Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dinner's on ...the pets?

Corky and Poe won October's Pet of the Month contest in our local newspaper!!! A narrow victory, by only 6 votes! The prize was a $40 gift certificate to Texas Roadhouse for the owners. Plus, they'll get to be contenders in the 2008 Pet of the Year contest next month!

Because our cabinets are running on empty, trying to use up the last of everything before our trip, it made perfect sense to go out to dinner tonight!

We ate, and ate, and ate, and ATE. As we were seated, the hostess brought along fresh, warm rolls and a delicious, creamy butter, along with a big ole bucket of peanuts. Next, we had an appetizer of an onion blossom. I then had a combo plate of ribeye steak and grilled shrimp with sides of a house salad and steak fries. Johnny had a 16 oz. NY strip steak with baked beans and steak fries as his sides. We washed everything down with glorious, authentic sweet tea. Hands down, my favorite beverage (when done right).

After I turned in our $40 gift certificate, the grand total for the meal (minus tip) came to $1.55!!! Cheap meal!

The funniest part of the evening was when our waiter brought us four boxes to wrap up our leftovers. One for the onion, one each for our individual meals, and the last for a whole fresh batch of warm rolls the waiter brought us for free to take home! We made out like bandits - first eating until we wanted to pop and then bringing all this home for <$2! So, thank you Corky and Poe, for buying your Mommy and Daddy a delicious dinner and awarding us with enough leftovers to eat a complete dinner tomorrow night, too!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Kris Kringle Cookies

I don't like to post recipes that I haven't personally made for two reasons. First, sometimes a recipe looks good on paper, but once you make it, it needs tweaking or isn't good. I like to explore first and taste it for myself before I pass the recipe on. That way I can give tips on substitutions, or a review of the taste. Second, blog posts are just more fun with pictures! If I haven't made the recipe, I'm not going to have pictures to show you the process and finished product, which I feel add to the post.

This year, things have been hectic with work, family, loads of snow and ice, negative temperatures, difficult commutes, shoveling, Christmas cards, mailing presents, and travel plans. Four wheeling it to the grocery store to pick up cookie supplies was pretty low on my list. I also have considerably less people this year to bake for, versus last year. Sadly, I ended up omitting the baking part of Christmas presents this year.

If I had made cookies this year, these are the ones I would have made, so I'm sharing them with you anyways! I made them last year and they are fantastic! The batch is HUGE - yields 72, so you can easily divide them up amongst several recipients and they look very Christmassy and festive. Last year I made two batches and split them up between my work and Johnny's closest co-workers. I think 6 people total, plus some for us to eat ourselves! We heard nothing but good reviews, even had some requests to pass on the recipe - something I always consider a compliment.

Big Batch Kris Kringle Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 (6 oz.) pkgs Baker's white baking chocolate, chopped
2 cups chopped pecans, toasted
2 cups dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Beat butter and sugars in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour, baking soda and salt; mix well. Stir in chocolate, pecans and cranberries. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls, 1-1/2 inches apart, onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake 9 to 11 min. or until lightly browned. Cool 3 min.; remove to wire racks. Cool completely. Store in tightly covered container at room temperature.

Yield: 72 servings

Like I said, I haven't made them since last year, so a lot isn't fresh in my memory. But, I do remember using white chocolate chips instead of chopped baker's chocolate. I vaguely remember cheating and just buying Fischer's pre-chopped pecans, too! Oh! And, I accidentally bought Craisins, the sweetened cranberries so the cookies had an extra layer of sweet. I found it to be a nice edition, but I think you're technically supposed to use plain, unsweetened dried cranberries.

Merry Christmas!

This is Johnny (aka Santa) and me (his elf) at one of work's three Christmas party events we did for the kids!

We'll be spending Wednesday with Johnny's family, who celebrates on Christmas Eve. This is pretty foreign to me, but it works out well since my family celebrates on Christmas Day. No battles over which house to spend Christmas at - they each traditionally celebrate separate days! This will be our third year of flying to see my family very early Christmas morning. This year Christmas is at my grandparents' house in Florida, instead of my parents' house in North Carolina! I'm looking forward to 80° weather so I can defrost! Then it's up to a mild North Carolina for a few days to see friends and my Dad's mom, Grammy, before heading back to the frozen tundra of Chicagoland.

I hope everybody has a wonderful, blessed Christmas with their family and friends. Stay safe and eat wonderful food!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Divvies winner!

NoWheyMama posted about a giveaway a couple of weeks ago, so I hurried my pretty, little (I wish) butt over to One Frugal Foodie's blog to enter.

Divvies was giving away gourmet treats and their facility is dairy/milk free, egg free, peanut free, tree nut free, and as a result, vegan and kosher! Score! A cool prize, and Johnny can safely pig out on the rewards with me. Sign me up!

I was one of the two winners and Alisa emailed to let me know, saying I would get a gourmet popcorn kit. Days later a package arrived and I'd completely forgotten about the contest and receiving a prize.

Until I opened the box!! Divvie's cupcakes! I'm not sure why or how I got cupcakes instead of popcorn, but yummy, yummy. If I wasn't informed ahead of time, or by the writing on the box I would have never guessed they were allergy-safe foods - they were super moist and decadent, missing nothing of a "regular" cupcake and frosting.

While a little too expensive (for us) to regularly purchase from Divvies, we're definitely hooked. I'm keeping them in mind for "safe" foods in the future, and possible ideas for Johnny's brother, who also has dairy and whey problems.

On an allergy note, we had our first dairy and wheat allergic child attend an event hosted at the store yesterday. Part of the Christmas event was to decorate your own cookie, so the mom thought ahead and provided her own dairy and wheat free cookies. She decided to stay at the event, which was intended to be drop off and go, but I reassured her it would be no problem to sit on our benches in the back while the event was going on. I thought of you, NoWheyMama, and your "hovering" story - so I knew she just wanted to make sure everything was fine and her daughter kept safe. I reassured her that my boyfriend has a whey allergy, so I have my own experience with cooking allergy-free foods so I understand the severity of contamination - to hopefully ease her mind that I wasn't taking her request lightly or brushing it aside. I also brought her all the sprinkles and cookie decorations so she could read the labels and make sure, for herself, that they were safe for her daughter. I'm so glad I've had some experience through the blog world of allergy mom's -- it really helped me out in this situation! Thanks guys!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chicken Stir Fry over Rice

Well, we're strapped in and awaiting the much anticipated storm. The ice has begun, and I guess after about a half of an inch of that has accumulated, the up to 12 inches of snow will fall. Thankfully, I don't have to go into work until a huge Christmas event in the afternoon, so they'll most likely have the roads plowed and salted by then. The past few after-snow mornings before they plowed was a little treacherous, to say the least. I own a Jeep and have no idea how people drive tiny compacts around all winter. Tuesday night, after about 8 inches of snow, I had to drive the whole way home with 4WD on and it took me 45 minutes to traverse my usual 8-10 minute route. I shouldn't complain though, it took Johnny two hours to commute his usual 30 minute drive home.

