Saturday, December 31, 2011

Four Cheese Stuffed Blackened Pork Chop

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Hands down, this is my wife's favorite dish.  We first sampled this at Paul Prudhomme's New Orlean's restaurant, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen.  Many of you may remember Chef Paul from his PBS series back when PBS was the original Food Network.  He introduced Cajun and Creole cooking to the world.  His blackened redfish became so popular it almost fished out the species.  Since we first vacationed in New Orleans (one of many trips, I LOVE the Big Easy), since we first sampled Chef Paul's dishes, the Louisiana Kitchen has always been at the top of our "must visit every trip" list.  In a city of famous restaurants, K-Paul's is a highlight!

Chef Paul has even put a recipe for this dish on his website.  You can check his fabulous version by clicking HERE.  Over the years, I made a few adaptions, mostly for easier to find ingredients.  It is simply delicious, with the heat of the Cajun spices, melding with the creamy goodness of the cheese sauce that has been absorbed into the meat... FROM THE INSIDE!!!

Keep scrolling down for this easy to follow recipe...

It is a stuffed chop after all...

Here's what I did...

2 THICK (at least 1 1/2 inch thick), Bone in Pork Chop
2 TBS Butter
2 TBS "Big Easy in a Jar" Cajun spice mix (Or substitute a commercial brand)
1/2 cup grated Mozzarella Cheese
1/2 cup grated Provolone
1/4 cup Ricotta Cheese
1/4 cup Asiago Cheese, grated
2 TBS Sour Cream
1 TBS "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence" (or substitute a commercial herb blend)

The only tricky part of the recipe is to cut a 1 inch slice into the side of the chop, then insert a knife to cut a hollow pocket into the chop.  Be careful not to slice through the edges (and into your hand).  Use the sharpest knife you have available.  The bigger the pocket you can cut, the more cheese sauce you can stuff inside.  After the recipe, I have several photo aids to give you an idea of what I am talking about...

  • Cut a pocket into each chop, as large as possible, keeping the opening as small as possible (See Photos)
  • Mix all remaining ingredients (except the butter and Cajun spices)
  • Load up the cheese mix into the chop, as much as it will hold.
  • Seal up the opening with toothpicks.
  • Rub the "Big Easy in a Jar" Cajun spice mix (Or substitute a commercial brand) all over the outside of each chop.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  • Heat a skillet, melt the butter and continue heating until the butter just starts to smoke, add the chop to blacken the spices.  About 2 minutes per side.
  • Move the chop to a baking dish, and finish cooking in the oven, about 12 minutes.  Best to use a remote prop thermometer to make sure the internal temperature of the chop is 145 degrees.
And ENJOY one of my wife's "Top Five dishes"

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lemon Cream Cheese Bars the best thing I made this year!!!

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Do not spread this around too far, as I made these a couple of times this year for parties and to take to someone's house.  Don't get me wrong, they taste great.  As I said in the title, I really do think this is among the best things I have made this year, and certainly the best dessert I make.

It is just so dang easy, and even uses a box mix.

I have tried making these different ways... Tried it with a scratch cake... not as good at all.  I tried it with a box cherry cake in place of the lemon.  It was fair, but still not the same.  It was close when I used an orange cake, but even then, i wish I had used the lemon.

So, Box mix and lemon and it is indeed the best thing I made this year.

And all thanks to Jill at the Dulce Dough blog.  I first saw this recipe on her blog a few months ago.  Loved it from the start.  Beautiful yellow color, mix of textures, with an almost shortbread crust, creamy cheese filling and a very light cake topping.  This is one of those very rare recipes when no matter what I tried, this, as Jill posted (click here to see her post) is just about as good as it gets!

At Jill's suggestion, I make these in a smaller 7X11 inch pan when I am making these for me.  When I take them to someone's party, I use a larger 9X13 pan to serve more.

The trick is to ignore the directions on the cake box.  Only use one egg when you make these.  That is the key to the sweet moist texture and small rise of the cake.

OK... with a nod and thanks to Jill who gave me permission to reprint her recipe, here's what I did...

1 Lemon Cake mix (the extra moist kind with pudding built in)
2 eggs, used separately
1/2 cup Oil
1 - 8 ounce package of Cream Cheese
1/3rd cup Sugar
Juice from one Lemon
Zest from one Lemon

  • Mix dry cake mix, 1 egg and oil until crumbly; reserve 1 cup
  • Press remaining mixture into greased 9X13 or 7X11 inch pan
  • Bake for 15 minutes in preheated 350 degree oven
  • Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, 1 egg, sugar, juice and zest until smooth
  • Spread over baked layer, then sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture over the top.
  • Bake for an additional 15 minutes
  • Cool completely and cut into bars

I can not brag on these enough.  they have the unusual look of something homemade, but all the ease of just opening a box.  But, when all is said and done, they taste FABULOUS!!!

