Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Secrets of a Restaurant Chef

In this, the first (and possibly only) installment of my very own "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" I give to you twice baked potatoes. These simple delights were one of the first things I learned to make in northeast Pennsylvania during my tenure in the very first professional restaurant kitchen graced with my seeming lack of coordination (I have the burn and knife scars to prove it). If you follow Bethenny Frankel as I do with almost religious fervor (I admit, I admire her in HUGE ways) then you mostly likely know that her husband, Jason Hoppy, hails from the town of Hazleton, PA - about two hours due west of Manhattan. If you somehow missed this fact you must go back and watch season two of Bethenny Ever After. It was in this tiny town of Hazleton where I worked alongside a woman in her late forties named Jo, the head chef, who took her sweet time letting me "in". The past decade has brought a lot of change in the restaurant world and circa 1994 it was rare to find a woman at the helm running the line in a professional kitchen. Actually, it still is rare, but it was even more uncommon then. Naturally, she was not about to give my 17 year old self any easier of a time than she herself had received. Falling back on my old stand-by tactic, I won her with my wit which was, at that time, far sharper than my culinary skill. She had one child, a grown son, who had no interest in the things of food other than to show up hungry at the back door of the kitchen every once in a while. Over time, lots of time, I became a sort of surrogate daughter to her and slowly she stopped giving me single, random pieces of a culinary puzzle to fit together on my own, but rather the whole box of 1,000 pieces and a little instruction too. These potatoes were one of the first things we created together, standing side-by-side in a comfortable silence, working tirelessly until hundreds were ready for the dinner service. They are simple. They do not require astonishing skill or unusual intellect. They have merely become an emotional creation for me as I never make them without thinking about Jo. Salt and pepper hair, wrists loaded with sterling silver bracelets, a muppet-like nose, a crass sense of humor and a manner of speaking that could make a sailor blush. Yes, I have a fond spot in my heart for a woman such as this as she helped to liven within me a heartfelt passion for my first true love. Food. I only regret that I did not tell her more about God. I have tried to find her and to no avail. That sweet little restaurant closed its doors a few years back. This delectable side - as well as others - and a few fond memories are all that remain. Simplistic in nature and full of guilty cream cheese pleasure, I hope you make these for a special dinner and create your own memories of deliciousness.

Twice Baked Potatoes

6 large baking potatoes
1 stick unsalted butter
4 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup shredded (by hand) cheddar cheese
6 slices turkey bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried parsley

Scrub baking potatoes thoroughly, pierce with a fork once on each side and bake, uncovered (do not wrap in foil) at 375 for about 1 hour or until a fork can be easily inserted. When done, let cool briefly (no more than 30 minutes) and slice the top off of each potato. Using a spoon, gently remove the inside of each potato and place in a large bowl. Add to the potatoes, all of the remaining ingredients, except paprika. With a mixer set to a low setting, gently mix together the warm potato meat with the cheeses, butter, salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley and bacon. Spoon the potato mixture back into each potato and top with a light sprinkle of paprika. At this point you can either return them to the oven for 15 minutes to warm through or place them in the refrigerator and heat the following day. This recipe is great for entertaining because of the make-ahead advantage. Leftover potatoes can be refrigerated for 3-4 days and make a great easy lunch.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Savory Salmon

Okay, first I have to say that I am really proud of this photo! No, I am no Helene Dujardin, but I totally aspire to be and have been working my way through her book, "Plate to Pixel"...well, actually, I've only worked my way through the first chapter, but I'm pretty sure I'll make it through the book before 2012 is over. Yes, I set the bar high. *sigh* I really love that the focal point is right where the salmon meets the topping and you can see the mustard-y, goodness in the mayo coating. Oh my. So delicious, savory and HEALTHY! I'm proud to say that I've lost one dress size and counting calories + Zumba + running (okay, jogging) has been my aide. Plan your meals and stick with 'em ladies!! I've been casually trying (we all know that doesn't work) for an unseemly amount of time to lose weight, but not with steadfast determination and had almost given up.  Having lost a little (and by no means enough) I am encouraged to keep on keepin' on!

