Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Toad in the Hole – GCC: Menu 31

05/02/2011 1 comment


I completely broke the recipe and suggested sides “rules” for this week’s Gutsy Cooks Club choice, Toad in the Hole.

Toad in the hole is a traditional English dish consisting of sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter, usually served with vegetables and onion gravy.  The origin of the name “Toad-in-the-Hole” is often disputed. Many suggestions are that the dish’s resemblance to a toad sticking its head out of a hole provides the dish with its somewhat unusual name.

Personally, I don’t get it…but hey, maybe I’m just not that “brilliant”.

Now, nothing against the English and their food, but I decided to take this dish out of England and put it in Italy.

Why, do you ask?

A) Because I had some ingredients that needed to be used.

B) My husband is Italian and I can never have enough Italian ;-).

And finally…

C) Because I can.

First up was making the batter, which included flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour), salt, milk and eggs…sound boring to you? it sure did for me, so I added the following:

  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp each of fresh rosemary and parsley
  • 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano

Secondly, place sausages in an oiled baking dish and bake for about 5 -10 minutes at 425°. 

I elected to add some garlic, onion and green pepper to bake along with the sausages (I used hot chicken sausages).

Lastly, reduce the oven temp to 400° and pour batter around the sausages and continue baking for approximately 30 minutes, or until batter is golden and crisp.  This is to be served hot. 

I served up the “toads” with some homemade baby portobello mushroom sauce and parmigiano.

What was the end result you ask?

Well, let’s just say Sam and I agreed “Italianizing” (is that even a word??) this dish was a good idea.  Otherwise, it would have been way too bland. 

Who knows, maybe if I had stuck to the recipe and served it with an onion gravy or mustard sauce (some of the suggestions) it would have been really good. 

However, to be honest with you, with all the recipes on my “to do” list, I doubt we’ll ever find out.

Ladies and Gentlemen…this concludes this week’s Edible Adventure.

“If God had intended us to follow recipes, He wouldn’t have given us grandmothers”. ~Linda Henley


Mushroom Risotto – GCC: Menu 21

02/22/2011 6 comments

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always heard that risotto is a difficult dish to make.  Needless to say, I was both excited and a little apprehensive about making this week’s Mushroom Risotto, but definitely up for the challenge. 

Risotto is a class of Italian dishes of rice cooked in broth to a creamy consistency. The broth may be meat-based, fish-based, or vegetable-based; many kinds include parmesan cheese, butter, and onion. It is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy.

As you may already know Sam L-O-V-E-S mushrooms and was really, really looking forward to this dish.  So there’s no way, I could let this one slide (not that I wanted to).

Ironically part of my “difficulties” was not so much in cooking the risotto, as it was in posting about it.

First and foremost, I was entertaining 17 guests over the weekend and though it crossed my mind to include the risotto as part of the menu, due to the “attention” that’s required in making this dish, I didn’t think it would have been such a wise choice for a risotto novice like myself.

Secondly, despite leaving work a little early to cook the risotto, it was too late to photograph the finished product in natural light.  I figured, no big deal, there’s enough left over (to make risotto cakes, yum) that I can shoot pictures in the morning before going to work and post from the office (hopefully none of my colleagues are reading this ;-)).

Sounds like a good plan, right?

It would have been perfect, if I had not forgotten the cable that connects my camera to the office computer (DUH!).

The one thing I can say about making risotto (at least in my one humble experience) is that it’s a high maintenance dish that demands love & nurturing and can be therapeutic in the making.  

Because it requires constant stirring for approximately 25-30 minutes, it’s not something you want to make if you are either impatient or in a rush.  So make sure you’ve got some good music playing and if you happen to be alone, don’t need to go to the bathroom :-).

I started out by reconstituting a package of dried wild mushrooms and reserving the stock for the risotto.  Then I cooked the wild mushrooms, along with white mushrooms in butter with salt and pepper for about 10 minutes.


Sautéed an onion and a few garlic cloves in olive oil & butter for about 5 minutes, added the rice and cooked for another few minutes.

Then the loving began….

I poured a ladle of hot chicken/mushroom stock to the rice and stirred until absorbed.  This process was repeated every 2 – 3 minutes, until I was able to see the rice had a creamy consistency and upon tasting, the texture was soft, yet al dente (about 30 minutes).   

Stirred in the mushrooms and parmigiano-reggiano, removed from heat, sprinkled on some fresh parsley and served. 

This was just DIVINE! This dish is sophisticated, yet comforting. The creaminess of the rice combined with the earthy, buttery mushroom flavor, blended with the sharpness of the parmigiano-reggiano makes you fall in love. 

