The Perfect Spicy Grilled Cheeseburger

Order a hamburger at a restaurant? Not me. They never measure up to my expectations. Yes, I will sometimes eat them when served at a picnic, but my preference is grilling them at home, and that’s a rare treat. This way I know exactly what they’re made of, how they’re made, and can let the juices dribble down my chin without worrying who’s watching, or how many napkins I use.

Let’s face it, it’s all about the meat. I’ve heard, read, saw and tasted so many different approaches from the pros, and non-pros alike. But in the end, you are the one who is going to eat it and therefore it should appeal to your tastebuds. Well, as you certainly know by now, Russ and I like things spicy, and that includes our grilled burgers.


As mentioned, there are a lot of ways to make a good hamburger patty. They can be made out of ground beef, pork, lamb, sausage, turkey, or more. They can be stuffed full of garlic, cheese, spices, peppers, or virtually anything small enough to fit inside. But this blog centers on the plain, unstuffed beef burger. Simpler is usually better in our humble opinion, and it all starts with making the perfect patty.

Fresh ground meat creates a more tender burger because it was never compacted tightly together, so let’s start with the packaging. To make exceptionally tender burgers you need to grind your own meat or buy it from your grocery store freshly ground. If your hamburger was stuffed into meat tubes it was already compacted too much and will never make a great burger. You want to still be able to see the individual strands of meat still loosely intact after coming out of the grinder.


Next, you want to make sure it is the right cut which is fresh ground chuck. Ground chuck will typically have the perfect ratio of fat to meat, which is 80/20. Now 90/10 may sound like a good idea because it is healthier, but it will be too dry to make a good burger, so I often compromise and use 85% lean, as we did here. Burgers need some fat to be juicy. Adversely, you also don’t want anything fattier than 80/20, if there is too much fat the burger will shrink excessively during cooking and you will end up with hockey pucks in a pool of grease.

Measure each portion to weigh approximately the same size—we prefer an 8-ounce patty. Then simply, but not too firmly, press down to form the 3/4″ high round patties leaving the edges slightly loose so you can still identify the strands of meat made from the meat grinder. This is a sign that you succeeded in not overworking the meat. The strands will separate more easily from each other when you take a bite than if you squished and squeezed the meat together. This is what makes your burger so tender.

Many aficionados swear by the act of slightly depressing the center of the patty to push a little extra meat towards the edges to produce an even patty without a bulging middle. Sometimes I do this, most often I don’t, and we rarely end up with protruding centers once cooked.

IMG_5323Note, there are no bulging middles to these babies.

Oh, and when it’s time to grill, for Pete’s sake don’t press the patty while cooking, just don’t do it! You are not making it cook faster, you are squeezing all the life and juice out of it, guaranteeing you will end up with a dry burger. Only flip it once which allows the burger time to build up a charred crust which adds flavor, and it is easier to time doneness—which depending on your thickness, will be about 8 to 10 minutes total for a medium finish with a slightly pink interior.

IMG_5331The burger will be charred on the outside, but still juicy and moist on the inside if you don’t squish the juices out.

The bun you choose makes a BIG difference in how great you burger tastes. You simply want a bun that feels light and squishy. A heavy, dense bun will steal the show from the tender burger patty. One of our preferences is soft, 100% whole wheat buns which not only taste good, they add 5 grams of fiber!


To toast or not to toast? That is the question. Russ always toasts his buns saying the heat lightens up the texture allowing the texture of the tender patty to be the star of the show and the bun doesn’t get as soggy from the juices. Me? I like mine untoasted which just seems to work better for my tastebuds…

You can top your burger with whatever you want. But we’re talking a spicy burger, so that’s where we’re going here. First, we season the patties with a spicy rub, in this case it’s what we also use on Russ’ famous Baby Back Ribs. We got the rub recipe from our Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly, consisting of a lively mix of herbs and spices including paprika, chile powder, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and cumin among others.


About one minute before the burgers are ready, lay a slice or two of cheese—in this case Jalapeño Jack—on top of each burger, close the lid, and let the cheese melt, then remove the patties from the grill. Note: the chef may request a slice of said cheese to munch on while he/she mans the grill… just sayin’…

Once those burgers are done, spread some Dijon mustard and ketchup (or Sriracha if you dare) on the bottom half of your toasted (or not) bun, position the patty, then top with a large slice of heirloom tomato, sliced red onion and hot pepper rings. (Your mouth should be watering right about now.)


The final touch is the lettuce. The best lettuce in our opinion is either red/green leaf or Bibb lettuce which all have better flavor, better texture, and a more pleasing appearance than romaine or ice burg varieties. Crown with the top bun and your ready to chow down. Yes, it’ll probably be too tall to get your mouth over the entire stack of lusciousness, but OMG the mess is worth it, and you have lots of napkins handy, right?

IMG_5311All of the photos show the fixings for 3 burgers, but the recipe below is for four servings.

Spicy Grilled Cheeseburgers

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2 lbs. 80-85% lean loose ground chuck, formed into 4, 3/4″-high patties (they should measure just slightly larger in diameter than your buns)
  • Spicy dry rub mix*
  • 4-8 Jalapeño Jack cheese slices
  • 1 very large heirloom tomato, cored and cut into 4 thick slices across the equator
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup hot pepper rings, moisture removed
  • 8 large leaves from Bibb, red or green leaf lettuce, rinsed and dried
  • Dijon mustard
  • Ketchup or Sriracha
  • 4 100% whole wheat hamburger buns, or bun of your choice


  1. Heat one side of grill to very hot.
  2. Form four 8-ounce patties from the ground chuck being careful not to smush together to tightly and leaving the edges a little rough. Sprinkle both sides of each patty with your spice rub.
  3. Slice the onion and tomato, prep the hot pepper rings and lettuce leaves and place all on a platter for the table.
  4. Very important: oil the grates of the grill with a vegetable oil. Place the patties on the hot, oiled grates and leave them alone for 5-6 minutes. We usually oil the grates again right next to the burgers, and then flip them onto the newly oiled area for another 3-4 minutes. (It’s a real good idea to use grilling gloves when oiling the grates so as not to burn yourself.)
  5. If you are toasting buns, place them on the direct heat for just a minute and then move them to the side or onto the higher rack.
  6. Place the cheese slice(s) on each patty in the final minute of cooking and close the lid so the cheese melts.
  7. Spread the mustard and ketchup on the bottom half of each bun, top with cooked cheeseburger, then add onion, hot pepper rings, tomato slice and lettuce leaf followed by the top half of the bun. Dig in!

