Thursday, November 21, 2013

How to Make Empress Chicken

This recipe is my go-to homemade/"take-out" Chinese recipe! Other than fried rice, of course. It is so simple I tend to bypass it, maybe because I'm usually looking for more of a challenge?

Empress Chicken on Rice
The ingredients I almost always have on hand, and you could vary it in a number of ways-even just take the sauce and make up your own stir-fry.

As I said it's a simple recipe. It does take about 45 minutes as stated, but you could stop and start if needed. Make the sauce/rice ahead of time, chop veggies or meat earlier in the day, take a break before you add the sauce, etc.

My suggested variations: add some veggies! (I have done cabbage and broccoli on separate occasions) Maybe pork would work instead of chicken? Or even shrimp (though probably without the breading)? Spiciness factor can also be tweaked. As far as the rice goes, you could make it fried rice instead, or substitute noodles.

Link to original recipe: Empress Chicken

P.S. I have to confess that I have no idea what restaurant Empress Chicken is supposed to look or taste like! I'm not sure I have ever actually seen it on a menu. But in my opinion this tastes better than most takeout. :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to Make Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Bacon Chicken stuffed w/ Spinach
This is a pretty easy recipe, and also fairly versatile, in my opinion. The original recipe I used as a guideline didn't have the bacon, but it did have breading. The filling can also be made with different combinations of spinach or fresh herbs and cheeses and seasonings.

The dish is simple in a way, though the assembly takes a bit of coordinating. But if I could handle it, anyone can!

Here's the basic recipe:


4 chicken breasts
4 strips of raw bacon*
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion
Olive oil or butter or vegetable oil for sauteeing
16 oz frozen or fresh spinach
1 cup (combined) cheeses**

*If you omit the bacon, you could coat the chicken in bread crumbs or flour and some seasoning. With the bacon, do not salt the chicken. I made this mistake and it was a bit salty for my taste.
**Cheese possibilities: Feta, cream cheese, parmesan, cheddar, etc./any combination that you think would work well


1) Preheat oven to 350, grease baking pan.
2) Saute spinach with garlic and onion and whatever other seasonings you'd like (be careful how much salt you add if you're planning on using bacon).
3) While spinach mix is sauteing, thinly slice/pound chicken. Spread pieces out in baking pan.
4) Add cheese to the spinach mixture.
5) Put a dollop of spinach in the middle of each chicken piece. Roll up and secure using toothpicks and/or bacon strip. Try to seal it so that the mixture doesn't run out during cooking and start burning.
6) Bake for approximately 30 minutes (start checking after 20 or so).

These look pretty sliced into pinwheels, too.

Monday, October 7, 2013

How to Make Apple Cake

I was shocked to peruse my archives and find that I'd never posted this recipe! I guess because I never end up taking a photo! I finally did this time...although it looks weird because I threw a peach in there to use up stale fruit for that extra something special. 

Yummy Apple my dear glass baking dish that met its demise recently...sob!

This is my go-to apple dessert recipe. Apple Pie is yummy and all, but I can't be bothered with making crust. So I like how all the ingredients are mixed together in this dish. It also makes it sort of a finger food, just pick up a square and take with you. The cake part is all brown-sugary and even chewy, like a cookie.

I came across the apple cake recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens "New Cookbook." The cookbook includes tons of classic recipes jammed into one little volume (I have the paperback version). It includes lots of basics like how to make hardboiled eggs. Nice and unpretentious.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

How to Make Chocolate Zucchini Bread

I am so excited for baking season! I actually started back when zucchini was plentiful, but then I made myself finish up the summer series.

So here is the first baking recipe of the season. These were so moist and delicious.

I think these qualify as dessert
I've been using silicone baking cups a lot lately. They're pretty easy to wash, and I just broke my rectangular glass baking dish...sob. But also, Andrei likes the shape.

