Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lettuce Wraps

February's Guideposts magazine featured an entire section on Robin Miller! She bought ingredients for 3 dinners for $30, helping to show how to stretch a budget if you just plan ahead.

One of the recipes was Sweet and Sour Lettuce Wraps with Noodles. I altered the recipe a little bit, cooking as follows:

1 pound ground beef (you can substitute ground chicken or turkey)
4 tablespoons apricot preserves
2 tablespoons soy sauce
black pepper
onion powder
garlic powder

Cook meat in a saucepan, drain off excess fat and stir in other ingredients.

I used fresh Butter lettuce leaves, grated carrot, and crunchy rice noodles to assemble the rest of the wraps. They were paired with steamed broccoli that I tossed with a little soy sauce and veggie eggrolls from the frozen food aisle.

We've had lettuce wraps at P.F. Chang's and Johnny said that these were way better than theirs. I liked my flavor better, but theirs has some diced water chestnuts in the meat that give it a good, crunchy layer. In the future, I plan on adding them to my meat mixture! These were fun to make and delicious to eat. Again, one of those things that we always eat out, but never think to cook at home!

My cousin and Johnny's brother just started blogs this week, so go check them out! They are the two most health-conscious people I know! My cousin hasn't eaten red meat in over three years and comes up with really amazing vegetarian and low-fat, healthy meals. Johnny's brother has the will-power of champions when it comes to his body. I have never seen him take an unhealthy bite of anything, plus he runs and bikes year-round. He's training for a 100 mile bike race and 50K run, recording his journey on his blog.

Last, but not least, I grocery shopped like it was my job today. I set out, list in hand and coupons clipped and sorted. Little did I know, that the meat department was having the mother of all sales, several things buy one get one free. Preferred card savings were $38.41, coupons I brought to the store totaled $11.50, the meat coupons were $25.56 -- bringing my grand total savings up to $75.47!!! I almost leapt for joy at the register when the cashier told me my revised total, post-coupon scan! Our freezer has enough meat for weeks and weeks of meals! Is it odd to think that half of the packages might taste just a little better, because they were free?!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I ate way too much lunch, way too late in the afternoon to be tempted by the thought of a big dinner. However, crabcakes were already planned, and last night Johnny and I had a conversation that went like this:

Johnny: "There's 2 cans of crab sitting on the counter."

me: "I know, I put them there to remind myself that I already have dinner covered."

Johnny: "I'm eating crab?!"

me: "Crabcakes."

Johnny: "Oh, I like crabcakes."

So, I felt like he might be looking forward to them all day and I might as well make them, even if I wasn't appetized by the thought!

I drained two cans of quality crab meat and threw in a small mixing bowl. Read the labels and find crab that is packed in water and contains a high percentage of leg meat. I'm a big bargain shopper and coupon lover, but spending just .40¢ more on a can of crabmeat can really make a difference in how your dinner is going to taste.

Next, I added a minced clove of garlic, about 2 minced tablespoons of onion, and about 2 minced tablespoons of celery. I seasoned with some black pepper and a generous sprinkling of Old Bay seasoning. I added about 1/4 cup of corn flake crumbs (I can't find a breadcrumb brand that doesn't contain whey) and about 1/4 cup of low-fat mayonnaise to everything and mixed thoroughly, until the mixture is dampened, but not wet. You'll want to taste the mixture now, to make sure you have seasonings right. If everything is good, divide the mixture into 4 equal parts and shape each into a patty. Arrange on a plate and chill in the fridge for a firmer consistency and marrying of the flavors until ready to cook.

Cover the bottom of a deep-sided skillet with a shallow amount of vegetable oil and heat. Then, gently fry both sides of the crabcake until crunchy, golden-brown. I usually go about 4 minutes on each side. This is enough for a good crunch, while letting the center get hot and the vegetables become tender.

I like pairing these with a big salad, or lots of vegetables on the side. Keeping the other flavors on the plate bright and light helps the crabcake stand out and be the star of the show. Tonight, I cheated and grabbed $1 menu side salads with Italian dressing from McDonald's drive-thru!

I also made a big jug of sweet tea today, which washed everything down deliciously!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stuffed Acorn Squash

***Free sample alert!***

While reviewing the BSI: zucchini recipes, the stuffed zucchini boats really impressed me. I knew I had chicken to use up and an acorn squash in the pantry, so the two were combined and the idea for dinner was born!

First, mix 1 cup of whole grain brown rice mix that your mom mailed you with 2 cups of vegetable stock and cook for 50 minutes.

Roast an acorn squash in the oven for thirty minutes at 350° with a little water in the bottom of a covered pan.

