Alterna-Burger Night

I have my family in town already for Christmas and have been cooking for a crowd. It has been fun to cook for them and thank goodness I have made recipes that they enjoyed! Last night I made a burger that is fantastic and flavorful. This is not your average burger and it actually looks elegant. It is a ground lamb burger wrapped in prosciutto and cooked on the stove (no one has to dare the 10 degree weather to grill!). I served it with a simple orzo salad with oranges. It was a great meal and I got lots of compliments. So thank you Giada for this lovely recipe and I hope your eves of Christmas are just as successful!

Prosciutto Lamb Burgers
Giada's Kitchen
serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs (I actually used Italian style and it was great)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons of whole milk (I used skim and it was fine)
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese (I used Parmesan and again, it was great)
1/4 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes (use the oil packed ones)
/34 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1 pound ground lamb (ask your butcher to do this for you, I have yet to see it in the market)
6 large slices of Prosciutto, sliced medium thin (I used two think slices instead)
1/4 cup olive oil
Fresh basil leaves for topping burger
Fresh tomato slices for topping burger
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

In a large bowl, combine the first 8 ingredients. Stir to combine. Add the lamb to the bowl and gently combine all of the ingredients. (tip: I use a fork to do this or you can use your fingers. The harder you work the meat, the more dense your burger, so be gentle) Divide the mixture into 6 portions and pat each burger into a 1 inch patty. Place the prosciutto slices on a cutting board. Place 1 burger into the center of each slice or prosciutto and wrap the prosciutto around the burger. (My slices were short, so I overlapped them to make one long piece so it would wrap all the way around)

Place a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil to the pan and heat for 2 minutes. Place the lamb burgers in the pan and cook half way until prosciutto is golden, about 6 to 8 minutes. (If you think the process is happening too fast, and the prosciutto is burning, turn down heat). Turn the burgers and cook an additional 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove burgers from the pan and place on serving platter or individual plates. Top each burger with a tomato slice, basil leaf, a drizzle of olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic. Serve immediately.

I served this with a orzo salad that I put together with the following. You can portion it out to however many people you are having and how hungry they are. I used 2 cups of Orzo for a hungry crowd of 5. Just toss all the following together and let sit until ready to serve. It is better if it sits for at least an hour.

Orzo: cook until al dente, drain, rinse with cold water until room temperature.
Orange segments: I cut the rind completely off the orange then cut the segments out of their rind so there is just orange.
Red Onion: sliced thin and roughly chopped
Flat Leaf Parsley: chopped
Celery: Chopped
Red Wine Vinaigrette: minced garlic, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, 1 part red wine vinegar, 2 parts olive oil whisked together



Banh Mi Baby One More Time

This recipe is a revelation. Seriously, I would usually never consider a meatball sub for dinner and here I was enjoying every minute of devouring this amazing sandwich tonight. This is a French-Vietnamese style sandwich, usually served on the streets, made gourmet and fabulous. The flavors are out of this world and you can do a lot of the work in advance. I will absolutely make this again and would serve to any company. It can be made to your taste (as you can see I like when you can play with recipes) and it would even be delicious if you served it as a salad for those of you out there trying to avoid baguettes. If you are that person, I am not sure that we can be friends.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi
Bon Appetit January 2010
Makes 4 Sandwiches

Pickled Vegetables
2 cups coarsely grated carrots
2 cups coarsely grated peeled daikon (I could not find this in my market and subbed in zucchini)
1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
Directions: Toss ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, tossing occasionally

Hot Chili Mayo
2/3 cup Mayonnaise
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (like sriracha, but any hot sauce you like will do)
Directions: Combine all three ingredients in a small and season with salt. *Do Ahead: Can be made one day in advance, cover and chill

1 lb ground pork
1/4 cup finely chopped basil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce (can find in the Asian food section of your market)
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Directions: Line rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Gently mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Using moistened hands and a scant tablespoons for each, roll meat mixture into 1 inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. *Do ahead: Can be made 1 day in advance. Cover and chill
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the meatballs. Saute until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering the heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. (I took one out after they all felt firm and broke it open to make sure it was done) Transfer meatballs to another baking sheet and place in oven. Repeat with remaining meatballs.

