Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cook Crook Technique: Blanching

I know I mentioned the brown butter asparagus in my brunch post, but I also promised I would share how I started blanching my vegetables, like asparagus before storing them for cooking. Thanks to Cooking Light's Most Common Mistakes feature, I will never have brown fresh veggies again! I have no idea why I am so late to this party, but I have to say, glad I decided to do this when I bought 3 pounds of beautiful asparagus!

Step 1: Start with a beautiful bunch of fresh veggies...
Step 2: Add veggies to a big pot of boiling salted water and cook for 2 minutes.
Step 3. Plunge the cooked vegetables into ice water. This is another case when my large pot with the insert was helpful. I just pulled the insert from the boiling water and plunged it into another stock pot I had filled with ice water!
That's a pretty green!
Step 4: Store! Gallon plastic freezer bags are always a must!
Not too hard right? So again, why did it take me so long to do this??

Thanks again Cooking Light!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter Brunch

Easter was 5 days ago and I am just getting to this post about brunch! Ironically, this post ended up being a lot more complicated than my first ever brunch actually turned out to be. It was nerve racking (as it always is when I prepare food for other people even when in this case its very dear friends,I still was super on edge!) but it came together beautiful and I have some recipes to add to my collection.

To start, I thought it would be fun to have a couple over that my husband and I are very good friends with who have a son only a few months older than mine and an adorable 1-year old little girl AND most importantly a love for food. For me and my girlfriends husband, ham is a Easter given so that was the main dish around which all other things were planned.  Ham decided upon, I went looking for side dishes.

I flipped through a few books, checked a few websites and then remembered seeing last months Cooking Light and a recipe for brown butter asparagus. Asparagus is in season (and was on sale for $1.99 a pound at Harris Teeter) so a vegetable was decided on. AND in a future post I will share how I finally learned and started blanching vegetables like asparagus!
What I love about brunch is the ability to do as the name implies, combine breakfast and lunch, so for me an egg dish was mandatory. One of my favorite recipe sites Better Recipes, add very easy and delicious sounding egg casserole that DID NOT HAVE BREAD, which was key since I knew my girlfriend was bringing over the baked goods! The only change I made to the recipe was instead of bacon bits (which I might add I have never ownedREAL bacon “bits packaged, yes but the stuff in the jar, umm no way!) I used crumbled pork sausage since I was already making some plain sausage patties for the boys.
Potatoes, although not eaten often in my house, were also a must but I needed quick and tasty. Enter Simply Potatoes and their recipe for a  cheesy hash brown casserole. I omitted the cornflake toppingmy personal preference definitely and reflects my lack of love for crushed cereal as crumb topping!

The last item that I thought would pair great with the meal (and our mimosas)and would also delight my little fruit bat, was fresh fruit. And because I apparently switch into crazy entertainer mode when I have people over, I decided to get all fancy with the fruit. What resulted was the below attempt at a pineapple boat!
Now back to the ham. I must have stood in the grocery for 20 minutes looking at hams. I didnt want a honey ham, or one that came with a brown sugar sauce. I didn’t need a very big ham since we were talking about 4 adults and 2 and a half kids. I didn’t have time for a fresh ham with an 8:15 church service and a 12PM serve time for brunch. So I ended up with a 7.5 pound fully cooked smoked ham.and then realized other than just cooking it I had no idea what to do with it!

I thought about what I had on hand and remembered reading somewhere about a bourbon sauce for pork.No bourbon in my house but a tiny confession is there is always whiskey (i.e. Jack Daniels) in the house. To the trusty internet I went and my Google search was: smoked ham with Jack Daniels glaze. THIS is what I gotand I didn’t change a thing. Easy to make, yummy to smell and very tasty! 
The finished ham:
And the finished spread:
I look forward to making my next brunch..and to making this Easter one an annual tradition!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cook Crook Creation: Asparagus and Ham Frittata

Things have been crazy in Cook Crook land and I underestimated the time it would take to not only make an Easter brunch, but chronicle the process and results. But while I get that together, I had to share what I did with the leftover asparagus and ham from that brunch.

Monday was a busy day and I already planned to use the leftovers for dinner, but I wanted to make something quick. I decided on a frittata because they are easy to make, delicious, and easy way to use leftovers.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup diced Vidalia onion
1 1/2 cup chopped leftover cooked asparagus
1 cup cooked ham chopped
6 eggs, beaten
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 oz. of diced Havarti cheese (I used a kind that also had jalapeño in it!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in an oven proof non-stick skillet until shimmery. Add the onions and cook until just starting to soften. Add the asparagus and ham and sautee until heated through. Add the pepper to the eggs and whisk well. Pour the eggs into the skillet and then add the diced cheese throughout the eggs.

