Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Super Simple Appetizer

The first Wednesday of every month a bunch of girls get together for Girls Night. We rotate houses and bring appetizers to share. It is a great time as we laugh and talk and eat and drink all night long! But every month I freak out before girls night as I am horrible at appetizers.

Sure, ask me to feed you dinner and my mind races with a billion and one things I could make. But appetizers….hmmm…I always get a little lost.

So when I stumbled across this one I knew I hit the jack pot…and I will share it with you so you can make it too!

You can use whatever type of paprika you have on hand, but my mom recently bought me Smoked Sweet Paprika and let me tell was the bomb with the goat cheese!

Paprika and Dill Goat Cheese

From The Pioneer Woman


  • 2 packages (11 Ounce) Fresh Goat Cheese
  • 6 Tablespoons Fresh Dill (or More If Needed)
  • 6 Tablespoons Paprika (or More If Needed)

Preparation Instructions

1. Place the package of goat cheese into the freezer to chill.

2. While the goat cheese is chillin’ in the freezer, finely chop your fresh dill and spread it out a bit on the cutting board to let it dry for a few minutes.

3. The goat cheese should now be slightly firm. When it is ready, carefully remove the goat cheese from the packaging and gently roll it over the fresh dill, coating it almost completely.

4. Now pour some Paprika (a few tablespoons should probably do) onto a baking sheet. Give the pan a very slight shake to spread out the paprika a bit. Roll the second cylinder of goat cheese in the paprika until it is covered completely.

5. Carefully wrap each roll snugly in plastic wrap and chill until it’s time to serve. (The Paprika Goat Cheese will not do well if kept for longer than one to two hours so don’t make it too far in advance). Carefully slice them (easier when they are cool) and serve on crackers or crostini.

Last Bite: You can’t get any easier than this for an appetizer that looks so elegant. I took this to Girls Night last month and it was a hit!

Saturday, February 20, 2010


We dined barefoot tonight in the Knox house. Well, what I really mean is we dined Barefoot Contessa tonight.

After not really accomplishing much of anything today, especially any of my homework that really needed to get done, I felt I ought to at least make a real effort with dinner.

I resisted my typical urge to just decide on a whim what to make for dinner based on what sounds good at the time and then run to Mejier and buy everything to go with that specific recipe. This would also most likely explain why I spend a ridiculous amount of money on food, and why the greeters at Meijer practically know me by name. I promise to sort this problem of mine out someday….I hope.

So after searching the fridge and cupboards I realized I had some leeks that were very close to reaching the end of their shelf life. A quick browse through Ina Garten’s “Back to Basics” cookbook and I had dinner figured out.

Roasted Potato and Leek Soup
Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts

Roasted Potato Leek Soup
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes cut into chunks (I left my peel on)
2 leeks chopped
2 cloves garlic
¼ olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup fresh arugula
¼ cup dry white wine
4 to 5 cups chicken stock
¼ cup heavy cream
2 Tbs sour cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Combine potatoes and leeks on sheet pan in single layer. Add olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes turning with a spatula a few times during cooking until very tender.
3. Add arugula and garlic and toss to combine. Roast for 4 to 5 more minutes until arugula is wilted.
4. Remove from oven and put into Dutch oven. Add half of wine and chicken stock and combine.
5. Transfer in batches to a food processor to make a puree. Transfer back to Dutch oven and heat through adding more stock if necessary.
6. Add cream, sour cream, and pepper.
7. Just before serving whisk in 2 tablespoons of white wine and parmesan cheese

For the soup I didn’t puree mine completely because we like chucks!

Getting ready to be roasted!

Yum...the finished product....

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa

1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
Olive oil
½ large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic cut into thin slivers
3 Tbs dry white wine
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
4 Tbs grated Parmsean cheese
4 ounces goat cheese
1 large tomato cut thinly into 4 slices
1 ½ Tbs dried basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Unfold puff pastry on lightly floured surface and roll lightly to 10X10 inch square. Using 4 inch wide sauces or round object cut 5 to 6 (depending on how many you can fit) from the pastry. Place on sheet pan lined with parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Preheat over to 425 degrees
3. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in skillet over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Saute for 15 to 20 minutes until the onions are limp, stirring frequently, until there is almost no moisture remaining in the skillet.
4. Add salt and pepper, wine and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes until onions are lightly browned. Remove from heat.
5. Using a sharp parting knife, score a ¼ inch wide border around each pastry circle. Prick the pastry inside the score lines with the tines of a fork and sprinkle some parmesan cheese on each round.
6. Place a portion of the onion mixture on each circle, staying within scored edge. Crumble goat cheese on each round. Place a slice of tomato in the center. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with basil, salt and pepper. Sprinkle a little bit more parmesan cheese on top.
7. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.