4 10-inch long individual baguettes, or 4 10-inch long sliced pieces of a long baguette
thinly sliced jalapeno chilis (I removed the seeds, because it would be crazy hot with them!)
16 large fresh cilantro sprigs
Directions: Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally, but not through the other side completely. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2 inch thick shell. Spread hot chili mayo all over the sandwich. Arrange jalapeno slices, then cilantro in bottom halves. Fill each with 1/4 of the meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables; place atop meatballs. Press on Baguette tops.



Bella Italian Wedding Soup

As the blizzard outside my window rages on, I continue to try to cook heart warming meals inside. This girl likes comfort in the cold and much of what I am cooking these days reflects that. This is one of my new favorite soup recipes from the Queen herself, Ina Garten. Many of you know her as the Barefoot Contessa. I use her recipes often and they always come out perfectly. This is another chicken soup made better by including flavorful meatballs and healthful spinach. The only thing I would do differently is make the meatballs smaller. Make sure that they are bite size when making them. Adjust cooking time as needed. I also added a few dashes of hot sauce to the meatball mixture. Hope this helps you stay warm!

Italian Wedding Soup
Barefoot Contessa 2008
serves 6-8

For the meatballs:

  • 3/4 pound ground chicken
  • 1/2 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
  • 2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the soup:

  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 cup minced yellow onion
  • 1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 10 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup small pasta such as tubetini or stars
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
  • 12 ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Pecorino, Parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork. With a teaspoon, drop 1 to 1 1/4-inch meatballs onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. (You should have about 40 meatballs. They don't have to be perfectly round.) Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

In the meantime, for the soup, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Add the fresh dill and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan.



Is there anything better than Bacon?

Bacon is by far America's most loved ingredient. At least the America I know. Whether eating a crispy piece with your eggs in the morning, enjoying it on your BLT for lunch or finding a hint of it in your gourmet dinner out, bacon is everywhere and I love it. Here is a soup with just a bit of bacon. It is almost vegetarian, except for the Chicken stock and bacon. So I guess not really vegetarian at all, but close enough for me. This is a hearty vegetable soup that can fill up anyone, including your skeptical man (ie: my husband). And even though it has bacon in it, it is very healthful and low in calories. There is rosemary in this as well, and I don't even get me started on how much I am loving that herb right now... And my new trick that I incorporated into this soup is to add in a parmigiano rind while simmering. It brings a richness to the soup and that great flavor of the cheese.

Tuscan Peasant Soup with Rosemary & Pancetta
Serves 6-8

5 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
1 1/4 cups, about 6 oz. small diced Pancetta (regular bacon is totally fine)
4 cups large diced Savoy Cabbage (about 1/2 head, you can also use Napa cabbage)
2 medium onions, diced
4 medium carrots, diced
kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs. minced fresh rosemary, plus 1 tsp.
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
8 cups chicken stock
Optional: Rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 15 1/2 oz cans, small white beans rinsed and drained (ie: Navy Beans)
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Heat 2 Tbs. of olive oil in a 4 to 5 qt. dutch oven over medium heat. When hot, add the pancetta and cook until crisp, stirring often. Remove pot from heat. Remove pancetta from pot with slotted spoon and drain on paper lined plate. Pour off all but 2 Tbs. of the fat from the pot.
2. Return the pot to medium high heat and add the cabbage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until limp and browned around the edges. Remove the pot form the heat and transfer cabbage to another plate.
3. Put the pot back over medium heat and add 2 Tbs. of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, carrots and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and vegetables start to brown around the edges. Add the garlic, 1 Tbs. of rosemary and the coriander. Cook, stirring until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, stir together and cook an additional 3 minutes.
4. Return the cabbage to the pan and add the chicken stock and parmigiano rind, if using. Stir well and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes to infuse the broth. Add the beans and return the pot to a simmer, cook for another 2 minutes. Remove pot from the heat, remove the cheese rind and discard. Stir in the remaining rosemary and let rest for 5 minutes.
5. Taste the soup, add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Serve the soup hot, garnished with pancetta and grated cheese.



