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Steak and White Cheddar Panini with Garlicky Potatoes Au Gratin

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Happy New Year, my friends!!

Like millions of other people, I’m resolving to lose weight and live healthier in this new year. I know…such a predictable resolution! But, I’ve got at least 20 (ok, probably more like 30) pounds of extra weight still hanging around since giving birth to our third little love almost eight months ago. I’ve been making all sorts of excuses (some quite valid and some more of a stretch) for why I haven’t lost the weight yet. I was hoping it would just go away, but it’s become clear to me that it’s time to stop dragging my feet and to get proactive.

When it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, my approach has always been one of balance. Eat mostly nutritious and unprocessed foods, enjoy a few indulgences, balance the indulgences with exercise. It’s an approach which has always worked well for me and makes good sense as a long-term plan. But, at this particular point in time, I feel that I need something with a few more ‘rules’ to get me jump-started on the right path.

So, beginning today, I’ll be following the South Beach diet, slightly modified (as I am still breastfeeding our baby and the first phase of South Beach is a bit too restrictive for a nursing mom). My husband and I have done the South Beach diet in the past and there are many things I like about it. It’s often confused for being a low-carb diet, but that’s a misconception. The South Beach diet is more of a good-carb diet. It’s a diet full of lean proteins, healthy fats, fresh fruits and veggies, and whole grains. It makes me feel good to eat this way. In many ways, it’s the way most of us should be eating anyway.

South Beach is a diet with guidelines, rather than a detailed plan; guidelines that teach you to choose foods which keep you feeling fuller longer and keep your blood sugar levels more stable in order to avoid the inevitable cravings and overeating which result from rapid peaks and plummets in blood sugar levels. Feeling more satisfied naturally makes it easier to eat less and lose the excess weight. (I like that part!)

My main gripe with the South Beach diet is in its suggestion to use artificially sweetened products and other processed food substitutes, particularly during the restrictive first phase of the diet where even fresh fruit is off-limits. I get the point, but personally, I’d rather enjoy real foods more sparingly than start introducing food substitutes like sugar-free jello and artificial ‘buttery spreads’ into my diet. So, I’m going to skip the recommended sugar-free snacks and stick with a smidgen of real butter when I need it.

You may be wondering what my new ‘diet’ means for this blog. Well…nothing, really. My little space here is not about to become a diet blog or a South Beach resource. Quite simply, this will continue to be a place to share my love of cooking delicious food. You can still expect to see all sorts of simple and crave-worthy recipes…just maybe a bit more broiled fish and roasted veggies in between the macaroni and cheese and triple chocolate cake.

Well, it’s really official now…put in writing for accountability’s sake. I’m starting a diet. I will stay focused. I will lose this weight.

But before we embark on our healthier diets, I had to splurge a bit…have something completely indulgent (in addition to diligently finishing off the leftover Christmas cookies). With that, I give you garlicky potatoes au gratin and a cheesy flank steak panini sandwich, loaded with horseradish butter and sweet caramelized red onions on a doughy loaf of French bread. This meal is worth a little extra time on the treadmill!

Garlicky Potatoes Au Gratin

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds Russet Potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Rub 1 tablespoon of butter around the bottom and sides of a medium-sized baking dish. Rub the smashed clove of garlic in the butter. Arrange the potato slices, lying flat, in the baking dish. In a saucepan, heat the half and half, garlic, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, until it begins to bubble. Allow it to bubble gently for a minute or so. Pour the mixture over the potatoes. Give the baking dish a little shake and press down gently on the potatoes to ensure the potatoes and sauce of evenly dispersed. Sprinkle the gruyere cheese on top.

Bake for about 55 minutes.

Steak and White Cheddar Panini

Ingredients

  • 1 pound flank steak
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 1/2 cups aged white cheddar, shredded
  • 1 loaf French bread (batard or baguette)
Directions
For the steak: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the steak on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for about 20 minutes or until it reaches your desired doneness. Allow the steak to rest for a few minutes before slicing. Slice into thin strips. Set aside.
For the caramelized onions: Heat one tablespoon of butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until sweet and tender. Set aside.
For the horseradish butter: Melt the butter in a small bowl. Add the horseradish. Stir. Place the bowl in the refrigerator. Every few minutes, stir the butter. Continue checking and stirring until the butter has become firm enough to be spreadable. Remove from the refrigerator.
To prepare the sandwich: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the French bread in half lengthwise. Press down on the top of the loaf to flatten the bread. Spread the horseradish butter on both halves of the bread. Arrange the steak on the bottom half of the bread. Scatter the caramelized onions on top of the steak. Generously sprinkle with the white cheddar. Place the other half of the bread on top. Tightly wrap the sandwich in foil, pressing down as you wrap.
Place the wrapped sandwich in the oven. Place a heavy, oven-safe pan (or a brick wrapped in foil) on top of the sandwich to keep it flattened as it cooks. Heat the sandwich for about 20 minutes or until all components are warmed and the cheese is melty.

