Thursday, August 18, 2016

Roasted Broccolini with Black Garlic and Lemon Vinaigrette

If you have been reading for a while now, you know I basically live at Trader Joe's. I buy 90% of my groceries there and absolutely love the place. One thing I love about it, is discovering new foods. They are always coming out with new amazing products that I eventually fall in love with. One of those products: fermented black garlic. 

The taste of these almost jet black and sticky garlic is much like it has been roasted - but with a stronger and more intense flavor. It is also super good for you, any food that has been fermented tends to be really awesome for your tummy and insides. I knew I had to try it. Cruising around the store I spotted some beautiful broccolini and formulated a plan. You can use regular broccoli or really any other veg for this recipe!

What you need:
1/2 lb to 1 lb of brocollini/broccoli
3-4 cloves of black garlic
The juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat your oven to 425 degrees. Toss trimmed and cleaned broccolini in olive oil with a dash of salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast for about 7 minutes until slightly tender and crispy around the edges. Meanwhile, mash the garlic with about a teaspoon of sea salt. Mix in the juice of the lemon. Whisk in about a 1/4 cup of good olive oil to create a vinaigrette. Taste and season with salt and pepper accordingly. When broccolini is done, toss with the vinaigrette right away and serve. This dish is SO flavorful and sure to impress your guests. It also is amazing the next day in your lunch! I served mine with a simple salad, sautéed spicy shrimp and cauliflower puree. Yum!

Going going, back back to Cauli Cauli

I have been seeing various cauliflower recipes online for years... the intrigue being that you can use cauliflower to replace starchy carbs like potatoes, or fattening sauces like alfredo. In my mind, I always figured these recipes turned out too watery (a steamed veggie tends to have a lot of moisture) and, frankly, too cauliflower-y. What's the point? If you want to be healthy, just eat the cauliflower and don't eat the mashed potatoes. BUT, alas, I was wrong. After some research, I whipped up both a garlic mashed cauliflower so rich and amazing I fell in love... as well as a cauliflower "alfredo" sauce that could really trick anyone into eating a sauce made out of veggies. It was beyond easy, used mostly things I keep in my house, and so delicious! Recipes are below.

Cauliflower "Alfredo" Sauce
What you need:
1 head of cauliflower
4-6 cups of chicken broth
1 large yellow onion
4-6 cloves of garlic
Butter or ghee
... and that's it. Seriously. 

Bring the chicken broth to a boil, and add in cauliflower that has been trimmed and broken down into pieces. Simmer until tender... about 7 minutes. Meanwhile, slice and caramelize the onion. Add in garlic about halfway so that it cooks down until tender and slightly golden brown. In a blender, add the cooked cauliflower, about 3/4 of the chicken broth liquid it cooked in, the sautéed garlic and onion, a tablespoon or so of the butter or ghee... and blend. You can add more liquid if the "sauce" is too thick, and if you eat dairy feel free to add a little milk or cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. And prepare to be amazed at how amazing it is! Toss on your favorite pasta, add a little parmesan cheese and enjoy tricking your kids and husband into eating cauliflower. Folks, this stuff is amazing.

"Mashed" Garlic Cauliflower
What you need:
1 head of cauliflower
6 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons reduced fat cream cheese
2 tablespoons butter or ghee
4-6 cups of chicken broth

Just like the last recipe, bring the chicken broth to a boil, and add in the cauliflower that has been trimmed and broken down into pieces. Simmer until tender... about 7 minutes. Meanwhile, either roast a whole head of garlic OR sautee sliced cloves of garlic for a couple minutes in a little butter...until tender and lightly browned. When cauliflower is done, drain and add to a food processor with garlic, cream cheese, butter/ghee and salt and pepper. Pulse until your desire "mashed potato" consistency is attained. Return to pan to keep warm or serve right away. You can also top with a little green onion or chive, bacon bits and sharp cheddar for a "loaded" mashed cauliflower experience. This is a great nutritious side dish for any meal! And tastes like you're indulging on the real deal. 

Either recipe can be tweaked for what you like, feel free to add or delete! You can use water if you don't have chicken broth, but I feel the broth really adds an extra savory richness that makes such healthy food taste ten times better. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

BBQ Lamb Burgers with Yogurt Sauce

While cruising the grocery aisle after work one day, my eye caught a sale on ground grassfed lamb. I am a huge fan of lamb (as long as I don't think too hard about it) and it is such a great protein to add to your rotation of recipes. The cool thing about this dish is many of the ingredients are used twice: in the burgers AND in the sauce. I made a double batch and came up with 7 huge burgers. The barbecued burgers and cool yogurt sauce were a big hit on a warm night.

