Lemon Mini-Cheesecakes with Strawberry Topping

Just a short post today. A lot of food-related things to do in preparation for our family's Easter Sunday meal. But I though I'd share with you the dessert we'll be enjoying after our traditional Easter ham dinner this afternoon.

Mini cheesecakes flavored with fresh lemon juice and zest, with a Golden Oreo crust, and topped with a fresh strawberry "curd". Very yummy and very easy to put together, they're sure to be a treat everyone will enjoy.

Lemon Mini-Cheesecakes with Strawberry Topping
makes 12 mini-cheesecakes

for the crust:
12 golden Oreo cookies, crushed
1 1/2 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
for the cheesecake filling:
2/3 c. sugar
1 T. flour
1 T. fresh lemon zest
1/8 t. salt
12 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 T. sour cream
2 T. heavy cream
2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
for the strawberry topping:
1 c. chopped fresh strawberries
2-3 T. sugar (depending on the sweetness of the berries)
tiny pinch of salt
1 T. water
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 t. cornstarch

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees f. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners. In a medium bowl, toss together the crushed cookies and melted butter. Divide evenly between the muffin tins, pressing the crumbs down with the back of a spoon to form the crust. Bake for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool, while you prepare the filling.

2. In a small bowl, combine the 2/3 c. sugar, flour, lemon zest and salt. In a large bowl beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer for a few seconds, then add the sugar-zest mixture, mix to thoroughly combine. Add the sour cream, heavy cream and lemon juice, mix thoroughly. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each, then beat in the vanilla. Divide the batter evenly between the muffin tins. Tap the pan a few times on the counter to remove any air bubbles in the batter. Bake until set, but just slightly soft in the center (kind of like jello), about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool.

3. While the cheesecakes bake, prepare the strawberry topping. In a small saucepan, combine the chopped strawberries, 2-3 T. sugar and salt. In a small bowl combine water, lemon juice and cornstarch, whisk to thoroughly combine, then add to the strawberry mixture. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly, cook 1 or 2 minutes to fully thicken. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Top each cooled mini-cheesecake with a spoonful of the strawberry curd.



Honey-Tarragon Glazed Pork Loin Roast with Vegetables

When it comes to holiday meals, I tend to be kind of a purist/old-school traditionalist. I rarely stray away from the holiday fare that I grew up with, Thanksgiving-pretty much same menu year-in and year-out. Christmas is always Prime Rib, traditionally cooked, and as for Easter Sunday's meal, I usually always think ham. I do like the idea of new spins on old favorites, but I usually just make them surrounding the actual holiday, and reserve my beloved standbys for the actual holiday meal.

And this holiday will most likely be no different. I'll probably be serving the traditional glazed ham dinner to my family, but I wanted to post something else that would fit with the Easter-y/Springtime feeling. And this roasted pork and vegetables would certainly make a nice meal for your Easter Sunday, or anytime. As an added bonus, other than using a skillet to brown the pork before roasting it, this is a basically fuss-free one dish meal.

Honey-Tarragon Glazed Pork Loin Roast with Vegetables
serves 6

1 (2 1/2-3 lb.) boneless pork loin roast, tied with twine at 1 1/2-inch intervals
salt & pepper
4 T. vegetable oil divided
2 fennel bulbs (about 1 lb. each) tops trimmed and each cut into 8 wedges
1/2 lb. shallots, peeled and halved, if large
1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/2 lb. red potatoes (each about 2-inches in diameter), quartered
3/4 c. honey
1/3 c. cider vinegar
2 T. Dijon mustard
1 T. minced fresh tarragon, plus another 1 T. coarsely chopped for sprinkling on the cooked vegetables

1. Before cooking the roast, let sit, covered in plastic wrap, at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. 

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees f. Pat the pork dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 T. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering and just about to reach the smoke point. Add the roast and brown well on all sides, about 8-10 minutes total.

3. While the roast is browning, make the glaze and prepare the vegetables: Place all the vegetables on a large baking sheet. Add the remaining 3 T.  oil, 3/4 t. salt and 1/2 t. pepper. Toss well to coat and spread everything out in an even layer. In a small bowl, combine honey, cider vinegar and mustard.

