Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

On June 26th the world welcomed a very special little guy: my nephew!  This is B’s and my first time being an uncle and aunt and, besides being super excited to shower him with love and affection, we wanted to make sure we help out B’s brother and our sister-in-law as much as possible.  As part of our efforts to do so, we decided to make them some food to have to share with guests and for them to eat as they get adjusted to life as new parents.  We ended up making a lot of food (fitting our trend of over-cooking for 2 people).  Here is the menu (I will link the posts I’ve adapted as I post them):

Freezer Meals:

Chicken Stir Fry

  • Recipe forthcoming

Zucchini Bread

  • This was my first time making zucchini bread so I followed the recipe fairly closely (also not 100% sure on the outcome).  I used walnuts but did not use cranberries/raisins.  Also, I probably used over 3 C of grated fresh zucchini.  I grated a zucchini in my food processor and just used whatever was produced.

Banana Nutella Swirl Muffins

  • Two changes: I used 5 bananas and I did not use chopped pecans.  My mother- and father-in-law referred to these as life changing.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin

  • B made these and I’m not 100% clear on the recipe.  I think he just winged the recipe using a Asian inspired rub.

Twice Baked Bacon and Cheddar Potatoes

  • This recipe is more of a guideline.  We have made twice baked potatoes before we so kind of eyeballed it as we normally do.  This was the first time we froze these.  We made the mistake of making them all as if we were going to eat them that day/night.  So we did two things wrong: first, we cooked them completely; second, we cooked them with the green onions.  Some of the freezer prep recipes I’ve found since then (when I was trying to find reheat instructions for my brother- and sister-in-law) have recommended not adding the green onions until ready to eat.  I was informed that they were very good as we did them but in the future I will probably try freezing the proper way.

Blanched asparagus

  • Add asparagus to a pot of boiling water.  Cook for approximately 1 minute.  Remove from boiling water and submerge immediately in ice water to stop cooking process.  Remove from ice water and put on cookie sheet or roasting pan to cool completely.  Place in freezer bag and freeze.  To reheat, thaw the asparagus and reheat in pan with oil/butter and desired spices.

To have on hand:

Italian Roast Pork with Broccoli Rabe

  • For the broccoli rabe, submerge in boiling water for approximately 2 minutes (or until soft with a little bit of crunch).  Remove from boiling water and immediately submerge in ice water to stop the cooking process. In a medium size pan, saute 2-3 cloves of garlic with a generous amount of olive oil.  Add blanched broccoli rabe and cook for approximately 5 minutes more over medium heat.  Serve roast pork and broccoli rabe with sharp provolone cheese and/or roasted red peppers on a hoagie sandwich roll.
  • My brother- and sister-in-law also repurposed the pork (since I ended up using an 8 lb shoulder and made 3 Chinese food take out containers worth.  Each container was 8 sandwiches).  They added some BBQ sauce and adobe sauce to use in roasted pork tacos.  We also discussed how the pork could be repurposed into BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.

Chocolate cupcakes with Salted Cannoli Cream Frosting

  • Recipe forthcoming


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When we lived in Pittsburgh there was (briefly) an Israeli restaurant in Squirrel Hill that we went to a few times.  While that restaurant no longer exists, I had the chance to try a dish that I had never seen before.  A fried egg in tomato sauce?  Seriously?  Recently, I had a craving for this dish.  I sought to try to make it from scratch at home.  B suggested adding ground beef to try to get a chili type feel to it.  I was pretty happy with the outcome but I would likely reduce the amount of meat or increase the amount of the tomato component I use in the future.  It ended up being a little too meat heavy.

I made this dish about 3-4 weeks ago so my comments about it are…limited.  Hopefully I’ll make it again soon and provide some updates and pictures.  Share your experiences if you get a chance to make it!