Tonight was another quick favorite. I took the remaining three thin chicken breasts and cut them up, along with a small onion, half of a green pepper and 1 large carrot.

Those were thrown in our stove-top wok with my new Hoisin sauce from Value City and some soy sauce to thin it out. While I stir-fried away, Johnny contributed to the meal by making instant rice. We do have the "real" stuff, but it was getting late and I didn't want to wait 20 minutes for it to simmer.

When the chicken and vegetables were almost done, I threw in a spoonful of pre-minced garlic and handful of roasted peanuts. Once the rice was done, that went down first and we scooped the stir fry mixture atop. I tried a little bit of the Hoisin sauce before adding it to the pan, to make sure I would like it before ruining a whole meal. It tasted good, but after mixing and cooking with the stir fry flavors, it tasted GREAT! I'm hooked!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

BSI: Carrot (Mixed Veggie Quinoa with Chicken)

I love carrots and always, always have them on hand. Baby carrots, or regular carrots - you'll find either in my fridge. I eat them raw as snacks with dip or hummus and I add them to a lot of dishes, not only for the taste, but the color. They're a great BSI choice, in my opinion!

Tonight's dinner is a simple one that we eat quite often, but I love mixing it up each time with different vegetables and marinades. Tonight, I made sure to include the BSI ingredient of the week - carrots!

I cut up the following vegetables and threw them in a medium saucepan:

1/2 onion
1/2 green pepper
1 stalk celery
1 small head of broccoli florets
1 large carrot
1 spoonful of pre-minced garlic
4 sun-dried tomatoes

I then added a 1 cup mixture of heirloom red quinoa and traditional quinoa, a splash of olive oil, dashes of onion and garlic powder, and 2 cups of water. This simmered for 15 minutes until the quinoa and vegetables were tender and the water was absorbed.

For the chicken, I used 2 Perdue thin sliced boneless, skinless chicken breasts. They're often buy one get one free and I prefer them over the regular chicken breasts. The thinner meat is easier to trim, cooks faster, and you usually get 5 or 6 pieces, versus a regular breast package that has 3 huge breasts. I can usually get two meals out of one thin sliced package. I mixed up about a tablespoon each of Annie's Goddess Dressing, lemon juice, and olive oil to marinate the chicken in. When the quinoa had about 5 minutes left, I sauteed the chicken breasts in a dry pan, over medium heat for 2 and a half minutes each side.

These two components paired together beautifully! I love the mixture of red and plain quinoa, they have a slight difference in taste, the red a little nuttier. Cooking the vegetables right in with the grains gives them great flavor - almost infused with vegetable broth and all the vitamins and minerals that otherwise would have steamed or boiled out of the veggies. The chicken was very juicy and tender, the Annie's dressing giving it a nice, flavorful kick. Just a bit of a background flavor, caused by the marinade, not too overpowering of the other flavors.

I also got another gift magazine subscription in the mail today! First, Guideposts from my grandmother, and now Taste of Home from my aunt! I've never gotten gift subscriptions before, so this is a nice treat! My old job in North Carolina used to have Taste of Home for people waiting at the office and I'd flip through and snag recipes every once in awhile. Now I have my own! I'm looking forward to getting a couple magazines on a regular basis. I haven't sat down to read it in depth yet, but I always love getting inspiration from nice, color pictures, which they definitely have.

Monday, December 15, 2008

12' of sandwich

Tonight was our Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Grand Opening party! We technically opened in October, but didn't join the Chamber until November. They said if we didn't have a ribbon cutting yet, to go ahead and plan one for the press. So, we did.

Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse today and it was only 10° tonight, with a windchill of -3°. Very, very cold and it rained all day yesterday, so it froze over. The roads were very icy and dangerous, so I don't blame people for not coming out, although I still wish they had! I also wish the city had put our tax dollars to use and spread some salt on the roads!

We had expected around 50 people, but I'd say we only ended up seeing about 20, so there were TONS of leftovers.

This great place, called Anthony's Pizzeria has been awesome to us. They staple our brochures on all of their take-out and delivery boxes and we recommend them to all of our birthday parties. For tonight's party we purchased two 6' subs and then he threw in two big salads for free! A yummy pasta salad and to-die-for Hawaiian salad. From what I could decipher, it had pineapple, grapes, mango, and oranges in this deliciously creamy dressing, topped with shredded coconut. I had three servings!

The two subs "before." Each had only about 2' gone for "after." The center picture shows our spread with all the necessities and salads. Our round, little project table worked out perfectly for a buffet-style precession.

Our humble, little "ceremony." (I made the bow!) Rob, Di's husband on the left, 2 women from the city council, Di in the purple and me in the green - that's my $7 Value City sweater.

With the low turn-out, we have tons of leftovers! The mini-fridge at work is piled high for us to eat lunch, my boss brought home 4' of sandwich and the serving platters (still 1/2 full) of pasta and Hawaiian salads. I brought home the second 4' of remaining sandwich and two big bowls of either salad.

I've been really busy getting Christmas stuff done. I finished all of our cards and got those out. (I've even heard from my friend in Holland that she got hers today - quick!) Then, finished my shopping, wrapped all of our presents, and also mailed them out to everybody. I'm waiting on 2 of Johnny's last presents to arrive and my Secret Santa present to arrive, then everything is officially complete. Johnny's family is so big, it'd be impossible to get presents for everybody, so we just throw names in a bowl, draw and gift exchange with one person for a $100 limit. We figure one, good present is better than like 10 rushed and budget-saving ones.

I haven't cooked in awhile - besides heating up a can of something, or microwaving leftovers. I didn't even get to participate in last week's BSI challenge, but am excited about this week's over at Catherine's blog - carrots! Everybody has those on hand, and I feel like the recipes submitted could be really helpful to me in the future. You could always use a new carrot dish!

I'm working all day tomorrow, but need to somehow plan a grocery trip in soon. We need to get some staples replenished so I can map out some sort of a meal plan.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Cards

I'm just finishing up a whole stack of Christmas cards for friends and family, as most of you probably are, too.

If you have any extra cards leftover this year, put them to good use by sending them to a soldier. They need to hear our appreciation and thanks this time of year, especially if they are spending yet another holiday away from their family and friends!

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Cards sent to this address need to be postmarked no later than Dec. 10 and cannot include any inserts or photos.

