lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

the ultimate basic marinade

This is a marinade that has served me well time and time again. It’s great on beef, pork, salmon, tuna, and even lamb chops. It’s a great starter marinade recipe, which you can customize to your tastes or recipe if desired.


  • 1/2 cup oil – I typically use olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 thinly sliced scallions
  • 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk well. Marinating time depends on your cut of protein – salmon and tuna only need an hour at most, whereas lamb, pork and beef can be marinated for just a couple or hours or overnight. The longer the marinade, the stronger the flavor.

The beauty of this marinade is that you can make a ton of customizations to it. Want to go more Asian? Add 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, a tablespoon of minced ginger and a teaspoon of sesame oil. If you have sesame seeds, add a teaspoon of those, too. A teaspoon of miso paste works great in this, too (although you’ll want to omit the salt if you add miso)

Don’t have soy sauce? Substitute Worcestershire sauce.

Don’t have balsamic vinegar? Try red wine. rice or white balsamic vinegar, for a lighter flavor.

Want to kick the heat up a bit? Add a bit of sriracha, crushed red pepper flakes or hot chile paste to taste.

Got some fresh limes, lemons or oranges? Add a tablespoon of fresh citrus juice to really brighten this up.

Want fresh herbs? Add parsley, cilantro, rosemary….use your imagination.

I’ve used the basis of this marinade in a lot of recipes. It’s particularly good on flank and skirt steak, salmon, chicken breasts and thighs, and lamb chops. It even works great on veggies, especially on the grill.

If you’re looking for an easy marinade recipe that you can customize and call your own, this is it. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Remember what I always say: never, ever be afraid to play with your food.

Happy Sunday, everyone! Enjoy.

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

a brine in time…saves dinner

Grrrr! Don’t you hate it when you have this easy, quick dinner of pork chops planned, but then they end up dry as a bone? I’ve totally done this and been so disappointed that I just want to throw the whole meal in the garbage can.

Well, one thing has saved me from a complete meltdown and it’s this: a quick brine. Brining always sounds like a great idea but, seriously, who has the time on a weeknight? Usually, it involves a gazillion ingredients and a minimum of 12 hours in the fridge…sheesh!

Well, this (hopefully) will bring you out of your dinner despair. It’s a quick and easy brine that can be customized to whatever your tastes and time allow.

pork-chop-chicken-breast-brine-recipe-lola-rugulaHere’s the basic recipe:

pork chop quick brine recipe

  • 4 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt

Mix salt and water in a bowl and stir well, until salt has dissolved. Cover pork chops completely with brine and let sit for 1 to 3 hours. Remove from brine, pat dry and cook as usual.

What? Where you expecting something more difficult? This is seriously all you need to do to ensure your pork chops are tender. Well, alright, you still can’t cook them to death, but this will help.

I tend to add a few variations to this, depending on:

  • My time
  • My mood
  • My recipe

But here are some suggestions to add:

  • Crushed or minced garlic
  • Minced onion or shallot
  • Chopped herbs – either dry or fresh
  • Spices

Also, feel free to mix up the liquid; instead of water, add beer or stock for a little more flavor.

Keep in mind that thinner cuts of pork can sit an hour or so, but for thicker cuts, 2 to 3 hours will probably give you better results.

This is a fantastic recipe for the grill too. It won’t save you from extended over-cooking but it’s pretty forgiving if you have a tendency to leave your chops on the heat for a little longer than needed. Try this with chicken too – I think you’ll be amazed at the results.

Happy cooking!


lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

crisp roast duck

Roasting a whole duck, so that the skin is crispy and the meat is still moist, is actually a very simple, classic process. I love to make this at the holidays, but I also make it once or twice in the summertime by using our grill instead of the oven. This is a “wow your friends and relatives” recipe that’s fun and easy to make. Here in Rockford, IL, the only way I find duck is frozen, which is fine, and typically they’re 5-7 pounds on average. You may need to adjust the cooking time on this recipe, according to the size of the duck and, of course, make sure the duck is fully thawed before beginning. how-to-make-whole-roast-crispy-duck-recipe-lola-rugula

whole crisp roast duck recipe

  • 1 5-7 lb. Pekin duck
  • 2 cups of boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 425° Remove any giblets from the duck’s cavity. (the ones I buy also usually come with an orange sauce packet. I’ve never used it, but feel free) Also, remove any excess fat from the duck.

