Let's Wok and Roll

Last year I bought a brand new wok from a yard sale. The couple had received it for their wedding and never even opened it. I was all excited at finding a bargain and beginning some Asian inspired cooking adventures.

So I took it home and set the box down in the garage and didn't touch it for a year. Why, you ask? Because I don't really know how to use wok and Asian cooking intimidates me.

A few days ago, I decided to challenge myself. I had a handful of Asian ingredients in the fridge and some egg noodles and chicken. I was going to break in the wok! I figured it couldn't be any more complicated than using a skillet, right? It was time for me to find my inner wok star...like this guy:

I poured a bit of peanut oil in the bottom and cranked up the heat. Meanwhile, I retrieved my chicken from the fridge that I had sitting in a marinade I created on a whim that morning. Basically I threw in a couple tablespoons of anything Asian I could find in my house. This included Soy Sauce, fresh ginger, Hoisin sauce, chili paste, and red pepper flakes. I also threw in some olive oil, minced garlic, and red wine vinegar. I let the chicken marinate for a few hours. It certainly smelled good when I got it out.

The little 1 inch pieces of marinated chicken sizzled in the wok as I dropped them in. I threw in a little more fresh ginger and hoisin sauce for good measure. When the chicken was cooked through, I put it aside and grabbed some frozen broccoli I had thawed from the freezer and some chopped bok choy someone had given me.

In they went! Once the the broccoli was tender and the boy choy was wilted, I added the chicken back into the wok and tossed it all around with some sesame oil.

Meanwhile, I had boiled some egg noodles and threw them into the mix. I was having a great time...there was steam all over the room, loud sizzling noises and a huge mess in the sink (my husband kept a safe distance from the kitchen).

I would say that my experimental cooking was somewhat successful. It certainly didn't taste bad, but I think it was lacking the kind of flavor that really "wows" you. It seemed like I had added all sorts of flavor, but there was just something missing. Any suggestions?

The next day, I grabbed some sliced mushrooms, sliced red onion, minced fresh garlic, and chopped fresh parsley. I sauteed the mushrooms, onion, and garlic in some olive oil and added the parsley at the end. I took the leftover Asian explosion from yesterday out of the fridge and threw the mushroom onion mixture on top. It really helped the flavor and tasted great!

This "cooking without a recipe with what you have on hand" may be something people do all the time...but it's new to me.

I'm going to force myself to do it more often. My future attempts may end if success or in failure...but I'm sure going to have a good time!

More Produce Please?

I already posted some wonderful recipes that can be made with some fresh produce. Here's a couple more to add to the list.

Fresh Peach Chutney
~This is a very versatile recipe~

  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 large sweet red pepper, seeded, diced 1/4 inch, about 1/2 cup
  • 1 small white onion, peeled and diced, about 1/2 cup
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced, 2 tablespoons
  • 1/3 cup white raisins
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds firm, fresh peaches, blanched to remove the skin, pit removed, sliced into wedges
  1. Put the vinegar and both sugars into a non-reactive pot, place over medium heat and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the red pepper, onion, jalapeño, raisins, garlic, ginger, salt and simmer 10 minutes.
  3. Add the peach segments and simmer an additional 5-10 minutes. If the peaches are still firm allow to cook several minutes more. If you would like the syrup thicker you may also allow to cook for a minute or two to reduce liquid.
  4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pot. Serve at room temperature.
  5. Transfer all excess to a clean container and refrigerate, covered, for several weeks.
Recipe taken from epicurious.com

The reason I love chutney recipes is because they are so versatile. You can use chutney to top chicken or fish. You could add it to a sandwich as a condiment. You can spread it on crackers as a snack or appetizer. It's just plain good. It keeps very well in the fridge for at least two weeks. You can also freeze it, I would presume. I topped some salmon with this chutney and it was superb.

