Monday, April 4, 2011

The Vivacious Chef Has a New Home

I am very excited to announce that after 4 glorious years, the Vivacious Chef has achieved a little slice of Internet real estate she can call her very own! The beautiful new blog design is still in progress, including a new logo, but the site is up and running. I am also pleased to let you all know that all 4 years of recipes have been transferred to the new site so there is no lost content. 

The current Vivacious Chef header probably looks familiar to my long-time visitors - it is my Grandmother's handwriting from her egg salad recipe! I think it's a wonderful placeholder and always makes me smile. 

All of the credit for this stunning work in progress is courtesy of my hugely talented sister, Samantha Riccio. Thank you Samantha for all of your hard work!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

CAUTION: Green beer gives you a green tongue.

Also, please be aware that green beer makes you as drunk as every other kind. In the spirit of safety, here's a friendly reminder to take a cab home this evening. As for me, I will be in the sober comfort of my own home participating in a cleanse that forbids alcohol consumption. 

In appreciation of your taking my advice not to drive, here's a joke to brighten your day:

Six Irishmen were playing poker in O'Leary's apartment when Paddy Murphy loses $500 on a single hand, clutches his chest and drops dead at the table.
Sean O'Conner looks around and asks, "Oh, me boys, someone got's to tell Paddy's wife. Who will it be?"   They draw straws. Paul Gallagher picks the short one. They tell him to be discreet and gentle; don't make a bad situation any worse.
"Discreet??? I'm the most discreet Irishmen you'll ever meet. Discretion is me middle name. Leave it to me."   Gallagher goes over to Murphy's house and knocks on the door. Mrs. Murphy answers and asks what he wants. Gallagher declares: "Your husband just lost $500 and is afraid to come home."
"Tell him to drop dead!", says Murphy's wife.
"I'll go tell him." says Gallagher

--Happy St. Patty's Day!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Conejito's Place

THE best enchiladas ever!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Breakfast at Fleur de Lis

Nothing tastes as good as a fresh biscuit sandwich with ham, egg and cheese with a side of hash downs smothered in sausage gravy. After a late night on Bourbon Street this was amazing!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dinner in New Orleans

Commander's Palace - 4 courses with a beautiful view, shortbreads, salad, trout, and bananas foster. I'm in love.
Sent from my iPhone

Monday, February 14, 2011

Be My Valentine?

So, I'm not entirely sold on the concept of Valentine's Day. The origins seem strange, I usually conjure up images of the St. Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago, and I generally believe it is a Hallmark holiday. 

On that note, whether you're making food for one person or two, here's a delightful English dessert: Eaton Mess

1 c. sliced strawberries
1 c. raspberries
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar (25-year aged)
1/2 c. whipping cream
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 t. vanilla extract
lots of vanilla meringue cookies  

Macerate 1/2 cup each of sliced strawberries and raspberries in about 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of aged balsamic vinegar for at least 30 minutes. (That just means mix the berries, sugar, and vinegar together; by the way you can omit the vinegar if you don't have it or like it.) Meanwhile, whip about 1/2 cup of heavy cream with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Gently fold the berries into the whipped cream, plus an additional 1/2 cup each of sliced strawberries and raspberries. 

In a glass, crush vanilla meringue cookies into the bottom, top with the berry and cream mixture, and then more crushed meringue cookies. I promise that you'll love this easy and amazing dessert - particularly on Valentine's Day.

{I promise to add a picture later}

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Weekend Adventure in Two Rivers, WI

Here's the best bloody mary in Wisconsin - the Clamdigger at The Blue Goose in Two Rivers. There's beef jerky, string cheese, a pickle, pickled asparagus, pickled mushrooms, pickled brussel sprouts, olives, and celery. When you stop in to have one, say hello to Lynn and Goose, the owners. Oh, and plan on staying a while - Lynn makes great burgers!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chicken Puebla Stew

I honestly know what kills my husband about my eating habits: when he asks what I want to eat, my answer is always the same - "something healthy, cheap, and delicious." Really, Leah? Yes, really. Even when cooking at home, that is a tough request. Following the decadence of the holiday season, this healthy and flavorful soup satisfies the part of you that wants to continue eating everything in sight, and the other part of you that swore to eat better/workout/fill-in-the-blank.