Prick the skin all over with a sharp-tined fork and then place breast-side up on a rack inside a roasting pan. Tuck the long flap of neck skin under the duck and also tuck the wings under the duck.

Pour the boiling water over the duck – you’ll see the skin tighten up, and that’s good! Let the duck cool for a few minutes and then pour the water from the cavity into the pan (you’re going to cook the duck with that water in the bottom of the pan, so leave it there!). With paper towels, pat the duck dry, inside and out, then season inside and out with salt and pepper.

Roast the duck, breast-side up, for 35 minutes. Then, using a pair of tongs, or a couple of spoons inserted in the cavity, turn the duck over and roast breast-side down for 40 minutes. Then, flip the duck back over to breast-side up cook for a final 40-45 minutes.

Remove duck from oven, cover loosely with a foil tent, and let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Ta da! Isn’t it beautiful? Oh, and it’s so, so delicious! In the wintertime, I like to make a whole cranberry sauce to serve with it; the tartness is a perfect foil to the richness of the duck. In the summertime, I often just pair it with a beautiful salad tossed with balsamic vinegar. I’ll admit that when I do it on the grill, I don’t use a pan with a rack – I just put the whole duck into a throw-away aluminum pan and use offset heat. The duck sits in the little bit of water with this method, but on the grill, it tends to evaporate quickly, so it still works beautifully.

On a final note, feel free to pour all of the pan drippings into a clear glass container and refrigerate overnight. Then you can scoop off the duck fat and make some fried potatoes in it. Yum!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

braised chicken with lemon, sage and milk

It’s pretty rare that I come across a recipe that I’ve never heard of, or at least some semblance of, before. So when I came upon a Facebook post from The Kitchn, stating that Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk is probably the best chicken recipe of all time, I clicked through to read the article.

I’ve never heard of cooking chicken in milk. Ever. From anyone. The fact this recipe from The Naked Chef calls for such an odd mix of milk, whole cloves of unpeeled garlic, a cinnamon stick, fresh sage and lemon zest truly had me intrigued. Considering I’ve never been a huge fan of Mr. Oliver, I was a bit dubious about trying this. But then I Googled “Chicken in milk recipe” and, lo and behold, it seems the folks at The Kitchn are not the only ones who rave about this particular dish.

It almost makes sense to me, cooking chicken in milk because, once you add the lemon zest to the milk, you’re creating a homemade version of buttermilk. Now, most of us have had buttermilk fried chicken and can attest to the fact that it’s delicious. So, without giving it any more thought, I decided to try it.

I picked up a whole chicken on my next trip to the store, plucked fresh sage leaves from one of my many bushes and, on a cool, dreary Sunday, the cooking commenced. Is this the best chicken recipe ever? Hmmmm. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I’ll tell you this: It’s pretty damned delicious.

Now, one thing left open for interpretation with this recipe is that Jamie simply calls for “1 good handful of sage”, so I may have gone a little easy on it. I also used a larger chicken than what he calls for, along with using a whole stick of cinnamon instead of a half stick. One of the interesting things that The Kitchn article points out is that Jamie’s recipe originally called for browning it in butter, but has since updated it to olive oil. Also, the Kitchn noted that covering the chicken for half the cooking time results in a more flavor-infused chicken. That made a lot of sense to me, so here’s how I made my rendition of this dish:

chicken braised in milk, sage and lemon zest recipe

chicken braised in milk, sage and lemon zest recipe

  • 1 whole chicken, 5 pounds
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Kerrygold butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium-size cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 12 cloves unpeeled garlic
  • 10 leaves fresh sage
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 375°

Season the bird with salt and pepper. In a pan just large enough to fit the whole bird in, add the butter and olive oil. Brown the bird well on both sides. (I also used a pair of long tongs to hold the bird and brown the leg/wing sides a bit)

Remove chicken from pan and drain excess fat. Place chicken back in pan, toss in the rest of the ingredients and bake for 45 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and continue cooking for another 45 minutes. (total cooking time: 1 1/2 hours)

That’s it! What you’ll find when you open the oven door to remove the bird is a bubbling cauldron of deliciousness. I squeezed in 4 whole small red potatoes to the pan at the beginning and they cooked beautifully (and tasted wonderful).