What you need:
1 lb ground lamb
Chopped red onion
Minced garlic
1 egg
Dry dill
Dry mint
Onion soup mix
Worcestshire sauce
Greek Yogurt

Mix together the lamb, about 1/4 cup chopped onion, a few cloves of minced garlic, a handful of breadcrumbs, the egg, about a tablespoon of the dill, teaspoon of the mint and half the package of onion soup mix. Form the mixture into patties. Grill to desired doneness (I seared mine on each side on the bottom rack, then transferred to the top for about another 15 minutes while I cooked some veggies).

 Yogurt sauce: Mix together about a cup of Greek yogurt, some chopped red onion and fresh garlic, the same dill and mint you used for the burgers plus a little extra, salt and pepper.

To assemble burgers, throw your favorite buns on the grill to toast, spread the yogurt sauce on both sides, top with thinly sliced cucumber, red onion and a lamb burger. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Lightened Up Chicken Piccata

I had never made Chicken Piccata before this dish. It sounded like something fun to try, and as I started poking around the internet I realized it can be a very buttery, and calorie laden dish. I tried a few tricks to lighten it up and it turned out wonderful.

Here's what you need:

1 lb thin cut chicken breast
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup white cooking wine
2 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 bunch chopped parsley
The juice of 2 large lemons
The zest of one lemon
Chicken broth (about 3/4 cup)
Grapeseed oil

First, lay your chicken out on a cutting board with a layer of plastic wrap over the top. Using a kitchen mallet, pound out your pieces of chicken breast until they are a little thinner, depending on how thick your butcher cut those pieces. You want them about 1/2 inch at the thickest part. Dump the flour on a dinner plate and season liberally with salt and pepper. Coat each piece of chicken with the flour mixture.

Heat a large pan on medium high heat with a couple tablespoons of grapeseed oil. I use grapeseed because it has a high smoke point. Pan fry each piece of chicken until golden brown on both sides, remove from the pan to a cooling rack to drain.

Now for the sauce. Turn the heat on your pan down to medium low. Add the garlic and sautee until it just barely starts to brown. Add the chicken stock and white wine, whisking to get all of the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan to come up and incorporate into the liquid. In a small bowl, add a tablespoon or so of water to the cornstarch and whisk. Add this cornstarch slurry to the cooking liquid. Instead of thickening up the sauce with a ton of butter, this will help us get a silky consistency with less calories. Add the chicken back into the pan with the lemon juice and simmer in the liquid for about 10 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Stir in the lemon zest, parsley and a few tablespoons of capers. That's it! A fancy dish without the traditional number of calories to serve at your next dinner party. I took leftovers to work and it was even good the next day. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Shrimp Tostadas with Chipotle Yogurt and Pineapple Avocado Salsa

Maybe the long name sounds fancy, but these tostadas couldn't be easier. You could use all the same ingredients in whatever tortillas you have laying around and call it a taco as well. Or just throw it in a bowl and call it a salad. Delicious either way.

There are 3 components to this dish to make, then you just assemble it all on top of a crispy tostada. The first component being the Pineapple Avocado Salsa. The sweet, tropical flavor of the pineapple lends a nice balance to the creamy avocado and sharp onion. The salsa as a whole gives a great acidic balance to the entire dish.

Here's what you need:

2 large, ripe avocados
1/4 of a whole ripe pineapple
1/2 of a red onion
1 bunch of cilantro
2 cloves of fresh garlic
1-2 jalepenos, depending on how spicy you want to go
The juice of 1 lime

Chop up all your produce into uniform size pieces, mince the garlic and cilantro, and toss everything together with lime juice and salt to taste. Set aside.

Next, move on to the Chipotle Yogurt. I LOVE chipotle peppers. They lend an intense smokiness to any dish that is SO good. This sauce couldn't be easier.

What you need:

1/2 cup greek yogurt
1-2 chipotle peppers chopped finely
The juice of half a lime
1 teaspoon Garlic powder
1 teaspoon Cumin

Mix everything together, I add a little extra juice from the can of chipotle peppers for good measure. Add salt and pepper to taste. That's it!

Our final component is the shrimp. Again, couldn't be easier. I used Argentinian red shrimp, which are red when they are raw... so cooking is a little tricky. Usually your shrimp come blue and when they turn pink they are done! First, rinse your shrimp and remove the tail if needed. Heat up a pan with a little olive oil and add the shrimp. Toss with your favorite seasonings: I used chipotle, cumin, garlic and a little chili powder. Sautee for a few minutes on each side until shrimp are cooked through.

When you are ready to eat, assemble the tostadas. I layered the chipotle sauce first, topped with fresh salsa then piled on the shrimp. They can be a little messy to eat, but one of the best bites of your summer, guaranteed!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sushi Bowls

A couple months ago, I talked about how intimidated by polenta I was, until I tried it. Speaking of intimidating, here is a fast and easy spin on the most intimidating at home dish of all: sushi! My husband and I love to go out for sushi, it is usually our go to when we decide to eat out. While craving it one day, I thought how could I get these same flavors at home? It was actually very simple and there are endless variations to what you can do.

