The Stay At Home Chef: November 2012

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Fennel and Fontina Grilled Cheese

Oh fennel, how I adore thee! If you aren't familiar with fennel I suggest you check out the cooking lesson below so that you too can become hooked on fennel. It is tasty and amazing. So, of course, why not throw it on a grilled cheese to bring those gourmet grown up flavors to the children's classic! Let's face it, slather most things in cheese and they will be divine! Lunch, dinner, or even mini ones as an appetizer, this grilled cheese is sure to elevate the classic into a crowd pleaser.


1 bulb of fennel, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
4 oz fontina cheese, shredded
8 slices sourdough bread (you could really just use whatever bread you want, but I prefer using something a bit fancier for my grilled cheese like artisan breads)


1. Heat olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium high heat. Saute the fennel for 7-10 minutes until it softens up. Add salt and pepper as it cooks, to taste.

2. Prepare the bread by buttering one side of each slice.

3. Compile the sandwich with a slice of bread on bottom (buttered side on the outside), a layer of cheese, a layer of cooked fennel, another layer of cheese, and anther bread slice on top.

4. Cook over medium heat, flipping halfway through. Sandwich will be done when bread is browned and cheese is melted and gooey.

I am just torn whether to talk about the art of  grilled cheese making in this cooking lesson or to talk about the amazingness of fennel. I suppose you'll just have to stay tuned for all my grilled cheese secrets because I'm going to take this opportunity to suck you in to the world of fennel.

First, you should know that all parts of the fennel are edible, not just the bulb. Bulb, stalks, leaves, and seeds.

Second, you should know that fennel is super good for you. It has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It is loaded with vitamin C so it is great for your immune system. It is a good source of fiber which can help lower your cholesterol and is great for your heart. It is a good source of potassium which helps lower blood pressure so count that too. Oh, and it might help prevent colon cancer!

Third, it tastes good! In fact, it tastes like a classic and popular candy: licorice. It can be eaten in tons of different ways.

How to pick one out? They are found in your produce section. It is related to carrots which means I usually see it over by the carrots and celery, but your store could be weird. Check out the bulb and make sure it is clean, has no splits spots or bruises, and is whitish or pale green. The stalks and leaves should be green. If there are flowering buds then it is past maturity. It should have the licorice smell.

How to store it? Put it in the drawer in your refrigerator. That drawer is called a crisper. It'll stay good in there for about 3-4 days.

How to cook it? It can be sauteed, roasted, used in a soup, or eaten raw. For a really quick and super healthy side dish just saute some onions and fennel in a little extra virgin olive oil, add salt and pepper and you are good to go.

If you have any questions about fennel go ahead and ask in the comments section. I'm more than happy to help you add this amazing vegetable to your diet!


Peanut Butter Fudge Pie Nirvana

I have searched and searched for a peanut butter pie recipe, but have never liked anything I have come across. I really didn't want the pie to be cream cheese based because I felt like the cream cheese distracted from the true peanut butter flavor. The peanut butter chocolate combination is a classic. I decided to utilize a peanut butter custard and a layer of fudge sauce. The results were a slice of pie that immediately took me to a state of nirvana. Behold, the peanut butter fudge pie in all its glory. May it reign forever!


1 pie shell, baked
1 cup hot fudge sauce, plus extra for drizzling
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
1 tsp vanilla


1. Pour 1 cup hot fudge sauce into the baked pie shell. Spread out to cover the bottom and smooth. Set aside.

2. Combine sugar, cornstarch, milk, cream, peanut butter chips, and peanut butter in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly ,until mixture begins to bubble. This will take several minutes. Once it bubbles continue stirring for 2 minutes. The mixture will begin to thicken.

3. Mix a little of the hot mixture into the egg yolks (do this part quickly), beating quickly to avoid cooking the yolks with the hot liquid. Stir the warm yolk mixture back into the remainder of the peanut butter mixture and cook for an additional 90 seconds.

4. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla and continue stirring until butter is melted and mixture is smooth.

