Monday, December 27, 2010

Cozy Christmas

Traditional Christmas Dinner
Williams-Sonoma Entertaining

Usually Scott and I host Christmas Day for ~14 people, but this year we only cooked for 4. This sounds like it would be simple, but choosing the menu was the hard part. Most holiday recipes are written for 8-12 servings. The Traditional Christmas Dinner Menu from Williams-Sonoma Entertaining was for 6 servings, so we had just enough for leftovers. The only change I made was to substitute the oyster stew for a salad. Everything was delicious and I’d definitely make each recipe again. One thing I found amusing was that 4 of these recipes had half and half as ingredient; I ended up needing a half gallon of half and half.

Winter Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing
This salad was very yummy I deviated a little from the recipe and for the greens got a bag of mixed greens that also contained some soft butter lettuce. This salad was full of surprises with cashews, dried cranberries, walnuts, pear, apple, and Swiss cheese. The salad dressing ended up being lemon vinaigrette since Central Market was out of poppy seeds in their bulk section. I borrowed this recipe from Peace Meals but also stumbled upon a variation of it by another name in one of my Southern Living Christmas books. This could also be great as a meal salad with some chicken or pork.

Standing Rib Roast
I splurged and bought the Central Market Prime rib roast since it’s the holidays but a choice cut would be just as good. I made the herb paste a few days before so I’d have less to do on the big day. However the cooking time in the recipe was grossly understated, I was glad I used a meat thermometer to stay on track since even with my oven on convection roast it took an additional 30-60 minutes to cook. I also skipped the madiera jus since I had too many things going on at the last minute but I did make the horseradish sauce (since it could be prepped early).

Yorkshire Pudding
The puddings were easy to make and were very light and tasty. I substituted rosemary for the thyme since I love rosemary and its easier to handle that thyme. And lastly a smear of butter makes everything better.
Potato and Celery Root Puree
This was very light and tasty, I liked the addition of the celery root and they didn’t seem as dense as most mashed potato recipes.

Creamed Spinach
I was amazed by how quick this recipe was to make. I think about 5 minutes in total. Spinach dishes can be really good or just okay…since this one had almost 2 cups of half and half it was rich and delicious.

Bread Pudding
These “individual” bread puddings were really enough for two people each. They were massive and the cream anglaise really was the best part.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Delicious Destination: Belize

Matachica Resort, Ambergris Caye

Back during the summer Scott and I decided to plan a trip to start off the Christmas holiday with some R&R. Our requirements for the trip were that it had to be a tropical location in the Caribbean and a direct flight from Houston. We wanted a place that was romantic and where we could get away from everything. A google search led me to the Matachica Resort in Belize. The photos on the website were beautiful and the reviews on Trip Advisor and Yahoo Travel confirmed that the experience would match the photos.

We had a 2.5 hour flight from Houston to Belize City, Belize. From there we took a propeller plane to San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye and Charlie from Matachica met us at the San Pedro airport and took us by boat the resort. The resort is only 5 miles from town, but the roads are sand primary land transportation is via golf cart so travel by boat is the way to go.

Upon arrival we were greeted with a welcome cocktail, settled into our bungalow, and then had delicious lunch followed by some relaxation at the pool. We had no TV or phone, and the main house did have some computers and wi-fi but I turned off my phones and left them that way the whole time.

A typical day was wake up, eat breakfast, short walk down the beach, layout on the beach, eat lunch, go back to the beach, and then finish the afternoon by the pool. Every evening we had a pre-dinner cocktail at the bar, then had dinner, and went to bed. Each meal we worked our way through the menu so we could try as many different items as possible, and all were delicious.
One day we actually went on a fishing/snorkeling excursion just the two of us and our guide. We caught enough snapper for our lunch and dinner which the chef prepared for us. We chose fish tacos for lunch and pouch of with snapper fillet, tomatoes, bell peppers, and white wine burre blanc sauce for dinner. This experience was one of the favorites of our trip.

