About mkelly612

During my years of designing buildings and managing a real estate business I discovered a love of food and cooking. While I am not formally trained as a cook I have a passion for exploring different flavors. I have a great family and group of friends who are willing to test my cooking explorations. My cooking influences start with my mother, my wife, and my father-in-law and mother-in-law. I have been inspired over the years by great chefs, including Emeril, Bobby Flay, Thomas Keller, Michael Symon, and Giada DiLaurentis - to name a few. I love to travel and explore the tastes, as well as the sights and sounds, of the United States and other countries. I live in St. Charles, Illinois with my wife, Sandy, and my two grown children, Nolan and Madeline.

Duck Breasts with Toasted Spice Butter and Wild Mushroom Risotto

Duck Breasts with Toasted Spice Butter and Mushroom Risotto is a hearty winter dish that looks pretty good right now during a rainy, cold mid-April Sunday.

Duck Breasts with Toasted Spice Butter and Mushroom Risotto
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of foodandwine.com, March 2018)

Serves 4

2 large skin-on duck breasts
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted Spice Butter (see recipe below)
Wild Mushroom Risotto (see recipe below)

Using a sharp knife, score duck skin at 1/4-inch intervals. Heat a large skillet over high. Add duck breasts skin side down and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and cook, removing fat from the skillet at it accumulates, until skin is deeply golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. (Reserve fat for another use.) Flip the duck breasts and cook to desired degree of doneness, about 5 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer duck breasts to cutting board skin-side up and let rest for 10 minutes.

Slice duck against the grain about 1/2-inch thick. Using a hand grater grate some of the Toasted Spice Butter over the duck, allowing the butter to melt into the meat. Divide among serving plates and top with additional butter before serving.

Toasted Spice Butter

1 Tbsp coriander seed
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
1 Tbsp caraway seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp kosher salt

Toast spices in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Allow spices to cool and then grind to fine powder. Add salt and combine. Mash the ground spice mixture into the butter. Roll into plastic wrap and freeze until firm.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
5 cups vegetable stock, warmed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine, at room temperature
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. mixed wild mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 large shallots, minced
1 tsp dried thyme flakes
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer and maintain the simmer on low heat.

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat until is shimmers. Add the garlic and saute until softened, about 1 minute. All of the mushrooms and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.

In the Dutch oven with the mushroom liquid, add the butter and the shallots and saute over medium heat until the shallots are softened, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir over medium heat until each grain is translucent with a white dot in the center, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it is completely absorbed.

Add simmering stock a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently. Wait until the stock almost completely absorbed before adding the next ladleful.

When the rice is almost tender to the bite yet still firm in the center and looks creamy, add the mushrooms with the next ladleful of stock. Cook stirring regularly until the mushrooms are warmed through and the rice is al dente. Remove from the heat, stir in the grated parmesan, season with salt and pepper, and serve at once.

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Salad and Prosciutto Pizza

Salad and Prosciutto Pizza is a sauceless pizza that is a refreshing complete meal.

Salad and Prosciutto Pizza
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Bonappetit.com, February 2018)

Serves 4

1 lb. pizza dough (The Best Pizza Dough or store bought, at room temperature)
3 Tbsp plus 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic gloves, finely grated
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large head of Bibb lettuce, leaves separated and torn
6 oz. Gorgonzola crumbles (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup pickled red onions
3 Tbsp sliced chives
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
4 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto

Preheat oven and baking stone or baking steel to 475F on a convection setting, if possible.

Mix garlic and 2 tablespoons of oil in a small bowl.

Divide dough in half. Roll out half of the dough on a floured surface. Transfer to a cornmeal dusted peel or cutting board. Brush the dough with half of the garlic-oil mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Dot with a quarter of the gorgonzola crumbles. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until the golden, puffed, and crisp all over. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Allow to cool before topping with salad so the lettuce doesn’t wilt.

Toss lettuce, remaining cup of Gorgonzola, pickled onion, and chives in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Whisk vinegar and sugar in another small bowl, then, whisking constantly, gradually stream in the remaining 2/3 cup of oil. Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat. Arrange salad on top of pizza crusts and drape with prosciutto. Slice into squares and serve.

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Air-Fried Parmesan Dusted Polenta Sticks

Air-Fried Parmesan Dusted Polenta Sticks are french fries made of polenta so they are sweet and creamy inside and crispy on the outside. If you omit the breadcrumbs from the recipe they are also gluten-free. Serve with your favorite burger or sandwich.

Air-Fried Parmesan Dusted Polenta Sticks
(Mark Kelly, 2018)

1 tube of prepared polenta, halved crosswise and then cut into 1/2″ x 1/2″ sticks
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

Place the polenta sticks on a paper towel-lined rimmed baking sheet and cover them with another layer of paper towel. Refrigerate for about an hour.

