The List

I’m crossing things off the list.  No, not the naughty list, although it is that time of year.  This is a different holiday list.

Since Jeff and I are hosting Thanksgiving for my family at our house, the list making began yesterday.  I can’t complain about the process of making the list – it was actually quite fun.  We each got a cup of coffee, snuggled under the covers with our Thanksgiving recipes and began THE LIST.

Thanksgiving 2015 List

What is The List……it’s our way of staying organized and not dreading holiday company and it has three major components.

First, the list of all the items we will serve for the meal. Some of the items are old favorites and some are new additions.  Some we will make and others have been assigned to other family members.  Here’s what the 2015 menu looks like:

  • Turkey (brined and cooked on the Big Green Egg)
  • Stuffing – Laura
  • Mashed Potatoes – Mimi
  • Corn Pie
  • Brussels Sprouts with Maple Bourbon Glaze
  • Cranberry Apple Sauce
  • Gravy
  • Sautéed Pears with Bacon & Mustard Dressing
  • Pumpkin Pie – Pop-Pop

It’s a carb-heavy menu I know – but you have to give the people what they want!!!!

Now for the second component of the list.  The daily tasks.  We write the tasks we will do each day – including calendar items from our “regular life” so that nothing is forgotten.  As we match Thanksgiving tasks with days, we work backwards, filling in things that can get done early where there is time available.  We also try to schedule some “me time” or “us time” on the list so we’re not completely burnt out by the holiday.

The following is the tasks section from The List:

SATURDAY:

  • confirm food assignments
  • buy small roller cover
  • make applesauce
  • 2nd coat of paint on bench
  • gym
  • call cuisinart
  • bathe Macy
  • state store
  • make chicken cordon bleu meatloaf
  • fix cords on bedroom television

SUNDAY:

  • hang hooks
  • wash sheets
  • clean upstairs
  • clean master bathroom
  • gym
  • grocery shop for all but perishables
  • make pizza dough for Barb’s party
  • make meatballs and sauce for Monday night dinner
  • bake sweet potatoes for lunches
  • make soup for tonight’s dinner

MONDAY:

  • J&J work
  • Jeff men’s ministry in p.m.
  • buy charcoal
  • take beer to KS for party
  • finish painting bench
  • iron napkins

TUESDAY

  • Jeff ear doctor
  • clean living room, kitchen, powder room
  • get pumpkin beer from Craig
  • corn out of freezer
  • chicken drippings and broth out of freezer
  • wax bench
  • pick up turkey
  • Barb’s party

WEDNESDAY

  • finish cleaning
  • walk with Macy
  • brine turkey
  • make corn pie
  • prep Brussels sprouts
  • crisp bacon for pears
  • prep gravy ingredients
  • prep sautéed pear ingredients
  • make dressing for pears
  • get BGE ready (chips, charcoal, drip pan, etc.)
  • set table
  • set buffet table

THURSDAY

  • 3:00 am – light BGE
  • 3:30 am – turkey on BGE
  • make gravy
  • make sautéed pears
  • last-minute straightening
  • fill water glasses
  • ENJOY company

Finally, the last component of The List is the groceries.  We make two grocery lists…..one we will use on Sunday when we purchase everything except the perishables and the other for those things that have to be purchased at the last minute.

To save time at the store – which we all know will be quite crowded no matter when we go this week – the list is sorted into categories.  I won’t share the entire list with you, but the categories are as follows:

  • Produce
  • Meats
  • Bakery
  • Dairy
  • Snacks
  • Baking
  • Dry & Prepared
  • Frozen
  • Liquor Store
  • Miscellaneous

I don’t always sort my grocery lists this way, but I’d say I do about 85% of the time and I miss it when I don’t have it sorted.  The days I don’t take the extra time to sort my lists are the ones I find myself wandering back and forth through the store because I’ve missed something in produce and don’t discover it until I’m in the frozen foods section.

If you’re new to hosting holidays, I’d strongly encourage you to find your version of The List.  Our way won’t work for everyone, but it is a great jumping off point.  Knowing what you need to do each day will keep you from panicking or being overloaded on the actual holiday.

A funny story from one of our early Thanksgivings – one that I’m sure is not unique to us, but from which I hope someone can learn.  I’m not sure it was the first time we were hosting Thanksgiving, but it may have been.  I didn’t realize Jeff had purchased a frozen turkey.  I didn’t discover that fact until Wednesday evening when I began thinking about what time I needed to put the bird into the oven.  Well, after many phone calls with my mom, I’m sure a few tears and some panic, Jeff and I were up most of the night changing the water in the bathtub to thaw the turkey (which was so large it didn’t fit in our kitchen sink).