*Spice rub recipe available from The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly.


Chicken Marsala with Parmesan Garlic Mashed Potatoes. The Best!

If you’re not familiar with Chicken Marsala, it is an Italian-American dish of rich golden colored pan-fried chicken cutlets and mushrooms in a rich Marsala wine sauce. It appears on most classic Italian restaurant menus, but it’s really quite easy to concoct at home. So if you haven’t already made it, why not give it a whirl and impress your family—or just yourself!


Not a fan of the ultra-thin, pre-sliced cutlets, I buy the boneless split breasts and pound them down myself, mainly because it’s a much cheaper way to go. If your chicken breasts are large, first cut them horizontally, then in half vertically to form eight flat fillets, and pound them to an even 1/4-inch thickness.


Marsala is a brandy-fortified wine from Sicily that is worth adding to your pantry, if only to make this dish time and again; it will keep in a cool, dry spot for months. But please, do not buy the grocery store cooking marsala which is mostly salt, get a decent brand from your liquor store, it truly makes a difference especially when using the amount needed here.

Since I was winging it, I started out with a 12-inch stainless steel pan. In the end, it wasn’t quite big enough to hold everything once it was time to add the chicken back to the sauce. So, after the marsala sauce reduced down and got happy from all of the browned bits left in the pan, I added the browned chicken cutlets to a larger skillet, poured the sauce over, cover and cooked for several minutes for the meat to heat through. Word to the wise: start with a very large skillet.

This recipe yields a lovely sauce that is wonderful over pasta, polenta, rice, or mashed potatoes. Our side was Parmesan Garlic Mashed Potatoes, which are simply heaven-on-earth! I listed the ingredients below. Just go ahead and boil your peeled potatoes until tender, add the ingredients, and beat with a hand mixer until smooth.


Chicken Marsala with Parmesan Garlic Mashed Potatoes

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: moderate
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  • 2.5 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded ¼-inch thick
  • 6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
  • cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/3 cup dry Marsala wine
  • 1 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 4 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley, for serving


  1. Place the flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a ziplock bag. Add the chicken to the bag; seal bag tightly and shake to coat chicken evenly. Arrange on a platter, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to use.
  2. Heat the 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. (Use a large stainless steel pan for the best browning.) Place the flour-dusted chicken in the pan, shaking off any excess first, and cook, turning once, until the chicken is golden and just barely cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes total. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. Repeat the process with another tablespoon each of oil and butter and the remaining chicken cutlets.
  3. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms begin to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Add the shallots, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt; cook for 1 to 2 minutes more.
  5. Add the wine, broth, heavy cream, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper; use a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits from the pan into the liquid.
  6. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and gently boil, uncovered, until the sauce is reduced by about half, slightly thickened, and darkened in color, about 20-25 minutes (it won’t start to thicken until the very end of the cooking time).
  7. Add the chicken back to the pan, along with any juices that accumulated on the plate. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the chicken is warmed through and the sauce thickens a bit more, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Parmesan Garlic Mashed Potatoes


  • 3 lbs. combination of Russet and Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, room temp
  • 1 Tbsp. roasted garlic paste
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper

IMG_5193We served ours with a simple side salad to add color and fiber.

Grilled Glossy & Glazy

With a guest staying with us for the weekend—and one who really enjoys pork—we came across this Grilled Pork Chops with Pineapple-Turmeric Glaze recipe in our latest issue of Bon Appétit magazine and thought perfecto! We knew we wanted to grill and we weren’t going to have a lot of time to fuss with dinner, so this couldn’t have fit our criteria any better.

For this recipe, don’t be afraid of getting a good char here. It just means the sugars in the glaze are caramelizing (not that the meat is burning), resulting in deep, complex flavor. Our dining guest can’t tolerate really spicy food like the two of us, so we held back on how much marinate we added to her chop. So when making your own, if there are some “delicate palettes” in your household, adjust accordingly.

To expedite the meal further, our friend bought a couple of different prepared potato salads and we steamed some asparagus. With a crisp Sauvignon Blanc to sip, dinner was a quick and tasty al fresco meal on which we christened our new teak patio set. The summer season is off to a great start…

This glaze would also be dynamite on shrimp, whole fish, chicken breasts, slab bacon, or beef skewers.


Grilled Pork Chops with Pineapple-Turmeric Glaze

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • Vegetable oil (for grill)
  • ½ cup pineapple juice (from a can)
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • ½ tsp. ground turmeric
  • 4 1″-thick bone-in pork chops
  • Kosher salt


  1. Prepare a grill for high indirect heat (for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off; for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side); oil grate.
  2. Bring pineapple juice, honey, vinegar, mustard, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, and turmeric to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, swirling occasionally, until reduced to ¾ cup, 10–15 minutes. Let cool. Transfer half of sauce to a small bowl and set aside for serving.
  3. Season pork with salt.
  4. Grill over direct heat until browned all over, about 3 minutes per side. Continue to grill, turning several times and basting with remaining sauce, until charred and coated with a thick layer of glaze, about 4 minutes.
  5. Move to cooler part of grill and take internal temperature of pork. If needed, continue grilling over indirect heat until an instant-read thermometer inserted into chops near bone registers 130°, 1–4 minutes more.
  6. Transfer pork chops to a wire rack and let rest 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with reserved sauce alongside.

