Friday, July 31, 2009


Hi everybody! Thank you for your comments and emails about my extended absence, I feel really special that people even noticed I was missing!

I spent about a week and a half visiting with my parents and some cousins in North Carolina with my ever-faithful traveling companion, Corky. But, we're back home now. I have about 600 pictures to sort through and will return to regular posting within the next few days to show you the many foodie adventures of the trip (and a few touristy things too).

I missed you guys and have tons of catching up to do! I feel so out of the loop now!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cauliflower and Broccoli with Cheese Sauce

Tonight's dinner was another visit with rice crispy chicken. The package of thighs I bought had 8, so I froze 4 for later use and just decided to make the same recipe again, since both of us liked it so much last time! (Another freezer meat challenge use-up!)

At this rate, I'll have our freezers cleared by Christmas! I had no idea we went through meat this slowly, which I guess is why it piled up the way it did. I've always stuck to the "deck of playing cards" or "palm of your hand" sized rule when eating meat, so it takes us a few meals to get through even one package of chicken breasts. In the future I'll have to take all of that into consideration when buying meat. This was a big wake-up call for me!

As mentioned before, my brother only ate a few raw veggies or broccoli with cheese sauce on it growing up. My mom has made this sauce from scratch for as long as I can remember to go over broccoli and cauliflower, or to make mac and cheese. It's the same basic format, but you can adjust it using your personal milk and cheese preferences, or to just use up what you have on hand!

That's what I was aiming for tonight: using up the last of some 1% milk and shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. I'm heading out of town to visit my parents in North Carolina, so Johnny will be left with a freezer full of whey-free, organic microwave meals, cans of chili, and the local pizza place's number! I know he lived on his own for so long without me and will be fine, but I couldn't help shopping and stocking the house up like he's some invalid!

To start, make a roux in a high sided skillet using flour and butter. Cook this for a few minutes until it's thickened. Next, add the milk and whisk so the roux isn't clumpy. Add pepper (white pepper if you don't want black specks in it) and spices of your choice at this point. I usually add garlic and onion powder, but hold off on the salt until I've added the cheese and taste if it needs it.

Once the milk has come up to temperature, you can start adding the cheese and stirring until it is melted and creamy. Give a taste, adjust the flavorings if needed, and voila! home-made cheese sauce! It's easy as pie and so versatile.

Serve over vegetables, stir in cooked macaroni and bake, or leave out the cheese and have a bechamel white sauce as a blank canvas for many dishes and casseroles!

Looks a little naked!

Mmm, much better!!

And because we only ate 2 of the thighs, I froze the others to defrost at a later date and was left scratching my head of what to do with this broccoli, cauliflower, and cheese sauce? I know that the cheese sauce freezes well, but Johnny would never heat it up the broccoli and cauliflower and I hated to just throw it out.

Then, a lightbulb went off! I spooned all of the cheese sauce into a plastic container and then the broccoli and cauliflower over top with just a sprinkle of the liquid in the bottom of their pan.

I got out my stick blender and went to work, pureeing everything together for broccoli and cheese soup!!!

I popped a lid on, and into the freezer it went for lunches or a light dinner in the future!

So, to recap:

- I was able to use up the last of the old milk container and two opened packages of cheese.
- I made tonight's dinner.
- I have 2 chicken thighs in the freezer for a future meal.
- I have a container of soup in the freezer for future meals!

All in about 30 minutes! Beat that Rachael Ray! :)

In case you've lost track of the Blogger Secret Ingredient (BSI) contest, Lauren at Healthy Delicious is hosting this week and she chose plums! Recipes due by July 19th. I haven't participated in a few weeks, but hope to jump in again at some point!

