Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bacon-Wrapped Artichoke Hearts with a side of other non-bacony stuff

Snacks plates are a regular menu item at our friend Jessica's house. In fact, they're one of the secret weapons in her $250/month food budget.  We are no where near the $250/month mark. In fact, we spend $250 a week on groceries round these part (here's why). But the snack plates seemed like a pretty good idea, so we tried them.  The kids were pretty meh about the whole thing.  

But tonight we may have struck on something that even the pickiest kid will like....

These little babies are Bacon-Wrapped Artichoke Hearts, ready to pop in the oven.  They're so simple!

  • package of bacon
  • container of artichoke hearts (use marinated in a jar or un-marinated in a can, whatever you prefer. Just be sure to retain some of the liquid)
  • toothpicks (or something like 'em. we had wooden skewers handy)
1) cut the bacon in half (TIP: use scissors instead of a knife. It's much easier!)

2) Quarter the artichoke hearts and wrap each with 1/2 piece of bacon.

3) Line 'em up, sprinkle with the leftover artichoke juice ...

4) and bake 'em at 425 degrees for 12 - 14 minutes. 

5) Serve with whatever non-bacony side items strike your fancy. For us, it's carrots, sliced red pepper, clementines, blueberries, crackers, and two cheeses (Cheddar Clothbound Cabot & "stinky cheese", a.k.a. Zamorano)

(and no, that entire plate isn't mine! Jason, Olivia and I split it. Miranda and Hannah are at the theatre most nights this month.)

Jason - I thought it was pretty good. Anything with bacon's good in my book. How about Bacon-Wrapped Bacon tomorrow night?! These would be a really simple appetizer for a party, especially if you have a large crowd.

Tanya - Agreed! Simple and tasty (you can even taste the artichoke - honest) and I actually like the sides too. 

Olivia - (review phoned in from upstairs, where she's frantically reading for school) It was good. I really the bacon-wrapped artichokes. Do we have any more of those?!? (no) You should definitely write that they need to make lots more bacon-wrapped artichokes than they think they'll need.  (done)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Parmesan Pork with Herb Sauce

We'd planned My Brother's Chicken Tacos for last night. But then we found out that our favorite Birmingham beer bar (and Draft Magazines Best 100 in U.S.), The J Clyde, would be duking it out with another little tavern up in Huntsville to sell the most Heavy Seas Winter Storm .... well, we had to scrap the original plan and head out for great beer and a hummus plate.

So, instead of Tacos, we offer today a recipe for one of our all-time favorites: Parmesan Pork with Herb Sauce from the Publix Simple Meals series.


  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon peel
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, finely chopped - (we've used dried sage as well) 
  • 1 cup Italian-style panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 egg whites (or 1/4 cup egg white substitute)
  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb)
  • 1 1/2 cups reduced-fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 packet garlic/herb sauce mix (about 1 1/2 oz)


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.  Zest/grate lemon peel (no white). Chop sage.
  2. Combine on plate, lemon peel, panko, Parmesan cheese, and salt. Combine in bowl the lemon juice and egg whites. Dip pork lightly into egg mixture; then press and turn in panko mixture to coat (wash hands). 
  3. Bake 20–25 minutes or until 160°F (for medium). Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.
  4. Combine milk, butter, and sauce mix; bring to a boil on medium, whisking to blend.  Reduce to medium-low. Stir in sage; cook and stir continuously, 2–3 minutes, or until thickened. 
  5. Slice pork and serve with sauce.

It's a hit in our house... hope you enjoy it too!

Photo Credit:  J Clyde photo from

Monday, December 12, 2011

Red Velvet Cake Balls - Part 2

Our first take on Red Velvet Cake Balls featured milk-chocolatey goodness. We also promised a lower-calorie, lower-fat version and here ya go:

Doesn't look particularly healthy, does it? But it is (at least healthier than most holiday goodies), thanks to a nutrient-packed secret weapon from that last holiday...

Most cake box mixes call for at least two eggs (164 calories -- 104 calories from fat) and 1/2 a cup of oil (964 calories -- 100% from fat). Leave out the eggs and oil and use, instead, 2 cups of canned pumpkin. It's got 166 calories (only 12 calories from fat) and gives you 0 cholesterol, 5 grams of protein, and loads of Vitamin A. Night vision, anyone?

It works great in muffin and cupcake recipes. When I was making these Red Velvet Cake Balls it was a bit messier than the egg/oil version. The consistency with pumpkin is moister/gooeyer; but you can compensate by freezing them a bit longer before rolling in white chocolate and sprinkle heaven.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pork Scallopini with Butter Caper Sauce

(Woo Hoo!! Jason is writing a blog post... the first in many, many months - he's usually content to cook and eat. Here goes:)

One of my favorite Birmingham restaurants is Urban Standard.  It's a cool place to hang out. You'll find professionals (it's my office away from the office) sitting table to table with people of all ages just hanging.  