Our last full day we indulged in spa appointments so we could be fully relaxed before returning home.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lazy Lasagna

Turkey Lasagna
adapted from Barefoot Contessa

I was not a lasagna fan until I tasted this recipe. Everything Ina Garten makes is delicious and when I first saw this episode on the Food Network for Turkey lasagna I knew it was going to be fabulous. The first time or two I made this recipe I actually used turkey sausage, a combination of mild and hot. One day I was at Central Market and instead chose half hot pork sausage and half mild pork sausage and it really took this recipe to the next level. But go ahead and use the turkey so you can pretend likes it healthy. I also do use lower fat cheeses in the recipe when available.

This is a great make ahead dish that can be stored in the freezer. I’m sure you noticed the crude presentation of a foil baking dish in the photo. I make two of these every year for our annual Labor Day trip. I use the foil pans for the trip so we don’t have to wash dishes and I don’t have to worry about anything breaking during transport. This year we were expecting more people so I had made 3 but some people had to drop out at the last minute so I left the third lasagna in the freezer to be enjoyed at some unknown date in the future. Well that date has arrived. See it’s my birthday and December is always a busy time of year, and we are leaving to vacation in Belize. So in addition to being out of town every weekend this month I just don’t have the time for a proper b-day celebration. But since several friends have inquired and insisted I do something to mark the occasion my compromise was to have a causal low-key girls dinner and thaw out that lasagna. Everyone else was responsible for vino, salad, and dessert (and my wonderful husband washed the dishes). One friend said it wasn't right hat I was making my own dinner, but the work was done back in August, I just threw it in the oven.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet Potato Pie with Marshmallow Meringue
Southern Living: November 2010

This delicious pie is on the cover of the Southern Living Thanksgiving issue and has the look of perfection. Mine of course does not look as fabulous since I don’t have a food stager or professional photographer on standby. Many years ago at a Thanksgiving buffet I grabbed a slice of sweet potato pie by mistake thinking it was pumpkin—they are both orange. I was disappointed when I was told it was sweet potato, but reluctantly tasted it anyway and was pleasantly surprised. This pie was absolutely delicious and exceeded the pie in my memory.

Also last night while eating Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner I realized this pie can double a side or dessert since its sweet potato!

I started off this year’s holiday season with our new tradition of a broken oven (it has broken 3 years in a row during the holidays). Fortunately the part was available and it was repaired on Tuesday allowing me plenty of time to bake my dessert to take to Scott’s family Thanksgiving.

There were several great things about this pie recipe. I was able to bake the sweet potatoes for the filling on Tuesday night, use a Pillsbury pie crust and assemble and bake the pie on Wednesday, and then prepare the meringue on Thursday morning. For the sweet potatoes, I poked them with a fork, wrapped them in foil and baked them in a 400 degree oven for about an hour and half and then scooped out the filling. I absolutely detest making a pie crust from scratch--I feel like it’s a lot of unnecessary work for something that is in the background, and yet at the same time it’s so essential. I once cut my finger on the food processor blade while making a pie crust for a less than stellar pie, so maybe I am scarred for life. But there are some shortcuts I take to deviate from my scratch method, and for me the Pillsbury pie crust is one of those rare exceptions.

This pie also had several baking firsts for me. I don’t bake a lot of pies since my favorite desserts are cookies and I will occasionally bake a tart but tart crust is entirely different. Anyway this pie called for prebaking the pie crust using pie weights. I didn’t read over the directions until the last minute, so instead of braving the Thanksgiving shopper insanity at the grocery store to pick up some dried beans, I was already planning to stop by Williams-Sonoma for some pre-black Friday holiday shopping and purchased pie weights there. Scott made the mistake of biting into one thinking it was candy…good thing he didn’t bite too hard or he would have lost a tooth. Also this was my first time to ever make a meringue which sounds intimidating, but it was actually very easy thanks to my Kitchen Aid mixer. However I discovered in the car on the way to our Thanksgiving meal that meringue can melt so it needs to stay in the fridge.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chocolate Raspberry Cookies