5. Pour peanut butter custard (see cooking lesson) into the pie shell over the fudge sauce. Allow mixture to cool for 30 minutes before putting it in the refrigerator to finish cooling. Let it cool in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.

6. Extra fudge sauce can be drizzled over the top for beauty. Just wait until the peanut butter custard cools before adding the drizzles otherwise you'll end up with puddles.

Welcome to the world of custards! A custard is a cooked mixture of milk or cream and egg yolks. There is a wide variety of custards out there. They can be thick or thin or somewhere in between and they come in all sorts of flavors. This particular recipe would be considered a pastry cream or a confectioner's custard because it involves a starch (cornstarch). The starch in the recipe acts as a thickener, but also helps prevent the mixture from curdling when it boils. A custard ends up being a different texture than puddings and makes for a more dense pie filling. Pudding is a bit too light weight to hold up well in pie form.

Now you know a bit about custards. Next thing you know you'll be making a creme brulee!


Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Green Beans with a Tarragon Cream Dressing

As the weather cools down and the days get shorter our bodies start to crave all of those delicious fall and winter staples that have gotten humankind through winters for thousands of years. Among the classics are potatoes (harvested in the fall).  Roasting the potatoes in the oven is simple and tasty. As we've learned in a previous cooking lesson, tarragon can bring a wow factor to your dish. This recipe is a simple, yet impressive dish to serve alongside a special meal. I'm not going to lie, I was tempted to lick the cream sauce off my plate. In the spirit of full disclosure I'll admit that I waited until I ate some leftovers and then licked the plate clean.


2 pounds fingerling potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked pepper

1 pound green beans
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked pepper

Tarragon Cream Dressing
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chives
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Cut fingerling potatoes in half, lengthwise. Coat with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Place potatoes cut side up on a jelly roll pan.

3. Trim and snap green beans. Coat with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Place green beans on another jelly roll pan.

4. Bake potatoes in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until soft and browned.

5. Halfway through the potato baking time, put in the green beans and roast those for about 15 minutes, until softened slightly.

6. While the potatoes and green beans are baking, make the tarragon cream sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl and whisking together.

7. Combine green beans and potatoes on a serving platter. Serve drizzled with tarragon cream dressing or serve it on the side.

Recipe adapted from Southern Living

You say po-tay-toe I say po-taw-toe.... Let's talk potatoes!

When cooking potatoes be sure that your pieces are of equal sizes so that they will cook evenly. The smaller the piece, the faster it will cook.

Did you know that the potato originates from Southern Peru? At some point, 7,000-10,000 years ago somebody in Southern Peru decided to domesticate the potato. They are starchy, but can be a basis for a diet that sustains life. It does have some nutritional value. That doesn't mean you should go on a french fry diet though.

There are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes, but you'll probably only see a handful of them in your grocery store. They can be eaten in such a variety of ways the possibilities are endless. They just really shouldn't be eaten raw.

Fingerling potatoes are just a small potato that grows long and thin, like fingers. They can be a bit more pricey than your average spud. A great substitution is red potatoes, or another small potato variety.


Easy Peasy Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie is a staple at American Thanksgivings and Christmas. It is also one of the easiest pies to make! In fact, it is the perfect pie for kids to help out with. This recipe is my easy peasy pumpkin pie. All you have to do is put the ingredients in a bowl, mix, bake, and enjoy. It's delicious. You can feel good because it is homemade.  Did I mention that it is also a truly delicious pumpkin pie? Go! Make a pumpkin pie! They make for great breakfasts! Oh, I mean desserts!


1  - 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1  - 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 unbaked pie crust


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, spices, and salt until smooth. Pour into pie crust.

3. Bake in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.

4. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 35 minutes.. You'll know it is done when you can tap the middle and it doesn't jiggle.

5. Cool completely before serving.

If you want to really develop your skills when it comes to pumpkin pies you could try making the pumpkin puree yourself. That's right, like from a real pumpkin. I don't recommend using jack'o'lantern pumpkins (the kind you carve). A sugar pumpkin is best if you can find it. It's a smaller pumpkin. Ask your grocer! The basic idea behind pumpkin puree is that you have to cook the pumpkin and then just puree it. A pumpkin is no different than other winter squashes.

