Monday, December 28, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: Asian Noodle Salad

The day after Christmas I had the pleasure of hosting my closest friends for lunch. At this annual meal I always try to cook something a little decadent and balance it with something healthful. This year I made Cheesy Chicken and Wild Rice soup (see last post), and to offset its "decadence" I served this phenomenal Asian Noodle Salad. I discovered this salad on my new favorite cooking blog, Pioneer Woman Cooks ( Oh my gosh this blog is such an inspiration! Not only does she cook fantastic meals, but she photographs each step of the process, making it easy for even the least experienced home cook to make her recipes. Her Asian Noodle Salad was delicious and healthy, and made enough to feed a crowd! It is also such a great base recipe that you could add anything you want to it- broccoli, sprouts, herbs, beans, pea pods, water chestnuts, the list goes on. Here is the main recipe. If you don't have all the ingredients just work with what you do have, adding and deleting flavors you love or dislike. Remember, cooking is a very organic process, and you're in charge! 

Asian Noodle Salad
Serves 12

1 package Linguine Noodles, Cooked, Rinsed, And Cooled
½ heads Sliced Napa Cabbage, Or More To Taste
½ heads Sliced Purple Cabbage, Or More To Taste
½ bags Baby Spinach, Or More To Taste
1 whole Red Bell Pepper, Sliced Thin
1 whole Yellow Bell Pepper, Sliced Thin
1 whole Orange Bell Pepper, Thinly Sliced
1 bag Bean Sprouts (also Called Mung Bean Sprouts)
Chopped Cilantro, Up To 1 Bunch, To Taste
3 whole Scallions, Sliced
3 whole Cucumbers Peeled And Sliced
1 can (about 10 Oz.) Whole Cashews, Lightly Toasted In Skillet

1 whole Lime, Juiced
8 Tablespoons Olive Oil
8 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons (up To 3 Tablespoons) Sesame Oil
⅓ cups Brown Sugar
3 Tablespoons Fresh Ginger Chopped
2 cloves Garlic Chopped
2 whole Hot Peppers Or Jalapeno's, Chopped
Chopped Cilantro

Mix salad ingredients together. Whisk dressing ingredients together and pour over salad. Mix with tongs or hands and serve on a platter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: Cheesy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Every December my mom's family in Iowa gets together for a lovely Christmas feast, complete with caroling, presents and celebrating the new year. And every year the casually delicious spread is the same- sandwiches, salads, dips, jellos, punch and... Cheesy Chicken and Wild Rice soup! This soup is the highlight of the feast, and my mother and grandmother often make three large crockpots full. We love it! It is so easy to make, and incredibly delicious, with a creamy smooth texture and rich flavor. No, it isn't health food, but hey, it's the holidays!

Cheesy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Creamy, cheesy and mmm mmm good! 
Serves 6

1 qt. half and half
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 onion, diced
2 c. cooked chicken breast
3 c. cooked wild rice
2 c. shredded carrots
1 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
1.5 lb. Velveeta cheese, cubed

Mix ingredients together and put in crockpot. Cook on low heat for 3.5 - 4 hours.

Reduced fat variation: Use 2% milk instead of half and half, reduced fat cream of mushroom soup, and reduced fat Velveeta cheese.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: Indian Shrimp with Creamy Coconut Sauce

It is not often that I step outside of my Italian themed dinners, but last night I was inspired to make something new. My new favorite cuisine is Indian- I just love the exotic creamy sauces and tender morsels of the most delectable stewed meat imaginable. But I'd never attempted to cook it at home because, well, it just seemed too complicated! Exotic ingredients, unattainable cookware, and hours of stewing just not did not seem appealing to me. That is, until I realize that it doesn't have to be so difficult! I adapted the recipe below from Emeril to make it as easy and delicious as possible, and I have to say I loved the finished product. Succulent shrimp, crispy vegetables and a creamy sauce that was both sweet from the coconut and spicy from the chili sauce, with a distinctive ginger flavor that almost had my head in the pan, soaking in the aroma. I hope this recipe inspires you to make Indian food at home too!

Indian Shrimp with Creamy Coconut Sauce
Exotic flavors shine in this easy-to-make knockout! 
Serves 2-3

2 T. vegetable or canola oil
2 tsp. mustard seeds
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 red onion, diced
1 tsp. chili sauce, or more to taste
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 T. minced garlic
2 T. tomato paste
1 package frozen stir fry or harvest blend vegetables
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes OR 3-4 fresh tomatoes, chopped and mixed with 1/4 c. chicken stock
1 5 oz. can coconut milk
3/4 pounds raw shrimp (peeled, deveined and tails removed)
1 tsp. salt
3 T. chopped fresh cilantro OR parsley leaves
2 cups instant white rice, for serving
1 c. chicken stock, optional

Set a 14-inch saute pan over medium heat. Add the oil and toast the mustard seeds and cumin until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the onions, ginger and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions are slightly caramelized, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste to the pan and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the diced tomatoes and frozen vegetables. Cook for 3-4 minutes until vegetables are softened and tomatoes begin to reduce.