I wish I could say that was the year that inspired The List; but we are slow learners.  It wasn’t until many more panicky holiday moments that we realized a list would save us stress, long nights and a more than one argument!  So from years of holiday experience, I present to you The List!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like….Fall

Every year I vow to decorate our house for the seasons and every year I am rushing around at the last minute (the 30th of October for Halloween, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the 23rd of December for Christmas) putting up the same old decorations.  But not this year.

This year I was hell-bent on decorating for fall…..here it is only October 4th (Happy Birthday to my sweet friend Denny) and I’ve already got pumpkins on the porch and, as of a few moments ago, a new wreath on the door.  I made a burlap wreath – thanks youtube – and embellished it with some pretty ribbon, a few sprigs of orange berry garland and a cute little chalkboard.

happy fall wreath

The project took me about 30 – 45 minutes to complete (a little more if you factor in the time to drive to Michael’s twice) and was quite easy once I got the hang of it.  I even bought some extra ribbon to festoon the house and/or to use on my Thanksgiving table.

What’s next?  I’m not quite sure……I’ll think it over this evening while I’m eating dinner.  “What’s for dinner?”, you ask.  Coffee-Rubbed Filet of Beef and Brussels Sprouts with Coffee-Molasses Gastrique.  With that in mind, I’ve got to run……it’s 7:01 and I’ve got things to do!

Happy Fall!!!!

Stonewall Kitchen: Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce, etc.

Toward the end of our vacation (about which I have not yet written) Jeff and I went to Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine.  We had been there previously, but it had been some time so we thought we’d take a quick spin through Stonewall again…

Well, that’s funny….a quick spin….it’s nearly impossible to take a quick spin because there is so much to look at and so much to buy and even some pretty yummy food to eat in their café!

When we arrived at the Stonewall campus, I made a beeline for the cooking school. It’s the cook in me and the cooking instructor in me….I like to see what other instructors are doing and where they’re doing it!  And I surely was not disappointed.  They have a beautiful school.

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After spending a few minutes checking out the classroom, we wandered past the huge windows that allow you to look into part of Stonewall’s bottling operation.  It is pretty mesmerizing to watch all the jars on the conveyor belts whizzing along.  If I squinted my eyes and belted out (in my head of course) “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, shlemiel, schlemazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated.  We’re gonna do it!” I could pretend I was watching the line at Shotz Brewery.”  But as usual, I digress……

Shotz Brewery

I stole a few moments to relive my childhood and then we moved on to the beautiful retail store via the gorgeous grounds.  After the first lap of the store we decided we’d put together a gift basket for Macy’s gracious caregivers and for my mom and dad who were watering our hanging flower baskets in our absence.

We had a lot of fun selecting things for each of these gift packs and considering what the folks receiving the gifts would enjoy.  Jeff and I each selected items for the gifts and tried to work within a theme for each one – although I have to say that in the end both gifts ended up to be a mishmash of things we thought sounded delicious and that was OK!

We gave our gift items over to the talented young woman who arranged them and made them look beautiful and we began wandering the store in search of a few things for ourselves.  Since we were hungry and the café, which was just a few feet from where we were standing, was soon closing we decided to put the shopping on hold and have a little snack – ok, more like a late lunch.

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I asked about the size of an order of mac and cheese and was told it was small – enough for a taste – which is just what I had hoped.  Jeff ordered a BLTA (BLT with avocado).  When the gal behind the counter delivered the food – which looked amazing – to our table she offered an “apology.”

She explained that since it was nearing the end of the day, the chef made a much larger portion of mac and cheese than would normally be served.  How can you complain about that?  NO APOLOGY NECESSARY! It did take a considerable amount of self-control to eat just a little and save the rest because it was sooooo good.  But it was very rich, which helped.

Jeff’s sandwich was also delicious…very fresh and flavorful.  But after helping me with a bit of mac and cheese he was too full to finish the whole sandwich, so we wrapped part of the sandwich and most of the mac and cheese in To Go containers and put them in the cooler.  They made for a great lunch the next day when we were travelling to Rhode Island!

Here are some miscellaneous snaps of our time at Stonewall Kitchen:

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With full bellies, we resumed our shopping and found a few things we wanted to bring home.  One was hand soap in Stonewall’s Lake House scent. As soon as I smelled the soap I knew I had to bring some home because it reminded me of one of my favorite things about Maine – the smell of balsam.

Another thing we tucked into our bag was a simmering sauce for Butter Chicken.  Butter Chicken (also known as murgh makhani) is an Indian dish of chicken in a mild curry sauce.  I thought it would be good to have this simmering sauce in case we found ourselves in need of a fast, easy dinner.

