Monthly Archives: February 2014

Romance in the Air and On the Plate, Part 4 – Soft Chocolate Mini Cakes

To wrap up our Valentine’s Day meal, of course there had to be a chocolate dessert. This dessert recipe, from Williams-Sonoma, is easy enough that you can make this at any time. You only need a few ingredients on hand and you can have an elegant chocolate dessert in under 20 minutes any night of the week or for a quick dessert when you have last-minute guests or need something for a dinner party. The soft chocolate mini cakes are a lot like chocolate lava cakes as they have a nice crunchy chocolate exterior with a soft, velvety interior.

Soft Chocolate Mini Cakes

5 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes, plus more for greasing

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche for serving

Position an oven rack on the lowest level in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly butter six 1/2 cup oven-safe ramekins.

Put the butter and bittersweet chocolate in a heatproof bowl and place over (but not touching) simmering water in a saucepan. Heat until the butter and chocolate have melted, then stir the mixture until it is smooth. Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and salt. Using an electric mixer set on high-speed, beat the mixture until it is thickened, about 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Gradually sprinkle the flour over the batter and continue beating just until it is combined. Using a spatula, fold the egg mixture into the cooled chocolate mixture until it is combined.

Divide the batter among the prepared ramekins. Place the ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the tops are puffed and dry and a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cakes comes out with some soft batter clinging to it, about 10 minutes.

Serve the cakes hot, in the ramekins, or inverted onto individual plates. Top with a dollop of whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche if you like and serve.

This is a really elegant looking dessert that takes little effort and no time at all. If you love chocolate this is a good for you to remember. You could also try dusting the cakes with a bit of confectioner’s sugar when they are done and maybe top with a raspberry, strawberry and a mint leaf for some added elegance. It was a great dessert that we all gobbled up and I had a few extra so we had them for dessert the next day as well. I just popped them in a 350 degree oven for a couple of minutes to warm them through and they were perfect.

That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for another recipe. That’s the end of the Valentine’s Day recipes so it is back to regular recipes tomorrow. Don’t worry, I have a lot of them to share that I have made lately, including some great  chicken dishes, some pork, a new risotto, turkey breast, lamb and more. until next time, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!

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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Cakes, Cooking, Dessert, Holidays


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Romance in the Air and On the Plate, Part 3 – Rib-Eye Steak with Pan Jus and Broiled Lobster Tails

On to the entrees! I made a pretty simple entrée for Valentine’s Day that you can make any time you want a nice steak for dinner, whether it is a special occasion or not. This simple recipe comes from Williams-Sonoma and makes a great steak with a nice pan sauce using some of the wine we had with dinner. I also added in a couple of lobster tails and I will share that recipe right after this one for the steak.

Rib-Eye Steak with Pan Jus

1 rib-eye steak, 18 to 20 ounces and about 1 1/2 inches thick

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 fresh rosemary sprig

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup dry red wine

1/2 cup beef or chicken stock

2 small fresh thyme sprigs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the steak generously with salt and pepper. Pick the rosemary leaves from the stem and press them into the steak. In a ovenproof skillet or saute pan set over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Let the oil get quite hot but before it starts to smoke, sear and brown the steak on one side for about 1 minute. Turn the steak over and sear the other side for about 1 minute. Use tongs to hold the steak upright and sear the sides, about 1 minute per side.

Transfer the pan to the oven and roast the steak for 10 to 12 minutes for medium-rare, or until it is done to your particular liking. Press the center of the steak to gauge doneness; it will have some give for medium-rare, more firmness for medium. Transfer the steak to a cutting board, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let the steak rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the wine, stock and thyme sprigs to the drippings in the pan and place the pan over medium-high heat. Be careful not to burn yourself on the hot pan. Deglaze the pan, stirring with a wooden spatula to scrape up any browned bits, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs.

Using a sharp knife, carve the steak across the grain into thin slices. Arrange the slices on warmed plates and spoon the pan juices over the top and serve.