Here are the tarts ready to go in the oven.

Hello sweet goodness....

The house was filled with the wonderful aroma of garlic and the meal did not disappoint. It was a great wintery meal and actually one of the best potato leek soups I have tried. It was so good in fact Pat and I both walked around with huge bloated bellies after gorging ourselves at the dinner table. When will we learn?!?

Secret: I actually ended up with extra onion mixture from the tarts. Since I didn’t want to waste it I just tossed it in with my potato and leeks before I pureed them for the soup!

The soup was rich and creamy, but still had some chucks like we like. And the tarts….oh, the lovely tarts…. They were buttery and flaky on the outside and with a huge punch of warm tomato and onion on the inside. These would be perfect as appetizers for any occasion. So, so, good!

Last Bite: A fairly simple meal with high quality taste! I’m not sure I will ever make this soup any other way. And the tarts…..perfect!

Monday, February 15, 2010


Yesterday we celebrated Valentine’s Day. This is one of my favorite holidays. I know many of you out there believe it is a made-up holiday or not even a real holiday. But I love it. Mostly because I am a big sap who pretty much, loves Love.

I know, I know…you are probably wondering why I won’t just shut up and talk about the incredible food I made. And I will, I promise. But not yet.

I am the type of person who loves to do a “look back”. To see where I am today versus a year ago, two years ago. It got me thinking about a Valentine’s not too long ago when the guy I was dating at the time actually gave me flowers his roommate had bought for his girlfriend and she had left them behind. I swear, you can’t make this stuff up!

And then of course, I think about last Valentine’s Day. Pat proposed to me last year on Valentine’s Day much to my shock and utter surprise. With a poem and a bended knee he asked me to be his wife. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

And now, I look at us today. Married. Happy.

This was right after we got engaged! Friends stopped by with champagne and a bridal magazine!
Ok…Ok…I am getting to the food. But every now and then I believe it is important to look around at your own life and take stock of all the wonderful things you have to be grateful for. And I have a lot to be grateful for!

So for Valentine’s Day, because my husband is just that great, I decided to make him an incredible meal. All of the recipes came from The Pioneer Woman who has exceptional taste in food. I pretty much followed her recipes except for a few minor tweaks. And it was one of the best meals we have ever eaten….ever.

First up, Grilled Ribeye Steak with Onion, Mushroom, Blue Cheese Sauce. Oh. My. Goodness. This stuff is good! No, not just good. Great! Amazing! So good you will not even be able to come up with a proper adjective to describe just how delicious it really is! This was a bit of a treat for us as well as we don't normally eat a lot of red meat in our house...but once was just totally worth it.

I pretty much followed her recipe spot-on except I added mushrooms and left out some of the blue cheese. Not all….just some.

Grilled Ribeye with Onion, Mushroom Blue Cheese Sauce
adapted from Pioneer Woman

  • 2 whole Ribeye Steaks
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 whole Very Large Yellow Onion, Sliced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup Heavy Cream
  • 3 tsp Crumbled Blue Cheese
Preparation Instructions

1. Salt and pepper both sides of the steaks. Grill in 2 tablespoons butter until medium rare.

2. Saute onions in 4 tablespoons butter over high heat. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until dark and caramelized. Reduce heat to simmer and pour in cream. Add mushrooms. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until reduced by half. Stir in blue cheese until melted. Serve steaks on generous portion of sauce.

Here is Pat...grilling away...indoors.

To go with the steak I made the most delightful side ever. Roasted Ricotta Roma Tomatoes. It really doesn’t get any better than these and now that I have discovered them…I will be making them all the time!

For this recipe I didn’t have any fresh basil or parsley so I substituted for dried. I also added cracked black pepper, as, I love pepper!

