Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy (Thanksgiving) cooking

So tomorrow is Thanksgiving....I did the last of my shopping today (as well as regular weekly shopping) and when I was picking up my fresh turkey order at the local Publix I was amazed at the people with frozen turkeys in their carts. I'm prayerfully hoping that they are not having their holiday meal until this weekend....cause as I explained to Bella, "ain't NO way that Butterball will be thawed out by tomorrow!!"

Thanksgiving can be stressful for a lot of people. Admittedly, the more people you tend to invite, the stress level increases accordingly. I've always held Thanksgiving to pretty much a family only holiday, but have attended "bashes" where there were 30 to 40 people in attendance...not my idea of a good time. For us, Thanksgiving is a time to watch the Macy's parade, peruse the Black Friday ads (the internet has rendered the hunt for a paper on Thanksgiving morning no longer necessary, thank God!) and (if Karis is here) putting up the tree. This year will be the first year I will not be making a whole turkey, as there's just going to be the four of us. I refuse to torture my kids with turkey leftovers for two weeks time, so opted for a half breast and three drumsticks. There will, of course, be my husband's favorite cornbread stuffing, but this year we will be without Karis' sweet potato casserole and rosemary corn bread (she and Christine will be with Christine's family in Pennsylvania).

Don't stress this holiday. As I was watching the Food Channel yesterday, I heard some very good advice "Great is only 10% better than Good....and good is...good enough" Allow yourself to see the humor, the fun, the camaraderie in cooking together for this holiday. If the turkey is dry, use more gravy.....if the pumpkin pie is dry, use more whip cream. The most important thing is not what is ON your table, but who is AROUND your table. Be happy, be less stressed. Even a turkey TV dinner eaten with the one you love can be the most bountiful meal ever.

Here's a recipe for one of my family's favorite holiday salads...although we won't be having it this year for is almost always on the table for the holidays. Enjoy

"Miss Judy's Broccoli Salad"

2 heads of broccoli
1-2 pkgs of grape tomatoes
1 block of mild cheddar cheese
1 medium red onion
1 lb. bacon.

Cut the heads of broccoli into very small "florets", discarding most of the stalk. Halve the grape tomatoes, cut the cheddar cheese into small cubes, and dice the red onion. Cook the bacon until crisp, allow to cool and then crumble. Combine all ingredients into a large bowl


(I'm going to apologize in advance for the recipe for this dressing, because I never measure...I always make it "to taste")

take a large tablespoon from your drawer and measure three heaping spoons of mayonnaise into a small bowl. Add to that about 1/4 c. of sugar. Then add about 1/8 c. (slightly less than half of your quarter cup measure) of apple cider vinegar. Whisk well and then taste. This dressing should have a slightly "sweet" edge to it...if it's too "vinegar-y" add more sugar...if too "sugar-y" add more vinegar. Should be smooth in consistency at this point. Pour it over the salad and mix well. Make sure everything is well covered (honestly if it doesn't cover the salad well, you'll have to make it bit more...this happens to me sometimes, ok a lot actually---luckily it's quick and easy to make! lol)

Today's food quote: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Friday, November 19, 2010

A "Wizarding" recipe for my kids...and yours...with thanks to Tammy!!

Last night, to prove my love and devotion to my daughter, I went to bed at 11:30 and then got BACK up at 2:00 in the morning to go and pick her and her friends up from the midnight showing/opening night of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)" I must confess, that I am NOT a Harry Potter fan, but all of my children are, so I support them wholeheartedly. Anything that encourages reading...and I am there.

So it was with great interest that I read a recipe posted by my friend, Tammy, for "Butterbeer" which is (I'm told) a beverage enjoyed by the characters of the Harry Potter series, and served in lovely frosted mugs at our neighbor...the newly opened "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" (aka "WW", "Harry Potter Land", or "Potterville"). I can not personally vouch for whether or not this
recipe is authentic or tastes anything like the ones served in WW. I'll have to get back to you. But, in honor of last night's opening of "Deathly Hallows" and out of love for my daughter(s) and THEIR love for Butterbeer, I'm going to post it here. I'm told that "butter extract" (called for in this recipe) can be found in the baking aisle of almost all grocery stores; near the vanilla, lemon and almond extract. McCormick's supposedly makes some.
If anyone has made this, or does make this, please post your opinion of it's authenticity and taste.

So, Harry Potter fans, enjoy your Butterbeer. Maybe you can make some, kick back and watch the other movies before you head out to the theater to see the latest (and next to last) movie.

Homemade Butterbeer

Makes 6 servings


6 12-ounce bottles cream soda [I prefer IBC (which is vegan) or Polar Classics Vanilla, but any will work perfectly]
3 teaspoons butter extract

FOR THE FOAM (Vegan/Dairy-free recipe linked above)
2 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons butter extract

To make the butterbeer: Set out 6 16-ounce glasses. Place 1/2 teaspoon of butter extract in each glass. Pour 12 ounces of butterbeer into each glass. Lightly stir, if necessary.

To make the foam: In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, whip the heavy cream on medium high speed for 3-4 minutes until it starts to thicken. Add the sugar and continue whipping until very soft peaks begin to form, another 3-4 minutes (if you need to whip more or less, then be sure to do so, the times can vary quite a bit based on environment). Stir in the vanilla and butter extracts, then whip for another 30 seconds or so, until soft peaks form.

Spoon a generous portion of foam on top of each glass of butterbeer. Serve immediately.

Today's food quote: Harry found the hot drink as welcome as the firewhisky had been on the night that Mad-Eye had died; it seemed to burn away a little of the fear fluttering in his chest. ~J.K. Rowling, "The Thief," Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Holidaaaayyyyssss!!

Oh, the holidays are fast approaching. Someone I know posted on their Facebook the other day, "only two more paychecks until Christmas (they get paid on the 15th and the 30th/31st") and that struck mortal fear into my heart. We have purchased exactly TWO Christmas presents. Of course, it does not help that in our family we have four children having birthdays from the end of October until the end of November (the other two are in July...thus messing with the "back to school" period). I have my annual holiday party coming up in less than a month so it's pretty stressful this time of year, with parties, planning, gift giving and such. My plan, for today, is to give you ideas for both parties and gift giving. My favorite types of gifts are those from the heart...someone knows me, loves me, and took the time to make something they knew I'd love. So here are three ideas for both holiday gift giving from the heart, and special little additions for your holiday get-togethers.

Party Popcorn

2 Tablespoons oil (vegetable, canola, corn, or even olive oil will work)
1 c. (unpopped) popcorn
1/2 stick of butter
2 tsp.ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp. ground paprika
4 tsp. table salt (regular iodized salt, not the coarse kosher or sea salt varieties)
4 tsp. sugar

Put the oil in a large pan (one that has a tight fitting lid), add the popcorn and cover quickly, over medium to medium high heat. Let the popcorn pop, shaking the pan every now and then to keep everything moving. You'll hear it begin to pop (don't open the lid!!). Once it has stopped popping, remove from heat immediately.

Melt the butter with the spices in another pan and then pour it over the popcorn. Stir well to mix (another idea is to add the butter and spices mix to the popcorn and then turn everything out into a large paper grocery sack and SHAKE, SHAKE SHAKE!!)

Arrange in several party bowls or if giving as gifts place small amounts into festive plastic bags, or larger amount into gift tins/contains (these can be easily and inexpensively found at your local "dollar store".

Chocolate Pistachio Fudge:

12 oz. (70% dark) chocolate, chopped, or 12 oz bag of semi-sweet chips
1 (14 oz) can of sweetened condensed milk
pinch of salt
1 c. shelled pistachios

Melt the chopped chocolate, condensed milk and salt in a heavy based pan on very low heat.

Put the nuts into a ziploc bag and bash them with a rolling pin until broken up into both big and little pieces.

Add the nuts to the melted chocolate and condensed milk and stir well to mix. Pour the mixture into an 9 inch square foil tray, smoothing the top. Let the fudge cool and then refrigerate until set. You can then cut into small pieces approximately 3/4" by 1 3/4", or cutting 8 by 8 lines in the tin to give you 64 pieces.

Once cut you can keep it in the freezer, no need to thaw. Arrange on small holiday plates for your party, or place in festive holiday bags or tins.

Spiced Peaches:

2 (14 oz) cans peach halves in heavy syrup (you DEFINITELY need the peaches to be in heavy syrup, not fruit juice, for this recipe)
1 T. rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 short cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced thinly into rounds
1/2 tsp. crushed dried chili flakes
1/2 tsp kosher salt or 1/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves

Empty the cans of peaches into a sauce pan with their syrup. Add the vinegar, cinnamon, sliced ginger, chiles, salt, whole peppercorns and cloves. Bring the pan to a boil and let boil for a minute or so then turn off the heat and leave it in the pan to keep warm.

These make an amazing side dish to a pork roast or ham...serve a peach half to each guest with some of the spiced juice. Several peach halves can be placed into decorative jars and then covered with the juice and this makes a wonderful holiday gift. Needs to be kept if giving as a gift put than info onto the label.

So I hope this gives you some ideas for both parties and gift giving. If you have any of your own, PLEASE share them here.

Today's food quote: "Remember the good times and learn from the bad...there ain't nothin' you can't learn in the kitchen" Paula Deen

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Breakfast--any time!!

A friend of mine came over intention was for her to come for coffee and breakfast/brunch. My stock "company brunch" is a frittata...but I was bored with that. perusing my recipes I made a surprising discovery; it was totally bereft of almost any breakfast recipes!! So armed with an idea, a pantry, and the internet..I set off on a quest to find recipes with an "Autumn/Thanksgiving" flair...and this is what I came up with. Dishes such as these can make ANY breakfast special. I highly recommend sitting down with a great friend over coffee (or tea, or even Diet Coke) and breakfast and have the kind of chat that stretches into the afternoon. It's the most awesome thing. Thank you, Dinorah...for being my friend and making my life richer.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. pumpkin pie filling
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
2 T. sugar
3 eggs
1 3/4 c. milk

Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the eggs and milk. Use a blender or food processor on low and blend. This batter is REALLY thick. I would recommend making pancakes about the size of a salad plate..I made mine smaller and wish that I wouldn't have. Also, butter the griddle that you're cooking them on. These are great served dusted with powdered sugar and/or warmed maple syrup. They keep very well in a ziploc bag for breakfast the next day, warmed in the microwave.