Hauntingly Sweet and Savory

The early June Sunday dawned cool, wet and windy, making me hunger for one final braised dish before the heat of the summer would warrant other cooking methods. We both decided a lamb dish would fit the bill and Russ remembered one he recently made for his Men’s group in which they all absolutely loved it—one even exclaiming “It was the best lamb I ever had!” I’m not quite sure I’d go that far, but it does find a spot up there among the top of the list. The flavor is delicious and the meat is meltingly tender.


This Lamb Tagine with Cinnamon-Scented Onions and Tomatoes originates from the western foothills of the High Atlas mountains in Morocco, North Africa. Its haunting sweet and savory flavor will stay with you long after the meal has ended. You can make this dish at any time of year, but if tomatoes are in season, replace the canned tomatoes in the recipe with thick slices of large, ripe ones; lay them between the lamb and the onions.


The traditional tagine pottery, shown above—sometimes painted or glazed—consists of two parts: a circular base unit that is flat with low sides and a large cone- or dome-shaped cover that sits on the base during cooking. The cover is designed to return all condensation to the bottom. We don’t own one, but we find using our Le Creuset copper enameled braising pot is just as effective.

Couscous makes a perfect bed over which to ladle the finished tagine as it will absorb a lot of those luscious juices. And if you’re lucky enough to have any leftover, you’ll enjoy it just as much reheated.

NOTE: While this is done on top of the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, you can also braise the dish in a 275° oven for 3 hours.


Lamb Tagine with Cinnamon-Scented Onions and Tomatoes

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print


  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2-3 lb. boneless leg of lamb, cubed into 1 1/2″ chunks
  • 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, drained, preferably San Marzano
  • 2 large red onions, 1 finely chopped, the other sliced into 1/8″ rounds
  • 2 tsp. granulated sugar


  • In a large bowl, combine the parsley, cilantro, garlic, turmeric, ginger, 1/4 tsp. of the cinnamon, 3/4 tsp. salt, and several grinds of pepper. Add 2 Tbs. water and the olive oil, and mix.
  • Add the lamb chunks to the marinade and turn to coat. They can marinate covered in the refrigerator for an hour if needed, but not necessary.
  • Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes in a sieve. Using a paring knife, make a small incision in each one and gently press out and discard any excess juice and seeds; set the tomatoes aside.
  • Scatter the chopped onions over the bottom of an 11- to 12-inch tagine or braising pot. Arrange the lamb in a snug, single layer on top and drizzle over any remaining marinade. Arrange the drained tomatoes in and around the lamb, and then sprinkle 1 tsp. of the sugar and 1/4 tsp. of the cinnamon over the tomatoes.
  • Peel and cut the remaining onion crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds; do not separate the rings. Carefully lay the onion rounds on top of the lamb, and then sprinkle the remaining 1 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and a pinch of salt over the onions.
  • Put the tagine or pot over medium heat and cook uncovered, nudging the lamb occasionally to keep it from sticking, until the chopped onion is translucent, about 15 minutes.
  • Add 1/4 cup water around the edges (so that you don’t disturb the sugar and cinnamon). Cover with the lid, propping a wooden spoon between the base and the lid to keep it from sealing.
  • Turn the heat down to low and gently simmer, nudging the lamb from time to time to prevent sticking and swapping the spoon position halfway through, until the lamb is very tender and the sliced onions are soft, 2 to 2-1/2 hours.
  • Drizzle in a few spoonfuls of water as necessary during cooking to keep the sauce loose, or remove the lid at the end of cooking to evaporate and thicken the sauce if it’s watery.

IMG_5149Serve over a bed of couscous.

Adapted from a Fine Cooking recipe by Jeff Koehler


Crispy Skin, Juicy Meat, Happy Diners

Does moist, flavorful chicken with crispy skin float your boat? Then look no further. This recipe is very similar to one we often cook using the whole bird. You can vary the herbs as you like, but stick to the hardy ones—thyme, rosemary, sage, and oregano. They’ll roast without burning and have a stronger flavor.

While the Baked Chicken with Herbs, Garlic & Shallots takes longer overall than most of my weeknight recipes, the process is largely hands off and the oven does the lion’s share of the work.


Because we are extremely partial to the allium family, we increased the number of shallots and garlic cloves, which is noted in the list of ingredients below. And while it’s optional, we definitely made the au jus, but for more flavor, we incorporated homemade chicken stock and white wine in place of one cup of water, and it was mighty tasty!


Our side of Roasted Vegetables was a perfect companion to the baked poultry and the meal was complete with some leftover reheated spiced polenta. Take the easy way and use frozen pearl onions. Fresh are great, but they are no picnic to peel.

Baked Chicken with Herbs, Garlic and Shallots

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 4-lb. chicken, cut into quarters
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 8 medium shallots, cut in half and peeled
  • 12 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • Leaves stripped from 10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Leaves stripped from 8 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • Leaves stripped from 6 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1-1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


For the roasted vegetables

  • 1 lb. cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, trimmed and halved if medium, quartered if large
  • 1 lb. fresh pearl onions, peeled; or frozen pearl onions, thawed
  • 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. sherry vinegar


  1. Heat the oven to 425°F. Rinse the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels. Cut away any excess fat and tuck the wings behind each breast.
  2. Put the butter into a large, shallow rectangular baking pan. Put the pan into the oven while it’s heating. When the butter is melted (about 10 minutes), remove the pan and set it on a heatproof surface or on a couple of potholders.
  3. Add the shallots, garlic, thyme, and rosemary, and swirl the pan to coat the ingredients in the butter.
  4. Dredge the chicken, skin side down, in the butter and herb mixture, and arrange, skin side up, in the pan. Sprinkle the chicken generously with the salt and pepper.
  5. Bake until the chicken is browned and cooked through, 50 to 60 minutes. Serve with the shallots and garlic along with a drizzle of the pan drippings.