Meanwhile, prepare the instant rice by bringing 1 c. chicken stock mixed with 1 c. water up to a boil, add the rice, and remove from heat. Cover and let sit 5-8 minutes until liquid is absorbed. (If you don't have chicken stock use all water.)

Back to the sauce, raise the heat to high, add the coconut milk, and cook for 2 minutes. Season the shrimp with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Add the shrimp to the pan, stirring often, and cook until curled and pink, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped cilantro and season with additional salt to taste.

*Try chicken instead of shrimp. Add cooked chicken to the sauce when you'd normally add the shrimp for a delicious variation! 

Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dinner Party Menu: Chicken Piccata, Scalloped Potato Gratin and Roasted Broccoli

Kevin's parents came to visit last weekend, and I was in charge of Friday night's meal. Shortly after their arrival Kevin surprised them with the story of our recent engagement. Luckily they were thrilled! I'd cooked for my in-laws-to-be once before, but this time the stakes were high. The meal was to be consumed shortly after they learned I would become their daughter-in-law. So I put together a menu that I thought would be special and satisfying, with a little bit of "she'll be a good wife to my son" on the side. Mission accomplished!

The entire meal, yum!

Chicken Piccatta 
Lemony, creamy and tender with a bright sauce.
Serves 6

2 large lemons
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup flour
4 T. vegetable oil
1 small shallot or 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. chicken stock
2 T. capers
3 T. unsalted butter
2 T. fresh parsley, minced

Prepare chicken breasts: Place each breast smooth-side up on a cutting board. Holding one hand on top of the cutlet, carefully slice the cutlet in half horizontally. This will yield two pieces, each about 1/2 inch thick. 

Halve one lemon pole to pole. Trim ends from one half and cut crosswise into slices 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick; set aside. Juice remaining half and whole lemon to obtain 1/4 cup juice; reserve.

Sprinkle both sides of cutlets generously with salt and pepper. Measure flour into pie tin or shallow baking dish. Working one cutlet at a time, coat with flour, and shake to remove excess.

Heat heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot, about 2 minutes; add 2 tablespoons oil and swirl pan to coat. Lay half of chicken pieces in skillet. Sauté cutlets, without moving them, until lightly browned on first side, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Turn cutlets and cook until second side is lightly browned, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes longer. Remove pan from heat and transfer cutlets to plate in warm oven, or cover with foil and place in microwave to keep warm. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to now-empty skillet and heat until shimmering. Add remaining chicken pieces and repeat.

Add shallot or garlic to now-empty skillet and return skillet to medium heat. Sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds for shallot or 10 seconds for garlic. Add stock and lemon slices, increase heat to high, and scrape skillet bottom with wooden spoon or spatula to loosen browned bits. Simmer until liquid reduces to about 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes. Add lemon juice and capers and simmer until sauce reduces again to 1/3 cup, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and swirl in butter until butter melts and thickens sauce; swirl in parsley. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Creamy, lemony and bright, chicken piccata is a crowd pleaser!

Scalloped Potato Gratin
A supper club classic jazzed up with fresh herbs. 
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for broiling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, heat up the cream with two sprigs of thyme, two sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped garlic and nutmeg.

While cream is heating up, butter a casserole dish and finely chop the remaining thyme and rosemary.  Place potatoes in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Remove cream from heat, discard herb sprigs, then pour cream in bowl to cover the potatoes. Add grated Parmesan and fresh herbs and stir to combine. Pour mixture into casserole dish and bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Sprinkle some more Parmesan on top and broil until cheese browns, about 5 minutes.

Recipe inspired by Tyler Florence, 

This scalloped potato gratin is rich and creamy with incredible depth of flavor from nutmeg, garlic and herbs.

Roasted Broccoli 
My favorite side dish. 
Serves 4-6

2 heads fresh broccoli
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 T. olive oil
Fresh lemon juice

Put cookie sheet in oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Cut broccoli off of stems and separate into florets. Mix with sugar, salt and olive oil. Carefully place broccoli on hot baking sheet removed from oven. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Remove to bowl and mix with fresh lemon juice and fresh pepper.

Fresh roasted broccoli is the perfect side.

Garlic Bread
Serves 6

One loaf french bread
4 T. unsalted butter
4 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut loaf the long way and separate the two halves. Spread each with half of the butter and drizzle with the olive oil. Add one minced garlic clove to each bread half. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Place two halves together to reform loaf, and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake in oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil, slice and serve.

Use bread to mop up the lemony cream sauce from the chicken piccata. Heaven!

A special occasion called for a special bottle of wine. We enjoyed a bottle of Muscardini Cellars Tesoro that we bought in Sonoma Valley. It was delicious, smooth and rich, a perfect example of the power of Sonoma Valley reds.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Must-Have Ingredients to Stock Your Kitchen!

