple of people mention my lack of posts recently, so here it my latest post.

I used to make this soup frequently as a first course for formal dinners and since I shared this recipe recently with a friend, I decided it was time to make it again. My youngest daughter, Elizabeth, doesn't really remember eating this soup which is a shame since it is such a classic. It is quite rich however, so it is one of those only once in a while recipes. It is truly a delicious, decadent recipe to be savored with every spoonful.

Shrimp Bisque (Serves 10)
Adapted from Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, shelled and deveined (reserve shells)
1/4 cup butter
1 large onion, diced
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup regular long-grain rice
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 chicken-flavor bouillon cubes
16 ounces canned whole tomatoes
2 cups heavy cream

In a 4-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, in hot olive oil, cook shrimp shells until pink, stirring constantly with slotted spoon. Discard shells, leaving flavored oil in Dutch oven.

Add shrimp to oil and cook, over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes; spoon into bowl.

Reduce heat to medium; add butter, onion, carrot and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender.

Stir in next 7 ingredients (through chicken bouillon cubes) and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until rice is tender Remove Dutch oven from heat.

Discard bay leaf. Drain juice of tomatoes into rice mixture. Remove seeds from tomatoes; stir tomatoes into rice mixture and add cooked shrimp.

In covered blender container at high speed, blend mixture in batches until smooth.

Return shrimp mixture to Dutch oven and stir in cream. Over medium heat, bring soup just to boiling.

My rating:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Every once in a while, I just crave this very classic dish. This is a family favorite that I have been making for about 35 years. It is just your basic elbow macaroni folded into a white cream sauce with lots of shredded cheddar cheese melted in. Once everything is combined in a casserole dish, a little more shredded cheddar goes over the top before going into a hot oven for 20 minutes. It always comes out creamy and cheesy which is a wonderful combination in my book. I served some oven roasted broccoli and cauliflower as our side.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 4-6

2 cups elbow macaroni
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

While bringing water to the boil for the macaroni, start the sauce by melting butter in a large saucepan. Stir in the flour and salt and pepper and continuing stirring with a whisk until the mixture is bubbling. Simmer and continue stirring for 1 minute. Gradually add milk (I like to warm the milk in the microwave to speed up the process of making the sauce), and continue stirring until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and continue stirring for one more minute. Add 1 1/2 cups of the cheese and stir until melted.

Once the macaroni is cooked and drained, add it to the cheese sauce and mix well. Pour mixture into a shallow 1 1/2 quart casserole dish and sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese over top. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Our rating:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops

I decided on something quick and easy for dinner tonight since we have been watching our 20 month old grandson all weekend. I put the lamb chops in a simple marinade of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and fresh rosemary last night, so they simply needed a quick sear on a hot grill tonight. I also made red skinned garlic mashed potatoes and glazed carrots. It turned out to be a delicious and quick dinner.

While Ethan was napping, I made Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes which were a fun process that I'll try to blog about in the next couple of days.

I am sad to say that I won't be able to post pictures since my memory card decided to stop working this afternoon. I'll try to get out tomorrow and replace it, but until I do there are no pictures. I hope my words are descriptive enough for you to picture it yourself.

Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops
Adapted from Skinny

4 lean lamb chops (I used loin chops)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and rosemary. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and cover with the marinade. Marinate at least 1 hour, or overnight if possible. Discard the marinade, then grill over medium high heat to desired liking or broil in the oven. We grilled them over charcoal for 5 minutes on each side.

Our rating:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sesame Chicken

On a cold and rainy Saturday I was craving something spicy that I could cook inside and this wok-inspired meal came to mind. I made sesame chicken by coating pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breast in a seasoned flour mixture and then stir-fried them in some grapeseed oil. I drained the oil from the wok and added a sauce which was teriyaki sauce and honey with toasted sesame seeds and allowed the chicken to cook through and the sauce to thicken. This dish was really quick and easy to make and had just the right amount of spice and sweetness. I served it over Jasmine rice and I oven-roasted some broccoli. Very yummy!

Sesame Chicken
Adapted from Cook Like a Champion Blog

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 pound chicken breasts, cut into chunks
8 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
6 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

In a large Ziplock bag, combine flour, half of the sesame seeds, black pepper, cayenne pepper and Chinese spice. Place chicken in bag and shake to coat.

Heat oil in a wok or a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Place chicken in wok and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side.

Remove chicken from skillet and empty excess oil from wok.

Reduce heat to low and return chicken to wok. Stir in teriyaki sauce, honey and remaining sesame seeds, and stir until sauce thickens.

Serve over rice.