P.S. Though I’m not quite brave enough to share my starting weight with you, I will gladly keep you updated on the loss! Wish me luck! Anyone else embarking on a New Year’s weight loss plan??

Day: 1 Weight Loss: 0 Motivation: High

Mini Chicken Parm Hors d’oeuvres

Last week, in the rush of finalizing Christmas arrangements, I lost my baby’s stroller. My angel-faced three-year-old was in the midst of a full-fledged tantrum at the time. We’d actually needed to make a very rapid exit from Panera due to the aforementioned tantrum. My head was spinning to the sound of his screams. I drove off without the stroller. I’m lucky I didn’t forget one of the kids in the parking lot!

I didn’t realize my mistake until two days later when I went to retrieve the stroller from the back of my car. After a bit of confusion, I remembered the last time I’d seen it and figured what I must have done. In the hopes of getting the stroller back, I returned to the store to inquire if anyone had turned in a stroller. The cashier proceeded to pull out and paw through the store’s 12×18″ lost and found box. Ummm…I don’t think you’re going to find a stroller in that little box. Once the cashier was satisfied that the stroller was not in fact hiding under the mittens in the lost and found box, she called over the store manager who reported that it had been seen in the parking lot, but no one had turned it in.

Buh-bye stroller.

But my three-year-old, the cause of the commotion which led to the stroller’s loss, was still certain he was on Santa’s nice list. He was also certain that Santa would be delivering the very item he desired; a samurai castle play set. So certain, in fact, that in the days leading up to Christmas, he began practicing his reaction for discovering the samurai castle. And when he came bursting into our room before dawn on Christmas morning, anxious to run downstairs to check under the tree, he exclaimed “I’m gonna go downstairs and I’m gonna say WHAT??? A samurai castle?? For ME???”

Lucky for him, Santa must have decided he was nice enough to land on the nice list.

We had a lovely Christmas weekend all around, beginning with Christmas Eve. For many years now, it’s become our tradition to eat chicken parmesan on Christmas Eve. I made it for my husband’s family one Christmas Eve, many moons ago, and the tradition just stuck. But this year, we planned to have lunch at Dinosaur BBQ on Christmas Eve. We all agreed that a big BBQ lunch and heavy chicken parm dinner would be way too much indulgence for one day. So, we decided we’d have a few little hors d’oeuvre type snacks for our dinner instead. Hors d’oeuvre dinner happens to be my family’s longtime Christmas Eve tradition. But, not to sacrifice our annual chicken parm, I came up with these little baby parm hors d’oeuvres. It sort of feels like this melding of our family’s traditions was always meant to be.

For those of you planning New Year’s Eve menus, these mini chicken parms would make a delicious addition! We also enjoyed Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs and Mini Crabcakes with Chipotle Remoulade. And for a few other hors d’oeuvres ideas, click HERE.

Mini Chicken Parms

Ingredients

  • 1 pound chicken tenders or thinly sliced chicken breast
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • Olive oil
  • 1 French baguette, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • Fresh parsley, torn or chopped
  • 1 cup thick, smooth, full-flavored tomato sauce (I used a smooth pizza sauce.)
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the chicken tenders into small pieces (about 1″ square). Dip the chicken into the beaten eggs. Then dip each piece into the bread crumbs. Press the crumbs onto all sides of the chicken. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. When good and hot, place a few of the breaded chicken pieces into the oil. Cook for about two minutes on each side, until golden brown and cooked through. Place the cooked chicken onto paper towels to remove the excess oil. Repeat, in small batches until all chicken has been cooked.

In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, parmesan and a bit of fresh parsley. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Spread some of the cheese mixture onto each slice of baguette. Place a cooked piece of breaded chicken on top of the cheese. Drizzle each piece of chicken with tomato sauce. (Don’t overdo it on the sauce.) Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top of each.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until hot and melty.

**The chicken can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated until assembling the hors d’oeuvres. If you prepare and chill the chicken ahead of time, it will take about 5 minutes longer in the oven to reheat during the final baking.

Pomegranate and Poached Pear ‘Salad’

I’d like to take a moment to officially declare pomegranate as the most fun fruit to eat.