Shakshuka [Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce]
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves 4 to 6

1/4 cup olive oil
3 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped*
1 small yellow onion, chopped
Approx. 1 lb. lean ground beef
5 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsps ground cumin (I doubled spices because of including beef)
1-2 tbsp paprika
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
Kosher salt, to taste
6 eggs
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Warm pitas, for serving


  1. Heat oil in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  2. Add chiles and onions to oil.  Cook until soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add ground beef and brown.
  4. After beef is browned, add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft.
  5. Crush tomatoes with your hands. Add crushed tomatoes and their liquid to skillet along with 1/2 cup water
  6. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens. Season sauce with salt.
  7. Crack each egg into small bowl to aid in poaching.
  8. Add eggs to sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface.
  9. Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 5 minutes.
  10. Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk.
  11. Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with pitas, for dipping.

* You could also use 3-5 Anaheim chiles instead, 5 would provide a good kick.

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So. I’m a terrible food blogger.  Terrible. And here are some reasons why:

1) I lost all motivation for food creativity
2) Went.  eehhh f**k it, its too much work

Most of this is the result of the changes that have occurred in the past year since I last posted a recipe.  I stopped posting because, at first, I was teaching a summer course and simultaneously preparing for a big move to…well at the time we had no idea.  We officially moved out of Pittsburgh July 15 of last year.  It wasn’t until about a week later that we realized that we would be heading off to Philadelphia for B to start his post doc position at the University of Pennsylvania.  Since our move we’ve been very blessed and lucky to have a wonderful new place, be surrounded by our wonderful friends and family, and receive wonderful news from them (babies..they be a comin’).  But in the process I have focused on my work, my life, and things outside of being creative with food and food items.  But, the time is returning where I need my hobby back.  Sure, I’ve made some awesome things in the past year (I’m looking at you boeuf bourguignon) and some terrible things (ask B about the pizza I made a few weeks ago of the hoagie rolls I attempted to make last week from scratch…they were more like matzoh than roll) but just failed to document both my successes and failures.  In all aspects of life we see successes and failures and its important to see how these failures are important to make me/you a better cook, person, etc.  So, on that note, I’m focusing this post on transformations.  Not just my own in the past year since I last posted but also how its important to transform things in our everyday lives.  To make the bad good, make lemonade out of lemons, etc.

So that is how this recipe started.  I sought to transform the bad and make something good.

I traveled to San Francisco to go to an annual conference to present some of my current work.  Before I left, I prepared a number of “in a bag” meals for B to just throw into our slow cooker since he would be swamped with all that he had to do.  One of those meals was this recipe for pot roast.  So first, another transformation note: I started eating meat again Memorial Day weekend 2012.  This is important because I messed up something I’ve made before: meat.  Although I’ve made pot roast before, I used the Pioneer Woman’s recipe (found here).  That came out really, really good.  This recipe, however, was terrible. B only had a little of it while I was away and found it too tomato paste heavy.  Given that we had this big batch of pot roast, complete with meat and potatoes, what’s a girl to do so that I don’t waste food.  I decided to make meat and potato burritos.

So, I started with something that looked like this:

Pot Roast (Before)

What I first strained the liquid out of the pot roast and veggies.  I next took the meat out and shredded it up to kind of get that carnitas aspect for my burritos.  I did this using two forks and just pulling the meat apart.

Shredded meatNext, I chopped up some peppers and onions and added those, along with the pot roast vegetables, to a large saute pan.  I just let them cook up together.  I then moved on to taking the pot roast towards the tex-mex flavor side.  This was accomplished by flavoring the vegetable mixture with about 2 tbsp cumin, 1  tsp cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and about 1 tsp of salt and pepper.  This was adjusted according to my taste after adding in the initial amount (I honestly am not sure how much it ended up being since it was mostly to taste.

IMAG0366Using many of the same seasonings (shown here are cayenne, garlic powder, minced onion, salt, cumin, and chili powder) I made my own taco seasoning mix (many recipes for this can be found by using google or another search engine).  Using the liquid I removed from the pot roast at the start, I added the seasoning to the liquid.  I then added the shredded beef.


I let that simmer for approximately 10 minutes, or until the meat was flavorful and well coated.  While that was simmering, I preheated my oven to 350 F.  Once the meat was done, I took tortillas, filled them with cheese, meat, and the vegetable mixture, then wrapped them into burritos and put them in a baking dish.  I repeated until I ran out of tortillas.  I then topped the burritos with jarred salsa and cheddar cheese.