Fresh Blueberry Pie
~Yum, Yum, Yum~

  • 1 prepared 8 inch pastry shell (I used the Pillsbury pie crust from the refrigerated section of the grocery store)
  • 3 pints fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  1. Place a 9 inch pre-made Pillsbury pie crust in a glass pie pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
  2. Pul it out of the oven and pour a pint of blueberries in the semi-baked shell.
  3. Combine the flour, butter, lemon juice, and sugar in a sauce pan, stirring to combine. Add the remaining 2 pints of blueberries.
  4. Cook the mixture on low heat until it begins to form juice. This may take several minutes, so just keep stirring and keep an eye on it. It might seem as though it won't get juicy, but it will. You can add cinnamon or vanilla if you want.
  5. Pour the cooked mixture on top of the uncooked blueberries in the pie, add a top criss-cross pie layer (or just a solid crust layer) and baked it at 450 for about 11-13 minutes.
  6. I found that letting it cool to room temperature and then putting it in the fridge really helps it to firm up, so that the juices don't run everywhere when you try to cut it. I even enjoyed serving it cold with some ice cream...I know pie is often served warm, but it tasted great cold!
Recipe taken and adapted from allrecipes.com

Having fresh produce is completely wonderful...it just inspires me to get into the kitchen and get creative!


A Friendly Lunch

My friend, Jill, lives right near by and happens to be a wonderful cook. I stopped over to visit with her for a while the other day and we collaborated to make quite a fun lunch.

I brought along my homemade peach jam and suggested we eat it with a French baguette and some nice sharp cheddar cheese. I also brought the rest of my apricot pie for us to indulge in after lunch.

Jill made a curry chicken salad that we ate over lettuce. I was delighted with this recipe and amazed at how simple and delicious it was. She said that her mom made up the recipe and taught her how to make it. I told her I would need to post it on my blog ASAP. She graciously gave me permission:

Curry Chicken Salad
~This is great on a sandwich or on its own over lettuce~
  • The white meat of 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded
  • 1 carrot, sliced into thin ribbons (I used a vegetable peeler)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • approx. 1/2 cup of light mayonnaise (it was about two good scoops out of the jar)
  • the juice from 1/2 of a lemon
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (I love these, so I put a lot in)
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds (I actually didn't have these on hand when I made it today, so I left them out...but they taste great in it, if you have some)
  1. Combine the shredded chicken, carrot, honey, mayonnaise, lemon juice, golden raisins, curry powder, and almonds in a medium sized bowl. Stir until well combined. Serve over lettuce or on a sandwich. Store in the refrigerator.
It comes together so easily and tastes so great...I'm sure that I am going to be making this recipe quite a bit for my packed lunches when school starts up. Thank you, Jill!


From the Orchard to the Table

Can it be summer forever, please?

I just love having all the wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables to cook and bake with during the summer. I recently took a couple trips to Highland Orchards and did some "Pick Your Own" peaches, blueberries, and apricots. I gathered some ideas from friends and the internet to make some very tasty things. Here are a few of them:

Tri-Berry Muffins
~But not really, because I only had two kinds of berries on hand~

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt (I always use Kosher)
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 cups milk (I used 1%)
  • 2 large or extra large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 fresh raspberries (didn't have these on hand, so I did a bit over a cup of blueberries and about 3/4 cup strawberries)
  • 1/2 cup diced fresh strawberries
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners. This will yield around 20 muffins, so you'll need more than one tin or you'll have to bake in batches. We obviously didn't need 22 muffins, so I kept a few out and froze the rest.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together in a large bowl, making sure they are well combined.
  3. In another bowl, combine the milk, eggs, and melted butter.
  4. Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture, pour the wet mixture into the well, and stir until just combined. There will be some lumps, but don't overmix the batter!
  5. Add the blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and sugar and stir gently to combine.
  6. Using an ice cream scoop, spoon the batter into the muffin cups to fill the liners. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean and the tops are nicely browned.
Recipe taken from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa at Home

Fresh Apricot Pie
~This is the perfect balance between tart and sweet~

  • 4 cups sliced fresh apricots (no need to peel, just remove the pit and slice)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 9-inch pie crusts (I sometimes make my own, but for this I just bought the Pillsbury ones in the refrigerated section of the grocery store)
  • An egg, a bit of milk or water, and some additional sugar (to top it before baking)
  1. In a bowl, toss apricots, sugar, flour, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Sprinkle with lemon juice, mix well.
  2. Line a 9 inch pie plate with bottom crust and add the filling.
  3. Top it with the other crust or cut it into strips to make a lattice top (like I did). Seal and flute the edges by pinching it with your finger tips.
  4. Brush the top with an egg wash (one egg, lightly beaten, with a tbsp or so of milk or water). Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 375 degrees for 45-55 minutes until lightly brown. (I covered the crust with a special crust shield I have, but you can use tin foil. It keeps it from burning and can be removed during the last 10-15 minutes of baking).
This was seriously delicious. It was a nice departure from the typical berry pie. I got the recipe from Allrecipes.com and chose it based on the great reviews it got.

