Tag Archives: special occasion

Pork Chops with Pinot Noir Sauce.

When the Husby and I first started dating, we did the whole getting dressed up and going out to a nice dinner, but after thirteen years together, we’ve perfected our Valentine’s Day routine.  I buy him a card – one from me and one from the kids – weeks in advance and the night before or morning of, he runs out for a cheesy grocery store bouquet of roses.  Unintentionally for the past few years, we’ve ended up going to the Auto Show during the day.   And we always end our night by curling up on the couch with a heart shaped pizza from Lou Malnati’s while watching a movie.

Today started out same as always.  The cards were exchanged, the flowers purchased, the Auto Show attended.  But this year, I decided to change things up a bit.  The theme for this week’s swap was super apropos  – special occasion – so it seemed fitting to get in the kitchen and cook.  I wouldn’t say that we dressed up like we used to but we did enjoy a nice meal together.

We liked this entree although we both agreed that the sauce was a bit salty (likely due to user error since I didn’t measure).  For as much as I like to drink wine, I always forget how easy it is to make a pan sauce so this was a nice change from a plain old porkchop.  The only change I would make next time would be to sear the pork before baking in order to give it some color.  I did also wish that the flavor of the wine would be a bit more prevalent.

Pork Chops with Pinot Noir Sauce.

Adapted from The Redhead Baker


  • 4 Boneless Pork Chops
  • 1 1/2 Cups Water
  • 3 Tbsp. Coarse Kosher Salt
  • 1 Shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 Cups Pinot Noir (I used Mark West)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Chicken Broth
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. Sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, chilled


Preheat oven to 350.

Combine the water, kosher salt and sugar in a gallon sized Ziploc bag, then add the pork chops and chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Remove pork chops from the brine and pat dry. Rub with olive oil and season with pepper, to taste.

Place the pork chops on a foil lined baking sheet and cook in the oven for 20 minutes.

While the pork cooks, set a skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add the shallots and cook for 30-60 seconds, then add the Pinot Noir. With a wooden spoon, scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the wine to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, until reduced by half.

Add the chicken broth, stir, and cook an additional 15 minutes, until reduced to about 1/3 cup.

Remove from heat. Stir in salt, pepper and sugar. Stirring constantly, add the butter one tablespoon at a time until sauce is smooth and thickened.

Serve the pork chops with two tablespoons of sauce.


Blue Cheese Crusted Filet.

Since the Baby Burrito was born, the Husby and I understandably haven’t been able to spend much alone time together.  When she was 2 weeks old, he had to leave on a business trip that was supposed to be eight days but turned into two and a half weeks.  Being alone with two children for the first time for that long was definitely a trying experience, but we all survived and couldn’t be more thrilled that our little family is whole once again.

Being on the road for such a long time was really hard on the Husby so I wanted to show him just how much I appreciate all the hard work he does in order to support our family.   So I decided to cook an easy but elegant meal in celebration of his return home.  We put the kids to bed early and enjoyed some time just the two of us.

In the past, every time I’ve cooked steak, it always came out either charred or rubbery tasting, never like when I would order at a restaurant.  I knew I had to be doing something wrong so I turned to my trusted group of foodie friends and they set me straight.  Turns out, the way to achieve restaurant quality steaks is to sear first on a hot skillet and then finishing them in the oven.  I’d always missed that oven step.  That explains everything.

And because I was serving them with Gorgonzola and Sage Polenta Squares, I threw together a blue cheese crust like I have ordered so many times when we’re out.  The meal was fancy schmancy enough for a special occasion and quick enough to enjoy on a weeknight.

Blue Cheese Crusted Filet.


  • 2 Filet Mignons, at room temp, seasoned to your liking (I always use Penzey's Chicago SteakSeasoning)
  • 1/4 Cup Blue Cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 Cup Seasoned Bread Crumbs
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. Fresh Parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. Whole Milk


Preheat oven to 450.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.

In a small bowl, combine the blue cheese, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley and milk and mix until it achieves a paste-like consistency. Set aside.

Add the steaks to the skillet and sear on each side for one minute.

Place the skillet with the steaks in the oven and cook for 4-5 minutes, for medium rare depending on thickness. Remove from oven and turn the broiler on.

Top each steak with the blue cheese mixture and place under the broiler for 2 minutes (keep watch so it doesn't burn) until the crust starts to become golden.

Source -

A TJOC "original"


French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache.

I’ve never been to France, nor am I certain that I’d ever even had a macaron before I made these.  So what caused me to put these airy little cookie sandwiches on my Eleven in ’11 list (an item that squeaked in just time and a list that I failed miserably at)?  To be honest, I’m not really sure, but once they started popping up all over the blogosphere, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

They’re an incredibly finicky cookie… If you overmix or undermix the batter, they won’t develop their infamous feet, which out of the four batches I made, only about 15 cookies actually developed.  If the eggs haven’t been aged enough, they’ll be flat and they’ll crack.  If you attempt to peel the fragile baked cookies from the parchment before they’re ready or touch them in the wrong place (as I did with over half of them), they’ll break into a million little pieces.

