Have your cake and eat it too

First, let me apologize for my short blogging hiatus. Moving, Easter and celebrating my 35th birthday have monopolized the past few weeks of my life. Now that I’ve got my kitchen all set up, there should be plenty of fodder for mouth-watering blogs coming your way!

This blog is inspired by my co-worker Justine’s cake pops. She whipped up a bride and groom-themed batch of these bite-sized morsels for a recent bridal shower and they were a huge hit! According to theKitchn

“You bake up a cake, let it cool, tear it into fine crumbs, stir in something to hold it all together, and roll it in balls.”

You can roll your own cake pops, or you can purchase cake pop pans, eliminating the need to crumble the cake and mix it with frosting.

The final step entails sticking a lollipop stick into the cake pops and dipping them into melted white, milk or dark chocolate and decorating them. Justine’s groom cake balls are coated in white chocolate, followed by some strategic dips in chocolate, and topped off with buttons and a bow tie. The bride cake balls are dipped in white chocolate and then drizzled with more white chocolate to create the lace-like look. These irresistible, eye-catching treats are sure to impress!



Memphis soul stew

When it comes to brainstorming blog titles, I often seek out something related to music, whether it’s a play-off a song title or a straight up rip-off. This blog title is borrowed from a King Curtis song that a foodie like me can’t help but love. But it’s not accurate seeing as though I’m blogging about a Jambalaya recipe, which is actually Louisiana Creole dish with Spanish and French influence. Perhaps this Carpenter’s song, which I’d never heard until Googling for song titles about Jambalaya, is more accurate.

Now take a hard left from all that music talk and authentic recipe mumbo jumbo and you’ll find yourself at this Chicken and Smoked Andouille Jambalaya recipe by Chow. I made this a few Sundays ago and it warmed my soul. It also made enough to feed an army, so invite guests or be ready for leftovers. Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients list; half of it is just seasonings.

You can mix the spice mix in advance

  • 2 ¼ teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mustard
  • Pinch celery salt

Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

For the jambalaya you will need:

  • 2 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
  • 2 large yellow onions, medium dice
  • 12 ounces andouille sausage, medium dice
  • 4 ounces tasso or smoked ham, medium dice (I used smoked ham)
  • 2 large green bell peppers, cored, seeded, and medium dice
  • 3 medium celery stalks, medium dice
  • 1 jalapeño, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1 (14 ½ -ounce) can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 medium scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and arrange the rack to the lower third of the oven.

Heat the oil in an ovenproof pot or Dutch oven. I cooked the chicken in Dutch oven and then transferred it to a larger pot once I realized how much food this recipe makes. Cook about 1/3 of the chicken in the pot until browned all over, or for about five to six minutes. Set aside. Cook the remaining chicken in two batches and set aside.

Remove and discard all but about ¼ cup of the fat from the pot. This is where I switched to a larger oven-proof soup pot. Add the butter and melt over medium heat. Cook the onions for about six minute or until they begin to brown.

Add the sausage and ham, half of the spice mix and stir to coat everything. Cook this mixture for about ten minutes or until the meat is browned and the onions are tender.

Add the bell peppers, celery, jalapeno, garlic, salt and the remainder of the spice mix. Cook for another ten minutes or until the bell peppers have softened.

Add the chicken and the juices that have accumulated in the bowl, the tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste. Stir and bring to a boil. Add the rice, stock and bay leaves and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, cover with a tightfitting lid and transfer to the oven. Bake until all the liquid has been absorbed or for about 30 minutes.

Let it cool for about five minutes, and be sure to give it a good stir before serving to combine all the flavors.

Oldies and goodies

As a food blogger, it’s rare I get the chance to cook the same meal twice. There are pros and cons to this. On the plus side, I don’t get into a food rut, I don’t tire of meals often, and I’m always inspired to discover new dishes. On the flip side of the coin, there’s something to be said about cooking something you’ve made many times. You know how it’s going to turn out, you don’t have to study the recipe quite as closely, and you don’t have to spend hours researching and cooking.