First comes the game of removing the tiny, shimmering pomegranate gems, called arils, from the hard exterior rind. Some people recommend a process of scoring the outer rind of the pomegranate, soaking it in cold water for a few minutes, then breaking the pieces open and allowing the arils to fall to the bottom of the water while the rind floats on top. Others recommend cutting the pomegranate into pieces and smacking the rind with the back of a spoon to loosen the arils, which should eject from the fruit. I like to simply cut the pomegranate into pieces and go to work, pulling apart the fruit piece by piece, systematically releasing the gazillions of juicy arils from within. There’s something incredibly satisfying about peeling back the layers of membrane within the fruit to uncover pockets of the sweet, plump gems.

The small effort of removing the arils yields a great reward; a bowl full of sweet, ruby gems. Pop one in your mouth and enjoy the sweet burst of juice as you bite into each delicious seed. Pick one up the next time you spot them in the grocery store. Now is the time to enjoy this delicious, fun fruit! And they’re super healthy for you too!

If you can stop yourself snacking on this tasty fruit, save some of the pomegranate arils for this delicious composed ‘salad’ of sorts. This seasonally perfect dish would make a very elegant hors d’oeuvre for a holiday party or perfect first course for a seated dinner. (Pretty certain this is going on my Christmas dinner menu!) Fresh pears are poached until tender, then paired with salty gorgonzola and vibrant pomegranate arils, nestled into a crisp leaf of Belgian endive. A simple pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette and candied walnuts provide the finishing touches.

Poached Pears and Pomegranate ‘Salad’

Ingredients

  • 2 heads Belgian endive
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • 1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

For the Poached Pears:

  • 2 ripe, firm pears (Anjou, Bosc, Bartlett…)
  • 4 cups poaching liquid (water, white wine, champagne, apple juice…)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 vanilla bean (optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)

For the Candied Walnuts:

  • 1/2 cup shelled walnut halves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Pinch of cinnamon
For the Vinaigrette:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
Directions

For the pears: Peel pears, cut off tops and bottoms, and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the core, using a melon baller or knife. Place the pears in a saucepan with your poaching liquid. (Any combination of water, white wine, champagne, juice, etc. would be delicious.) Stir in the honey. If desired, add a cinnamon stick and/or a vanilla bean to the liquid. Bring the poaching liquid to a gentle simmer. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the pears from the cooking liquid and allow to cool. Once cool, chop the pears into small chunks and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Walnuts: Heat walnuts in a pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes, until they begin to toast.  Add butter and cook for an additional minute.  Add brown sugar, cinnamon, and about 1 tablespoon water to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly until the water has evaporated and the nuts are glazed. **You may need to add small quantities of additional water to achieve a glaze. Allow to cool. The glaze will harden as the nuts cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

For the Vinaigrette: Whisk the oil, vinegar, pomegranate juice, and mustard together. Season with salt and pepper.

To Assemble the Salad: Rinse the endive. Cut off the core end and carefully separate the leaves. Fill each leaf with a bit of the pear, pomegranate, and crumbled gorgonzola. Top with candied walnuts. Arrange on a platter to serve as an hors d’ouevres or plate 2-3 prepared endive leaves per person as a first course. Lightly drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Serves 4-6

Soupy Soup Round-up

Are you on facebook or twitter?

Well, what do you know…me too! In fact, I’m hardly ever not on facebook, especially now that the temperatures are dropping and we’re retreating into full hibernation mode!

Come keep me company! Click on over to follow The Gourmand Mom on Facebook or Twitter!

See you there!

And speaking of dropping temperatures, has it cooled down by you too? Got snow in the forecast? Ready to throw on your Snuggie or Slanket (I promise, I own neither.) and hibernate for the winter? Well, here are a handful of toasty soups (and chilis), guaranteed to warm you up! Enjoy!

Creamy Bacon Mushroom Soup

Pumpkin Caramel Bisque

Italian Wedding Soup

Vanilla Carrot Bisque

Chicken Soup from Scratch

Sausage, Bean, and Rapini Soup

Spicy Beef Chili

White Chicken Chili

BBQ Beef Chili

Split Pea Soup with Ham 

Cheesy Cheddar Soup 

Chicken with Matzoh Ball Soup

Sweet Potato Bisque (with seared scallops and bacon)

Baked Potato Soup

Chilled Avocado Soup (Ok, so this one isn’t going to warm you up. But it’s yuuuummmmy!)

The Kids Cook Monday – Mexican Chicken Pizza

There are moments when I feel like I’m doing it wrong; this whole parenting thing. Like when my kids are climbing the shelves at Target while making unusually loud and appalling animal noises. Or laughing at me while I’m blue in the face trying to get them to pick up their toys. Or filling their water glasses with bits of salad and pasta while simultaneously stuffing entire slices of Italian bread into their mouths, as we dine with old friends.

