Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dinner's at 8. What Now?

Dinners at eight. You're hungry at 6. You ate lunch at 2- what to do, what to do?! Do you have a battle of epic proportions with yourself trying to stay away from the oreos, or potato chips? It would be sooo easy to reach for them, wouldn't it? So easy to down 6 cookies, or diminish half the bag of chips. Come on! You're better than that! Don't ruin your appetite with mindless fillers, who also happen to be saturated fat and carbohydrates...and not the good kind either. They will leave you feeling full, yet unfulfilled. Let's explore some healthier options to tide you over until the dinner bell has rung. What about making a parmesan pita crisp? All it takes it a pita, fresh grated parmesan and some herbs, such as rosemary. Maybe a smattering of olive oil as well. Sprinkle the cheese and herbs over the whole wheat pita, and broil until golden brown. Slice into 4's and enjoy not only a delicious treat, but one that has a good balance of protein, fat and fiber. Are you a cheese head? Then this is the perfect late afternoon snack for you. Take a part-skim mozzarella string cheese, and wrap it in a slice of fresh proscuitto. Pair this with some olives, or artichoke hearts, and you have yourself a nice little antipasto. How about a grown-up grilled cheese snack? Take a piece of whole grain rye toast, and slather it with dijon mustard. Place a piece of sharp cheddar cheese on top. Broil until the cheese melts. Top this with a tomato- and voila, you have a snack that is rich in calcium. These are some ideas for a quick bite to eat, that won't disrupt your dinner plans. If you have any go-to snack favorites, please post below!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Successful Failures

Ahhhh the road to culinary enlightenment is a long one, that's for sure. I have failed...yet again. When I say failed, I mean- I wouldn't have fed last night's "dinner" to death row inmates. That bad. I know I preach about healthy cooking, and rave about my latest great cooking encounters-- but after last night, I realized that in order to get better, you have to mess up. It started off as a mouthwatering day dream. Dijon chicken, with Giada's smashed fried lemon potato cakes. I bet your mouth is starting to was mine. I mentally rummaged through my fridge to see what I needed for the dish, and with the help of my mother who happened to be at the grocery store, I had all I needed for what was sure to be a home run meal. An hour later, I was looking at what can only be described as sludge. I may as well have prepared ordinary hashbrowns, with a side of chicken shaped rubber. If it weren't for my loved ones, who happen to have also been the victims of this last supper, I would have crumbled at the sight of my fallen meal. It got me to thinking....are we born with natural talent in the kitchen? Is it something you can learn? If so, how do we actively hone our abilities? And then I turned to my good friends at google. It seems that other people have pondered this same question. Upon polling the audience, if you will, I have come up with the following tips that will assist you in your quest to be the best chef that you can be: 1. Look at several different recipes for the same dish. Pick the least jazzy. Use this basic recipe as a way to learn the main architecture of a dish. Along the road, you will learn by trial and error what you can add, eliminate, or modify. 2. Less is more. You can always add more seasoning, (salt especially) but you can never take any away. 3. Use Youtube. It is a great tool for learning technique. Many of us are visual leaners, so it is much easier to see how to do it, than read a monotone recipe. 4. Avoid overworking your food. Flipping it too much, kneading it too much may make you think you are really cooking, but overworking your food may result in it being too tough, or not evenly cooked. 5. Sometimes the best meals are the meals that you create from ingredients in your fridge. A lot of times, you have everything you never knew you needed, right on those cold shelves. Get yourself a base. A pasta perhaps. Open your fridge and see what you can add to it. I got this idea from another blogger, who put it perfectly; almost anything can be made into a delicious soup, springrole or casserole, as long as you enjoy the ingredients. Be spontaneous. 6. Keep fresh herbs around at all times. They add pizazz to any dish. (remember- less is more.) 7. It's just like the age old question; "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Practice, practice, practice. Make a dish, and then make it ten times again until you perfect it. Then, the next time you're entertaining, you will have a delicious recipe that may not be new to you, but certainly is to your guests. 8. Use flavorful cooking liquids. I always try to substitute water when I can- because it has no taste. I love using chicken broth when baking chicken, or cooking rice instead of water. ] 9. Tang it up! I believe that any dish is automatically better, when a splask of wine, lemon, or vinegar is added. It really brings out the flavor of the meal's components. 10. Don't be afraid of using real butter. Your hips will forgive you. Cooking with butter makes everything creamier, and tastier.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sandwich Woes...

