Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tuna Scampi-Style with Baby Spinach

I am constantly trying to improve this blog and your experience.  I am still learning and I hope you enjoy the changes that I am making.  I am going to be trying different things with the photographs to mix it up a little. 

And I am also constantly improving my recipes.  This is very similar to one that I did a while back, only better.  It's delicious Italian tuna done Scampi style.   I know, scampi is a large shrimp.  But this recipe is in the style of shrimp scampi.  And it's a one-dish meal (I love those on a buys weeknight). There is baby spinach in there.

Anyway, you are going to love it!

Oh, and before I forget, I have a new Facebook page which actually matches the name of my blog.  I hope you will join me there. 

Serves 2


1/4 lb. whole grain spaghetti, prepared per package directions
2 tbs. olive oil and canola oil blend
1 tsp. anchovy paste
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (plus more for passing at the table)
1 small shallot, chopped (about 1 1/2 tbs.)
2 tbs. butter, divided
2 tbs. lemon juice, divided
1 can (5 ounces) good quality Italian tuna packed in oil
Splash of dry vermouth (optional)
4 ounces baby spinach
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg


While the pasta is cooking, add the oil, anchovy paste, crushed red pepper and shallot to a deep skillet.  Sauté for about three minutes until the anchovy paste melts and the shallot softens.

Turn heat to low.  Add half of the butter.  Once the butter melts, add the lemon juice and the tuna and the oil from the can.

Break the tuna up (carefully) with the back of a spoon.  Add the vermouth (if using) and warm through.

Add the spinach and the nutmeg to the pan.  Wilt the spinach.

It's ready to serve!

I hope you will enjoy this recipe and as always, I'll see you soon!  ;.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lamb Chops Piccata with Mushroom and Capers

I love ANYTHING Piccata.  You could boil a shoe and top it with Piccata sauce and I'd probably eat it. 

Well -- maybe not!

But you get my drift. 

The perfect Piccata is lemony and full of fresh herb flavor.  I've seen it made with garlic.  I've seen it made with shallot and without. 

I made this tonight, and I did Robert Irvine's "Happy Dance" when I tasted my sauce.  It was PERFECT!  Just the right acid balance.  Yum!

My recipe is kind of a variation on Piccata but I know you will just love it - especially if you love lamb chops like I do.  Even if you don't like lamb, try my sauce with the mushroom and capers on turkey cutlets or chicken.  It even goes nicely with a tender NY strip steak. 

So, with no further adieu, here you go:

1 lb. bone in lamb loin chops (4 chops)

2 1/2 tbs. light olive oil

2 tbs. chopped garlic

12-15 sprigs of fresh thyme, divided

 ¼ cup lemon juice, divided

2 tbs. cold butter, divided


1 cup baby portabella mushrooms, halved

1 tsp. lemon pepper seasoning

½ tsp. ground sage

¼ cup low sodium chicken broth

Splash dry vermouth, optional

1 tbs. chopped capers

Chopped fresh sage


Marinate the lamb chops in the olive oil (reserve 1/2 tbs.), garlic, 1/2 of the lemon juice, and about 10 sprigs of thyme, partially stripped.  Let marinate a room temperature, covered, for about 30 minutes.
Add the remaining olive oil to a skillet.  Let the oil get hot over medium heat and then dump it out, letting the remnants just coat the pan.
Add half of the butter to a skillet and melt.  Add in mushrooms and the remaining thyme stripped from the stem.  Sauté until the mushrooms are lightly browned.  Remove from pan.
Remove the lamb chops from the marinade.  Pat dry with a paper towel.  Discard marinade. 
Season on both sides with a mixture of the lemon pepper and ground sage.  Add chops to hot pan.  Sear on both sides, about four minutes one side, two minutes for second side (remove from heat for the two minutes and let cook in a hot pan) for medium rare.  Cook longer for desired temperature. 
Did you get that?  Yes, I flipped the chops, took the pan off the heat and let them continue to cook in a hot pan.
Remove chops from pan and let rest.