First, remove the seeds. With a pumpkin it's easier if you halve or quarter it. Second, cook it. You can make it at about 375 degrees for 45 minutes or so, or you can try steaming it which would take somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. Third, remove the skin. Once the pumpkin flesh has softened from cooking it can easily be scraped from the skin. Last, puree it up in a blender, food processor, or with a potato masher.


Apple Pork Chops with Caramelized Onions

These pork chops are one of my favorites. While great in the fall, I tend to eat them year 'round. In fact, this was one of the first dishes I ever served to my husband. It is comforting and delicious with a balance between sweet and salty goodness. It is simple to make and can be ready in about 20 minutes. 


4 pork chops
3 apples, cored, sliced in half and quartered
1 large onion, sliced (white or preferably vidalia when in season)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 cup apple juice
Salt and Pepper


1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add in apples and onions, salt them using about 1/4 tsp, and saute for about 5 minutes. Turn heat to low and continue to saute for about 10 more minutes until apples are softened and onions are translucent. During the last 2 minutes add in the brown sugar and stir through. Remove from pan and set aside.

2. Use the remaining olive oil to rub over your pork chops. Season both sides with a little salt and pepper. Remember that pork needs salt so don't skimp. 

3. Heat the pan used to cook the apples and onions until it is smoking hot (a drop of water would instantly sizzle like crazy and evaporate). Put the pork chops in and sear them for about 2 minutes on each side. They'll get a nice brown crust on them so you'll know they are perfect. 

4. Add in the apple juice and turn the heat down to medium low. The apple juice will sizzle and reduce fairly quickly as the pork chops finish cooking. This apple juice reduction will serve as a bit of a sauce. The remaining cooking time on your pork chops will depend on how thick they are cut. It will probably only take about 4 minutes per side total. See the cooking lesson below for more information on cooking pork.

5. Add in the apples and onions at the end, smothering the pork, and serve hot. 

This recipe could include a variety of cooking lessons. It deals with pork, apples, caramelizing onions, and a sauce reduction. What to choose!?!

Let's start with the fact that pork is a red meat. Does that blow your mind? A number of decades ago pig farmers decided to try and compete with chicken and branded themselves as "the other white meat." Pigs were bred and modified to be leaner and whiter. It has come at a price and pork has lost a bit of flavor and is easier to overcook and dry out. The knowledge that pork is a red meat is important. Do not treat it like chicken. While pink chicken should never be eaten, pink pork could very well be done. Use a meat thermometer if you have to! The middle of your pork only needs to reach 145 degrees. If you cook a lean cut beyond that then it will overcook and dry out, becoming tough and chewy. I have eaten way too many overcooked pork chops and pork loins because home cooks treat it like chicken. Stop it! It's a red meat! Use this knowledge and go forth to produce tender pork chops because now you can!

This recipe also calls for a sauce reduction. A reduction thickens a liquid and intensifies its flavor. A reduction simply boils out liquid through evaporation leaving behind flavor. This particular recipe will reduce apple juice into a thickened sauce of intensified apple flavor. Cool, eh?


Cranberry Salsa

When fall rolls around and cranberries appear in the grocery store I know I'll be making cranberry salsa. This sweet salsa is great with tortilla chips or can be poured over a brick of cream cheese to serve as a dip for crackers at a party. This is a staple for me at holiday parties as an appetizer. It's also great for all those holiday potlucks and work parties since it is so quick to whip up.

12 oz cranberries
1/4 cup minced green onions
2 small jalapeño peppers, minced
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. fresh cilantro leaves, minced
2 tbsp. finely grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1. Rinse, drain, and pick over cranberries, (discarding all that are soft or bruised). Place cranberries in a food processor or blender; pulse until finely chopped but not mushy.

2. Place crushed cranberries in a bowl; mix together with onions jalapeño peppers, sugar, cilantro leaves, ginger and lemon juice.

3. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate and allow flavors to develop. It will be a bit tart to begin with, but as it is allowed to sit it will develop even more flavor. 

4. Serve with chips or crackers. Can also be served over cream cheese with crackers. 

See my lesson HERE on cranberries.

This recipe calls for fresh ginger. When using ginger it is easiest to cut off any knarled spots before peeling. Once peeled you can grate it easily on a hand grater. Once it gets down to a nubbin of stringiness just toss the stringy mess away. 

Homemade tortilla chips are a breeze to make and are just like those ones you get at great Mexican restaurants. Just cut up corn tortillas into 6 wedges. Fry them in some vegetable oil for about 2 minutes until they harden up. Remove and drain on paper towels and salt immediately. 


Sugared Sweet Potatoes with Pecan Streusel Topping

This dish is my one must-have dish on my Thanksgiving table. I'm pretty sure my husband would revolt if I didn't serve sweet potatoes. I mentioned leaving them out once and he gave me the look of death. These sweet potatoes are heavenly. They are sweet and delicious and feel more like a dessert with their German streusel flair. We eat them at Thanksgiving. We eat them at Christmas. We even eat them on other occasions throughout the year. They put "candied yams" to absolute shame. Give it a try this year, you won't regret it. 


4 large dark skinned sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped pecans


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 

2. Fill a large pot with water. Bring to a boil. Add cubed sweet potatoes. Return to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer sweet potatoes until tender (15-20 minutes). Drain. 

3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together sugar, eggs, salt, butter, milk and vanilla. Add in cooked sweet potatoes and use a hand mixer to mix until smooth. Transfer to a 9x13 inch baking dish.

4. In medium bowl prepare the streusel topping. Mix the sugar and flour together. Cut in the butter until the mixture is coarse. Stir in the pecans. Sprinkle the mixture over the sweet potato mixture.

5. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.

 In America the terms "Sweet Potato" and "Yam" are used interchangeably and refer to that potato looking thing with the red skin and orange flesh. Yet, you have probably seen something else in the grocery store labeled sweet potato with a light yellow skin, while your orange flesh variety is labeled yams. Guess what? Both of them are sweet potatoes! The kind of sweet potatoes you think of as yams are simply dark skinned sweet potatoes. You won't commonly come across true yams in an American grocery store. True yams have brown or black skin and the flesh is either red, purple, or off white. Crazy, huh? You thought you've been eating yams all these years!


Strawberry Salsa

I live in a warm little paradise where it is almost always an endless, pleasant summer. You may not be so lucky. Whether it is warm or cold outside, this little recipe for Strawberry Salsa will have you feeling like it is the beginning of summer in no time. 
1 medium tomato, chopped
3/4 cup chopped strawberries
1/4 red onion, finely diced
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1/3 cup freshly torn cilantro
1 lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1. Combine all ingredients together in a bowl and stir until mixed thoroughly.
2. Allow to sit at least 1 hour. Keeps in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

Serve with chips, eat it over a quesadilla, or simply eat it with a spoon!

Strawberry season starts in early May and runs until the end of July which means the tastiest, most succulent strawberries you can buy can only be found during those months. However, ever changing agricultural methods and the incredible availability of shipping make strawberries available year round. These "off season" strawberries will be more on the crunchy, less sweet side making them perfect to use in a salsa where the acidity of the lime juice and tomato will help break down the fruit making it a bit softer. Adding sugar to crunchy strawberries will also combat the out of season problems and add sweetness and soften them up in their own juices.


Cajun Turkey Injection for your Thanksgiving Turkey

My Thanksgiving turkeys rock. I'm serious. People are always fawning over them and wonder what my secret is. The answer? It's not really a big deal. I start with an injection and then I just make sure I keep checking the temperature so I don't overcook it and baste like crazy. Overcooking a Turkey dries it out and an injection brings in both moisture and flavor. You can buy an injector at most major big box stores (Walmart, Kmart, Target). I personally use the Grill Pro Marinade Injector (pictured above).

Cajun Turkey Injection


1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (see below)


1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for a few minutes while stirring. You want to make sure the mixture is well mixed and that any herb is small enough to fit through your needle.