Cook bite-sized pieces of chicken, shallot, red pepper, carrot, celery, garlic, salt and pepper in a skillet with a little bit of olive oil.

Next, combine the rice, chicken/veggie mixture and spoon into the empty squash. Cover with foil and bake another 20 minutes while Johnny tells you the story about how he got pulled over on his way into work.

Last, serve on a plate and eat until it looks like this!

Hot Breakfast

Two weekends ago I broke out in hives. After much consideration, I think I've narrowed it down to this little "dino dig" we tested at work, where you chisel little plastic bones out of a gypsum sand block and then get your paleontologist groove on, making a minitiare dinosaur. Needless to say, I'll be avoiding all gypsum sand contact in the future.

It took two doctor trips, over three weeks of prescription meds (including 70+ pills of steroids) and lots of icing down to finally return to normal. But - I just haven't felt like myself through the whole ordeal. I'm not a big medicine-taker, so I think I've just been suffering the side effects of being dazed and groggy. All this, mourning Grammy, work, etc. just equalled some bad nights of sleep.

Until last night. Yesterday we had three birthday parties, back to back, on top of the usual clientelle of the store, and I also taught a Chinese New Year class. By the time I got home, I was tired. I'm a complete night-owl, but I was in bed at 11 p.m. That's early for me. I read some, fell asleep, and woke up this morning feeling really refreshed and ready to conquer the day!

And what better way to start with a hot breakfast?! It dawned on me that I haven't had a hot breakfast in months. I put on a pot of coffee, and while it brewed whipped myself up a plate of skillet potatoes with onion and red pepper, and a spinach and cheese omelette. Delicious, and hit the spot!

I used Johnny's mom's eggs, which she supplies us with every Sunday. Behind their house is a barn, where she has chickens and goats, for fresh eggs and milk. She also makes fresh cheese and has the hugest garden in the summer! Everything from beets to berries! There's such a variety in the shapes, sizes, and colors of the eggs. She writes on the carton the date she collects them - these were just collected last week!

Look how big the one is I used for my omelette!

When I uploaded my pictures, I found this one! The other night, Johnny made himself a bowl of rice krispies with a sliced banana on top. He marched proudly upstairs to show me this "masterpiece" of balancing banana slices. We joked he should take a picture and I'd put it on my food blog!

We're hosting the Superbowl here next weekend for a few friends, so I want to try and save shopping until the second half of the week, closer to Sunday. So, the meal plan this week is trying to use up things I have on hand. That includes chicken and acorn squash that need to be cooked, the crab cakes that never appeared last week, the second half of the vichyssoise I made in November and froze, and a Robin Miller recipe for lettuce wraps that was featured in this month's Guideposts magazine recipes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Make your own Pizza!

On the menu for tonight was Biz's homemade pizza! Usually, she posts her homemade pizzas every Friday night and the pictures always look amazing!

I have no idea what I was waiting around for, I needed to get in there and make my own, too!!! Having a coupon for yeast sealed the deal, so it was added to the grocery list and consequently, the meal plan. No turning back now!

Our toppings of choice were green peppers, red peppers, onions, broccoli, spinach, olives, and my brother and dad's homemade Italian sausage (secret recipe). I was able to prep all of these things ahead of time, which made for a great end-of-the-week dinner. Plus, I got to use up the excess homemade sauce from the parmesan. See? I told you earlier in the week, I had it all down Robin Miller style! Excess sauce, sausage pre-cooked, veggies all prepped... dinner came together literally in minutes!

I prepared the dough, according to Biz's instructions and added a little corn meal to the bottom of the dough, for that "authentic" pizza joint feel. I pre-baked the crusts for about 5 minutes on a cookie sheet, then we each got to work assembling our separate pizzas, as the dough makes enough for 2 pizzas.

Mine was sauce, then a little spinach and the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. I sprinkled oregano, basil and garlic powder over the cheeses and then worked on the toppings. I added onions, green peppers, red peppers, broccoli and olives. I LOVE olives!!! At the last minute, I decided on a little sausage, too.

Mine went into the oven first, because I slopped all of mine on and was ready to eat! Johnny is a lot more meticulous, so he continued crafting his as mine baked.

Johnny's ended up with the sauce, sausage, spinach, green peppers, red peppers and onions. Then, he put the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses over this. This has got to be a Chicagoland or Midwest thing, because I see that all the time around here, but never anywhere else. Toppings go on TOP - hence "toppings!" But around here, they put all the toppings and then the cheese. So weird to me! He doesn't like crispy broccoli, so cooked his off some in the microwave and that ended up above the cheese. He also chose to forego the olives, which he hates, and the extra sprinkling of spices. He had the creative idea of making a little recess in the middle of his pie, so the center wouldn't get all mushy from all the toppings. It worked out well, browning even in the center.