Admittedly, a steak this size is pretty darn big and not something you are going to buy very often, but for a special occasion it is a nice treat. Also, using a big, thick steak like this does help you cook things perfectly so it comes out just right and will not disappoint. You will likely have leftovers (we sure did, even with 3 of us eating) so you can use them for a variety of other meals afterwards. There is nothing quite like a really good steak with a simple pan juice, and this one came out just perfectly.

As an added bonus for the meal I had picked up some frozen lobster tails that were on sale and thought we would have them as well. Sean had never had lobster and wanted to try it, and I didn’t really want to buy whole lobsters, so this was a good compromise. Frozen lobsters are not always great and sometimes turn out rubbery so you need to be careful in thawing them and re-heating them for a meal, unless you are planning to use them for something like a bisque. Take them out of the freezer the day before and let them thaw in the refrigerator so they won’t be tough. I did a simple broil with a quick little marinade first for some added flavor.

Broiled Lobster Tails

3-4 frozen lobster tails, about 5 ounces each

1 medium onion, sliced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Pinch salt

1 teaspoon paprika

Wash the lobster tails and careful cut through the center membrane along the belly of the lobster to expose the meat.Place the sliced onion, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and paprika in a bowl and mix well. Place the lobster tails in the mixture and toss with the mix. Refrigerate the lobster tails in the mix in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. Preheat the broiler for 10 minutes.

In a broiler safe dish, place the lobster tails with the hard shell facing down and pour half of the marinade over the lobsters. Broil the lobster tails for 4 minutes. Turn the lobsters so the shell is facing up and broil them for another 5 minutes. Turn the lobsters again, add the remaining marinade over the lobster tails and broil for 3 more minutes and then serve.

These were a nice treat and the marinade helped to add some nice color and flavor to the lobster meat. They were just the right size for the meal and did not come out overcooked, which I was worried about. They were quite tasty and Sean really enjoyed it for his taste of lobster, so I’ll have to look for when they are on sale again.

That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for some more recipes. I still have some dessert that we had for the night to share with you. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!

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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Beef, Cooking, Dinner, Holidays, Seafood


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Romance in the Air and On the Plate, Part 2 – Garlic-Thyme Smashed Potatoes and Sauteed Spinach with Garlic

A nice romantic meal needs some good side dishes, but you also want to keep in mind that you want the meal to be elegant but easy too. It’s not much fun if you have to spend hours in the kitchen cooking and then by the time you eat you are too exhausted to enjoy it. That’s why these sides were great to make. They go perfectly with the beef we had for the meal (recipe to come tomorrow) and both were made very easily. The first is for garlic-thyme smashed potatoes that you can do simply on the stove top with just a few ingredients.

Garlic-Thyme Smashed Potatoes

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound baby Yukon Gold potatoes, each about 1-inch in diameter

1 cup water

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

In a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the potatoes and water and season the potatoes generously with the kosher salt and ground black pepper. Cover the skillet and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat and smash the potatoes lightly with a spatula or potato masher. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are beginning to brown underneath, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring constantly, until the herbs are fragrant, about 1 minute. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and serve.

The potatoes get a great crust on them that make them nice and crunchy and the taste of the garlic and thyme goes perfectly with the rest of the meal. You can make these any time and I think they would go perfectly with any beef, pork or poultry meal.

The next dish was a very easy sautéed spinach with garlic. We make spinach pretty often and this is probably my favorite way to have it. You can cook this in under 5 minutes and have it on the table and it is a great, fresh alternative for a vegetable that night.

Sautéed Spinach with Garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, trimmed and washed

Kosher salt, to taste

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil until it is shimmering. Add the sliced garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the spinach in batches and cook until it is wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt to taste and serve.

A couple of things about the spinach. Make sure you wash it in a salad spinner or rinse it off before you cook it. Even the stuff that comes in a bag and says it is washed can still be gritty, so it never hurts to give it an extra rinse and dry it off. You also want to make sure you stir the garlic well when you put it in so it does not brown, burn and get bitter. It might not seem like all of the spinach will fit in one pan but spinach cooks down very quickly so you should have no problem. Spinach and garlic go together really well so this is the perfect side dish any night of the week, and is a classic side dish with steak or beef.