Why are deli sandwiches so much more delicious than homemade sandwiches?! I don't care what magic tricks you pull out of your fridge, it just doesn't taste the same. Sure you could go the extra mile and not only purchase the Boars Head cold cuts, buy the Boars Head mustard and oil and vinegar sandwich dressing to boot...but in my mind, your sandwich just falls a little below perfection. Now that I have paid my deli-workers sufficient respect, I must air my grievances. WHAT IS SO HARD ABOUT GETTING A SANDWICH ORDER CORRECT?! Every single time I order a sandwich from a deli, one ingredient is left out. Now, when you're a food snob, all ingredients are of equal value to your palate. Just because I like more lettuce than onions, does NOT give you, deli worker, free reign to "forget" my onions. They are part of my sandwich family, and without them, I feel incomplete. It down right puts me in a bad mood. In no way, shape or form am I a high maintenance sandwich orderer. Usually, I go mainstream. A little turkey, some cheese....perhaps L,T,O, mayo and mustard. Every time, EVERY TIME, something is missing. Can I get and "A'men" if you're with me!? Lord have mercy on the days where I crave something special. One day, I really wanted extra banana peppers on my un-original sandwich. Just that sour, pickled pepper taste was enough to make my salivary glands channel Niagra Falls. That being said, which ingredient do you think they left out? I used to gawk at crazy people who made scenes, or engaged in physical altercations in public places. Maybe someone got their sandwich order wrong? I almost feel a connection to these angry people right now. So, my question is this: is it necessary to ALWAYS write your order down and hand it to the lovely individual who has the pleasure of making your lunch? I seem to think so.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sassin' up the Casseroles

Growing up, I hated casseroles. Of course, I also thought wine tasted like hairspray, and look at me now. I begrudgingly ate my mother's tuna casserole, solely to be excused from dinner. As soon as I forked a sensible amount into my mouth, I could spring free of my fishy albatross, and play T.V. tag before dark.

What was I thinking? Now casseroles represent everything I love! Perhaps they are misconstrued by America. When most people think of casseroles, they think of slushy, sloppy scoops of goo, served up by a hair-netted woman, with a mole on her chin. Or their great Aunt Ursula.

I feel that it is my civic duty to reinterpret the casserole. In fact, I will now call it the "sasserole." (Insert eye roll.) I will jazz it up. No longer will we eat them with a spoon. No longer will we dread dinner. Let's create some sassy casseroles, containing all of the things we love. I'd hold off on the m&m's, though.

I love pasta. Don't you? I love chicken. I LOVE artichoke hearts. I love garlic. I love feta cheese, and I love pine nuts. Throw all of these together, and sprinkle the juice of 2 fresh lemons over the top. I suggest using shell pasta, as when you sprinkle the feta cheese in the dish, it melts into the shells and is absolutely delicious. The definition of a casserole is a dish that can be cooked and served, all ingredients together. That's exactly what we're doing! By placing all of the complimentary ingredients together- the possibilities are endless! Like sundried tomatoes? Throw some in there!

Another delicious casserole is a chicken tamale casserole. It incorporates the sweetness of cornbread and zesty enchilada sauce. It is quick, easy, and perfect for all audiences.


-1 Cup mexican 4-cheese mexican blend
-1/3 cup fat free milk
-1/4 cup egg substitute
-1 tsp ground cumin
-1/8 tsp ground red pepper
-1 can cream corn
-1 box corn muffin mix
-2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
-1 can red enchilada sauce-1/2 cup fat free sour cream


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine 1/4 cup of cheese and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring just until moist. Pour mixture into a 13x9 inch baking dish, coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until set. Pierce entire surface liberally with fork; pour enchilada sauce over top. Top with chicken, sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake again at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, or until cheese melts. Remove from oven, let stand for 5 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces, and serve each with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Andale! Get to it!