This link will provide information for different programs, if you'd like to send a gift card or certificate to a soldier and their family.

This site gives you the ability to pick a program to send a care package to a soldier.

And, if you're down on cash (who isn't?) you can send an email, for free, here.

Regardless of your personal feelings about war, our troops still need America's support. These are just a few ways to show them that they are in our thoughts and prayers this holiday season!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Open-Faced Meatball Sandwich

I had taken out a pound of hamburger meat for the Golabki, in addition to the pound of ground turkey. Then, I noticed that they had a lot of meat leftover, so one pound would probably be enough. That left me with a pound of hamburger that needed to be used.

The only thing I could think of, and kept going back to, was meatballs! But I also really wanted the creamed cabbage again, so I didn't want to turn it into a huge pasta dinner.

I whipped up a batch of meatballs, very similiar to the meatloaf recipe I posted. While they were baking, I made the creamed cabbage again. Gosh, this dish is sooo good! I'm totally in love. This time I didn't have white wine on hand, so I threw in a couple tablespoons of watered down lemon juice and you couldn't even taste the difference. I guess it just needs a little bit of some bright burst in the background.

When the meatballs came out of the oven, I threw a piece of bread in the toaster oven for a couple of minutes. Once it was toasted up a little bit, I cut up two meatballs in slices and layed them out on top of the toast. I then poured some Prego on top, and a small sprinkling of mozzerella. I put this on foil and threw it back into the toaster oven until the cheese became melted.

Tonight Johnny had a late dentist appointment, so it was nice to just cook up two completely separate dishes that I wanted and watch my guilty pleasure shows he hates. (Jon and Kate Plus 8 and The Hills) I curled up on the couch and watched while our little tree glistened across the room.

We got an artificial one last year, at Menards, for only $5. This is my first artificial tree, but they're just so expensive out here. Plus, we go to visit with my family Christmas Day through New Year's each year and come home to a dried out tree that hasn't been watered in a week. The leaves have fallen everywhere and it's already time to take it down, on top of unpacking. This way is just easier.

He's a cute little 3' guy that we string with simple, white lights, my favorite. Johnny's favorite color is blue, mine is green. So we have 24 ornaments, 12 of each color. The star is an LED light that changes every 2 or 3 seconds between blue and green.

Because it's so little, I flip a box upside down and put the tree on top of it. Then, we have a tree skirt that covers the artificial bottom of the tree and drapes over the box, hiding the sides and front! I love our little tree! :)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

BSI: Ginger (Crustless Apple Pie w/ Ginger Topping)

I've been waiting for the perfect moment to jump into the BSI contest and this week's ingredient selection was perfect: ginger! I had made those ginger ribs about two weeks ago, and know (from the great Alton Brown) that ginger doesn't last indefinitely in the fridge. I still had some on hand I wanted to use up, so this was calling to me!

As with the ribs, I usually have only cooked with ginger in savory dishes. The ribs turned out great, I've added it to a lot of asian-inspired meals and stir-fry dishes. As I was looking around for inspiration, I realized that it can be found in many sweet things and I knew I wanted to go sweet, versus savory. At first, I was thinking of making a home-made ginger ale, or maybe a ginger infused tea, but I thought in the end it would be kind of a blah entry into a contest, even if the feat of making it from scratch was cool on my end. So, I settled on a crustless pie.

The past few times I've made pies, I've made them crustless. It started with some apples I wanted to use up, so I sliced them and threw them in a baking dish to cook alongside dinner with some cinammon and sugar. They were delicious baked apples, but fell short of a dessert. The next time, I made a simple crumble and baked it on top - perfect! Now, every once in awhile if I have extra apples, or even peaches, I do this crustless crumble pie. So - why not do that, but throw ginger in with the crumble? I thought it'd bake up really nicely and compliment some apples I had in the bottom bin, needing to be used up. Not to mention, smell really delicious in the oven!! Yummy, yummy!

For the filling, I cut up 5 apples, tossed them in the usual apple-pie mixture of lemon juice and sugar, and put them in a sprayed pie plate. Then, for the crumble topping I used about 1/3 cup of Cornflake crumbs (they're whey-free and can be used in sweet and savory dishes), 1/4 cup brown sugar, a couple spoonfuls of flour to hold it together, about 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh ginger and about 2 tablespoons of melted Smart Balance 50/50. I tossed the crumble ingredients together in a small bowl, then sprinkled them across the apples in the pie dish. I baked at 400° for a half an hour, until the apples were tender and the top was crunchy. If you think apple pie smells good, just coming out of the oven - you should smell it with the added scent of ginger!

Friday, December 5, 2008


A few weeks ago a little magazine showed up in my mailbox. It had my full name and correct address, so I knew it was sent specifically for me and wasn't just some free offer or something.

Now, I'm not a big magazine person. I used to be. When I was a teenager, I received about 8 magazines a month. Cosmo and Vogue, music ones, gossip ones, etc. When I moved out of my parents' house and had to stretch my buck I realized that they were trivial and repeated the same rotation of articles in a circle. I cancelled all of them and haven't looked back since.

Until now. Guideposts is a religious-based magazine, their tagline "True Stories of Hope and Inspiration." The other night I read it cover to cover and LOVED it! My cousin teases me that I must be an old woman to enjoy it, but it's great! The stories are written by real people and there's recipes, too! The November issue featured Golabki, a traditional Polish dish of stuffed cabbage leaves. Johnny is 100% Polish, so I was instantly intrigued. Since moving to Chicagoland I've been introduced to Polish culture and the dishes that go with it. I never knew cabbage could be such a versatile vegetable and I've found myself really enjoying it.

Today, I received December's issue and the mystery continued... until I called their 1-800 number and found out my maternal Grandma ordered it to be sent to me! So, thanks Grandma - I love it and am putting the recipes to good use!

Their website is also great, too. They have this video series called The Healthy Cook, hosted by Rebecca Katz. They're just short video clips, but she goes through really interesting things like which oils you should be buying and how to make a great mineral-filled vegetable stock to have on hand. I highly recommend going and browsing around!

1 large head of cabbage
2 tsp canola oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork (or veal)
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 egg, beaten
sea salt and pepper to taste
2 cans condensed tomato soup
2 1/2 cups of water

Core cabbage and place in a large pot of rapidly boiling water; cover and cook 5 to 8 minutes until soft enough to pull off leaves; repeat until all large leaves are removed. Saute onion in oil until transparent. In a large bowl, mix meat, onion, rice, egg, salt and pepper. Place heaping tablespoon of meat mixture on each leaf. Tuck sides over filling while rolling leaf around filling. Chop remaining cabbage and place half on bottom of dutch oven. Layer cabbage rolls then cover with remaining chopped cabbage. Combine tomato soup with water, sitr until smooth, then pour over cabbage and rolls. Cover; bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Serves 6 to 8.