And then there are moments when everything seems just fine. Perhaps even better than fine. Like when my boys embrace each other in a loving hug after being separated during the school day. Or when they share favorite toys without prompting. Or when they reach out to take each other’s hands to safely cross the street.

It’s in those little moments that I realize I am not ruining my kids…at least not completely.

I like the way my dad puts it best:

I believe in a heaven and I want to go there when I die. I want my family to be there with me. Have I taught them how to get there? 

When all is said and done, if I can answer yes to that question, then all of the other stuff; the messes, the whining, the salad-filled water glass; is pretty small in the grand scheme of things.

Parenting is hard. There’s hardly ever a day when I feel like I did it all right. But my grandma says I’m doing a good job…and that’s got to count for something, right??

There will always be days when the kids are dancing to the beat of their own drummer, leading me to question who’s really in charge around here. (I’m fairly certain there’s an elaborate governing system being negotiated between the three boys and the dog. I’m powerless.) But if you can’t beat them, get them to join you...in the kitchen, that is!

Spoken from experience, it’s a heck of a lot easier to engage the kids in cooking with you, than fight with them to behave while you try to do it yourself. Almost every recipe has plenty of steps to engage even the littlest chef, and this simple Mexican-style pizza is no exception! Young chefs will enjoy measuring the ingredients, spreading the beans, mixing the chicken and taco sauce, and sprinkling the ingredients. The whole family will enjoy the delicious, cheesy result!

Mexican Chicken Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 prepared pizza crust
  • 3/4 cup refried beans
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
  • 1/3 cup taco sauce
  •  1 can diced tomatoes with chiles, well-drained
  • 1 1/2 cups Mexican blend cheese, shredded
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs removed, thinly sliced (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the pizza crust on a large baking sheet. Spread the refried beans over the pizza crust. Stir together the chicken and taco sauce. Scatter the sauced chicken over the beans. Scatter the diced tomatoes over the pizza. Sprinkle the cheese in an even layer on top. If desired, scatter a few slices of jalapeño peppers on top. (We left half of the pizza without jalapeños for the little guys!)

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until hot and melty.

Check out www.thekidscookmonday.org for more delicious, child-friendly cooking ideas!

Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

My ultra-keen, super sleuthing skills (errr… google), have led me to discover that it is currently football season.

Football and I may be strangers, but tailgating-type munchies and I are the dearest of friends.

Chicken wings are always a popular pick when it comes to football-watching munchies. And people go wild for all sorts of chicken wing flavored goodies, like Buffalo Chicken Potato Skins and Chicken Wing Dip.

The next time you’re in charge of the snacks for a big game, try these spicy chicken wing meatballs. They’ve got the celery and blue cheese baked right into the chicken!! Definitely winning!

Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  •  1 egg
  •  1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  •  1/4 cup onion, finely diced
  •  1/2 cup celery, finely diced
  •  1/2 cup gorgonzola (or other bleu cheese) cheese, crumbled
  •  1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  •  1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Vegetable or olive oil, to grease the baking dish

For the sauce

  • 1/2 cup Frank’s Red Hot
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub the bottom of a large baking dish with a bit of oil, to prevent the meatballs from sticking.

Combine all meatball ingredients until well-blended. (The mixture may feel a bit sticky.) Roll the mixture into one inch balls. Place in a single layer in the baking dish and bake for about 25 minutes.

Combine the Frank’s Red Hot with the melted butter. For a milder sauce, add more butter or decrease the hot sauce.

Pour the sauce over the meatballs and serve!

Makes about 2 dozen. You can easily double or triple this recipe for a big crowd!

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs and Creamy Brie Potatoes

You know that show, Masterchef? The one where Gordon Ramsay and two other dudes put a group of amateur cooks through their paces, looking for America’s best home cook?? Enthusiastic friends of mine have mentioned that I should try out for that show. Never gonna happen. Competition and I don’t get along so well and I’m a big awkward goof in front of the camera. Seriously, it would make you cringe. Besides, they probably wouldn’t even let me on the show now that I’ve just called Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot those “two other dudes”. Just kidding guys! You know you’re my favorite, Joe! 

Anyway, I’m an amateur home cook, much like the contestants on that show. I share their passion for food, I’ve got a few culinary skills up my sleeve and I can come up with a tasty recipe or two on the fly. I enjoy watching what the contestants come up with and am constantly impressed by how quickly and creatively they can think on their feet. Not sure I could hack it.

But I’ve been thinking that there’s something missing from the show; something which many home cooks contend with on a day to day basis; something much more challenging than executing expert knife skills or producing the perfect souffle…

Don't let his cute little face fool you...this guy is twice as demanding as Gordon Ramsay!

