Category Archives: Copycat

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Cider Sauce

I’m not the type of person who frequents chain restaurants regularly – not because the food is subpar or any such thing, but because despite corporate standards the one thing chains lack is consistency. I can go to the same chain (and location) twice in one week, and have two different experiences. I don’t normally review chains for that very reason (i.e. my experience at the Olive Garden closest to me don’t even remotely compare to your experience at yours). Keeping all this in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience at my local Bob Evans restaurant last week. They’ve got a new seasonal menu, and one of the dishes on it is a pair of pork chops glazed with apple cider, with stuffing in between, a sweet potato, and a veggie on the side. It was fan-friggin-tastic. So much so, that I sought to replicate it at home. I think I like this version as much (if not more than) as theirs. Look out for pork loin to be on sale, and this makes it a very economical, and a perfect for fall meal. Be sure not to overcook your pork – new guidelines state that 145 is now a safe internal temperature for pork chops, which means they should still be a little pink inside. And get thick chops if at all possible – it really does make a difference. To save time, we served it with Stove Top pork stuffing and steamable green beans.

Pan-Seared Pork Chop with Cider Sauce

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Cider Sauce
recipe from KitchenDaily

Pork chops are inexpensive to buy and quick to cook. Plus, the meat is lean, which is terrific for health, but not so great for taste. Preparing a quick pan sauce turns something basic into a restaurant-quality dish. Searing the chops stovetop and deglazing the pan with cider vinegar adds a tangy punch that brightens the flavor of the meat.

4 boneless pork chops, at least 1-inch thick
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 shallots, minced
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Thyme leaves for garnish

Gather these tools: cutting board, chef’s knife, wet measuring cups, measuring spoons, large sauté pan, tongs, wooden spoon, whisk
Season the pork chops on both sides generously with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil and swirl to coat the pan. Place the pork chops in the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from the pan and loosely tent with foil to keep warm.

Add 1 tablespoon butter to the pan, then add the shallots and thyme sprigs. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, until the shallots have softened and caramelized. Add the cider vinegar and reduce until almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Then add the apple cider and chicken stock and simmer until the sauce is reduced by half.

Discard the thyme sprigs. Return the pork chops to the pan, along with any juices that have been released. Heat for 1-2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and place the pork chops on plates or a platter. Whisk in the butter and season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon the sauce over the pork chops and serve immediately.

Behold the Fish Boat

Oddly enough, even though I’ve lived in Columbus for the better part of 15 years now, I had never been to Comfest. I don’t know what exactly kept me away – the traffic nightmares, the horror stories, maybe knowing that it wasn’t Paul’s thing and that he would “harsh my mellow”,  so to speak – in any case, year after year passed by without me going, and then looking at the pictures and stories of those who had gone, and wishing I had too.

This year, Slow Food Columbus was sharing a booth with Snowville Creamery, and I volunteered to talk to folks and answer questions for three hours Sunday afternoon. Even though it was unbearably hot, the general vibe of the festival was really nice, and I enjoyed the music coming from the Gazebo, just a couple hundred feet away.

But I was there with a mission. Everyone raved, year after year, about this “fish boat” that could be had pretty much only at Comfest. I had no idea, really, what it actually was, but I knew I had to find out. So after my shift, I wandered off, following the scent of food, until I came to a booth from “Queen’s Table”, home of the Fish Boat. I ordered one up, not exactly knowing what to expect.

The fish boat, as it turns out, entirely lived up to the hype. A nice torpedo roll, slathered with tartar sauce, topped with loads of wonderfully cornmeal fried catfish, lettuce, onion and diced tomato. You were left to your own devices to slather it up with Frank’s Red Hot to your liking.

Fish Boat from Queen's Table

There’s just something about the unholy mixture of tartar sauce, perfectly fried catfish, and hot sauce that makes this sandwich instantly addictive. So addictive that I wasn’t willing to wait until next year to have another, since I don’t believe that Queen’s Table has an actual brick and mortar restaurant. Once I showed him the picture and told him about it, Paul was instantly on board for trying to make it here at home.