That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for another recipe. I’ll be highlighting the main point of our Valentine’s Day dinner, the rib-eye steak and the broiled lobster tails. Until next time, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!

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Posted by on February 16, 2014 in Cooking, Dinner, Holidays, Potatoes, Side Dishes, Vegetables


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Romance in the Air and On the Plate, Part 1 – Roasted Beet Salad

Even though the weather around here has been absolutely atrocious this week, I had planned Valentine’s Day dinner late last week, of the ingredients I needed last week or early in the week and I was completely prepared to make everything. I even put extra hours of work in so I could be sure I had enough time to cook everything and spent the better part of the afternoon preparing everything. We had a nice, elegant meal for the three of us, something we do not do too often and it tasted great and was fun. I’ll be sharing the recipes I made over the next several days, so we may as well start off with the salad. The original thought for the recipe comes from Williams-Sonoma, but I actually ended up changing quite a bit of it because Michelle is not a big fan of a couple of the ingredients, so I did switch some things around for this roasted beet salad. I’ll give you the original recipe and then let you know what I did to change it around.

Roasted Beet Salad

3 golden beets, trimmed and washed

6 red beets, trimmed and washed

1/2 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

5 tablespoons creme fraiche

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

2 teaspoons minced shallots

4 cups baby watercress

4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

1/3 cup toasted chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the golden and red beets on a baking sheet. Coat the beets with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and season them well with the kosher salt and black pepper. Cover the baking sheet with aluminum foil and roast until the beets are fork tender, about 1 hour. When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel the beets and cut them into 1-inch wedges.

Meanwhile, combine the lemon juice, creme fraiche, the remaining 5 tablespoons of olive oil, the dill and the shallots in the blended or food processor. Blend or emulsify the ingredients until they are well mixed and season the vinaigrette with kosher salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange the beet wedges in a layer on a platter and top them with the watercress. Garnish with the goat cheese and toasted walnuts. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and serve.

Okay, looking back at this I made quite a few changes to the recipe. First, I could only find red beets in my area so that is what I used. I would have loved to have the golden ones too, but it just wasn’t happening this time. Next, I omitted the goat cheese and the toasted walnuts. Michelle doesn’t like either one of them so they both went out. I also couldn’t locate any creme fraiche in the area so I had to make my own using equal parts of sour cream and heavy cream and mixing them together. It turned out just fine and was perfect to use. Finally, I hated to waste the beet greens so I decided to use them in the salad with the watercress. One thing to not about beet greens – they are very dirty and need extensive washing and spinning in the salad spinner if you have one. Also, they can be quite bitter when they are raw so if you don’t like the bitter flavor you can try blanching them or even wilting them a little in a saute pan for a few minutes. They are too tasty to waste though and make a nice addition to the meal if you can use them. We all loved the beets and always forget how great roasted beets can taste. I really need to buy them more often to make them. I really enjoyed the dressing as well with the shallots and dill adding some great flavor and I can see how the goat cheese and walnuts would add a lot to this salad. It was good as we had it, but the additions would make it even better. The picture I took does not have the dressing on it yet and you can really only see the beets and beet greens so it doesn’t do it justice.

That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for the next part of the dinner menu. I’ll be going over the two sides we had with the meal – sautéed spinach with garlic and garlic-thyme smashed potatoes. Until next time, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!




Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Cooking, Dinner, Dressings, Holidays, Salad


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A Quick Week Night Meal – Stir-Fried Beef with Onions and Ginger

As I have written about before, I make a lot of stir fry dinners. They are a great way to do an easy weeknight meal in a flash and you can use just about any ingredients you happen to have on hand to make a good combination for a meal. All you need after that is some rice and you can have your dinner on the table in under 30 minutes if you time everything right. You can even make things easier for yourself if you want and keep a bag of frozen sir fry vegetables around just for such an occasion. For this recipe, which I got from Mark Bittman, I used a company of some fresh with some frozen even though his original recipe doesn’t really call for any vegetables at all. it is a quick beef stir fry with onions and ginger that you can make yourself and will taste better than any takeout that you can get that will cost you even more. I did alter his original recipe by marinating the beef for a bit first. I was using a London broil and wanted to break it down some and impart some flavor, so that is what I did. You can always just use the beef on its own if you prefer and ignore my marinating instructions.

Stir-Fried Beef with Onions and Ginger

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup red wine

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon honey

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 to 2 1/2 pounds top round London broil or flank steak

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large or 3 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 cups fresh or frozen vegetables, cut to bite size

1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced or grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup beef or chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce or soy sauce

To marinade the beef, mix together all of the ingredients except for the meat. Place the meat in a shallow dish and cover it with the marinade. Cover the meat with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours but no more than 24 hours.

Remove the meat from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature before cooking.

Slice the beef as thinly as you can, across the grain. It’s easier if you freeze it for 15 to 30 minutes first. Cut the slices into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat a large skillet over high heat until it smokes, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and the onions. Stir immediately, then stir every 30 seconds or so until the onions soften and begin to char slightly, 4 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle the onions with salt and pepper, then remove them; keep the heat high.

Add 1/2 tablespoon of oil to the pan and then add the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are heated through and crisp-tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set them aside.
Add the remaining oil to the pan, then the garlic and 1 tablespoon of the ginger; stir and immediately add the beef. Stir immediately, then stir every 20 seconds or so until it loses its color, just a minute or two longer; stir in the onions and the vegetables. Add the stock, hoisin, and remaining teaspoon of ginger; let some of the liquid bubble away and serve immediately, over rice.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you can make it all very quickly and it tastes fantastic. if you don’t want to use beef, you can just as easily use pork, chicken or shrimp or even just make all vegetables if that is what you prefer. You will still get great flavor from the sauce to help things along. I make about one stir fry a week because it is so easy and very often just use whatever leftover protein I have along with some leftover vegetables and put together a sauce of whatever I feel like having that night.

That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for some more recipes. If you are in the middle of this blizzard like we are, stay warm and safe. Until next time, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!


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Posted by on February 13, 2014 in Beef, Cooking, Dinner, One Pot Meals


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It’s a Snack Attack, Part 3 – Pork Dumplings

Okay, here is the last of the snacks I made this past week. This one also comes from Kelsey Nixon of the Cooking Channel and is for pork dumplings. Sean has been asking me to make these for quite a while now and I finally had some ground pork and wonton wrappers on hand so I thought I would give it a try. There are only a few ingredients to these and they are very simple to make as an easy snack or appetizer if you are planning an Asian-style meal for dinner or just feel like having some kind of a snack.

Pork Dumplings

For the Pork Dumplings:

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons minced ginger

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 small bunch, scallions, white and green parts, chopped

12 ounces ground pork

3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1 egg

1 package dumpling or wonton wrappers

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, for frying

For the Dipping Sauce:

1 cup soy sauce

2 1/2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce

Juice of 3 lemons

For the dipping sauce, combine the soy sauce, Sriracha and lemon juice in a bowl and set the sauce aside until you are ready to serve the dumplings.

For the pork dumplings, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, sesame oil and scallions and cook until the mixture is fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for about 1 minute.

Combine the cooked garlic, ginger and scallions with the ground pork, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, Chinese five-spice powder and the egg in a large bowl.

Working with the dumpling wrappers, start with the floured surface of the wrappers facing down. Place about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the filling in the center of a wrapper. Wet the edge of the dumpling with water, using your  finger, and fold the dumpling in half without sealing it, like a taco. Pinch one end closed. Create the pleats of the dumpling on one side using your thumb and forefinger, pressing against the other flat edge to seal the dumpling as you go. Flatten the bottoms so that the bottom surface of the dumpling can get a good sear on it when you pan fry them. Repeat the process until all the dumplings are filled. Keep the dumplings on a lightly-floured sheet tray to keep them from sticking and cover the dumplings with a slightly damp towel to keep them from drying out while you make the rest of the batch.