Our rating:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kung Pao Vegetables

Since my husband and I both love spicy food, I knew I had to make this as soon as I saw the recipe. It was a very simple recipe of mushrooms, carrots, celery, garlic, water chestnuts, garlic, and peanuts sauteed and then simmered briefly in a spicy sauce. I served this over rice that I cooked in vegetable broth to add flavor to the rice. The whole thing turned out really nice and spicy.

We had an early dinner so that I could volunteer at our neighborhood elementary school's book fair which has a family event in the evening. This is something I have done for several years now and there are a few of us that go out for drinks and a little something to eat afterwards. We usually go to the Cheesecake Factory and since it fell on a Vegan Thursday, I was happy to find White Bean Hummus with toasted Pita Breads on their appetizer menu which was really tasty and allowed me to keep my desire to eat vegan for the day.

My menu for this week's Vegan Thursday was:

Breakfast - Fruit Smoothie with Vegan Applesauce Muffins

Lunch - Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, Apple

Dinner - Kung Pao Vegetables over Rice

Kung Pao Vegetables
Adapted from Fatfree Vegan Recipes

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup carrots, diced
3/4 cup celery, diced
3/4 cup onion, diced
8 ounce can Water Chestnuts, diced
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons White Wine or Sake
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or Tamari
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1-2 tablespoons Siracha or Sambal Oelek (to taste)
2 tablespoons Cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup Water

Make the sauce by mixing together the wine, soy sauce, rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon Siracha and set aside. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and set aside.

Place the sliced mushrooms in a dry wok or pan and stir over medium heat until the mushrooms release their liquid. Add the carrots, celery, and onions and cook until the colors brighten. Add the water chestnuts, peanuts and garlic and cook until heated through.

Pour the sauce over the vegetables and stir until slightly heated and bubbly. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir to thicken sauce. Taste and adjust heat level with more Siracha if desired.

Serve over rice.

Our rating:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sweet Corn Soup

I made this on Saturday for my daughter's birthday lunch at her request and it turned out great. I have never had this soup but it was a favorite for Val at Chili's so I tried to recreate it for her. She assured me that this was pretty close and I thought it was a really good soup so here it is.

Copycat Chili's Sweet Corn Soup
Adapted from

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 (15-ounce) can creamed corn
1 medium potato, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup heavy cream
White pepper
Plain corn chips (optional)
Ground black pepper (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped (optional)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, over medium heat until soft.

Add the stock, creamed corn and potato. Bring to a boil then simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the potato is soft.

Blend or process the soup until smooth adding white pepper to taste.

Return the soup to the same pan then stir in the remaining corn and cream. Stir over low heat until corn is tender.

Serve soup topped with any or all of the optional ingredients.

My rating:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Taco Salad

Elizabeth requested this Taco Salad for our Tuesday night dinner with her friends and I gladly obliged her since this recipe is easy, inexpensive, really serves a crowd and is delicious. I knew I couldn't go wrong. I started by browning a pound of ground sirloin and then adding some of my homemade taco seasoning and water and allowing this to cook down. I made a dressing by combining some low-fat sour cream with bottled salsa and set it aside.

I shredded lots of iceberg lettuce and chopped a couple of fresh tomatoes. I shredded some cheddar cheese and drained and rinsed a can of black beans. I slightly crushed some tortilla chips and finally I combined everything. Dinner was ready. I also served the rest of the Mocha Icebox Cake from Saturday night. It turned out to be a very nice dinner.

Taco Salad (Serves 10)
Adapted from Cooking Light

1 pound ground sirloin
1 (1.25-ounce package) taco seasoning
3/4 cup water
1 cup low-fat sour cream
1 cup bottled salsa
8 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
4 cups (4 ounces) lightly crushed tortilla chips (or bite-sized tortilla chips)
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, drained
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded low-fat sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1 (15-ounce) can black or kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup sliced ripe black olives (optional)

Cook the beef in a large skillet over medium-high heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in taco seasoning and water. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Combine sour cream and salsa in a small bowl.

Combine the beef mixture, iceberg lettuce, tortilla chips, tomatoes, 1/2 cup cheese and beans in a large bowl. Drizzle the sour cream mixture over the salad, and toss gently. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese and black olives (if desired). Serve immediately.

My rating:

Monday, March 5, 2012

Penne and Portobellos

I decided that a pasta dish sounded perfect for tonight and the combination of portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions and goat cheese was calling my name. The process started with caramelizing some thinly sliced onions and then deglazing the pan with a little white wine. Once the wine cooked down a little, the onions came out and a lot of sliced portobello mushrooms got their turn to cook. Meanwhile I was cooking some whole wheat penne pasta. Once the mushrooms were browned and tender and the pasta was cooked through the onions were added back with the mushrooms along with some chopped parsley and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Some of the pasta water was set aside to be added to the pan with the onion/mushroom mixture along with the cooked pasta, some crumbled goat cheese and some grated Parmesan cheese.

