Saturday, December 31, 2011

Balsamic Beans

Silky cannellini beans enhanced by the sweet tang of balsamic vinegar, these make for a new twist to an ordinary side dish.


15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp agave nectar
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup stock

Start by reducing the balsamic on a medium flame until it starts to thicken, be careful not to burn, as the vinegar thickens sugars develop and it can burn quickly.  Once it has reduced and thickened slightly, turn the heat to low, stir in the stock, agave and add the bay leaf , and then add the beans and simmer until heated through, about ten minutes.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Baked Three Cheese Macaroni with Peas

Lemony thyme sets off a classic bechamel, which is swirled into a mixture of mozzarella, sharp cheddar and parmesan creating a decadent cheese sauce, that beautifully compliments fresh peas.  Sprinkled with bread crumbs, then baked until golden and bubbly, this makes an indulgent vegetarian entree or unforgettable side dish.


half pound macaroni
1 cup fresh peas
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 tbsp flour
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp thyme
1 1/2 cups milk
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and cook the macaroni as specified on the package, drain and set aside.

In a deep sauce pan, melt the butter and thyme, stir in the flour and cook until a nutty aroma develops, about one or two minutes.  While whisking, slowly add the milk and continuing to whisk until the mixture starts to thicken and bubble.  Turn off the heat, mix in the cheeses and fold in the macaroni and peas.  Pour into a baking dish, top with breadcrumbs and drizzle with olive oil. then bake until bubbling and golden, about 20 minutes.  Let sit 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Whole Wheat Noodles with Chicken & Sugar Snap Peas

In keeping with the idea that it’s time to lighten things up after all those rich holiday meals and treats, my throw together meal for this week is Whole Wheat Noodles with Chicken & Sugar Snap Peas.  I make variations of stir fry’s all the time, either making special trips to the market to pick up ingredients, or using what I have on hand, in the pantry, freezer and refrigerator.  This meal focuses on sesame marinated; boneless, skinless chicken breasts stir fried with trimmed sugar snap peas, in a spicy garlic sauce served over whole wheat noodles (i.e. thick spaghetti.)  

1 ½ cups sugar snap peas, ends trimmed
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (free range, organic preferred)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
2 ½ cups chicken stock
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp cornstarch
½ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts, chopped

Start by slicing the chicken breasts into half inch pieces, and marinating for at least an hour in a mixture of the sesame oil with rice wine vinegar.  Allow your wok to heat up a few minutes of medium high, add the chicken and stir fry until cooked through, remove and set aside.  Cook the noodles as specified on the package.  Add and bring the stock to a boil, mix with the soy sauce, sriracha, garlic, honey, carrots and bell peppers, and bring to simmer.  Mix the cornstarch with hot water until dissolved, then slowly drizzle into the sauce while stirring, toss in the snap peas, celery, chicken, and then let simmer 5 minutes until the vegetables are crisp tender.  Toss with the cooked noodles and top with peanuts for crunch.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pumpkin Praline Mini Bundt Cakes

Just as cupcakes are all the craze, mini bundt cakes offer the same excitement in my book!  Honoring the fall flavors of pumpkin, nutmeg and cinnamon, these incredibly moist cakes are jazzed up with a topping of brown sugar and pecans, adding sweet, crunchy texture.

Recipe makes 6 mini bundt cakes

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
15 ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar, light or dark is fine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream together the sugar and eggs, then incorporate the pumpkin puree, salt, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Once mixed, add the flour 1/2 cup at a time until fully absorbed, sprinkle chopped pecans and brown sugar into the bottom of six individual sized mini bundt tins, then evenly distribute the batter to fill each tin three quarters of the way full.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean.  Let cool 15 minutes before removing from the tins.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Toffee Apple Pie Minis

Sweet flaky vanilla bean pastry is filled with tart granny smith apple slices spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, then topped with a rich layer of indulgent toffee.  Served a la mode or with a dollop of whipped cream and these mini pies will knock your socks off!  This recipe yields 12 pies.


Homemade or store bought short crust pastry
2 14 oz cans of condensed milk
6 granny smith apples
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
juice from one lemon
1 tbsp sugar

To make the toffee; remove the labels from the condensed milk cans, then cover with water in a large pot and boil for three hours.  ** It is very important to make sure the cans remain covered with water to avoid them from exploding!! ** When finished, remove from the pan open the cans and allow the mixture to cool.