Optional Au Jus: After chicken and shallots are done, remove them to a platter and cover loosely with foil. Stir in 1/2 chicken stock and 1/2 cup wine to make a jus with the drippings, loosening any browned bits. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and serve on the side.

For the roasted vegetables

  1. Position a rack in the top third of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the mushrooms, onions, and Brussels sprouts with 2 Tbs. of the oil, the garlic, thyme, 1-1/2 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
  3. Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, stir the vegetables, and continue roasting until tender and browned, about 35 minutes total.
  4. Transfer to a serving bowl and toss with the remaining 2 Tbs. oil and the vinegar.

Chicken recipe adapted from Abigail Johnson Dodge of Fine Cooking

Healthiest and Tastiest Summer Salad Ever!

I’m throwing you a lifeline to rescue you from those dull, bland salads that we all tend to throw together at home. Instead, try this super-healthy and fabulously delicious Red Pepper, Shrimp and Papaya Salad. It’s chockfull of nutrients that boost your immunity, vision, heart and brain health. Got your attention now?


While oranges are perennial favorites as an immune booster, it’s time to shine the light on papayas. They boast slightly more vitamin C than the all-star orange and are loaded with betacarotene, an antioxidant that helps protect tissues from cellular damage. Plus, eating antioxidant-rich food can help you feel less sluggish and decrease your risk of chronic disease.

Additionally, the sweet red peppers add color, crunch and lots of vitamins, boost heart health, and strengthen immunity such as ferulic acid, an anti-aging skin phytonutrient. And who doesn’t need a little help in that arena—especially after a certain age…

A papaya as it looks once cut in half.

The bonus on papaya? It’s high in fiber that feeds the good bacteria in your gut! You’ll feel like a million dollars when you’re done eating. My papaya was a bit large so I only used half of it. But the remainder was perfect in a morning fruit salad containing sliced bananas and watermelon chunks.


Bring on the summer!


Red Pepper, Shrimp & Papaya Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 small red chili pepper, finely minced (more or less to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 3/4 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tsp. chili flakes
  • 1 small papaya, cut in half lengthwise, seeded, peeled, then sliced horizontally into 1/4″ thick C-shaped slices
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews or almonds; roughly chopped
  • 3-4 oz. baby arugla
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 small cucumber, thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped


  1. Whisk dressing ingredients together and set aside.
  2. Place a large frying pan over high heat and add the coconut oil.
  3. Add the shrimp and chili flakes and cook lightly, flipping the shrimp to cook all sides. for about 5 minutes, until the shrimp are just opaque.
  4. Divide and arrange the salad ingredients between 2 plates and top each with shrimp and chopped nuts. Lightly dress and serve immediately.

IMG_5038After making the dressing, prep all of the veggies and chop the nuts.

Assemble all of the salad ingredients on a couple of plates, then top with shrimp, nuts and dressing.

Recipe adapted from one found in Bottom Line Health

Flat Iron Steak with Zucchini, Edamame, and Soba Noodles

Let’s just say I was more than a bit skeptical about poaching steak, especially a rib-eye, which is what we substituted for the flat iron steak. First of all, it’s difficult to even find flat iron in our area, and secondly, it’s not the best cut of meat if cooked incorrectly, whereas rib-eye is a sure bet. But if you do use it, the deep flavor of flat iron steak works really well with the umami-rich soy sauce and sesame oil featured in this dish.


Unless you prefer an obvious sweet note, you may want to cut back on the amount of granulated sugar seeing as how mirin is a subtly sweet Japanese rice wine. It is similar to sake, but has more sugar and a lower alcohol content (14% to be precise). If you don’t have mirin, you can sub in a dry sherry or a sweet marsala wine.

I was disappointed that the grocery store wasn’t carrying fresh edamame, but the frozen kind worked out just as well. Be sure to let it thaw for a spell before you begin cooking.


Flat-Iron Steak with Zucchini, Edamame and Soba Noodles

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • Kosher salt
  • 8 oz. dried soba noodles
  • 1 Tbs. Asian sesame oil
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup mirin
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 1/4-inch-thick slices peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 flat iron steaks (8 to 10 oz. each), or about 1 lb. rib-eye
  • 1 lb. zucchini (2 medium), cut into 2-inch matchsticks
  • 1 12-oz. bag frozen shelled edamame, thawed (about 2 cups)
  • 1 Tbs. chopped pickled ginger
  • 2 small scallions, white and light-green parts, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds (optional)


  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and cook the noodles until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain well, transfer to a large bowl, toss with the sesame oil, cover, and keep warm.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, ginger, garlic, and 1 cup water in a 10-inch straight sided sauté pan. Bring to a boil, and then add the steaks. Turn the heat down and simmer gently, flipping once, until medium rare (130°F), 12 to 16 minutes. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board, reserving the liquid in the pan. Discard the garlic and ginger.
  3. Return the liquid to a boil. Add the zucchini and edamame, return to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are just tender, about 2 minutes.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to the bowl of noodles. Toss well, cover, and keep warm.
  5. Boil the cooking liquid until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  6. Thinly slice the steaks across the grain. Arrange the noodle mixture on a platter or divide it among 6 shallow bowls. Top with the beef and the pickled ginger, if using.
  7. Drizzle some of the sauce over the beef and garnish with the scallions and sesame seeds, if using. Serve, passing the rest of the sauce at the table.


By Lynne Curry from Fine Cooking

Chicken Fajitas with Red Pepper, Onion & Lime

Fajitas, a fast and fun answer to “what’s for dinner?” Adults and kids alike will enjoy assembling their own version of the perfect fajita. Figure on three per person—we each built two, with a third sans the tortilla, more like a small side salad.

For more color, choices and additional flavor, I added Trader Joe’s Autentica salsa and chopped Bibb lettuce as ingredients. And why not include a mix of bell peppers with the yellow, orange and/or green varieties? A lime wedge as garnish enables you to add an extra squirt of lime if desired.


