Garlic Lime Chicken Fajitas

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I’ve been a little quiet lately and with good reason – a brand-new job in PR. For as much as I’m loving where I’ve landed professionally, the neophyte chef in me is missing the greater amount of time I used to have for culinary exploration.

As I figure out how to make sure my budding talents in the kitchen don’t drop off, I think I’ll be turning more and more to recipes designed for the busy woman on the go. Which is why I loved trying out another one of McCormick’s Recipe Inspirations – garlic lime chicken fajitas.

Using the pre-measured packet of ingredients, I savored the aroma as I mixed together garlic, onion, cumin, black pepper, oregano and cilantro. In addition to being quick and easy – from prep to eat in less than 30 minutes – what I loved about this recipe is how much of the Mexican-style sauce I had left over. It makes about 8 servings, so if you’re cooking solo, you can get more than a few meals out of it. Though the sauce works best on chicken, it adds a nice kick to veal and pork chops too.

I have a feeling I'll be exploring McCormick's entire product line as I navigate the new time constraints on my culinary passion.

Turkey Burger Redux

Sunday, September 4, 2011

One of the best things about being a neophyte chef is reaching a point where you feel comfortable experimenting -- and are pleasantly surprised by the results. That’s exactly what happened when I recently combined two of my favorite go-to staples for easy meals, turkey burgers and Paul Newman’s Own Bombolina tomato sauce.

It’s no secret that turkey burgers often lack the succulent, rich flavor of their beef counterparts. I’ve managed to give them a boost in the past with shredded mozzarella cheese and sautéed onions, but this time I wanted to try something different.

So I mixed a few tablespoons of Newman’s sauce into a ground turkey patty, thinking as I did that it looked like a version of healthy meatloaf. Sure enough, after five minutes on my trusty T-Fal grill, I had a flavorful burger. Yum-ola!

Mexican Pork Chops

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I’ m a big fan of Mexican food, so I couldn’t wait to try a recipe for Mexican-style chicken from Glamour Magazine ’s 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know cookbook.

Of course, the dish calls for ground cumin, so I took great delight in purchasing this heavenly seasoning for the first time. I also opted to make a few modifications – substituting jalapeno pepper with the milder green bell variety, and omitting ¼ cup of dry white wine (1/2 cup of a chicken stock provided more than enough liquid).

I got so caught up in seasonings and sauce that I’m embarrassed to say I forgot to pick up a key component of the recipe – namely, a chicken breast! Thankfully, I had a pork chop on hand in the freezer.

While defrosting the chop, I savored the rich aroma enveloping my kitchen – sautéed onion, pepper, cumin and oregano. Delicioso.

About an hour later, I had a most flavorful entrée. One that managed not to suffer from the absence of toppings (avocado, sour cream) that, along with the chicken, I also forgot to buy. So I guess you could call my version of this Mexican-lite. No matter -- still heavy with delight!

Here’s the recipe:

Mashed Cauliflower

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Since embarking on my culinary journey six months ago, I’ve neglected one important area – side dishes. A recent conversation with galpal and more experienced cook Natalie had me wanting to change that, and to give mashed cauliflower a try.

As someone who loves mashed potatoes, I was especially excited to whip up this healthier alternative, especially when a recipe online seemed to confirm what Natalie had said about it being relatively easy. Unfortunately, this neophyte chef was almost defeated.

Having never really cooked cauliflower before, it seemed to take forever to soften in the pot. When I finally transferred it to a large bowl, I thought pureeing would be the fun part thanks to my brand-new Cuisinart hand blender/mixer. Though it definitely pureed perfectly, I struggled to get the hang of how to use this kitchen tool. After several minutes, I gave up, settling for a partly mashed mixture that wasn’t quite worth the hour-plus investment of time.

I think I’ll be sticking to entrees for the time being.

Rosemary Roasted Chicken And Potatoes

Sunday, August 14, 2011

One of my favorite things about being a neophyte chef is the element of surprise. So I was especially delighted to stumble upon McCormick’s Recipe Inspirations collection during a recent trip to the supermarket.

Each packet includes pre-measured spices and herbs and a recipe card. I opted for the rosemary roasted chicken with potatoes, excited to try something that might spice up the chicken breast rut I feared I had fallen into. And much as I love cookbooks and measuring ingredients, this was one of those nights when I was craving a homecooked meal that didn’t require too much thought.