Lemon Dijon Salmon

1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (about 3 slices of bread)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. dried orgeno
1/2 cup low-fat mayo (or fat-free...or full fat, hey, it's your waistline)
4 tsp. dijon mustard
6-8 (5oz) salmon fillets
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a shallow baking pan with nonstick spray. In the bowl of a food processor, place bread slices torn into chunks and pulse until fine. (Can substitute Panko bread crumbs in place of fresh bread crumbs). In a bowl, stir together bread crumbs, lemon zest and oregeno. In a separarte bowl, stir together mayo, mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Place your salmon in your baking dish, brush with mayo mixture and top evenly with bread crumb mixture. Spray topping with nonstick olive oil spray or drizzle with olive oil (this will help brown the toping). Bake until topping is golden and fish is opaque in the center - about 10-15 minutes. Enjoy!



Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Save the Ta-Ta's

I know I'm a full four months past Breast Cancer Awareness month...or a good eight months early, depending on your perspective. But I'm not really intending to write about saving the ta-ta's in the usual  meaning of the phrase. We have a mildly inappropriate reference for certain anatomical chicken parts here in my crazy kitchen. What's for dinner? Chicken boobies. What do we grill to put in our panini sandwiches? Chicken boobies. What do we eat so much of the Music Man thinks he may be growing feathers? Chicken. Boobies. Did you catch the "crazy" part about life in my kitchen? We've perfected crazy around here. We eat our chicken boobies many ways, sometimes healthy...sometimes not. Here we've stuffed them - a little implant, if you will - to make them more filling. Before I digress to the level of raunchy (as if I wasn't there already) I shall give to you my super yummy stuffed chicken boobies at approximately 184 calories per serving.

Spinach Stuffed Chicken

6-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thawed
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
1 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
2 carrots
1 celery stalk
1 (10-oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 cup bread crumbs
3/4 cup fresh grated permesan cheese
1 cup chicken broth

Place mushrooms, carrots, and celery in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to chop, set aside. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened, about five minutes. Add mushroom mixture and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another five minutes. Remove skillet from heat, stir in spinach, bread crumbs, parmesan and 1/4 cup of broth. Set aside. Using a sharp knife, make a horizontal cut in each chicken breast creating a pocket for the spinach mixture. Stuff each breast with spoonfuls of stuffing mixture and place in a 9x13 baking dish. Pour remaining 3/4 cup of chicken broth into the baking dish, around the chicken and lightly sprinkle each breast with garlic salt and pepper. Bake in a 350 degree oven until chicken is no longer pink - about 25 minutes.


Molten Chocolate Cake

If you are not local to me, or if you simply live under a rock and missed it, here is the Molten Chocolate cake article that appeard in CHARM magazine on January 26th. *sigh*  BEWARE: I ate...well, about three...completely on my own...so be sure to wear stretchy pants, 'kay?

"Somewhere circa 1996 I was living in Columbus, Ohio and up to my eyeballs in restaurant work while planning my wedding.  A co-worker attempted to calm my frazzled self by making an off-hand comment that “chocolate calms the nerves in women”.  Throwing caution to the wind and forgetting all about fitting into my wedding gown, I made a bee-line for the Russell Stover’s outlet as soon as my shift had ended. One doesn’t have to tell me twice that chocolate might be my cure. The same co-worker later introduced me to my first elliptical which I promptly moved into the basement of my West Columbus home and used faithfully each night – I’ll do whatever it takes to keep the chocolate habit alive and well.  Both chocolate and the elliptical remain two of my favorite pass-times – one quite deserving of the other. Now, nearly fifteen years later, I maintain that chocolate does in fact calm the nerves in any gender. The melt-in-your-mouth richness, the soothing delectability, the perfect finish to a romantic dinner - chocolate pacifies the soul, lifts the spirit, and brightens the day. A rich reward for a job well done, a mother’s indulgence during the nap time of a toddler, or a balm to appease a time of stress – chocolate knows no boundaries. This cake is the perfect embodiment of all things chocolate – a chocolate lovers dream. The soft cake shell will quickly give way to a warm center of rich, buttery, pudding-like goodness – a perfect finale to a romantic Valentine’s dinner.
Convenient to assemble ahead of time and refrigerate while preparing the rest of your meal, you can then easily pop them into a pre-heated oven before you are ready to serve. Enjoy!"

