March Tour – Recipe #2

31 03 2009


Now this dish I did not ruin!  It turned out really tasty.  Here’s what Niki has to say about Orzo & Sausage Stuffed Peppers:  “This dish is one my husband requests again and again. It is by far one of our favorite week night meals.  I love all the flavor and fresh veggies it has to offer.”


I’ve never had orzo and I don’t usually cook stuffed peppers this way so it was a step out of my comfort zone, but a good one.  The veggies really made this dish light and flavorful.


I am not a huge fan of sausage so I omitted it, but check out Niki’s original recipe here.


Tour Recipe #1 – Stuffed Shells

25 03 2009


Warning: I did not do this recipe justice.  At all.  Be sure to check out Niki’s original post here.


Stuffed shells are new for me and as such, I failed.  This was definitely an execution problem solely on my part.  It has huge potential, as long as you don’t screw it up.  My main problem was that the type of cheese I used did not melt like it was supposed to for a cheesy sauce. I also cooked the pancetta too long 😦  WH didn’t think these were too bad, but I was just so disappointed by how badly I had messed this up.


Please visit Niki’s blog and see a successful posting of this dish!  Here’s why she picked it as one of her favorites:  “Now these are anything but healthy (well there is a ton of spinach) but the creamy sauce and salty pancetta really makes these shine.”

WH helps to stuff the shells

WH helps to stuff the shells

Tour de Food Blogs – March!

23 03 2009


I was so excited when Niki of Big City Cooking agreed to be on the Tour because, as silly as this will sound, I wanted to talk about the black background color of her blog.  That’s weird, I know.

But it’s just so unique compared to what you normally see in blogs.  The dark color gives such a different vibe when you visit the site…  Like you’re hanging out in an underground restaurant or at night at an outside cafe.  It just makes me feel like I’m in the big city for some reason.  Couple that with beautiful photos that are sometimes taken outside (like this one here) and this blog just has a cool vibe to it.

So without further ado, I’d like to welcome you to our March Tour de Food Blogs stop: Big City Cooking!

Niki created Big City Cooking in June of 2008 because she was looking for a challenge in the kitchen.  Niki says she wanted to try new recipes and techniques while experimenting with different ingredients.  She definitely challenged me with this month’s Tour recipes.  I cooked with new ingredients and tried new techniques which I am excited to share with you in upcoming posts.

One of the coolest things about Niki is that she is enrolled in Culinary School and has aspirations of being a personal chef.  If you consider this a dream job (as I’m sure many food bloggers do), you probably share some of the same feelings about cooking as this Big City Chef-to-be:  “I get excited when I try a new recipe and it is also a huge stress reliever to me.  Plus it makes me happy when people enjoy the food I create.” Although many of us will never be able to taste the food Niki creates, we are able to enjoy it by visiting her blog.  I consider Niki’s site to be a “back to basics” approach to blogging.  Even her favorite cooking tool is basic, her Che’fs Knife: “I am a firm believer that this is the best tool in the kitchen.  You can do almost anything with it.  It is practically an extension of my hand at this point.” With an easy to use “online cook book” placed on the right sidebar, navigation of this blog is a breeze.  And not only does the site have that cool, city vibe I mentioned earlier, it also offers a no-nonsense, basic recipe setup.  You won’t find giveaways or contests, group cooking events, or much of anything un-related to food.

What you will find is a compilation of her own recipes alongside adaptations from other blogs, websites, and, occasionally, cookbooks.  Niki uses websites like Cooking Light & Allrecipes, but only owns one cookbook,  saying “I am not a cookbook person”.  This really impresses me because without a cookbook, I’m pretty much lost in the kitchen.  That’s what makes Niki’s recipes (in my opinion) unpredictable and unique (see Gingerbread Cookies turned upside down and Shamrock Shake).  In fact, Niki encourages readers not to “get too caught up in recipes.  Learn basic techniques and go from there.” Despite her culinary education, Niki still considers herself a beginner in the cooking world “because there is just so much to learn!”   I have to admit, I was a little nervous when I received Niki’s list of recipes!  There were ingredients, flavor combinations and techniques I’ve never attempted.  But – I felt like I stepped out of my comfort zone and learned a lot.

Culinary school also contributes to Niki’s unique recipes.  She is sometimes given assignments that require her to create a new dish with the inspiration of another recipe or flavor profile.  I was really impressed by her Potato and Stuffed Croquettes with Cranberry Sauce that came out of an assignment to prepare a cold dinner.  Using the flavors of Thanksgiving, Niki came up with a dish that was creative and new.  Another facet of Niki’s blog is her complete meal approach.  She recognizes that “many people struggle with what to serve for dinner tonight” and in turn tries to “always give … readers an entire meal… I have a section in each post where I write out what to serve with the featured dish to make it a full meal.”  Check out these great examples: Baigan Choka; Bruschetta.

