Friday, December 30

New Year's Eve Menu Planning

Nothing says "Happy New Year!" like Champange Cocktails. Pictured: Kir Royales

The last big holiday of the season is upon us, so it's time for another menu guide (see previous here and here). New Year's Eve is a little different because people tend to focus on cocktails and finger foods rather than a large meal. However, this year my boyfriend and I are staying in and having a private celebration that's still full of decadence and over-indulgence (and yes, I'll still be wearing my sequined dress and heels). I've got you covered whether you're hosting a large party or something more intimate so that you won't be hungry when the clock strikes twelve.

Cheese and Crackers require little prep time and can be out all night for your guests to nibble on. Pictured:  Pecan-Parsley Cheeseball.
Asian-inspired appetizers are an unexpected and delicious addition to your table. Pictured: Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Assorted crostini looks festive and is a great way to feed a crowd. Pictured: Pesto, Pinenut, & Tomato Crostini

Splurge on a fancy dinner for two - it's still much cheaper than going out! Pictured: Lobster Risotto
New Year's Eve is a great time to get in those last steaks and potatoes before the resolution diets start. Pictured: NY Strip Steaks with Red Wine - Truffle Sauce
Anything made with truffles signals a special occasion. Pictured: Pappardelle with White Truffle Sauce

Thursday, December 29

Chicken & Mushroom Pie

I’ve officially decreed the week before the New Year as the “Eat Anything You Want Week” in an effort to clear my fridge out of the wonderful but calorie-heavy cheeses, cream, and sweets I have left over from my Christmas parties. It’s actually almost a chore to find ways to finish off all these rich foods, but not when it comes to making and eating this riff on chicken pot pie. Not only does it make great use of leftovers, but it takes some shortcuts to make it weeknight accessible. I customized it to my liking (meaning no peas), but you could certainly throw in whatever vegetables you have on hand.

Chicken & Mushroom Pie:* 
  • Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add in 1 1/2 lb. bite-size pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breast and cook for 3-5 minutes.
  • Add 8 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms, 6-8 sliced scallions, and 1 tbsp. butter to the pan.
  • Stir in 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour for a minute, then add in 1-2 tbsp. heavy cream, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, and 3/4 c. chicken stock.
  • Stir the pan and let sauce thicken for 3-4 minutes and season well with salt and pepper.
  • Pour chicken mixture into a baking dish and set aside.
  • Flour a flat surface and add 1 sheet of thawed, cold puff pastry on top. 
  • Roll out the puff pastry to slightly larger than the size of the baking dish and score with a paring knife in a criss-cross pattern.
  • Place puff pastry over the baking dish, brush the top with a beaten egg, and place in a 400°F oven.
  • Cook the pie for 20 minutes, or until crust is brown and crispy.
  • Let cool for a minute, then divide onto plates or bowls and serve. 

Serves four
*Adapted from one of my new favorite cookbooks, Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes.

Wednesday, December 28

Pork Chops with Leeks & Mustard

My boyfriend just got home from spending Christmas in Minnesota, so I wanted to welcome him back with a comforting home-cooked meal. These pork chops with leeks and mustard sauce (adapted from this recipe) did the trick and were even better with the addition of roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts. The combination of soft, oniony leeks and the chops reminded me of one of my favorite recipes, pork chops with apple onion sauce, but were re-invented with the addition of the tangy mustard. It’s the perfect winter comfort food for the upcoming chilly months and quick and easy enough for a busy weeknight dinner.

Pork Chops with Leeks & Mustard Sauce:
  • Season 2 bone-in pork chops with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of chopped thyme and let sit at room temperature for an hour.
  • Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a skillet and brown chops for 4-5 minutes per side.
  • Remove chops, add in 2 thinly sliced leeks,* salt, pepper and cook for 5 minutes, or until tender.
  • Pour in 2 tbsp. Sherry, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, then pour in 1 c. chicken stock.
  • Bring liquid to a boil, then return the chops to the pan and cook for another 8-10 minutes, turning once.**
  • Remove chops, leaving leeks in the pan.
  • Stir 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard and 1-2 tbsp. heavy cream into the leek mixture and season sauce with salt and pepper.
  • Divide chops onto plates and spoon sauce over top.