First: the rice. I honestly HATE cooking rice. I usually buy the frozen brown rice packages from Trader Joe's. However you like your rice, just start with that. Brown, white, leftover, premade, whatever. While the rice is warm add in a tablespoon of sugar, a couple tablespoons of rice vinegar and a little dash of salt. Stir this around to coat. It doesn't make sushi rice in it's truest form, but it makes a very similar taste with just a few ingredients hanging out in your pantry.

Once the rice is done and cooled, that will be your base. Then you can top your sushi bowl with whatever you like! I have two variations here, one I made for a fancier dinner in with my husband, and another I made packed into Tupperware for weekday lunches to bring to work.

Variation 1: I topped the "sushi" rice with sliced nori seaweed sheets (these have become so popular and you can find them anywhere), julienned (cut into matchstick size) cucumber, julienned carrots, avocado, toasted sesame seed, chopped scallion, krab (imitation crab used at most sushi restaurants for their California roll among others...find this in your seafood section), and premade ahi poke I found at my local Safeway. It was perfect! I served this with wasabi and soy sauce, of course, and topped with a little spicy mayo.

Variation 2: I packed Tupperware with "sushi" rice, nori, soy sauce, sesame, cucumber, scallion. Then I mixed imitation crab with a little mayo and a ton of sriracha for a take on a "spicy crab" salad. I added avocado once I was ready to eat. One of my favorite "to go" lunches to keep in the fridge! 

You can also add cooked shrimp, tofu, tempura, egg, any other veggies or your favorite sashimi. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs with Capers and Fried Shallots

This is a tasty and impressive appetizer to bring to a brunch, serve at a BBQ or make for girl's nights. While it seems so very fancy, it is incredibly easy to whip up.

First, hard boil 12 eggs. While there seems to be a differing of opinions on how to do this, the best way for me seems to boil the water first with a dash of salt and white vinegar. Add in the eggs gently, and continue to boil for exactly 11 minutes. Remove eggs and add to an ice bath to cool. Once cooled, peel under running water.

Now that our eggs are boiled, here's what else we need (remember, these are ballpark measurements, as always):

2 tablespoons or so of brined capers
1 shallot
2 ounces of smoked salmon, chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 heaping tablespoons greek yogurt
2 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1-2 teaspoons dried dill
Olive oil

Slice each egg in half. Remove yolks into a bowl and set egg whites in the fridge to keep chilled. Mash the egg yolks with a fork until creamy. Add in chopped salmon, mayo, Dijon, yogurt, capers, garlic powder and dill. Mix everything together and add salt to taste. While you're tasting, adjust measurements to your liking. Maybe you want a little more salmon or capers? Maybe you need more yogurt? Get it all the way you like before you move on. Spoon this mixture into a large ziplock bag and set inside the fridge to chill.

Cover the bottom of a small pan with about a half inch of olive oil, heat on medium heat. Peel and VERY thinly slice your shallot. Working in batches depending on the size of your pan, fry the shallots in the olive oil until crispy and brown. Set on a paper towel to cool and dry.

Good news: this can all be done ahead of time! Now go do your makeup and your hair and come back when you're ready for your party.

Now that you're ready, get out a serving platter, the egg whites, egg yolk mixture and shallots. Squeeze the egg yolk mixture to a corner of the ziplock bag and snip the end. Ta-dah! You have your very own piping bag. Pipe the mixture to fill each egg white. Top with a little more dill for color, a sprinkling of paprika and the fried shallots. Arrange on the platter and watch them disappear!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Crostini with Lemon Herb Ricotta and Heirloom Tomato Salad

I was incredibly proud of this appetizer I made for Easter. It is SO light, full of flavor and the PERFECT bite for spring. Everyone loved it. I will definitely make this again, many times!

What you need:

1  thin loaf of Italian bread (or your favorite kind)
1 16oz tub of Ricotta cheese
Zest of 1 lemon
Dried herbs - all your favorites
Garlic powder
About 1.5 cups chopped heirloom tomatoes (or your favorite kind)
A few sprigs of fresh basil, chopped
Balsamic Glaze
Olive Oil
Two cloves garlic, chopped.

First, add the garlic to a couple tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.

Next, mix the lemon zest, herbs and salt to taste into the Ricotta cheese with about a teaspoon of garlic powder. I used dried parsley, mint, oregano, marjoram, thyme and basil. Set this mixture in the fridge to chill.

