Sunday, November 23, 2014

Chicken in Creamy Rondele Sauce

I love Rondele, Boursin, flavored cream cheeses -- anything cheese-based that's spreadable and tastes good, basically. Rondele was on a rare buy-one, get-one deal at Publix yesterday, so I grabbed a couple of containers for our game watch that night. Because I (as usual) made WAY too much food (including my Mediterranean Spinach Dip), they weren't touched. So I decided to use one to make a light, creamy, flavorful sauce for chicken tenders. This is really easy to make - once the chicken is browned, you do nothing for 15 minutes but look at it once in a while to make sure it's not cooking down too much. After that, it's about 3 minutes to done! I served this with brown rice for JC and steamed kale for me. The sauce was delicious with both!

Rondele makes several flavors of spreadable gourmet cheese, including Herb and Garlic, Artichoke and Garlic, Garden Vegetable, Chipotle and Tomato and Roasted Tomato and Basil. I used Herb and Garlic because I thought JC would like it the best, but this is so basic that the cheese really controls the flavor of the dish, so use whatever you like. You can make this regularly, with different flavors of cheese, and it will be a completely different dish each time.

To make 4 servings:

  • 8 chicken tenders 
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sea salt 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth 
  • 3/4 cup any flavor Rondele Gourmet Spreadable Cheese 
  • 6 green onions, sliced, dark green parts reserved
  • Rice, noodles, mashed potatoes, gnocchi or steamed greens, to serve

Lay a large sheet of waxed paper on the counter. Lay the chicken tenders on it and sprinkle them generously with pepper and just a touch of salt. Sprinkle with the flour and coat well on both sides.

Melt the butter over medium high heat in a large skillet. Brown chicken on both sides, working in batches if needed to avoid crowding it in the skillet. Add the white and light green parts of the sliced green onions to the skillet, and pour in the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the level of broth, because the flour on the chicken will make it thicken. Add more if it seems to be cooking down too quickly.

Carefully remove the chicken pieces from the thickened broth and set aside. Stir the Rondele cheese into the broth, letting it melt and blend well. Stir in the reserved dark green parts of the green onions, and add the chicken back into the skillet. Let simmer for a minute and serve immediately.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bacon-Cheddar-Ranch Potatoes

These are great for breakfast or brunch, perfect for a tailgate and would make an excellent side dish for pork chops, burgers or BBQ chicken. I came up with these for a tailgate a few weeks ago and they were a huge hit. I made them again, and they disappeared even faster the second time. If -- ESPN forbid -- we have another noon game this year, I'll double or triple the batch! They're THAT good!

  • 1 32 ounce bag southern-style hash browns, thawed 
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided 
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 3 tablespoons flour 
  • Large pinch chipotle chile powder or cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup milk 
  • 8 ounces sour cream (light or regular) 
  • 2 3 ounce pkgs real bacon pieces or 1 cup crumbled cooked bacon 
  • 1 envelope Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix 

In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat and cook the red bell pepper and onion, covered, until softened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the broth and milk, then the chile powder, garlic powder and pepper. Cook until you have a very thick sauce, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream until well-blended.

While the vegetables cook, mix the thawed potatoes, bacon pieces, 1 1/2 cups of cheese and the ranch dressing mix in a large bowl. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and pour over the potatoes. Mix the cooked sauce into the potatoes. Pour into a greased casserole dish and cover with foil. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle the rest of the cheddar over the top and bake another 15 minutes. Stand back to avoid getting trampled once they're out of the oven!

PRO TIP: Skip the onions and peppers, and swap the southern-style hash browns for Ore-Ida Potatoes O'Brien. They include the onions and peppers, saving you a step, and the cubed potatoes hold up better than hash browns if the dish needs to travel or stand for a long while before serving.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Easy Tortellini Soup with Spinach and Chicken Sausage

Tortellini soup (tortellini in brodo, in Italian) is one of my favorite comfort foods, and today, I came up with the easiest version I've ever had -- and the most delicious! This is entirely made from stuff in boxes and bags and jars; there is NO difficult prep work involved, and only a tiny amount of chopping! It took a whole 20 minutes to put together, and although I didn't plan to write about it, it was too good not to share. (You'll thank me later!)

Sooooo here we go:

Pour both containers of broth into a large pot. Bring to a boil.

