Foodie In Training

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Orzo stuffed peppers

First, a big thanks to Dan and Jude, two of our newer readers, pictured above. Whats up guys?

I love roasted red peppers. I love their sweetness and their texture and they are a great addition to a variety of dishes from pastas to pizzas to salads. They are great just on a piece of toast. I've never roasted my own peppers, but my grandma has and they are even more wonderful than the ones you can buy in a jar. Hers were served simply with some olive oil and they were roasted with whole cloves of garlic that end up tender and delicious yet surprisingly sweet and mild.
Still, I've never really thought that a roasted pepper could be the star of a meal. But, that changed this week when Erin and I made orzo stuffed peppers. We got the recipe from a Giada episode. Orzo is a rice shaped noodle that is common in soups. Now, fresh bell peppers are not really in season, but we were able to find a few at our grocery store that would do the trick. We hollowed them out and started on the mixture for the "stuffing". It included zucchini, orzo (cooked in chicken stock), mint (the Greek's basil, according to Giada), garlic and parmasean cheese.

After we stuffed the peppers and put them in the oven, we had a lot of left over stuffing. Of course, we tasted it- it was delicious. The mint was a great touch along with the cool simple tomato and pasta mixture. I think cooking the orzo in stock added so much depth and flavor to the dish and of course the garlic just brought everything together. In the hour it took to cook the peppers, we had eaten all the leftover mixture, it made for a great cold pasta appetizer. The last 15 minutes of cooking, the peppers were uncovered and sprinkled with extra cheese that formed a nice crust. We were going to a little piece of meat to our meal, but since we had already had a lot of food and the peppers looked so good, we decided to have in just with a salad.

The peppers were tender, but probably could have used another half hour to really get the roasted flavor. Still, I think we will probably be trying more varieties of roasted and stuffed peppers.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Hello everyone, I just wanted to announce that I have changed the setting for posting comments on the blog. You no longer have to create a Google account to make a comment. Hopefully this makes it a little easier for everyone. We love to read the comments and feedback from you all so keep it up!!!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Roast Beast

Over the past few weeks Erin and I have made a pork loin roast and a beef sirloin roast. I got the pork loin roast idea from my mom. While I was home for Christmas break she made a great tender pork loin roast that was bought already seasoned with garlic and lemon. She slow cooked it in a crock pot for 6 hours and added potatoes, onions, carrots and celery and some water. It made for an easy and great dinner. The pork was so tender you didn't need a knife.

Erin and I tried to recreate it. It didn't work, but we aren't sure why. I think the pork that I bought was about the same as my mom used, preseasoned and everything. I even consulted her before cooking. She said to just be creative and use what we have and cook it on low for 6 hours or on high for about 4 hours. We cut the loin in half, added carrots, potatoes, onion, apple, sun dried tomatoes and a hot red pepper; we set the crock pot on high for about 4 hours. We seasoned with salt and pepper, parsley, garlic and a bay leaf.

I think the flavors worked ok together. But, the pork ended up a little dry and tough. The potatoes were ok, but the apples were just mush.

In one of the funniest cooking moments we have had together, Erin took a big bite of what she thought was a sun dried tomato. But, it was the hot pepper. Erin isn't the biggest fan of spicy stuff, although she is starting to come around. But, the look on her face after biting into that pepper was of pure horror. She immediately ran into the kitchen and asked what would help cool her mouth. I told her milk and bread. She shoved a slice of bread into her mouth as her eyes welled up with tears. She laughed/cried in anger and pain. I poured her a glass of milk as I tried to keep from cracking up. She kept mumbling with the piece of bread in her mouth and looked oh so helpless. I kinda wish I had the camera out, but I don't think she would let me post a picture even if I took one. Anyway, the meal overall wasn't a big success.