Serves two
*Use white and light green parts only.
**Or until chops are cooked to your liking.

Tuesday, December 27

Porcini & Rosemary Beef Tenderloin

Santa came and went, the presents have all been opened, but that doesn't mean that I can't keep cooking and eating delicious food. The star of our Christmas table was this porcini-and-rosemary-crusted beef tenderloin (accompanied by this, this, this, and more), but it's a dish I could whip out anytime I want to throw a fancy dinner party for a crowd. The tenderloin, which is the same cut that filet mignon comes from, is super tender and the porcini mushroom crust adds a deep, rich burst of flavor and pairs nicely with the port reduction sauce. It's the perfect way to indulge all year round... After all, New Year's Eve is less than a week away and 2011 deserves a delicious send-off before the resolution diets kick in.

Porcini & Rosemary Beef Tenderloin with Port Wine Sauce:

For Beef
  • Generously salt two 4 lb. beef tenderloin roasts and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  • Combine 2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms*, 4 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary, and 2 tsp. black peppercorns in a food processor until ground into a fine powder. Set rub aside.
  • Remove beef from fridge and allow to sit at room temperature for an hour.**
  • Rub each tenderloin with 1-2 tbsp. olive oil, then pat in the mushroom powder.
  • Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet until very hot. Sear the beef for 4-5 minutes a side, or until a dark brown crust forms.
  • Move the meat into a roasting pan and place in a 400°F oven.
  • Cook the beef for 25-30 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reaches 135°F in the thickest part of the beef.***
  • Let the beef rest for 15-20 minutes, then slice and serve with port wine reduction.
For Sauce
  • Place 1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms in 1 1/2 c. water and let sit for 20-30 minutes.
  • Strain the mushrooms from the liquid and chop them, set the liquid aside.****
  • Melt 2 tbsp. butter in the skillet the beef was seared in.
  • Add in 2 minced shallots and the chopped mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Pour in 2 c. port wine, 2 c. red wine, and the mushroom liquid and bring to a boil.
  • Cook until the liquid has reduced to 3 c., about 10 minutes.
  • Strain the sauce and discard the solids. Immediately whisk in 2 tbsp. cold butter.
  • Add salt and pepper as needed, then pour over beef.

Serves fifteen -twenty
*Mushrooms must be dry and brittle for this to work. If necessary, place them in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes to dry them out.
**This step is crucial, as it ensures that the meat cooks at the same temperature throughout.
***This will cook the beef to medium rare - medium.
****Can be done ahead.

Thursday, December 22

Saffron Cioppino

Whenever I see cioppino (a tomato-based fish stew) on a menu, I have to order it. I love being able to have different bites of fish, all swimming in a rich broth, and I always ask for more toasted bread alongside. This was my first time making it at home (adapted from this recipe), which allowed me to customize the dish to include my favorite shellfish. I also pumped up the volume with some saffron, which added a luxurious depth of flavor and color. It's the perfect hearty winter meal but special enough to serve for company.

Saffron Cioppino:
  • Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
  • Add in 4 diced leeks*, 1 diced bulb of fennel, 2 cloves of minced garlic, 2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning, a large pinch of red chili flakes, and salt and pepper.
  • Cook until leeks and fennel are soft and translucent, about 10-12 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, add a large pinch of saffron to 3/4 c. warm water and let stand for several minutes.
  • Add 1 can of crushed tomatoes,** 1 1/2 c. white wine, and saffron water to the pot.
  • Let broth come to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 15-30 minutes.***Check for seasoning and adjust as needed.
  • Add in 1/2 lb. cleaned mussels and 1/2 lb. peeled and de-veined shrimp, cover pot, and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add in 1/2 lb. cleaned, thinly sliced squid and cover for another 4-5 minutes, or until fish is tender and cooked through.
  • To serve, divide onto plates and serve with toasted French bread.

Serves three-four
* Rinsed well of grit and tough outer leaves removed. Use white and light green parts only.
**Or use whole peeled tomatoes and crush by hand.
***Add more water (I added about a cup) to thin out the broth as needed.