Peach Jam
~This is SO easy~
  • 7 or 8 medium sized peaches
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 envelope gelatin (.25 oz)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop peaches carefully into the boiling water and allow to boil for about a minute or less. Remove peaches with a slotted spoon and immediately put into cold water. This should make the peel slide off easily. Remove the fruit from the pit and chop.
  2. Combine chopped peaches, sugar, and lemon juice; bring to a boil. Mash peaches with a spoon or spatula and reduce the heat to a simmer.
  3. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the gelatin and 1/4 cup cold water in a small bowl. Allow it to stand for 2 minutes.
  4. Remove the peaches from the heat and stir in the gelatin mixture until well incorporated and dissolved.
  5. Allow to cool to room temperature and refrigerate. This yields about 28 servings and will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks. If you would like to preserve it, follow the proper canning/preserving procedure.
I thought this was a total failure at the "cool to room temperature" stage. It was like liquid and wasn't "jamming" (setting) at all. I put it in the fridge, figuring I'd use it for a topping on ice cream or cake. The next morning...it was jam! I guess it just needs to set in the fridge for a while before it's ready. This recipe came from my sister in law (not sure where she got it) and is a great one because it isn't too sweet.

There is something kind of special about using produce that you grow or pick yourself. I just love that I got to see these fruits go from the orchard to becoming delicious food. I am really looking into ways to incorporate fresh and local ingredients into my cooking.

I have even more tasty treats that I've been working on this week...I'll post them soon!


Friday Night Feast - Leftovers Edition

I made an unexpected Friday Night Feast last night. I helped out during a kid's camp class at The Kitchen Workshop on Thursday. After the class was done, my cooking teacher told me he had to cancel a class and had some extra food to get rid of. Free food? Count me in!

He sent me home with a grocery bag of bone-in chicken breast halves, seasoning, tons of portobello mushroom caps, buttermilk mashed potatoes (leftover from class that day), some home made ketchup, a container of homemade marinara sauce, and a package of Oreos.

We talked through a couple of ideas on how to use the food and I was on my way.

So last night I made seasoned chicken breast halves, grilled portobello mushrooms, and potato cakes. We munched on Oreos with milk for dessert. These hardly qualify as "recipes", but I'll write them out so you know what I did.

Simple Seasoned Chicken Breast Halves

  • 1 package bone-in, skin on chicken breast halves
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Your favorite rub or seasoning (I have a variety from Pampered Chef and Mrs. Dash, but for this recipe my cooking teacher gave me a sample of a special seasoning he orders from Penzeys Spices*...I can't remember what it was called)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Arrange chicken breasts on a large baking sheet. Gently remove the skin on each breast, allowing one part of it to stay attached to the breast.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over each chicken breast and spread with fingers or a brush. Apply the seasoning by sprinkling the amount desired over each chicken breast.
  4. Carefully place the skin back over each chicken breast. Put in the oven and roast for 35-40 minutes (all ovens differ...so check on yours and take it out when the juices run clear and chicken is cooked through). Remove and discard the skin from each chicken breast (it may taste good, but it's bad for you!).
  5. Remove chicken from the oven and cover with foil to allow to rest for 10 minutes. You can serve it on the bone or carefully remove the chicken breasts from the bones.
I found this to be an excellent way to make chicken. Yes, using boneless skinless chicken breasts is convenient and often works quite well. But cooking chicken on the bone and with the skin gives it such great flavor. I was surprised at how moist and tender the chicken was. I am going to start using bone-in, skin on chicken more often, especially when I plan to shred it or cut it up anyway.

*Penzeys is an herb and spice distributor that has very good quality spices at a reasonable price and a variety of quantities. They also have lots of seasoning mixes that are delicious. They are mainly what we use in cooking class because of their high quality.