Last week, we decided to go for a beef roast. I saw a Giada episode where she made roast beef with a spicy tomato sauce. Here's the recipe. As a bonus, she used a food processor for the sauce, and we are still looking for every opportunity to use our new kitchen machine. We bought a top sirloin roast from the grocery. We seasoned the meat with lots of salt and pepper and seared the meat on all sides.

Then we put it into a roasting pan and dumped a can of diced tomatoes and put in the oven for about an hour. Our only semi-mistake was that I only put the oven on 300. I wanted it to be medium or even medium rare, but I should have kept to Giada's suggestion of 375 for 30-40 minutes.

As I sliced the roast beef, it was a little rarer than we were going for, but it looked great. The sauce was pretty easy, we stayed pretty true to the recipe, adding some dried parsley to the little fresh parsley we had. Some how Erin's home grown parsley had survived the cold of winter up til January, but we didn't have enough. We also added the tomatoes that cooked with the roast, red wine vinegar, olive oil, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. The food processor did its work and we were left with a great smelling, if not the most appetizing-looking sauce.

We finished the meal with a simple salad with a homemade vinegar and olive oil dressing that we tossed with the lettuce, sunflower seeds and croutons. The meat was flavorful and tender. It was a good cut of meat, even though it wasn't too expensive (I think it was about $4/pound). The star of the meal though was the sauce. The vinegar and tomato combo really "popped" in your mouth. Erin has since named it "pop sauce". We should have invited some one over for dinner, it was far too much food for Erin and I. I cut the rest of the roast in to pieces about 3/4 inch thick and they made for good steaks for dinner and sandwiches the rest of the week. All in all it was a very good meal. Here is the finished product:

Friday, January 18, 2008

Breaded Pork Chops and Sauteed Veggies

I made a really great dinner for Ryan and I last night. I found the recipe in a Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine and once I read it, I instantly new it was would be really tasty. The recipe originally calls for fennel as the veggie, but when i went to the store, the fennel bulbs were really small and didn't look worth the $3 they cost, so I picked up some zucchini and squash and grape tomatoes and figured I could sautee those up instead to accompany the pork chops.

What drew me to this recipe is that the pork chops were breaded but they are not dredged in egg and flour, which can add calories and makes the breading have a little bit different consistency. To start, I combined 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs and the zest of about 1/2 a lemon. To season the pork chops, I salted and peppered the meat and then coated the pork in the breading, lightly pressing the breading in to the pork so it would stay coated.

Now, I did make a cardinal mistake while cooking the meat and this is because I am usually the sous chef, doing all of the chopping (because of my superior chopping skills) and Ryan is usually in charge of preparing and cooking the meat. The pork chops were pretty thick and Ryan thought that it was going to take a lot longer than the 1 1/2 minutes/side that the recipe indicated. So in a large sautee pan heated on medium/high heat, I added some olive oil and then added the pork. Everything was going fine, but I got a little too anxious and flipped the pork chops too soon! It took much longer to cook them then if I would have waited about 7 or 8 minutes and then flipped to the other side and waited 7 or 8 minutes, but these are the lessons your learn as a foodie in training. :)

Anyway, once the pork chop situation was fixed and they were done, I removed them from the pan and covered them with foil so they could sit. Before I started cooking the pork, I had chopped up 2 yellow squash and 2 zucchini in to small slices (so they would cook faster) and I chopped half an onion, and Ryan chopped a red pepper. After removing the pork, we added more oil to the pan and added the veggies. I also added some salt to bring out the moisture in the veggies. They sauteed for about 8-10 minutes and when the veggies were getting a little soft, we added a heaping tablespoon of minced garlic (we like garlic :), the grape tomatoes, and some lemon zest. When the veggies were done we put them in a large bowl and then added the juice of about 1/2 a lemon.

All in all the pork turned out really well and the breading was really good, especially when you got a bite of lemon zest in the breading. The veggies were fantastic and all it took was some lemon juice, and then salt and pepper! I definitely recommend this recipe and next time I want to use fennel.

