Monday, January 30, 2012

Vegetarian Pulled "Pork" Sandwiches

When you become a vegetarian there are certain foods that you will likely always miss eating.  I enjoy the challenge of trying to recreate favorite dishes, minus the meat.
Pulled pork is one of my tried and true dishes and it was one of Hannah's favorite meals.  About a year into our vegetarianism, it was time for a meatless version.  I'm not a big fan of soy based meat alternatives, but will often use mushrooms as a meat replacer as they have a hearty texture and quality.  After a little experimenting, I came up with "Pulled 'Shrooms".  They're delicious served on a bun and give you that same satisfying sensation of biting into a pulled pork sandwich.  I kept the recipe very simple, since I am often doing double duty (cooking veg and non veggie meals at the same time).

Not only is this a quick and easy weeknight meal, it's a perfect addition to your Superbowl menu if you have Veggie friends.

Vegetarian Pulled "Pork" Sandwiches

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil*
2 10-ounce packages sliced mushrooms ( I like to use a combination of white and shiitake mushrooms)
2 cloves garlic, pressed
3/4 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce (you can make you're own, but there are so many good prepared varieties out there)
1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable broth
4 to 6 sandwich buns

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat and saute mushrooms and garlic about 6 to 8 minutes until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally.  Stir in barbecue sauce and bring to a boil.  Add vegetable broth until desired consistency; return to a boil reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes.  Serve on buns.

* I prefer to use butter, but this recipe can easily be vegan by using oil instead of butter and using vegan buns.

Feeding our Children

I try to keep this blog on the light side, but there's a lot of discussion going on as to how involved our government should be in what we feed our children.  It's a subject that I care about, a lot.  Unfortunately, we're approaching crisis mode as the numbers for childhood obesity and diabetes continue to rise. It's time someone steps up and takes action.  But who? Should government or parents be responsible for feeding our children?  At this point, I think both.  The very sad reality is that many parents don't even understand what is and isn't healthy.  It's not their fault, because nutrition has unfortunately become increasingly confusing.  Changing food pyramids, the good or bad nutrient of the month, food manufacturers putting a spin on how healthy or unhealthy their product may be, government that's influenced by food lobbyists, the list goes on.  We are constantly being told a different story.

I believe that government setting guidelines for healthy school lunches is a good start (except for the pizza as a vegetable thing, unless of course there are vegetables on the pizza...).  Every once in awhile, Ben asks me if he can get school lunch.  I concede, because it's a nice break from making his lunch everyday.    But I literally cringe as he makes his selections.  Fried food, white bread, very few fresh fruit and veggie choices.  I don't worry too much because he doesn't eat these lunches everyday and I know overall, he's getting a balanced diet. Other kids are not so lucky. 

There are also some grass roots programs happening in the schools, some celebrity chefs getting involved. It's a great start, but how many of these programs are being monitored by Registered Dietitians to be sure that the recipes and messages truly are healthy?

I was involved in a program that taught children, through The Boys and Girls Club, about nutrition and how to cook healthy recipes.  I had the opportunity to assist in some of the classes.  It was encouraging, enlightening and extremely gratifying to see how much these kids loved cooking, loved the healthy recipes and couldn't wait to take the recipes home and ask their parents to buy the ingredients so they could make the recipes for them.

First comes awareness, then concern, now it's time to act.  A long term solution is needed.  I've seen a few articles lately that talk about bringing home economics back to the schools.  For a long time I've thought just that.  Obviously we need to update the name to something more relevant, like life skills, family science or home technology.  The program  should incorporate cooking skills and nutrition, but it can go even further.  It can include teaching about supermarkets and farmer's market's; how to buy on sale and in season; how to grow you're own veggies; how to read and understand food labels, and so on.  As parents, yes it's our job to teach our children, but this could be an instance where children teach their parents.

I'm not suggesting that everyone should eat healthy all of the time. And I do think eating healthy isn't as hard or depriving as some people think it is.  Strategies that have been used in the past,  such as banning bake sales and cupcakes for birthday celebrations, aren't the solution.  It's about everything in moderation, about making the right choices.  We need to find a way to provide everyone with  information and education that will allow them to make smart choices when it comes to what they're putting in their bodies.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Big Blue Margarita

Gonna keep riding that bandwagon!  
In honor of the Giants...Go Blue!

