Monday, June 22, 2009

Kitchen Essentials: Dutch Oven...

This week’s Kitchen Essential is the Dutch oven. This indispensable product is something that every cook should have at least one of in their kitchen. Dutch ovens come in a variety of sizes and are usually made of either cast iron or enamel over cast iron. The key feature of any Dutch oven, however, is a tight-fitting lid that seals in moisture as the food cooks. This makes these pots ideally suited for braising and stewing. They can be used on top of the stove or in the oven…and you can even serve your dish right from the pot, which means faster cleanup.!

The Dutch oven that I use in my kitchen is Le Creuset’s 5.5-quart enameled cast iron. I use it for making soup and gumbo in the fall and winter. I also use it year-round to cook roasts or whole chickens in the oven because they come out tender, juicy, and evenly cooked every time. The cast iron heats quickly and evenly…and it retains the heat very well. The enamel coating is what I love because it acts like a non-stick surface, allowing me to use very little added fat when I use it to cook. This Dutch oven can go from the stove or oven to the table…any leftovers can go straight to the fridge in the pot to be reheated the next day!

Keep in mind that an enameled cast iron Dutch oven will require an initial monetary investment on your part. When not on sale, a Le Creuset Dutch oven can cost upwards of $200. I realize that’s not a small amount of money, but it’s easier to spend that much money if you think of it as a one-time investment. These are heirloom pieces that last a lifetime and are even be handed down through generations in some families. You can find them for much less on sale at Le Creuset outlet stores.

A non-enameled Lodge cast iron Dutch oven can be purchased for between $50 and $100, depending on size. The trade off is that this type of pot will need to be “seasoned” with oil before using to prevent your food from sticking in the new pot. Over time, cast iron continues to season, so sticking becomes much less of an issue.

No matter whether you opt to go with a basic cast iron Dutch oven or splurge on an enameled cast iron version, just do it! This is one essential kitchen tool that you want to make sure you have in your kitchen’s bag of tricks!!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Recipe of the Week: Chicken and Dumplings

This week's Recipe of the Week is for yummy chicken and dumplings. This stuff is pure comfort food at its best! I grew up eating my Mom's simple, delicious chicken and dumplings. For the longest time, I had zero success replicating her recipe in my own dumplings always came out tough and flat instead of puffy and soft like Mom's. Determined to succeed, I kept at it until I found a recipe that works perfectly for me. This is my adaption of a recipe that I found in Cooking Light.

If you use pre-cooked rotisserie chicken meat, it's an even easier dish to whip up. This recipe makes plenty for us to have a hearty dinner with enough leftover for lunches the next day. The flavor is great and tastes like you spent all day in the kitchen instead of under and hour. I serve it in bowls like you would soup. Best of all, the dumplings come out fluffy and tender every time!

Chicken and Dumplings


1 tbs. olive oil
1 lb. rotisserie chicken breast cut into 1-inch chunks (if you use fresh chicken breast, season and pan-sear it first)
1 chopped yellow onion (medium)
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin rounds (you can also take 7 or 8 baby carrots and cut in thirds)
1/2 cup frozen corn
2 tbs. flour
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. dried thyme (1 tbs. fresh is good if you have it on hand)
3/4 cup Bisquick
5 tbs. skim milk
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
  • ----------------------

(1) Place a Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. When heated, add all veggies except the corn and sauté for 10 minutes.

(2) Add chicken meat. Sprinkle chicken/veggie mixture with the flour, and saute a minute or two longer to coat all the ingredients with the flour.

(3) Add chicken broth, corn, thyme, and black pepper to taste. Stir well with a whisk to combine. Cover, reduce heat to med-low, and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

(4) Meanwhile, combine 1/2 teaspoon parsley, Bisquick, and skim milk in a small bowl. Drop dumplings by tablespoonfuls onto the chicken/veggie mixture. Cover and cook at med-low for another 15 minutes. The key is to SIMMER the dumplings without letting the mixture boil!!