Tonight was just that night!  Having tested recipes much of the day yesterday and planning to test recipes much of the day tomorrow, I have to admit I didn’t really feel like cooking anything too involved tonight after work.  But we did have chicken in the fridge and some jasmine rice in the pantry so Butter Chicken was the perfect solution to the age-old “what’s for dinner” conundrum.

It was so very easy to make this recipe.  I cut the chicken into cubes, browned it in batches and, while the chicken was browning, I started the rice.  After all the chicken was beautifully golden brown I put it all back into the skillet and added the jar of Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce.  The chicken simmered for 15 minutes, which was perfect timing – when the timer rang the chicken was done, the rice was finished cooking and Jeff was walking through the door!

Butter Chicken Jar Butter Chicken

We sat down to dinner of Butter Chicken over jasmine rice and it was delightful – the chicken was juicy and the tomato-based sauce was thick and flavorful with just enough spice.  I have not previously eaten Butter Chicken so I have no basis for comparison; but based upon my experience with this Stonewall product, I will definitely order this next time I’m in an Indian restaurant and I’ll probably play with the recipe at home too.

There’s just one problem with the Stonewall Kitchen Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce – it’s gone.  I wish we had bought more!  Fortunately, we carry Stonewall products at work and perhaps I can convince Dan to order some of this simmering sauce (and some of the other simmering sauces) for the shop!

Stonewall Kitchen’s Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce + a few minutes prep time + a pan of jasmine rice = a delicious, fast dinner!

The Gift of Blue Apron

Several weeks ago a lovely couple came into the shop.  They were staying in a nearby hotel and were (1) looking to occupy some time and (2) hoping to get a recommendation for a good spot in Carlisle for dinner.

They explained to me that they were on their way to JFK to catch a flight to Paris and that the front desk clerk had recommended Hoss’s for dinner.  So what’s wrong with this picture?  Recommending Hoss’s to someone on their way to a Paris vacation is like recommending StarKist Tuna to someone looking for caviar.

So I asked what kind of foods they liked and what kind of experience they were hoping to have and then I recommended a few different places – none of them chain restaurants.  Now I know, there are those of you out there who will only eat at a chain restaurant when you’re travelling – I know you’re out there, but I certainly don’t understand you.  When I am travelling, I love to eat in one-of-a-kind restaurants that I cannot find at home.  Even when I’m at home I am not likely to eat at a chain restaurant – I like to experience a local chef’s riff on the food I eat and, even better, I love to eat local foods – you know, foods that you can only get or that are just better than “normal” in that place – like Maine blueberries when you’re in Maine, maple syrup when you’re in Vermont, etc.  That’s not to say that blueberries and maple syrup aren’t good in other places, but they’re bound to be spectacular in Maine and Vermont respectively.

Anyhooooooooooooo……

I talked with the couple about many things – the products in the shop, food and being foodies, travel, etc.  We had a pleasant conversation and then they went on their way with the names and addresses of several Carlisle restaurants.

The next day I received a lovely ‘thank you’ email from the wife for the recommendations along with the gift of three Blue Apron meals. If you’ve not heard of Blue Apron, (1) are you living under a rock? and (2) you can visit Blue Apron for additional information.

Prior to receiving this gift, I had heard about Blue Apron from several people and read about it on several blogs and websites.  The first person to tell me about Blue Apron was my orthopaedic doc.  Jeff and I were meeting with him and he told us he learned about it from his son.  He went on to explain how it works and told us about his experience.

Well, kind of like when you’re shopping for a new car and end up seeing that model of car everywhere you look, after hearing about Blue Apron for the first time I started seeing and hearing about it everywhere. And I wanted to try it.

Now, with this generous gift, I was able to try it at no cost – how sweet is that!?! And the timing was terrific – Jeff and I schedule our Blue Apron delivery for the week we returned from vacation, which meant no meal planning and very little grocery shopping when we returned from vacation!!!

The day after we returned home was filled with laundry and errands…and fortunately a visit from the UPS driver (or maybe it was the FedEx driver) with our Blue Apron delivery.

Everything was packed in a cardboard box that housed a cooler.  Each ingredient was individually packaged (in a zip top bag or clamshell or tiny bottle) and we received exactly the quantity needed for the recipe – for example, the recipe for Stir-Fried Ginger-Basil Chicken called for 2 Tbsp. of Ponzu Sauce.  We received exactly 2 Tbsp. in a tiny squeeze bottle neatly labeled and ready for use.

I unpacked all the ingredients, saved the packaging for later use and organized everything by recipe and by refrigerator vs. non-refrigerator items.  That way when it was time to make each recipe I didn’t have to go through all the ingredients again.

