Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Cookies

Merry Christmas from the Munoz's!

Well, the big day is just about here.  If you haven't finished your wrapping, or even your shopping, the clock it is a ticking... loudly!  I finished the last of my shopping yesterday afternoon, which is actually fairly late for me.  I usually like to be done a week or so in advance, but I decided to pick up some things from wine country at the last minute, so I made an impromptu trip up to Napa yesterday morning.  I stopped at Starbucks to get a Gingerbread Latte before I got on the freeway, tuned the radio to the Christmas music station and sailed up there in record time.  I was in and out of my destination in 5 minutes and I hit the road back home within an hour of originally leaving my house.  Not Bad!  Then the traffic grinch decided that I was too full of Christmas good cheer and sent me 3 hours of traffic to wade through on my way home.  Bah Humbug!

Thankfully, once I eventually made it home to my house, which is all dressed up in it's holiday finest, my Christmas spirit returned pretty quickly.  Time to being on Christmas-  The presents are bought, the gifts are wrapped and my holiday baking is done!

I was a baking machine this year.  I tried 4 new cookie recipes, in addition to my Chocolate Chip & Cherry Cookies, which I make regularly.  It was a non-stop parade of goodies coming out of my tiny oven, all made in my tiny kitchen.  Normally I don't mind having a small kitchen, with only about 4 sq feet of counter space, but this year, wow I really could have used a little more room.  There were cooling racks on every flat surface, and containers of cookies stacked everywhere.  I found all 4 new recipes on and three out of the four were awesome.  The mini New York style Black & White's were a lot of work to make, and nothing to write home about after all that work.  They will be scratched off the list for future baking.  The biscotti, toffee bars & chocolate peppermint crinkles were great though, and will be back next year for sure.  The links to the recipes are below, along with the recipe for my Dark Chocolate & Cherry Chunk cookies.  These are your basic chocolate chip cookies, but use dark chocolate chips & dried cherries instead of the regular semi-sweet chips & walnuts.  Yum!

Dark Chocolate & Cherry Chunk Cookies
1 Cup (2 sticks) of butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 6 oz bag of dried cherries
1 12 oz bag of Ghiradelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips

  1. Beat Butter & Sugars.  Preheat the oven to 350 deg.  In a stand mixer beat the butter on medium-high until it's soft & fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add in both sugars and continue to beat for another 5 minutes.
  2. Add in the Eggs & Vanilla.  Add the eggs in, one at a time, beating the batter until the egg is well incorporated before adding in the next one.  Beat in the vanilla.
  3. Add the Dry Ingredients.  Turn the mixer down to low and add in the salt & baking soda.  Then add in the flour, a cup at a time.  Make sure the flour is all incorporated before you add in more.
  4. Add the Chips & Cherries.  Once the dough is well mixed, add in the chips & cherries and stir for a minute or so, until they are well mixed in to the batter.
  5. Bake.  Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 9 minutes.
  6. Enjoy!  Let the cookies cool on a wire rack for a few minutes.  They go great with a glass of cold milk!

I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2011!  I am heading home to New Jersey for the holidays, so there will be nothing cooking at the Munoz's for the next week or so.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Split Pea Soup with Kale & Andouille Sausage

If you've been following this blog since it's start, a mere month or two ago, you are probably starting to notice that we like soup in this house, a lot.  When the weather turns cold and the winter rain starts here in the Bay Area, soup becomes a weekly staple in our house.  Actually, we eat quite a bit of it in the spring, summer and fall too.  There is just something about a bowl of delicious soup that makes you feel good.  Cold soup, hot soup, it doesn't matter, soup is just plain good for the soul.  Pancho and I are avid Top Chef fans, and we've noticed that anytime someone makes a soup, they almost always end up winning that challenge.  So it's not just us, it appears that every one goes nuts for a good soup.

Tomato soup has always been my favorite.  Throw a grilled cheese sandwich on the side and I am instantly transported back to the winter weekends of my childhood, when after a morning spent playing in the snow my mom would make us grilled cheese & tomato soup before sending us back out to enjoy the winter wonderland that is New Jersey in winter.  It was awesome then, and still one of my favorite weekend lunches, even though there is no snow to be found where I now live in California.  I make a killer roasted tomato & red pepper soup that has reigned supreme at the top of my favorite soup list for quite a while, that is until this past fall, when I came across a little split pea soup recipe in Bon Appetit.

I've always liked split pea soup, and this recipe seemed simple enough, so I figured I would try it out.  There weren't many ingredients, it took like 30 minutes to make, and the recipe was so straight-forward I didn't really tweak it at all.  When it was done, it smelled pretty darn good, and looked delicious.  My husband and I sat down with a bowl of it for dinner and... it was fantastic.  So, so good.  My roasted tomato soup was dethroned, I had a new favorite.  Since discovering it in early fall I've probably made it a half dozen times and Pancho and I are still in love with it.  It's got kale & andouille sausage in it, 2 twists on the traditional recipe which give this soup great flavor and texture.  I've started keeping dried split peas in the house at all times, along with Aidell's Andouille Sausage in the freezer, so that I can make this soup at a moments notice.  Luckily we eat a lot of greens around here too, so I always seem to have some kale or mustard greens in the fridge.  That's basically it for ingredients- split peas, andouille sausage, kale & chicken broth.  So simple to make, really inexpensive, and crazy delicious.  The judges on Top Chef are right, a delicious soup is a winner!

Split Pea Soup with Kale & Andouille Sausage
1 16-ounce bag dried green split peas
1 package Aidell's Andouille Sausage
8 cups (or more) chicken broth
5 bay leaves
4 to 5 cups chopped kale (chopped into thin strips)
Salt & Pepper

  1. Cook the Split Peas with the Sausage.  Combine the split peas, the whole sausage links, 8 cups of chicken broth, and the bay leaves in a large heavy pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the peas are tender, 30 to 35 minutes.
  2. Take out the Sausage & Cut Up.  Once the peas are done, remove the sausage links from the soup and place on a cutting board.  Careful, they will be very hot.  Cut the links lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick half-rounds.
  3. Puree the Soup.  Remove the Bay Leaves from the soup and puree using an immersion blender.  If you don't have an immersion blender you can use a regular blender.  Puree the soup one cup at a time in your blender, and then return the pureed soup to the original pot.
  4. Add the Sausage and Greens.   Add the sliced sausage half-rounds back in to the soup pot and then add in the thinly sliced greens.  If the soup is really thick you can add more broth to thin it out to the consistency you like.  Simmer the soup until the greens soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper.
  5. Serve!  Serve pipping hot with some thick crusty bread or with some croutons sprinkled on top.  Prepare for people to want seconds, it's crazy delicious. is home to the Original Recipe.  it is recopied here, almost exactly.  There are only two things I do differently- I take out the Bay Leaves before I puree the soup and rather than using a traditional blender to puree it, I just use my immersion blender right in the soup pot.  Much faster & easier than transferring to a blender and then returning the soup to the original pot, and less clean-up afterwards.  I've mentioned it before, but if you don't have an immersion blender, put one on your list for Santa this year.  It's one of the kitchen tools I just couldn't live without.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Turkey Sausage & Kale Stuffed Shells

It's been a rainy rainy weekend here in Northern California but despite the weather, we had a fantastic weekend.  A lazy Saturday morning and afternoon at home, a holiday party Saturday night with great friends, an early morning matinee to see Tron, Legacy in 3-D this morning, and then a stop at the local outdoor mall to finish up the Christmas shopping this afternoon.  We got caught out in the rain at the outdoor mall, so by the time we got home, around 2pm, we were soaked and pretty chilled.  A roaring fire in the fireplace was definitely in order, and for dinner, comfort food was definitely going to be on the menu.