Molten Chocolate Cake
11 Tbs. unsalted butter cut into small pieces, plus more for ramekins
½ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for ramekins
1 ¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
5 large eggs, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Butter and flour six 6-oz. ramekins (approximately 2 inches deep). Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. While the chocolate and butter are melting, whisk together the eggs and sugar at high speed until pale and thick, about 4-5 minutes. Sift together flour and salt in another bowl and set aside. When eggs have thickened, fold into melted chocolate and then immediately fold in flour mixture. Divide batter evenly among ramekins and transfer to a rimmed sheet pan. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake until just set – about 14-16 minutes. Let cool for about 3 minutes and turn cakes out onto plates – serve immediately while warm. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bring Some of That Over Here...

On the weekends I allow myself a tiny bit a lot more liberty with my caloric intake. Never mind the fact that what this really means is that every weekend I single-handedly consume enough carbohydrates to sustain a small indian village...for a month. We don't need to think about that part. Let's just focus on the made from scratch marinara - or "red sawce" as it's called in Joisey (New Jersey). I won't be giving away the recipe for my marinara...that one will have to be pried from my cold, dead, hands - IF I ever write it down. I'm a vault like that. But I will give you  my crust. We roll it thin 'cause we're pizza-on-a-cracker kind of people and who needs all that bread anyway. Top it with a marinara or pizza sauce of your choice and pile on the good stuff - here we used fresh mozzarella, italian sausage (cooked first, of course), thinly sliced onions (under the cheese so you can't see them, but I promise they're there) and a light sprinkling of chopped basil followed by a very light drizzle of olive oil. I almost ate the whole thing myself...and I would have if it weren't for three of my four offspring expecting me to feed them too. And the music man - boy can he eat a lot. I keep wondering when his metabolism will slow down - our grocery bill could use the relief. I think next time I'll try substituting oat flour instead of regular white flour...maybe then I can justify my binge with a little less guilt.

Pizza Dough
(makes 2 crusts)

3/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 rounded tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. olive oil
2 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt

Combine water, yeast and sugar in a glass bowl, stirring to dissolve, and let stand about five minutes until foamy. Stir in the oil. Combine flour and salt in a food processor, pulse to combine well. With machine running, scrape yeast mixture through the feed tube; pulsing until the dough forms a ball. On a lightly floured surface, turn the dough out and knead until smooth and elastic - 3-5 minutes. Place dough in a large bowl coated with nonstick spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a warm place (about 85 degrees) until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Punch dough down, cut in half, need each half briefly before rolling out into 12 inch round. Place on a warm pizza stone and pile with toppings. Bake your pizza in a 450 degree oven for approximately 10-15 minutes or until toppings are melted and bubbly.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

I Am What I Am

If you grew up anywhere between the 40's thru 70's (and possibly a few of you from the 80's) then you are most likely familiar with Popeye the Sailor Man...if you are under the age of 20 you probably think Popeye is synonymous with chicken and biscuits. We'll forgive you. The real Popeye ate his spinach and being secure in who he was/is proudly stated, "I am what I am" without apology. I like his take-it-or-leave-it attitude. He's one of my hero's and not just because of his big guns and ability to save Olive Oil from Brutus...though those are nice additions to his persona. He ate his spinach and enjoyed a pipe before it was frowned upon. He's up there with King Kong, John Wayne and yes, Ronald Reagan, with my list of real men...even though King Kong and Popeye aren't really real...speaks to the reality of the shape our men are in if a giant computerized monkey and an animated character can muster more bravado than the average bloke. How we, as a nation, got to where we are is another post for another time on probably an entirely different forum. 'Cause we're here to talk about good eats, sweet treats, and humorous moments in motherhood. So...enough about societal breakdown...let's talk about spinach. Full of iron, high in fiber, and low in calories with zero fat (on it's own), we should be packing this stuff onto our plates like there's no tomorrow. That is easier said than done. We have to liven it up a little, make it more loveable. Here is a lower-fat version of creamed spinach. All the flavor and deliciousness at just about 95 calories a serving - if you are able to think of 1/4 cup as a serving. Since portion control is not my strong suit, I'm sure my serving size topped out at about a cup and half...oops.

