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. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Chocolate Covered Strawberries (they're not as hard as you think)

These are seriously easy. It's so hard to screw them up! This really is the only dessert I've ever cared to make because one: it's easy and 2: soooo delicious! You can use any kind of chocolate you prefer, and of course just fresh whole strawberries! I love a good dark chocolate, so that's what I used. I bought a double pack of strawberries and a pound of dark chocolate (I only used half the bar).

First, wash and DRY your strawberries. Here's the key: DRY strawberries!

Next, put a saucepan with about an inch of water in the bottom on a medium low heat to simmer. 

Next, chop up your chocolate with a serrated knife. 

You need a bowl that is heat safe and fits on top of the saucepan WITHOUT touching the water. Place the chocolate in that bowl and place on top of the pan. 

Don't walk away! The steam from the water will melt your chocolate, and even though it doesn't seem like it, it happens fast! Stay there and stir constantly, as the chocolate melts. Take off the heat when there's just a few small pieces of unmelted chocolate (the residual heat of the bowl will finish the job). 

Set up a little station to do your dipping! Place your finished berries on wax paper or foil. Then put in the fridge to set. That's IT! 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Spicy Quinoa

This is one of my husband's favorites (although he will tell you everything I cook is good, bless is heart). It is chock full of protein and lots of the "good stuff" and, as with almost ALL of my recipes, you can adjust everything to match your taste buds! This is basically a recipe I have made up incorporating Southwest, Mexican and Puerto Rican flavors. I usually make a big pot and then pack away into tupperware for lunches that following week. This may sound weird, but I sometimes add green olives because that is what my husband's Puerto Rican Grandmother does with her "pink rice" and it is always my favorite part! Sometimes I don't have the taco seasoning or Sazon (a latin seasoning blend with saffron) around, or I want to make it a little lower in sodium, so I just dump in different things I have in the cupboard (garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, paprika and chipotle peppers).

What you need:
1 package jalapeno chicken sausage
3 cloves garlic
1 can black beans, drained
1 can corn, drained
2 cups quinoa
1/2 package taco seasoning 
2 packages sazon
1/2 to 3/4 jar of green olives (optional)
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
Chopped cilantro (optional)
Chopped green onion (optional)
Chopped avocado (optional)
Greek yogurt (optional)
Diced tomatoes (optional)

Start by chopping the garlic and dicing the chicken sausage. 

Also, heat a large pot on the stove with a glug of olive oil. Brown the chicken sausage in the pan, remove and set aside. 

Add garlic and sauté until it softens.

 Drain the black beans and corn and add to the pan with garlic. Add in all seasoning, followed by chicken sausage and quinoa. 

Sauté for a couple minutes before adding chicken broth. 

Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer. 

Add the green olives (I didn't have any on hand this time around). Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until quinoa is fluffy and cooked through and liquid is absorbed. This is a good time to chop your garnishes. 

I like to serve this in a bowl with all of my favorite taco toppings (onion, tomato, cilantro, avocado) and some Greek yogurt on top. If you haven't switched sour cream with Greek yogurt yet, where have you been??? Try it!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Quick and Easy Tzatziki

Greek yogurt is something I ALWAYS have in the house. I use it for everything, mostly as a substitute for anything that normally calls for sour cream or mayonnaise. Why no one thought to do this decades ago will always baffle me. Driving home from work one day, I knew I had some chicken that had been marinated in Italian dressing, some veggies and a tub of Greek yogurt that needed to be used. That inspired a Mediterranean dinner, the star of which was a quick homemade tzatziki sauce that turned out PERFECT. Remember, these are all rough measurements. You like garlic? Add more. Hate onion? Leave that sucker out.

What you need:

1 large English cucumber, finely chopped
A quarter of a red onion, finely chopped
About a tablespoon of chopped fresh dill (not dried)
About a teaspoon of chopped fresh mint
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced (depends on how much you love garlic and how big they are)
Juice of 1 lemon
About 1 cup and a half of Greek yogurt (I use 0% fat, use whatever you like!)

All you do is mix all ingredients together with salt and pepper to taste, and let it chill for about an hour for all the flavors to mix in. What you are left with is a refreshing and garlicky sauce that is SO good with any kind of protein or veggie and ESPECIALLY a good naan or lavash bread. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Street" Tacos

It's no secret there are tons of really great Mexican restaurants and taco trucks here in California. One of my favorite things to order are the small street tacos. You know, the ones that come on two small corn tortillas, loaded with chicken or carne asada, chopped white onion and cilantro. Yum! However, one thing I DON'T love is all the grease and calories that come with these guys. I make my own version at home and it is SO simple and much healthier.

What you need:
1 package corn tortillas
1 package taco seasoning (or make your own! Garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and cumin are the main components)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small cubes
1 yellow or white onion
1 bunch cilantro
1 bottle "green" taco sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
Cojita cheese (optional)

Heat a large sautee pan on medium heat with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil. Brown chicken, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Turn heat to medium low. Add package of taco seasoning and about 1 cup of water (I just fill up the foil taco seasoning packet with water and dump that in). Simmer and stir occasionally until liquid reduces.

Meanwhile, chop cilantro and onion. Heat your tortillas, top with chicken, followed by onion and cilantro. 

Finish with green sauce and cojita cheese (a salty, dry Mexican cheese ... I forgot to get it at the store so it's missing in these pics). That's IT! I serve with a side of homemade guacamole and chips OR a tomato and avocado salad.