For me, Italian casseroles are the epitome of comfort food.  Lasagne, Baked Ziti, Stuffed Shells, these are the dishes I grew up eating and when I crave comfort food, these dishes are what I want.  Stuffed Shells are probably my favorite of all.  The traditional version is stuffed with cheese, and more cheese.  I fill mine with veggies and spicy turkey sausage, and just a little cheese.  Whole Wheat pasta shells and a quick home-made spicy tomato sauce finish the dish.  Just as delicious as the original, but a little less guilt inducing on the nutritional scale.  I like to use kale for the stuffing, but spinach works too and I use reduced fat ricotta and mozzarella cheese to help keep the dish on the lighter side.

Turkey Sausage & Kale Stuffed Shells
Olive Oil
1 pkg Spicy Turkey Sausage
1/2 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large portabella mushroom cap, diced into small pieces
1 bunch of kale, roughly chopped
Salt & Pepper
1 15oz container Ricotta Cheese
1 & 1/2 cups grated mozzarella
1 box jumbo shells

Tomato Sauce
Olive Oil
7-8 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 red onion, finely diced\
Salt & Pepper
1 to 2 Tbsps dried oregano
1tsp red pepper flakes
2 or 3 bay leaves
1 cup red wine (Any dry red will work, Cabernet is a good choice)
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 15oz can tomato sauce
Fresh Basil, finely chopped

  1. Make the Sauce.  In a large saucepan sauté the onions in a little olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic and continue to cook for another minute.  Season with salt & pepper, then add the oregano, bay leaves and hot pepper flakes.  Stir for a minute or two, turn the heat up to high and add in the red wine.  Continue cooking over high heat until the wine has been reduced by about two-thirds.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, add in the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, and let sauce simmer, covered, while you make the filling and cook the noodles.
  2. Cook the Turkey Sausage.  If the turkey sausage came in links, remove the casings and cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Once the sausage is browned, drain the sausage and set aside.
  3. Cook the Veggies.  Wipe the excess grease out of the skillet the sausage was cooked in, add a little olive oil, and cook the onions over medium heat for a few minutes.  Add in the minced garlic and mushrooms, season with some salt & pepper and continue to cook until mushrooms and onions have softened.  Add in the kale and continue to cook over medium low heat until the kale has cooked down, stirring occasionally.  Once the kale has cooked down , remove the veggie mixture from the heat and transfer them to a large mixing bowl.  Let cool.
  4. Cook the Pasta.  Cook an entire box of jumbo shells according to the package directions.  I like to use whole wheat shells, but regular ones work just as well.  Once they are done, transfer to a colander and run under cold water to prevent them from sticking together.  Drain the shells really well.
  5. Make the Filling.  Once the kale, onion & mushroom mixture has cooled, add in the browned sausage, the container of ricotta cheese and a cup of shredded mozzarella.  Stir well.
  6. Stuff the shells.  Stuff each cooked pasta shell with a couple tablespoons of the kale & sausage mixture. 
  7. Finish the sauce and build the casserole.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Remove the lid from the tomato sauce and stir in the basil.  Remove the sauce from the heat.  Cover the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish with some of the sauce and then fill the dish with the a single layer of the stuffed shells.  One box of shells should fill one 9 x 13 casserole dish.  Pour additional sauce over the top of the shells.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup of grated mozzarella cheese over the top and then bake the casserole for about 35 to 40 minutes.
  8. Serve!  When the casserole is done, take it out of the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes, then serve the shells with the remaining tomato sauce on the side.
Bon Appetit!

Oh, and if you are wondering what we thought of Tron, Legacy, well, it was Awesome.  With a Capital A.  We loved it.  Amazing to look at, and a pretty good story for a SciFi movie.  It's certainly not an Academy Award contender, but, it is a great sci-fi adventure that sucks you in to it's world for 2 hours, and well worth the extra bucks to see it in 3-D.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spicy Black Bean Soup

I studied Equine Science in College, which was basically a way for me to hang out in a barn and still go to school.  I grew up riding horses, and being a horse nut, so when I found out there were actual programs at real universities devoted to the 4 legged creatures I was obsessed with, it sounded like a dream come true.  What I didn't learn until I got there was that the Equine Science program, at least at Colorado State University where I ended up going to school (Go Rams!), was part of a larger Agriculture Department, and, that I would be required to take several "meat science" classes, in addition to all the horse related stuff.

Meat Science classes were not something I had signed up for.  To this day I wish I couldn't look into a field of cattle and name the breed I am looking at, and I really wish I couldn't tell you how to slaughter those same steers.  I wish I didn't know how to "estimate" the degree of marbling and amount of back fat on a cute little lamb, and what that lamb looks like underneath it's fluffy coat & skin.  I would pay good money, no, GREAT money, to forget the smell of a large working pig farm.  I have serious issues with factory farmed poultry- Poultry Science may have been the most disturbing class I ever took, and I took some disturbing classes, including one called Live Animal & Carcass Evaluation, or, "Alive & Dead" as we affectionately called it.  That class didn't even come close to Poultry Science.  For years after I finished with school I was a vegetarian.

The lure of the humble burger eventually pulled me back into the meat-eating world, there really is nothing quite like a big, juicy, hot off the grill cheeseburger.  I think it might qualify as my favorite food.  I eventually made my peace with what I know about the meat industry, and now I make consumer choices I can live with- about where I buy my meat and from whom. I share all this with you because while I am still quite content to eat vegetarian meals on a very regular basis my husband is not.  I am always trying to find meat-free options that he will like and will satisfy my conscience.  I know I've mentioned it before, but he thinks dinner without some sort of cooked animal is just not dinner.  I once tried to pass off a portabella mushroom as a "burger".  After just one bite the gig was up and he wanted to know where the burger was.

I have found one thing that he will eat for dinner without caring that there are no animals involved- Spicy Black Bean Soup.  It's one of the most simple soups to make, it's rich & delicious, and incredibly healthy, plus meat free.  Since it was raining off and on all day today, a hearty soup was the perfect choice for dinner.  I chopped up some avocado, along with a little swirl of non-fat greek yogurt to top it off and had a yummy vegetarian dinner that even my carnivorous husband loved.

Spicy Black Bean Soup
Olive Oil
2 15oz cans black beans (undrained)
1 10oz can diced tomatoes with chilies (like Ro-Tel)
1 red pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
7 to 8 cloves of garlic, minced
1 to 2 Tbsps cumin
1  to 2 tsp chipotle powder
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 avocado, cut into chunks
Greek Yogurt or Sour Cream

  1. Saute the Veggies.  Heat up some olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy bottom pot.  Add in the onions and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the green & red peppers, season with salt & pepper and continue to cook until the veggies have all softened, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add the Beans, Tomatoes and Spices.  Add the 2 cans of black beans and the can of diced tomatoes with chilies to the soup pot.  Add the cumin & chipotle powder.  We really like the flavor of cumin, so I tend to add a lot of that.  We like the soup medium spicy, so I generally add only about a tsp of chipotle powder.
  3. Add the Chicken Broth and Puree.  Add a cup of the chicken broth and let the soup simmer, covered, over medium low heat for about 15 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and using an immersion blender puree the soup until smooth.  If you don't have an immersion blender, well. just get one, they are the best.  But seriously, if you don't have an immersion blender you can puree the soup in a food processor or regular blender, it's just much faster and easier to do it right in the soup pot with an immersion blender.  Add up to an additional 1/2 cup of chicken broth, if desired, to thin out the soup after it's been pureed.
  4. Serve!  I chop up a fresh avocado to serve in the soup, and add a dollop of fat-free greek yogurt, which is my standard substitution for sour cream.  For a Latin twist on Grill Cheese & Tomato Soup, serve the Black Bean Soup with a cheese quesadilla on the side! 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Grilled Pork Chops with Burst Tomatoes

It turns out keeping up with a blog is no easy task, especially during the holiday season.  My original goal was to update the site about twice a week, and I was doing an OK job up until Thanksgiving, but since then I haven't had a chance to add anything.  But, Thanksgiving is over, the house is decorated for Christmas and Hanukkah (We are an interfaith household), my holiday shopping is mostly done and work has slowed down to a manageable pace.  Time to get back to writing & cooking!