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Caps

  • 1 or 2 packages of large portobello mushroom caps (depending on how many you are serving)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped (optional interchangeable with other fresh herbs)
  1. Heat grill or grill pan to medium high.
  2. Use a damp towel to wipe down the top of each cap. Use a spoon to gently remove the "fins" underneath the cap.
  3. Combine the olive oil, garlic clove, and rosemary in a small bowl.
  4. Using a brush, apply oil mixture to each side of each mushroom cap.
  5. Grill mushrooms about 4-5 minutes on each side (or until they are "floppy" and release their juices a bit).
We love mushrooms, so this was a big hit for us. We had tons, so we stored the leftovers and plan to chop them up to add to the marinara sauce I have. We'll boil up some whole wheat pasta and have another meal made from leftovers!

Potato Cakes
  • Leftover mashed potatoes
  • flour
  • canola or vegetable oil
  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.
  2. Remove left over mashed potatoes from the fridge and form into little patties (about 3 inches in diameter).
  3. Put some flour in a bowl or on a plate and lightly coat each pattie in the flour.
  4. Place the patties in the hot oil and cook on a few minutes on each side until golden brown.
  5. Serve immediately
I've made potatos cakes using flour, egg and bread crumbs before and they turn out quite tasty. But, honestly, cutting out the egg and bread crumbs lightens them up a bit and they still turn out fine.

This meal may not have been the "prettiest" as it was lacking in color, but it was really filling. I would have liked a fresh vegetable with it, but we were using what we had! I even used the left over chicken to top a salad for lunch today. I read in a magazine recently that a huge percentage of people will not eat leftovers and often through them away. If you are creative with leftovers, there is no need to waste them!

Feel free to share any creative ways that you use leftovers. You can leave a comment or email me at cookingwithaplan@gmail.com.


Birthday Brunch

The morning after the lovely Salad Nicoise, I made a special brunch for my Mom's birthday. I was amazed at how easy it was to create a delicious and hearty brunch once I made a game plan. I just think that taking the time to sit down and create a plan saves you tons of time when you're actually preparing food.

Birthday Brunch Menu

Crab and Roasted Red Pepper Strata
Rosemary and Mustard Breakfast Sausage
Pecan Praline Bacon
Fruit Salad
Cranberry Orange Scones

The Crab and Roasted Red Pepper Strata can be made the night before and left to soak in the fridge until morning. The Rosemary and Mustard Breakfast Sausage can also be mixed the day before and even formed into patties. The Cranberry Orange Scones can also be made in advance.

So when you get up in the morning, you don't really need to do very much work. The strata and sausages can go directly into the oven. The scones are done and just need to be set out on the table. The bacon is extremely simple and takes only a few minutes to make. The most time consuming thing would be cutting up all the fruit for the fruit salad, but you could technically cut it up ahead of time and store it in the fridge. You can put on a delicious and elegant brunch without getting up at six in the morning to cook!

Crab and Roasted Red Pepper Strata
~This is a really simple but elegant recipe~

  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped drained roasted red peppers from a jar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 green onions (scallions), chopped
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 lb fresh crab meat*
  • 8 cups 1 inch bread cubes from a French Baguette (keep crust on)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Prepare a baking dish (rectangular casserole dish) with cooking spray or butter.
  2. Whisk eggs and half and half in a medium bowl to blend.
  3. Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and saute until soft (about 5 minutes). Add peppers and garlic and saute 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Stir in green onions, parsley and thyme. Transfer mixture to large bowl and add crab and bread crumbs, tossing to combine.
  5. Add egg mixture, salt, and pepper. Mix until well combined, taking care not to break up the crab too much. Transfer to prepared baking dish.
  6. Let stand at least 30 minutes, but overnight in the fridge works even better.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake until browned and puffed (about 1 hour). Cool on rack 20-30 minutes (could serve sooner, if needed). Using a sharp knife, cut into pieces and serve.
*If you don't want to buy fresh jumbo lump crab meat, which can be really expensive, you can also use jumbo lump from a can or fresh crab meat that isn't jumbo lump and is less expensive.

I really enjoyed preparing this brunch because I don't often entertain in the morning. It's a great time to experiment with some new recipes!

Happy Birthday, Mom!

A Fabulous French Meal

Before we left for our vacation, we had the pleasure of having my Aunt Diana stay with us during her visit from Florida. I adore her and always have. She is a wonderful cook and baker and I was excited to finally do some cooking and baking for her.

The first night I made a French inspired meal called Salad Nicoise (I believe it's pronounced "neesh-wa"). The first time I heard of this was during an episode of The French Chef. Julia Child was one of the first people to introduce this delicious meal to the United States. Oh Julia...yet another reason why I love you.