Although it’s clear that Niki is innovative and likes a challenge, she also enjoys classic comfort foods.  “I could make mac and cheese in my sleep for sure.  It is one of those dishes my husband loves, so I have tried it a million different ways,” she says.  And don’t miss her posts featuring Fettuccine AlfredoStuffed Shells, Pepper Steak, Apple Pie, and her Mom’s Banana Bread.  Another of her mom’s recipes that she loves?  Chocolate heath bar biscotti (see pictures).  But don’t expect to see that recipe posted anytime soon.  Niki says it’s a secret family recipe.

Learning about Niki and Big City Cooking was such a treat for me.  I hope you’ll check out her blog and follow along as she works through culinary school on her journey to becoming a Personal Chef.  As a final note, I’ll leave you with Niki’s description of her first cooking memory: “I remember my grandmother watching my sisters and [me] in the summers when we were kids and we would cook and bake all day long with her (she also had dreams of becoming a chef herself).  And she would pretend we were on a cooking show.  She would stand on one side of the island and us girls on the other (standing on chairs of course) … She would ask for help from the ‘audience’ to crack eggs, measure flour, or (my favorite) lick the spatulas!”

Repeat Cooking

22 03 2009

I’ve been quite absent, haven’t I?  Well, last week I spent most nights making dishes I’ve already blogged about (Stir Fry, Corn Bread Taco Bake, & Mongolian Beef – Thanks Joelen!).  Plus I made some of the March Tour Stop’s recipes that I’m very excited to share.

Be on the look out for the Tour Stop post tomorrow and the recipes soon after!

Deconstructed Lasagna

11 03 2009


Brace yourselves: it’s another Rachel Ray recipe.  But don’t freak out.  This one actually was fairly simple and I’m pretty sure I made it in 30 minutes!  This is a really good pasta dish and an easy way to include some extra veggies (there are carrots in the meat sauce).


I was a little skeptical about the ricotta mixture since it’s cold, but the heat from the pasta and meat sauce warm it up right away.  It mixes in really well and the flavor is so close to actual lasagna. Next time I would use less parsley in the ricotta mixture and I would grate/shred the carrots instead of “finely chop” them.  I’d also use more basil in the sauce.


Definitely a quick and simple recipe!

Deconstructed Lasagna

Serves 2


  • 1/2 lb. cavatappi pasta
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 small carrot, grated or finely chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, grated or finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, grated or finely chopped
  • 1/2 c. beef broth
  • 14 oz. crushed tomatoes
  • A few basil leaves, torn
  • 1/2 c. ricotta cheese
  • 1/6 c. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/3 c. grated parmesan


  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain.
  2. While the pasta cooks, heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add the beef, crumbling into bits, and cook until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Add carrot, onion and garlic; season with salt and pepper.
  5. Cook until vegetables are softened, 5 minutes.
  6. Stir in the beef broth then the tomatoes and basil; simmer.
  7. In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta and parsley.
  8. Toss the pasta with the butter, then stir in the parmesan cheese and meat sauce.
  9. Scoop the ricotta mixture into each of 2 shallow bowls, then top with the meaty pasta.
  10. Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese.

Source: [11 – Feb. 2009]

Barefoot Bloggers – Tomato & Goat Cheese Tarts

10 03 2009


This was out of the box for us. I wasn’t sure how these would turn out.  I’ve never had goat cheese before.  I’ve never made a tart before.  WH gave me a skeptical look when I told him what was for dinner.

The outcome: we were pleasantly surprised.  The goat cheese was creamy and rich.  The tomato and Parmesan cheese were delicious.  After eating one of 2 tarts I made, WH asked if there were more.  Good thing I made the Potato and Leek Salad for a side dish.

I would totally make these tarts again.  I was so happy they turned out well and we both enjoyed them so much.  A great choice for Barefoot Bloggers.  Thanks to Anne of Anne Strawberry.  The recipe can be found in Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics and here

For those of you paying attention, I did manage to buy puff pastry this time 😉imgp2728

Confetti Corn

9 03 2009


It would seem I have become obsessed with Barefoot Contessa recipes.  The same night I made Barefoot Bloggers Chicken Piccata, I paired it with Confetti Corn.  I love corn and I will try just about any recipe that dresses it up.

I definitely over cooked the onions a bit, but the rest turned out well and it was very tasty.

Confetti Corn

Serves 3


  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. chopped red onion
  • 1/2 small orange bell pepper, 1/2 inch diced
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • Kernels cut from 2 ears of white corn
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. julienned fresh basil and minced fresh parsley


  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan.
  2. Add the onion and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, until the onion is soft.
  3. Stir in the bell pepper and saute for 1 minute more.
  4. Add the butter to the pan and allow it to melt.
  5. Over medium heat, add the corn, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally for 4 to 6 minutes.
  6. Season to taste, gently stir in the basil and parsley.
  7. Serve hot.

Adapted from Source [18]