I’m talking about children. Cooking in the presence of children changes the game. I’d be interested in seeing these accomplished home cooks produce such artfully-plated, mouth-watering meals while simultaneously bouncing a crying baby on their hip and preventing the older kids from razing the house. Now that would be impressive!

Because, for many of us, that is the reality of being a home cook. We may not have Gordon Ramsay standing over our shoulder making us question our choice of figs with the short ribs or telling us that our sauce is under-seasoned. And most of us are not racing against a big timer mounted on the wall. But we are constantly racing against the clock of a different kind. Children can turn every night into a high-pressure culinary challenge. It’s a challenge hard to replicate in a cooking competition. Perhaps we can ask the contestants to prepare their perfect souffle with wiggling 35-pound weights on both legs, a shrieking bowling ball in one arm, and a tower of antique teacups balanced on their heads?

Props to all home cooks who put meals on the table for your family, night after night…regardless of whether it’s boxed macaroni and cheese with cut up hot dogs and peas or braised short ribs with creamy brie potatoes and roasted asparagus! It’s a challenge regardless. I know all about it!

But what if I told you that preparing the braised short ribs would be almost as easy as the box of macaroni and cheese with hot dogs?? Seriously! This dish is really a cinch to put together and so, so satisfying. Adults and kids alike will love these creamy potatoes and fall-off-the-bone tender beef in a slightly sweet sauce.

This is a two day recipe. You can make perfectly delicious short ribs in less than two days (Check out my recipe for Braised Shorts Ribs with Creamy Parmesan and Sun-dried Tomato Polenta), but there are a few benefits to the two-day process. First, it will enable you to get the bulk of the cooking (and clean-up) completed the day before, making it easy to reheat the next night. Second, it gives the sauce a chance to cool, which will allow the excess fat (which is rendered from the short ribs during cooking) to rise to the top and become solid. This makes it super easy to remove the excess fat from the sauce. The night you plan to serve, you’ll simply scoop off the fat, reheat at a low simmer, adjust the seasoning of your sauce and serve!

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs

Ingredients

  • 6-8 beef short ribs
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 1/4 cup dry red wine (substitute 1 1/4 cup beef stock OR 1/2 cup grape juice and 3/4 cup beef stock)
  • 3 cups beef stock (plus more, if desired)
  • 10-12 dried Mission figs, halved
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the short ribs with a bit of salt and pepper and the 2 tablespoons of flour. Heat olive oil over medium/medium-high heat in a deep dutch oven or a large saucepan (big enough to fit all short ribs in a single layer). Place the short ribs in the pan. Cook for a minute or two on each side to brown. Remove the short ribs from the pan and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the butter and onions to the pan. Cook for a few minutes, until tender and golden.

Return the short ribs to the pan. Add the beef stock, wine, and figs. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and place it on the middle oven rack.

Allow it to cook for about 3-3.5 hours.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature. Once cool enough to handle, place the entire pan in the refrigerator overnight.

By the next day, the excess fat will have risen to the surface and become solid. Use a spoon to scoop away the fat. Over low heat, slowly reheat the short ribs and sauce. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper as desired. The sauce  should have a strong, rich flavor.

(If the flavor is too strong for your preference, you can add a bit more beef stock to mellow the flavor. If the flavor is not strong enough, allow the sauce to simmer uncovered until you’re happy with the flavor. The flavor will intensify as the liquid reduces.)

Optional: If you’re happy with the flavor but would prefer a thicker sauce, stir a few tablespoons of the hot sauce with about 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the sauce. Stir and allow it to gently simmer  for a few minutes. The cornstarch will help thicken the sauce.

Serve the short ribs (1-2 per person) over mashed potatoes with a spoonful of sauce.

A note about the wine in this recipe: Due to the long cooking time of this recipe, almost all of the alcohol in the wine will be cooked away. But, a very small percentage may remain. (See this chart.) I prepared this recipe for an adult dinner party, so the very small percentage of remaining alcohol was not a concern for our group, but if you are preparing this dish for your family you may wish to substitute beef stock for the wine or substitute about half of the wine with a no-sugar-added grape juice and the rest with beef stock.

For the Creamy Brie Mashed Potatoes: Peel, chop, and boil 6-8 russett potatoes, until fork tender. Strain and thoroughly smash the potatoes to desired consistency. Combine with lots of butter (I used a whole yummy stick.) and milk or cream. While still warm, stir an 8-ounce wedge of brie (rind removed) into the potatoes, until melted. The potatoes can be made a day ahead of time.

For the Roasted Asparagus: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the asparagus and trim off the tough end. (A little trick for determining how much to cut is to hold one asparagus spear by the ends and bend. The point where the asparagus snaps is generally a good place to trim off.) Toss the asparagus in a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the spears in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Top Ten Gourmand Mom Recipes

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m greatly entertained by reading through the search terms which lead people to this little blog. It often leaves me puzzling over how the terms “Christmas money wreath” or “dog with running shoes” brought people here. What in the world have I been writing about? Of course, most of the time, people are just looking for recipes and, as it turns out, some of those recipes are quite popular!