Then, slice your bread into about 3/4-1 inch slices. Brush olive oil mixture on both sides of the bread, leaving most of the garlic in the bowl. Place on a hot grill for a minute or two on each side, just long enough to crisp the bread and get a couple grill marks. This lends a smoky heartiness to an otherwise very light dish.

While your bread is cooling, mix the chopped tomatoes with the chopped basil, a dash of salt, and the rest of the garlic left over in olive oil. Add 2 tablespoons or so of the balsamic glaze. Balsamic glaze is easy to find, but if you can't find it, you can make your own very easily. Just simmer a cup of balsamic vinegar until it reduces by half and thickens, then let cool. Toss your tomato salad, and now you are ready to assemble!

I smeared a spoonful of ricotta on each slice of bread then topped with a heap of the tomato salad, a little extra balsamic and garnish of basil. Lay out on your prettiest serving tray and don't forget the chilled wine. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Stuffed Flank Steak

Got some people coming over for dinner that you want to impress? Maybe a special occasion for a special person? Or just want to feel like a badass in the kitchen with minimal effort? This is the recipe you will want to keep on hand. Play with the stuffing and marinade to match your tastes or what's in season. I guarantee everyone at your dining room table will fall a little more in love with you after you make this!

What you will need:
Flank steak
Soy sauce
Balsamic Vinegar
Brown Sugar
Sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil
Green onions
Cooked bacon bits
Frozen spinach - thawed and drained
Feta cheese

Flank steak can be kind of hard to find. It's usually rolled up in a package and oftentimes pre-marinated. I can't stand pre-marinated meat because it can be incredibly salty, so I have included a marinade here, but feel free to do whatever you want!

First, preheat the oven to 400. Unroll the flank steak from the package and lay flat on a cutting board. Pound the flank steak out with the flat side of a meat tenderizer until it is even in thickness. Marinate in soy sauce, balsamic, worcestshire, brown sugar, salt and pepper (go heavy on the brown sugar and balsamic, it is a great balance to the rich stuffing inside).  You will have great flavor after just a couple hours of marinating, but feel free to go even longer.

Meanwhile, mix together chopped bacon bits, cooked chopped AND DRAINED spinach (I use frozen that has been thawed), chopped green onions, sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese with a dash of salt, pepper and garlic powder. Use a ratio of these ingredients that makes sense to you. I used about a cup of spinach, 1/4 cup feta, a couple tablespoons each of the onions, tomatoes and bacon. It is SO important that you have squeezed all of the liquid out of your spinach so you don't end up with a soupy mess.

Next, remove the steak from the marinade and place on a flat work surface. Add the filling down the middle of the length of the steak. Roll the steak lengthwise (not up from the bottom, basically more like hot dog style... If you remember that from grade school) and secure with twine or large tooth picks pre soaked in water. How you roll is important, because when this is all done you want to be able to cut the steak against the grain, as shown in the picture. Sear the stuffed steak on all sides in a hot pan, then transfer to the oven at 400 and bake for about 25 min or until internal temp is 160, a little longer if you like it well done (which I personally think is a crime). Let rest before removing twine and slicing.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Caramelized Leeks and Bacon

 OK, yes, I HATED brussel sprouts growing up. HATED. THEM. I was pretty picky (so weird considering I love to try new things now) but that was, like, top of the list. I had no idea why anyone would ever choose to eat those things. Well, one day in recent years, I just decided to try them again. I had never had them roasted, only steamed, which could have been the problem. I am not a big fan of steamed veggies period. I LOVE them raw, grilled and roasted, but spare me on the mushy steamed version.

 Anyway, I LOVED these little guys roasted. I came up with this recipe for Thanksgiving a couple years ago and it was a big hit. Since, there has been many a time I have made this, and only this, for dinner. It is that good, and so good for you! My husband STILL hates brussel sprouts, but I finally got to him to try these and he loved them. So hey, it's worth a shot!

Here is what you need (this is a fairly big batch)

2 bags of brussel sprouts (I buy from TJ's, you can also just buy the big stem they grow on if you're fancy like that)
2 leeks
1/3 to 1/2 package of uncured, nitrate/nitrite free applewood smoked bacon (OK, who cares, get whatever bacon you want, I just prefer this kind. Sometimes I even use turkey bacon or canadian bacon.)
2 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of balsamic reduction (TJ's has a great deal on this, or you can try and make your own. All you do is reduce a cup or two of balsamic vinegar by simmering on the stove until it thickens, this makes it sweeter)

Preheat the oven to 425. Start by cleaning and cutting your brussel sprouts - I wash, cut off the end and cut in half, depending on the size. Sometimes there are gigantic brussel sprouts that need to be cut in thirds or quarters. Make sure they are dry, and toss them onto a baking sheet (I ALWAYS foil line my shit, because it makes cleaning up easier. You do whatever you want!).

Pour a couple glugs of olive oil onto the brussel sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Toss them right there on the baking sheet then spread them out before popping them in the oven.

