Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tales From The Catholic Kitchen....

It’s no secret that growing up in a huge Irish, Catholic family can give you control issues when it comes to sitting down at the kitchen table.

Even though I was one of eight kids, I refused to battle my brothers for the last pork chop at dinner. It simply was never worth it. Now, fighting over a big, huge chunk of chocolate cake? …that was another issue that I care to discuss before I put my dukes and prepare to fight them.

Life is all about chocolate. My mama told me so!

Bon Appetit!

Chicken and Sausage File Gumbo

I made a gumbo recently when I was in Minnesota from a recipe I took off the internet. It was a real disappointment because it lacked the flavor and spices of the gumbo below which is a recipe I have cooked for years from the New Orleans Cookbook.
I would suggest before you cook it that you go back and read the post I did on September 13, 2009 called “It’s All About The Roux.” It gives you a good lead in for making roux, which is the flavor base for a lot of New Orleans dishes.

Roux is not difficult to make but it takes a little while and you must be very careful not to burn it otherwise you have to throw it out and start over. It also takes a few times making it before you learn to judge the color correctly.

I know that it looks difficult but once you make the roux and get everything in the pot, you are done. We call it a “quality-time” dish… you know, the kind where you can just kick back and have a cold drink with all of your guests.

Remember, the darker the roux, the more flavor it has. Also, make sure that you serve this with cheddar jalapeno corn bread muffins.

Gumbo Base:

1 ¼ lb. Creole smoked sausage, sliced ½ inch thick

½ lb lean ham, cut into ½ inch cubes

1 fryer, 3 ½ to 4 lb, cut up

½ cup chopped green pepper

½ cup thinly sliced green shallots (scallion) tops

½ cup chopped celery

2 Tbs finely minced parsley

1 Tbs finely minced garlic

2 chopped onions

The Roux:

2/3 cup vegetable oil

½ cup flour

The Liquids and Seasonings:

2 qt cold water

3 tsp salt

1 tsp fresh ground pepper

1/8 - ¼ tsp cayenne

1 ¼ tsp dried thyme

3 whole bay leaves, crushed

2 ½ to 3 Tbs. file powder

After assembling the ingredients for the gumbo base, in a heavy 7-8 qt pot or kettle heat the oil over high heat. Brown the chicken parts in the oil and turn several times to ensure even browning. Remove the chicken and place in a 175 degree oven to keep warm.

Make the roux by gradually adding the flour to the oil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and cook, always stirring until a medium, brown roux is formed (the color of hazelnuts).

When the roux reaches the right color, immediately add the sausage, ham, onion, green pepper, celery, shallot tops, parsley tops and garlic. Continue cooking over low heat for 10 minutes.

Add ¼ cup of the water, the reserved chicken pieces, and all of the seasonings except the file powder. Mix. Gradually stir in the rest of the water.

Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer at least one hour. Stir frequently taking care not to break the pieces of chicken.

Remove from the pot, let simmer down a little and add the file powder.

Serve over good rice

Bon Appetit!

Strawberries...2 or 3?

No question that 3 strawberries are more pleasing to the eye! This put a positive twist on the odd number because most of my friends come in couples.

I would say threesomes are fun but not sure that sounds quite right! Anyway, I always have fun with my friends and their significant others. Thanks for never making me feel like the other strawberry.

Bon Appetit!

How I Spent My Twenty...

I had to really hunt for the bargains and probably burned up more time looking. Quite an extensive list though when it comes to spending under $20. The price listed is what I ended up paying with the discounts and coupons. With the soup that I made last weekend sitting in individual bowls in the freezer and all of the things that I bought on sale last Sunday at Target, this should be about enough to get me through another week.

I did not, however, have enough change left over for a small cup of coffee at Starbucks.

2 Bags of lettuce – 2.00

10 Bananas - $.87

5 Avocados - $1.00

Grapes – I pound $.99

Milk – I gallon 1.99

Broccoli – I pound $.69

Cauliflower – 1 pound $.69

Yogurt - - 5 for $2.50

Pork Tenderloin - ½ pound $1.84

Chicken Breast– 1 pound $.99

Carton Eggs 1.29

Bag Potatoes - $.99

Grapefruit $.89

Sliced turkey – ½ pound $1.56

Wheat Bread $1.89

Bon Appetit!

Homemade Salad Dressings

I love homemade dressings. I hardly ever buy them at the store anymore because of the wide variety of fresh ingredients available to make delicious and easy dressings from scratch. Here are a few that I make often. I especially love to use the Champagne Vinaigrette on harvest salad or a fruit salad.
Champagne Vinaigrette

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon minced shallot or green onion

2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar

1 teaspoon best-quality sherry wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley

Mix all of the ingredients above in a dressing shaker.

I also crave the chopped salad at Portillo’s. I often get through a week by making it and using for a variety of meals as a main dish or a side.

I use chopped romaine & iceberg lettuce mixed with Ditalini pasta (gives the salad a little body), chicken, bacon, tomato, red cabbage, Gorgonzola cheese, green onion. I will of course vary my ingredients by the vegetables I have in my refrigerator that I need to use up. I chop them all up into little tiny pieces.

A big Tupperware container will keep fresh for about a week. Top with a Sweet Italian Dressing.

Sweet Italian House Dressing

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon oregano

Bon Appetit!

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

Place vinegar, garlic, sugar, oregano, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. While the machine is running, slowly drizzle olive oil through the blender top or feed tube until dressing is combined and emulsified. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to two weeks.

I know it’s not on your diet list, but this homemade Blue Cheese dressing is delicious. You can lighten it up by using low fat or no fat mayo.

Blue Cheese Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons buttermilk

3 tablespoon crumbled blue cheese

1/8 teaspoon fresh coarse ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon onion powder

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Mix all ingredients. Serve cold.