And, on behalf of those allergic to gluten and celiac disease sufferers, please take a minute to sign this petition for Starbucks to bring back their one and only gluten-free cake option. They discontinued it, and our voices can help show them that people notice! There are already so few options for safe, individually wrapped, allergy-free foods, it's a shame to do away with one that was so easily accessible for many people! Just sign the petition, click the anonymous button if you prefer, and check your email to confirm. It just takes a minute, but everybody can help be an advocate in allergy awareness!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Horchata, pronounced or-cha-ta, is a traditional Mexican drink made with ground rice. It has a cool, milky, white texture with a sweet side and a burst of cinnamon. Because of the spicy and firey flavors of Mexican food, it's a popular choice to soothe your tongue. Spain also makes an horchata, but I believe it's with ground nuts. I saw Andrew Zimmern try it once on Bizarre Foods and he said it was disgusting, so I'll stick with the rice version!

I never had horchata, or even heard of it, before moving in with Johnny. His ex-wife was Mexican and her culture introduced him to it, and now he can't order Mexican food out without getting horchata. I tried a sip of his once, and while it's a bit of a surprise at first, you really will fall in love with it. Sometimes we order from our favorite Mexican place not for the food, but to have an excuse to get large, milky glasses of horchata!!

Down in the basement I found an old cookbook, presumably from Johnny's married life, entitled Mexican Cooking for Dummies. I made horchata from their recipe once before, but it was very pricey. It used 1 quart of milk and 4 cinnamon sticks for only 3 quarts of drink.

In the latest issue of Food Network magazine, chef Aaron Sanchez shares his recipe for horchata and I saw it was entirely different than the Dummies recipe, so decided to give it a go so we could compare.

Sanchez' Horchata recipe:

1 cup long-grain white rice, rinsed
1 cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican cinnamon canela
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon for garnish, optional

Combine the rice and cinnamon stick with 4 cups water in a blender; pulse to coarsely grind. Transfer to a large bowl and add another 4 cups water; soak at room temperature for 3 hours.

Puree the rice mixture in a blender in batches until smooth. Strain through cheesecloth or a fine sieve into a pitcher. Mix in the sugar; chill.

Stir the horchata well before serving. Pour into ice-filled glasses; garnish with a dusting of ground cinnamon if wanted.

Preparation-wise the Dummies recipe blows this one out of the water. Nutrition and price-wise I prefer the Sanchez recipe. Both have pretty great tastes, but I kind of prefer the lighter, crisper version of Sanchez', versus the thicker, milkier Dummies one.

Having made, and tasted, both of these recipes I'm going to combine the positives of both in the future. The Dummies version has you grind the dry rice on it's own until it's a fine powder, then mix with the liquids and let it sit. This was easier than all of that soaking and blending time. The Sanchez version uses only one pricey cinammon stick and saves you the extra fat, calories, and cost of using a full quart of milk. So, in the future I'll grind the rice and cinnamon stick first, let soak, and then discard the sediments - no blending, no milk, no extra cinnamon sticks.

If you're not ready to jump into making horchata at home, I highly recommend ordering it the next time you go out to get Mexican or buying a carton (usually sold by the soy milk) to try it! You'll be surprised!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Taco Pie

I created this weird little dish back in 2006, right after I moved in with Johnny. He came home from work and said "What smells like fireworks!?!" so we also refer to it as "Firework Pie." To date, this is still Johnny's favorite dinner I've made him, with Egg-chinni Parmesan as a close 2nd.

As mentioned before, both of us really enjoy Mexican food and could eat it several times a week. I was really in the mood for something taco related, but the only thing we had on hand at the time was a can of refried beans and salsa. No taco seasoning, no shells, no burritos, nothing to make the familiar dinner.

Then I remembered a layered dip that students would always bring to my mom's piano recital receptions and played off of that idea. Thus, taco (aka firework) pie was born!

1 can refried beans
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 lb. ground meat (your choice - chicken, turkey, beef)
1 small onion, diced
1 cup salsa
1 cup shredded cheese

Mix the flour, beans, and baking powder until a soft dough is formed. You'll need to flour your hands and keep smearing the beans so the moist parts touch the flour, it'll take a minute or two of working.