One Juicy Bird

I have been working on my roast chicken now for awhile and have yet to really feel that I have mastered it. Roast chicken is one of those dishes to me that screams "home cooked." I know my mom made a delicious roast chicken, so I am sure that is where it comes from. There is just something about that crisp skin, juicy meat and beautiful pan sauce that I love. I think I am getting much closer to the perfect bird and this recipe really helped. I served this with a fall salad and dinner was complete.

Roast Chicken
Food & Wine: December 2009
serves 6

One 6 lb Roasting Chicken (I used a 3.5 and it was almost about the same cooking time, all other ingredients were the same)
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
6 rosemary sprigs
3 lemons, 2 quartered, 1 juiced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine, plus an additional 1/2 cup
1/4 cup of honey
salt and pepper
1 3/4 cups chicken stock, plus 1 additional cup

1. Preheat Oven to 425 degrees. Set the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan and stuff the cavity with the garlic, rosemary and the 2 quartered lemons. Tie the legs together. Rub the oil over the chicken, pour the wine and lemon juice over the chicken, drizzle the honey all over the chicken and season with a generous amount of salt and pepper.
2. Roast the chicken for 20 minutes, uncovered. Add 1 cup of broth to the pan, cover with foil and reduce the oven temp to 375 degrees. Roast for 40 minutes. Add the remaining 3/4 cup of stock to the roasting pan. Cover and roast for 50 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted in an inner thigh registers 165 degrees. (If using a smaller bird, it won't take the full 50 minutes)
3. Transfer chicken to a carving board and let rest for 15 minutes. Place the empty roasting pan on stove with 1-2 burners on med-high. Once pan is hot, add the 1/2 cup of wine and deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom. Add the 1 cup of stock and let reduce for 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Strain sauce into hot serving bowl and ladle over chicken when serving.

I hope that you find success with this recipe as well. Here's to comfort food!
PS: You can use the rest of the chicken and bones to make a lovely stock as well. Nothing goes to waste!



Roasted Curried Cauliflower

I made this side dish last night and it was amazing. I had bought cauliflower at the market and would just figure out something interesting to do with it using what was in my pantry. I found this recipe on epicurious and it was so good. Great flavors and I loved the flavors that came out by roasting the cauliflower. I did not have cilantro in my fridge (I know, shocking), but next time I won't forget to have it on hand for sprinkling as instructed. My husband grilled some steaks and I made a salad, but the cauliflower was the star of the meal! I halfed this recipe and used just one cauliflower, it yielded about 3-4 servings.

Roasted Curried Cauliflower
Adapted from Bon Appetit, 2004, A.O.C., Santa Monica, CA
Yields 6 side dish servings

4 lbs cauliflower florets (about 12 cups)
1 large onion, peeled, quartered
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
3 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon Hungarian Hot Paprika (I used regular paprika and some red pepper flakes)
1 3/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place florets in a roasting pan. Pull apart onion quarters into separate layers; add to cauliflower. In a bowl, whisk together all of the remaining ingredients, except the cilantro. Pour dressing over vegetables; toss to coat. Spread in single layer and sprinkle with pepper. Roast in oven for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mound vegetables in large bowl and sprinkle with fresh cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.



Kickin' It Old School: German Style

Here is another great recipe from my mom's collection that we made when I was visiting. This meal is an old German recipe that my mom has had since her hay days in Newport Beach. She got the recipe from one of her favorite places in Newport at the time called Gulliver's and immediately made it her own. My dad calls this meal the "one where everyone does not talk" because everyone is eating and loving it. This is a fabulous, hearty cold weather meal that is great for company or any night of the week.

German Style Roast Pork Dinner
Recipe from Mom, adapted from Gulliver's, Newport Beach, CA
serves 4

For the Pork Roast: Rub Lawry's seasoning salt, pepper and garlic salt all over a 4lb boneless center cut pork roast. Bake at 350 degrees in roasting pan for about 1 1/2 hours or until internal temp reaches 150 degrees. Let rest on a carving board for 15 minutes before slicing.