Sorry there is not a photo of the meal, but here is a photo of our dog Lucy, who loves to try and get a bit of whatever we are eating for dinner. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Hey everyone, sorry for the absence of posts....this week has been a really eventful and busy week for Ryan and me. But don't worry, we have some exciting posts coming up including a really tasty meal we made last weekend and a book review! Stay tuned...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ryan's Restaurant Review: Via Vite

Last night Erin and I went to see Wicked, the Musical. It was really good. Before the show we wanted to eat a Palomino downtown because we had a gift card. However, we didn't make reservations and they wouldn't have been able to get us in before the show. So we decided to go across the street to Via Vite. The restaurant is located in Fountain Square, downtown Cincinnati and was opened by the owners of Nicola's, an Italian restaurant in Over the Rhine.
Erin has been to both Nicola's and Via Vite, but this was my first experience.

As you walk in there is a beautiful open bar area with views of some of the kitchen. We were seated immediately in the small, very modern (post-modern?) dining room. I was surprised to see that we were one of only 4 or 5 tables seated, but by the time we left the restaurant was packed and there was a wait for tables (to the extent that I heard a host tell the bus staff to "clear this table immediately and set it for two!" right as we stood up from our table). I had the feeling that we were about to be treated to a fun dinner with creative dishes and presentations. The waiter lost a little bit of the atmosphere as he stumbled through reading his spiel about the specials. Plus, he quickly got on my bad side when he forgot my vodka tonic for several minutes.

We decided we didn't feel like a heavy dinner so instead decided to start with the "Assortment of bruschettas". It was 6 or 7 toasted crostinis with a different topping on each one. They were all delicious. There was a traditional basil and tomato; crab salad; pesto with an anchovie; olive tapenade; chicken liver patte; and roasted pepper and garlic. Erin liked the traditional the best. The crab salad was clean and amazingly fresh. The pesto one was very good with the salty anchovie. The olive tapenade was hearty and delicoius. The chicken liver patte was good and, well, it was liver. My favorite was the roasted peppers. The meal was off to a good start.

For our next, and final course, Erin decided on the Inzimino described as a traditional Tuscan stew of calamari and spinach. I went with a salad with Boucheron goat cheese, spring mix of greens, raspberry vinaigrette and pistachios. We also shared the mussels alla marinara with garlic crostone. The Inzimino, was, in a word, bad. It was cooked in a dark sauce(?) and came in one mushy dollop in the middle of a bowl. The calamari was almost nonexistent, just one step away from mush. It was incredibly overcooked and lost all flavor of the octopus. Both Erin and I are big fans of calamari, and I have never seen it prepared in such a way to make it totally lifeless and bland. The spinach was also cooked so much that it tasted like nothing.
Erin actually asked our waiter what sort of "broth" it was cooked in and he said it was prepared for hours with a lot of red wine. Well, the lesson learned here is that calamari should NEVER be slow cooked for hours and that it is crucial to let good, fresh ingredients shine.

My salad, on the other hand, was very good. The pistachios added a perfect contrast to the yummy raspberry dressing and the creamy, melted goat cheese. It also was a nice compliment to the mussels which were prepared with a light, diced tomato sauce with just a touch of garlic. The mussels were perfectly cooked, not too mushy and not too rubbery. I thought the sauce could have used either some more garlic or some lemon. Near the end of the meal I actually asked for some lemon, but I never got it.

All in all, the service was disappointing, but it was noticeable that the waitress taking care of the table next to us was much better prepared and professional. As Erin said, we were 3 for 4 in good dishes. And even though that stew was almost unforgivable, I would be willing to go back, if for nothing else to try some of their bigger entrees. Grade: B.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Cooking for friends

I always enjoy cooking for friends and Friday night I got another chance to try a new recipe, linguine with Shrimp and Lemon Oil. Ryan and I were going to cook for our friends but he came down with a bad cold (that I now have, thanks Ryan) so I went over to my friend Mo's to cook at her place for her, JJ, Mary and Mary's friend Eric who was visiting for the weekend.
This is actually a recipe my mom made for Ryan and I over the holidays and it's a meal she whips up for her and my dad all of the time. We also made panaconzata which I think we have mentioned in other posts, it is a wonderful Italian garlic bread that we have at Ryan's family gatherings.