While chicken breasts are fine cuts, and always popular, there are a few other cuts from the poultry aisle worth buying and exploring. The rich, dark meat of boneless, skinless chicken thighs stands up well to intense flavors like the cumin, red pepper, and lime in this quick and easy dish. Though I’m still mostly a white meat fan, boneless chicken thighs in particular have been gaining in popularity with me.

Cooking the peppers and onions in the same pan that you seared the chicken amps up the flavor of the veggies from the browned bits stuck to the skillet. And be sure to drizzle any juices from the resting thighs over the sliced meat for another boost of tastiness.


Chicken Fajitas with Red Pepper, Onion & Lime

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1-1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1-1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 to 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (1-1/2 to 2 lb.), trimmed of excess fat
  • 2 Tbs. canola, vegetable, or corn oil
  • 1 very large or 2 medium yellow onions, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise (about 4 cups)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into strips about 1/4 inch wide and 2 inches long
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 10-12, 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 1-1/2 cups crumbled queso fresco or grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • Salsa and chopped lettuce, optional


  1. Mix 1 tsp. of the chili powder, 1/2 tsp. of the cumin, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a small bowl. Season the chicken on both sides with the spice rub.
  2. Heat 1 Tbs. of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Cook the chicken without disturbing, except to flip, until both sides are browned and the chicken is firm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes per side. If it browns too quickly, reduce the heat to medium. (You may have to brown in two batches so as not to crowd the pan.) Transfer the thighs to a cutting board and let them cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 Tbs. oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, just until the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in the garlic and the remaining 3/4 tsp. cumin and 1/2 tsp. chili powder and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Stir in the lime juice. Transfer to a bowl, cover loosely with foil, and keep warm.
  6. Cut the thighs on the diagonal into thin slices, transfer to a plate, cover, and keep warm.
  7. Heat the tortillas according to package directions. Fill each one with a few slices of the chicken and some of the onion mixture and cheese. Fold the filled tortillas and serve.

By Adam Ried from Fine Cooking


Birthday Brunch for Both at the Brick

And the birthday celebration continued into another day…

The Brick Hotel was a Newtown Borough, PA icon for many decades but fell on bad times for a few years to the point of Gordon Ramsey of Hell’s Kitchen fame coming in and trying to resurrect it’s glory days. Didn’t happen. After Gordon’s revamp and prompted by GroupOns, we dined there on a few Saturday nights only to find it pretty much deserted of patrons.


Not the case anymore. Now known mostly as a steak house, Rocco’s at The Brick, the reincarnated restaurant occupying the main floor of the historic Brick Hotel, reopened in late January, 2018. And every time we drove by it, it was packed, no matter the time of day. And no matter how far in advance we’d try, we failed to secure dinner reservations but were finally able to score for a Sunday brunch. It was to celebrate Russ and his son Dan’s mutual birthdays while Dan was in town visiting with his girlfriend Tina.


Our foursome table was positioned in the large enclosed spacious porch with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the outside patio and gardens. In a nod to the dual birthday celebration brunch, we ordered a carafe of Mimosas to get us started. Then we set about the task of narrowing down our choices which included the regular menu along with an additional brunch addendum, from which both Dan and Dad chose their meals.

The pace was somewhat slow because, according to our waiter Frank, the kitchen was a bit backed up. This suited us just fine because it gave us an opportunity to chat, enjoy our drinks and peruse the menus. Looking out the wall of windows, I was shocked to see a Philadelphia Trolley Car packed full of sightseers roaming the town making several trips past the restaurant. Is this a new offering in Newtown?

Up first, Tina opted for a House Special, the Filet Mignon French Dip composed of a crusty baguette packed full of moist, sliced beef tenderloin with a side of au jus and sharp cheddar fries. She managed to consume all of the crunchy fries, but had to doggie-bag half of the sandwich.


The Twin Maryland Crabcakes, also a House Special, were calling my name. They came plated over a bed of tasty remoulade with a side salad and grilled asparagus. I didn’t leave as much as a crumb. Although they were not on par with the very best crab cakes I’ve ever had (at Brian’s in Lambertville, NJ), they were certainly up there at the top of the list.


Now the guys decided on heartier fare with Russ selecting the brunch item Crab Cakes Benny. He loved the extremely thick slabs of bacon nestled between the Maryland crab cakes and two poached eggs slathered with a generous helping of hollandaise sauce.


Daniel went all out with the Kansas City Steak & Eggs entrée. The 22-ounce, medium-rare, bone-in NY Strip came topped with fried eggs and was loaded with truffled potatoes and a side of grilled asparagus. Dan managed to finish all but a few veggie spears and a bit of meat around the bone, which Russ had them bag up for a later gnaw.


Shortly before we finished eating, the skies opened up and there was an unexpected downpour which made for an interesting show as patrons ran out of the building without umbrellas trying hopelessly to dodge the raindrops. We pretty much waited for the showers to dispense before we said our goodbyes and then Dan and Tina started their journey back to Massachusetts—and us to the grocery store… We’re looking forward to one day getting a dinner reservation…

A Quick Trip to Barcelona

For Russ’ birthday dinner celebration (other than the porterhouse steak feast enjoyed at home a few days prior), we took a quick trip to Barcelona—no, not in Spain, but the Barcelona Wine Bar nestled among the destination restaurants on Philly’s hottest food strip. Located on a triangular corner on East Passyunk Ave, it’s a very hip dining spot with an industrial, eclectic décor vibe that includes a dressmaker’s dummy in a glass case.

It’s a raw, fun space with cinder block walls and concrete floors. I read that some of the lights were recovered out of a warehouse and some are actually chicken feeders! There’s a “jigsaw puzzle” wall made of wood slabs with spaces between them which breaks up the large room, loosely dividing the dining area from a big white marble U-shaped bar lined with high stools.



