Thursday, July 24, 2008


Many years ago my mom hosted a Pampered Chef party after attending one herself. She purchased a few things, including my first chef's knife and a pizza stone. Over the course of time, she upgraded to a better stone and I inherited her old one, as well as a random PC cookbook. The only thing I've ever made out of that little 30 page booklet is the Fiesta Tortilla Stack, known more commonly at our house as just Tortilla Stack. (I mean really, how many different variations could I have that warrant different names?) I probably first made it 7 or 8 years ago when I first got the stone and it is in fairly regular rotation in my kitchen.

This thing feeds us for days, is gooey on the outside and crunchy on the inside, and is a nice change of pace for dinner. It is also heavy as a bag of bricks and a bit labor intensive to put together, but honestly it's worth it. My husband loves this meal and was so excited when I told him I was making it. We hadn't had it in ages and it totally hit the spot. With all the great ingredients though, how can you go wrong!

Fiesta Tortilla Stack
From Pampered Chef, 'Season's Best Recipe Collection 1999 Fall/ Winter'

  • 5-6 Large Burrito Sized Tortillas (I always buy flour and don’t know if corn would be good.)
  • 2/3 Can Refried Beans (I use fat-free or vegetarian style.)
  • 1/2 C. to 3/4 C. Sour Cream (Again, I use fat free.)
  • 1 Tbsp. Chili Powder
  • 2 tsp. Cumin Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1 C. Cooked Chicken, chopped
  • 1 Medium Onion or 3-4 Stalks Green Onion, chopped
  • 1 Red/ Orange / Yellow Pepper, chopped
  • 1 Small Can Sliced Black Olives, drained
  • 1/2 C. Fresh Cilantro, chopped
  • 1-2 C. Shredded Cheddar or Mexican Blend Cheese
  • 1 Large Tomato, chopped
  • Olive Oil

  1. I always start by cooking the chicken. I will cut up 2 chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces and then cook them in water in the microwave. About 3-5 minutes in the zapper and my chicken is ready.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 375.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the sour cream, refried beans, and spices and beat manually until smooth.
  4. In a large bowl, mix together all the veggies and chicken and cilantro and cheese.
  5. On a pizza stone or large baking sheet, place a single tortilla in the middle.
  6. Here is where I can never decide which I like to do first- bean mixture or veggie mixture. It can go either way, so I'm just going to flip a coin... heads- bean spread!
  7. Ok, so slather on a quarter of the bean dip and spread it all over the bottom tortilla, getting it very close to the edges.
  8. Pile on a quarter of the veggie/ chicken mix on top of the bean spread. Again, try to push the goodies as close to the edges as possible. On the bottom layers it is most important to get everything out to the edges so the top layers don't slouch down.
  9. Top bottom layer with a tortilla.
  10. Repeat the process- bean spread, veggies, tortilla- for another 3 layers. On the very top layer, you may want to save a nice heaping tablespoon of bean dip stuff to use as "glue" underneath the top tortilla.
  11. Drizzle a little olive oil (just a little!) and use your fingers to spread it out across the top and along the edges.
  12. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the tortilla is golden brown and the mixture is lightly bubbling along the edges.
  13. Remove and use a sharp, large knife to cut slices. Serve with sour cream and salsa if desired.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'm It!

I've been tagged by Joelen- yipes! I never was the athletic type- I guess I couldn't run away as fast as the other kids. Tee hee!

This is a fun little getting to know you tag- in fact I have been hit with a similar meme about 6 months ago! But that's no reason to not play again, right? No one likes the kid that pouts on the sidelines! And to spice it up, I am going to do my best to not repeat.

What was I Doing 10 Years Ago?
10 years, eh? Summer of 1998... I was in between my junior and senior year of college, working in the IT department at a local to my hometown semiconductor company where I had previously temped. I was designing them a web site, which looking back now was absolutely terrible as well as poorly thoughtout. But then again, lots of websites were poorly thought out and terrible back then- so I was doing well!

Five things on my To-Do List for Ttoday?
How about things I was supposed to do, but haven't, and still may not do before bed?
1. Fold cleaned laundry
2. Wash some dirty laundry
3. Review a best friends' wedding registry in preparation for buying
4. Finish my office work that must get done before 7 AM tomorrow
5. Run the dishwasher

Five Snacks I Enjoy:
1. Cheese
2. Guacamole
3. Pretzels
4. Nectarines
5. Yeah, and still Doritos, but I try to avoid that!