Viola, transformed pot roast.  B went into it with a “I’m skeptical about this” attitude but left being pleasantly surprised.

So this begs the question of, what else that starts out bad can be transformed into something good?

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I’ve previously mentioned that the “Jen Special” involves fish, starch, green vegetable.  Over the years, I’ve tried to expand what the “Jen Special” means.  Originally, it meant baked salmon, mashed potatoes, and spinach.  Without fail, I had this dish at least once a week before I moved in with B.  Moving in with him lead us to be a little more creative because someone prefers variety.  This is the latest manifestation of the “Jen Special”.   Enjoy!

Pesto Salmon
4 cups packed basil
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
2 tbsp pine nuts
3 cloves garlic, fresh (We REALLY like garlic.  If you aren’t a huge fan of garlic, reduce to 2 cloves)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper to taste
2- 4 oz. Sockeye (or other Salmon) fillet

Combine basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper together in a food processor until smooth.  Add additional components to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray.  Place salmon in dish and spread pesto on top.  Bake salmon for approximately 20 minutes or until the salmon flakes easily with a fork.

Orzo Salad*
1/4 lb. orzo pasta, dried
1 medium onion, sliced
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
3 tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp feta cheese
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or to taste)
Salt, pepper, and fresh basil to taste

  1. In a pot, bring heavily salted water to a boil.  When water reaches a rolling boil, add dried orzo.
  2. In a separate saute pan, add olive oil and onions.  Cook onions about 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until caramelized.  Set aside onions.  Add pine nuts to the pan and toast slightly, making sure not to let them burn.
  3. When orzo is cooked, drain and add to pan with pine nuts and onions.  Mix in tomatoes, feta cheese, and balsamic vinegar.  Serve warm.

Asparagus with Goat Cheese and Balsamic Glaze

This was just a bunch of asparagus that I blanched.  I added dollops of goat cheese and drizzled store-bought balsamic glaze.

*Note: I messed up the orzo salad by over estimating (by a lot) how much orzo we needed.  I cooked the whole box (1 lb.) It was waaaaay too much and overpowered the other elements of the dish.  We also ate it for the next three days.  This recipe reflects a reduced amount of pasta but I did not reduce the rest of the recipe components

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**So I’ve been very busy the past few months and realized I haven’t updated in a loooong time.  This is evidence of that.  I found a draft I never finished.  Instead of posting the recipes (since they’re not at all healthy) I’m just going to post it as a brag about how awesome B is.  If you’re interested in any of the specific recipes let me know and I’ll post them.**

B has always been very lucky in terms of Valentine’s Day obligations: he only has to say “Happy Valentine’s Day.”  This is because my birthday is only two days prior so we usually have a nice dinner out, etc. that day.  This is also because the first year we were dating, we decided to celebrate this holiday with a dinner out at a nice Italian restaurant in Chambersburg (a neighborhood in Trenton, NJ).  Reservations for 2 at 7:30pm, check.  We arrived and the place was wall to wall people.  It was like being in a hot bar at midnight (I am not an anchovy in a can!).  We also didn’t get seated until 8:30pm.  This was the beginning of the end of our Valentine’s Day celebrations.  Six years later, B decides that he wants to make me a feast for Valentine’s Day.  Let me tell you, he puts me to shame.  What follows are  the meals and pictures associated with said feast.   This is definitely not a diet friendly meal but worked for me since I’m in maintenance now.  Adjustments could be made for the sake of making the dish healthier (reduce butter, replace with something else) but I would be you would really lose something in terms of taste.  As the main reviewer of this meal, I can say that it made me think B needs a new career as a stay at home husband/personal chef.