Don't be intimidated by the unique cooking style of this soup - charing the onions and garlic before pureeing. I promise that anyone can do it. Top the soup with some diced avocado (healthy fat), cilantro, sour cream (low fat, please), and a couple tortilla chips, and enjoy.

Chicken Puebla Stew
2 lbs chicken thighs (boneless, skinless)
2 c broth/stock
2 t. salt
2 garlic cloves whole, not peeled
1 small onion, quartered
1 (14 oz) can whole tomatoes in juice
1 chipotle in Adobo (1 medium chilie)
1 t. dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 t. Cumin
½ t. Smoked paprika
1 (1 1/2-oz) link dried Spanish chorizo, finely diced
1  small onion, diced
1 T.  vegetable oil
1 c. corn (frozen)
1  14 oz can white hominy
1 avocado, diced
warm corn tortillas or chips
Sour cream

Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and saute over medium heat until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate; set aside. Once cool, dice the chicken into bite-sized pieces or shred it. You can also use leftover chicken rather than making some - any cut of chicken will do.

In a large dutch oven, cook the chorizo and diced small onion in oil over medium heat until the fat is rendered, about 2-4 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat a small dry cast-iron skillet over high heat and brown the garlic and quartered onion on all sides, turning with tongs, about 5 minutes. Peel the garlic, and transfer it and the onion to a blender. Add the tomatoes with juice, chiles, and oregano, then purée until smooth.

Add cumin and paprika to the large pot with chorizo and onion, cooking 2-3 minutes more. Carefully add the tomato purée (it will splatter and steam) and the hominy, and simmer, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes or until thick. Add the 2 cups of broth and return the soup to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat to low and add the chicken and frozen corn; let simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.  

Serve with sour cream, sprinkled with diced avocado and cilantro.

Adapted from Epicurious, original recipe available at

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A little feedback, please.

Whether you've noticed or not, The Vivacious Chef got quite a makeover. I'm not convinced that this is the final product I'm looking for, but I'd like to know what you think. Particularly as compared to the cheery dots theme of yesterday. Is this color too blue to be looking at next to food? I haven't decided yet. In the meantime, I'd appreciate knowing what you think - and if you have any suggestions for themes other than what's part of the Blogger library, let me know.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Curried Quinoa Salad

In the mood for something healthy that won't leave you starving (or groaning) when you're done? You're looking for quinoa. It is an amazing grain that is loaded with protein, easy to make, delicious and satisfying. Quinoa cooks just like rice, has a soft texture when cooked, and is neutral in flavor. The USDA National Nutrient Database says that 1 cup of cooked quinoa contains 8.14 grams of protein, 5.2 grams of dietary fiber, and a variety of other nutrients. 

It happens to be my humble opinion that people need to incorporate more vegetable-oriented meals into their diets. I am not advocating becoming a vegetarian - I love meat too much for that. Rather, my point is simply that protein doesn't need to be the main component of a meal, or necessarily take the form of meat. Quinoa is an easy, and typically palatable, starting point for those who are hardcore carnivores. 

To be perfectly honest, I stumbled upon this recipe tonight and hardly followed the original recipe. Turns out I wasn't able to wait for the quinoa to cool before I ate it, and it was delicious warm - I'm sure it's great as a cold salad, but I haven't tried it yet.