Spray a pie pan and flop the mixture into the pan, spreading it out evenly and up the sides to form a refried bean crust.

Cook the meat in a skillet, drain off any acquired grease, and stir in the diced onion (I didn't cut mine small enough tonight) and salsa.

Spread the mixture into the uncooked crust and cover everything with shredded cheese.

Pop into a 350° oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes until the onions become tender and the cheese browns a bit on top.

Cut and serve as you would a regular pie and top with taco-inspired toppings of your choice. We used sour cream and extra salsa tonight, but have also added avacado in the past.

This serves 4 and to re-heat I just pop the pie pan, covered, into an oven until it comes up to temperature. Two dinners for the price of one! (And, one more Freezer Meat Challenge victory!)

I'll take exciting news for $500, Alex.

Sophia of Burp and Slurp~ awarded me with the Noblesse Oblige award!

The recipient of this award is recognized for the following:
• The Blogger manifests exemplary attitude, respecting the nuances that pervade amongst different cultures and beliefs
• Their Blog contents inspire; strives to encourage, and offers solutions
• There is a clear purpose at the Blog: one that fosters a better understanding on Social, Political, Economic, the Arts, Cultures, Sciences, and Beliefs
• The Blog is refreshing and creative; and The Blogger promotes friendship and positive thinking

The requirements of the person receiving the award are as follows:
• Create a post with a mention and link to the person who presented the Noblesse Oblige Award
• The Award Conditions must be displayed at the Post
• Write a short article about what the Blog has thus far achieved – preferably citing one or more older posts as support
• The Blogger must present the Noblesse Oblige Award in concurrence with the Award conditions- Blogger must display the Award at any location at their Blog

What has my blog achieved thus far? Well - it's far exceeded my expectations! I started less than a year ago, in September of 2008 and can't believe how much a part of my life it's become!

As many of you know, Johnny has a food allergy and cannot have whey. Whey is a milk protein, separated when making cheese. It's naturally found in a few cheese and dairy products, but otherwise was used for cattle feed. Until a wonderful little phenomenon we all know as "processing food" took off. Whey is a cheap, easy filler full of lots of protein to bulk up a product. They sneak it into crackers, breads, sauces, gravies, ice cream, you name it. One week we can buy a product safely, and the next their New and Improved! version has whey high up on the ingredient list.

Whey isn't a widely recognized food allergy, as it's usually clumped in with dairy, but it's definitely on the rise. Just in the three years I've had first-hand experience with this allergy a lot of labels will bold whey for us to easily see and there's a lot more information out there. I thought if somebody was as lost as I had been and googled around, I'd like to be a great resource of healthy home-made meals that are possible to cook around a specific food allergy. If I've been able to provide that for somebody, then I'm happy.

Of course having all my recipes, notes, and pictures in an easily categorized format isn't a bad thing, either! I've been able to stay connected and share with family and friends, as well as meet wonderful new friends. It's been a great experience and I cannot imagine my life without it! Thanks, Sophia!

And, now for the hard part since I just passed an award onto 7 wonderful people! Based on the requirements mentioned, I'm going to award Cyndi of So Much More Than a Mom because I think she does a great job of educating people through her posts, whether they be psych lessons, or recapping her Buddhist meditation class.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Grilled Steak and Summer Veggies

It was a beautiful 80° day and I just couldn't bear the thought of being chained inside.

I thawed two loin steaks, totaling 1.2 pounds to grill on the Weber. Then I got to thinking, why not take advantage of those hot coals and cook everything out there?! No dishes and no kitchen clean up = SCORE!!!

I cut up 1 zucchinni, 1 yellow squash, and the remaining asparagus from the quinoa salad - about 2/3 of the bunch. I layed these in a pyrex dish and poured Drew's all natural garlic Italian dressing over them, flipping and rolling them around to ensure everything was covered. I really like the integrity of Drew's salad dressings, but the flavor of this one is just too mild on a salad, so I use it for a marinade quite often.