For the Apples: Peel, core and cut 8 apples into thick slices. Toss in a glass baking dish with enough brown sugar, honey, cinnamon and nutmeg to coat evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, mixing occasionally and adding more brown sugar and honey as needed. (Can be made in advance and reheated before serving)

For the Potatoes: Peel and clean 5 large potatoes, cut into 1/8ths and place in large saucepan or stock pot with enough cold water to cover. Bring pot to a boil over high heat and cook potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes of boiling time. Drain the potatoes and place back into the warm pot. Allow the steam to rise for a couple of minutes to get rid of excess moisture. Using a ricer, food mill or potato masher, mash potatoes into desired consistency (I like them smooth, but some like lumps!), but not too much that they get gummy. Add 1/2 cup of warm heavy cream and 1/2 stick of melted butter, salt and pepper to taste. you can always add more liquid if they appear dry. (Make these while the roast is in the oven)

For the Gravy: After placing pork roast on the carving board to rest, place roasting pan on the stove over medium high heat. Add a few table spoons of flour to the pan (enough to coat) and using a whisk, mix together the flour and pan drippings. Pour in 1 cup of dry white wine to the hot pan to deglaze, use the whisk to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan while mixing everything together. Once the mixture is bubbling and reduced slightly, add in 1 cup of chicken broth, salt and pepper. Continue to stir and bubble to allow to reduce. Once sauce has thickened, transfer sauce to a warm serving bowl with ladle.

For the cabbage: Slice 1 cabbage and steam in pan with a bit of champagne (you can use water or wine as a sub) with the lid on until just cooked, but not too crisp. Meanwhile saute 6 to 8 slices of bacon, cut into 1 inch bits, until crisp. Drain the cabbage well and toss in the bacon and fat. Season with Lawry's season salt and pepper to taste. Let sit while you are making the gravy.

This is one of my longer recipes that require more components, but the results all together are so great. Ladle a generous amount of gravy over the meat and potatoes. Try to get every component on your fork for one fabulous bite and all the cooking will be worth it.



Addicting Pumpkin Bread

I just got home from a great trip to visit my parents in Colorado. My mom is who taught me how to cook and has some fantastic recipes for the fall. This first one is for a pumpkin bread so moist you won't believe it. It is delicious for breakfast as well as for dessert with a scoop of ice cream. This is an easy recipe and makes 2 loaves, so make one for yourself and use the other as a gift.

Pumpkin Bread

4 eggs, beaten
2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup cold water
1 lb canned pumpkin
2 1/2 cups of sifted flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each nutmeg, cinnamon, ground clove

Mix ingredients together until smooth using a hand mixer or stand up mixer. Fill two loaf pans about half way up the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/4 hours. Enjoy!

My mom also told me that these freeze nicely. I like to cut a piece off and stick it in the microwave until warm and then serve with a pat of butter. Totally decadent, but so great on a crisp fall morning.



Cheese Straws

To quote Deb from Smitten Kitchen, "meet my new favorite party trick." I couldn't have said it better myself. When I saw these on her site I was amazed I had never heard of them. A handheld cheese snack? Yes, please. Make a batch for your next party, put them in a pretty glass on your table. Watch your guests gobble them up. Next time I'm doubling the recipe.

Cheese Straws

from Smitten Kitchen, adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon half-and-half

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper in five 5-second pulses until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half-and-half and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.
3. On a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 8- by 10-inch rectangle that is 1/8-inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into thin 8-inch strips, each 1/4- to 1/3-inch wide (dipping the knife in flour after every few inches ensures a clean cut). Gently transfer the strips to an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/4-inch between them. The dough may sag or may break - don't worry, they taste the same no matter how they look! The straws can be any length, from 2 to 10 inches.
4. Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.
5. Serve at room temperature.

XOXO, Jenna


Bacon + Chocolate = Yum

I know, I know it sounds like a bad foodie nightmare, but really it is quite delicious. I recently discovered Mo's Bacon Bar by Vosges Chocolates. It is a dark chocolate candy bar with bits if applewood smoked bacon and smoked salt inside. It sounds bizarre, but I think it brings a new fun spin on the regular ole' chocolate bar.