Here, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten most viewed Gourmand Mom recipes. Then, if you scroll down a bit further, you’ll see ten of my personal favorites. (Clicking on the recipe titles will bring you straight to the recipe.)

What’s your favorite recipe? Tell me about it!

Top Ten Gourmand Mom Recipes

(according to page views)

Crab Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers  – Coming in at #10, these spicy little appetizers are a fresh and flavorful alternative to the kind you’ll find in the frozen food section of your grocery store!

A Better Caramel Apple Cake – Yum! This recipe is the result of experimenting with a delicious recipe I found in the Food Network magazine! Who knew that a bit of boiling water would make such a big difference?? With apple season reaching its peak, now’s a great time to give this one a try!

Almost Perfect Fontina Chops – This recipe is inspired by a Bonefish Grill dish, which is apparently a big favorite, since I get a few search hits every day from people looking for this recipe. This version is not intended to be a copycat recipe; it’s just a delicious dinner inspired by the popular Bonefish dish.

 Independence Day Berries and Cream – Mixed Berry Mousse and Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta – My love for panna cotta began with this sweet treat. Mmmm….fresh berry mousse with sweetened cream! Mmmm…

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese and Almonds – The fresh ingredients do all of the hard work in this simple and delicious salad!

Hawaiian Garlic Shrimp – This is another recipe that gets a ton of search hits. The people want Hawaiian garlic shrimp…and with good reason! It’s delicious! Next time, I’d veer away from the traditional preparation and cook these babies with the shells removed to get more of the buttery garlic in my mouth and less on my fingers.

Chicken Wing Dip – Coming in at #4 is Chicken Wing Dip. It’s practically a classic and totally crave-worthy. Oh dear, just thinking about it makes me want to throw batch in the oven. Must. Have. Chicken Wing Dip.

Pumpkin Gingersnap Parfait – Perfect season for these tasty treats. Some may prefer to sweeten the pumpkin a touch more in these easy treats. For me, they’re just right!

Sweet Honey Cornbread – This one scored most of its hits when it landed on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed section for a day. It’s a great cornbread recipe; sweet, tender, and super easy to make!

And the #1 Most Viewed Gourmand Mom recipe is (drumroll, please)…

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Pie  – This luscious pie wins the top spot by a landslide. Somehow it’s found itself within the StumbleUpon community. I’m really not quite sure how StumbleUpon works, but it sure drives a ton of traffic to this delicious recipe!

Ten of My Personal Favorite Recipes

Greek Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce – This burger takes the cake as far as my husband is concerned! It’s become his meal of choice for birthdays, anniversaries, and any other excuse he can come up with!

The World’s Greatest Penne ala Vodka – I can’t claim credit for the creation of this recipe, but it’s definitely on my list of all-time favorites!! Seriously the best vodka sauce I’ve ever tasted!

Sausage, Bean, and Rapini Soup – This incredibly satisfying dish is in our regular dinner rotation. It freezes well, so make it in a huge batch to keep on hand for an easy dinner. Make it as brothy as you prefer and serve with a nice piece of French bread!

Chicken Salad Sandwich – Waldorf Style – There’s something incredibly satisfying about the combination of sweet, savory, and crunch in this chicken salad. It’s on my go-to list of easy weeknight dinners!

Grilled Honey Garlic Baby Lamb Chops – I want to slather this honey garlic sauce on everything. I think I could live on this honey garlic sauce.

Cheddar and Garlic Biscuits – I first made these biscuits during a major craving for Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits. I searched online for a copycat recipe and found a ton of Bisquick-based recipes. Wanting to make fresh biscuits from scratch, I combined the elements from a basic, buttery drop biscuit with the seasoning of the Red Lobster biscuit. They’re perfect. Everyone cheers when these are on the menu!

Salmon, Cucumber, and Orzo Salad in Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette – This was initially intended as a pantry meal, if you will; something quick and easy using a few leftover ingredients I had on hand. It became an instant favorite. There’s something incredibly satisfying about the combination of flavors and textures in this simple dish!

BBQ Beef Chili – This hybrid chili/bbq beef dish makes my mouth water. Serve it with the cornbread from the Top 10 list!

Corn and Bacon Fritter Cakes – I just posted about these recently. I want to eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday, topped with smoked salmon and creme fraiche. The best part is that they reheat really well. In fact, they may even be better reheated than straight out of the pan. Pop them in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees and they’re perfect! (P.S. A dollop of sour cream would make a fine substitute for the creme fraiche!)