Add the rest of the butter lemon juice, the broth, and vermouth, if using, to the skillet.  Deglaze the pan; scraping the browned bits from the bottom.  Add in the capers and return the mushrooms to the pan.
Bring sauce to boil and reduce to simmer until thickened to your liking - about four minutes.

Serve sauce over chops.  Top with fresh sage. 
Enjoy and I'll see you soon!


Monday, November 18, 2013

Penne with Hot Chicken Sausage and Acorn Squash Sauce


One of my favorite "go to" weeknight fall recipes is Penne with sausage and pumpkin sauce.  Tonight I decided to mix it up a little.  I found this wonderful acorn squash at our Sunday farmer's market yesterday. 

I roasted it up with a generous amount of salt-free garlic & herb seasoning and olive oil for about one hour in a 375 degree F. oven. 

I used the salt free garlic and herb seasoning because I wanted a subtle garlic flavor.


The result was delicious: 


1/2 tbs. olive oil
1 lb. hot chicken sausage links, casing removed
1/4 cup dry white wine, divided (optional)*
Flesh of one whole acorn squash (roasted per directions above)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup fat free half and half
1/2 lb. whole wheat or whole grain penne pasta, cooked per package directions
1/2 cup part skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp. coarse Kosher sea salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
Fresh chopped sage

*If not using the wine, increase vegetable broth by 1/4 cup and reduce salt by 1/2.


Add olive oil to a heavy skillet.  Heat over medium heat.  Once hot, add in the crumbled chicken sausage.  Brown to your liking, about 10 minutes.  Deglaze pan with half of the white wine or 1/8 cup of the broth.

Scoop the flesh of the roasted acorn squash out and add to food processor.  Add in half of the Parmesan cheese and the half & half.  Pulse until combined and smooth.

Cook pasta per package directions.

While pasta is cooking, add the acorn squash puree to the skillet with the browned sausage.  Add the remainder of the wine (if using), ricotta, the vegetable broth, salt and white pepper.  Mix well.  Stir in half of the remaining cheese.  Simmer lightly until warmed through. 


Toss pasta with sauce.  Top with fresh chopped sage. 

As always, I'll see you soon!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Blue Cheese-Crusted Filet with Balsamic and Blueberry Gastrique

Blue Cheese-Crusted Filet with
Balsamic and Blueberry Gastrique

I am feeling very "blue" today, but not in the way you might think.  Here is my entry into the "Blueberries Meet Their Match" blogger recipe contest, and as you will note, I've got a lot of blue going on - blue cheese and fresh BLUEBERRIES.  Yum!

Over the last few weeks, this home cook has discovered the art of making a Gastrique;  You've probably heard about this delicious sticky sauce if you watch shows such as "Chopped."  But it's more than a fancy way of saying "sauce." A gastrique can be wonderfully complex in flavor and the perfect complement to any protein. 

A gastrique begins with caramelized sugar and equal parts of vinegar.  Then you can add in pretty much anything you want -  run the gamut of sweet to savory, or any variation in between.  

Here I opted for a more traditional method of making the sauce; I reduced the sugar with water to caramelize it, and then I deglazed with the vinegar.  Because I didn't want to overpower the natural sweetness of the blueberries, I opted to use one tablespoon less of the rich balsamic than I would had I used a lighter vinegar in a recipe.

When I made a savory gastrique a week or so ago (for another contest) using a lighter vinegar, I actually reduced the sugar with the vinegar to create the caramelized sugar,  and then added white wine to go "all out" and crazy with a double reduction.

The "double reduction" is part of this recipe, too:  I felt the balsamic needed to be showcased in a "supporting role," so I wanted it to marry into the sauce rather than have it caramelize along with the sugar.  Adding it in to "deglaze" using the more traditional method, and then creating a double reduction with the broth and wine really made a difference in how the flavors all came together.  You really taste the blueberry.  Why add in a delicious fruit like blueberry if you are going to mask the natural sweet flavors?