Trevor and the staff always serve excellent food (Tanya loves the cupcakes) and it fits with our values.

One of my favorite lunch entrees is the Pork Scallopine.  I was craving it today, but unfortunately Urban Standard is closed on Sundays so I had to fend for myself.  **If anyone at Urban Standard would like to share the restaurant recipe, I’d love to try it at home …  please :-) **

I wasn’t able to Google a recipe that approximates Urban Standard’s, but I did find two that showed up over and over again: one with a butter caper sauce and the other with a mushroom marsala sauce.  We love mushrooms, and Cassie Craves’ recipe looks really nice.  But I was a little worried the marsala would overwhelm the pork.  So, I opted instead for this Butter Caper Sauce recipe

  • 1.5 pounds pork tenderloin (we had them butterflied, so nice and thin)
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 1.5 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

1. Slice pork into 1/2 inch slices on a diagonal (we skipped this -- remember, butterflied)
2. Pound pork thin between plastic wrap with a meat mallet (a.k.a. Tanya's hammer. She's already hung four pictures with it today.)
3. Sift together the flour and salt.
4. Lightly dredge pork and shake off any excess flour.
5. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
6. Cook the pork 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden and transfer to a warm plate.
7.  Wipe out skillet.
8. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a skillet.
9. Add the capers, white wine and lemon juice.
10. Allow to reduce just a little before adding the final tablespoon of butter.
11. Mix slowly to incorporate and remove immediately from the heat.
12. Spoon the sauce over the pork and serve. 
I followed the recipe fairly closely (I’m not real good with measuring things … just like to eyeball it … probably being lazy rather than creative).   I decided to pair it with just a little angel hair pasta and Brussels Sprouts, made in the traditional Fulmore/Ott Fashion.  We slice in half, drizzle some sea salt and olive oil on it and then bake those little jewels at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so.  It is by far one of our favorite side dishes and, given our schedules of late, we haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy them as much as we’d like.  I’d like to branch out a little on preparing the sprouts … if anyone has any suggestions please let us know.

Of course you can’t enjoy Pork Scallopini without a really great beer: Existent by Stillwater Artisanal. I picked it up at Charleston Beer Exchange during our anniversary trip in June.  The guys at CBE recommended it based on the other beer I bought (Allagash, Jolly Pumpkin, and others that I still can't find in Alabama).  Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal describes Existent as …
Representing the philosophy behind Stillwater Artisanal.  We strive to define ourselves through our passion and sincerity while accepting that not all aspects of life are readily explanable.  To manifest this ideology we present an ale of intrigue, deep and dark, though deceptively dry, braced by a firm yet smooth bitterness and accented with an earthy hop and mild roast aroma.  This is an ale for you to define...
Brian is a Gypsy brewer. What's that mean? Check out this story that aired on NPR's Weekend Edition.


Jason - I though it was excellent! If the pork had been prepared just a wee bit better, ala Urban Standard, it would have been unbelievable! I will tell you the sauce, to me, was a little thin. I would have liked to have a little thicker sauce; but all in all, very good. 

Tanya - Loved it... LOVED IT! The pork was really moist (despite the smoke and crust  --- we had a little burning "incident" that Jason didn't go into in his blog post, but it involved too much oil and too high a temperature) and the Butter Caper Sauce was very tasty. And of course I'll eat Brussels Sprouts from here to next Wednesday.

Miranda - Burnt! There's no other way to describe it. I don't want it. (note: she's in a, um, "mood")

Olivia - I didn't like the chicken. It wasn't very good.  (um, pork, babe... pork)

Hannah - I really like the pork. It was great! Crispy on the outside but juicy and stuff on the inside.  The green cabbage things, I didn't like. They're too mushy. But it's okay. Whatever.

                   ~~~~~~            ~~~~~~           ~~~~~~         

Another recipe that looked really interesting is this one for Honey Mustard Pork Scaloppini. Think we'll try that one soon.  In the meantime, the plan for the rest of the week is:

My Brother’s Chicken Tacos – The Pioneer Woman 


Chicken from Oman - part of Olivia's World of Food series


Friday – we’re farming out the kids and having a Date Night!

Photo Credits: Urban Standard by ACNatta

Friday, December 9, 2011

Red Velvet Cake Balls

First, a shout out to @Miyuki704 who turned me onto these little drops of red velvet wonder.