Recipe courtesy of

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sample Sales

Do you love grocery shopping? Do you loathe it?

Perhaps you haven't found your groove when food shopping. Perhaps you haven't found that perfect market. Maybe you do your paper good shopping at Wal-Mart. Maybe you get your produce at Giant, Food Lion or A&P. Maybe ShopRite has the best fish selection, Grand Union, the best steaks. Maybe you're one of the chosen ones, who lives in a ten mile radius of a Wegmann's, Whole Foods or Fairway. Maybe you'd prefer to skip the shopping and order in.

Perhaps your go-to grocer doesn't offer the heavenly samples that mine does...but that's another story.

When you find the perfect super market, it's as if you've found nirvana. No more suffering. No more crazy mom's with crazier kids, cruising down the aisle as if it were the Autobahnen-- legs, arms and pacifiers flying. There is a place for everything, and everything is in it's place. The number one rule in finding the perfect supmarket, is analyzing it's samples.

I refuse to go to a grocery store that does not fully support sampling. It is like being a diabetic in a candy store. What good is the chipotle crab dip to me, if I can't taste it!? To me, test driving a car is essential before purchasing it. Just sayin.

First of all, the employees dishing out the goods are always happy. They are either delighted to be sharing their little edible morsels of sunshine, or they must be high. Either way, they are appreciated by yours truly.

Second, the little creations they come up with may look mundane, tired, and/or generic- but I kid you not, they ALWAYS taste delicious. I have not yet determined if it is due to my insta-starvation the minute I walk into the market, or if there truly is something hidden in the spinach dip with pita chips. It may look like a cube of boars head ham on a little rye toast point, but what you don't see is the horseradish dill dip coating the bottom!

There may not be a wide array of samples, but I think it says a lot about the grocery store if they at least have them. It's giving back to the community, all the while promoting sales of certain products. Sometimes, when my farmers market/grocer get's realllll crazy, they have local folks come in and set up their own sample tables, filled with homemade goat cheese, tomato sauce, quiche, bruschetta, you name it! The best part is, I always by it. Without fail, if I taste it...I buy it. Sometimes it's subpar, but little MaryLee behind the folding table is looking at me with such pride, such helplessness, that I can't bare to turn her fruitcake down. So, in the cart it goes.

Very rarely I don't enjoy something that I sample. For example, there was a table set up this weekend, with a sign on it that said "Spinach Surprise!" Now, I love spinach, and I adore surprises, so this is a mini christmas morning to me. I nearly knocked down five patrons while making my way to the steaming dish. When I got my first (out of 5) piece and bit in, a mixture of warm cream cheese, garlic, artichoke, spinach and a warm crusty shell unfolded in my mouth. It. was. life. changing. I nearly went out to my car, found a hat and a different jacket as a disguise, and went back in for round two.

The moral of the story is this: If you're grocery shopping at a market that does not offer you samples while shopping, (even if it is only a weekend thing) you're not going to enjoy your grocery shopping to the fullest. If you read my first post on this blog, you will know that Sunday's are my grocery shopping days, solely because of the samples.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

If You're Lucky Enough to be Irish...You're Lucky Enough!

Top o' the mornin' to ya, my li'l leprechauns! May the road rise up to meet you...and may that road lead you to good food, good friends, and good wine!

Although today's recipe is a slow cooker, it may be a wee bit too late to make for tonight's festivities. But, then again, who says you can't enjoy this delicious emerald of a dish the other 364 days of the year?