(5) To serve, put two ladles of the chicken/veggie mixture in a bowl and top with two dumplings.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Foodie Hall of Fame: Rotisserie Chicken

This week’s inductee into Wendy’s Foodie Hall of Fame is rotisserie chicken. These moist and perfectly roasted chickens truly are a busy foodie’s best friend. I buy these chickens two or three times a month…you can find them at nearly every grocery store deli these days, but my personal favorites are the ones sold at Costco. Their roasted chickens are HUGE, juicy, and priced at least a dollar less than most grocery store brands I’ve seen. That combo works for me!!

Why is a convenience item in my Foodie Hall of Fame? Because they taste good and are so versatile, that’s why! It’s just Michael and I at home…although our cat, Lucy, manages to beg a bite or two from us…so we can easily get two meals from each chicken. We normally eat half of the chicken “as is” the first night with a salad and a simple side dish. Then I remove the meat from the other half of the chicken and put it in the fridge to use the next night. If I plan to use the leftover meat later in the week, then I’ll freeze it in a freezer bag.

The leftover meat can be used in all sorts of ways. I use it to make chicken salad sandwiches, homemade soups, chicken enchilada filling, or yummy chicken and dumplings. Hmmm…now that I think of it, my yummy chicken and dumpling recipe might just be this Sunday’s Recipe of the Week!! Having the chicken already cooked and chopped up makes the next dinner a snap to put together. After a long day in the office, even a foodie who loves to cook appreciates being able to get a tasty dinner on the table as quickly as possible!!

Now it’s your turn…let me know how YOU use rotisserie chickens in your foodie adventures!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Featured Restaurant: Dough Pizzeria Napoletana in San Antonio

This week's featured restaurant is San Antonio's Dough Pizzeria Napoletana. This place is the real deal...the first time we walked into the restaurant, my first thought was, "This ain't no Papa John's!". Dough serves San Antonio's only authentic Neapolitan pizza, meaning this pizza is made the way it's made in Italy. The restaurant opened last year and immediately started generating a lot of buzz among foodies in town. We tried it for the first time last summer and loved it. We've been back several times since, and the quality has been consistently excellent.

The food is made with excellent ingredients, many made on premises. Pizzas are made with house-made dough, fresh mozzarella and buffalo mozzarella, and San Marzano tomatoes. The pizzas are cooked in a super-hot wood-fired only takes 90 seconds to cook a pie! Besides pizza, Dough also features excellent appetizers, salads, and calzones. Coupled with a friendly and knowledgeable waitstaff, Dough offers a pleasant dining experience in a relaxed contemporary setting. Their wine list is extensive and excellent as well!

Our last visit to Dough was to have dinner with some old friends last month. We started out selecting two different burrata appetizers to share. I had never tried this dish before, so it was a new foodie find for me...I'm now a believer! Burrata is a fresh mozzarella cheese dome that has a creamy filling that oozes out when you cut it. The filling reminded me a bit of ricotta cheese. We had the caprese version pictured on the left as well as a fried version served with prosciutto and sun-dried tomato pesto...both were WONDERFUL!!

By the time we finished our appetizers, the pizzas arrived at the table. Michael and I ordered ours with prosciutto, speck ham, Italian sausage, pancetta, and basil...porky goodness for sure! Our dining companions decided to try a veggie pizza with sun-dried tomatoes and roasted mushrooms. Both of the pizzas were excellent. They were thin, crispy, and ever-so-chewy...with a few charred spots from the wood-fired oven. Neither version was the least bit soggy or greasy.

Since we had been sharing our food the entire night, we happily discovered that we still had a bit of room left to try one of their desserts. Our waiter highly recommended the vanilla bean panna cotta. He did not steer us wrong!! It was served with a caramel drizzle and macerated cherries and golden raisins. It was so creamy and yummy...not too rich, but very satisfying. It was the perfect ending to an absolutely wonderful meal! Authentic Italian pizza without having to buy a plane ticket or take time off work!!