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving.  We had a fantastic 4 days.  Spent Turkey day with our family and spent the day after Thanksgiving with our good friends, creating what I hope is a new, long standing tradition- the Leftover Feast.  We all packed up the leftovers from our respective Thanksgiving dinners, carted them over to our friend Julie's house and heated everything up for a repeat of the big meal- this time with the family that gets made from your group of close friends.  It was an awesome night, lots of laughs & wine, a few games of some friendly poker and delicious food.  Plus, it was a great way to use up a good portion of the Thanksgiving leftovers.  I ended up with just enough leftover turkey to make nachos one night for a quick dinner.  The weekend after Thanksgiving we headed down to Paso Robles to see some more friends and explore the wine country down there.  It was 4 days of good friends, good food & good wine.  It doesn't get much better than that.  

This was our first visit to the Paso Robles wine country and we didn't know quite what to expect.  Turns out they make some absolutely delicious wine down there.  Mostly all reds, and mostly of the Rhone varietals.  No big California Cabernets, not a Pinot Noir to be found, but some of the best Syrahs and GSM's (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvédre) we have had in a while.  We ended up picking up quite a few bottles to add to our collection.

Tonight seemed like a good night to open one of those new bottles, so I needed to make something that would go well with a Syrah, and was quick to make.  I had some thin cut pork chops in the fridge and some cherry tomatoes, add in some broccoli for a veggie side and dinner was set.  I've been making this pork dish for quite a while and it's always a favorite, plus, it's pretty cheap to make & takes literally no time to make.  You just throw the pork chops on the grill and while they are cooking you sauté some shallots & cherry tomatoes until the tomatoes burst & release their juices.  Then add a dash of balsamic vinegar to the tomatoes and onions and you've got a delicious topping for the pork chops. You can use whatever type of Pork Chop you like- bone in, boneless, thin cut or thick cut it really doesn't matter.  The tomatoes work well with any variety of chop.

Grilled Pork Chops with Burst Tomatoes
2 to 4 Pork Chops
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
1 pint size container small sweet tomatoes, washed clean but left whole
1 large shallot, halved & then sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
  1. Prepare and Grill the Pork Chops.  Season the pork chops on both sides with Salt & Pepper and brush with a little olive oil. Heat your grill, or grill pan, up to medium high and grill the chops until cooked through.  We like ours medium, about 6 minutes a side.
  2. Sauté the Onions & Tomatoes.  While the pork chops are on the grill, cook the shallots in a little bit of olive oil, in a medium sized sauté pan over medium heat, until just starting to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add in the tomatoes, season with salt & pepper and cook over medium high heat until the tomatoes start to burst.  Add in the balsamic vinegar and stir for a minute or so then remove from heat.
  3. Serve!  Place a grilled pork chop on a plate and put a couple spoonfuls of the tomato & shallot mixture over the chop.  Tonight I served some roasted broccoli on the side.  And the wine?  We opened a 2006 Linne Calodo Sandbagger, it was delicious!
Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Filling & Chocolate Ganache Frosting

I know what you are thinking- Isn't tomorrow Thanksgiving?  Shouldn't this post be about turkey, or mashed potatoes, or stuffing or even pumpkin pie?  Well, it's not.  It's about Chocolate Cake.  Awesome chocolate cake.  Dense, rich, chocolaty deliciously awesome chocolate cake.  Truly awesome chocolate cake.  Did I mention awesome?  Cause it is, for sure.  In my Husband's family Thanksgiving isn't just about Thanksgiving, it's also about Birthday's.  His two brothers and sister are actually triplets, and their birthday is the same week as Thanksgiving, so Turkey Day is a good day to celebrate, since the whole family has a chance to be together.   I offered to make the birthday cake for tomorrow, so tonight, instead of sharing a traditional Thanksgiving recipe, I'm sharing my Chocolate Cake.  I found this recipe online at a few years ago and it's become my go-to cake for birthdays, holidays, any special occasion.  It's not very sweet, in fact all the coffee and semi-sweet chocolate gives it a rich dark chocolate flavor and as you might have guessed, I think it's awesome.

I've made a few tweaks to the original version.  My version is a triple layer cake and has a raspberry filling between the cake layers.  I also finish the cake off with a ring of fresh raspberries around the top and the base (which quite nicely disguises my amateur cake decorating skills).  But the basic cake recipe is almost the same as the original.  Chocolate lovers rejoice- this is quite possibly the best chocolate cake ever.  And if you don't like chocolate?  Stay far far away.

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Filling & Chocolate Ganache Frosting
3 9" round cake pans
waxed paper
baking spray with flour
Fresh Raspberries
For the cake:
3 ounces of good quality semisweet chocolate 
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (do not use cake flour)
1 1/2 cups good quality unsweetened cocoa powder (not the Dutch process kind)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup canola oil (or whatever vegetable oil you have handy)
1 1/2 cups well-shaken low fat buttermilk 
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Ganache frosting:
2 (12 ounce) bags of good quality semisweet chocolate chips (Guittard brand is especially good)
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
2/3 stick sweet cream butter
For the Filling
1 large jar of raspberry jam