When you are making a sauce like this, it's important to have a few tasting spoons on hand so you can taste as you go.   That's really the key.

And if you do a Google search, you will see there are variations on how people make a gastrique.  A chef might tell you otherwise, but I am not sure there is a right or a wrong way.  As long as it comes out delicious, who cares if you break with culinary tradition, right?   

You can feel free to experiment, too.  I would encourage you to do so if you like to play around in the kitchen - the possibilities are endless! 

Today I paired this wonderfully sweet and fruity sauce with a blue-cheese crusted filet.  The flavor of the blueberry and balsamic with the cheese really make for a stunningly delicious combination.  I know you will want to try this. 

Note:  For this recipe, you will need a cast iron or heavy skillet (oven safe).


2 beef filets, cut about 1 inch thick and 8 ounces each
1/2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the crust:
2. tbs. plain Panko bread crumbs
3 springs fresh thyme, stemmed
1 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbs. blue cheese crumbles

For the Gastrique:
3 tbs. granulated white sugar
3 tbs. cold water
2 tbs. good quality balsamic vinegar
1 tbs. low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine or non-alcoholic wine
1 flat (6 ounces) fresh winter blueberries, washed and divided
Fresh torn basil, optional


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Rub 3/4 of the olive oil onto both sides of the steaks and salt and pepper.

Combine the Panko, thyme, lemon juice and blue cheese into a small bowl.  Mix with a fork until well combined.   Set aside. 

Rub remaining oil into the bottom of a cast iron or heavy skillet.  Heat on high.  Add room temperature steaks and sear on both sides for about two minutes each side.  When you flip to the second side, top each steak with half of the blue cheese crust mixture.  Spread evenly over top with a spatula and transfer to a hot oven.  Cook for 11 minutes for medium rare (145 degrees).  Ovens vary, so adjust cooking time accordingly and to your desired temperature. 

Once steaks are cooked, remove from oven and let rest for about five - seven minutes to let the juices redistribute.   

While the steaks are in the oven, combine the sugar and water into a small sauce pan.  Simmer for about five minutes until caramelized.  You need to watch your sauce - stoves vary as well - and you don't want candy.

Once caramelized to your liking, add in 1/4 of the blueberries.

Reduce down until you get a sauce/jam-like consistency - about five minutes; add in a second layer of blueberry, reduce down for about three minutes.  Add in the remaining reserved blueberries right before serving.

This technique creates this vibrantly-colored, sticky, sweet and savory sauce.  The three "levels" of blueberry give this sauce a wonderfully fresh taste.  You want to taste the actual fruit. 

I recommend that you swirl a bit of it on the plate (as shown), top with your steak, and then drizzle some of the gastrique on top.  I like add a little fresh torn basil, but that is optional. 

Give this recipe a try.  I know you will love it.  And as always, see you soon!
Be sure to check out:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Porcupine Meatballs with "Un-stuffed" Cabbage

Comfort Food at its Best!

Ah, porcupine meatballs;  Now, if that doesn't bring back the days of bell bottom pants (the first time) - and fond memories of "Scooby-Doo" and "The Brady Bunch," then I don't know what does! 

Porcupine meatballs were a staple in many 1970's moms' kitchens; they were in the regular rotation with the Shake 'N Bake chicken and the tuna casserole that nobody wanted to eat. 

I come from a Slovak/Rusian (yes, I spelled that correctly - Google it)/Polish, with a little Hungarian thrown in for good measure background.  My paternal grandmother was Slovak.  She would make these fabulous ethnic Sunday dinners.  One of her specialties was, of coarse, stuffed cabbage.  And she made the best ever; slow cooked on the stove (not baked) all day long; just sitting in the tomato juice with the perfectly cooked cabbage, tender meat and rice stuffing, and the kraut (can't for get that).  It's the type of dish that true memories are made of. 

If I were judging a stuffed cabbage competition, my mom's would come in a close second.  Mom wasn't a great cook, but she did make a few things really well.  I am sure she is smiling down from heaven on me now.