The Dutch Baby:

4 eggs
1 c. milk
2/3 c. flour
1/2 stick melted butter
3 T. sugar
dash of vanilla
1-2 sliced pears (depending on size of pear)
extra butter for pan

Mix all ingredients except for the pears (and extra pan butter) together. Melt the extra butter in a medium sized cast iron skillet. Add the sliced pear, then add the batter. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 35 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar.

This is going to puff up REALLY high so don't be scared...also...when removed from the oven, it's going to "deflate" rather quickly--so I would recommend timing its removal at or VERY near the moment you intend to eat it. Also good with whipped cream....and it's been suggested here that it'd make a lovely dessert (maybe for a light lunch?) with vanilla ice cream on the side. The great thing about this is you can make it with almost any fruit (apples, berries, even bananas---or a combination). One of the most versatile things around.

Today's food quote: "Food is not about impressing people. It's about making them feel comfortable." Ina Garten--"The Barefoot Contessa"

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mexican Rice.....fiesta! Ole!

Gosh I think I'm a horrible blogger...I get sidetracked by a little weekend ( my husband had 5 days off over the ran a little long)and then I get off track., I'm going to provide you with TWO a kind of "catch-up". The first is one I not only make as a stand alone, but also make it (as I did last night) when I have left overs. It's one of the best uses for left over rice (outside of rice pudding..) Although I prefer to make it with yellow rice, you can also use white.

Mexican Rice Casserole:
3 cups yellow rice
1 can Ro-tell tomatoes
1 8 oz bag of shredded cheese (either cheddar or the taco/mexican blend, depending your preference)
1 lb. ground beef
1 small, or 1/2 medium onion (preferably red) chopped
1/2 can yellow corn
1 envelope taco seasoning
sour cream

brown ground beef and chopped onions together; seasoning with salt, pepper and cumin to your taste. Add taco seasoning packet according to directions. Cook rice according to package directions (or use leftover rice). When finished combine the Ro-tel, 1/2 of the cheese, the corn, and the meat. Place in a casserole pan. (if I'm making this with leftovers I usually use a 9x9 pan, but if making it "from scratch" for a potluck, and using the entire rice package, you'll need a 13x9x2 pan). Top with remainder of the cheese. Bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes or until cheese is melted and casserole is "bubbly". Serve topped with sour cream.

The second recipe is a GREAT recipe for leftover potroast. I love to make soup from my leftover potroast, or sometimes a pot pie, but my kids get sick of it. For a change, I came up with this recipe and (for now) it seems to be quite popular.


1/2 to 1 lb leftover pot roast, shredded (beef or pork).. You CAN make this out of a pound of browned ground beef if you want to, but I pretty much reserve this recipe for leftovers. Also good with leftover turkey, you'll just need to use turkey gravy.
1 small to 1/2 med diced sweet onion
1 package button mushrooms, sliced ( kids hate them so I leave them out if they're going to be home...but it DOES really improve the flavor
1 jar of brown gravy (beef or pork)
1/4 to 1/2 c. sour cream (depending on how much meat there is)
package of egg noodles

Saute the onions and mushrooms in either olive oil or butter, your choice. Cook noodles according to package directions. After onions have been cooked until "clear" and mushrooms are done, add the meat so that it can warm through. Once warmed, add the gravy and then sour cream, stirring until gravy and sour cream are mixed together well. Don't boil. Let simmer for about 3 minutes. Drain noodles and add some butter. Serve gravy/meat mixture over noodles either on individual plates or on a large serving platter.

Both of these recipes are awesome for those colder evenings (and I'm SO glad they seem to be FINALLY getting here!!) and also are great ways to use up leftovers in the fridge. Isabella loves the Mexican Rice SO much, she even warms it up and eats it for BREAKFAST!!

Today's food quote: "I won't eat anything that has intelligent life, but I'd gladly eat a politician or a network executive" Marty Feldman, comedian

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

By popular old standby

Planning on making a chicken noodle casserole for dinner tonight, which is, basically, just a twist on the old favorite "tuna noodle casserole" kids hate tuna fish. But in talking about making this, I got a request to provide the recipe...and this is the best place to provide it. The hardest thing, is for a cook to provide a recipe for which there is no "hard and fast" written down recipe...but I'm going to go for it.

Chicken Noodle Casserole

3/4 to 1 bag of wide egg noodles
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/4-1/2 c. sour cream
about one half of the soup can of milk
8 oz (2 c.) of grated cheddar cheese
1 large can of chicken breast meat, or 2 c. of finely chopped chicken (from chicken you may have leftover)
1/2 c. frozen peas
any additional vegetables you may have left over in fridge (recommendations spinach; well drained, chopped chives, chopped cilantro, corn, etc) totalling about 1/2 to 3/4 c.
1/2 c. finely chopped celery
1/2 c. finely chopped purple onion
1/2-3/4 c. bread crumbs (regular or panko)
salt and pepper to taste/preference
about 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Cook noodles according to package directions. Place into casserole dish (spray with non-stick spray). Add can of soup, one half of the soup can of milk, the sour cream, half of the cheese, the chicken, and the vegetables (celery, onion, peas and any extras you've chosen). Mix well. Top with remaining cheese and bread crumbs. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, until golden brown and "bubbly". Serve with warm bread and a nice green salad.

By the way, if YOUR kids LIKE Tuna, this recipe works just as well using that, or even canned salmon (or both instances)

Today's food quote: "I refuse to believe that trading recipes is silly. Tuna fish casserole is at least as real as corporate stock" Barbara Harrison

Monday, October 25, 2010

Butternut autumn favorite

One of my favorite things, when the weather starts to get cooler (by the way...WILL the weather ever start to get cooler here? I wonder....90 today...are you KIDDING me?)is soup and my (f)all-time favorite is Butternut Squash Soup. Since the first time I sampled it at Wolfgang Puck's I've been hooked...and although they now sell this delectable item in cans, I'm always looking for recipes to make it myself. Wolfgang's own recipe is ANYTHING but simple, and many other ones truly lack in the "ease" department, but I think I've FINALLY hit on one that may just be both tasty AND simple. For you other autumn vegetable lovers out there, (and in the FERVENT hopes that the weather turns more AUTUMNAL soon), here's a nice recipe for

Simplest Butternut Squash Soup

For the soup
1 butternut squash (about 3 lbs.)
2 slender, or 1 1/2 larger leeks, white parts only, split lengthwise, washed (leeks can be REALLY sandy) and cut into 1 inch long pieces
3 c. WHOLE milk
3 c. water
salt and freshly ground pepper
freshly grated nutmeg

Peel the squash. Remove the seeds and string, then cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks. Toss into a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Add the leeks, milk, and water; salt generously and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook 25 to 35 minutes, or until squash is soft enough to mash when pressed lightly with the back of a spoon.

Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches until it's very smooth (an "immersion blender" would work really well for this, provided you do not use non-stick cookware---otherwise it might scratch it). Thin to your desired consistency (butternut squash soup should be quite thick) with milk and water. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Reheat if necessary (this soup should be served really hot)

Optional garnishes:
1 tart (Granny Smith or MacIntosh) apple, peeled, cored, and cut into tiny dice
1/3 c. chopped toasted hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans
1/2 c. creme fraiche or heavy cream (drizzle)

to "spice" up the flavor (and add a type of "thickener") you might want to add about 1/4 c. of canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling) to the soup at the end, mixing in well. This will add a flavor "twist" and help to thicken it if it happens to be on the thin side.

Autumn is (as I've said before) my very favorite time of year. I'm fervently hoping that, at some point, we GET an autumn here in Florida this year....right now I'm stuck in "summer" whilst looking at autumn and winter decorations. Not an easy task.

Today's food quote: "To feel safe and warm on a cold, wet night all you really need is soup" Laurie Colwin

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

For my family........:)

My original recipe planned for today's blog is just going to have to wait. Today I'm going to post a recipe that I am certain a few members of my family are going to be excited to find. We are, most of us, addicted to TGI Friday's "Green Bean Fries". Not necessarily a very HEALTHY dish, but one we love, to say the least. I had found them, frozen, at the big box store BJ's, but still I'd like to be able to make them from "scratch" and am happy to say that after much poking around, have achieved...SUCCESS!!

So...dedicated to my sister, Sandy, cousin, Sherry, and daughters, Cassondra and we have....Green Bean Fries!!

Green Bean Fries

for the dip:
1/2 c. ranch dressing
1/2 c. peeled, seeded, chopped cucumbers
1 T. horseradish, drained
1 T. milk
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar
2 tsp wasabi powder (found in the spice aisle or with the Asian foods)
pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt

for the beans:
2 c. low sodium chicken broth
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
1 large egg
1/2 c. milk
1 c. instant flour (such as "Wondra")
1 c. breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper
ground black pepper
Peanut of vegetable oil for frying

Make the dip. Puree the dressing, cucumber, horseradish, milk, vinegar, wasabi powder, cayenne powder, and salt to taste in a blender until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Prepare the beans: Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Add the green beans and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove beans with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking. Let cool in the water, then drain and pat dry.
Whisk the egg and milk in a shallow bowl. Put 1/2 c. flour in another shallow bowl. Combine the breadcrumbs, the remaining 1/2 c. flour, the onion and garlic powders, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste in another bowl.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the green beans in the flour and shake off the excess. One at a time dip the beans in the egg mixture, dredge in the breadcrumbs mixture and lay on the prepared baking sheet. Freeze until the coating has set...about 30 minutes.
Heat 3 inches of oil in a deep pot over medium heat until a deep fry thermometer reads 350 degrees. Fry the green beans in batches until golden brown; 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the beans with tongs or a skimmer to a rack or paper towels to drain. Serve with the dip.

Today's food quote: "Hell is where no one is waiting and nothing is cooking" Barlozzo

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

See ya later, tater..