Curried Quinoa Salad
1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
½ tsp curry powder
pinch salt

¼ cup canola oil (or EVOO)
2 T. white wine vinegar
2 T. mango chutney, chopped if chunky
2½  tsp curry powder
1tsp prepared mustard
a sprinkle of cayenne pepper

(1 cup chopped peeled mango)
1 cup peeled and diced cucumber
1 bunch green onions, sliced

To make the quinoa, add the quinoa, curry powder, and stock base into the pot, and put over medium heat. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn, and that the stock base becomes soft, and melts into the quinoa. Once you can smell the curry, add the water and salt; give it a stir. Turn the heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, put a lid on and turn the heat to low and set the timer for 15 minutes. This process is like cooking rice – you’re steaming the quinoa, so don’t lift the lid to peak. There may be some extra liquid at the end, but that’s ok. Just turn the heat up to medium and cook it off. (happens to me all the time)

Meanwhile, in a bowl large enough to hold all of the quinoa, add the mango chutney, vinegar, mustard, and curry powder, and whisk to combine. Whisking vigorously, add the oil slowly until the dressing is combined. When the quinoa is cooked, add it to the bowl with the dressing, and stir to combine. Add a sprinkle of cayenne and salt to taste. Let cool. Once cool, add the diced cucumber and scallions.

The quinoa is very good still warm with the cucumber and green onion on top. (Which is how I had it for dinner)

The original recipe called for adding diced mango to the salad – I didn’t try it because I couldn't find it at the store tonight. It also called for serving the quinoa on top of spinach, which I did – not great. Might be better with a yogurt dressing – like an Indian raita – over the whole salad if you use the spinach.

Adapted from on 1/3/11; available at

* Chicken stock base is a kitchen staple - you can find it in all grocery stores by the packaged stocks/broths.  The link is to the Better Than Bullion brand, which is what I use. It's great because you'll always have as much, or as little, stock as you need.
This is a test of the Mobile Food Blog Posting System (MFBPS). I am so excited I can hardly stand it!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Everybody Burns Something, Sometime

It kind of makes you think of that commercial - but it's true. I am starting to get the impression that people think I never make an error, so I thought it time to put that to end. Take this evening's dinner for example.

First, there was not a lot of food in the house, so dinner was going to be a ham sandwich. So, what makes a ham sandwich better? Cheese. Only string cheese? No problem; that won't stop me. What makes that ham and cheese sandwich better (beside mayo and mustard)? Grilled. And better yet? Panini-ed. No panini press? Big deal - I have a cast iron skillet to put on my sandwhich. Well, here I am excited about my ham and cheese panini despite the pathetic state of our fridge, and then I burn the ever loving life out of it. Great.

The moral of the story is not to get discouraged - half the fun of food is experimenting. All that burnt and smashed sanwhich needed was a bread-ectemy. Yes, you read that correctly. I replaced the charred bread, and started over with the same stuffin'. And, it wasn't half bad. Its wasn't great, but not bad. That's half of it - sometimes you learn how flavors, textures, and methods work by figuring out what doesn't work.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. (and sometimes get Taco Bell when it still doesn't work)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Macaroni & Cheese

I've had several people find my first post about macaroni and cheese, and tell me that they don't feel confident enough to try it without a more formal recipe. I am happy to help, so I have developed this recipe from my method.

Before you scoff at my adding mustard to this, it brings out the cheesinesses of the sauce, and guarantees you'll love it. Plus, over the summer I was at the Taste of Madison, and a comfort food style restaurant there was serving macaroni and cheese. It was amazing - oh, and tasted exactly like mine. Not only that, they had used the same pasta that I have come to use, cavatappi. But don't worry if you don't have that, any short pasta will do.

Mac & Cheese
1 lb short pasta
½ small yellow onion, minced
3 Tbsp Butter
3 Tbsp Flour
½ tsp Paprika
2 ½ cups milk (any percent; I use 1%)
1 ½ tsp Grey Poupon Country Dijon Mustard (or another coarsely ground mustard)
2 cups Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup Grated Parmesan

First, bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta. If the water boils before you are ready to cook the pasta, just turn the burner off. Once you're ready to cook, turn the burner back on to high, and it will only take about 1 minute to boil again. It is much easier to have it waiting for you, than the other way around.