In fact, I think I’ve just given Sam another reason to love me ;-). 

The love and nurturing required is soooo worth it…certainly one to be shared with family and close friends.  

Ladies and Gentlemen…this concludes this week’s Edible Adventure.

“When you make a risotto you should be in perfect harmony with yourself. You shouldn’t be nervous or angry. It’s a ritual that is going to give you so much pleasure later that it’s worth spending fifteen or twenty minutes over a hot stove stirring very slowly. It can be like seducing a woman. She doesn’t know you, and you need to work things out with her slowly—meeting, flirting, getting to know each other, and wanting each other. That’s what a good risotto is all about. It’s the dish of romance. If you rush it’s never good.” –Pino Luongo

Mushroom Risotto

Adapted by The Kitchen Bible Cookbook


  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 6 cups vegetable stock or water, kept simmering
  • 4 tbsp butter, diced
  • 1lb (450g) cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan


1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and fry for 5 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes.

2. Gradually add the stock, about ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly, waiting until it is absorbed before adding more. Continue in this manner for 25 minutes or until the rice is barely tender and has a creamy consistency, adding water if the stock has run out.

3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until the mushrooms have browned and the liquid evaporates.

4. Stir the mushrooms into the rice and turn off remove from the heat. Stir in the cheese and serve immediately.

Scallop & Pesto Crostini – GCC: Menu 20

02/14/2011 3 comments

As I perused the Illustrated Kitchen Bible cookbook looking for recipes to choose for this month’s Gutsy Cooks Club, the Scallop & Pesto Crostini immediately caught my attention.

Scallops, one of my favorite in seafood (particularly sea scallops), paired with basil pesto and a sun-dried tomato paste? Hmm, I thought this sounds yummy, don’t you think?

Not only is this dish simple to make, it’s great as an appetizer or light dinner with a salad.

Typically the scallops and pesto are served on toasted slices of Italian bread, such as Ciabatta.

However, my Sammy was busy working on our future herb & vegetable garden (he’s such a good guy), got hungry and ate half of the Ciabatta that I was supposed to use for not only this dish, but for the french toast I was LATE in making for breakfast…You can’t blame the guy, can you?

Therefore, I pan-fried some polenta until crispy, made my own basil pesto and sun-dried tomato paste.  Cooked the scallops in olive oil, with some lemon and salt & pepper and in no time we had these.

These are a winner for us both…though we liked it on the polenta, next time we’ll have it on Ciabatta.

“Scallops are expensive, so they should be treated with some class. But then, I suppose that every creature that gives his life for our table should be treated with class.”  Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet)


  • 12 slices Italian bread, such as ciabatta, about ¾ in (2cm) thick
  • ½ garlic clove
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 sea scallops
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp store-bought pesto
  • 2 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
  • 12 fresh basil leaves, to garnish


Prepare ahead

Step 1 can be done in advance.

1. Preheat the broiler and position the broiler rack about 6in (15cm) from the source of heat. Broil the bread slices in the broiler until toasted golden on both sides. Rub one side of each slice with the garlic clove. Brush the garlic side of each slice with about 2 tsp olive oil.

2. Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the scallops, sprinkle with the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until cooked through and tender; keep hot.

3. Spread one half of each toasted bread slice with pesto and the other half with tomato paste.

4. Cut each scallop in half horizontally and put 1 scallop half on top of each crostini. Grind black pepper over the top. Serve hot, garnished with basil leaves.

Spicy Shrimp Gratin – GCC: Menu #17

01/24/2011 3 comments

One of the things I love most about being part of the Gutsy Cooks Club is that when I invite guests over, choosing what to cook is a “no brainer”.  Furthermore, not only do I get to test the recipe on my man Sam, I also get a broader opinion from my guests. 

So when I had my family over this weekend, I served the Spicy Shrimp Gratin. 

Gratin is a widely used culinary technique in food preparation in which an ingredient is topped with a browned crust, often using breadcrumbs, grated cheese, egg and/or butter. Gratin originated in French cuisine and is usually prepared in a shallow dish of some kind. A gratin is baked or cooked under an overhead grill or broiler to form a golden crust on top and is traditionally served in its baking dish.

In this case, the Spicy Shrimp Gratin recipe from the Illustrated Kitchen Bible cookbook, contains Gruyère cheese and it also contains heavy cream.  Now, If you recall from my Chicken à la King post, Sam and I are not fans of cream dishes (unless of course, it’s ice cream ;-)).

However, we do like shrimp and my friend Monica loves Gruyère cheese, which I don’t think I’ve ever had before, so despite the cream issue, we were very eager to try this dish.