In honor of my newly married and engaged friends who are busy setting up households and learning to cook for their hubbies, today's blog is all about suggested ingredients to stock your kitchen. With this list you can make most of my recipes, and most importantly you can throw the ingredients together to create your own specialties! The ingredients I listed are based on what I keep in my kitchen at all times. I don't tend to use recipes, and instead combine the listed ingredients in various ways to create delicious dishes! Use this list to begin to stock your kitchen, and you'll find that whipping up delicious meals is a cinch!

- Dried Pasta (one long, such as spaghetti or linguini, and one short, such as rigatoni or penne)
- Potatoes (potato wedges are a go-to side!)
- Whole wheat bread
- French bread (for bruschetta or garlic bread)
- Instant rice (side dish or use to bolster up soups)
- Pizza crust (pre-made, such as Boboli, or Pillsbury raw dough is great for pizzas or calzones)
- Tortillas (enchiladas, fajitas, soft tacos, etc)

- Frozen chicken breasts
- Frozen chicken tenderloins (for chicken strips or to thaw quickly, dice, and add to pasta/soup/casseroles)
- Frozen lean ground beef (burgers, meatballs, tacos, etc.)
- Frozen Italian sausage links (separate the links into ziplock bags to thaw quickly, and use for pizzas, pasta sauce and meatballs)
- Canned black beans (Mexican food)
- Canned garbanzo beans (delish on salads)
- Pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, soy nuts (add crunch and flavor to salads) 
- Prosciutto (sandwiches, pasta, pizza, and even in quesadillas with apricot jam and sliced apples)

- Tomatoes (bruschetta!)
- Red onions (use raw on salads and cooked in anything and everything)
- Garlic (adds flavor and complexity to pasta, pizza, sauces, meat marinades, etc)
- Green peppers (pizza topping, bolsters pasta sauce, grilled fajitas, raw in salads)
- Frozen spinach (thaw and add to casseroles for easy iron)
- Frozen broccoli (so good as a side or in a chunky tomato sauce)
- Canned crushed tomatoes (saute onion and garlic, add tomatoes, salt & pepper and simmer for easy tomato sauce)
- Kalamata olives (fabulous in salads and pastas or on their own)
- Sun dried tomatoes (add to pasta, pizza, pasta salad, sandwiches, bruschetta, anything!)
- Banana peppers (salads, pizzas and sandwiches)
- Avocado (guacamole, on sandwiches, bruschetta and salads)

- Apples (delish in salads with creamy cheese, or saute with onions for an easy pork side dish)
- Pears (pair with brie and enjoy with red wine or in a salad)
- Dried cranberries (add to salads)
- Pomegranate seeds (fantastic with goat cheese and pecans in salad)

- Goat cheese (great in salads or add to hot cooked pasta with reserved pasta water for a creamy sauce)
- Feta cheese (make a quick Greek salad with feta, kalamata olives, banana peppers and lettuce)
- Shredded cheddar and mozzarella (classic pizza cheese)
- Parmesan (do NOT buy pre-grated/shredded, it has no flavor! Buy in a wedge and grate it over pasta and pizzas, or peel thin slices to top salads or eat raw with rich red wine)
- Brie (creamy and amazing spread on paninis or with fruit)

Spices and Herbs
- Cinnamon (on toast or sweet potatoes)
- Nutmeg (add to any creamy sauce)
- Paprika (season chicken or brighten creamy casseroles)
- Chili Powder (Mexican food or seasoning)
- Rosemary (dried or fresh with potatoes, garlic bread and pasta sauce)
- Oregano (garlic bread and pasta/pizza sauce)
- Fresh parsley (finish dishes with its bright color and fresh flavor)
- Steak seasoning (also great with burgers)
- Garlic salt (quickest way to add garlicky flavor to just about anything)

- Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce (Oh the possibilities)
- Wishbone Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing (favorite for salads)
- Wishbone Light Done Right Italian (pasta salads)
- Dijon mustard (for sandwiches and mixed with olive oil and balsamic for salad dressing)
- Apricot Jam (spread on warm bread with apples and prosciutto, yum!)

- Extra virgin olive oil (salad dressing and cooking)
- Balsamic vinegar (reduce to a syrup for bruschetta, saute with butter for a pasta sauce, salad dressing)
- Kosher salt (table salt has no flavor)
- Black peppercorns (to crack fresh in pepper grinder)
- Unsalted butter
- Flour (coat chicken and saute in olive oil for a golden crust)
- Breadcrumbs (top casseroles or baked pastas, or coat chicken)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: BBQ Chicken Sandwiches and Sweet Potato Fries

My fiance Kevin loves barbecue. When I suggest he choose the restaurant for dinner, he regularly suggests Famous Dave's (which I regularly reject). But I know it's important to keep my man happy (why else would he propose?) so last week I made Rachael Ray's BBQ chicken sandwiches at home, complete with homemade BBQ sauce. The meal was a cinch to prepare and was delicious. The meat was tender, the sauce bursting with flavor, and the accompanying pickle relish and sweet potato fries added unique and delicious flavors.

BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
A saucy treat that's quick to make and fun to eat! 
Serves 4-6

1 cup chicken stock
1 bottle lager beer
4 pieces, 6 ounces each boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce
2 tablespoons grill seasoning
3 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 large sour deli pickle, chopped
6 to 8 slices dill pickles, chopped
6 soft burger buns

Bring liquids to a simmer in a small to medium skillet and slide in the chicken breast meat. Gently poach the chicken 10 minutes, turning once about after 5 minutes.

While chicken poaches, heat a second medium skillet over medium low heat. To hot skillet, add extra-virgin olive oil and garlic and onion and gently saute until chicken is ready to come out of poaching liquids. Combine the next 5 ingredients in a medium bowl and reserve.

When the chicken has cooked through, add 2 ladles of the cooking liquid to the bowl, combining with the sauces, spices, brown sugar and tomato paste. Once the liquids and seasonings are combined, remove chicken, slice it, and transfer to the medium bowl. Using 2 forks, shred the chicken and combine with the liquids. Add the shredded chicken to the onions and garlic and combine well. Simmer together 5 to 10 minutes, using extra cooking liquids to make your chicken as saucy as you like.

Combine sour and sweet pickles in a small bowl. Split rolls and fill with scoops of shredded chicken. Top with pickle relish and serve.
Recipe adapted from Rachael Ray

Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Fries 
Sweet, chewy and healthy!
Serves 4

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
3 T. olive oil
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. seasoning salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss sweet potatoes with oil and seasonings. Spray baking sheet with non-stick spray and bake in oven for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: Rigatoni with Goat Cheese, Spinach and Ham

I had a ton of leftover ham after Thanksgiving, and I wasn't sure what to do with it. I can only eat so many ham sandwiches! What I was really craving was pasta, so I decided to be resourceful and make a ham pasta.  It may sound strange, but trust me, ham is delicious in pasta. (Think prosciutto!) I decided to take a healthful approach to my pasta lunch by adding in a ton of  fresh spinach. I could never feel guilty eating a huge bowl of pasta if it's jam packed with this iron-packed power food! So, for my day-after-Thanksgiving lunch, I cooked up a huge pan of rigatoni with wilted spinach, creamy goat cheese and salty ham, and it was the best use of leftovers ever! (If you don't have leftover ham just buy some in the deli, sliced extra thick.)

Rigatoni with Goat Cheese, Spinach and Ham
A deliciously different power-packed pasta!
Serves 4

3/4 lb. Rigatoni pasta
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh spinach (about 2-3 handfuls)
1/2 lb. thick-cut cooked ham, cubed
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
Salt and Pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, sprinkle with salt, and saute until softened.

Meanwhile, cook rigatoni in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite. Before draining pasta reserve a coffee mug full of the pasta water.

Add drained pasta to large skillet with onions and garlic and add ham. Raise heat to medium-high, add in fresh spinach and pasta water, and cover for 2-3 minutes until spinach is wilted. Remove cover and stir to combine, cooking off any remaining liquid. Finally, add in fresh crumbled goat cheese, stir until melted, and remove pasta from heat. Top with pepper and serve.

Recipe author: Sarah Saubert

Monday, November 30, 2009

Food Spotlight: Thanksgiving

My first shot at hosting Thanksgiving was a tremendous success! It was a wonderful day full of food, wine, friends, laughter and memories, and I cherished the opportunity to host it in my home. I made each of the recipes in my previous post, and have posted my reviews below, along with a couple new recipes. All in all, it was a fantastic and unforgettable holiday!

Recipe Reviews (See previous post for recipes)

Corn Pudding

The corn pudding stole the day as one of my guests' favorite dishes. It was creamy, sweet and fluffy, with whole corn kernels adding to the excellent texture. The best part? It was by far the easiest dish to make! Simply mix the ingredients in a bowl, pour them in a pan, and bake for 50 minutes. This recipe is definitely a keeper and will appear on my Thanksgiving table for years to come!

Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows

 The sweet potatoes were also a favorite. They were chewy and rich with earthy sweetness. I changed the recipe I posted in my last post in one way. Instead of boiling the potatoes as the recipe instructed, I roasted my potatoes in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. I made this change because roasting sweet potatoes brings out more depth of flavor and caramelization, whereas boiling them simply softens the potatoes. I definitely recommend making this change, as the potatoes were fork-tender with creamy caramelization and tons of flavor! 

Coconut Green Beans

The green beans were not "Thanksgiving food" but they certainly were tasty! They added a ton of new flavor to the traditional menu, including chillies, coconut, cashews and mustard seeds. I preferred their exotic flavor to a regular old green bean casserole. The recipe is excellent, the only change I'd make is not to sizzle the mustard seeds first, as they cracked immediately and popped all over the stove! It'd be best just to add them when you add the green beans. I absolutely recommend this recipe any time of the year! 