While the broth heats up, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and brown the sausage. Once the broth is boiling, add the frozen tortellini. After 5 minutes, add the spinach. Once the tortellini is cooked, which means you will see it floating to the top, stir in the pesto and the browned sausage, with the olive oil it cooked in.

When serving, sprinkle some grated Parmesan on each bowl.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Oreo-Crusted Hot Fudge Caramel Brownies

Oreo-Crusted Hot Fudge Caramel Brownies
Proof that you CANNOT shove too much goodness in one pan!!! These brownies have a slightly crunchy Oreo crumb crust, topped with a layer of hot fudge and hot caramel, then a brownie that is just heaven on its own. The real kicker is that they are incredibly easy to make, because an inexpensive boxed brownie mix is the base, dressed up with some pantry staple goodies! I came up with these for tailgating, looking for something sweet and decadent that didn't require bank-breaking specialty ingredients. They really couldn't be easier, especially if you use the baking parchment, then use the parchment to lift the cooled brownies out and cut them into SMALL pieces with a pizza cutter!


  • 1 pkg Oreos
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup Smuckers Hot Fudge Topping
  • 1/2 cup Smuckers Hot Caramel Topping (OR use 1 cup of either one instead of half of each!) 


  • 1 9x13 size Betty Crocker Fudge Brownie Mix (Save the Box Tops for your local school!) 
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/3 cup chocolate syrup
  • 2 cups chocolate chips

Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper, long enough to overhang the sides after it's pushed tightly into the corners.

Melt the butter in a large glass bowl. Pulse the Oreos into fine crumbs and mix into the butter. Pat into the pan, using the weight of the crumb crust to hold the paper down and pushing it into the corners. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

While the crust chills, heat the oven to 325.

Mix the eggs, oil, water, instant coffee, chocolate syrup and vanilla until well combined and the espresso is dissolved. Stir in the brownie mix and chocolate chips. Set aside.

Take the chilled crust out of the fridge and spread evenly with half a cup each of hot fudge and hot caramel sauces, or a full cup of one alone.  (If using the plastic squeeze bottles, you will need to heat it up to get the sauce you need!)

Top the sauce layer with the brownie mix. Bake at 325 for 45 minutes and then check every 5 minutes until done. A tester inserted in the middle should be a little sticky when removed. Cool completely before lifting out of the pan and cutting.

HINTS: Try other flavors of Oreos for a twist! Mint? Peanut Butter? You could mix in different chips for other flavors too!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Red Velvet Cheesecake-Swirled "Brownies"

Red Velvet Cheesecake-Swirled "Brownies"
I wanted something special for the first football game of the year, and since it was also meant to celebrate a few special birthdays, I thought "red velvet." Pretty much everyone likes it, but it looks impressive, and it's easy. That said, layered cake with creamy cheese frosting is not going to hold up well to September's heat and humidity in Miami! So I did some research, and of course, found some "red velvet brownie" recipes. I wanted the cheesecake component, and none of the recipes I found had what I wanted as a balance of simplicity and impressiveness, so I cobbled a couple of recipes together. This is the result!

Brownie base:

  • 1 Box Duncan Hines Red Velvet Supreme Cake Mix
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg 
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 standard bag) 

Cheesecake layer:

  • 2 8-ounce pkgs cream cheese, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla 

Heat the oven to 325. Mix the cake mix, melted butter, vanilla, water and egg until thoroughly combined and there are no dry lumps of cake mix left, about 3 minutes. Take 1/2 cup batter out of the bowl. Stir in chocolate chips and spread evenly into a lightly greased 9x13 baking pan.

Beat the cream cheese until smooth and beat in the sugar and then the eggs, one at a time. Stir in
vanilla. Pour over the brownie layer. Drop the reserved 1/2 cup batter on top of the cheesecake layer in random small spoonfuls, then swirl with the tip of a sharp knife until well-marbled.

Bake on the center rack at 325 for 40 minutes and check doneness. They may need up to 55 minutes to bake. Cool completely before cutting, and refrigerate if desired, up to a day ahead, before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Roasted Green Beans and Hazelnuts

If you've known me in the last 18 months or so, on social or IRL, you know that I LOVE, love, love the Pacific Northwest. It's beautiful and majestic, and the restaurants there excel at making the most of local, seasonal food. Hazelnuts, marionberries and asparagus are just a few things I got to enjoy during our last two trips, both of which were in May.