In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, cheese, Italian seasoning, salt, black pepper and mix thoroughly.

Remove the polenta sticks from the paper towels from the paper towels and arrange on the baking sheet. Spray all sides with cooking spray. Coat with the parmesan-breadcrumb mixture and carefully toss to coat all sides.

Preheat oven to 200F.

Preheat Air-fryer to 390F. Working in batches air-fry for 10 minutes. Placed fried sticks on a new clean baking sheet and place them in the oven to keep warm. Repeat until all sticks have been fried.

Serve warm with your favorite sauce or aioli.

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Shrimp Tostadas with Avocado Crema

Shrimp Tostadas with Avocado Crema can be served as an appetizer or as a meal when accompanied with some rice or your other favorite Mexican sides.

Shrimp Tostadas with Avocado Crema
(Mark Kelly, 2018)

Serves 4 – 6

1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined, at room temperature
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp Mexican chili powder
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp garlic powder

1 14.5 oz. can of vegetarian refried beans, warmed.

12 crispy tostadas

1 large, ripe avocado, pitted and cubed
8 oz. light sour cream
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp hot sauce
2 tsp fresh lime juice
Kosher salt, to taste

Fresh salsa, cilantro and cojita cheese to garnish

To prepare the Avocado Crema: Put the avocado, sour cream, cumin, hot sauce and lime juice in the food processor and pulse until smooth. Season with salt, to taste. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. The crema can be made up to 1 day ahead.

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat the foil with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the oil and spices to coat. Spread the shrimp evenly across the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes. Turn each shrimp individually. Bake for another 6 minutes.

To serve: Spread a layer of refried beans over each tostada and divide the shrimp among the tostadas. Top with fresh salsa and cilantro. Garnish with a healthy dollop of Avocado Crema and a couple of shakes of cojita cheese.

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Chicken Tender Asparagus and Goat Cheese Wraps with Lemon Garlic White Wine Sauce

Chicken Tender Asparagus and Goat Cheese Wraps with Lemon Garlic White Wine Sauce is a simple and elegant meal that is very easy to prepare and doesn’t require any exotic ingredients.

Chicken Tender Asparagus and Goat Cheese Wraps with Lemon Garlic White Wine Sauce
(Mark Kelly, 2018)

Serves 6

6 large chicken tenderloins, pounded flat
12 asparagus sprigs, trimmed
12 oz. creamy goat cheese
6 large basil leaves, intact
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

6 thick cut slices of bacon, 1/4-inch dice
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 shallots, minced
1 lemon, juiced
1 1/2 cups white wine at room temperature
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

Sautéed sliced shiitake mushrooms to garnish along with bacon lardons

Preheat oven to 400F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Place one pounded chicken piece on the sheet, put 1/6th of the goat chess in the center of the piece, top with a basil leave, add two asparagus sprigs. Fold the chicken over itself and secure with a toothpick. Repeat five more times until all six wraps are complete. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes or until the center of each wrap registers 160F.

While the chicken wraps are baking, in a large skillet, render the bacon lardons until crispy. Strain the bacon from the pan and set aside for garnish. Add the oil to the skillet with the bacon grease. Over medium-low heat quickly saute the shallots, about 1 minute, add the garlic and remove from heat. Stir so as not to burn the garlic. Add the flour to the skillet and return it to medium-low heat. Whisk constantly until a light golden roux has formed. Add the wine and lemon juice. Continue whisking until the sauce boils and thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving whisk in the butter.

To serve: Plate the chicken wraps, drizzle with sauce and garnish with the sautéed mushrooms and bacon lardons.

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Muffuletta Stromboli

Muffuletta Stromboli is nice alternative to pizza or calzone. The Italian Olive Salad and stone ground mustard give this sandwich roll a deli flavor.

Muffuletta Stromboli
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Louisiana Cookin’, Jan/Feb 2018)

Serves 6

1 lb. pizza dough (prepared or from scratched)
2 Tbsp stone ground mustard (Creole mustard is preferred)
1/4 lb. thinly sliced mild soppressata
1/4 lb. thinly sliced tavern ham
1 cup olive salad (Boscoli or Racconto Italian Olive Salad is preferred)
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
6 slices provolone cheese, halved
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 24 oz. jar of marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 400F. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 14-inch square. Spread the mustard evenly over the dough. Cut the dough in half. Cut one half of the dough crosswise into 1-inch wide strips.

On the prepared baking sheet, arrange overlapping slices of soppressata down the center of one piece of dough, leaving a 2-inch border on both sides and 1-inch top and bottom. Top with three slices of ham, 1/4 cup of olive salad, 1/4 cup mozzarella, and three provolone halves; repeat layers three times. Fold the border edges over the filling. Braid the dough strips diagonally over the top of the stromboli. Brush the dough with egg.

Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool before slicing. Serve with warm marinara sauce for dipping.