Basic Italian Dressing

1 Cup Olive Oil

½ Cup Vinegar

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 clove garlic

1 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. dried basil

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients

Bon Appetit!

Chicken Parmigiana

I don’t really care for breaded chicken but Bobby Flay’s recipe for Chicken Parmigiana is one of the best I have ever had.

Bobby Flay is an interesting personality (read his bio sometime) and he has hosted seven Food Network television programs so I see him a lot on channel 61.In a recent Iron Chef America episode filmed at the White House, he was part of the winning team along with White House chef Cristeta Comerford.

Be sure to use the Panko bread crumbs as it makes for a very light breading on the chicken.

Chicken Parmigiana (this one's for you Tommy!)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups all-purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper

4 large eggs, beaten with 2 tablespoons water and seasoned with salt and pepper

2 cups panko bread crumbs

1 cup pure olive oil

1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Homemade red sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge each breast in the flour and tap off excess, then dip in the egg and let excess drip off, then dredge on both sides in the bread crumbs.

Divide the oil between 2 large saute pans and heat over high heat until almost smoking. Add 2 chicken breasts to each pan and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet and top each breast with some tomato sauce, a few slices of the mozzarella, salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of Parmesan. Bake in the oven until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is melted, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Bon Appetit!

Orzo Salads - Recipe

This is a great dish to add a little variety to your dinner sides. I especially like the light hint of lemon.
Keep this basic recipe and experiment a little. I sometimes add bits of spinach, red onion. Kalamata olives or artichoke hearts to the mix.

You can also serve this hot or cold. I’m kind of a cold in the summer and hot in the winter orzo eater.

2 cups uncooked orzo pasta

1/3 cup chopped roasted sun-dried tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 feta – finely chopped

Lemon Zest – 1/8 tsp.

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add orzo and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain and set aside. In a large bowl, toss together the orzo, sun dried tomato, lemon zest, olive oil, feta cheese, salt and pepper.

Bon Appetit!

Rotisserie Chicken

If I am in a big hurry, I will break down and buy a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket. You’ll find me, more often than not, making one from scratch at home.

The great thing about cooking them on a rotisserie spit is that the fat drains away and you see a major reduction in the fat that you actually consume.

It is a great tasting meal for special guests. So many people have raved about this recipe. You can also use an indoor rotisserie if you have one.

1 (3 pound) whole chicken

1 pinch salt

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon paprika

1/4 tablespoon ground black pepper

Season the inside of the chicken with a pinch of salt. Place the chicken onto a rotisserie and set the grill on high. Cook for 10 minutes.

During that time, quickly mix together the butter, 1 tablespoon of salt, paprika and pepper. Turn the grill down to medium and baste the chicken with the butter mixture. Close the lid and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, basting occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees F (83 degrees C) when taken in the thigh with a meat thermometer.

Remove from the rotisserie and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting into pieces and serving.

If you don’t feel like using your BBQ in the middle of January, here is another one you can try in your oven to feed a crew. The trick is to cook it slow on very low heat. This is another recipe that got a lot of great reviews and I know so many people who love this because you basically can forget about it for 5 hours while its cooking.

4 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 onions, quartered

2 (4 pound) whole chickens

In a small bowl, mix together salt, paprika, onion powder, thyme, white pepper, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder. Remove and discard giblets from chicken. Rinse chicken cavity, and pat dry with paper towel. Rub each chicken inside and out with spice mixture. Place 1 onion into the cavity of each chicken. Place chickens in a resealable bag or double wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight, or at least 4 to 6 hours.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Place chickens in a roasting pan. Bake uncovered for 5 hours ( yes- that's right - 5 hours!), to a minimum internal temperature of 180 degrees F (85 degrees C).

Let the chickens stand for 10 minutes before carving.

Bon Appetit!

Bread Resolution

One resolution I made this past New Years is to learn how to make great bread. I would like to at least learn to make a really good, crusty bread. That is my goal.
Do I want to get into the artisan breads? I’ll leave that art to the Necessity Baking Co who has a permanent location in the Chicago French Market. I bought amazing breads from them this past summer at the Lake Bluff Farmers Market.

Bon Appetit!

Saigon Sisters

One of the best vendors in the new Chicago French Market is Saigon Sisters. I went there at 1:00 PM on Friday and it was packed. I was going to quickly stop in and grab a sandwich to eat on the train. Yikes - there was a line so long it appears that a lot of other people have discovered how good they are as well.

I chatted with owner Mary Nguyen Aregoni briefly before I left. She and her sister Theresa have really found a home inside the Chicago French Market. Just goes to prove that great quality sells.

I tried the Porky Banh Mi and it was absolutely one of the best that I have ever had. It’s a little bit more pricy than some of the other restaurants that serve Banh Mi but the quality of the meat is so much better. I’ll have to ask them how they cook their pork because the flavor is amazing.

Don't miss any of the great vendors at the Chicago French Market. It's located at 131 N. Clinton.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cooking Therapy

Sometimes, things get too crazy and I just want to flee to the refuge of my kitchen. Yep - nobody here but me and the cookbooks. Is this the ultimate escape or what?

I take the first left when I walk in the door and I can be anywhere between the outskirts of Louisiana cooking a great cajun etouffee or in Paris whipping up a quick chocolate ganache. There is little distance between me and anyplace in the world in my kitchen.

I will sometimes take a short trip to hometown Minnesota and fry up a walleye (sorry, they have to be fried) or be across country and serve up some Maine live lobster. And just when you get tired of the road, you can make up some of your great local dishes to remind you why you live here in the first place.

One of the few places I have not been to is Asia and when I am cooking great Vietnamese food, I am there…even just for the duration of my meal. Cooking is my passport to the rest of the world and it's great because I don’t even have to pack my bags.

