Archive for the ‘Entrees’ Category

Grilled Rosemary-Fig Pork Tenderloin

October 3, 2011

Pork tenderloin is a favorite in our house, so I make it frequently.  I change-up the flavorings depending on my mood, and sometimes it’s perfect grilled with nothing but a little salt and pepper.

On a recent night I was looking at my overgrown rosemary plant and decided to make use of it.  Rosemary pairs very nicely with pork, and gives it a great Mediterranean flair.  I created a simple marinade from the rosemary leaves, olive oil, garlic, and some fig-infused balsamic vinegar for a decidedly Italian flavor.  By using a ziplock plastic bag in which to marinate the pork, you can easily turn the meat inside the sealed bag, plus you save yourself the trouble of cleaning one extra dish.  And a tip–to easily mix your marinade, put the plastic bag in a large measuring cup and fold it open around the top of the cup.  This makes it easy to pour in ingredients without your bag tipping over and spilling!

The result was delicious, although you have to be careful to keep the grill temperature low, so the sugars in the fig vinegar don’t burn too much ( a little charring is preferable, in my opinion…just don’t go overboard!).  Depending on the size of your tenderloin, the cooking time could vary from as little as 20 minutes, to as much as 45, so just be sure to check it fairly frequently.  I paired the meat with some grill-roasted green beans that I drizzled with some garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkled with salt.  Delicious—-and no inside mess to clean up!

Grilled Rosemary-Fig Pork Tenderloin

Serves 4

1.5 – 1.75  lbs pork tenderloin (one large or two small tenderloins)

2 rosemary sprigs, leaves stripped off and stem discarded

1 glove garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fig balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

In a large ziplock bag, mix the rosemary leaves, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Add the pork and seal bag securely.  Shake the bag around so all the meat is coated in marinade.  Allow to marinate in fridge for 1-2 hours (or on the countertop for up to 30 minutes).

Preheat grill to medium heat.  Place pork on hot grates and cook until meat begins to release from grates (this could be anywhere from 7-15 minutes depending on size of tenderloin).

Turn meat once or twice until it has nice grill marks on each side and internal temperature reaches 140 degrees.

Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Optional:  boil reserved marinade in a saucepan on the stove top until reduced to a syrupy sauce.  Serve over meat.  Note–never use marinade that has been in contact with raw pork unless it is thoroughly boiled first.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Not Your College Student’s Ramen

July 5, 2011

“We were wondering if you could create a recipe using dorm ingredients like Ramen noodles?”

It was an unsual request, especially coming from the alumni office at my college alma mater.  As they explained, the alumni magazine was doing a spread on alumni who went into food careers, and thought it would be fun if we each submitted an original recipe.  They thought it would be even more fun if the recipe was created using ingredients which are widely considered “dorm food”.  Ramen noodles, boxed mac & cheese, peanut butter, or canned tuna.  Never one to back down from a food challenge, I accepted.  Oh, and this all had to be done for under $10!

The following weekend I was having a reunion with four of my best college girlfriends in New York City and we went to a new food ‘market’ of sorts called “Smorgasburg” in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Think flea-market-meets-food-market.  Stall after stall of people selling delicious foods using interesting ingredients in interesting ways.  One of the stalls was mixing up delicious batches of sesame noodles and BAM I had my idea.  Sesame noodles made with ramen.

After a little trial and error, I came up with this recipe.  You can adjust the spiciness by using more or less of the chili paste (or leave it out entirely), but for me, the spicier the  better.  You can also swap out various vegetables for the carrots and snow peas, like red bell peppers.  Don’t like chicken?  Shrimp is a great substitute.

The long, thin Ramen noodles look suspiciously like the ones in the more “authentic” sesame noodle dish I had in Brooklyn…so hey, who has to know?  It will be our little secret.

Sesame Noodles with Chicken

Serves 3-4

3 – 3 oz packaged Ramen noodles (any variety)

¾ lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup carrots, cut into matchsticks (about 2)

1 cup snow peas, cut diagonally (about 4 oz)

2 teaspoons sesame oil


3 tablespoons sesame oil

½ cup smooth peanut butter

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons rice vinegar (unseasoned)

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1-2 teaspoons red chili paste with garlic (or hot chili sauce with garlic if you can’t find the paste)–optional


¼ cup chopped scallions or chives

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1.  Preheat the broiler of your oven or toaster oven.