Make the Cake Layers First-
  1. Prepare the Cake Pans. Spray the pans with baking spray (the kind that has flour in the spray), line the bottoms of the pans with wax paper and spray the waxed paper as well. If you only have 2 cake pans, it's not a problem, 1/3 of the batter can sit, covered, while the first 2 layers bake and cool.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees
  2. Melt the Chocolate in Hot Coffee.  Finely chop the semisweet bakers chocolate bar and then combine with fresh hot coffee in a medium sized bowl. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
  3. Sift the Dry Ingredients.  Sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. 
  4. Mix the Wet Ingredients.  In another large bowl beat the eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a stand mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add the oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate/coffee mixture to the eggs, beating until combined well. 
  5. Add the Dry Ingredients to the Wet.  Add the sugar/flour mixture into to the wet ingredients and beat on medium speed until just combined well. 
  6. Add to Cake Pans & Bake.  Divide the batter between the 3 pans and bake in the middle of the oven until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour.
  7. Cool Cake Layers.  Cool the layers in their pans on a cooling rack for about 20 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the pans and invert the layers onto the cooling racks. Remove the wax paper and let the layers cool completely on the wire racks. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
Make the Ganache Frosting:
  1. Heat up the Cream, Sugar & Corn Syrup.  In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring the cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until the sugar is dissolved. 
  2. Add in the Chocolate & Butter.  Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the chocolate chips, whisking until the chocolate is melted. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to frosting, whisking until the ganache is smooth and shiny.
  3. Cool.  Transfer the frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on the chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill the frosting until it is a spreadable consistency). There will be lots of extra frosting left over (Yay!).
Assemble the cake:
  1. Trim Cake Layers.  If the tops of the layers rounded up when they baked, trim the top so that the layers are flat and level. 
  2. Cover Layers with Raspberry Jam.  Spread some raspberry jam over the leveled layers. 
  3. Build the cake and Frost.  Place the bottom layer on your cake plate.  It helps to put some waxed paper around the bottom of the cake, so that you can frost it easily, then slide the waxed paper out and not have a messy cake plate. Spread some ganache over the raspberry jam covered bottom layer. and put the next layer on. Spread some ganache over that raspberry jam covered layer as well. Once the top layer is on, pour the ganache frosting over the top and allow it to go over the sides. Use a large wide frosting blade to spread the sides and top with the ganache. Be careful when working on the top & sides to not let the raspberry seeds show through the frosting.
  4. Add the Raspberry Decorations & Finish Chilling the Cake.  Let the ganache set in the fridge for about 15 minutes and then ring the top of the cake with 1 row of raspberries.  Add a second row around the bottom of the cake.  Put the cake back in the fridge, covered, for at least an hour, so that the ganache can finish setting up.
  5. Serve!  Bring the cake to room temperature before serving.  This cake screams for a glass of milk along side, it is very very rich.
The cake keeps in the fridge, covered, for several days.  There are a lot of steps to making this cake, but I usually make the cake layers one day and then make the frosting and build the cake the next day so it doesn't seem so time consuming.  If you have a stand mixer, it's actually pretty quick and easy to make the cake part.  I've also used this same cake recipe to make cupcakes too, with great results.

If your curious, I did make a traditional dish today to bring to Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow as well. A year ago I found this amazing recipe on Bay Area Bites for a Sweet Potato Gratin.  Check it out, it's delicious!

I hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving tomorrow, full of family, friends, good food and good wine.
Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Honey Dijon Chicken fillets with Maple Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Ah the Brussel Sprout, so misunderstood. I used to think they were just horrible. Bitter, sometimes even slimy, pale yellowish green heads. Yuck. Then, one day my brother the chef sliced them up into thin strips, sauteed them with bacon & shallots and added some aged balsamic vinegar. They were ridiculously delicious and I became a brussel sprout convert. Now, when they are in season and the giant stalks fill up the produce stands I actually pick some up instead of running past them in horror. My brother showed me that it's all about how they are cooked. Brussel Sprouts just need some extra attention to transform into something yummy.

This past month, in one of the food magazines I subscribe to I swear I saw a recipe for roasted brussel sprouts with maple syrup. Mmm, sounds delicious! Only problem is that now I can't remember where I saw it. It might have been Martha's mag, but I recycled the November issue already and can't find it online at her website. I can't seem to find the recipe in the other foodie magazines I still have laying around the house either. So I was on my own to come up with some roasted brussel sprouts with a maple syrup kicker. I have to say, they came out awesome.

I served them along side my version of chicken schnitzel. I use mustard instead of dredging the cutlets in flour & egg to hold the breadcrumbs on and instead of pan frying them I bake them in the oven. The mustard gives the chicken great flavor and I like to think makes them just a wee bit healthier, as does the baking instead of frying. One thing's for sure though, It is a really quick dinner to prepare, and gives me a chance to whack at something with my meat mallet, which is exactly what is needed after a long day at work.

Maple Roasted Brussel Sprouts
8 to 10 fresh brussel sprouts, ends trimmed off & outer leaves removed, cut into quarters
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, stems discarded (leaves from about 4 or 5 sprigs)
1 to 2 tsps Maple Syrup

  1. Prep the Brussel Sprouts.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Trim off the stalk end of the brussel sprouts and remove any of the outer leaves that are discolored.  Cut the bulbs into quarters through the root end of each one, so that you have little wedges.  In a small bowl toss the brussel sprout wedges with some olive oil, salt, pepper and the leaves from about 4 or 5 thyme sprigs.
  2. Roast the Brussel Sprouts.  Spread the brussel sprouts out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Roast the Brussel Sprouts for about 30 minutes, until they have caramelized slightly.
  3. Add the Maple Syrup.  Remove the baking sheet from the over, drizzle the maple syrup over the brussel sprouts and give them a stir.  Place the baking sheet back in the oven and continue to roast for another 5 minutes.  A little maple syrup goes a long way, and it has a pretty strong flavor.  You may not need to use all 2 tsp of the the syrup, it just depends on how many brussel sprouts you chopped up.
  4. Serve!  Tonight I served them along side my honey dijon chicken schnitzel, recipe below.

Honey Dijon Chicken Schnitzel
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin to about 1/3" thickness
2 Tbsps Honey Dijon Mustard
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
olive oil (if you go the pan frying method)

  1. Prepare the chicken cutlets.  Place the chicken cutlets between 2 sheets of wax paper and using a meat mallet pound the chicken breasts until they are uniformly flat, about 1/3 to 1/4" thick.  Using a silicon pastry brush (or something similar) spread both sides of the flattened chicken breasts with the mustard and then dredge them in the breadcrumbs.  Make sure the breadcrumbs completely coat the chicken.
  2. To Fry or Not to Fry, that is the question.  Once the cutlets are ready to be cooked you have 2 options.  You can either pan fry them in a little olive oil or put them on a baking sheet and cook them in the oven.  They will get a little crispier if you go the pan frying route, but are almost just as good baked in the oven.  If you decide to bake them, put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 F.  If you are making the brussel sprouts above everything can just go in the oven together.  If you decide to pan fry them, heat up a little olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer add in the cutlets and pan fry, about 3 or 4 minutes a side.
  3. Serve! Serve with the maple roasted brussel sprouts.  For tonight's dinner I also threw some quartered yukon gold potatoes, tossed with some olive oil, salt, pepper & garlic powder, onto the corner of the baking sheet that had the brussel sprouts and served those as well.  We drank a MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coat Pinot Noir with dinner.  Yum Yum!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seafood Fettuccine

I haven't had a chance to post to the blog this past week.  It was the busiest week of the year at my job.  Our Year-End Awards Dinner was held which takes months of preparation, plus, I had to get the house ready for a house guest this weekend.  Between those 2 things, and just regular day to day stuff, there was just no time to write, or even cook anything remotely worth blogging about. Thankfully, last night I finally had a chance to get into the kitchen and get my knife a' choppin.

My good friend's daughter, Brooke, is staying with Pancho and I for a few days. She's 19 and on a fall break from College.  I've known Brooke since she was in kindergarten, and watching her grow up into an amazing young woman has been a gift.  She lives in Colorado, where I lived for over 15 years- up until 2005.  I miss her, and her family terribly, so having her come out and visit is always a special occasion.  Last night for dinner I wanted to make something special, that was easy to make, didn't require a lot of kitchen clean-up and would incorporate one of Brooke's favorite food groups- seafood.  Seafood Fettuccine was the perfect answer.  I've been making this pasta dish for years.  It's easy to make and everyone that has had it loves it.  I often joke that this is the dish that made my husband want to marry me.  You can use almost any type of seafood, my usual combo is jumbo shrimp, scallops, and clams.  Crab goes great as well, as do mussels or any type of firm white fish.

