Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Broccoli Rabe Done Right

Broccoli Rabe, aka Ripini or Raab, is one of those veggies that people seem to really either like or they don’t.  The very mention of it sends my husband, Dan, reaching for a second helping of whatever main course I made along side of it; just so he can say “I’m full” after he’s taken one bite of the green leafy side dish. 

His brother, Mike, on the other hand, could eat it every single day.  Go figure!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve ventured away (just a bit) from my healthy home cooking POV.  I think we all do that on the holidays.  But now it’s time to face reality and get back to healthy eating. 

Broccoli Rabe has many health benefits, including cancer-fighting agents.  According to one of my favorite informational websites, Suite101 “…It has a mere 20 calories per one cup raw, 3 grams of protein and 72 mg of vitamin C and 7.6 mg of beta-carotene. It is also a good source of vitamins A and K as well as potassium.”

Read more at Suite101:

Still, regardless of the health benefits, if you can’t make it taste good, those who just don’t like it will fill up on the garlic bread instead. 

Warm Broccoli Rabe and White Bean Salad

My recipe is simple.  I braise the ripini in a little bit of chicken broth to remove some of the bitterness.  I drain it.  I add it back to the pan with a good amount of good quality olive oil and minced garlic; a dash of sea salt, a little crushed red pepper and lemon juice round it out. 

The trick is not to overcook it so that it keeps its lovely green color.  Then I plate it and I add a few cannellini beans to the same skillet.  I sauté those for a few minutes -- and I top off the ripini. 

I’ve been searching the web for ideas on how to make this side dish in a way that my hubby would like it.  I’d like to hear some of your suggestions; especially if your recipe has won over a skeptic!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Soup Therapy!

Potato, Leek and Kale Soup
Bet you never thought you’d read that title on a food blog? 

One of the cool things about being a home cook over a pro is that you can admit your mistakes and move on.  Yeah, we do like to brag when we make the perfect leg of lamb or the most succulent Cornish hen. 

I’m sure, like me, if you cook, you’ve made mistakes.  Admit it, you have.  In fact, I might actually devote a blog to that one day.

Today’s attempt at soup was not a major mistake.  It was a bland, failed attempt at improvisation.  Long story short, I was in the grocery store on Sunday.  Sunday was the day that the cold front came into Central Florida.  Wimps that we are, I was freezing my be-hind off.  (That’s southern for another word, in case you didn’t figure it out). 

The woman at the cooking station was giving out samples of Potato Soup with Sausage and Spinach.  I tasted it. It was pretty darn good, but not fantastic.  I took a recipe and I proceeded to purchase alternative ingredients to make it even “better.” 

I selected turkey sausage over pork.  Got to stick to the diet.  Plus, I had all that leftover prime rib and ham yesterday.  I decided to use Kale and Leeks instead of Spinach and Onion.  Of course, I have to up the amount of water, as I had to braise the Kale.  So I would add extra bouillon from what the original recipe called for, and I’d even get a little fancy and add some freshly grated nutmeg and a bit of parmesan cheese at the end.  Oh, and I was going to use fat free half and half instead of heavy cream.  Less Turbo Jam to have to do tomorrow!

I have a home office.  This recipe was so easy I could make it on my lunch hour and it would be ready in fifteen-to-twenty minutes to eat.  I assembled all the ingredients.  Oh, this was going to be so good.  I mashed the potatoes in the end using the hand blended method.  The texture was perfect!

Well, much to my dismay, it was bland.  It was good, but nothing to boast about.  So here I am; the author of a food blog.  I am humbly asking my readers for help.  I know you are out there.  Even though only four of you “follow” this page, the stats tell me that on average, we have over 80 viewers a day.  If you would be so inclined, either post a comment here as to how I can make this soup better, or go to our discussion thread on Facebook.   The link is listed under "Contact Us."

So, tonight I’m making Linguini with white clam sauce.  Another one of those recipes I haven’t perfected.  I’ll keep you posted!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Holiday Leftovers?

What a challenge are holiday leftovers!  At Thanksgiving, it’s the turkey.  At Christmas, it’s the ham or the prime rib. 

Anyone can open a box of dehydrated potatoes.  Although I have to say, I did it this year, added asparagus, a little nutmeg and crispy onions and it was darn good. 

I had prime rib left over and ham.  I decided to put together these two dishes.  I was working from home today for my day job.  I got up early and put both pots on. 

I made beef stew with leftover prime rib and wine.  The stew was ready by noon. 

The beans with the ham, Cajun style, were perfect by six.  I left the beans on the warmer until we were ready to eat. 

Ah C'est Bon!

For some home cooks, I have learned that you like to go by “concepts.”  For others, you want the actual recipe.  Tonight is an attempt to satisfy both.  Below is the “concept.”  If you want the actual recipe, please go to and it will be posted by the evening of 12/28. 