As the edges begin to set, use a non-stick spatula to push the eggs from the edge to allow the uncooked eggs to flow to the outside. Repeat this process as you go around the pan until the edges are set and the top of the eggs are slightly wet. Put the skillet in the oven for 10-15 minutes until all of the egg is set and firm. Invert the completed frittata onto a large plate and slice into wedges. I served mine with a mixed green salad.

Sadly we were so excited for pictures!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dinner Out: Sonoma Wine Bar & Bistro

I certainly love cooking and consequently eating, but I also love having the opportunity to go out to dinner and let someone else do the hard work for me (and of course get some more ideas for myself to try at home!) Recently, hubby and I took a Saturday night when we didn't have our daughter, put our son with a sitter and headed out for a nice meal.

Our choice was Sonoma Wine Bar & Bistro located in Virginia Beach's Town Center. Known of it's wine as the title implies and with over 300 varieties on premises, it is also a spot for delicious food. Hubby and I had dined there previously but it had been almost 5 years ago and for no other reason than we just forgot to go back!

So of course we started with wine ( I love Catena's malbecs) and we also started with a lovely crab and artichoke dip.

Then when our server mentioned that the chef had a caprese salad as his special tonight, I couldn't resist and if this picture is any clue, it was fabulous!
With tomato season to look forward to I am all about making my own version. Not sure if I am ready to make my own mozzarella as they do at the restaurant, but I'll be willing to pay for a super nice balsamic to even try to come close to this deliciousness!

Dinner was also divine...and I wish I could remember all of the delicious ingredients that made up this beef tenderloin over a risotto cake served with asparagus:
I only wish I had kept out my camera for dessert but honestly, it wasn't on the table for more than 10 minutes before it was devoured. Again, the server only said a few words and I was hooked. In this case those words were: Crème Brûlée, bourbon, chocolate and pecans. Enough said.

Thanks Sonoma for a memorable early anniversary dinner.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Link to Love: Cooking for the Clueless

I think it's fair to say I have a Top Chef obsession. I have never missed an episode or as season. I even suffered through an entire season of Top Chef Just Desserts even though I am not a pastry cook by any means. And as anyone who follows this blog knows, I have a celebrity chef crush on one Fabio Viviani. So obviously I was super excited when I heard about Fridays with Fabio courtesy of

The website got my attention because of Fabio but then I took some time to look at the website and it has some neat ideas and some great tips for beginning cooks and this of us (like me) who are always constantly learning and looking for new tips and techniques. As with most things on the web, not sure why it took me so long to find it but now that I have it has been bookmarked accordingly....and of course you know what I will be watching on Fridays!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cook Crook Creation: Chicken Maybe Divan

I update this blog almost every day and how hysterical that I forget my own advice. Ironically I quote my mother as my culinary inspiration and it never occurs to me to consult her anymore! The other day I am driving home talking on the phone with her and happen to mention I needed to look up something to do with the leftover three-quarter of a rotisserie chicken I had in my fridge. (Said chicken is sometimes my husband-is-not-here-and-I-need-to-eat-and-don't-feel-like-cooking meal) As usual, without skipping a beat she asks if I have any broccoli and suggests I make chicken divan. She recalls having a recipe that used cream of mushroom soup and sour cream. Then she said the words I love to hear "search on the Internet to get some direction."

And so, I spent a few minutes online and in my cookbooks looking at different chicken divan recipes. The catch was I had to cook with what I had on hand because I was not going to grocery store. I found two packages of frozen cauliflower and broccoli mix and I always have various cream soups on hand (NEVER mushroom as hubby hates mushrooms, and yes, he can tell) and of course shredded cheese is also a staple in our house. I wanted a little extra flavor and hubby likes heat so I went for my crushed red pepper and garlic salt.

Following the traditional chicken divan method, I spread the frozen veggies on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. I chopped up the leftover chicken and spread it over the veggies. Then I sprinkled the red pepper and garlic salt over the chicken.
In a bowl I combined one can of cream of celery and one can cream of chicken soup with about 1/2 cup of sour cream. I spread this mixture over the chicken. Then I topped this with 1 cup of shredded cheese ( I used a 2% Mexican blend). Put into an oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
It turned out so great! I would definitely bring this for a pot-luck or make it as a an easy dinner on a night we are pressed for time. I also think it would be a great freezer meal. Hubby thought the spice was perfect and I think there are some additional seasoning combinations possible too. Definitely one that will be added in our meal planning!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reader Recipe: Spicy Buffalo Style Stuffed Chicken

I love when readers send in recipes they create or suggest for me to try. This one comes from reader (and former high-school classmate) Michelle. She sent me the link to George Duran's Spicy Buffalo Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts because obviously she knows my obsession with stuffed chicken!

