Monday, January 26, 2009

Dinner tonight: Mexican-Style Eggs

Tonight I had to make dinner in a hurry -- Mr. Fritz picked me up from work at 6 p.m. and spirited me home, where I quickly whipped up Real Simple's "Fake It, Don't Make It" version of Mexican-Style Eggs before I had to leave again to make it to a 7 p.m. class at the community center. I think I walked into the kitchen at 6:07 and we finished eating at 6:39, giving me just enough time to clean up the dishes before heading out the door again. Given the speed with which it all unfolded, I must say this was a really tasty (if unusual for us) meal. I also appreciated that it was only 7 ingredients: 6" corn tortillas, refried beans, enchilada sauce, eggs, shredded cheddar and chopped scallions.

To prepare, you wrap the tortillas in foil and put them in a 250 degree oven to warm. Then you put the beans in a small sauce pan to heat up. The enchilada sauce simmers in a saute pan on the stove and when it's nice and hot, you break the eggs into it, spoon a little sauce over each one, then cover and simmer for 5-7 minutes. When the eggs are done cooking, it's assembly time: put a couple of tortillas on each plate and cover with a layer of beans, a layer of eggs/sauce, a layer of cheddar and some scallions. That's it. I am not usually a fan of fried eggs (I prefer scrambled) but in this case the egg was sort of obscured by the sauce, so I didn't mind them. I think I'll make this again, although possibly for brunch rather than dinner.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

48 Hour Recipe Roundup: Chili Pie, Foil Packet Shrimp and Asparagus, Greek Frittata, Fettucini with Proscuitto and Peas

So... I've been lax in posting this past week because the cold that I had that I thought was going away flared up again and basically kept me out of the kitchen for several more days. But this weekend I made up for lost time with four great meals.

Lunch yesterday: Chili Pie
This is a Real Simple "Fake It, Don't Make It" recipe and it is both super simple and really tasty. You pull it together in two parts. First, you make the chili, by sauteing sweet Italian sausage in a skillet until it's cooked through. Then, add some chili powder and saute for another minutes before adding a can of kidney beans (drained), some salsa and a can of diced tomatoes and heat the whole mixture through. Pour that into a casserole dish and top it with the second part of the recipe: a box of corn muffin mix combined with an egg, some milk and shredded cheddar. Drop the cornbread mixture in dollops over the pie and gently spread it evenly so it covers all of the chili. Bake for 15-20 minutes and serve. Delish! I will definitely make this again.

Dinner yesterday: Foil Packet Shrimp with Asparagus and Jasmine R
Pam Anderson has a great system in her cookbook, "The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight and Eating Great" for pulling together fast, easy meals: she has you whip up a marinade (I chose one with soy sauce, sesame oil, vegetable oil, ginger and garlic), combine it with the protein and vegetable of your choice (I chose shrimp and asparagus, with the latter cut into one-inch pieces), then package into portion-sized packets fashioned out of aluminum foil. From here, you can either grill or bake the packets. Obviously, I went for the baking option. Set a rack at the lowest possible spot in the oven, set the temperature to 500 degrees, put
the packets on a baking sheet, put the whole thing in the oven and roast for 15 minutes of so. When the cooking time is up and you open the packets, you'll find a flavorful dinner, with very little clean-up needed. Can't beat that.

Lunch today: Greek Frittata
This is another Real Simple recipe. This recipe is impressive because it seems easily adaptable to other fillings and looks elegant enough that you could serve it for a nice brunch and no one would need know that it is so easy to make. To wit: you start by pouring a bit of olive into a casserole dish and putting it into a 350 degree oven. As it heats, you pull t
he frittata together: whisk together eggs (the recipe calls for 10, I used 5 since I was cutting the recipe in half) with some salt and pepper, then mix in some fresh spinach, halved grape tomatoes and some chopped scallions, then add some crumbled feta. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the frittata puffs up nicely. Mr. Fritz, our dear friend Ms. Hays and I all agreed that it was way tasty. The hardest part was waiting for it to cook. I'm not used to having patience when it comes to cooking eggs!