Get the recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Bread here. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Summer wrap-up

I just couldn't move on without closure, even if it means I'm finishing up this post well into autumn. Here are the final (no baking allowed) ideas from my summer repertoire. This installment courtesy our family reunion in mid-August.

Chocolate Mousse
Our favorite chocolate mousse recipe-divine!
1 C Heavy cream
20 oz Chocolate chips
3 C Heavy cream
½ C Confectioners sugar
2 tsp Vanilla

1. Heat 1 C heavy cream until simmering
2. Remove from heat and add chocolate chips. Move into bowl
3. In separate bowl whip together 3 C heavy cream, conf sugar, and vanilla
4. Add 1/3 of whipped mixture to chocolate mixture, then fold in the rest and cool 4-6 hours
5. Serve with whipped cream

Source(s): Anne Hulley, Mrs. Fields

2 more recipes after the jump...

Friday, August 30, 2013

How to Make Tomato Zucchini Ragout

I was going to do a summer wrap-up, but a zucchini showed up in my refrigerator, so I decided to do one last stove-top meal!

My dish was loosely based on this recipe. However, I didn't have all the ingredients and I didn't follow the instructions too well. And I still had good results. So what I'm trying to say is that if you have zucchini on hand and some kind of tomato product, you can make a tasty dinner!

Parmesan cheese on top would be a nice addition!

The instructions said to saute the bell pepper for a few minutes and simmer in the tomatoes/zucchini/etc. for 15 min. Ummm, try more like 30! I don't know if it was me or what but I am trying to brush up on my cooking chemistry skills to better understand how to time things. Anyway, I had the cover on the sauce while heating the pasta water, so that the veggies would get all nice and tender. And then for the last few minutes I had the cover off to let it cook down into more of a ragout as opposed to a liquidy sauce. We like it that way around here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summer Dishes

It looks like I just don't have time for typing up recipes these days. :( However, I AM sticking with the summer challenge and aiming for dishes that don't use the oven.

Here are a few things Andrei and I have added to our rotation...

Savory Dishes:

-Chicken Spaghetti Alfredo
-Tex-Mex (most recent was pork fajitas in enchilada sauce, rolled up and crisped in a saucepan)
-Stove-top Potatoes au Gratin (potatoes are boiled ahead of time, then browned in a saucepan and simmered in a creamy cheese sauce, with or without meat added)

Andrei's panna cotta with mint leaves and fresh strawberries

-Panna Cotta (Andrei made it; main ingredients are heavy cream, non-flavored gelatin, sugar, and vanilla)
-Fresh Fruit Trifle (A good way to use fruit in season, layered with cake and custard cream)


-Fresh Broccoli Salad (with cheese, bacon, onion, and a mayonnaise sauce, doesn't sound too healthy-I think this was the Paula Deen version!)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer No-Bake Challenge

My favorite cooking methods by far involve the oven. I find it to be more forgiving, and I also like popping a dish in the oven and doing clean-up while it cooks. Then I get a ready meal and a clean kitchen (almost) at the same time.

But now that it's hot, I'm trying to avoid the oven, and that leaves me strapped for dinner ideas. I have to say goodbye to lasagna, pizza, and other favorite dishes until fall comes around. I might make an exception for desserts.

Here are the conditions:

-no soups or stews* (my husband likes soup for lunch only and doesn't like stew)
-must be doable without the help of the oven
-limited to chicken/pork dishes
-sandwiches don't count either, must be hot meals

I guess that leaves me with dishes like:

-spaghetti bolognese/spaghetti and meatballs
-pan-fried pork or chicken pieces
-taco-type dishes

*stewed meat can be used later in other dishes, though

Help me out here! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Meals we had, May 13-19

Getting behind on blogging. Looks like it's time to start keeping my camera in the kitchen again!