Herbed Buttermilk Biscuits
My oh my were these easy and delicious! I don't bake often because I do not like to measure ingredients (it feels like chemistry class!), but this was a worthwhile exception. The ingredients were easy to assemble and the biscuits turned out golden and soft. They were excellent plain or would be yummy with a squirt of honey or jam. I will be making these little delights again!


Mashed Potatoes
Ina Garten's buttermilk mashed potatoes recipe produced creamy, buttery potatoes with classic flavor. Alas, I didn't make the gravy, as our turkey breast did not produce enough drippings, but these potatoes provided a nice home for store bought gravy anyway. Personally, while classic, these aren't my kind of potatoes. I prefer skin-on, garlicky, cheesy spuds with so much flavor there is no need for gravy. However, I purposefully chose a different recipe for Thanksgiving because I wanted the traditional flavor and texture that complements gravy. If that's what you're looking for this recipe is for you!

New Recipe: Brussel Sprouts
My friend Zach made brussel sprouts, and they were phenomenal. I'm new to brussel sprouts, but I've never met a vegetable I didn't like, and these were no exception! Zach made these tender morsels by blanching them in boiling water for a few minutes, draining them, and then adding them to a big skillet with garlic and prosciutto sizzling in olive oil. He crisped them up in the skillet, then added some chicken stock, which boiled off in a couple minutes. That's it- they were easy, healthful, different and delicious! Welcome to my life brussel sprouts!

New Recipe: Turkey Breast
Zach also made the turkey breast, and it was a star. Underneath the skin he stuffed fresh sage, oregano and pomegranate seeds, and then baked the bird in a roasting pan. It produced delicious and tender white meat that keeps on giving. (In the form of turkey sandwiches!)

New Recipe: Pomegranate Salad
I saved the best for last. This salad is so amazing that it was my favorite food of the day. My friend Meredith created the salad by combining arugula, pomegranate seeds, pecans and goat cheese in a pomegranate dressing.

To make the dressing saute 1 shallot, 1 garlic clove and 1 T. olive oil in a skillet, then add 1 cup pomegranate juice and cook it until it reduces to 1/4 cup. Let cool. Once cooled whisk in 2 T. white wine vinegar, 1 T. honey, 1/4 c. olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss dressing with arugula, goat cheese, pomegranate seeds and toasted pecans.

Thanksgiving Wines
We enjoyed one of my favorite wines of all time with our Thanksgiving dinner- Benziger Te Coelo Quintus Vineyard 2006 Pinot Noir. In Italian "te coelo" means "from heaven," and that is a perfect description for this wine. Kevin and I tasted this wine at the Benziger reserve tasting room in Sonoma Valley, and we both felt weak in the knees afterward. It is simply the most delicious Pinot Noir I've ever had, and it perfectly complemented the meal. Honestly, this wine is so good it would complement just about anything! If you ever have the opportunity to try this wine, or, better yet, visit Benziger, you will absolutely love it! (Retail value $85)

Other wines of the nights included:

Kenwood 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

This is a tasty and affordable bottle that is full-bodied yet smooth, and serves up an array of raspberry and plum flavors with a lingering finish.(Retail value $15)

Cosentino 2006 Daredevil

We are wine club members at Cosentino, and this fun bottle was part of our December shipment. Cosentino is a progressive Napa Valley vineyard, and the owner (Mitch Cosentino) is known for producing bold and different wines. Daredevil is the first release of an exceptional proprietary cellar selection blend that is aged for 30 months in oak barrels.It was fun and interesting! (Retail value $40)

BV Coastal Estates Pinot Noir

Kevin and I visited Beaulieu (BV) Vineyard in Napa, and we specifically enjoyed their reserve tasting room. When we shopped for Thanksgiving wine we came across this bottle of Pinot Noir for $10. We were shocked to find a BV Pinot for this price, and we had to give it a try. It was delicious, and for the price it can't be beat!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Planning Ahead: Thanksgiving Day Menu

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it encompasses the four F's- food, football, friends and family! This year, for the first time, I am hosting Thanksgiving and making the majority of the meal. I will be cooking for my boyfriend Kevin, sister Lisa, and my dear friends Meredith, Zach and Stefan. Thankfully, as this is my first time as a Holiday Hostess and my kitchen is definitely not equipped to churn out the entire meal, I am sharing responsibilities with my guests. Kevin will make appetizers and provide special bottles of wine that he purchased in Napa Valley, Zach will bring the turkey breast and ham, Stefan will bring the dessert, and Meredith will bring a salad. Lisa is traveling from Wisconsin so won't be bringing anything- she'll just be in charge of cleaning up! :)

I am making my favorite part of the meal- the side dishes! At Thanksgivings past I would always put a little bit of meat on my plate and pile the rest high with the delicious accompaniments. This year I am thrilled to be able to make my favorite part of the meal, and I've done extensive research for fantastic recipes. And don't worry, I will be honest and upfront about how these dishes turn out- check back after Thanksgiving for my personal pictures and notes on the recipes!