I like crispy crusts, but not cracker-crispy, so I skipped Biz's advice of baking directly on the rack and baked the remainder on the cookie sheet for about 13-15 minutes longer, until the cheese had melted and started to brown a little.

Yum, yum, and YUM. Two knock-out dinners in a row! Between last night and tonight I must have died and gone to heaven! We will definitely be making homemade pizzas a lot more often, now that I know it's this easy! The dough had that delicious, fresh, yeasty flavor and all of the flavors were hot and gooey and melted together, fresh out of the oven! It's also a great way to use up those last straggling veggies, or any extra meats from the week's leftovers. A kind of gumbo, or stirfry of sorts - just throw everything on the pizza to use it up and not let it go to waste!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

BSI: Zucchini (Egg-cchini Parmesan)

Last night I talked to my brother for gnocchi recommendations, but today was my dad's parmesan advice. Before starting, I made a quick phone call to cover all the basics and learn "the secrets."

Over Christmas break, we had a delicious eggplant parmesan he made and Johnny absolutely loved it and didn't suffer any whey side effects, despite it containing cheeses that usually give Johnny problems.

So, without further ado -- here is my Egg-cchini Parmesan! I added a layer of zucchini for the BSI submission and decided it would only be fitting to come up with a Rachael Ray-esque cutesy name to accompany it!

You'll have to forgive the lack of preparation photos because the duty of battering and frying the eggplant and zucchini left some dirty hands and a non-camera friendly kitchen!

I used 1 large eggplant and 2 medium zucchini. I peeled the eggplant and sliced all the vegetables length-wise about 1/4" thick, and then cut the strips in half. I salted the eggplant on both sides and let them sit a few minutes to withdraw any moisture.

While the vegetables were sitting, I made my sauce. Yes, parents and other Italian-blooded family members rejoice! I made homemade sauce!!!

Once the sauce was assembled and stewing away, I got to work frying up the veggies. The assembly line worked a little something like this: 1) dredge the veggies in a dusting of plain flour then 2) dip them in an egg batter of beaten eggs, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. Next, I fried both sides and were drained on a paper towel.

Once all the vegetables were fried and the sauce was ready, I got started on the next assembly line - actually putting together the dish. First, I started with a spoonful of sauce in the bottom of the dish. Next, per my Dad's advice (seen on Bobby Flay's throwdown) I dunked the fried eggplant/zucchini IN the sauce! What a fantastic idea! Lay the sauce-dunked pieces in neat rows and add a sprinkling of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Keep assembling layers, which in my case I alternated between eggplant and zucchini, and then adding cheese. My dad packs his down so it gets firm, like a lasagna, rather than just strips of veggies in a neat pile.

Finish the dish with a little more sauce on top and the last of the mozzarella and parmesan. I baked mine, covered, in a 350° oven for about 45 minutes or so, taking the foil off the last 10 minutes. Before we cut into it, I let it rest for about 10 minutes to firm up some. We finished off last night's bottle of wine with tonight's dinner - yum! Only $5.99, too!

Johnny said it was a "top tier" level of dinner. I was really quite impressed with myself - it was delicious! I'm glad we only ate like 1/3 of it, because that leaves lots of leftovers to savor again!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Homemade Gnocchi

Ok, I was all prepared for today. Homemade gnocchi. I'd read and re-read 101 Cookbook's instructions and thought I had a handle on it.

Then, I bragged to my brother, Michael this afternoon about my plans. He, of course, is a lot more comfortable, knowledgable, and educated in the kitchen than I am. If he has something to say, I'm going to listen. Plus, he has to make gnocchi everynight at his job, so he's speaking from a lot more experience than I have, and to what Heidi has admitted to. Also - his restaurant just received a Mobil 5 star rating!!! One of only 4 in the state of California, and 1 of only 20 in the country to receive 5 stars this year! It's exciting news and great for his resume!

Their recipes differed a lot. Heidi boiled her potatoes cut, Michael bakes his whole. Heidi mashes hers up with a fork, and Michael sends his through a strainer. Heidi wants you to eventually get to the point of not using egg, whereas Michael uses 1 egg yolk per 4 potatoes. Heidi didn't mention any use of creams or cheeses, and Michael swears by adding some in. Both, however, stressed the dough needed to be handled very, very carefully and could not be overworked. This would result in dense, rubbery gnocchi - a horrible offense.