Sometimes I sprinkle a little powdered sugar to add a tiny bit of pizzazz, but no matter if you make them a little fatter (the 7X11 inch pan), bling toppings or not, these are my current favorite, and will always deserve a spot in my "Top Five" Desserts!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Company Lasagna - Better than Restaurant!

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No "Top Five" project o f mine would be complete without a top five Italian Cuisine category.  And this lasagna would be in anyone's.

Rich thick tomato sauce
3 types of meat
3 kinds of cheese
Lots of herbs and packed with little extras that make this simply the best!

And it puffs up as you cook it!

So good I've even served this up as a substitute for Turkey on Christmas!

Keep Scrolling down for this easy to follow recipe

Originally inspired by a Michael Symon recipe, here's my Company Lasagna...

3 TBS Olive Oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
a pinch kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground Pork
1 pound spicy sausage
4 cups Marinara Sauce
1 lb no-boil lasagna noodles (I'm pretty sure I actually used less than half a pound...I used 5 sheets because that's what fit in my pan, but it's best to have a whole box on hand just in case).
1 lb fresh local ricotta cheese
1/2 cup "Not Your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence"
1 large egg
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 pound grated mozzarella cheese 

  • In a cast iron skillet, heat olive oil, add the diced onion and simmer until onion is translucent.  Add the garlic and sautee for a couple of minutes.

  • Add the 3 kinds of meat and saute until just browned.  Season with Salt and Pepper

  • Add the  Marinara Sauce  (Follow the link for the easy recipe to make your own, or use a prepackaged jar if you wish) and allow to simmer.

  • Prepare the noodles according to package directions.  I actually boil them for 1 minute less than the package directs.

  • Mix together the Parmesan, Ricotta and 1/2 the mozzarella.  Add the herbs and an egg and mix well.cheese mixture.  I make 4 layers, so use 1/4 of each

  • Start layering in a large baking dish, a dip of sauce, noodles and the cheese.   I make 4 layers, so use 1/4 of each.

  • Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, covered with aluminum foil.

  • Add the remaining 1/4 cup grated mozzarella and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes.  Sprinkle another tsp of  "Not Your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence"

  • Allow to rest for 30 minutes before you serve!

  • Tuesday, December 27, 2011

    Marinara Sauce - This Time it IS Your Italian Grandmother's Red Gravy

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    This is one of those "application" posts.  In order to make dish B, I need to make dish A.  This is dish A, but tomorrow I have an amazing dish B... Lasagna!

    I like to use phrases like, "Not your Grandmothers's..." (Like my "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence").  Often, with availability of ingredients, new fangled cooking appliances or even building on years of other cooks experimenting, updated recipes really are better.  But also often, all you are really doing is dressing up a classic that doesn't really need to be dressed up.

    And marinara sauce is one of those things that really doesn't need much of a dressing up.  A few months ago, Tomatoes were everywhere.  Cheap; $2.50 a pound was the going rate for sorted, top quality, and as little as a dollar for a bag if you are willing to take fluctuating sizes, a few bruises and variations in color.  If you are planning ahead, grab the dollar a bag ones.  In fact, grab 5 or 6 bags.  OR, in the winter months, head to the big box store and grab that HUGE can (again, cheap, less than 3 bucks for a big pot full of skinless quartered tomatoes).  Make a big batch, freeze in bags of 1 cup size each bag and you will be very glad you did.  February is just around the corner.  I don't think my wife will take me to the tropics this year.  But with a few bags of these in the freezer, next winter, I can take my wife to the Mediterranean.  Well, at least her taste buds.

    1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    4 clove Garlic, smashed and minced
    3 pounds ripe Tomatoes (for this post, I used a big can), skins removed
    1 tsp sugar
    and a few leaves of Basil
    2 TBS "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence"   
    or, use the herbs you like, thyme, rosemary, lavender, whatever you please.  My  "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence" herb mixture works great, and since I always have a little bag of it handy, easy and fast, and is a ready made batch of the herbs I like.

    Smashing and mincing garlic is easy.  Take a wide chef's knife, put a garlic clove between the flat of the knife and a cutting board and smash away with the flat of your hand.  Then just mince away.  Easy and fast!

    And now, once all the prep work is done, it is finally time to cook.  In a big pot, heat the olive oil.  Add the minced garlic and sauté for just a few minutes. 