Dinner tonight: Pasta with Proscuitto and Peas
This recipe capped off the weekend and it was a nice way to end a really restorative weekend. As I was making my grocery list today I was at a loss for what to make tonight and this recipe from Everyday Food looked just right. Martha Stewart demos how to make it in this video (written recipe attached, too). I added a couple of shortcu
ts: first, I added the frozen peas to the water when I threw the pasta in instead of waiting for them to thaw on their own. I also made the sauce in the same pan I'd used for the pasta instead of dirtying another one (the pasta and peas rested safely in a colander in the sink while the quick sauce came together) and finally, I added the pasta and peas back into the pot instead of pouring the sauce over them in yet another bowl/pot. In the end, then, this was a one pot/one colander meal. But more importantly, it was absolutely delicious. Wow. I will definitely make this again, possibly the next time we have someone over for dinner -- it's that good.

In any case, it's nice to be off the couch and back in the kitchen again.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dinner tonight: Sauteed Chicken in Mustard-Cream Sauce

Mr. Fritz and I went on a journey this afternoon to see the festivities happening on the Mall. We walked down to Constitution from our place and joined the huddled masses yearning to be warm, or at least close enough to the action to make it worth standing in the cold. In the end, we didn't last very long -- it turned out that we couldn't even stand along the security barrier to watch the very-far-away Jumbotron of Bono and company doing their thing, so we walked back before too long. When we got home, we watched the concert on our lovely television (thank you, TiVo!) next to a roaring fire, much better than our attempt at in-person viewing! And once it was over, I turned my attention to dinner, which tonight was Sauteed Chicken in Mustard-Cream Sauce, paired with jasmine rice and steamed asparagus tossed in butter and salt and pepper.

This was as simple as could be to prepare. First, I set the rice to cook in one pot, then I got the asparagus steaming in a second pot. In a saute pan, I heated some olive oil over medium heat, then added the chicken and let it cook for several minutes, turning it once it started to brown. Once the chicken was done, I set it aside and deglazed the pan with some white wine, then added a little cream, dijon mustard and chopped fresh tarragon to the pan. As soon as that was heated through, I plated the whole meal and served it. Simple to make and really tasty.

Lunch today: Minestrone

In my continuing efforts to feel better, I thought soup would be another good choice for lunch. I went with a Real Simple recipe for Minestrone soup, from their "fake it, don't make it" collection. The ingredients are, well, simple: a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, a 14 oz can of white beans, a 14 oz can of kidney beans (I substituted chick peas), a 16 oz bag of frozen cut green beans, a quart of chicken broth, and 5 or so ounces of fresh spinach. You start by bringing the tomatoes to a simmer, then add the beans and broth and return to a simmer, then the green beans and simmer for 3 or so minutes, then add the spinach at the end, mixing until it wilts. A little salt and pepper, plus some Parmesan on top of each bowl and some crusty bread on the side and you're done. Easy, fast, and good for you. My only comment: the recipe says it serves 4, but I think it's at least a 6-serving pot.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dinner tonight: Sauteed Chicken with Herbed Soba

This was a meal that I had planned to make earlier this week but didn't due to my cold. I'm kind of glad that I waited until tonight, since it involved my food processor, which is not a tool I pull out very often on weeknights because it's annoying to have to clean it. In any case, this recipe for Sauteed Chicken with Herbed Soba was quite easy to prepare and was another nice light dish with bright flavors.

You begin by making an herbed pesto-like sauce out of fresh parsley, cilantro, ginger, minced garlic, chopped scallions plus a little vegetable oil and rice vinegar. After giving that a whirl in a food processor, you set it aside and turn your attention to the other two components of the dish: soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles), which just need about four minutes in a pot of boiling water before being drained and tossed with the herbed "pesto" and chicken cutlets, which you saute in vegetable oil and season with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper for 4-5 minutes. When the chicken is done, let it rest on a cutting board for a few minutes before slicing it thinly, then plate the dish by putting some of the herbed noodles in a bowl and placing the sliced chicken either on top or alongside the noodles.