Hey, sorry about the length between posts, weekends are packed around here and this past one was no exception. In fact, although Dan and I had a FANTASTIC lunch at Disney on Friday (and really, rarely is food at Disney "bad") we really didn't cook the rest of the weekend.

So I'm back at it again, today have a pot of bean soup bubbling on the stove from some leftover ham that I DID cook over the weekend but we didn't get around to eating as a "meal" lol. It made a wonderful ham and egg breakfast on Sunday, though, and is currently enhancing one of my favorite homemade soups.

I love to utilize the autumn vegetables that are out right now, and was REALLY excited to see Kale at the grocery store today, it being one of my favorite greens to cook and eat. Fried or grilled pork chops served on a bed of kale....superb.....give it a try.

I got today's recipe from a Publix (supermarket) "Greenwise" magazine. If you're not familiar with the free magazines that Publix has in the front of their stores, you definitely need to do so. They have one on cooking naturally and organically and it's called "Greenwise", also one on wines and their pairings with great recipes for types of snacks to make and serve with them and it's called "Grape" and then there's one that has awesome ideas for kids, cooking with kids, and crafts and...for the life of me the title is escaping me right now but I think it's called "Family"...or something like that. lol. But definitely check those out, they're at the front of the store, in the entrance area on a rack that usually also holds the current weekly sale flyer.

Today's recipe uses the sweet potato, which is available all year but the production and availability really "ramps up" during autumn. This is one a bit off beat, it's for a dessert bar, but it's really tasty.

Sweet Potato Pecan Bars

3 T. butter or margarine, softened
2 T. sugar
2/3 graham cracker crumbs
2 T. finely chopped toasted pecans
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c. mashed sweet potatoes (cooking in the oven, about 5-7 minutes for 2 average sweet potatoes is the best, and easiest idea---then you can mash them with either a fork or hand mixer)
1/4 c. dairy sour cream
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsps. all purpose flour
3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/3 c. milk
1/2 c. chopped toasted pecans

Preheat oven to 350. In a small mixing bowl stir together the butter and the 2 T. sugar. Stir in the cracker crumbs and the 2 T. finely chopped pecans until combined. Press onto bottom of a lightly greased 8x8x2 baking pan. Bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

For filling, in a medium bowl stir together egg, mashed sweet potatoes and sour cream. Stir in the 1/4 c. sugar, the flour and the pumpkin pie spice until smooth. Stir in the milk. Pour sweet potato mixture evenly over prebaked crust. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean. Immediately sprinkle with remaining chopped nuts, pressing lightly into filling. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack, chill. Cut into bars. Cover and store in refrigerator up to 2 days or store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 month. Makes about 16 bars.

If you have someone with the proverbial "sweet tooth" in your house this would be great just lightly "drizzled" with some royal icing--which you can make by just mixing some confectioner's sugar and some milk...whisk until smooth and then lightly pour over. Heaven.

Today's food quote: "Eat the bread, drink the wine...and let life be what it is" Old Tuscan saying.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Halloween Treats, no tricks!!

So I'm going to take a day off from helping you choose dinner ideas and holiday (Thanksgiving and Christmas) ideas to talk about a holiday I don't particularly care for, or get all that "excited" about, but seems to generate a lot of interest on the food front.

Today I saw the most adorable idea for Halloween that it inspired me to devote my entire blog to the holiday today. This is, most likely, the only time I'm going to mention Halloween because, as I said, I'm not all that fond of it.

This particular person had taken Nutter Butter know the ones, they're shaped like peanuts...and after melting white chocolate (or the almond bark you can find in the stores right now) she dipped the cookies into the chocolate and lay them out on a sheet of wax paper. She then, while the chocolate was still "soft" placed mini chocolate chips towards the top of one end for "eyes" and they bacame....."Boo Babies". They were the CUTEST things I had EVER seen...and even though my kids are well into their teens I cannot WAIT to make some!!

Other ideas for fun treats are: wrapping facial tissue around a "Tootie Pop", securing it with a string and then drawing eyes on the "pop" to make ghosts. Also, if you're able to get your hands on the see through plastic gloves they use in food preparation, you can place a red gummy into each fingertip and then stuff the glove with popcorn....these make "Witches Hands" and kids love those as well. Speaking of popcorn, my kids love my homemade "caramel corn" and it is SUPER easy to make...all you do pop a large bowl of popcorn (I use an air popper, but you can pop it in a conventional popcorn popper or on the stove). Let the popcorn cool slightly. Melt one stick of butter and once it has melted add "about" 1/4 c. of brown sugar. Stir to dissolve and let it come to a quick boil....this should be a "syrup-y" like texture but if not....add a bit more brown sugar. Once it has come to a boil, remove from heat. Let stand for about 1 minute and then pour over the bowl of popcorn. Toss to completely cover. At Halloween I also like to sometimes mix in peanuts, candy corn, M&M's or even pretzels.

My kids love Rice Krispie treats (and so does their mother!!) and at Halloween time I like to put candy corn into them, and/or use the holiday Rice Krispies that they've come out with.

Other good ideas are melting the aforementioned almond bark, dipping the first 2/3's of a pretzel rod into it, rolling that into holiday colored "sprinkles" and letting set on wax paper until set and hardened. These are called "Fairy Wands".

If you are SUPER creative and adventurous, you can buy the "snowball" dessert cakes, and cover them with white fondant (available in cake decorating sections of many stores, Michaels carries it). Cover the "snowball" with a small square of the fondant, letting it "puddle" around the bottom. Add snips of black licorice for eyes and you have yet another "ghostie".

Anyone who has other ideas, bring them on!! If you have little ones (or even the older kids, sometimes) Halloween can be very exciting and since classrooms have a lot of parties it's great to have a lot of ideas in your repertoire.

Today's food quote: "Once in a young lifetime one should be allowed to have as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold. Happy Halloween" Judith Olney

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Party pleaser, hostess gift shoe-in, great snack idea!

So we talked about the peanut butter bread, and how it'd be great not only for the kids for snack time, but also as a great hostess gift. We're headed into that holiday season, when we not only have to think about "gift giving on a budget" but also hostess gifts, party menus, things for those unexpected guests at holiday time and just "stuff" for the kids to snack on. So here's another "crowd pleaser" and a way to save some money on those Hickory Farm cheese balls everyone loves so much.

White Cheddar Cheese Log

1 8 oz cream cheese
4 oz aged white cheddar, shredded to yield about 1 cup (finely shredded)
1/4 c. butter
1 T. half and half
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/3 c. finely chopped pecans; toasted (or you can buy them already toasted)
1/4 c. finely chopped green onions

2/3 c. chopped parsley, green onions, or pecans

Leave your cream cheese and butter out about 30 minutes (room temperature). Mix cream cheese, cheddar, and butter. Add half & half and Worcestershire sauce. beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Stir in 1/3 c. pecans, 1/4 c. green onions. Cover and freeze for 15-20 minutes or just until mixture is easy to handle. Shape into a log. Wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate. To serve, let stand about 15 minutes, then roll in your choice of the toppings.

At a party, this would be great served with some crackers (of course), some fruit and a nice crisp Chardonnay. Maybe a couple other types of cheese as well, for a variety. But this cheese log is MUCH cheaper to make than one you may buy ready made and will TASTE a lot fresher.

It's great to have something fun and festive to pull out of the fridge in the event of unexpected guests...and it's nice to make something yourself for gifts, or have little special items like this at your holiday parties. This is my favorite time of year, it's fun to try new recipes, have friends and family over, host holiday parties (and attend them, taking along a hostess gift makes you a favorite guest!). Enjoy this time, it goes by so quickly. If you have holiday recipes you'd like to share, please send them to me.

Food quote: Salt is mentioned in the Bible more times than any other spice or food.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Peanut.....Peanut Butter....YUM!

So yesterday, as my daughter Bella put it, I was on a "baking binge". I made several baked goods for the girls to have for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. My buttermilk biscuits did not turn out so well, so if anyone out there has a foolproof buttermilk biscuit recipe, PLEASE pass it on. Martha Stewart let me down. LOL

But I digress. Anyway, I'm currently on a hunt for breads to make besides the banana bread or Amish Friendship bread (my Amish bread recipe does not use a ROCKS). I think they make great snack foods, but also, at holiday time they make wonderful, inexpensive gifts from the heart (and hey, in this age of economizing who doesn't want or need to save some money??!!) So on my quest for new and fun quick breads I came across a recipe for "Peanut Butter Bread". This is a Paula Deen (she's my idol) recipe from one of her older cookbooks. After testing this recipe, I've made just a couple "alterations" (sorry, Paula) and I think that you'll be more than happy with the finished product. Keep in mind that this is a dense bread, not really all that "sweet", but it tastes great spread with jam, or Nutella (a well-loved staple in our house) fact, when spread with Nutella you have a snack that hints at the all time "fav" a Reese's cup. This recipe is super easy, go ahead and give it a try for a great snack or breakfast treat.

Peanut Butter Bread

2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. peanut butter (if you want a "crunchy" texture, use the crunchy style peanut butter!!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Add milk and peanut butter. Pour into a greased loaf pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for about 50 minutes.

Recommended cooking tool: since we discussed giving loaves of quick breads as holiday gifts (another good idea is giving them as hostess gifts) I would recommend investing in small loaf pans. A normal recipe for a quick bread will yield you about two small loaf pans. I was lucky enough to find a set of four at a yard sale, and have used them many times over. I have even seen them sold as one LARGE pan that is divided into four small loaf "sections" and that would serve the same purpose, and probably be less expensive than buying four separate ones.

Today's food quote: "Don't take cookin' too seriously, honey. Life gets hard soon as we walk out or doors; cookin' should not be hard." Paula Deen

Monday, October 11, 2010

Give your dinner an exotic twist tonight

I love it when people send me recipes, but this recipe is from my sister and so it makes it even more special. I gave it a try and it IS might require a trip down your local supermarket spice aisle if some of these spices aren't in your normal repertoire but that aisle is one of my personal favorites anyway, and all of these spices are SO versatile that you'll be able to use them in many more dishes you might want to make for your family and friends. The recipe as it stands, makes enough for a nice group; I cut it in half for our family.