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The following are my impressions, in no particular order:

  1. Blue Apron is a great way to ensure that you don’t waste food because you only get what you need for 2 servings (or 4 servings if you specify and pay for 4 servings). I can’t tell you how many times we’ve wanted to make a recipe and had to buy wwwaaayyy more of an ingredient than we needed and ended up not using it before it went bad.
  2. Blue Apron is a great way to try new ingredients without having to buy a large quantity of them that may go unused.  Back to the Ponzu Sauce as an example.  If I wanted to try Ponzu Sauce in a recipe and had to get it at the grocery store, I’d likely have to buy a 10 oz. bottle – even if I only need 2 tablespoons of it.  With Blue Apron I was able to try cooking with Ponzu without buying a whole bottle and possibly never using again.  Some of the items I received from Blue Apron that I hadn’t previously used in my cooking include: Ponzu Sauce, coconut milk powder, and Shishito peppers.
  3. Although there is still some work involved in meal preparation, having the majority of the measuring and all the shopping done for you saves considerable time.  Now, I’ve talked to folks who aren’t as well-versed in the kitchen as Jeff and I are who think some of the recipes are complicated, but I have to say that I think they are mostly easy to follow.
  4. In spite of my comment in number 3, some of the directions could be clearer.  While I don’t think the techniques are difficult, I do think some of the instructions could be clearer.  For example, one of the steps in one of the recipes we made read, “cut the eggplant into 1-inch-thick rounds on an angle.”  Now, had I not had some experience in the kitchen I might have been baffled by this instruction – because when you cut the eggplant on an angle – no matter how you slice it (pun intended) – you will not end up with a round.
  5. Blue Apron can help with portion control and calorie pre-planning.  If portion control and calorie counting are issues for you (as they are for many, including me), Blue Apron just might be your answer  Each recipe tells you how many people it serves and the approximate number of calories per serving.  If you stick to one serving, you could look at the calorie count in advance and plan your other meals accordingly so as not to exceed a particular daily calorie intake.
  6. This next statement has to be couched because it will not be true for everyone when you factor in other things.  I find Blue Apron to be expensive when you calculate the cost per meal (of course, my trial was free so I’m certainly not complaining).  I can feed two people a nutritious meal for less than $20 and you probably can too.  However, if you’re not at the grocery store as much as I am and you have to make a special trip and you factor in the cost of your time, then you may not find it expensive at all.  And/or, if you hate meal planning or just don’t take the time to do it until 5 minutes before dinner and you end up eating the same thing(s) over and over again, you may think the expense is worth it.  Again – saying Blue Apron is expensive is not necessarily a fair statement when you consider other factors.  For me, it is.
  7. This is another impression that other people may not share; however I found it difficult to fit all three meals into a week because I also test recipes for future classes several nights of the week.  I know it’s a good problem to have, but I had to really be purposeful about cooking my Blue Apron meals before the perishables perished.
  8. Sometimes you get things you don’t like. While you can specify certain dietary restrictions, you cannot control all the ingredients you receive.  For example, one of the recipes Jeff and I made was Seared Salmon & Panzanella, which included cucumbers.  While neither of us is what I would consider a picky eater, we don’t particularly care for cucumbers…so I left them out.  It would have been nice to have something different in the salad, but without a trip to the store (or to the garden) a replacement wasn’t readily available.  Also, then I was left with a cucumber that I didn’t want to waste and for which I had to find a home.
  9. Each dish comes with an 8.5″ x 11″ “recipe card” with photos, instructions, nutritional information, special ingredient info, etc.  This is a very nice feature.  Particularly in that it allows you to recreate those recipes you really enjoy!
  10. This may sound nitpicky, but I couldn’t find an option on their website for odd-numbered families.  Having spent the last 20+ years cooking for two the majority of the time, worrying about an odd-number of people in the family isn’t an issue for me; but it is for some.  You’d end up spending more money than you had to and having leftovers or eating more than one serving.  For many this wouldn’t even be a blip on their radar, but I know there are those of you out there who hate leftovers!
  11. Although it didn’t take me long to separate the ingredients into piles by meal, it would have been nice if they had been grouped in separate bags within the larger package so that I didn’t have to spend the time separating ingredients. The “knick knacks” (or smaller ingredients) were separated by recipe, but the fresh veggies and meats were not.

The following are some pics of Jeff and I putting together one of the meals:

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While I am so grateful for the opportunity to try Blue Apron and the experience was surely a good one, in the end we decided that it’s just not the right fit for us in this season of our lives.  However, I can definitely see where it would be a great option for other people – people who don’t like to cook or plan meals, people with schedules that don’t have them at the grocery store and/or in the kitchen as much as my schedule does, people just learning to cook, etc.  My sister and her husband use and love Blue Apron – it fits well into their lifestyle. I do think Blue Apron would make a nice gift – particularly for folks in an especially busy season of life.