Mr. Fritz and I both liked this (we're two for two today!) and I really appreciated that it was a different twist on a typical chicken and pasta dish. Cilantro and parsley are inexpensive and easy to come by at the grocery store even in winter (unlike basil) and very little chopping is needed to pull the whole thing together. I will definitely make this again -- it would be nice for a summer picnic, too, as I think you could easily serve it cold.

Lunch today: Creamy Chickpea Soup with Garam Masala and Cilantro

I have been sick with an awful sore throat since some time late Tuesday night. Despite my best efforts to send it on its way, the darn thing continues to linger, making me grumpy, tired, more or less without appetite and definitely not in any shape to cook. Which has meant that Mr. Fritz has sort of had to fend for himself (and at times both of us) for the past few days. He has done a more than admirable job, even going out into the cold dark night on Wednesday and bringing home wood for the fireplace and a chocolatey mint milkshake to soothe his mopey wife's whims.

But I am at the point now where I am trying to rally, and I thought I might get back on track with this ridiculously simple yet wonderfully tasty offering: Creamy Chickpea Soup with Garam Masala and Cilantro. It's a recipe from Pam Anderson and it appears in her latest cookbook, The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight and Eating Great. I first tried this recipe when she published it in USA WEEKEND Magazine a few years ago (I made it for Ms. Hays, actually), and was glad to see that it made the cut for the cookbook, because I always thought it was quite ingenious.

To make it, you toss a can of light coconut milk, two cans of drained chickpeas, half a cup of salsa, a cup of chicken broth, two tablespoons of apple juice concentrate, a teaspoon of ground ginger, a tablespoon and a half of garam masala and a quarter cup of cilantro leaves into a blender and puree until smooth. Then you transfer the puree to a dutch oven, bring to a simmer, partially cover and simmer away for 4 to 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls, top with a dollop of plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt) and some chopped scallions (I skipped them this time) and you're done. The whole thing takes about 10-15 minutes from start to finish and even the cleanup is simple. I served it along with a crusty French bread roll, perfect for dipping into the soup.

What you end up with is something that tastes like a cream soup but actually contains no cream whatsoever, a boon for those who are trying to eat a little lighter this time of year. In fact, a one-cup serving has only about 275 calories, but lots of protein, thanks to the beans. Also nice: since you puree the soup at the beginning and not the end of the process, you don't have to worry about transferring hot liquids from the soup pot to the blender. I wish it were this easy to make all my favorited pureed soups! And to my delight, Mr. Fritz really liked it. I was worried that it would be too spicy for him or that he would be disappointed that it didn't have chunks of chicken or some other meat in it. But that wasn't the case at all. As a result, I will definitely make this again for us both.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cooking Companion: The Splendid Table

Mr. Fritz, if you have not already figured, does not enjoy cooking. As much as he enjoys eating what I create, he isn't ever going to putter around in the kitchen with me or discuss culinary techniques. So at times, the kitchen can feel like a lonely place. When I need a cooking companion, I often plug my iPod into a set of speakers that Mr. Fritz has helpfully set up on our kitchen counter and listen to the podcast version of Lynne Rossetto Kasper's weekly radio show, The Splendid Table.

I learned about Lynne's show ages ago thanks to my sister, Mrs. Capaldi. She and her husband, Mr. Capaldi, along with my nephew, young Mr. Capaldi, listen to The Splendid Table all the time and insisted that I check it out, which I did, and was delighted by it, but it wasn't always easy or possible for me to tune in when it was live on the air. Then, a couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Lynne at the annual Food Writers Symposium at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, and she was just as warm in person as she is on her show. I was thrilled, then, when she started making the show available as a downloadable podcast, because that meant that I would never have to miss an episode and would be able to listen whenever was convenient for me. Gotta love the information age!