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Smoked Chicken Wings

Smoked Chicken Wings are an alternative to the traditional fried approach to preparing wings. My Poultry Rub gives the wings a little extra zip.

Smoked Chicken Wings
(Mark Kelly, 2017)

1 dozen large chicken wings
1 cup Chicken Rub (see recipe below)
1 cup Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce
Blue Cheese Dressing for dipping

Poultry Rub
(Mark Kelly, 2017)

1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp Kosher salt
2 Tbsp onion powder
2 Tbsp garlic powder
4 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp lemon pepper
1 Tbsp dried sage
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried rosemary, finely crushed
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

In a large bowl toss the wings in the Poultry Rub to generously coat them.

Smoke with a combination of apple and hickory wood at low temperature (180F) for one hour. Increase temperature to 225F and smoke for an additional 2 hours.

As the wings cool a bit place them in a large bowl and toss them with the Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce and serve with a good blue cheese dressing for dipping.

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Easy Crab and Corn Chowder

Easy Crab and Corn Chowder is quick soup that is tasty and reasonably healthy. One of the great cooking hacks in this post is the method for cooking the sweet corn. You will never boil sweet corn again.

Easy Crab and Corn Chowder
(Adapted from recipe of Robin Miller, Food Network, 2017)

Serves 4

3 pre-made crab cakes (Fresh Market is our preference)
6 ears sweet corn in their husks
3 bay leaves
5 cups fat-free, reduced sodium chicken broth (warmed to a simmer)
1 cup 2% milk
Crystal Hot Sauce to taste
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup crispy bacon lardons

Working in batches of three, cook the sweet corn by microwaving for 4 minutes. Repeat. Set the corn aside to cool before husking. When cool enough pull the husks and any remaining silk – there shouldn’t be much with this method – from the ears. Cut the kernels off of the ears and set aside.

While the broth warms, place the crab cakes in a small Dutch oven and gently break them apart. Add the corn, bay leaves, several dashes of hot sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Add the broth and bring the soup to a gentle boil, about 5 minutes. Add the milk and simmer for another 2 minutes.

To serve, ladle the chowder into large shallow serving bowls and garnish with parsley and bacon.

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Caesar Slaw

I saw a recipe for Caesar Slaw in the newspaper earlier this summer and I just had to try my own version of it. I did and it was a hit. It a little different the traditional Cole Slaw and the popular variations of Asian Slaw.

Caesar Slaw
(Mark Kelly, 2017)

Serves 4 to 6

1 head of Romaine lettuce, leaves thinly sliced crosswise
2 cups arugula
1 heads of radicchio, cored and thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
4 slices of thick cut bacon, coarsely chopped and crisped
Caesar Slaw Dressing (see recipe below) to taste

Toss the lettuce, arugula, and radicchio with Caesar Slaw Dressing in a large salad serving bowl. Chill for 30 minutes. Serve topped with Parmesan, bacon, and parsley.

Caesar Slaw Dressing

Makes about 2 cups

1/3 cup Parmesan, grated
1 large shallot, minced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
6 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup olive oil mayonnaise
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp Crystal Hot Sauce
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp anchovy paste
2 tsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Kosher salt to taste
Coarsely ground black pepper to taste

In a food processor, pulse the shallot and garlic for a 30 seconds until finely minced. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until smooth. Move the dressing to a large bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before mixing into the Caesar Slaw.

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Oven-Baked Garlic Fries

Oven-Baked Garlic Fries is a family favorite that I have refined over the years. These fries are perfect with a grilled burger. The most important steps in preparing these fries is to rinse away the starch and to soak them in a diluted vinegar mixture. This helps to produce crispy fries.

Oven-Baked Garlic Fries
(Mark Kelly, 2017)

4 large russet potatoes, sliced into 1/8″ x 1/8″ matchsticks
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
5 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup coarsely grated Parmesan
Kosher salt
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
Cooking spray

In a large bowl rinse the potato sticks using cold water. Let stand in the cold water for 5 minutes. Drain and repeat until the water runs clear. Cover the potato sticks with cold water and pour in the vinegar. Let stand until 15 minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 375F using convection.

Prepare three baking sheets by coating them with cooking spray.

Dry the potato sticks on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. This will require several layers. Working batches, toss 1/3rd of the potato sticks in a light drizzle of oil and arrange them on one of the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining potato sticks.

Bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes rotate the baking sheets within the oven, bottom to top, top to bottom. Bake for another 20 minutes. By this time the potatoes should be getting crispy. Scrape and flip the potatoes on each baking sheet. Return to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes, watching closely so that they don’t burn.

Meanwhile, place 2 tablespoons of oil and the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. When the potatoes are done, put the skillet back on medium heat. Add the potatoes to the oil-butter-garlic sauce and toss to coat. Remove from heat and toss in the parsley and parmesan. Season with salt and serve warm.

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