One other thing Jamie’s recipe doesn’t specify is whether to cook the bird breast side up or down. I did mine up, so that the caramelization happened on top. But, after the fact, it appears The Kitchn cooked theirs upside down, immersing the breast in the sauce. (I’m judging strictly by the photos in their article) This would certainly add to the moistness and flavor of the breast meat, though even breast-side up, it turned out great.

Will I make this again? You bet! It was very easy to prepare and the results were terrific. Next time, I’ll add some more fresh sage and try it breast-side down, though.

Have you ever cooked chicken in milk? I’d love to hear about it! Thanks for stopping by.

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

spicy apricot wings

I love a big dish of spicy, messy chicken wings sometimes! I’m a crispy-wing kind of girl though; I like the skin to have a bit of crunch to it, so cooking them on the grill is an easy way to achieve this. If you don’t like your wings spicy, you can certainly omit or adjust the jalapeno and cayenne in this. I use the jalapenos from our garden when I can and they are very, very hot.

Feel free to pop these into the oven, instead of on the grill, too. Oven-roasted chicken wings are delicious! If you’re cooking these in the oven, spread them out on a similar pan to what I use here, or a baking sheet, and bake in a preheated 375° oven for about 40 minutes. If you want  nice, caramelized wings, pop them under the broiler for the last 5 minutes or so, until the edges start to brown a bit.

spicy apricot chicken wings recipe lola rugula

spicy apricot wings recipe

  • 2/3 cup apricot preserves
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar (packed)
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 inch chunk of fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 lbs of chicken wings (cut into drumettes and wings pieces, with the tips removed)

Whisk together all but chicken wings in a bowl. Add wings and marinate overnight. Remove wings from marinade and arrange wings in a single layer in a grill-safe pan. (I admit I use the throw-away aluminum pans for this – it makes life easy and clean up is a breeze!) Grill at medium-high heat for 25 minutes then, using a long pair of tongs, place wings directly on grill until the skin begins to caramelize, about 10 minutes more. Enjoy!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

oven roasted cornish hens

This recipe is proof that food doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated to be delicious. One of my favorite ways to do Cornish Hens is to rub them down with minced garlic, cumin, cinnamon, red pepper and fresh lime juice; the hens end up with a deep, intense flavor this way. They’re even better on the grill when they’re prepared like this; the grill amps up the flavor even more. But the easiest way to cook Cornish Hens, of course, is just to roast them in the oven with a bit of good oil and some salt and pepper. If you’re not afraid of using real butter, it will add a bit of richness to your hens and also aid in the browning process.

I like to halve my hens before roasting; they cook more evenly this way and brown up a bit nicer. To cut a hen in half, simply cut along the backbone on both sides with a very sharp knife and remove it. You can then press down on the hen to flatten it and cook it just so – you may also hear this preparation called butterflied or spatchcocked, depending on where you live, but it all basically means the same thing. The hens will cook more evenly this way.To , do the above step but then also cut the hen down the center of the breast bone.  This is usually the best way to serve them, as they make the nicest presentation and it’s also the easiest way to eat them.

For a nicer presentation, I do the above step but then also cut the hen down the center of the breast bone, cutting the hen completely into 2 parts.

easy roasted cornish hen recipeEasy Oven Roasted Cornish Hen Recipe

  • 2 Cornish Hens, fully thawed if frozen. Be sure to check for any giblets stuffed into the cavities and remove them – these, along with the removed backbone, are great for stocks, gravies and other things, if you’re so inclined…I hate for anything to go to waste. 
  • 2 tablespoons good oil, such as olive or grapeseed; even canola will be fine. Or go crazy and use real butter – even a tablespoon of butter will help with browning and add a richer flavor.
  • 1 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°

  • Prepare the hens as directed above, cutting them in half. Rub down with oil (or butter), salt and pepper.
  • Place in shallow roasting pan and roast for approximately 40 minutes
  • A few times during roasting time, spoon or baste hens with rendered fat from the bottom of the pan
  • If hens need a bit of help with browning, place pan with hens under broiler for an additional 5 minutes

That’s it…that’s all there is to it! I served mine on a bed of baby spinach for a light dinner. Sometimes it’s good to remember to not over-think your food – simpler really can be better.

easy roasted cornish hen recipeEnjoy!