Meanwhile, sweat the onion in the butter over low heat until it is very soft; about 5-8 minutes. Add the flour and stir to make a roux – cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the paprika, a little pepper, and mustard. Then, whisking constantly, add about half of the milk, and continue to whisk to ensure there are no lumps. Once it is smooth, add the remaining milk and bring mixture to a boil. Once bubbles begin to break on the surface, the sauce is as thick as it will get. Waiting to add the cheese until you are ready to serve, take sauce off heat before adding cheese bit by bit until melted, making sure to stir constantly while adding. Wait to salt the sauce to taste until the cheese is added to the sauce.

Once the pasta is cooked and drained, toss with the sauce and serve - this is a no-bake mac and cheese. There are a few reasons I don't bake it: 1) I can't wait that long to eat pasta or cheese, let alone both together; 2) I hate making more dirty dishes than I have to, and it doesn't add to the overall flavor of the dish; 3) I don't like over cooked pasta; and 4) I don't need crunch on it - it detracts from the creamy deliciousness. Feel free to disagree.

(If you add the cheese and then let the sauce sit, the cheese will separate in the sauce and the sauce will be grainy. If that happens, eat it anyway. It happens to me too, but it is still delicious.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fig and Prosciutto Salad

Dear Fresh Figs:

You are amazing. I am so sorry that Fig Newtons gave you a bad rap, and I will do everything I can to restore your reputation.


I realize that you may question my sanity for writing a letter to figs, but I can assure you that I am slightly off. However, I have a very good reason: fig and prosciutto salad. I made this about two weeks ago for a family dinner. Through I learned more about cooking than I probably realize from my parents, this was kind of a hard sell - until they tried it.

Fig and Prosciutto Salad

2 large bunches arugula or baby salad greens (about 1/2 pound total)
6 firm-ripe green or purple figs (about 1/2 pound)
6 to 8 large thin prosciutto slices (about 6 ounces total)
a piece Parmigiano (about 1/3 pound)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, pepper, and salt to taste. In a slow stream, whisk in the oil until emulsified. Toss arugula with the vinaigrette and mound in center of each of 6 plates.

Wash the figs, and trim the tough stem ends. Cut each fig into 8 wedges. Cut the prosciutto into strips, about ¼ to ½ inch wide. Arrange the prosciutto pieces and figs on the salad. With a vegetable peeler, shave thin slices from the Parmigiano, and add to the top of the salad. Eat.

Adapted from

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Spicy Asian Flank Steak

This spicy asian flank steak is SO good. I do not think I need to sell this recipe any more than that because I know that once you try it, you'll make it all the time. It is that good. The secret is cutting the finished product correctly: you can see from the photo that I've sliced the meat very thin. The reason is that flank steak is a tough cut of meat, so by slicing it thin and across the grain, you get to enjoy a meltingly tender bite of steak. Winner, winner, steak dinner.

Spicy Asian Flank Steak

2 pounds flank steak

1⁄4 cup hot chile sauce, Sriracha

1⁄4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, grated

Juice of 1 lime

1⁄4 cup freshly chopped cilantro

To make marinade: In a gallon side zip-top bag, add the chile sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and lime juice together. Seal the bag and squeeze bag to thoroughly mix the marinade. Add the meat to the bag, seal it shut, and evenly distribute the marinade over the meat. Then ensure that all air is out. Marinate meat about 30 minutes, turning bag over a few times to distribute marinade evenly. (If you want to make this the night before, don't add the lime juice until about 30 minutes before you're ready to grill it and make sure to keep the bag 'o meat in the fridge. Prior to grilling, have meat come to room temperature by removing from fridge for 30 minutes.)

When ready to grill, discard the marinade, and grill the steak on high heat to desired doneness. Steak should not exceed medium rare for optimum tenderness; many people prefer flank steak to be medium rare. Grill 4 to 5 minutes per side; remove meat and let sit at least 5 minutes before slicing; if more grilling is required, grill 1 to 2 more minutes per side. Remember to thinly slice it across the grain.

To enjoy this gorgeous flank steak, try the following: thinly sliced onion, avocado, diced tomatoes, cilantro, lime, and corn tortillas.