Chocolate Raspberry Cookies
By Paula Dean

I’m in love with these cookies and also very sad since this is the last time I will ever bake them. Hershey’s has discontinued the main ingredient. I used to be able to find the chocolate raspberry baking pieces at my local grocery store and then one day they were gone. I immediately went to the Hershey’s website only to discover they were no longer listed. I sent an email to Hershey’s urging them to bring them back and to let me know if there were anymore packages available in the Houston area. As luck would have it, I received a reply and headed over to the River Oaks Randall’s where I bought the last bag! This was over a year ago and I have been holding on this piece of heaven ever since, waiting for the perfect occasion.

That day has finally come. When I bake cookies I usually have enough for 2 occasions, so I try to be strategic about splitting up the cookies…I don’t want to end up with too many on my waistline. The two lucky recipients of this chocolate goodness are my Grandpa and my old boss Anita.

My Grandpa is 99 and recently broke his hip, had hip replacement surgery, and is temporarily living in a rehabilitation facility so he can undergo physical therapy everyday for several weeks to learn how to walk again. He has a serious sweet tooth and those genes were passed onto me. At his age I hope he is around long enough for this pain and suffering to be worth it. So I thought I’d cheer him up with a package of cookies and some cross word puzzles to keep him occupied.

Also Anita’s birthday was on Halloween, so I owed her some goodies. She was my boss for several years when I first started working and she is responsible for molding me into the employee that I am today.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fall Flank Steak Salad

This recipe was inspired by the November 2010 issue of Southern Living. It is filled with fabulous fall and Thanksgiving recipes, including a sweet potato pie that I have been dying to bake. I was looking for a quick and easy weeknight recipe and when I saw the Leafy Green Salad with Pears recipe I thought, “Add a protein and it’s a meal.”

Fall Flank Steak Salad
Serves 3-4

1 lb flank steak
1 Bartlett pear
¼ cup candied pecans
1 bag butter greens
Salt & pepper
Salad dressing (optional)

1. Heat skillet over medium heat
2. Season flank steak with salt and pepper and cook for 5-6 minutes per side for medium rare. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing.
3. Slice pear.
4. Add lettuce to plates and top with steak, pear slices, and candied pecans. Add salad dressing if desired.

Blue cheese would be a great addition to the salad. I have a chunk in the freezer but was too distracted with all the leftover Halloween candy to think about it. I opted for no salad dressing; however Scott added some Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinaigrette. A honey vinaigrette or balsamic dressing would be a great addition as well. I will be enjoying the leftover salad for lunch tomorrow.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Date Night Any/Every Night

Recipes from Peace Meals

Tonight Scott and I conducted our weekly Peace Meals recipe test with a few tests. 1. We finally used our new grill that my dad gave us for our anniversary back in May; and 2. We had dinner on the patio.

You are probably wondering why it took us ~5 months to use our grill for the first time, but really it’s a simple answer, it was just too HOT outside, plus we have a grill pan which is well suited for cooking for two and indoors.

And then there is the concept of dinner on the patio. Now that Fall has arrived, we have been trying to eat dinner on the patio regularly. Everyone loves dining al fresco whether on the patio of your favorite restaurant (Grappino’s, Teala’s, La Vista, etc.) or in your own backyard.

So tonight we made our usual Sunday dinner routine into an unexpected and perfect date night with dinner on the patio. We turned the television to the classical music channel, opened the patio doors, and were celebrating the Christening of our new grill. I usually try to limit my adult beverage consumption to Thursday, Friday, Saturday, but the ambiance made it hard to resist. Scott really wanted a glass of wine all we currently have in inventory is “the good stuff”. Speaking of “the good stuff”, our wine du jour was from our 4th anniversary trip to Napa back in May-- we enjoyed the Elyse “C’est si bon,” which is French for “It’s so good!”. I don’t think we need to explain that further because the name says it all.