Seafood Fettuccine
Olive Oil
2 large shallots, sliced
4 to 6 big cloves of garlic, minced
6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp red hot pepper flakes
1 bay leave
salt & pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1 can minced clams, with juice
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 lb jumbo or colossal shrimp, peeled & deveined
1/2 lb scallops, patted dry
fresh basil, finely chopped
shaved Parmesan cheese
1 box fettuccine pasta

  1. Sauté the shallots, garlic & mushrooms.  Run some olive oil around a large sauté pan and heat up over medium heat.  Add in the shallots & cook for 3 or 4 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and  continue to cook for another minute, then add the mushrooms to the pan.  Season with 1 Tbsp of the oregano, 1 tsp hot pepper flakes, some salt & pepper and the bay leaf.  Continue to cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, until the mushrooms just start to release their juices.
  2. Add in the wine & clams.  Once the mushrooms have started to release their juices, turn the heat up to high and add in the wine and the can of minced clams, along with the juice.  Cook over high heat until the liquid has been reduced by about two-thirds. 
  3. Add in the tomato.  Reduce the heat down to medium low and add in the entire can of crushed tomatoes.  Add in the remaining oregano, and, if you like your sauce spicy, another tsp of hot pepper flakes.  Stir well, and let the sauce simmer over low heat while the pasta water comes to a boil.
  4. Add the seafood to the sauce while the pasta cooks.  Once the pasta water has come to a boil, add in lots of salt and the pasta, and cook according to the package directions.  When you add the pasta to the boiling water, turn the heat under the sauce up to medium and add the shrimp and scallops to the simmering sauce.  The shrimp and scallops will cook while the pasta is boiling.
  5. Drain the pasta and mix with the sauce.  Once the pasta is done, drain it and transfer to a large serving bowl.  Pour the sauce with the seafood over the pasta and toss to coat the pasta.
  6. Serve!  Garnish with some chopped fresh basil and some shaved Parmesan cheese.  We drank another Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay with dinner last night.  It was delicious!
Bon Appetit!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Grilled Salmon with Balsamic Glaze over Swiss Chard & Israeli Couscous

Pancho and I had a  free Sunday today.  Sure, there was a long list of things I should have done, like get some work done ahead of the insanely busy week coming at my job, do laundry, clean the kitchen floors, clean the bathrooms, etc. But, it was almost 75 degrees out today, not a cloud in the sky and not a wisp of that cold pacific wind blowing in from the west.  It was just too nice to stay inside doing anything that was remotely like work.  It was a late night last night too, a good friend turned 40 and to celebrate we spent Saturday night playing Beer Pong and Flip Cup, doing shots of Jägermeister, and belting out some righteous karaoke. Basically pretending that we will still in our 20's and not facing the big 4-0.  Getting up and actually being productive this morning was just not in the cards.  We ended up having a late breakfast and then taking the dog on a 3.1 mile lap around Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland.  It was a great way to spend a couple of hours on an absolutely beautiful Sunday Afternoon.

On the way home we stopped at the store and wild Sockeye Salmon was on sale for $8.99/lb.  Since the weather was so nice turning on the grill seemed like a great idea and instantly I knew what was for dinner- Grilled Salmon with a Balsamic glaze over some Swiss Chard & Israeli Couscous.  I can't take any credit for this salmon recipe, it's from the July 2001 issue of Bon Appetit and the original recipe can be found on the Epicurious website here.  It's probably my favorite salmon recipe.  The glaze is so good, and so easy to make.  There isn't a thing that needs to be tweaked with the recipe, it's perfect as is.  The Israeli Couscous recipe is my own and goes great with the salmon.

Grilled salmon with balsamic glaze 
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
2 Salmon Fillets

  1. Make the Glaze.  Combine the balsamic vinegar, wine, lemon juice & brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Boil the sauce until it's reduced to about 1/3 cup and coats the back of a spoon when you stir it.  It will take about 17 to 20 minutes. Season the glaze to taste with salt and pepper.  You can make this glaze up to a week ahead of time, just keep it covered in the fridge.  When you are ready to use it just rewarm over low heat.
  2. Prepare the Salmon.  Lightly coat both sides of the salmon fillets with olive oil, salt & pepper.  Heat your grill to medium high heat and then grill the salmon until it's opaque in the center, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Serve.  Drizzle the salmon glaze over the salmon and serve over some Israeli Couscous with Swiss Shard.  You will most likely have a ton of the balsamic glaze left over.  It will keep in the fridge for a few days.
Israeli Couscous with Swiss Shard
1 cup Israeli Couscous (also called pearled couscous)
1 1/2 cup chicken broth/stock
Olive Oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss Chard, stems removed and chopped into strips
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper
  1. Cook the Couscous.  In a small pot bring the chicken stock to a boil.  Add in the couscous and cook over medium high heat for about 6 or 7 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed.  Remove the pot from the heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Prepare the Swiss Chard.  Whlile the couscous is cooking heat a little olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan.  Add in the shallots and sauté over medium heat for a few minutes.  Add in the garlic and continue to sauté for another minute.  Add in the Swiss Chard and continue cooking until the greens cook all the way down.
  3. Add the Pine Nuts & Parmesan.  Once the greens have cooked all the way down toss in the pine nuts and stir well.  Add the Parmesan cheese, stir the mixture and remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Add in the Couscous.  Once the couscous is done, stir it into the swiss chard, season with salt & pepper.
  5. Serve!  place a few spoonfuls of the couscous/swiss chard mixture on a plate and top with a grilled salmon fillet.  Drizzle the balsamic glaze over the salmon.

We drank a Wente Vineyards Riva Ranch Chardonnay with dinner tonight.  We're big fans of big oakey chardonnays and this one fits the bill perfectly.  It's also a bargain at only $14 a bottle!

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chicken Noodle Casserole

My husband loves tuna casserole.  When he thinks comfort food, I am pretty sure it's at the top of his list.  Me?  The only way I am eating warm tuna is if it is in steak form, and warm from being quickly seared on a very hot grill.  I certainly don't want it anywhere near an oven, I won't even force down a tuna melt.  But, as they say, marriage is all about compromise.  So I set out to find a way to satisfy his yearning for noodles baked in a creamy sauce with veggies, substituting tuna with something we could both agree on.  Here comes leftover roasted chicken to the rescue!

Yup, I still had some chicken left over from Sunday's Herb Roasted Chicken.  Not a ton, but just enough to add into a casserole and finally be done with the bird.  We almost always have bunches of fresh broccoli & mushrooms in the fridge too, add them together with some whole wheat noodles, a lightened up cream sauce that uses Greek yogurt instead of Sour Cream and...Presto!  A new & improved Chicken not Tuna Noodle Casserole.  Happiness prevails in the Munoz Household!

Chicken Noodle Casserole
1 pkg whole wheat wide egg noodles (or regular if you don't want to use whole wheat)
1 small onion, sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 large or 2 small heads of broccoli, cut into small florets
1 to 2 cups roasted chicken, cut into cubes
1 can 98% fat-free condensed Cream of Mushroom soup
3/4 cup lowfat milk
3/4 cup nonfat or lowfat plain greek yogurt (you can sub light sour cream)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsps shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs (I love the ones you get from Vital Vittles, available at my much loved/mentioned Dan's Fresh Produce here in Alameda).  Regular bread crumbs will work too.
Salt & Pepper

  1. Cook the noodles.  Cook the egg noodles according to the package direction.  Once done, strain the noodles into a colander, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and drain thoroughly.  I like to use the whole wheat noodles for 2 reasons.  One, they are better for you than the regular variety and Two, the whole wheat noodles seem to stay firmer when you bake them in the oven.
  2. Sauté the Veggies.  Add a little olive oil to a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add in the onions and mushrooms and let them sweat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add in the garlic and continue to let cook for another minute.  Toss in the broccoli and season with salt & pepper.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and put a lid over the pan so that the broccoli can steam for 5 or so minutes.  Once the Broccoli has steamed, toss in the chicken, stir, and remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Prepare the Cream Sauce.  In a mixing bowl or large glass measuring cup add the can of condensed soup, the milk, the Greek yogurt & the Parmesan cheese.  Mix well.  Season with a little salt & lots of pepper.
  4. Mix it all Together & add the Topping.  In a casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray mix together the cooked noodles, the veggie/chicken mixture and the cream sauce.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs and the remaining Parmesan cheese over the top of the casserole.
  5. Bake.  Bake the casserole in a 350 F oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until it's bubbly and the topping has browned.  
  6. Serve!  A few minutes to cool down and dinner is ready to go!