2. Season chicken with salt and pepper and place under broiler for 7-8 minutes per side, or until cooked through.  Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

3.  Next make the sauce by placing all the sauce ingredients in the work bowl of a small food processor or blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add 1-3 tablespoons of hot water if sauce isn’t pourable and blend again.  Set aside.

4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add Ramen noodles (discard seasoning packet) and cook for a total of 3 minutes.  During the last minute of cooking, add the carrots and snow peas.

5. Drain in a colander and place in a large bowl.  Add 2 teaspoons of sesame oil and toss.  Set aside.

6. Shred the chicken with your hands or two forks and add to the noodles/veggies.  Add the sesame sauce and toss to combine.

7. Garnish with chives, cilantro, and sesame seeds.  Serve immediately.


Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Fettucine with Lemony Mascarpone

April 4, 2011

Every so often I hit the jackpot with a recipe.  Tonight I was looking for a way to use some mascarpone cheese I had leftover from one of my Connecticut cooking classes.  Mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese…not as sweet as the cream cheese you put on your bagel, but richer and creamier.  If you’ve had Tiramisu (or at least real Tiramisu), you’ve had mascarpone.  I knew it would make a delicious and creamy sauce for pasta, so I went hunting for a good recipe.

Well, I found it.  I love when what I find is from a fellow food blogger rather than some commercial site.  The recipe I found, for “Spaghetti with Mascarpone, Meyer Lemon, Spinach and Hazelnut” was a winner.  Amazingly, I had all the ingredients, save for a Meyer lemon (sweeter and more expensive than regular lemons).  I did have a regular lemon, but I had a suspicion it would work just fine.  I was right.  O. M. G.  Delicious.  I used fettuccine instead of spaghetti, but “same difference” as people love to say.   I almost couldn’t believe I didn’t make any changes.  It was that good. 

With my hat off to the folks over at The Kitchn…here is the recipe. Enjoy!

 Spaghetti with Mascarpone, Meyer Lemon, Spinach and Hazelnut from The Kitchn

St. Joseph’s Macaroni, Simplified

March 14, 2011

St. Joseph’s Day, or the Feast of St. Joseph,  is celebrated on March 19th but is not widely recognized in this country.   In countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal, it is also Father’s Day, so holds a greater significance.  However, in my Italian-American family, the day was marked with a special dish.  My grandmother’s “St. Joseph’s Macaroni” is a hearty vegetarian dish;  a thick soup featuring three types of beans and three types of pasta.  Two years ago I posted her original recipe which is made from dried beans.  Dried beans require both overnight soaking and around three hours of cooking time, so this year, I decided to try a ‘short-cut’ version.   By using canned beans I cut my prep time significantly, and I have to say it was still delicious. 

The three types of beans in this dish are red kidney, lentil, and split peas.  The first two are widely available in cans (I actually used pre-cooked lentils I found in the refrigerator section at Trader Joe’s), but I’ve never seen split peas in can, unless you substitute a can of split pea soup, as my mother later suggested.   Therefore, I did have to soak and cook those, but because they are so small they actually cooked in a short period of time (well under and hour).   For the pasta, my grandmother traditionally used broken spaghetti, ziti, and elbow macaroni, and for the most part I stick to the same shapes.  The only other change I made this year is that I left out the fresh fennel from the original recipe, in hopes of my kids liking it a little better. 

By using a few short-cuts, cooking time on this dish is reduced by over 2 hours, but the flavor is not compromised.  I have a feeling my grandmother would have appreciated those 2 precious hours, and so do I.

Simple Saint Joseph’s Macaroni

Serves 8

2- 15 oz cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked lentils
1/4 lb split green peas
2 onions, chopped
1/2 lb pasta (combination of elbows, ditallini and broken spaghetti)
6 oz fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
Olive oil
Place the split peas in a large bowl and cover with water by about 2 inches. Soak for 8 hours or overnight.
Drain peas in a colander and place in a large soup pot with 1.5 quarts of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until peas are softened.
Add the kidney beans and lentils together with the pasta and return to a boil.  Continue cooking until pasta is al dente.
Add the spinach and stir to combine until it is wilted
Season liberally with salt and drizzle about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil into the dish.
Stir again, and serve hot.
Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Crock Pot Beef Stroganoff

February 28, 2011

It was going to be one of those days when I knew the evening would get hectic, so it was a perfect crock pot day.  I could prep everything earlier in the day and at dinnertime, everything would be ready and waiting for us.  My daughters had requested Beef Stroganoff, which they’d only had once but loved, so I decided to give that a whirl.  None of the recipes I found online were grabbing me, so I created my own version, as true to the Beef Stroganoff I remember loving as a kid.   The best part was that it was really easy.

