Entries from blogs tagged with “flying fork”

Peanut Butter Yum Yum Bombs

Generally, I can live without peanut butter, and I can live without chocolate. I know, I know. I'm not normal. Take away my woman card. It's unholy. I get it.

However, at holiday time, I get an urge for what I like to call Peanut Butter Yum Yum Bombs, and I have to have one. Just one. Maybe two. I make the recipe, lick the spoon, eat my Yum Yum Bomb, and give the rest away to the normal people I know who love peanut butter and chocolate and particularly love them together. This is like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup on steroids.

It's easy to make, in the sense that you don't have to heat up the oven and you usually will have the ingredients lying around if you are any kind of baker or if you have small children. They're tricky to make in that they require significant freezer space as part of the process. I do not have said freezer space, and therefore mine look much messier and are much fussier to create than they would be had I a freezer that was made in, oh, this century.

If you take these to your friends' New Year's Eve party, they will all kiss you at midnight. I'm just sayin'. Go for it. It's your last hurrah before the resolution diet begins.

Peanut Butter Yum Yum Bombs

Peanut Butter Yum Yum Bombs by John Young

Peanut Butter Yum Yum Bombs

2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup butter, room temp
1/4 tsp salt
4 or 5 cups powdered sugar
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons shortening

Mix your peanut butter, butter, salt and vanilla together with a spoon or beaters. Add the powdered sugar slowly until it's completely incorporated. Chill the bowl for about 20 minutes; then form balls with the mixture. I like mine sort of big. It makes them harder to dip, but they're really impressive to eat. Insert a toothpick in the top of each one.

Lay the balls on a cookie sheet covered in parchment or wax paper. Here is where it is best to freeze them, but I just have to manage with refrigerating for about an hour.

When you're ready, just microwave the chocolate chips with the shortening until the result is smooth. I do it in 30-second increments so as not to scorch the chocolate. It's good to do this in a smaller bowl so the chocolate is deeper, not spread thin across a wide bottom. This makes the dipping process easier.

Pull the peanut butter balls from the freezer or fridge and dip in melted chocolate. I use a spoon to sort of help the chocolate get up around the sides so the toothpick doesn't have to do so much of the work.

Once they are all dipped, return to the refrigerator to harden.

This makes about 40 2-inch balls.



Cute peppermint cocoa jars make great small gift

I have a new(ish) job at The Willow Domestic Violence Center. It is a great transition for me and I get to do fun things mostly about talking to and training willing and amazing volunteers all day long. I like to try to keep those volunteers happy. They work really hard, FOR FREE.

Of course, we don't have much in terms of resources for buying gifts for volunteers, but I'm well aware that a little food and drink go a long way toward keeping folks satisfied in their work, so I try to bring them gifts of sweets and treats when they go above and beyond the call of duty.

These little gifts are an inexpensive and cute way for me to say "THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU" to our volunteers. Maybe there is someone on your list who needs a little something sweet this year as well.

I buy the small mason jars by the case (2 and 5/8 inches tall) and use them for holding condiments at parties, or canning cute little pots of jam, or keeping paperclips, whatever. They're just handy little suckers.

So I decided they were the perfect size for a large serving of hot cocoa mix or two reasonably sized ones, and how cute and easy is that for an edible gift? Make a little tag on your computer and you're set to go. It doesn't have to be a Christmas gift, but just a winter "hey I love you gift" is fine too.

Peppermint Cocoa Gifts

Peppermint Cocoa Gifts by John Young

Peppermint Cocoa Gifts

Makes one jar

3 tablespoons powdered milk
1/2 (scant) cup Dutch process cocoa
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon crushed peppermint candy
A few mini marshmallows

Just layer in the ingredients, starting with powdered milk, then cocoa, then sugar. Top with peppermint and marshmallows last.

Put your instructions (add about 2.5 cups of hot water to the mix) on a little tag and you're ready to go! Just be sure to remind them to remove the marshmallows before they mix it up.

For just a few dollars you can make a dozen of these jars and bring happiness and cocoa everywhere you go!


Three fun ways to update the shrimp cocktail

We all love shrimp cocktail, right? Extra spicy/horseradish-y? I don't care if the 1970s called and want their appetizer back — it's delicious. And it's easy and everyone at your party will eat their weight in it.

The bonus is that it's even healthy, which is not something we can say for most appetizer-y foods since they are typically laden with cheese, carbs, more cheese and sour cream.

I've been thinking about holiday snacks and parties, and what my go-to contributions are, and I've been feeling pretty guilty about hauling sausage balls and creamy dips into everyone's lives. My friend Tim made it clear that some people actually appreciate an offering that isn't quite as hard on the diet when they approach a snack table. Fine, then. Shrimp cocktail it is. But I can't just do the regular old boring shrimp ring with the red stuff. I needed some new and fun ways to twist on the old favorite.

So, I give you shrimp cocktail party: three ways. All of the ways are fast, delicious and mostly health conscious.

Three updates on the classic shrimp cocktail, clockwise from left: Roasted shrimp with creamy sun-dried tomato sauce, confetti shrimp cocktail, and sauteed shrimp cocktail.

Three updates on the classic shrimp cocktail, clockwise from left: Roasted shrimp with creamy sun-dried tomato sauce, confetti shrimp cocktail, and sauteed shrimp cocktail. by Richard Gwin

Confetti Shrimp Cocktail


1 lb shrimp
1/2 avocado
1 jalapeno
1/2 red bell pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne pepper
Dash hot sauce


Boil the shrimp, tails on. Dice all of the vegetables into very small pieces, in mostly a uniform size. Stir in the oil and spices. You can either arrange the shrimp on a platter and spoon the "sauce" over, or you can put it in a bowl or glass and arrange the shrimp around. Whatever presentation works for you!