Course 1: Arugula Salad with Broiled Goat Cheese and Crostini

Course 2: Seared Sea Scallops and Brown Butter Lobster Risotto

Course 3: Chocolate Souffle with Strawberry Sauce and Whipped Mascarpone Cream

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One of the (many) things B has taught me about food over the years is that broccoli on sandwiches can be delicious.  This lesson was passed on by through B from his grandfather.  His grandfather was a very good cook, even though he used a lot of oil in everything.  He used to send a batch of broccoli rabe out to B (and, in effect, me).  With this, B introduced me to broccoli and provolone sandwiches.

I had never been introduced to broccoli rabe let alone broccoli rabe sandwiches.  I was hooked.  When we stopped getting that shipment we started experimenting with making it ourselves.  One thing we cut back on was the amount of oil (see above comment).  As B started eating meat again after we got engaged, we starting incorporating chicken, roasted long-hot peppers, and other things into these sandwiches.  When B’s parents came to visit we decided to treat them to these sandwiches for lunch on their last day here.  We decided to match them with homemade herb crusted fries with basil and roasted garlic mayo.  This side dish was inspired by the frites at Park Brugge, which are matched with roasted garlic mayo, and at Point Brugge, which include basil mayo, restaurants in the Highland Park and Point Breeze neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, respectively.  I’m not going to post this recipe because it was essentially all the taste.  The basic steps are: cut potatoes, coat with herbs to taste, bake for a while, then sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese and broil for a short while; roast garlic, cut basil, combine mayo, basil, and roasted garlic to taste, add salt to taste.

Chicken and Broccoli Rabe Sandwiches
(Makes 6 sandwiches)

6 sub/hoagie rolls (semi-soft)
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch broccoli rabe
1/2 cup roasted red peppers
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
12-14 Chicken Tenders (1 Quorn naked chi’ken cutlets for the non-meat eater)
1 block/wedge of sharp provolone cheese

(1) In a large pot, bring water to a boil.  Add broccoli rabe to boiling water and boil for approximately 3-4 minutes.   Prepare a bowl of ice water and blanch broccoli rabe after removing from boiling water.  Set aside.

(2) Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare chicken tenders by making sure they are very dry and then seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.  In a large pan, add 1 tbsp of olive oil and saute garlic.  Sear chicken tenders approximately 3-4 minutes on each side.  Place chicken tenders in a baking pan sprayed with non-stick spray and finish chicken in oven for approximately 10-15 minutes or until juices run clear (For Quorn, just sear the cutlet).

(3) In a large pan, saute remaining olive oil, garlic, roasted red peppers, and salt and pepper to taste.  Add broccoli rabe and saute for an additional 4-5 minutes.

(4) To serve, add broccoli rabe over chicken on the sub/hoagie roll.  Top with shaved sharp provolone cheese to taste.

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This came about from exposure to the Philly Pretzel Factory, a persistent urge to make it from scratch, and a weekend away with good friends.  B and I decided we wanted to make these pretzel bites to bring to our weekend away in the Poconos for all to snack on.  They were a real hit and were gone within the hour.  I made these two days before we ate them. I stored them in containers and briefly reheated them before serving.  Enjoy!

Soft Pretzels Bites
(Pretzels adapted from Annie’s Eats and Cinnamon Sugar topping from Sophisticated Gourmet)

For the dough:
1½ cups warm water (110-115° F)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
2¼ tsp. instant yeast
22 oz. all-purpose flour (about 4½ cups)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl

For finishing:
Cooking spray
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Pretzel, Kosher, or Sea Salt

Cinnamon Sugar Topping
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons butter

To make the dough, combine the water, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed to dissolve the yeast.  Add in the flour and melted butter and mix just until the dough comes together.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly greased with vegetable oil, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, about 50-55 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 450° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Bring the water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.

Divide the dough to make it easier to work with.  Take pieces of each section of the dough and roll into approximately 1 inch balls.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 or 2 at a time, for 30 seconds.  Remove from the water with a slotted skimmer and return to the baking sheet.  Once all the pretzels have been boiled, brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Bake in the preheated oven until dark golden brown, about 12-14 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

If using the cinnamon sugar topping:  Skip the step where you sprinkle lightly with salt.  Combine sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl.  Brush melted butter over pretzels.  Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture over pretzels.

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