Roasted Ricotta Roma Tomatoes

adapted from Pioneer Woman

  • 8 whole Roma Tomatoes, Halved
  • 1 bunch Fresh Italian Parsley
  • 1 bunch Fresh Basil
  • 2 cloves To 3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1-½ cup Ricotta Cheese
  • Ritz Crackers Or Bread Crumbs
  • Kosher Salt To Taste
  • Olive Oil
  • Pepper to taste
Preparation Instructions

1. Start out by washing and halving your Roma tomatoes. After halving them, gut out the insides (seeds, etc.) with a spoon. Sprinkle a bit of kosher salt inside each tomato. Discard guts and lay the halved, gutted tomatoes face down on a clean towel.

2. Chop up your garlic and add dried herbs along with garlic to mix with the Ricotta cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Next, fill each tomato half with a nice heap of the Ricotta mixture.

4. In a food processor (or if you don’t have a food processor, you can mash in a plastic baggy with a rolling pin) crumble about 15-20 Ritz crackers. Or you can use dried bread crumbs from your favorite kind of bread if you want.

5. Press each ricotta filled tomato half face down into the crackers/crumbs and then place face up on a baking sheet. Drizzle each tomato with a bit of olive oil.

6. Place in 400º oven for 25-30 minutes.

Here they are right before they went in the oven...yum.

And...the finished meal!

After the dishes were washed and leftovers stored away we gave our bellies a little time to rest before one of the easiest and best desserts ever.

Seriously, this dessert was so simple and quick to make it was unbelievable!

This recipe comes from The Pioneer Women by way of Tasty Kitchen. It is perfection.

Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes


  • 4 pieces (squares) Semi-sweet Baking Chocolate
  • ½ cups Butter
  • 1 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 2 whole Eggs
  • 2 whole Egg Yolks
  • 6 Tablespoons Flour
  • 2 cups Real Whipping Cream
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar

Preparation Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Spray 4 custard cups with Pam and place on cookie sheet.

3. Microwave chocolate and butter in large bowl on high for about 1 minute, until butter is melted. whisk until chocolate is also melted.

4. Stir in sugar until well blended. Whisk in eggs and egg yolks. Stir in flour.

5. Divide between cups.

6. Bake 13-14 minutes until sides are firm and center is soft. Let stand 1 minute.

7. Combine sugar and heavy cream and whip until stiff.

8. Invert cakes on dishes and top with whipped cream.

Just look at it....I know you want to eat it right now!
So there you have it….our Valentine meal. Love, on a plate!

Last Bite: Please don’t wait until next Valentine’s Day to make these recipes. Make them for a birthday, or anniversary, or just because it’s Thursday. They are just that good.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vanilla is for Lovers

So here we are...but a few days away from Valentine's Day and I am guessing you are in one of two camps. You are like me and LOVE Valentine's Day. You look forward to surprises and small gifts and tokens of love. Or, you think it is a stupid Hallmark holiday.

If you are like me then buckle up, cause I got some dandies for you. And, well if you are the latter of the two then this post is not for you...but it is probably for your girlfriend or wife, so you should still read it!

Last weekend my mom and I had a fun baking day and tried out a few vanilla inspired recipes for Valentine's Day coming up. And while we did get distracted on occasion by things like me getting to try her new mascara, which was freaking awesome, or just laughing and giggling about life, we did manage to produce some pretty great treats!

First up, Vanilla Sparking Wine Pound Cake. This came from my Better Homes and Gardens magazine, which by the way is just about my favorite magazine. Oh, how the times have changed.......

It was light and airy with hints of vanilla. Not to heavy, not too extravagant....just right.

Vanilla Sparkling Wine Pound Cake
from BB&G recipe


  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sparkling wine or milk ( I opted for Champagne)
  • 3 Tbsp. sour cream
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup safflower or canola oil
  • 5 cold eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 recipe Sparkling Wine Glaze, recipe below


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan; set aside. In large bowl mix together flour, baking powder, and salt. Sift mixture; set aside. Stir together sparkling wine and sour cream; set aside.

2. In large mixing bowl beat sugar, melted butter, and oil with electric mixer until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in vanilla extract. Beat on medium to high 3 to 5 minutes or until thicker and lighter in color. Add one-third the flour mixture; beat on low just until combined, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add half the wine mixture; beat just until combined. Repeat with one-third the flour mixture, the remaining wine mixture, and remaining flour mixture. With rubber spatula scrape batter into prepared pan.

3. Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack 15 minutes. Turn out on rack; cool completely. Drizzle with Sparkling Wine Glaze. Makes 16 servings.