She heard about my early New Year's Resolution to conquer my fear of baking and suggested I check out Bakerella's Red Velvet Cake Balls.  I'm so glad she did because not only are they easy (time consuming, yes... but easy), but they're super yummy!


  • 1 box Red Velvet cake mix 
  • 1 can cream cheese frosting (16 oz)
  • 1 package chocolate bark (regular or white chocolate)
  • wax paper

1. Cook cake according to directions on box, cool completely, then crumble into a large bowl.

2. Mix can of cream cheese frosting into the crumbled cake (I used my hands. Messy, but effective)

3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet.

4. Chill for several hours in fridge, or speed up the process by popping into the freezer for a while (I put mine in for 35 minutes)

5. Melt chocolate in microwave per directions on the package (do only a few blocks at a time because it does harden up rather quickly)

6. Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper to firm up.

I'm already imaging all of the variations. Maybe coconut sprinkled on top before it hardens? How about white chocolate covering with colored sprinkles for a kids' party?  Different cake mixes?

I've already made another batch of cake crumbles using this tip that saves tons of calories and fat. Olivia's going to mix in the frosting and make the balls tonight with her sleepover friends. We'll let ya know tomorrow whether it works!

(photo credit: top photo from Bakerella)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Steamed Tuna Steaks with Zucchini and some AWESOME (!) Bread

Jason and I have been cooking together for nearly 25 years (wow - that makes us sound really old!).  The first few years were filled with lots of ramen noodles and spaghetti (it was college - don't judge).  We then graduated to stir fry and the weekly menu looked something like this:

Monday - chicken stir fry with Worcestershire sauce
Tuesday - beef stir fry with soy sauce
Wednesday - chicken stir fry with store-bought marinade sauce
Thursday - beef stir fry with Worcestershire sauce

(you get the idea)

Jason grew up in a traditional home. He mother never was taught to cook (women's work, ya know).  I also grew up in a traditional home (once, when Grandpa was left alone for a week, he fried up and ate dog food patties that'd been left in the freezer), but my Dad - an Iowa farm boy - occasionally took to the kitchen.

It could be fear inducing.  His "dump soup" is family legend - and I still remember the peanut butter and jelly omelets he tried to pawn off on me and friend who'd spent the night.  But he could also whip up the basics - eggs, bacon, spaghetti, etc.  And mom made sure all of us - including my brother - left the home knowing how to cook.

Fast forward 25 years and Jason and I share duties in the kitchen and our repertoire has greatly expanded. But, our philosophies are still different.  He's a "recipe" cook who pays attention to detail and generally follows the rules. That's what makes him a good baker.  Much like my Dad, I'm a bit more "make it up as you go", occasionally combining random ingredients I find in the pantry and fridge, while praying it comes out alright.  Often, when I tell Jason what I'm making for dinner he'll politely inquire: "Is this a real recipe or something you made up?"

So, I ask you: how do you answer when it's a real recipe that you've tweaked so much it may not look much like the original?  Last night I made Rachael Ray's Rosemary Grilled Tuna Steaks with Eggplant and Zucchini.  The original recipe follows, with my changes noted in parenthesis.


  • 4 tuna steaks, 6 to 8 ounces each
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, just enough to lightly coat the steaks
  • 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves chopped, about 3 tablespoons (It's 30 degrees outside. We have no fresh rosemary. I'd planned to use dried rosemary, which one commenter on the original recipe site said worked fine, but I forgot. Oh well!)
  • steak seasoning blend or coarse salt & pepper (I opted for the latter)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (didn't use this - see explanation below) 
Eggplant and Zucchini Topping Ingredients 

  •  2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 small, young, firm eggplant, chopped (we're not eggplant fans, so we left this out)
  • 1 small zucchini, chopped
  • 1 small yellow squash, chopped
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves chopped (30 degrees. Nothing growing. Didn't feel like spending $4 for a small packet of fresh thyme)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 small vine ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced (I'm the only one who likes tomatoes, so I used one and didn't bother with seeding since the seeds don't bother me. In fact, I ate 1/2 of the tomato whole while prepping the meal.)
Preheat grill pan to high. Coat tuna in balsamic and season with rosemary, salt and pepper. Drizzle fish with oil, coating lightly on both sides. ***

Preheat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons EVOO. Add garlic and onion and saute 2-3 minutes. Add zucchini and squash to the pan, turn to coat and combine with garlic and onion.  Add eggplant, thyme, salt and pepper (again, no eggplant or thyme in ours). Cook, stirring frequently, 10 minutes, until veggies are fork tender. 

