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.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rocky Road Bars

Ok, so you know how at the top of my blog it says "mostly" healthy? I put that in there so I could post recipes like this:

I was in the mood for some baking and I wanted it to be something easy and with ingredients we had on hand. Wandering into the kitchen, I opened the baking drawer where I keep all the flour, sugar, etc associated with baking. Then I looked in the fridge. And I saw -- Crescents! My mom gave me a Pillsbury Crescent menu book. The little ones that you can buy at the checkout stand. She said everything in it looked so good, so she had to buy it, but that she can't keep it in the house or else she'll make all of the dishes and get fat.

So, it was passed onto me -- apparently so I can get fat! Although, I do buy the reduced fat crescents whenever making these recipes. So, I whipped out the book and the very last page has these bars. I scanned the ingredients quickly and we have everything on hand. Even the 8 oz. package of cream cheese - an extra from making the cheesecake for my birthday!

8 oz. refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
3/4 cup salted peanuts or other nuts, chopped
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375°. Separate dough into 2 long rectangles. Place in ungreased 13 x 9 inch pan; press over bottom to form crust. Seal perforations. Bake at 375° for 5 minutes. Remove from oven.
In medium bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and peanut butter; blend until smooth. Stir in corn syrup, vanilla and egg; mix well. Pour mixture over partially baked crust; spread evenly. Sprinkle with marshmallows, peanuts and chocolate chips. Return to oven and bake an additional 25-30 minutes or until filling is firm to touch. Cool completely; cut into bars. Refrigerate leftovers. 36 bars.
Tip: For firmer bar, refrigerate 1 to 2 hours before serving.

Thirty six bars out of a 13 x 9 inch pan? That's like 1 x 2 inch bars!! I guess if you're eating them at a public function where you have to pretend to be quaint and lady-like. When I cut them I got 12 brownie-sized bars.

The shopping trip tonight was a success. Well - almost. Johnny took a slight detour down the frozen food aisle to grab a frozen pizza and we ended up with some other things in the cart. Up until that last aisle we'd stuck to our list. At the check-out I learned that we'd saved $39.79 total - $26.26 in preferred card savings and $13.53 in scanned coupons! Looking forward to the rest of the week's cooking with a planned menu and fully stocked kitchen and fridge!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Menu Plan

I actually got my stuff together and sat down with my recipes, grocery list and coupon folder.

The results: meals planned until next Thursday, a very detailed and organized grocery list and coupons poised and ready to be used before their expiration date.

Today ~ frozen pizza and side salad (I haven't shopped yet!)
Thursday ~ leftover rice and beans
Friday ~ crock pot chicken with squash/sweet potatoes
Saturday ~ vichyssoise (don't ask me to say that)
Sunday ~ eating late lunch at J's parents'/leftovers
Monday ~ penne rustica
Tuesday ~ slow cooker ribs
Wednesday ~ stuffed peppers
Thursday ~ leftovers

For the crock pot chicken, vichyssoise, penne rustica and slow cooker ribs I'm using Robin Miller's quick meals recipes. Their specific posts will be more detailed and give you the recipes.

I'm really going to try and take her advice by organizing not only this week's menu, but the prep-work as well. A couple of these recipes have cross-over ingredients that can be chopped at the same time, or have pre-cooked ingredients I can make ahead in one, huge pre-cook session. Also - two are in the crock pot, which is always easy!

A couple of my cookbooks have recipes that can be frozen, or feature recipes that you can cook up to a certain point and freeze. Once you're ready you continue cooking from that point, after thawing. I might look into spending a day or two in the kitchen to fill the downstairs freezer with easy things like this. It just saves so much money to buy the bigger bags/containers of things. I'm really trying to cut back on our spending. We've already stopped going out to dinner and order food maybe 2 times a month, in comparison to around 2 times a week before. Cooking at home just saves so much, and everybody seems to be trying to save now.

Oh! And while I'm on the topic of saving money -- I scored 100% on my National Safety Council Driver Safety Course! Illinois changed their minimum requirements for automobile coverage, resulting in my premium being raised $80 for the next 6 month installment. I called MetLife to see what they could do and they offered me a "safe driver discount."

All I had to do was pass the safety course and I get to save 10% for the next three years! The class itself was $25 - but it's worth it because of the money I'm going to save (almost $400!). You can take the course online or from a DVD, fill out the answers in the little booklet they mail you and send it back to them. I know MetLife offers it - but if you guys don't have their insurance, you should call up and see if your insurance company offers anything similiar!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rice and Beans

Easy one tonight, no pics.

2 cups white rice
4 cups water

Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. Set timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, add to the pot:

1 can of black beans
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 cup salsa of your choice

Stir together, replace the lid and set the timer for another 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, it's time to eat!

We topped ours with sour cream, but you could easily add a whole array of "taco salad" inspired toppings like cheese, lettuce, jalepenos, more salsa, avacado, chips, etc. Whatever floats your boat!

This made a huge pot of rice and beans. Johnny and I ate our hearts out and there's still half a pot left to put away.

I've been in a slum of cooking, which I've noticed seems to come as soon as I run out of staples or am unpleased with the amount of food left in the kitchen.

I need to remember to keep up on grocery lists and everything stocked and prepared. If I let the kitchen get too empty, when I go to the store I tend to just buy everything, hoping some form of a meal will appear as I get home and look throughout the week. This isn't always the case, or I forget to buy something really common and end up with a bunch of ingredients I need to wait to use.

I made an effort today to look around a bunch of recipes and I'm going to make myself a menu plan for this week. I've done this in the past and need to get into the habit of it again. It makes grocery shopping a lot easier. As well as taking the burden of "what's for dinner" off your mind each day.

Oh!! And I won my first ever blogger contest!!! (I was mentioned once for my witty entry into one of MckMama's caption contests, but this is an actual win!)

Biz used a random number generator to select her winner from comments posted. First, it was her! So she did it again and it was yours truly. She let me select 2 salad dressing choices from Annie's Naturals. I chose the Goddess dressing because it's their most popular (so it must be good) and I'm a fan of tahini. I let Johnny pick the second one because I'm nice! ;) Luckily, he coincedentally picked my secret #2 choice, the pomegranite vinaigrette. It sounds delicious and interesting with black tea in the ingredients. Speaking of ingredients, they won my respect by honestly displaying their FULL ingredient lists. We were able to check and verify that they are whey-free and safe for me to use in dishes Johnny will also be eating.