I have attempted stuffed cabbage over the years.  But while I get the flavors close to Mom's, I never can get the rolling just right.  Maybe I don't have enough patience?  Maybe I don't buy the perfect head of cabbage?  You can decide as  you look at an old "Just for Cooking" recipe which I created several years ago - link at the end.

A few years back, my friend and work colleague, Gosia, was visiting from Poland along with her mother.  I stopped by her brother's house for dinner.  Gosia's mom made "un-stuffed cabbage."  Through Gosia interpreting, Mom proceeded to tell me this was what she called "Lazy Day Stuffed Cabbage."  I thought "what a good idea."  And it was delicious.

A few weeks ago, another friend and work college, Jim, posted a recipe he found online for a similar dish.  That gave me an idea to "Kick it up a notch" and add in the porcupine meatballs as I created my own version.

My meatballs are baked, not fried in oil.  So even though I am using beef and pork, they will be a little lighter.  Instead of taking all day to make and bake, this recipe will only take you about an hour and 15 minutes.  It's perfect for today's Sunday dinner.

Oh, and my meatballs contain NO EGG.  The splash of beer tomato paste and mustard create enough moisture to keep them moist they do hold together.

Here we go and enjoy by "blast to the - cultural - past;" 

Makes 12 dinner-sized meatballs


For the porcupine meatballs:
1/2 cup uncooked long grain white rice
2/3 cup chopped sweet onion
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. celery salt
20 grinds fresh cracked pepper
1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck and ground pork mixture  (suggest 50/50 mix)
1/8 cup light beer, non-alcoholic beer or diet ginger ale (reserve rest of 12 ounce can/bottle)
1 tbs. tomato paste
1 tbs. harvest ground or grainy mustard
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided (reserve half)

For the cabbage:
1 small head cabbage, cut into strips
1 tbs. butter
15 ounce can no salt diced tomatoes, with juice
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tbs. (about one packet) concentrated beef broth*
1 can sauerkraut (about 15 ounces), drained and rinsed
Pinch of coarse sea salt (optional and to taste)
Dried thyme (hold for garnishing - optional)

Note:  Roasted red potatoes are optional.  These can be pre-baked and then added into the dish at the end.

*Concentrated broth or stock is an old chef's trick (I found this out from a friend who used to be in product development for a restaurant chain).  It is now available on your soup aisle.  If you cannot find this product, you may substitute two tbs. beef consommé. 


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice, onion, garlic and celery powder, pepper, and the meat.  Add in the 1/8 cup of beer or ginger ale, tomato paste, mustard and oregano.  Work mixture until well combined but do not over-work.  Suggest starting with slightly room temperature meat.

Form into 12 even-sized meatballs.  Place meatballs on a tin foil lined baking sheet.  Drizzle with half of the vegetable oil (reserve the rest), and bake for about 25 minutes.  No need to turn.

While the meatballs are baking, drop the cabbage into hot boiling water.  Cook for about ten minutes.  Carefully remove to a large skillet coated with remaining vegetable oil.  Add the butter and sauté for about 10 minutes until the cabbage beings to crisp up to your liking. 

Stir in the diced tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce,  and the concentrated beef broth and the rest of the beer.  Add the baked meatballs.  Top with the kraut.  Bring to boil and reduce to simmer.  Cover and cook for about 20 minutes (longer if you like). 


If using roasted potatoes, stir in right before serving.  Add the dried thyme (just a little) over each plate just before serving, if using.

Here is the link to my previous recipe:  Chicken and Brown Rice Stuffed Cabbage

Enjoy, and as always, I'll see you soon!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lucky 13 Recipe II: Dan My Man's Lighter Fish Nuggets and Fried Pickles - And a Confession

Every once in  a while this home cook's recipes don't work.  But I don't feel so bad when I see Bobby Flay's test kitchen helpers tell him that he needs to work on something during an episode of one of my favorite shows, "Thowdown." 

Today, I'd like to confess to you that I tried something new, and I failed.  But hey, life is all about taking risks, right?   Can't play it safe; not even in the kitchen. 

