Thursday, February 27, 2014

Twice the Fun - Two Sauces

A couple of weeks ago one of Allison's roommates, Grace, had a birthday.  They live with four other girls in a house on campus and seem have a huge amount of fun in between periods of serious studying.  Grace's mom, Mariana lives close to me, and she came over to my house with groceries. 

Under her direction, we cooked up a delicious birthday meal for Grace, the roommates, and some friends.  Mariana wanted to make a couple special sauces that could be served over pasta. She had in mind one of Grace's favorites, a beefy mushroom sauce made from Trader Joe's packaged filet mignon beef tenderloin, but also a vegetarian ratatouille as a meatless choice.  I've had "two sauce option" dinners before, and one sauce usually over powers the other due to stronger flavors.  So, I was pleasantly surprised when both of these sauces could hold their own even while on the same plate. In fact, they played off extremely well against each other - just as the roomies do!

Ratatouille Sauce

Ingredients and Directions for 4 servings:

1 medium eggplant
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
1 medium onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, put through a press
1/2 each of medium red, orange, and yellow bell peppers
2 (15 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

8 oz. spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

Cut the eggplant into 3/4 inch slices and place in a bowl.  Cover with water and add 2 teaspoons of salt.  Set aside while continuing with the rest of the steps in the recipe.

Peel and dice the onion.  Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet and add the onion. Saute over medium heat until the onion is tender but not brown.  Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.

While the onion is cooking, cut the zucchini and yellow squash into 3/4 inch slices, and then cut the slices into cubes.  Seed the bell peppers, discard the membranes, and cut them into cubes.  Drain and rinse the eggplant slices and cut those into cubes.  Place in the pan with the tender onions.

Cook the vegetables over medium heat for about 10 minutes until they are tender but not mushy. Add the crushed tomatoes, basil, garlic salt, salt, and pepper.  Cook an additional 10 minutes.

Serve over hot cooked spaghetti.

Beef Tenderloin Mushroom Sauce

Ingredients and Directions for Four Servings

16 oz. filet mignon beef tenderloin
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms
6 oz. sliced baby portobello mushrooms
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion
1 medium shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 cup beef broth
1 1/2 teaspoons corn starch

8 oz. spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

Slice the beef tenderloin into strips.  Wash, rinse, and slice any really large mushrooms into smaller pieces.  Peel and dice the onion and shallot.  Peel the garlic cloves and put through a press.

Melt the butter into a large skillet.  Add the beef strips and cook over medium heat until brown.

Remove the beef with a slotted spoon, allowing the juices to remain in the pan.  Add the onion and shallot to the same pan and saute over medium low heat until tender.  Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.  Now remove the onion mixture allowing the juices to remain in the pan.  Add the mushroom to the pan and saute over medium low heat until tender. Return the meat and onion mixture to the pan.  Add 3/4 of the broth and scrape the pan to loosen any "fond" from the bottom of it.  Turn up the heat and allow the mixture to reach a boil. Stir the corn starch into the remaining broth and pour it in all at once.  The sauce should thicken up almost immediately.  Serve it over the hot, cooked spaghetti.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

White Bean Salsa &Toasted Pita Wedges

     This yummy little recipe was born several years ago when I had to bring something to a school pitch-in and was either too tired or out of time to make a run to the grocery store.  I am a firm believer that oil & vinegar makes everything taste great.  Back then, I threw a mixture of salad dressing and spices over drained & rinsed cans of corn, chopped tomatoes, and kidney beans.  Everyone raved about it and asked for the recipe! It eventually morphed into the salsa posted here, but any kind of beans could be used: black, pinto, kidney, etc.  Likewise, you could throw in cilantro, red onions, even avocado - the possibilities and variations are endless.  I love the mixture here with these toasted pita wedges.  You could be healthy and use whole wheat ones, but I enjoy the white flour pitas because they pair so well with the taste of tomatoes. This is also wonderful in a salad.

1 package pita bread
cooking spray
1 tablespoon chili powder
Any 2 (15 oz.) cans white beans such as Butter, Cannellini, or Great Northern
1 medium tomato (1 cup chopped)
2 green onions (2 tablespoons sliced)
1 medium jalapeno pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut each pita "loaf" in half and separate the top of the pockets from the bottoms by cutting through the edges that hold them together. Then cut the pieces into triangle shaped wedges.  Each separated half will yield four wedges.

Cover two baking sheets with foil and spray them with cooking spray. Distribute the wedges between the two baking sheets so there is a single layer of pita pieces on each sheet.  Spray the wedges with cooking spray and sprinkle the 1 tablespoon of chili powder over the wedges on both baking sheets.  Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.  