So, in a big bowl, I happily mixed together two chicken breast and baby potatoes with the packet of paprika, garlic, rosemary and black pepper. The rich aroma of rosemary quickly excited my senses and, about 40 minutes after cooking the chicken and potatoes in the oven, voila! A delicious meal made with shortcuts that didn’t scrimp on taste.

My thanks to McCormick’s for ensuring that a touch of laziness on my part had no effect on cooking something memorable. I can’t wait to try out some of their other inspirations…apple and sage pork chops, here I come!

Butter Chicken Wrap

Sunday, August 7, 2011

As I mentioned last week, I managed to get a second meal out of my heavenly minute steak with seasoned butter.

After refrigerating the leftover mustard butter, I decided to use it in a chicken wrap for lunch. I sautéed and diced a chicken breast, spreading it and a handful of crisp spinach leaves onto a whole wheat soft tortilla.

Unfortunately when I took a bite of my creation, I was more than a little disappointed. The butter definitely packed more of a wallop when paired with steak, and it tasted like a certain something was missing but I didn’t know what.

That’s the thing about being a neophyte chef – not every culinary gamble pays off. Still, you learn from each misstep and the adventure continues.

Up next…a surprise discovery at the supermarket yields one of my best dishes yet!

Minute Steak With Seasoned Butter

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I have a neophyte chef confession to make -- I am a little daunted by the idea of making steak. Or at least I was until recently, when I finally decided to take the red meat plunge.

A combination of insecurity and falling into something of a chicken rut conspired to delay this little milestone. Which only made it that much sweeter when I stumbled upon minute steak in Gristede's -- and then found this easy peasy recipe for preparing it with mustard butter.

Within just 20 minutes, I had whipped up the seasoned butter and cooked my little steak to medium rare perfection. Any anxiety about not being able to get it just right melted as the flavorful, meaty taste hit my mouth.

What's better than a yummy, quick-to-make entree? Getting a second meal out of it too. Up my first steak inspired lunch leftovers!

Fettucini Amatriciana

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Though I've been cooking regularly for five months now, there's one relatively simple concoction that continues to bedevil me -- pasta sauce.

For as much as I've become adept at following (and where necessary modifying) recipes, I can't seem to prevent my sauces from thickening too much. It's happened to me with bombolina, bolognese and, now, amatriciana.

Once again, I turned to Glamour Magazine's 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know, my sentimental cookbook favorite these days. The instructions were simple enough -- heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil, add in a garlic clove, 4 ounces of crumbled bacon and 28 ounces of canned chopped tomatoes.

Woops. Did I say 28? Actually, that's what Glamour said but I somehow ended up with only a 14-ounce can on hand when the time came to cook.

Needless to say, doing without half the amount of liquid recommended here probably contributed to the paste-like consistency. But that doesn't explain why other perfectly proportioned sauces have gone all goopy on me.

My good friend Caroline maintains that my amatriciana attempt was a tasty one (I think it helped that I threw in some diced chicken breast) . I give it a B minus.

Easy Penne Bomolina

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When you’re learning how to cook, sometimes you need to take a break from cookbook recipes and keep it simple. Or, as my beloved sister-in-law and culinary goddess Barb likes to say – use enhancements with pre-made ingredients.

Recently, during a girls night in, I did exactly that. On the menu – penne with Newman’s Own tomato and basil Bomolina sauce. To liven up the already tasty sauce, I added ¼ cup of onions, a tablespoon of olive oil, a dash of green peppers, 1/3 cup of sliced mushrooms and 5 basil leaves homegrown (natch) in a little pot on my window sill.

The additions brought out Newman’s sweetness, and made for a perfect, easy pairing with some garlic bread and a bottle of Beaujolais.


Meat-free Paella With Tofu & Veggie Sausage

Friday, July 8, 2011

There are some recipes that end up humbling a neophyte chef like me. Meat-free paella with smoked tofu and veggie sausages, my second selection from Glamour magazine's 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know, turned out to be one of them.

I had already started the cooking process when I discovered the dish called for five cups of vegetable broth -- and I only had three. Thankfully, modifying how much rice I used (1 cup instead of 1:5) took care of that discrepancy. Another mistake was less easily corrected.