Big Blue Margarita

coarse salt
blue food coloring (optional)
2 ounces tequila
1 ounce Blue Curacao
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon agave nectar (optional)*
1 inch piece lime peel

Combine 2 tablespoons coarse salt with 1 drop of blue food coloring and mix until salt is an even blue color.  Rim margarita glass with lime wedge to moisten, then dip in salt to coat rim.

Add remaining ingredients to ice filled shaker.  Shake really well; pour into margarita glass and garnish with lime slice.


Here's to Green drinks next Superbowl...

*If you prefer your drinks less sweet you can leave the agave out;
if you don't have agave you can use sugar.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Cult of the Celebrity Chef

Our world is enamored with the celebrity chef.  Which is interesting because, rumor has it that we (Americans) are spending less and less time cooking.  So, what's the attraction?  Is it what we aspire too, is it education, recreation, is it that they make gourmet meals look so easy...or is it purely entertainment? Cooking shows continue to thrive and multiply, celebrity chefs are promoting recipes and products from Domino's cheesy bread to healthy recipes for kids to recipes using almost every convenience product on the market to endorsing prescription medications.  

As a recipe developer first and foremost, I often wonder: What we are really looking for?  When it's time to actually get dinner on the table, where do we go for recipes and what do we want?  I think what we really want, is for that Celeb Chef to come on over and cook dinner for us!

Personally, I don't think a recipe has to be complicated or have tons of ingredients to be good, or even great.  Sometimes, the very thing that makes a recipe great is the simplicity.  Often, when I follow a recipe, the first thing I do is look for I really need that step, or all of those ingredients?   For example, I've been making a classic biscotti for years using a recipe that I found in Bon Appetit magazine.  It calls for chopping almonds and toasting them before adding to the dough. I found that when you add whole almonds to the dough, the Kitchen Aid does a decent job of coarsely chopping them,while mixing them in.  Biscotti are always twice baked so the almonds get nicely toasted during the second bake.  The recipe has become a bit more simple, and flavor hasn't been compromised.

Or take eggplant...a chef-y approach has you peel it, salt it, rinse it, dredge in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs, then wonder very few want to undertake that!

My approach.  Don't peel it, thinly slice, dip in egg then salt free seasoned bread crumbs.  Place on baking sheets, drizzle lightly with olive oil and bake at 400 degrees until tender inside and crisp outside.
There you have it - the beginnings of eggplant parm, eggplant rollatini, eggplant pizza, eggplant sandwiches...and a lot more time on your hands.

Now, take this all with a grain of salt.  I do hope this phenomenon is more than mere entertainment.  I hope that these chefs, along with other wonderful cooks in your life - like your mom, or dad, or grandmother - do inspire, do raise the bar, and do get people back into the kitchen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Game Day Chili in Tortilla Bowls

It wouldn't be Superbowl without chili on the menu.

You'll give new meaning to cleaning your plate, when you serve it up in a bowl that you can eat! Tortilla bowls are super easy to make, and make clean up a breeze! 

Using a combination of ground beef and beef cubes adds a nice texture to the chili.  It's perfectly fine to use all ground beef if you prefer.

You can make this on your stove top or slow cooker.  If you opt for the slow cooker method, serve it right in the slow cooker; leave it on the keep warm setting and it will stay nice and hot.

Make this the day before if you like, it always tastes better the second day!
Game Day Chili
1 pound ground beef
1 pound chuck cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 large green pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
1-1/2  tablespoons cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

In large stockpot, brown beef in batches over medium high heat.  Add onion, pepper and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat until vegetables are tender.  Stir in remaining ingredients except kidney beans.

Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally until beef is tender.  Stir in beans and cook another 15 minutes or until heated through.

Serve in tortilla bowls with shredded cheese, sour cream, hot sauce and diced avocado.

Slow cooker method:
Brown beef if desired.  Add all ingredients except beans to slow cooker.  Cook on low 8 to 10 hours or High 4 to 6 hours until beef is tender.  Stir in beans and cooke 30 minutes or until heated through.  Serve as above.

Tortilla bowls:

Place 1 6-or 8-inch tortilla in a bowl
pressing against sides
so tortilla takes the shape of the bowl.