It's a super easy recipe but you know me...I can never seem to follow one exactly! In this case, I decided not to make my own buffalo sauce but use a sauce made by a favorite local place of my husband's, Lendy's Cafe. Otherwise I followed the recipe as indicated.

I also decided to get a little creative. I LOVE buffalo chicken but I like dipping it in or eating it with something cool. So with a search of my fridge I saw we had leftover coleslaw dressing (Marie's makes a light version we love) and we had I made my own "slaw" of shredded celery and the dressing with a little shredded orange bell pepper added for flavor and color.

The finished product plated...and delicious!
The great thing about this recipe is I think you could use any cheese and sauce combination you like...super simple and simply tasty.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Super Side: Roasted Broccoli

So sometimes even sickness strikes The Cook Crook! Monday and Tuesday I not only felt like an elephant had decided to sit on my chest but that my head was filled with molasses! Top that off with still having to go into the office for...wait for it......11 hour days, well friends I wasn't doing much cooking let alone blogging! But, illness is gone, as I write this it's Wine Wednesday and I have one more day of work before I take a day off to spend Good Friday with my son ! And now back to your regular scheduled programming...

One of the things I am often guilty of is spending so much time trying out and/or preparing a main dish, I neglect the side dishes. Hubby is happy with a salad...and I don't meet a salad with all the toppings, I mean lettuce, in a bowl with dressing and croutons. Not too exciting. When my daughter isn't in charge of the menu, we do try to minimize our carbs so there is brown rice and when we are feeling crazy we go for sweet potato fries (and if you haven't tried the Alexia ones you are missing out!) and then of course our go to side: steam in a bag frozen vegetables. Still uninspiring.

Well, if I am going to try new recipes and work to expand my culinary horizons, I should probably work a little harder on the side dishes, right? Cut to Harris Teeter having a sale on broccoli crowns. Great because no thick stems to worry about and pretty minimal effort on my part to cut into florets. I have been encountering a lot about roasted vegetables so I decided to roast the broccoli (baby steps guys....wait until you see what I got going on for Easter brunch!).

Toss the broccoli with olive oil, salt, pepper and sliced garlic. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in a 425 degree oven. Easy and delicious! Obviously the possibilities are endless when it comes to roasting...question is why did it take me so long to do something so simple?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cook Crook Creation: Eggs in Purgatory

My friend Ingrid suggested this recipe for eggs in purgatory. Actually, until she recommended it, I had never heard of it so I went searching to see what other versions were out there. I got a few ideas and decided since my high-cholesterol husband tries to avoid eggs, I'd give it a try one night when I was cooking solo.

So, recently hubby was gone and I had a friend coming over who I had promised to cook dinner. I looked at what I had in the house and decided it would be a good night to try my own eggs in purgatory. I created the recipe below and it was fantastic! (so much so my friend considered seconds!)

Eggs in Purgatory
  • 1 tablespoon light olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic diced
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
  • 1 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 jar prepared arrabiata pasta sauce
  • large eggs
  • Grated Parmesan
  • Fresh basil or basil herb blend in the tube
Cooking Directions
  1. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet on medium high heat.

  2. Add diced garlic and cook until oil is flavored and garlic is just beginning to brown.

  3. Remove garlic from pan.

  4. Add artichoke hearts, olives and Italian seasoning and saute about 5 minutes.

  5. Pour in pasta sauce and heat until just bubbly.

  6. Make a well in the sauce and crack an egg into the well.

  7. Repeat this process with the remaining three eggs.

  8. Cover the pan and cook until the egg whites set and yolks are desired doneness.

  9. Top with grated Parmesan and serve with the fresh basil on top or the basil blend on the side.

I was very happy with this dish and the leftovers re-heated for lunch every well. I look forward to making it again!

Eggs In Purgatory

Friday, April 15, 2011

Steal of the Week: Greek-Style Chicken

One of the unknown benefits of doing this blog has been its ability to push me to try new things. I started this simply to chronicle my cooking exploits and share my thoughts on meal and menu planning and now it has become a driving force in expanding my culinary horizons. I am learning to be more daring and my family is happily taking this journey with me.

That brings us to the recipe steal of the week. I mentioned in a previous post that my mom, knowing I have such mad love for the slow cooker, bought me Best-Loved Slow Cooker Recipes. The best thing I have found in this book so far is ideas on how to use the crock-pot through the Spring and Summer. So, I decided to try my first one when I got some boneless, skinless chicken thighs on sale and I found this recipe for Greek-style chicken.

