Friday, April 29, 2011

Limoncello and Mint Sparklers:
Soft, fizzy lemonade with a hint of mint

It seemed high time that I tried making a new cocktail, so last weekend, just in time to celebrate Easter, I hauled out the recipe for Limoncello and Mint Sparklers (click for the recipe).
   It’s one I’d been harboring away on my “to-make” list. It was waiting patiently for me to get to it and see just how awesome it is.
   And it was truly awesome – it was essentially soft, fizzy lemonade with a hint of mint.
   Limoncello, or lemon liqueur, creates the lemonade taste, with the help of fresh lemon juice. The fizziness comes from club soda (the recipe calls for sparkling water, but I always prefer club soda.)
   While I made this for sipping before and at a springtime meal, where it fit in well, my mom rightly pointed out the cocktail would also be nice on a hot summer day, enjoyed on the deck.
   The recipe says it makes six servings, but I found it made four.
   The cocktail was amazingly easy to prepare.
   Fresh mint leaves are combined with limoncello in a bowl. The mint is gently bruised with a pestle or wooden spoon to release the yummy mint flavors. The mixture is chilled for one hour.
   The mixture is strained through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher, leaving the mint in the sieve and the minty limoncello in the pitcher.
   Just before serving, fresh lemon juice and club soda is stirred with the limoncello in the pitcher.
   The recipe says to fill the pitcher with ice, but I put ice in the individual glasses instead and poured the cocktail on top.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Get rash with Lemon & Thyme Turkey Burgers

The recipe called for four thin rashers.
   This scared me when I first read the ingredients for Lemon & Thyme Turkey Burgers (click for the recipe) in BBC GoodFood magazine.
   What – put a rash in food?
   I blinked my eyes, read again, and saw: Four thin rashers streaky bacon.
   It turns out when the Brits say rashers, they mean strips of bacon.
   I breathed a sigh of relief upon double-checking this online. Bacon – I can do that.
   The strips of bacon, wrapped around each burger patty, add an unexpected but welcome crunch and flavor to these delicious burgers.
   Thyme is the star, though. Its flavor lights up every bite of the moist patties. The recipe says you can use fresh or dried thyme leaves, but I highly recommend using fresh.
   The recipe suggests serving the burgers with sliced tomatoes and lettuce leaves. These are definitely good choices, but instead of the suggested tomato sauce, we used mayonnaise. Spread on the bun, it was a perfect condiment for the turkey burgers.
   The burgers are very easy to make.
   Minced turkey (ground turkey) is combined with lemon zest (finely-grated lemon peel), thyme, parsley and cooked onion. The mixture is shaped into four patties and a “rasher” of bacon is wrapped around each of them.
   The patties are baked in a roasting tin (a shallow roasting pan) for 20 to 25 minutes, then pan-fried for a few minutes on each side to crisp up the bacon.
   The burgers are served on a bun with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pancetta packs flavor into Italian meatloaf

Meatloaf -- it’s a dish and a singer.
   Today I’m writing about the ubiquitous comfort food and a version we tried recently that was quite amazing.
   Italian meatloaf from BBC GoodFood magazine transformed what can be humdrum dinner into something remarkably tasty.
   I think the secret ingredient is pancetta, salt-cured pork belly that is similar to bacon. It added moisture and depth of flavor to the meatloaf.
   If you can’t find pancetta, bacon can be substituted, but most large, well-stocked supermarkets should have it.
   The recipe’s instruction to line a loaf pan with two layers of parchment paper is a good one.
   The paper soaks up all the oil coming out of the ground beef, and makes it easy to remove from the pan – all you need to do is lift out the meatloaf using the overhang of the parchment.
   Instead of making the fresh white breadcrumbs that the recipe asks for, we used panko instead, a type of ready-made fine Japanese breadcrumb that can be found in the bakery or Asian foods section of many supermarkets.
   The recipe also calls for tomato puree. As I understand it, the Brits mean tomato paste when they say tomato puree, so that is what we used.
   The recipe is very easy to make.
   Lean ground beef, breadcrumbs, finely-grated Parmesan cheese, onion, pancetta, garlic, egg and tomato paste are mixed together in a large bowl, then pressed into a loaf pan and sprinkled with a topping of breadcrumbs and Parmesan.
   The meatloaf is baked for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden and crunchy. It’s cooled in the pan for five minutes before serving.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cleverness abounds in Five-Spice Steak Wraps