Monday, June 15, 2009

After a brief break over the weekend, I’m back. I owe you a Recipe of the Week from yesterday…and a Kitchen Spotlight for today. Ok…recipe first. Yesterday was my brother-in-law’s birthday party, so I brought these ribs to contribute to the spread. They are so simple to make…and very good! Definitely different from your typical Texas BBQ ribs!!

Asian Glazed Spare Ribs

3 pounds pork spare ribs or pork loin back ribs
Season salt or rub of your choice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon instant minced onion
1 teaspoon paprika1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1. Cut spare ribs into serving-size pieces. Place ribs, bone side down, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.

2. Sprinkle w/season salt. Cover and roast at 350 degrees F for 1 hour. Drain.

3. Combine all the remaining ingredients in a bowl; brush some of glaze on ribs. Roast uncovered 30-45 minutes longer or until meat is tender, brushing occasionally with remaining glaze.

Note: if your rack of ribs is larger than 3 lbs., you’ll have to adjust the glaze ingredients accordingly to make sure you have plenty of yummy glaze for ALL of your ribs!

Now for today’s kitchen spotlight….
A utensil that I use a LOT in my kitchen is my collection of spoonulas. A spoonula is basically a combination spoon and spatula. Spoonulas are great for scooping mayo out of the jar and then mixing up a tuna or chicken salad. I also use them when I make one-dish casseroles or pasta dishes. I can stir my veggies as they sauté and then use the spoonula to serve the finished product as well. I love to give spoonulas as a present to people, because many of my friends and family have never heard of them.

You can buy these handy utensils nearly everywhere these days, but the silicone ones found at Williams-Sonoma are my personal favorite. They have nice maple wood handles, and the silicone is heat-resistant to 800 degrees. They’re sturdy and made to last…I’ve had mine for five years, and they still look brand new despite nearly daily use!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cookbook Corner: Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis

This week’s Cookbook Corner honoree is Everyday Cooking by Giada De Laurentiis. Most of you know that Giada is a well known “celebrity chef” on Food Network. I’m a huge fan of her show, so I own every one of her cookbooks. I’ve cooked from and love them all…but Everyday Italian is my personal favorite. I highly recommend this book to any cook who wants to learn the basics of simple…yes, everyday…Italian cooking.

What I like best about Giada’s recipes is that they are simple, mostly quick to make, and consistently turn out great! These recipes won’t keep you in the kitchen for hours, but they have a ton of great flavor. This cookbook features “classic” Italian dishes, but it also contains a lot of fresh, modern takes on Italian cuisine.

My two favorite recipes from the book are the yummy Salsa all'Amatriciana and the Simple Bolognese Sauce. Both take less than an hour to make from start to finish, but they are full of flavor. To make them even easier, I make both of these sauces with canned San Marzano tomatoes. Every time I serve the Amatriciana sauce to my dinner guests, they always ask for seconds. Then they rave and rave…and then they ask for the recipe!!

I highly recommend Everyday Italian to anyone looking to expand their repertoire of Italian recipes.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Restaurant Adventures: Casino el Camino in Austin, Texas

This week’s featured restaurant is the always fun Casino el Camino in Austin, Texas. This place is an unpretentious, fun bar/burger joint that serves up some of the meanest burgers I’ve ever tasted!! Living in San Antonio, we take several day trips to Austin during the year to shop, visit friends…and find new foodie adventures. We saw this restaurant featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives earlier this year and immediately decided that we HAD to try it on our upcoming trip to meet my best friend in Austin for dinner!!