Meals from the week BEFORE last (when we had pork almost every night, yikes!):

Monday: Cheesy pork cubes, sauteed eggplant with garlic, angel hair pasta
Tuesday: Sausage and veggie skillet, pasta
Wednesday: Leftover stewed pork, boiled buckwheat
Thursday: Hot dogs, buckwheat, fresh salad
Friday: Cold sliced pork sandwiches (we had a chicken lunch)
Saturday: Roasted chicken, sauteed squash, boiled buckwheat*
Sunday: Pork/Veggie/Buckwheat skillet (Southwestern style with sour cream, cheese, and green onion

One question I explored was whether or not buckwheat could be substituted in "Mexican" dishes. It has a stronger flavor than rice but it can serve the same purpose. And the Tex-Mex condiments help dress up the buckwheat a little bit.

*This was the weekend that my mother-in-law boiled us a HUGE post of buckwheat and we were eating it for the next 3-4 days. :)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Meals we had, May 6-12

Not the most successful week culinarily (apparently that's not a word but I'm using it anyway). There were some interesting ideas with so-so results. I've had texture issues with chicken breasts lately. Sometimes I think it's my cooking skills that are the problem, but then again I've made decent chicken dinners before. So I'm thinking it might just be the "quality" (freshness?) of the meat itself, and I'm not sure I want to actually speculate as to why, but one thing is that a lot of water comes out of them when they start cooking. Does that mean I should cook them more? Less? Use a different technique?

Meanwhile, I had a big chunk of pork in the freezer but I didn't really know what cut or the best way of cooking. So I cut it into chunks and tried to have it turn into a sort of goulash. It never really got tender, though. When meat is tough I'm never sure if it's over or under-cooked. I think I probably should have given it some more time.

Monday: Chicken breasts stuffed with bacon and feta, potatoes, brussels sprouts
Tuesday: Pizza from scratch
Wednesday: Chicken-veggie-rice mix tossed with cheese and "southwestern" spices
Thursday: Same thing but with buckwheat this time!
Friday: Didn't write anything down for some reason
Saturday: Pizza (made by friends)
Sunday: Pork stewed in the oven, buckwheat

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How To Make Pumpkin Muffins

A yummy pumpkin muffin!
I used to think of pumpkin puree as sort of a precious commodity here (aside from buying a pumpkin and making your own) until I was feeding the baby some jarred (gasp!) baby food and realized...wait a minute, this IS pumpkin puree! I don't think I've run across pumpkin baked goods here, and there doesn't seem to be a pumpkin season where everybody is making pumpkin-everything, BUT...sometimes it's just a matter of checking the baby food aisle. :)

On to my next question: What is the difference between MUFFINS and CUPCAKES? I guess the general rule is that muffins are often less sweet and therefore bland not as tasty healthier? And you can eat a muffin for breakfast, but cupcakes are dessert, right?

If you are in Russia, however, the lines seem to blur, and other distinctions must be made. For example, TEA vs. NOT TEA. What is the difference? You can't just drink tea without also eating something, but you also can't drink tea with your meal. Instead of DESSERTS VS. MEALS, it's MEALS VS. TEA. You can have something non-sweet with your tea, like a sandwich. A sandwich isn't a meal. If you ask someone if he/she would like to have lunch or whatever, he/she might say "I'm not hungry, just tea is fine." However, "just tea" might include a spread of various sandwiches, baked goods, and candy. Adults love candy; it isn't just for kids.

Which brings me back to muffins and cupcakes. Either may be eaten with tea, as a separate course following the meal, or instead of breakfast.

These pumpkin muffins are definitely muffin-ish as opposed to cupcake-y. But if you add a dusting of powdered sugar like I did, they start inching towards the dessert category. And I think a dollop of frosting would push them over the edge entirely.

Give them a try! Recipe here.

Meals we had, April 29-May 5

Once again we had mainly chicken and pork dishes. I've been noticing a lack of vegetables, so I'll work on adding some in this week. Andrei doesn't like cooked vegetables that much, so sometimes it's just a matter of steaming or sauteeing some frozen vegetables and having them on the side. We also had pelmeni twice, but at least we had substantial lunches those days.