You'll notice I have no pictures to post. That is because today I have a little something different to show you the recipe!!

Guideposts has a video online to show you! Awesome idea!

Do not be afraid of this. Honestly, making lasagna from scratch is harder (in my opinion). It is so easy to roll the leaves and place them in the pot. The hardest part about this whole dish is trying to get a big, wet, scalding hot cabbage out of a deep pot once you've finished boiling it.

I noticed in the video that she had a lot of meat mixture leftover. I cut the recipe down and only used 1 lb of ground turkey and it was more than enough. My last 2 leaves (I was able to get 10 leaves off the cabbage) were stuffed with the mixture because there was so much left!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Spirit

Sarah, over at NoWheyMama has started a Christmas inspired survey to help beat the "craptastic" blues that seem to be settling over our lives right now. Everybody is tagged and encouraged to post on their own blogs. She's also entertaining requests for additional questions.

Favorite Christmas Carol: Little Drummer Boy
Favorite Christmas Cookie: My maternal grandmother cooks a whole arsonal, it'd be impossible to pick! Although, these strawberry-shaped date cookies are at the top of the list, as well as these marshmallow "stained glass" cookies.
Favorite Christmas Movie: Holiday Inn
Favorite Christmas Tradition: Cooking and seeing the handful of overly lit up houses back home.
Christmas Dinner: Turkey and ham
Best Childhood Christmas Present: A big girl bike, My Pretty Ballerina and some dog that walked itself and barked when you pushed buttons on its "leash."
What do you do with Christmas Cards? Stick them on the tree, or in a pile on the coffee table. At home my mom strings them in the dining room, but Johnny would die if I put a hole in the wall to do that!
Sitting on Santa's lap: fun or scary? FUN!
EDITED: New questions from MzEll!
What is the best gift you've given? My mom loved the OLD version of the game of Life, the one endorsed by Art Linkletter. I tracked down a brand new box on eBay that somebody had found in their grandmother's attic. The little life chips and people weren't even punched out yet!
What is your favorite Christmas book? We had a whole basket of them my mom would take out each year when we were little. None stick out, right now though.
When did you find out the truth about Santa? I think I was maybe in 4th grade, so maybe 8 or 9? My mom made this HUGE 4' tall dollhouse (that I still have to this day) for my Barbie's. My cousin and I loved it, and played with it daily - but we noticed that the wallpaper, carpet, and linoleum decorating the house were the same samples of what were in our own houses, or other relatives houses and pieced it together. Turns out my mom had just gathered scraps from everybody's leftover decor and made the house using them!
EDITED: New question from Christina
Where is your favorite place to celebrate Christmas? I like spending Christmas with family, either in a colder, Christmassy atmosphere (read: NYC), or at home in NC. This year we're going to FL, and while I'm excited about a break of warm weather, it just doesn't feel like it'll be Christmas, and I'll also miss out visiting people in NC I only get to see once a year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree

Giada was making wintery recipes yesterday to warm up with. This looked delicious, and I knew it was something both Johnny and I would like - plus there's snow on the ground, so we needed the warming up! I was going to the store today anyways, so I just added the needed ingredients to my list!

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, whole
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes (I omitted, neither of us like spicey)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 lb. rigatoni pasta
1/4 cup torn fresh mint leaves (I substituted parsley - mint sounded too.. desserty to me)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (I substituted mozzarella because Parmesan doesn't agree with Johnny)

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl combine the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. (I just did this right on the baking sheet) Spread the vegetables out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast in the oven until the vegetables are tender and the eggplant is golden, about 35 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting, place the pine nuts in a small baking dish (I used foil). Place in the oven on the rack below the vegetables. Roast until golden, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender, but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta into a large bowl and reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid. (I just filled a mug with it - a little trick I stole from Racheal Ray.)

Transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor. Add the torn mint leaves and extra virgin olive oil. Puree the vegetables.

Transfer the pureed vegetables to the bowl with the pasta and add the Parmesan. Stir to combine, adding the pasta cooking liquid 1/2 cup at a time until the pasta is saucy. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and serve.

Because I knew I was going to omit the mint and not add the red pepper, I thought I was going to lose a lot of the flavor. To account for this, I roasted 4 garlic cloves, instead of 3. This ended up with a little too much of a garlic after-taste when the meal was done, so in the future I'll stick to the 3 because it was still full of flavor and really delicious. It had an unexpected flavor - I thought it would be sort of a soggy, steamed eggplant mush flavor. But, it wasn't - it was a hearty, rich roasted flavor.

In shopping news: I saved $20.23 with the preferred card and $8.85 from clipped coupons, for a grand total of $29.08 off my bill!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shortcut Cubed Steak Stew

Growing up, my Dad would make cubed steak the same way, every time. Until today, I've never eaten cubed steak except sauteed in a pan with onions, and a gravy of ketchup, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. I've made it for Johnny a few times, and while he likes the overall flavor, he's not a big fan of cubed steak in general.

I'm still a fan of its price, though. So, a dilemma was born. Being the Googler that I am, I got to work fixing this little problem. Apparently, cubed steak goes well with mushrooms and Campbell's "cream of" soups. I loathe mushrooms and Campbell's is the world's biggest supporter of whey, making sure it graces practically all of their products, especially the "cream of" soups. Eliminating those two ingredients unfortunately eliminated about 99.98% of recipes I read. Until, I stumbled across a little something called "Shortcut Cubed Steak Stew."

Think: beef stew. Just cubed steak instead of chunked up hunks of quality beef. I took that idea and ran with it.

4 beef cubed steak, cut in bite sized pieces
3 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 Tbsp shortening

1 large onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 medium potatoes, chopped
28 oz. can of tomato puree/crushed tomatoes
1 bouillon cube
1 cup water
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, and sage, to taste
1 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp Gravy Master
1 pkg (10 oz.) frozen green peas/mixed veggies
1/2 green pepper, chopped

2 1/2 cup Bisquick mix
2/3 cup milk

Combine the flour, salt, pepper. Coat the cubed steak pieces with the flour mixture. In a large skillet, melt the shortening over medium heat. Gently shake off the excess coating before dropping in the skillet. Cook the steak for at least three minutes on each side, or until it is golden brown. Add the onion, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, and salt. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are al dente.