With a move on the horizon, I’m noticing I just don’t have time to pull out all the stops these days. I need something that’s healthy and delicious, and I need it fast. That’s where the oldies but goodies like Mexican pizza tend to resurface. Think tacos on a pizza shell and get creative. Here’s what I put on my pizza:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Drain most of the juice from the black beans and mashing them up a bit with a fork or spoon to create a consistency somewhere between baked and twice baked beans. You can also use twice baked black beans, I just grabbed the wrong can in the store. Spread the black beans on the pizza crust. Next add the corn, tomatoes and scallions. Top with taco cheese.

Slice and grill the jalapeno peppers. Distribute evenly over the pizza. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, finishing off the pizza with a broil on low heat for about four to five minutes until brown and slightly crispy. Allow the pizza to cool before slicing. Top with avocado and sour cream.

Here today, tarragon tomorrow

I’ve recently developed a love affair with the herb Tarragon, also known as dragons-wort, a name which makes me love it even more. It began with this Reader’s Digest recipe for Salmon with Tarragon Mayo, served over couscous mixed with a variety of veggies. For being as easy to prepare as it was, the creamy herb sauce gives this otherwise very light and healthy meal a complex and rich flavor. I would highly recommend you put it on your list for the summer.

For the salmon, you will need:

  • Four 4-ounce salmon steaks or fillets (I only had three so I threw some shrimp into the mix)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 to 2 bay leaves
  • Lemon zest

For the mayo, you will need:

  • Four tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • ½ cup of plain low-fat yougurt
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh tarragon

For the couscous, you will need:

  • 1 cup of couscous, uncooked
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups of watercress, roughly chopped (I used about one cup of watercress and one cup of sprouts)
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Juice of one lemon (or just use about 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice if you’re lazy like me)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Spray a skillet with cooking oil and place the salmon in it on medium heat. Pour wine over the salmon and add the bay leaves and lemon zest. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Cover and poach the salmon until just cooked; about five to six minutes. It should still be translucent in the center.

Make your sauce by stir together the mayonnaise, yogurt, grated lemon zest and tarragon in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper and mix. While the salmon is cooking, get about 1 ½ cups of water boiling in a pot or kettle. Also, prepare your vegetables; chop the tomatoes, watercress and scallions.

When the fish is cooked, drain off most of the cooking liquid into a measuring cup. Remove the salmon from the heat, but cover it to keep it warm. Add the 1 ½ cups of boiling water to the fish broth.

Pour the diluted fish broth over the couscous in a bowl and leave it for three to four minutes, or until the liquid has dissolved. Fluff the couscous with a fork and stir in the chopped tomatoes, scallions and watercress. Drizzle the olive oil and juice of one lemon over the mixture and stir to blend everything together and season with salt and pepper.

Serve the salmon warm, over the couscous, topped with the tarragon mayo.

Red, red wine, you make food taste so fine

Being part French, I was curious to try this recipe for Coq Au Vin, which translates to Rooster with Wine. In my typical foodie fashion, I deviated from the traditional variation and found a quick and easy short cut. I didn’t use Rooster or even a whole chicken, as many recipes call for, and I used Wegmans’ red cooking wine verses the Burgundy which the traditional variation calls for. Instead I followed the recipe from this blog. It was not intimidating and it turned out phenomenal.

The depth of flavor in this dish was incredible, making me promise to use red wine in my cooking more often. As Jeanette recommended, I served it with the Roasted Broccoli and Cherry Tomatoes, which gave me my first opportunity to cook with Herbes de Provence. A combination of savory, fennel, basil, thyme and lavender, it’s basically like the French version of Chinese Five Spice, though there is apparently no solid evidence that the mixture originated in Provence, a region of southeastern France on the Mediterranean.

Don’t be intimidated by the length of the ingredients list. You will need:

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 4 slices of turkey bacon, uncured, without nitrates (I used pork bacon), chopped into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 8 ounces of crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 shallots, peeled and halved
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 ½ cups dry red wine
  • 1 ½ chicken broth
  • ½ bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped and divided
  • 4 teaspoons of flour

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and set aside.