Roll out the short crust pastry to ¼ inch thickness then over a standard size muffin tin and work dough into each slot, cutting away any excess.  Blind bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Peel and slice the apples, then toss them in a bowl with the lemon juice, tablespoon of sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Fill eat crust three quarters of the way full, then finish baking the pies for an additional 15 minutes.  At this point the apples should be just tender and the crust lightly golden.  Dollop one to two tablespoons of the toffee onto the top of each pie and finish baking 8 to 10 minutes until the top is bubbling and the crust is golden brown.  Allow to cool on a wire rack at least 15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lemon & Thyme Chicken Linguine

Bone in chicken breasts, braised in a light sauce flavored with lemon and thyme thickened with a touch of cream, then tossed with whole linguine and zucchini.


2 bone in chicken breasts
2 lemons, one zested
3 zucchini, sliced into half moons
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 celery rib and leaves, from the very center, chopped
4 tbsp fresh thyme, leaves picked
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup low sodium chicken stock
¼ cup sour cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pecorino romano for topping

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter with the olive oil to prevent it burning, season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper then cook until brown, remove from the pan and set aside. 

Add the chopped celery with leaves, parsley and garlic, saute until tender, stir in the stock, lemon juice and thyme, bring to a simmer, return the chicken to the pan and cook covered for 15 minutes.  At this point, the chicken should almost be cooked through but, still need a little more cooking time.  Add the zucchini, parsley and lemon zest then continue to cook until the zucchini are tender and the chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 15 more minutes. 

Remove the chicken and let rest 10 minutes before removing the meat from the bone, slicing and returning to the pan.  [Note: It is your choice to leave the skin on or remove it based on your own preference.  I remove the skin using it only to render flavor for the sauce.]  Bring salted water to a boil and cook the linguine to al dente, stir in the sour cream and allow the sauce to lightly simmer until the linguine finishes cooking.  Once the pasta is ready drain, and add it directly to the sauce tossing over medium high heat until evenly coated.  Serve with a sprinkling of pecorino romano.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Fudge

Recently, I have been exploring a new interest, candy making, nothing too fancy, just creating my own versions of classic candies I enjoy mixing it up with the flavors I love.  I have mentioned my love for chocolate more than once, so it should not be surprising that fudge is one of the candies on my ever growing to make list.  My version highlights the flavors of mint and chocolate with my love of candy canes.  A take on peppermint bark, I flavor rich dark chocolate fudge with pure crème de menthe extract, then finished it by topping with crushed candy cane pieces for texture and crunch.  Not only does the mint add fresh flavor to the decadent fudge but, it also goes along perfectly with the holiday season.

This is probably one of the easiest fudge recipes you will come across, and was adapted from a milk chocolate fudge recipe that has mingled throughout my family’s recipe boxes for years.  No need for temperature control or beating ingredients, I’ve tasted many homemade fudge recipes, and none are a fool proof as this, coming out perfectly smooth every single time. 


14 oz can of condensed milk
¼ cup unsalted butter
2 ½ cups dark chocolate, 60% or 70% cocoa preferred
4 candy canes, crushed

Over a double boiler; melt the condensed milk, chocolate, butter and extract together stirring continuously.  Once the mixture melts together it will start to thicken quickly, keep stirring, and when the mixture reaches the consistency of thick fudge pour into a parchment lined 8 x 8 inch pan.  Using a spatula, spread the fudge evenly then top with the crushed candy canes, cooling completely on a wire rack, and then refrigerating until set about 3 hours.  Cut into squares and enjoy!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Oatmeal Apricot Cherry Bars

Oatmeal cookies are one of my favorites.  Mix in some sort of dried fruit with nuts and it’s all I can do not to eat the entire batch!  I was given a selection of preserves as a gift, and while looking for a creative way to use some thought up this recipe.  

Starting with a buttery oatmeal cookie base, I spread a mixture of apricot and black cherry preserves over top, then add chewy dried apricots, sweet sour dried cherries, toasted pecans and white chocolate chips.


½ cup brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour plus, ¼ cup for topping
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature plus 4 tbsp for topping
1 cup quick oats
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup dried cherries
¾ cup dried apricots
½ cup apricot preserves
¼ black cherry preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Start by creaming together the butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon, then add the flour, baking soda and oats, working the dough until everything is thoroughly mixed.  Once combined, press evenly into a parchment lined 8 x 8 inch pan and bake in a preheated oven for 25 minutes.  In a bowl, work the remaining flour and butter together to form a paste, then chop and mix in the dried apricots and cherries.  At this point, the cookie base should be lightly golden but, not quite finished cooking.  Remove from the oven, spread the preserves evenly across, drop spoonfuls of the crumble over top and sprinkle with the pecans and white chocolate chips.  Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until golden, allow to cool completely before removing from the pan, and then cut into squares or bars to serve.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Toasted Walnuts

One of Italy’s best comfort dishes enhanced with the flavors of winter; rich and cream risotto intertwined with roasted butternut squash dusted with sage and nutmeg, then sprinkled with toasted walnuts for crunch and topped with pecorino for a salty bite.


one butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp dried sage
olive oil
½ cup walnuts, toasted in a dry pan
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pecorino for topping

Preheat oven to 400-degrees. 

