Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ab RIB cadabra

When I was a young girl my Grandmother took my siblings, my cousins and myself to see a David Copperfield show. I can remember sitting in the audience in complete awe of the magic acts he performed. The entire evening was so surreal. How did he do it? How did he make it all work? I was too young to doubt its authenticity. All I could do was believe. It was so amazing to me!

In my opinion, Crockpot cooking is like sorcery in my kitchen. I can't fathom how it works. When I cook things without a Crockpot I am involved in every step - chopping, stirring, smelling, adjusting heat and watching until it produces my desired result. When I make something in a Crockpot it is the exact opposite of all of my other cooking experiences. I have no control, no expectations and no involvement. However, magically at the end of it all is a delicious meal. The only thing you need to do is throw a bunch of stuff in the Crockpot and wah lah, it's time to eat!

I enjoy all the actions that go along with traditional cooking way too much to convert to frequent Crockpot cooking, but every now and then it is the perfect answer to a busy day.

Asian Short Ribs
Recipe Courtesy of Real Simple Magazine

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 beef short ribs (about 4 pounds)
4 medium carrots, peeled and halved crosswise
1 small green cabbage (I omitted this)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced

In a 4-6 quart slow cooker, combine the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper.

Add Short ribs and carrots and arrange in a single layer.

Cook, covered, for 7-8 hours on low or until the meat is tender and easily pulls away from the bone. Transfer the short ribs and carrots to plates.

With a large spoon or ladle, skim the fat from the cooking liquid and discard.

Turn the slow cooker to high. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water until smooth. Whisk into the cooking liquid and cook until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in the sesame oil. Spoon the sauce over the short ribs and vegetables and sprinkle with scallions.

This meal was amazing - restaurant quality amazing. The flavor of the beef and the depth of the sauce were both so satisfying. The ribs were unbelievably tender and the carrots complemented them perfectly. I will definitely be making this meal again!

Saturday, September 20, 2008


My nephew Scout has a very sophisticated palate for a 3 year old. He eats salmon, sushi and loves Starbucks. His grandparents and his mom (my sister) are faithful Starbucks patrons and have brought him along on thousands of trips to the ubiquitous coffee shop since he was a young baby. He loves their marble bread and eats it with chocolate milk every time he tags along on one of their coffee runs. The cutest thing is when the Starbucks employees mistakenly give him Banana Bread in place of his beloved Marble bread. He takes one bite and proclaims, "They gave me Nanner bread by bistake". It is hilarious!

Banana Bread
Adapted from


3 ripe bananas, mashed (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons melted butter


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mash the Bananas by hand.

Lightly spray a 5 x 9-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Combine the bananas, vanilla, egg, cinnamon and brown sugar in a large bowl and mix well.

In another bowl combine the flour and baking powder and mix well.

Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and mix lightly.

Add the melted butter and mix just until moistened.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the bread from the pan and cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

I don't eat bananas so needless to say I didn't try this creation. Forrest said he really liked it and I proceeded to interrogate him further on what exactly did he like about it. He said that it was really moist and he liked how it had chuncks of banana inside the bread (an obvious product of hand mashing and mixing as opposed to using a mixer like several other recipes I found had suggested).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Roll Away

I had to travel out of town this week for work and I couldn't stand the thought of Forrest eating frozen pizzas for 5 days straight. Ok, the real truth is that Forrest couldn't stand the thought of Forrest eating frozen pizzas for a week long so he asked me to cook him a lasagna or "something" before I left. Since I already had one of my guest bloggers blog lasagna before I wanted to do something a little different. Instead of regular lasagna I made lasagna rolls filled with spinach and prosciutto instead of classic lasagna ingredients. Forrest said he ate it every day for lunch and dinner and never tired of his special meal (he is so easy to please)!

Lasagna Rolls
Recipe Courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg

1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1 large egg, beaten to blend
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for salting water
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
12 uncooked lasagna noodles
2 cups marinara sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella (about 4 ounces)

To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 3 minutes.

Whisk in the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk the sauce until it comes to a simmer and is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes.

Whisk the salt, pepper, and nutmeg into the bechamel sauce.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Whisk the ricotta, spinach, 1 cup Parmesan, prosciutto, egg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl

to blend.