This is an easy dish to make & doesn’t require a lot of time….As long as, you don’t buy shrimp that needs to be peeled and deveined (I was being frugal).  Unfortunately/fortunately, my Sous Chef was busy doing things around the house and I got stuck doing it alone *pout*,*pout* (it’s definitely worth paying the extra couple of $).

  • 1 1/2 lb (675 g) large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • juice of 2 limes
  • few drops of hot red pepper sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • 2 red onions
  • 3 hot red chiles, seeded and minced 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  •  3/4 cup shredded Gruyère 

 To prepare:

  • Toss the shrimp, lime juice, and hot pepper sauce in a bowl and let stand for about 15 minutes.
  •  Position the broiler rack about 8 inches from the source of heat and preheat the broiler. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. 

By the way, I didn’t use olive oil, I used bacon fat.  I had decided to add bacon to this dish (besides garlic, a lot of dishes go better with bacon). 

  • Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the chiles (I used mild chiles) and garlic and cook about 5 minutes more, until tender.

  • Spread in a large, ovenproof serving dish. Drain the shrimp and arrange over the onions. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Pour in the cream sprinkle with the Gruyère.

  • Broil about 5 minutes, or until the shrimp turn opaque and the cheese is golden brown. Serve immediately.

In my case, I baked for 15-18 minutes @ 400°, then I sprinkled with some fresh parsley and bacon and broiled for about 3 minutes.

I served it with pasta, a salad and sliced baguette.  The bread came in handy for sopping up the cheesy, cream sauce.  I think adding the bacon was definitely a good call on my part (yes, I’m patting myself on the back). 

It turned out to be a real crowd pleaser, which is always my ultimate goal.

Ladies and Gentlemen…this concludes this week’s Edible Adventure. 

“Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sautee it. There’s, um, shrimp kebabs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan fried, deep fried, stir fried. There’s pineapple shrimp and lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich… That’s, that’s about it.”
 Mykelti Williamson quotes (American Actor, b.1960)  Character: Bubba Blue quotes.

Spinach Blue Cheese Pesto

01/13/2011 2 comments

I’ve got a lot of favorite foods! One of them being Pesto.  

Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy (pesto alla genovese). The name is the contracted past participle of the Genoese word pestâ (Italian: pestare) which means “to pound, to crush” in reference to the sauce’s crushed herbs and garlic. This same Latin root through Old French also gave rise to the English word pestle.

What I love most besides the delightful taste of fresh ingredients, is the diversity of this sauce.   Pesto can be topped on meats, fish, pasta, potatoes, baguette slices…you get the picture, right? 

I’ve made basil pesto numerous times, but lately I’ve been wanting to try a different variation. Hence, last night I made a Spinach Blue Cheese Pesto.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this stuff is GOOD!

It was a symphony of flavors, with each ingredient randomly playing a solo act…one moment blue cheese, the next garlic, then walnuts, then spinach.  Sam just kept spooning it out of the food processor, I was afraid it wouldn’t make it to the dinner table.

Spinach Blue Cheese Pesto

I don’t measure when I cook freestyle.  Thus, the measurements below are approximate.

  • 9 oz. bag of fresh spinach
  • 1/3 cup blue cheese
  • 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of walnuts
  • 3 – 4 garlic cloves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1. Combine the spinach with the walnuts in a food processor and pulse a few times.
  2. Add the garlic and pulse a few more times.
  3. Slowly add the olive oil while the food processor is on.  Once you have poured all of the olive oil, stop the processor and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
  4. Add the blue cheese and pulse again until blended.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over anything your heart desires.  We had it on chicken, but look forward to having it on grilled steak.

If you try this at home, please let me know your thoughts. Enjoy!

    “There was a Young Lady of Greenwich,
    Whose garments were border’d with Spinach;
    But a large spotty Calf,
           bit her shawl quite in half,
    Which alarmed that Young Lady of Greenwich.”

Edward Lear, English artist, writer; known for his ‘literary nonsense’ & limericks  (1812-1888)

Chicken à la King

12/06/2010 3 comments

There were three recipes to choose, from this week’s Gutsy Cooks Club menu.  Sam and I were going to a friend’s birthday party (Happy Birthday Georgia!), so we decided to bring the Chicken à la King.

Apparently, it was a very popular dish during the 1970’s and into the 1980’s…Now I’ve got to tell you, neither one of us is a fan of dishes w/cream sauce and Chicken à la King is a recipe consisting of diced chicken in a cream sauce, with mushrooms, and vegetables, that can be served over bread, rice or pasta.   