For those of you that have never heard of Vosges, it is "Haut-Chocolat" company that makes interesting and beautiful chocolates and toffee. They have truffles with cayenne pepper in them, amazing caramels with sea salt and toffee with many, many nuts. They also carry a wide variety of old fashioned favorites for those less adventurous candy lovers. (see chocolate covered caramels with marshmallows)

With the holidays coming up, I thought I would share this gem of an online food store as they have gorgeous packaging and quick delivery. This is the perfect thank you gift, happy holidays gift (everyone is always getting candy, you could be the gift-giver that everyone remembers) or just a gift to yourself! You can also find the bacon bar in some grocery stores, it was at the butcher's counter at my local Fresh Market. :)

PS: You may think I am getting a kick back from this company, but I really just love the candy! I wish I was!



Extreme Makeover: Chicken Soup Addition

Everyone loves the comfort of a bowl of steamy chicken soup on a cold day. This time of year always gets me excited to try new soup recipes and I found one that is easy and delicious. I also tried making my own stock for the first time. There were definitely some things I would do differently (bigger chicken, use less water, remember celery at the grocery store), but I think it did make a huge difference. This recipe that I found includes the recipe for chicken stock and there is extra that you can freeze for another round of soup. Those of you from Chicago may have been to one of my fav brunch spots, Feast, in Bucktown and I am obsessed with their tortilla soup. Well, let's get serious, I order tortilla soup anywhere I see it on the menu. The version at Feast has a beautifully rich broth that you can tell was made from scratch. I think this recipe is pretty close and can be tweaked in so many ways. Be generous with the salt and pepper and feel free to add more heat!

Mexican Tortilla Soup
Adapted from, Tyler Florence
serves 4

2 Tbls extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalappenos, seeded and minced
3 ripe medium tomatoes, chopped
1 cup of corn kernals (fresh or frozen would work, just thaw out the frozen kernals before using)
1 quart chicken stock (recipe follows or use store bought)
Salt and Pepper
Canola Oil, for pan frying
8 corn tortillas, cut into 1/8 inch strips
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken (if you make the stock, use the stock chicken. Or use a rotisserie chicken from the market to save time!)

2 avacados, halved, pitted and diced
1 cup shredded Cheddar or Jack cheese
1/2 cup (or more!) of coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 lime, but in wedges, for serving (squeeze lime juice over each bowl before serving)

Place a stockpot over medium heat and coat with olive oil. Add the onions, garlic, jalapenos and tomatoes and cook until cooked down and pulpy. About 15 minutes and continue to stir. Pour in the stock and chicken, season with a generous amount of salt and pepper, simmer for 20 minutes over low heat, covered.

Meanwhile, heat 1 inch of canola oil in a skillet over medium-high flame. When the oil begins to smoke, add the tortilla strips in batches and fry until crisp (It takes just a few seconds!) Remove to a paper towel-lined platter and sprinkle with salt while they are still hot.

Ladle the hot soup into bowls and top each bowl with the avacado, tortilla strips, cheese, cilantro and lime.

Chicken Stock

1 whole free-range chicken (about 3 1/2 lbs), rinsed, giblets removed
2 carrots, cut in large chunks (no need to peel)
3 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
2 large onions, quartered
1 large head of garlic, top cut off so cloves are exposed (skins and all)
1 turnip, halved
handful of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
Place everything in a large stockpot over medium heat. Pour in only enough water to cover (about 3 quarts). Bring pot to a boil, then lower to medium low heat and gently simmer for 1 1/2 hours, partially covered, until the chicken is done. As it cooks, skim any impurities that rise to the surface (you will notice it in the beginning if it happens, 30 min in). you can add more water to keep the chicken covered if necessary.