The show is great because it is a mix of field reports from foodies about must-visit restaurants, interviews with chefs, food writers and culinary experts, and a segment of Lynne answering readers' questions -- in other words, a great melange of culinary goodness and inspiration, perfect to take in as I go merrily along, cooking in my own kitchen. Plus, the podcasts are both free of cost and free of commercials. Can't ask for more than that! If you haven't listened to The Splendid Table, I recommend checking out the podcast or tuning in to the public radio station in your area to see if they carry her show on their airwaves.

Are you already a fan of Lynne's? Or are there other cooking podcasts you'd recommend? If so, leave a note in the comments!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dinner tonight... Chicken Parmigiana

Tonight's meal had a false start. As in, I prepared it and we started eating it only to realize that it wasn't cooked all the way through, so I tossed it back in the oven for awhile before we tried eating a second time. At that point it was successful, thankfully. I should have realized from reading the recipe that there was no way it was going to work as written. Perhaps if I'd pounded my chicken cutlets until they were much thinner, it would have worked perfectly. In any case, here's how it all unfolded:

To make this version of Chicken Parmigiana, you dip chicken cutlets in egg and then in a mixture of bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese, then saute them for 1-2 minutes per side in olive oil before transferring to a baking dish, setting them on a bed of tomato sauce. Top each cutlet with some fresh mozzarella and slide the baking dish under the broiler for 4-5 minutes. It's that last step that failed me. There was no chance that broiling the chicken was going to cook it through in 4-5 minutes, but I played along anyway. In the end, I returned the chicken and the sauce to the oven and baked it at 375 for an additional 20 minutes and then it was perfect. In any case, despite this fairly radical change in preparation, I do plan to make this again because it was very simple to prepare and it tasted great. Next time, however, I plan to skip the broiler step and instead just bake it at 375 for a nice, safe 25 minutes. The sauce will ensure it doesn't dry out and I won't have to worry about whether or not I'm about to poison poor Mr. Fritz. Eek!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dinner tonight... Salmon with Dill and Lemon en Papillote

Welcome to another installment of "Feeding Mr. Fritz salmon." One might think that by now I would have run out of new ways to cook salmon. Happily, that is not the case! Tonight I tried cooking it en papillote, which is a fancy (er, French) way of saying "in a paper wrapper." Taking my cue from an article by Lucinda Scala-Quinn in the January/February issue of Everyday Food, I took each piece of salmon and set it on a piece or parchment paper. Then I covered the salmon with dill and lemon slices before wrapping it up first in the parchment paper and then in foil. Then I put each packet onto a baking sheet and roasted them at 400 degrees for 12 minutes. When I unwrapped the packets, I found wonderfully tender, nicely fragrant, fully cooked filets, with no mess whatsoever. I served the salmon along with jasmine rice and snow peas that I'd sauteed in olive oil and lemon juice. The whole meal was ready in about 20 minutes. Yay!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dinner tonight... Roasted Chicken with Carrots and Onions

On cold, rainy nights like tonight, I am ever more grateful that Mr. Fritz and I adopted this mission to eat in as the rule rather than the exception. Because tonight, instead of having nothing in the house to cook and having to venture out into the world to forage for food, I was able to just walk into my nice warm kitchen and quickly whip up an easy yet comforting meal of roasted chicken with carrots, onions, garlic and (the secret ingredient) prunes served over couscous. It took no time at all to prepare (other than chopping the vegetables) and was inexpensive yet tasted wonderful. Even the clean-up was a snap -- wash the couscous pot, toss out the aluminum foil on which everything roasted. So easy!

To prepare, you chop the onions and carrots into 1/2 inch pieces and quarter the garlic cloves. You mix those together on a baking sheet with some salt and pepper and roast in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes. Then you toss the vegetables with the prunes (quarter them first), add the chicken to the baking sheet as well, and roast for another 20 minutes. Towards the last ten minutes of roasting, make the couscous. Serve the vegetables and chicken over the couscous and, voila, dinner.