Creamed Spinach

4 (10oz.) bags of fresh spinach
1 1/3 cup low fat cottage cheese
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. pepper

Place spinach in a steamer basket and set in large pot containing 1-2 inches of boiling water. Cook, covered until spinach is bright green and just beginning to wilt, about 3 minutes. My steamer basket does not hold a terribly large quantity, so I had to steam each 10 oz. bag individually. Since it cooks up really quickly in 3 minutes or less, this was no biggie. If you are single or just cooking for 2-3 people, you may want to cut the recipe in half. Using tongs, remove spinach from steamer basket, squeezing to remove excess liquid. Allow to cool about five minutes, or until you can easily chop without burning yourself. Coarsely chop each batch of cooked spinach and set aside.
Combine all remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and puree. Add 1/4 of the spinach and puree. Combine this mixture with the remaining chopped spinach in a large nonstick skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occaisonally, untill heated through.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Gobble, Gobble

Gobble. Not to be confused with the "Wobble", which I recently learned thanks in part to Zumba. I wobble a little less because of Zumba and eating a bit more gobble, gobble. Though I must admit...the wobble is a pretty fun dance at home too and is a sure bet to cheer up the teething nine month old. I guess watching this momma do the "wobble-baby" can put a few giggles in anyone who can stand to take it in. I like to think I'm comfortable enough in who I am to heartily laugh at myself...or maybe, after living over three decades in this skin, I've come to realize that laughing at myself is the only option. But either way, I learned a loonngg time ago that being well-poised and well-spoken 100% of the time was simply not in the cards for me. So I wobble...with pride.

Continuing on my road to low-calorie living (admit it, you're surprised I've stuck with it this long aren't you? It's okay, you can think it - I am pretty darn surprised myself....) I've discovered just how many things can be made with turkey instead of beef. Slider burgers are a go to favorite as a delicious snack or an entire meal. Football food on game day or busy weeknights. The Music Man didn't really notice the switch and the little people had no complaints - that's a win at our house! I've had a few folks ask me what the difference is between a slider burger and a regular burger. The key difference is merely size. I like to "doctor up" the meat by adding flavorful fun into the mix, like garlic or, as in this burger, cheese and scallions. Sometimes we caramelize onions and pile on top or sprinkle a little worcestershire into the raw meat mixture. The sky is the limit really. I think a little smoky chipotle cheese and some cumin would make a yummy mexican burger. Be creative or stick to a recipe, but whatever you do - take time to really taste it and enjoy it!

Turkey Slider Burgers

1 1/2 lb. ground turkey
2 Tbs. ketchup
2 scallions, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2/3 c. shredded monterey jack cheese
Dinner rolls
Leaf lettuce

Gently stir together turkey, ketchup, scallions, garlic, salt and pepper until blended, but do not overmix (turkey is a bit more fragile than beef and can become tough if overmixed). Gently stir in cheese. Shape meat mixture into desired size patties. You may need to dampen your hands slightly to prevent the meat from sticking to your palms. Lightly oil a large skillet and cook patties approximately 4 minutes on each side over medium high heat. Not sure how to tell if they are done? An instant read thermometer should read 160 degrees. Place on dinner rolls or buns and top with a tomato slice, lettuce or any other favorite ingredients. 


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Black Beauty

If you follow me on twitter or facebook, then you know I've been on a mission to lose baby weight. Well, actually, I had the weight before the last two babies...I typically call it "doctorate weight" as I gained the majority of it slowly over three years while my hubs was in graduate school. I tried to embrace my abundance and think of it as "just more of me to love", while reminding myself that "fat people are happy people"...but we all know that no one really wants to carry around extra poundage. The time has come to bid the superfluous me "good-bye". After downloading the "my fitness pal" app and diligently attempting to count calories, I became painfully aware of just how much extra I was taking in on a daily basis. OUCH. With that realization, I decided it was time to change up some of our typical meals - the old standards - and trade them in for lighter, healthier, and lower calorie editions that are more likely to fit in to my daily caloric boundaries. So...if you're stopping in to find another baked goods recipe or a delicious buttery snack...you won't find one here for a while. Such things have been put on the back burner (no pun intended). This black bean soup is roughly 150 calories a serving and full of flavor, not to mention extremely quick and easy to prepare. My new fast food.

Black Bean Beauty

1 Tbs. olive oil
4 onions (yes - FOUR!) chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans chicken broth
1 1/2 cup water
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat; add onions and garlic; cook, stirring, until onions are softened - about 5 minutes. Stir in beans, broth water, cumin and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes. Puree soup, (in batches) in a food processor or blender. It should look something like this before pureeing...

 Be careful not to fill the processor too full (as I did) or messiness will quickly follow. Return pureed soup to saucepan and reheat over medium heat. Sprinkle with cilantro and scallions just before serving. Enjoy!