While those guys are cooking (it's going to take 20-30-ish minutes, keep an eye on them. You want them to be dark in some spots and cooked through, but NOT overcooked and mushy). Clean your leeks. Remember, leeks grow with sandy dirt piled up around them, which gets in between all those pretty spirals. The best way, I have found, is to peel off the outside layer, cut off the end and cut the leek lengthwise. Then chop, and throw into a bowl full of cold water. Move them around to get all the dirt to fall off then scoop them out with a slotted spoon to drain. Pat leeks dry. OR - Trader Joe's sells them already trimmed and cleaned.

Chop the bacon and add to a hot pan (medium heat) to brown. Once bacon is crispy (or however you like it), remove and drain excess oil, leaving about a tablespoon. Turn heat to medium low.
Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally. You want them to darken in spots and cook through. As they start to caramelize, add in your chopped garlic and let that continue to cook for a couple minutes. Turn heat to low and add bacon and balsamic reduction. Stir. Once brussel sprouts are done, remove from oven and add to the pan with bacon and leek mixture. Toss and serve warm. Shown here with cedar plank salmon and Greek yogurt "tarter sauce". 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Marinated Skirt Steak and Chimichurri Sauce

Like most of the recipes here at McMillen Kitchen... yea it sounds fancy. Is it difficult to pull off? Not at all. This recipe is a summer favorite. A simple marinade and a quick sauce that makes for a vibrant and delicious meal, trust me when I say you will want to make enough for leftovers!

1 bunch parsley, cut off the stems
1 bunch cilantro, cut off the stems
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
a teaspoon (or more if you like spice) red pepper flakes
a tablespoon dry oregano
a teaspoon dry mint,
the juice of 1-2 lemons, depending on size
About a half cup extra virgin olive oil, give or take

Throw all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add more lemon juice, water or olive oil if you are having trouble getting the blender going. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Skirt Steak Marinade:

Add your skirt steak to a shallow dish large enough to completely unroll the steak. Add a mixture of balsamic vinegar, worcestshire sauce, soy sauce and brown sugar. Rough measurements would be about 1/4 cup balsamic, 1/4 worcestshire, a few tablespoons of soy and a few tablespoons of brown sugar. I also added a good palm full of red pepper flakes and 3 cloves of minced garlic. Just go with your gut! Let this marinate for at least an hour, but up to a few hours if you can. Then cook your steak to your liking - I love it seared or grilled on a high heat for a few minutes on each side.. I go for a medium rare. Shown here with creamy polenta, roasted mushrooms and broccoli. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Creamy Garlic and Parmesan Polenta

To me, polenta was always this fancy, daunting, impossible dish. It seemed like it was a ton of work, easy to screw up and honestly, I was intimidated. For the sake of my ego, I decided to show polenta who is boss. Things worked out well for me and everyone who ate dinner at our house that night. Not only is this the perfect side dish to just about anything, it really is EXTREMELY easy and insanely inexpensive. This makes a huge batch... you could easily cut it in half for 2-4 people.

What you need:
2 cloves minced garlic
8 cups chicken stock
2 cups polenta (the dry kind, not the premade)
a knob of butter (eh 2-4 tablespoons depending on what you like)
as much freshly grate parmesan cheese as you feel comfortable with... the more the better

Start by boiling the chicken stock and garlic. Once it is boiled, reduce to a simmer and add in the polenta. Continually whisk (yes, you need a whisk) until the polenta thickens enough that it is no longer sinking to the bottom of the pan when you stop stirring. This is where the easy part comes in. I always was under the impression that you had to CONSTANTLY whisk polenta for like an hour to make it right. Not necessarily the case. I whisked for a few minutes until it started to thicken... then I went about making the rest of dinner, only going back to whisk a couple times every few minutes. After about 20 or 30 minutes, your polenta should be thick and creamy. If it seems too thick, add a little extra chicken stock. Once it is just about done, stir in the butter and parmesan. That's it! Here it is shown with my Crispy Garlic and Herb Chicken Thighs, quick and easy comfort food for a rainy day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Crispy Garlic and Herb Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs are easy and inexpensive enough to throw together on a weeknight, but juicy and tender enough to be the star of the show at a dinner party. This is a recipe I have come up with after ending up with rubbery baked chicken FAR too many times. These go great with my parmesan polenta, a simple green salad or whatever veggies you have in the fridge.