4. When the roast has finished browning, remove from the skillet, place on top of the vegetables and place in the oven. Pour off any fat in the skillet, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the glaze mixture. Cook, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet, until glaze is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Pour the glaze in a bowl, stir in the minced tarragon, (remove about 1/3 c. glaze for drizzling over the cooked roast) and set aside while the roast cooks.

5. Roast the pork and vegetables for 30 minutes, then turn the pork roast over. Roast until the internal temperature reaches 110 degrees f. (for me, this took 50 minutes, but cooking time will vary). When the roast reaches 110 degrees f. start brushing with the glaze every 5 minutes, turning the roast over once or twice to glaze both sides, until the internal temperature reaches 135-140 degrees f., about another 15-20 minutes.

6. Remove the roast to a cutting board and loosely tent with foil, let rest about 15 minutes, the internal temperature should come up to 145-150 degrees f.

7. Finish the vegetables: Give the vegetables in the pan a stir to redistribute. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees f. and continue to roast the vegetables until some of the liquid in the pan reduces and they are evenly browned and very tender, about another 10-15 minutes (keep an eye on the pan to make sure the veggies don't burn). Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining chopped tarragon. Slice the pork as desired and serve with the vegetables



Spanish Spice-Rubbed Roasted Chicken Thighs

Today is one of those days where I'm not feeling like I have too much to say. My nightly dose of caffeine as I sit and write this post isn't dutifully kicking in and making a chattier me, so we'll just focus on the food then I suppose. I just keep looking at these chicken photos and thinking how much I enjoyed this recipe.

I love Spanish food and I would really like to learn to cook more of this type of cuisine. This recipe was inspired by some of the flavors traditionally associated with Spanish dishes. I created this bold and flavorful spice paste of parsley, mint, garlic, lemon, thyme, oregano, smoked paprika and olive oil. It comes together quickly thanks to the help of a blender or food processor and you can marinate your chicken anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 or 4 hours. Simple and the results are delicious.

Spanish Spice-Rubbed Roasted Chicken Thighs
serves 4

1/2 c. rough chopped parsley (stems included are okay too)
1/4 c. loosely packed mint leaves
6 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 t. dried thyme
1 1/2 t. dried oregano
1 T. smoked paprika
2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice, plus another lemon, thinly sliced
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 of a serrano chile, seeds and ribs removed, if desired
8 chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat and patted dry

1. In a blender or food processor, combine parsley, mint leaves, garlic, thyme, oregano, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, 1/4 c. lemon juice, olive oil and serrano chile. Blend or process until everything is thoroughly broken  down, about 90 seconds. 

2. Cut 3 diagonal slashes in the top of each chicken thigh, cutting through the skin and about 1/8-inch into the meat. Place the thighs in a resealable freezer bag, add the marinade, seal the bag and rub the spice paste into the thighs to thoroughly coat the meat. Marinate in the refrigerator anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours.

3. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat to 450 degrees f. Arrange the lemon slices on the baking sheet and lay the chicken pieces on top, skin-side up. Bake the chicken until cooked through, about 35 minutes. If desired, you can pop the chicken under the broiler for a couple of minutes to crisp up the skin a bit. 


Sopa Seca de Fideo ("Dry Soup with Noodles")

Another spring break has come and gone. And it went by in a flash. It was definitely productive, though actually that would depend on who in my house you ask. According to my kids, they would probably say that it was very uneventful, which I've got to say, for them it was. But for us it was a week of much needed catching up on things around the house and yard, as well as some fun projects I've been working on around the house.

It wasn't ALL work though, we got caught up on some TV and movie watching and spent some time going head-to-head with some serious rounds of pinball on our game console. All in all it was just an all-around nice week of no-frills family togetherness.

We mostly "winged it" on meals throughout the week. Typically I plan all our meals one week out, but during vacation time I like to leave room for spontaneity. It just feels more relaxed and I enjoy the fact that my hubby likes to help with dinner when he's home, when all other times it falls solely on my discretion (which I like too!). The weather was absolutely beautiful all week long (and still is, as I am sitting writing this post at 8 pm with the windows open and it's lovely), so we did a lot of grilling out this week. With my man "manning" the grill, I was on side dish detail.