Sauteed shrimp cocktail


1/2 lb small to medium-sized shrimp, no shells
1/2 cup chili sauce
1 tablespoons (or more — I like more) horseradish
Squeeze of lemon juice


Saute the shrimp in 2 tablespoons of butter until it's almost cooked through. Meanwhile, mix up the rest of the ingredients into a cocktail sauce. Pour it over the sauteed shrimp and warm everything through. Serve with some crusty bread or good crackers on the side to serve as the vehicle.

Roasted shrimp with creamy sun-dried tomato sauce


1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled
Dash of olive oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
Dash salt and pepper
3 tablespoons prepared sun-dried tomato vinaigrette (salad dressing)
1/8 teaspoon garlic


Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Coat the shrimp in a bit of olive oil, and lay them on a baking sheet to roast for about 8 minutes.

Mix the sauce ingredients together, then arrange the shrimp on a platter and drizzle the sauce over. Garnish with a little something green for a pretty presentation.


Winter tortellini soup solves sad lunch problems

Soup is so awesome, right?

I can make a vat of it for little money, it's warm and soul satisfying, and so easy, particularly when there is a slow cooker involved.

I'm so busy these days and packing my own lunch, while financially desirable, is often a real bummer. I have to have things prepared and on hand or it won't happen. So I've been working on making one or two large amounts of something every week so as to ensure myself a decent something to look forward to in the middle of the day that won't land me in my friends' online "sad lunch club," which is a Facebook page of photos of lunches at people's desks that include things like "a saltine and two green olives" or "mustard on some bread." My days are pretty jam-packed and I'd really rather not resort to scooping BBQ sauce out of a packet with a carrot for lunch.

Soup is the sad lunch savior. Because it makes so much with so little effort, I am usually covered with something decent to heat up and eat while I work. And sometimes even my kids will eat it for dinner!

This particular soup will not be one my kids will want. THERE ARE GREEN THINGS IN THERE. But it is a wonderful, warm, filling soup that I made for myself for about $14 and I can freeze some. I am guessing it will produce at least 12 good-sized portions. I call that a nutritious bargain.

Spinach and Tortellini Winter Soup

Spinach and Tortellini Winter Soup by Richard Gwin

Spinach and Tortellini Winter Soup
1 1-pound bag frozen tri-color tortellini
1 bag frozen corn
2 pounds chicken pieces (I bought a bag of frozen breasts already in chunks)
2 cans beef broth
2 cans diced tomatoes (I used one can of fire roasted and one plain)
1 orange bell pepper, diced
2 handfuls fresh baby spinach
1 block cream cheese
2 tablespoons panang curry
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and black pepper to taste

Basically, you just throw all of this into a slow cooker and let it cook for about 10 hours on low heat or 6 hours on high heat. It's fine if the uncooked chicken chunks are frozen when you toss them in.

Stir when it's time to eat and serve with a good slice of bread. Garnish with some more fresh sweet pepper or green onion or cilantro, or all of the above. I also think a squeeze of lime before you eat is a nice finish.


Fried Tofu with Awesome Sauce. It’s not turkey!

The minute Thanksgiving is over, the switch is flipped and I want to start eating things that have spice, color and are the dead opposite of the rich, creamy, salty foods of the holiday.

Lately, I've been on a tofu kick. I know, I know. But here's the deal — I fry it. So it's not as healthy as it sounds. I fry it and dip it in my semi-homemade "awesome sauce" which is a not-so-close knock offof the Awesome Sauce served at the Blue Koi restaurants in Kansas City, Mo. If you have never been to one, by the way, please make the trip immediately. And be sure to get the Awesome Sauce. My version is super tasty, if not exactly the same.

Fried tofu is really easy and fast to do, and you pair it with that really flavorful sauce. Your guests will think you're super fancy. I even got my 6-year-old to try it, and while he wasn't a fan (don't worry — he hates everything) it at least got a little attention at the dinner table.

Fried Tofu with Awesome Sauce

Fried Tofu with Awesome Sauce by Richard Gwin

Fried Tofu in Awesome Sauce

1 block firm tofu, well-drained and patted dry
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup vegetable oil (for frying)
1 teaspoon sesame oil (for flavor)

1 jar store-bought Asian plum sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon hot chili oil (more if you like heat)
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon oyster sauce (in the Asian food section)
2 tablespoons green onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon powdered garlic
Sprinkling of finely chopped fresh cilantro

Just warm everything in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and everything is a little bubbly.

For the tofu: Between two paper towels, press the tofu on all sides fairly firmly (but don't crush it) to squeeze out as much liquid as you can.

Chop it into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes, and toss it in the cornstarch so that every cube is completely covered.

Meanwhile, heat the oils together in a high-sided skillet or a dutch oven over high heat. Be sure you have enough oil to completely cover your tofu cubes.

Drop them in and resist the urge to stir them for about two minutes. Then stir to make sure nothing is burning. Fry until they are nice and golden brown. Serve hot or cold — it's good either way!


The Ultimate Turkey Sandwich

I teach informal cooking classes to my friends once in awhile, and recently we decided that we needed to go over some Thanksgiving basics before the big event occurred.

One friend is newly married and one is visiting her fairly new boyfriend's family for the holiday, and both wanted to appear with an arsenal of crack Thanksgiving recipes in their wheelhouses. They wanted, "Oh, here, let me whip up some gravy for you," and "Here's my amazing cranberry relish recipe" sorts of things that would wow and impress the families around them.