What you need:
4 - 6 (bone in and skin on) chicken thighs
Grapeseed or Coconut oil

First, preheat the oven to 475. Rinse your chicken thighs and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet on medium high heat with a couple tablespoons of grapeseed or coconut oil (we need a high smoke point). When pan is hot, add chicken thighs skin side down. Cook for about 5-10 minutes until golden and crispy. While cooking, add a dry seasoning mix to the side not cooking. I used crushed coriander, marjoram, oregano and garlic. Flip over and cook about 3 minutes on the other side then transfer to an oven safe pan and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes or until juices run clear. If you are cooking in an oven safe skillet, no need to transfer, just pop that bad boy in the oven. Let rest for a few minutes before serving.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Italian Pressed Sandwhiches

This one is definitely a splurge but an easy and delicious way to feed a lot of people. I've made these on two different occasions to bring along wine tasting in Napa. After the 4th winery, these little guys probably saved some lives. I love that they are compact and not too messy, great to bring to potlucks, BBQs, picnics and parties. I have yet to meet someone who didn't love them... although that could be the wine.

I didn't add any measurements or amounts to this recipe because its really totally up to you and how many people you are feeding.

I used: salami, proscuttio, pesto, fresh basil, a bruschetta tomato sauce from Trader Joe's (the second time around I used a red pepper spread and that was even better!), mozzarella and a beautiful herbed focaccia bread also from, you guessed it, Trader Joe's.

I sliced the focaccia in half and spread pesto on one side and the tomato sauce on the other. I then layered one side with salami and the other with proscuttio. The fresh basil leaves and the sliced low moisture, part skim mozzarella came last. I put the sandwhich together and wrapped tightly with saran wrap. THEN - here is the "pressed" part - it needs to be weighted down in the fridge overnight. I laid two big college textbooks and a 10 lb kettlebell on each one - even less weight might be fine.

The next morning I unwrapped, trimmed up the edges, and cut into cute little rectangles. You can add a toothpick but they do pretty well holding up, even throughout the day. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Caprese Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

This is one of the most genius ideas I have had in the duration of my lifetime.These are super filling and taste just like summer, so fresh. I served mine with some grilled Italian chicken sausage and it was the perfect weeknight dinner after a long day at work... even better the next couple days for lunch.

What you need:
About 8 medium-small vine ripened tomatoes (I love the way they taste right off the vine, even when they are store bought, but you can use any tomatoes!) 
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 to 1 cup chopped skim milk mozzarella
2 cloves minced fresh garlic
12 baby portobello mushrooms
1-2 tablespoons grated Parmesan 

Preheat oven to 425. Remove stems from portobellos, clean and drain on paper towels. Mix chopped tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, garlic with a pinch of salt and pepper. 

Place mushrooms in a foil lined baking dish. Gently spoon caprese mixture into mushroom caps. Top with grated Parmesan and bake for about 20 minutes until mushrooms are cooked through. 

The second time I made these I drizzled with some balsamic reduction... it was the perfect acidic and sweet balance, highly recommend. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Easy Oven Tri Tip with Roasted Garlic and Gorgonzola Butter

This was a HUGE hit with my husband. The idea for this recipe came to me because I had a beautiful tri tip that needed to be cooked and had not been marinated. I love big flavor and thought what can I do to add flavor to this? I also did not want to BBQ the tri tip because it was an unusually cold and windy day. I did a little research and thanks to a leftover hunk of a really amazing Gorgonzola cheese from, where else, Trader Joe's... and all the garlic I always have in my pantry... a star was born.

What you need:

About a 2 lb tri tip, trimmed (your butcher can do this for you, a lot of them already come this way. Trimmed does not mean there is NO fat, it has just been cleaned up a bit)
Olive Oil
Ghee or clarified butter (you can use regular butter)
1 head of garlic
About an ounce and a half to 2 ounces of Gorgonzola or blue cheese

First, you need to roast your garlic. I did this while my tri tip was in the oven, but its a good idea to get it going right away so it can cool a bit afterwards. All you do is chop the pointy end off the head of garlic off (I know, I am so technical...hopefully that makes sense), place the head of garlic in some foil, pour olive oil over the top, wrap it up and pop it in the oven. It will take about 30 minutes at 325, about 20-25 minutes at 350. You want the exposed cloves of garlic on the top to look golden brown, you may have to unwrap to check and possibly keep cooking depending on your oven.

Moving onto the tri tip, preheat the oven to 350 if it wasn't already. Heat a couple glugs of olive oil in a large skillet on high heat. Season both sides of the tri tip liberally with salt and pepper. Add the tri tip to the skillet, fat side down. Sear for a few minutes until golden brown, and flip over to the other side. If you have the tri tip in an oven safe pan, just pop that sucker right into the oven at this point. If not, sear for a couple more minutes and transfer the tri tip to an oven safe dish (pour everything in the pan over the top), fat side up, and pop that in the oven. The tri tip will bake for about 10 minutes per pound, mine took a little over 20 minutes. It doesn't take long! Trust me on this! Nothing worse than a well done tri tip. Unless you like it that way. In which case, please move on to another recipe and don't waste a tri tip.

