Monthly Archives: March 2010

Spicy Skillet Beef & Pasta

Ask Rich and the girls, and they will know exactly what I mean when they ask, “What’s for dinner?” and I say, “That Ground Beef Dish.”  It has been a staple on our weekly menu for at least 25 years.  I think everyone has a family recipe that has its own secret code name. Anyway, it’s an easy skillet dinner that evolved one day while I was searching through my cabinets for ingredients that would pair nicely with ground beef.  It has taken on slight changes over the years for one reason or another.  The big change thus far has been substituting ground turkey for ground beef.  I have also upped the spice factor!

Spicy Skillet Beef & Pasta

Makes 4 servings

1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, chopped (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1  can (14 1/2 ounces) stewed tomatoes
1 can (8 ounces) corn
1/3 cup barbecue sauce
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder (optional)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup elbow pasta
– In large nonstick skillet, brown ground beef, onion, jalapeno pepper and garlic.
– Stir in stewed tomatoes, corn with its liquid, barbecue sauce, water, salt, chili powder, red  and black peppers; heat to boiling.
–  Add pasta and reduce heat. Cover and simmer until pasta is tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.

– As mentioned, you can substitute ground turkey for ground beef.  You may have to brown the ground turkey in a little vegetable oil.
– If you do not want the bold flavors, eliminate the chili powder and the crushed red pepper.  Sometimes I opt for the plain and simple.
– Try different pasta.  I’ve tried wheels, rotelle, fusilli, cavatappi (curly elbows).
– I love using Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce, but you can use your favorite.



Filed under Beef, Turkey

I Never Met a Lemon Bar I Didn’t Like

That said, there are definitely some lemon bar recipes that are better than others.

I am always looking for the perfect combination of crumbly shortbread crust and just-tart-enough filling. Well, my search for the perfect recipe just came to an end. While perusing the frozen dessert section of Trader Joe’s the other day, I noticed a sweet little package of lemon bars. Hmmm, I thought. I should try these. Am I glad I did! They are delicious—not too tart, not too sweet, not too crumbly, not too sticky, and not too many calories either.  Just 80 per serving, made with natural ingredients.

Not only are these bars fully baked and pre-cut, they are adorable and look completely homemade. And they pass the taste test! Try them, you will not be disappointed.

These bars would make a perfect Easter dessert. For a pretty presentation, arrange them on a flat white plate and garnish with small blossoms of pansies or johnny-jump-ups. Sweet!



Filed under Dessert, Sweets

On a Roll with the Crock-Pot

I tell you, without a kitchen, my new found friend is the Crock-Pot. I made Pork Chops with Sauerkraut, a blast from the past from my childhood! My Mom used to make this in the oven. When I was a kid, I wouldn’t touch it, but today — I love it. And in the Crock-Pot, the pork is so tender, it slips right off the bone. Caraway seeds and bacon– my secret ingredients!!!  OK, I know that bacon is not the best thing for you, but boy, does it add great flavor. You’ve got to live sometimes!!!


– I added some baby potatoes, halved to the sauerkraut mixture.  You can also add sliced carrots.
– If you are not a caraway seed fan, just eliminate them.
– Use turkey bacon if you don’t want the extra fat and cholesterol.
– Recipe can be doubled to make 4 servings.

Here’s the recipe:

Makes 2 servings

3 slices bacon
1 bag (16 ounces) sauerkraut
1 small onion, sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar (light or dark)
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 center cut loin bone in pork chops (about 3/4 inch thick)

    – Cook bacon in skillet until crisp, reserve bacon drippings.

    – In 5 to 6 quart Crock-Pot, place sauerkraut, onion, brown sugar, caraway seeds and black pepper.  Crumble bacon over sauerkraut mixture and add reserved bacon drippings; stir well.

    – Place pork chops over mixture.  Cover and cook on LOW 7 to 8 hours.


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    Filed under Crock-Pot, Main Dishes, Pork, Potatoes

    Healthy Crock-Pot Oatmeal

    My husband Rich and I have been trying to eat healthier.  No more bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches for our weekend breakfasts!  I’ve discovered steel-cut oats. I love the texture of the oats—nutty, crunchy, so good ! They are the healthiest variety of oats, but also take the longest to prepare.  Crock-Pot to the rescue!!  Since it’s just the two of us for breakfast, I purchased a small Crock-Pot just for the oats—a 1 1/2 to 2-quart size works great, plus they are inexpensive.  I start the oats the night before and have a healthy breakfast in the AM.  I add lots of good toppings, too!