Greek-Style Chicken
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Remove and discard visible fat from chicken. season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Brown chicken on all sides. transfer to Crock-Pot slow cooker.
2. Add broth, lemon, olives, garlic and oregano. Cover, cook on LOW 5 to 6 hours or until chicken is tender.

I am usually gone from home anywhere from 8-12 hours during the day so there was no way this was going in the crock-pot in the morning. However, I had already planned to come home early that day so when I arrived home at 3:00PM, I followed the recipe and put the cooker on HIGH instead of  LOW. By 6:00PM it was done!
I served it with the doctored potatoes from Kids Cook Night II. I heated fat free milk and about 2 tablespoons of smart balance butter in a saucepan, adding to it fresh ground pepper and kosher salt. When the mixture was hot but not boiling, I poured it into the reheated potatoes and blended it all together with my handheld mixer.
I thought the chicken had a nice flavor and was very light and could definitely see why the recipe recommended serving with orzo or rice. Hubby has no love for dark meat, and unfortunately this dish didn’t convince him to change his mind. I think I could adapt it to use chicken breasts but Id have to experiment with the breasts and the cooking time. I also think this could easily be adapted to a tasty oven dish with the rice and chicken cooking together.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reader Recipe: Buffalo Chicken Salad

I LOVE when readers share their own "cook crook" moments!

Reader Matt sent me a picture of his recent meal that he created from leftover smoked chicken he had prepared beer can style. 

Buffalo Chicken Salad: Beautiful Plate!
Matt made a bed of organic greens, fat free croutons and Italian blend cheese.He heated the leftover chicken and then tossed it in prepared buffalo sauce. Then it was as simple as putting the chicken on top of the lettuce and covering it in blue cheese dressing. As Matt said, "Not a bad unexpected dinner using what was around!"

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

For the Love of Smoothies

I think my son is part fruit bat. Not sure what side of the family it comes from but since he could eat solid food, that boy has eaten EVERY kind of fruit there is. He's always been a little guy and he's reached the "finicky years" so it's been a challenge trying to get him to eat things with more substance and get him a little further on the growth curve.

Enter the smoothie. Let me go on record to say I was one of those mom's who pshawed the idea of smoothies being a universal dietary solution to kids. Surely a mix of fruit and yogurt would not fool them if I were to say, add in instant breakfast or protein powder. Consider me corrected! My son loves smoothies, loves making them and so far has experimented with a variety of yogurts, breakfast mixes (we still have an affinity for Carnation instant breakfast), fruits and other add-ins like peanut butter and Nutella

This particular creation in this picture was vanilla yogurt, fresh strawberries, diced pears and pineapple chunks with a few added ice cubes. Clearly this is not an unpleasant experience:
Might I add we don't have a traditional blender and instead use the kitchen tool known to save me on many an occasion, my stick blender! Not to mention, after Josh makes his smoothies, he drinks them right out of that plastic cup!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cooking with Kids Part II: Turkey Burgers and Cheesy "Smashed Potatoes"

Our second night of kid's cooking this past weekend was based on food my daughter wanted to cook. In fact, this is one often unrealized benefit of cooking with your kids. If you leave it up to them to choose the recipe, you'll be surprised what they pick out! Rebecca picked two recipes out of Rachel Ray's book Cooking with Kids that she really wanted to try: cheesy smashed potatoes and turkey chili, cheddar and bacon burgers. Had it not been for this cooking night, you could never have told me she would eat a turkey burger!

We started on the potatoes first and this time the little guy wanted in on the prep work so I let him and his sister wash potatoes:
While our potatoes boiled, we went to work on making the turkey burgers. As always, her favorite part was mixing the meat with the veggies and spices, this time while her brother watched.
 If you are familiar with Rachel Ray recipes you know she makes different varieties of "smashed" potatoes which is really non-whipped mashed potatoes with added ingredients. These add 2 cups of shredded cheddar, chives, sour cream and salt and pepper.
The turkey burgers cooking in the skillet made the house smell wonderful! 
We sliced our own 2% sharp cheddar to put on top and as always, when a recipe calls for any brand barbecue sauce, we  use Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce. We baked our bacon in the oven and served the burgers on sesame rolls.The final plate:
The turkey burgers were the star with everyone devouring them. My family said they thought the potatoes were too dense and I think that was partly due to my over-mashing versus smashing them but probably also a product of the fact they think my mashed potatoes are the best in the world! We saved the leftover potatoes and I'll be adding some warm milk and butter to them and whipping them into cheddar mashed potatoes for a side to go with this weeks Greek flavor chicken.

If you haven't cooked with your kids, give it a try. You'll be surprised at the fun AND learning that takes place and the new things they will try just because they get to make it.