Place a small glass dish in the center to weight the
tortilla down when you microwave it.

Place bowl in microwave and cook on High for 1 minute.  Let stand about a minute to harden.    Remove from bowl; let cool.

These bowls are great way to serve
soups, chili's and salads.

For main dish servings use 8 inch tortillas.
For first courses or buffets use 6-inch tortillas.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Peanut Butter Fruit Dip

It's National Peanut Butter day!
Peanut Butter is definately not just for kids and I'll take any excuse to celebrate.  Whip up this delicious and healthy fruit dip in just minutes.  Perfect for breakfast, lunch or snacking.
Next I think I'll experiment with Peanut Butter cocktails...a Peanut Butter Russian perhaps?  Stay tuned!

Peanut Butter Fruit Dip

1 6-ounce container nonfat vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
2 teaspoons agave nectar or honey
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients.  Serve with fresh fruit for dipping.

Hudson Restaurant Week

 Hudson Restaurant Week is now until February 3. 
If you need an inexpensive night out on the Jersey side of the Hudson, check out these great deals!

New York Restaurant Week

Been dying to get into New York to check out some of the fabulous restaurants, but putting it off because you're still paying off those Christmas bills?  Well here's your chance.  New York Restaurant Week  week is happening right now until February 10th. This is a great opportunity to dine out, without breaking the bank. Don't miss out. 
If you need some help deciding ( I know I get a bit overwhelmed when there are too many choices), check out this article from Sunday's Daily News.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Bello Burgers with Caramelized Onions & Blue Cheese

There's nothing like biting into a big, fat juicy burger.  And just because it's Meatless Monday, there's no need to forgo a burger when the craving strikes.  Substituting meaty portobello's for beef can be more satisfying than you think.  Give them a try.  

These delicious burgers also make great sliders.  Just use medium size mushrooms and slider rolls.  Makes a great addition to you Superbowl spread!

Bello Burgers

4 large Portobello mushrooms
2 -3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1- 2  tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 - 3 large cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 sandwich buns
Caramelized Onions (see below)
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

Combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper.  Rub olive oil mixture all over mushrooms.  Marinate 2 hours to overnight.  Grill, broil or roast mushrooms until tender.

Serve on buns, topped with caramelized onions and crumbled blue cheese.
(This recipe can easily work as vegan by omitting the blue cheese and using vegan buns.)

Caramelized Onions

1 very large sweet onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar

Cut onion into 1/4-inch thick slices. In 10-inch skillet over medium to medium low heat, in hot oil, cook onion and salt until very tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in vinegar and  sugar; cook about 5 minutes until golden and caramelized. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

'leftovers' Fried Rice Dinner

I love family, not so much.  Rather than listen to moans and groans, I've decided to start repackaging them as something brand new.  After scoping out the contents of the refrigerator, leftover rice and chicken paired nicely with the remains of a crudite and shrimp cocktail.  Voila!  A one dish dinner in no time at all.  And everybody's happy, especially me.

'leftovers' Fried Rice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, divided
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups cooked chicken, shrimp and/or pork, cut into bite sized pieces
2 cups assorted fresh or frozen vegetables (such as broccoli, snow peas, carrots)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups cooked rice
1 to 2 tablespoons oyster sauce or soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder (optional)
3 green onions, sliced

Toss chicken/shrimp/pork with 1 teaspoon grated ginger and 1 clove garlic; set aside.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet and saute vegetables with remaining ginger and garlic over medium high heat about 4 minutes or until tender crisp, stirring frequently. Add chicken/shrimp/pork to skillet and cook 2 minutes.  Remove and set aside.

Add eggs to the skillet and cook until almost set, then stir and cook stirring frequently until done; remove and set aside.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in skillet, add rice, oyster sauce and 5 spice powder  and cook stirring frequently 4 minutes or until rice is hot.  Add vegetable mixture and eggs to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes or until heated through.  Garnish with chopped green onions.

tidbit:  If you want to make this vegetarian, simply leave out the chicken/shrimp/pork.  You can add some tofu that's been browned with ginger and garlic or add some shelled edamame with the veggies.

