Spinach Artichoke Soup-your favorite dip as a soup!

Most restaurants have a version of spinach artichoke dip on their menu. It is usually really cheesy and gooey, and delicious, but it’s also loaded with fat and calories. It shouldn’t be a meal, but it’s so good, you can’t help yourself, and you keep going back for more and more….and more. Well tonight’s dinner was a version of this favorite recipe that was just as delicious, and light enough to eat a whole bowlful without feeling too guilty! It was a very fast recipe and it got thumbs up from the whole family tonight.

Two tips for you: First, I always have cooked chicken breasts in my fridge or freezer. I buy a big pack of them, season them well and roast them at 425º for about 20 minutes. I chop them and put them in little ziplock bags to add to lunchbox salads which makes morning lunchbox packing for my teenage daughters a breeze! I used 2 cups of my chicken in this recipe, but you could also substitute rotisserie chicken if you prefer.

Also, the recipe calls for leeks. If you don’t have them, you can use onions, but the leeks really add a great flavor. Leeks push up through the ground and because they have many layers, they often have grit and dirt in between the layers. An easy way to clean them is to cut off the dark green part and the root end, then slice them in half lengthwise and then thinly slice them. Put them into a large bowl of cold water and really swish them around, separating the layers. Remove the leeks from the water by scooping them from the top, DON”T DUMP THE BOWL! The grit and dirt will sink to the bottom of the bowl and your leeks will be clean.

Spinach Artichoke Soup
Adapted from Cuisine at Home Soups, Stews and Chilies

1 c. sliced leeks*
1 Tb. minced garlic, about 4 cloves
2 Tb. olive oil
2 c. shredded, cooked chicken
1 can quartered artichoke hearts in brine (not marinated)
2 Tb. flour
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 1/2 c. low sodium chicken stock
1 1/2 c. whole milk
1/2 c. cream
6 oz. package of fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt, Pepper, Hot Sauce

Saute the leeks and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook until the leeks are soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the chicken and artichoke hearts and saute for another 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the top, stir in and cook for another minute. Deglaze the pot with the wine and cook until it is almost evaporated, scraping any bits up from the bottom of the pot. Add the stock, milk and cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer and add the Parmesan cheese and the spinach. Season soup with salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste.

Per Cup: 257 calories, 14 gm. fat, 15 gm carbs, 3 gm fiber, 17 gm protein.

If you are concerned about the fat content, omit the cream, and you can use 2% milk.


En papillote or nel cartoccio, cooking in parchment a simple technique with delicious results!

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of cooking a special dinner for a really sweet couple celebrating their first anniversary. I love doing dinners like this, it is such an honor to be a part of a special occasion!

When planning the menu, the husband shared that his wife loved vegetables and seafood and I suggested Mahi-Mahi cooked in parchment with tomatoes, artichokes, lemon and olives. He said it sounded delicious, but his concern was about a lingering fishy smell that often occurs when cooking fish at home, especially since many homes have poor ventilation systems!
I explained that cooking in parchment is a wonderful way to prepare fish, any seafood really, chicken, and vegetables as it contains the steam inside the packet cooking the food gently and keeping most of the aromas inside the packet while it cooks.

Cooking in packets is not a novel concept. In France it is known as en papillote, in Italian, nel cartoccio, (both mean “in parchment”) to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts it’s simply cooking in packets, though they usually use foil which is more sturdy over the campfire! It is a simple way to cook with delicious results!

The technique begins with parchment paper that is readily found in most grocery stores these days. You will need about a foot long piece of parchment per portion. I fold mine in half and cut a half a heart shape (like cutting a Valentine), but you can leave them as rectangles or even gather the corners of the packets up and tie them with a piece of green onion.

Brush the bottom of the parchment with a drizzle of oil and place the protein in the center of one half. Arrange the vegetables on top in an organized way (you will see them when you open the packet to serve), drizzle with a bit more oil and some liquid like broth or wine and then seal the packets. This is an important step because you need to make sure it is well sealed to keep all the steam inside.

To seal the packet begin at the beginning of one edge and make a small fold and crease well, overlap a second fold (sort of like a flower petal) and crease again. Proceed the whole way around until you reach the end which you can twist tightly or use a staple to secure it.

Slide the packets onto a cookie sheet and bake according to the recipe.

The packets will begin to brown on the edges which is fine. If you are cooking fish, I check it after about 15 minutes by poking a sharp knife through the packet, it should go right through the fish easily, or you can check the temperature of the fish with an instant read thermometer that should read about 125º-130º.