One try and we were hooked…Casino el Camino hits the foodie trifecta: fun atmosphere, fantastic food, and it's inexpensive to boot! If it's a pretty day, you can sit outside in the quiet(ish) courtyard. If there are no seats outside, you can head inside to dine among the “eclectic” décor…something that I can best describe as “Goth meets gargoyles”!! We love the burgers here so much that we braved the Saturday night crowds on 6th Street last weekend to get a much-needed burger fix! We had to pay $7 to park in a garage two blocks away, but at least we burned a few calories before gorging ourselves on burgers and fries ;)

We had the Chicago Burger again this time: ¾ lb. of flame-grilled angus beef, roma tomato, romaine lettuce, cheddar, bacon, and their amazing shallot mayo. So good!! Michael and I shared an order of hand-cut fries on the side. This burger is so huge that I can only eat half of it in one sitting, but that's ok. It just means I get to eat the other half the next day for lunch!! Casino el Camino has a full menu of tasty burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches, including veggie options:

The next time you're in Austin, put "eat burger at Casino el Camino" at the top of your "to do" list. I promise that you won't be disappointed!!!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Kitchen Spotlight: Emile Henry Bakeware

In this week’s Kitchen Spotlight, I want to share my secret for perfectly browned quick breads, juicy meatloaf, and evenly cooked casseroles. Of course, the ingredients you use play a big part in your kitchen success, but the tools you use once you’re in the kitchen are equally important!! The only bakeware that I use in my kitchen these days is Emile Henry. The company has been making their amazing glazed ceramic cookware in the town of Marcigny in Burgundy, France, since 1850.

According to the company’s website, “Ceramic is by far the best material for successful cooking and baking! Only ceramic is able to diffuse the heat slowly and evenly, to create perfectly browned gratins, tasty lasagna, and succulent cakes.” Emile Henry’s signature glazed ceramic is indeed very versatile. Dishes can go from the freezer, to the oven, and then to the dishwasher…and the cookware is also microwave safe. Best of all, the shiny glaze doesn’t scratch, is chip resistant, and also acts as a natural non-stick surface. That means clean-up is a BREEZE!

My personal Emile Henry collection includes a loaf pan, an 8x8 square baker, a pie plate, and an oval gratin dish. The loaf pan makes quick breads that don’t stick and come out perfectly browned and evenly cooked every single time. The square baker is great for evenly cooked cakes, moist brownies with chewy edges, and small casseroles. The gratin dish is designed to make homemade au gratin potatoes, but I use it for a casserole dish with excellent results as well.

I can’t say enough good things about Emile Henry products…I LOVE mine!! If you’d like to add a piece or two of this heirloom cookware to your kitchen, you can find it at Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table, and Crate & Barrel. Prices average from about $35 for the loaf pan to $70 for the 13x9 baker. In my experience, you can also find Emile Henry products deeply discounted throughout the year at Williams-Sonoma outlet stores. We like to give the following set as a wedding gift to friends and family: an Emile Henry loaf pan, a package of some yummy quick bread mix, a set of spoonulas, and a set of pretty dish towels.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Recipe of the Week: Not-Your-Average Meatloaf

Sometimes comfort food is just what you want and that reminds you of your childhood, simpler times when all you had to do was show up and dinner was right there waiting for you ;)! For many people, meatloaf is high on their list of comfort foods. Yet some people turn up their noses at meatloaf. I think I know why.

Meatloaf gets a bad rap because it can do I say this nicely?...a bit BORING! It doesn't have to be dry and boring , though. I make a killer meatloaf that makes converts out of even the staunchest of meatloaf haters. This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe that I originally found in a cookbook by famous Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme. 

I just couldn't make the recipe as it was originally written, contained a STICK of butter and was made with fattier ground beef. But the recipe sounded so tasty that I figured out how to keep the essence of the recipe and still be kind to my heart...and my butt!

Not-Your-Average Meatloaf

Makes 6 servings


  • 1 tbs Cajun seasoning of choice. (I normally use Chef Paul's Meat Magic)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbs. Land o Lakes light butter w/canola
  • Small yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, finely diced
  • 1/2 of a green pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 1 tbs. Tabasco (I especially like the garlic variety)
  • 1 small can evaporated milk
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1 lb. ground turkey (93% lean)
  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef (93% lean)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

1. Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the veggies, Tabasco, bay leaves, and seasoning.  Saute about five
minutes, until onion is translucent.