One of the side dishes I made was this incredibly delicious noodle dish called Sopa Seca, or Sopa Seca de Fideo, which translates into "dry soup with noodles". I used to make a version of this recipe baked in a casserole dish years ago when I was newly married. This version I like better because it is a skillet pasta, using one pan, start to finish. And it is real deal comfort food. Dry noodles are toasted in oil in a hot skillet until fragrant and golden-brown, then cooked in a flavorful mix of broth and tomatoes and topped with melty Monterey Jack cheese. It is just one of those super-simple recipes that result in something really amazing.

The one bit of advice I have when you are making this dish is, if it's possible, try to add the dry noodles to the skillet in a flat, layer, with all the noodles laying in the same direction. I threw mine in, in a big heap and while I was toasting them, noodles were snapping in half and popping all over my kitchen, and it was driving me nuts. Good luck!

Sopa Seca de Fideo
serves 4-6

8 oz. angel hair pasta, broken into thirds
2 T. vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. salt
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14 oz.) can of low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
optional toppings: avocado, cilantro and/or sour cream

1. Heat 1 T. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering Add the noodles and cook, stirring constantly until the pasta is golden and toasted about 4 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate, set aside. 

2. Add the remaining 1 T. oil to the skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook until onion is softened and beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the cumin, salt, tomatoes and their liquid, the chicken broth and the noodles. Cover the skillet and cook, stirring often and adjusting the heat to maintain a lively simmer, until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with the Monterey Jack cheese. Cover skillet and let sit until the cheese melts. Serve as is, or with toppings of your choice.



Tabbouleh-Style Quinoa Salad

This salad is one the aces-up-my-sleeve for staying on track with well-balanced eating while we are all on vacation as a family this week. Our eating habits can get a little sketchy during off times, so I like to make up some healthy things that I can have ready to go when hunger strikes and I am trying to stay away from the junk.

This is a take on middle-eastern tabbouleh salad, but here I swapped out the traditional bulgur for quinoa. It's slightly milder and more hearty than a traditional tabbouleh salad making it also a great option as a side dish to grilled chicken or fish.

As a salad, it's great as is or topped with chopped kalamata olives or feta cheese. You can serve it with crackers, pita, or it's great scooped into a romaine lettuce leaf. If you prefer a more lemony salad you can serve it with some lemon wedges on the side.

Tabbouleh-Style Quinoa Salad
serves about 6

1 c. quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1 1/2 c. water
salt & pepper
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, minced (about 1 c.)
1/4 c. minced fresh mint leaves
5 scallions, finely chopped
2 med tomatoes, cored and seeded and diced
1 small garlic clove, minced very fine
1/4 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice (or more to your taste)
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

1. In a medium saucepan combine the quinoa, water and 1/4 t. salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the liquid is just absorbed, about 15 minutes. Spread the cooked quinoa out on a baking sheet and refrigerate until cool about 10-15 minutes. 

2. When the quinoa is cool, scrape into a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, along with 1/2 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper. Mix well. Let sit at least 20 minutes before serving (at room temp or refrigerated).


Romano-Oregano Breaded Pork Chops

Phew! Was I ever exhausted yesterday. If you've been following along with what I've been posting over the week you might remember me talking about an upcoming IKEA trip I was planning on for the little bit of kitchen updating we are doing. Well, I got that done on Friday. Friday is typically the day I set aside for errands, and the day I do the grocery shopping for the week. And this week was an especially important one because we are officially now on spring break, not only the kids, but my husband is also on vacation this week, so I had to go basically clean out the grocery store this week to make sure I have enough food in the house to feed all these hungry guys all week long.

Well I started my errands run by heading out to IKEA first. I picked up a new table and chairs among some other little things. The table I picked was solid wood so that was fun to do all by myself. Picture me trying to slide that big ol' box onto one of those flat carts as the cart keeps sliding away from me each time I do. Ugh! Then out at my car, a kind stranger asks me if I would like help with that "great big box", and me being stubborn like I am, too proud to accept help says, " Oh no thank you, it's really not that heavy..". Then I realize that kind man is parked directly across from me and all I can think is I have to get this in the back of my car in such a way as to make it appear that what I said is actually true.. I did it, but I should have just taken the help. Sigh... My biceps are killing me today! I am strictly a cardio type of person and I have always had weenie arms, so I don't do too well with the lifting.