Such was the case with the lamb shank I cooked for our 13th anniversary.  Don't get me wrong;  it was flavorful.  The "lemon broth" I made to go over the lamb and the veggies gave this dish a hearty deconstructed "stew-like" quality. 

But I'd never tried to roast lamb shank before.  I had only braised it.  Had I taken the time to do a Google search or gone here Food Network Cooking Guide for Lamb, I would have quickly learned that the butcher's instructions given when I purchased the shank weren't going to work as I thought they would.  I guess you can roast lamb shank, but it takes some special way of doing it which I haven't mastered yet.

                                         My failed attempt at a Deconstructed Lamb Stew
                                                  Tasty, but it wasn't quite there...

I made a promise to you all when I started this blog that I wouldn't post any recipes that didn't work.  My photos might not always turn our perfectly because I am not a great photographer.  I am still learning the art of plating.   That's what makes this blog my "adventure."  But I want the recipes that I post for you to work when you try to recreate them. 

I hope you will say, "Mary Kay, I appreciate your candor and you not wanting me to waste my time making something that won't turn out that good.  Oh, and by the way, you are looking pretty foxy these days.  I can tell that power yoga you are doing is really working."

...Maybe the later is wishful thinking on my part.  :.)

Okay, let's get serious! 

I always know that Dan's fried fish recipes turn out wonderfully.  He is my loving husband and my "fry daddy."  As promised, I am bringing you his creation tonight.

We don't fry food very often, for obvious health reasons.  When we do, we've learned to make it a little lighter.  Like any indulgence, this is a once every few month deal - nothing to be put into your regular meal rotation.  Let's face it; it's hard to make anything fried truly "healthy."

It was only a few years ago when Dan and I really started "cooking."  Up until then, we opened a lot of boxes.  Neither of us has had any formal culinary training - we both watch a lot of Food Network!   And now look at us - winning cooking contests - getting recipes published.  

Cooking is something that we love doing together.  When I am developing a recipe, he will help me gather ingredients and vice versa.  The couple who cooks together, stays together. 

Over the years, Dan's prepared other cook's "fried" fish recipes and they've turned out great.  And he's often used boxed beer batter to make the process either.  But now he's come up with his own beer batter recipe that is light and fluffy and frankly, it's going to knock your socks off.

So here we go:


60 ounces canola or vegetable oil
1 lb. white fish, such as snapper, sole or flounder
1/2 cup hamburger dill chips
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt, plus a little extra for seasoning
1/2 tsp. dried dill weed
1 large clove garlic, minced (about 1 tbs.)
1 tbs. paprika
1 tbs. seafood seasoning
1 tsp. onion powder
1 extra large egg
8-10 ounces light beer


A couple of unpeeled garlic cloves (optional)
Basil and parsley (optional)


Preheat oil to 360 degrees.  Dan recommends that you use a candy thermometer. 
If using the unpeeled garlic and herbs (recommended), these are added to the oil while it is preheated.  Remove herbs before adding the fish and discard.  This step will "infuse" the oil with wonderful flavor. 

In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, salt, pepper, dill weed, minced garlic, paprika, seafood seasoning, and onion powder.  Add egg.  Using a fork, blend the egg with the dry ingredients until mixed well.  You will start to see "pearls" form from the wet flour. 

Add in the beer and whisk well until completely blended. 

Cut fish into nuggets or bite-sized pieces.  Season with a little salt.  This helps to "dry" the fish slightly and makes the batter stick.

Dip fish into batter and CAREFULLY drop into hot oil.  Cook for about a total of three minutes.  Do not over crowed the pan - cook in batches.   Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.  Salt the batches of fish lightly as they come out of the oil. 

Repeat the batter and frying process with the pickles, but do not salt the pickles before or after cooking as they are salty.  The pickles may only take about 2 minutes.  Adjust cooking time accordingly.

Serve immediately.

See you soon!  Oh, I am working on an un-stuffed cabbage recipe tonight. If that works, I might bring that to you later this week instead. 