Next, I took a quart sized Ziploc bag and added 2 cloves of minced garlic, a big glug of Drew's dressing, and 1/4 tsp of black pepper and Old Bay seasoning. I smushed this around some to mix the flavors, and then threw the two steaks in, squeezed out the air, and made sure the meat was covered in the mixture.

Everything went into the refrigerator to marinate for about 3 hours. While the coals were heating up, I took the food out of the fridge to cool down.

I found a great site, that lists thickness, cuts, times, and temperatures for grilling meats, seafoods, poultry, and vegetables.

Because they take longer, I started with the asparagus, about 10 minutes total. Then, following their instructions for our 1" thick steaks, we cooked for about 3-4 minutes each side, turning 1/4 to get beautiful grill marks! This delivered a really juicy, flavorful, medium rare steak. When there were about 5 minutes left on the steak, I threw the squash on because I cut them really thin, maybe 1/8".

Everything came out absolutely delicious! The vegetables had a nice char flavor, but still a little bit of a bite, which I like. The steak was a nice medium with little bits of color here and there, which always has a nice burst of flavor!

I received a little Leah & Perrins sample of the new thick worcestershire sauce, so decided to give it a head-to-head "taste-off" against our usual favorite A.1.! While the worcestershire was definitely really tasty, both Johnny and I preferred the A.1. for our steaks. The worcestershire had a bit more sweetness to it, which I think would pair better with poultry, and Johnny said he'd like to try on a burger.

After dinner the coals were still hot, so we did what every respectable American should do - made s'mores!! Here's a shadowy shot of me eating mine while enjoying Top Chef: Masters!

And, the best part about dinner (besides no clean-up) is I'm still chipping away at my Freezer Meat Challenge! It's taking a little longer than I expected to make a huge dent. We've had some leftovers to use up, and then a busy week that lead us to eat take-out once and had friends over so I didn't cook! But I'm still holding strong, and even if I haven't used much I've remained true to my word and haven't bought anything to add to the load.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Quinoa Salad

I invented this dish in my head and it couldn't have turned out more perfect!

July 3rd is Johnny's brother, Mark's, birthday. Since they live on the northside, we usually have people over here for his party to cut down on everybody's travel time. This year is a BBQ and everybody's bringing a dish to share.

Mark doesn't eat any dairy and isn't big on anything unhealthy. He loves quinoa and vegetables, so I decided to make a quinoa salad with a bunch of roasted vegetables.

To start, I put 2 cups of quinoa in a pot with 4 cups of water and 1 vegetarian vegetable bouillion. Just enough to give the otherwise bland quinoa a little bit of flavor, but not become overpowering. This made SO much. I got scared at this point! I spread it in a big bowl to cool some, and got started on the veggies.

I cut up:

1/2 onion
1 green pepper
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
2 stalks of celery
1 large carrot
~1 cup broccoli
~1 cup cauliflower
~1 cup asparagus spears

And tossed in a bowl with about 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 Tbsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp pepper. I spread this out on a baking pan and they went into a 425° oven for just over 20 minutes.

Once the vegetables were done, I slid them from the baking pan overtop of the now-cooled quinoa in the big bowl. This looked like even more, and I was even more scared!

Using a rubber spatula, I gently folded the quinoa over the veggies and incorporated everything together without clumping the quinoa or breaking the vegetables up.

I forgot to get a picture before I put it in the serving bowl with plastic wrap over! Oops! I also might have snuck a small bowl to "test" and had to re-fill in the hole so it didn't look like anybody had any yet.

I'm so happy about this, it came out better than I expected. It's vegan, dairy free, and gluten free. A great dish for a group event, especially when you have more than one allergy sufferer! And, it also makes a TON. This filled a huge serving dish - I'd say maybe 10 cups? If you aren't feeding an army, I'd half it!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Italian Sausage Skillet

Tonight's Freezer Meat Challenge dinner used up half of the home-made Italian sausage that my dad made from our freezer. I believe it was one pound and it came from the downstair's overflow freezer.