PS -   I had intended to have it posted sooner, but I was too busy playing around with the pretty colors this blog has to offer me.   If nothing else, I am honest.

For the stew, I cut up the prime rib in bite sized chunks and discarded the fatty pieces.  I added a ½ clove of sliced elephant garlic.  Then I added the wine, the broth, the herbs, the stewed tomatoes and tomato paste, broth, and Cajun spices, followed by the veggies, save the mushrooms.  Those were added at the end.

For the beans, I cooked a traditional Trinity (pepper, onion and celery) – only I used Red pepper, in Canola oil.  Then I added the cooked ham.  I let it render for a few minutes.  The rest was history: garlic, broth, seasonings and herbs. 

Visit our new poll is “Have You Been to Our Facebook Community Page?”  Results will determine where the recipes are posted.  If you read this page and would rather have these there, please let me know!

If you want these recipes, please go to the community page:!/pages/Just-for-Cooking/118041911594811

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I'll be back online after the holiday to post more recipes and tips.  I wanted to give you my Mom's easy meatball recipe in case you are looking for a little somethin' something extra.  It's so easy, frozen meatballs, ketchup (large bottle) and 16 oz of light beer.  That's it!  Cook it in the crockpot (low) for about six hours.  These are fantastic!

Mom is not with us anymore, but every year, I think of her when I make them at the holidays.  Tomorrow, I am making prime rib and on Christmas, Turkey and Ham.  I will have pics and recipes to post!

I am really enjoyng writing this blog and I hope you find it helpful, too.  I did have an interesting experience in my first few days of blogging; someone tried to hack my account last night.  Now, if anyone out there wants my recipes that bad (I cannot imagine why) you can get some of them for free on our Facebook cooking community page, also called "Just for Cooking"  ;.)  I was real creative with the name there, too.  LOL. 

Please come visit us there.  We are really nice and there are lots of people logging on and sharing great dishes!  The link is at the bottom of this blog page.

I wish you all the best for the holiday season!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Frozen Appetizer Do-Over

I have to admit; for a healthy cook, I created a carb and cheese frenzy last night.  Yes, I did seven circuits with Jillian (DVD) today before I taught a web class at 7 am, thank you very much! 

I am woman.  Yeah!

Seriously –

I am STILL trying to excuse myself for eating so much last night.

AND --  Since we are going to be eating for a week straight come Friday night, I decided we needed to go a little lighter this evening.  It was 70 here in Florida today.  It was a good day/night to break out the seafood.  It’s going back down to 29 degrees on Monday night.

I also promised you a few nights ago that I was going to be the head cook of the Seafood Grotto in my holiday village when Yummy’s Bakery gig didn’t work out.  I am a woman of my word.  Always.  Tonight is about seafood.  Move over, cookie...

I often make a basic baked snapper with wine, butter, tomato, bell pepper and onion.  Our friend, Mike, was down this year with a health issue and my fish dish always seemed to cheer him up. Something about good food that makes everything all right.


As we all do as the holidays near, I often buy these boxed appetizers to make our parties easier.  No, sorry, I don’t make everything from scratch!  Who on earth has the time unless you have a contract with Food Network?

I had an extra box of crab cakes on hand.  I decided to bake them up, cool them, and use them as a crab stuffing for a snapper dish tonight.  Perfectly seasoned, the only thing I added to the crab stuffing was sautéed celery. 

I used Old Bay and white pepper on the fish.  Of course, I used Mike’s favorite tomato, onion and bell pepper with a little wine and butter as the inspiration. 

There is so much that you can do with a basic recipe like this to mix it up and make it your own.  This is a great way to use up those leftover holiday appetizers you bought for the party but never used!

If you have questions, post a comment.

Comment below to tell us your creative ways to use up those frozen, store-bought holiday appetizers!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Meatball Parm Baked Ziti

Today is the first official day of winter.  While we actually have a warming trend for a few days here in Florida (it was in the 60’s today), there is something about the first day of winter that makes you want to put comfort food on the menu. 

My husband makes the best meatballs.  I will try to encourage him to share the recipe with you one day; although it’s a heavily guarded secret, even from me.  Here is a great way to use leftover meatballs; an easy twist on a classic, satisfying baked pasta dish.

Meatball Parm Baked Ziti
It's worth the calories, but I'll be hitting the Jillian Michaels DVD tomorrow morning for sure!

8 oz slightly undercooked Ziti (about 8 minutes)
¾ cup part skim Ricotta cheese
6-8 cooked (leftover) Meatballs – halved
2 1/2 cups Spaghetti Sauce
½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
5 thin slices of Sharp Provolone Cheese (not smoked)
¼ cup grated Parmesan Cheese
½ teaspoon dried Basil and Oregano (combined)

Cooking Spray.

Preheat oven to 375. 

Spray 2-1/2 quart casserole dish or 9 inch square baking pan with cooking spray.  Add cooked ziti.  Stir in ricotta, meatballs, sauce, and garlic powder.

Top with Provolone slices, grated parmesan and dried oregano and basil. 

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. 

Note:  Shown here with Garlic Texas Toast and Balsamic, Garlic and Red Pepper Collard Greens.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Matron of Yummy’s Bakery, For a Night

I once saw an article where one of the Food Network stars criticized another because the other couldn’t bake.  Okay, I am not sure if that really happened; I noted this on the cover of a tabloid while standing in line at the supermarket.  We all know those tabloids never lie!

You probably figured out that I am a more than fairly decent home cook.  Like most accomplished home cooks, I have my set of bragging rights.   I am ashamed to say, I cannot bake to save my life.  My husband is the baker in the family. 

Among “real” professional cooks, there seems to be a stigma associated with not being able to do it all.   This weekend, I set out to redeem myself...  especially after making the dry, giant drop biscuits a few weeks ago.  I am dating myself but if you recall the 60’s show “Green Acres,” you will get this comparison.  Yeah, the biscuits were THAT BIG.  However, they didn’t bounce of the wall, so that was a good thing.

My quest to try to bake all started when my husband’s cousin, Betsy (an excellent baker who I am trying to get to post some of her secrets here) told me that she and her girls had made brownies, brownies and more brownies. 

Brownies sounded so good.  I haven’t had a brownie in who knows how long.  With my somewhat annoying health concerns and my constant quest to lose weight, I have been trying to eat healthy and exercise.  Unfortunately, treats aren’t on that agenda.  It’s the holidays and it’s an excuse to do all the things we’ll swear off on January 2nd.   What the hey!  I wanted brownies and there were going to be brownies! 

I was going to try to talk my husband into baking.  Everything he bakes always turns out to perfection.  Must run in his family.   Dan (hubby) had just returned from a week-long business trip.   After a big dinner, he was fast asleep on the couch.  You know a man is tired when college football and a cold beer can’t even hold his attention.

I wasn’t going to attempt to “wing” the brownies, at first.  After all, cooking is an art; baking is a science.  I guess that’s one of the reasons why I never got into baking in the first place – you have to measure and measure precisely.  I was never good at science.  I was the kid who was playing with my car instead of learning about kinetic energy in the seventh grade.  Yes, I have to measure when I write recipes, but when I cook for me and my husband, I do ye old eyeball it trick.  I am sure most of you do, too. 

So, I printed off a recipe online, only to find it was not a “tested” recipe.  It said so right in the fine print.  Ye gads.  Now what? 

I could have gotten right back online and found another.  I am sure there are a million good brownie recipes.  That was my fear; I’d spend the entire evening reading recipes and no baking would get done.  This was a mission that required action, not thought. Not research.  Just do it, for gosh sakes!  I want a brownie!

What the heck.  It was Saturday night.  I was feeling a little crazy.  I was going to improvise after all.  Worst case, if the brownies didn’t turn out, I could mail them to my friends up north to use as square hockey pucks. 

Keep in mind; we have a very nice mixer.  I don’t know how to turn it on.  I mash potatoes by hand, the old fashioned way.  It’s really my husband’s toy.  So I set out on my great Saturday night experiment; and in the Pioneer spirit, I attempted to make brownies, by hand.  Just like they did in the olden days.  I looked over at the holiday village that I set up in my dining room.   I could just picture myself as the matron of “Yummy’s Bakery.”  You know, the little woman who stands outside proudly handing over a fresh baked cake to the young child, while "visions of sugarplums danced in his head." I was going to make the best brownies ever, and I was going to make them from scratch!

I got out all the ingredients and a big, long spoon to stir it all up.  Yes, I measured, but by the recipe I was making up in my head.  The egg-to-flour mixture seemed perfect.  I even added chopped nuts – which I also chopped by hand -  No Euro-chopper for this gal.  Ha!  I added peanut butter and dark chocolate.  When the batter was a little too thick, I added a splash, just a splash of 2% milk.   

I tasted the batter.  “Yes,” I exclaimed as I danced around my kitchen Island.   I was sure that I had a winner.   I popped the brownie pan into a 350° oven.  I waited for thirty minutes until it all set up.    When I took them out of the oven, I could only imagine what the real matron of Yummy’s -- if there ever really was one -- thought when she removed her favorite creation from the oven and put it on the windowsill to cool.   We don’t have a windowsill here in Florida, so I had to settle for cooling on a rack on the kitchen counter.

And then  --  It - is -  alive!  There is something about the smell of freshly baked goods that can stir my man right out of a deep, deep coma.  He was so excited that I actually attempted to bake something on my own. 