Thanksgiving Day Side Dish Menu

1. Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
2. Turkey Gravy
3. Coconut Green Beans
4. Corn Pudding
5. Citrus Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows
6. Herbed Buttermilk Biscuits

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten,
Serves 6

Kosher salt
3 pounds boiling potatoes, such as Yukon gold, peeled
1/2 cup milk
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into 1 1/2-inch cubes and add them to the boiling water. Bring the water to a boil again, lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes fall apart easily when pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan, making sure it doesn't boil. Set aside until the potatoes are done.

As soon as the potatoes are tender, drain them in a colander. Place a food mill fitted with a small disc/blade over a heatproof bowl. Process the potatoes through the food mill, turning the handle back and forth. As soon as the potatoes are mashed, stir in the hot milk-and-butter mixture with a whisk or rubber spatula. Add enough buttermilk to make the potatoes creamy. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and the pepper, to taste, and serve hot.

Turkey Gravy
Recipe courtesy of Taste of Home
Yield: 2 cups

Drippings from 1 roasted turkey
1.5 cups turkey or chicken broth
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour turkey drippings into a 2-cup measuring cup. Skim fat, reserving 2 tblsp.; set aside. Add enough broth to the drippings to measure 2 cups.

In a small saucepan, combine flour and reserved fat until smooth. Gradually stir in the drippings mixture. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Gravy will thicken upon standing.

Coconut Green Beans
Recipe courtesy of Padma Lakshmi for Glamour magazine
Serves 4-6

2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. mustard seeds
2 tbsp. cashew pieces
4 whole dried red chilies
11/2 lbs. green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
Salt, to taste

Heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add mustard seeds. When the seeds start to crackle, add cashews and chilies. Once the cashews are toasted, add green beans and stir. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add coconut and salt. Cook another 8 to 10 minutes while stirring. When green beans are cooked through but still crisp, remove from heat.

Corn Pudding
Recipe courtesy of
Serves 4

Beat 4 ounces softened cream cheese, a 15-ounce can creamed corn, 3/4 cup thawed frozen corn, 1/2 cup cornmeal and 1/2 chopped onion. Stir in 2/3 cup milk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar, and salt and pepper. Spread in a buttered 1-quart casserole dish and bake 50 minutes at 350 degrees. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Citrus Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows
Recipe courtesy of Taste of Home
Serves 2 (I plan to triple the recipe)

2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup miniature marshmallows

In a saucepan, cook sweet potatoes in boiling salted water for 10 minutes or until tender; drain. Transfer to a greased 1-qt. baking dish. Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Drizzle with orange juice and dot with butter. Bake, uncovered, at 450° for 15 minutes. Top with marshmallows. Bake 2 minutes longer or until marshmallows are puffed and golden brown.

Herbed Buttermilk Biscuits
Recipe courtesy of (Great article!

Herbed Buttermilk Biscuits: Combine 3 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves. Use your fingers to rub in 1 1/2 sticks of butter until the mixture resembles small peas. Add 1 cup buttermilk and stir until just combined. Drop large spoonfuls onto a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees until golden, about 15 minutes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: Cheesy Chicken Noodle Skillet

The term "comfort food" means something different to everyone. To me, comfort food is reminiscent of foods I enjoyed as a child; foods that remind me of home and nourish both my body and my soul. I've been feeling under the weather this week, but I'm never one to lose my appetite. (That would be serious!) Instead, I make a large batch of a delicious comfort food to get me through the week. This week I cooked up a big Cheesy Chicken Noodle Skillet. I don't know if my mom ever made this for me, but it reminds me of the 80's. In fact, everything about this dish reminds me of being a kid, from the retro egg noodles to the frozen broccoli to the mayo and sour cream-infused cheese sauce. After eating it I may as well watch Little House on the Prairie while folding washcloths! It may not be health food, but a piping hot bowl of cheesy noodles and chicken makes me feel better every time.

Cheesy Chicken Noodle Skillet 
Creamy comfort food sure to transport you back to the days of Nintendo and Nickelodeon.

Serves 4
1 package egg noodles (I used whole wheat to up the fiber)
1 lb. raw boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 package (about 2 cups) frozen chopped broccoli
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 oz. cream cheese, cubed
1/4 cup low fat mayonnaise
1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Bring large saucepan of water to boil on high heat. Add noodles and chicken.
Cook 8 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and noodles are tender, adding broccoli to saucepan after 6 minutes. Drain noodle mixture; return to saucepan.

Add broth, cream cheese and mayo. Heat just to simmer on medium-low heat. Simmer 2 to 3 minutes or until cream cheese is melted and sauce is well blended, stirring constantly. Add shredded cheese and stir until blended. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from

I paired my steaming bowl of noodley comfort with a simple side salad. It rounded the meal and made it feel (almost) healthful!

Italian Side Salad
Romaine lettuce
Mild banana peppers
Red onion, slivered
Green pepper, diced
Soy nuts
Italian dressing, to taste

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Food Spotlight: Washington D.C.