Add the peas, and the green pepper. Mix up a bowl of Bisquick with milk to make drop biscuits. Dallop little spoonfuls around the top of the pot, put the lid on and set the timer for 10 minutes. The soup should continue simmering away, cooking the potatoes the rest of the way and steaming the dumplings. After 10 minutes, this is what you'll see:

We couldn't wait to dig in!!! Two huge bowls were served up and we ate and ate until we couldn't eat anymore. It was like a rustic, minestrone type flavor.

There's also a huge container of leftovers that would probably serve another three bowls. Delicious!!! And all from a $4 package of cubed steaks, canned tomatoes, potatoes and some frozen veggies we had on hand!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pet of the Month contest

Hello, readers! I have a request to ask of you.

Last month, on my birthday, my pets were featured in our local newspaper as "Pets of the Week." I was super proud and very excited. Because they were pets of the week, they were eligible for the "Pet of the Month" contest. If they win pet of the month, I'll get a gift certificate to a restaurant, and they'll be eligible for the "Pet of the Year" contest. If they win pet of the year, then we receive gift certificates to pet shops and supply stores, which would be great to use for their food and other necessities.

Our local newspaper has 6 divisions for different Chicagoland suburbs, and they each let you vote on their individual sites - for a total of 6 votes per person.

Here is the link for the contest, they are entry #23 - Corky and Poe. You vote in the right hand column and the 5 other sites are right below.

Thank you so much - me, Corky and Poe appreciate it! :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Edition

Tomorrow we're going to Thanksgiving dinner at Johnny's sister, Di's house. Di is also my boss and co-worker. Other attendees will be Di's husband, Rob, as well as Johnny and Di's mom, dad and younger brother, Mikey. Other siblings are out of town, or going other places for dinner. And Di's two boys will be at their Dad's. So we're down to a lonely 7 from a usual holiday gathering of 15.

I decided to bring one dish for each course of the meal - an appetizer, a side dish and a dessert.

For the appetizer I chose deviled eggs. Unfortunately, I realized during the peeling process that Johnny's mom's eggs are NOT peel-friendly. I've boiled them before just to have boiled eggs and to make egg salad and they are a mess. Their yolks are a lot bigger, so you don't have as much whites to work with. The membrane that holds the shell to the egg is also a lot thicker and stubborn to let go. I even tried the trick from that video I posted - boiling the eggs with baking soda in the water. It was supposed to make them blow easily out, but it just left me standing there cursing 18 eggs for 30 minutes. There was only one casualty - by the time I finished peeling it, there was pretty much just a yolk left. So, I let the dog have a treat. And there he stayed, the rest of the entire egg-making process, hoping he'd score again. See him?

The yams were an experiment of mine, loosely following a tasty-looking recipe I found the other day, while browsing Thanksgiving dishes online. Called "Sweet Potato Casserole II" the recipe is as follows:

4 1/2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup milk
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup butter
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. In a large bowl, mix together mashed sweet potatoes, 1/2 cup butter, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, and eggs. Spread sweet potato mixture into the prepared baking dish. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar and flour. Cut in 1/3 cup butter until mixture is crumbly, then stir in pecans. Sprinkle pecan mixture over the sweet potatoes. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.

Basically, I cheated and started off with a big ole can of candied yams - eliminating the need for most of the sweetening. I did end up adding everything to the yams, just cut back on the sugar and went by consistency for the milk. The topping I pretty much followed verbatim - just eyeballed the measurements, instead of using measuring cups. Everything tasted delicious and smells good, so I have high hopes!

And, finally, the dessert! Which, I actually did not cook. Nooo, it's not store-bought -- Johnny made it!! Last year he saw a Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake on Yahoo's homepage and made it. This year, I just put him in charge of it again! Quite the contrary to my eyeballing, he diligently measured every ingredient, including making use of the "dash" spoon of his special measuring set.

2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (I threw the rest of the can in with my yams, I forgot to mention!)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
dash ground nutmeg
1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup thawed cool whip

Mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs; mix until blended. Do not overbeat after adding eggs. Remove 1 cup batter; stir in pumpkin and spices. Spray 9 inch pie plate with cooking spray; sprinkle bottom with crumbs. Pour remaining plain batter into crust. Top with pumpkin batter. Bake at 325° for 40 minutes, or until center is almost set. Cool. Refrigerate 3 hours, or overnight. Top each serving with 1 Tbsp. of the whipped topping.

We'll be adding more whipped topping than that, of course. He was kind of bummed about the cracks after it was done baking, but I assured him they'll be covered by gobs of whipped topping! In the background is my little "to bring" list I wrote myself so I don't forget something in the morning. Having dishes spread out in two fridges tends to make me do that.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody! Here's a little poem I received at the end of an email forward, that's appropriate for this situation:

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey be plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have never a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!

Oh! And one last thing, (as if this post isn't long enough already). I left our uncarved pumpkins on the front porch for Fall decorations and I saw yesterday that somebody made a snack out of them!!

P.S. - I had wanted to share a tip about "serving platters." My mom, a piano teacher, has several functions and recitals a year. Sometimes she has this lady make these amazing cookie and chocolate platters for the events. Instead of using one of her dishes that needs to be picked up or returned later, she makes disposable platters. They're simply a heavy piece of cardboard wrapped with a pretty foil wrap. I stole her idea for my eggs, since we don't have a platter that large and just used normal foil, taping it to the underside of the cardboard. It serves it's purpose, can be thrown out afterwards and doesn't look as cheesy as a paper or plastic plate.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Creamed Cabbage

I was watching Take Home Chef the other day, with Curtis Stone (yum), and he made this dish. I thought it looked so simple and easy, yet new and innovative at the same time. Stupid me believed the little TLC side note "Find these recipes on our website!" instead of just writing it down myself, and ended up Googling for about half of an hour through message boards and random sites until I tracked this baby down.

6 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I used low sodium bacon)
olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons white wine
1/2 green cabbage, thinly sliced (I just used a whole, small cabbage)
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Cook the pancetta/bacon over medium heat until brown, in a large saucepan. Once browned, spoon out of the pot and set aside.

Discard the drippings and add a splash of olive oil to the bottom of the pot. First, add the onions and sweat for about 5 minutes. Next, throw in the garlic and sweat for another 1-2 minutes. Finally, add the cabbage and white wine and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cream last and simmer for 15-20 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in the pancetta/bacon before serving.

We had this with a quick, one-skillet throw-together of a huge chunked up chicken breast, two sliced carrots, and half of a sliced zucchini. They were lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, onion powder and oregano, and sauteed in about a teaspoon of olive oil.

This is going to become a staple side dish in our house. Oh. My. Gosh. It was so velvetly delicious and creamy, melt in your mouth. The flavors and textures work together beautifully!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Chicken Soup

About as often as I make the stuffed green peppers, I make a chicken soup. So, maybe three or four times a month. People have such a fear of chicken soup from scratch, but I find it easier than opening a can and picking out the gross hunks of meat.