After following the crazy directions given by the car GPS system, we were thrilled when we found a parking spot just a few short steps from the front entrance. It had been raining on and off all day, and the humidity was through the roof so we opted to dine inside as opposed to their spacious outdoor patio—which BTW, was packed by the time we departed a few hours later.


Thank goodness we’d snuck a peek at their extensive wine list ahead of time, because it is pages and pages long (over 450 bottles strong) and would’ve taken forever to make a decision if we’d come in unknowingly. As one of the largest Spanish wine programs in the US, they offer an extensive selection from Spain and South America, and Russ had narrowed it down to several, finally deciding on the Azul Temperanillo.

As you know, I rarely eat bread but when the basket arrived with thick, still-warm-from-the-oven crusty slices and a pour of really good extra virgin olive oil, I knew I’d have to sample it. WOW, what a perfect start! Now to make some savory selections…


Starters were from the Charcuterie & Cheese menu with a selection of three for only $17.50. Our choices included Idiazábal, a smoked raw sheep’s milk cheese from the Basque Country served with a small dollop of quince paste which perfectly paired with the nutty and robust flavors. The Valdeón was a tangy and spicy goat and cow’s milk blue cheese from the Castilla-León region and made a perfect counterpoint to the mound of paper-thin slices of Segovia-raised Jamón Serrano, a dry-cured Spanish ham, and an all-time favorite for Russ.

Of the more than 30 different Tapas listed, we selected five with a variety of vegetables and meats, some priced as low as $4.50 per plate. (There are also vegetarian and vegan options.) We asked our waitress Randi to bring out the dishes slowly starting with our choices of two veggie tapas, the very tasty Piquillo Peppers in a garlic confit with thyme, and the Champiñones, succulent mushrooms marinated in garlic and scallions.


Next up were the Albondigas, a quintet of delicious spiced meatballs bathed in a ham-tomato sauce. The last arrivals were the Patatas Bravas wedges plated with wooden spears into a salsa brava and yummy garlic aioli; and four perfectly round and delicately fried Jamón & Manchego Croquettes lined up over a swath of that same garlic aioli. These were almost a little too rich for my taste.



When Randi came back to check on us, she saw one potato wedge left and refused to clear the plate until Russ popped it in his mouth. By this time I couldn’t eat another bite, but Russ felt compelled to finish his birthday celebration with a sweet treat and landed on the Crema Catalan Flan and a cup of Café Con Leché. BTW, in case you’re not in a tapas mood, the menu includes several Ensaladas, a few meat entrees and a handful of Paellas to share.


As we were leaving, Russ received a token for his birthday and we also got another at our departure for having filled out the short survey when we got our tab. One was for a complimentary drink and another for a free tapa. Aw shucks, I guess we’ll have to make another short trip to Barcelona soon…


Up, Up and Away…

…In my beautiful, my beautiful, hot air balloon… cookies for Maddie’s 1st birthday. Who’s Maddie? I’ve never met the adorable little bundle of joy, but Russ works with her mom Shin. It so happens whenever I make my decorated sugar cookies, Russ’ coworkers are the happy recipients of the “extra” cookies which he dutifully totes into the office. And Shin LOVES them! She admitted to having five the last time Russ brought some in.

So apparently Shin got to thinking they would make a great addition to her pastel-palette, hot air balloon-themed daughter’s 1st birthday party (for 100 people no less!) I received a text from her one week before deadline, which would necessitate Russ to deliver them via a work transfer toward the end of the week (because Shin and her family live nowhere near us.) Not a lot of time to plan, purchase, bake and decorate—but I sometimes work better “under pressure” (the melody to Queen’s song playing in my head.)


Knowing from past experience that each batch makes 2-3 dozen—depending on size of the cookie cutter—I made three batches of dough. But I had to wait a day to cut out and bake them until the cookie cutters that I ordered through Amazon were delivered (to add variety, I decided to also make some “1” cookies.) After all were cut out and baked, it made just over 6 dozen, with the leftover two cookies going to Russ for taste-testing purposes 😉

Shin’s color scheme included touches of gold so I dabbed on a bit of gold powder on the basket portion of the cookies and added two edible gold stars on the chute portion. The number “1” treats also each contained a gold star as part of the decor.

While the cookie dough itself is easy-peasy, if you’ve never worked with Royal Icing, it can be a bit tricky and takes patience and practice to get the feel of the consistency and technique for both the piping (which is stiffer) and flooding (which is thinner). And, if like me, you start getting elaborate with the designs, it can take hours, even days, to complete the task of icing. So you might want to start with a single batch, just sayin’…


I incorporate an “assembly-line” technique to create my designs, knowing when to pipe and flood, then add flourishes and final embellishments. Often, one layer of the icing will need to dry before you can begin the next step, so plan on blocking out large chunks of time to complete your designs.


PS—Shin actually took the time to individually wrap each cookie for the guests. As I understand it, the poor mom and Maddie were both under the weather for the party, but they “rose” to the occasion and were party troopers instead of party poopers…

Staying-in-Shape Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 3-6 dozen
  • Difficulty: cookie is easy; icing takes practice
  • Print


  • 2 sticks (1 cup), room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Zest from ½ a lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups unsifted flour (plus more for rolling cookies out)
  • ½ tsp salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Add the butter sticks and the sugar and cream together in a stand mixer, about 3 minutes.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg, lemon zest, baking powder and vanilla extract, then beat again for 2 minutes until a creamy.
  4. Add 3 cups flour and ½ teaspoon salt and mix on low speed to combine about 2 minutes.
  5. When done, form the dough into a ball.
  6. On a floured surface or pastry cloth, roll out the cookie dough ball to desired thickness level, about an 1/8″ or a little thicker. Cut out shapes and place on an unrimmed baking sheet.
  7. Reform any leftover dough into another ball and repeat the process.
  8. Put baking sheet(s) in the freezer for 10 minutes.
  9. After 10 minutes take the baking sheet out of the freezer and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges just start to turn a light brown. (Mine took the full 12 minutes.)
  10. Remove cookies from oven, allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting. Decorate—or not—with Royal Icing.