And onto our meal…the Grilled Pork Loin Adobado and Honey Roasted Root Vegetables. I was expecting the pork to be spicy but it wasn’t at all. I roasted some Poblano peppers which are milder chiles, the pork had a good flavor, plus I have plenty of leftovers for lunch the next few days and for Scott’s dinner on Wednesday night while I’m at book club. The honey roasted root veggies were delicious and easy to make. I roasted butternut squash, carrots, turnips, fingerling potatoes, garlic, and shallots mixed with honey, olive oil, champagne vinegar, salt, and pepper for 45 minutes at 400. If I had it to do over again I would have turned the veggies along the way for even carmelization, or actually just left the garlic cloves whole instead of slicing. It was definitely a great fall/winter side dish and good compliment to the pork.

Stay tuned for a mushroom quiche which I’m hoping will turn out fabulous since I have very high expectations.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Butternut Squash Bisque

Butternut Squash Bisque
Peace Meals by the Junior League of Houston

To celebrate the beautiful fall weather I decided to make Butternut Squash Bisque for dinner. This is a delicious and easy to make recipe. It took a little over an hour including prep but there was quite a bit of inactive cooking time so it was nice to not have to slave in the kitchen non-stop. Best of all is the surprise ingredient… a jalapeno! The jalapeno added some “heat” in the background in addition to some depth to the bisque. The carrots, celery, leeks, jalapeno, butternut squash, and chicken broth needed to be pureed after they had simmered awhile. The recipe says to puree using a food processor or blender, which translates to more dishes to wash. Luckily I had my secret weapon the immersion blender (and yes I do have the green one). My sister-in-law, Jill, gave me the immersion blender for Christmas last year and it’s a Godsend. This nifty tool makes pureeing soups and sauces a breeze since you can leave everything in the pot. I rounded off the dish with a chopped pecan garnish. I skipped the fried sage because it just wasn’t a step I felt was needed for a Monday night dinner. However I did think about frying up some bacon, but decided to forgo for the same reason.

The recipe claims to be 4 servings. I think a proper portion should be 1 cup; however Scott prefers 2 cups, so the recipe really yields seven 1 cup servings or ~three 2 cup servings. I have some leftover which I have frozen in individual his and hers servings to enjoy in the future.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pan-Roasted Pork Chops with Yellow Pepper Mole Sauce

Recipe by Bobby Flay

Saturday night Scott and I had a date night at home. We haven’t cooked a nice meal on the weekend in awhile and were long overdue. I always enjoy trying recipes from Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill cookbook because they are always delicious and we are never disappointed.

I’ve never understood why my husband, or any man for that matter, is obsessed with pork chops. I’ve never had a pork chop I’m excited about until I made this recipe. These pork chops were tender and juicy, which I credit to their massive size. Often times when I buy pork chops at the grocery store they are cut thin, cook too fast, and I’m often left with a dry and tough meal. These chops were so big that they weighed a pound each, but for two I only spent $10 which is significantly less than I usually spend on a good cut of meat for the two of us. So not only are these delicious but also affordable.

There are two secrets to making this recipe a success...

1. Get really good pork chops! I of course went to Central Market and had the butcher cut me double cut bone-in pork chops.

2. You must make the mole sauce! This sauce is fantastic, it’s got a little sweet and savory all rolled into one. We have some sauce left over so I’ll be added it to my standard weeknight pork tenderloin recipe tomorrow night.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Restaurant Review: Killen's Steakhouse

Scott and I recently went to Killen's Steakhouse per the recommendation of a friend--a friend that likes really good food. He had claimed Killen's had the best steak he'd ever eaten and we agree. The drive to Pearland was worth every bite. From the outside, it doesn't look like much, but the inside was very tastefully decorated and the cuisine, very tasty!

We had an excellent waiter who helped steer us through the menu.