Here's my super, simple, quick version. It makes a huge pot, is cheap, fills you up, you have tons of leftovers, and you can freeze for a meal down the road.

One large onion, two large potatoes (sometimes I omit potatoes), 4 or 5 carrots, 4 or 5 stalks of celery. Chop all of these up and throw them in the bottom of a very large pot. I then add vegetable stock (10-12 cups), a dash of pepper, and one or two bay leaves. I bring this up to temperature and let it hang out for a little while until the vegetables are tender.

This usually takes twenty minutes or so, which gives me time for the chicken. I cheat and buy one of those rotissioure ones from the deli. They're usually $6.99 for the whole chicken, but sometimes they're on sale for $4.99 or $5.99. I buy either the rosemary one or a low sodium one, whichever is available. I avoid the spicey one and there's also a barbeque one.

I basically just pick the entire chicken to the bone (on the right). It gives me 4 or 5 cups of cooked chicken (on the left), depending on the size of the chicken and if I snuck any when I got home from the store. Sometimes it just smells so yummy I need to grab off a drumstick or hunk of the breast!

Once the vegetables are almost tender, I throw in a couple of handfuls of orzo, or other small pasta and let that cook about halfway. I then throw in the chicken and let everything sit in the pot to finish or come up to temperature for another 10 to 15 minutes. Then -- it's done!

Super, spaced out me forgot to take any pictures further than that step. I have no idea why. I also wrote this all up last night and just hit save, instead of post. I blame it on this flu/cold I've had for a week and can't shake. I might have to suck it up and go to the doctor, but I'm avoiding that... long waiting lines with tremendous bills isn't my idea of fun.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Salad in a Pie Plate - again

We had big salads in the pie plates again. This time the ingredients were:

mixed greens
green peppers
crunchy sauteed shallots
candied peanuts
cheddar/muenster cheese
sunflower seeds
cubed chicken breast

I love cramming salads full of a bunch of different textures, flavors, and food groups. It's such an explosion in your mouth each bite, and it's not hard to find things that all go well in salads. I loved the sauteed shallots and candied nuts that 101 Cookbooks called for in their awesome vegan broccoli crunch, that I incorporated them into this salad, too!

AND to top it off, we tried the new Annie's Goddess dressing and it was delicious! I was expecting something a lot nuttier, thinking it would be more tahini based. But it's a nice mixture between a creamy warm flavor and a bright vinegar pop. Sooo great on top of all of those other flavors. Thanks again, Biz!!

We went to Value City tonight because the company is going bankrupt and all stores will be closing before the end of the year. This is very sad for me because growing up it was a tradition to drive from the coast of North Carolina up to Virginia and literally spend the entire day at Value City, Marshalls and TJ Maxx hitting all the sales and buying new school clothes, new lunch boxes, new backpacks and school supplies. You could leave with an entire cart packed with a new wardrobe and supplies for only a few hundred bucks. There's a lot of memories associated with Value City shopping trips.

I've never paid more than $9.99 for a pair of jeans there and once bought all new bras at .50¢ a piece! It's always great to peruse the housewares and kitchen sections for great, unique finds and gifts, too. Tonight it was pretty empty and sad, so there wasn't much variety. Entire aisles were empty and whole sections completely cleared of any racks or merchandise. I'd say about half of our store is already sold off. If you have a Value City by you, I'd recommend just popping in to see what they have. Nationwide the sales are ranging from 20-40% off all prices, even if they've already been marked down before. Potential for some great bargains!

I ended up with 1 sweater, 3 nice shirts, a bra, hoison sauce, kahlua mix, sprinkles, 2 rolls of wrapping paper, 3 scrapbooks, 2 pliers for Johnny, air purifier filters, and a new suitcase for $76 even. The most expensive item was $11.24 and that was the suitcase!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Slow Cooker Ginger-Soy Short Ribs

That title keeps going, believe it or not. Robin Miller is a fan of really, really long titles. This is the last of her recipes on my planned menu. Some we will be revisiting, others we will not.

This is highly altered, so I'll post the original recipe first, in case you're interested and then just describe how I threw it together below.

4 carrots, chopped
2 leeks, rinsed well and chopped
3 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, fat trimmed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup sherry
1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups instant brown rice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoons minced pickled jalepenos
1 teaspoon lime zest

Heat a large Dutch oven and arrange carrots and leeks on the bottom. Season ribs all over with salt and pepper and place over vegetables. In a medium bowl, whisk together brother, sherry, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, ginger and garlic. Pour mixture over ribs. Cover and braise for 3 to 4 hours. This can also be done in a slow cooker - just cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
Cook rice according to package directions. While still hot, stir in cilantro, scallions, jalepenos and lime zest. Season to taste, with salt and pepper.

OK. That is way intense for me. So, here's what I did:

I cut up 6 carrots and 1 small onion and threw them in the bottom of the crock pot. I then cut, trimmed and rinsed normal beef ribs and placed them over the vegetables.

I minced 3 cloves of garlic and about 2 tablespoons of ginger and mixed that with about 1/3 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup white wine and dumped it over everything. I seasoned with black pepper because I figured there would be more than enough salt with the soy sauce. I also threw in a vegetable stock bouillion and about a cup or so of water.

This cooked on low for about 6 to 7 hours and smelled awesome when I walked in the door from work. On the stove I cooked up a box of Rice a Roni's whole grain blend of something or another. It took 24 minutes, so I turned the crock pot to just warm while this simmered away.

The end result were tender carrots infused with ginger, falling off the bone, tender, juicy ribs, and a nutty blend of grains cheated from a box start!

I also received my prizes in the mail from winning Biz's contest! I'm really looking forward to trying them, especially the Goddess one! Thanks!!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

God's Pharmacy

My dad sent me this forward, and I think it's pretty interesting, so I'll pass it onto you!

God left us great clues as to what foods help what part of our body! God's Pharmacy! Amazing!

A sliced carrot looks like the human eye. The pupil, iris and radiating lines look just like the human eye... And YES, science now shows carrots greatly enhance blood flow to and function of the eyes.

A tomato has four chambers and is red. The heart has four chambers and is red. All of the research shows tomatoes are loaded with lycopine and are indeed pure heart and blood food.

Grapes hang in a cluster that has the shape of the heart. Each grape looks like a blood cell and all of the research today shows grapes are also profound heart and blood vitalizing food.

A walnut looks like a little brain, a left and right hemisphere, upper cerebrums and lower cerebellums. Even the wrinkles, or folds, on the nut are just like the neo-cortex. We now know walnuts help develop more than three (3) dozen neuron-transmitters for brain function.

