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!