The details on what we ate last week:

-Monday dinner: Pork roast, rice with mushrooms
-Tuesday dinner: Chicken in mushroom cream sauce with angel hair pasta
-Wednesday dinner: Boiled buckwheat stir-fried with pork, bell peppers, and fresh herbs
-Thursday dinner: Pelmeni (we had a chicken lunch with my in-laws and were at a meeting in the evening)
-Friday dinner: Pork roast under a shredded potato/cheese crust
-Saturday dinner: Pork Roast Mexico City (family recipe)
-Sunday dinner: Boiled pelmeni, with Brussels sprouts on the side (again we had a chicken lunch)

Baked desserts/snacks: Pumpkin muffins, Cheesecake brownies, Cheddar drop biscuits, Cheesecake jam tarts

Sunday, May 5, 2013

How to Make Cheddar Drop Biscuits

Cheddar Drop Biscuits (with green onion)

I love having homemade rolls and things available, but I hate the process of making them. Yeast dough has a way of getting all over everything, and it's hard when you're interrupted mid-kneading by a small child (let him cry for a minute or pick him up with sticky hands?). Not to mention the clean-up.

While it's fun to indulge in homemade pizza dough and such once in a while, I usually try to keep baking to something simpler. Drop biscuits bake up REALLY quickly. I usually make just one batch or even a half-batch-we eat them fresh, and then they're gone. No leftovers to enjoy, but not too much clean-up to do.

These are great if you're on a Red Lobster copycat search. Especially if you brush them with melted garlic butter when you take them out of the oven.

My go-to recipe is another one from 300 Best Comfort Food Recipes by Johanna Burkhard. Great cookbook!


2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1 cup coarsely shredded aged Cheddar cheese*
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives**
1 cup milk

Additional chopped chives


1) In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter using a pastry blender or two knives to make coarse crumbs. Add cheddar cheese and chives, if using.

2) Stir in milk to make a soft, sticky dough. Drop twelve heaping tablespoonfuls (15 mL) onto prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle tops with chopped chives.

3) Bake on middle rack in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until edges are golden. Transfer biscuits to a rack to cool.

* I tend to use whatever mix of cheeses I have on hand
** I use green onions

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cooking with Fresh Herbs: The Triumverate

If there's one thing I miss about Russian cuisine while away, it's the fresh dill sprinkled on everything.

Sure, I get tired of opening the refrigerator 2-3 times a day, taking out the herbs, washing, and chopping.

But I've come to love the flavor they add to soups, salads, omelets, baked goods, etc. etc. etc.

The three we most commonly use here are green onion, dill, and parsley.

Sometimes they are even sold in a bunch together. Often there's a little stand out on the street and I catch a whiff of dill as I walk by...mmmm.

-sprinkle some on soup...mmmmm
-mix into your scrambled eggs
-add pizzazz to biscuits or rolls
-blend with butter to make a nice spread
-make boiled potatoes go from boring to instant yumminess (a pat of butter helps, too)
-mix into sauces
-garnish an egg, potato, or fresh salad-it's pretty AND tasty!
-add to pretty much any dish! :)

P.S. We even save the stems and use them later to flavor soup stock and water for boiling pasta, rice, etc.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Meals we had, April 22-28

New series! I don’t always have time to edit and post recipes, but I’m going to do a little retroactive menu “planning” and just type up what we ate all week, to use for meal ideas in the future.

Note: My in-laws generally deliver groceries and some cooked meals to us regularly. I organize the week’s meals around those ingredients, along with using up leftovers. If we are having a repeat combination then I try to change the presentation. If I want to use a particular recipe then I start with something we already have and buy the rest of the needed ingredients. But I try not to buy a lot of additional groceries if we already have something in the refrigerator that needs to be used.