Instead of cooking a whole turkey just so I could have the drippings to work with, I decided to work just with turkey parts. This, my friends, was genius, and I may never cook a whole turkey again.

I called it my "deconstructed roast turkey," and friends, it was delicious. I just rubbed the skins of a few thighs, a breast and a leg with butter, squeezed a lemon over the top, and sprinkled it with thyme, then roasted them. I got great pan drippings and some really good turkey (mostly dark meat, which I love) to snack on.

We whipped up a red wine sage gravy, two kinds of cranberry sides, and dunked that turkey in everything while we sipped wine.

And then the next day, I had what is the best part of Thanksgiving, sitting in my refrigerator WEEKS ahead of time: the leftovers.

A turkey sandwich, my friends, is a thing of beauty. A turkey sandwich with red wine sage gravy? That's divine.

Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich with Red Wine Sage Gravy

Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich with Red Wine Sage Gravy by John Young

Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich with Red Wine Sage Gravy

For the gravy:

2 cups chicken broth
1 cup red wine
Drippings from roast turkey
1/3 cup flour (give or take based on the volume of drippings)
Finely minced fresh sage

Begin by whisking together the drippings and flour over medium heat, slowly adding flour until you get a nice, thick roux but not clumpy and dry.

Begin adding chicken broth and continue to whisk. Add salt and pepper slowly to taste.

Next, add the wine, and when your gravy is almost finished, add the minced sage and let it simmer on low for a minute or two.

For the relish:
1 orange, with the peel on, cut into sections
1 apple, cored and peeled and cut into large pieces
1 cup sugar
1 bag fresh cranberries

Toss it all in a good food processor and blend until it's all small and combined. That's it!

For the sandwich: On good sliced but hearty (not too soft) bread (I used an Italian sandwich bread), layer on a light smear of mayo, a slice or two of Swiss cheese, a few pieces of roasted turkey, and a generous helping of the relish. Cook the sandwich over medium-low heat in butter, like you would a grilled cheese sandwich, until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown.

Serve with sage gravy on the side, for dipping.

This is a sandwich to write home about. I might rather have it than the actual Thanksgiving meal, truth be told.


Individual beef pot pies are fun fall fare

Apparently I should write a whole book on "Creative Ways to Use Up a Roast" because lately it's been happening often. I buy a roast or two on sale, slow cook them, and then eat them for days, trying desperately to reinvent them into new dishes so we don't all die of food boredom.

Recently, I turned my roast leftovers into individual pot pies. This is a cute little presentation and kids think it's marvelous to get their own pot pies in personal-sized dishes. I had cooked my roast with carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes, so everything I needed was pretty much there, though I did add some peas to my pot pies just because I like them.

If you are not really into making crust, I won't tell on you if you use a refrigerated store-bought crust. I usually have a dough ball or two of extra pie crust in my freezer that I can pull out for this very purpose.

Individual Beef Pot Pies

Individual Beef Pot Pies by Richard Gwin

Individual Beef Pot Pies
2 cups cooked roast beef, cut into hunks
2 cups diced cooked carrots, onions and potatoes
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 cups cooking liquid from the slow cooker (or just use boxed beef broth)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 pie crust

Put the cooking liquid into a medium-sized saucepan, reserving about 1/4 cup. In another cup or bowl, mix the reserved broth with the cornstarch and then pour into the saucepan. Over medium-high heat, stir the liquid and add the meat and vegetables. As it heats, it will thicken.

Portion the gravy and filling into four ramekins, top with pie crust you've rolled out and divided into four sections. Poke a few holes in the top and bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes, until crust is cooked through.

I like to put a little egg wash (just whisk together egg and water and use a pastry brush) on top to make the crust look extra pretty.

A note about making the roast: I like to cook my roasts in the slow cooker AFTER searing them. For really flavorful broth, I use a dark beer, some beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, plenty of salt and pepper, a couple of bay leaves, and any other favorite seasonings.

Reply 1 comment from Fred Whitehead Jr.

Warm kale salad makes for great winter fare

As the weather cools and we look to comfort foods and slow cookers, I start to worry (more than usual, which is rather a lot) about my winter pounds. How can I get that satisfying, warm comfort food feeling without eating my way through mac and cheese and roast beef and pasta with sauce every night of the week?

One way I have found is the "warm salad" — which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but really it's not. It's not the same as a vegetable side that is cooked through and a different thing altogether.

No, the warm salad is just what it sounds like. Kale stands up to the heat rather well, so usually that's the base for my winter salads. I add hearty things like mushrooms, beets, beans and bacon to make the salad seem more like a meal, and usually it does the trick handily.

This is my favorite combination by far, and it's so great because it is a main dish that you can put together in about 5 minutes, and it's gorgeous on the plate.

Warm Mushroom and Kale Salad with Bacon Balsamic Dressing

Warm Mushroom and Kale Salad with Bacon Balsamic Dressing by John Young

Warm Mushroom and Kale Salad with Bacon Balsamic Dressing


2 large handfuls of kale, cleaned and de-stemmed
5 or 6 baby bella mushrooms, halved or quartered
2 large cloves garlic
1/2 shallot
2 tablespoons olive oil (I like a flavor infused one for this — I used garlic and sundried tomato this time)
3 strips thick-cut bacon
Shaved Parmesan


Warm your olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When it's ready, toss in roughly chopped shallot and garlic, and let that saute for just a minute or two. I also add a dash of kosher salt here.

Next, toss in your mushrooms. Remember that this is not meant to cook the vegetables through, but rather just warm them and coat in flavors.

Last, toss in the kale and move it around with tongs until the green deepens and it wilts just a little bit.

Remove from the skillet and put on a large plate.

