I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

This Little Piggy

Even though I have about 5 pages of entree choices on my catering menu, I find the majority of people are suspicious about food they aren't necessarily familiar with. Tending instead to stick with their favorites even though they've eaten it a thousand times before. There's certainly nothing wrong with that but I, on the other hand, have redundancy issues and tire easily of the same ole', same ole'. Tire of eating it myself and tire of preparing it for others. But alas, being in the catering business isn't all about what I want to eat. Such a shame too, because I have good taste!

So I love it when out of the box thinkers commission me for a catering job as was the case this week. The group of 17 from Louisiana was driving up to Hot Springs to spend a week on a houseboat on Lake Ouachita. Their entree selections included this yet-to-be-discovered-by-the-masses Pork Tenderloin with Blackberry Mustard Sauce that sits on page 3 of my menu all lonely and gathering dust. I was thrilled when I saw the order. So thrilled, in fact, that I prepared an extra loin for myself because sometimes it is most definitely about what I want to eat!

The recipe originally hailed from Cooking Light, but I tweaked the marinating and cooking techniques just a bit. So c'mon a little and break out of the box!

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pork Tenderloins with Blackberry Mustard Sauce

Serving Size : 6
Categories : Pork

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1/4 cup blackberry mustard -- recipe below
3 cups chicken broth -- divided
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme -- minced & divided
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic -- minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 pork tenderloins
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup blackberries
Blackberry Mustard:
1 cup blackberries -- fresh or frozen
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons hot dijon mustard
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Prepare blackberry mustard by putting all mustard ingredients in a food processor & mix well. Set aside.

Combine 2 cups chicken broth, 1/2 tsp fresh thyme and next 6 ingred; stir well. Trim fat from pork and marinate overnight. Remove pork from marinade; reserve liquid.

Add oil to skillet and place over medium high until hot. Add pork; cook 4 mins or until browned on all sides. Remove pork to a baking dish and pour about 1 cup of reserved marinade into dish. Preheat oven to 400 and bake tenderloins about 20-25 minutes or until thermometer registers 120. Remove tenderloins and let stand for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Add remaining 1 cup chicken broth to deglaze pan. Bring to a boil; cook 5 mins or until reduced to 1/2 cup. Strain mixture; discard solids.

Place cornstarch in a small saucepan; gradually add water, blending with a wire whisk. Stir in strained mixture, brown sugar and 1/4 cup blackberry mustard. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook, stirring constantly, 1 min. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1 tsp minced thyme.

Cut pork into 1/2" thick slices. Spoon sauce evenly onto 6 serving plates, and arrange pork evenly on top of sauce. Top servings evenly with blackberries.

"Inspired by Cooking Light 5 Star Recipes"

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Show me your mussels

I know it doesn't make for interesting blog reading to post about the same things again and again, but you'll have to indulge me just this once. Some time ago, I posted about a paella dish made by Meeta of What's for Lunch Honey?

At the time, I had a package of mussels in my freezer that had been given to me by my food broker and it was the perfect opportunity to use them but I didn't have a chance to take a photo of my creation. It was the first time, to my knowledge, that I had eaten mussels and I knew right then and there that it definitely would not be the last. I had eaten paella before, sans mussels, but the added dimension of flavor that these little jewels provide is unbelievable!

Unfortunately, being landlocked here in the Culinary Wasteland, mussels are not commonly found in grocery stores or restaurants. I wouldn't doubt that if I walked into what they call a grocery store around here and asked for mussels, the seafood manager would pull up his shirt sleeves and flex his biceps! Thank goodness for the luxury of ordering food by the semi-truck loads for the catering kitchen! I tacked a 10 lb. box of mussels onto one of my orders and now I have the luxury of having them whenever I want. And what with this post and the paella, you'd think I'd have my fill by now but I'm already thinking of the next recipe that I want to try!