    While that is working, rough cut the tomatoes into quarters.  Be careful and don't cut your hand, but best to quarter the tomatoes over the skillet. Every bit of juice you lose on the cutting board is just a bit less flavor.  Also, while you are cutting, remove any hard parts.  the stem end, and if the center is not ripe and red, pull it out.

    Add a little sugar, add the "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence" spices (or your own favorites) and stew away at a gentle simmer.  At a simmer, it takes about 45 minutes for the tomatoes to break down properly.  BUT, the longer you allow them to simmer, the sweeter the sauce will be.  I was doing other things around the house, and let mine cook for an hour and a half.  If you have less time, you can cook at a higher heat.  But keep an eye on them and stir often so they do not scorch.

    And here it is after the hour and a half... All bubbly, sweet and filled with flavors.  I moved this in a couple of batches into a food processor and pulsed for just a few times to break it up.  At the last minute, add some fresh minced Basil leaf.  If you want a thin sauce, pulse a lot.  If you want a thicker sauce, no real need to pulse at all.  Me, i like the smooth even look, texture and taste of a thick but not chunky sauce.

    Like This...

    Can you stand a little history???  As originally printed in the WISEGEEK.COM site...
    Marinara sauce originated with sailors in Naples in the 16th century, after the Spaniards introduced the tomato to their neighboring countries. The word marinara is derived from marinaro, which is Italian for “of the sea.” Because of this, many people mistakenly believe marinara sauce includes some type of fish or seafood. However, marinara sauce loosely translates as “the sauce of the sailors,” because it was a meatless sauce extensively used on sailing ships before modern refrigeration techniques were invented. The lack of meat and the sheer simplicity of making tasty marinara sauce were particularly appealing to the cooks on board sailing ships, because the high acid content of the tomatoes and the absence of any type of meat fat resulted in a sauce which would not easily spoil.
    Even though marinara sauce has a reputation for being easy to make at home, there are currently several hundred different types of marinara offered on the market. Perhaps the increased popularity of marinara sauce is due to recent research which revealed that cooked tomatoes are rich with lycopene, an antioxidant which may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
    Written by A. B. Kelsey
     So, simple, fast, easy to make and much richer than the jars you get in the stores.  And CHEAPER!  Save a dollar here and 50 cents there, and you have the budget to buy those little extras (like Kalamata Olives that add so much extra flavor to a simple tuna casserole (well, not so simple actually)).  But, that's a post for another day

    See you tomorrow for this...

    Oh and BTW, I am continuing my "Top Five" project with this post.  I am the first to admit that I have come into cooking late in life.  This is my first of my "top five" recipes of things I am always stunned that I can do.

    Fresh made Marinara sauce!  Who knew I could do this???

    Monday, December 26, 2011

    Basil Parmesan Crisps 52 Appetizer Recipes

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    I made these this week as part of my Christmas Dinner.  A wonderful little appetizer.  But I am going to do a bit of a cheat, as I did a post on these way back when I was an Islander (6 months, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands).  Prettier Photos, but also shows better how useful these are.  Not just as an appetizer (one of my "Top Five" of course, but also makes a fun tasty garnish...

    These are so easy, I feel a little guilty about even posting this.

    But, I have such pretty photos...

    And they make extra pretty garnishes for your ...

    Pan Seared RIB EYE STEAK with a Cognac Pan Sauce 
    served with...
    Garlic Basil Pea Puree
    And especially sticking out of...
    Mashers - Garlic Mashed Potatoes

    So, since they look so pretty, and make such useful garnishes for your plate, but MOST OF ALL, THESE ARE ABOUT THE TASTIEST LITTLE TIDBITS OF CHEESE YOU COULD EVER ASK FOR!!!

    They are... Really!

    All you need is a sheet of parchment paper,
    2 TBS of freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
    and a preheated oven set at 325 degrees...

    Heck, if you keep an eye on em, you really don't even need to preheat the oven.

    spread the cheese around to make a cookie shape, mostly flat.  the beauty comes from it's rustic unevenness, so no need to used a round cookie cutter to get a uniform look (unless you like that kind of thing).

    It's done when the edges start to reach a golden brown crispness, while the center is bubbling.  Since this is a hard cheese, even though it melts and sticks together, the holes do not fill in, making it even more pretty!


    And they taste really good as well.  Nothin' but salty cheese!

    And whenever I ponder my warmer days on the island, I like to share one of my snorkeling photos.  This guy lived about 100 yards out my front door, Big Sea Turtle, the fish taking a ride is a small shark.  Till they get bigger, they like to scavenge the little fishes that are dug up when the turtle eats the sea grass...

    Circle of life thing!

    Stay warm!