Add the bacon to the skillet and cook until crispy. Pour a couple of teaspoons of bacon grease over the salad, cut up the bacon and sprinkle on, and add a tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar. Toss on a few pieces of shaved fresh Parmesan. I had some Parmesan crisps, so I added those instead of croutons for crunch.

To make Parmesan crisps, just make a few small piles of shredded Parmesan on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 F for just 3 minutes or so, until they are melted and beginning to harden. Let them cool, and they make a great garnish for many dishes.

This dish is low in carbs, if that's important to you, and I promise there is no flavor spared in the making of it.

This makes one large main-dish salad or 3 to 4 smaller side salads.


Candy corn makes a cute cookie

Candy corn has the worst rap. Of all the Halloween candies, it is up there with Bit-O-Honey for most reviled seasonal treat. But I seriously don't get it. I love the stuff, particularly when it's mixed up with peanuts or other salty goodness.

My kids love it too, bless their hearts. I realize it’s not exactly health food, so I don’t buy it in bulk or anything, much as I might want to. I did, however, make a delicious cookie inspired by the treat recently that we thought was pretty fun.

Halloween is a blast for kids and I’m not afraid to get all “Martha Stewart” about it, in my own more “Roseanne Barr” way. These were easy and cheap to make and, though they don’t taste like real candy corn, are a fun treat to make the season seem just a little more special.

I loved this because it's just simple ingredients that most of us probably have lying around: sugar, butter, shortening, vanilla, food coloring. So basic, but fun for kids to help with and a pretty cute product when it's finished. And there's no messy frosting or fancy piping that needs to happen. The decoration is built right in.

Candy Corn Cookies

Candy Corn Cookies by Richard Gwin

'Candy Corn' Cookies


1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour
Red food coloring
Yellow food coloring


Combine the sugars, butter and shortening in a mixing bowl and beat well.

Add in the egg, and vanilla and again, combine thoroughly.

In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients and then slowly add them into the sugar mixture. It should create a very nice soft dough.

When everything is mixed, separate the dough into three sections: small, medium and large. The small section will be yellow, the medium will be left "white" or natural, and the large will be orange.

Add food coloring to get your desired colors and mix it thoroughly. I found the paddle on my stand mixer to be the best way to do this.

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap and layer in the dough, bringing it to a smaller point as you go. First, the widest white layer, then a thicker but less-wide orange layer, and then a smaller and narrower yellow layer.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a least a few hours.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F. Slice the "loaf" from top to bottom and roll out. I had to use a knife to cut off the sides at a nice angle — this will leave nice scraps for a few "hodgepodge" cookies at the end.

The thicker you can roll these, the better. It will only make about 10 good-sized cookies, but that's all you need! They're rather large.

My cookies are very imperfect and not "Pinterest-worthy" but I think that makes them even more fun.

I only baked them for about 5 or 6 minutes. A little underbaked is better than too crispy in my opinion.


Green tea makes pork chops flavorful and unique

Pork chops, while delicious, often end up either really boring or REALLY fattening.

I mean, I love a breaded and fried chop with gravy and taters as much as the next person, but we can't be eating like that more than, say, once a year, right?

So in an effort to make juicy, flavorful pork chops that don't cause massive coronary, I have been experimenting with marinades, which I usually don't put a lot of stock in.

I have learned that the secret to a perfect chop is in the brine. If you buy the big, thick, boneless chops that looks so enticing in the store, you are going to need to brine them for maximum flavor. What goes in that brine, though, is important.

My favorite thing so far has been a green tea brine. The tea makes for an interesting but not overpowering flavor, and I add plenty of other spices and flavors to really make that chop sing. It leans toward the Asian palette, which is always a good thing for me. Soy sauce and Sriracha? Yes please!

Green Tea Sriracha Pork Chops

Green Tea Sriracha Pork Chops by John Young

Green Tea Sriracha Pork Chops


For the brine:

4 cups green tea at double concentrate
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons Sriracha
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
Fresh sage (a few leaves)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup brown sugar

For the chops:
6 thick, boneless pork chops
2 cups reserved brine
2 cups water


Combine the ingredients for the brine and submerge the chops for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. I put the chops in a zip-close bag and pour in the brine but a shallow casserole would work too.

Remove everything from the refrigerator at least an hour before cooking to let the meat come closer to room temperature before cooking.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.

Heat a skillet (of course I recommend cast iron) over high heat for a few minutes, and then brown each chop on both sides. Don't skimp on this step. Get them really nice and brown. Don't overcrowd the pan, either, or your chops will start to steam. The thicker the chop, the longer you will need to leave them in the frying pan.

Meanwhile, transfer 2 cups of brine to a large casserole dish and add 2 cups of water to dilute.

Once the chops are all seared on both sides, return them to the baking dish and bake in the marinade for 25 to 30 minutes.

*Note: it is no longer necessary to cook pork completely through, but you do need to get it to an internal temp of at least 145 degrees.


Ramen bowls with crispy beef make a quick and satisfying dinner

Ramen: the college student's best friend.

I actually went all the way through college not having once even tried ramen. I just couldn't bring myself to do it as the idea sounded repulsive. Also, it hadn't occurred to me at that point that I could probably dress up the 10-cent dinner into something more exciting or even just palatable.

I had to be married with children before I tried ramen for the first time because my husband was convinced my kids would eat it — and he was right.

I softened to the idea and began to see it cropping up all over in more and more interesting iterations. Ramen restaurants, ramen recipes, ramen aficionados dotted the landscape. I had to get on board.

Now I keep ramen as a pantry staple and often use it as the basis for a refrigerator clean-out meal. A little leftover meat, a few veggies, some good broth, and we are in business.