Grill tuna, 2-3 minutes on each side for rare, up to 6 minutes on each side for well done.   (***Note: I opted to steam the tuna instead of grill it. It's easier and saves calories. Just put about 1.5 inches of water in bottom of steamer - I use a microwave one - and steam tuna stakes for 8-10 minutes). 

When tuna is done and veggies are fork tender, stir the chopped tomatoes into the eggplant/zucchini mix and remove from pan.  Serve the tuna topped with the vegetable salsa. 

Consider serving it with this awesome Vegetable Antipasto Stuffed Bread, also from Rachael Ray (this time, with only minor tweaks):

  • 1 loaf crusty bread, 9 - 12 inches in length
  • parsley (no amount give in Rachael's recipe. I sprinkled a bunch of dried parsely into the pesto mix)
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and chopped
  • 1/4 cup black pitted calamata or oil cured olives, chopped (we used green, pimento-stuffed olives)
  • 1/2 cup prepared pesto sauce
  • 1/4 pound deli sliced provolone (we used shredded mozzarella)
  • 1 jar, 16 to 18 roasted red peppers, drained (we used significantly less than that #. Maybe 2 total)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts in water, drained (we also used significantly less than that. Maybe 2 artichoke hearts total)
  • 1 cup giardiniera (a.k.a. pickled vegetables... can include hot pickled peppers, cauliflower, carrots, etc. I found it near the pickles at Publix. You can also find it in the Italian foods aisle)
  • salt and pepper
  • EVOO for drizzling
Cut the top off a loaf of crusty bread. Hollow out the inside of the bread.  Mix parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and pesto sauce in a bowl. 

Spread the mixture evenly across the bottom of the hallowed out bread. 

Layer cheese into the loaf, then the roasted red peppers on top of the cheese. 

Add the artichoke hearts over the peppers.

And sprinkle the chopped hot pickled veggies on top and drizzle with some EVOO.

Replace the top, then cut the stuffed loaf into pieces and serve.  I am in love with this recipe!  So simple, so tasty.... (even if the kids don't like it.  To quote Olivia, "Um, yeah... I don't like that stuff.  But the tuna was good!" 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Need Tips for Dealing with a Contractor

We need your input/help. We usually do home renovations ourselves. Since buying our 1978 fixer-upper four years ago here's what we've accomplished:

1.  Pulled out the carpet in the kitchen (YES!! they covered the kitchen floor with that ubiquitous blue office carpet. GROSS!) and the gold shag carpet in the living and dining rooms and replaced it with a nice maple laminate.

2. Built an island, complete with wine fridge and tiled countertop, in the kitchen and pulled out the poo-colored brown laminate backsplash and replaced it with a nice glass tile.

3. Ripped out the 1970's bar (complete with gold laminate countertop) in the family room, flipped it around on the wall, refinished it, built a new top and added bookshelves above -- voila, a "built in" bookcase!

4. Lots of other ripping out of ugly wallpaper (we had TIKI HEADS on our dining room wall!) and painting of various surfaces.

But this latest project has us a bit flumoxed (I *don't* to electricity!), so we're calling in the experts.  The first contractor is coming this morning. What advice do you have? What questions should we ask? What should we be watching for when choosing which contractor to go with?

Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peppermint Snowflakes ... and other adventures in Holiday Baking

You know what's super cruel?!? Blogging about your baking escapades when you know your co-workers read the blog, but you aren't bringing in any to share!

So, a disclaimer:  I will make more and bring them in to the radio station. I promise!

But first, we have to take care of all the teachers (23 of them?!?), especially since the new state ethics law outlaws most other types of holiday gifts.  (which, by the way, I'm okay with ... more on that on a blog post coming tomorrow).

Back to the baking. Let's be clear. I am not a baker. Jason bakes bread. From scratch. By hand. Really impressive bread like this Ethiopian Spiced Honey Bread that he helped Olivia make for her World of Food series.

I usually bake from a box. And sometimes I even screw that up (like the time I used lemon juice concentrate instead of freshly squeezed lemon juice in a poppyseed cake I made Dad for Father's Day). But, inspired by really good bakers like my friends Melanie and Erika, I'm putting "learning how to bake" at the top of the culinary resolution list for 2012.  I thought I'd get a head start by trying a little scratch baking this holiday.  Here's the result...

Melissa d'Arabian's recipe is called "Delicate Mint Sandwich Holiday Cookies" - but I prefer "Peppermint Snowflakes".  It's punchier. And I didn't have a round cookie cutter (see!!! I'm really NOT a baker!), so I made mine into snowflake shapes.  I also doubled the recipe to it would make 24 complete sandwich cookies. The amounts below are the "doubled" amounts.