I took my brother's advice and baked my potatoes for an hour in a 350° oven. He said this would result in a starchier potato, versus a soggy boiled one. Then, I used this metal, mesh strainer-style spoon and pressed the potatoes through into tiny little smooth ribbons. (Think of the little Play-doh guy, where you push his hair out in strands.) We didn't have any marscapone or ricotta cheese, so he suggested I add a spoonful of sour cream as I was working the potatoes through, and I did. I also added salt and 1 egg yolk because I cooked up 4 medium sized potatoes.

Once you have all these ingredients together, you kind of chop-knead them. You don't want to over-work the dough and I think this might be where I was TOO timid. Then, dump the contents out onto a floured surface and knead with floured hands until the dough is no longer sticky and you can form it into a ball. Divide the ball into 3 sections and roll each out into a long snake. With a sharp knife, cut little 3/4" sections. Roll these little sections, CUT side against the prongs of a fork. Again, I think I was too timid here. My gnocchi just look too homemade, I think because they weren't really well formed.

Michael suggested putting the gnocchi in the fridge at this point, for about 20-30 minutes so they can firm up a bit before you put them in the boiling, salted water. While the gnocchi were in the fridge, I sauteed some salted and peppered chicken breast in olive oil until it was browned and had some nice color on it.

Then -- time for the gnocchi!!! I dropped the little dumplings into the water a few at a time and was instructed to pull them out with a slotted spoon as soon as they floated, because that is when they are done. If you let them boil longer than that, they can start to break up. Once the gnocchi were done, I put them in a searing hot pan with some butter, olive oil, garlic and fresh spinach to brown up and get a nice crust on them. I plated all the components together and paired it with a yummy white wine the nice Trader Joe's man suggested when I told him what I was making for dinner. I always feel like I should invite the Trader Joe's people over for dinner after I shop there because they get so excited hearing about what people are going to be cooking.

I cooked a bigger batch, more than we could eat tonight, so half of the gnocchi I put in an ice water bath, instead of the skillet once they were done boiling. I patted them dry and then stored in a ziplock with a little olive oil. They'll be ready to heat up in a skillet for leftovers from this point.

Overall, the taste was AWESOME. I just didn't get the consistency right. But, I didn't get it right because I was too timid and don't think I formed the dough as confidently as I will in the future. At least they weren't dense and goopy - as I've had them before, which is a sign the dough was over-worked. Some were ok and some were kind of like fluffy mashed potatoes.

I'm glad I have that under my belt. I think I just get myself too worked up if it's a hyped-up recipe. Next time I'll feel like a seasoned pro with experience behind me!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Quick Beer Brats and meal plan

Tonight we had a simple, quick dinner of Johnsonville Beer Brats with peppers, onions and mozzarella on hoagies, because we had to run to Home Depot to shop around for a new water heater. Ours has been in the house since before Johnny bought it (10 years ago) and certainly looks it. It leaks on and off, and we tighten a nozzle for a quick fix, but the puddle slowly travelling towards the drain grate in the basement floor the past week has alerted us it is officially time for a new one.

My menu this week is a little ambitious, so today I took some time to prep - Robin Miller style! I'm going to be making Biz's homemade pizza. I've never made my own bread or dough, outside of dessert ones, so I'm a little nervous - but I have high hopes because hers always look so good! I'm also going to be making gnocchi from scratch, following 101 Cookbook's recipe.

I'm going to make my dad's eggplant parmesan that we had during our visit at the end of December. I've been a little bummed in the Italian-style cooking area because so many cheeses don't agree with Johnny. A lot of things I make now I've taken parmesan out of, or replaced breadcrumbs, etc. and they just don't taste the same to me, as true home-made Italian food. But, Johnny tried out my dad's dish -with no substitutions or adjustments-, really loved it, and didn't have any trouble with the paremsan, so I'm excited to try it on my own! I bought the quality parmesan, instead of the little shaker container, to see if that will affect the outcome of a whey problem. I also wracked my brain and am going to add a little tweak so I can use this week's BSI - zuchinni!

Last, I'm going to make some crab cakes. I'm a seafood girl through and through. I grew up on the coast of North Carolina, always eating the freshest of everything, sometimes only a few hours off the end of my dad's fishing pole, or out of grandparents' crab pot. This midwest flash-frozen stuff just doesn't cut it and I can certainly understand why a full-blooded Chicagoan, like Johnny, doesn't like seafood. But, I've slowly introduced tidbits here and there and he's been welcoming and even enjoyed some of them. Last time I made crab cakes they were well-received, so I'm happy to be cooking them again!

