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.

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!!

How to avoid the hypnotic draw of the neon Drive Thru signs or the Tale of a Busy Mom!

In addition to being a mom and a personal chef, for the past 25 years of my life I have also been a speech pathologist. I worked in schools for several years before having children and once our second daughter was born 14 years ago, I found a position with a small agency where I remained until this past August. It was a perfect job that allowed me great flexibility to be home with my kids most of the time, and as they got older, it gave me time to start my chef business. In August I parted ways with my employer and for the first time in a long time was looking for another job. As most of you know, the job market is tough, even for teachers and therapists, and so I am still looking, but meanwhile I am filling a two month maternity leave in a local school district. It is a full time job 8-3:30, Monday through Friday.

I realize that a great majority of people do this and more each and every week, and I will go on record as saying that I have always had a great respect for working parents, and even more now as I am experiencing the crazy, hectic schedule and the physical exhaustion that accompanies working full time and managing a busy family of five!

After a couple of weeks on this new gig, I completely understand the hypnotic draw of neon signs saying “Drive thru” and “Pick Up Window” that seem to get brighter and more intense at say…5 pm while driving home to figure out what to feed the family! I get it! I really do! BUT…. I also know how important good nutritious food is for me and for my family. I know how much better it tastes to eat a home cooked meal AND I know that even with this new chaos in our lives, there IS a way to make it happen without collapsing on the floor in exhaustion or being chained to the kitchen after arriving home!

Tonight I ran into one of my neighbors, also a teacher and busy mom, in the grocery store on the way home from work. She jokingly asked what WE were having for dinner as she was trying to figure out what THEY were having for dinner. And it got me to thinking that maybe I should share some of my techniques for those of you struggling to “do it all!” Do we still order a pizza once in a while, you bet! And yes, even at the chef’s house, we have breakfast for dinner on occasion when the best laid plans fly out the window, but with some planning ahead, a couple of great kitchen tools and strategies, we can all eat better at home! So for the next few weeks I’ll share whatever tips I can along with some simple recipes that my family loves, and hopefully yours will too!

Tonight’s strategy? Ask for everyone’s input! I started this tradition many years ago when I got in a rut or got bored with what my palate was thinking of for dinner. I ask each family member to think of 5-7 dishes that they would like to eat at dinner time. Not only does that give me a nice selection of approximately 20 dishes (there are always overlaps between the kids), but it really cuts down on the upturned noses at the table. I asked them all for there lists this week and so far here is my working list in no particular order:
*Pasta Fagiole
*Cider Braised Chicken
*Salmon Burgers with Ginger
*Steak Fajitas
*Turkey Lettuce Wraps
*Fried Chicken
*Grilled Steaks
*Lamb Chops
*Homemade Pizza
*Chicken Noodle Soup
*Chicken Pot Pie
*Tilapia with Chile Lime Butter
*Beef Stew
*Pulled Pork
*Linguine with White Clam Sauce
*Shrimp Scampi
*Turkey Burgers with Wasabi Mayo
*Chicken Parmesan
*Mexican Tortilla Soup
*Pizza Supreme Soup

That made my life much easier already! With Thanksgiving and Christmas looming, we might not make it through them all, but it really helps me to organize a monthly menu. That’s right, I said MONTHLY!

When I make a monthly menu I always leave a few days blank for leftovers, to use up some things that we have, to try a new recipe that sounds delicious or if we have a crazy night and the plan becomes a joke…

And tonight our dinner utilized another of my favorite tips that I’ll talk about later….stocking the freezer! I had ground turkey ready to go and I was able to whip up a batch of our favorite Asian turkey lettuce cups!
Happy weekend!

A perfect taste of summer~Roasted Tomato Soup

As summer sadly wanes and fall is creeping up on us, this is prime time to savor the delicious summer bounty. I had a few pounds of gorgeous tomatoes sitting on the counter waiting to be eaten and today, with a little rain outside and a chill in the air, it was the perfect day to make Roasted Tomato Soup.

As a kid, I HATED tomato soup. The stuff in the can doesn’t taste like tomatoes at all and add to it a grilled cheese sandwich with the ubiquitous American cheese and it was one of my worst nightmare dinners! But homemade tomato soup is completely different. Made with fresh tomatoes that are concentrated down to their perfectly delicious essence, a bowl of fresh tomato soup is really just sublime.

This recipe is so fast and easy, it makes a perfect meal on a busy weeknight, and of course you should make extra and freeze it so in the middle of snowy January, you can dig it out of the freezer and remember that summer will, in fact, come again!

For this recipe, you begin by roasting your tomatoes. If you have never roasted a tomato, you are really missing something! It is simple to do and you can use any type of tomato to roast. (You can even do a bunch of cherry tomatoes left on the vine, they make a great presentation as a garnish on a vegetable plate or a grilled salad!) Just crank the oven up to 450º, slice your tomatoes in half (or quarters if they are large) drizzle with olive oil, add some garlic cloves and roast them for 20-30 minutes until they begin to caramelize. You can roast them and freeze them, make a simple sauce out of them for pasta, or make them into soup! Oven roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic
We had a three cheese crouton to accompany the soup tonight and my eleven year old son decided that dunking the bread into his soup tasted just like pizza! Alrighty then, dunk away!