The verdict? Our version was just as good, if not better, than the original. Not sure exactly what rolls they used, so we picked up a couple of torta rolls from our local Mexican grocery. Recipes for our fish and tartar sauce can be found below, and top it with as much lettuce, onion, tomato and hot sauce as you like.

Our version even looks similar:

My Rendition of the Fishboat

Cornmeal Breaded Catfish
modified from Recipezaar

3 lbs catfish nuggets or catfish fillets
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
canola oil

Soak fish in milk for 15 minutes. Heat about 1/2″ canola oil , in deep skillet (I use my cast iron chicken fryer), until a drop of water sizzles violently but below smoking point.

Combine cornmeal, flour, salt, garlic powder, and Old Bay in a plastic bag. Shake a few pieces of catfish at a time in the breading then fry in the oil until browned and crisp, turning once. Drain on paper towels then keep hot on warmed plate. Repeat, frying small batches, until finished.

Tartar Sauce
recipe from Life’s Ambrosia

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 tablespoon minced yellow onion
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
2 teaspoons minced dill pickle
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Combine all ingredients together in a bowl. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve.

Pasta e Fagioli “Stew”

Wow – going through my Flickr stream, I found a picture of something I made quite a while ago, but never got to posting. As far as crockpot recipes go, this one is a keeper, although it turned out more like a stew than a soup. Either way, it’s super hearty and quite comforting during these cold winter days.

Pasta e Fagioli "Stew"

Olive Garden Pasta E Fagioli Soup in a Crock Pot (Copycat)
recipe courtesy Recipezaar

2 lbs ground beef
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 (28 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (16 ounce) can red kidney beans, drained
1 (16 ounce) can white kidney beans, drained
3 (10 ounce) cans beef stock
3 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons pepper
5 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (optional)
1 (20 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
8 ounces pasta

Brown beef in a skillet. Drain fat from beef and add to crock pot with everything except pasta. Cook on low 7-8 hours or high 4-5 hours. During last 30 min on high or 1 hour on low, add pasta. 

Copycat Boston Market Creamed Spinach

So another Thanksgiving is behind us, and since we went over to eat with family rather than hosting this year, the meal we did here at home was super laid back and low key. We pretty much sticked with the tried and true, and the only place we differed this year was with the veggies.

We first found this recipe a few months ago, and it’s been on permanent rotation in our house ever since. It’s virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, at a fraction of the price.

Almost Boston Market Creamed Spinach

“Almost” Boston Market Creamed Spinach
recipe courtesy Recipezaar

White Sauce

* 3 tablespoons butter
* 4 tablespoons flour
* 1/2 teaspoon salt (I use seasoned salt)
* 1 cup half-and-half or milk


* 1/2 cup sour cream (lowfat is okay)
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 2-4 tablespoons onions, minced
* 1/4 cup water
* 20 ounces frozen spinach, drained and chopped
* 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (optional or to taste)
* 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)
* Pinch cayenne (optional)
* 1 tsp. fresh garlic (optional)

In a saucepan melt butter over medium heat until sizzling. If you are adding in the fresh garlic and a pinch of cayenne pepper then saute in butter for about 2 minutes but do not brown the garlic. Whisk in the flour and 1/2 tsp seasoned salt (or white salt) until creamed together and smooth. Stir in the half and half, or milk (if using) a little at a time. Increase heat to medium and constantly whisk until the mixture becomes thick and smooth. Remove from heat; set aside.

Place 2 tbsp butter in saucepan over med heat; add the 2 tbsp minced onion, and cook until transparent. Add spinach and water to pan, lower the heat, and cover.
Stirring several times until the spinach is cooked. When the spinach is almost done, add the prepared white sauce, sour cream and Parmesan cheese (if using).
Stir well, and simmer until completely blended. Season with more seasoned salt or white salt if desired and black pepper.

Manhattan Sandwich

One of my guilty pleasures lately has been the Manhattan Sandwich at Barry’s New York Deli at the North Market. The first time I ordered it I wouldn’t think the combination of flavors would work, but surprisingly they do.

