Thursday, February 28, 2013

Blue Cheese Bread Pudding

This. Is. Epic.

Especially if you like blue cheese.

I LOVE these things. It might be because I love blue cheese, with it's sharp, distinct flavor and creamy texture, ribboned with salty ribbons of color.....Hmm, oh you're still here? Sorry about drifting off into cheese heaven. Honestly, this is just a fantastic recipe and super simple.

I made this for the first time in Texas when a girlfriend was coming over for dinner. I followed it perfectly the first time, but when I made it last week, I tweaked it a little.

Here is the video and recipe for the original dish by Chef John. He has a ton of other great recipes too!

Here is what I did to it :) I hope you enjoy!


1 Tbsp Butter

4-5 cups cubed bread, dried over night or in the oven (You want these suckers DRY! I'm talking rock solid. They'll need to absorb all the wonderful flavor you're going to add. Use 4 cups if you like a dense pudding, 5 if you want something a little dryer. I opt for the dryer batch.)

1 Tbsp Butter
1/2 cup scallions, diced
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 tsp pepper

1/3-1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles

Sliced scallions and blue cheese for garnish.


Preheat Oven - 400º

Grease cupcake pan, or ramekins with butter.

Place bread cubes in a large bowl, set aside.

Saute onions, salt and butter.

Add everything else EXCEPT THE BLUE CHEESE!!! and heat til steaming (don't boil).

Pour broth mixture over bread cubes, and stir until all the liquid is absorbed.

Sprinkle blue cheese over bread cube mix, stir gentle.

Divide mixture into cupcake tins. Garnish with a few crumbs blue cheese.

Bake at 400º for 20-25 minutes. Top with slices of scallions.

Serve HOT!!

Serves 4.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sweet Beef Stew with Biscuits

This is a nice variation of so many other stews that I've made. The hint of sweetness brought into the blend by the brown sugar, and the subtle spicy lace of the Worcestershire sauce makes this stand apart from the traditional savory stews.

  It's good on a slow day, or after a long week. The cooked-in-the-stew biscuits give this a very hearty blend of beef and biscuits.

Instructions and Ingredients: 

1 lb stewing beef
1 T olive oil
2 t thyme

Pat dry the beef with paper towels. Heat Oil and Thyme in dutch oven on medium high. Brown to beef and remove.

In the same pot, add:

4 onions, sliced
1 t salt
1 T Olive Oil/Butter

Cook until limp and browned.

1 T flour, stir quickly


4 cup beef stock
1 T brown sugar
1 T Worcestershire Sauce
4 Bay leaves
Browned beef

Simmer on low, covered, for about 2 hours.

1 1/2 cup flour
1 t baking power
1 t parsley
1 T sugar
2 t melted butter
1/2 cup milk

Mix until moist, and drop by rounded spoonful unto the top of your stew. COVER and cook for 10 mins.

Spoon out yourself some happiness into a bowl, and enjoy this sweet and savory treat while snuggling up on the couch with a good book, or gathered around the table with people you love

Serves 4.
Can be quartered easily for single serving, or doubled for a large group.

Beef and Beer - For those who drink, and enjoy a good beer, I've been told you can swap 2 cups of the beef stock for your favorite draft. I don't prefer the bitterness it brings, so I use only beef broth.

Irish Way - quarter about 5-6 small red skinned potatoes, and add them when you add the broth. Omit the biscuits.

Brown beef in oil and Thyme. Brown Onions. Add remaining ingredients, simmer for two hours. Add biscuits  cook 10 mins covered. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Freezing Herbs

I recently had several people ask about freezing various ingredients. In many of recipes, it may call for a small amount of one ingredient that you don't use frequently. So a common frustration is often along the lines of "Great, I have a whole bunch of cilantro, parsley, thyme, cheese, etc.... Now what do I do with it?!" Like any tool or skill, if you don't know what to do with them, it's frustrating and can get discouraging. Ingredients and cooking are no different.

Herbs differ from spices in many ways, but the key distinction is the part of the plant that is used. Herbs are generally the leafy portion of the plant, as opposed to the root, bark, seed or fruit, which is known as a spice.

Got it? Herb = leaf. Spice = root, bark, seed, fruit, etc. 

Herbs can be amazing when home grown or bought fresh. You can also buy them freeze dried or frozen. I will typically buy fresh herbs, then store them to my preference. This answers the questions many cooks have about what to do with left over herbs.

How to freeze herbs: 

Prep the herbs like you would for cooking (mince, dice, remove from stem, etc).

Freeze loose in a ziplock bag, or in portions with olive oil in an ice cube tray. 