My dad used to work for a butcher and the owner taught him the secrets and spice ratios to make sweet Italian link sausage, hot Italian link sausage, and ground breakfast sausage. Over the years he's experimented on his own and with my brother to come up with a few versions of their own. Tonight's was a Cajun link sausage that has an almost sweet heat and flecks of bright green from jalepenos inside the meat mixture.

A few times a year they make a couple hundred pounds of natural casing sausage using a huge metal tub that my maternal grandfather used to receive baths in, an antique hand-cranked sausage press, and a vintage butcher's scale to weigh and package them. People flock to the door to pick up their orders, which are neatly labeled and lined up in coolers for them. More often than not, it's frozen in smaller batches and used for the next few months, until the next sausage making marathon when they can stock up again.

Sausage Skillet Dinner

1 lb. sausage links
2 green peppers, sliced thin
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 lb. pasta of choice

First, I put a big pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. While that was coming up to temperature, I browned the sausage links in a hot skillet with a little bit of olive oil, for 2 or 3 minutes each side, until they had a nice color. Then, I poured about 1/2 cup of water into the pan and put a lid on it, so they could begin to cook through.

By now, maybe 5 minutes later, the pasta water had begun to boil. I threw the pasta in, flipped the sausages, added another 1/2 cup of water, and the sliced peppers and onions, and returned the lid.
When the pasta had about 7 minutes left, I removed the lid from the sausage pan and let the liquid evaporate, and the sausage and vegetables get some nice color.

I drained the pasta, and tossed it with a little bit of olive oil. To plate I first scooped pasta on to the plate, then added the sausage, peppers and onions, and finished with a sprinkling of shredded mozzarella over top.

This was really fulfilling and I enjoyed the sweet heat of the sausage paired with the tender vegetables and soft pasta. The best parts are that it cooked in the time it took my water to boil and pasta to cook and dirtied only one pan!

This made tons, too! We have a big tupperware container full of leftovers - enough for a whole second dinner! It'd feed a family of four easily!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Freezer Meat Challenge

I'm horrible at remembering to thaw meat for dinner. I'll pick up a package here or there each grocery trip simply because I can't remember what I have in the freezer.

The other day a freezer shelf fell and I had to take a bunch of stuff out so Johnny could put it back up and it lit a fire under me to see what is really in there! I looked in both our kitchen freezer and downstair's overflow freezer and made a list of all the meat sources I have on hand that I need to use up.

I'm going to hold myself to a Freezer Meat Challenge! I will not purchase any new meats until I use up this list and I hope I don't let it get to this point again, unless there's a big sale! I'll update each meat with a link to the recipe I used it in, until each item has been utilized!

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (re-visit with Rice Crispy Chicken)
(2) 3.5 whole fryer chickens (Chicken Under a Brick x2)
1 pkg Johnsonville beer brats (Grilled Dinner)
(2) 1 lb. pkgs ground beef (Taco Pie, unpictured tacos)
2 lb. pkg boneless, skinless chicken breasts (Chicken Parmigiana)
2 lb. chuck roast (Pot Roast)
top loin steak (Grilled Steak)
1 pkg pork spare ribs (BBQ Pomegranate Ribs)
2 lb. boneless pork roast
assorted home-made sausage links (Sausage Skillet)
corned beef brisket
3 2 tuna steaks (unpictured sesame tuna bites)
1 pkg beef back ribs (thrown out - freezerburnt)
1 lb. sea scallops

NC additions:
mahi mahi
swordfish (Grilled Swordfish)

If you'd like to join my Freezer Meat Challenge, leave a comment below, or email christina at dinneratchristinas dot com and I'll link back to you! Just post a list of all the meats you currently have in your freezer and plans or goals for using them up. It'll be a great way to share ideas for utilizing those meat sources found within the frozen depths of freezers everywhere!

If you're going to participate, feel free to grab my challenge button, that Johnny so nicely made for me in about 5 minutes!