I always appreciate a recipe that’s clever.
   Such a recipe uses a neat shortcut or secret ingredient to make magic out of everyday food items.
   Five-Spice Steak Wraps (click for the recipe) from Better Homes and Gardens is an example. (The recipe is also in the cookbook Dinner Express).
   The wraps have a delicious flavor that’s produced in mere minutes – this recipe is a snap to make. I’ll bet the whole family will go for it, too.
   The secret ingredient/shortcut in this recipe is the use of rice vinegar and sesame oil as a simple dressing on purchased coleslaw mix.
   The dressing has a fresh, bright taste that turns the coleslaw into a yummy, crunchy, ideal accompaniment to the steak, which has been sprinkled with five-spice powder before cooking.
   The coleslaw with the rice vinegar and sesame oil dressing is so good that it can stand on its own. I’ll probably steal the idea to whip up an easy weeknight salad in the summer.
   The recipe calls for “toasted” sesame oil. I used sesame oil that was labelled “pure.”
   The sesame oil is combined with rice vinegar and is tossed with a mixture of coleslaw mix, red or green pepper, shredded carrot and chopped chives.
   A boneless beef round steak is cut into ¼-inch-thick strips and is sprinkled with five-spice powder and salt. (Five-spice powder is available in many supermarkets in the dried herbs and spices or Asian cooking sections.) The pieces are cooked in a skillet.
   A wrap is assembled by spreading plain yogurt or sour cream down the centre of a tortilla, topping with steak strips and coleslaw mix and folding in the sides of the tortilla.

Better Homes and Gardens Dinner Express at

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Recipes for an Easter feast

Here are links to reviews of recipes that I think would work like a charm for an Easter feast:

Baked Ziti: A crowd-pleasing pasta side dish.

Mushroom Salad with Lemon, Thyme and Parmigiano: A fresh, springy recipe that adds a touch of simple elegance to the table.

Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Compote: It looks fancy but it's very easy to make.

Potatoes with Ranch Dressing: A no-fuss, family-friendly spring potato dish.

Potatoes Anna: A delicious, simple side dish that cuts beautifully into squares for serving.

Irish Currant and Raisin Cake: This light, fluffy, family-friendly cake is best on the day it's made.

Vanilla Wafer Cake: A family-friendly dessert with old-fashioned appeal.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A secret ingredient is behind the goodness of Spaghetti with Asparagus, Shiitake Mushrooms, Lemon and Chives

We’ve made Spaghetti with Asparagus, Shiitake Mushrooms, Lemon and Chives (click for the recipe) for several springs since I first saw the recipe in Bon Appetit magazine five years ago.
   I like it because, not only is it delicious, it has a secret ingredient behind its appeal. For me, this always makes a recipe more fun.
   There is a lovely, light coating on each and every strand of spaghetti. People may wonder what it is as they dig into a plate of this pasta.
   Only you’ll know the secret behind it.
   Gather in close, readers: It’s vegetable broth - the ready-made kind you find in the soup section of supermarkets!
   The broth is simmered down and then whisked with butter, creating a sauce that clings to the spaghetti strands. It adds an extra somethin’-somethin’ to this dish.
   The recipe makes excellent use of several food items that are at their absolute best right now: Asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, chives and lemons.
   It’s very easy to make.
   Spaghetti is cooked in a pot of boiling water (I use Catelli’s Smart Spaghetti), drained, and transferred to a large bowl.
   Shallots and shiitake mushrooms are cooked in a skillet. Fresh lemon juice, vegetable broth and grated lemon peel are added and simmered until the liquid is reduced by half. Chopped asparagus is added, then chives and more butter.
   The sauce is poured over the pasta and the mixture tossed to coat.
   Shaved Asiago cheese (use a vegetable peeler) is placed on top, and the pasta is served.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mint and dill get savory in
Greek Meatballs with Herb and Lemon Orzo

Mint and dill – these are two herbs that I love to use in spring.
   When I was cutting them up to be used in Greek Meatballs with Herb and Lemon Orzo (click for the recipe)* this week, I took a few minutes just standing and inhaling their lovely fragrances.
   Visions of frosty summer drinks like mint vodka lemonade danced through my head as I held the leaves to my nose, while I could almost taste summer salads sprinkled with dill.
   For now, though, I’m content with using these ingredients in savory spring dishes, such as the Greek Meatballs, a featured recipe in the spring edition of America’s Test Kitchen’s 30-Minute Suppers.
   The mint and dill are subtley delicious in the orzo, and also add appealing flavor to the satisfying beef meatballs. The whole dish is sprinkled with zesty feta.
   It’s an excellent weeknight dish. Working together, my husband on the meatballs and me on the orzo, we got it on the table in about 35 minutes.
   The recipe I linked to above is on a blog.
   *The blogger has divided the recipe into two sections, Greek Meatballs and Herb and Lemon Orzo. I used a recipe that combined both into a more condensed version.
   However, there are only a few small differences between the blogger’s recipes and the one I used.
   First, the blogger says to use one tablespoon of oil in a skillet and cook just five to six meatballs at a time.
   That may work, but my husband followed the recipe’s direction of heating ¼ cup olive oil in a large skillet and cooking all 24 meatballs at once in a large skillet. Although he had to scrape up some of the bits that stuck to the bottom, the meatballs held together for the most part.
   The blogger also doesn’t mention how much water to bring to a boil for the orzo. I used three quarts (12 cups) as the recipe said.
   The blogger lists ½ cup feta cheese as an ingredient under both the Greek Meatballs and the Lemon and Orzo, but in the recipe I used only had ½ cup feta total. This was more than enough to sprinkle on the servings.
   For the meatballs, the recipe calls for two slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces. Instead of this, my husband used panko, a type of very fine Japanese breadcrumb that can be found in the bakery or Asian food section of many supermarkets.
   The breadcrumbs are mashed with plain yogurt, then ground beef, grated red onion, minced garlic, fresh mint, fresh dill, salt and pepper are added and everything is mixed together. The mixture is formed into 1 ½-inch meatballs.
   The meatballs are cooked in oil in a skillet.
   Meanwhile, three quarts of water are brought to a boil, then the burner is turned down to medium. The orzo is cooked for about 10 minutes in the simmering water.
   Make sure to drain the orzo in a fine-mesh sieve – you don’t want the pieces of tiny pasta going down the drain!
   The orzo is tossed with lemon zest, lemon juice, mint, dill, minced garlic and olive oil.
   The recipe says to spoon the orzo onto a serving platter, top with meatballs and sprinkle with feta cheese. We kept these items separate instead, so we could take how much of each we wanted and arrange them on the plate as we desired!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Old-fashioned Vanilla Wafer Cake
will never go out of style!

Vanilla Wafer Cake (click for the recipe)*, I’m told by doing a little research online, is a recipe that has been around for a long time.
   Luckily, delicious never goes out of fashion, so this cake stands up as much as it did years ago.
   It’s a crowd-pleasing, family-friendly cake, with no unusual flavors lurking within. It slices nicely, and pieces work just as well packed away for lunches as they do for after-dinner dessert.
   My husband, who is cuckoo for coconut, loved that the cake was packed with it – two cups of the sweetened, shredded stuff to be exact.
   So many vanilla wafer cookies (seven cups!) are used that no extra flour is needed. I used Nabisco Nilla wafers.
   *The recipe for Vanilla Wafer Cake that I used is a version from Cook’s Country magazine. The recipe I linked to above is on the NBC Today website. Chris Kimball, founder of Cook’s Country and America's Test Kitchen, demonstrated making Vanilla Wafer Cake on the show one day. Just scroll down until you find the recipe.
   The cake is a snap to make.
   Vanilla wafer cookies are processed in a food processor in two batches until fine crumbs form. The crumbs are transferred to a bowl and salt is added.
   Sugar, butter and eggs are mixed together with an electric mixer. The cookie crumbs are mixed in alternately with whole milk.
   Sweetened shredded coconut and toasted, chopped pecans are folded in. (I bought the pecans already chopped and toasted them in a frying pan on medium for about four minutes.)
   The batter is scraped into a nine-inch springform pan and baked until the cake is golden brown, one hour 20 minutes to one hour 40 minutes (my cake only needed the lesser cooking time of one hour 20 minutes.)
   After the cake is cooled in the pan for a few minutes, it is inverted on a wire rack to cool to room temperature before serving.
   The cake will keep at room temperature covered in plastic for three to five days.

Pin It

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dreamy Chicken Soup with Rice, Lemon & Mint

The soup was dreamy.
   There is simply no other way to describe it. Dreamy. I leaned back, closed my eyes and savored each and every slurp of Chicken Soup with Rice, Lemon & Mint (click for the recipe) from Fine Cooking magazine.
   This is chicken soup with just a bit of zing, thanks to the lemon juice and mint. It’s an ideal soup for spring.
   However, even though it’s delicious (and dreamy), I’m not entirely sure it’s for everyone. People expecting straightforward chicken soup like the canned variety may not go for it. Those of you cooking for children or picky eaters have been warned.
   I found the second bowl tasted even better than the first, so this is my official advice about this soup: Even though the recipe says to serve it right away, let it sit for about five minutes before serving.
   Be sure to advise people eating the soup to add just a touch of salt to their serving – it makes a nice difference.
   The leftovers warm up beautifully in the microwave. Weekday lunches, here we come!
   The recipe I linked to on the Fine Cooking website links to a recipe for homemade chicken broth to use in the soup.
   We used lower-salt chicken broth from the soup aisle of the supermarket instead, making the soup an absolute snap to make.
   Some of the broth, water and salt are brought to a boil, and long-grain rice is stirred in and simmered (we used basmati rice as the recipe suggested.)
   The rest of the broth is brought to a simmer, and one sliced, boneless skinless chicken breast is added and poached in the simmering broth. (We skipped the bit about straining the soup through a cheesecloth if the soup is cloudy. Who cares if the soup is cloudy?)
   The rice, fresh lemon juice and fresh mint are added to the broth. Let the soup stand for a bit, then serve.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Recipes that sandwich
spring into quesadillas and panini

In this Recipes That Worked entry, I bring you two recipes that sandwich spring into quesadillas and panini. Both are from Everyday Food magazine.
   The first recipe, for Goat Cheese and Mango Quesadillas (click for the recipe), takes advantage of the cool tanginess of goat cheese. It serves as a base for the sweet mango and the slight bite of jalapeno pepper – a great combination.
   The second recipe, for Cheddar-Scallion Panini (click for the recipe), will be a hit with fans of grilled cheese sandwiches.
   The recipe I linked to from the Everyday Food website is for the panini, along with a green pea soup. The soup is serviceable, but not terrific; I’m recommending the panini.
   In this recipe, sharp white cheddar and scallions, otherwise known as green onions, pair up for a zesty filling.
   Although the recipe recommends rye bread, white would work beautifully, too.
   Both recipes are very easy to make.
   For the Goat Cheese and Mango Quesadillas, my husband and I used canned mango pieces. After draining them, we sliced them into smaller pieces.
   As we always do, my husband and I skipped the cilantro and used parsley instead. We also left out the red onion.
   Room-temperature goat cheese is spread on six-inch whole-wheat tortillas. Mango, jalapeno pepper and parsley are placed on one half of each tortilla, and the other half is folded over.
   The quesadillas are cooked in batches in a skillet, about one to two minutes per side. This time is just about perfect – any longer and the quesadillas start to burn.
   They are also cooked without oil in the skillet. That’s a good measure, because oily quesadillas are unpleasant!
   After cooking, the quesadillas are cut into wedges. The recipe says four, but we cut two wedges instead.
   For the Cheddar-Scallion Panini, shredded sharp white cheddar cheese is tossed with thinly-sliced scallion greens and the mixture put between slices of bread.
   The panini can be cooked two ways: With butter in a skillet, or on a panini maker (without butter!)
   Serve and enjoy these springy sandwiches.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Make your plate a lovely shade of red with
Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Compote

When spring rolls around, rhubarb starts to surface in supermarkets.
   I’ve got a recipe that puts its lovely ruby red stalks to scrumptious use.
   Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Compote (click for the recipe) from Bon Appetit magazine is a fancy dish that is easy to make.
   The slightly-sweet compote is delicious over the slices of pork tenderloin crusted with crusted fennel seeds.
   With a side of rice and salad, it’s a perfect springtime meal.
   When I’ve been unable to find fresh rhubarb for the compote, I’ve used frozen rhubarb and it works perfectly. I’ve also made the compote with Splenda instead of sugar.
   The compote needs to chill for at least three hours before the dish is served, so making it requires some advance preparation.
   For best results, it is essential that the fennel seeds are ground finely for the pork’s coating. The recipe says to use a mortar and pestle or spice mill, but a mini food chopper would also do the job.
   It is also important that the dried sage used in the recipe is rubbed sage, or the powder form, rather than dried sage leaves.
   To make the compote, rhubarb pieces, sugar and water are brought to a boil, and are then simmered on medium-low until rhubarb is very soft, about 20 minutes. (If you cut back on the amount of compote you make for any reason, beware that it will cook more quickly. Keep your eye on it so it doesn’t burn.)
   The compote is refrigerated until chilled.
   To make the pork tenderloin, olive oil, black pepper, salt, dried sage and ground fennel are mixed together and rubbed all over two to three pork tenderloins, which are then left to stand for 20 minutes.
   The pork tenderloins are cooked in a skillet, then transferred to a cutting board. After a short five-minute resting time, the pork is cut into 1/2-inch thick slices and arranged on a platter.
   Serve the pork with the compote.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A sure sign of spring: Making Spaghetti
with Bay Scallops, Leeks and Tarragon

Hello, dear spring!
   I think it’s arrived. I don’t have to wear gloves, a hat or winter boots anymore. I can hear birds chirping. It’s not dark as midnight when I get up in the morning. The lot where I park for work is a sinkhole of mud rather than a skating rink.
   And I want to cook nice and bright from now until fall!
   That’s one of my own official signs of spring: I want to crack out goat cheese, dill, chicken, orzo, asparagus, strawberries and lemons and get them to work in cooking and baking.
   A pasta dish that I like to make to welcome spring is Spaghetti with Bay Scallops, Leeks and Tarragon (click for the recipe) from Everyday Food magazine.
   The white and green colors of the dish pay homage to the new and warmer season.
   Most importantly, it’s amazingly delicious and satisfying.
   The scallops make for a meaty texture in the pasta, while the leeks and tarragon add a pleasant oniony flavor.
   The recipe calls for bay scallops, which look like mini scallops. Bay scallops are quite easy to find frozen, but if you can't find them, cutting regular-size scallops in half will work just as well.
   Spaghetti is boiled until al dente, then drained and returned to the pot.
   Thinly-sliced leeks (be sure to wash them well to get out all the dirt in the upper white part) and garlic are cooked in a skillet, and are added to the pasta. The same step is repeated for scallops and lemon zest (finely-grated lemon peel).
   Fresh tarragon, butter and lemon juice are added to the pasta in the pot and tossed until they create a thin sauce that coats the spaghetti.
   Serve and welcome spring.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A weeknight dish for busy folks:
Pineapple Chicken Bake

Because I love to cook and have a variety of foods in my diet, I make it a priority to try new recipes often (this blog wouldn’t exist otherwise).
   But very few recipes I try require a lot of effort and time.
   I have a full-time day job in addition to blogging, and so I appreciate a good quick-to-make dish on weeknights as much as the next busy person.
   Pineapple Chicken Bake (click for the recipe) from America’s Test Kitchen was a recent recipe my husband and I made that was astoundingly quick and easy to make and produced very good results.
   The curry powder and pineapple chunks were a terrific combination, with the powder adding a bit of heat and the pineapple some sweetness. The almonds on top provided a perfect crunch.
   We served the chicken with jasmine rice, an ideal side dish to soak up some of the sweet sauce.
   While the base of the dish is chicken, a food that is often family friendly, I wouldn’t necessarily put Pinepple Chicken Bake in the family-friendly category.
   It may be a little too weird for the taste buds of youngsters, especially with the curry powder.
   We used the suggested two teaspoons of curry powder in the recipe, and it was mild, and I found it just a wee bit too hot. The curry powder can easily be cut back, however, as can the Tabasco sauce.
   The recipe I linked to above on a blog is nearly exactly the same as the one we used from the The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, with one small exception: The blogger says to bake the chicken until it is cooked through, about 20 minutes.
   The recipe we used says to bake the dish 15 to 18 minutes, or until the chicken registers 160 F on an instant-read food thermometer. We found this took about 18 minutes.
   To make the dish, four boneless, skinless chicken breasts are patted dry, seasoned with salt and pepper and put in a 9x13 inch baking dish (we used a glass baking dish).
   Pineapple juice from the cans of pineapple, honey, cider vinegar (also called apple cider vinegar), curry powder and Tabasco sauce are simmered over medium heat until thickened.
   Cornstarch is dissolved into water and then whisked into the honey mixture, and pineapple chunks are stirred in.
   The pineapple sauce is poured over the chicken, which is in turn sprinkled with sliced almonds.
   The dish is baked on an oven rack that has been adjusted to the top position.

America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook on

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sloppy Joes with a turkey twist

Sloppy joes. I remember when my Mom made these for the first time when I was a kid, and the concept fascinated me.
   It was a like a hamburger, but not. I needed to use a knife and fork to eat it. The name fit it so well – definitely sloppy!
   (According to Wikipedia, Sloppy Joes are called Victory Burgers in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, where I live. This is news to me.)
  When I came across a recipe for Barbecued-Turkey Sloppy Joes (click for the recipe)* from America's Test Kitchen recently, I knew I needed to take a walk down memory lane and make them.
   I wasn’t disappointed. These sloppy joes are terrific comfort food, with the moist turkey mixed with a slightly sweet sauce. The whole family will like it.
   They weren’t the sloppiest Sloppy Joes, however. My husband filled a bun with it and ate it like a hamburger. That’s not a bad thing, just a note to those who feel the meat of sloppy joes should spill over the bun and into the next town.
   *The recipe I linked to above, on a blog, is for an America’s Test Kitchen’s Sloppy Joe recipe that uses beef.
   I’m sure it that variation is delicious, but if you want to make the recipe I did for turkey sloppy joes, you just need to make a few tweaks here and there.
   First and foremost is an important ingredient substitution.
   Both the turkey and beef recipes call for one cup of tomato puree. I have searched for this product high and low and have been unable to find it.
   I used a substitute of one part tomato paste mixed with one part water. For the one cup called for in the turkey sloppy joes recipe, I mixed ½ cup tomato paste with ½ cup water.
   Here are the other key substitutions ingredient and step subsitutions to transform beef sloppy joes into turkey:
- Instead of one pound of ground beef, use one pound of ground turkey.
- Instead of ½ cup ketchup, use ½ cup barbecue sauce.
- In step 2, cook the onions and salt for five minutes instead of 10.
- In step 6, forget the part about adding “the remaining salt and black pepper.” Let people salt or pepper their own servings if they desire.

If you want exactly the same recipe I used without having to compare this blog post to the one I linked to, head out and buy a copy of the spring edition of America’s Test Kitchen’s 30-Minute Suppers, on newsstands until May 9, 2011.
   It’s got many other terrific-looking recipes I have my eye on to try, which may just show up on Recipes That Worked, including:
   - Quick Country Captain Chicken
   - Chicken-Sausage Sandwich with Broccoli Slaw
   - Flank Steak with Spicy Peanut Noodles
   - Creamy Beef Curry
   - Greek Meatballs with Herb and Lemon Orzo
   - Indonesian-Style Pork Fried Rice
   - Crab-Stuffed Sole with Lemon-Butter Sauce
   - Cod with Herbed Tomato-Caper Compote
   - Spicy Shrimp-and-Herb Salad Wrap
   - Cabbage and Kielbasa Salad with Honey-Mustard Dressing