4. Sparkling Wine Glaze: In small bowl combine 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 Tbsp. sparkling wine. Stir in additional wine, 1 tsp. at a time, to reach drizzling consistency.

Here is my yummy batter

Getting ready to bake....
And the finished product!

Once we were done with the pound cake we moved on to the drinks! The drinks might explain a few of the ever-so-slight errors we made in our last dish, the French Vanilla Coffee Cake. But first....the Vanilla Mint Cordials.

So before I even tell you about the Cordials, you need some background. While my mom is not a heavy drinker by any means, she can handle her drinks. She likes to sip (and I really do just mean sip) vodka and tequila if that gives you any indication to the heartiness of her palate. Me on the other hand...well I am a wine and beer girl. No hard alcohol for me, even in small quantities like my mom. So I think this drink was a bit of a let down for both of us. It was too sweet for her, and still too strong for me. Don't get me wrong though...we still drank it!

But hey, if you fall somewhere between the two of us...this might just be the drink for you!

Vanilla-Mint Cordials

from Oprah Magazine

  • 1/2 cup
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 6 ounces vanilla vodka
  • 2 ounces clear creme de menthe liqueur
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla powder (we totally skipped this as WHO has vanilla powder!??!)
1 bunch fresh mint


1. Coarsely chop mint leaves, reserving a few whole sprigs for garnish (optional).

2. Make a mint syrup by mixing 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small pot over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves, and bring to a boil; simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; add mint. Cool completely. Strain, discarding mint.

3. Add ice water to 4 cordial glasses. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice, then add vanilla vodka, liqueur, and 2 ounces mint syrup; shake well.

4. Pour remaining syrup on a small plate; mix 1/3 cup sugar with vanilla powder on another. Drain ice water from glasses. Dip rims in syrup, then in vanilla sugar to coat. Strain cocktail into glasses, and garnish each with mint sprigs (if using).

Hey, it's still pretty to look at!

And finally....the most amazing thing you will ever make in your life....the Vanilla Coffee Cake. Yes, I would use the word sinful here...maybe even is just that amazing! is where some of the before-mentioned "errors" come into play. We down right nailed the coffee cake! No one could have made one better. But....the creme anglaise that is supposed to go with it....well....that turned out to be a huge mess.

Don't worry though...the cake is so good, it stands on it's own. I promise!

Vanilla Coffee Cake with Creme Anglaise
adapted from Oprah Magazine

  • 2 Tbsp. finely ground vanilla coffee
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter , softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp.
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 2 large egg yolks , at room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup half-and-half

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour 1 (8" x 4") loaf pan; set aside. Combine coffee, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside.

2. Add butter to the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Slowly add 1 cup sugar until blended, scraping down the sides. Increase to high, and beat for 2 minutes. Reduce to low, and add eggs one at a time, then beat in 2 tablespoons vanilla extract.

3. With mixer on low, alternately add coffee-flour mixture and sour cream to bowl in several parts (ending with dry mixture) until smooth and blended.

4. Spoon into prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around edges to loosen cake and invert onto a plate. Cool completely.

5. Make crème anglaise by whisking 1/4 cup sugar and egg yolks in a medium bowl until combined. Prepare an ice bath by placing a medium bowl in a shallow bowl of ice water; set aside. Split vanilla bean and scrape out seeds; add seeds and pod to a saucepan with half-and-half. Cook on low until small bubbles form around rim, 3 to 5 minutes.

6. Whisk half of hot half-and-half into sugar-egg mixture in a thin stream, then pour mixture into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until sauce has thickened slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Immediately strain sauce into bowl of prepared ice bath to stop the cooking (discard pod). Add 1 teaspoon extract; stir to combine. Serve right away or refrigerate until chilled.

7. Cut cake into thick slices or cubes. Pour crème anglaise on top, or pass it around in a bowl as a dipping sauce.

Here I am, mixing away...

Adding dry ingredients to the wet ingredients....

Mmm....sneaking a taste!
Warning: Do NOT try the batter before you bake it. You are likely to eat all of the batter until you are sick because it tastes so good....but it's also totally worth it!

Yes, very bored with all the stirring that went on for the Creme Anglaise ( probably should have paid more attention as I think this is the moment where I lost the creme anglaise)

I also want to apologize for the one and only photo of the Vanilla Coffee Cake. It's just that it was sooo good....this is the best picture I managed to get. And shame on you if you don't make it. There, I've said my piece.