So here, for an exotic twist on dinner tonight is

Pakistani Chicken

2 cut up chickens
1/2 c butter or oil
6 sliced onions
2 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper
10 crushed cloves of garlic
6 cardamon pods

Melt butter (unless you're using oil) and add spices. Pour over chicken to marinate for a couple hours. (Honestly, I find a good heavy duty ziploc back INVALUABLE for marinating meat in, just pop everything into the bag, and then put into the can reach in periodically and "squidge" it around with your hands to make sure it's mixed well)

Bake at 350, covered with foil. (My sister's instructions are "until done" but if you're a novice and want to know how LONG.....chicken needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees...and that's going to be about 45 minutes or so for this dish). You can remove the foil towards the end (maybe the last 10 or 15 minutes) and it will brown and develop a nice, crispy crust.

Serve this with rice, and I recommend flatbread (pita or roti, whichever you can find). You will love the uniqueness of the flavor...I think it's always nice to try out types of cuisine you may be otherwise unfamiliar with or have never tried.

Recommended cooking tool: If you use a lot of rice you may want to invest in a rice cooker. I love mine, you can "set it and forget it" It cooks the rice and then keeps it warm until you're ready to use it. All you need to do is "fluff" it.

Today's food quote: "When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,' said Piglet at last, 'what's the first thing you say to yourself?' 'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh. 'What do you say, Piglet?' 'I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?' said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. 'It's the same thing,' he said."
A. A. Milne, 'The House at Pooh Corner'

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Have a Magical Day..

We're a "Disney family", everyone who knows us knows that. Disney has given us many opportunities (besides the obvious ones of paying our bills) and many memories. Today my husband and I are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary (albeit about a week early) and we visited Epcot on our honeymoon. At this time of year, Epcot now has the "Food and Wine Festival", an extravaganza in World Showcase that no one should miss (it was not yet taking place when we got married). Each country (and a few others added in as well) offer samples of their best foods, wines and beers. I've already shared in this blog on of my F&W favorites, the Cheddar Cheese Soup from Canada (it's a favorite of our entire family, really) Who knew, 19 years ago, that Disney would one day be where Dan works, and where myself, Karis, Grant and our Amy have been employed as well. We owe Disney a lot, and for that reason I'm dedicating my blog to them today, sharing a recipe that is "true Disney"; fun, innovative and magical. "Have a magical day" (one of many "Disney-isms") and make "Tinkerbell's Twinkie Tiramisu" for dinner tonight.

"Tinkerbell's Twinkie Tiramisu"

12 Twinkies, sliced 1/2 inch thick
Espresso syrup (recipe follows)
Mascarpone filling (recipe follows)
Cocoa powder, chocolate chips for garnish

Place half the Twinkie slices in a single layer in the bottom of a shallow 2 quart baking dish or gratin dish. Drizzle with half of the espresso syrup. Spread with half of the mascarpone filling. Repeat with remaining Twinkies, syrup and filling. Smooth top with a metal spatula (resists sticking). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before serving. Just before serving sift cocoa to lightly dust the top of the tiramisu. Sprinkle with chocolate chips

Espresso Syrup
1/3 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
2/3 c. strong-brewed espresso coffee
1/4 c. Italian or domestic brandy, optional
Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan
Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar
Remove from heat, cool and add coffee and brandy

Mascarpone Filling
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1/3 c. sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 pound mascarpone cheese, softened (I've been able to FINALLY find mascarpone cheese at Publix, in the deli, and also at Sam's Club)
Whip cream with sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Fold cream into softened mascarpone.

Today's food quote: "Disney food....I have just met you and I LOVE you!!" unknown WDW guest

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Classie "B-L-T" a pasta????

My GOODNESS the last week or so has been hectic for me!! Between job interviews (nothing yet...I think my age is working against me), a wedding, two highschool girls going to homecoming and shopping for "necessities", two puppies under age 1, etc, etc, etc, I have NOT had much free time to experiment with new recipes. But, I am HAPPY to say I am BACK in the kitchen and "rarin' to go"!! Between finding time to bake a fresh batch of dog biscuit treats and cooking for the family, I have been enjoying having more free time back in the kitchen. Fall is FINALLY in the air down here in Florida, and before we all know it the holidays will be right around the corner. So....I am going to concentrate on "easy meals", holiday special treats, and baking and cooking for gift giving. Any and all contributions will be GREATLY appreciated, so let's have some fun.

This recipe is based on the simple, homey "B-L-T" sandwich. It's a "b-l-t" but in a pasta form. Fun, different and filling. Great with a salad for a nice quick meal.

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Bucatini (with garlic bread crumbs)

(for the garlic bread crumbs)
1 clove garlic
1 c. Italian bread cubes
1 tsp olive oil
Salt to taste

(for the pasta)
2 strips bacon, diced
1 c. halved grape tomatoes
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 c. thinly sliced leeks (always clean your leeks carefully and rinse WELL--leeks have a tendency to be a "sandy" vegetable, but their mild taste is SO worth the work!!)
1/4 c. dry white wine (chardonnay, chenin blanc, or chablis)
1/2 c. chicken broth
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
4 ox. dry bucatini pasta or spaghetti
1 c. fresh spinach leaves
1/4 tsp. minced fresh thyme

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

Mince garlic for the bread crumbs in a food processor. Add cubed bread and process until coarse.

Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add crumbs and toast until golden, 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and set aside

Cook bacon for the pasta in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp (cooking suggestion: whenever a recipe calls for bacon, cooked crisp, my method of choice is to snip the bacon with my kitchen shears directly into the pan and fry accordingly. cuts out that "crumbling" phase later on). Transfer from pan to a paper towel and pour out all but 1 T. of drippings.

Carmelize tomatoes and sugar in drippings over medium heat. Cook until tomatoes begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add leeks, saute until wilted, about 3-4 minutes.

Deglaze skillet with wine, simmer, until liquid is nearly evaporated. Add broth, vinegar and pepper flakes. Simmer until liquid is reduced by a third, about 5 minutes.

Cook bucatini in boiling water according to package directions. Add the spinach, thyme and cooked bacon to the tomato mixture. Trasnfer cooked pasta from cooking water to the skillet using tongs. toss to coat; season with salt. Divid pasta among plates and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Serves 2-3

Today's food quote: "My kitchen is a mystical place, a kind of temple for me. It is a place where the surfaces seem to have significance, where the sounds and odors carry meaning that transfers from the past and bridges to the future." Pearl Bailey

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Here we come....on the run.......

Today was one of those days that usually only happens in sitcoms, where there's a laugh track or a studio audience who gets to "yuck it up" at the expense of others. But, sadly, it was all too real. For those of you who are uninformed, you can read about my day on my Facebook, or on Walmart's Facebook, whichever you prefer.

My grocery shopping didn't finally get accomplished until about 4:00 p.m., certainly not the time I am accustomed to shopping. The dinner I had planned for today was not going to happen. But, on the way home from the successful shopping trip this afternoon, I had an epiphany. This is how you whip up a dinner when your two teenage daughters are either working or have other plans (or....they have leftover food from when their aunt was A quick swing into the local Publix (the only place I buy seafood and baked bread) and the following jambalaya was born.

3 c. cooked yellow rice (ours was leftover from Tuesday's dinner)
1/2 of a pkg of Kielbasa sausage, sliced thin
3 scallions, sliced thin...reserve some of the green "tops" for garnish
1 Roma tomato, chopped
1/2 lb. of uncooked shrimp
2 T. butter
splash of Louisiana hot sauce
Old Bay seasoning
water for boiling.

Take the 3 c. of yellow rice and place in a large pan, with the butter. Add the kielbasa, the scallions, and the tomatoes. As it heats, add the hot sauce.

Boil about 3-4 c. of water with old bay seasoning in it, while boiling add the shrimp and cook for about 1 minute, remove, drain, and take off the shells. Remove the rice and kielbasa mixture from heat and add the shrimp. Stir well. Pour into a serving dish and garnish with chopped scallion tops. Serve with warm Publix (or any other, lol) baguette. A salad would be nice too, but hey....I was too tired.

My husband is STILL raving...and is taking the leftover to work with him tonight to eat on his break. I love figuring out how to use something that's leftover, and since I had bought the kielbasa and the scallions when I was came to me in a flash that a quick side trip to Publix for bread and shrimp (on sale this week, I might add) would make a KILLER dish for the two of us using the leftover yellow rice.

Here's hoping tomorrow goes better....for you AND for me.

Today's food quote: "There are may of us who cannot but feel dismal about the future of various cultures. Often it is hard not to agree that we are becoming culinary nitwits, dependent upon fast foods and mass kitchens and megavitamins for our basically rotten nourishment." MK Fisher

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Not what's for dinner at my house tonight, but maybe a good idea for yours

Reflecting the change of the season, tomorrow being the first day of my favorite season, autumn, I'm making a pot of chili from some leftover ground beef used to make last night's meatloaf. But.....on the menu for later in the week is a variation on a new favorite of mine..capillini pomodoro. I had it at a restaurant last week and it has become a new favorite of mine. I had thought, however, that it might not go over "too" well here since it has no meat in it. Therefore, I am going to make this with pork cutlets, but you can make it with chicken. Feel free, also, to serve this sauce over angel hair pasta, thus making it the original "capillini pomodoro". This recipe serves 2, but can easily be enlarged.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half and pounded into cutlets, or two boneless pork chops, pounded thin. (Honestly, I'm thinking this would ROCK served over salmon as well, so go ahead....experiment)
salt and black pepper
all purpose flour
nonstick spray
2 T. vegetable oil
1/4 c. vodka
1/2 c. chicken broth
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. chopped fresh tomato (Roma tomatoes work best)
2 T. heavy cream
1/3 c. sliced scallions

Season cutlets with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Coat a saute pan with nonstick spray, add oil and heat over medium high. Saute cutlets on both sides, then transfer to a platter. Pour fat off of pan. Deglaze pan with the vodka (away from heat, REMOVE pan from heat to do's really important). Return to heat and cook until nearly evaporated. Add broth and lemon juice. Return cutlets to pan and cook on each side for about 1 minute. Transfer back to warm platter. Stir tomatoes and cream into sauce. Heat through and then pour over cutlets. Garnish with scallions.