We shopped this week on a Sunday night, which is a new one for us. We were both up and full of energy so it seemed like a smart idea to get it out of the way before the work week started. I thought our grocery store was 24 hours, but apparently that's only during the week. Once we got in the store, the loudspeaker let us know we only had twenty minutes! We rushed around, dividing up the list and did a great job - leaving the store with 5 minutes to spare! I ended up saving $9.22 in store card savings and $5.75 in coupons I brought to the store. Our receipt also had a phone number to take an automated survey about the shopping experience. It only took 3 minutes and I get a FREE loaf of French bread with my next purchase!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The easiest cookies in the World.

Hilary posted the simplest recipe in the world on her blog last night. I thought it might be a typo, but vowed I would have to try it for myself.

Tonight, the Food Network was taunting me with a birthday cake challenge, and then the URS cake episode. It put me in the mood for some sweets, but not enough to slave away baking something for hours. The perfect time to try out Hilary's recipe. Don't blink because you'll miss it.

Preheat oven to 375°F

Stir together 1 egg, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of peanut butter. No joke.

Plop the batter out on a cookie sheet, and mush it down some with a fork. Then bake for 10-12 minutes.

They are SO peanut buttery good, you will not be sorry! I don't understand how it's physically possible for those 3 ingredients to bake into a cookie, but I'm not going to question it, because wahtever it is, it works!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ice and Salvaging

Holy, holy, holy smokes! Today's temperature was -5°F with a windchill "feels like" temperature of -25°F. I am so NOT used to this type of weather. I was born in upstate New York, but only experienced very few winters up there and brief trips to visit family and friends who still live there. The rest of my winters were cozily spent in North Carolina, or Florida, with a very mild temperature and rarely, if any, snow.

When I came downstairs this morning I noticed the front door looked a little different along the sides and bottom perimeters. Ice! On the INSIDE! I put a rolled towel down at the bottom to stop a draft I felt, but I think when the temperature drops this unbelievably low, that's just gotta be some kind of expected side effect. All the little screws on the front door and front windows have ice or little crystals like this on them. Kind of makes me want to watch Fargo. I also cannot wait for the new movie, New in Town, with Harry Connick, Jr. (love him!) and Renee Zellwinger. Trailer is here, for your inevitable amusement.

So, the baked veggie chips from the other night were a massive failure. I didn't want to waste all those wonderful root veggies, though, so I saved them to try and see what I could salvage. I ended up throwing out the burnt pieces, because they really had reduced to the point of ashen charcoal. I learned that the hard way -- by biting into one of them. Not tasty at all!

I sprayed a square baking dish with Pam and then threw the semi-roasted veggies in there with a sprinkling of Kosher salt on top. I covered this with foil and baked them for about 30 minutes. I paired these impromptu roasted veggies with some chicken breasts that I marinated in Annie's Goddess dressing and a diced shallot. I just sauteed the breasts on the stove top while I baked a can of reduced fat crescent rolls. By the end, the vegetables all kind of tasted the same - you really couldn't decipher a difference between normal potato, sweet potato, or beet. That was kind of disappointing to me, but at least they didn't go to waste!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Grammy, Stir fry, and Baked Veggie Chips

Sunday morning I lost a very important woman in my life, my paternal grandmother, affectionately known as Grammy. She'd been airlifted to the hospital in October and it was a miracle she lived through the night, with the help of a breathing machine. It was her wish to not be on the machine, so they tried to remove her, but it wasn't successful, so they had to put her back on for the next night. We waited anxiously for them to try the next day and I knew then that if she was able to regain the ability to breath on her own that anytime we had left with her was "borrowed time," that I'd be forever grateful for.

She bravely trucked on these past three months, living in her apartment on my parents' property, a brief stint in a nursing home for physical therapy, and trips to and from North Carolina and Virginia hospitals. I talked to her a few times a week and without fail, every single time, the first question she would ask me was "How's your food page?" My parents would occasionally bring it up online for her so she could read what I'd been making and take a look at the pictures. Once she was in the hospital I would either update her via our phone conversations, or my parents would tell her I'd updated and she'd inquire.

Johnny and I were able to change our Christmas trip plans to detour up to NC from FL and we spent some time with her in the VA hospital on December 30 and 31st. I didn't know what to expect, but she was still my Grammy, vivacious and full of life as usual. We joked with a family friend that she was really in there to receive a boob job and shared a few laughs over the bad hospital food. I could see she was really weak and tired, so deep down I knew this would probably be the last time I'd get to see her. She still wanted to hear about my food blog, even as my dad helped her with cubes of jello, which she insisted could be any flavor, but grape!