I work for the School of Journalism at the University of Minnesota, and every year I travel to a college fair for high school students interested in journalism. Last year's conference was in St. Louis - yawn - but this year's was in Washington D.C.! I had a wonderful time in our Nation's capitol as I visited the monuments, explored the museums, strolled through the beautiful old neighborhoods and, not surprisingly, sampled the food! I stayed at the Hotel Monticello, an adorable boutique hotel in Georgetown. Georgetown is a well known and loved neighborhood, one that I believe is a juxtaposition- both historic and haute, artsy and aristocratic, and laid back but hectic. I loved the energy, and the restaurants alone were worth a weekend in D.C. Here are some of my favorite meals!

Happy hour tapas and sangria at Bodega, an adorable Spanish restaurant in Georgetown. The front tapa is endive leaves with blue cheese foam and walnuts. It was interesting but not something I'd eat again. The other tapa was Spanish goat cheese on toasted bread drizzled with honey. It was ammmazing, and would be so very easy to make at home!

While I fall into the "simpler is better" category with most food preparations, I do not with sushi. I love rolls that are filled with different and interesting ingredients and drizzled with sweet and spicy sauces. My sushi at Bangkok Thai was incredible. The front row is tempura tuna with avocado and topped with salmon. The back roll is filled with everything I love- crab, shrimp, avocado, cream cheese and mango, and drizzled with sweet soy glaze and spicy mayo. Oh the joy!

There aren't many words I can say to describe this pizza except "Yes, it tasted as good as it looks!" This is from Pizzeria Paradiso, a Naples-style pizzeria in Georgetown. I am obsessed with Naples pizza, and this one was up there on the best ever list. The perfectly charred crust is topped with zucchini, red peppers, onions, capers and fresh mozzarella. Magnifico!

(Wine note: I recommend Montepulciano d'Abruzzo with pizza. The light body and smooth finish equal a phenomenal pairing!)

My dining partner at Pizzeria Paradiso ordered this plate, and though the photo is fuzzy I have to tell you about it- Crispy garlic bread spread thick with creamy goat cheese and topped with sliced prosciutto, sun dried tomatoes, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil. Make this at home- you will LOVE it!

A plethora of Indian dishes at Aditi- a surprisingly affordable Indian restaurant in Georgetown. I'm new to Indian food, but everything I've had so far has been delicious. The best way to experience new cuisines is to go with a group and order a variety of items to share! We went for chicken tikka masala, daal, curry and lamb. Of course we'd already devoured the naan before I took the photo!

I enjoyed a tantalizingly unique martini with my Indian dinner. It was a citrus vodka base with ginger and green curry. Sounds weird, yes, but it was sweet, spicy and refreshing. A beautiful pairing!

More sushi! The roll on the right features fresh salmon and avocado (simple and delicious) and the roll on the left has tempura shrimp and cucumber topped with tuna and chili sauce- spicy!

I loved my hotel's continental breakfast- no store-bought muffins and boring toast here! It featured fresh pastries, muffins and bread from a French bakery across the street. I was partial to the blueberry scones and cinnamon glazed croissants. What a fabulous way to start the day!

And finally, I've saved the best for last. My traveling partner and I received a recommendation to have lunch at the cafeteria at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. You're probably thinking, "Why would you eat at a cafeteria?" and I wondered the same thing. But check this out- the cafeteria contains regional Native American specialties from across North and South America. We spent lots of time visiting each region, including South America, Northern Woodlands, Northwest Coast, Meso America and Great Plains. The food was traditionally prepared and was incredibly different and unique. I only wish I could have tried everything! I recommend this cafeteria to anyone near D.C., it was a highlight of the trip!

The South America counter at the American Indian cafeteria. Oh the choices!

Homemade tortillas in a variety of flavors.

Selections at the Northern Woodlands buffet.

Final decision- Chicken Mole Tacos from Meso America, Sunchoke Soup from the Great Plains, Butternut Squash from the Northwest Coast and Quinoa from South America. What a deliciously unique meal!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: Fettuccine Alfredo and Spinach Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

Pasta has always been my ideal comfort food. Red sauce is my typical go-to topping, but sometimes a white sauce can really up the comfort factor. Fettuccine Alfredo is an extremely popular Italian- American restaurant entree. It seems that someone in the group always orders it. Maybe it's the thought that "I could never make this at home," maybe it's the delectable creaminess, or maybe it's the knowledge that it's slightly sinful, but clearly Fettuccine Alfredo is a real treat. Traditional Alfredo sauce is made with only two ingredients- butter and Parmesan cheese. This lightened-up version trades most of the butter for milk, and is easy enough to make at home any night of the week!

Fettuccine Alfredo
A plate of creamy hot pasta- mmmm. 
Serves 2-3

1/2 lb. Fettuccine noodles
1 tblsp. butter
1 tblsp. flour
1/4 sweet onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. whole milk, 2% milk, or half and half (I used whole)
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook noodles to al dente according to package directions. Meanwhile heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt butter and add flour, whisking to combine. Add onions and garlic and cook for two minutes until softened. (If the pan seems dry add a little more butter.) Add milk and cook for 3-4 minutes to reduce slightly. Do not allow it to boil. Stir in Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and turn heat to low to keep warm.