The recipe calls for ½ a teaspoon of turmeric and 2 teaspoons of sweet paprika. Well, I forgot which seasoning I had in my hand and ended up dumping 2 teaspoons of turmeric in the pot instead! Upon realizing my gaffe, I quickly scooped up what I could before it absorbed into the already brewing liquid.

This meat-free concoction truly got my out of my comfort zone – and all the way to Whole Foods in Union Square. Smoked tofu and veggie sausages aren’t exactly standard supermarket fare, and I have to say it was worth the trip for my first visit to the organic mecca of food shopping. You can tell many of the people who buy here are serious about what they eat/cook, and I couldn’t help feeling a little extra dash of inspiration from it.

Overall, I would say this is a dish that requires a little patience and a lot of organization. Total prep time is 80 minutes, and includes needing counter space for various items mid-cooking -- space that my galley kitchen (like most in NYC) has little of. But I didn’t let any of that defeat me, especially since the paella is dubbed as an alternative for Glamour’s so-called Engagement Chicken. Dating or not, us single gals need some home cooking we can cozy up to.

Here’s the full recipe:

Creamless Broccoli Soup

Friday, July 1, 2011

Now that summer is here, I find myself craving lighter fare when I’m in cooking mode. Soup has been on my to do list for awhile, so I took a crack at’s recipe for creamless broccoli soup.

There’s something about pureed soup that epitomizes comfort food. And I love that this dish is both filling and, since there’s no cream, guilt free.

I made a few necessary changes to the recipe -- thyme instead of dried dill (no luck finding any at the supermarket) and no celery (didn’t realize I had none until I got home). Thankfully, the finished product didn’t seem to suffer any when I gave my soup a taste test. says total prep time for the soup is one hour. Between reserving a cup of florets and having to puree the soup in batches, I would say it’s closer to an hour and twenty. Still, totally worth the time. Yum.

Warm Pasta Salad

Friday, June 24, 2011

With summer finally here -- huzzah! -- it’s the perfect time to start trying out recipes of the lighter variety. So I was very excited to stumble upon Salads: A Collection of 100 Essential Recipes.

I’m a big fan of pasta (carbs = bliss), so I recently tried out the cookbook’s recipe for warm pasta salad. My favorite part was whisking together the olive oil, vinegar, sugar and mustard. Who knew making tasty dressing could be so simple?

Total prep time is about 25 minutes. For a healthy, delicious dish ideally suited to the season, you can’t beat that. Here’s the full recipe:

Seared Salmon Steak

Friday, June 17, 2011

Like everything else in life, learning how to cook is made much sweeter with the support of fabulous girlfriends. My friend Lisa recently reminded me of this when she surprised me with 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know, a cookbook from the editors of GLAMOUR that’s been on my shopping list since it came out a few months ago.

Craving something healthy after a weekend of gastronomic indulgence in Boston, I turned to the seafood section and a recipe for Simply Sophisticated Seared Tuna Steak. When a trip to the supermarket revealed a $16 differential between tuna and salmon, the recessionista in me opted to go with the latter.

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that it taught me something I didn’t know – namely that seafood can only be marinaded (in this case, an hour) for a limited amount of time before it starts to cook. My other favorite part – the exquisitely simple but delicious marinade itself: ginger, soy and brown sugar mixed together. Combine that with olive oil in the pan and the result is yum-ola!

“ assistant editor Meredith Turits calls this her go-to dish anytime she wants to make something easy and impressive,” says the recipe intro.

Simply Sophisticated indeed.

Prep Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 8 minutes

Here’s the complete recipe:

Squash Gratin

Friday, June 10, 2011

When it comes to culinary inspiration, one of my favorite muses is most definitely my beloved sister-in-law Barb. In addition to her extensive repertoire, she has a great collection of cookbooks. I recently thumbed through one that featured entrees under 300 calories per serving, and was excited to find a recipe for butternut gratin.

Having never made a squash dish before (or a gratin, for that matter), this was uncharted territory for me. I didn’t realize how large a butternut squash in until I saw it in the supermarket, at which point I happily made the suggested substitute for acorn squash instead.