You can remove the food from the packets onto a plate, but that usually messes up the presentation and allows all the juices in the packet to flood your plate. I prefer to transfer the packets onto each individual plate and open the top with a knife by cutting an X in the top and peeling back the points.

A beautiful and delicious dinner!

The results are moist, flavorful and delicious AND… no fishy smell in the house!

Here is a simple recipe for the Mediterranean Fish en Papillote that I fixed last night. I hope you give it a try!

Mediterranean Fish en Papillote

4 firm fillets — 6-ounces each such as Mahi Mahi, Halibut, Cod, Swordfish
2 Roma tomatoes — sliced
16 basil leaves — chiffonade (sliced in thin ribbons)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons butter
2 lemons — sliced in circles
1 can artichoke hearts in water — (14 ounce) drained & quartered
1/4 cup Kalamata or other black olives — pitted and sliced
1 Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper — to taste
1-2 Tb. dry white wine, such as Pinot Gris

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut 4 pieces of parchment paper into 1-foot squares and place on a flat surface. Fold the paper in half, then fold back open. Just below the fold, drizzle a bit of olive oil. Place one or two pieces of yellowtail filet (depending on the size). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with two lemon slices, a quartered artichoke heart, 1/2 to 1 T. sliced olives, about 1 t. capers, a generous pinch of basil chiffonade and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and the wine. Fold the parchment over the ingredients. Starting at one folded end, fold the edges over itself in a running fold, continuing all the way around the edge to the other fold. Twist the end to seal, or secure it with a paperclip (remove clip before serving). Place packages on baking sheet and bake until the packages puff and fish is opaque, about 15-20 minutes.

Transfer packages to plates. Allow each guest to open his or her own package at the table. Serve with lemon wedges.

Note: I prepare the packages and keep them refrigerated until ready to bake.

If you really can’t find parchment, you can also use a brown paper lunch bag, pile the food in the bag and roll the top down, creasing tightly, Just be very careful moving the bag off the cookie sheet as the bottoms tend to give way! Use a BIG spatula and slide it quickly!

Pork Tenderloin with Poached Plums= YUM!

As much as I try to fight it, fall really is here and the kids are back to school, and we have begun the crazy, hectic running around schedule that most American families share. Between our son’s soccer practice that ended at 5 and our daughter’s dance rehearsal that started at 6, we were able to sit down to this incredibly delicious dinner that was done in about 30 minutes. It was a fast and easy recipe that is so beautiful, it’s nice enough for company!

I found this recipe for a class that I taught at our local Cornell Cooperative Extension that focused on quick recipes using seasonal ingredients. People usually think of apples as the quintessential fall fruit and the perfect pairing with pork, but at this time of the year, plums are bountiful, really juicy and delicious and they make a perfect accompaniment to the pork. The poached plums alone are fabulous and I made extra so that I could have some leftover to eat for lunch today! YUM!

Pork tenderloin is a wonderful quick cooking dinner for a weeknight. The technique is simple which is to heat your pan until it’s really hot, use a drizzle of a neutral oil, such as canola, season your tenderloin well with salt and pepper and then sear it for just a minute or two on each side so it gets nicely browned and then finish it in a hot oven where the heat circulates around the meat instead of just the direct heat of the skillet. (Note here, make sure your skillet is oven-proof so that you don’t melt your handles or ruin your pan! Every kitchen should have at least one large pan that can go stove-top to oven. Another note: DON’T try to brown meat in a non-stick skillet, it won’t work effectively and you’ll end up with gray meat! ) Allow the pork to sit on a cutting board under a loose tent of foil for 5 minutes while you get everything else ready to allow the juices to redistribute before slicing it.

The only funky ingredient in the recipe is the star anise. It can be tricky to find in the local grocery store, but you may be able to find it in an Asian grocery or you can easily order it online like I did from Penzey’s Spices. It has a strong anise flavor which is not something that I like on it’s own, but when steeped in things like red wine, it adds are really complex and delicious note without tasting like a black licorice whip.

This got a thumbs up all the way around our dinner table last night and I hope you enjoy it too!