I browned everything first on the stove top so I could intensify the flavor (nothing will brown in a crock pot–and browning equals big flavor).  Then I simply dumped it all into my crock pot and let it stew all afternoon.  I didn’t add the sour cream until the very end, at which point I just allowed it to heat through.   I served it the classic way, over wide egg noodles, and I’m happy to say that it was a big hit with the entire family.  I even looked up which wine went best with such a meal, and was thrilled that I actually had a bottle of Barbara d’Asti which was recommended by my favorite iPhone app, “Hello Vino” (it’s free–go download it now!).    With dinner done and my glass of wine in hand, it turns out the evening wasn’t so hectic after all. 

Crock Pot Beef Stroganoff

Serves 4

1.5-2.0 lbs  beef stew meat (I used 90% lean), cut into 1″ cubes

1/2 lb Baby Bella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 large onion, diced

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon reduced sodium beef broth

1/4 cup dry sherry

3/4 cup sour cream  ( I used full fat, but you can substitute low-fat)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (for garnish, optional)

12 oz wide egg noodles, cooked according to package directions

Olive oil/salt/pepper

In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add stew meat and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and put into crock pot.

Add a little more oil to the same pan, and add mushrooms, onions, and garlic.  Saute until browned, around 3-5 minutes.  Add 1/4 cup sherry to pan, raise heat to high, and use a wooden or silicon spoon to scrape up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan (deglaze).  Put the entire mixture into the crock pot with the meat.

Add 1 cup beef broth to the crock pot and cook on high for about 3-4 hours (or low for 6-8 hours), or until meat is very tender and broth has reduced slightly.  Add sour cream and stir to combine.

In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of beef broth and whisk until smooth (this is called a ‘slurry’).  Add to crock pot and stir through.  Allow entire mixture to heat through, about another 15 minutes.

Serve hot over egg noodles, garnished with parsley.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Five-Minute Fettuccine Carbonara

February 7, 2011

It was snowing sideways outside my window, the kids were (amazingly) at school, and it was lunchtime.  Didn’t feel like a sandwich and didn’t have time to make soup.  After surveying my refrigerator I decided to make a super fast, super simple Fettuccine Carbonara.  Now before you stop reading, thinking I’m one of those chef-foodie-types who likes to try to pass off something really fancy and/or complicated as ‘so easy!’— just give me a chance.  When I say five-minute, I mean five-minute.  No prep time whatsoever.  Granted I’m simplifying carbonara a tiny bit, but come on, I’m making lunch for myself on a Wednesday afternoon, not having a dinner party.

“Carbonara”  is Italian for ‘in the style of the coal miner’.  What it really means is hot pasta tossed with a raw egg, pecorino romano or parmesan cheese, pancetta (or guanciale, another type of cured pork), and black pepper.   The egg creates a creamy sauce, which most people mistake for actual cream.  In Italy they do not use cream in their carbonara sauce (nor do I), but here in the U.S. restaurants often do.  It is also not unusual to see onions and/or peas in a pasta carbonara dish. 

This works best if you have fresh pasta, because it cooks in only a few minutes.  I happened to have one little uncooked ‘nest’ of fresh fettuccine left over in my fridge.  I don’t normally keep that handy, but you could do this just as easily with regular dried fettuccine (just add some minutes of cooking time).   Everything else I used are staples in my kitchen.  An egg.  Grated cheese (I buy a blend of pecorino romano and parmesan).  Frozen peas.  Pre-cooked bacon (which I keep in my freezer because I buy the kind without nitrates/preservatives). 

It’s simple.  Pasta and peas in salted boiling water.  Egg and cheese whisked together in a bowl.  Bacon defrosted in microwave for 30 seconds.  Toss hot cooked pasta/peas with egg/cheese and stir in the chopped up bacon.  Grind a little black pepper on it if you’d like.  That’s it.  Really.  Five minutes.  Don’t be freaked out by the raw egg either (like I was the first time I had it in Italy).  The pasta is hot enough to cook it to the point where you won’t get salmonella.  Trust me.  I’ve been eating it for MANY years this way and there is no problem with it. 