2. Add the evaporated milk and ketchup to the veggies; stir. Cook this mixture for about 2 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and let the mixture sit and cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 350°.

4. Put the ground turkey and beef in a large bowl. Add the eggs, the cooked veggie/milk/ketchup mixture, and the bread crumbs. Mix by hand until everything is
just combined. Don't overmix or your meatloaf or it will come out tough!!

5. Put the meatloaf in an ungreased non-stick loaf pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven up to 400° and cook for 30 more minutes.

This meatloaf is full of spicy flavor and has a great texture! I usually serve it with mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. Another good thing about this recipe is that the leftovers taste even better the next day!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Foodie Hall of Fame: Rao's Tomato Basil Sauce

This week's inductee into my personal Foodie Hall of Fame is Rao's Tomato Basil sauce. Gasp! A JARRED pasta sauce is hall-of-fame worthy?!?!? Yes...this amazing sauce really is that good! I have my friend and fellow foodie Andie to thank for first introducing me to this amazing sauce a couple of years ago. All it took was one try and this is the ONLY jarred sauce that is allowed in my kitchen!

Don't get me wrong...I love to cook homemade tomato sauce when I have the time. Giada De Laurentiis has a recipe for a KILLER pasta alla Amatriciana that I love to cook for special occasions. But I don't always have time to devote to chopping, sauteing, and simmering. At the same time, I don't want to sacrifice flavor for the sake of convenience.

With this sauce in my foodie bag of tricks, I don't have to sacrifice a thing! This sauce is all natural. It contains tomatoes and olive oil imported from Italy, fresh onion, garlic, and basil. That's hard-to-pronounce additives or icky ingredients. Just fresh ingredients cooked and quickly jarred. Rao's makes an entire line of pasta sauces, but the Tomato Basil is my favorite because it's so versatile.

Rao's is a legendary New York restaurant that's notoriously difficult to score a reservation for. They opened a second location in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, which we dined at on our last trip there in 2007. The homemade version of the sauce we had at the restaurant was exactly the same as the sauce that we buy and use at home. 

Yes...I know what you're thinking: Rao's sauces are very pricy for jarred pasta sauce. The average price for a jar in my city is $8.99. I easily justify the expense by reminding myself that buying a jar of the sauce at my local grocery store and cooking at home is MUCH cheaper than a weekend trip to Las Vegas to eat at Rao's in Caesar's Palace ;)!


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cookbook Spotlight: How to Cook Everything...and a bonus recipe!!

So...a work deadline kept me from posting in here yesterday, so I'm going to have a "make good" so I don't get behind!! Today is Cookbook Corner day...and I have a GREAT cookbook to recommend. I have a LOT of cookbooks in my collection...I love to try new recipes, so I love to have a lot of resources at my fingertips. This week's recommended cookbook is How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. It's a FANTASTIC resource for both beginner cooks and those who are a bit more experienced in the kitchen.

As the title says, the book is about how to cook EVERYTHING!! Mr. Bittman is a food columnist for the New York Times, and he really know his stuff!! This book has 900+ pages and features a whopping 1,500 recipes. The thing that I love most about this cookbook is that you learn specific details about different foods, are shown proper cooking technique via detailed illustrations, AND you also get some amazing recipes.

When I wonder, for example, "How should I cook leeks?" this is the book that I always turn to as a reference point to get me started. I'll find the section about leeks and learn what exactly they are, how to buy and store them, and how to best prepare them. Then the book lays out several recipes featuring leeks as the starring ingredient.

This cookbook should be a standard part of any cook's kitchen. If you don't own it, run out and buy it!!

...and I owe you a lightened-up recipe for yesterday. I'll share a salad so good that even my veggie-averse hubby will eat it and ask for seconds. It's very versatile, and we eat it year-round.