While the wedges are baking, prepare the salsa. Using a colander, drain and rinse any two cans of white beans. I love to use butter beans and Great Northern beans.  Chop up the tomato and slice enough of the green onion to make 2 tablespoon full. Discard the seeds and membrane of the jalapeno pepper; then finely dice the pepper.  Place all in a mixing bowl and set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Whisk it well so that the dressing is well combined.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables and then gently stir to combine all the ingredients and coat with dressing.  Put the mixture into a serving bowl and serve with the toasted pita wedges.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Decadent Gorgonzola Pasta with Rosemary Beef Tenderloin

This lusciously rich dish is made for self indulgence times when someone, perhaps yourself, really needs a reward!  I was introduced to this luxurious Gorgonzola pasta sauce about five years ago when Roy and I were in Chicago. Chicago is a great town, but the weather is cold and windy if it isn't late spring or summer.  Plus, it always takes longer to get somewhere than the GPS indicates - and even with a GPS, a visitor can get lost. At the end of a day of driving around to different meetings, Roy asked a business acquaintance about good restaurants close by.  He gave Roy the name of a couple of Italian ones and we picked the easiest one to navigate to.  I usually try to avoid too many carbs and typically order just a meat dish, but that night I succumbed to pasta with Gorgonzola sauce because I thought I had earned it!  The sauce in this post is not any harder to make than a regular Alfredo sauce and the beef tenderloin is also super easy to make.  Go ahead - you deserve it!

Pasta with Gorgonzola Sauce and Grilled Rosemary Beef Tenderloin

Four Servings

Grilled Rosemary Beef Tenderloin

1 pound beef tenderloin
2 cloves garlic, put through a press
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh minced rosemary

Make a "paste" out of the garlic, salt, pepper, and rosemary.  Rub the mixture into all surfaces of the beef.  Allow it to sit for 20 minutes before grilling over medium heat, 10 minutes per side.  Or, bake in a preheated 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  A George Foreman grill could also be used.

After taking it off the grill, let the meat sit for five minutes before slicing it on the bias.

Gorgonzola Pasta Sauce

1 cup cream
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon pepper
(pinch salt only if needed to your taste)

8 oz. linguine or other pasta cooked according to package directions

Melt butter over medium low heat and saute rosemary just until the butter starts to brown.

Add the cream and continue to cook until the mixture bubbles. Continue to cook another two minutes, stirring constantly.  Don't let the mixture get to a full - out boil.  Take off the heat and add the Gorgonzola crumbles and grated Parmesan cheese a little at a time, stirring until smooth.

Place the hot cooked pasta on a serving platter or individual plates and pour the Gorgonzola sauce over it.  Arrange the sliced beef tenderloin on top.  Garnish with a bit of rosemary and some additional cheese crumbles if you still have some left.  A simple green salad would round it out.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sweetheart Steakhouse Supper

Tenderloin Filets, Creamed Spinch, Wedge Salad
During the first couple of years of our married life, Roy and I tried to celebrate Valentine's Day by eating out at a restaurant.  What a hassle!  I remember long waits, hurried service, and an unrelaxed atmosphere.  We soon wised up and realized that trying to dine out on Valentine's Day was just as bad as going out on Mother's Day for brunch. It was so much easier to stay home and cook a nice meal.  Later, after we had the three girls, we celebrated the day with a special family meal which included small little gifts at each place setting. It was always fun to try to duplicate a restaurant meal such as an expensive steak house. The menu here has a lighter version of creamed spinach and turkey bacon in the salad.

Steakhouse Beef Tenderloin Filets


Beef Tenderloin Filets, prepackaged or from the butcher case
Cooking twine
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
A tablespoon pat of butter for each filet
A sprig or two of parsley


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Tie each filet around the outside with cooking twine so it stays together.  Clip any extra twine that is dangling after the knot is made.  Brush each filet with olive oil.  Sprinkle the top, bottom, and sides of the filets with some of the salt and pepper.  I go easy on the salt and a bit heavier on the pepper. Heat an oven proof skillet to medium high.  When the skillet is hot, brown both sides of the filets, about 2 or 3 minutes per side.  Put a tablespoon pat of butter on each filet.  Place the skillet into the oven, close the door, and bake for 8 minutes for a warm, pink center.  The time can be adjusted less or more, according to your family's preferences.  After taking the meat out of the oven, let it sit at least five minutes before serving. Cut off the string. Spoon some of the cooking juices that accumulated in the pan over each filet. Garnish with parsley.

Almost Like Steakhouse Creamed Spinach


1 (10 oz.) package of frozen spinach
3 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, put through a press
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups skim milk
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Extra Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top


Cook the spinach in the microwave for 9 minutes.  While it is cooking, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sprinkle in the flour.  Whisk the mixture together and cook 1 minute.

Whisk in the milk a little at a time, keeping the pan over medium heat.  Keep whisking until it is smooth, then stir with a wooden spoon until it becomes thick.  Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cheese and stir in well. 

Take the white sauce mixture off the heat. Transfer the spinach to colander and with the back of a spoon, press any water out of the cooked spinach.  Add the spinach to the pan and stir until it is mixed in.

Transfer the creamed spinach into a greased or buttered baking dish.  Sprinkle with the extra Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the mixture is bubbling and brown on top.

Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing


Iceberg lettuce, cut into wedges
Diced cucumber pieces
Diced tomato pieces
Crumbled bacon, turkey or regular
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 garlic clove put through a press 

To Assemble:

Whisk together mayonnaise, blue cheese, sour cream, vinegar, and garlic.  Place a lettuce wedge on serving plate.  Drizzle the dressing over the top of the wedge.  Sprinkle with pieces of cucumber, tomato, and bacon.