So enjoy the changing of the season (I'm brainwashing myself into believing that it IS cooler outside...even a little...and that IS a fall breeze I'm feeling....even if it's just winds from Hurricane Igor). Soon we'll be thinking of autumn holiday menus, baking, treat making and I, for one, can not WAIT. I love this time of year and can't wait to share all my special holiday treats with you. Please share yours with me as well, we can, after all, never have enough.

Today's food quote: "Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food" Hippocrates

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Southern "Fry Fest"

Sorry about how long it's been since my last blog. I have had my sister here visiting and she loves to eat out.....which is nice for me "sometimes" but if I'm too long out of my kitchen I tend to get "antsy". However, this past couple weeks gave me a chance to explore around, getting ideas and one such idea evolved into my husband, in the kitchen with a deep fryer, frying every darn thing he could get his hands on. It initially was supposed to be an attempt to recreate TGIFriday's deep fried green bean appetizer...something the girls and I fell in LOVE with. We're still working on duplicating the batter, but I CAN tell you that my husband makes the best chicken nuggets, deep fried shrimp, onion rings and fried green tomatoes I've ever had...and here are some deep frying secrets in case you'd like to embark on your own "fry fest". Now I know.....this IS the South, and we like to deep fry EVERYTHING (I once ate a deep fried Twinkie that I can NOT stop thinking about)--but I still would not advocate doing this very often. But if you DO decide to try it, I want you to enjoy it (both the taste AND the experience) as much as we did. So here goes:

decide on whether you want to use a batter or a breading. Batters are usually thicker and often crispier...they're my personal favorite--and they're a wet coating. A breading is something that you wet the item you intend to fry, then cover it with the coating. For a good batter, use eggs, flour, maybe some corn meal if you have it and try to mix it all together with some type of liquid that has "carbonation" maybe beer, or if not, club soda. The bubbles make the batter "fluffier" and help it to stick. For onion rings, soak the onions in ICE cold salted water for as long as possible (overnight is optimum). Make sure to season all meats (both sides) prior to dipping into the batter (or breading if that's what you choose). You can buy batter and breading mixes in the stores in the spice aisle and frankly, they are easier sometimes (and faster) than trying to make your own. Experiment with several types while you're having your "fry fest"..this makes it even tastier and more fun.
For fried green tomatoes, make sure you choose a green tomato that is nice and firm. Slice it thinly and salt (and pepper if you desire) on both sides. Coat with batter and deep fry for only a minute or two, until the batter is nice and brown. Too long will make the tomato "mushy" and you don't want that.

Dipping sauces make the fry fest experience even better--fried green tomatoes are traditionally served with ranch dressing, but a wasabi ranch is really nice, just squeeze about 1 T. of wasabi paste into about 1/2 to 1 c. of ranch dressing. A spicy ranch dressing is great for onion rings (similar to the sauce restaurants use on "bloomin' onions) and kids will appreciate the traditional ketchup. One of my personal favorites to use for dipping sauce is Publix brand Mango Poppyseed Dressing. Sorry to everyone who doesn't have a Publix available, but maybe you could still locate the dressing by another's yummy.

I highly recommend a deep fryer for this endeavor but if you are going to use a pan, use a heavy one with high sides and don't take the oil level up more than about halfway. Also, using vegetable or canola oil reduces the smoking factor. Your oil needs to be between 350 and 365 degrees, and keep everything that you put into the pot or fryer for each batch uniform in size. Really this is similar to a "fondue" type of experience, just on a much larger scale. lol. But have fun, experiment and PLEASE post if you decide to try to deep fry something other than what I've girls wanted to do candy bars but we didn't want to use the same oil we'd just done shrimp and catfish in, so let me know if ya'll give that one a try, ok? I'd recommend freezing the candy bars for a while before battering and deep frying.

Missed ya'll while I wasn't blogging....hope to get back on a somewhat regular schedule soon. Please keep those recipes and ideas coming. I'm back to cooking now, so I'm gonna need the suggestions...I'm a bit rusty!

Today's food quote: "Two can live as cheaply as one...if one of 'em ain't eatin'" Southern Food quote.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A great contribution.....

I love it when people send me recipes.....because I know that a.) they're thinking of me and know that I love to cook and try out new things and b) it shows they're reading my blog! (yay!!) But it's even better when it's one of my kids who sends them to me...and my daughter, Karis, loves to cook as much as I do. So many of my really GREAT recipes are from her...and Thanksgiving just would NOT be Thanksgiving (and everyone knows that's my favorite holiday) without Karis' Sweet Potato Casserole and Rosemary Cornbread (I'll be sure to share those when we get closer to the holidays.

So Karis has sent me a couple really great recipes in the last week or so, but the one that REALLY intrigued me was the one for "Southern Tomato Pie". I love tomatoes, just the smell of a fresh tomato can make me feel "happy" (it's one of those "smells" that, to me, signifies springtime and summertime). As summer is winding down (or, if you live around HERE--still going full force) give this recipe a try for either a light dinner or maybe a "lunch with the girls". I'm printing this recipe EXACTLY as Karis sent it to me, including the "drink recommendation" at the end. I love you, Karis. I'm proud of you, not just your love of cooking but EVERYTHING about you. Can't wait until we can make this recipe (and share it) together).

Southern Tomato Pie

1 pie crust
1 cup mayo
2 cups shredded cheddar
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 sliced scallions
8 to 10 medium plum tomatoes, sliced

NOTE: I used a frozen pie crust, the recipe says refrigerated but I'm sure you could use homemade. Whichever type you use, partially bake it til it looks slightly puffed and dry.

Mix the mayo with 1 1/4 cups of the cheese and the pepper in a bowl. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the cheese on the bottom of the partially baked crust. Top with a layer of tomato slices, 1 tbsp of scallions, then sppon about 1/3 cup of the mayo/cheese mixture on top in dollops. Continue the process to make 3 more layers. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.

Bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes, until crust is golden and juices are bubbling. Let the pie cool for at least ten minutes before slicing into wedges.

We served this with a big salad. I think it would also go well with roast veggies or even a nice steak. Don't be fooled is very filling!!

PS -- we had it with Bud Light...I think it would be better with a nice glass of wine though. :o)

So enjoy this...enjoy making it (maybe with YOUR children?), enjoy sharing it, and enjoy everything about the sweetness and happiness that cooking (and cooking with fresh ingredients) can bring to your home.

Bon Appetit!

Today's food quote: "Happy and successful cooking doesn't rely only on know-how; it comes from the heart, makes great demands on the palate, and needs enthusiasm and a deep love of food to bring it to life" George Blanc (author of "Ma Cuisine des Saisons)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Say "Ole!" with the Chimichanga/Wet Burrito...

This is one of my family's favorites. It came from a friend of mine when I lived out in California, and everyone I've ever made it for LOVES it. It's not necessarily the "fastest" dish to make, but it is easy, and fairly inexpensive. The recipe makes a huge casserole that will feed a family of about 4 with leftovers, or it's also a great dish to make and take to a potluck. I love Mexican food, it makes me feel much less homesick (although it is difficult to get "good" Mexican ingredients here in this area of Florida)and my love for Mexican food is second only to my love of Italian food. To me, it's warm, it's homey and it's filling. This casserole is good anytime, but it's also good on cold and rainy days. It is easily made ahead and refrigerated until it's time for it to be popped into the oven. Enjoy!

1 to 1 1/2 lb. ground beef
1 envelope of taco seasoning
1 medium onion
2 packages of flour tortillas (the soft taco size)
Old El Paso Enchilada Sauce (don't use any other brand than's the best--they come in two sizes and I "usually" use one large can and one small can, but if you can't find the large can then you're going to need about 3 or 4 small cans)
2 bags of grated cheddar cheese (8 oz bags)

Chop the onion and place into a frying pan with the ground beef. Cook thoroughly. Add taco seasoning and cook according to package directions. Set aside. Spray a 13x9x2 pan with cooking spray. Place some of the enchilada sauce on a wide shallow plate. Take about 2 or 3 tortillas and place them into the microwave...heat on high for about 15 to 20 seconds. Removing one of the tortillas, place into the sauce and turn it over until both sides are saturated (you'll need to keep placing more sauce onto the plate as it gets used up). Put the "wet" tortilla into the baking pan and place about 2 T. of the meat mixture into the middle, add a small amount of cheese. Then, fold both sides toward the center and roll up, placing it at one end of the pan. Repeat this procedure until all meat mixture has been used up and pan is filled with "chimis". I usually end up with two rows of them, about 6 to a row; but they can easily be "cuddled" together to get even more into the pan. You should have some cheese left, as well as some sauce. Pour the sauce over the top of all of the chimis and then cover entire top with the remaining cheese. Bake in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes, until cheese is melted and a golden brown.

Today's food quote: "An empty stomach is not a good political advisor" Albert Einstein

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pot Roasts and Pies...the meal that keeps on giving.

I'm a pot roast kind of girl....I love to put a roast into the crock pot, whether it's a beef roast, or a pork roast or even a leg of lamb, I love the simple practice of slow (and I mean sloooooow) cooking. Typically, my pot roasts cook for a minimum of 8 hours, sometimes more. I sometimes sear the meat first, sometimes not, but I always add salt and pepper to the roast, using garlic salt, usually. I then add a can of ready made gravy (whatever type for the roast I'm making, beef, port, whatever) and water to the pot, along with fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme. I also add some onions, very roughly chopped and a couple cloves of garlic and a couple bay leaves. Sometimes I add potatoes and carrots to it, sometimes not...whatever I happen to be feeling or whatever the pantry has.

But the BEST thing about pot roasts, is that there is almost always leftovers! Last night I took the leftover pork roast (from the night before) and quickly cooked some chopped potatoes, onions, celery and carrot in the microwave (we hadn't put vegetables into this particular pot roast, as we were having risotto with it). There was some leftover broccoli, so I chopped that up as well.