To start, I put Mary to work making the panaconzata. For how tasty this bread it, it is surprisingly very simple and easy to make. Mary started by taking a loaf of Italian bread and slicing it horizontally (like a sub sandwich) and scoring the bread. After scoring the bread, she drizzled olive oil on each side and added salt and pepper and all kinds of spices including parsley, oregano and a little bit of crushed red pepper. The great thing about panaconzata is that you can add whatever you want, like sun dried tomatoes or fresh basil. Then she added shredded mozzarella cheese to each side of the bread and put the bread back together and wrapped it in foil. It's as easy as that! Then you pop it in the oven at 425 degrees and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Here is Mary enthusiastically making garlic bread:

While Mary was making the garlic bread, I got busy making the lemon oil which is very easy, just zest 1/2 a lemon and add 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil to the bowl and let sit (you'll add it to the pasta at the end). I also put a large pot of water on the stove to bring to a boil for the pasta. Now, the recipe (which is copied below) calls for shallots but I used the red onion I had instead. So I began by sauteing onion in a large pan and salting the onions to bring out their moisture. Once the onions have cooked for a little bit I added some garlic and once the onion was translucent, I added the shrimp.

Once the pasta is done cooking I drained the pasta and added it to the large saute pan and mixed it with the shrimp, onions and garlic. I also added lemon juice and the lemon oil I made earlier and mixed it well. Then I added a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach and tossed it with the hot pasta until it wilted. I thought the meal turned out pretty well and my everyone seemed to like it. (JJ was able to get his vitamins and minerals for the day :) It's always fun to cook for friends and I'm glad I was able to try this great recipe for them. It is really simple and fast to make (moms are always right), a great meal to make any night of the week.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Put everything in a pot...

So Ryan and I wanted to cook our first dinner of 2008. Problem was, we didn't have much left in our kitchen. (see left for some of our initial ingredients). Ryan thought that we could make a soup using some of our tomato sauce and the chicken stock as a base. Pre-blog, I made a chicken tortilla soup using a similar base and we had seen Giada make a seafood soup with this base as well. Referencing several of our cookbooks we settled on a ratio of roughly 4 cups of stock to 1 cup of tomato sauce. Here is how it all went down.

We started with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil and cooked down 1/2 of a large red onion and three teaspoons of minced garlic. Taking a tip from Alton Brown's Good Eats we cooked a bag of frozen mixed veggies in the microwave (this particular mix had broccoli, carrots, snow peas and baby corn) and added it to the onion and garlic. Then in went the chicken stock, about 1/2 cup of white wine, and the homemade tomato sauce. We brought the soup to a boil and considered adding some acini di pepe pasta, but decided to use some beans as a starch instead. We used one can of cannelloni beans and one can of red kidney beans.

Ryan (in his new red apron) seasoned with a bay leaf, dried rosemary, lots of salt (maybe too much), ground black pepper, crushed red pepper, and dried parsley. We also smashed some of the beans and added some tomato paste to thicken the broth. We let it simmer for 15-20 minutes as I made some grilled cheese sandwiches with American and mozzarella cheese. Just before dinner we added what was left of a small bag of frozen, pre-cooked shrimp.

We finished it with some croutons. Ryan liked it with some tobasco sauce and I even put a drop of that in mine. The soup was a little salty, but otherwise very good. The veggies held up and didn't get too mushy (which I was a little worried about) and the rosemary didn't overpower the rest of the spices and ingredients. Overall, it had great flavor and the beans and shrimp gave it some good heartiness. If I had to compare it to a well known soup I would say minestrone. I was so proud of us.