Five Things I Would Do If I Were a Billionaire:
1. Take the Orient Express, first class all the way
2. Buy all the CDs and DVDs I could ever want- I love music and movies!
3. Invest a significant amount to live off the interest and provide for my (future) children
4. These days I'd like liposuction, but maybe with that much cash I'd have the time and money to find good use for a personal trainer
5. Be totally frivolous and buy a Jaguar convertible and an Audi TT

(Really though, with that much money you can donate a ton while still living reasonably well.)

Five Places I've Lived:
1. Suburbia, Massachusetts
2. West of Boston, MA
3. South of Boston, MA
4. Tampa Bay, FL (blech)
5. Portland, Maine!

Five Jobs I've Had:
1. Babysitter
2. Accounting assistant
3. Web designer
4. Admin
5. Corporate Trainer

Now I'm supposed to tag other people... hmmm... these tags do get around quickly and I don't want to have repeat hits. I think I'll come back and edit that tomorrow when I'm bored at work!

A Meal for an Old Zinfandel

In keeping with the Napa theme, I have to tell you about this absolutely fabulous meal we had that resolved specifically around a very special wine we picked up out on the "left coast."

We had the pleasure of sampling a number of wines by Jessup Cellars in Yountville, CA. (They are right down the street from the famous French Laundry.) After getting a small tasting at our hotel in Napa, we visited the winery with the intention of doing a "vertical" tasting- or so I think it is called. This is where you try the same varietals, in our case Zinfandel, from the same winery but from different years. It was fascinating! All of the wines were great- we tried (this was at the end of May, so forgive my spotty memory) an '04,'03, and a '99.

We ended up splurging on the 1999 Jessup Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel as it was so rich, and woody, and just plain wonderful. (We also got a fantastic zinfandel port which has yet to be opened and a light, fresh rose.) Our zin was something to be savored and to be the centerpiece of a meal- not just something to suck back with burritos as an afterthought. Doing some research on wine pairings, I decided to serve a rich entrée of grilled steak with an indulgent blue cheese sauce along sides rice pilaf and salad.

Oh my heavens, we thought our mouths were going to just melt off our faces it was so dang good. The wine opened up with the rich flavors to reveal it's complex headiness and we loved every sip. Sincere thanks to Patrick and Christina at Jessup for helping us with our tastings and purchase- not only were they knowledgeable, we enjoyed every minute of chatting with them!

Grilled Steak with Blue Cheese Sauce
Adapted from
  • 1 lb. Good Quality Beef Fillet (Sorry- I never buy beef and forget what the cut was. All I remember is it was about 1.5" thick and it was plenty for 2 of us.)
  • Kosher Salt & Black Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • 3 Tbsp. Butter
  • 2-3 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 Small Onion, chopped
  • 1/2 C. Sliced Mushrooms
  • 1/2 C. Beef Broth
  • 1/4 C. Brandy or Port
  • Heavy Dash Dried Rosemary
  • 1/2 - 1 C. Crumbled Blue Cheese (actual amount depends on your tastes- you can start with less and adjust it to add more)
  • Extra Blue Cheese for garnish

  1. Heat your grill to medium heat.
  2. Season the fillets with ample salt and pepper rubbed into the meat. Drizzle with a little olive oil and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
  3. When grill is good and hot, cook the steak to desired doneness. Hubby took care of this part as steak is not my specialty. Due to the thickness, it probably took about 20 minutes to get it to medium/ medium-rare.
  4. While the meat cooks, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  5. Add in the onion and garlic, sautéing until it they are just soft, about 3-4 minutes.
  6. Add in the mushrooms and continue to cook until they are soft and begin to loose their moisture, about 4 minutes.
  7. Pour in the broth, booze, and rosemary. Increase heat to high to bring mixture to a boil. It should reduce by about half.
  8. Stir in the blue cheese, adding in increments if desired, and stir until the cheese melts. Season with salt and pepper if desired.
  9. When steak is cooked, let it rest for 5-10 minutes and then serve with sauce drizzled on top and a sprinkle of extra blue cheese. Enjoy with a full bodied red wine for a divine dinner!