Recently, I cooked a roast beef, and because my children eat about four bites of whatever I make, I had plenty left over. I love the idea of crispy stir-fried beef, so it seemed like a great repurposing of my roast remnant.

Start with a slow-cooker roast. Be sure to reserve the cooking liquid. This is key to a good broth in your bowl.

Crispy Beef Ramen Bowl

Crispy Beef Ramen Bowl by Richard Gwin

Crispy Beef Ramen Bowl

2 cups roast beef, cut into strips
2 packs ramen
4 cups beef broth or cooking liquid from a braised roast beef
3 stalks bok choy, leaves removed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
Handful of green onions, both white and green parts
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 soft-boiled eggs
1 clove garlic
Cilantro for garnish

Assuming you have your roast beef and cooking liquid done in advance, this is a fast recipe, though it does take a few cooking vessels.

First, start boiling your eggs. I just put them in a saucepan with enough water to cover, put the lid on, and bring it all to a boil. Once it boils, turn off the heat and let it stand for 2 or 3 minutes, depending on the level of softness you prefer.

Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon of sesame oil in a skillet over high heat and toss in the bok choy to stir fry. While you let those get brown on both sides, create your broth. Basically you are just going to add the garlic and soy sauce to your beef broth and simmer.

Once the bok choy is finished frying, remove it and set aside. Add 2 tablespoons of sesame oil to your VERY hot skillet and toss in the beef. Stir fry until it's crispy on all sides.

While the beef fries you should cook your ramen noodles. Just use the pan vacated by the eggs and bring water to a boil. Cook the noodles for about 3 minutes.

If you time this carefully you will have everything done in under 10 minutes.

Chop some onion and cilantro for garnish.

Broth, noodles, one egg cut in half, some bok choy and onion/cilantro garnish all in one bowl makes for a beautiful and rich bowl of ramen that bears absolutely no resemblance to the stuff with the chicken-flavored powder you ate in college.

Serves 4.


Brussels sprouts for grown-ups

We all agree that we like Brussels sprouts now, right? I mean, growing up I never saw one, let alone ate one, and they were the fabled vegetable served by witches or those otherwise meaning to do harm to children, right?

But it turns out that they're quite good. Awesome, even. I've learned to really love those tiny balls of cabbage in many incarnations. They cook quickly and are pretty on a plate, take flavors well, and have a nice crunch. If you haven't tried Brussels sprouts lately, you really should give them another go.

I often just put them in a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil and salt and pepper and brown them for a few minutes, and there never was a prettier or simpler vegetable side dish.

But they're nice to dress up too. This is a little dish that will impress your dinner guests and they never have to know it only took a few minutes and a few ingredients to put together.

Brussels Sprouts in Plum Sauce with Goat Cheese

Brussels Sprouts in Plum Sauce with Goat Cheese by Richard Gwin

Brussels Sprouts in Plum Sauce with Goat Cheese

3 cups Brussels sprouts, whole
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese
Salt and pepper

For the sauce:
3 plums
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili garlic oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh ginger
1/2 cup water

Peel the plums, remove the pits and dice. Mince the garlic and ginger. Over medium heat, simmer the plums, garlic, and ginger, stirring occasionally until the plums are soft and aromatic.

Add the rest of the ingredients, cook for about 3 more minutes, then give everything a good blend with a stick blender or food processor until it's almost smooth.

Heat the butter in a skillet (I always prefer cast-iron) over medium-high heat, and toss in the Brussels sprouts. Resist the urge to move them around too much; you want them to get a nice brown crust on each side. This will take about 8 minutes.

Pour the sauce over in the hot pan. Remove from heat, sprinkle the goat cheese over, and serve piping hot.

Even the staunchest sprout-hater will come around to this, I promise.

Serves 4.

Reply 1 comment from Mary Lee Norris

Avocado chicken salad a refreshing twist on an old favorite

Lately, my family has been eating rather a lot of chicken. The price of beef is part of the driver for that, but I've also found that my children like chicken, and I can often buy fairly large quantities of it on sale.

The problem, though, is often in the quantity. If I buy a "family pack" of chicken breasts or thighs, it would feed my small family for a month. But once you've thawed it, you have to cook it, so there I am with a pile of chicken breasts. It's actually a decent problem to have, though. They freeze nicely once they're cooked, and I can pull a few out for fast dinners a couple of times a week.

This week, I had a hankering for chicken salad. But I wanted something a little different, so I spied an avocado on my countertop and thought, "Why not?"

I made up something new (at least to me) that really took chicken salad to the next level. The creaminess of the avocado meant I didn't need as much mayo, which was a great thing because I am not a huge fan of mayo anyway, and it's not exactly a health food.

No chicken salad is good without a crunch and a little sweetness, in my never-to-be-humble opinion, so I added some green onion, celery and grapes. A little cilantro complemented the avocado nicely, and the whole thing came together in about five minutes, since I was working with pre-cooked chicken breasts.

This was nice enough to serve to company, though I chose to eat it straight from the bowl I made it in, standing at the kitchen counter. You do you, I'll do me, OK?

Avocado Chicken Salad

Avocado Chicken Salad by Nick Krug

Avocado Chicken Salad

2 large chicken breasts, cooked and diced
3 tablespoons mayo
Juice of one lemon
Handful of purple grapes, halved
1 small avocado, diced
1/3 cup diced celery
2 tablespoons diced green onion
1 clove minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

I like to roast the chicken breasts in with just salt and pepper on them for maximum flavor, but you could boil them as well.

Use light mayo — I promise it will be just as good, especially because of the fat content in the avocados.