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Poached Plums
(adapted from Bon Appetit 2007)

6 sweet firm red or black plums, about 2 pounds, quartered, pitted
2 cups Pinot Gris or Viognier
1 cup dry red wine
2 whole star anise*
cinnamon stick
1/4 cup plus 1 1/4 teaspoons sugar, divided
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
5 fresh thyme sprigs plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme, divided
2 tablespoons chopped shallot

2 1 1/4-pound pork tenderloins
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
Chopped fresh chives

For Plums:
Combine plums, white wine and red wine, the star anise and cinnamon stick, and 1/4 cup sugar in heavy large saucepan; bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat; simmer until plums are tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer plums to platter. Strain wine mixture.
Return strained liquid to same saucepan. Add broth, thyme sprigs, and shallot. Boil until mixture is reduced to 1 cup, about 25 minutes. Stir in 1 1/4 teaspoons sugar and chopped thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

DO AHEAD:Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover plums and sauce separately; chill. Bring plums to room temperature; re-warm sauce over medium heat.

For Pork:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush pork with 1 tablespoon oil; sprinkle with thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until brown on all sides, turning often, about 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven, and roast pork until thermometer inserted into center registers 140F, about 20 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and let pork stand 10 minutes tented with foil. Cut pork crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve with poached plums and sauce. Sprinkle with chopped chives.

*Available in the spice section of some supermarkets and at specialty foods stores and Asian markets.

National #Pie day! Lemon Meringue Pie!

Today is a #Pie day! Because…well, who doesn’t love pie? The past few days we’ve done a lot of celebrating and visiting with friends and family which included a great deal of eating, which meant a great deal of cooking as well. I found myself with four lemons in my fridge that had been stripped of their zest for a few different dishes, so today’s pie seemed like a pretty simple choice. It’s one of my favorites; a gorgeous lemon meringue pie!

One trick to a lemon meringue pie is being able to “blind bake” a crust. Blind baking is the process of baking an empty pie shell, which isn’t difficult, but does require some knowledge to be successful. ( I used my favorite pie crust from Cook’s Illustrated that uses vodka to make the dough very easy to work with and gives a great result each time. )

To blind bake a crust, you have to make sure your dough is well chilled (20-30 minutes) before AND after you roll it out so it doesn’t slump down into a sad greasy mess in the bottom of the pan. Make sure that after you put it in the pan that it is in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to baking. Also, make sure you make nice high, fluted edges so your meringue has something to cling to!

Once the pastry is chilled, gently cover it with a double layer of foil and make sure the edges are covered a bit so they don’t brown too much. Then fill the shell with dry beans or rice, and I mean FILL it! If you only cover the bottom of the crust, the sides will slip down, so fill it like you are filling it with fruit or custard to bake it. (By the way, you can’t cook the beans or rice after you’ve used them for baking, but you can use them over and over as pie weights, so put them in a jar and save them.)

The next “trick” is proper treatment of the eggs. They should be at room temperature before you start, so put them out on the counter for a couple of hours or you can put them in a bowl of very warm water for about 30 minutes.

You need to separate your eggs, yolks for the lemon curd and whites for the meringue. I suggest using three bowls for this process, because even if you are an expert, every once in awhile, you’ll get a broken yolk, and once it’s broken into the egg whites, the whites are useless for a meringue. Any hint of fat in the whites (or in the mixing bowl or beater) will prevent the whites to whip up. The procedure is to crack the egg over one bowl and separate the white, then dump the yolk into a bowl and transfer the white into a third bowl where it will remain safely fat free. Repeat the process, egg by egg, don’t get cocky and think you can skip the first step! In the end, you should have beautiful golden yolks in one bowl ready to become lemon curd, pristine egg whites in the second bowl to be whipped into fluffy meringue and a third bowl that is empty and ready for the dishwasher!

Making the lemon curd to put into the pie isn’t difficult, but it does take some time and patience. Make sure you cook the curd on medium heat so you don’t scorch it or scramble your eggs! This recipe uses cornstarch so you begin with cold water, sugar and cornstarch mixed together in a slurry. It will be white and strange looking, but as it comes to a simmer, it turns from white to an opaque, thick mixture. (If you start with boiling water and try to add your cornstarch, it won’t dissolve properly.) Then you add your yolks a couple at a time, whisking constantly so that they don’t scramble, but become part of the silky lemon filling. Finally add lemon juice, zest and butter and you have a delicious lemon curd! I can eat it with a spoon!

For the meringue, keep your bowl and beater clean and dry, and whip the whites at low to medium speed; faster isn’t better! Add your sugar about a tablespoon at a time so it dissolves into the egg whites and continue whipping for several minutes until you reach the “stiff peak” stage. You know you’re there when you take the beater off the mixer, tap it off and then turn it over, the remaining whipped whites on the beater should stand up straight. If they are still too soft, the peak will curl over, just whip them for another minute. Be careful not to over-whip the whites or they will “break” and they start to look spongy and wet.