Reliving Napa: Part II- Roasted Duck with Ginger Blueberry Chutney

I recently posted a delicious creamy polenta dish that was from a fantastic dinner hubby and I had on our San Francisco vacation in May. We had gone to Restaurant Pearl in Napa, CA and I truly thought it was the best meal of the trip. Did I mention it wasn't the most expensive either? God I love that- good, uncomplicated food that doesn't cost an arm and a leg and had a friendly, down home feel.

The polenta was definitely the less daunting of the 2 dishes we had. The dinner I had ordered, Fragrant Roast Duck with Pear and Ginger Chutney, had 2 things that were new to me- duck and a chutney. I looked up chutneys- they seemed simple enough with some cooked fruit and spices. One intimidating item down!

I then set out to locate some duck. After seeing no duck at my regular grocery store, I figured the local Whole Foods would have the duck breasts that I needed since they have a fantastic meat selection. Wrong! I get there only to find the two options available are these breast slices that were like ham-steaks or a whole duck. The slices weren't going to be enough and were already cooked- no good. That left the whole duck. Figuring it couldn’t be that much different than a chicken, that's what I got.

Did you know that ducks are fatty little buggers? I mean, seriously! The roasting took far longer than I anticipated and I literally sucked off about 2 cups of fat from the roasting pan while it cooked away- and it was far from dry when served! Luckily I had purchased the whole duck as my silly husband informed me last minute that my father-in-law was joining us. There was plenty for all! And my father-in-law enjoyed snacking on the various loose organs that I pulled out of the cavity and he then sautéed up!

The end result was delicious. The duck was rich and moist, and the chutney- that I substituted blueberries for the original cranberries- was tangy, sweet, and spicy. Served with roasted potatoes, the dinner was a gourmet hit!

Roasted Duck

  • 1 Whole Duck, organs removed, rinsed, and patted dry
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2-4 Cloves of Garlic, partially crushed
  • 1/4 - 1/2 C. Blueberry-Pear Chutney (see recipe below)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the duck in a large roasting pan, preferably up off the bottom in a roasting rack. You will want to line your roasting pan well with foil as duck is VERY fatty and will dribble an excessive amount of oil while cooking. I’m sure there is a side that you should face up (the breasts?) but I seriously can never figure out which way is up, so I'm not going to try to tell you how to do it!
  3. Gently pierce the skin all over. This will help drain the fat.
  4. Insert the garlic cloves into the cavity. Drizzle the chutney over the skin and pour 2-3 Tbsp. into the cavity as well. Use your hand to rub the chutney around the skin evenly.
  5. Roast uncovered in the oven until the internal temperature of the thigh is 180 degrees. This can take up to 2 hours for a 4-5 lbs. bird. (The juices are not supposed to be pink when it is cooked, however we cooked our 4 pounder for about 1.5-2 hours and I swear the juices were still almost red. We ate it anyway and seemed to have no problems.)
  6. You will want to take a look every 30-45 minutes to see about removing the pools of melted fat. Having a good heat resistant baster and a warm glass bowl/ measurer handy make this an easy task. If your skin is starts to get too brown towards the end of cooking, cover it loosely with foil.
  7. When the bird is cooked, remove it from the oven to rest. If you haven't already covered it with foil, now is a good time to do so to keep it warm. Let the meat rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.
  8. Serve with a drizzle of chutney over it, or in a pool on the side for dipping.

Blueberry, Pear, and Gingered Chutney
Loosely adapted from
  • 1/4 C. Cider Vinegar
  • 2/3 C. Onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. Ground Ginger
  • 1 tsp. Ground Mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 tsp. Lemon Juice
  • 1/4 C. Raisins
  • 1 C. Blueberries, frozen or fresh
  • 2 Bosc Pears, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1/4 C. Brown Sugar
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar over medium heat.
  2. Add in the onion and spices. The mixture should boil and cook the onions until they are soft and the liquid has reduced some.
  3. Stir in the lemon juice, berries, raisins, pear, and sugar while increasing the heat to medium-high. Boil the chutney while stirring often. The berries and pear will start to break down into a smoother (though not entirely smooth) consistency.
  4. Continue to boil until it thickens up. Taste for heat and sweetness. Add black pepper, cayenne, or red pepper flakes for more heat. If it becomes too thick, either water or vinegar can be added.
  5. Keep warm either on low heat or with a lid. Serve warm with poultry or even pork.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reliving Napa: Creamy Polenta

Adam and I took a week long trip to San Francisco and Napa at the end of May for a much needed vacation. When choosing any destination to visit, we must have two things- beautiful free things to see including nature and architecture AND delicious food! Italy had been our first choice- too pricey. San Francisco was a wonderful runner up. You just can't go wrong with so many cultures blending in one lovely progressive area!