Then....I made my foolproof pie crust...that's right, I said FOOLPROOF! This pie crust is SO easy, and SO quick to make you won't believe it. It works for any pies, be they pot pies like I was making last night, or fruit pies. The recipe is from Martha Stewart, and while it calls for a food processor, I have also made the recipe by hand (using a pastry cutter), or even with a hand mixer. It makes enough crust for a 2 crust pie, but you could always half the recipe, or freeze the half you don't need if you're making a one crust pie.

Pie Crust
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 c. (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 c. ice water.

In the bowl of the food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.

With machine running, add ice water in a slow steady stream through the feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than about 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together. if it's crumbly, add more ice water, 1 T. at a time.

Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disk, and wrap in plastic (this allows it to chill faster and makes it easier to roll out.) Transfer to the refrigerator, and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

Sometimes, if the dough seems a bit "stubborn" on rolling out (if it's too cold or just not pliable enough) I form it back into a ball-like shape after removing it from the fridge and begin the rolling again. This seems to work out better, on those days when it doesn't seem to want to cooperate.

Always egg wash the tops of your two crust pies. It makes them shiny and BEEEYOOTIFUL!! They look like the pies you see in magazines. Just scramble up an egg and brush it on the top of the pie. You may want to shield it with foil for the first 15 minutes or so of baking, so that it doesn't brown TOO quickly, but then remove the foil and you will end up with a golden beautiful pie (which will have a VERY flaky crust).

After placing the bottom pie crust into the pie plate, I then added all the chopped ingredients, meat and vegetables. I then poured the leftover gravy over all, dotted with a few squares of unsalted butter (always do this for your pies, fruit or otherwise) and topped with the remaining pie crust. After egg washing I put it into a 350 oven for about 45 minutes to an hour.

You can use this pie crust recipe for a lot of things, though...not just leftover pot roast! I sometimes make it, roll out one of the disks and just cover it with sugar and cinnamon. After dotting it with butter, I roll it tightly and place it into a 350 oven for about 45 minutes. Don't egg wash this though, because it can cause it to cook too quickly on the outside before the inside gets done (I think it's because it's so tightly rolled. In any case, my girls love this "cinnamon roll" for an after school snack. I've even done it (on a smaller scale) with the leftover crusts after rolling out and assembling a pie.

So have fun, bake a pie, whether it's for a meal or dessert.

Today's food quote: "There has always been a food processor in the kitchen. But once upon a time she was called "The Missus" or "Mom". Sue Berkman, author.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A salad you will LOVE.....

I love salads. I've shared recipes with you for how to "spice up" your chicken and tuna salads, as well as the "Wedge Salad" recipe from my friend, Rachel, which has achieved almost icon-like status at our house right now. Here's a salad recipe from another friend of mine, Marna, that--on the surface--might look strange, but trust is DEEEELICIOUS. A great choice for lunch with friends, or even a light dinner for your family. And...this salad taste REALLY good "if" there are leftovers.

Oriental Chicken Salad:

1/2 head sliced cabbage (or bag of coleslaw mix)
5 green onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, sliced fine
2 T. sesame seeds
1/4 c. slivered almonds
1 lg can of chicken, drained well and chopped
1 pkg ramen noodles (noodles ONLY, and do NOT cook....they soften in the dressing)

In a bowl, combine the cabbage, onions, celery, sesame seeds, almonds and chicken. Crumble the noodles into the bowl as well.

1/2 c. oil
3 T. sugar
4 T. white vinegar
seasoning packet from ramen noodles
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper.

Pour all into container with a tight fitting lid and shake well.

Pour over salad, mix well and refrigerate for at least one hour....then devour!!

for a light lunch with friends, the perfect pairing with this is

Rhubarb Water: (if you live in an area of the country where you can GET rhubarb---it's almost impossible to find down here in Florida)

2 lbs. rhubarb, washed and cut into chunks
4 c. boiling water
3/4 c. sugar
juice of 1/2 of a lemon

Place rhubarb in a bowl and cover with 4 c. of boiling water. Leave at room temperature overnight. The next day, strain the water into a saucepan, discarding the rhubarb. Add the sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Let cool and taste. Add more lemon juice if necessary. Strain into a bottle and cork. Refrigerate. To be served ice cold. (Note: if you are making this for a party, it tastes "lovely" in a glass with a touch of vodka and a sprig of mint as garnish)

Today's food quote: "The thought of two thousand people crunching celery at the same time horrified me." George Bernard Shaw (explaining why he had refused an invitation to a vegetarian gala dinner)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A hint of autumn......

From what I'm told....there's a hint of autumn in the air...everywhere but here in Florida. Here, it's still "Africa hot" (as a friend of mine says) and we're sweltering away in the 90's. However, there is a breeze in the air that hints at autumn (1. I hate the word "fall" and 2. that might be the 3 hurricanes out in the Atlantic making that breeze, but I prefer to think positively).

One thing that begins to tell me autumn is in the air is that seasonal fruits and vegetables are beginning to appear. This is my favorite time of year, and the appearance of squash, figs, and best of all pumpkins, gives me that "warm and fuzzy" feeling. It won't be long and my favorite holiday of all year, Thanksgiving, will be here.

And so, with a tip of my hat to the upcoming cooler (thank GOD) weather and autumnal is today's recipe; which incorporates pumpkins...the epitome of autumn vegetables. Pumpkins are versatile; in fact, from blossom to flesh they are mostly edible. The blossoms (which pumpkin growers often pluck to encourage growth on other vines) taste wonderful on salads or deep fried as appetizers and it is well known that the salted, roasted seeds of a pumpkin are a favorite of just about everyone.

Pumpkin Ravioli

1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp, plus 1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. blanched almonds, toasted
1 1/2 T. chopped fresh rosemary
1 c. canned pumpkin (be VERY careful not to buy "pumpkin pie filling"--but make sure the can says only "pumpkin"...pumpkin pie filling is already spiced for making a pie..and is not the flavor you want here)
1/4 c. finely shredded Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional for garnish (if you cannot find this particular type of cheese, just grate regular parmesan....these can be found in your supermarket either in the deli section or in the cheese aisle---with regular parmesan you will lose some of the "richness" of the flavor that you would get with parmegiano-reggiano, but it can be substituted)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper--plus additional to taste
20 wonton wrappers, thawed if frozen

In a medium skillet cook onion and garlic in 1 tsp hot butter over medium heat..only until onion is softened, about 3 minutes

In a food processor (or blender) combine 1/4 c. of the almonds and the rosemary. Cover and pulse with several on/off turns until nuts are finely ground. Add pumpkin, 1/4 c. of the cheese, the onion mixture, salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. Cover and pulse until just combined.

Working with 2 wonton wrappers at a time, top wrappers with one tablespoon of filling. Brush edges of wrapper with water and bring one corner of wrapper to meet the opposite corner to form a triangle, pressing down around filling to force out any air and to seal edges well. Cover filled ravioli with a dry kitchen towel while you repeat with remaining wonton wrappers and filling.

Coarsely chop remaining 1/4 c. of almonds. In a medium skillet heat remaining 1/4 c. butter over medium heat, add chopped almonds and cook, stirring until butter begins to brown on bottom of skillet (do not allow to burn)....note here: if you have made my "Ravioli with Browned Balsamic Butter Sauce" recipe...this is basically the same procedure in cooking the butter. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm.

Bring water to a boil and cook ravioli for 2-3 minutes or until tender, gently stirring occasionally. (Keep water at a low boil to prevent ravioli from breaking) Drain.

Drizzle ravioli with almond-browned butter and sprinkle with additional parmesan and pepper to taste. Makes about 20 raviolis.

This is an awesome "meatless" meal...but can also be used as a side dish and goes nicely with pork or lamb chops. Either way, pair with a salad and add pumpkin seeds to that as a makes it fun and ties everything together.

Pumpkins (fresh ones) can be roasted exactly the same way you do any other squash, by scooping out the seeds (save those for roasting too) and cooked in the oven. Scoop out the flesh and it can then be used in place of any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin--in the making of pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins or cake. If you season it with nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, etc, you can go ahead and make your favorite pumpkin pie recipe. Make SURE, however, that when you are doing this, you are buying a "baking" or "pie" pumpkin. They are MUCH smaller than the "jack o'lantern" variety. They are small, round and plump and vary in size, usually from 2 to 5 pounds. Choose one that feels heavy for its size and is blemish free. If stored away from direct light they will keep for about a month, or can be kept chilled. Go ahead and give it a's not that hard. The kids can have a GREAT time scooping out the seeds for you (and eating them after they've been roasted) and the difference in flavor between this and canned will be PHENOMENAL!!)

Tomorrow, along with a couple more "autumn recipes, we'll talk about how to go about roasting those pumpkin seeds so that you'll get top notch flavor.

Today's food quote: "I cook with wine....sometimes I even add it to the food" W. C. Fields, American comic (1880-1946)

Monday, August 30, 2010

This "Southern Kitchen" ain't THAT Southern!!

So...a friend loaned me one of his cookbooks (word to the NOT loan me a cookbook...I collect them and if you loan me a GOOD one, it's going to tempt me in a bad way not to give it back to you----yes Clay, I'm going to return your cookbook, don't worry). This cookbook is called "Southern Kitchen", by Billy Cross. In reading it, I found out my kitchen ain't as Southern as I guess some people's are (another word to the "wise", this post is going to contain some "Southern English, so watch out, I've lived down here a long dang time and have had some great teachers).

Anyway, I'm ramblin' (what's new, right?). The cookbook is divided into 5 sections: Big Game, Small Game, Fowl, Fish, and "Serve Alongs". After discovering that there were recipes in here for about a dozen ways to cook squirrel (are you KIDDING me?), Beaver, Raccoon and Rattlesnake, I figured my kitchen must be "not that southern". I mean, I've eaten venison (deer, for the uninitiated) almost all my life, but SQUIRREL? And seriously, I can't speak for squirrels anywhere ELSE in the South, but Florida squirrels are small, REALLY small....basically little more than a rat with a furry tail (and not that FURRY a tail either!!). Certainly not the fat, sassy furry squirrels of the northern part of the country. As for eating Beaver, Raccoon or Rattlesnake...yea no thanks.