After about twenty minutes of cooling, my husband took his first bite.  I waited with anticipation to see what he would think.  I felt like I was being judged by Simon Cowell.  After a few moments, Dan looked at me, puzzled, and said--

“Did you put any sugar in these?”

Cue the gaping mouth. 

In fact, I had put sugar in them.  I am not THAT baking inept.  I have to admit, since the original “untested’ recipe I had printed from the Internet seemed to be out of proportion, I cut the sugar by a third.  Imagine my joy when my husband proclaimed, “Oh, well.  It’s kind of like those sugar free cookies that you buy in the grocery store.” 

This holiday season, I think I’ll leave the baking up to my husband and I’ll just focus on making the perfect prime rib.  Tomorrow I’ll be the head cook at the Seafood Grotto in my holiday village instead.   

Friday, December 17, 2010

Comfort Foods

To me, the colder months mean comfort foods; slow cooked pot roast, roasted chicken with root veggies, or savory stews or soups. 

The other night the temperature dropped to 23 degrees in central Florida.  23!  Burrr…

Okay, before I hear “It’s minus two” up north – we are not used to this weather down here!  Our local newscast had to give tips on “Staying warm.”  They amounted to “Cover up” and “Wear layers.”

Yes, the sunshine gets to our brains down here in the Sunshine State.

None-the-less, Floridians like their comfort foods, too.  I grew up in Pennsylvania.  I think the difference between northern and southern comfort food – especially in this part of Florida - is that we tend to gravitate toward traditional southern meals, or Cuban or Cajun influenced dishes.   I love them all. 

So the other night when I actually had to crank on the gas heat and dig out my flannel nightgown, I came up with this quick, hearty and easy recipe for Gumbo that I know you will enjoy; even if you live in the Great White Tundra.

Let’s get cooking!

N’Orleans Style Chicken, Shrimp and Andouille Gumbo File’

4 tbs. Canola Oil, divided
1 – 6 oz boneless, skinless Chicken Breast, chopped into bite sized pieces
Pinch of course Sea Salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup All Purpose Flour
1 medium Green Bell Pepper, chopped
½ medium Sweet Onion, chopped
3 stalks Celery, chopped
2 ½ ounces fully cooked Andouille Sausage, sliced into ½ inch rounds and then halved
1 – 12 oz Light Beer
32 oz. good quality Chicken Stock
1 tbs. Cajun Seasoning
Cayenne Pepper, to taste
24 medium Frozen Uncooked Shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ tsp. Gumbo File’ (more for sprinkling)

Steamed White Rice
Chopped Fresh Chives (for topping)

Add 1 tbs. Canola Oil to cast iron skillet or Dutch oven.  Add chicken, salt and pepper.  Brown chicken, about four-to-five minutes.

Remove chicken and reserve to bowl.

Add remaining oil and flour to make a roux.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring every fifteen-to-thirty seconds.  Do not let this burn.  Do not try to do anything else.  Watch it and stir.  After about 15 minutes, you should end up with a mixture that looks like melted peanut butter.

Add the Trinity; bell pepper, onion and celery along with the sausage.  Cook over medium heat, about 3 -5 minutes until vegetables soften an the sausage renders fat. 

Remove to a bowl and reserve. 

Add beer.  Deglaze the pan, scrapping the brown bits from the bottom. 

Add chicken stock.  Bring to boil and reduce to simmer, uncovered, about 20 – 25 minutes.

Add vegetable and sausage mixture back to Gumbo.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer another 15 minutes.

Add frozen shrimp.  Cook five minutes.  Add chicken and turn off heat.  Add in Gumbo File’.

Stir and let rest about five minutes, covered, before serving.

To serve, ladle Gumbo into bowls.  Top with steamed white rice, chives and a little extra Gumbo file’ – just a sprinkle (optional).

Tip:  Making a Roux isn’t easy.  It takes practice. If your Gumbo is too thin, remove ¼ cup of the hot cooking liquid to a glass heat proof bowl.  Whisk in 1 tsp. of corn starch.  Return to Gumbo and bring to boil (about five minutes).  If you need to use this step, do this BEFORE adding the Gumbo File’. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Welcome to Just for Cooking

We are a blog dedicated to the home cook.  I am a self-taught home cook.  I’ve been published in both “Cooking Club” and “Taste of Home.”  I was a regional contestant in the first Beringer Great Steak Challenge, and I am the host of the popular Facebook community page, “Just for Cooking.”  I am currently writing a cookbook about healthy cooking.

I decided to go out on this venue because I wanted to expand our community.  Over the next few weeks, I hope to bring together people who are truly interested in food, wine and how to take comfort food and turn those dishes into healthy meals. 

If you have suggestions or ideas for this blog, please let me know.

Let’s get cooking!