Assembling the pie also requires a little knowledge, though it’s not difficult at all. 1.)Make sure your pie crust is cooled to room temperature.
2.) The lemon curd should be warm (not hot).
3.) When you put the meringue on, dollop it in large scoops all over the pie and then use your spatula to meld the dollops together. Don’t spread it like frosting across the whole pie.
4.)Additionally, make sure the meringue touches the ridge of the pie crust so it attaches to it while it bakes (Otherwise the meringue will pull away from the crust and the results aren’t nearly as pretty!) and then use a large spoon to make some gentle craters in the meringue, pulling up as you draw the spoon out so it makes some nice peaks which look so nice and golden when they are baked!

Then pop the pie back into the oven for about 20 minutes or so or until the meringue is a gorgeous golden brown! Cool to room temperature before cutting into it.

Today I made one large pie for my family and two small (6”) pies for my parents and my in-laws since everyone loves lemon meringue! I also had extra egg whites so I made more meringue and will use those to serve fresh berries with later this week! Plus after a killer Zumba class, I can eat it almost guilt free! Happy #Pie day!

Mom’s Lemon Meringue Pie

1/3 c. cornstarch
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/4 t. salt
2 c. cold water
4 egg yolks, room temperature
1 Tb. grated lemon rind (about 2 lemones)
Juice of 2 lemons
2 Tb. butter

4 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 t. cream of tartar
1/2 c. sugar

1 9″ pie shell, baked and cooled

To make lemon curd:
Mix cornstarch, sugar, salt and water in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil. Cook one minute. Add about 1/4 cup of the hot mixture to the egg yolks to warm them slightly (temper them), and then add the yolks back into the cornstarch mixture in the saucepan. Cook for two minutes, stirring constantly, remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, rind and butter.
Pour into cooled pie shell. (You can also hold this off heat for a short time with a piece of plastic wrap pressed to the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Heat gently over low heat before pouring into the pie shell.)

Making sure the mixing bowl and beaters are very clean, begin to beat the eggs on low speed until frothy. Combine the cream of tartar and sugar and then add to the frothy egg whites a tablespoon at a time. Turn the mixer to medium and beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Dollop on top of the warm lemon curd and using a rubber spatula or a large spoon, gently spread the meringue to cover the pie. Make sure that the meringue is sealed to the fluted edge of the crust.

Bake at 350º for 15-20 minutes or until the meringue is golden. Cool before serving.

Vietnamese Style Chicken Salad, a crisp, cool, delicious main dish salad!

Vietnamese Style Chicken Salad. It's what's on my plate!

Recently I did a cooking demonstration for our local transit authority and all the ladies and gentlemen who drive our city buses in Rochester, as a part of their Wellness program. The topic for the day was Main Dish Salads. This was one of the recipes I shared with them and they ate every last morsel from the large bowl I prepared for them! It was an obvious hit, not surprisingly, because it is really delicious. I’ve also made this for my family and even my 12 year old son thinks it is great!

This salad is packed with tons of interesting vegetables, not just your average iceberg lettuce, and it features a crisp, tangy dressing made with virtually no oil. The addition of lean chicken makes this a great, healthy meal that you can put together in no time.

The framework for the recipe was from Fine Cooking magazine, but I’ve tweaked it by adding more veggies and changing the dressing a little.

Vietnamese-Style Chicken Salad
Chef Mary Beth Brinkerhoff, For Goodness Taste Personal Chef Services

For the dressing:
3 small shallots, coarsely chopped (1/2 cup)
1 jalapeno, chopped (seed first if you want less heat)
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup rice vinegar
zest of one lime
3 Tbs. fish sauce* (recommended but optional)
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil (optional)

1 lb. grilled chicken breast or rotisserie chicken, shredded

6 oz. package coleslaw mix
1 c. snow peas, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
½ red pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 cup fresh mint leaves, torn if large
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup salted peanuts, cashews or almonds coarsely chopped

Finely chop the shallots, jalapeno, sugar, and 1/8 tsp. pepper. Transfer to a large serving bowl and stir in the vinegar and fish sauce.
Season the chicken with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper and grill, turning once, until just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Let cool and then shred the chicken with your fingers into long thin strips, pulling the meat along its natural grain.
Toss the coleslaw mix and vegetables into the vinegar mixture. Add the chicken, mint, and cilantro and combine well. Top with the nuts and serve at room temperature.