I can always picture what I find irresistible about a location by its food. Yes, recipes tie me to countries and bind me to cultures…some of whom I do not know but can unexpectedly appreciate because I have just tried a great curry or a simple Ragù alla Bolognese.

I have discovered so many things about the world here inside my kitchen.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

At $18.99 a pound, King crab legs are not something you can afford to eat every day. When my grocery store puts them on sale for $12.99 a pound, I can buy a crab leg (0.31 lb) for $4.03.Make sure that you buy King crab legs and not snow crab. There is a huge difference in taste.

King crab legs are so rich, they do not even taste healthy. The truth is, in addition to being very low in calories, the legs are also full of healthy proteins, vitamins and minerals and are super low in saturated fat. They are low in carbs as well and those heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids? Crab legs provide a good amount of those as well.

Most people consider crab legs to be a delicacy. I normally cook them when I have company but today, the sale prompted me to buy one even though I was eating solo tonight.

I steam prepare them - let the water in the bottom of the steamer pot come to a boil, then add the crab legs in the steamer and cover. The crabs will be heated through when you can smell them, about 10 minutes.

Use butter sparingly if you love your crab dipped as it adds a lot of extra calories to your meal. You can squeeze a little lemon on them or just eat them plain if you are watching what you eat.

I serve the crab with a simple salad and some Italian bread and was ready to indulge in just under 30 minutes. This is probably one of the easiest meals you can make.

Got to love those quick and healthy dinners especially when they taste this sinful!

Bon Appetit!

Let's Talk Tacos

Ask me about Fish Tacos a few years back and I would have told you that tacos were never designed to be filled with fish. What changed my mind? A family outing to the Narrows at 3380 Shoreline Dr. in Navarre, MN.

Most of my family love the Lobster Tacos at this place and they are really good but since they placed the Fish Tacos in front of me that day, I have been obsessed with them. I’m actually on the hunt to find the best fish taco in Chicago so I’ll let you know who earns the crown.

Half the fun of making fish tacos is to experiment with the ingredients –

Fish: I love Walleye because I’m a Minnesota girl but groper or tilapia is really good. You can also use halibut, sea bass, or striped bass fillets.

Toppings: What is a fish taco without salsa verde? No red sauce on my fish tacos ever! Shredded lettuce, tomato, cheese, avocado, salsa, fresh tomatoes, pineapple, sour cream, refried beans… Use your imagination and let me know what combinations you come up with.

I always grill the fish (in the winter on my indoor grill) and use fresh, homemade flour tortillas but you can also buy them at your supermarket.

Once you have made some of the toppings, you can cook the fish and put these together in under 30 minutes. Again, another great dinner in under 30 minutes.

Here are the recipes for a few delicious toppings. Note that sometimes I will mix low fat mayo with the green salsa verde to put a new twist on a topping.

Pickled Red Onion and Jalapeños

1 red onion (about 12 ounces), halved lengthwise, cut thinly crosswise

5 whole small jalapeños

2 cups seasoned rice vinegar

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt

Place onion and jalapeños in a bowl. Mix vinegar, lime juice, and salt in saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until salt dissolves. Pour over onion and jalapeños. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate.

Baja Cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon (packed) finely grated lime peel

Pinch of salt

Whisk all ingredients in bowl. Cover and refrigerate until using.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

12 ounces tomatillos, husked, stemmed, divided

4 green onions, white and green parts separated

1 jalapeño chile

2 garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 1/4 cups (packed) fresh cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lime juice

Preheat oven to 375°F. Oil a roasting pan. Char half of tomatillos, white parts of green onions, and jalapeño directly over gas flame or in a broiler. Move vegetables to the roasting pan. Add remaining tomatillos and garlic cloves. Roast until vegetables are soft, about 10-12 minutes. Cool.

Stem and seed the jalapeño. Place all vegetables, green onion tops, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon lime juice in the blender. You can puree until smooth or leave it a little chunky.

Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and more lime juice if you like.

Bon Appetit!

Portion Control...For Now Anyway!

Everything in tiny bowls and on teeny tiny plates. Portion control. I’m all over it this week since I had no control at all over Christmas. January is easy…let’s see how much control I have next month when all of my Valentines shower me with chocolate.

Please…don’t wake me up from this dream ever!

Bon Appetit!

Cold - A One Way Ticket And You Can't Even Go To Florida

This past week, even my immediate escape place – Florida – was in a deep freeze.

I woke up one morning and these were hanging off my window. UGH - how many more weeks of winter are we going to have? I’m so up for a long run in the sunshine.

A positive? It’s getting lighter when I come home at night. Don’t forget to always think of the weather window as half full of sunshine… makes your disposition a real high spot which is something all of us need in the middle of January.

It’s also easy to over eat this time of year. If you’re having trouble like I am keeping it off, there are a lot of tips on my post from 1/2/2010 called “Tips To Lose A Few In 2010.”

Bon “petite” Appetit!

My New Favorite Sandwich: Grilled Eggplant, Mozzarella, Artichoke Hearts and Grilled Peppers

My new favorite sandwich is the Eggplant sandwich at Caputos.

You can make it at home by cutting super-thin slices of Eggplant, breading them and either frying or placing in an oven at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes Take out, flip each eggplant and return to the oven for 20 minutes or desired crispness. Top with artichoke hearts, grilled, sliced peppers and Mozzarella. I use a really outstanding piece of Focaccia as a base.

This combination is so good you’ll almost want to become vegetarian!

Bon Appetit!

Cabbage and Pork...two key ingredients for a great stir fry.

The combination of pork and cabbage is so good I always try to keep both ingredients on hand to make up a quick stir fry for dinner when the mood strikes me. In this case, I also used Chinese pasta and a few peanuts to top it off.