When noodles are finished cooking drain and add to milk mixture. Use tongs to work the noodles to fully coat in sauce. Serve on warmed plates and top with extra Parmesan, pepper and salt if desired. I served my fettuccine with garlic breadsticks and pre-cooked chicken meatballs. It would also be delicious with grilled chicken, sliced Italian sausage, or grilled vegetables.

Spinach Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
A healthy and delicious side salad. 

Serves 2

For the salad:
Baby spinach leaves
Sliced red onion
Fresh chopped tomato
Crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
Diced avocado

For the dressing:
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. honey
2 tblsp. white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
4 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

To make the dressing whisk Dijon, honey and vinegar together in a small bowl. Slowly pour in extra virgin olive oil while briskly whisking to combine dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Combine the salad ingredients and toss with dressing.

Recipes by Sarah Saubert

Wine of the Night

Protocolo, a 100% tempranillo wine from Spain, was a delightful accompaniment to the creamy fettuccine and fresh salad. Protocolo is a smooth, mild and satisfying dry red with cherry undertones that lend enough sweetness to avoid overshadowing the food. It is also delicious on its own and at $8/bottle it's affordable enough to drink any night of the week!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Food Spotlight: Mexico; Recipe: Steak Enchiladas and Guacamole with Goat Cheese

I love to cook Mexican cuisine at home. While I have had some fantastic meals at Mexican restaurants, I find that I often feel overburdened with the grease and oil that is unfortunately overused at many Mexican-American restaurants. I also can't seem to refuse their margaritas, a very unhealthy, Americanized way to drink Tequila. (Mexicans drink it straight up!) Real Mexican food is actually quite healthy, featuring a variety of vegetables, spices and fresh ingredients. My sister Lisa studied in Guadalajara, Mexico, and her photos of "real" Mexican food make me excited to visit someday! Here are a few delicious meals that she enjoyed during her travels, followed by my best shot at enchiladas and guacamole.

Meat, quesadillas, chile relleno, rice, beans, guacamole and salad. What a beautiful meal!

Chilaquiles- Fried eggs over tortilla strips with salsa and cheese. A delicious breakfast! 

Rich chocolate Mole with stewed meat, served with rice and fresh avocado.

Enchiladas with rice and chicken. Look at that delicious queso fresco on top! Mmmm mmm!

Meat with roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, beans and avocado. Fantastic wrapped up in a fresh tortilla!

Cactus- A Mexican specialty. (Don't try this at home!)

Ribs, beans, rice, salad, french fries and avocado- $4!


Recipe Spotlight: Steak Enchiladas and Guacamole
Those pictures of beautiful, fresh Mexican food made me hungry, so I made a little Mexican feast for two at home. These recipes are incredibly easy, and while they may not be authentic, they are delicious and good for you. Enjoy a little Latin flavor tonight- tequila is optional! Recipes by Sarah Saubert

Steak Enchiladas
Tortillas filled with fresh and delicious flavors. Just as good with chicken or vegetarian!
Serves 2-3

5-6 medium-size flour tortillas
1/2 c. enchilada sauce
1 green pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 small zucchini, diced (optional)
1/2 cup refried beans (optional)
Shredded cheese (I used Pepper Jack and Cheddar)
8-10 oz. flank steak or 2 chicken breasts, cooked and cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp. Cumin
1/2 tsp. Paprika (optional)
Salt and Pepper
1 tblsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, peppers, and zucchini, sprinkle with salt, cumin and paprika, and sautee for 5 minutes until softened. Remove from heat.

Spread enchilada sauce over large plate. Dip both sides of each tortilla in sauce until lightly coated. Fill tortillas with meat, sauteed veggies, a spoonful of refried beans, and some shredded cheese. Roll up and place in 8x8 casserole dish. When all tortillas are in dish top with extra cheese and enchilada sauce. (I also topped mine with some salsa verde.) Cover with foil and bake in oven for 15 minutes, then remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes until lightly browned and bubbling. Serve with chips, guacamole, salsa and sour cream.

Everyone loves guacamole, and it is so fun to make and serve at home! I sometimes add goat cheese to the avocado, and have included it in the recipe below. It adds a tangy creaminess that is oh so yummy. The guacamole is delicious without it, though, and is so easy to make you can have it every night!

Guacamole with Goat Cheese
Creamy avocado and tangy goat cheese make an amazing side!

Serves 2

1 avocado
2 oz. goat cheese
2 tblsp. red onion, diced
1/2 tomato, diced
1 tbslp. fresh lime juice (about half a lime)
Dash Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Cut avocado in half and remove pit by striking with a knife. Scoop out flesh into a bowl. Add goat cheese and lime juice and mash with the back of a fork until combined. Stir in onion, tomato, and a dash of Worstershire sauce. Sprinkle with salt and serve with tortilla chips.