Kidney beans actually heal and help maintain kidney function and yes, they look exactly like the human kidneys.

Celery, bok choy, rhubarb, and many more, look just like bones. These foods specifically target bone strength. Bones are 23% sodium and these foods are 23% sodium. If you don't have enough sodium in your diet, the body pulls it from the bones, thus making them weak. These foods replenish the skeletal needs of the body.

Avocadoes, eggplant and pears target the health and function of the womb and cervix of the female - they look just like these organs. Today's research shows that when a woman eats one avocado a week, it balances hormones, sheds unwanted birth weight, and prevents cervical cancers. And how profound is this? It takes exactly nine (9) months to grow an avocado from blossom to ripened fruit. There are over 14,000 photolytic chemical constituents of nutrition in each one of these foods (modern science has only studied and named about 141 of them).

Figs are full of seeds and hang in twos when they grow. Figs increase the mobility of male sperm and increase the numbers of sperm as well to overcome male sterility.

Sweet potatoes look like the pancreas and actually balance the glycemic index of diabetics.

Olives assist the health and function of the ovaries.

Oranges, grapefruits, and other citrus fruits look just like the mammary glands of the female and actually assist the health of the breasts and the movement of lymph in and out of the breasts.

Onions look like the body's cells. Today's research shows onions help clear waste materials from all of the body cells. They even produce tears which wash the epithelial layers of the eyes. A working companion, garlic, also helps eliminate waste materials and dangerous free radicals from the body.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pasta Rustica

I'm behind on my menu planner due to Saturday working 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. and yesterday working 7:45 a.m. - 7 p.m. (early marketing meeting). Both nights I believe we just substituted frozen pizza.

Tonight I finally got to the Penne Rustica from Robin Miller's Food Network recipe. But, I didn't have penne on hand, and didn't feel like purchasing any just for this recipe when I have a bunch of spaghetti in the pantry. So pasta rustica it became.

Original recipe:
1 pound penne pasta
cooked chicken, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup jarred artichoke hearts, quartered
cooked zucchini, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup chooped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
3 roasted Roma (plum) tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup sliced pimento-stuffed green olives
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated parmesan
freshly ground black pepper

Cook penne according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in chicken and remaining ingredients.

I, of course, didn't have any of the stuff pre-cooked or cut up like I'd planned. Funny how that always works out, isn't it?

I started off a medium, deep sided skillet with a little splash of the Drew's Italian dressing - the one that is mainly olive oil. To this I added one HUGE cut up chicken breast. While that was cooking, I cut up half of a big zucchini and added it to the pan when the chicken was about 1/2 way done. I turned the heat to low, added a lid and let it sit.

Next, I cut a red pepper in half, gutted the seeds and membranes, rubbed them in olive oil and put them skin side up on a piece of foil, along with two small Roma tomatoes. I put these under the broiler for about 10 minutes to roast.

After putting a big pot of water on to boil, I cut up the remainder of items - artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, the olives and I also cut up 3 cloves of garlic. I added each of these to the skillet, still on low.

Once the red pepper and tomatoes were done roasting, I took them out and chunked them up, adding them to the pan about the same time I threw the pasta in the water.

Right before the pasta was done, I threw the fresh basil in the skillet and stirred it up. It was sooo colorful and aromatic. I couldn't wait to eat!!

After I drained the pasta, I rinsed it a bit under warm water. My dad hates this, but my mom has always done it because it rinses away a lot of the excess starch. I've noticed a huge difference in rinsing versus non-rinsing as far as starchy taste and clumping.

We plated up - mine with parmesan on top and Johnny's without. A couple of glasses of $3.99 white wine from Trader Joe's and we dove in. Delicious!!!

Monday, November 10, 2008


Again, do not ask me to pronounce that. This doesn't help either: pronounced /viːʃiːˈswɑːz/, commonly mispronounced /viːʃiːˈswɑː/. That looks like braille to me! From what I can make out in the International Phonetic Alphabet key it's vee-she-swaz, mispronounced as vee-shee-swa.

Wikipedia explains vichyssoise as a French-style soup made of pureed leeks, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock. It's supposed to be served cold, traditionally, but the thought of that makes me shudder. I'm not a fan of cold soups. Something about it just seems weird.

It reminds me of when my brother and I had a few au pairs from other countries when we were younger. One from France, two from Spain and two from England. I remember one from Spain tried peanut butter and bananas together. She wasn't really opposed to the flavor, but she just couldn't get used to the texture. Cold soup has that "wrong texture" feeling to me. My tongue and mind just can't seem to converge and make sense of it as a collective unit.

Apparently Anthony Bourdain lists vichyssoise as the catalyst of his lifelong passion for food, telling of a transatlantic voyage on the Queen Mary at the age of 9, when he first discovered this "delightfully cool, tasty liquid." Maybe, just maybe, I'll try a few spoonfuls after it's cooled down after all. Although, I'm not fully convinced Bourdain can be trusted because he eats some pretty nasty looking things and his tastebuds are probably fried from being such a heavy smoker. On one show, with his brother, they went to France together and he ate this fish soup that almost made my eyes tear up through the TV, imagining the smell, as they described its cooking process. Bllllleck.

I had to work Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and this was on the menu for that night because it was easy. I already pre-cooked the potatoes and chopped up the leeks. That just left heating up and pureeing! Still, I just didn't have the desire to cook it.

I whipped it up this afternoon so tonight's dinner would be just bringing up to temperature. I put a little dallop of Smart Balance and splash of olive oil in a pan, threw in 3 cloves of minced garlic and 2 chopped leeks. I let these cook a little while with the lid on, until the leeks softened. Then I added about 2 teaspoons of Italian seasonings, because the recipe called for thyme and marjoram, both of which were in the pre-mixed container. Once this was fragrant, I added about 4 cups of diced, cooked potatoes and 6 cups of vegetable stock. I brought his up to a boil and let it simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once this was done, I brought the pot over by the sink and had a "puree" station set up, much like the one I used for the cauliflower soup. This time, I used the blender instead of the food processor. I dumped the pureed soup into a big serving bowl, so I could stir and incorporate it all as a whole in the end, in case some blender-fuls had more potatoes than the others, etc. I was going for consistency.

It became apparent VERY quickly that I'd done something wrong. This soup I'd read about and seen pictures of, was supposed to be white. Mine was bright green. The recipe I had from Food Network's site said absolutely nothing about only using the white parts of the leeks, but looking at some other recipes, I found out that's what I was supposed to have done. Oops. I tasted a few spoonfuls and it is still very, very tasty, so we'll definitely eat it. But, traditional Vichyssoise it is not, I'm afraid.