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Lucky 13 Recipe I - Caesar's Crispy Chicken with Tomato-Mustard Dressing and Goat Cheese

Caesar's Crispy Chicken -  The secret is in the breading!

Today is my anniversary weekend - no, not for my blog.  That is coming up in December and I thank you for a great three years - more to come on that later!

I am talking about my lucky 13th wedding anniversary. 

Then-  October 28, 1999 -


Now - 

I met the love of my life, Dan, in October of 1999.  Both married before and working on our day job careers, we were married one year later.  

We are what the wedding vows are all about - we've been with each other through great times, good times, health issues and more. 

Yeah, we've both put on some weight.  In the old days, that would mean we are "happy." ;.)
Yes, I was doing the "Ivana" thing with my hair and dress there at the wedding.  13 years later, I'm so much more "relaxed."  

AKA - I am no longer  "high maintenance."

True love isn't about "buying" someone something; if you handle the budget or bills, you're buying yourself something so -- what's the point?  It's about knowing that person inside and out; forgiving their flaws (we all have them), and growing with each other each and every day. It's about mutual dreams and goals -  And I hope to be bringing you this same post 20 years from now. 

I wasn't even a good cook when I first married Dan.  And do you know what his first meal was that he cooked for me?  Frozen Chicken Cordon Bleu with Jalapeño Poppers (meat and veggies).  

In addition to our girth, we've both grown in the culinary arena since we married and are now both great home cooks. So over this next week, I am going to post three new recipes;  first, I am focusing on one of Dan's all time favorites; chicken cutlets.  But these aren't his mama's chicken cutlets (which are fabulous btw) - I'm "Kicking it up a notch" with the Caesar breading and a fresh grape tomato dressing. 

The chicken is super crispy.   You are going to love it!

Next, Dan will make his famous {light} fish and chip recipe with fried pickles - that's for me.  And finally, I'll be making our romantic anniversary meal - Roasted Greek Lamb Shank.  

Caution:  We might deviate a little from being totally healthy here as it's a "celebration of life," but as I often say, "When you mess up, just eat less the next day!" 

So here we go with the first recipe:

Serves 2 -4, depending on how hungry you are!

1 large egg, beaten
1/2 tsp. anchovy paste
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 clove microwave dried garlic, crushed
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. seafood seasoning
1/2 cup plain Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs with Romano cheese
1.25 lb. chicken cutlets


1/4 cup quartered grape tomatoes, quartered
1 tbs. grainy mustard
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
tbs. olive oil
Fresh chopped parsley and basil, to taste
1 ounce soft goat cheese

Other:  Canola oil cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. 

Combine the egg, anchovy paste, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice into a flat bowl big enough for dipping the chicken into.  Place a peeled garlic clove along with two tablespoons of water into a glass bowl.  Microwave on high for about 7-10 minutes until the garlic dries.  At this point you should be able to pulverize it with a chef's knife.  Add garlic crumbles to the egg mixture and whisk. 

Note:  This method with the garlic adds a nice subtle - almost roasted - garlic flavor to the chicken without being overpowering.

Combine the flour, pepper and seafood seasoning (I used Old Bay) in another bowl.  Add the Panko and Italian breadcrumbs to a third plate or bowl. 

Now that you have your breading station assembled, dredge each chicken cutlet into the flower, the egg mixture, and then into the breadcrumbs.  Repeat until all of the chicken is coated evenly.  I like to press the breadcrumbs into the chicken. 

Place chicken on a cookie sheet on a wire rack to ensure even browning.  Spray lightly with cooking spray on the top.  Bake for about 25 minutes until juices run clear.  Adjust cooking time accordingly for your oven.

While the chicken is baking, combine the tomato, mustard, wine vinegar, salt, pepper and oil in a bowl.  Toss in the herbs and mix well.

Top chicken with the tomato "dressing" and the goat cheese.  I suggest serving this dish with fresh wilted kale.  Yum!

Variation:  If you want more "dressing," you can add a little more olive oil. 