I started with a cosmopolitan that was perfectly blended and Scott relaxed with a dirty martini. We ordered a bottle of the Reynold's Family Reserve Cabernet to compliment our steaks.


Jumbo Scallops wrapped in bacon served on a bed of spinach, with lemon butter sauce

These scallops were amazing, some of the best I've had. I'm sure I was influenced by the bacon but they would have still been divine without it. The scallops and spinach rested upon a thick slice of fried potato. There were 4 jumbo scallops on the platter, I could easily come back and order the scallops as entree paired with a salad.


Mixed Greens, Tomatoes, Red Onions, Cucumbers and Carrots

Fresh Iceberg Lettuce Wedge topped with diced Tomatoes, Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, Chives and Chef Ron’s Roquefort dressing

Both salads were good, but not the focal part of our meal. We were planning to eat a lot, and I couldn't believe Scott wanted to waste valuable stomach real estate with a salad.


• 16 oz Kobe Beef RIB-EYE •
This was one of many Rib-eye options on the menu. They actually had a 32 oz one that we could have spilt but we decided on a divide and conquer approach. I did see two men at another table each ordered their own 32 ounce rib-eye and eat all of it, let's just say they looked like they could have each eaten two of them. I had a bite of Scott's rib-eye but it was nothing in comparison to the Kobe Beef filets that I had.

• (3) 3 oz Kobe Beef Filet Mignon •
I opted for the special, fully expected all kobe beef to be equal. This flight really surprised my palette.

1. Nebraska Morgan Ranch
The Nebraska beef was fantastic. It tasted like a hunk of meat drenched in butter.
I fully expected the Texas beef to be better, since well everything is bigger and better in Texas, but it was least favorite. Had I had it on its own I'm sure it would have been awesome but in comparison it just wasn't.
3. Australia Blackwood Ranch
The Australia beef was so good I am speechless. We were told it was the most comparable to the highest grade of Japanese kobe and I believe it.

We split a side of macaroni and cheese, which was of course delicious.


• Creme Brulee Bread Pudding •
I don't get very excited about bread pudding, but this one was excellent. It was moist, without being wet, and also won the best bites competition at the Houston Rodeo.

This meal was a super splurge for us so maybe next time we will attemp to try some of the more affordable items on the menu.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Weekly Menu

I plan my meals for the week and grocery shop on Sunday. I developed a spreadsheet to plan for each day and also prepare my grocery list. When planning for the week, I take inventory of my pantry and freezer to see if there are any ingredients I can use. I also mark our social activities on the menu so that my husband and I can keep up with each other's schedules. I use the other section for things such as baking for birthdays, book club, etc. This helps me stay organized and makes it easier to enjoy healthier meals more often. I hear people make excuses and say they come home from work and then can't decide what to have for dinner, then they don't want to go the store, and next thing you know its fast food for dinner. I have certain weeknight staples that I stick to during the week, and the weekend is my time to test recipes and enjoy extravagant gourmet dinners.

Also I am big fan of using the freezer. Often when purchasing chicken, meat, or pork I try to get a value pack and I'll freeze the extra pieces in the necessary quantity/serving combo to be thawed later as needed. I recommend reading "Can I Freeze It?", it provides a lot of great information on what types of food freeze well and the best freezing materials and methods. I haven't tried any of the recipes, but I use the methods all the time.

Click here to print a copy of the weekly menu plan.

Here are a few of my weeknight staples. I'll be sure to add more in the future

You can skip the pomegranate glaze, it doesn't add flavor and isn't worth the effort to make

pork chops w/ sauteed apples

poblano & mushroom tacos

spice crusted pork tenderloin w/ roasted baby carrots

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Restaurant Review: Chez Nous

Scott and I celebrated Valentine's Day at Chez Nous in Humble. We celebrated our fist Valentine's day together at Chez Nous, back in 2004, so we decided we were long overdue for a trip back. The owner/chef was the executive Chef at Tony's back in the 80s, so its great food. Chez Nous is French for our home, and its just that...a cozy cottage with seating in various rooms. We were sitting in the library next to some wine bottles. We enjoyed the 5 course chef's table with wine pairing, everything was delicious. We were told the chef's table is logged with each reservation so that diners can have a new experience each time they request it. Chez Nous is worth the drive.