Pizza Dragon and Chairs of Stock (Steak Bordelaise Pizza) – My brother in law goes nuts for this pizza! He’s still trying to figure out how to package it and sell it, since he’s convinced it will make me millions. This pizza is a steak dinner on a pizza crust. It takes a little time to get all of the components together, but everything can be prepared ahead of time and it’s worth the trouble!

Do you have a favorite Gourmand Mom recipe? Any other recipe you’d like to see here? Tell me about it!

Hearty Sausage Baked Ziti

In high school, I was assigned a paper on William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. I’ve never been much for poetry, but I loved those 18th century poems. There’s such a simple brilliance to the idea that the way we view the world changes with our experiences in life. And in his short, carefully crafted poems, Blake said so much about his perspective on life and the world he lived in. His message is timeless.

But it’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

My first baby

Before I had my children, I thought I loved my dogs as much as I could ever possibly love children. I made the mistake of once voicing this emotion and still get made fun of it to this day. But, at the time, I truly believed there could be no (parental sort of) love that was greater than what I felt for my pups. I loved them with every bit of love I thought I possessed. They were my babies.

And then I had my kids. And I quickly discovered an entire world of love I never could have imagined before. In retrospect, it sort of makes me feel a bit silly for believing that I loved my dogs as much as I would ever love my kids. But then, it’s all about perspective.

Furbaby meets human baby

For as long as I can remember, I dreamed about being a stay at home mom. I would gladly say goodbye to a successful career, years of time spent attaining advanced degrees and certifications, and a respectable paycheck, in order to care for my family. In my dreams, I was Suzy Homemaker. I baked pies every day and had adventures with my giggling children. My house was impeccably clean and my hair perfectly coifed. I’d enjoy quiet pastimes like crochet and tending to my garden. Perhaps I’d even start watching soap operas and collecting porcelain figurines. Who knows…

But then, that picture perfect image of 1950’s domestic bliss isn’t the reality, is it? In the real world, I can’t clean my house faster than the kids destroy it and for every giggle, there is a matching scream or whine. I certainly never considered I’d be scolding my child for pulling his pants down in the produce section of the grocery store. Oh, and there is definitely no time for tending to my non-existent garden or putting my imaginary crochet skills to use. And for every bit of joy and pride my children bring me, there are new fears and new challenges to contend with. And still, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.

Looking back on my early days as a stay at home mom, I remember how frazzled I felt. It’s astounding how one tiny baby can turn your world so completely upside down. I struggled to figure out my new life as the stay at home mom I’d always wanted to be. It was hard, even with only one baby. I missed my job. My job was less tiring…and it came with a lunch break. Yet, now, as a mother of three kids, being alone with just the baby feels like a vacation. It’s funny how quickly perspective can change.

My almost-three-year-old, back in his baby days

And although my dream of being a stay at home mom is not at all what I’d pictured it would be, I’m still living my dream and am thankful for it every day. If I were William Blake writing a poem about parenthood, my song of experience may not be nearly as rose-colored as my song of innocence, but it would communicate something much deeper; a level of emotion only the experience of being a parent can awaken.

My almost-three-year-old now, ready for nursery school

My second little cutie is turning three in a few days. Where does the time go? We’re throwing him a birthday party next weekend. With cool weather quickly approaching, I’m making a comfort food menu, with an Italian twist. I’m making my pepperoni pizza salad, a big batch of meatballs in marinara sauce, toasty garlic bread, and this hearty baked ziti.

Enjoy! It’ll warm your soul.

Hearty Sausage Baked Ziti

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ziti or penne pasta
  • 3 cups tomato pasta sauce, homemade or store-bought
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided
  • 1 pound spicy Italian pork sausage

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta al dente, according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to prevent the pasta from over-cooking. Remove the sausage from the casings. Cook the sausage in a pan over medium heat for  7 to 8 minutes, until fully cooked. Use a fork or edge of a spoon to break it into small pieces as it cooks. Combine the cooked pasta with the pasta sauce, sausage, ricotta, parmesan cheese and about 2 1/2 cups of the mozzarella cheese. Pour the mixture into a large baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top. Bake for about 25 minutes, until heated through and lightly browned on the top.

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart with Pine Nut Crust

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Where have I been? Where have I been?  Well, I’ve been unsuccessfully working on composing this post for over a week now. In fact, it’s taken me so long to get this post completed, that I actually received a semi-panicked phone call from my dad, during the mutually agreed upon no-call hour (kids’ bedtime) to make sure I was ok. Awww… My dad checks in on me via this blog. I love that. And yes, I’m am fully ok. Just sucked into the time warp which is having a newborn baby and two very active young boys.