For some reason, the last time I bought fresh green beans, it hit me that green beans are also big in Oregon, because I am also addicted to the epic Aaron Sorkin series "The West Wing." In the second season, the press secretary worries about losing votes in Oregon because President Bartlett doesn't like green beans.

My foodie mind went to the idea that local foods often work well together, so I had the idea of roasting hazelnuts and green beans together in olive oil, seasoned simply. It was an incredible combination. So I did it again and documented it. I made my Chicken with Shallot Cream Sauce, and instead of the long grain and wild rice mix I made for JC, I had it with the green beans and hazelnuts.

I bought fresh green beans at Publix yesterday, and I was honestly disappointed with the quality once I opened the bag, but even discarding a lot more than I expected, I still had more than enough for the recipe. So here's what to do.

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed 
  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped -- don't worry if some stay whole 
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sea salt
  • Garlic Powder (I use powder instead of fresh so it won't burn and turn bitter, but a few cloves of fresh work too; just watch it carefully in the oven.) 

Heat the oven to 400. Wash and trim the green beans. Chop the hazelnuts. Spread the olive oil on a large, rimmed baking sheet. (I line mine with foil because I hate to scrub pans.) Add the hazelnuts and green beans. Sprinkle with pepper, salt and garlic powder to taste, and mix well with your hands so that everything is evenly coated with olive oil, then spread the green beans out as evenly as possible. Roast at 400 for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Beer Cheese Soup #9

JC, who has "endured" my various attempts at beer cheese soup, with and without ham, and loves my Loaded Baked Potato soup, thinks this is the best one yet. Thankfully, I wrote down what I did before I forgot! This really is a potato soup, with a bit of ham for flavor, and the beer and cheese. It's broth-based, so not as heavy as a lot of versions. I used Magic Hat #9, which is a "not quite pale ale," according to the company website, and it was wonderful with this soup. Moving on to the recipe.....

  • 1 stick butter
  • 8 ounces finely diced ham 
  • 2 carrots
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion
  • 1 large shallot
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 12 ounce bottle good beer (something with a little body, not Coors Light or Bud, please!) 
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 envelopes Goya Ham Stock, dissolved in 2 1/2 cups water (If you can't find it, use 6 1/2 cups chicken broth)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 5 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed and diced small  
  • 2 cups grated white cheddar
  • 2 cups grated Swiss or Gruyere

Melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the ham. Brown the ham lightly, and while it's cooking, pulse the carrot, onion, shallot and garlic in a food processor or chop them very finely. Add the vegetables to the ham and stir well. Cook, covered, over medium heat, for five minutes, stirring twice. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture, and stir well. Cook, stirring constantly, for three minutes. Add the bottle of beer and mix well to combine. Let simmer a minute or two.

Slowly stir in the chicken broth and ham stock/water, plus the bay leaves and pepper. Add the potatoes. Raise the heat to high and boil 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and cook for another 10 minutes. Slowly stir in the grated cheeses until melted and remove from the heat. Top each serving with crisp, crumbled bacon if desired.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Mediterranean Spinach Dip

Hot, cheesy spinach dip -- with or without artichokes -- has become a staple on almost every chain restaurant menu in the US. I've even written a recipe for it. It's good stuff! But a change can do you good.

Years and years ago, I had a wonderful cold Mediterranean spinach dip with feta cheese at the now-defunct Cafe Tu Tu Tango in Miami's (Coconut Grove. It closed several years ago, but there's still one in Orlando.) The concept was all tapas and small plates -- before anyone else was doing it.

The Mediterranean spinach dip, served with roasted red peppers on top and pita chips on the side, was my favorite item on their menu. I liked it enough to make my own version. Rather than topping it with a couple of rolled up roasted peppers like they did at the restaurant, I diced them and threw them in. Otherwise, I think it's pretty close! This dip was created long before the Greek yogurt craze hit, so I use sour cream to make it, but if you prefer Greek yogurt, do it!

Makes a small vat, perfect for a summer party or BBQ.

  • 24 ounces sour cream, regular or light, or plain Greek yogurt -- or a combination 
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise -- I only use Hellman's 
  • 1 container herb and garlic seasoned feta cheese 
  • 2 green onions, white and green parts, sliced thinly 
  • 1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon each dried dill and oregano
  • Several grinds fresh black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt 
  • 16 oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained REALLY well 
  • 1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers (add more to taste if you want!) 