I stirred in a basic sauce after I cooked the pork – a quick mix of 1 tsp chili paste with garlic, 2 Tbsp dark soy sauce, 1 Tbsp sherry, 1 tsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, ¼ cup chicken stock, 1 tsp cornstarch and a teaspoon of sesame seed oil.

Another great meal in under 30 minutes.

Bon Appetit!

What Will You Find In An Old Cookbook?

1) Food samples…

So many of my old cookbooks have food samples in them. Apparently I rushed to take something out of the oven and laid my wooden spoon down on the page. Some of them are enormous and look like works of modern art. There is one page that is so discolored I can barely read the recipe.

I avoid this now by copying a recipe and cooking from the copy…now I put them under a piece of Plexiglas. I must admit however, it’s not half as much fun as being surprised by those intriguing little compositions on the page the next time I cook it.

2) Classic recipes…

The old way or the new way? I still look to the old classics to remind me how it is done right then deliver my own creativity to update it a bit. That’s why they are called the classics!

3) Memories…

When I look at a recipe I often think about the last time I cooked it for a special occasion. I remember the day, the food, the guests, why we were there and how great it was to celebrate the occasion together. Funny, but sometimes I swear I can even remember the smells.

4) Money? –

I found a twenty dollar bill in my old Cajun cookbook today along with a note to go to the grocery store. This was from way back when $20 bought you an entire meal. What does $20 buy you now? I can stretch a dollar a long way so the challenge is on. I’ll report on how much I got for that twenty next week.

Bon Appetit!

Know Before You Go

Eating amazing local food is one of the best reasons to travel. Before I go anywhere, I burn up the guidebooks, food (Saveur is one of my favorites) and travel magazines, and of course, National Geographic .

Taking a cooking class and exploring local markets are a huge part of mastering the local cuisine. Check out the schools and find out where the local markets are before you go. Putting a plan together will simplify your trip and make everything so easy once you hit the ground.

It’s so simple these days to send an e-mail or post a question on your Facebook. I Google everything and read local newspapers and magazines. I also try to connect with local foodies and chefs who can send me in the right direction once I get to town.

Many of my traveling companions have said that I never come to any town a tourist. Since vacation is such a short time anyway, I don’t want to waste what little time I have trying to find these places. Track down most of them before you go and your trip will be a lot more enjoyable. Time will be spent appreciating them rather than trying to find them.

Explore everything on foot once you get there and always “eat like a local.” Follow the crowds and if a place is packed with natives, you know it’s good. Ask locals for recommendations. There is nothing like a resident to give you the real word on where to go. I have come across so many great restaurants just by talking with the locals. I have also made some lifelong friends in the process.

Don’t forget to try the street food. Nothing tells you more about the local culture than street food. I observe for awhile and then follow the crowd. Whatever cart they end up is usually a sure bet for an incredible meal.

If you have an Iphone or Ipod, you can get language phrase apps but I always try to learn some basic phrases including “give the check to my friend, please.”

Slip some of these suggestions into your pre-trip preparation and it can mean the difference between a good meal and a great one.

Bon Appetit!

Breakfast...A Few Little Tricks on Cooking In

During the week, there is little time for breakfast so many people grab something on the run like a banana or a health bar.
I try to at least make time to sit down and have yogurt with granola and berries, a banana and an English muffin with peanut butter…the superfood! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day so take a few minutes to sit down and enjoy it.

When the weekend comes, I am the first one to slow down, kick back and enjoy a leisurely breakfast with friends. I’m a morning person and consequently it’s my favorite meal of the day. Sometimes I crave it and even have breakfast for dinner.

One trick that I do when I prepare breakfast at home is to cut my bacon in half before I cook it. Again, I look at my plate and it seems like I have a lot more bacon than I actually do. In fact, I will cut all of my portion in half before I crowd them on to a little plate.

Another trick on flavor is that my favorite food is the one I will take the last bite of. I know this sounds really strange but think about it? Don’t you want to leave breakfast savoring that taste? In this case, I had a real struggle between bacon and fresh pineapple because I absolutely love them both.

Some of my favorite recipes are Stratas. What I love is that you can prepare them ahead of time, refrigerate overnight and just pop them in the oven the morning of your party. The majority of your work is done and this leaves you a lot of quality time with your guests.

Here is my favorite Strata recipe with onions, bell peppers and fresh tomato salsa. Each serving is just 242 calories and 7 grams of fat. This recipe serves six.

1 medium Vidalia onion, sliced thin (about 3 cups)

1 ½ Tbsp. minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)

1 ½ Tsp. olive oil

1 large green pepper, sliced super thin

1 large yellow pepper, sliced super thin

12 slices of firm white sandwich bread, crust removed, cut into ¾ “ squares (about 5 cups)

4 large whole eggs

4 large egg whites

2 ½ cups of 1% milk

¼ cup parsley, chopped

½ cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated



Spray a 13x9x2 baking dish with no stick vegetable spray.

In a large skillet, cook the onion and half the garlic in oil over moderate heat until the onions are pale gold. Stir in the bell peppers along with salt and pepper to taste. Cook 5 covered for minutes over moderate heat. Remove the lid and let the excess liquid evaporate, 2-3 minutes.

Spread half the bread in the baking dish and top with half of the vegetables. Sprinkle with ¼ cup parmesan cheese. Put another layer on in the same order.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg whites, milk, parsley, the remaining garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Pour evenly over the bread and vegetables.

Chill strata, covered, for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Let strata stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Bake 45-55 minutes or until puffed and golden brown around the edges. Serve with fresh tomato salsa.

Fresh Tomato Salsa:


5 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped

½ cup finely chopped Vidalia onion

2 finely chopped scallions

½ cup chopped fresh coriander

1 TBPS lime juice

1 finely chopped jalapeno

Cover and chill.

Makes 3 cups.