 Chinese Five Spice Powder

Chinese Five Spice Powder is readily available in the spice section of your supermarket.  If you don't have it and don't want to purchase it, this rice will still taste delicious.  But you might want to give this ingredient a try.  It's kind of like the "secret ingredient" that adds a wonderful, complex flavor to dishes. 

While it’s commonly believed that the name originated because it contains 5 spices, the number actually refers to the 5 elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. In traditional Chinese medicine, an imbalance in these elements is said to be the cause of disease. Various herbs and spices have been used for thousands of years to restore balance to these elements which is how 5 spice powder came into being.  While blends vary, Chinese Five Spice Powder is typically comprised of cinnamon, star anise, anise seed, ginger and cloves. It makes a flavorful addition to stir-fry's, marinades, rubs and even baked goods.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Black Cat-tini

They say bad things come in three's and this Friday the 13th is the first of 3 for 2012.
No worries here; you'll be getting lucky this Friday the 13th after a couple of Black Catini's!

2 ounces vodka
1/4 ounce black sambuca
black licorice

Chill martini glass.  Add vodka and sambuca to ice filled shaker.
Shake well; pour into chilled glass and garnish with black licorice. 


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

People are so worried about what they eat between Christmas and the New Year, but they really should be worried about what they eat between the New Year and Christmas. ~Author Unknown

Monday, January 9, 2012

Meatless Monday ~ Spinach, Mushroom & Polenta Bake

You've heard of Manic Monday, but have you heard of Meatless Monday?  Basically, it's a grassroots movement trying to get Americans to cut down on our meat consumption for a variety of very good reasons.  Now, I'm not one to impose my vegetarian ideals on anyone, but I think we can all do with a little less meat in our diet.  Every Monday, Meals, Heels, and Cocktails will help champion the Meatless Monday movement with delicious meatless meals that won't have you asking "where's the beef?!" 

Spinach, Mushroom and Polenta Bake

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 10-ounce packages sliced mushrooms (1 each white, shiitake and cremini)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large package baby spinach
Salt and freshly ground pepper 
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese, divided
One 18-ounce log of prepared polenta, cut into ¼-inch slices
Preheat the oven to 350°.  Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large nonstick skillet.  Add  mushrooms and onion and cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally about 8 minutes, until lightly browned.  Add garlic and spinach and cook over high heat until the spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the spinach mixture evenly in a 2-quart baking dish.

Melt the remaining butter in the skillet over medium high heat. Stir in flour and cook one minute, stirring constantly.  Stir in milk and wine, bring to a boil and cook about 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in 1 cup Swiss cheese and stir until melted.  Pour over spinach mixture. Arrange polenta slices on top of the mixture, overlapping slightly. 

Sprinkle remaining cheese over polenta, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Note:  This dish can be completely assembled, covered and stored in the refrigerator up to a day before.  When ready, just pop it in the oven.

Polenta 101

Polenta is a popular comfort food from Italy that's grown in popularity over the years.  It's made from yellow or white cornmeal and is extremely versatile.  Combined with water or milk, it's cooked in a similar way to grits. The resulting smooth, creamy texture makes it a great alternative to rice, pasta or mashed potatoes.  Polenta can be flavored with herbs and cheeses to stand on it's own, or seasoned simply, with salt and pepper, to act as a canvas for saucy dishes.

Soft polenta can be refrigerated and allowed to harden, then cut into slices and baked, grilled or pan seared.


Prepared polenta logs are a great time saver.  They're are available in most supermarkets; you can usually find them in the produce or organic section. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

It's a Shoe Thing

I've always been one of those girls who had a thing for shoes. Even when I was a teenager, big chunky shoes and boots, always had latest styles and highest heels.  When I got older and well, gained a little more weight than I liked, it just didn't matter when it came to shoes.  Feet are the old reliable... they never get fat and look great in whatever you dress them in.

Getting married and having children at a relatively young age, didn't thwart my shoe habit, but it did thwart my shoe budget.  Now, with my two oldest children in college and my youngest about to enter private high school, Marshall's and DSW are still my primary shoe sources (I'm not complaining because I've yet to walk through either store without coveting several pairs).

Last weekend, was girls shopping day with my daughter, sister-in-law and nieces.  We headed to Garden State Plaza;  make-up at Sephora, lunch then the shoe department at Nordstrom's...sheer bliss. 