Chef’s notes: I used a mixture of rice wine vinegar and a honeyed ginger balsamic vinegar. If you are lucky enough to have a store that carries flavored oils and vinegars like F. Olivers in Canandaigua, NY, it’s worth a field trip to explore!

Now that the warm weather is finally here, it’s time to enjoy the lighter fresher tastes of summer!!

Mango Honey Cupcakes with Lime Curd; My Turn on Baking for the Cause

Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve checked in here. I am honored today to be blogging for Frosting for the Cause! When a friend shared the information on Frosting for the Cause, I was thrilled to be able to do something tangible to deal with this insidious disease. Baking cupcakes isn’t going to stop cancer, but raising awareness will!

Breast cancer. Let me begin by saying those words make me angry. REALLY angry! In the past six months alone my dear sister-in-law Stephanie, my sweet funny friend, Tami, my dog-walking partner, Judy, and my lovely friend Mary Lou have all gotten the diagnosis of breast cancer. Really?! I just want to scream, REALLY!? It’s the year 2011 and still these wonderful women are getting breast cancer.

Each time I heard this diagnosis I thought, “Damn it!” and then I give a prayer of thanks for the invention of the mammogram, which has caught all of their cancers at a very early stage making them very treatable. (I want to know what government yutz thought that women didn’t need mammograms at age 40 last year? Remember that stupidity? ) Nobody likes to go for a mammogram. It’s uncomfortable and it always brings that little bit of worry; that “What if” moment, but I also know that each of my friends has a good prognosis because the cancer was found early and treated before it could invade the rest of their bodies. Sadly, we haven’t found a cure, but we’ve been blessed with a really good way to detect breast cancer before it’s too late.

My first exposure to breast cancer was when I was about 11 years old. My aunt had breast cancer. We didn’t live close so I wasn’t aware of her treatments or how the cancer affected her, but for an 11 year old girl, hearing ‘cancer’ was scary, and then knowing she survived it taught me that breast cancer is indeed treatable. My aunt Carol had a recurrence about 12 years later and she is a two-time survivor.

Almost 10 years ago as a young mom, my friend Barb, also a young mom, got her diagnosis. She was only in her late 30s when she was diagnosed and it was shocking and very frightening to hear that she had cancer. Barb went through her treatments with great humor and courage, but watching her family, and particularly her two young daughters, who were the same ages as my daughters, struggle and worry about her cancer and her treatments was hard. And yet, here we are 10 years later, and Barb is a survivor!

So I guess that is the theme of my post here: SURVIVORS! I am humbled by all these women who have faced the big C with such braveness, grace and strength. For my friend Tami who has spent the better part of the last 4 months feeling like she has a “belly full of melting green apple Jolly Rancher candies” yet still manages to make me laugh with her smart alec humor, for my friend Judy who was diagnosed for the second time in December and just had her mastectomy, to Mary Lou going through radiation and Steph who is done with her treatments and declared cancer-free, to Barb who will celebrate 10 years of living without cancer and Aunt Carol who is over 20 years cancer free; to Aunt Janet, Sue, Cathy and Karen, all who have been diagnosed with a form of female cancer and have survived. You are all strong, fun, funny and inspiring women!

And finally, I could not write this entry without remembering Molly, the niece of one of my dearest friends who at the age of 16 was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer that she battled valiantly for many months until she could battle no more. She went to heaven in 2009. She and her family endured her illness and her death with such love, faith and grace. The members of her large loving family are the wounded survivors of cancer.

My wish for the future is that in the next 20 years as doctors get smarter about treating cancer, they will figure out less horrific and uncomfortable treatments! We’ve figured out how to diagnose it and how to kill most of it, but I pray that someday soon the treatments will be more targeted and less draining to the people who have to go through it!

And now for the yumminess! The weather here in the Northeast has been frigid and snowy for way too long now and I decided it was time for a little tropical sunshine in cupcake form! Today’s recipe is for Honey Mango Margarita Cupcakes with Lime Curd and Sea Salt.
The original cupcake recipe was shared with me by a fellow personal chef and can be found on the National Honey Board website, but of course, I’ve tweaked it and made it better!