Thaw the spinach and drain it.The best way I have found to do this is to put the spinach in a plastic strainer, set over a bowl, and microwave it for a couple of minutes to thaw quickly, then use a spatula to press the liquid out into the bowl.

Mix sour cream or yogurt with mayonnaise and feta in a large bowl. Stir in onions, garlic and seasonings. Fold in roasted red peppers and drained spinach. Let chill for several hours or overnight before serving for flavors to blend.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rockin' Red Velvet Cheesecake

Cut View of Red Velvet Cheesecake
Crosscut view of cheesecake
My good friend and colleague Rosa is that strangest of people: she doesn't love chocolate. I mean really, not at all. So when her birthday rolled around, I took that on as a creative challenge -- to make something incredible and decadent for her that didn't include chocolate (for the most part, anyway!). I did know, however, that she likes Red Velvet Cake.

Red Velvet Cake is REALLY popular in the south, especially with cream cheese frosting, which has always perplexed me, given its legendary Yankee origin story: the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, looking to make a spectacular dessert during the chocolate shortages of World War II, used a tiny bit of cocoa and a ton of red food coloring to create the Red Velvet Cake. Lore has it that there was a food company that made its name by creating and selling red food coloring, with an attached recipe for Red Velvet Cake. It originally was frosted with "a French-style butter roux icing (also called ermine icing)," according to Wikipedia, but I think that the cream cheese frosting it's usually found with now is the ideal accompaniment. 

Cheesecake before frosting
Cheesecake before frosting
So how to turn this decadence into a cheesecake? Cream cheese is already an element of Red Velvet Cake, but just coloring a cheesecake seemed a touch lazy. Instead, I returned to the successful technique I used in the orange Creamsicle Cheesecake, and bought a Duncan Hines Signature Red Velvet Cake Mix. That became the crust, topped with rich vanilla cheesecake, sweetened only with white sugar instead of brown for less of a caramel flavor, and then topped with cream cheese frosting and a sprinkle of red sugar. It was inhaled! 

I usually make a 9" inch cheesecake, but this one is proportioned for a 10" pan. To cut it to fit a 9" pan, remove 1 8 oz. pkg cream cheese, 1 egg and 1/4 cup sugar. 


  • 1 Duncan Hines Signature Red Velvet Cake Mix
  • 1 stick butter, melted 

  • 4.5 8 ounce packages softened cream cheese 
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch 

  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese 
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter 
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch sea salt 
  • 1 tablespoon half and half 

Topping: Red sugar sprinkles or 2 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with a few drops red food coloring 


Heat oven to 350. Mix cake mix with melted butter. Pat into bottom only of a 10" springform pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray (butter flavored or plain!). Bake for 5 minutes and set aside. Fill a 9 x 13 pan with boiling water and set on the bottom oven rack. 

While the crust bakes, beat cream cheese, sugar and eggs, one block of cream cheese at a time. Beat the cream cheese until starting to get fluffy, add in sugar and then egg. Continue that process until all the cream cheese is incorporated. Stir in vanilla and cornstarch. 

Spray the sides of the springform pan with more cooking spray or brush with melted butter. Pour batter on top of crust, spreading it evenly to cover. Tap the sides of the pan to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes.

Let cool at room temperature for at least an hour before frosting.

For frosting, beat butter, cream cheese, salt, sugar and vanilla until blended. Add half and half until the frosting is smooth and spreadable, 1 teaspoon at a time. It may need more than 1 tablespoon.

Once frosted, chill the cheesecake at least 12 hours. Before serving, sprinkle with red sugar.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Portland Pasta

Pasta with bacon, mushrooms and asparagus in Marsala sauceI love Portland. It's a great city with lots to see and do, and most importantly, the food is incredible! There's a real emphasis on local and seasonal foods there, and the local restaurants, including the range of awesome brewpubs, are creative with it. JC and I were there for 12 days, and since it was May, asparagus was everywhere. Even the regional burger chain, Burgerville, offered fried asparagus spears (think tempura!) with a garlic aioli on the menu!