Ale-Braised Corbed Beef and Brussel Sprouts

- 1 3lb piece of corned beef brisket (with spice packet included)
- 1lb carrots, peeled and cut into 3 inch lengths
- 1 12 ounce bottle amber ale
- 3/4lb brussels sprouts
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 tbsp whole-grained mustard
- 1 tsbp fresh chopped taragon
- Spoonful of minced horseradish

In a 5-6 quart slow cooker, place the beef, contents of the spice packet, carrots, and ale. Cooke, covered, until the beef is tender: (On high for 4-5 hours, or if you're at work, cook on low for 7-8 hours.) Ten minutes before serving, thinly slice the brussels sprouts. (This is easiest to do in a food processor with a slicing blade.) Transfer the beef from the slow cooker to a cutting board; if slow cooker is on the low setting, turn it to high now. Add the brussels sprouts to the carrots and liquid in the slow cooker. Cook, covered until the sprouts are tender; about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the sour cream, tarragon, mustard and horseradish. Slice the beef and serve with the sauce and veggies.

Cead mile Failte!

Recipe courtesy of

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Trusty Sidekicks

I love sandwiches. I love burritos. I love steak, chicken, lamb and fish. But I don't love them all alone. I merely like them intsensely. There is a difference.

A main dish without sides is like a pitcher without a catcher. It's Ringo Starr as a solo artist. Sometimes things are just better with counterparts.

I feel the same way about my meals. I love savoring the different flavors, textures and bites of each element of my meal. I am a huge fan of sides. Whether they are potatoes, beans, salads, or bread- I will not discriminate. I believe that they are there for a reason- each one complimenting their superior. I like experimenting with my sides while at home. I take pride in choosing the most obscure, while dining out. I have come to find that the sides that I enjoy the most, are the ones that have a medley of ingredients. Sure potato chips are a nice snack. I won't turn my back on any starch ro carb, believe you me. But when mixed with something else, say, a we're talking.

Recently I have been really into salads. Not necessarily the leafy kind- but the pasta salads. The macaroni salads. The egg, tuna and chicken salads. I have relied on my Real Simple friends, as well as Martha Stewart herself, to compile some of my favorite original side salad recipes. Hold onto your seats!

Cucumber salad with sour cream and dill dressing. DON'T KNOCK IT TILL YOU'VE TRIED IT, PEOPLE. In this delicious salad, you want to very thinly chop your 4-6 cucumbers. Make sure they are the kirby cucumbers, which are longer and thinner. Halve them after you finely chop or julienne them. In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup of reduced fat sour cream, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of chopped dill, salt and pepper. Wisk the mixture together and and toss in the cucumbers. Sprinkle dill to garnish.

Green bean pasta salad. All you need is 4oz penne, 4 oz green beans, 1 can of red kidney beans, rinsed, 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. To assemble, cook the pasta, and add the green beans in 3 minutes before pasta is done. Drain, and run under cool water. Toss the pasta/beans with the red beans, parsley, parmesan, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve!

Apple, grape, celery and goat cheese salad. This one is absolutely delicious. I would have never thought that I would choose to make something with these ingredient, but I am so happy I did! The ingredients are as follows; 1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, 2 celery stalks thinly sliced diagonally, 1 granny smith apple- cored, halved and thinly sliced, 1 cup of seedless red grapes, halved, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, a scopp of fresh goat cheese, salt and pepper to taste. To assemble, spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes or until lightly browned. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and toss to combine. Chill, serve, enjoy!

Perhaps you are a potato salad fan, but want to sass it up a tad. How about a trying a warm potato salad with a dijon scallion vinaigrette? To do so, firt make the vinaigrette. You will need; 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper, pinch of sugar, 3/4 cupe extra-virgin olive oil, 3 chopped whole scallions. Place all ingredients, minus the oil in a jar, and sken 'em up! Slowly pour in the oil, and stir again. Next, scrub 2 pounds of red potatoes, and slice them about 1/3 inch thick. put them in a medium saucepan with salted water, and boil them until they are tender. (Approx. 15 minutes.) Drain the potatoes, and stir in the vinaigrette. Top with freshly chopped scallions.


Recipes courtesy of Real Simple and Martha Stewart