Just mix everything together. Eat immediately, so as to avoid your avocado turning brown or mushy.

I like it over a bed of lettuce, but it would also be great on toast or bagel or croissant. Simply delicious, and possibly the healthiest thing I have made in weeks!

Serves 4.


Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese: This is not your mama’s sandwich

No one in my house is a big fan of sandwiches. Traditional sandwiches are boring, cold, sometimes slimy, and reminiscent of grade school lunch boxes. So when I say we're having sandwiches for dinner, you better believe it's not gonna be two slices of white bread with cheap cold cuts and American cheese slapped in the middle. When I do sandwiches I mean serious business, and they're every bit as exciting and mouthwatering as a full-fledged dinner party meal.

Usually, I let my cravings guide me. I love a good grilled cheese sandwich and am prone to doctor even those up with fancier cheeses, roasted peppers, spinach, bacon, you name it. Recently, I had a craving for spicy chicken — namely, Buffalo chicken. But I didn't want to fry anything, and baked chicken sounded boring, so I endeavored to gussy up a grilled cheese with a bit of spicy chicken and some other choice ingredients. The result is the stuff of really good dreams.

I used good bread, bacon, avocado, good cheese and a smear of Buffalo cream cheese to create a spicy chicken grilled cheese you'll want to write home about.

Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese

Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese by Richard Gwin

Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese

2 boneless chicken breasts
8 slices good bread (I used a garlic ciabatta, sliced vertically)
4 oz. cream cheese
3 teaspoons Frank's RedHot Buffalo wing sauce, divided
4 strips of bacon
1 avocado
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 slices Colby cheese

  1. Soften the cream cheese and mix with 1 teaspoon Frank's RedHot sauce. Set aside.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350 and bake the chicken breasts on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and drizzle the remaining Frank's RedHot over them before putting them in the oven for about 20 minutes, until cooked through.

  3. When the chicken is cooked, dice it up into small pieces.

  4. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a skillet (I use cast iron) and begin assembly of the sandwiches.

  5. On one piece of bread, lay one piece of cheese. Layer on a few pieces of chicken, some diced avocado, a piece of bacon (break it in half to make it fit nicely) and another piece of cheese. Smear the top piece of bread with the Buffalo cream cheese.

  6. Grill over medium-low heat (so as to melt the cheese but not burn the bread) on each side for about two minutes, until golden brown. I used the back of a spatula to "smash" the sandwich, sort of panini-style.

  7. This is not health food, but it's full of richness, texture and flavor. Spicy, creamy, bacon-y, what more could you want in a sandwich? It hardly qualifies for that title. I'd say it's more of a "toasted dream."

Reply 1 comment from Bill McGovern

Life’s a peach, so make some shortcakes

Who said all shortcake had to be topped with strawberries?

It turns out, my kids aren't huge fans of strawberries — something to do with the seeds. This made me sad, because I have fond memories of strawberry shortcake all summer long when I was growing up. Often, it was my job to make the shortcake, something I embraced fully because I liked to use extra sugar and butter in the batter, and if I were given the chance to make it, no one was the wiser.

Back then, shortcake was made in a round cake pan with Bisquick — and I still love that version if I'm honest. But usually these days I whip up a biscuity dough because it's just as fast and I don't always have baking mix in the cabinet that isn't two years old.

Shortcake is great because it uses ingredients that are pantry staples. No fussiness involved, and it's fast and easy.

For my Farm Fresh Challenge I selected the "cook" challenge, and I've been scouring Hy-Vee for the most local produce they can offer. This week, there were some lovely peaches, and I could not resist the siren song of a juicy peach as a snack or dessert.

Why not serve them, along with a few blueberries, atop my shortcake? I mean, with a dash of whipped cream, it's summer on a plate. And even my kids will be happy because there's not a seed in sight.

Peach Shortcake

Peach Shortcake by John Young

Peach Shortcake


For the shortcake

2 cups flour
1 heaping tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar (I still like my shortcakes sweeter than most — you can reduce this if you desire)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
1 cup milk


Preheat your oven to 450 F.

Combine the dry ingredients, cut in the butter and shortening, and then add the milk. Mix until it comes together, but don't overmix. This is a biscuit dough.

Drop onto a cookie sheet in fist-sized balls. I really just use my hands for this. Brush tops with melted butter.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes until the tops brown.

Makes about 6 shortcakes.

For the toppings

Peel and slice four or five peaches. Mix in 1/2 cup blueberries. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, stir and refrigerate for half an hour (at least) to get everything nice and juicy together.

Whipped cream

1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon sugar

Combine and beat until soft peaks form.


Local salsa and a simple margarita add up to a quick patio party

So, I'm taking the Farm Fresh Challenge. Are you? This nifty program is designed to encourage us all to shop for local foods and eat a little bit more healthy (and locally) than maybe we were before.

It's not always easy for me to do. I'll admit to finding it hard to make it to the farmers market sometimes, and often it's tough to know where my produce came from when I buy it at the store. This little program is designed to help me with that, and to make me be a little more vigilant for at least a month — hopefully longer.

I'm doing the "cook" challenge, obviously. I like to create new recipes and try new things, so it was right up my alley to challenge myself to use local ingredients in my regular cooking and see how I do.

My go-to snack is chips and salsa. I don't know how many different salsa recipes I have created and how many have been chronicled in this space, but that's the joy of salsa: it can take on many shapes, forms and flavors.

My go-to salsa, admittedly, doesn't use a single fresh ingredient. I always sort of liked it for that because it keeps for a long time in my refrigerator and can be thrown together in about 10 seconds. But dang if I didn't figure out a way to make it with fresh tomatoes and jalapenos, and I might have ruined myself for my simple canned-tomato version forever.

