Sunday, December 21, 2014

all gussied up

Dear Kristin,

When we were little we used to get brand new outfits for all of the holidays. Easter dresses, Christmas dresses, shoes to match - and oh, yes we even had to wear little white gloves! Why anyone ever thought that putting white gloves on a 4 year old was a good idea, I'll never know. I remember my favorite Christmas dress was one that actually changed color! Somehow, the fabric would appear to be a really pretty forest green if you looked at it one way, and a dark royal blue if you looked at it another way. It had little white satin roses at the collar. The problem was finding shoes to match, I think I ended up with black patent leather Maryjane's. (I wonder how many pairs of those I went through - either wearing them out or out-growing them, I know I must have had at least 3 or 4 pairs by the time I was 5 years old).

Well, those days are long gone. Nowadays, if we get out of our pajamas on Christmas day we have accomplished quite a bit. But, do not fret! Instead of dressing ourselves up, we have evolved and now have taken to dressing up our holiday meals instead. We used to just dress up the holiday ham - putting pineapple rings, maraschino cherries & cloves in a diamond pattern before baking it - but that was as fancy as our food ever got. But there is a whole world of food waiting to join the fashionistas...

Take the lowly cranberry. We usually see it in a gelatinous wobbly mold at Thanksgiving, or studded into various cookies or muffins. I say it's time for cranberries to shine and go for the glory they deserve! So, here is a way to gussy up your cranberries, and make a dessert that is as impressive to look at as it is to eat. Tart, jewel-like cranberries atop a light sweet cake base. This will be sure to earn you a "wow" as you sit back and enjoy your holiday dessert in your Dr. Denton's.

cranberry upside-down cake


5 Tblsp. unsalted butter
2/3 c. light brown sugar
2 1/4 - 2 1/2 c. fresh cranberries (about 8 oz.)


1 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. granulated white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 c. milk (room temperature)
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon


Butter a 9" round cake pan (I use a deep-dish 9" pie dish)

Heat the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan until butter is melted and sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking until the mixture starts to caramelize, about two minutes. Remove from the heat and pour this into your prepared cake pan. Sprinkle evenly with the cranberries. Try to use as many cranberries as you can, nestling them all nice and snug.


Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar until light & fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Add egg yolks and beat until incorporated. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour)

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they hold a firm peak. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter using a large spatula. Pour the batter into the cake pan on top of the cranberries. Smooth the top and tap the pan on the counter to get rid of air bubbles. Bake in a 350 F. oven for 35-40 minutes until top of cake is browned & begins to pull away from the side of the pan and a cake tester tests done.

Remove the cake from the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan. Take your serving plate and invert it on top of the cake. Hold your breath and invert the cake onto the serving plate. Tapping the pan will help loosen the cake if you need to.

This cake is best served warm, with some whipped cream.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

starch, cheese and fat

Dear Mom,

Well fall here in New York has been beautiful.  Nicer than Chicago I think.  We have mountains and hills here that are currently covered in the most lovely colors of fall foilage, unlike Chicago's remarkably flat, wind-swept terrain.  I've actually been able to get out to the park a couple of times for a run, which is truly enjoyable between the cool, refreshing air and the colors.  As you would expect though, the only reason I work-out is to eat, and as the weather turns colder its time for more starch, cheese and fat.  We have to bulk up for the winter you know.  A great way to get these items into your system is of course lasagna, but if you're not feeling up to the task this dish is slightly easier to put together and will still satisfy you in the cold winter months.

baked sausage rigatoni with home-made gravy

1 lb. dried rigatoni (cooked according to package directions)

3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. italian sausage, crumbled
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
3 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1 28 oz. can plum tomatoes (no salt added)
salt, to taste

1/2 cup parmesan
1/2 cup ricotta
1 cup shredded mozzerella

Preheat oven to 350.

Over medium-high heat in a sauce pan brown the sausage in the olive oil.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.  In the same pan (adding extra oil if necessary) add the garlic and onion.  Cook until fragrant and slightly browned.  Add tomato paste and cook until it is a dark red color.  Add white wine scraping the browned bits up from the bottom.  Cook wine until slightly reduced.  Add can of plum tomatoes mashing with a potato masher into the saucepan.  Adjust seasoning and cook over medium to medium-low heat for 1/2 hour.

In a large bowl toss the pasta with 2-3 cups of the sauce.  Layer 1/2 the pasta/sauce mixture into a 9x13 glass dish.  In an even layer sprinkle the sausage, parmesan and dollops of ricotta cheese.  Ladle about 2 cups of sauce on top.  Top with remaining pasta and sauce.  Sprinkle mozzerella over the top and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and brown.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

a break from burgers

Dear Kristin,

Yes, I'm also guilty of just kicking back and taking it easy over the summer. Especially now since your dad has retired & does most of the cooking during the week. (Yes, I did marry the world's most wonderful guy!). We have been doing a lot of grilling this summer - especially after we discovered the sausages at Skip's Meat Market which is only a short drive from us. Their chicken taco sausage is my fave.