To be fair, I can hardly blame my absence on the baby. He is fully content to stay snuggled in my lap, quietly nursing, as I write. It’s my other two monkeys who leave me with minimal focused time for writing; the ones who are in a perpetual state of movement, mischief, and mayhem.

Oh, and the noise level… I have no words to describe the constant cacophony of assorted noises in this house; trucks, barking dogs, rockin’ guitars, the singing Handy Manny tool box, Spongebob on TV, laughing, screaming, whining, and some other toy that’s perpetually shouting letters at me. Even the puzzles make noise. I’m considering ditching all of these modern, noise-making toys, and bringing back some nice, quiet, battery-free tops, jacks, and jump ropes. Or perhaps I should just buy a set of heavy duty, noise-blocking headphones?

When all is said and done, it’s just been a bit tricky to write lately.

My posts may be few and far between these days, but we’re definitely still cooking! My busy little family needs to eat and summer produce is just begging to be devoured. It’s tomato season now; that time of year where tomatoes are so sweet and luscious, they really live up to their classification as a fruit. Now is the time to whip out those recipes which really showcase ripe tomato flavor.

I’m paying homage to a few beautiful heirloom tomatoes in a simple tart, paired with goat cheese, in a buttery pine nut crust. A bit of fresh basil pesto and a drizzle of balsamic glaze complete the dish. My children have aptly dubbed this recipe “rainbow tomato pie”. My grocery store carries an assortment of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes when the season is right, but specialty tomatoes are not a necessity for this recipe. A few ripe plum tomatoes from your garden or the grocery store will work perfectly.

The tart itself is a cinch to put together once you’ve prepared the crust. There’s no need to get complicated when the ingredients are so prime. Preparing the crust takes a little time, but the good news is that it can be prepared at any point ahead of time and frozen until you’re ready to use it. Freezing the dough in the tart pan prior to baking has the added benefit of reducing shrinkage during baking.

The key to preparing a perfect pie or tart crust is to keep the ingredients cold and avoid overworking the dough. To this end, you’ll want to keep all of your ingredients refrigerated until the moment of use. An extra cold surface, such as a marble slab, is helpful, but not mandatory. As you work, handle the dough as little as possible to prevent the butter from melting by the warmth of your hands.

Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart in a Pine Nut Crust

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons butter, very cold
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons ice cold water
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 3 ounces goat cheese
  • 3 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • Fresh Basil Pesto (Click here to see my basil pesto recipe.)
  • Balsamic Reduction/Glaze (optional)

Directions

To prepare the pine nut crust: Cut the butter into small chunks, then refrigerate to ensure it is very cold. Combine the flour and salt, then pour the dry ingredients onto your work surface. Add the butter to the flour and use a dough cutter or a fork to cut the butter into the flour mixture until the chunks of butter resemble very small peas. Form an “O” shape on your work surface with the mixture. Place the egg and cold water into the center of the “O”, then use your fingers to gradually draw the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Continue combining the flour mixture with the egg and water until a dough forms. Once the dough has mostly come together, add the pine nuts and gently knead the dough a few times, just until the pine nuts are evenly dispersed. Work quickly to avoid melting the butter. The dough should be firm and not too sticky. Add additional water, a few drops at a time, if necessary. Form the dough into a round disk shape, wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Once the dough is chilled, roll it into a round on a lightly floured surface, about 1/8″-1/4″ thick, wide enough to fit your tart pan. (A 9″ diameter tart pan, with a low edge and removable bottom is ideal for this recipe, but other tart pans can be used.) Carefully transfer the dough into your tart pan, gently press it into the bottom and sides, and use a knife to cut off any excess dough. Prick the bottom of the dough several times with a fork. Gently press foil over the dough to cover it and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake, with the foil in place, for 20-25 minutes until the dough appears mostly cooked. Then, remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the dough is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool before assembling the tart.

While the tart crust cools, prepare the tomatoes by sprinkling with a bit of salt. Then, place the salted tomatoes in a colander to drain for about 30 minutes. The salt will help to draw out some of the excess liquid in the tomatoes in order to prevent a soggy tart.

To assemble the tart, spread a thin layer of basil pesto on the bottom of the tart crust. Sprinkle the goat cheese in an even layer over the pesto. Then, arrange the tomato slices on top of the goat cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes in a 375 degrees oven. Allow to cool slightly before serving. The tart is best served a little warm or at room temperature.

If desired, drizzle with a bit of balsamic glaze before serving. (You can purchase balsamic glaze at many grocery stores or prepare your own by simmering balsamic vinegar with some sugar or honey until it reduces into a thick, sweet glaze.) I highly recommend this finishing touch!

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