One of the things I love about this recipe is how easy it is. You nuke the squash and then the gratin mixture, and prep time is about 30 minutes. The flavor combination of squash, pork chops, onions, bread crumbs and reduced-fat cheddar cheese is delicious. A satisfying entrée that scrimps on calories and not taste. Here’s how to make it:

Baked Chicken Cutlets In Olive Oil, Acorn Squash With Buttered Maple Syrup

Friday, June 3, 2011

Now that I’ve been cooking regularly for a couple of months, I’m feeling more confident about creating dishes without the help of a recipe. This week, during a girls night in with my beloved twentysomething cousin Alexandra, that’s exactly what I did.

For our entrée, I made baked chicken cutlets. In a bowl, I mixed together 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and 1 tablespoon each of chopped basil and onions. After dredging the cutlets in the oil, I placed them on a Pyrex dish lined with aluminum foil, topping them off with sliced tomatoes. I cooked the cutlets for about an hour at 400 degrees.

As a side dish, it doesn’t get any easier or tastier than acorn squash. After piercing one squash several times, I nuked it in the microwave for ten minutes until it was tender. Cutting the squash in half lengthwise, I removed the seeds and drizzled buttered maple syrup -- here, I turned to Paula Deen for guidance -- and cinnamon over the sides and cavities.

Alexandra said the meal was yummy. If I do say so myself, I agree with her!

Chicken With Tomato-Vermouth Sauce

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Now that I’m a neophyte chef, I find myself paying more attention to -- and getting excited by -- recipes that come with cooking products you buy. I always keep Holland House cooking wine on hand, so I was happy to give their chicken with tomato-vermouth sauce a try.

What I love about this dish, along with the easy 20-25 total prep time, is it uses basic staples I always have on hand -- flour, paprika, ground pepper, olive oil, onions, tomato and garlic. I made a few modifications, omitting the recommendation for capers or anchovy fillets and subbing canned chopped tomatoes for the real thing.

Here’s how to do it:

4 boneless chicken breasts (since I’m cooking for one, I only made two, so there was plenty of sauce!)
¼ cup flour
½ tsp. each paprika and ground pepper
1 ½ tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2/3 cup Holland House vermouth cooking wine
2/3 cup tomatoes, chopped or pureed
2 tbsp. fresh basil

Dredge chicken lightly on both sides in flour mixed with paprika and pepper. Heat oil in skillet over medium-hugh heat. Add chicken and saute for 4 minutes on each side. Remove chicken. Adjust heat to medium, saute onion and garlic until soft. Deglaze with vermouth and bring to boil. Add tomatoes and basil. Stir 5 minutes and spoon over sauce.

Quick Chicken Parmesan

Friday, May 20, 2011

When you live to eat like I do, finding healthy variations of decadent favorites isn't always easy. So I was excited to stumble upon Ellen Haas' low-cal quick chicken parmesan recipe in Fit Food: Eating Well For Life.

Easy to make in just 30 minutes, the recipe includes most of what everyone loves about chicken parm -- tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese (low-fat, of course), olive oil and oregano. Sauteeing and baking the chicken gives it a great flavor. The purist in me, though, must admit I missed having bread crumbs on my cutlet.

Still, for less than 300 calories and 10 grams of fat per serving, it more than satisfied.

Click on the image below for full ingredient and prep details.

Pasta Hodgepodge

Friday, May 13, 2011

When it comes to easy comfort food, one of my favorite things is pasta. Last night, I kept it simple and dressed up whole wheat penne and shells with a hodgepodge of ingredients I had on hand.

In a skillet, I sautéed green bell peppers and mushrooms in olive oil. Once the penne was cooked, I poured it into the mixture, along with a few tablespoons of Ragu’s traditional sauce. I probably could have used a spice or two (and definitely a little more sauce), but the mushrooms and olive oil stood out to my taste buds.

Not bad for only 20 minutes in the kitchen!

Super Veggie-stuffed Peppers

Thursday, May 5, 2011

For my latest culinary foray, I once again turned to Lisa Lillien’s Hungry Girl 200 Under 200. Lillien has a knack for healthy dishes that manage to taste good too -- as I discovered yet again when I made her super veggie-stuffed peppers.