Sauté the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until lightly browned and then transfer to a bowl.

Add olive oil to the pan and sauté until nicely browned on both sides; about three to four minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm.

Add the mushrooms, shallots and garlic to the skillet and sauté until brown, or for about four minutes. Add the wine, 1 ¼ cups of broth, bacon, thyme, tomato paste and one tablespoon parsley. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken pieces, bring the liquid to a simmer and then lower the heat. Cook covered for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, mix the flour with ¼ cup of broth, stirring until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the skillet and cook until the sauce thickens; about three to four minutes. Season the final dish with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and garnish with parsley (if you’re fancy like that).

Yummy things come to those too stubborn to stop looking

The things I do for a good meal sometimes make me wonder. Last week, it was a wild goose chase for plum preserves. After a thorough of search my East Avenue Wegmans store, a few natural food and boutique stores, and Wegmans website, I determined the only type of plum preserve to be found was going to be mixed in with some other type of berry. A Google search netted me a line of plum preserves at Walmart, which I could have shipped to me for merely $30.

On a trip to Pittsford Wegmans for fish for tuna tartare, I decided to take one final look for the elusive plum preserves. A trip through Nature’s Marketplace yielded no results. Not to be deterred, I made my way to the regular peanut butter and jelly section. There, on the top shelf, to my disbelief, was ONE jar of Bonne Maman Plum Preserves, straight from France! Thank goodness, because I was bound and determined to cook these Balsamic-Plum Glazed Pork Chops.

The flavors in the sauce were matched only by the tenderness of the pasture-raised, vegetarian fed pork chops from Heiden Valley Farms in Lima. I served it with roasted shallot and garlic mashed potatoes.

To re-create this, you will need:

  • 1 teaspoon of butter, or pan spray
  • Four 4-ounce boneless center-cut loin pork chops
  • ¾ teaspoon of salt, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • Two tablespoons of chopped shallots
  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
  • ¼ port wine (I used Marsala wine because it’s all I had)
  • 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup of plum preserves

Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium to high heat. Season the pork with ½ teaspoon of salt and pepper. Cook the pork for about 3 ½ minutes on each side, remove them from the pan and set them aside.

Coat the pan with cooking spray. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the port wine (or Marsala wine) and vinegar to the pan and cook for 30 seconds, stirring occasionally. Stir in the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and the plum preserves. Cook for about 30 seconds or until smooth, stirring constantly.

Return the pork to the pan and cook to your desired degree of doneness. Turn the pork several times to coat it in the glaze.

Dessert for dummies

Maybe I baked too many cookies over the holidays. Maybe I just don’t have the knack for baking. Whatever the reasoning, I took the easy way out when it came to making dessert to bring to a friend’s house the other night. I stumbled upon this Blueberry-White Chocolate Cream Ginger Tart recipe in an article in the Democrat and Chronicle about a pair of Rochester women who made the 2012 Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Just like in life, you get out of it what you put into it. A recipe this simple to make could never compare something you’d get at a bakery or something you slaved over for hours, but there are surprisingly a lot of layers of flavor in this dessert and I would definitely make it again.

You will need:

  • 1 roll of Pillsbury pre-made sugar cookie dough
  • ¼ cup of flour
  • 1 tablespoon of ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon of crystalized ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • 12 ounces of white baking chips
  •  8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon zest
  • 2 cups of fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Let the cookie dough stand at room temperature for 10 minutes to soften it. Spray a 12-inch pizza pan or a glass pie dish with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, break up the cookie dough and add the flour, ground ginger, crystalized ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Knead the mixture with your hands until its well blended. Press the dough evenly into the pan or baking dish.

Bake the cookie for about 15 to 20 minutes or until it is golden brown. Cool for about 30 minutes.

To make the tart filling, microwave the white chips in the microwave for about one minute, stirring every 30 seconds, until they are melted and smooth. Add the cream cheese, lemon zest and stir or beat with a mixer on medium speed until smooth.

Spread the mixture over the cooled crust. Arrange blueberries over the cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate for one hour and cut it into wedges to serve. Store in the refrigerator.