    – Be sure to spray the inside of the Crock-Pot with vegetable cooking spray.  If not, the oatmeal forms a sticky crusty coating on the sides of the Crock-Pot.
    – Add dried fruit such as cranberries, blueberries, raisins, pineapple, apricot, apples—the combinations are endless.
    – Add nuts, flax seeds, toasted wheat germ, granola—be creative!
    – You can also add fresh fruit.  If I do, I get up a little early and add it about 1/2 hour before the oatmeal is done.
    – I love adding brown sugar or a touch of maple syrup (okay, so much for being healthy!)
    – If you have a large family, use a larger Crock-Pot and double or triple the recipe. To make a smaller amount as in this recipe, it is important to use the right size (smaller) Crock-Pot as specified above.

    Here’s the recipe:

    Makes 2 heaping servings

    4 1/2 cups water
    1 cup steel-cut oats
    1/4 cup dried fruit
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    – Spray inside of  1 1/2 – 2 quart crockpot with vegetable cooking spray.
    – Place all ingredients in Crock-Pot.  Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours.


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    Filed under Breakfast, Crock-Pot, Healthy

    Quick Cabbage Side Dish

    I absolutely love cabbage — warm, cold, anything in between!  In a slaw, with Corned Beef, sautéed, roasted, simmered. Red, green — it doesn’t matter.  I made a tasty side dish the other night with half of a leftover green cabbage from a shoot.  I thought I would share it with any of my “cabbage cronies.”

    I caramelized a large onion in 1 tablespoon each  vegetable oil and butter.  Add a sprinkling of sugar, salt and black pepper. Saute over medium heat until onions start to get a brown caramelized  look.   Add 1/2 head green cabbage, shredded and saute until softened.  Stir in about 1/3 cup chicken broth and 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds; cover and cook over low heat until mixture becomes very tender.  Meanwhile, cook about 3/4 cup whole wheat egg noodles; drain and stir into cabbage mixture.

    We ate it in no time!  I wish I made more for leftovers. Oh well, next time.


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    Filed under Side Dishes

    You Say Potato, I Say Po-tah-to

    So many varieties of potatoes to choose from.  Do they all taste the same?  Can they be used interchangeably? Does the color dictate the flavor?  I am going to talk about the three little “spuds” in our photo below…  Red, Yellow, Purple.  All three are popular, red and yellow variety leading the pack.  The red, also known as a “new potato”, because it is harvested before it reaches maturity – white flesh, available all year-round.  The yellow, commonly known as “Yukon Gold.”  – yellow flesh, also available all year-round.  The purple, also known as blue – purply blue flesh, mostly available in the fall.  All three varieties produce a moist, creamy texture.  All are pretty versatile and can be used for boiling, steaming, roasting, baking, mashing.

    I am going to share a fantastic potato recipe that I styled for a wonderful magazine, that unfortunately has folded…  Kitchen Garden Magazine, published by Taunton Press.  I remember distinctly shooting the story in an antique farmhouse in Washington, CT. The house was beautiful.  The kitchen full of “old-time” charm.  The recipe: Roasted Potatoes with Fresh Sage. The sage leaves are placed on the bottom of a heavy skillet (cast iron is best). The halved  potatoes go on top of the sage leaves, then roasted in the oven.  The sage gets so crispy, and the flavor — incredible!  You can certainly try it with any of the potato varieties discussed above.  Whatever color suits your fancy for the day!!!

    Here’s the recipe —

    Makes 4 servings

    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    30-40 fresh sage leaves
    1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
    2 pounds small potatoes, halved

    – Preheat oven to 425F. Pour oil into heavy oven-proof skillet (preferably cast iron), tipping skillet so oil covers bottom of pan. Lay sage leaves flat over oil, completely covering bottom of pan.

    -Sprinkle salt over sage. Arrange potatoes, cut side down on sage.  Bake, uncovered until potatoes are tender and the cut sides are crusty brown, about 35 minutes.



    Filed under Potatoes

    It’s Magically Whipped Cream

    I forgot to mention another great tip I got from my friend Melanie. When we all got together last Friday night, besides the Vita-Mix machine, she also brought the Magic Bullet, a powerful compact blender.  I’ve mainly used mine for making Pina Coladas but she whipped up heavy cream in a flash!  All she did was pour heavy cream,  a little sugar and a splash of pure vanilla extract into the container of the Magic Bullet, gave it a whirl.  We had  perfectly (or I should say magically) whipped cream for our berry dessert.

    If you own the Magic Bullet, you’ve got to try it.  I was skeptical but it really worked.  No need to pull out your mixer! You just have to watch when you make it.  It whips the cream so fast, you don’t want to turn it into butter.  When you are doing it for the first time, you might want to pulse it so it whips the cream slowly.