But....the section labeled "Serve Alongs" was where I got REALLY interested. These are some GOOOOODDD recipes so I fully intend to share some of them with you. Then....wherever you live, you can add a "touch of the South" to your kitchen--without having to eat squirrel.

And so I'm fixin to give you some maybe you can eat southern tonight!!

Corn Soup

1 small onion
1 qt. chicken broth
1 small can tomatoes
dash, salt and pepper
2 T. margarine
1 can whole kernel corn
1 cup half-and-half

Saute onions in margarine. Put onion, a small amount of the stock, about 3/4's of the corn, and all of the tomatoes into a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Put puree in pan and add remaining stock and corn. Salt and pepper to taste. Boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat and add half-and-half. Simmer, but do not boil.

goes great with......

Jalapeno Cornbread

3 cups cornbread mix
2 1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. salad oil (vegetable oil)
2 T. sugar
1/4 c. jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 1/2 c. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 pound bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
1/4 c. pimentos, chopped
1 c. cream style corn
1 large onion, grated
3 eggs, beaten

Put corn bread mix into a large bowl and add milk. Stir and add other ingredients. Bake in 3 greased 8x8x2 pans at 400 for 30 to 35 minutes or until light brown.

(If this recipe makes to much for you, you can freeze the extra (or give it to a friend, along with the recipe---it's always nice to share!!)

and....for dessert!!

Fried Apple Pies

1 lg can Hungry Jack biscuits
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 c. cooking oil
3 c. water
12 apples (fresh)
1 c. sugar
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp salt

Peel and core apples, chop and cook in water until tender, then add sugar, cinnamon and salt. Open biscuit can and separate individual biscuits. Place flour on board and roll each biscuit thin. Place small saucer upside down over rolled dough. Take knife and cut around the edges of saucer. Place 2 T. cooked apples on each circular piece of dough. Fold dough over apples and crinkle edges with fork, punch holes in the top and fry in hot cooking oil (use a shallow pan)until golden brown. If desired, dust with confectioner's sugar.

Today's food quote: "Swappin' recipes is "prob'ly" one of the best ways in the world to git yourself some new friends" Billy Cross (author of "Southern Kitchen")

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Quick fixes, and oh no! what am I going to DO??!!

So yesterday we talked about staple items for your pantry. Items that you should have on hand all the time, to pull from to make a meal. I also think that, there are a couple things you should have on hand at all times (mostly in your freezer) for what I call those "oh no" moments (Oprah has "ah ha" moments....I have "oh no" moments). Moments when you've been detained and have to make a quick meal, you were planning on having tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner and you get unexpected company, or moments when you just do NOT feel like cooking a full fledged meal. I rarely use packaged foods, but it doesn't mean I don't use them EVER. I just try to find the best possible quality (and bargain) for myself when I DO have to use them. So these are a couple recommendations from me for items that can rescue you when you're in a "fix"

Pepperidge Farm cake (found in the frozen food aisle, they have several flavors)--a good dessert if you get unexpected company, or just an unexpected occasion to celebrate.

Stouffer's Frozen Lasagna (also found in the frozen food aisle) this is THE best lasagna around. I will very often pull from this if I want lasagna, because they use top notch, quality ingredients, and it's actually cheaper to buy THIS than all the ingredients needed to make it yourself. You can just throw it into the oven and forget it. Tastes great. Makes a great take along dish for potlucks if you don't know what to take. Comes in sizes from individual to party tray size. I usually have either the "family size" or the party tray in my freezer. (good tip: Publix often has the family size on their "buy one, get one free" sale---which makes it an even BETTER bargain!!)

having pastas on hand at all times (ziti, rotini, even elbow macaroni) means you can make a quick meal (provided you don't exhaust your sauce supply like I did yesterday) or even a pasta salad for a quick lunch. This list of things to add to cooked pasta to make a pasta salad is endless; canned chicken or tuna, chopped onions or olives, frozen peas or even halved grapes!

Tonight I'm entertaining, my son and his fiance are coming, and I don't want to spend a lot of time cooking while they are here. So today's recipe is quick, can be made ahead (mine is already made and covered with plastic wrap in the fridge) and best of all--it's DELICIOUS!! You'll notice pantry staples in this recipe as well. Kudos to Marna Ross, an old friend of mine, who provided this basic recipe. Marna is very active in Pampered Chef, and if you need to purchase kitchen items or tools I HIGHLY recommend the Pampered Chef products. I'm sure if you search the Pampered Chef website you can find Marna and perhaps order from her. If not, host a party and get some great stuff! So, here's today's recipe--Cheesy Mostaccioli

Cheesy Mostaccioli

(I have made this recipe with ziti, rotini, and even elbow macaroni if I had them on hand)

16 oz box mostaccioli pasta
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 t. pepper
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 Jar spaghetti sauce (24-28 oz)
1 can cheddar cheese soup
3 c. mozzarella cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350. Cook mostaccioli according to package directions, drain. Brown ground beef and drain. Add pepper, Italian seasoning, spaghetti sauce, soup (do NOT dilute) and 1.5 c. of the cheese. Pour into 13x9 casserole and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 40 minutes.

I have added to this chopped onion and finely chopped mushrooms (I cook them in with the ground beef). I also add about 1/4-1/2 c. of grated cheddar cheese to the topping as well.

So the pasta is made and in the fridge. When it's dinner time I can just take it out and pop it into the oven to bake (you might want to add 5-10 minutes of cooking time if you've made it ahead and are refrigerating), add a tossed salad and a Pepperidge Farm cake. Maybe I'll even throw some sourdough bread into the bread machine and we'll have hot bread when dinner time comes! No muss, no fuss and one GREAT dinner.

Today's food quote: "I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them" Nora Ephron, writer

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Staples...(not the office supply store) and why they're important

I think the worst thing in the world is to start making something and realize you're out of one of the "key ingredients". This happens to me less and less now, but today is one of "those days". I'd wanted to make tortellini for dinner and I've found that I am lacking in the sauce department. So, after blogging, I will be on the hunt for a sauce recipe. I refuse to go out to the store. This is why having a good stash of staples is SO important, because a run to the store to pick up that one lacking ingredient can result in a $30 tab. I hate that. Also, having a good staple stash means that you can then pull from leftovers in your fridge to make dinner. Besides sauces (which, as I have mentioned, I am OUT of) here is a list of things I try to have on hand at all times:

A bag of frozen tortellini
Bag of frozen ravioli
bacon or pancetta (italian style bacon, however it has not been "cured"). I freeze it if I don't think I'm going to be using it anytime soon
at least one can of "Ro-tel" tomatoes
VIGO brand yellow rice
tortillas (usually flour ones---you can do SO much with a tortilla, it can substitute for flat bread in a wrap, cut into small pieces and drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and then baked at about 350 for 8 or 9 minutes and "voila" you have taco chips!)
Bisquick baking mix
envelope of taco seasoning
chopped walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, etc.
fresh tomatoes (buy the "roma" tomatoes, they're less juicy and they stay fresh longer)
a red onion and a vidalia onion
head of garlic
jar of brown mushroom gravy (I add this to my roasts when I put them into the crock pot and it makes them SUPER juicy)
Can of cheddar cheese soup (great topping for almost anything; meatloaf, meatballs, chicken etc, or add to spaghetti sauce for baked ziti and it makes it super cheese-y, add a can of rotel tomatoes to it and heat---don't dilute, and it's great for dipping tortilla chips in)
sour cream
heavy whipping cream
mascarpone cheese (not easy to find, but invaluable in the kitchen)
ricotta cheese
mozzarella cheese, brick and grated
brick of parmesan cheese
grated cheddar cheese

From the above list, I can make a host of meals happen. Obviously today, I'm in a bit of a pickle since my sauce base isn't here, but I'm going to solve this issue somehow (topic for future blog...hmmmmm). The other night, when it was just Dan and I, I pulled from my staple cupboard and made the following dinner, utilizing leftover asparagus, crabmeat and mushrooms:

Seafood Alfredo Tortellini

1 jar alfredo sauce
2-3 c. frozen tortellini (I usually get the cheese tortellini)
1 small bunch of asparagus spears, fresh
1/2 c. of crab meat
1 T. butter
1 clove of garlic finely diced
1/2 c. of sliced mushrooms, fresh
1 small (or 1/2 medium) onion finely diced
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 to 1/2 c. of grated parmesan cheese
small sprigs of basil (optional, for garnish)

Steam the fresh asparagus (remember to put immediately into an ice bath to stop cooking and preserve greenness). Cook the tortellini according to package directions and drain. In a saute pan, melt the butter and then add the onion and the garlic. When the onions are soft (not browned) add the mushrooms, cook until soft. Add the asparagus spears and then add the sauce...heat through. Pour over the tortellini and add the lemon juice. Toss. Top with the freshly grated parmesan and crab meat and then garnish with some sprigs of fresh basil.

Obviously you could leave out the crab meat if you don't like it (but, seriously why don't you? it's DELICIOUS!!) or even subsitute diced chicken instead. Also, instead of asparagus you can use broccoli, peas, carrots, virtually any vegetable you may have left over.

Today's food quote: "There is no love sincerer than the love of food" George Bernard Shaw, Irish playright

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fun with Skewers

Isn't food on a stick more fun? Isn't the word "shish kebab" just fun to even SAY? It's one of the oldest ways to serve food, but in our American culture it's very seldom used. Still, it's one of the BEST ways to get kids to eat something they might not normally eat, especially if you let them put it on the stick! In any case, here are some fun ideas for foods to "skewer" and eat. From fridge to grilling to fun, if you have any ideas that haven't been mentioned (and I'm sure there are a lot of ideas out there!) PLEASE feel free to share them.