If you prep the ingredients ahead of time and make the marinade in advance, this comes together very quickly once your guests arrive. This dish is beautiful and very impressive! It is a huge and complete meal all by itself and the flavors are simply heavenly. This is a very flexible recipe...use the dressing/marinade recipe and add whatever salad fixings and seafood you would enjoy. I learned this particular recipe from The Kitchen Workshop during one of the grilling classes.

Grilled Seafood Salad Nicoise

*Important: I actually double the dressing/marinade below...I find that I like the extra
  • 3 tbsp red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme, crumbled between your fingers
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 lb 1 inch thick tuna steak, cut into 6 pieces
  • 1 large yellow squash, cut in half both directions to make 4 long pieces
  • 1 large zucchini, cut in half both directions to make 4 long pieces
  • approx. 9 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 12 large sea scallops, gently patted dry
  • 1 lb green beans, trimmed and cut into 2 inch lengths
  • Lettuce of your choice for lining the platter
  • 1 or 2 bell peppers, cut into large chunks
  • 1 pint red or yellow cherry (or grape) tomatoes, cut in half or quartered
  • 1 cup olives (I left these out because I don't care for them)
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, anchovy paste, thyme, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the oil in a stream while whisking until dressing is emulsified (it thickens and comes together). Begin to heat up the grill.
  2. Divide the dressing in half, putting half in a small bowl and half in a large ziploc bag. Add the tuna pieces, shrimp, scallops, squash, zucchini, and peppers to the ziploc bag of dressing. Let it stand 15 minutes or in the fridge for a couple hours. Put the bowl of dressing aside until later.
  3. Bring a pot of water to boil and add the green beans. Allow to cook for 3 or 4 minutes and then remove from boiling water and rinse under cold water. Once they are dried off a bit, toss them in a tbsp or so of the reserved dressing in a bowl (not the one that is marinading the seafood!).
  4. Grill the tuna steaks 2 1/2 minutes or so on each side (it can be a bit pinkish in the middle...depending on your tastes). Grill the shrimp, scallops, squash, zucchini, and peppers until seafood is cooked through and vegetables are slightly blackened.
  5. To assemble the salad, layer the platter with lettuce. Then add the seafood, green beans, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, and peppers in little rows coming from the center (see picture above). Top with olives and the reserved dressing.
After we had this delicious salad, we finished it off with Cardomom Pear Bread with vanilla ice cream. When I posted the bread recipe, it was made into muffins...but it comes out beautifully as a quick bread and the vanilla ice cream was the perfect addition.

I so enjoyed making this special meal for our very special visitor :)

I'm Back!

Wow...Jamaica was absolutely amazing! We went to an all-inclusive resort and I ate some pretty amazing food. It was like a dream come true when I realized I could order whatever I wanted from the menu, including multiple items. Let's just say I didn't count my calories while I was there :)

Here are just a few pictures, including some food that we ate:

The water was such a beautiful color!

This was an appetizer made with crab...delicious!

The desserts were beautiful in addition to delicious.

They had 9 different restaurants to choose from...amazing!

On July 7th, our anniversary, we ate breakfast out on the pier

I was pretty much smiling the entire week...we had so much fun!

This was our view from our dinner table the first night...breathtaking!

It was a wonderful balance between relaxation and activity. We hung out at the many pools, sun bathed on the beach, and ate until we were ready to burst! We also went snorkeling (with sting rays!), swam with dolphins, tried the rock climbing wall, and hiked up Dunn's River Falls. It was trip to remember.

I am in the process of completing several posts with some great new recipes I've been making. Hopefully, I'll have some recipes and pictures posted by tonight or tomorrow morning!



I hate going so long between posts...I've just been so busy the past few days!

I made some completely wonderful recipes this week while my Aunt was in town. I had all of these plans to get up today and type them out and post them.

That didn't quite happen.

I ended up devoting my entire day to getting us ready for our trip to Jamaica this week. We are leaving bright and early tomorrow and we need to be all set to go tonight. I figured that preparing for our exciting trip needed to come before blogging.

So here is where I show you a picture of where we will be by this time tomorrow:

I promise to overwhelm you with delicious recipes and pictures when I return :)

Have a great week!!