Manhattan Sandwich

So I’ve been giving my panini press here at home a workout lately – and this one is quite simple. Spread Russian dressing on both slices of rye bread (I usually use a marble rye), and then layer smoked cheddar and corned beef. Grill until browned, and then open it up and put some cole slaw in the middle. A million kinds of awesome.

So tell me, what are your favorite panini sandwiches to make? What combination of flavors really does it for you?

WTSIM: Salad Oliv’e


I have got to say, I’m torn. The weather has been mild for the better part of the summer, and although it’s been perfect picnic weather, my garden (and local farms, too) have been suffering from poor growth this year. My poor tomatoes are just now starting to turn red. So produce has been a bit more pricey this year, but I’ve been able to eat my meals outside for the past couple of weeks. Like I said, I’m torn.

So I’ve been making a lot more picnic/cookout type dishes lately. This one is fashioned after the lovely salad of the same name at Hawa Russia, our local Russian restaurant. Great flavor, very unlike any other potato salad I’ve had. And the perfect thing to contribute to this month’s edition of Waiter, There’s Something in My…Picnic Recipes.

Salad Oliv'e

Salad Oliv’e
inspired by the dish at Hawa Russia

2 medium sized potatoes
1 c. frozen peas and carrots, thawed
2 hard boiled eggs, peeled
1 medium sized cucumber, peeled
1 medium yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 c. dill pickles
1 small ham steak
mayonnaise, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Boil potatoes in their skins, and when done (should still be slightly firm), allow to cool and peel skin off. Cut potato, cucumber, eggs, onion, pickles and ham into small cubes. Cut garlic very finely. Mix all together with peas and carrots, and then add mayonnaise to taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you all know how much I love the okonomiyaki at ZenCha. So much so that I’ve been going almost every weekend to get my fix. However, at $9.95 a pop, all that indulgence is adding up quickly, and I was almost going to end up being forced to cut it out due to budget issues. Almost. Before I decided to give up okonomiyaki for good, I thought I’d first try to make it at home, and see if it can be done.

Homemade Okonomiyaki

The short answer? Yes, it can be done, and it was much easier and cheaper than I expected it to be. It came together in minutes flat, and tasted just as good (if not better, since I can control the amount of mayo/sauce here) as the stuff at ZenCha.

We stayed pretty true to the ZenCha version – adding just thinly sliced cabbage, sliced shiitakes and diced chicken – but I understand that you can add darn near anything you please to it. It’s really quite a versatile recipe. The specialty ingredients can be easily found at your local Asian grocer – just go in and get a 3-pack of okonomiyaki flour (180g each bag), a bottle of Kewpie mayonnaise, and a bottle of the Okonomi sauce of your choosing and you’ll be all set.

I’m submitting this recipe to be included in the Wine and Dine: Reisling and Japanese Eats event over at Joelen’s Culinary Adventures.

makes 2 ginormous or 4 smaller pancakes

180 g package okonomiyaki flour
180 ml water
2 eggs
3-4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
3-4 oz. savoy cabbage, sliced thinly
3-4 oz. diced chicken
Kewpie Mayonnaise, to taste Okonomi Sauce, to taste
Mix together the okonomiyaki flour, water, and eggs into a batter, and then add in mushrooms, cabbage, chicken and any other ingredients you’d like to incorporate. You want to add enough so that the batter looks about like this:

Okonomiyaki Batter

In a greased frying pan (I used olive oil spray) over medium high heat, ladle batter and spread out to fit the bottom of the pan. Allow to cook until underside is lightly browned and edges are set, and then flip over and allow other side to brown. Serve immediately dressed with Kewpie mayonnaise and Okonomi sauce.