For the "butter", you actually only need about a tablespoon of ghee or butter. Add that to a bowl with the cheese, and mash together with a fork. I guess you could do this in a food processor but I didn't want to clean mine afterwards. Those guys suck to clean. Once the garlic is roasted and cooled a bit, squeeze all the cloves out of the peel into the "butter" mixture. Roasted garlic has a creamy texture much like butter, so a lot of the taste and texture comes from the garlic. Mix this all together with a little salt to taste and a squirt or two of Worcestershire sauce if you have it. That's it!

Let the tri tip rest for about 10 minutes. Slice against the grain, top with your roasted garlic and Gorgonzola butter. Enjoy! You're gonna love it.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Crockpot Pork Carnitas

Honestly, I am not a huge pork fan ... unless it's bacon because, duh. I will give you a little background of why I decided to make carnitas. There is a café on the California delta... right on the water... that my husband and I go to regularly. It's like our version of Cheers. My husband proposed to me there, we had our rehearsal dinner there, and we are there at least a few times a month for breakfast. Even more if it's summer! It feels like home and is very near and dear to my heart. Anyway, my husband would always order the "carnitas scramble" for breakfast... for years! And it never, ever sounded good to me. One day about a year ago I finally decided to try it and I was hooked. It is an egg scramble with carnitas, grilled onion and jalapenos, served with beans, home fries and tortillas. SO GOOD, especially with a bloody mary during a hangover. After a while, I thought I should try my hand at carnitas. I found a few different recipes then just made one up based on what I had and what I like. During my research phase, I found out the traditional way carnitas is made is basically braised in lard. That was not happening in my crockpot. So I assume my version is a little healthier. Don't be afraid to play around with the seasoning and spices.

What you will need:
3-4 lb pork shoulder - I got a REALLY lean cut and it still turned out phenomenal.
1 bottle green taco sauce
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne
2 cups beef broth or water
1 whole onion (I only had red but I think yellow or white would be better).

Cut the pork shoulder into chunks and pierce each chunk with your knife - this helps all the flavor soak into the meat a bit more. Season with salt and pepper and throw into the crockpot. Mix the remaining ingredients, except the onion and broth, in a bowl. Pour this mixture over the pork. Slice your onion and sprinkle the slices over the pork and seasoning mixture. Add the broth into the crockpot (just pour down the side so that is covers the bottom)

Put your lid on and turn the crockpot on high for 6-8 hours or low for 8-10 hours.

Once the meat is done, it will basically fall apart if you just look at it. 

Preheat the oven to 325. Transfer the meat to a foil lined and greased baking sheet and shred. Pour about a half cup of the liquid in the crockpot over the top. Bake for another 45 minutes - this will get it crispy like your traditional carnitas. When shredding the pork, toss out any huge chunks of fat. My cut was really lean, so I didn't have too much. And that's it! 

We made carnitas burrito bowls for dinner and had tons of leftovers for a few different batches of homemade carnitas scramble :) Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Date Night! (4 course meal, start to finish)

We all love being pampered at a high end restaurant during a multiple course meal, it's a true luxury in life. Well, if you have that special someone you would like to share that with, but don't have the money or a decent restaurant near you... or maybe you just don't want to deal with the crowds on Valentine's Day... or maybe you want to enjoy all that in your pajamas alone watching Netflix (no judgement)'s the details on how I pulled off a fancy and AMAZING 4 course meal for my husband for about $50 (hard to say because I had a few things at home like seasoning, eggs, butter, oil). This could easily have stretched to a 4 person meal we had so much food!

The courses are as follows: 1: crab cakes with Dijon yogurt sauce. 2: a fresh spinach salad with warm bacon vinaigrette (my great Grandmas recipe). 3: seared scallops with a vermouth, garlic and lemon pan sauce and orzo rice pilaf AND 4: chocolate covered strawberries.

Here's what you will need, again some of these things you may have hanging out in your pantry. I got everything at Trader Joes... And I apologize for the lack of exact measurements. I believe in using common sense, not a strict recipe. I also believe in screwing up in the kitchen, believe it or not I regularly burn things or screw up meals. Just like anything else in life, muster up some confidence and just dive in. It's the only way you will learn! Do what you want and play around!

1 double pack of whole fresh strawberries
1/2 lb of chocolate (this made a huge batch, you could cut both of these amounts in half and be perfect)
1 bag scallops (NOT bay scallops, you want the 10-20 size)
1 red onion
1 bag fresh baby spinach
1 package uncured bacon (you'll need about 4 slices)
Apple cider vinegar 
Vermouth or dry white wine
Orzo rice pilaf mix (aha! A cheat! I used a box mix for this from Trader Joes of course... and added the lemon pan sauce and some chives. No one will know the difference and it made cooking this meal so much easier!)