Carefully remove the chicken to a cutting board. When it is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones; hand-shred the meat into a storage container. Carefully strain the liquid through a fine sieve into another pot to remove the vegetable solids. Use the stock immediately for the soup, or if you are going to store it, make sure to cool completely before placing in the fridge (good for 1 week) or freezer. (yields 2 quarts)


my kind of comfort food.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Coal Miner's Pasta. One of my ultimate favorites. As you can see, there's a theme going with pasta. I could eat it every night of the week. I've tried so many different carbonara recipes - with cream, without cream, with bacon instead of pancetta, with rigatoni, with spaghetti. Whatever variation you choose, the must-have ingredients for this recipe are: cheese (parmesan, pecorino, or a combination), egg yolks, pork and black pepper. I have to say, I've never met a carbonara I didn't like. My dad's is pretty darn good. But I have found a favorite, courtesy of Tyler Florence. Don't skimp on the cheese to pass and the fresh flat-leaf parsley - in my opinion they're the best parts.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Cook Time: 10 minutes
Level: Intermediate (according to
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 lb dry spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 oz pancetta or slab bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips (full disclosure - I used Oscar Mayer bacon and it tasted delish)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmiagiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
freshly ground black pepper
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm (al dente). Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you wish.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Add the pancetta and saute for about 3 minutes, until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss the garlic into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to soften.

Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (this is done off the heat to ensure this does not happen.) Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls and garnish with chopped parsley. Pass more cheese around the table...and get ready to feast.



The Power of Polenta

I recently discovered one of the easiest and tastiest side dishes to accompany any week night meal. Polenta is made from a boiled liquid ingredient and cornmeal. You basically boil the liquid, stir in the cornmeal and then add in flavor components. This is a great pantry side dish and is very versatile! In the recipe below I just added in what I had on hand, you can do the same with virtually anything. Ideas are Cheddar and chives, thyme and garlic, ricotta and spinach, etc. Just stir in what you like and you can transform this easy recipe into your own!

Soft Polenta with Parm and Rosemary (makes 4 side dishes)

Boil 3 cups of Chicken stock in a saucepan. Add in 12 Tablespoons of yellow cornmeal gradually and stir in with a whisk. Continue stirring until the polenta becomes thick and creamy. Add in 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon of chopped rosemary, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Transfer polenta to a serving dish and let stand for a couple minutes before serving to thicken further. Enjoy!

You can go a step further with this and make polenta squares that can be done in advance. Transfer the hot polenta from the saucepan once prepared to a 8 x 10 sheet pan. Spread the polenta evenly on the bottom. Let cool to room temperature (this can all be done in advanced, even overnight) Once cooled, cut polenta into squares and transfer to a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with finely grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Stick under a high broiler for 2 minutes or until cheese is melted and polenta is heated through. Serve!

Polenta can also be grilled instead of broiled, which is a great option as well. Experiment with this dish! There is so much you can do and make it your own.



Delicioso Comida

I, like Jenna, have a love of cilantro. I love it almost as much as I love lime juice on anything and everything Mexican. I developed this easy dinner combining all my favorite Mexican ingredients for several components of the meal, so to cut down on the groceries. The sauce is delicious! It is a chimichurri variation that has so much flavor, but could also be a great substitute for guacamole (it cuts out a lot of the calories). I use it to top the meat and I also stirred it in to prepared rice. I served this dinner with some simply grilled yellow squash that I brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and cumin. This meal is smoky, tart, bright and spicy. Seriously, I could eat the sauce every day and be happy. 

For the Meat
1 LB Chicken Breasts or Skirt Steak (serves 3-4)
Marinade Meat for 30 min and up to 3 hours in: 1/2 Tablespoon of Salt, 1/4 Tablespoon of Pepper, 1/2 Tablespoon of Cumin, 1/2 Teaspoon of Cayenne, 1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil, 2 cloves of chopped Garlic. Whisk together, place meat in large freezer bag, pour marinade in the bag, massage into meat and chill in the refrigerator. 
Grill Meat over a high heat until cooked. Slice against the grain of the meat. Serve with the Chimichurri. 

For the Cilantro and Lime Chimichurri:
Combine in a mini-chopper, blender or food processor until finely chopped and well mixed: 2 cloves of Garlic, 4 husked Tomatillos, 4 trimmed Green Onions, 2 cups roughly chopped Cilantro, juice of 2 Limes, 1 deveined and seeded Jalapeno, 1 Tablespoon of Green Tabasco, 2 Tablespoon of White Wine Vinegar, 1 large Avocado, 2 teaspoons of Salt, 1/2 teaspoon of Pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of Cumin. (makes 1 1/2 cups)

For the Rice:
Prepare as much rice as instructed on package for the amount of people you are serving. Stir in a healthy portion of the chimichurri once prepared. Eat. 