Manestra (Meat with Orzo)

Manestra is one of my favorite Greek dishes. I didn’t even know it existed until I went to Anna’s a few years ago and Anna herself whipped a batch made with beef, especially for me (her normal manestra has lamb, which I wasn’t fond of at the time). I loved it so much that I ordered it every time I went in. After a while, all that manestra ordering got to be a bit expensive (because, of course, when you go to Anna’s you don’t always just get an entree, right?) and I wanted to learn to make it here at home. This recipe is virtually indistinguishable from Anna’s, and the complex flavors hit the spot every time. I’m making it this week for Presto Pasta Night.


Manestra (Meat with Orzo)
recipe from “The Complete Greek Cookbook” by Theresa Karas Yianilios

1 tbsp. oil
1 lb. beef or lamb stew meat
2 onions, chopped
1 c. tomato sauce or 1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. spearmint flakes (I use about half as much)
4 c. boiling water
1 c. orzo
1 c. grated mizithra cheese (I use a bit less – use Parmesan if you can’t find Mizithra)

Heat oil in large saucepan and brown meat and onions for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add tomato, seasonings, and 2 cups water. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until meat is tender.

Add remaining water and bring to a boil. Add orzo. Stir once or twice. Simmer 20 minutes more. Serve hot with grated cheese. Makes 4 servings.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

There’s a fairly new food blogging event called Homegrown Gourmet, that celebrates foods that represent your home area in some way, whether it be local food, a traditional dish from your area, or whatever. And the theme this month is soup. So we decided to make it “local” in two different ways. First, the dish is inspired by soup we had at The Refectory, a local restaurant. And best of all, the soup is made with almost all local ingredients.


The squash in this soup is from Wish Well Farms at the North Market farmers market, as is the onion and celery. The butter was from Hartzler Family Dairy, and the cream was Smith’s Dairy. Chicken stock is made in Ohio by Kitchen Basics. The soup was flavorful and rich (but not too rich), savory yet sweet, and nearly a dead ringer for the soup at The Refectory, albeit a bit thicker. Like theirs, we floated ours with a crostini made at the local Whole Foods, which was topped with goat cheese from Lake Erie Creamery. Since there are only two of us, we cut the recipe in half, otherwise it would serve 4 easily.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
recipe slightly modified from

1 (3 lb) butternut squash
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 medium white onion
5 stalks celery
2 tbsp. butter
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
Sat and pepper to taste
4 crostini rounds (optional)
2 oz. goat cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel, seed and cut butternut squash into cubes, approx. 1″. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. Place squash on baking sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes until fork-tender Meanwhile, dice onion and celery and saute in butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Add roasted squash to saute pan and pour in chicken stock to cover veggies. Cover pan and bring to boil. Once liquid is boiling, uncover and reduce. Puree in a blender or food processor, adding heavy cream, and additional salt and pepper to taste. Reheat and serve.

Notes: Sprinkle nutmeg on individual servings, if desired. If you’re serving it with the crostini, schmear the goat cheese onto the crostini and then float on top of soup. This soup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup

A few years ago, there was a little restaurant right on Rte. 23 in Lewis Center called Nacho Mama’s that had the best chicken tortilla soup I’d ever tasted. But, the Boyer restaurant curse (in which any restaurant we fall in love with closes months later) kicked in, and they ended up going out of business quite a few years ago. Not wanting to lose access to that spectacular dish, I came up with a copycat version, which I’ve improved upon over the years. In its soup-only state, it’s a very healthy dish, but the health factor decreases exponentially with the amount of high fat (cheese, sour cream, tortilla strips) garnish you use.


I posted the recipe at Recipezaar quite a while ago, the only changes I’ve made since then is that I use Penzey’s Chili con Carne seasoning (which is a mix of cumin/chili powder and other spices) rather than just chili powder and cumin, and in the latest batch, I threw in a bag of Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn rather than adding a can of corn. Also, I’ve taken to adding a can of tomato sauce to the broth mix as well before throwing it in the crock pot. Keep in mind that the seasoning will intensify as it cooks, so don’t overseason. And you can get the thin tortilla strips (they come in an orange paper bag) at Kroger, or you can make your own with corn tortillas and a deep fryer, or if all else fails, you can use any corn tortilla chips/strips you want. Enjoy!