We like to think of ourselves as open-minded (after all, that’s the point of being part of this cooking club) and decided to give it a try. The BEST part of it all, was that it was soooo simple to make.  Therefore, how could (WHYwould) we possibly pass that up, right? 😉

Unlike some of my other cooking adventures (Monica, you would be proud), I was not rushing around like a chicken w/o a head AND I had my trustworthy Sous Chef aka (handsome) husband help me with the chopping, slicing, etc…

By the way…our camera did NOT cooperate when I took close-up pictures of the lovely ingredients for this recipe (hence, the picture of my Sous Chef).

Come to think of it…the camera hasn’t been cooperating much lately 😦 Maybe….just MAYBE… Santa will gift me with a new camera? 😉 

Anyhow….did I mention how E-Z this dish is to make?? basically, the recipe calls for onions, red and green bell peppers (I used red & yellow) to be cooked in oil & butter.  Of course, I added garlic because as far as I’m concerned, a dish is not Savory unless it includes garlic.  After about 5 minutes, add white mushrooms (I used Baby Bella).

Cook until mushrooms are soft, add flour and milk…stir constantly until thickened, stir in  cooked, diced chicken and simmer for about 5 minutes, sprinkle with paprika and…

Ladies and Gentlemen, you are DONE!

The recipe  is originally for Turkey a La King from The Illustrated Kitchen Bible and is considered a time-honored way of using turkey leftovers after a holiday meal.  However, our Gutsy Cook of the month Raymond chose the variation of using chicken (good choice Raymond!).

So what’s the bottom line you ask?

It’s a pretty good dish, that is simple enough to make and goes well with rice.  However, we’re not converted to cream sauce lovers just yet.

Everyone else enjoyed it, but the real hit at the party was my mother-in-law’s dish.

So what’s the dish you ask??

Let’s just say, it’s simple, yet OH SO GOOD and ALWAYS a hit no matter what else is around (keep in mind she’s Italian…need I say more?), I’ll post about it sometime 😉

Ladies and Gentlemen…this concludes this week’s Edible Adventure.

We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink… ~Epicurus

Chicken Wrapped in Pancetta & Sage w/Red Pepper Salad

11/22/2010 6 comments

 Happy Birthday Lisa!

Yesterday we celebrated my sister’s birthday and decided to serve this week’s recipes chosen for menu # 8  from the Gutsy Cooks Club: Chicken Wrapped in Pancetta & Sage (which also includes roasted tomatoes) and a Red Pepper Salad.

Though I’ve heard of pancetta  (pn-cht), I had never cooked it before.  Basically, it is a type of dry cured meat, similar to bacon. It is pork belly that has been salt cured and spiced (nutmeg, pepper, fennel, dried ground hot peppers and garlic are often featured), and dried for about three months (but usually not smoked). There are many varieties, and in Italy each region produces its own type.

There was a lot of hustling and bustling (can you say chaotic??) in my kitchen as Sam and I were preparing the two separate recipes, along with appetizers….while, at the same time my mom was baking my sister a pineapple upside down cake. 

I know you’re probably thinking (or maybe it’s me, talking to me) I could have and SHOULD HAVE prepared some of these in advance…but in typical Cynthia fashion, I left everything for the “last hour”. 

Let’s face it…it’s a lot more fun that way…it’s my version of being a contestant on one of the Food Network’s challenges, totally being under the gun…but the only difference is, there’s no secret ingredient.

Instead, it’s just me working against the clock (and driving my husband crazy), praying that my guests don’t arrive before I can at least offer them something to nibble on.

Which brings me to say….

God bless you SAM! You are SO patient with me…I LOVE you DEARLY! 🙂

While I prepared the tomatoes, by simply cutting in half, drizzling with olive oil, some S&P and roasting for an hour.

 Sam was kind enough to take on the task of wrapping the chicken with the pancetta and sage.

Nice job, huh?

The chicken had to cook in olive oil in a frying pan for approximately 10 minutes…however, the pancetta took an awfully long time to cook, compared to the chicken, which concerned me because I DO NOT like overcooked (dry) meat and or seafood.

Finally after about 20 minutes, it was done.

The red pepper salad was simple…

Cook peppers in olive oil and garlic, add chopped, peeled, seedless tomatoes, parsley and you’re pretty much done.


 Serve with mixed greens and dressing.

Both recipes are from The Illustrated Kitchen Bible

by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner

So what was the bottom line? Everyone really enjoyed the meal, including (and most importantly) the birthday girl.

Believe it or not, what was a true hit was the dressing (and my basil pesto ;-)).  Who would have thought, huh?

All in all, I’d say the birthday dinner was a success, including mom’s pineapple upside down cake.

Ladies and Gentlemen…this concludes this week’s Edible Adventure.

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients. —-Julia Child