I'm not sure if it's because I used all of the leeks and it made more, but this was tons! I filled a medium saucepan for tonight's dinner to be heated and then a container I put in the downstairs freezer for a dinner in the future. The finishing touch of this soup is to stir in some sour cream (the entire recipe called for 1 cup) before serving. This recipe says to heat the soup, but like I said earlier, it's meant to be eaten cold, traditionally. I froze the other half sans sour cream. I wasn't sure how that would keep its consistency, so I'll just thaw, bring to temperature, and stir in sour cream at the end, like the original recipe calls for.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Brother

Now, I know what you're thinking -- this is a food blog. You'll eventually see my point, though.

My brother, Michael, is three and a half years my junior and was supposed to be a girl. My parents tell me all I talked about was how I wanted a sister, just let me have a little sister. The ultrasound showed a girl, but out popped a boy. I did not take it well and held him accountable for about a decade.

He got me back, though. First, he was a boy. If you come from, or are close to, an Italian family you'll know being a boy equates to being a saint. Second, he was the pickiest eater to ever grace this planet.

The only vegetables he would touch were raw carrots, canned corn and broccoli, if it was smothered in cheese sauce. Guess what three vegetables were served in a never ending circle, despite me liking everything from asparagus to zucchini? Now, I'm not saying the other vegetables were never served, but his preferences definitely were a priority. I distinctly remember him trying salad for the first time. He was probably 7 years old and would carefully inspect each piece of iceburg lettuce (aka water) before dipping it, ever so sparingly, into ranch dressing. He'd then take these tiny rabbit bites and chew and swallow like it might explode in his mouth. And this was him liking salad - a huge milestone.

Nothing could have any sauce or condiments on it. Plain spaghetti, no dips, plain hot dogs and plain hamburgers. My mom would plead, in vain, at fast food restaurants for a plain cheeseburger. She'd say "Just the bun, the meat, the cheese - NOTHING else, please." Inevitably, he'd find some little fleck of an onion or trace of ketchup, that forensic scientists would have difficulty seeing, and the whole burger would be inedible.

Corn on the cob was cut off the cob, or little handles were used. My parents had to wrap a napkin around the "handle" of a drumstick or rib so he wouldn't get his fingers dirty. If his napkin had a crumb touch it, he'd need a new one. Everything was dissected with impeccable knife skills, rivaling a surgeon's precision, leaving any little tidbit of questionable food pushed off to the side, never to be eaten.

Of course any casseroles (one of my personal faves) were out because the foods were "touching." We could eat plain macaroni and cheese, but not Hamburger Helper because it was mixed in. Again, sometimes these were served, but working around his preferences.

Suffice to say, my parents and I suffered through a lot of repeat vegetables and toned down meals so my brother would also eat them.

Fast forward to 2005. Michael will be graduating high school soon and is going through all the financial and application processes...

For the Culinary Institute of America.

My brother, the pickiest eater to walk the Earth, wants to be a chef, at the top culinary school in the country. I guess if you think about it from a psycho-analysts' standpoint it makes sense. The ultimate picky eater aspires to become the best chef so he can control all the ingredients and taste of the food. Right?

A few months ago, Johnny and I drove out to New York for his college graduation and celebrated with family and friends. We enjoyed many meals together and I watched in disbelief as my brother smelled, tasted and ate everything put down in front of him. Where was this kid when we were growing up? He's making ME look like a picky eater now, poking fun of me for not eating mushrooms and insisting I try them. He has eaten, and enjoyed, things I would never be able to swallow down. (Foie gras and sweet breads, anyone?)

Michael graduated August 15 from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park with an AOS in culinary arts.

No longer is he my brother, the picky eater. Now, he's my brother, the chef.

He's working at a highly acclaimed and awarded restaurant in California. In a few months, he will continue his education at CIA's sister campus in California in professional wine studies.

And, he even occasionally lets me bug him with stupid questions like "where's the best place to store garlic," and "how do you say quinoa?" He also passes on great sites.

Oh, and did I forget to mention he also cooks really great meals whenever we happen to be at my parents' house at the same time?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Maple-Orange Chicken with Acorn Squash and Sweet Potatoes

What a mouthful that title is.

This is from Food Network's site, one of Robin Miller's recipes.

1 small to medium acorn squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 leeks, rinsed and chopped
5 skinless chicken breast halves (with or without the bone)
salt and ground black pepper
1 cup orange marmalade
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Place squash and sweet potatoes and leeks in the slow cooker. Season chicken all over with salt and black pepper and place on top of vegetables in slow cooker. In a medium bowl, combine orange marmalade and remaining ingredients. Pour mixture over chicken and vegetables. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.

Que Christina's entrance --
Whoa - if I thought trying to separate microwaved acorn squash from its skin was a hard task, I was sadly mistaken. This was a TOUGH one. I eventually got in a rythm of cutting it into little wedges and standing them on their flat side, peeling downwards with the knife. Similiar to how you'd separate a watermelon from its rind - but 8 times harder.

For the leeks, I saw a tip of how to cut and rinse them once on TV. They're usually very gritty so you slice them lengthwise, in half. Then just ribbon open the little layers under running water and shake dry before cutting them.

I omitted the orange marmalade because I'm not a fan of overly sweet foods and this just didn't sound appetizing to me. Plus, we don't have any on hand and I wasn't going to buy a whole jar of something to just use once in a recipe. Instead, I took a medium bowl and poured about 3/4 cup of orange juice into it. Then a little more than a tablespoon of maple syrup, the real stuff. I swapped the chicken broth for vegetable and added it.

Hoisin sauce sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. I did some googling and it's a Chinese dipping sauce, traditionally made from sweet potato. Wikipedia had a quick overview of the ingredients and I saw vinegar and garlic. So I added about a tablespoon of rice vinegar, which I find milder than other vinegars and minced a clove of garlic. Like any true chef would do, I stirred up this seemingly gross sounding concoction and had a taste before I added it to the dish.

Surprisingly - it was delicious!! Great sign - so I dumped it over and turned the crock pot on!

Johnny liked the fall vegetables a lot. The chicken was a bit dry. But again, like the other chicken crock pot recipe, I just can't swallow that orange flavor in the background so I'm really glad I didn't add the marmalade. If I had to make it again I'd add a lot less orange juice and definitely more maple syrup, as you couldn't taste any in the final product. Maybe more stock, too. The liquid level seemed to be a bit low, so the chicken almost steamed. Ah, but it is what it is. I'll throw this up anyways for any of you who think you'd like it, or to experiment around. The vegetables weren't that bad. Just needs some flavor tweaking and maybe a different meat that wouldn't dry out.