What’s for Dinner Tonight?

What’s for Dinner Tonight?

I think family cooks are the inspiration for the insanely popular Food Network TV show, Chopped. Maybe we don’t have squid ink pasta and gummy bear candy in our baskets, but we do have a fridge and pantry that require a little inspiration to get dinner on the table. Cooks ask me all the time, “how do you find the time to make these gorgeous dinners?” And I always respond with the straight up truth:

Making a meal that is just a little bit special only involves inspiration, not time.

For example, last night my Chopped “basket” (well…fridge) contained some (not super fresh) veggies, frozen pork chops and leftover roasted garlic. First things first, I thawed the pork chops. My fastest way to accomplish thawing meat is to place the package into a large bowl of cold water. You’ll be surprised how quickly this works. Next, when the chops have de-iced, I place them into a baking dish and marinate with whatever I have on hand. In this case, I used Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, tomato juice and fresh rosemary (my last two sprigs). I peeled carrots and placed them onto a baking sheet. I blanched some Brussels sprouts and placed them on the same sheet. I seasoned the veggies with cumin, curry, cinnamon, salt and pepper, and drizzled olive oil over everything.

Now, here is where the inspiration happened. I took those bulbs of leftover roasted garlic and smooshed them into some softened butter. I rolled that up into a cylinder, and placed it back into the fridge for a couple of minutes.

Now, all I had left to do was roast the veggies for about 15 to 20 minutes, and to season and grill the chops. At the last minute, I sliced a wedge of the garlic butter and placed it on the meat to melt. Voila…. Dinner fit for a king (and queen and a couple of lords and ladies too!). Here’s my recipe for Roasted Garlic Compound Butter. Now, what’s in your “basket” tonight?

Melting, buttery, garlicky goodness is the perfect accompaniment for grilled meats and fish.


Roasted Garlic Compound Butter

4 large heads garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground oregano
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 375°. Cut about ¼ of the top off the bulbs and discard. Place the bulbs onto a sheet of aluminum foil, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and season with oregano, salt and pepper. Close the foil loosely around the bulbs leaving a whole at the top. Place into the oven and bake until the cloves are golden, soft and climbing out of their papery skins. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.

Place the butter into a small bowl. Squeeze the cloves into the bowl with the butter. Use a fork to mash everything together. Spread the garlic butter onto a piece of plastic wrap. Use the wrap to roll the garlic butter into a cylinder twisting the ends to make a tight roll. Place the butter into the fridge to firm up.

Slice the butter into rounds and place on grilled meats, fish or veggies.

Shhh! I snuck a few veggies in these fab meatballs…

Shhh! I snuck a few veggies in these fab meatballs…

One of my favorite parenting things was sneaking veggies into food my kids like to eat. I hid chopped spinach in homemade pizza and carrots and celery in marinara sauce. It was a FUN game. I’m providing healthy meals, and the kids pretend not to notice.

What I came away with was an appreciation for experimentation. I love to stuff veggies into places where no man has gone before. Well, at least none of the men in my family. One of my favorites is filling meatloaf and meatballs with eggplant. I peel and dice the eggplant into tiny bits and sauté them in olive oil with diced onion. Once the veggies cool, I add them to my ground meat and season with milk-soaked bread, parsley, and seasonings. To take my meatballs over the top, I place them in marinara sauce and cover them in melting Munster. It’s a doozy of a deception… one I’m sure your family will enjoy!

Shhh! I snuck a few veggies in these fab meatballs...

Meatballs with ground pumpkin in tomato gravy sauce

Sneaky Eggplant Stuffed Meatballs

Topped with Munster Cheese

Serves 4 to 6

45 Minute Cuisine

Not only is this dish fabulous for the first taste in your Italian-inspired menu, but it’s also a great recipe to use for a midweek meal; it’s also a sneaky but loving thing to do if you’re trying to improve your child’s diet.

4 (1-inch thick slices whole-grain bread), torn into small pieces, about 2 cups

¼ cup milk

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (1-pound) eggplant, peeled and diced into ¼-inch cubes, about 3 ½ cups

½ medium white onion, peeled and chopped, about ½ cup

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 ½ pounds lean ground beef, veal or pork, or a combination of all 3

1 medium garlic clove, peeled and minced, about 1 teaspoon

2 large organic eggs

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 cup marinara sauce (homemade is the best!)

6 to 8 ounces Munster cheese, sliced

Place the bread crumbs into a bowl.  Pour the milk over top and push the bread into the liquid to absorb.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the eggplant and onion. Season with salt and pepper.  Cook until the eggplant is quite soft.  Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Place the ground meat into a large bowl.  Add the garlic.  Add the eggs and soaked bread crumbs.  Season with additional salt and pepper, and the dried oregano.  Add the cooked veggies and fresh parsley.  Use your hands to loosely combine all the ingredients.  Form into 2 ½ to 3-inch diameter-sized balls. Place into a baking sheet with a lip. Bake until the meatballs are just cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Pour the marinara sauce into a baking pan.  Place the cooked meatballs into the pan.  Cover each with a thin slice of Munster cheese.  Place the baking sheet back into the oven and cook until the cheese melts, about 5 to 8 minutes more.