The last time I spoke with her was Friday afternoon, and again, the first thing she said was that my mom told her I'd updated my page and she wanted to hear about the new recipes. When my dad called Sunday, as I was reaching for the phone I had a feeling he was calling to tell me she'd passed away. I'd kind of prepared myself, knowing the past few weeks what the situation was, but it's still hard when you hear it. The first day was the roughest, but I know she's in a better place and something I'd never wanted was for her to have an extended period of suffering.

She was such a wonderful woman, raising 6 kids of her own (5 of them boys!) and was an attentive, devoted grandmother, so proud of her 9 grandkids and what was going on in their lives. I'm lucky to have a lot of great memories, many of them in the kitchen, full of laughter, love and family and I will always cherish them. I know it'd make her really happy to see I'm updating my "food page," so here's what we had for dinner tonight...

Stir fry! Jennifer at Slim-Shoppin' shared a picture of hers the other day and it looked so delicious with the noodles. I realized I usually spoon our stir-fry over rice, so I wanted to try the noodles thing, too. First, I cooked some spaghetti as usual and drained it. Next, I stir fried some chicken, onion, green peppers, carrots, and celery in soy sauce and hoisin sauce. Near the end I scrambled an egg in, stirred in some pre-chopped garlic, and threw in a handful of peanuts. Then, I tossed everything together with the noodles and it was fantastic! The funny thing is, I never get any dishes over rice when ordering Chinese take-out, I always get lo mein with the noodles. I guess I just never connected to make my own at home. Chinese at home was always over rice, for some odd reason!

Then, after dinner I wanted to try out a recipe that I'd had my Taste of Home flipped to for a couple weeks. I even made sure we bought the items at the grocery store, so everything was on hand. The recipe is "baked veggie chips" and calls for:

2 medium beets
1 medium potato
1 medium sweet potato
1 medium parsnip
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp oregano
dash pepper

You peel the veggies and cut into 1/8" slices. For this, I used my Cuisinart slicer blade - accomplishing all the slicing in only 3 minutes, flat. Next, you just place all the veggies in a large bowl, throw in the ingredients and stir around to coat. Arrange in a single layer on ungreased baking sheets and bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes, turning once.

Sounds easy, right? Didn't go so well for me. The recipe says it makes about 3 and 1/2 cups, which seemed kind of small to me, for all the effort it takes. I used 3 beets and larger versions of the rest of the veggies. Except for parsnips, which our grocery store was out of (and broccoli too, believe it or not), so I used carrots in their place. Racheal Ray says parsnips are "just carrots with attitude." I also omitted the Parmesan cheese, for Johnny's sake.

But I baked and I baked... and I baked. For 50 minutes, coming every 10 minutes to flip them and rotate the pans. And I ended up with a mixture of half gooey, roasted veggies and half burned to a literal ashen char crisp of what were once veggies. I think the problem were the beets, because they are naturally a lot juicer than the other veggies you're baking. In the future I'm going to bake the beets on their own, starting a lot earlier than the other veggies. This will also help to prevent the stain-every-single-thing-bright-red phenomenon that occured on my baking sheets!

Here's a picture of what the magazine taunted me with. Maybe someday I'll be able to munch on them, myself. They sure do look good, don't they?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

And the winner is...

The winner of my first give-away, receiving a box of Incan red quinoa, is Erica Hami!

Erica was surprisingly close with her guess of 290, off by only 18 seeds! Believe it or not, there were 308 seeds in that glass! I didn't believe it myself, so I counted two times with Johnny as a witness the second time.

Congratulations, Erica! Email me at with your address and I'll get your prize out to you.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Since entering the food blogging world I've won two great giveaways - salad dressings and cupcakes. (Don't worry, I ate them separately.) I've been paying attention to recipes that I cook, recipes that you cook, and my comments section for a good gift idea.

Finally, I decided on Incan red quinoa. All of us seem to be in love with this ingredient and it's allergy friendly. Some of you are unable to find it in your area, and if you are, usually you haven't seen the red version.

Here's what you have to do to win! Leave a comment below with your guess as to how many pumpkin seeds are in this glass! The nearest guess, without going over, will win! In the event of a tie, the person who left their comment first will win. Contest will end Sunday, January 11th at 8 p.m. (central time) Please only continental US residents!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Orzo Soup

I was inspired by 101 Cookbooks' Orzo Soup for tonight's dinner. Heidi took very simplistic ingredients of vegetable broth, orzo, spinach, egg whites, and some roasted tomatoes for a quick lunch. The picture is absolutely beautiful, but truth be told, it looks like a lighter meal.