So that's it for the roast chicken, no more leftovers to figure out what to do with, and no more leftover chicken recipes to post, at least until the next time I make a roast chicken!

Bon Appetit!

Chicken Pot Pie

This is technically what was for dinner at the Munoz's house last night.  I am a little late in getting it posted...

So Sunday night I made a Roast Chicken, which was delicious!  And, as there usually is, there were a ton of leftovers.  2 people can only eat so much of an entire bird at one meal.  After the initial dinner, I am always stuck with the question of what to do with all the leftover meat.  In the summer time salads or even tacos are the easy answer, but in the fall & winter, a casserole is hard to beat.  And the king of casseroles, at least in our house is chicken pot pie.

There are probably a hundred different ways to make a Pot Pie.  It's basically a casserole surrounded by dough.  My version is fairly quick to make and uses one of my favorite root vegetables- parsnips.  I've mentioned it before, but my husband and I both dislike the flavor & texture of cooked carrots.  Nothing wrong with a raw carrot, in fact I love them raw, but add heat and, well, yuck.  It was just another reason I knew our relationship would work when I discovered Pancho shared my love for the raw, but disdain for the cooked, carrot.  In almost all recipes where carrots are called for (to be cooked) I'll substitute in the carrots better cousin- a parsnip.  I hear that parsnips are richer in vitamins & minerals than carrots, are especially high in potassium and are a good source of dietary fiber.  Seems like a good trade off to me.

I also use just a top layer of store bought puff pastry, rather than making an actual pie, in order to save time & effort.  The dish is seasoned with some sweet wine, and Herbs de Provence which are available at the grocery store these days.  A little bit of a béchamel sauce gives it some creaminess.  I happened to have some leeks that I picked up at the Produce Stand, so I threw those in as well.  If you don't have any leeks or don't want to deal with cleaning them, you can just use more onion, although leeks give the dish an extra depth of flavor.

Chicken Pot Pie
1 to 2 cups leftover roasted chicken, cut into bite sized cubes
1/2 small onion, halved, then sliced and 3/4 cup sliced leeks, or a whole small onion, halved & then sliced
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 yukon gold potatoes, diced into 1/2" cubes
1 parsnip, diced into 1/2" cubes
1/2 cup Madeira, Marsala or Sherry wine
1 tsp Herbs de Provence
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 cup milk (1% or 2% preferrably)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed

  1. Cook up the veggies.  Run a little olive oil around a large sauté pan and turn the heat up to medium.  Once the pan has warmed up add in the onions & leeks and cook until they start to soften.  Add in the mushrooms, parsnips & potatoes and season with salt & pepper.  Stir in the Herbs De Provence and continue to cook over medium heat for about 5 to 7 minutes.  The Parsnips and Potatoes should just be starting to soften, but not browning.  Add in the wine, and let it cook down until it is reduced by at least half.  Stir in the chicken and remove the mixture from the heat
  2. Make a Béchamel Sauce (white sauce).  While the wine is cooking down, in a small pot melt 1 tbsp butter over medium high heat.  Add in 1 tbsp flour and stir constantly for a minute or so until the flour paste is cooked but not browned. Whisk in the milk, bring it up to a boil, then continue whisking over medium low heat until the sauce has thickened, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the Parmesan Cheese, season with a little pepper and remove the sauce from the heat.
  3. Prepare the Casserole.  Spray a square 8 x 8 deep sided baking dish with non-stick spray.  Add in the chicken & vegetable mixture and then pour the béchamel sauce over the top.  Give the mixture a gentle stir so that the béchamel sauce gets down into the mixture.
  4. Cover with the Puff Pastry.  Take the sheet of thawed puff pastry and lay it over the casserole.  There will be lots of overhang.  Take a pizza wheel cutter, or a knife, and run it around the edge of the dish, cutting off the overhang.  Tuck the edges down into the sides of the baking dish.  Make a few slits on the top of the puff pastry to allow steam to escape.  Save the leftover puff pastry for a future use.
  5. Bake the Pot Pie.  Put the pot pie into an oven that has been preheated to 350 F and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.  The Puff Pastry should be nicely browned and the sauce should be bubbling away underneath the crust.
  6. Serve!  Take the pot pie out of the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes to cool slightly.  Open up a bottle of Pinot Noir and enjoy leftovers, elevated to something far more delicious!
Fresh from the oven, yum!
If you don't happen to have leftover roast chicken, you can use the chicken from a store bought rotisserie chicken, or even brown some cut up boneless, skinless chicken pieces before step 1 above.  It's really easy to turn this into a vegetarian dish as well- just double up the mushrooms and leave out the chicken.  Unless you are a devoted carnivore like Pancho, you probably won't even miss it.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Herb Roasted Chicken

It's been a cold & rainy day today, and it's Sunday, so from the moment I looked out the window this morning I had a craving for roast chicken.  It's the perfect thing to make for Sunday dinner, goes great with Pinot Noir, my favorite wine, and on a crappy weather day like today it's a great excuse to get the oven going & warm up my normally chilly kitchen.

Whole chickens have been on sale at Safeway too, last week they were $.49/lb, pretty hard to beat.  This week they were $1.29/lb, still pretty darn good.  I got a 6 lb chicken for a little under $8.  I usually manage to get 3 different dinners out of 1 chicken, plus about a gallon of chicken stock.  All in all, it's the cheapest way to feed my husband and I for almost a week.

Tonight is a 2'fer, since after I roasted the chicken I made a giant pot of chicken stock.  I love making my own stock, and it's another money saver.  I can usually get around 20 cups of stock out of one chicken, and if you've purchased chicken stock at the grocery store lately, the equivalent would cost you at least $20.  I divide the stock up into 4 cup containers and freeze it.  That way I always have fresh homemade stock on hand for soups, risotto, polenta, whatever I may need it for.  It's easy to make a roast chicken, and stock, however it is time consuming.  It's not something you can whip up after work on a weekday, but, on a rainy Sunday, it's so worth the time and effort.