Blue Apron

So, a special thanks to the travelling-to-France-and-staying-overnight-in-Carlisle couple (you know who you are) for this generous gift.  I am grateful for the opportunity to try Blue Apron and will definitely keep an eye on their website from time to time to see what changes they are making that would make them a better fit for us. And who knows what kinds of changes may be coming down the pike in our lives that may make Blue Apron a good fit – what’s that old saying”? If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans!”

Have you tried Blue Apron?  What were your experiences and impressions?

 

 

“Don’t Play With Your Food”

Growing up I was repeatedly instructed, like many others were, “Don’t play with your food.”  Of course, me being me, that made me want to play with my food even more….you might say I was something of a stubborn child.  Now that I’m a stubborn adult I still love playing with my food! Perhaps this is why I loved Alton Brown’s show Good Eats in which he showed the sciency side of food.

Anyway….I don’t know if notes like this show up in your house, but I recently put a sticky note on the kitchen counter that read, “Experiment – Please do not discard!”  The note is next to a plate containing my current food experiment!

I’ve been thinking a lot about smoking (no, not cigarettes or pot) recently and somehow the idea of infusing “coffee smoke” into foods has taken root in my mind.  The hamsters on the wheels in my brain have been working overtime and thoughts about how to execute this idea of coffee smoke have been tumbling around.  My first thought was to use whole coffee beans; but I decided that the oils would probably make them likely to burn and smoke in an unpleasant way.  Then I went to the idea of grinding the coffee; but that didn’t resolve the oil problem.  Finally, I thought about soaking some mild wood chips in brewed coffee, draining them and drying them on paper towels.

So that is what’s been happening in my food lab (a.k.a. kitchen).  And today is the day I executed the plan. Since chicken is relatively mild, I decided to use chicken breast in my first test.  Surely something as mild as chicken would allow me to see if the smoke flavor tastes at all like coffee.

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After work today I got out my stove top smoker, took off the lid, took out the rack and the drip tray and added my re-dried wood chips to the bottom of the smoker.  I also added a little bit of espresso powder to potentially boost the coffee flavor.  I reassembled the smoker, put the chicken breast on the rack and slid the lid into place. Over medium heat, I smoked the chicken for approximately 20 minutes and then allowed it to cool in the smoker.

When I took the lid off, I was greeted by a beautifully smoky brown chicken breast.  The aroma was wonderful and the color was enough to get my mouth watering.  When I sliced into the breast I could tell the meat was wonderfully moist.

But the question was, “does it taste like coffee?”  The answer is, “No.”  It is delicious and smoky and will make a wonderful addition to the chicken quesadillas we’re making for dinner; but it does not taste like coffee.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the idea of using coffee/espresso in my smoking….I still have some ideas up my sleeve that I’ll try!  And it also doesn’t mean I wouldn’t use this method for smoking again.  The results, although not what I expected, were still yummy!

So was this experiment a success or a failure.  Resoundingly I’d say it was a success.  I was able to test my theory and produce a good result, even if it wasn’t the result I expected.  Trial and error – that is how we learn, not just with cooking but with many things in life.  So the next time someone tells you, “Don’t play with your food,” smile politely and promptly ignore them!

Please share some of your food experiments in the comments below – particularly if you’d had experience smoking with coffee!!!

 

Monday MmmMmmMmm: Ribs Etc.

On days like today I think perhaps I should give up cooking!  No, I didn’t have a terrible cooking experience.  No, I’m not tired of cooking. So what happened?  Last night’s dinner reminded me that Jeff is a great cook and perhaps I should leave it all to him!!!  Don’t worry, I’m not serious about giving up cooking; but I am serious about Jeff being a great cook.

Yesterday was one of those days where Jeff devoted several hours to making an amazing dinner.  Because he had the day off yesterday, he began plotting his Monday culinary adventures over the weekend.  And I knew things would be going in a tasty direction when he returned from the grocery store with a beautiful rack of ribs.

Since I worked yesterday, I wasn’t privy to the whole process; however the end result gave me a pretty good idea of what went on in the kitchen (and on the deck) while I was gone.

I haven’t written too much about it, but I’ve posted many photos of foods cooking on the Big Green Egg on our deck.  “What is a Big Green Egg?” you ask.  Well, to say it is a grill is a gross understatement; although it IS a grill.  It can also be used to smoke foods and bake foods.  It can cook low and slow bbq and it can cook pizzas at 600+ degrees F.