I wanted to beef it up some for dinner, so I threw in a half of a can of red beans, some veggies, and used 2 whole eggs, instead of just the whites.

First, I started with 8 cups of vegetable stock and a few stalks of celery and half of an onion. Once this was brought up to a boil, I threw in the orzo for about 10 minutes. We didn't have any spinach, but I had other greens on hand and double-checked with my Food Lover's Companion (FLC) to make sure I could use them. Yes, I could! I used beet greens that I cut off the top of a bunch of fresh beets in place of spinach, which was a new one for me! I tasted a bite of them raw to make sure they weren't going to be a really bitter addition and it tasted almost exactly like spinach. Really mild, but chewier because it was a heartier, thicker leaf. I threw them in, and once they had wilted a little bit, I threw in the half can of beans to come up to temperature and had Johnny slowly stir the soup while I drizzled in the beaten eggs.

I had a little bit of Parmesan on top of my soup and it was reminiscent of Italian Wedding Soup that my parents make for Easter. I found it in FLC by the name of stracciatella and straccio means "rag" in Italian - so named for the raglike strands of egg in the broth. Johnny said he's going to kill my brother for giving me this book. I look up EVERYTHING in it now! Even how to cut a fresh mango we shared for dessert, tonight.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Spaghetti Squash and Quinoa Casserole

I love spaghetti squash and I love quinoa. Check, check. I also LOVE casseroles, so seeing this dish on Biz's blog made me really, really happy. Unless seeing it with my own eyes, I would have never combined these ingredients and thought to make something this innovative.

Biz hates onions with a passion, so she omitted them and made changes based on what she had on hand, from Artsy-Foodie's original recipe. Since onions don't bother me and we haven't found a (local) Ricotta cheese that agrees with Johnny (he's fine eating it in dishes my parents cook, though!), I followed a version closer to Artsy-Foodie's original post.

First, I cut my medium-large sized, raw spaghetti squash into quarters and scooped out the seeds and membranes with a spoon. Next, I placed the pieces flesh side down in a glass baking pan with about 1/2 inch of water. I covered the pan with foil and baked in a 350° oven for about 45 minutes, until the flesh was tender and easily slid off of the skin. In Biz's honor, I tried desperately to get a "good" picture of spaghetti squash. You be the judge!

Next, I cooked 2 cups of traditional, white quinoa and also carmalized 1/4 cup of onions and 1/4 cup of green pepper in a drizzle of olive oil. Personally, I think the smell of carmalizing vegetables is one of the top three scents in a kitchen. Absolutely delicious!

Once these three cooking stages were done, it was smooth sailing! Dump the squash, quinoa and carmalized vegetables into a large bowl. Then add 2 cups of lowfat cottage cheese (oddly, the original cottage cheese contained whey, while the reduced fat version did not!), 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup shredded cheese (Mexican blend), 4 eggs beaten, 1/2 cup egg whites, and spices and herbs to taste.

The next time making this, I think I'd just use 5 whole eggs, as it took 2 eggs to equal 1/2 cup of egg whites for me. I think if you've already added 2 cups of cottage cheese, 1 cup shredded cheese and 4 whole eggs, another egg yolk won't kill you! I also just used a blend of spices and herbs I had on hand, instead of the dill. I just don't cook with it regularly and it's not in my cabinets.

Once this mixture is stirred thorougly, spread it evenly in a greased casserole dish and bake at 375° for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until set in the middle and golden brown.

I forgot to mention in my last post of items received for the kitchen that I bought myself this adorable, little garlic storage container. I found it in a thrift store by my grandparents' house in Florida for only $1.50! It didn't say anything on the bottom, so I held my breath and ran it through the dishwasher. It survived, thankfully, and now my garlic has a nice, cozy home instead of sitting on the base of our banana hook!

Used the old camera for this post - need to get a memory card reader for the new one, first! I didn't know how to sort through the 500+ pictures on the printer to select the ones I needed for the blog!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Grocery Trip/Opposite Resolution

We finally took a VERY necessary trip to the grocery store. The last time I went to the store was December 13th, and that was a smaller trip. The last BIG shopping date was December 3rd, so realistically we haven't fully stocked our shelves in a month!

I wanted to use up everything in the fridge and chip away at items in the freezer before our trip. Then, once we got back we both felt sick, tired, and just didn't make it out until today. We did really well, too! Only $137.44 total, after saving $19.57 with the member card and $1.30 in coupons I brought to the store. Sadly, a lot of my coupons expired 12/31/08 so I had to toss out a bunch of savings we didn't have the opportunity to use. What a bummer!