Cook’s Tip

In place of eggplant, you can substitute with any veggie you have on hand.  Mushrooms and zucchini work just fine if you finely dice the veggie. If you do not have a container of your homemade marinara sauce in the fridge, use one with a low amount of added salt and sugar. I like Newman’s Own Tomato and Basil. Ask your butcher for beef, veal, and pork from a source that produces humanely raised animals, not raised with hormones or unnecessary steroids.

On Sauces, Saucery & Yummy Chicken Dinners

On Sauces, Saucery & Yummy Chicken Dinners

When I attended a Paris cooking class at the Alain Ducasse school, one of the items we dwelled on was a rich, au jus sauce to drizzle over our very delicate lamb chops. The sauce began with aromatics that we simmered for hours and then mashed through a fine sieve. The final step was swirling rich, creamy butter into the liquid to create a shiny, lush sauce. It was delish!

It’s been a couple of years since that class and in that time, I have managed to create a couple of shortcuts to the very traditional French sauces that allow me to pump up an average weeknight dinner. Even the most boring piece of chicken can become a masterpiece with a flavorful sauce drizzled over the top.

Here’s how I do it. First, I cook the chicken in a saucepan in a bit of olive oil and butter. Butter helps to brown the chicken and create those little brown bits of flavor in the bottom of the pan. I remove the chicken from the pan, and add the flavors I want in the sauce; you can try it yourself using the likes of onions, garlic, fennel, fresh herbs, and maybe some citrus, like lemon or orange. Check out how my combination of flavors looks in this C’est Magnifique photo!

It’s all so simple you don’t need a formal recipe – just let your imagination run wild!

Then I add some wine to the pan, and we’re talkin’ lovely coq au vin. I simmer the wine until it mostly disappears. The ingredients in the pan absorb the wine flavors. Next, I pour in chicken or vegetable broth. I simmer this until the liquid reduces a bit. I use a slotted spoon to remove all the aromatics from the liquid. Now it’s time to thicken the sauce. For chicken, I like to use mustard as a thickener. Just a tablespoon or so thickens the sauce and adds a bold, spicy note. For beef, I like to thicken with tomato paste; for others, I thicken with a bit of flour and butter mixed together. I place the chicken into the sauce and simmer until it is cooked through. A bit of fresh herb on top and voila…. we have a midweek meal fit for a Parisian!!

This is how my chicken turned out that night. See what I mean?

Try some herbal and wine infusions, and let me know how they turned out with that delectable chicken dinner – I’ll post your pictures ;)!

Bowled Over and Over and Over

Bowled Over and Over and Over

A Chicken Marsala Bowl with savory veggies :) A Chicken Marsala Bowl with savory veggies 🙂

It’s the newest rage. Healthy, veggie-filled, great-grained, protein-topped bowls. You can find entire websites dedicated to de-constructing dishes like beef burritos into a bowl of rice and beans, Pico de Gallo, sliced avocado, shredded lettuce, topped with shredded spicy beef and fresh cilantro. It’s a Fun way to transform a favorite dish and it’s even more fun when you create your own.

You know I must plunge into a new trend, transforming a weeknight standard into an elevated “bowl”. I used one of my go-to chicken dishes and the veggies I picked up this week at the farmer’s market. There is no standard when you create your bowl. It’s just your imagination, your palate and your smile that pulls it off! Give this bowl a try and then let me know when you create one of your own!!

Here’s a little preview of what’s going in this magnificent bowl of yours! Enjoy!

Carrots roasted to a char taste AMAZING! Use them to top any bowl creation. Carrots roasted to a char taste AMAZING! Use them to top any bowl creation. Mmmmm....chicken thighs simmering in a savory sauce...need I say more?

Mmmmm….chicken thighs simmering in a savory sauce…need I say more? Oh, kale yeah! Make your bowl standout with a deliciously textured super food! 

Oh, kale yeah! Make your bowl standout with a deliciously textured super food! Yummy Japanese eggplant Yummy Japanese eggplant

Chicken Marsala Bowl

With Orzo, Sautéed Kale, Curried Eggplant and Roasted Carrots

Serves 4

30 Minute Cuisine

Lots of different flavors poured into one big bowl full of insanity.

For Chicken:

4 large chicken thighs (or 8 smaller thighs)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 teaspoon onion powder

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the veggies

½ large onion, thinly sliced

1 cup Marsala wine

1 cup homemade beef stock, or prepared low sodium broth

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

For Veggies:

8 whole carrots

1 pound kale, about 4 cups, torn

4 small Japanese eggplants, sliced into 1-inch rounds (substitute with 1 small eggplant)

2 tablespoons ground curry powder

2 cups orzo cooked according to package directions

Season the chicken with some of the salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon onion powder. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a deep sauté pan over medium high heat. Place the chicken into the pan, skin side down. Cook until golden, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn and cook on the second side until golden, about 5 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a platter. Add the onion to the pan and cook until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the Marsala wine and simmer until most of the wine disappears. Pour in the beef stock and stir in the mustard. Place the chicken back into the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes more.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the carrots onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the carrots, turning once until they are well browned, about 20 minutes.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kale (in batches) and cook until wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant to the pan. Season with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons curry powder. Cook until the eggplant is soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Keep warm.

To assemble the bowls, divide the cooked orzo and place equal portions into the bottom of 4 pasta-size bowls. Top some of the orzo with kale. Top the rest of the orzo with curried eggplant. Lay two roasted carrots atop the veggies. Place the chicken on top of the carrots and spoon the Marsala wine over all.