I'll see you back here soon this week with those other dishes I promised. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mushroom and Zucchini Ragu

My Ragu is Served over Mushroom Gnocchi
Every once in a while as a home cook, you make something that you just know is super  delish without getting affirmation from anyone else.  Tonight’s recipe falls into that category.
Last night was my 51st birthday.  Hubby Dan took me out to our local Japanese restaurant for all-you-can-eat sushi.  We were stuffed to the gills (pun intended).  So much so, we didn’t even touch the cake Mama Pirri bought us.  If you don’t know who Mama Pirri is, you have to read through my other posts.  She is Dan’s mom.

I got hungry for gnocchi when my friend and Dan’s cousin, Betsy, told me that her husband made homemade gnocchi this weekend after sampling them in San Francisco.  That made me recall a time in the Old North End of Boston about 15 years ago when I ate nothing but gnocchi for three dinners (out of choice).  Of course, I was a size 4 back then!
Tonight I bring you gnocchi topped with a delicious mushroom and zucchini ragu.
I found these wonderful mushroom gnocchi at a local store this weekend (Target).  I would highly recommend making this sauce with this gnocchi if you want the “Full Monty” experience. 

The key to healthy eating is to eat a little of what you want with something that’s slimmed down.  I could have made a big beef sauce with these - instead, I opted for this lighter vegetarian meal.
Family Friendly Tip:  If you don’t want to use the wine in the sauce, try low sodium chicken broth and take out 1/2 tsp. of the salt in this dish.


I freeze fresh basil in that I grow into “basil cubes,” which consists of 1 1/2 tsp. of coarsely chopped basil in each cube along with water.  This is an old grandmother’s trick, but one that works!  If you don’t have basil ice cubes, just substitute fresh basil.
I used petite baby bella mushrooms.  If you cannot find these, use baby bella and cut into eight pieces. 

I used one of those new cool provolone and fontina blend cheeses to top this.  But use any cheese that you like. 

1 tbs. light olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup sliced baby carrots
Pinch or two of crushed red pepper
1/2 tbs. chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. dried crushed rosemary
3 basil ice cubes*
6 ounces petite baby bella mushrooms, halved (larger ones quartered)*
1/2 tbs. butter
1/4 cup extra dry vermouth, optional (see notes)
14-15 ounces petite diced canned tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups shredded zucchini, divided


Sharp Provolone and Fontina pasta blend shredded cheese, optional
Fresh chopped grape tomatoes, optional


Add olive oil to deep skillet, along with yellow onion, carrot, and crushed red pepper.  Sauté for about three minutes until softened. 

Add in garlic, rosemary and one of the basil ice cubes for 1/3 fresh basil.  Cook for about two more minutes. 

Add in the mushrooms and butter.  Sauté for about three minutes until mushrooms begin to brown.   

Add the vermouth, if using;  let cook out about two minutes. 

Add the tomatoes, the salt and pepper.  Bring to boil and reduce to simmer, about 30 minutes.

Note:  Whatever pasta you use, I suggest you reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water.

Add the cooking water and 1 cup of the zucchini along with the two remaining basil cubes.   Cook over low heat for about five minutes.

 If using fresh basil, wait and garnish at the end. 

Serving Suggestion:  Top with remaining raw zucchini, the cheese blend and fresh chopped grape tomatoes to give this a nice fresh pop. 








Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Wasabi-Lemon marinated Grouper topped with Creamy Red Potato Mash and Herbed Tomatoes & Mushrooms


It's been a busy time.  I'm still working on an e-learning project - and I'm patiently waiting to hear back on notification for a few more online cooking contests. 

This weekend we will be attending the Oktoberfest celebration once again.  I'll be posting pictures of that and a new October recipe very soon.  

I love October... not only because its my birthday month (I'm 51 next week), but it's the month that I married the love of my life, Dan.   

You can check out previous "October" pictures on this blog. 