Herb Roasted Chicken
1 fresh whole roasting chicken, neck & giblets removed and saved for stock
Olive Oil
Bunch of fresh sage
Bunch of fresh thyme
6 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
1 lemon, quartered,
1 celery stalk, cut into 3 pieces
1 small onion, quartered
Salt & Pepper

  1. Prepare the Herb Spread & Aromatics.  In a small food processor blend together about 10 sage leaves,  the leaves from about 6 sprigs of thyme and 2 cloves of garlic.  Transfer the herb blend to a small bowl and stir in about 1/4 cup olive oil, season with salt & pepper.  This mixture will be spread on the outside of the chicken.  In another bowl, toss the quartered lemon, the quartered onion, the celery, 4 cloves of garlic and the rest of the sage & thyme with some olive oil, salt & pepper.  This mixture will be stuffed inside the chicken.
  2. Prepare the Chicken.  Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F and position a rack in the bottom 3rd of the oven.  Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Fill the main cavity with the seasoned aromatics and close up the chicken using a lacer.  Place the chicken breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan, tuck the wing tips under the breast and tie the legs together.  Season the chicken with salt & pepper.  Spread the entire chicken with the herb spread.  You can put about a teaspoonful of the spread under the skin over the breast meat as well.  Finish off the chicken with a sprinkling of paprika.
  3. Roast the Chicken.  Put the chicken into the 425 F oven and roast for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 350 F and continue to roast the chicken until done, about another hour.  A thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the thigh should read 170 F when the chicken is done.
  4. Let the Chicken Rest.  Remove the chicken from the oven, tent with foil and let it rest for at least 10 to 15 minutes.  The internal temperature should continue to rise to 180 F while the chicken is resting, and the juices should be absorbed back into the chicken.
  5. Serve!  Once the chicken has completed its resting, carve the chicken and serve immediately.  Some roasted potatoes and green beans go great on the side. And to drink, nothing goes better than a delicious Pinot Noir.
Herb spread
Aromatics ready to be stuffed

All tied up and ready for the oven

Resting comfortably and ready to be served!

After dinner, be sure to carve all the chicken off the bone and save the carcass and bones to make stock.  Here's my recipe for that

Chicken Stock
Leftover chicken carcass/bones from roasted chicken, aromatics & skin removed from carcass
Neck & Giblets from chicken
1 small onion quartered
4 cloves of garlic, peeled & smashed
2 stalks of celery, leaves attached, cut into 2 pieces
1 parsnip, cut into 3 or 4 pieces (or 1 carrot)
fresh sage
fresh thyme
2 tsp salt

  1. Fill up the Stock Pot.  In the largest stock pot you can find, put all the above ingredients into the pot and then fill the pot up to about 1 1/2" from the top with water.  Be sure to remove as much skin from the carcass as possible to cut down on the fat in the finished stock.  We can't stand the flavor of cooked carrots in our house, so instead of using the standard carrot for the stock, I use a parsnip.  Feel free to go the traditional route if you are a fan of the cooked carrot.
  2. Bring to Boil & then Simmer.  Bring the stock to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, cover and then let stock simmer covered for a few hours.
  3. Strain Stock and store.  Once the stock has simmered away for 3 or 4 hours, remove from heat and scoop out the large pieces of bone, celery, onion, etc.  Be careful, they will stay very hot for a very long time. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer so that you are left with nothing but clear broth.  Divide finished stock into small 2 or 4 cup containers and store in fridge (if you plan to use within the week) or in the freezer.  You should end up with between 16 & 20 cups of stock.
Stock, simmering away after dinner

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Black Bean & Squash Tacos

I can't quite figure out when "Taco Tuesday" became a thing, and I don't know if it is a nationwide phenomenon, but here in the Bay Area, everyone I know seems to participate in "Taco Tuesday".  So, since it's Tuesday, dinner at the Munoz's is of course Tacos.  Although, these aren't your standard tacos.  As much as I love the old seasoned meat, cheese, tomato & lettuce in a crispy corn shell combination, I've eaten enough of those in my lifetime where it just seems so boring.  These tacos, with smoky black beans and spicy roasted squash have a ton of flavor, can be made in no time flat, and combine 2 of my favorite ingredients- black beans & butternut squash.

Today is also Election Tuesday, and all I will say on this subject is Go Vote.  I could say a lot more, but I don't think I want to use this blog to jump up on a political soap box.  I could go on about how I am a die-hard democrat.  About how I believe in universal health care, in social security & medicare & even welfare, although I do feel that the current welfare system needs a really good tune-up.  About how I have liberal social views- I firmly believe in gay marriage, women rights, abortion rights, a strong separation of Church & State.  About how I am pro-military, I believe choosing to serve your country in the armed forces is one of the greatest things someone can choose to do, or about how I believe we need to stop the current tax & spend system and learn to live within our national budget.  Or about how I believe in a persons right to bear arms, although, why someone needs a machine gun to defend their home or practice their sharpshooting skills escapes me.  I could go on about all these things, but instead of getting into a political debate on a blog, I went to the polls and voted for the candidates that best supported my ideals.  And whatever you believe in, whether you agree or disagree with me, you too can go to the polls and vote for the person that you feel best represents your ideals.  That's how it works in this democracy and it's just one of the things that make our country great.

Anyway, enough of that, I am stepping down from the political soap box I had no intention of stepping up on and getting back to something that everyone can agree on- the awesomeness of tacos.    And these tacos, while far from traditional, are seriously, seriously delicious.  No matter if you are a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian or even a sign carrying member of that wacky Tea Party, I guarantee you will agree.

Black Bean & Roasted Butternut Squash Tacos

1/2 cup 2% plain greek yogurt*
Lime juice
fresh cilantro
Chili powder
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can seasoned black beans (I like Bush's)
1 cup fresh or frozen sweet corn
1/2 can of Mexican style stewed tomatoes
1 small Jalapeño, seeded & diced
2 1/2 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Chipotle powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Spicy roasted squash cubes (I used the extra's I made from last night's Squash & Sausage Risotto)
Cotija Cheese*, crumbled
Corn Tortillas

*You can use sour cream instead of the Greek Yogurt, but the yogurt really gives the sauce a great flavor and is much healthier than sour cream.  Cotija cheese is basically the Mexican version of Feta so if you can't find Cotija you can substitute with Feta.
  1. Make the Cilantro Lime Sauce.  In a small bowl mix together the yogurt, lime juice, some finely chopped fresh cilantro and a little chili powder in a small bowl.  Season with some salt & pepper.  How much cilantro, lime juice and chili powder you use is really up to you.  I like a lot of lime (the juice from 1/2 of a big lime), not a lot of cilantro and just enough chili powder to give it a small kick.  Keep the sauce refrigerated until ready to use. 
  2. Prepare the Beans.  In a saute pan cook the onions in a little olive oil, over medium heat, for about 5 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute.  Add in the corn & jalapeno and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the can of seasoned black beans (undrained) and the stewed tomatoes.  Add the chipotle powder, cumin, salt & pepper and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
  3. Heat up the squash.  If you are using previously prepared roasted squash, pop them in the microwave for a minute or so to heat up
  4. Assemble the Tacos.  Warm up the soft corn tortillas and fill with the black beans and the squash.  Top with the cilantro lime sauce and a little bit of cotija cheese.
  5. Serve!  I usually make some Spanish rice to go along with the tacos, and to drink, some cold Mexican beer, Negra Modelo or Pacifico are always good.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have one confession to make.  While this is a vegetarian dinner, my husband thinks that a dinner without cooked animal meat is an abomination.  To satisfy him, I just brown a package of ground turkey with a packet of store bought taco seasoning.  When I assemble the tacos I put a layer of the Turkey in the bottom of his taco.  He's happy and I can have my vegetarian variety.  

Bon Appetit!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Squash & Sausage Risotto

I know I said in a previous post that I love fall, and I do. But...  November sometimes feels like the one month out of the year that has it out for me.  There is always so much going on.  Thanksgiving looms large on the calendar at the end of the month which normally means a trip home to New Jersey to be with the family, or the family coming in to be with us.  And once Thanksgiving arrives, well, Christmas & Hanukkah are just a hop, skip & a jump away.  I always feel like I need to get the house "ready" for the holidays.  I like to tackle any and all projects that have lingered through the winter, when it was too cold to work on them, spring, when it was too rainy to work on them, or summer, when it was just too nice outside to work on them.  I end up spending a lot of November weekends and evenings  reorganizing closets, rearranging furniture, deep-cleaning the carpets, things like that.