  • 1 lb. confectioners sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. meringue powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup warm water


  1. In a stand mixer, beat the meringue powder and water for about 30 seconds on med-high speed.
  2. Stop the mixer, add the confectioners sugar and beat on low until incorporated. turn the speed up to high and beat for 7 minutes. Stiff peaks will form.
  3. Divide the frosting into bowls based on the number of colors you are using, remember white is a color too.
  4. Add your food coloring and mix each bowl thoroughly, adding a few drops of water as necessary.
  5. Put about 1/3 of each color in separate pastry bags for piping. Thin out the remainder with more water (a 1/2 teaspoon at a time) to achieve a flooding consistency and add that to squeezable bottles as shown.
  6. Add finishing touches as desired.

Meatball Marsala

An interesting twist on a Marsala dish, this recipe will surely make a comeback in our household. The initial instructions directed you to brown the meatballs under a broiler, but our broiler is often times less-than-satisfactory; plus you don’t get the advantage of having the browned bits left in the skillet which add a wonderful depth of flavor to the mushroom sauce.


Speaking of mushrooms, we selected a mix of portobellos, creminis and shiitakes and they were fabulous! And being connoisseurs of everything mushroom, we upped the ante by incorporating a full pound as opposed to 12 ounces.

My other changes included increasing the amount of ground meat to one pound each of the beef and sweet sausage (therefore requiring a slight bump in the bread crumbs to a 1/2 cup), adding minced garlic, and reducing the chopped parsley down to 3/4 cup, (all noted below.) For those suffering from a gluten intolerance, the meatballs are easily made with GF breadcrumbs and flour.

You know I always harp on incorporating homemade broth whenever possible and I’m advocating that here too because of the tasty intensity it adds to both the mushroom sauce and the mashed potatoes. It’s quite filling, so even though your tastebuds may want a second helping, your stomach will probably have to settle for leftovers on another day—all dependent of course on the fact that there is any left!


Meatball Marsala

  • Servings: 4-5
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. ground beef chuck
  • 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage meat
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 12-16 ounces sliced mixed mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry Marsala wine
  • 3/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped


  1. Put the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water by 1 inch; season with salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer; cook until tender, 20 minutes. Drain and return to the saucepan.
  2. Combine the beef, sausage, breadcrumbs, egg, 1/2 cup chicken broth, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper in a medium bowl; mix with your hands until combined.
  3. Form into 18 meatballs (about 2 inches) and arrange in a large dutch oven or heavy-duty skillet over medium heat. Brown on all sides for about 15 minutes, turning every 4-5 minutes. Remove to a platter.
  4. Pour the grease out of the skillet but leave the browned bits.
  5. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in the same large skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are softened, about 8 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to coat. Stir in the wine and bring to a boil. Add 1 cup chicken broth and return to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium high and add the meatballs. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, while you mash the potatoes.
  7. Add the remaining 5 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup chicken broth to the potatoes and mash. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Stir the parsley into the meatball mixture. Serve with the potatoes.

Adapted from a recipe by the Food Network Kitchen

Sake, Garlic and Ginger Chicken with Broccolini

We’ve been fans of Fine Cooking’s “Make-It-Tonite” series for a couple of years now. Their recipes generally take only 25-45 minutes to prep and cook, yet produce lots of flavor. Here, boneless chicken thighs get treated to sweet, salty, and gingery flavors. Sake, a Japanese rice wine, balances the bold flavors of garlic and soy sauce with its subtle savory-sweet notes. The smaller florets on broccolini are great for mopping up the vibrant sauce, though broccoli works well, too.


Unfortunately we were plum out of sake, so I had to make a special trip to the liquor store. Now I can say with some confidence, while I’ve imbibed in sake in the past (like my 20’s), I don’t know a heck of a lot about the different brands. So when faced with a choice, I decided to buy the small black bottle that was twice as expensive as the large cheaper stuff figuring it would be a lot smoother. I convinced myself we were worth the extra cost.

Well, I got to tell you, the meal was great! Can’t definitively say it was because of the more costly sake, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt the flavor profile. And because it tore at my heart strings to discard the ginger planks, I sliced them down and mixed it in, which added a nice bite.

Because of the sugar, the sauce got quite thick and sticky after it was reduced down. If you prefer it thinner, keep an eyeball on it while it reduces. Serve with white or brown rice.


Sake, Garlic and Ginger Chicken with Broccolini

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 6 Tbs. sake
  • 6 Tbs. reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. vegetable or canola oil
  • 1-1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. broccolini or broccoli crowns, cut into 3-inch-long pieces
  • 3 medium scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 1 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 4 slabs


  1. Combine the sake, soy sauce, and sugar in a small bowl, and stir until the sugar dissolves; set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and cook, flipping once, until golden brown on both sides, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Add the sake mixture, Broccolini, scallion whites, garlic, and ginger to the skillet. Bring to a simmer. Arrange the chicken on top of the Broccolini.
  4. Cover and cook over medium heat until the broccolini is tender and the chicken is fully cooked, about 5 minutes.
  5. Discard the ginger. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve sprinkled with the scallion greens.


By Abby Simchak Donovan from Fine Cooking

Butter-Basted Spiced Cod with Polenta

Mondays have never been my most favorite day of the week (especially when I was working full time), but having a meal plan in place makes it just a smidge more accommodating. And while we’re not strict advocates of “Meatless Monday,” we tend to keep it in the weekly rotation as often as possible.


This Butter-Basted Spiced Cod with Polenta recipe found in Fine Cooking’s “Make-It-Tonight” series looked like a fine contender, especially given the fact that we conveniently had some homemade harissa on hand. Harissa is a North African paste made of ground dried chile peppers, garlic, olive oil, and spices; and is not the easiest condiment to find. You can make your own following this recipe from an earlier blog (scroll down toward the bottom of the post.)