Last Bite: So there you have it....a few delightful, Valentine-inspired dishes for you and your loved ones! Or, a few great treats to try with your mom on a fun Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Saturday morning I woke up to a cold, yet delightfully sunny morning! I couldn’t think of a better way to start the cheery day than with a nice breakfast. Those of you who know me, you know this girl LOVES her breakfast. Yes, normally it is a quick bowl of oatmeal during the work week, but the weekends are a different story. Omelets, toast with jam, pancakes, waffles and French toast…I love them all! And clearly I have a problem with carbs……

I was recently given this recipe by one of my friend/neighbors for Lemon Ricotta Pancakes and couldn’t wait to try them out. Pat was not quite so excited as he couldn’t get past the concept of ricotta cheese in his pancakes, but I had faith!

The batter was pretty simple to put together and before long I had them cooking in the skillet. The light scent of lemon filled the air and made both our stomachs start to growl. While I did think they took a bit longer to cook than your typical pancake….they were 10 times better!

These pancakes were light and fluffy with hints of lemon running though. While I love pancakes, I often find them to be very heavy and tend to weigh me down after eating. But not with these pancakes! These seriously were some of the best pancakes ever!

And once you sprinkle some powdered sugar on top….oh don’t even get me started! Divine!
Pat even thought they were pretty wonderful too!

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

1 cup unsifted bleached all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
¾ cup ricotta cheese
3 tbl sugar
1 tsp freshly grated lemon rind
2 large eggs
¾ cup milk
4 tbl unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
½ tsp pure lemon extract

1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl.
2. Blend ricotta cheese, sugar, lemon rind and eggs in a separate mixing bowl, using a wooden spoon or flat wooden paddle. Blend in milk, melted butter and lemon extract.
3. Blend ricotta cheese mixture into the flour mixture, stir to form an evenly textured batter, using a wooden spoon or flat wooden paddle. The batter will be moderately thick.
4. Griddle your lemon ricotta pancakes as you would regular pancakes ( I just cooked them in a skillet). Serve with sprinkled powdered sugar.
Last Bite: Yes, I know these aren't your typical pancakes, but please, I beg of you, try them! And I promise you won't even miss the syrup bottle on the table. These are just that good!

Friday, February 5, 2010

This will make you feel better than a full belly....I promise!

Sorry, no food to discuss in this blog post. I am asking for help. Below is a letter from my good friend Kristin. Her twin sister has been through more than anyone should have to go through. Kristin explains the situation with Kelly's family and is asking you to help nominate them for "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" This family could really use all our help by nominating them!

You can check out Kelly and her kids at the following blogs:

O.k. I need your help!! I know all of you out there that follow this blog love Kelly and the entire Butler family. Today in the Herald Republican, our local newspaper, there is an article about "Extreme Makeover:Home Edition" They are looking for a deserving Indiana family!!! I can't think of anyone more deserving!!!Don't get me wrong...I am not saying that my sister's house is shabby by any means it is just that it is NOT handicapped accessible. Their family has been, well, I am not sure how to put this (my sister is the writer of the family) burdened with many difficulties over the past few years. As you well know Brooklyn has a diagnosis of Rett Syndrome which confines her to a chair and will soon need a wheel chair to move about.

Charlie has recently discovered he has a rare disease known as Bechets...who knows what this will bring, even the doctors can't say for sure. Reading about it would stress any wife out, it can be a crippling disease and even lead to blindness. He currently battles chronic pain on a daily basis.

Finally their latest bundle of joy, our lovable Boston who has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome.One family should not have to endure such heartache not to mention all the therapists that are in and out of their house on a weekly basis :)

Our friend Janet contacted me to try and spread the word... We want to TRY and get them nominated for a makeover to help make their lives a little less of a struggle. We need your help! I am asking as many people as possible to write a letter of recommendation for them. In your letter explain how you know them and why you feel they are deserving. You can e-mail me your letters at or directly to the show at It might be a great idea to send it both places.

If the show sees what an AMAZING family they are and hear from all of you maybe they will agree with us that Kelly and her family should be the next family in Indiana to receive a home makeover!!

I also want to point out that Kelly works for the non-profit organization girlpower2cure. She raises money to help find a cure for Rett Syndrome. Unfortunately she no longer has an office, it has become Boston's nursery. (Her desk is literally in his closet) Wouldn't it be amazing to have a house that could meet all their needs:handicap accessible, maybe a therapy room and a home office for Kelly!