Breakfasts: Eggs
Lunches: Homemade soups with sour cream and fresh herbs; bread with cheese or a slice of meat

-Monday dinner: Fried potatoes (Russian-style) with sliced pork and steamed broccoli
-Tuesday dinner: Scalloped potatoes with cubes of pork
-Wednesday dinner: Boiled pelmeni with sauteed green beans
-Thursday dinner: Eggless meatballs (we ran out of eggs) and boiled potatoes
-Friday dinner: Homemade popcorn chicken with angel hair pasta (we just make plain and garnish with cheese/butter)
-Saturday dinner: Pizza made with this crust and using leftover meatballs/popcorn chicken as toppings
-Sunday dinner: Chicken-bacon-cheese bake with boiled buckwheat and sauteed bell pepper

Looks like we need to add more veggies to the menu. Got any recipes to recommend?

Friday, April 26, 2013

How to Make 10-minute "Roasted" Potatoes

I usually turn up my nose at microwave recipes, but I needed to cook just one potato fairly quickly, and it seemed like a waste to boil a whole pot of water or turn the oven on.

These were a great alternative to add to the soup I was heating up, and could even be used for a quick side dish. Okay, it's not the same as oven-roasted, but I was surprised by how tasty they are!

What you need: potatoes, cooking oil, your favorite seasoning


1) Peel potatoes and cut into desired size.

2) Drizzle with olive oil and add preferred spices (I did salt, pepper, and garlic powder).

3) Cover with plastic wrap, but leave a little corner open for hot air to escape.

4) Microwave on high for about 10 minutes, checking after 5.

They even got browned a bit from the olive oil-yum!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Food Decor Flashback

This is what I was talking about in this post. I posted a summer photo in the fall, so it's only appropriate that I post a New Year's photo in April, right? :)

I love creative presentations like this, but as a new mother, I often have to rein in the creativity.

So here's a contribution from my mother-in-law: a penguin-shaped salad for New Year's Eve. She used a seafood salad here, but you could use a chicken or potato salad or any kind of cheese/veggie spread that is somewhat sculpt-able.

-black olives for the wings/eyes
-red bell pepper for the feet/beak
-grated boiled egg white for the belly and egg yolk for the chest

I wonder what summer scenes would be cute, using a similar concept?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to Make Roasted Pork Shoulder

When I used to cook meat, I found that it was usually hit or miss as to whether it came out well or not. It would come out well and I would think I had the hang of it, only to have it turn out tough and flavorless the next time. It turns out, intuition isn't enough. I would like to learn more about food chemistry, either by taking a course or reading some books. For now, I'm glad there are lots of recipes available for the culinary challenged.

One thing that made a huge difference was actually trying to follow the recipe. A lot of times I would do a different cooking temperature or use a different cut of meat than recommended, and not get the desired results.

Now I go to the store FIRST, see what cuts of meat are available, and then find recipes based on that.

One day a few years ago, I bought a chunk of pork and translated the name of the cut from Russian to English: "shoulder." That led me to a recipe which is now my favorite fool-proof way of roasting pork shoulder. It's not a slow cooking, pulled pork kind of recipe. It's a roast that will be done in a few hours depending on its size and how long you want to brine it (easily put together the night before or the morning/afternoon before cooking).

Of course checking the doneness is still a little tricky. Learning how to use a meat thermometer is on my list of cooking goals! I still have great success with this recipe, though.

Here's the recipe, and my photo is below. Roasted Pork Shoulder from

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How to Make Tender Chicken Morsels

I really want to keep up with this blog, but it's SO hard to find the time! We'll see how it goes. Here is a chicken success I had recently.

Somehow I got the idea of looking for recipes for "popcorn" chicken. I think it was after I experimented with wings (I'll get around to posting that, too).

It can be hard to keep chicken breast moist, but this method works. Note that the chicken bites are baked, not fried.

The technique is a combination of these two recipes here and here: the "shake and bake" flavoring idea mixed with a baking technique.

Kid-friendly, but could be jazzed up?