The Big Green Egg uses lump charcoal as its fuel and air flow to control the temperature.  For more information on the Big Green EGG (BGE), visit Big Green Egg’s website.  The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School is an authorized BGE dealer and teaches classes on BGE basics and cooking on the BGE.

As usual, I digress…..

What does the BGE have to do with my Monday MmmMmmMmm….everything!  As I was explaining earlier, Jeff made ribs last night and he combined what we learned in Texas about rubs for bbq and the low and slow power of the BGE to turn out some damn good ribs!

Because they cooked low and slow, they were sooooooo tender.  The meat literally fell right off the bone when you bit into it (or even before you bit into it).  The simple rub (salt, pepper and brown sugar) combined with the long cooking time created a delicious crust (a.k.a. bark).  When some people see the bark on bbq’d meats, they mistakenly think the meat has burned….not true.  For information on the science of bark formation, visit the post entitled What Is Bark, And Why It Makes Us Howl For More at AmazingRibs.com.  They explain ‘bark’ much better than I could!

To go with the ribs, Jeff busted out some left-over salad and made an enormous baked sweet potato, which we shared.  To say last night’s dinner was a Monday MmmMmmMmm is like saying the BGE is a grill – it’s an understatement!  Last night’s dinner was spectacular.  It was warm, comforting, nourishing, pleasing to the eye because of the variety of colors, pleasing to the nose because of the variety of aromas, and pleasing to the wife because she didn’t have to make it!

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Thanks for the Monday MmmMmmMmm, honey.  I just may decide to let you cook every night!!!

Dinner, Quick & Delicious

Weather.com says it’s 15 degrees F in Central Pennsylvania, but feels like 4 degrees F.  So it’s the perfect day to work on snowflake cookies for a winter-themed baby shower.  The theme is “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and it sure is!

It’s the kind of day that “stick to your ribs” ooey, gooey comfort food sounds great.  But, ooey gooey comfort food doesn’t just stick to your ribs, it also sticks to your rear end and thighs!  So what’s a girl to do when she’s home alone for dinner, wants something that tastes delicious, but doesn’t want to break the fat-gram/calorie bank?

The answer is simple – soup.  I’m not talking canned, condensed soup – no offense to Campbell’s.  I’m talking soup that warms your hands, your insides and your soul!  For that, I turned to the freezer.

If you’ve taken any of my classes and/or read previous blog posts you know I’m a fan of making extra when I cook and freezing it for later AND a fan of making home-made chicken broth with all the leftover ends of veggies and parts of chickens.  In fact, there are those who know me that would say I border on weird when it comes to the “stock bags” in my freezer.

These “stock bags” are zip-top freezer bags in which I store bits and pieces of veggies I’ve cut for other meals, chicken bones and scraps, and rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  I add to the bags when I cook and then, when I have enough parts saved (or as Jeff would tell you, sometimes LONG after I have enough saved) I let a HUGE pot of stock simmer for a whole day.  Then, I strain it and package it for the freezer to use in future meals.  It’s great for making soups, risottos, homemade mac and cheese, or in this case a wonderfully warm bowl of soup for a solo dinner.

And, not only did I have some recently made chicken stock in the freezer, I also had some homemade cheese tortellini.  I have a hands-on pasta class coming up on January 21st and have been working on the recipe for cheese tortellini, which means my freezer is well stocked in the tortellini department!

So my dinner this evening was a quick one to make.  I took a pint of chicken stock out of the freezer and popped it in the microwave to defrost while I continued decorating snowflake cookies.  When the stock was nearly defrosted, I put it into a saucepan and brought it to a boil.  Then I added some tortellini straight from the freezer and let them cook for about 3 minutes. (Cooking them in the stock – rather than cooking them in water – gives them great flavor).

While the tortellini were cooking, I grated some Parmigiano-Reggiano on the coarse side of a box grater.  When the tortellini were tender, I ladled the soup into a pretty bowl, topped it with some grated cheese and a grind of black pepper and sank into my favorite chair to enjoy my dinner.

Tortellini en Brodo

The homemade chicken stock and hand-rolled tortellini were a wonderful partnership.  And the sprinkling of freshly grated, salty parm was a perfect finish.  The stock was rich and flavorful, the tortellini were like little pillows of cheesy goodness and the parm melted a bit in the hot stock to give a satisfying stringiness that only cheese can give.

So yes, it’s cold outside.  But my quick and delicious dinner warmed me up and fortified me to finish the cookies for the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” baby shower.  I’m so glad I had on-hand everything I needed to make a quick and tasty dinner.  I strongly recommend cooking ahead when you can. You won’t be sorry you did on nights when you’re on your own for dinner and don’t want to fuss, BUT you want something really yummy!