Salad of Raindrop Farms Tomatoes, Organic Field Greens, marinated Red Onions, Feta, Chick
Peas and our signature Vinaigrette
I love tomatoes so this was a treat for me.

Grouper with oranges and roasted fennel

I don't eat a lot of seafood but this fish was light and delicious. The citrus added a nice flavor and was nicely complimented by the roasted fennel.

Pinot Noir
A Classic Country Terrine of Veal and Duck with Cornichons and Sauce Charcutiere

This pate was complete with some bacon...need I say more.

Pinor Noir
Filet w/ Risotto a port reduction

The filet was delicious but the risotto made the course.

Rose Champagne
Passion Fruit-Raspberry Souffle

This souffle was delcicious and I wish we'd had a larger portion. I love anything with raspberries. The rose champagne was the perfect way to end the night.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pork Chops with Sautéed Apples

This is a super fast recipe that has become one my weeknight staples. Its so easy to make and delicious. I freeze the extra pork chops from the package to have on hand for a future weeknight.

Pork Chops with Sautéed Apples
serves 2

2 boneless pork chops
salt and pepper
1 granny smith apple, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup apple juice*
1 Tbsp butter

  • Heat skillet over medium heat.
  • Lightly sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper.
  • Cook chops for 5 min one side, and then 3 minutes on the other side for medium.**
  • Remove chops from pan.
  • Add apples to skillet and saute for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add juice and butter to pan and cook with apples for 1 minute.
  • Spoon apples and sauce over the chops and enjoy.

*I use whatever juice I have on hand. Sometimes cranberry juice, tonight I used blueberry pomegranate juice.
**Many people think that pork has to be thoroughly cooked like chicken, and that is not true. It is perfectly safe to eat pork that is pink in the center. If you want to cook your pork all the way through then cook for 5 minutes on each side.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Restaurant Review: The Strip House

The Strip House is celebrating its 5 year anniversary during the months of January and February with a special promotion--5 courses for $55. Scott and I have never dined at the Strip House, so we decided to take advantage of this special. Due to the variety of the menu we decided to opt for wine by the glass so we could drink a compatible wine with each course. All of the courses were delicious and each better than the last. I would have like a few more minutes between each course, but I am a very slow eater, so maybe that's just me.

Wine: House Champagne
I opted for champagne for two reasons: 1. I became an aunt that week and wanted to celebrate and 2. I thought it would go well with the lobster bisque.

I LOBSTER BISQUE CAPPUCCINO, chopped lobster and chives
The bisque was the perfect amount and consistency, it didn't fill me up too quickly.

Wine: Flora Springs Chardonnay
Chardonnay is often paired with Scallops so I wanted them to taste their best.

This was a delicious salad and a good twist on a caprese salad. It was also garnished with finely sliced red onion.

III SEARED SEA SCALLOP, edamame succotash, black truffle butter, corn broth
The scallop is one of the best I've ever eaten at a restaurant. Great flavor and meaty texture.

Wine: 75 Wine Co Cabernet
Cabernet and steak are two peas in a pod.

IV 6OZ. FILET MIGNON, black truffle creamed spinach, goose fat potatoes
The filet as cooked to perfection. The black truffle creamed spinach was amazing, I could not get enough of this. The goose fat potatoes were delicious with interesting presentation and flavor. They were like a fried mashed potato ball, bu the consistency and level of saltiness were a hybrid between a french fry and a hash brown.

V STRIP HOUSE PROFITEROLE, chocolate malt & espresso ice cream, hot fudge sauce
I think the best part was the hot fudge sauce! Yummy!