Entries are due by Wednesday, February 10th.

If you can find it in your heart, please help!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My most favorite Summer Chicken Salad….um…in the winter

Ok, yes, this really is a summer salad and yes, some of the ingredients that go into this lovely salad like strawberries, are a ridiculous purchase in the dead of winter.

But I say, “Buck the system” “Live on the wild side” and for pete’s sake, “Feed yourself something that reminds you of warm summer days.” I say these things because I get delirious just thinking about a day when the temperature might hit, oh say, 49 degrees! Not to mention the kind of weather that begs you to toss on a swimsuit and head for the lake. Which, consequently, is also another great reason for a salad.

Anyways, I go a bit crazy in my head this time each year dreaming of warmer weather and sunshine. And it always reminds me of the winter picnics my mom used to have with my brother and I when we were little.

She would pick some freezing cold day (I am guessing sometime in the intolerable January-March stretch of winter where it feels it will never, ever end) and would turn the heat up in the house to the mid-80’s. Then we would all go dig out our summer wear. Shorts, tank tops, sunglasses, you name it. In the living room she would spread out our big “picnic” blanket where we would feast on sandwiches, chips and veggies, the whole time pretending we were outside on a beautiful and gloriously HOT day.

As an adult I appreciate her winter picnics more than ever as I realize what a BOLD move it was to turn the thermostat past anything in the low 70’s, which is the rule in our house…according to my husband.

So this summer salad in winter is my own version of the ever-famous, Winter Picnic.

Summer Chicken Salad
Serves 2


2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, chopped
4-5 good size strawberries, sliced
½ cup Lemon Pepper marinade (just a store bought variety)
1 bag of pre-washed mixed salad greens
Olive Oil
Lemon Pepper seasoning
Salt and Pepper to taste
Honey-Dijon dressing (or whatever you prefer!)
Chopped pecans

1. Cut the chicken into bit size pieces and marinate in Lemon Pepper sauce for 30 minutes. (Alternatively, you can be lazy like me and toss a little of the marinade on your frozen chicken breasts while you defrost them at the last minute!)
2. Cook the chicken on a medium high skillet with a little more of the Lemon Pepper marinade and some olive oil until cooked through. Season with Lemon Pepper Seasoning and salt & pepper, to taste.
3. Meanwhile, slice up strawberries and avocados.
4. To put the salad together simply add your greens to the bowl, top with chicken, avocados, and strawberries. Garnish with chopped pecans and add your dressing of choice. And because I love pepper, I always add more to the top of the salad.

Last Bite: This will always be my favorite chicken salad, whether I serve it in summer or dreary winter. I bet you will like it too! And let’s be honest, you can always wait until summer to make this, when the strawberries are, you know, in season. It’s your decision.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Wii-Nese (Wee/Knees)
Core Meaning:
The art of making Chinese food with family and friends followed by an intense competition on the Wii

What?! You have never heard of Wiinese before??? Ok, ok, I’ll cut you some slack since we did actually just make this up! This past weekend my fun, yet very goofy family decided we were going to combine cooking Chinese food AND battling each other for medals on various Wii competitions. Hence--- Wiinese was born!

Years ago my brother developed a delicious talent for making Chinese food and recently we have all been hankering for it. So between the family we devised a menu and split things up. Although it was a LOT of work to make everything…it was one of the tastiest Chinese meals ever! And, as my mom kept proclaiming “There is no MSG!!!” Funny lady!

Our menu consisted of the following:
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Cold Chicken with Spicy Dipping Sauce
Curry-Ginger Beef and Leeks
Beef and Shiitake Satay with Mango Sauce
Fried Rice
Egg Drop Soup
Egg Rolls
Mixed Vegetables

And everything was Mmm, Mmm, Good!

I’ll give you an inside peak into the dishes I made and hopefully I can beg the recipes from my family for the other dishes!

The curry-ginger beef and leek dish, which can be found from
Simply Ming, turned out to be more of an adventure as it calls for curry-ginger oil which is literally nowhere to be found! My poor brother searched FOUR grocery stores for me trying to find it, including an Asian market and an international food store! So I did what I do best, I improvised! I ground up some fresh ginger and mixed it with store-bought curry sauce. Voila! Curry-Ginger sauce! And it actually tasted pretty good.