I spent the rest of the night assembling the table and chairs(I was in my zone there, I have had A LOT of practice putting together IKEA furniture over the years). And I also sewed a new window treatment for my kitchen window. Today (hopefully) will be the day that the new stove and microwave are installed.

Anyway, enough about that, let's talk about pork chops!

Meat cooked this way, breaded and shallow-fried, is my absolute favorite way to make meat at home. I don't make it this way too often, but man is it ever yummy! These pork chops are done in 2 parts, I shallow-fry them on the stove top, then finish them in the oven. I usually do this type of recipe with chicken breast cutlets, fish or even thin, boneless pork chops and I can just cook them through in the skillet. But since the chops were bone-in and thicker, they would've burned if I tried to cook them through in the skillet on the stove top.

Romano-Oregano Breaded Pork Chops
serves 4

4 bone-in pork chops, about 3/4-inch thick, trimmed of excess fat and patted dry
salt & pepper
4 slices good quality white sandwich bread, torn into chunks
1/2 c. fresh grated Romano cheese
1/4 c. minced fresh parsley
1 T. dried oregano
2 t. garlic powder
1/2 c. flour
3 eggs
1 c. vegetable oil
lemon wedges, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees f. Place the bread in a food processor and pulse to make breadcrumbs. Place the bread crumbs in a shallow dish (like a pie plate). Add the cheese, parsley, oregano and garlic powder, toss to combine. In a second shallow dish, add the flour and beat the eggs in a third shallow dish. 

2. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Working with one chop at a time, coat the chops in the flour, pat off the excess, add to the eggs, let the excess drip off. Place in the breadcrumb mixture, coat, pressing the crumbs into the chops so they adhere well. Place the breaded chops on a plate.

3. Heat 1/2 c. vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over med-high heat until shimmering and just nearing the smoke point. Add 2 of the chops and cook until deep golden brown on the first side, 1-2 minutes, turn and cook another 1-2 minutes, until golden brown on the second side. Remove to a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack. Pour oil out of the skillet and wipe out with paper towel to remove any crumbs. Add the remaining 1/2 c. oil  to the skillet and repeat with the remaining 2 chops. Add to the baking dish with the first batch of pork chops.

4. Place the chops in the oven and bake until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. (Mine took about 13 minutes,  but time will vary depending on the sizeof your chops.) Drain briefly on paper towel, serve with lemon wedges.


Pan-Grilled Asparagus with Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette

Not that it's any great observation on my part to notice, but it seems that everyone loves eating asparagus when it's in season. I think there is something just a little bit celebratory about it. It's like a symbolic gesture, like saying hello to the spring season and the warmer days to come.

 We do eat a lot of asparagus in our house at this time of year (well, my husband and I do, at least), and my go-to methods for cooking it are typically roasting, sauteing, steaming and if the weather permits, grilling. For this dish I decided to go just a little different from the norm and cook it in my grill pan. I rarely use it anymore, but it worked great here and it actually kind of reminded me that it's there and maybe I should use it a little more often.

The bold, bright, fresh flavors of this vinaigrette pair really well with the slight smokey char of the pan-grilled asparagus.

Pan-Grilled Asparagus with Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette
serves 4

1 1/2 lb. (2 supermarket bundles) fresh asparagus, tough ends snapped off
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on the asparagus
salt & pepper
1 1/2 T. red wine vinegar
2 t. Dijon mustard
1 t. honey
2 t. minced shallot
1 small clove of garlic, minced
2 t. minced thyme
1/4 c. chopped kalamata olives
10 oz. pkg. cherry tomatoes, quartered

1. In a small bowl combine red wine vinegar, Dijon, honey, shallot, garlic, thyme and olives, slowly whisk in the 1/3 c. olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

2. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Toss the asparagus with a little olive oil (just enough to moisten), sprinkle with salt and pepper. Working with half the asparagus at a time, add to the hot grill pan. Cook until crisp-tender and slightly charred in spots, turning occasionally, about 5-7 minutes. Remove asparagus to a plate and drizzle with 1 T. of the vinaigrette. Repeat with remaining asparagus, drizzling another tablespoon of the vinaigrette over the second batch as soon as it comes out of the pan. Serve the asparagus, topped with the tomatoes and drizzled with the remaining vinaigrette.