Category Archives: Tips and Tools

Wild Mushroom, Sage and Fontina Cheese Quesadillas

I’m reposting this recipe from last year when I told you about how my husband likes to accuse me of having a secret Mexican heritage.  Besides the fact that I go absolutely batty over flavors like cilantro, avocado, jalapenos (or all three combined, like this recipe: cilantro-lime jalapeno chicken salad) my obsession with tortillas is uncanny.  I eat a tortilla at least once a day, wrapped around my morning eggs, and sometimes I’ll have more for lunch or dinner in a quesadilla format.

Quesadillas are one of my favorite go-to meals.  We all face the same challenge of finding the time to cook, myself included.  Many of my days are spent cooking and shopping for clients (and caring for this little lamb chop), leaving me little time for personal cooking.

This is why I think it’s always important to have one or two versatile dishes you could cook in a synch with whatever you have on hand.  If you have a few staples to fall back on its less planning and preparation on your part for at least one or two nights a week.  And, it’s also a great way to utilize leftovers. I am a HUGE fan of re-inventing your leftovers.

Because I’ve been known to put just about anything in the middle of two tortillas and call it a quesadilla, I’ll share with you some of my favorites. Ham, egg and pickle for a little Cuban flair, a skirt steak & caramelized onion version, chicken & chorizo with peppers, or even an herb roasted veggie and cream cheese combo. 

And of course, I can’t forget this little number.  I could eat this everyday and be a very happy girl.

Wild Mushroom, Sage & Fontina Quesadillas

serves 2

  • 4 whole wheat tortillas
  • 4 cup of assorted wild mushrooms (cremini, shiitake, baby portobello) stems trimmed and cleaned
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • about 6 large sage leaves, chopped
  • about ½ -3/4 cup mild Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • veg oil
  • salt and pepper

Heat butter in a large saute pan and add shallot.  Cook shallot for about 3 minutes over medium heat or until shallot begins to soften.  Add mushrooms and cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes.  If your mushrooms stick to the pan you need to turn the heat down and add a drop of water.  Add garlic and saute for a couple minutes more.  Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and stir in sage leaves. Check for seasoning.

In large sauté pan heat oil on medium.  Add one tortilla and spread out cheese and mushrooms evenly.  Add top tortilla and press down lightly. Cook on each side for approximately 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned and cheese is melted.

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How to Cook Like a Pro

There are very few things in life that are more disheartening than finding an amazing sounding recipe, making the time to seek out and buy the ingredients, spending your entire afternoon cooking it for your family, and then you end up feeding it to the dog.  Who is probably only eating it out of sympathy.  Huge disappointment (not to mention a waste of your time and money). Sometimes it’s not even that bad, but doesn’t nearly live up to the expectations you had for it. I can see why this would make people want to throw in the kitchen towel. 

The joy of cooking is to be able to produce food that moves you.  That makes you eager to cook it again and again so that each time you put it in your mouth you say Wow all over again. You want to be rewarded for your work and to be proud to share it with others.  This is how cooking should be.

I know that I often times take for granted a lot of little things while in the kitchen and what seems obvious to me may be easily overlooked by the home cook. For this, I wanted to compile a list of the most important tips that I believe separate the professionals from the home cooks. These are always a given for the pros and if you stick to these guidelines you will easily be getting professional results at home.

 1.Keepin’ it Real – Good food begins way before you start cooking.  Sourcing out the freshest ingredients will always yield better results.  I know many of you will curse me for saying it, but you won’t get the same flavor from garlic in a jar that you will get from freshly grated garlic.  It is really worth the extra step!

As a general rule, stay real and keep it fresh.

 

2. Salt is a man’s best friend – Many home cooks underestimate the power of salt. It is absolutely the important ingredient you will ever use in your kitchen. Salt is what brings out the flavor in your food and makes it come to life.  It is that one crucial ingredient that could possibly be keeping your food from going to new heights.  If you’ve prepared a dish from a recipe and it tastes good, but it’s just missing that “something,” often times you need to add a little more salt to take it from being good to being GREAT.

Also, it is important that you start salting your dish from the beginning and continue slowly salting throughout the cooking process. 

A brief example of this is to begin by salting your water when cooking pasta to help boost the flavor of the pasta.  Then continue by salting your sauce (a little at a time – be careful not to over salt, you can always add more, but can’t take away).  Once the pasta and sauce are cooked and combined you check it one last time for seasoning and add a little more salt, if needed. 

Start practicing with salt and you will begin to notice a world of difference.

3. Embrace fat- Don’t be afraid of fat. Using just the right amount — whether it be vegetable fat or animal fat — adds an unparalleled flavor and texture to your food that you won’t find with any other ingredient.  I know that many of us associate the word fat with negative connotations (it’s hard not to in our stick figure-crazed, yet overweight society), but it’s all about being balanced and remembering that our bodies actually need fat. Everything in moderation.  Just remember that being healthy means being balanced.