This is my favorite salsa because it's "restaurant style" in that it's runny with no chunks or frills. There are no mangoes, black beans, chunks of pineapple, or bits of corn in this salsa. It is just good, runny, red salsa, and I crave it almost daily.

Restaurant-Style Salsa and a Three-Ingredient Margarita

Restaurant-Style Salsa and a Three-Ingredient Margarita by John Young

Restaurant-Style Salsa


5 or 6 medium-sized ripe local tomatoes
1 fresh (local) jalapeno
Juice of 1 lime
Handful of cilantro leaves
1/3 small red onion
1 tablespoon of sugar (I use Splenda)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
Dash of black pepper
1 teaspoon juice from a jar of pickled jalapenos (more or less to taste for heat)


First, core the tomatoes. I happen to own a nifty coring device that I use for apples that also works well for this, but you can also just dig the cores out with a paring knife.

Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch the tomatoes for about 3 minutes, until the skins loosen. Drain the water off and run under cold water (or even add an ice bath) to stop the cooking process. Pull the skins off the tomatoes. They should slide right off with no trouble at all.

I just dump all the ingredients into a tall Tupperware container and give it a thorough blend with my stick blender, but you could put it all into a traditional blender if that's what you have. Leave no chunks! This is supposed to be runny!

Serve with GOOD tortilla chips. A salsa is only as good as the chip you serve it on.

And to go with any good runny salsa, you have to have a margarita, right? This one uses only three ingredients and even I cannot screw it up. It's not local, but it's delicious, and it's the perfect complement to a good restaurant-style salsa.

Three-Ingredient Margarita


1 large can frozen limeade
24 oz yellow beer (like Bud Light or Coors, etc)
1 cup tequila


Stir it all together and serve over ice.

Look! It's a party!

Reply 1 comment from Erin McDaniel

Cooling off with a cucumber salad, cocktail

If you don't have a garden, you probably know someone who does who's got cucumbers coming out of their ears. I promise. 'Tis the season.

I have a friend or co worker hand me a big beauty almost every day. What to do with all these cukes? I mean, dice them on a salad, sure. Dip them in ranch dressing? I'm not above it. Make pickles? If you have the time. But eventually you need to take it to the next cuke-y level to use up the bounty that is this time of year.

I happened upon this cucumber salad recipe in a fit of "Oh my gosh, all these vegetables!" and I have had it several times a week since. You likely also have some bell peppers floating around, if you have a garden hook-up, so this helps with that situation as well.

The unlikely pairing of coconut oil and balsamic is what sets this apart from the myriad other cucumber/vinegar salad recipes. It sounds odd, I know, but please trust me on this. You could sub olive oil, but the result would be drastically different and much less exciting.

To go with your fresh cuke salad, you're going to need a cold and refreshing beverage. And what is more refreshing than a cucumber? That's right, in a drink. It's also a good use of the rest of the lime that you cut open and didn't use all of in your salad. We are being resourceful here, people.

Coconutty Cucumber Salad

Coconutty Cucumber Salad by John Young

Coconutty Cucumber Salad


1 medium cucumber, sliced paper thin
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, diced into small pieces
1 heaping tablespoon coconut oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon Splenda (or sugar, if you so prefer)
1 squeeze of lime juice
Lime zest to taste
Healthy pinch of salt
Dash of black pepper


Stir together the oil, vinegar, spices and lime juice. Pour over the sliced cucumber and diced pepper and stir around thoroughly to make sure each slice of cucumber has touched the dressing. Top with a bit of lime zest. Serve cold. Keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

Serves 2 large portions or several small side portions.

Cucumber Gin Fizz

Cucumber Gin Fizz by John Young

Cucumber Gin Fizz


3 cucumber "ribbons"
Juice of one lime
1 egg white
2 ounces gin
1 ounce cold club soda
1 ounce simple syrup


To make cucumber ribbons, use a vegetable peeler to remove the green rind from the cucumber and then slice with the peeler from end to end to create long sheets of cucumber. You only need two or three for this, so the rest of the cuke will go into your salad.

In a martini shaker, combine the ingredients and shake vigorously. You can either pour over ice or into a very cold glass. Be sure to shake it all out even when it seems like it's done, because that is where you get the glorious froth from the egg white, which is key to a good fizz.

Be refreshed!


Roasted squash and salmon: summer simplicity

I wrote last week about liking to cook simple things in the summer that aren't fussy, with ingredients that are easily accessible from the kitchen or garden. I also like to avoid turning on the oven, but when the heat index is over 100 degrees, sometimes indoor cooking is a necessity.

When that happens, I like to make things that will cook quickly. No roasting large pieces of meat for hours. I want to cook and move on.

Cooking things with few ingredients is another goal for fresh summer cooking. A vegetable or two, a protein, maybe some fresh herbs, and you can have a delicious, nutritious meal without dirtying every dish in the house and spending a lot of time and money on long ingredient lists.

I try to eat salmon or some fish at least once a week, even though my kids will have nothing to do with it. That means I enjoy eating vegetables that they don't like and do a full on "Mama Meal" for myself.

This week's Mama Meal was panko-encrusted salmon with garden vegetables. I love this because I do it all on one cookie sheet and there's so little mess. It makes a nice presentation, even if it's just for me. Sometimes I need to look at something on my plate other than a salad or a kid meal of chicken nuggets and green beans, you know?