In a roasting pan toss butternut squash chunks with nutmeg, sage, salt, pepper and just enough olive oil to evenly coat, then roast until tender about 20 to 25 minutes.  Once cooked remove from oven and allow cooling slightly, then tossing together and topping each portion of risotto evenly sprinkling with pecorino.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chicken Cutlets

Chicken cutlets are what I call the Italian version of fried chicken.  Crispy and light, these are great served with lemon wedges and a salad or dressed up served on top of pasta with marinara.  While the old tried and true method of pounding the chicken breasts works great, I have found that the Coleman Natural Split Chicken Breasts make these so much easier to make.  

1½ cups flour
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups bread crumbs, seasoned to your liking
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
olive oil (not extra virgin) or vegetable oil for frying

Start by dipping the each chicken breast into flour, then into the egg and evenly coat with seasoned breadcrumbs.  Let the coated cutlets rest for about 15 minutes before frying.  In a frying pan, heat the oil until it turns thin.  You will know that it is ready when a small amount of flour sprinkled in quickly starts to bubble; fry each cutlet until golden and completely cooked through, then lay on a cookie rack to drain and sprinkle each with a little salt.  Serve with lemon wedges. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

French Onion Dip

Inspired by a love of the classic french onion dip recipe, simply flavored with a packet of dry soup mix. Slowly cooked, caramelized onions seasoned with sage, and a savory touch of Worcestershire, then swirled into a tangy mixture of sour cream and cream cheese.  This is amazingly rich dip is great to serve at parties, or even just to have on hand for snacking with fresh veggies, thick cut potato chips or my personal favorite, sour dough pretzels.

Recipe yields about 4 cups of dip.

3 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups sour cream
16 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp onion powder
2 tsp Worcestershire
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp rubbed sage
Salt to taste
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil

To caramelize the onions; start by melting the butter on medium heat with the olive oil, once melted add the sliced onions and sprinkle with salt.  Cook onions on medium low heat, stirring every 15 minutes, for an hour or until the onions turn brown in color and have a nutty aroma.  Add the minced garlic and allow cooking until soft, turn off the heat, and stirring in the Worcestershire, onion powder, sage and black pepper, then letting cool to room temperature.  Whisk together the sour cream and cream cheese until light and fluffy, then fold in the cooled caramelized onions and season with salt to taste. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Almond Roca

Buttery, with a salty sweet bite, Almond Roca has to be one of the season's greatest sweets!  You only need a few ingredients to make this homemade treat and this recipe yields enough for an ample crowd.


1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, light or dark is fine
3 stick unsalted butter
3 tbsp dark Karo Syrup
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups bittersweet chocolate buttons
3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

* As the mixture melts and begins to boil it will expand, using a larger pot then you think you will need is highly recommended to avoid the sugar boiling over, and unnecessary burns.

In a large, deep sauce pan on medium high heat; melt together the sugars, butter, Karo syrup, extracts and nutmeg until the mixture reaches 275 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Then pour the mixture onto a parchment lined cookie sheet (with sides) making sure the mixture is even spread, place on wire racks and allow to cool completely, about 45 minutes.  Melt the chocolate over a double boiler then evenly spread over top and sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Another Pasta Creation

This is a light, throw together Thursday pasta created from items I already had on hand in my fridge and pantry.


1 box whole wheat penne
2 cups cherry tomatoes
¾ cups marinated artichokes
¼ cup sliced green olives
½ cup bread crumbs
one onion, peeled and chopped
one carrot, peeled and chopped
15 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried basil
one clove garlic, minced
½ low sodium vegetable stock
shredded parmesan
olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper

Boil the penne in salted water to al dente as instructed on the package.

In a pan; sauté the onions until browned then add the carrot and continue sautéing until tender but, left with bite in the center, add the garlic, thyme, basil, red pepper flakes, artichokes, sliced olives, cherry tomatoes and stock, season with salt and pepper, then continue to sauté for about 10 minutes.  In a separate pan, lightly toast the breadcrumbs until golden.  Last, stir in the cannellini beans and top with the toasted breadcrumbs and shredded parmesan to serve.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dutch Apple Pie

Growing up one of my absolute favorite desserts was the apple pie made by my Great Grandmother Ruby, and to this day I wish so much that I would have gotten this recipe from her before she passed away.  The filling of sweet tart apples, usually fresh from the trees in her yard, combined with the buttery flaky pie crust made this the most amazing apple pie recipes I have had to date. 