2. Inject mixture into the thawed Turkey at least 3 hours before baking. Inject small amounts of the mixture all over the bird.

3. Return your Turkey to the refrigerator until you are ready to roast.

Cajun Seasoning


2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp white pepper (if you have it, if not, don’t fret)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or less depending on how much heat you can handle)
4½ tsp paprika
2½ tsp salt


Mix it all together and store in a plastic bag, or a jar.

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For a frozen turkey to be considered "fresh" it can have been frozen up to a year in advance. Purchasing a never frozen turkey guarantees that your meat really is fresh and will produce not only a more juicy turkey, but will also require less cooking time. Regardless of what kind of turkey you buy, always use a meat thermometer to determine when the meat is done. If you only do it by time you will almost certainly dry out your turkey from overcooking it.

Tasty Tips: Put butter under the skin. This will help the skin crisp up and provide extra moisture for the meat. Start at a high roasting temperature (450 degrees) for the first 30 minutes, and lower to 325 for the remainder of the cooking until your bird reaches the desired doneness  (165 degrees measured in the thigh).


Favorite Kitchen Gadgets

Blendtec High Power Blender 

Blendtec Designer Series Blender, WildSide Jar - Black

What I love? The Blendtec can blend pretty much anything and it is so incredibly smooth it blows my mind every time. This is the Ferrari of blenders and I'm stinkin' proud to have one in my kitchen. I use it almost every single day for everything from smoothies, to sauces dressings and salsas, to frappes and shakes, I even make fruit leather with it. Will it blend? Yes. Everything!

Chef's Knife

Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef's Knife 40520, 47520, 45520, 5.2063.20

What I love?
I have a whole set of these knives. They aren't overly pricy like some knives, but they are sharp as a razor. Don't ever touch the blade. No joke. One light touch and you'll be covered in blood. I gave a set of these to my mom for Christmas one year and she was kind of disappointed because she thought she already had sharp knives. Until she busted these babies out. Suddenly, all cutting tasks in the kitchen were a breeze. Sharp knives matter! They will make your life so much easier and safer too! Buy one and you'll be hooked and soon you'll buy the whole set. Victorinox 4-Piece Knife Set with Fibrox Handles

Food Processor

Cuisinart DLC-10S Pro Classic 7-Cup Food Processor, White

What I love?
This is my second food processor I've been through. This one is a big enough size that it works for everything, but it isn't too big to store. I can't live without my food processor. I broke the bowl once (I'm that clumsy) and was a bit panicky having to live without it for 2 days while a replacement shipped. Puree, chop, processor.

Baking Sheets

Nordic Ware Natural Aluminum Commercial Baker's Half Sheet

What I love?
I use these baking sheets for tons of different things from baking cookies and breads to freezing bananas to just carrying stuff. I have 4 and could easily use more!

Kitchen Scale

EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale, Silver

What I love? If you want accurate measurements in your kitchen you've got to have a kitchen scale. It comes in handy not just for measuring ingredients, but also helping you understand portion sizes. I use my kitchen scale all the time. It actually has a place on my counter it gets used so frequently. This scale is easy to use, has a sleek design, and is accurate.

Silpat Baking Mat

Artisan (2 pk.) Non-Stick Silicone Baking Mat Set, 16 5/8" x 11

What I love?
Silpats are great to use when baking things like cookies and eliminates the need for nonstick sprays and  other added grease. I've also come up with another use. I have tile counter tops. Yuck. I hate them for many reasons, but I'm a renter so it isn't going to change anytime soon. I use my silpats as a portable counter top to give me a smooth surface for rolling out doughs and pie crusts. It's actually super handy!

Flat Cast Iron Griddle

Lodge L9OG3 Pre-Seasoned Round Griddle, 10.5-inch

What I love?
I use this griddle on a regular basis for cooking quesadillas. I also use it to cook those tortillas you buy from the store that are ready to cook. Man, I love those. And yes, I eat enough quesadillas and tortillas to warrant purchasing a pan solely dedicated to it.


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