We also didn’t have a wok available so we just cooked it in a skillet. While this dish was good, it definitely needed a little more “pizzazz” in everyone’s opinion so feel free to play with extra spices and sauces.

Wok-Stirred Curry-Ginger Beef And Leeks
Serves 4

2-3 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger
¼ Cup mild sweet curry sauce
1 pound flank steak, cut across the grain into 1-inch slices
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 large leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into 1/4-inch rings, washed and well dried
1 medium red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1. Heat a wok or large, heavy sauté pan over high heat. Combine the curry and ginger to make a sauce and then add to beef, leeks and peppers.

2. Add the beef, leeks and peppers to the skillet and cook until meat is cooked through and vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Season with salt and pepper.

Next up, the beef and shiitake satay with mango sauce……oh how can I sing the praises of this delightful dish?! While there is a little extra leg work involved in this dish, it is totally worth it. Marinating the beef, scallions and shiitake mushrooms gives them a wonderful, rich flavor. The recipe calls for them to marinate around 30 minutes but I would shoot for closer to an hour.

The mango salsa recipe actually came from a different source but it is absolutely spot on! I would recommend it anytime! And it is WAY better than the store-bought variety.

Helpful Mango Tip: Living in Indiana where it is fairly difficult to find ripe mangos at a moment’s notice, I experimented and tried something new. Just stick your UN-ripe mangos in the microwave and nuke ‘em! I put two mangos in for 1 minute and they came out perfectly ripe, juicy, and delicious!

If I had to pick a favorite I would definitely pick the beef and shiitake satays with mango sauce… will love it, I promise!

Beef and Shiitake Satay with Mango Sauce
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds flank steak, cut diagonally against the grain into strips 4 inches long and 1/4 inch thick
1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and caps halved
1 bunch of scallions, white and green parts, cut into 2-inch lengths
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup red wine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, plus additional to taste
2 cups Spicy Mango Salsa
Kosher salt to taste

Mango Salsa
2 Ripe mangos diced
¼ cup fresh cilantro chopped
2 jalapenos diced with seeds (if you are brave enough!)
1 small red onion diced
1-2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)

1. In a large bowl, combine the flank steak, shiitakes, scallions, soy sauce, red wine, sugar, 1/4 cup of the oil, and the teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper. Set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, in a blender, blend the salsa at high speed. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. 3. To make the satays, thread each skewer with a length of scallion, either white or green part, a shiitake half, a strip of flank steak secured in an "S" shape, a second piece of shiitake, and a second scallion length. They should touch fairly tightly.
4. Prepare an outdoor grill and heat to hot, or preheat a grill pan or heavy sauté pan over high heat. Spray the grill grid with nonstick cooking spray. Cook the satays until the meat is medium-rare, turning once, 2 to 3 minutes per side. (We actually cooked our under the broiler for about 5 minutes per side)
5. Transfer the dipping sauce to an attractive bowl, arrange the satays on a platter, and serve with the sauce

My pretty mango salsa!

And now it is mango sauce!

Shiitake mushrooms

Everything marinating for awhile

Brian hard at work...and chatting on the phone!

Grating up some ginger....and apparently talking at the same time!

Cute picture of Pat...if only I would open my eyes!

Everything put together right before we tossed em under the broiler

Ohhh...the finished product!

My wonderful momma!

A quick peak at some of the food we had at the good!

Once our bellies were full we proceeded to work some of that food off by duking it out in various Wii games including sword fight, cycling, 3-point hoop shoot, and deer hunting to name a few. And yes, my wonderful husband was the one to pick the deer hunting game….are you shocked?! And yes, I totally kicked his butt in it!! Now you really are shocked!

Every event ended with awards ceremonies to congratulate the winners! It was a night of laughs, surprising upsets, and total fun!

In the words of the great Iron Chef Morimoto, “LET THE BATTLE BEGIN!”

Mom and Pat in a Sword Fight!

Aaron totally kicking my butt!

Action shot!

Winners...wearing Brian's special medals!

Like how Pat and I have the same face!!!

Craig...always a winner!

And the final awards ceremony for the night! Gold medal in the middle!! Woo hoo!

Last Bite: While the night did go a little longer than any of us had anticipated, it was still a LOT of fun! The food was great and the games were even more fun. You should try it out with your family....but if you want to just order pizza instead of making Chinese food that night, that's ok too!