When I want a special breakfast out, I go to The Breakfast Club at 1381 W. Hubbard in Chicago. This little pink cottage serves up nothing but the freshest ingredients. You will get to know all of your neighbors quickly because this place is that intimate and cozy.

People rave about the French toast but Bonnie and I are stuck on the Steak and Eggs – the recovery food of choice from a long run or a long night!

I’ll be posting more on breakfast because there are so many great spots to go in Chicago.

Bon Appetit and happy morning to ya!

Valentine's Day - The Way To A Man's Heart Is Through A Filet

I seldom eat beef anymore and I consider the indulgence to be a real treat. I do, however, always cook beef on Valentine’s Day. It’s a long standing tradition because most of the men I know and love are beef eaters. Too often I just throw steaks on the grill. It’s easy and they are good on the grill, but here are three recipes, all using Filet Mignon, that have amazing flavors and are easy to make.

I got this recipe for Steak Diane from the Tulsa Tribune years ago. Even the simplest of recipes can turn out some of your very best meals. I give this recipe really high marks on how easy it is to make. Yes, this is an all time favorite and a classic I have been making for over 25 years. THIS SAUCE HAS SO MUCH FLAVOR I swear you’ll want to make it again next weekend.

Steak Diane

4 fillet mignon steaks, about 6 ounces each’

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp olive oil

3 Tbsp butter

3 Tbsp chopped shallots

2 Tbsp cognac

2 Tbsp chopped parsley

1 Tsp imported mustard

½ Tsp Worcestershire sauce

2 Tsp beef broth

Pound the steak to about 1/2 ” thickness.

Sprinkle meat on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. When very hot, add two steaks. Cook one and one half minutes on one side and turn, Cook 30 seconds on the other.

Transfer the steaks to a hot serving dish. Add the other two steaks and cook. Transfer to the serving dish.

Remove the skillet from the heat and add shallots. Cook about 10 seconds.

Add parsley, mustard and Worcestershire then add the broth and stir.

Swirl in the remaining tablespoon of butter.

Add cognac and stir. Then light with a match and let burn out.

Pampered Beef Filets. My Ex-husband had a talent for finding recipes that were simple, easy to make and delicious.

6 large mushrooms, trimmed and chip carved (holding a sharp paring knife on slant, cut V-shaped piece out of center tops. Make a second cut at right angle to first. Reserve the mushroom stems for the sauce)

2 tablespoons of butter

6 filet mignons

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Heat the butter. Quickly brown steaks on both sides over moderate high heat.

Place filets on squares of heavy foil on a baking tray.

Spoon 2 Tbsp Royal Mushroom sauce over each filet.

Top each steak with a mushroom crown.

Brings the corners of the foil up over the steak and gently twist, leaving the top slightly open.

Complete the cooking in a very hot oven – 500 degrees – 12 minutes for rare, 15 minutes for medium and 18 minutes for well done. Makes 6 servings.

Royal Mushroom Sauce

Add ½ cup chopped fresh mushroom stems and ¼ cup chopped green onions to fat remaining in skillet after filets have browned. Cook until tender, but not brown. Blend in 4 teaspoons of cornstarch with ½ cup cold water. Add to skillet 1 cup of burgundy, 2 tablespoons snipped parsley, 1 teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper. Cook and stir until mixture thickens. Makes 1 ½ cups. At time of serving, you can pass the remaining sauce.

The Beef Wellington recipe is from one of the holiday magazines issued by Cooking Light. It’s a little bit more work but the end result is worth it. This is a perfect elegant recipe to make when you have special company.

½ pound mushrooms, finely chopped

Butter flavored cooking spray

¼ cups shallots

1 ½ garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp flour

½ tsp dried marjoram


1 can beef consommé, divided

2 Tbsp parsley

3 – 4 ounce filets – 1” thick

1 ½ Tsp Worcestershire

6 sheets phyllo dough, thawed

¼ cup merlot wine

¼ cup sherry

1 Tbsp plus 1 /12 Tsp cornstarch

Chop mushrooms finely.

Place a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium high heat until hot. Add mushrooms, shallots, and garlic, Sauté 2 minutes or until tender. Stir in flour, marjoram, and pepper. Gradually add ¼ cup consommé, stir well. Cook 5 minutes or until liquid evaporates. Stir constantly (mixture will be thick). Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place in a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium high heat until hot. Add steaks and cook 1 /12 minutes on each side until brown. Drain on paper towels. Place steaks in pan. Drizzle each steak with Worcestershire. Top each steak with mushroom mixture.

Layer sheets of phyllo dough, spraying each with cooking spray. Cut into 6 ½ x 4 ½ inch rectangles. Thinly slice excess for topping. Drape double layer of phyllo over each steak, tucking under the edges. Crumple the thinly sliced phyllo strips into a ball and place one on top of each phyllo-wrapped steak. Lightly coat with cooking spray.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes for medium steak.

Combine remaining consommé, wine, sherry and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Stir well. Bring to a boil and stir constantly until thick, Serve with the steak.

My guys also love Mac & Cheese and to make a really nice dish, I’ll add a little cubed ham (get really good, flavorful ham), peas and a bread crumb topping before I bake it. There is never a crumb left when I make this and serve it with the steak. This can also be used as a main dish.

Bon Appetit!

Little Italy- An Enchanting Little Deli and Dreams of Lemonade

On Saturday, we went to Conte Di Savoia Italian Deli at 1438 West Taylor Street in Little Italy. This is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Chicago. Transport me anywhere and challenge me to find you some of the best food in the city and I will always take you back to little Italy. Just thinking about Mario’s Italian Lemonade makes me realize that May 1st can’t come soon enough.