    Filed under Whipped Cream

    Banana Berry Protein Health Shake

    I’ll never forget the first Banana Health Shake I enjoyed many years ago at Ellen’s Stardust Diner in NYC. Since then, I’ve often experimented with making my own breakfast smoothies. For me, coming up with the right combo of ingredients was not just about trying to eat healthier & losing a little weight… it really had to taste great, or I wouldn’t go through all the trouble. I discovered that one of the secret ingredients in Ellen’s shakes was toasted wheat germ. It added a bit of crunch to the shake, which I love, and is also an excellent source of vitamin E & folic acid. For fruit, I use bananas, strawberries, and blueberries. The trick is to freeze the fruit before blending, so that your shakes come out thick & cold. I like to prep about a weeks worth of fresh bananas & strawberries, so that I can make a shake in a matter of minutes. For ease, I use Wymann’s Fresh Frozen Wild Blueberries. I also add flax oil because of its high concentration of Omega-3’s.  For protein, I use an all-natural vanilla whey powder, and to get my veggies, I add a scoop of Macro Greens “Nutrient Rich Super Food Supplement.” When my photographer friend Francis first suggested I try Macro Greens, I was a bit leery about adding a veggie supplement. But after trying it, I was sold.  So blend away, and by all means, experiment with different ingredient combinations of whatever makes you sing !


    – For best flavor, allow bananas to ripen thoroughly before freezing.
    – Wild blueberries are higher in antioxidants than cultivated blueberries.
    – When fruit is out of season, blend in a packet of stevia, or a tablespoon of honey to sweeten the mix.

    Here’s the recipe:

    Makes 1 ( 18 oz. ) serving

    1 cup skim milk
    1 heaping scoop of vanilla flavored whey protein powder (about 3 tablespoons)
    1 level scoop of Macro Greens (about 1 tablespoon)
    2 tablespoons flax seed oil
    1 tablespoon Mother’s Toasted Wheat Germ
    1 packet stevia all-natural sweetener – Sweet Leaf or other brand (optional)
    3 tablespoons frozen wild blueberries
    5-6 strawberries, frozen
    1  banana, peeled and frozen

    -Place first 5 ingredients, plus sweetener (if using) into blender; blend for about 15 seconds.
    -Add frozen fruit; blend until thick and smooth.



    Filed under Berries, Breakfast, Healthy, Shakes & Smoothies

    Blueberry Maple Syrup

    Here it is!!!  I am slowly getting my kitchen back, so I was able to develop the syrup recipe.  We photographed it with buttermilk pancakes, but you can use it on a number of things.  I just poured the warm syrup over vanilla bean ice cream!!  Creamy, syrupy, blueberry-ee — so good!!  Serve it over pound cake, fresh fruit, waffles.  You can even use it as a glaze for pork!


    – Recipe can easily be doubled.

    – I think the syrup is best served warm.  Just heat in microwave about 30 seconds on High.

    – Ground cinnamon can be optional.  I love it so I put it in everything!  I found out it also has some health benefits —   it can help with blood sugar, clotting issues, soothing an upset stomach, and reducing arthritis pain. Who knew??

    – If you don’t have pure maple syrup you can certainly use the imitation maple syrups, which are referred to as  pancake syrup

    Here’s the recipe!

    Makes about 1 cup syrup

    1 container (6 ounces) blueberries , rinsed and drained
    3 tablespoons sugar
    3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
    2 tablespoons water
    1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

    – In small saucepan, place 1/2 cup of the blueberries, and remaining ingredients. Heat over low heat until sugar dissolves, pressing blueberries against side of pan with spoon to crush slightly,  about 4 minutes.

    – Pour mixture into a fine strainer which is set over a bowl.  Using back of spoon, press berries to release all the liquid.  Discard the solids.  To the syrup, add remaining blueberries.

    – Store covered in refrigerator until ready to use.



    Filed under Berries, Breakfast

    A Vita-Mix Evening of Fun!

    I want to share a fun evening I had with 3 of my closest friends in the world.  We have been friends since high school.  Melanie brought her Vita-Mix machine and made the best drink.  She peeled lemons, limes and oranges,  some honey, a little sugar and a splash of vodka.  Put them all in the Vita Mix, top it off with ice cubes and whirl!!  I am talking about  refreshing citrus drink that kept us going the whole evening. Not a seed to be found!  Another “Got To Have” machine!  I can see an endless amount of smoothie options in my future!!