Honey Mango Margarita Cupcakes with Sea Salt
– Makes 12-14 cupcakes –

2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup ripe mango purée
Zest and juice (1/4 cup) of one lime
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup Butter, softened
1/2 cup orange blossom honey
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350° F. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt; set aside. In a small bowl, combine mango purée, lime zest and juice, and buttermilk; set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Add honey; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time. Add half of the reserved dry ingredients to the butter mixture; mix on low until just combined. With mixer running on low, slowly add the mango mixture. Add remaining dry ingredients until just combined. Fill paper-lined muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove to wire rack; cool. Frost with Mango Lime Buttercream frosting (below).
*Any mild-flavored honey such as Wildflower or Clover may be used

These are delicious on their own, but I added a lime curd filling to “gild the lily” a bit with delicious results!

Lime Curd
Makes 3/4 cup

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated lime zest (about 2 limes)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Combine sugar, eggs, lime zest, and juice in a medium nonreactive saucepan, and set over medium-low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken and holds the mark of the whisk, about 15-20 minutes.
Remove pan from heat, and whisk in butter, a piece at a time, until well combined. Strain mixture through a sieve into a glass bowl. Lay plastic directly on surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill 3 hours.

Take each cupcake and using a small melon ball scoop or round teaspoon measure, scoop out a small circle from the top of each cake and reserve it to “plug” the hole. Scoop out another spoonful of cake to make a nice tunnel and then fill each cavity with lime curd using a piping bag or small spoon.

Replace the top of the cupcake and then frost.

Mango Lime Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup Butter, softened
1/2 cup ripe mango, puréed
Zest and juice (1/4 cup) of one lime
2 Tablespoons Wildflower honey
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy. Add mango purée, lime zest and juice, and honey; mix well. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until desired spreading consistency.

I topped mine with some candied lime peel and a sprinkle of Maldon Sea Salt. Fabulous!

Today’s strategy….Cook Big (and stay home)!

So this weekend I used one of my favorite strategies to make weeknight’s easier. Cook BIG~ or prepare way more than you need for a meal and freeze it!

If you don’t have a second freezer, I highly recommend it. You can find great deals on meats when they are on sale and freeze them for later use, buy bulk (for example a half a pig, or lamb which I did this year!) and also to freeze meals for future use!

Today was Sunday Sauce day. Sunday Sauce simmers for several hours on the stove and makes the house smell like heaven!

This is my 12 quart stockpot full of tomato sauce. As you can see, it’s almost full and this one big pot will make several meals. Today I breaded and fried up some chicken breast cutlets and made two pans of chicken Parmesan.
Chicken Parm!
Again, if I am making the mess of breading and pan frying, why make just one meal? We ate one pan tonight for dinner with a side of Barilla-Plus spaghetti and some greens and beans. The other pan will go in the freezer for a dinner in December. (It was on the master list so I can check that off!)

The rest of the sauce is packaged in freezer containers, some large for spaghetti dinners, and a couple of smaller ones for homemade pizza night.

Another tip, when we are in the thick of sports season and rarely eat at the same time, I will package individual servings in small gratin dishes. Everyone can then pick what they want from what’s in the freezer, heat and eat when they are available and clean up is a breeze since it is in one dish. I often do this for my clients!

I am planning a couple of “Cook Big” nights this week with some quick cooking soups and by using my crockpot. By next weekend I will have a nice selection of things in my freezer and there is nothing I love more than knowing I have something ready to go to feed the family!

Crispy Chicken Parmesan (Serves 8-10)
8-10 chicken breast cutlets
3 eggs
2 c. flour
2 c. Panko bread crumbs
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tb. Italian herb seasoning
salt and pepper
Canola or Peanut oil for pan frying
8 c. Marinara sauce (homemade or an all natural variety)
2 c. shredded Italian cheese
1/2 lb. Spaghetti, cooked

Set up a standard breading station. First tray: flour seasoned with 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper. Second tray: beat the eggs until smooth. Third tray: Panko, cheese, herb seasoning and 1 tsp. salt.
Heat oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until it ripples. There should be about 1/4″ of oil in the pan. Dip each of the cutlets into the flour, shake off excess. Dip in egg and completely coat it and then dip in the Panko. Place cutlets into the pan, 2-3 at a time, don’t crowd them, and cook 3 minutes or until nicely browned, and then flip for another 2 minutes. Remove cutlets to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Once all the cutlets are done assemble in the pan.
Spray the bottom of two 9×13 Pyrex dishes with cooking spray. Add about 2 cups of sauce to each, place 4-5 cutlets in each pan, overlapping slightly if needed. Top with cheese.
Preheat oven to 350º and bake chicken for 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.
(If freezing, don’t bake. Freeze once assembled and then thaw in the fridge overnight and bake as directed.)