Wendy's Salad (for two)
  • Organic field greens
  • 4-5 sliced strawberries (we sub in dried cranberries in fall/winter)
  • 1/3 cup chopped glazed pecans (or any glazed nut you have)
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Newman's Own Lighten Up Raspberry-Walnut vinaigrette
That's it...we have it on the side for dinner at least once a week. In summer, it also makes a great main dish salad with the addition of some diced grilled chicken breast.

Happy eating...and happy cooking!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Restaurant Spotlight: ad hoc in Yountville, California

On our most recent vacation, we decided to dine at chef Thomas Keller’s ad hoc restaurant in the charming Napa Valley town of Yountville. We had read great things about the food and atmosphere, so we jumped at the chance to eat at a Keller restaurant. His French Laundry is among the top restaurants in the United States, but even two dedicated foodies like Michael and I just couldn’t justify spending $500+ for one meal…no matter how good it would be!

Ad hoc works like this: for only $49/person, you get a lovely four-course meal. The first course is a salad, the second course is your main dish, the third course is a cheese plate, and the fourth course is dessert. One set menu is served nightly…what they serve is what you eat, basically. We looked at it as an opportunity to sit back and let the staff feed us what was fresh and local that day. What a fun foodie adventure it was!!

Here is what we ate on the night when we dined at ad hoc.

First course: The first thing the waitress brought to our table was a yummy haricot vert and corn salad. It was served with shaved radish, caramelized leeks, and an avocado green goddess dressing. The combination of super-fresh veggies and a creamy dressing were just out-of-this world! It was a great start to our meal.

Main course: The entree that evening was a “study” in BBQ. We were served a plate of pulled pork, the most tender deboned beef short ribs, and a a few very spicy baby back ribs. The sides were baked borlotti beans and cole slaw. This is what I termed “upscale comfort food”. So good…we ate every bite of food on that plate!!

Cheese course: The cheese board that evening was a California blue cheese, homemade rosemary flatbread, and granny smith-caraway seed chutney. The cheese and flatbread were both stellar. However, I’m not a big fan of caraway seeds, so one bite of the chutney was enough for me.

Dessert: By the time dessert was served, we were getting pretty full. But not so full that we passed up the chance to dig into banana-nut cakes with coconut cream cheese icing. They were served with a deep chocolate drizzle sauce sprinkled with fleur de sel. The combination of the cake and bitter dark chocolate sauce was simply divine…not TOO sweet, and just the right portion.

I think that this was one of the best all-around meals I’ve ever eaten. The food was fresh, flavorful, and nicely presented. The restaurant was laidback, but not too casual…but not at all stuffy either! I subscribed to their e-mail list, so I receive their nightly menu every day. I’m not sure what’s worse: the drool that gets on the keyboard or knowing that I can’t jump in the car and eat there whenever I want!!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Happy Monday! Time for the Kitchen Spotlight. This week’s pick is Ziploc’s very cool Zip ‘n Steam bags. I bought a package of these bags months ago and have to admit that I threw them in the back of my kitchen cabinet…and forgot about them. I finally used them for the first time a few weeks ago. Now, I’m hooked! These steamer bags will be a staple in my kitchen from now on, I can promise you. What makes these bags so cool, you ask? First, steaming food is healthy for you. Second, you throw the bag away when you’re done…so there’s one less dish to wash. That’s a win-win scenario in my book!!

These bags are so easy to use:

1. Place your food and any seasonings in bag and seal firmly. Do not add water. Moisture in food provides sufficient steam. Spread items into an even layer. Do not overlap meats.

2. Lay steamer bag in microwave with indicated side up and cook using guidelines on bag. The bag inflates during cooking.

3. When the food is cooked, make sure to open the bag carefully, holding the top of bag where indicated.

So far, I’ve used these bags to steam corn on the cob and broccoli. Both came out perfectly cooked and yummy! I plan to branch out and try some of the recipes that are available at the Ziploc website this summer. You can find more info and recipes by going to and navigating to the Zip ‘n Steam area.

I hope all of you will give these steamer bags a try…and let me know how you like them!