I made a beeline to my favorite designer, Steve Madden; just call me a Madden girl. I'll take...all of them!

I then proceeded to wander to Sex in the City territory.  Manolo,, Jimmy Choo, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and so many more....I came upon the coveted red soled Christian Louboutin.  I picked a pair and turned it over to reveal the price tag.  They were gorgeous, but even if money was no object, would I? could I? spend that much money on one pair of heels?!  And if I did, what if I scuffed them walking down my stairs?  Or the heel caught in a crack in the sidewalk?  Would I become obsessed and be afraid to even wear them outside of my house?  Then there's the ethical dilemma that for the price of these sexy stilettos I could feed a family of four for a few weeks or rescue animals in need.  Alas, I think it will be quite some time before I might be faced with the reality of those questions.

For now, I'll have to settle for being a Madden girl...but a Madden girl with dreams!

Ginger Pomegranate Martini

It's Cocktail time and here's a Boozy Friday Cocktail for you to start off your weekend.

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce Cointreau
1 ounce pomegranate juice (or cranberry juice)
1 to 2 teaspoons agave nectar (or honey)

Combine all ingredients in an ice filled shaker.  Shake well and pour into chilled martini glass.

Happy Friday...Enjoy!

If you like, you can use ginger vodka instead of fresh ginger.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chicken and Asparagus in Champagne Sauce

Looking for something to do with that leftover bottle of Bubbly from New Years.  This recipe is elegant enough for entertaining, but simple enough for a weeknight.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound asparagus, cut into 2 to 3 inch pieces
4 thin boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 large shallots, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1-1/2 cups champagne or proseco
1/2 cup half and half or light cream

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and cook asparagus over medium high heat 3 minutes or until tender-crisp; remove.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil and add chicken to skillet.  Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium high heat for about 6 minutes, turning once, until golden brown; remove.

Add butter to skillet and allow to melt.  Add shallot and cook 2 minutes stirring frequently.  Add tomato and cook 3 minutes until tomatoes start to break down.  Add champagne and bring to a boil.

Return chicken to skillet and simmer for 5 minutes until chicken is no longer pink inside.  Return asparagus to skillet, stir in half and half and cook just until heated through.

Serve over rice or pasta, and pour a glass of champagne!

If you don't have champagne or proseco, go ahead and use white wine instead.  And you can use a small onion and 2 garlic cloves if you don't have a shallot on hand.  If you would like the sauce to be a bit richer, stir in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter with the half and half to finish the sauce.

Here's Ben, styling his own plate!
Note the lack of asparagus...

Since I'm often trying to please meat and non meat-eaters, I try to come up with simple ideas to make everyone happy (especially me!)  For the veggie lovers...
Saute 1 sliced onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil until tender and beginning to brown.  Add 3 crushed garlic cloves and 1 10-ounce bag of baby spinach.  Cook until spinach wilts.  Add 1 15-ounce can of drained cannellini beans and about 1/2 cup of champagne sauce stolen from the chicken (before you add the chicken).  Cook until heated through.

Sweet Potato, Corn & Black Bean Chowder

Whether you've overindulged in food, cocktails, shopping, or all of the above during the holidays -- January is detox time!

I plan to do that with lots of good (and somewhat healthy) home cooking. The timing couldn't be more perfect as the cold weather sets in.

This super fast and easy soup has become a family favorite in my house.  The ingredient list may look a bit long, but don't let that scare you.  This soup involves chopping a few veggies and adding some ingredients that you very likely have in your pantry. 

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 pounds sweet potatoes,  peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cups vegetable stock or broth (you can use chicken broth as well)
1 can (15.5 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
1 cup coconut milk (you can substitute half and half or light cream)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
lime wedges (optional)
green hot pepper sauce (optional)

Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauce pot over medium-high heat and cook onion and salt about 3 minutes or until almost tender. Add red pepper and cook, 2 minutes. Stir in cumin and cook 1 minute. Stir in sweet potatoes and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer covered 10 to 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in beans, corn and coconut milk and cook 2 minutes or until heated through. Stir in cilantro. Serve with lime wedges or hot pepper sauce.