Make this for yourself or for your family.  I only have one warning—-eat it immediately.  This does not “hold” well.  Egg sauce needs to stay creamy, not start to cook and harden on the pasta.  Five minutes to make, eat immediately.  Yum.

Five-Minute Fettuccine Carbonara

Serves 1 (double as many times as you need)

1 serving of fresh (or dried) fettuccine ( 2-4 ounces)

1/4 cup frozen peas

1 egg

1 tablespoon grated cheese (pecorino romano, parmesan, or a combo of the two)

1 strip pre-cooked bacon

salt & freshly ground black pepper

Cook pasta and peas in a small pot of salted boiling water.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg and the cheese in a bowl, and heat the bacon in the microwave (usually less than 20 seconds).  Chop up the bacon and set aside.

When pasta is tender, drain and toss immediately with egg/cheese mixture.  Add bacon and toss again.  Top with some freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Italian Beef Stew with Slow-Cooked Taste

January 31, 2011

It was one of those days when I had the best of intentions.  I was going to hit the gym, the grocery store,  meet a few friends for lunch, load up my crock pot, and then go about the rest of my day.  Well, somehow a dozen other errands cropped up and I didn’t get home until 4pm.  There was clearly no time to slow-cook.  I love the idea of using a crock pot, but let’s face it, it requires a fair amount of front-end organization.

With a counter-full of stew ingredients, I had to think fast.  I had to pick up my kids from school at 4:30 so time was short. I couldn’t do the entire thing stove-top because I had to go out and couldn’t leave my gas burner unattended.  I decided my next best option was to do it in the oven.   I rapid-chopped all my veggies, sautéed them in a big enamelled cast iron Dutch oven, and tossed in the cubed stew beef.  I added some tomato, red wine (it was opened and a day beyond it’s drinking prime, but perfectly good for cooking) and some fresh thyme and threw the entire covered pot into a 350 degree oven. 

When I returned about an hour later, it was just about perfect.  The tomato and wine had reduced down to a thickened, rich sauce, the meat was tender, the veggies perfect.  I let it continue to cook while I made some parmesan polenta on which to serve the stew (since there were no potatoes in it, the polenta served as a starch).  About 10 minutes later, everything was complete and ready to serve. 

And there’s one more bonus— usually to get the best flavor in a crock pot you need to brown everything in a pan before loading it into the slow cooker.  Now you have a pan AND the crock pot to clean.  When you do it the way I described, only one pot is used (be sure you choose one that is oven-proof—both the pot itself AND the cover).  So, maybe there are benefits to being disorganized after all! 

Italian Beef Stew with Parmesan Polenta

Serves 4

1 medium onion, chopped

3 carrots, chopped into 3/4″ pieces

3 stalks celery, chopped into 3/4″ pieces

2 cloves garlic

1.5 lbs beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes

1 cup tomato sauce (from a can or jar)

1.5 cups dry red wine

5-6 sprigs fresh thyme

olive oil, salt, pepper

1 cup quick-cooking polenta

1/2 cup (or more to taste) grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a 5 quart Dutch oven heat olive oil over medium-high heat.

Saute onions, carrots and celery until softened a bit.  Add garlic and saute an additional minute.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add stew meat and brown on all sides. 

Add tomato sauce, wine, and thyme and bring to a boil.

Cover and transfer to the preheated oven.  Allow to cook, undisturbed for one hour.  Check to see if meat is tender, and return to oven if necessary for 10-15 additional minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add 1 cup polenta and whisk vigorously until thickened (about 5 minutes).  Add parmesan and butter off the heat and stir to combine. 

Place a serving of polenta in each dish and top with a helping of stew.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Leftovers? Try Turkey and Biscuits

November 29, 2010

Southern-style food is not something I make with any frequency.  However, after talking with a friend who recently tried a yummy chicken and biscuits recipe, I decided to cross the Mason-Dixon line with my Thanksgiving leftovers. 