A lemon
An egg
1 can (16 oz) of crab meat (REAL claw meat... This is by the smoked salmon/lunchmeat at my store.)

1 red bell pepper
Clarified butter
Grape seed oil
Dijon mustard
Greek yogurt
Worcestshire sauce
Old bay seasoning
Garlic powder

First, I made the strawberries the day before (or you can make them in the morning or right before you start cooking. They don't take long to set and we were still eating them a couple days later!). The process for that is in the previous post. I also moved the scallops to the fridge to thaw the day before. 

When I actually started cooking the meal, I did as much prep as possible before turning on the stovetop. I got all of my ingredients out for easy access. I minced 4 cloves of garlic and set aside. Zested one lemon and set aside. Chopped about 3 tablespoons of chives and set aside. 

I got out a big bowl for my salad. A big pan for the bacon dressing (it's a HOT dressing with bacon grease so it splatters everywhere). A pan with a lid for the orzo rice pilaf. And a large shallow pan for the crab cakes and scallops. I arranged all of the pans on my stove top where I would need them. 

Next, I made the mixture for the crab cakes. I measured nothing. I just started messing around and tasting as I went to get what I wanted. It ended up being the can of crab, about a third of the bell pepper chopped finely, 2 tablespoons old bay, a little over a cup of breadcrumbs, a few shots of worcestshire sauce, a tablespoon or two of Dijon, a tablespoon of Greek yogurt and one egg. Mix together and form into about 6 "cakes" and set aside.

 I then also made the Dijon yogurt sauce. I mixed together a few tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt, a tablespoon of Dijon, some worcestshire, garlic powder, sea salt, and a little hot sauce.  Mixed and added some water to thin a little bit - put in the fridge. Next I prepped the salad. I put about half the bag of spinach in my bowl and finely sliced about a quarter of the onion and threw that on top. 

I chopped the 4 slices of bacon and added that to my large pan (still no heat) just to get ready. 

I rinsed and DRIED the scallops (key is getting them very DRY!). 

Then I started with some heat! I turned on the saucepan for the orzo rice and followed the box directions to get that going. I got it simmering, covered and turned the heat to low to let it go. I then covered the bottom of my large shallow pan with about half clarified butter and half grape seed oil. Both of these have a high smoke point which is exactly what we need. I turned that pan to medium high heat to heat the oil. When it was hot, I added three of the crab cakes. You may need to adjust the heat as you go, I had to turn mine to medium low for most of the time.

 You want to sear the outside until it has a nice brown crust. Flip once and do the same on the other side then drain on paper towels and set aside. 
We are working fast! Next I turned the bacon to a medium high heat and cooked until done. I set the bacon bits aside on a paper towel to drain and left the grease in the pan. I turned the heat on that pan to low for now and went to work on my scallops. 

I used the same pan as the crab cakes, cleaned it out, dried it and added the same clarified butter/grape seed oil mixture to cover the bottom of the pan. I got the pan reallyyy hot on a high heat and added the scallops in a single layer - do not crowd them in the pan. Do two patches if you need to. 

Then I turned the heat down just a tad, seasoned with salt and pepper and let them cook until the bottom formed a brown crust. Just a couple minutes! I flipped them and did the same thing on the other side before transferring them to their plates ... Done! 

Lastly, I finished the pan sauce and salad dressing (remember our orzo rice pilaf is cooking away, keep an eye on it! Aren't you glad we used the boxed version? Haha). For the pan sauce I turned the leftovers in the scallop pan down to medium low heat. I added some lemon juice and the lemon zest (zest of one lemon and about half the juice). Stirring continuously, I added a splash of vermouth, you can use a dry white wine as well. Then added the minced garlic and a pinch of sea salt. I let it cook until the garlic started to brown then turned the heat off and let it finish while I did my salad dressing. 

For the salad dressing, you get your bacon grease hot. I turned t up to medium for a couple minutes (remember we had it on low). THEN (this part sucks and your kitchen will be a mess if you do it right ... But I promise it's worth it) you add about the same amount of apple cider vinegar as there is grease in the pan. Stir stir stir (it will splatter, wait until it calms) and it will thicken up right away. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and throw that right on your spinach salad with the bacon bits set aside earlier. Toss. Salad is done! 

Now, to plate everything. I took 3 crab cakes and added a dallop of Dijon yogurt sauce on each on with some chives sprinkled on top for a plate we could share.
 For the second course, I just used tongs to transfer the salad into 2 bowls.
 For the third, I had our scallops lines up on two separate plates, added a spoonful of rice/orzo and spooned the pan sauce over both. Topped with chives.
 Final course was the strawberries.
 Ta dah! A very impressive 4 course meal for the one you love, and so much better (and cheaper!) than any chain restaurant you usually go to.