What makes Conte Di Savoia so special? I swear that no one in the city makes a better sandwich. It is one of the great Chicago cheap eats and by no means will you spend more than your brother’s allowance here for lunch. I also love the fact that I can go back time and time again and nothing ever changes.

Bon Appetit!

Make Food Beautiful...It's All In The Presentation

One of the most alluring thing about food is the way it is presented. Give me a hundred ideas about show and I can match you with a hundred more.

I think that food presentation is such an art and one that can be easily learned first by paying attention when you lay your food out on a plate.

One of the recent suggestions that was new to me is to use an odd number of pieces on the plate, i.e. one or three strawberries, not two or four. Odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye.

Three's a crowd or an eye pleaser? I'll be photographing strawberries next week so you be the judge!

Bon Appetit!

Do You Sing In The Shower?

Do You Sing In The Shower?

What occurred to me yesterday is that, for as much as I love to sing, I have never sung in the shower. I am usually in such a big hurry I simply get in and rush out. I barely have time to soap up and dry off. On this particular day, I was feeling a bit stressed. I had forgotten how great it is to be in a hot shower much less sing in it! What tune did you want to hear?

Place Settings... Mix and Match

I love exquisite, matched table settings with china, crystal and silver. I am however more likely to go completely informal on you these days with nobody home but me.

For years, I have been mixing and matching plates to make dinner parties both appealing and fun. Often, guests talk as much about my table as they do the food.

I have so many unusual plates that I have collected over the year. Where do I find them? Garage sales, yard sales, resale stores and sometimes even Target.

I also love Anthropology because they carry some of the most amazing dinnerware. They also have great sales and I seldom buy anything unless it is on sale.

Magazines and cookbooks will give you so many suggestions on how to mix up your table settings.

Be creative and send me some of your photos. I’ll post them.

Bon Appetit!

Under Twenty Wines

I know there are a lot of fans of 2 buck Chuck out there. Trader Joe’s has some great wines and the prices are comparable to most of the other discount liquor stores.

You can go to a grocery store but the fact of the matter is, I prefer a liquor store or a wine store to come across the real deal on wine. Who knows the brands better than the experts?

In this wine note each week, we will feature a bottle that is between $10 - $20. Write me an email and give me your suggestions. We are also working with several wines stores in Chicago to come up with the weekly recommendations.

If you like Chardonnay, we endorse Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay 2007 at $15 a bottle. I really love this wine because it is so buttery and that is my flavor of choice when it comes to anything including wine.

Here are the Winemaker's notes:

"Thanks to Jess Jackson’s extraordinary agricultural empire of top-notch vineyards sprinkled throughout the state of California, the 2007 Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay is entirely made from estate fruit. It is 100% barrel-fermented, and aged five months with 100% malolactic, an incredible fact considering the volume produced. This cuvee seems to get better with each vintage as winemaker Randy Ullom is a virtuoso at producing such high quantity / high quality wine. Purchasers should be sure they are buying it from a retailer who stores it properly as this is a serious Chardonnay. Notes of melons, honeysuckle, and lemon oil along with remarkable flavor and texture are found in this wine, which can be purchased for under $15 a bottle. It is best consumed during the first 1-2 years of life."

Look for a new under $20 recommendation next week. It’s got to be red because most of my friends and family are sold on red. Am I the only Chardonnay drinker still out there?

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

6"X6" - A Perfect Plate To Help You Drop A Few

Pile this little plate up with a lot of healthy foods and you'll think you have a huge breakfast. These small plates really help you out when it comes to portion control! This is my favorite breakfast plate.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Beyond The Mac & Cheese – 20 Steps to Becoming A Better Cook in 2010

You’ve mastered the basics and decided that you really do LOVE to cook. Here are 20 easy ideas that have helped to improve my cooking skills over the years.

1) Use Good Ingredients:
Good ingredients are the key to a fantastic meal. Buy local from farmers markets, family farms, farm stands and other growers in your area.

2) Explore The Internet:
The internet connected me to hundreds of chefs from around the world. The internet has made the world teeny tiny. I love this tiny world.

3) Buy A Set of Good Quality Pans:
Good pans really improve your cooking. My pans still look and perform as well today as they did when I purchased them 30 years ago.

4) Try A New Recipe Every Week:
A new recipe will force you to expand your knowledge of cooking and go outside of your box. Pretty soon, you’ll not have a box to go outside of!

5) Explore Ethnic Grocery Stores –
There are hundreds of ethnic grocery stores in the city. This is one of my favorite weekend activities. The best part of the hunt is talking with the staff who will direct you to some of the finest ingredients, many of which you have never heard of before.

6) Use Fresh Herbs:
The taste, smell, and healing properties of herbs and spices make it so worth it to grow your own or buy them fresh.

7) Order Something Out You Have Never Cooked At Home - Then Go Home and Cook It!
I have discovered so many outstanding dishes this way. Ask a lot of questions and take mental notes. Go home and analyze recipes online to find a good match. Cook it the first time to the letter of the recipe. Next time, be your creative self!

8) Watch The Cooking Shows:
You learn so much about food and ingredients from watching the cooking shows on TV. The TV chefs are also pretty entertaining so its well worth it to be amused and educated at the same time.

9) Devour The Food Magazines:
There is no better avenue to feel your way around the kitchen and get into new recipes than from the pages of your cooking magazine not to mention the photographs that go with them. They have taken me on journeys outside of my kitchen and are often added to the growing list of the places I need to go next.

10) Take A Cooking Class:
Many cooking stores have classes to challenge even the most seasoned cook. If you don’t have time to go to class, Rouxbe ( online classes may be the perfect solution.

11) Experiment With the Old Standbys:
Pillsbury’s refrigerated pizza crust can give you a fast shortcut to a really great dish. I got an email from Betty Crocker the other day on her best recipes for 2009 and every one of them looked great. Don’t forget to be loyal to the brands that have pulled you through some of the most challenging times in your kitchen.