I used small prunes instead of large ones and I think that if I use that size again, I'll skip the step of quartering them, as they got a little too tough. Also, I might add the chicken to the vegetable mixture at the 5 minute mark and thus cutting the total time the vegetables are in the oven to 25 minutes instead of 30 minutes -- they got a little burnt towards the end. If you use bone-in chicken, you should start the chicken and the vegetables at the same time, only adding the prunes at the midway mark. Finally, I tossed everything in a little olive oil when it was all done roasting because it looked a little dry. In any case, the vegetables were tender and the chicken was perfectly roasted. I think I'll definitely make this again, maybe on a weeknight when I want maximum results for minimum effort.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Appetizer: Pistachio-Covered Cheese Log

Mr. Fritz and I had the pleasure of having dinner with some of our good friends tonight, and I volunteered to bring an appetizer. I was motivated, in part, because I had seen this recipe for a Pistachio-Covered Cheese Log in the December issue of Everyday Food when it first arrived back in November and had been thinking ever since that it looked like something I'd want to try.

This will probably sound strange, but I've never made a cheese log before. In fact, I can't even recall ever digging into one at a party. They never seem to appeal to me, probably because I had no idea what they were made of and they're usually bright orange which I guess I find off putting. Who knows? But when I saw this one and noted that it's made out of cream cheese, white cheddar, a little bit of Worchester sauce and some Dijon mustard (all ingredients I can abide by) and then covered in roasted pistachios (my favorite nuts), I thought it might be the cheese ball (or in this case cheese log) for me.

It really is simple to make. You grate 4 ounces of white cheddar, then mix the cheddar, 8 ounces of room-temperature cream cheese, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and a teaspoon of Worchester sauce and salt and pepper together in a stand mixer until well combined. Transfer the mixture to waxed paper and roll it into a log shape. Then roll the log in chopped pistachio nuts that you've roasted on the stove for about seven minutes over medium heat. I cheated on the chopping -- I put the nuts in a Ziploc bag and pounded them with a meat tenderizer. Wrap the finished log in fresh waxed paper and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to a day. I'm pleased to say that it was a hit among our friends. I served it with sesame cracker rounds that I'd picked up at the Teeter, which I think enhanced the whole thing.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dinner tonight... Chicken with Prosciutto and Sage; Sauteed Spinach with Golden Raisins

Although tonight was not really intended to be a "date night," I made a "date night"-worthy dinner for Mr. Fritz: Chicken with Prosciutto and Sage. A riff on saltimbocca, it's made by pounding out chicken breasts until they are nice and thin, then placing a few sage leaves on each one and wrapping the chicken in prosciutto (which I described to Mr. Fritz as "fancy bacon").

From there, you dip the chicken into a mixture of flour, salt and pepper, dust off the excess flour, and pan fry in olive oil for 3-5 minutes per side. Once the chicken is cooked, you remove it from the pan and deglaze the browned bits that remain with chicken broth and white wine. Then, after that mixture has reduced by half, you take it off the heat and finish it with butter and sage. To plate, you put some of the sauce down first, then place the chicken on top. Beautiful!

I served it with Sauteed Spinach with Golden Raisins, which is wilted spinach sauteed in a little bit of olive oil, tossed with salt and pepper and a handful of golden raisins. It takes about three minutes to make, literally, and could not be easier. Simple but good. The only change I made to the recipe is that instead of cooking it in a saute pan, I used a stock pot and tossed all the spinach in at once.

I'll definitely keep this entire meal in mind for the next time we have a real date night. It is dinner party worthy as well, come to think of it. Definitely a "must make again" dish!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dinner tonight... Tandoori Chicken with Yogurt Sauce and Jasmine Rice