Roasted Tomato Soup
(adapted from Tyler Florence)

2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes — (if possible use a mix of fresh heirlooms, cherry, vine and plum tomatoes)
6 cloves garlic — peeled
1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia — sliced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 quart chicken stock
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Wash, core and cut the tomatoes into halves. Spread the tomatoes, garlic cloves and onions onto a baking tray. If using vine cherry tomatoes for garnish, add them as well, leaving them whole and on the vine. Drizzle with 1/4 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until caramelized.

Remove roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot (set aside the roasted vine tomatoes for later). Add 3/4 of the chicken stock, the bay leaves, and the butter. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a third.

Wash and dry basil leaves and add to the pot. Use an immersion blender, or transfer in batches to a food processor or blender and puree the soup until smooth. Return soup to low heat, adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish in bowl with 3 or 4 roasted vine cherry tomatoes and a splash of heavy cream.

Serves 4-6.

Aztec Chipotle Lamb Chops with Citrus-Cilantro Yogurt Crema

I’ve been out of the kitchen for almost a month due to a broken foot. It’s been a long hot summer, but I’m back in the saddle and ready to cook!
In May, I picked up 1/2 of a lamb from Kyle Farms right here in my home town! We have chops, riblets, ground lamb, leg and shoulder to enjoy over the next few months.
Yesterday was another hot day here in western NY, so while my family spent the afternoon at a baseball game, I spent some time keeping cool at home and developing a recipe for dinner using the chops from Kyle Farms.

Often when I make lamb chops I will do it the French way with a simple but delicious herb and breadcrumb coating (aka persillade). It’s very straightforward and really fabulous! Sometimes I lean toward the Mediterranean flavors and do a garlic and rosemary paste on lamb with a little mint, but this time I wanted to do something a little different.
It’s been so hot recently that I have been thinking of something Latin. Something spicy, smokey and bold.

I love using rubs on beef and lamb to impart flavors and to create a nice crust when it’s broiled or grilled. The all natural lamb is so flavorful I wanted something to compliment the sweetness of the meat so I got out my spices and got to work! Coffee imparts a really smokey, deep flavor and cocoa powder gives a great depth of flavor that reads as very savory, not sweet like chocolate. In Mexican cooking, dark, unsweetened chocolate is sometimes added to a sauce such as mole to add a really deep rich flavor. It is a perfect ingredient in a rub for something like beef or lamb that can stand up to some bold ingredients. To balance all the deep, rich flavors, I chose to use dark brown sugar that has more molasses and is very rich as well. The sugar is an important part of the rub that will caramelize when put on the hot grill.
I needed some heat for this rub and went with ground chipotle as the cayenne would be too “in your face” and the ancho got lost with all the deep flavors of the coffee and cocoa. Chipotle peppers are smoked jalepenos, so that there is a nice smokey undertone and a warm, gentle heat that is one of my favorites! It took a little time to get the ratio just right, but I was very happy with the final product.

Once the rub came together, I decided that a nice fresh, light crema would be perfect to accompany the sweet, smoky spicy lamb. I wanted something a little sweet but not cloying, and fresh with a lot of citrus. I had cilantro in my fridge which was exactly what I needed to round out the flavors.

A word of advice is to make sure you don’t overcook the chops. They cook really quickly and there is nothing worse than lamb cooked past medium rare. (Well, maybe overdone fish… but that is another post! ) Whether you grill, broil or pan sear your lamb chops, watch them carefully and don’t walk away!

I served the lamb chops with potato stuffed mini peppers and broiled asparagus and dinner got four thumbs up around the table

Grilled Kyle Farms Aztec Chipotle Lamb Chops with Citrus-Cilantro Yogurt Crema
Serves: 4

8 Kyle Farms natural lamb chops

3 Tb. finely ground coffee or espresso
1 Tb. unsweetened cocoa powder (such as Ghiradelli brand)
1 Tb. sugar
2 Tb. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. ground chipotle pepper
1 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. kosher salt

Citrus-Cilantro Yogurt Sauce:
1 6-8 oz. container of plain, non-fat Greek style yogurt
2 Tb. orange blossom honey
1 lime, zested and juiced
½ lemon, zested and juiced
1 clove garlic, grated
¼ c. chopped fresh cilantro

Assemble all ingredients for the rub in a small bowl. Spoon liberally onto both sides of the chops, and pat gently to make the rub adhere. Place chops on a platter, cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator for about 20 minutes prior to grilling. Store any unused rub in an airtight container in the pantry for up to 6 months.

Assemble the Citrus-Cilantro Yogurt Sauce and chill in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours to allow the flavors to meld.

Preheat grill on high for 7-8 minutes or to 400º, then turn off the burners on one side to create a cooler side to the grill. Sear the chops for about 2 minutes on the hot side of the grill, turn and sear for another 2 minutes, then move the chops to the cooler side of the grill and cook for another 2-4 minutes or until just medium rare. Cover with a tent of foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes before eating.

To serve, make a small pool of yogurt sauce on the plate and top with two lamb chops per person, or to serve family style, line the chops up on a platter and drizzle the sauce over the top.