The highlight of the culinary adventure (which is hard to identify with all the great things we ate) was in Napa at a place called The Restaurant Pearl. We both just had excellent meals- simple in their ingredients, excellent in their execution.

When I returned home, I wanted to relive a little piece of that California experience, so of course I went to the kitchen! I figured Adam's dish was the easier of the two to try- Soft Polenta with seasonal veggies and roasted tomato sauce.

This was my first time making polenta from scratch. Wow, so simple! With the addition of fresh vegetables and a spicy prepared tomato sauce, this dinner was healthy, flavorful, and hearty. Polenta is going to show up in the line up more often I thnk!

Creamy Polenta with Veg and Sauce
Inspired by The Restaurant Pearl

  • 1 C. Cornmeal
  • 3 C. Water
  • 2-4 Tbsp. Heavy Cream
  • 1-2 C. Spicy Tomato Sauce (homemade or jarred)
  • 2 Carrots, sliced into long discs
  • 1 Zucchini, sliced
  • Handful Asparagus, chopped into 3" pieces
  • 1 Summer Squash, sliced

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat water to boiling. Stir in the cornmeal and continue to let boil over medium heat. Stir the meal regularly to prevent sticking, burning, and uneven cooking.
  2. The polenta should thicken up to a thick but not solid state. You want to be able to stir it, although the spoon should not just slide right through- it should resist a little. Add more water or cornmeal as you see fit.
  3. When cooked, stir in the desired amount of cream until it is a consistant thickness and delicious! Add salt and pepper to taste if desired.
  4. While the polenta cooks, steam the veggies until just tender. You will want them cooked through, but still with a little bite to them. I believe I started the carrots in first, then the asparagus, then the squashes. It only took a few minutes to cook them all.
  5. Just before you are ready to serve, heat a couple of cups or so of sauce in a small saucepan.
  6. To serve, place a large helping of polenta in the center of your bowl. Pour a small amount of sauce around the edges of the polenta and pile the veggies on top. Eat each bite with a nice mix of all the flavors together!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lemon Meringue Pie to View- Not so much to Eat

A few weeks ago I wanted to try something new- something sweet, something summery, something challenging. With a bunch of lemons in the house, I thought lemon meringue pie would be the perfect solution. The custard AND the meringue would be a new experience for me, and I had a graham cracker crust just waiting for a purpose in the fridge. Oh, but it was not to be such a perfect endeavor boys and girls...

I pulled out good ol' Betty Crocker- she seemed to have the right idea on how to make a classic pie. The best part of lemon meringue pie is how efficient it is with ingredients- 3 egg yolks for the custard, and 3 egg whites for the meringue- love it! I started off with the custard- it seemed perfect!

Then I started on the egg whites and sugar and tartar. In go the ingredients and the Kitchen Aid was on full whip... for 10 minutes... with no results. What the heck is going on here? {grumble grumble} After checking back with Betty, I read in the tips that "Make certain no yolk gets into the whites, as even a speck of yolk or grease will prevent whites from beating properly." Hm. So, the shell and yolk I accidentally dropped in there is screwing things up? Dammit. Unfortunately I needed to crack 3 more eggs, but the good news is this time it worked!

I assemble the pie. I bake the pie. I remove the pie. Oh, she is a beauty to behold- perfectly browned meringue, lovely lemon scent, and well toasted crust. So I chill the silly thing for a few hours in the fridge. I cut into it. Hm. Again. The meringue- gorgeous. The custard? Oozing EVERYWHERE! No setting up to be found. I figure it needs to chill longer.

Well, let me tell you, there was no setting to really be had. Although the custard got a little firmer over the next few days, unfortunately a great deal of liquid seeped out from somewhere and made the crust quite soggy. The flavor really was fantastic- but the texture was a disaster. I think I'd reduce the water and chill it way longer next time.