For Thanksgiving this year I took on the task of making the desserts, and knew an apple pie would have to be in the lineup.  I’m not normally a fan of crumb toppings, the sandy texture with the overly sweet bite just doesn’t compare to a double crust in my book.  So, I wanted to create a topping for my dutch apple that I could also enjoy, and that would compliment my attempt at recreating the filling from Great Grandmother’s recipe. 

Pie Ingredients

one 9 inch deep dish pie shell
6 granny smith apples, peeled and cut into eighths
the juice and zest of one lemon
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
¾ cups dark brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp cornstarch

Topping ingredients

¾ cup flour
¼ cup oats
2/3 cups pecan pieces
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup unsalted butter
½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the pie filling; combine the apples with the lemon zest and juice, spices, sugar and corn starch, mix until completely coated and set aside while making the topping.

For the topping; pulse the flour, sugar, salt, 1/3 cup of the pecan pieces and the butter together until it forms a rough crumb mixture, pour the mixture into a bowl then mix in the rest of the pecan pieces and the oats.

By the time, the apples should have macerated creating a little juice, give the filling a good mix and pour into the pie shell.  Evenly distribute dollops of the crumb mixture over the top of the apples, then press to spread evenly over the top.  It is okay if the crumb doesn’t cover every inch of the top of the pie.  Bake on a cookie sheet in a preheated oven for one hour or until the crust and top are golden, then allow the pie to cool for at least 45 minutes before serving to allow the filling to set.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Risotto Three Ways

Cooking My Way Through Jamie Oliver's Food Writings

Recipe 7            RISOTTO BIANCO

Jamie's basic risotto recipe, Risotto Bianco, gives you the basis for one of the most versatile dishes, and being considered a fast food in Italy they are quite simply made, then dressed up with whatever local fresh meat or produce is found in the market.  To be honest, I learned how to make risotto on the back of an arborio rice package several years ago, and while that method worked fine the flavor of Jamie's recipe has made it a tried and true recipe in my kitchen.  Here is the recipe for Risotto Bianco or White Risotto along with a few variations demonstrated in Jamie's Italy.  Remember these are just a couple of the many ways this can be dressed up and flavored for example, try my version of LINK Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Toasted Walnuts


one risotto bianco (LINK)
one butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp dried sage
olive oil
½ cup walnuts, toasted in a dry pan
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pecorino for topping

Preheat oven to 400-degrees. 

In a roasting pan toss butternut squash chunks with nutmeg, sage, salt, pepper and just enough olive oil to evenly coat, then roast until tender about 20 to 25 minutes.  Once cooked remove from oven and allow cooling slightly, then tossing together and topping each portion of risotto evenly sprinkling with pecorino. with toasted walnuts.  Risotto isn't a dish to be intimidated by, it is one to be enjoyed.


4 cups stock
2 tbsp olive oil
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 gloves of garlic, minced
1 cups risotto
2 wineglasses of dry vermouth or white wine
4 oz. freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat stock in a sauce pan and in a separate pan, heat olive oil and three tablespoons of butter, add the onion, garlic and celery sauteing slowly on medium low until tender.  Once the vegetables have softened, turn up to heat to medium, add the arborio rice and toast until fragrant continually stirring.

2. When the rice becomes translucent, add the vermouth or wine, keep stirring allowing the alcohol to evaporate and cook into the rice.

3. Once the rice has soaked up all of the alcohol, continually stirring, add your first ladle of stock and a good pinch of salt to season.  Adjust the heat to a simmer to avoid the rice cooking too quickly.  As the rice absorbs the stock keep adding ladles and slowly stirring to allow the starches to expel resulting in the rice becoming creamy and rich.  As this happens taste the rice checking the texture, you want it to be cooked through but, not mushy.  Keep adding ladle fulls of stock as they absorb into the rice until fully cooked.

4. Remove the risotto from the heat, add the grated parmesan and remaining butter stirring well, then cover and allow the risotto to sit a few minutes before serving.

risotto bianco con pesto
White Risotto with Pesto

For this recipe; simply make your risotto bianco and top with Jamie's Pesto.

risotto ai funghi e prezzemolo
Roasted Mushroom Risotto with Parsley


one risotto bianco
about 1 cup of wild mushrooms, cleaned and torn
one bulb of garlic cloves, peeled and halved
a small bunch of fresh thyme
1 tbsp butter
a small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
one lemon
parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400-degrees

Start making your risotto bianco, when you come to stage three in an oven proof pan, saute the mushrooms in olive oil then toss with the garlic and thyme and roast about 6 minutes.  Once the risotto bianco has set, stir in the parsley, roughly chop the mushrooms and sprinkle on top, squeeze a little lemon juice and give a final grating of parmesan.  Serve immediately.