To make your life as easy as possible, you could make the chimichurri a day in advance or early in the day, as well as marinate your meat. That way all you have to do is make your rice and grill your meat and veggie. 
Last step: DEVOUR. :) 



Corny, But Delicious

I am a huge fan of fresh corn in the summer. Especially here in the Midwest, you know that your ears are coming from a local farm possibly just down the road from your market. Here is a side dish recipe from my own kitchen that I think is fantastic and can really be served with anything (grilled chicken, steaks, fish). It is sweet, smoky, tart with a bit of heat. Feel free to add more or less of any of the ingredients to your taste. This could also be served in the fall with roasted butternut squash as a substitute for the red pepper. Also, I used herbs from my garden that I like, but you could use whatever you have on hand or in the backyard.

Fresh Corn with Sherry Vinegar and Herbs (3-4 servings)

1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
1 Clove of Garlic, chopped
1 Small Red Onion, chopped
1 Red Pepper, diced
3 Ears of Fresh Corn, shucked, kernels cut off the ear
1/2 Teaspoon of Each, Salt and Pepper
1/8 Teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon of Cumin
1/8 Cup of Sherry Vinegar
1/2 Tablespoon of Fresh Basil, chopped
1 Tablespoon of Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped

Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is heated, toss in the garlic and let cook for about 30 seconds or until fragrant (You do not want to brown or burn it). Add the red onion and cook until the onion has started to become translucent and slightly soft, about 3 minutes. Add in the red pepper and corn and turn the heat to high. Add the salt and pepper and combine. Let all the ingredients cook until they begin to brown, stirring frequently. Once the vegetables are cooked and slightly browned (about 15 minutes), add in the cayenne pepper and cumin, stir to combine. Slowly add the vinegar all around the pan to deglaze, then scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon and stir everything together. Let cook for 2 minutes, then add the herbs. Stir to combine and serve.



Cutlery is King

There is nothing better than a sharp knife in cooking. Seriously, once you get your first sharp chef's knife you will instantly feel like the next Mario
Batali. You cook faster, more precisely and one good knife in your cupboard is all you need. My recommendation for you kitchen novices is to invest in one great knife. Chef's knives are best for this investment since they can really be used for anything. Every department store and kitchen store these days has tons of options that you can browse and actually try. Some are more expensive than others, but really you can stay within a reasonable budget and get a fab knife. I would also recommend that you get a knife sharpener. Since you will be whipping up tons of amazing meals with your new tool, you will want to sharpen regularly because as soon as it goes dull it loses it luster quickly. 

Above is a picture of my favorite knife that can be purchased at It is the Wusthof Classic Chef's knife. There are multiple sizes, but 6 inches is just perfect for your first knife investment. Enjoy your new tool! 



Chickpeas baby.

Chickpeas - love 'em. Can't get enough of 'em. I've always liked them (in moderation), but recently I've been buying them in bulk. Salads (chopped iceberg with salami, provolone, fresh basil, tomatoes, chickpeas), sandwiches (smashed with olive oil and other fixins'), I'd imagine they'd be great in pasta - you get it, they're versatile. Not to mention the fact that they're cheap, and we can all appreciate that these days. This is a recipe for my new favorite way to eat them - as a snack, roasted in the oven. They rival popcorn. Salty, crunchy, spicy. What more could you want in a snack? A (relatively) healthy snack to boot.

Roasted Chickpeas
*this is a combination of several different recipes I've found online

1 can chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans)
1 teaspoon (or so) olive oil
1/2 teaspoon (or so) salt
cayenne pepper (as much as you'd like - I like 'em hot)

*very technical recipe, I know

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Coat the chickpeas in olive oil, salt and cayenne pepper (to your liking) and put on a baking sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Shake the baking sheet a few times while in the oven.

PS. One minute you'll look and they'll be bronzed, the next minute they'll be burnt - keep an eye on them.
PPS. Crunchy roasted chickpeas=awesome, soft roasted chickpeas=subpar.
PPPS. (Yeah I know, too many PS's for what seems to be a simple task). Eat them right away! They're just not as good the next day. This step will not be difficult. Trust me.


