Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Rule of Thumb

In a Central Market class last year, Mr. Max and I learned one of the most helpful tricks when it comes to cooking meat. As you may or may not have noticed, as soon as you stick a thermometer or a knife in to test meat, juices ooze out. If you pop it back in because it has not reached your desired level of doneness, it actually becomes tougher than it would have been before.

To combat this, we learned a literal Rule of Thumb for cooking meats. For this exercise, you will refer to the patch of your palm, directly below your thumb. You will compare each thumb-to-finger firmness to the feel of your meat when you press on it after cooking. Let's get started!

For rare (steak only), the meat should have the same feel of your thumb pressed to your pointer finger. Make the "okay" sign and press the thumb pad to feel the level of firmness.

For medium-rare (steak only), the meat should have the same feel of your thumb pressed to your middle finger. Press the thumb pad to feel the level of firmness.

For medium-well (for steak, fish and now pork is reported to be safe to consume with a hint of pink), the meat should have the same feel of your thumb pressed to your ring finger. Press the thumb pad to feel the level of firmness.

For well-done (for steak, fish and chicken), the meat should have the same feel of your thumb pressed against your pinkie finger. Make a number three sign and press the thumb pad to feel the level of firmness.

After doing this exercise, did you notice the firmness increase as you switched to each finger? Use this trick from now on to check your meat without compromising the final product by puncturing it with a meat thermometer or knife. We've relied on this method for a year now, resulting in 100% accuracy each time!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fresh and Fabulous!

This weekend, my little supper club group travels down to Austin to visit Greer! Since her Dallas departure last fall, Meredith, Amy and myself have been conspiring a Hill-Country weekend getaway to visit and this weekend could not be more perfect. Unnaturally warm again, we are going to spend the last weekend of February in 70-degree weather, doing yoga in the park, visiting the Farmers Market, sipping tasty libations on a patio looking over the lake, and most importantly, cooking our little hearts out!

Many ideas floated around but we finally chose a theme: Fresh and Fabulous (hence the doctored photo above). We are going to Bess Bistro on Friday night to plan out our strategy but the initial concept will go a little something like this.
  • Each of us will choose 5 ingredients to get from the Farmers Market on Saturday. 
  • Those 5 ingredients will be combined with the others for 20 total. 
  • We will make 3 meals with those 20 ingredients, focusing on the fresh produce and local flavor. A literal farm-to-table weekend of meals! 
  • Common items such as garlic, herbs and spices are not considered in our 5 ingredients.
I can't wait to share the fun creations and full account of the weekend with my three favorite foodies who will hopefully do some guest blogging to share their dishes with you as well.

Tastefully yours,

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Make a Meal: Blackened Salmon and Veggies

Continuing my Mardi Gras tribute this week, I give you a tasty blackened salmon with some roasted veggies that packs the heat. This was really fun to make because to be honest, I was concerned! My concerns stem from a mild palate, I typically do not use cayenne because it is too hot for me, so the fun part was tasting the end result and really enjoying it. By just breathing in the spice mix, I started coughing and could feel that kick in the back of my throat. But never fear, while the heat was there, it was also paired so nicely with the rest of the ingredients that it was not at all overpowering and just a subtle kick. I did some googling to help create the blackening seasoning, taking the most popular of ingredients, playing with the amounts and then adding a few of my own. Click here for the nutritional facts for the blackened salmon calculated at

As for the side dish: I love roasted veggies, especially broccoli. To marry it with the naturally sweet butternut squash, a slight tang from the vinegar, a little garlic to sooth and finally a flash of spice from red pepper flakes, this turned out beautifully! Click here for the nutritional facts for the roasted veggies calculated at

Grocery List:
For Salmon
  • 1 tbsp. ground paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  •  2 salmon fillets, skin and bones removed
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
For Veggies
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup butternut squash, chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
To get started, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees and cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil with non-stick spray. Take your veggies and throw them in a mixing bowl with the olive oil, vinegar, garlic salt and red pepper flakes. Toss to coat the veggies.

Spread the veggies across the foil, place baking sheet in the oven and set the time for 18 minutes. I always set it for 18, and pierce with a fork to determine if an additional 2 minutes are needed.

As the veggies cook, prepare the salmon. Brush the olive oil on both sides of the salmon filets.

In a small bowl, combine all the herbs and spices, using your fingers to pinch-blend together.

Heat a griddle pan over medium-high heat, spraying surface with non-stick spray. Place salmon on griddle and cook for 7 minutes. As the salmon cooks, add your blackening seasoning mix to the top of the salmon, trying to coat evenly. I had about half my pinch bowl of seasoning left, the amounts used are better for 4 larger filets or save for another time!

Flip and cook for an additional 7 minutes, or until salmon begins to flake, signaling it is cooked through.

 Remove fish from heat, dish out your veggies and serve.

Tastefully yours, 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cajun Chicken Kabobs

In honor of Mardi Gras this week, here's some Cajun flavor in the form of chicken and vegetable kabobs. You can create your own creole seasoning or use a store-bought kind (such as Tony Chachere's). This delicious and nutritious dish takes all of 30 minutes from start to finish, with only a handful of groceries. Pick out your favorite grilling veggies and let's get started!