4. It’s all about the Technique – This is the one that really sets the experts apart from the rest.  It is what pros have spent tons of time in culinary school learning or hours in professional kitchens doing over and over again. It does take some practice, but if you’re willing to learn, you will be able to pick up on the important techniques that help produce stellar results. Start paying close attention to the directions when you read recipes and you’ll notice patterns.

For example, the first step in making Beef Bourguignon is to get the pot very hot with your oil or butter and then add the beef and brown on all sides.  The first step to making a roasted Pork Tenderloin is to get the pot very hot with your oil or butter and then add the pork and brown on all sides.  The first step to making a Rack of Lamb is to get the pot very hot with your oil or butter and then add the lamb and brown on all sides. You notice a pattern? Get a few solid techniques under your belt, and then it doesn’t matter what you are making you can follow the technique and you know your results will be delicious each time.

A great cookbook that I highly recommend is a book by Michael Ruhlman, called Ruhlman’s Twenty.  It has 100 recipes categorized by 20 different techniques and complete with step by step pictures.  It’s a great way to get the essentials down pat.

5. Layer the flavor – There are many, many powerful ingredients in the kitchen that allow you to build flavor and add dimension to your dish (think acidity, spices, garlic, onions, etc). I’ve spoken with many people who omit these types of ingredients from recipes because they dislike their strong flavors.  Let’s take onions for an example.  There is a distinct difference between making a dish that has onions in it and using onions as a flavor base for your dish.  If you dislike onions, you are probably not going to go for an onion soup, but if you use those onions as the foundation to your vegetable soup, it will help give that soup a deeper flavor and extra dimension.  And it won’t taste like onions –  I promise! 

So, lastly learn the difference between using an ingredient in your dish or using it as a flavor additive.  Don’t be afraid to use those powerful flavors!

 

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Put the spark back into your spoon

Some of you don’t share the same enthusiasm for cooking as I do.  And I get that.  I really do!  I understand how difficult it is to come home from a long day of work, an hour of sitting in New Jersey traffic, feed the dog, bathe the baby (Ok, I don’t have a baby. Or a dog – but I could imagine), watch Oprah on dvr, do the laundry, and then have to worry about cooking dinner too?  Cooking is not always as glamorous as Paula Deen makes it out to be. I love how she stands in the middle of a pristine kitchen with makeup and hair fully done and ingredients that just happen to be conveniently measured out within arms reach.  I mean, really?  Who actually has time to make sure their collar stays popped and their lips stay a rosy shade of Russian Red while stirring, sautéing, and whisking all at the same time?  Tsk

Glamorous?  Not always.  Fun? Yes!  I’m here to tell you that it can be fun, and should be fun!  Here are some of my tips for keeping things exciting in the kitchen:

  1. Be confident. Michael Ruhlman said it best when he wrote about The Worlds Most Difficult Roasted Chicken Recipe.  It doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. Read this!
  2. Try a new ingredient. Do you like asparagus?  Try white asparagus.  What about fresh artichokes?  Plantains? A new cut of meat?  For every few recipes you make, try one ingredient you’ve never used before. The anticipation for trying a new ingredient keeps things fresh and exciting.
  3. Let the recipes come to you.  Do you know what I love most about blogging? (Well, other than being able to say whatever the hell I want and then duck and hide behind a tiny 12pt, Times New Roman font – that’s actually my favorite) But secondly, I love having the opportunity to inspire people through a daily blog that can be delivered directly their inbox.  There are gobs of excellent food blogs out there.  And they are free!  Find a few that you like and that inspire you.  Subscribe to them and let the ideas come to you.
  4. Clean as you go! This one is huge for me.  As a culinary school graduate, being clean and organized in the kitchen is the most important step.  Instead of letting the dishes pile up into an overwhleming mound, clean them as you go.  Not only will this help keep things moving smoothly, but this will also prevent you from having tons of work to do at the end.
  5. Eat with the ones you love.  Even if it’s for a mere 30 minutes a night, sit down and enjoy your work with your family. And if you live by yourself still sit down at the table with your settings in place, napkin on your lap and knife and fork in hand. And if you have fine china, use it! Why the heck not?
  6. Turn on some tunes. Trust me, it helps.  I could never go to the gym for a full hour if I didn’t have music to distract me from my I-can’t-wait-to-get-off-this-dang-treadmill thoughts.  Crank up your ipod with your favorite tunes and let the beats engulf you in the moment.
  7. And lastly, Don’t take yourself too seriously…and always keep a frozen pizza on reserve in case you royally screw up.

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