First off, and by popular request, are "Dan's Chicken Sticks". Our girls aren't big steak fans, and we (Dan and I) aren't very fond of chicken, so these "Chicken Sticks" often make their appearance when we're grilling steaks (or salmon...the girls don't like THAT either). We take boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut them into strips about 1 to 1 1/2 inch wide. Season them with salt, pepper, garlic powder and Dan's favorite seasoning, "Everglades" (you can find it in the spice aisle, alongside the "Mrs. Dash, salt, pepper, etc. It's a spice mixture and it's awesome on meat). We thread the chicken onto the skewers and place them on an area of the grill with medium heat. Melt about 1 stick of butter and to that add 1-2 cloves of garlic; crushed. As the chicken is grilling, baste often with the melted garlic butter. Keep the skewers moving often (rotating and moving) so as not to burn.

One of my favorite "stick foods" is prosciutto and melon. Had some last night in fact. Ask your deli attendant to slice prosciutto nice and thin. Cut honeydew and cantaloupe melon into cubes (you can also use watermelon if you'd like). Cut the prosciutto into small squares and stack them. Alternate melon cubes with prosciutto onto the skewers. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Works great as a lunch, a snack, or an appetizer. You can also use small "party picks" and just use one cube of melon and a couple squares of prosciutto. You can even add small cubes of mozzarella cheese if you'd like.

For vegetarian friends (or just as a side dish) you can skewer small onions, cherry tomatoes (grape tomatoes are a bit too small) cubes of pineapple, slices of green pepper, lemon wedges (grilled lemon tastes AWESOME!!) and even small slices of corn on the cob. Grill these slices and baste them with the same garlic butter mentioned above for the chicken skewers and they are great!! We've added shrimp and also cubes of kielbasa to these and they become a main meal.

A good idea for a "dessert on a stick" (and kids LOVE making these themselves) is cubes of pound cake, pieces of their favorite fruit, berries, and cubes of Rice Krispie marshmallow treats. Serve with vanilla yogurt for "dipping"--and maybe even some chocolate sauce! :)

Cubes of different types of cheeses, on a stick make a great snack and, once again, are fun for the kids to do all by themselves.

Also remember that all time favorite "stick food", fondue. It's making a comeback with restaurants like "The Melting Pot" and is a lot of funs for kids (if supervised), couples, and parties. We did fondue for dinner once when the power was out and it was fun and convenient. Also, fondue is a great way to rid the fridge of leftovers. You can "deep fry" the fondue food in hot oil, and then dip it into sauces...or you can just melt some cheese (always add gruyere, it's the base for all really GREAT cheese fondues) and dip cubes of food like bread, vegetables, apples, etc, into that. Chocolate fondue is awesome as well, but then what ISN'T good when you add chocolate!!

so go ahead, "stick it to 'em" and have some fun. Like I said, if you have other ideas not mentioned here...share them with us!!

Today's food quote: "Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort" Norman Kolpas

Today's recommended cooking tool: for basting (both inside the home and on the grill, I highly recommend the new silicone basting brushes. Easy to clean (they are completely dishwasher safe) and to MY mind much more sanitary than the old style hair brushes, they make basting a breeze. They are heat resistant usually up to about 500 degrees so are completely comfortable both in the oven, on the grill or wherever you may need them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

tonight's dinner, Steak Oscar....oh yea, baby

Our family spent the day on the beach. Usually when we do that, we eat very light when we get home...or even eat out. But in the car, driving home, Dan mentioned that he would like to try making Steak Oscar...and I was TOTALLY up for it, neither of us ever having tasted it before. A drive home, a trip to Publix and we were IN business. If you love steak, give this one a go, it is AWESOME!!
This recipe is for if you are needing to serve more, you're going to have to multiply...but it's easy, so no problem

Steak Oscar

2 small ribeye steaks
1/2 pound of asparagus, thin delicate spears
1 envelope bearnaise sauce
1/2 pound of crabmeat (PLEASE do not use the "sashimi crab meat) we bought a pound of crab legs/claws at Publix and had the seafood counter attendant steam them for us (adding only Old Bay as the seasoning)....then crack the claws and remove the meat, shred with two forks and you're in business. You can buy crab meat in small containers in the seafood section of your supermarket, but you'll find..if you do...that you will be chomping on a LOT of crab shell. They don't do a very good job of cleaning it, so take it from me, just have the "fish guy" steam some crab legs for you and take the time to remove the meat yourself. It's not that hard...:)
3 scallions, finely chopped
1 T. lemon juice

Chop the scallions and mix with the shredded crab meat. Steam the asparagus in a steamer basket over about 1 in. of water. bring the water to a boil, cover and steam the asparagus for about 8 to 10 minutes, until crisp-tender. Remove and put into ice bath (bowl of cold water and ice cubes) to stop cooking and preserve the green color, drain.

Grill the steaks to your desired level of doneness (medium to medium rare is recommended). When almost finished, prepare the bearnaise sauce according to package decorations. Take a steak, place several (6-8) asparagus spears on top, cover with a small scoop of the crab meat and pour one half of the bearnaise sauce over each steak. Add (on top) about 1/2 T of lemon juice. Really, measuring the lemon juice is not necessary, just a "spritz" over the top will do great.

We had ours tonight with "Wedge Salad" (AWESOMMMMEEEE, check out yesterday's blog if you haven't already for that recipe, generously donated by Rachel Viera)and it was a delicious full meal, meat, salad, and vegetable. Fabulous, beautiful, a sensual experience and a WHOLE lot cheaper than if we had ordered it in a restaurant. Plus we had a great time preparing it together.

Today's food quote: "For the millions of us who live glued to computer keyboards at work and TV monitors at home, food may be more than entertainment. It may be the only sensual experience left" Barbara Ehrenreich, author

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer is winding down.....maybe

Summer is in its waning most places. Here in "sunny Florida' we're probably in for at LEAST another two months of HOT weather. This summer has been a hot one most places, and I'm sure we'll all be glad for autumn to arrive after all of this heat, but in January's cold and gloom most of us will probably wax poetic back to these days of sun, heat and hanging out by the beach or pool. When our family does this, we like to grill. Personally, I think there's nothing better than the beach, and grilling on the beach (where allowed) just makes perfection even MORE perfect! But backyard grilling is probably the easiest, since everything's at hand. While my husband and I both love seafood, and especially grilled seafood, he tends toward loving to throw a big fat steak on the grill. It's affectionately known as "man food" at our house. I like to pay special attention to the salad whenever it's a "man food night" because that's what I tend to concentrate on. I like steak...just not in mass quantities.

I stumbled upon this method for grilling steak when reading an Italian cookbook. In Italy, they often marinade a steak AFTER it's been grilled. In a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and thyme. Measurements are unimportant, just for an average to large size steak measure out about 1/4 c. olive oil, the juice of one to one and a half medium sized lemons and several sprigs of fresh thyme. If you can't find fresh thyme, use about 2 tsps of dried. But trust me, the fresh thyme is going to be better. Mix all the ingredients together and place in a shallow pan. When you remove the steak from the grill, immediately place it in this pan, for about 1-2 minutes per side. Squeeze about a half a lemon over the top and serve.

Now onto the salad. In several local restaurants they serve this salad that we also refer to as "man salad" because of it's size--but it's real name is "Wedge Salad". My husband's not all that fond of it-not because of the taste but because of the way it's served (he totally ruins the presentation by hacking it all to pieces)....but seriously I think it ROCKS. It's awesome for serving next to steaks, grilled seafood, anything really. But the even better thing about this salad is it can stand alone, for a great lunch. It's fun, its presentation is fabulous and it's easy to make. I got this recipe from my friend (and my ONLY Blog follower to date) Rachel Viera. Thanks, Rachel, for this contribution. Rachel loves to cook and I'm looking forward to sharing many recipes of hers with you in the future. So here is Rachel's recipe (and it's great..I might add...had it last night) for "Wedge Salad" (aka in the Lowe house "man salad). Give it a try are going to LOVE it! (and thanks again, Rachel, love YOU too!!)

Wedge Salad

Take a head of iceberg lettuce and cut it into quarters, place each "wedge" on a plate.

3 T. white wine vinegar
1 small onion finely chopped
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. crumbled bleu cheese

Mix all ingredients together and pour over the wedges. Rachel recommends placing small baby carrots on the side for added color and presentation (and it does, it looks really pretty) but I have to say that they also taste great when dipped into the extra dressing.

So in the waning days of summer, when you're wanting to enjoy that grill just a few more times (we can do it year round here, but I recognize that a lot of people cannot) give that Tuscan Steak Marinade a try, and serve it alongside of Rachel's Wedge Salad. Great meal, some fantastic flavors and both are super easy to make.

Today's food quote: "Food is our common ground. A universal experience" James Beard

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More lunchbox favorites

I have SO much going on right now, but it's for this very reason that planning ideas for the girls' school lunches when school starts next week is so very important. Having things on-hand, to make sure they eat nutritious lunches is really important to me.

So here, once again, are some quick ideas for lunchbox items:

Puree black beans or pinto beans (or you can buy canned refried beans). Spread on a tortilla (whole wheat for more nutrition) and top with salsa and chopped lettuce. Also grated cheedar cheese if desired. Roll tightly and you have a completely balanced, nutritious lunch. Avocado tastes great on this as well, but I'd only use that if you were making this for an afternoon snack, as putting it in a lunchbox will cause it to turn brown by the time lunch rolls around....still tastes great, but kids don't consider it very appetizing.

Whole grain crackers, spread with cheese(s) or peanut butter are a great sandwich alternative. Kids love them.

If your kids are like mine they love pizza. They'll eat it hot or cold. You can make a pizza for dinner, topped with your choice of toppings, and refrigerate the left-overs and wrap pieces in foil for a lunchbox treat the next day.

Wonton wrappers from your local supermarket, stuffed with chopped vegetables, potato, or ground or chopped meat can be quickly deep fried in a pan and are great the next day (refrigerate after making) in a lunchbox served with a container of your choice of dip. Along this same line, for a "sweet treat", place a small scoop of nutella or peanut butter in the center of a wonton wrapper, fold over and seal with an egg wash and deep fry. Top with confectioner's sugar and you have a great treat for lunchbox or after school.

Today's food quote: "There's something I've noticed about food: whenever there's a crisis if you can get people to eat normally things get better: Madeleine L'Engle