Click here for my recipe calculated at

Grocery List:
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. creole seasoning 
  • Pinch of garlic salt
  • 1 tsp. sherry or red wine vinegar
  • 8 oz. chicken, chopped into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 yellow squash, chopped
Start by preparing your grill. Brush the grate with oil and begin to heat. Now, look at all the pretty colors of your chopped goods. Red, purple, yellow, green, orange.... it's deliciously beautiful.

In a small bowl, mix your olive oil, creole seasoning, a pinch of garlic salt and either sherry or red wine vinegar to help sweeten the taste without adding any kind of sugar.

    Start to thread the veggies and chicken chunks through the skewer. My random assortment went: onion, red bell pepper, yellow squash, chicken chunk, onion, orange bell pepper, zucchini. You choose your order or thread through at random! I like to try to "book end" the skewer with the chunks of red onion. I used an aluminum casserole dish to set the kabobs on, helping to prep for the next step.

    Using a basting brush, lather your creole mix over the chicken and veggies, turning to help coat all sides. The casserole dish helps catch any marinade so you can re-use the drippings if needed.

    Place the kabobs on the hot grill and close the lid. Let cook for about 5 minutes, then flip to cook for another 5 minutes.

    Remove from the grill, let cool and serve!

    Tastefully yours,

      Friday, February 17, 2012

      Port Wine Demi-Glace


      Our favorite special occasion meat is steak, but not any kind of steak, beef tenderloin steak. It's where the filet mignon cut comes from and is just melt-in-your-mouth when cooked to perfection. This Valentine's Day, we decided to change it up by simply making a new sauce to serve with it. Our favorite has been a Madeira sauce, but Mr. Max bought a 2006 Viognier Port wine as the result of a final stop on a Napa wine tour, and we've never opened it. Since then, we've learned through other tasting opportunities, we aren't very fond of the sweetness of Port wine by itself. Instead of drinking it as a dessert wine, we decided to cook with it, creating a delicious and decadent sauce - more simple than you think! With only a handful of ingredients, about 15 minutes of your time, you will transform ordinary into awesome.

      Click here for my recipe's nutritional information calculated at Serving size is equivalent to 1 tbsp.

      Grocery List:
      • 1/4 cup shallot, minced
      • 1 tbsp. butter
      • 3/4 cup Port wine
      • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
      • 1 1/2 oz. Demi-Glace (veal or beef flavored)
      • 5 oz. water
      In a sauce pan, add your butter and let melt, then on medium heat, saute your shallots for about 5 minutes.

      Now, meet the Port.

      Add the Port to de-glaze the pan and let reduce by half, staying on medium heat. Add in the thyme sprigs so that they may permeate flavor into the reduction. This will take about 10 minutes.

      The key to a perfect steak sauce is the demi-glace. You can find them in small packages like this, they are typically located in the same isle as oils and marinades and are around $4 but oh so worth it. Add the contents of the demi-glace to the reduction and turn up the heat just a bit.

      Whisk until blended.

      At this point, your sauce will be nice and thick. I decided to add in some water to dilute just a bit and make it more saucy. This worked like a charm and didn't add any unneeded calories. Keep on low heat until you are ready to serve. Spoon over steak and enjoy!

      Tastefully yours,

        Thursday, February 16, 2012

        Parmesan-Truffle Mashed Potatoes

        Mashed potatoes are a side dish that can be dressed up or dressed down, continuously reinvented in so many ways. This Valentine's Day, I added another revision to my growing mashed-potato collection and they just might be my favorite to date - whoa. As previously discussed, Mr. Max has developed a recent obsession with truffle oil. It began with various mac and cheese recipes throughout Dallas that featured the decadent addition, then grew to pizzas and truffle butter on steak. We now wanted to experiment with mashed potatoes. Some of our favorite mashed taters are at Truluck's - the perfect creamy blend potatoes with garlic, Parmesan, chives... we've made a recipe pretty dang close before, only this time, I retract the chives and add the truffle oil as the flavor powerhouse. I didn't need to add any additional butter or even any salt when it came time to eat, those additions just weren't needed.

        These potatoes aren't what one may call good for you, but they won't break the waistband either. Keep this recipe tucked in your back pocket for a special occasion and I assure you, it will impress your guest(s). Click here for nutritional facts of my recipe calculated at Serving size is equivalent to 1 cup. Four medium sized Yukons made enough for 4-5 servings, depending on how minimal or generous you are with your wooden spoon.

        Grocery List:
        •  3 cups Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed (1 inch chunks)
        • 1 tsp. salt
        • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
        • 1/4 cup 2% reduced-fat milk 
        • 1/4 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
        • 2 tbsp. reduced-fat sour cream 
        • 1 tbsp. butter 
        • 1/4 tsp. white truffle oil
        In a pot, add potatoes and fill with water until it is about 2-3 inches above the potatoes. Salt the water and boil on high heat until soft, about 15 minutes.

        When the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, drain in a colander and pour cubes into a bowl with the butter, sour cream, Parmesan, milk and chicken broth.

        I am a big fan of using electric beaters to whip potatoes, rather than the hand-tool potato masher. Whip the potatoes until they look silky smooth and free of lumps. Now, add the truffle oil and blend again on low speed. Truffle oil is very potent, a little bit goes a long way. Taste test to make sure you have the taste you want, or you can add a little more - just be careful!

        Dish it out with the rest of your meal and enjoy! This was our little Valentine's dinner set up, picnic style on a blanket in front of a fire in the fire place.

         Tastefully yours,

        Wednesday, February 15, 2012

        Black Bean Soup

        I decided to add a new soup to the recipe-repertoire this week. I came across a Black Bean Soup on which provided a perfect base to start with. This soup took all of 20 minutes to make, ideal for a Monday evening, and was plenty filling for both my hunger needs and those of Max Man. I added additional spices including cayenne, chili powder and some garlic powder. Rather than salsa, I grabbed a can of fire roasted tomatoes and green chiles, I also cut back on the sour cream and vegetable stock use to decrease the sodium and fat content. Enjoy this delicious and nutritious dish!

        Click here for my recipe's nutritional facts calculated at

        Grocery List:
        • 2 cans organic black beans, rinsed and drained
        • 10 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes and green chiles (love the fire roasted, adds a smokey taste!)
        • 1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
        • 2 tbsp. fat free sour cream
        • 1 tsp. cumin
        • 1 tsp. chili powder
        • Garlic powder to taste
        • Cayenne to taste
        • Shredded cheese and green onion for garnish
        So, my camera battery was flashing at me to say - you've nearly drained me and I'm feeling temperamental. Therefore, I too feeling temperamental, shot the bare minimum and they aren't pretty. The reason I do step-by step was because when I was first starting out, I always second guessed myself. I would go through the process and feel like I am doing something way wrong... is it supposed to look like that? So, I will include these uglies because yes, it does look like this and still turns out well, you are not the only one. This will be as simple as it gets with just 3 steps. Ready?

        1) Heat a pot and dump the beans, can of tomatoes, and vegetable stock. Add the cumin, chili powder, garlic powder and let simmer for 5 minutes to blend the flavors together. Add and blend in the sour cream.

        2) If you have an immersion blender, leave ingredients in the pot. Otherwise, transfer contents into a blender or food processor. This next part is up to your soup consistency preferences. I like a decent puree but not a full one, leaving some black beans in their natural form rather than totally pulverized. And blend....

        3) Once you've reached your desired consistency you can allow to simmer or serve. Taste test, make sure you don't want to add more to it. Ladle into bowls, garnish with chopped green onions, a tsp. of shredded cheese and like Mr. Max did, another dollop of sour cream. Last but not least... go enjoy it!

        Tastefully yours, 

        Tuesday, February 7, 2012

        Asian Lettuce Cups

        Mr. Max and I have made a few versions of lettuce wraps, but I was ready to re-invent a bit this week. I looked at my last two recipes to find how I can cut-back without compromising the flavor. I decided to use lean turkey over chicken and nix the brown sugar, brown rice, along with water chestnuts. I used low-sodium tamari (organic, gluten-free soy sauce), low-sodium hoisin, and added both bell pepper for more nutrients and sriracha for a little kick. Last time, our lettuce wraps became lettuce-less when our little caterpillar friend was found. That taught me not to buy the pretty "live" head of bibb lettuce with the roots still attached. This time, I had picked up a fresh head of greens which will serve perfectly for the lettuce cup, no sixteen-legged friends attached. 

        Click here for the nutrition facts per serving - serving size is equal to 3 tbsp of meat filling per lettuce leaf. Recipe yields 8 servings.

        Grocery List:
        • 1 head lettuce
        • t tbsp. olive oil
        • 1 lb. ground lean turkey or chicken
        • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
        • 1/2 cup onion, diced
        • 2 cloves garlic, minced
        • 1/4 cup reduced fat Hoisin
        • 3 tbsp. Tamari
        • 1 tbsp. Sriracha
        • 1/2 tsp. Mirin (sweet rice vinegar - added sweetness without using sugar)
        • 1 tsp. ginger, minced
        • 1/4 cup green onion, chopped
        We start by preparing our protein of the evening, our meat. The first two times I made this I used chicken, but as I was meal planning and already making a meal with ground turkey, I decided to just buy the turkey in bulk, using it for each recipe. In a large skillet, pan or wok, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the red bell pepper and garlic, cooking until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

        Remove the onion, garlic and bell pepper, then add the meat and begin to break it up in the pan. Let cook for about 5-8 minutes, until the pink is gone and add the onion mix back in with the meat.

        Take your lettuce and gently tear apart the leaves for your servings.

        In a small bowl, whisk together the hoisin, soy, sriracha, mirin and ginger until smooth. Add the sauce to the pan and mix until well combined.

        To serve, spoon your filling into the lettuce cup and enjoy!
         Paired with steamed edamame

        Tastefully yours,
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