This pasta dish was very hearty and filling without any meat. I think portobellos do a wonderful job of filling in for meat.

Penne and Portobellos
Adapted from Elly says

1 1/2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 pound portobello mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
10 ounces whole wheat penne pasta
4 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons Parmesan or Romano cheese, plus more for serving

In a large pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter in 1 tablespoon of the oil over moderate heat. Add the onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are browned about 30 minutes. Add the wine and cook until nearly evaporated, a few more minutes. Remove the onions from the pan.

In the same pan, melt the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil over moderate heat. Add the mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and brown, about 8 minutes. Add the reserved onions, the parsley, peas, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain. Toss the pasta and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water with the mushroom mixture, goat cheese, and the Parmesan/Romano. If the pasta seems dry, add more of the reserved pasta water. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Our rating:

Chicken Bryan

Saturday we had another birthday celebration with Val. Her birthday actually fell on Saturday and so we celebrated her that day. I can't remember the last time we actually celebrated on someone's actual day. The menu was Cream of Wheat Cereal served with frozen (thawed) strawberries, sliced bananas, a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkling of brown sugar for breakfast. This has been a family favorite for quite a few years now.

Lunch was a copycat recipe of Chili's Sweet Corn Soup served with a salad. Fruit Salad with Limoncello and some chocolate chip cookies rounded out lunch.

The tradition in our house is that the birthday person also gets to pick the activities for the day in addition to the menu and Val chose to make a craft project that she had seen on Pinterest. This involved a trip to Hobby Lobby to gather supplies and then the girls crafted while I started dinner prep.

Dinner was a version of Carrabba's Chicken Bryan which came out great and I served a creamy orzo and green beans with shallots as the sides. Barefoot Contessa's Mocha Icebox Cake was the dessert chosen and was fabulous as always.

Chicken Bryan
Adapted from All

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Grill seasoning
Oil and vinegar grill baste (I used Balsamic and olive oil)
6 ounces goat cheese
Lemon Butter Sauce (recipe follows)
Pinch basil leaves (medium chop)
6 sun dried tomato halves (julienned in 1/4 inch pieces)

Lemon Butter Sauce
8 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon onion, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons white wine
2 lemons, juiced
White pepper to taste
Kosher salt to taste

Cut the goat cheese lengthwise into 6 slices and shape it into a flat disc so it will cover a large amount of the chicken; set aside at room temperature. Season and baste all sides of the chicken and place on a hot grill. Cook on the grill, basting several times. When chicken is almost finished (internal temperature of 165 degrees), place the goat cheese on top of the chicken and let it soften as the chicken finishes cooking.

While chicken is finishing, place warm lemon butter, sun dried tomatoes, and basil sauce on top of the chicken. Be sure to cover the goat cheese. The best way to do this is to make the lemon butter sauce first and hold it on low heat while cooking the rest of the recipe.

Lemon Butter Sauce:
In a saute pan, place 1 tablespoon butter and saute onions and garlic until softened. Add white wine and lemon juice, simmer approximately 2-3 minutes on medium-low heat to reduce by 90%. Let cool slightly. A little at a time, add remaining butter, stirring constantly, until butter melts and mixture emulsifies. Do not let the butter get too hot or it will separate. Season to taste.

My rating:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Broiled Tilapia with Tomato Caper Sauce

I haven't served tilapia in a while and so I decided this was the night to try out one of my recipes that I had earmarked. This was a really tasty way to cook and serve a mild white fish. The tilapia was broiled on low heat quite far from the heating element and simply prepared with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. The sauce that went over the fish was started by sauteeing chopped shallots and garlic in some olive oil and when softened, chopped fresh tomatoes were added and seasoned with salt and pepper. This was allowed to simmer for a couple of minutes before adding a little bit of white wine. The wine was allowed to reduce and finally capers were added and sauteed another minute. The fish and sauce could be completed in about 15 minutes which makes it a really quick weekday dinner.

I served the fish over spaghetti flavored with garlic scented olive oil. YUM!!

Broiled Tilapia with Tomato Caper Sauce
Adapted from

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 (6 ounce) tilapia filets
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Brush fish with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Set broiler to low and adjust rack so broiler pan is about 8 inches from the heat element.

In a medium saute pan, heat remaining olive oil. Add garlic and shallots and saute on medium-low about 4-5 minutes. Add tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and cook for a minute or so. Add wine and saute until wine reduces, about 5 minutes. Add capers and saute an additional minute.

Meanwhile, broil fish until it is cooked through, about 7 minutes.

Place fish on a platter and top with tomato caper sauce.

Our rating: