About The Saturday Chef

Midwest, United States
I am NOT a professional chef. I am what I affectionately dub a Saturday Chef—a weekend warrior of the culinary variety, fortified by the education I have gleaned from two high school cooking classes, the Food Network and my own gastronomical experiments. While I’m not ashamed to spend all day making bagels by hand, and proudly call myself a foodie, I’m not a food snob. I enjoy an Extra Value Meal as much as the next girl. My culinary escapades are still relegated to the weekends, but my love for cooking is stronger than ever, galvanized by more successes than failures, and the beautiful fact that the more I cook, the more people there are to feed. So please stay tuned for fun recipes, inevitable disasters and hopefully, a lot of good food.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Potato, Portabella, and Parmesan Gratin

When I was a child, I had a boundless imagination. It made being grounded fun, and punishing me next to impossible. As an adult and a writer, I actively nurture my imagination and my inner child. I like to laugh make up stories, and generally enjoy myself. On special days, I play with my food. Enter the Potato, Portabella and Parmesan Gratin.

This recipe takes a bit of time to assemble, so I treated it like a culinary puzzle picking the perfectly shaped piece of potato to create the layers. I then added the cheese and even tossed in some mushrooms. The result was a filling, decadent gratin that was as simple as it was flavorful, and served with a quick salad, you have a delicious (and meatless) dinner. And I even snuck mushrooms past my inner child.


Potato, Portabella and Parmesan Gratin
Adapted from Oriana Neri’s recipe

4 lb medium boiling potatoes

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

2 to 2 ½ cups half & half

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

7 oz finely grated parmesan cheese (3 1/2 to 4 cups)*

1/2 to 1 cup baby portabella mushrooms, cleaned and diced

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Peel potatoes and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices with a food processor or an adjustable-blade slicer. Spread slices out on a large kitchen towel. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Dot bottom of a 3-quart shallow baking dish (13 by 9 inches) with half of butter and pour in 1/3 cup of dairy. Layer potatoes in baking dish, season lightly with black pepper.

Spread 1/3 cup half & half and about 1/4 of cheese between layers. Drizzle remaining cream over potatoes and dot with remaining butter. Season with black pepper and sprinkle a bit of extra cheese and any mushrooms you have left.

Bake, uncovered, until potatoes are very tender and top is browned, about 2 hours. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes before serving.

*Chef’s Note: I did use an imported Italian cheese from the cheese counter, but not Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the gratin was fantastic. Just use quality cheese, and you’ll be fine.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Saturday Chef's Awesome Rosemary Spice Chicken Wings

*Recipe revised on October 26th.*

So many people I know LOVE chicken wings. You know, those squishy, messy, greasy, spicy little chicken arms that usually more bone than meat. I never got why they were so popular, maybe it’s all the alcohol traditionally consumed while eating them. I don’t really like them and certainly never crave them. The only time I eat a chicken wing is when I make or bring home a roast chicken. It is the first piece I taste, and that’s usually meaty and salty and delicious.

My mother has been admirably working to lose weight for months. She exercises with a determination I can admire—usually while I’m in the kitchen. (Can cooking be considered cardio?) Lately her resolve has been cracking and the fast food cravings are gaining power. Finally, she broke. “I want fried chicken wings. I want Popeye’s!” She proclaimed after an hour on the treadmill.

I promised her I’d make her some chicken wings that would settle her craving, but wouldn’t negate all of her had work.

So I set out on the ‘net, sorted through recipes with glazes and  super-spicy sauces and 25 ingredients, and settled on this one with a bit of trial and error on the mix of spices. These wings are baked, not fried, yet the skin is still crispy and the meat is still tender and flavorful. Now, these are chicken wings I’d like to knock back while watching a football game and drinking beer.

And they passed not one, but two tests. First, my mother LOVED them and declared her fast food craving had been satisfied. Second, my father, who puts hot sauce on pancakes, ate these wings without it.

Mission accomplished.


Awesome Rosemary Spiced Chicken Wings


4 to 5 pounds chicken wings

1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for drizzling

1 ½ tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder

½ teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons seasoning salt (such as Lawry's)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¾ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon chili powder*

½ teaspoon cayenne*



Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Line two banking sheets with aluminum foil.