After a summer of all-American hamburgers & sausages I thought I'd venture out & try something a little different. I was looking for the chicken dish served in many Chinese restaurants that comes in a brown salty sweet sauce & discovered that what I was probably looking for was called Bourbon Chicken. Evidently, it is a Cajun inspired Chinese dish that originated in New Orleans & is named after the famous Bourbon Street. So, don't be fooled - there is no bourbon to be found in this recipe. (Sorry if I disappointed you!)

Anyways, this is a quick dish to put together & your dad & I both love it served with some fried rice & a couple of spring rolls on the side. I based this recipe on one I found at, but as always, I couldn't leave it alone & had to make some changes.

bourbon chicken

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1" pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 to 3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, depending on your tolerance
1/2 c. apple juice
2/3 c. light brown sugar
4 Tblsp. ketchup
2 Tblsp. cider vinegar
2/3 c. reduced sodium soy sauce
2 Tblsp. corn starch mixed with 1-2 Tblsp. water to make a slurry

Brown chicken pieces in hot oil in a large skillet. Remove chicken to a warm plate & keep it warm while you prepare the sauce.

Add all remaining ingredients except the cornstarch slurry to the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring until everything is dissolved. Add the chicken back to the pan and bring mixture back to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until chicken tests done. Bring mixture back to boil & slowly add the slurry. Continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes or until sauce has thickened.

Told you it was easy!!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

brown bagging it

Dear Mom,

This is terrible! Its been months since I've posted!  I've been very busy, we've been unpacking since the big move and I got a job!  It all happened surprisingly quickly and I'm still adjusting to the new schedule.  So my new job is at a great firm in midtown Manhattan and is a convenient 10 minute walk from Grand Central.  I love the energy of working in the Big Apple, but the prices are a little expensive, even for lunch.  So I've been brown bagging it.  I've been quite ambitious with it, and I'm trying to make healthy things that I can make in bulk on Sundays so that they last through the week.  My big kick lately is quinoa, which I'm very surprised just came up as a spelling mistake on my machine - my corrective options were Aquino or Joaquin...

Joaquin's Salad

1 cup quinoa
2 cups low-sodium chicken (or veggie) stock

4-5 seeded, chopped plum tomatoes
1 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped (peel too if you like)
1 can chick peas
1/2 cup chopped curly parsley
3/4 cup feta cheese

2 lemons, juiced
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook quinoa according to package directions, usually its a 1:2 ratio of dried quinoa to stock.  Cool cooked quinoa.  Combine quinoa and tomatoes through feta in a large bowl, toss all ingredients together.  In a separate bowl whisk together lemon juice through garlic.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and add to quinoa mixture.  Toss to combine.  Adjust seasoning as required.

This salad has kept in my fridge for 5 days (by then I've usually ate it all).  It will get better if it sits in the fridge overnight.  If it seems a little bland after a night in the fridge add more red wine vinegar and salt and pepper.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Dear Kristin,

The one thing we can always count on in life is change, or as I like to look at it - plot twists!
We're looking forward to coming to see you in your new digs - so many new things to explore! Speaking of exploring, with the price of beef so high, we are exploring new ways to cook chicken. (That was probably one of the worst segues I've come up with yet - sorry!) This recipe is based on one I found in the March 2014 issue of Cooking Light. The original recipe called for using pancetta - as you did in your penne vodka, but finding pancetta too "cosmo" for us, I comfy-fied the recipe a bit by subbing in bacon. This is really quick and easy - makes a great weeknight dinner with some roasted potatoes and a salad.

chicken with peas and bacon

1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into 1" pieces
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 c. chicken stock
2 Tbsp. mascarpone cheese
2 Tbsp. water
2 tsp. all purpose flour
1 c. frozen peas, thawed

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan & swirl to coat. Add garlic & saute for 2 minutes, stirring frequently - be careful not to burn it. Remove garlic from pan. Add bacon to pan and saute until it just begins to crisp - about 4 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon & add to reserved garlic.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Saute in the same skillet (there should be about 2 Tbsp. bacon fat left in the pan) until nicely browned - about 4 minutes per side. Remove chicken from pan. De-glaze pan with wine, and cook until wine is almost evaporated (about 3 minutes). Return chicken to the pan. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover the pan and cook for 6-8 minutes or until chicken tests done. Remove chicken from the pan.

Add mascarpone cheese to the pan and whisk until smooth. Make a slurry with the flour and water and add to the pan. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Cook for 2 minutes. Stir in reserved bacon and garlic and the peas. Heat until peas are heated through. Serve sauce over chicken.