The dish offers a flavorful blend of vegetables and toppings --- mushrooms, onions, tomato sauce, low-fat cheese, garlic and taco seasoning mix. I substituted Morningstar Farm’s griller recipe crumbles for the recommended soy crumbles, which I think gave it a little more zest. Total cooking and prep time was an hour, and I agree with URBakin’MeCrazy blogger Megan that peppers could stand to be cooked longer than 25 minutes before stuffing them.


1 large red bell pepper
1 plum tomato, chopped
1/2 cup frozen ground-beef soy crumbles
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup canned tomato sauce
2 Tablespoons Shredded Cheese
1/2 teaspoon taco seasoning mix
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Saute mushrooms, onion, soy crumbles and chopped bell pepper for 3-5 minutes, or until veggies are slightly softened. Add Garlic and cook for an additional minute or two. Transfer to a medium bowl. To the bowl add tomato, tomato sauce, and taco seasoning. Mix thoroughly and set aside. Slice off the top of the bell pepper, slice in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Spray a small baking dish lightly with non-stick spray. Place pepper halves in the dish cut side up, and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove pepper halves from oven and reduce temperature of oven to 350 degrees F. Once pepper halves are cool enough to handle, use paper towel to soak up any excess moisture on the peppers. Evenly spoon veggie mixture into pepper halves. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Add Shredded Cheese on top, and put under broiler until the cheese begins to bubble!

Matzo Meal Lemon Chicken

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When you’re learning how to cook, you’re bound to make a few missteps in the kitchen. So it was with a recent chicken dish I made.

Inspired by the delicious honey and matzo meal covered chicken that my good friend Caroline whipped up for Passover, I decided to make a variation of it. After dipping a chicken breast in lemon juice, I covered it in matzo meal -- a healthy and tasty alternative to bread crumbs -- and placed it on the oven at 375 degrees.

Though chicken is one of my frequent go-to entrees, I’m still getting the hang of what constitutes enough cooking time. As you can see from the photo above, 45 minutes isn’t it, especially when you’ve got matzo meal in the mix. I ended up with an unevenly coated chicken that didn’t have much flavor.

Lesson learned -- spare at least an hour if you’re cooking poultry in the oven.

What are some of your favorite chicken recipes? This neophyte chef could use a few suggestions!

Grandma’s Cracker Cereal

Thursday, April 28, 2011

When I think of favorite family recipes from my childhood, my beloved Grandmother’s cracker cereal is always on the shortlist.

A far tastier alternative to oatmeal, Cream of Wheat and the like, the cereal is great comfort food -- and delightfully easy to make.

*2 cups of milk (skim or regular, either works)
*8-10 saltine crackers
*Cinnamon and sugar to taste

In a pot, crumble up saltine crackers. Add milk and cook on low heat, stirring regularly for about five minutes or until mixture reaches porridge-like consistency. Pour contents in bowl and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.

A perfect breakfast!

Chicken And Rice With Lemon, Pepper and Celery

Saturday, April 23, 2011

One of my favorite things about learning to cook is throwing a few kitchen staples together with no muss or fuss. I always keep chicken breasts and white rice at the ready, so it’s fun to try out different ingredients with the two.

After slicing up one chicken breast, I soaked the strips in a bowl of lemon juice. While sautéing them in the pan, I boiled a cup of rice in a pot. Adding the mostly-cooked rice to the chicken, I threw in some chopped celery and sprinkled a teaspoon of ground pepper.

All in all, about twenty minutes from preparation to table. My kind of home cooking!

Simple Sauteed Pork Chops

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I’m a big fan of simple recipes that pack a tasty wallop. So I was especially pleased with what I came up with for pork chops.

My recipe calls for just three ingredients -- olive oil, tomato paste and chopped onions. After mixing together equal parts olive oil and tomato paste in a bowl, I soaked the pork chops in it for a few minutes. Then, on a low heat, I sauteed the pork chops and onions for about 5-7 minutes, drizzling the extra sauce over them.

The result was absolutely delicious. And a happy reminder that you don’t have to consult a cookbook to create something special in the kitchen.

BBQ Mango Tilapia

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When you’re a neophyte chef like me, sometimes even the simplest dishes can be fraught with peril. So I recently discovered when I turned to Hungry Girl’s 200 Under 200 recipe for bbq mango tilapia.