Hope you enjoy the visuals, if nothing else!


Hm.Not so lovely.

Lemon Meringue Pie
From Betty Crocker's New Cookbook (no modifications made)

  • Prepared Graham Cracker Crust
  • Meringue (see below)
  • 3 Large Egg Yolks
  • 1 1/2 C. Sugar
  • 1/3 C. plus 1 Tbsp. Cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 C. Water
  • 3 Tbsp. Stick Butter
  • 2 tsp. Grated Lemon Peel
  • 1/2 C. Lemon Juice
  • Yellow Food Coloring

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, beat the yolks.
  3. In a small saucepan, mix together the sugar and cornstarch. Stir in the water slowly and cook over medium heat. Keep stirring until it thickens and boils. Allow to boil for a minute or so.
  4. Immediately stir in at least half of the hot mixture into the eggs and then plop it all into saucepan again. Boil for a minute and then remove from the heat.
  5. Stir in the rest of the ingredients (not the crust and meringue of course!) and mix it up.
  6. Pour lemon filling in the crust. Then gently spoon the meringue on top, pushing it all the way to the edge of the crust. (Betty says this prevents shrinking or weeping- maybe this is where I went wrong!?)
  7. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes until the meringue is light brown.
  8. Cool, cover, and then refrigerate and cross your fingers that yours works better than mine!

  • 3 Large Egg Whites (NO YOLKS AT ALL!)
  • 1/4 tsp. Cream of Tartar
  • 6 Tbsp. White Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

  1. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in a stand mixer or with a hand held mixer on high until it is foamy.
  2. Slowly add in the sugar in small amounts, beating heavily, until it is all added. Keep beating on high until it is "stiff and glossy." This means you need to keep going and keep going until you get a big, fluffy mess of whiteness!
  3. Beat in the vanilla and you're done!

Happy birthday to blog!

That's right readers, Bean's Bistro, my little corner of the web, is 1 years old!

Ok, so it was 1 year yesterday, but as you may have noticed, I'm a little lazy on the blogging lately. I called out in my very first post that there was a distinct possibility that I would get bored with blogging shortly after starting, and honestly I'm impressed I lasted this long! A big reason is you- my dear readers. I know in the world of blogging, my readership is low, but I'm so honored that anyone wants to track the treasures and trash that I cook, and I feel an obligation to keep pushing forward.

I promise, I've got a whole slew of delicious foods (and a few amusing stories) just waiting to hit the web- it's just so much work and it's so nice out this time of year! Yeah yeah, I know- excuses, excuses. I will put them up soon!

I'm going to try to push out an update or two tonight, but in case I lose enthusiasm and opt for eating my frozen yogurt, then doing my nightly work for the office, and then slacking off, I'm going to put this post out for you as a way for you to know I'm still out here and eager for your attention!

I thought a nice item for my 1 year anniversary might be the origin of my blog name. Bean's Bistro- ok, so bistro is clearly an indication this is a food related blog. Duh. But what about Bean? Was that chosen because I have a particular affinity to Mexican food or vanilla or something? Nope. Is it because I went to school outside of Boston? Not that either. In fact, it has very little to do with me, and more to do with my husband!

So I married my high school sweetheart, though I admit I broke up with him twice and we spent a few years separated in college and beyond, which was a good thing. Way back when I was still in high school and he was off to college in Boston, I would go and visit him in the city. We'd wander around the city in a poor college kid manner, looking for free things to do. Often we'd end up at the Prudential Mall, window shopping and making fun of people.

It was on one of these afternoon jaunts that I came to have the nickname Bean.

We were being our usual dork selves as we rode the escalator up into the main mall area. My darling boyfriend (now husband) looks over to see the Gourmet Bean Coffee Shop on our right. He lovingly looks at me and the coffee fiend that he is, says "Baby, I love you almost as much as coffee." Sweet, huh? He then says, "You're my little Gourmet Bean!"

Well, we had a good long laugh over that oh so romantic comparison to the caffeinated beverage of choice and it kind of stuck. Over the years it was shortened to G-Bean and then just Bean. Now I am told, again by my husband, that I am very "beanular"- as in my toes and nose and head and cheeks are round like beans, thus solidiying the nickname for all eternity.

And that's my story. And my blog- Bean's Bistro. Thanks for reading- it really means a lot to me.