Raspberry Buttermilk Cake!

Baking - not my forte. I've just never really been that into it. Well let's face it, I just got into cooking in general about a year ago. (Full disclosure - when I lived alone I didn't even own silverware. I picked up take-out every single night. Embarrassing, I know.) Our wedding registry goods helped my cause (All-Clad + Le Creuset = motivated to cook!).

Smitten Kitchen has jumpstarted my love (that's overstating it a little, more "my like") of baking. With buttermilk in my fridge that was about to go bad, I read a recipe on my favorite food blog for Raspberry Buttermilk Cake. Yum! The photo looked too pretty to pass up, so I gave it a go. Hooked. I've tried it a few times since and it's good every time - and easy. And you probably have all of the ingredients on hand. Well, you may need to make a trip to the store for raspberries, but it's worth it.

After you make this, check out every single recipe on Smitten Kitchen. Seriously you will probably end up trolling the site for hours.

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake
copied verbatim from Smitten Kitchen (who adapted from Gourmet, June 2009)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh raspberries (about 5 oz)

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about two minutes, then beat in vanilla and zest, if using. Add egg and beat well.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined. Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.


PS. Again, I need photos. Next time. I promise!


Sunda - Chicago

Last night I went back to one of my favorite new restaurants in Chicago, Sunda. This is an Asian eatery like no other. They cover the entire continent as far as flavors and dishes go and the menu has something for everyone. Chef Rodelio Aglibot has created a culinary experience that is not only tasty, but fun. He collaborated with the owners who travelled extensively throughout Asia to taste, smell and see what the people there were eating. They really have brought all of those senses back to Chicago in the form of Sunda.
The menu has a large selection of smaller plates that are encouraged to be shared. This includes small bites, salads, dim sum, noodles, hot appetizers, and a large selection of sashimi and rolls. They also have a selection of larger entrees that are more than enough for one and also great to share. I love this style of eating and I think that you really get to explore the restaurant's concept more by sampling all it has to offer. Luckily, I have been fortunate enough to sample a lot of it. There are so many dishes that are incredible, but I am just going to share a few.
The Roasted Duck Hash Salad is more of a meal than a salad to me. The duck is luscious and covered in a sweet and spicy unagi glaze. It is presented over frisee and a daikon cake then topped with my all time favorite topping, a fried egg. It is delicious and indulgent.
The Lemongrass Beef Lollipops are also a fun and delicious dish. Thinly sliced marinated beef is wrapped around lemongrass for easy eating on a stick. It comes with a delicious salty and spicy dipping sauce.
The Escolar ("Great White Tuna") Nigiri Sunda Style is pictured to the left above. This is simplistic, yet has a very different and refined taste. The melt-in-your-mouth tuna is wrapped around a small piece of sushi rice and chives and topped with a potato chip and truffle shaving. The order comes with two, but believe me order a double.
The dish pictured at the top right is something that I could every day and be a happy girl. This is the Food Buddha's Signature Sushi called Classic Crispy Rice. Sushi rice is formed as a base and then crisped up, which gives it the most amazing texture. It is crunchy on the outside and warm and sticky on the inside brushed with a soy glaze. They top this simple, yet amazing rice with Spicy Tuna (pictured above and my favorite!), Kobe Beef or Shrimp Tempura.
Lastly, I will mention the pork belly entree. For those of you that love pork belly or are ready to try it, order this dish! It is adobo braised and served with vinegar, caramelized onions, garlic and herb salad. If you have never tried pork belly, it basically tastes like the best bacon on the planet and when cooked well in lovely ingredients it is heaven. This is a large dish, so it is great for sharing.
Sunda is the kind of restaurant that you continue to go to because there is a lot of ground to cover and they keep you wanting more. The service is amazing and don't forget to order dessert, they have some amazing options which I have sampled and almost licked the plate in public.
I hope that you can make it to this great restaurant and sample for yourself what Sunda is all about. I wish this was one of those restaurants where I could go home and replicate dishes, but I think I will leave these dishes to the Food Buddha.
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