One day for lunch, we went to BridgePort Brewing Company. Their daily pasta was penne with bacon, mushrooms and asparagus in a Marsala sauce and it was incredible! It was so good that I haven't stopped thinking about it since and I tried to replicate it at home last night. The results were fantastic, even if it wasn't exactly like the dish I had at the restaurant -- their sauce was thicker than mine, despite what should have been plenty of time for it to reduce, but once the pasta was added, that was irrelevant. This is really easy to make too -- always a bonus!

For four dinner entree servings:
  • 1 pound short pasta -- I use Barilla Plus and I used farfalle instead of penne 
  • 8 ounces diced bacon -- the restaurant used slab bacon, but I couldn't find it; regular bacon is fine! 
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion 
  • 1 medium size shallot, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 10 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch long pieces 
  • 1 cup Marsala 
  • 3 cups beef broth -- I used College Inn 
  • 1 stick cold butter 

Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Cook pasta until desired doneness and drain it. Set aside.

While the pasta cooks, cook the bacon until crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Discard all but two tablespoons of the drippings. Add the onion, shallot and garlic to the bacon fat and saute over medium heat until softened. Add the mushrooms and stir well. Cook covered for a few minutes to allow the flavors to blend and the mushrooms to start softening.

Add the Marsala and beef broth, plus several grinds of fresh pepper. Raise the heat to high and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the liquids to reduce. Add the asparagus, except for the tips, and cook for five minutes. Add the tips and reserved bacon pieces and cook another 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the cold butter in pieces, whisking them in one by one. Once the butter has been incorporated, add the pasta and mix well. Serve with more fresh pepper and a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan if desired.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Creamsicle Cheesecake

Creamsicle Cheesecake
So..... it's been a WHILE -- more than a year since I last posted, because I was working so much. But this one made me decide to start up again.

My mother is a fantastic cake decorator, and she has ALWAYS sworn by Duncan Hines cake mixes as the most reliable, never fail, never fall cake mix on the market. Her wedding cakes weren't just beautiful -- they were moist and flavorful too, in an era where most resembled sawdust under the frosting. (Sorry, but I don't have pictures!) Yesterday, we were talking on the phone about a cake she'd made recently that almost been a disaster (not her fault!) and she mentioned that the cake she'd made that got the most raves was a Duncan Hines Orange Supreme cake with cream cheese frosting.... and that got my wheels turning.

On my way home, I bought an Orange Supreme cake mix at Publix (BOGO - next up is Red Velvet!) and mixed it with a stick of melted butter, then patted into a 9" springform pan, topped with a filling flavored with the zest of a large orange and LOTS of vanilla, plus a good handful of white chocolate chips. I didn't know how it turned out until I took it to the office this morning, to rave reviews -- "It really does taste like a Creamsicle!" I have to say, it was pretty darn good. So here it is:

For the crust: 
1 box Duncan Hines Orange Supreme cake mix
1 stick melted butter

For the filling: 
3 8 ounce packages cream cheese: regular, light or a blend (I used 2 light and 1 regular)
3 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla (or more to taste!)
Grated zest of 1 large navel orange
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup white chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350. Place the top rack of the oven in the middle, and the lower rack far enough below it to accommodate a 9x13 baking pan. Fill the baking pan halfway full of water and let it heat in the oven while you make the cheesecake.

Mix the butter and cake mix. Spray a 9" springform pan with no-stick cooking spray, or rub the sides of the ring mold with butter. Press the paste of butter and cake mix in the bottom only of the pan, making it as even as possible. Bake at 350 for 6 minutes -- it will NOT be done!

While the crust is baking, beat the cream cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer. I like to do one block of cream cheese at a time, followed by 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg and splash of vanilla. It's just easier to beat the cream cheese smoothly that way. Sprinkle the corn starch and orange zest over the batter and stir in by hand; follow with the white chocolate chips.

Spray or butter the sides of the springform pan again. Pour the batter in, smoothing it over with a spatula. Tap the sides of the pan to help eliminate air bubbles -- if your pan is still hot from the oven, use a wooden spoon to do this. Bake for 40 minutes before checking it. The cheesecake should still wobble a little in the middle -- you're really just baking it to cook the eggs. Let it cool at room temperature for at least an hour, then chill for at least 8 hours before serving.

For a beautiful presentation (which I didn't do!), top it with canned whipped cream and a little pile of curls of orange peel in the middle.