It's Grouper season here in Florida.  Here is a five-star restaurant-style recipe that won't break the bank.  Let me rephrase that -  This is a bit of a late 80's - early 90's five star throwback recipe.  It's similar to something I recall eating when I was in the 18-25 range, with the exception of one "kicked up" ingredient; wasabi!

Yes, it's grouper marinated in white wine, wasabi and lemon, and then masterfully baked and then broiled with creamy fresh red potato on top.  (I love this trick because it's a way to feel like you're eating potato without feeling guilty). 

I've also have a fantastic "double" topper made from dry white wine, fresh mushrooms, grape tomato, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, a little finishing butter and a pop of fresh herbs. 

This dish takes a little time and TLC to prepare, but it's worth it.  All you need is fresh roasted asparagus on the side. 

Note:  I recommend getting out the good olive oil -- the kind you use to dip your bread -- when you make the herbed tomato and mushrooms.  However, if you only want to use one kind (the light), you certainly can. 

I like to select grouper that is filleted about 1/2 inch thick, and one that will fit nicely into my 9 X7 oval casserole dish for a perfect presentation out of the oven (for a nice family-style meal).  However, you can bake this in any dish you like. 

Lemon and garlic finishing butter can be found near your fresh seafood case.  If you cannot find it, you can substitute regular butter, a 1/4 tsp. chopped garlic and add in more lemon juice to taste.

So here you go!


Serves 2-3

1/2 - 3/4 lb. fresh grouper fillet
1 cup 2% milk (optional)

For the Wasabi-Lemon Marinade:

3/4 cup dry white wine*
1/2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. wasabi paste (or to taste)

Grouper seasoning: 

1/2 tsp. seafood seasoning

For the Creamy Red Tomato Mash:

1 large red potato, cut into eight pieces
1 tbs. butter
1/2 tsp. dried dill weed
1 tbs. low sodium chicken broth (or water)
1/2 tbs. light olive oil, plus a drizzle
Pinch or two Seasoned salt, to taste

For the Herbed Tomato and Mushrooms:

1 tbs. good quality olive oil, divided
10 pieces steakhouse-style sliced white mushrooms
1 tbs. softened lemon and garlic finishing butter, divided
grape tomatoes, halved (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Squirt or two fresh lemon juice*
1 tbs. dry white wine*
Assorted fresh herbs (parsley and basil work nicely)

Cooking spray
Paprika (optional)
Fresh lemon slices (optional)

*repeated ingredients


About 2 hours before cooking, marinate grouper in 2% milk.  Cover and refrigerate.  This step is optional.

30 minutes before preparation:  Pat fish dry with paper towel if marinating in the milk.  Add wine and lemon juice to a bowl and whisk in the wasabi paste.  Add the fish.  Cover and refrigerate for another 30 minutes and then;

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Remove grouper from marinade.  Pat dry with paper towel.  Season on both sides with seafood seasoning. 

While the oven is preheating and the fish is taking the refrigerator chill off, add potato, butter, dill weed and chicken broth to a microwave safe bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high (about seven minutes) until the potato is soft.  Add the olive oil (minus the drizzle) and the seasoned salt.  Mash potatoes.  Let cool.

Note:  I like to put them into the freezer to cool for a few minutes while I prep my side dishes.

Add grouper to a casserole dish coated with cooking spray.  Top grouper with cooled potatoes and a drizzle of olive oil.  Bake for 20 minutes, uncovered.

After 20 minutes, turn on the broiler.  Continue to broil for about ten minutes, until the top of the potatoes is browned to your liking.  Adjust cooking time accordingly for your oven and broiler.

While the fish is under the broiler, add half of the olive oil, the mushrooms and half of the finishing butter to a sauté skillet.  Sauté until browned, about five minutes, turning as needed.   

Add the grape tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and white wine.  Add remaining olive oil and the finishing butter.  Simmer lightly until combined.  Add in the fresh chopped herbs.

Top the fish with paprika and lemon slices before serving. 

Note:  Wine can be omitted;  replace with low sodium chicken broth. 

Pair with a nice white Bordeaux (sauvignon blanc/Semillon blend).