 

Just for fun, the following are a few snaps of the snowflake cookies!

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TBTIAAW – The Best Thing I Ate All Week: A Salad?

I have quite a bit of fun testing and tweaking recipes for my classes and I’ve been doing just that for the last week.  The class I’m working on now is entitled Pasta Perfection, so I have to make sure my recipes are as close to perfect as possible.  That can be a good news/bad news thing for Jeff….when recipes turn out well it’s great to be the taster; but when they flop (which thankfully doesn’t happen that often, but it DOES happen) being the taster can be a real drag!

Fortunately, this week has been chock full of homemade pasta.  And how can that be bad?

On Sunday, when the rest of the world was glued to the Super Bowl – which I understand wasn’t all that super – I was hand forming tortellini for a tortellini salad.  And I can assure you I enjoyed being in the kitchen much more than I would have enjoyed watching the Super Bowl.

I made lemon pepper pasta for the tortellini wrappers and let it rest while I worked on the filling.  After it rested, I rolled out the pasta as thin as I could and cut, filled and formed each tortellini by hand.  I have to admit, as much as I dread routine, there is something about getting the assembly line process rolling smoothly that is comforting to me.  Perhaps because I know I don’t have to do it forever!

The tortellini salad I’m working on is not your typical pasta salad.  It’s more like a green salad with tortellini in it.  I thought about the individual ingredients and flavors I wanted in the salad; then I decided which ones would work best in the filling and which would work best in the salad itself.

The next test was to decide which ingredients to cook and which to leave raw.  In order to do that, I made two different salads for us to try – one on Sunday and one on Wednesday.  Incidentally, one of the great things about testing recipes is that you don’t have to think of several different dishes to make during the week – you just keep eating different versions of the same thing, which makes meal planning quite easy! But, as usual, I digress.

Featured Image TortelliniSomething unusual happened as a result of trying both salads, we discovered that both were really good and we’re still having trouble deciding which was better!  Since I will be serving my pasta dishes with Italian wines, I’ll do at least one more test with wine so I can make the final tweaks. [A special thanks to Kirt from the State Store in Lemoyne for helping me with my wine pairings!]

I’ll keep you posted on the salad’s progress and may share the recipe on the blog someday, but for now you can be sure to get the recipe by coming to the Pasta Perfection class!  Oh, and not only will you get the recipe for this salad, you’ll get the recipes for all the dishes AND you’ll sample some really good Italian wines!

The best thing I ate all week (TBTIAAW): Lemon Goat Cheese Tortellini Salad with Roasted Vegetables. Mmm mmm mmm!!!

Monday MmmMmmMmm and Class Recap

I LOVE breakfast for dinner! And tonight Jeff made it so it was even better!  And the pancakes were savory, so now we’re 3 for 3!

When I left work tonight I got stuck in traffic – there was a disabled tractor-trailer blocking one lane of the road and things were rrrrreeeeeaaaaallllllllllyyyyy backed up.  So I called Jeff to let him know that I would probably get home later than he would.  Since he had a meeting at church tonight, I suggested that he have some leftover pasta and I told him I would make a sandwich for myself later.

Little did I know he already had a plan cooking in his head!  When I got home he was working on batter for cornmeal pancakes to which he added some sautéed veggies (onions, peppers, spinach, kale) and cheese.  While he was making the batter he was also heating a pan – when the batter was done he spooned some into the hot pan and went to change.  I kept an eye on the pancakes, turning them before he returned.

Pancake Batter

Pancakes on the Griddle

In a matter of minutes we were sitting down to a delicious and nutritious dinner AND Jeff was able to get out the door on time.  I’ll be honest, sometimes the best thing I can do to get dinner on the table is stay out of the way!!!!  I really appreciate it when someone else cooks for me – it makes a Monday MmmMmmMmm even mmm mmm mmm-ier!

While we were eating I was reviewing yesterday in my head.  I taught a class entitled ‘Holiday Brunch for Overnight Guests’ at the Kitchen Shoppe yesterday and I had a great time.

Although I’ve enjoyed all the classes I’ve taught so far, I had a really great group of people yesterday and they made it a lot of fun for me!  I hope they had as much fun as I did!!!  They asked a lot of good questions, interacted with one another, shared tips and ideas, and really seemed to enjoy the food (which, of course, makes me happy).

The menu for class was:

  • Bloody Mary with Roasted Tomatoes
  • Mozzarella, Prosciutto and Arugula Pesto Bruschetta
  • Holiday Baked Egg Casserole
  • Bacon & Green Onion Studded Potato Pancakes
  • French Breakfast Puffs
  • Fruit Skewers with Orange Vinaigrette

The hands-down favorite seemed to be the French Breakfast Puffs, which are yummy light muffins that are rolled in melted butter and cinnamon sugar and served warm.  I first had these on  a trip to Cape Cod.  They were made by The Cottage Street Bakery and have been a family favorite ever since.  I’m glad I got to share them with my class.