Heat the vegetable oil over high heat in a large nonstick skillet. Working in batches, pan fry the dumplings by placing them bottom-side down and frying them until they are golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Once the dumplings are golden brown, working carefully, pour 1/2 cup of water into the skillet to cover the dumplings halfway. Immediately cover the skillet with a lid, leaving a small crack for steam to escape. Cook the dumplings until the water has evaporated, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the dumplings to a paper towel-lined plate to soak up any excess oil and repeat the process with the remaining dumplings.

I can tell you that this recipe makes a lot of dumplings, so you can certainly freeze them and heat them up any time you want to have a little snack. We all enjoyed the dumplings as they had some great flavor with the ginger, scallions and hoisin sauce. They were pretty easy to make and while the recipe calls for round dumpling wrappers, i only had square wonton wrappers and I think they worked out just fine for my purposes. It is a perfect party snack you can make pretty easily and I think you could substitute out the pork for beef, chicken, turkey, shrimp or even just vegetables and get great results.

That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for another recipe. I have some other great recipes we have tried lately and I still have my recipes I am making on Valentine’s Day this year to share as well. Until next time, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!



Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Appetizers, Cooking, Pork, Sauce, Snacks


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It’s a Snack Attack, Part 2 – Buttery Garlic Knots

Here is the second of the snacks I decided to try out this past weekend. This one is really easy and comes from Kelsey Nixon on the Cooking Channel. It is for a batch of very easy to make buttery garlic knots. This is one that you can use with some quick made pizza dough in the food processor or you can just as easily use some store-bought pizza dough and whip these up in no time at all. The actual preparation of the garlic knots and the cooking takes no time at all, so this is a great quick snack you can make just about anytime you want.

Buttery Garlic Knots

1 recipe Food Processor Pizza Dough, or 1 package of store-bought pizza dough

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, minced

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

8 cloves garlic, grated

All-purpose flour, for dusting

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Prepare the recipe for the food processor pizza dough or take the store-bought pizza dough and let it come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the softened butter with the thyme, rosemary, 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese and the grated garlic. Set the mixture aside.

Turn the pizza dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Stretch the pizza dough into a rectangle. Spread half of the butter mixture on half of the dough. Fold the dough in half, covering the butter with the pizza dough. Using a pizza wheel, divide the dough into 18 strips. First cut through the middle of the dough and then you can cut each half into 9 separate pieces to get your 18 strips. Stretch each strip of dough and then tie it into a knot and tuck the ends underneath the center of the knot. Place the knots on a baking sheet.

Sprinkle the knots with some of the Parmesan cheese and bake until they are a golden brown color, about 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over low heat, melt the remaining herb butter. Once the knots come out of the oven, baste them with the melted butter and sprinkle them with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Serve warm.

I actually basted the knots with some of the butter after they had been baking for about 10 minutes and then again at the end of the baking so they had a really nice baked in garlic flavor. They came out perfectly and has a nice crunch on the outside with a soft and buttery inside. These would go great with any Italian dinner you might be having like spaghetti and meatballs, baked ziti, lasagna, pizza, sausage and peppers or really just about any meal. They also make a great snack or appetizer and you could even put some together as a great afterschool snack for something a little different. You could certainly do a lot of different things with it and even use different herbs if there are some you would prefer instead, like basil or oregano.

That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for another recipe. I have one more good snack I tried recently to come for tomorrow so check back for that one. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!



Posted by on February 11, 2014 in Appetizers, Breads, Cooking, Pizza, Snacks


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Jennifer Probst

a little bit naughty a little bit nice

Laissez Faire

Letting Life Lead

simple cooking recipes

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