Who knew you could cook tandoori chicken in a regular oven? Not me. (Or is it not I? I can't remember. Eek.) In any case, it turns out that you can make a pretty close approximation with very little effort. Yay! The recipe I used was from the Everyday Food: Good Food Fast cookbook. It was crazy simple: mix up some plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt), tumeric, ginger and garlic and coat the chicken with it, then roast the chicken in on a foil-lined baking sheet at a very high temperature (475 degrees) until it's cooked through. While it's roasting, you mix up a dipping sauce that consists of grated Granny Smith apples, chopped cilantro and more yogurt. Again, simple. Serve it over some basmati or jasmine rice and you have an excellent Indian-inspired meal. I loved it and Mr. Fritz liked it (although it was a little spicy for his tastes), so I will definitely make this again!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dinner tonight... Beef Stew

One of my favorite meals when I was growing up was my mom's beef stew. Stew seemed like good comfort food for a January Sunday, so I gave this recipe a try. Unfortunately, I forgot to get a potato at the grocery store (possibly because I was so overwhelmed by what a zoo the store was -- I had to actually stake out a cart to shop with, and while I was in there, heard the store manager repeatedly come over the loud speaker begging people to move their cars from in front of the loading dock. Apparently there wasn't anywhere else to park, so people were getting creative. Eek.). Anyway, despite being potato-free, this stew was really quite tasty and incredibly simple to make -- just put everything in a pot, bring to a boil, cover and put it in the oven for 2-2.5 hours. Easy peasy. I'm not going to post a photo because honestly, it doesn't look as appetizing in the photo as it did in person. But rest assured that if you're looking for a good beef stew recipe, this one will do the trick. It was almost as good as my mom's!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Lunch today... Tortilla Soup with Black Beans

I love white corn tortilla chips. I pretty much never buy them so my only interaction with them is typically at Mexican restaurants. When I come upon them, however, I could probably consume an endless supply. Today's ready-in-15-minutes lunch of Tortilla Soup with Black Beans uses white corn tortilla chips and so I was forced (okay, so not exactly forced) to buy a bag. I used a handful for the recipe, now the trick will be to not eat the rest of the enormous bag in one sitting!

In any case, this recipe is ridiculously simple and relies on pantry staples: garlic, chili powder, frozen corn kernels, canned diced tomatoes, canned black beans, chicken broth and the aforementioned tortilla chips. Oh and a fresh lime, but I consider that to be a pantry staple in my kitchen because a squeeze of fresh lime juice is such a great finisher on so many dishes.

In any case, to make this soup, you saute the chili powder and garlic in olive for a couple of minutes, then add the rest of the ingredients save for the tortilla chips, bring the soup to a boil, reduce to a simmer and simmer for a couple of minutes before stirring in the crushed chips and the fresh lime juice. And you're done. Easy as can be and super fast. Plus, it tastes great and makes for a hearty lunch on a cold day like today. The only caution: make it just before you want to eat it, because the tortilla chips will absorb the broth and after a little while it thickens quite a bit. I think it also might be nice to top the soup with some cheddar and chopped avocado, but today we ate it as is. Okay, with a couple of extra tortilla chips on top. Couldn't help myself!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Dinner tonight... Parmesan-Carrot Risotto and Peach-Pecan Chicken

When I saw the recipe for Parmesan-Carrot Risotto in the January/February issue of Everyday Food, I was surprised to see that they'd substituted regular rice for arborio rice and thought to myself, well, I'll just make it with arborio rice anyway. I had to laugh, then, when I opened my pantry tonight and realized that I am somehow out of arborio rice altogether and as a result, had to go with plain rice after all. In any case, this recipe was more flavorful than I thought it would be, in the best way possible. The toughest part about making it is grating the carrots (I used a box grater. Next time, I might be tempted to just go all out and grate them in my food processor. There's nothing fun about grating carrots on a box grater. Nothing.). The second toughest part is hanging around the stove long enough to keep stirring and stirring and stirring until the rice absorbs all of the chicken broth. But in the end it was worth it, as it yielded a really hearty, tasty dish. I think I still prefer using real arborio rice for risotto, but it's nice to know that I can approximate it with regular rice if the need arises.