As a big fan of both barbecue and mango, I was beyond excited to try this out. Until I found myself in the fruit section of my neighborhood supermarket in a bit of quandary. What color mango to select? Not realizing that, like bananas (my all-time favorite fruit), green does not equal ripe, I made the wrong choice. Which I discovered as I struggled to slice the stubbornly brittle mango -- and nearly broke a knife in the process.

Hungry Girl’s recipe calls for two teaspoons of brown sugar and one teaspoon of molasses. I faced another dilemma here. Should I modify the ingredients? After all, I’m the amateur and the cookbook is the expert, right?

I opted not to make any changes and, sure enough, found the finished product to be a little too sweet for my taste. Lesson learned -- it’s okay to trust one’s instincts when it comes to making sure a home cooked dish pleases your palette.

Tasty Turkey Burgers

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I’m a big fan of turkey burgers -- they’re an ideal compromise between the indulgence of beef burgers and the often bland alternative of the veggie variety. That said, it takes a little something extra to make a turkey burger truly flavorful.

My personal trick -- packing the patties with sautéed onions and shredded cheese before cooking. A little Worcestershire sauce also adds a little zest.

After preparation, I throw the burgers on my venerable T-Fal healthy grill, a favorite cooking gadget since its purchase 13 years ago. Five minutes on thermostat setting three and presto! Tasty turkey burger done.

Spinach And Mozzarella Cheese Supreme

Monday, April 4, 2011

When I think of casseroles, I automatically think calories -- and complicated. Thanks to a great recipe in Hungry Girl’s 200 Under 200 by Lisa Lillien, I’ve discovered casseroles don’t have to be either.

In keeping with the cookbook’s theme, each serving is less than 200 calories (106 calories for 1/6th of the casserole, to be exact). Apart from defrosting the two bags of frozen spinach required, total prep time is under an hour. Recipe calls for three wedges of light-flavored Laughing Cow cheese, and I went with garlic and herb which added a nice flavor to it. Hungry Girl also says to bake in the oven for only 25 to 30 minutes, but I found the casserole wasn’t quite crispy so I would try 35-40 minutes next time.

I was so excited about making my first casserole that I forgot to pick up one of the recipe’s ingredients -- mushrooms. Definitely still delicious, probably even more so with them. Click here and scroll down for the complete recipe.

Bacon Wrapped Chicken With Maple Syrup

Thursday, March 31, 2011

There are some flavors you’d never dream of experiencing together. Bacon and maple syrup were one of those combinations -- until I tried bacon wrapped shrimp with maple syrup at a restaurant. Something about the meaty taste of the bacon mingled with maple sweetness is beyond delicious. So last night, as part of my ongoing quest to get creative in the kitchen, I made a brave attempt to use the two to liven up a chicken breast. I sautéed the chicken in a pan for about 15 minutes, realizing as I did so that the bacon was getting a bit burnt. It occurred to me that this is a recipe better suited for the oven. For a trial run, though, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Take it from me, bacon and maple syrup belong with more than just breakfast!

Simple Mushroom Risotto

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I love risotto. And since I’ve given up pasta for Lent, I love it even more because it satisfies my carb cravings.

A quick Google search led me to this easy recipe for mushroom risotto from The Food Network’s website. I opted to substitute chicken stock with vegetable stock, a choice which I think might have affected the flavor.

Though the consistency turned out just fine, I must confess that my end result seemed to be missing a little something -- except when I took a bite that included mushrooms. Then…delicious! So, definitely don’t scrimp on the funghi with this recipe. More is more here, and I can’t say enough about that since my little modification of the recipe wasn’t exactly a soaring success.

Never I have been so thankful for the redemptive power of a simple mushroom!

Crock Pot Meatloaf

Saturday, March 19, 2011

One of the best culinary tips I’ve received was from my fabulous sister-in-law Barb -- get a crock pot. What better way to quiet the single gal’s popular refrain of I don’t have time to cook?

It was with great glee -- and the delight of a contented bargain shopper -- that I purchased my Crock Pot Classic for just $20. I was equally excited to discover my new gadget came with a booklet of recipes, including one for meatloaf.