Add a tablespoon or 2 of oil to a large pot of boiling salted water. Boil the noodles until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Arrange the noodles in a single layer on a baking sheet to prevent them from sticking.

Butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass baking dish. Pour the bechamel sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish.

Lay out 4 lasagna noodles on a work surface, then spread about 3 tablespoons of ricotta mixture evenly over each noodle.

Starting at 1 end, roll each noodle

like a jelly roll.

Lay the lasagna rolls seam side down, without touching, atop the bechamelsauce in the dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles and ricotta mixture.

Spoon 1 cup of marinara sauce over the lasagna rolls. Sprinkle the mozzarella

and remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the lasagna rolls.

Cover tightly with foil. Bake until heated through and the sauce bubbles, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese on top becomes golden, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining marinara sauce in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until hot, and serve alongside.

This meal is amazing. The flavor of the melded bechemel and the marinara sauce after baking is to die for! The individual rolls are really easy to serve. I think this meal would be awesome for a dinner party because it is somewhat of a fancy twist on a classic dish and it would be easy to make ahead and pop in the oven right before your guests arrive.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mama's Meatball Mambo

Surprisingly my favorite male celebrity chef is not someone who appears on the Food Network. I have had a long standing interest in Rocco DiSpirito since his NBC reality TV show The Restaurant back in 2003. I was an avid watcher of the show and have followed his career casually since then. I like Rocco's cocky attitude, his new physique and most importantly his relationship with his mother. There is something so endearing about a man who loves his mama! Rocco's very Italian mother, Nicolina was a regular character on The Restaurant and she was famous for her meatball recipe. I recently heard that Rocco is going to be a contestant on the next season of Dancing with the Stars (one of my favorite shows) and it reminded me of Rocco's short running reality TV show in 2003 and his protective and close relationship with his mama. So I decided to take a shot at recreating Italian meatballs at home in honor of Rocco and Nicolina.

Italian Meatballs
Joy of Cooking

Combine in a large bowl:

1 pound ground beef
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Mix with your hands.

Scoop out the mixture in heaping tablespoons and form into 2 inch balls.

Dredge the meatballs in:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Heat in a large skillet over medium heat:

2 tablespoons olive oil

Brown the meatballs in batches. Place in a baking pan and cook in a preheated 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.
Add to tomato sauce. Serve over pasta.

These meatballs were amazing. They were exceptionally tender and very flavorful. Since the meatballs were the featured recipe I served them over whole wheat pasta and my version of spiced up jarred tomato sauce. This was a perfectly hearty and delicious meal!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Biscuit Bust

This morning we were stuck inside because it was raining cats and dogs. We were both hungry and the cupboard was bare (so to speak) since I hadn't gone on my weekly grocery run yet. I tried to figure out something I could throw together with the few ingredients I had laying around the house. I came across this homemade biscuit recipe that seemed like a piece of cake.

The recipe was very easy to prepare but unfortunately my end result was not so desirable. My homemade biscuits were more like homemade hockey pucks. I used fat free milk since that is what we had but I don't know if that could have ruined the recipe. My biscuits hardly rose and the biscuits were very hard. Please let me know if you have any idea where I went wrong with this presumably easy recipe.

Homemade Biscuits

2 cups flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3-4 tablespoons shortening
2/3-3/4 cup milk

1.) Sift flour with baking powder and salt.

2.) Cut in shortening till mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

3.) Add milk all at once

mix till mixture follows fork around bowl.

4.) Turn out on lightly floured board.

5.) Knead gently for about 1/2 minute.

6.) Roll or pat 1/2 inch thick.

7.) Flour rim of glass or biscuit cutter and cut out biscuits.

8.) Put on (ungreased) cookie sheet and bake at 450° for 12 to 15 minutes

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Close Call

Forrest and I both love Cornish Game Hens. I think our love affair with this diminutive poultry started at Gulf Stream - a restaurant we frequently dined in while living in New Orleans. It is no surprise that yet another one of our tendencies were formed back home. Both Forrest and I are deeply rooted in New Orleans. We love the culture, the cuisine, the music, the history, the nightlife, the sports, and most importantly the people. The people in New Orleans are extremely friendly, consistently fun and always hospitable. And included in those New Orleans "people" are both of our families.