Baking the cod in melted butter added a richness to the fish that nicely balanced the heat from the harissa. Nestling the fish over the polenta topped with the melted butter brought the dish together; with the green herb garnish adding a pleasant pop of color and earthy finishing touch.

We made a few minimal changes to the original recipe by Ronne Day. For starters we purchased a one-pound piece of cod loin and cut it down into 3 equal pieces. Therefore our baking dish was smaller, measuring 8 x 8 square; but I kept the amounts of the other ingredients as listed since we like saucier finishes.

To add dimension to the polenta, I used 3 cups of homemade seafood stock as opposed to water, and WOW, did it make a difference not only in taste but the gorgeous goldenrod color.

As a side, we made Fennel-Orange Salad with Red Onion and Olives, a really nice change from lettuce and spinach salads. This popular Sicilian salad is made with blood oranges when they are in season, but navel oranges work just as well. This salad is sure to cheer you up with its soft bright colors and zingy flavors.

Butter-Basted Spiced Cod with Polenta

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1-1/2 tsp. crushed whole coriander seeds or ground coriander
  • 2 medium lemons, 1 finely grated to yield 1/2 tsp. zest and squeezed for 2 Tbs. juice, the other cut into wedges
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter
  • 4 6-oz. pieces cod loin
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. harissa paste
  • 2 tsp. coarsely chopped cilantro or parsley


  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Heat a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the coriander and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 3 cups of water, the lemon zest, and 1 tsp. salt; turn the heat up to medium high.
  3. Whisk in the cornmeal and cook, stirring often, until thick and creamy, about 20 minutes. (If the polenta gets too thick, loosen with a little hot water.)
  4. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper and arrange in a 9×13 baking dish with space between each piece. Remove the butter from the heat, stir in the harissa and lemon juice, and pour it over the fish.
  5. Bake, basting every 5 minutes or so, until cooked through (the fish will flake easily), about 15 minutes. If necessary, cover with foil to keep warm.
  6. Divide the polenta among 4 shallow bowls or plates. Top with the fish and spoon the butter over the fish. Top with the cilantro or parsley and serve with the lemon wedges.


Fennel-Orange Salad with Red Onion and Olives


Fennel-Orange Salad with Red Onions and Olives

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 blood oranges (if unavailable, substitute naval oranges)
  • 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed (about 1 lb. total after trimming)
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh mint
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Slice the onion half lengthwise as thinly as you can. Put the sliced onion in a bowl and cover with cold water to mellow its flavor and keep it crisp. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Working with one orange at a time, slice off both ends. Set the orange on a cutting board, one cut side down. With a sharp knife, cut away the peel (the zest and white pith) by slicing from top to bottom, following the contour of the orange. Working over a bowl to collect any juice, release the orange segments by carefully cutting them away from the membrane that separates them. Remove any seeds and put the orange segments in another bowl, separate from the juice. Squeeze the membranes over the juice bowl.
  3. Cut the fennel in quarters lengthwise and then trim away most of the core, leaving just enough intact to keep the layers together. Slice the quarters lengthwise as thinly as you can.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. (The recipe can be prepared up to this point several hours in advance. If working ahead, wrap and refrigerate the fennel; don’t chop the mint until just before serving.)
  5. Drain the sliced onion and toss it with the fennel. Put the fennel and onion in a shallow salad bowl or on a rimmed serving platter. Drizzle with the reserved orange juice. Arrange the orange segments on top and sprinkle with the olives and mint.
  6. Drizzle the dressing evenly over the salad. Add several grinds of black pepper and serve immediately.

Adapted from a recipe by Janet Fletcher, Rosetta Costantino from Fine Cooking

Korean-Style Spicy Steak Lettuce Wraps

We love lettuce wraps: so tasty and so fun to assemble. The zesty flavors in these Korean-Style Spicy Steak Lettuce Wraps make them an interactive standout—but you have to like a kick to your food, mostly from gochujang.

More and more recipes call for gochujang, the popular Korean chili paste with the spicy and bold miso-like flavor. But as popular as it has become, it can still be tough to track down. The good news is there are many ways to substitute for gochujang. The bad news: none will have the same complexity of flavor. Authentic versions of this Korean chili paste ferment for months to get that sweet and sharp miso bite.

You’re best bet is to check out an Asian Mart, that’s where we find it every time. But if you seriously can’t find any locally, try ordering it over the Internet before trying to replicate your own. In desperation, the grocery store alternatives are Sriracha chili sauce or a Thai chili paste, but neither are truly viable alternatives.


Korean-Style Spicy Steak Lettuce Wraps

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1-1/2 lb. skirt steak
  • 1/4 cup gochujang (Korean red chile-bean sauce)
  • 2 Tbs. Asian sesame oil
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs. rice vinegar
  • 4 medium scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, grated
  • 1 large head Boston or butter lettuce, leaves separated
  • 1-1/4 cups prepared cabbage kimchi, coarsely chopped
  • Kosher salt


  1. Position a rack 6 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler on high. Line a large heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan with foil and put the steak on it.
  2. Whisk the gochujang, sesame oil, soy sauce, and garlic in a small bowl.
  3. Rub 3 Tbs. of the mixture all over the steak and let marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.
  4. Whisk the vinegar into the remaining gochujang mixture and set aside in a small serving bowl.
  5. Arrange the scallions, carrots, and lettuce on a large serving platter in individual mounds. Place the kimchi in a serving bowl.
  6. Broil the steak, flipping once, until medium rare (125°F), 3 to 4 minutes per side. Let rest for 5 minutes, then slice as thinly as possible against the grain.
  7. Season to taste with salt and mound on the serving platter. Bring all the components to the table for everyone to assemble their wraps as they like.


By Ivy Manning from Fine Cooking