12) Travel:
No matter what your culinary aspirations are, you’ll find lessons from the markets of Tonola to the kitchens of Singapore. Travel expands your cooking knowledge like nothing else can.

13) Cook For The Ones You Love:
Trying a new recipe out on a friend or family member is half the fun of cooking. Who do you trust more to tell you if your dish is out of this world or if it still needs a little more of your TLC?

14) If A Recipe Fails - Go To Plan B:
If a recipe fails, don’t throw it out. Someone loved this recipe enough to put it together in the first place. Plan B is a lot of your own ideas on how to improve it and make it better. Plan C? Keep it or toss it.

15) Take Risks:
If it looks like a bit of a challenge, take a deep breath and go for it! A quick study and a huge leap of faith is what cooking is all about. Confidence is everything in the kitchen.

16) Stay Calm:
If you are in the middle of cooking a meal and your blender suddenly explodes, stay calm. Always ask for help if you need it. You’ll be surprised at how many would-be chefs you have in your inner circle.

17) Participate In Local Cookoffs:
Participate in local, regional and national cook-offs. They are the quickest way of gaining self-confidence as a cook. It’s also fun to be around so many inspired chefs.

18) Take Cookbooks Out Of The Library:
My library knows I love to cook and will call me when they are expecting a new cookbook in. Get to know your local librarians. They will take good care of you.

19) Drink Wine:
I can give you a thousand reasons why you should drink wine. In this case, a few glasses of wine will make you brave and creative – two absolute essential qualities of a great chef.

20) Call Your Mother:
You know the drill. Nobody knows cooking better than your mother.

Bon Appetit!

Building The Classic Banh Mi - Recipe: Banh Mi

It’s no secret that my favorite sandwich is the Vietnamese Banh Mi. I did several posts last September on Vietnamese food in which I raved about the Banh Mi. Not only are they delicious but also healthy and really easy to make.

The Vietnamese use a lot of fresh herbs and spices to bring out the flavors of the ingredients along with a variety of pickled vegetables. For the meat, I use lemon basil rotisserie chicken. as it adds a lot of great quality to the sandwich. If you don’t have time to make it from scratch, you can buy a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store, in which case you can make this sandwich in less than a half hour.

Another ingredient is liverwurst or liver pate. Just the tiny bit that you spread on the top of the bread is enough to add another great dimension to the sandwich.

I would have gone to Ba Le Bakery to buy rolls today but it was another below zero wind chill day so the crusty rolls from Caputos were a good substitute. The only difference was in the color.

Banh Mi

½ Lb. Daikon Radish, peeled (Use local radishes if you cannot find Daikon)

1 carrot, peeled

½ cup rice vinegar

1 Tablespoon sugar

4 baguettes

2 Tablespoons Oil

1 Tablespoon Fish Sauce

½ teaspoon Soy Sauce

¼ pound liver pate or liverwurst

2 fresh jalapenos, thinly sliced

½ sweet onion, cut into ¼ -inch rings

¾ cup packed cilantro

2 cooked chicken breasts from a rotisserie chicken, thinly sliced



2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

Make the slaw: Shred Daikon or radish and carrot. (I use a vegetable peeler) Stir together vinegar, sugar and ½ teaspoon salt with the shredded vegetables. Let stand 15 minutes and then drain in a colander.

Split baguette.

Mix together oil, fish sauce, and soy sauce and brush on cut sides of bread.

Spread liver pate or liverwurst on bottom layer of bread and top with chilies, onion and cilantro.

Arrange chicken, slaw, and lettuce on top of the cilantro,

Spread top layer with mayonnaise.

Here are some of the things that I do to change up this recipe:

1) I like a lot of vegetables on my Banh Mi so I will add julienne cut cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash and a little red cabbage to the slaw mixture.

2) I change up the cilantro and will sometimes add basil or a little mint to the mix.

3) I will often add a dash of Sesame Oil.

4) I use Vietnamese Grilled Pork ( a caramelized pork) sometimes instead of the chicken. Watch for the recipe in a future post.

Bon Appetit!

Serrano Ham - If You're Going To Indulge, Why Not Go For The Best!

This dry-cured Spanish ham is one of the best you can buy. Serrano is being used more as an alternative to Parma prosciutto. It has a coarser texture, is slightly saltier and has a lot more flavor. Some people add it to spaghetti or an omelette. Me?...Grab some crusty bread, olive oil and savor each and every natural flavor. That’s how I enjoy Serrano ham!

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I can have my bags packed for sunshine in five minutes.

This is all I need. What are you packing? Did someone mention San Pedro? Two minutes and counting!

A New Years Confession… So Much For The Gingerbread Lattes!

All of the disgustingly good nibblers, cookies, food and wine that I promised I would not get into this year –   I did!

It was the first year that I ate literally everything that was put in front of me. I denied myself nothing and gave into every single guilty pleasure without ever thinking about the consequences. Drat! Shame on me but… it was all soooooooooo good!

It didn’t really bother me until Saturday morning. That’s when the sugar buzz wore off and the reality set in. So much for my cheat weekends in January!

Lots of healthy “green” stir frys this week to remind me that cheating all through the Christmas season is not always the best thing to do. Not planned I know but somehow the sins of the day come back to bite you. My pants were so tight on Saturday I am still trying to catch my breath.

The old saying “You Are What You Eat” is so true. And on this particular Saturday morning, I was eggnog, potato latkes, wontons, cheeseballs, rosettes, eggs Benedict, sliders, pecan pie, prime rib and oh - I’m just getting warmed up.

So much for this year. I’ll make the same promise next year and your guess is as good as mine if I’ll keep it.

Thank goodness Starbucks Gingerbread Latte season is over!

Bon Appetit!