So naturally when the weekend news started to focus on a brewing hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico my husband and I became extremely concerned. We both lived and lost in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina so the threat of another devastating storm was frighteningly vivid in our minds. We couldn't bare to think of our families enduring another disaster like we all did back in 2005. So we watched and waited - which is all you can do when you are 1000 miles away. Forrest mentioned that he felt helpless not being home to help his Mom, Dad and brother prepare the house for the storm. I felt a loss not being with my family as they caravaned out of the city into safety. It may seem that on my couch was a much better position than in a car for 2 hours with two babies and three adults for a 6 hour trip that dragged into 12 hours due to contraflow, but it wasn't. I would have given anything to be in that car to share the laughs, the worries and the fears. We spent all weekend in DC feeling helpless and afraid.

Now that the storm has passed and our families are returning to their homes (some to homes with power others without), we are grateful that the Hurricane did not cause nearly as much damage as was predicted. In comparison to Hurricane Katrina this storm was an inconvenience. But I know our families will take this week long inconvenience any day over what we all suffered a few years back. We are thankful, grateful and relieved that all of our loved ones are safe and their homes are relatively unscathed.

Game Hens with Pesto Rub and Roasted Potatoes
Cooking Light October 2002


4 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 (22-ounce) Cornish hens
Cooking spray
7 cups small red potatoes, quartered (about 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Fresh basil sprigs (optional)


Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine first 7 ingredients in a food processor;

process until smooth.

Remove and discard giblets and necks from hens. Rinse hens with cold water; pat dry. Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat. Rub pesto under loosened skin.

Gently press skin to secure. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under hens.

Place hens on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Insert a meat thermometer into meaty part of a thigh, making sure not to touch bone.

Combine potatoes, 1 tablespoon oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, tossing well to coat. Arrange potatoes around hens;

bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until thermometer registers 180° and potatoes are tender.

Remove hens and potatoes from pan, and cover loosely with foil. Let stand 10 minutes. Discard skin. Cut hens in half, and cover loosely with foil.

Place a zip-top plastic bag inside a 2-cup glass measure. Pour pan drippings into bag; let stand 10 minutes (the fat will rise to the top). Seal bag, and carefully snip off 1 bottom corner. Drain drippings into pan, stopping before fat layer reaches opening; discard fat.

Place the pan over medium-high heat. Stir in broth, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Combine 1 tablespoon water and cornstarch, stirring well with a whisk. Add to pan.

Bring to a boil; cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 3 minutes). Serve sauce with hens and potatoes. Garnish with basil sprigs, if desired.


8 servings (serving size: 1/2 hen, 3/4 cup potatoes, and 1 tablespoon sauce)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New Tube

I added another polenta experience to my cooking journey today - Tubed-polenta. I have forever passed this product in Trader Joe's and marveled at its possible uses. In the past I have come across several recipes requiring you to cook then chill your polenta in order to cut it into shapes later. I figured that the tubed-polenta was a shortcut for that process. Never having prepared a recipe that required such steps I stayed away from the tubular wonder. Cooking Light magazine has a "Superfast" feature in their magazine and one of the recipes in that section this month required tubed-polenta. I was ecstatic - I finally had a valid reason to buy this mystery product.

Although the tubed-polenta was easy to work with and this recipe in particular was exceptionally fast to prepare.......a lover of tubed-polenta I am not. It seemed weird, congealed and processed. It could have all been in my head (which admittedly is a very scary neighborhood) because Forrest didn't notice anything strange about the polenta. In fact, he commented on how much of a fan he was of polenta. This recipe was actually really yummy when I was able to get past my hangups. This would be worth making again using fresh cooked polenta and then chilling it in order to cut it into circles.

Smoky Shrimp and Parmesan-Polenta Cakes
Cooking Light September 2008


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1 17-ounce tube polenta, cut into 8 (1/2-inch) slices
Cooking spray
8 teaspoons marinara sauce
8 teaspoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


1. Preheat broiler.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until done, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in wine, chives, juice, and paprika, tossing to coat. Keep warm.

3. Place polenta slices on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Top each slice with 1 teaspoon sauce

and 1 teaspoon cheese;

broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts.

Place 2 polenta slices on each of 4 plates; top each serving evenly with shrimp mixture. Sprinkle with parsley.