Remove the tips of the chicken wings with kitchen shears or a knife. Clean wings of any stray hairs.
Thoroughly rinse wings and pat dry with paper towels. In a large bowl or large pan, drizzle chicken wings with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and mix with hands until all wings are evenly coated. Add all spices, mixing with hands to make all wings are coated.

Place skin side up in a single layer on baking sheets, allowing a bit of space between each wing. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over the wings, and rub over the top to distribute. Finally, sprinkle each wing very lightly with salt.

Bake in the oven until wings are a deep golden brown and the skin is crispy, about 45 to 55 minutes. Rotate pans halfway through cooking process so wings will brown evenly.

Serve immediately.

*Measurements of spices and herbs may vary based on the amount of wings being prepared.
*You can make the wings as spicy as you like. I prefer just a little heat. Increase the chili powder and cayenne if you’d like more of a kick.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Umptious Spaghetti and Meatballs

I’m going to put on my sparkly pink cape and become Captain Obvious for forthcoming confession.  Are you ready?

I love food.  (See why I needed the cape?) I love all kinds of food, from the healthy and leafy to the junk varieties.

But as much as I love it, sometimes it’s hard to wax poetic about artichokes or barbecue sauce. Lately, I have been struggling with not only writer’s block, but (Saturday) chef’s block. I haven’t made anything that I would deem blog-worthy or even been inspired by too many recipes.

Thankfully, I got the October issue of Bon Appetit in the mail, and as I flipped through its glossy pages, I found a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs, complete with a tantalizing picture. Instantly, my chef’s block was gone!

I worship spaghetti and meatballs. When made right, it’s everything one could one in a meal—meaty and tender with a delicious sauce. When made wrong, it’s as Chef Ramsay would seethe, “a dog’s dinner!”

I had the most fabulous plate of spaghetti and meatballs at a little Italian place in my small town with a girlfriend nearly a decade ago. I’ve been trying to re-create that salty, beefy, tomato-y umptiousness since that night as that little Italian place is now a big sports bar. Since then, I’ve tried every variation I could think of and literally dozens of recipes. I’ve used all turkey, all veal, even threw some bacon in the mix. I’ve pan-fried them and finished in the oven. I’ve simmered for hours in tomato sauce. I’ve had pleasing results and some meatballs that resembled beefy ping-pong balls.

This recipe is Why-Didn’t-I-Think-Of-That simple, and delivers ridiculous flavor. The sauce with San Marzano tomatoes (or Magic Tomatoes as I call them, because I’ll eat them plain and I HATE the texture of tomatoes) is vivid and bright.

If you’re on a quest for the perfect spaghetti and meatballs, it just ended here!

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Adapted from recipe in Bon Appetit, October 2010

2 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and juice, preferable San Marzano
1 stick butter
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth as needed

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. When butter foams, add onions and sauté until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add entire can of tomatoes and juice. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to break up the larger chunks of sauce, but leave fairly chunky. If too much liquid has evaporated, stir in vegetable broth to thin out. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

1 cup of plain breadcrumbs
1/3 cup milk (2% or whole)
8 ounces lean or extra lean ground beef
8 ounces pork or veal
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/3 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt, pepper
2 large eggs, whisked
2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 pound spaghetti, cooked al dente

While sauce is simmering, mix breadcrumbs and milk. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the breadcrumbs absorb the milk.

Place beef and veal in a large bowl. Add cheese, parsley, salt, pepper, garlic, whisked eggs and milky breadcrumbs. Gently mix meat mixture with hands until evenly combined. Meatball mix should be moist, but hold together.

Roll meat between hands to form meatballs that are a little smaller than a golf ball. Place rolled meatballs on in a pan or cookie sheet lined with foil. Chill in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

After sauce has been simmered, blended and seasoned, gently drop meatballs into sauce. Simmer covered until cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes, occasionally swirling pot by the handles to stir meatballs without breaking them apart.

Spoon sauce over cooked spaghetti, garnish with parsley and grated parmesan.

NOTE: The recipe in magazine calls for whole tomatoes and juice.  I made it once with whole tomatoes and the sauce came out watery.  The diced tomatoes work better in my opinion.