For example, I bought too much dill, so I measured out 1 teaspoon into each cube, and added about 1 teaspoon olive oil. When frozen, I pop out and toss everything into a ziplock bag. 

This can be done for almost any herb. If you don't want to use olive oil, just freeze them loose. 

Best Frozen Loose: Cilantro, Mint, Chives, Basil.

Either Method: Tarragon, Oregano, Dill, Parsley, Rosemary,  Thyme.

Tips from the Mastermind

Get it!?? Mastermind, Brain cake?!? The site this picture was taken from will tickle
any scientist and chef alike. I about died with delight upon discovering it!! 

Below are several categories which have made a big difference in my life in the kitchen. For those working, over worked, or frazzled chefs out there - never fear - these are inexpensive, practical, and don't require over hauling anything other than your kitchen habits. They are quick to establish, and make kitchen management much smoother in the days to follow. Good luck on your journey.

For the avid learner - read this post all the way through to get the most out of it. For those interested in a specific area - skip to the heading.

Above all know this - Organization is key.

Menu Planning 

Each week, before going shopping, I create a weekly menu. This allows me to live within my budget, determine what food experiment I want to try that week, and gives me a shopping list. Plus, I HATE dealing with crowed grocery stores, so I'm in an out fast. 
I go isle by isle, starting with the produce section, and skip isles that don't contain items on my list. I end near the dairy/juice, then find the dog food/pet isle or some other boring isle to get to the front of the store. It's hard to impulse buy looking at dog food.

Generally eat the same thing for breakfast, scrounge or eat left overs for lunch, and party when it's dinner time - so I only really plan dinners. I plan lunch and/or breakfast if I'm ambitious. Maybe.

There are apps, websites, printable forms, etc. Find something that doesn't make you want to pull your hair out and USE IT! I made mine and laminated it at a friends place, and it works for me: here is what it looks like.

 Every day has a half size sticky note with the main dish scrawled on it. Yes, saturday has "Wild Card" under it. At one point I thought I'd try planning for a month, so I wrote in the dates - it was an epic fail. The four rows are for Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, and Dinner.
It's a bit of an eye sore - but it helps me manage my house so it stays where it is. If something is out of sigh, it's out of mind to me.

On the back of my menu plan, I have previous meals (loosely organized) that I can use in the future. On the right are sides that I occasionally stick with a main dish to remind me to incorporate something specific.

Fridge Organization 

I organize my fridge loosely by meal. When it comes time for cooking, I just grab the pile and a few things from the door. No searching, no pulling molding veggies, rotting fruits, etc that have been hiding. Every fridge is different but use these principles:

Sort by meal. 
Group frequently used things together, easily accessible.
Don't let things hide (use a lazy susan, baskets, or another organizer if needed). 

Top Row: Eggs, Lazy Susan with semi used ingredients
Drawer: Cheese, herbs
First Shelf: Chicken for Stew, left over squash soup, left over Tortellini Sausage soup.
Second Shelf (ingredients, sorted by meal): Chicken Fajitas, Bacon Blue Chicken, Hot German Potato Salad w/ Cabbage.
Drawers: Veggies for lunch, veggies for sides. 

Top: Frequently used stuff - spices, drinks.
Middle: Frequently used marinates, dressings, and other "I need to grab this quick" stuff.
Bottom: Infrequently used items, bulky items.
These are small items, that I use in about 80% of my recipes, so I keep there here and very handy. 

Freezer Organization

I buy in bulk (especially meats - way less expensive), and freeze it. I organize my freezer by food type, so if I need to see if I have enough chicken, I pull out the 'white meat' basket and see if I do or don't. No rummaging, no frozen fingers - it's just a quick glance. 
It's important food safety to freeze food in serving/frequently used size portions. As a habit, you want to avoid defrosting and refreezing food. As an example, I buy 6 lbs of ground beef, use one pound, and freeze the other five in one pound portions. When a recipe calls for 1lb of ground beef, I know just how many to thaw. 

Here are the principles:
Organize by food types (meat, produce, sweets, herbs)
Use containers (label if needed. Mine are from the dollar store). 
Keep a 'Lazy Meal' handy. Mine is usually a frozen pizza. 

Left to right, top: Sweets, White Meat Basket, Red Meat Basket.
Bottom: Ice,  Left Over Meals (Bagged Meals), Veggie Basket. 

Freezer door: Breads, Fruits, and infrequently used items. Small container for herbs (hidden to right of fruit). 

In conclusion, I hope this helps. Take it one step at a time. Buy the baskets one week, organize the freezer the next. This has make a huge difference in my budget, sanity, and enjoyment of cooking. It's allowed me to eat healthier, fewer over processes foods, and really enjoy trying some new ingredients. 