Wednesday, December 21

Tapas Night

I just started a new job at work that's leading to longer hours at the office, so I've been trying to spend less time in the kitchen on some nights. Already home later-than-usual and heading to an evening movie, I threw together a tapas-inspired bite to eat before we left the house. I used some gourmet cheeses, roasted nuts, and bread I had on hand and supplemented it with a quick salad and cooked chorizo dish (taken from this recipe). It was the perfect way to clear out my fridge and put together an effortlessly satisfying meal. This spread would also work well for a party, since it's easy for guests to help themselves to small bites of food.

Honey-Vinegar Glazed Chorizo:
  • Cut one large chorizo* into 1/2" thick slices.
  • Meanwhile, heat 1/2 tbsp. olive oil in a skillet over high heat.
  • Add the chorizo and cook until brown and some of the fat has rendered (about 6-8 minutes).
  • Add in 2 cloves of minced garlic and cook for another minute.
  • Pour off all but 1 tbsp. oil in the pan, then stir in 4 tbsp. red wine vinegar and 1 tbsp. honey.
  • Let the vinegar mixture reduce and glaze the sausage for another 4-5 minutes.
  • Serve family style in the skillet or transfer to a platter.

Serves two - three
*Use cured or semi-cured chorizo only. Do not use fresh chorizo.

Tuesday, December 20

Chicken Pad Thai

This take-out favorite is even quicker and easier to prepare at home

Chicken Pad Thai

Pad Thai is one of those iconic Asian dishes that can be found on pretty much any Thai menu in the U.S. Because it's so widely available (and maybe a little boring compared to other options), I've never tried to make it on my own until I stumbled upon this recipe. I actually like this version better than some I've had at restaurants, and it's such a quick and easy weeknight meal. The secret ingredient, tamarind paste, can be found at Whole Foods or can be substituted with a little tomato paste in a pinch. Also, feel free to customize the recipe with whatever meat or veggies you like best.

Related Recipes:
- Thai Chicken Curry
- Chicken & Broccoli Fried Rice
- Cold Asian Noodle Salad

Chicken Pad Thai:
  • Combine 3 tbsp. fish sauce, 1 tbsp. rice vinegar, 2 tbsp. sugar, 2 tbsp. canola oil, and 1 tbsp. tamarind paste in a small bowl.
  • Meanwhile, soak 1/2 lb. rice noodles* in hot tap water for 20 minutes, or until soft.
  • Beat two eggs, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
  • Heat 1 tbsp. of oil in a wok until very hot. Add in 1 lb. thinly sliced boneless skinless chicken breast and cook until no longer pink in the center (4-5 minutes).
  • Remove chicken and add 1 more tbsp. of oil to the wok. Stir in 1 minced shallot, 1 minced jalapeno, and 3 minced cloves of garlic. Cook for a minute.
  • Scramble eggs in the wok for 30 seconds, then add in the rice noodles.
  • Pour in the fish sauce mixture and toss with the noodles for a minute or two.
  • Add in the chicken and 1-2 tbsp. chopped peanuts.
  • Continue tossing for another minute, or until noodles are soft and have absorbed most of the sauce.
  • To serve, divide onto plates and garnish with extra chopped peanuts.

Serves two
*Sometimes called glass noodles.

Monday, December 19


Both my boyfriend and my brother are going to be away on actual Christmas Day, so this weekend was full of early holiday gatherings. On Saturday, my boyfriend and I woke up, opened our stockings, and had a delicious brunch at one of our favorite places, Joe's Restaurant (seen here). Then on Sunday, we all met up at my parents' house for dinner, gifts (new iPhones!) and some last-minute tree decorating. Since our schedule was pretty busy my dad made braciole, which slowly simmered on the stove while we were opening presents. The dish - steak stuffed with prosciutto, garlic, herbs, breadcrumbs, and cheese - is one of my family's favorite special occasion meals, but it's really pretty easy to make. The presentation is always impressive and super festive for Christmas because of the red tomato sauce and green herbs.