I'm not a New Year's Resolution type of a gal. I usually feel pressured to choose something I'm mentally not ready to achieve and then hit a brick wall immediately. Instead of setting myself up for failure and a self-imposed guilt trip, I tend to do an "opposite resolution." For the past few years I've done this and it works well. Instead of taking the opportunity to look forward to 2009 and pick something to change, I look back to 2008 and reflect on what did and did not work.

For example, in 2008 I made great progress in getting our grocery bills down, cooking a lot of healthy meals at home, drinking water instead of soda, eliminating snacking, and staying on top of household duties. They're not giant things, like committing myself to lose 10 pounds, but overall they do add to a healthier lifestyle, and one that is just as important to me as being an ideal weight.

Since the holidays started and we were out of town, I'll readily admit that I fell off the wagon. I put off grocery shopping for a ridiculous amount of time, resulting in a few unnecessary take out meals. I barely drank water on our trip and brought that bad habit home. Also, the small clean-as-you-go regime I'd worked myself into has gotten way behind, so I have big messes in every room.

To get myself back on track, but not in a resolution type of way, I'd like to keep those good habits of 2008 working positively for me in 2009, and eventually add to them. I've knocked out the grocery shopping and planning of some homecooked meals. Water drinking is back in full force, and eventually, when I kick this cold and have some energy, I'll get on top of the cleaning again!

Coming up in the recipe department: baked veggie chips from Taste of Home (the picture is to die for) and a spaghetti squash/quinoa casserole inspired by Biz, who was inspired by Artsy Foodie. I'm going to add back in the onions from the original recipe that Biz took out! :)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year, New Post!

Well, we have returned safely from our travels - a plane trip to Florida, an 11 hour 15 minute drive to North Carolina, and a plane trip home later. Unfortunately, both of us have colds, or allergies, or something - but glad to be in our own bed and the pets picked up from the boarder! It was great to see family and friends, but as usual always rushed and never seems to be enough time to spend with everybody you'd like, or do all the things you want.

I was tickled to see that everybody's house we visited clearly had our Christmas card picture displayed on their fridge. Growing up, my mom always sent out a themed picture of my brother Michael and me - so it just seemed natural to continue now that I'm out on my own! Johnny and I brainstormed until our combined efforts settled on this little Charlie Brown Christmas idea. We just ran with it, too, selecting Peanuts Christmas cards and including Linus' famous Scripture reading from Luke (2: 8-14), where he explains the true meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown. Johnny is Charlie Brown, I'm Lucy, Corky is good ole Snoopy, in his usual perch atop his doghouse, and Poe (the cat) sprouted wings and a tail for a make-shift Woodstock! I'm really pleased with the way it turned out (thanks to Johnny's expert Photoshop skills) and we heard nothing but raving reviews - so I'm a little nervous about setting the bar too high for next year's card to top it!

Speaking of Christmas, I received a lot of great gifts to help me with my new food blogging hobby!

Up until this point, I'd been "borrowing" Johnny's camera for all photographic purposes. Not that I'm complaining, because it's a really great camera, that I'll probably still use time to time, but he got me my own! A Canon Powershot with 10.0 megapixels! A slight upgrade from his Sony Powershot 8.0 megapixel. The huge difference is me getting used to taking pictures in a completely different way! Johnny's camera has a huge, manual lens that can zoom in to see like a microscope, while my new one is more of a point-and-shoot model. Both take great, great pics, but it's a completely different way of taking pictures. I got a lot of practice on our Christmas trip - taking about 500 pictures, so I'm starting to figure out the settings and focus, but old habits die hard!

Then, you already knew about the Guideposts and Taste of Home gift subscriptions that will be delivered for my reading pleasures, monthly! My mom also gave me a whole collection of cookbooks, ranging in everything from pasta to beef to salads. Be prepared to see some recipes from all in the future.

My brother also got me the Food Lover's Companion. This 1 1/2 inch thick book contains more than 6,700 A-Z entries!!! It's like the world's largest index, encyclopedia and dictionary of food, all in one easy to navigate book! I've already flipped through and found a couple things I've made and read about them. I can see it coming in really handy while making things in the future, or even finding out more about ingredients I use. There's explanations about different fruits- including the different apples! You can read about origins of certain foods, even different knives and pans! I'm going to be armed with so much knowledge, I won't know what to do with it -- except pass it onto you guys!

And finally ---drumroll--- I received my much coveted immersion blender! No longer will I have to transfer bowl after bowl of soup in and out of the Cuisinart! I am poised and ready to blend - WATCH OUT!