    I have to confess, I did purchase the dessert.  If you have a Fresh Market near you, you have to try the Raspberry Almond Cake!!  This is the second time this week I indulged.  Both times to celebrate birthdays.  A moist white cake sandwiched with raspberry preserves and custard. It is covered with an almond paste mixture that is then lightly toasted and surrounded with toasted sliced almonds.  My mission:  A La  Carte Kitchen will develop their own Raspberry Almond Cake attach a beautiful photo.  Look forward to it in the future!  As soon as I can get back into my kitchen and cook!


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    Filed under Shakes & Smoothies

    No Kitchen?? – No Problem!!

    What have I been serving for dinner with no kitchen?  I am not one to take out every night.  It gets tiring and expensive.  I will confess that I have a portable convection oven that is set up in my laundry room and that has been helpful.  I have been purchasing packaged rice mixes, frozen pizzas, complete salad mixes, breaded chicken tenders, dry soup mixes and more.  They really have come in handy and provide a close second to home-made meals.

    Tonight–  Asian Salad with Sliced Chicken Tenders.  I will take a package of Dole Asian Salad Mix (comes with sesame ginger dressing, chow mein noodles, sliced almonds and candied ginger pieces).  Then I will heat the frozen breaded chicken tenders (get spicy ones if you like), thinly slice them and arrange them on top of the salad mix.  Toss with the sesame dressing.  Yum!!!    If you have a can of Mandarin orange, drain them and add to the salad.


    -If you don’t have a convection oven to heat the tenders, you can purchase already cooked breaded chicken in the meat department and just slice them and serve. No need to heat them.


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    Filed under Chicken, Salad

    Mesclun Salad with White Balsamic Vinaigrette

    It’s Wednesday and I promised to have the recipe for the White Balsamic Vinaigrette. Well, here it is.

    Before I give you the recipe, let me give some of my tips:

    What is White Balsamic Vinegar? It is made with white wine
    vinegar and grape must (sounds ghastly, but it is actually fresh
    grape juice that is pressed from the skins, seeds, and stems of the
    grapes.) It is usually used when the color of food will be affected
    by using traditional Balsamic vinegar. White balsamic vinegar
    is milder and less sweet than regular balsamic.
    Can the two vinegars be interchanged? Not really, because of the color
    and flavor. It is better to substitute white wine vinegar for white
    balsamic vinegar.

    – Adding a little prepared mustard to a vinaigrette recipe not only
    enhances the flavor but it also adds body.

    – An easy way to make salad dressing is to place all ingredients in
    a jar with a tight fitting lid then shake away!!!

    – Substitute your favorite fresh herb for the rosemary.

    Here’s the recipe:
    (The vinaigrette recipe will make enough for later use — and it
    should because it is so good!)
    Dresses 6 salad servings
    Makes about 1 cup vinaigrette

    1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
    1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
    1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
    1/2 teaspoon sea salt
    1/2 teaspoon sugar
    1/4 teaspoon course black pepper
    2/3 cup olive oil

    1 package (5-6 oz.) mesclun salad greens or mixed baby greens,
    rinsed and dried
    1 small yellow pepper, thinly sliced
    1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
    1/3 cup dried cranberries

    – For vinaigrette, combine first 6 ingredients. With wire whisk, slowly
    beast in olive oil until mixture thickens slightly.
    – Toss greens, pepper, onion and cranberries with a few tablespoons
    of dressing.
    – Refrigerate remaining dressing.



    Filed under Healthy, Salad

    Crock-Pot BBQ

    The salad dressing recipe is coming but I have to tell you about the great BBQ baby back ribs I made last night. The secret: my new Crock-Pot. It is the greatest invention. I have been in the food business for more than 30 years and I only just bought one, thanks to Heather. It comes in handy, especially right now when I have no kitchen to work in! Easy, easy easy ribs: two racks baby back ribs, one onion, sliced and one bottle of your favorite bottled BBQ Sauce ( I used Bulls Eye BBQ Sauce). Place all in Crock-Pot (be sure to add some water to bottle of empty BBQ sauce; shake to get the last drop of sauce and pour over all) Cook on Low for 8 to 9 hours. We are talking about fall-off-the-bones goodness. The sauce caramelizes—yummy. I can’t wait to eat the leftovers! Till next time…


    Filed under BBQ, Crock-Pot, Ribs

    Hello Foodies!

    Welcome to our first official post! We’re just getting cookin’, and we’re figuring out how to navigate this site! On Wednesday, Cathy’s going to post her Mesculin Salad with White Balsamic Vinaigrette, even though she’s redoing her kitchen right now and doesn’t exactly have one to work in. It’s okay, she’s coming to my kitchen, and Joe and I will be the official tasters!



    Filed under Foodies