So were they worth all the trouble?  Yes.  They were pretty darn delicious.  They were crunchy like a meringue on the outside and chewy like a marshmallow in the middle.  Would I make them again?  Maybe, if there was a special occasion or I had lots of extra time to kill.  And they gave me an excuse to finally use the package of chocolate sea salt I had picked up at a spice boutique on a trip to Tampa last year.  And the chocolate ganache filling?  To. Die. For.

But really, don’t be intimidated by macarons.  Yes, they were a pain in the ass but if you have the patience to be precise, it’s a rewarding experience with a tasty outcome.

French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache – adapted from Up Your Flavor and tips from a Twitter conversation with Katie of Epicurean Mom

  • 7 Egg Whites, aged 2-3 days at room temperature, divided into 3 whites and 4 whites
  • 1 3/4 Cups Almond Flour
  • 3 Cups Powdered Sugar
  • 1/3 Cup Water
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Vanilla Bean, split and seeds scraped
  • Chocolate Sea Salt, for garnish*
  • 4 oz. Semi Sweet Baking Chocolate
  • 1/2 Cup Heavy Cream

Preheat oven to 325.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift together the almond flour and powdered sugar into a medium bowl.  Set aside.  In a small saucepan, add the water and sugar and simmer until the sugar has dissolved and a syrup has formed.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Place 3 egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk and whip at medium speed until medium peaks form.  Slowly pour the syrup down the side of the bowl, then increase speed and whip until glossy, stiff peaks form.

Using a spatula, stir 4 egg whites and the vanilla seeds into the flour/sugar mixture until a smooth paste forms.  Fold in one third of the whipped egg whites then gently fold in the rest.  Be sure not to overwork the batter.  It should be smooth and shiny.

Place batter into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round tip.  Pipe batter into 3/4 inch rounds (about 3 swirls), one inch apart on the parchment paper.  Lightly tap the baking sheet on the counter in order to settle the batter.  Sprinkle the tops with chocolate sea salt.  Allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

While the cookies are resting, combine chopped baking chocolate and heavy cream in a small bowl and microwave on high for 3 minutes, in 1 minute increments, stirring after each minute.  Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Place macarons into the oven and place the handle of a wooden spoon in the door in order to vent.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, then allow to cool completely before removing cookies from the parchment, then transfer to a wire rack.

Match up similarly sized cookies and spread the bottom of each with chocolate ganache.  Sandwich together and store in an airtight container or freeze for up to 3 months.

* To make your own chocolate sea salt, combine 1 Tbsp. coarse sea salt and 1 1/2 tsp. cocoa powder in a plastic sandwich bag.  Rub the outside of the bag between your fingers to coat the salt with the cocoa.

Horseradish Crusted Filets.

So, Valentine’s Day was around the corner and having a 20 month old pretty much meant that the Husby and I wouldn’t be able to go out to celebrate.  I wanted to make something really special at home that was restaurant quality.

Wildfire is one of our favorite restaurants when we’re looking for a nice steak dinner, so when I found the recipe for their delicious horseradish crust, I knew it would be a perfect fit.  But first?  I’d have to find a cast iron pan.

The Husby, Fruitaholic and I spent Valentine’s afternoon at the Chicago Auto Show (pretty romantic, right?), and by the time we left, we were starving.  Knowing that I was still in need of a cast iron pan to cook the steaks in, I ran into HomeGoods.  They were out of stock.  I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a pan, so we sat in the parking lot for a few minutes trying to figure out where to find a reasonably priced pan.

The Fruitaholic started yelling from the backseat so I dug through my purse to find him some goldfish and came across my stack of 20% off coupons for Bed Bath and Beyond.  Score!  We drove over, I ran in and found an Emerilware cast iron grill pan that was preseasoned (score again!).

We hit some traffic on the way home and the Husby was running on empty.  By the time we made it home, it was already pretty late, so our elegant Valentine’s Day meal instead consisted of chalupas from the Taco Bell drive thru.

But now that I had acquired a brand spanking new cast iron pan (and had already bought all of the necessary ingredients), I was determined to make these steaks.  The Husby went away on business the next day, so I invited a friend over and had a nice meal with her instead.  I can’t wait to make these again for the next special occasion.

Horseradish Crusted Filets – adapted from Joelen’s Culinary Adventures, from Wildfire Restaurant

  • 2 Filet Mignons
  • Penzey’s Chicago Steakhouse Seasoning (or Salt and Pepper), to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. Horseradish
  • 1/4 Cup Panko

Remove filets from refrigerator about a half hour prior to cooking to allow the meat to reach room temperature.  Season filets on all sides with steakhouse seasoning or salt and pepper, to taste.

Heat a seasoned cast iron pan over high heat.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter with a wooden spoon.  Add the horseradish and panko and mix to combine.  Set bowl in the fridge for 5 minutes to stiffen.

Preheat broiler or turn oven to its highest setting.

Add the filets to the skillet and sear for 2-3 minutes.  Flip and sear for another 3-4 minutes for medium rare.  Top each steak with the horseradish mixture and place pan under the broiler/in the oven until the crust is golden brown.