Since Meeta lives in Germany, her recipe measurements were in grams so I had to revise it just a bit in order to convert it and I substituted white meat chicken in place of her dark meat because I always have boneless, skinless chicken on hand. Dark meat is usually more moist and tender, so go ahead and use it if you have it. Also, I used halibut for this fish - again because I have a freezer full of it from one of Captain Sturm's fishing expeditions.

Seafood Paella

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 pound chicken (boneless thighs or breasts) -- cut into bite-sized pieces
1 pound mussels
1/2 pound large shrimp -- peeled & deveined
1 pound fish fillet -- cut into bite-sized pieces
2 bell pepper (yellow & red) -- cut into 1" cubes
1 onion -- finely chopped
2 cloves garlic -- finely chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper -- to taste
1 cup rice
1/2 teaspoon saffron
6 ounces frozen peas
1/2 lemon -- juiced
4 cups chicken stock

Heat oil in large dutch oven and brown chicken. Remove from pan and set aside. Add more oil if needed and saute fish and shrimp, separately, for about 2 - 3 minutes, season with salt and pepper. Remove and set aside with chicken. Add mussels and let cook until they open up. Discard any that do not open.

Preheat oven to 350.

Add more oil if needed to pan, and saute peppers and onions. Add the garlic and rice. Stir well to coat the rice with the oil. Dissolve the saffron in the chicken stock. Add the stock, about 1 cup at a time and allow to simmer for a few minutes until the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Repeat this process until all but the last 1/2 cup of the liquid remains. Add this to the rice along with the peas. Season with salt and pepper. Add chicken, fish, shrimp, and mussels to the pot. Mix well.

Cover and place in the preheated oven. Let cook for about 35 minutes - do not open the lid as the paella needs to gently combine all the flavors and aromas together.

Remove from the oven and leave covered about 10 minutes before opening. Salt and pepper again to taste and pour lemon juice over the top.

Inspired by Meeta from What's For Lunch Honey?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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Simplicity. Sopranos Style.

We've all played the game of favoritism at one point or another. A favorite restaurant. Your favorite shirt. Or, dare we even admit...a favorite child or grandchild.

My all-time favorites can be summed up quite simply....anything Italian. Italian food. Italian wine. Italian men. Ooops! Did I say that out loud? So it stands to reason that the Sopranos was my favorite TV show. My TV life as I knew it was over when the final episode aired last year. I even went so far as to have HBO taken off my cable package. Nothing will ever compare. It was a Sunday night ritual to prepare an Italian feast and sit down in front of the tube for a good dose of Mafioso suspense. So it should come as no surprise that the Sopranos Family Cookbook sits on my shelf among my plethora of cookbooks. Feeling a little nostalgic, I decided it was time to play homage to my favorite TV show of all time. "Zuppa di Cozze" translates to mean Mussels in Spicy Tomato Sauce. Simple to prepare. Simply delicious. Go make it now. Capisce?!

Mussels in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Serving Size : 8
Categories : Seafood

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
4 lbs. mussels (or substitute small clams)
4 garlic cloves - finely chopped, plus one whole garlic clove
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 pinch red crushed pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
3 lbs. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (or two 28oz-35oz cans Italian peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped)
1 pinch salt
8 slices Italian Bread - thinly cut, toasted

Place the mussels in cold water, covered for 30 minutes. Drain and scrub them with a stiff brush. Scrape any barnacles or seaweed off.
Discard any mussels with cracked shells or that do not shut tightly when tapped. Remove beards by pulling them toward the narrow end of the shells.
In a large saucepan, cook the chopped garlic, parsley, and pepper in the oil over low hear until the garlic is golden, about 1 minute.
Stir in the wine and bring to a simmer. Add the tomatoes and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
Gently stir the mussels. Cover the pot. Cook until the mussels open, 5 to 10 minutes. Discard any that refuse to open.
Rub the toast with the garlic cloves - serve with the mussels.

"The Sopranos Family Cookbook"

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