Ingredients for Cookies:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 6 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • colored sugars (green, blue, red, silver, white, whatever. I used red.)
Ingredients for Mint Filling:
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar (for us non-bakers, that's a.k.a. "powdered sugar")
  • 4 tbsp butter, softened
  • 4 drops mint extract
  • 4 drops red or green food coloring (I used red, but it turned out kinda pink. Which I like!)
  • confectioners' sugar, for dusting, optional (I forgot this part)
For the cookies: Preheat over to 375 degrees F. Cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar until smooth using a handheld mixer (or stand mixer, if you're lazy like me).  Slowly add the flour until incorporated.  Scoop the dough into a ball using your hands, put in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough has firmed slightly (about 30 minutes, give or take a little bit)

On a floured surface, roll the dough about 1/8-inch thick. (I resisted the urge to take out a ruler and measure the thickness. Just make sure it's all the same thickness. And it's not too thick.)  Now it's time to cut your cookies. If you've got round cookie cutters like d'Arabian's you can use them to cut cookies, then cut a smaller hole in 1/2 of the cookies. Like this:

Aren't those pretty!?! 

If you're like me, though, and you've got a limited selection of cutters, just chose one you like and start cutting! As you do, transfer the cut cookies to a baking sheet and sprinkle with colored sugars. Re-roll the dough scraps and repeat until all the dough is used. 

Bake cookies until golden around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. 

For the filling: 
Place the sugar, butter, mint extract, food coloring and 1/2 tsp water in a medium bowl and beat on medium until mixed and fluffy. Spread thin layer of filling on cooled cookies, then top with another cookie. Don't be like me! Remember to sprinkle the finished cookies with confectioners' sugar.

Enjoy! And be sure to save some to share (and please... post your favorite holiday cookie recipes below. I'd love to try them!)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Scallops with Creamy Bacon Corn Sauce

I'm sitting here in the studio (between breaks in Morning Edition) listening to Martha Stewart talk about entertaining. She's got a new book (her 75th!?!) called "Entertaining"...

Martha's giving some useful tips (if you're going to wait till morning to clean-up from a party, be sure to put a little water in the wine glasses so the leftover wine doesn't etch the glass).

And she's reminiscing about her years in prison and how she used her monthly stipend to buy clay and mold a nativity set that she says looked just like Wedgewood. Ohhh, Martha!

Her book includes hosting tips, decorating ideas and recipes, including one for Noah's Ark Cookies.  Got me thinking -- how long did it take Noah to build the Ark?  According to one source, about 40-50 years. And that's exactly how long it seems to be taking to finish my latest building project.

Yes, Jason set an eight day deadline; but after he unceremoniously hammered into the soffit and that led to taking down the walls, and then we found that under the tiled floor was a crumbling concrete pad (on the 2nd floor? Was HardiBacker not invented in 1978?), well - let's just say the timeline and the budget have expanded.

Yesterday was filled with hours of reno, bags of chunked up concrete lined up on the front stoop, and...

Baking. Yes, that time honored holiday tradition of attempting to look like I know how to bake. This year's Bake-Fest takes on special meaning given a new state ethics law that outlaws gift cards and "anything of value" for public school teachers.  Here's a preview of what Olivia & I made:

(more on those goodies in a post coming soon....)

As soon as I get time to do anything besides destroying drywall or mixing sugar and butter!  We've been so busy that lately that we haven't had a chance to blog about all the great meals we've been making. But here's a really good one I wanted to share.

Scallops with Creamy Bacon Corn Sauce (from Publix Apron's Simple Meals)

  • 4 slices bacon
  • 3/4 lbs scallops
  • 1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
  • corn (can be removed from 3 ears fresh corn or use one can corn)
  • 1/3 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup diced onions
  • 1/3 cup diced bell peppers
  • 1/8 cup coarsely chopped chives
  • 1 tbsp blackening seasoning
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • salt & papper

1.  Preheat saute pan on medium-high for 2-3 minutes. Season scallops with salt and pepper. Put oil in pan,  add scallops and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden, opaque and firm. Remove from  pan, put on plate and cover to keep warm.

2. Cut bacon into small piece (use kitchen scissors.... it's easier!). Cook in pan 3-4 minutes until crisp. Drain bacon fat, reserving one tablespoon in pan. Stir in tomatoes, onions, and peppers (It's called a "Trinity Mix" -- anyone know why?!?!). Cook 2-3 minutes.

3. Combine blackening seasoning, half-and-half and corn; add to pan.

4. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 3-4 minutes more, stirring.

Transfer corn mixture to service dish and top with scallops and chives.