Panko-Encrusted Salmon with Summer Vegetables

Panko-Encrusted Salmon with Summer Vegetables by Nick Krug

Panko-encrusted Salmon with Summer Vegetables


1 full salmon fillet (fresh is best but frozen will do)
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Cracked black pepper
1 small summer squash, sliced thinly and quartered
1 Roma tomato, diced
2 tablespoons diced serrano pepper
Olive oil


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Drizzle a little olive oil on a large cookie sheet and lay the salmon fillet on, skin side down.

Sprinkle with kosher salt.

In a small bowl, mix together the panko and the dried herbs and little more salt and pepper.

Sprinkle the panko liberally over the fish.

Arrange the squash around the salmon, and sprinkle the diced tomato and peppers over the top of everything. Salt and pepper the veggies, and drizzle everything with olive oil.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the fish is flaky. A thinner cut of salmon will need less cooking time.

Squeeze the lemon over the top and serve hot.

Serves three generous portions


Pork Crostini with corn relish fancy fare for summer

In the summer, when food revolves around salads and grills and fresh vegetables, I often forgo things that seem fancy or fussy. We eat whole foods that don't require much in the way of chopping, or even turning on the oven.

But I am also interested in using up every shred of food in my house. I am never so satisfied as when I have cooked something and eaten it in three delicious ways over the course of a week or more.

Recently, I cooked a couple of pork shoulders for BBQ pork to serve at a party. The leftovers were divided into containers: one for the fridge for immediate snacking, and one for the freezer for future happiness.

That happiness came in the form of a need for an appetizer to serve a few friends with wine on a weeknight. Looking around my kitchen, and not wanting to go to the store for extra ingredients, a plan was born. It may have been one of the best things I ever invented, and I only used leftovers and bits of things I had on hand.

An ear of corn, some pickled jalapenos, a day-old loaf of ciabatta, and a dash of creme fraiche and I was on my way to my happy place.

Barbecue Pork Crostini with Sweet Corn Relish

Barbecue Pork Crostini with Sweet Corn Relish by John Young

BBQ Pork Crostini with Sweet Corn Relish


1 1/2 cups barbecue pulled pork

For the relish:

1 ear corn
1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapenos
1 teaspoon juice from the jar of jalapenos
2 teaspoons minced onion
Pinch of salt
Dash of finely ground black pepper

For the creme fraiche:

(For full disclosure: I had some store bought in my refrigerator that I used, but it's very simple to make.)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons buttermilk

Stir well or shake up in a canning jar. Leave it partially covered for 8 to 12 hours, until it thickens to the consistency you like.

(But again, if you are like me, there is usually a store-bought container on hand.)

For the crostini:

1/2 loaf of day-old ciabatta or other porous, soft bread

1/2 cup olive oil


Preheat your oven to 400 F. Clean your corn and either boil or steam it.

Slice the ciabatta vertically into about 5 slices, and then halve the slices so you have 10 pieces.

Brush each piece top and bottom with olive oil.

Lay them on a cookie sheet and bake for about 5 minutes, until they begin to look golden brown and a little crispy.

Meanwhile, cut the corn from the cob and chop the pickled jalapeno and onion. Stir in the salt and jalapeno juice.

Then top each crostini with 2 tablespoons of hot pulled pork, a sprinkle of relish, and a drizzle of creme fraiche.

This took no time to put together, since I had the pork thawed and ready to use. Simple, lots of flavor, and a hearty appetizer to serve even in lieu of a meal. This, my friends, is about as "fancy" as summer food gets at my house.


Fast frittata makes great breakfast for dinner

A frittata is basically a crustless quiche. I make them often because it's a quick way to make a nice breakfast for several people, or to make a dinner out of really inexpensive ingredients.

They are great for "refrigerator cleanout" because you can add whatever veggies or meat or cheese you have and almost always come out with a really nice (and pretty) final product.

There are a few things about frittatas I have learned that make them almost fool-proof. First, you have to add milk. Like any good omelet, dairy is an essential component to keep it from being flat, dry and rubbery. For every six eggs in a frittata, there should be a half cup of milk. No more, no less. The more fat in the milk, the better the frittata, but 2 percent yields a fine result.

Second, you have to use the right pan. I only do frittatas in cast-iron. They retain enough heat to help cook the eggs through without burning the edges and leaving the middle raw. They also withstand the oven nicely.

And lastly: seasoning. You need to season your egg mixture before it gets to the heat. Be sure to temper your salt with consideration to the meats and cheeses you're using. Sausage and Parmesan are both rather salty on their own, so you won't need as much if those are main ingredients, as they were in my frittata from this week. But it is important to stir the salt, garlic, pepper, basil, whatever it is you're using into the egg mixture before you pour it into the pan.

I made this dish as a "BFD" or "Breakfast for Dinner" recently. Served with some scones and muffins and fruit, you have all the components of a healthy and delicious dinner and the cost and time spent are both delightfully low.

Sausage, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Frittata

Sausage, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Frittata by John Young

Sausage, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Frittata


1 cup cooked ground breakfast sausage
1/4 cup diced roasted red peppers
2/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup milk
12 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
Hearty dash of cracked black pepper
Handful green onions, white and green parts, chopped


Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Brown the sausage in a large cast iron skillet.

Meanwhile, crack all 12 eggs into a mixing bowl and add the milk. Whisk to break the eggs but don't overmix it.

Add the cheese and vegetables and salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Remove the sausage from the skillet and add to the egg mixture, leaving the grease from the sausage in the pan.

Add the egg mixture and cook on the stovetop over medium heat until the sides begin to firm up and get bubbly, about 5 or 6 minutes. Then transfer to the oven and bake until the center is firm and the top is beginning to brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Garnish with some extra green onions and a little more goat cheese and serve piping hot.

Serves 8 generous portions.