The Purple Pig

I am so excited that the Purple Pig is open for lunch on January 18th.

Located on The Magnificent Mag Mile, The Purple Pig is a collaboration of Chefs Scott Harris of Mia Francesca, Jimmy Bannos Jr. and Jimmy Bannos Sr. of Heaven on Seven... two of my favorite spots in Chicago so can only imagine how great the food is. I'm going for the Pig’s Tails Braised in Balsamic. Sounds like this will be a "run it off all week" kind of place. Who cares...the menu looks so fantastic. Drool material so check it out at :

Look for my post this Sunday.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Get Moving!

My son gave me a lot of gifts for Christmas. The one I loved the most was probably the cheapest and a little inspiration from the home front will keep you energized all year long.

This was a photo of the two of us at the Nike Human Race 10K that we did together in Chicago last Labor Day with my friend Bonnie. It was one of the best moments that we have shared ever.

Make exercising and eating healthy a goal for 2010.

Go to

It Tastes So Good To Be Healthy Again

 Breakfast can set the tone for the day and will keep you right on track to eat healthy all day long.

I loved all the nibbles, appetizers, food and wine over the holidays but it is so good to be eating healthy again.

Endless items for a healthy breakfast. Mine is granola over bananas with yogurt and an english muffin with peanut butter. Full of good fats, protein to aide muscle growth and plenty of fiber, peanut butter is basically a superfood.

This is my AM meals and will carry me into the early afternoon before I need another food fix again.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Can The Little Guy Survive? A Case In Point...Your Neighborhood Restaurant

Over 3,000,000 people live in Chicago. Over 59,000,000 live within a one-day drive.30 different ethnic groups populate 215 unique neighborhoods illustrating Chicago's diverse culture.

What I love even more about these numbers is that in a city this large, the little guy can still survive. How, you ask? A case in point…the neighborhood restaurant.

So what defines a neighborhood restaurant anyway? These smaller, unique eateries, set apart not only by the chefs and their menus but also by the neighborhoods and the people they serve are what makes Chicago’s culinary influence so significant.

I love the fact that there are hundreds of neighborhood restaurants where chefs stroll though the dining room each night chatting with their customers. Comfort foods from the kitchen carried quickly to your table so as not to alter the perfect temperature at which they were cooked. Hundreds of unique dishes created especially for guests who the owner knows by name…a regular that comes to eat at least a couple times a month and brings his friends because the food is great and he wants to support his local establishment.

This regular has been in the kitchen before…after hours for a glass of wine or a newly created culinary chapter from a pastry chef who has since long gone home. Not to worry…someone told her you were stopping by the kitchen to visit with the chef tonight so she added some extra fruit because she knew you liked strawberries. You make a mental note to say something special to her the next time you are in.Wow -they take exceptionally good care of you don’t they?

First off, you don’t really worry if this place has been written up by the food critics or even if they had a not so favorable review. What do the critics know anyway? This restaurant consistently gives you what you need…great food and value for your money and an intimate relationship with the people who work here. They let you in. They are an extended part of your family. You love to eat in their dining room and they love to have you.

Even in the dead of winter, they come. Isn’t it amazing? When nobody else risks venturing out in the snow, ice and cold, a regular shows up at your front door asking if you have a table and saying so very sorry they did not call in advance for a reservation. A regular respects your operation even though there is 12” of fresh powder on the ground and only 10 people in your dining room. You respect them too. It’s never discussed. It’s mutual and in simple terms it’s just the way it is.

The regular loves it here because it’s so easy to relax. This is the place where you can take off your tie and settle in to a good drink, talk about the kids or make plans for a get-away from the certainty of another long Chicago winter. You can let down your hair and dig into the pros and cons of the new boss or talk about the menu for a special dinner party this next weekend. This is a place where the atmosphere is savored and appreciated almost as much as the food.

It’s here where every waiter is also a sommelier and can suggest the perfect glass of wine for the food you just ordered or to knock off the stress of the day. Isn’t it great that they always bring your drink before you ask for it? You love that about this place.

This is the spot that you go to when you need to chill. It’s that kind of place and you appreciate that it is in your neighborhood. You enjoy the fact that you can mosey down the street and be there in a matter of minutes. It’s so simple. You really love simple!

The chef has been known to change up the menu and thinks about his regulars when he is creating something new. You often try something different because you know him personally and appreciate that whatever he cooks will be brilliant. And it always is. You reward him with well deserved praise and when he thanks you and gives you a smile and a huge bear hug, you have sealed the deal…you will be back again next week. It’s the unspoken code that binds the two of you and makes you a regular. It’s the episode that makes this place different from all of the other places that you go to eat.

Your neighborhood restaurant can be a place for breakfast where the dining room is so small that everyone is on a first name basis before the food is even served. It is forever intimate, slightly informal and explicitly comfortable. Whatever words you use to describe it, it is welcoming and you feel so lucky to have found it. Do you tell people about it? Me…I tell everyone. Like good recipes, amazing restaurants are meant to be shared with friends and family… and anyone else who will listen.

More than just a statistic, your neighborhood restaurants is what has earned Chicago the reputation of being an astonishing food city and will continue to tell the story of why supporting your local restaurant is a huge bonus, not only for the restaurant but also for “the regular”.

Become one and I guarantee that you will no longer be just another number in a restaurant’s long list of visitors. Isn’t it great to be home?

A New Year’s Salute To All My Favorite Neighborhood Chefs!

Bon Appetit!

Celebrating The End Of The Holiday Season

It was such a great holiday season this year, my neighbors decided at the last minute to celebrate the end and the start of a New Year.

I made a tray of holiday martini's using gumdrops as the granish. I imagine after one of these I will be ready to make a New Year's resolution. Stay tuned and don't forget to make yours.

Bon Appetit and Celebrate A New Year!