I’ve always made  pot-pie bases from scratch with milk and flour whisked on the stovetop, but I didn’t have a lot of time this particular night, so I used a can of condensed cream of chicken soup instead, per my friend’s recipe.  I was skeptical, but the result was really delicious.  I simply diced up about 3 cups of leftover turkey meat, added some chopped leftover veggies (plus Iadded a few more frozen veggies I’d wanted to get out of my freezer)and mixed it all together with the can of condensed soup and some milk.  Into a casserole dish  it went, and I topped it with pre-made buttermilk biscuit dough (the ones in the can that ‘pops’ ).  After some time in the oven, I’m happy to say it was a hit all the way around, and no one suspected it was realy just a bunch of leftovers!

Turkey and Biscuits

Serves 4-6

3 cups cooked turkey meat, diced 

4 cups mixed vegetables (fresh, frozen, or leftover)

1 – 10.75 oz can cream of chicken soup (condensed)

3/4 cups milk

3/4 cup shredded cheese (I used Gruyere, but cheddar is perfect too)

5-6 strips cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)

1 can buttermilk biscuits (from the refrigerator section)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the condensed soup, the milk, and the shredded cheese.

Add the diced turkey, veggies, and bacon and pour into a two and a half quart casserole dish. Cover and bake for about 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and take off cover.  Place biscuits on top of turkey mixture and return to oven for another 20-25 minutes, or until biscuits are golden and flaky all the way through.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

A Thanksgiving Side Dish Double-Take

November 19, 2010

One of my very favorite ways to prepare Brussels Sprouts is my recipe using pancetta and pine nuts.  It was recently featured as the recipe of the week on the popular all-about-town website, SuzySaid.  Well tonight, since I had all the ingredients for this particular side dish, but nothing for an entrée, I decided to make it INTO an entrée.  The secret?  Pasta!  By tossing this side with pasta and a super-fast no-cook carbonara sauce, you create a delicious main course pasta that is colorful and filling.  Besides, if you have the sprouts leftover from  Thanksgiving, what a great way for them to make a second appearance on your table!

To make this entrée is simple:

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta

In a small bowl whisk together one egg with 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese.

Toss this egg mixture (which is a classic carbonara sauce) with a half pound of  hot cooked pasta.  The heat of the pasta allows the egg to cook to a safe temperature.

Add in the Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta dish and toss to combine. 

Serve immediately.

NOTE:  When I made this dish from scratch (not using leftovers) I simply made the side dish with a slightly smaller amount of each ingredient.  I also added about half of a cup of frozen peas to the pasta cooking water right toward the end of the cooking time, just to amp up the veggies and color in this dish.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

A Taste of Home, at Home

July 26, 2010

One of my very favorite restaurants on earth is far from swanky.  It is not in a cool neighborhood, it has paper placemats, orange and brown chicken-themed wall paper, and does not serve alcohol.  It is always packed with a line out the door, and almost everything on the menu under $12 (and comes with a salad!).   If you’ve been here, you already know I’m talking about Brooks’ House of BBQ in upstate New York (Oneonta, to  be exact).  It is the restaurant I grew up going to, and now make sure I go at least once every time I’m back home visiting my family.  The fanciest thing about this place is their website!  Don’t be fooled—it’s a completely down-to-earth place anyone would love (even food snobs). 

Luckily for me (and you), Brooks’ bottles their fabulous sauces and marinades, which I stock up on when I visit, but can also be ordered online.   I’ve blogged before about their to-die-for barbeque sauce which I use for pulled pork and ribs, but I also love their classic chicken sauce, which I use as a marinade for bone-in chicken quarters.   That’s what I made last night on the grill.  I added half a bottle of the sauce to four chicken quarters early in the morning (sealed in a ziplock bag which makes it easy to turn throughout the day).  Bone-in chicken has a lot more flavor than boneless, skinless breasts.  It has a few more calories too, but that is fine with me because in my opinion, the crispy skin is the absolute best part!!!  

 That evening, I popped the pieces on a preheated grill (indirect heat—middle burners on very low and outside burners on medium-high).  Keep in mind that bone-in meat takes significantly longer to cook, and I’d say I cooked them for about 15 minutes on the first side, and approximately 10 minutes on the second side.  All but the very largest piece was done in this amount of time.  Start out with your pieces skin-side down first, and then finish them off on the other side.  This allows the “presentation  side” of the meat to get a nice sear on a clean grill, making a nicer visual presentation.  Serve with some corn on the cob and a salad and you have a delicious meal, which for me is a taste of home…at home.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Thanks Dave for letting me use your Brooks’ picture!  🙂