We had the best time at your party

I’m sure not many people will recognize the title of this blog as a lyric from Ween’s Your Party song. I highly reccomend you listen to it while you read this blog. The song sets a scene…

“There were beverages laid out for the party. There were candy and spices and tricolored pastas. The meat carved was drawn from succulent juices, served on platters of the purest gold.”

I always dreamed about maybe throwing such a party. Thanks to three of my girlfriends, that dream came true last week with a spectacular evening of Wine and Food Pairing. After some research, I settled on a Tuna Tartare on Sesame Wonton Crisps paired with a Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio hybrid.

For this recipe, you will need:

  • 12-20 wonton wrappers
  • Non-stick olive oil pan spray
  • Sesame seeds
  • 6 ounces of sushi-grade tuna, cut into a ¼-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons of green onions, green parts only, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon of peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¾ teaspoon of orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 avocado, cut into ¼ inch dice
  • 2 teaspoons of lime juice

To make the crispy wonton, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the wonton squares on an angle to make two triangles and arrange them on the baking sheet. Spray or brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake the wonton until they are golden. Watch them because they burn easily. Allow them to cool.

For the tuna tartare, mix the tuna, green onions, sesame seeds, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and orange zest, cilantro and salt together in a medium bowl and mix well.  Add the avocado and lime juice before you’re ready to serve.

Of course my girls were up for the challenge as well. Here’s a sampling of the other offerings at the party.

Leslie (@leslieluuu) brought Fanus paired with homeade  Sausage-stuffed Peppadews and creamy brie cheese.

Breanna (@bmbanford) really did her homework with the Cigar Box Malbec paired with Chicken Empanadas and Salsa Verde.

The finale provided by Chiara (@chiaraaamai) was a gorgeous Wegmans Mixed Fruit Tart paired with Lamarca’s Prosecco.

The dark side of organics

Last week I blogged about eating organically versus locally and the fact that our increased demand for organics is actually creating a situation that goes completely against the philosophy of organic. Most of us eat organic foods because they are considered environmentally-friendly and pesticide-free. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Organic can also mean that could mean your vegetables are grown in China, or that Kraft made your Boca Burgers.

I don’t mean to preach on the topic, because I know how difficult it is to come up with healthy meals, without the challenge of having to do homework and travel to five different stores to get the food you need for the week. This week, my friend Marci posted a chart on Facebook that grabbed my attention and which I want to share. You might be surprised by what you learn from this Organic Industry Structure: Acquisitions by the To 30 Food Processors in North America, produced by Philip H. Howard, an assistant professor at Michigan State University.

Shop smarter, not harder

The more I learn about our food supply, the harder it is for me to find the right things to eat. There’s a lot to consider – is the food in season, has it spent days and weeks traveling across the country or world to reach me, how much gasoline was used to bring it to me, was the food treated with pesticides, did the animal it came from get access to green pastures, and is it produced in an environmentally-sustainable way? It’s a dilemma for my health and wallet, and one that seems to worsen the more educated I become.

I’m currently reading “To Buy or Not to Buy Organic: What You Need to Know to Choose the Healthiest, Safest, Most Earth-Friendly Food.” One of the most useful pieces of information in this book comes in the form of these two lists.

Dirty Dozen: Foods to Buy Organic

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines, imported
7. Grapes, imported
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries, domestic
11. Lettuce
12. Kale collard greens

Clean 15: Okay to Buy Non-Organic

  1. Onions
  2. sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplant
  9. Cantaloupe, domestic
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms

This being said, it’s important to note that sometimes organic is not the gold standard. With the increased demand for organics has come a diluting of the standards that were supposed to distinguish organic food from non-organic. Many small, local farmers are finding it cost-prohibitive to obtain organic-certification, yet if you were to ask them about their growing practices, you may find they are holding themselves to an even higher standard that the government has put out. Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking.

The bottom line is, if you’re really committed to eating healthier and leaving a smaller footprint on the earth, it’s essential to do your homework and to strike balance between being a locavore and eating organically.