On top of all that, November is the busiest month of the year at my job.  I work for a small non-profit membership association.  So small in fact, that due to cut-backs over the years, I am now the sole paid employee.  The last one standing, so to speak.  11 months out of the year it's not that bad.  I've learned to adapt to being the only one in the office, and I've figured out how to manage the workload just fine.  Except for November, when I really miss having co-workers, and having people to share the workload with.  I could use about 4 of me, just for the one month.  There are meetings on top of meetings in November- Board Meetings, Delegates Meetings, Committee Meetings, and our year-end Trophy Party. Organizing the hundreds of trophies that get handed out at the party could be a full-time job on it's own in November.  November is the month we prepare the budget for the next year.  It's the month we prepare our annual publication, with all the information our members need to participate in the association the following year, and I have learned that printers do not like it when you miss their deadlines.  It's the month we finalize our event calendar for the following year- over 850 events that need coordinated between government agencies and local organizations. It's insanity really.

So yeah, November often feels like it's out to get me.  Thankfully, I can retreat to my kitchen when I need a stress break and whip up something delicious (and hopefully something quick) with my favorite fall ingredients.  Squash, root vegetables, greens, apples, pears, nuts- they are all in season and the produce stand is full of them.

Tonight's dinner at the Munoz's utilizes probably my favorite fall ingredient, butternut squash.  I can eat roasted cubes of the orange goodness all day long, it's like candy.  I've got a slew of recipes that call for it.  Tonight I am making a double batch, some to use tonight in my risotto, and some to use for Taco Tuesday.  Stay tuned for that recipe tomorrow, but for now...

Roasted Squash & Sausage Risotto
1 large butternut squash, or 2 small, peeled, seeded & cut into small 1" cubes
Olive Oil
1 Tbsp dried thyme
Cayenne pepper
Salt & pepper
1 pkg sweet Italian turkey sausage
2 shallots, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup arborrio rice
½ cup marsala wine
5 cups chicken broth
½ cup grated parmesan cheese

  1. Roast the squash.  Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toss the cubed squash with olive oil, thyme, cayenne pepper (how much depends on how spicy you like things), salt &pepper and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet (you may need 2) lined with parchment paper. Roast the squash for about  45 minutes, until it is softened and slightly carmelized.  Take half of the roasted squash, put it in a container and refrigerate for use in a later recipe.
  2. Cook the Sausage.  While the squash is roasting, cook the whole sausage links in a pan until browned & cooked through.  Remove from pan, let cool slightly and slice into ¼" rounds. Cover to keep warm.
  3. Warm up the chicken broth.  While you are cooking the sausage, bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a small pot.  Keep the chicken broth gently simmering while cooking the risotto.
  4. Get the Risotto going.  Run olive oil around the bottom of a risotto pan (dutch oven type pot). Sauté the shallots over medium heat for a few minutes until they start to soften, then add in the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the rice and continue to sauté over medium heat for another 2 minutes or so. Season with salt & pepper. Add the marsala wine and stir gently until almost all the wine has been absorbed. 
  5. Add in the chicken stock, a little at a time.  Once the wine has been absorbed, start adding the hot chicken broth, ½ cup at a time, gently stirring over medium heat until almost all the liquid has been absorbed before adding more broth. Continue this process until the risotto is done, about 20 minutes.  You may not need to use all 5 cups of the chicken broth.  You'll know the risotto is done when it gets creamy looking and the grains are soft but still a little firm (al dente) when you bite one.
  6. Add in the sausage & squash.  Once the risotto is done, remove from the heat, stir in ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, the sliced sausage & the roasted squash cubes.
  7. Serve!  Serve immediately.  A nice merlot goes great with this dish.

Regardless of what you may have heard, risotto is actually really easy to make, and pretty quick to make as well.  Usually risotto recipes call for lots of butter, but I leave it out completely.  I find a little olive oil works just as well, and the chicken broth adds enough richness that I don't miss the butter at all.  You could also use regular Italian pork sausage if you wanted, but I use the Turkey variety to help keep the dish a little lighter.  Just make sure you use the sweet Italian variety- it plays off the spicy squash really well.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Broccoli Stir Fry

Pancho and I love broccoli.  We eat it several times a week.  We like it roasted, steamed, grilled, cooked in a pan, loaded into a casserole, it really doesn't matter.  I don't think there is a way to prepare broccoli where we wouldn't like it.  We also love Asian food, and living in the San Francisco Bay area means that there are many many many places to get truly great Asian food.  Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Burmese, Korean, it's all here, and all within walking distance or delivery distance of our house.  Naturally, one of our favorite dishes is stir-fry broccoli, with beef, pork, chicken or tofu.  Only catch is that if we ate our beloved stir-fry broccoli out at these amazing Asian restaurants all the time, or even had it delivered- we'd be unable to pay the rent.  So, I've spent some time trying to come up with a Broccoli Stir-Fry recipe that's just as good as what I can get from China Gourmet or Dragon Village- our favorite Chinese restaurants down the street.

This recipe is sort of an amalgamation of several different recipes I've tried over the years, and you can use pretty much any vegetables or protein source.  It works great with tofu, chicken or beef, but we like it best with thin strips of pork, and of course, with broccoli.  The other great thing about this recipe?  It's super cheap to make.  The thin cut Pork Chops are really inexpensive and so are the veggies.  And, it takes literally no time to prepare (especially if you have the pre-cut bag of broccoli, & pre-sliced mushrooms)-

Cheap, Quick & Delicious... Winner, Winner, Pork Dinner!

Broccoli Pork Stir Fry

Thin cut pork chops (2 or 3), cut into small strips, seasoned with salt & pepper and tossed with some Cornstarch
1 small onion, diced into large pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
6 to 8 mushrooms, sliced
1 large head of Broccoli, cut into small florets
3 Tbsp Oyster Sauce or Fish Sauce (both available in the Asian section of Safeway)
3 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 to 2 tsp Garlic Chili Sauce, more/less depending on how spicy you like it.  (I use the Vietnamese kind, with the green lid & the rooster on the jar, also available at Safeway)
1/3 cup chicken broth
Sesame Oil
Steamed Brown Rice

  1. Make the Stir-Fry Sauce.  Mix the chicken broth, brown sugar, oyster or fish sauce & garlic chili sauce together in a small bowl.  Set aside.  
  2. Cook the Pork & Onions.  Run about 1 1/2 Tbsps sesame oil around a large skillet or wok over high heat.  Add the onions, garlic, ginger and the pork strips, which have been seasoned with salt & pepper and lightly tossed with cornstarch (it helps make a thicker sauce for the stir fry).  Sauté for a few minutes until the pork strips are browned and the onions have softened.  
  3. Add in the Veggies.  Add another Tbsp of sesame oil to the pan and throw in the mushrooms, cook for another minute and then toss in the broccoli.  
  4. Add the sauce.  After a minute or two, pour the stir-fry sauce over the mixture and turn the heat down to medium.  Continue to cook over medium heat for another few minutes, until the veggies are cooked through and the sauce has thickened.  
  5. Serve!  Serve over steamed rice.  We like brown rice, but white rice works just as well.

Bon Appetit,