For a neophyte chef, meatloaf can feel like a daunting proposition, what with having to make sure you achieve the right consistency, etc. A crock pot mercifully removes the guesswork, so I excitedly followed directions here.

1 ½ pounds of lean ground beef
2 cups bread crumbs
1 cup ketchup
½ cup chopped onion
2 beaten eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste

The recipe also called for 8 slices of cheddar or American cheese. I opted for shredded low-fat mozzarella instead and can honestly say I didn’t miss the fattier variety. After mixing all of the ingredients (minus the cheese and tomato paste) in a bowl, shape half the meat mixture into a loaf. Arrange cheese on meat then top with remaining meat. Top with tomato paste and cook on low (6 to 8 hours) or high (3 to 4 hours).

The result? A deliciously moist, flavorful meatloaf -- softer than what you’d get from an oven version but without scrimping any on taste. Mmm!

Grandpa's Vanilla Pudding

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My beloved grandfather was a wizard in the kitchen. The kind of cook that never looked at a recipe because he could trust his instincts about how to make, well, just about anything.

Along with arroz con pollo (he was Ecuador-born), one of his signature dishes was homemade vanilla pudding. I have many fond memories of standing beside him as he stirred the pot, then allowed me to taste test with a big wooden spoon. To this day, it remains one of my favorite desserts -- simple to make, heavenly to eat. Here’s the recipe:

Mix the following in a blender:
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons of Argo corn starch
Pour mixture into a pot and add 1 quart and ½ a cup of milk. Stir until ready and, after pouring into container(s), sprinkle cinnamon on top. Allow time for cooling before refrigerating.

Like I said -- heavenly!

In Praise Of Bell Peppers And Onions

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I have a confession to make - I'm a little obsessed with bell peppers at the moment. Actually, bell peppers and onions are locked in a dead heat for my affections. There's something about them. Add them to anything - meat, pasta, seafood, and it's an instant zing of flavor.

One of my favorite things to do is shred bell peppers (both red and green) and onions in the blender -- like I did before topping off the above chicken breast and baking it in the oven.

Yes, this duo never disappoints no matter what dish I throw them into. They enliven, not to mention the glorious aroma that comes when you give them a little fire in the pan. In a word, yum!

Chicken and Rice with Olive Oil, White Wine and Pepper

Thursday, March 10, 2011

As a neophyte chef, you tend to stick to cookbook recipes and shy away from experimentation (read: disaster averse). Which is why I’m proud to report that I recently crossed the threshhold of cooking sans any written guidance -- and was surprisingly pleased with the result.

I chopped half a chicken breast into small pieces and threw it into a saucepan with some white rice. Drizzled into the mix -- 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a hint of cooking white wine, diced onions and chopped green pepper. A sprinkling of ground pepper went a long way toward giving the chicken a little zest. Who knew mixing pepper varieties in one dish could be so much fun?

First-Ever Spaghetti Bolognese

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

This was by far one of my proudest accomplishments since being bitten, so to speak, by the cooking bug. Using a hearty recipe from Perfect Pasta (part of the Love Food cookbook series), I made my first-ever spaghetti Bolognese.

Ingredients included the usual staples for this beloved dish -- olive oil, chopped onions, carrots, celery, red wine, diced bacon and, of course, lean ground beef.

Little did I know when I posted my accomplishment on Facebook that it would ignite a firestorm of debate. Several of my good friends went back and forth about whether cream is or is not part of an authentic Bolognese sauce. Two of Italian descent said no way, though one managed to unearth a Wikipedia recipe that included….milk.

“Cream is for carbonara or penne in vodka sauce,” opined my friend Liz. “It doesn't belong anywhere near a Bolognese!”

Cream or not, I love me some Bolognese.

A Neophyte Chef Is Born

When you live in New York, it’s easy to put cooking on your to-do list but never actually do it. After all, Gotham is a mecca of gastronomic convenience, with enticing restaurants and delivery and takeout options on every block.

This year, though, at the tender age of 37, I've decided it’s time for me to use my kitchen for more than microwaving. Actress Billie Burke (best known as Glinda in “The Wizard of Oz”) once said age is something that doesn’t matter unless you are a cheese. Bearing that optimism in mind, I’m on a mission to develop my culinary skills as a neophyte chef. Hope you’ll join me in the adventure.

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