  • Pound 3 lb. flank steak* to 1/4" thickness.
  • Layer 2 oz. prosciutto over the steak, then 1 head of minced garlic, then 1 bunch of minced parsley, then 1/2 c. breadcrumbs, and then 1 c. Parmesan cheese.
  • Very tightly roll the steak into a log and secure with twine.
  • Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large pot until very hot.
  • Brown the steaks for 3-4 minutes per side and remove.
  • Add 1 chopped onion to the pot, scraping up the brown bits as you go.
  • Cook the onion for 8-10 minutes, or until soft, then pour in 12 c. of marinara sauce and 1 tbsp. dried Italian seasoning.
  • Let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes, then add the steak back to the pot.
  • Cook the braciole for 90 minutes, turning once or twice.
  • Remove the meat and let rest for 10 minutes, then remove the twine and slice into pinwheels.
  • Divide onto plates and top with extra sauce and minced parsley.

Serves six
*You might need to use two 1 1/2 lb. steaks.

    Friday, December 16

    Christmas Menu Planning

    Braised meats are prepped in advance and then cook slowly, allowing you more time with your guests. Pictured: Wine-Braised Beef Short Ribs

    Christmas dinner is a big deal in my family, but since I know that not everyone starts menu planning six months ahead (yes, that’s typical for us), I’ve assembled some great last-minute ideas for this year’s holiday table. Smaller groups can get away with one big main course and a couple sides, but for a large group of family and friends it’s best to have a range of dishes that can accommodate everyone. We make a few starters, some vegetarian side dishes, a couple of meat dishes, and pasta for our group of fifteen-twenty and ask our friends to make dessert. I’ve followed that same logic in this menu guide, but dishes can certainly be served individually or brought as potluck items.

    Salads are a great first course because they can be made in advance. Pictured: Arugula, Goat Cheese, & Butternut Squash Salad
    Soups are another make-ahead dish and are an elegant start to the meal. Pictured: Roasted Carrot Soup with Thyme

    Roasts that can be sliced and served are perfect for entertaining a crowd. Pictured: Mustard-Glazed Pork Tenderloin
    Rich cuts of meat, like leg of lamb and short ribs (pictured top), will wow your guests. Pictured: Braised Leg of Lamb

    Cheesy gratins are a must-have on your holiday table. Pictured: Potato-Gruyere Gratin
    Round out the table with a hearty green veggie. Pictured: Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Pecorino and Lemon

    A creamy pasta will be sure to satisfy the vegetarians (and carnivores) on your guest list. Pictured: Truffle &Wild Mushroom Pappardelle
    Do as the Italians do and serve a seafood-packed dish a la Feast of the Seven Fishes. Pictured: Seafood and Meyer Lemon Fettuccine

    Simple fruit pies are a nice, light way to end a large meal. Pictured: French Apple Tart with Whipped Cream
    Individualized desserts are a show-stopping finish to your celebration. Pictured: Vanilla Creme Brulee

    Thursday, December 15

    Chocolate-Peppermint Bark

    I’ve been making this peppermint bark for years around the holidays, as it’s the perfect little gift to share with friends and co-workers. Nowadays, versions of the candy can be found everywhere from gourmet chocolatiers to the supermarket, but I still prefer making my own. People really seem to appreciate a homemade gift, and it’s so quick and cheap to make (and a perfect way to use extra candy canes) that it’s a no brainer. After I "test" a few pieces to make sure the batch tastes good, I like to divide them into festive cellophane bags and tie them with ribbon.

    Dark Chocolate-Peppermint Bark:
    • Place 6 unwrapped candy canes in a plastic bag and smash with a meat mallet* until broken into very small pieces.
    • Meanwhile, chop 1 lb. of high-quality dark chocolate and place in a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering** water.
    • Let chocolate melt entirely, stirring frequently, then pour into sheet pan that's been lined with a non-stick silicone mat.***
    • Immediately sprinkle candy cane pieces over the chocolate and then place the bark in refrigerator for several hours, or until hardened.
    • Place 3 c. white chocolate chips in a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until melted.
    • Drizzle white chocolate over the bark, then place back in the refrigerator until it hardens.****
    • Use your hands to break the bark into shards.
    • Place on a platter and serve, or divide into cellophane bags, tie with ribbon, and give as gifts.

    Serves ten
    Makes two-four gift bags
    *Or hammer.
    **Do not boil the water or it will get the pot too hot and might burn the chocolate.
    ***I used this one. Or line the pan with parchment paper.
    ****I pour the white chocolate into a plastic bag, snip the end, and squeeze the chocolate onto the bark.