ENJOY the creativity of cooking! It's a beautiful thing! 

Reader digest version:

Plan your major meals, Shop with a list. Sort you fridge by meal, sort your freezer by food type. Label and free left overs - meals in single serving containers, ingredients in measured portions. Enjoy good for more often. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cilantro Lime Steak Fajitas

A low, full sun casting a golden warmth across your face, a little bit of salt water in the air, and the smell of grilling meat wafting to your nose as you walk into the back yard. Ahhhh. California.

I lived in southern California for about two years, volunteering as a religious minister, and as a side benefit I was able to enjoy the authenticity of real home cooked mexican food from 100% real latino madres. This included fresh grilled carne asada - which literally translated means 'grilled meat'. It generally referred to beef though. It was always served with freshly warmed corn tortillas and rice and beans. Thank you, to all the wonderful women (and a few men) who served us dinners and meals while we served your communities.

This recipie is inspired by my time working with the latino community. Most people were from Mexico, but occasionally we got come people from other Spanish speaking countries - Guatemala, Honduras  and El Salvador most notably. If you like red meat, you will like this. Enjoy!
This is very rare meat. I like mine medium rare, so I cook it rare as a flank, and then once I add it to the hot veggies, it cooks a bit more. This batch was on the more rare side of med. rare - but I love it!
Ahhhhh. Bright golden sun, as shown in picture, is not included.

Up close and personal. The party is about the begin! 

2 bell peppers - pick your favorite flavors(s), cut into slices
1 med onion, sliced

Cilantro Lime Mix:
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 Tablespoon lime juice
2 T olive oil
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t chili powder

Marinate, in Mix 5-20 mins (or overnight, depending on how you like it):
1 lb flank steak

10-15 warm tortillas


Heat nonstick pan to med high heat. Sear flank steak on every side, quickly. Then 2 mins on each side. Place into preheated oven (400*) for 6 mins (while cooking onions/peppers).

Add olive oil to original pan, add veggies, and stir occasionally until desired tenderness. Remove the pan from the hot unit right before they're done.

Remove steak, slice, and add to veggie mix. Serve hot, and enjoy with friends.

Cliff Notes:

Marinate steak in Cilantro Lime Mix. Sear, place in oven. Sautee pepers and onions. Slice steak, add to veggies. Serve hot.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Spinach and Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushroom

Mmmmmm. My husband does not like mushrooms. I however, love them. Out of respect for him, I have hardly cook with them since we've gotten married. Then I started realizing, "I make him a PB&J every day for lunch - heck I can make myself anything I want! Including the stuff he hates!" So while grocery shopping the other day, I saw two of the most beautiful portobello mushrooms I have seen in quite sometime. While at the time I didn't know what I'd do with them, I knew they were coming home with me.

As I took them out of the bag and then the wrapping I could feel the soft, silky surface and spongy resistance. I could smell the cool earthy scent that all mushrooms have which reminds me of cool summer evenings. I forgot how much I missed mushrooms, and I was glad to have them back in my life! 

For those of you who aren't familiar with working with fresh mushrooms, I'll eventually post something under my 'Tips and Tricks" about proper care and cleaning. For now, just know that you should never rinse then under water (they absorbe water, turn soggy and gross). Rather wipe them thoroughly with a damp paper towel, and push the stem with your thumb to 'pop' it out. Scrape the underside with a spoon if desired.

Cleaned mushroom, ready for stuffing!

2 portobello mushroom caps, cleaned 

4 oz goat cheese
2 cloves roasted garlic
1/4 cup diced sun dried tomatoes
2 T pesto
1/3 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained
Pinch of salt


Preheat oven on broil. (Yes, you are going to broil these suckers). Clean mushroom caps and set top side down on greased baking sheet. I personally drizzle olive oil onto the baking sheet, then put the mushrooms directly onto the oil. 

Mix (mash really) all the filling ingredients together.

This is half the mixture - I had already stuffed one before I took this. 
Divide mixture between the two caps, and place on the preheated oven, middle rack. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until mixture has turned a golden brown and mushroom edges have blackened slightly. Mushrooms generally turn very dark when cooked, so don't worry, it won't taste burned. 

Mixture should be heated all the way through, and the mushroom should be soft and warm when cut into. 

Freshly broiled, hot and ready, flavor packed stuffed mushroom. 

If serving as a main dish, it goes well with rice, steamed zucchini, or salad. It also goes great as a side for steak or chicken.

Cliff-notes Version: 

Mix spinach, goat cheese, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, and pesto. Divide on mushrooms, broil (middle rack) for 15 mins. Serve hot.