I paired it with roasted chicken breast that I braised in Paula Deen-brand Peach Pecan Dressing that I received in my Christmas stocking at Mr. Fritz's house this year. I put the chicken in a heavy baking dish (which, coincidentally, was given to me by The Original Mrs. Fritz for Christmas last year), spread a few tablespoons of the dressing on top, and put it in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. It came out nice and moist and the dressing made for a great glaze as it cooked down. Super easy! And I still have lots of the dressing left over, so I'll be able to experiment with using it in other ways.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year! (And a Recipe Roundup from the Past 24 Hours)

I can't believe that it's 2009! Despite the fact that the economy is imploding and there is doom and gloom everywhere, I was actually a little bit sad to say goodbye to 2008, because I'll always remember it as one of the best years of my life -- mainly because it included marrying Mr. Fritz and lots of merrymaking with friends and family surrounding that event, but also because I am so freakishly happy actually BEING married to Mr. Fritz is just so much fun. Anyway... back to cooking...

In the past 24 hours, I've spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen. For dinner last night, I riffed off of Everyday Food's Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps, swapping boneless chicken for flank steak. The result was a really wonderful, fresh, bright-tasting meal that was anything but heavy. The dish is basically Boston lettuce leaves filled with roasted chicken, green onions and mango, drizzled with a lime-cilantro-garlic-oil vinaigrette. It's served with a side of cellophane noodles tossed with scallions and oil. Delish.

In honor of Mr. Bigger's birthday last night, I made one of my signature appetizers: Phyllo-Wrapped Brie with Apricot and Rosemary Chutney. This is a recipe I've been making since 1996 and it was introduced to me by Mrs. Durham. It was in a current issue of Gourmet back then and her mother actually faxed the recipe to us so we could attempt to make it. We were 22 at the time and Mrs. Durham was already a rock star in the kitchen. The end result was so delicious and elegant that I've been making it ever since, typically for our annual Christmas party. Since this year was the first in many years that we didn't have the party, it seemed fitting to make it especially for Mr. Biggers instead. I won't get into the technique, because the recipe is written very clearly, but I will say this: I'm totally embarrassed about how brown the phyllo rosettes on the top got in last night's version -- I should have covered them in foil and forgot and so they are just way too dark. I'll also note that working with phyllo can be tricky, but it's certainly not impossible. Just move quickly and make sure you have all of the ingredients ready to go so that you can work through the assembly process as fast as possible.

Today, Mr. Fritz and I spent the day just getting caught up on life stuff. But I also squeezed some cooking into the mix. For lunch, I made Light Italian Wedding Soup, which features turkey meatballs and escarole (yes, Mr. Fritz, the "seaweed" made a return appearance to the Fritz Kitchen!). It's a very simple recipe and made for a hearty lunch, despite being low in calories. You start by making the meatballs (the recipe called for ground dark-meat turkey, I used ground white meat), then they cook in a broth that consists of sauteed onion, chicken broth and a can of diced tomatoes (undrained). Once the meatballs are about halfway cooked, you add chopped escarole and cook for another five minutes. Then you're done. Easy! I really liked the flavor profile of the meatballs and the broth. I'll definitely make this again.

And for dinner, I went the comfort food route and made Everyday Food's Lighter Blue Plate Special, which consisted of meatloaf, buttermilk mashed potatoes and steamed green beans. I was a little worried about the consistency of the meatloaf, because when I mixed it together, it seemed a little too wet (it's made of ground beef mixed with pureed carrots, celery, onion, panko and an egg white). But after spending 30 minutes in the oven it seemed to be just fine and it kept its shape. You baste it in barbecue sauce and in my opinion, that was the best part. I love barbecue sauce... Mmm...

And after I post this, I'm off to pop some popcorn on the stove and make some hot chocolate so that we can have one last toast to the new year. But before I do that, I just wanted to say thanks to those of you who have stopped by to visit my blog -- it's been really fun to receive feedback about the recipes I've posted and encouragement as I continue on this cooking odyssey. Here's to many more great meals in the year to come. Cheers!

(Of course, I can't find any of the Everyday Food recipes to link to them. Sigh. I'll keep looking for them and link to them as soon as possible.)