The following is a picture of the buffet I set for class yesterday:

Brunch for Overnight Guests BUffet

I hope the folks who came to class will use some of the recipes for the holidays and that they will think of me when they do.  I will surely remember what a good time I had with them the next time I make one of the recipes I served in class.

What are some of your favorite things to serve to overnight guests?

Update Monday MmmMmmMmm:…and Chocolate Lava Cake

I sort of left you hanging last night…..by the time I finished my post, I still hadn’t baked my chocolate lava cakes….so I thought I’d end the suspense.  I’m sure you figured this out on your own, but the cakes were WONDERFUL!

I was a little worried that the LONG resting time might affect the outcome in a negative way, but it did not.  The cakes were dense with a warm, oozy center….mmm mmm mmm!!!

While the cakes baked for about 12 minutes, I had some fun decorating the plates with the caramel.  I wanted to see what would happen if I put the caramel into a squeeze bottle – you see, I wasn’t sure if it was too thick to “pipe” onto the plates.  As it turns out, it was just the right consistency.  I used a funnel to get it into the bottle and had to wait a few minutes for it all to drain through the funnel, but it wasn’t bad at all. The squeeze bottle made it easy to get the caramel right where I wanted it on the plates….

 

Plate

After decorating the plates, I waited for the timer to buzz…..when it finally did, I wasn’t sure the cakes were done.  I know they’re supposed to be soft in the center – after all, they are lava cakes – but they just didn’t look “set enough” on the edges; so I left them in for one more minute.  And I’m glad I did.

They unmolded perfectly.  I ran a knife around the edge and turned them out onto the plates.  The recipe indicated that you needed to leave the ramekins on the plate for approximately 1 minute so the cake would slide out of the ramekin; but my cakes slid out as soon as I overturned them.

They were perfectly cooked and looked quite pretty on the zigzag of caramel.

Unmolded Lava Cake

An easy to make dessert and the perfect end to my Monday MmmMmmMmm!!!!

Monday MmmMmmMmm: Vegetable Lasagna

Today was an unusual Monday.  Jeff and I both had off on the same weekday.  To celebrate, we cleaned the basement – or at least part of it!  I know, it’s not a very romantic way to spend the day together; but we both felt good – and HUNGRY – when we got done.

Fortunately, I had some recipes to try.  I’m teaching two private classes in early December and some of the recipes the groups selected are new to me.  So I used my time today to not only familiarize myself with the recipes, but also to make a nice dinner for Jeff and I.

We stopped our work in the basement at approximately 1:00 p.m. and I started cooking.  The first recipe I tackled was for Vegetable Lasagna with Fontina & Parmesan Sauce.  I put a pot of water on to boil (to cook the lasagna noodles) and then started slicing mushrooms, zucchini and artichoke hearts.  While the pasta cooked and the veggies sautéed, I gathered the ingredients for the parmesan sauce.

 

I removed the cooked lasagna noodles from the boiling water onto a sheet tray covered in plastic wrap.  When the tray was full, I added another layer of plastic wrap and repeated the process until all the noodles were on the sheet tray.  I find this is a great way to let the noodles cool without sticking together.  I set the tray aside, turned off the flame under the veggies and made the parmesan sauce.

Sauteed Mushrooms, Zucchini & Artichoke Hearts

Parmesan Sauce

Finally, I buttered the lasagna pan and then began assembly.  Sauce, noodles, sauce, veggies, cheese, noodles, sauce, veggies, cheese, noodles, sauce, veggies, cheese, noodles, sauce, and finally cheese.  It becomes kind of like meditating….I get lost in the process!

Buttered Lasagna Dish

Lasagna Layer 1

I slipped the lasagna into the oven to bake for 30 minutes.  Then I cleaned up the mess from the lasagna and turned my attention to the salad – Field Green Salad with Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette.  Before I began making the salad, Jeff left to take Miss Kissy to the vet.

I’ve previously written posts about cooking more of something than you need for one meal so that you have leftovers for another meal – for example Two Birds, One Stone – One Chicken, Three Meals. Fortunately, I follow my own advice and had roasted beets in the refrigerator, which made prep for tonight’s salad a piece of cake!  I simply cut some Romaine hearts, crumbled some goat cheese, cut the roasted beets, toasted some sliced almonds, and made the vinaigrette.  Since Jeff wasn’t home yet, I left all the salad components in separate containers to assemble just before sitting down for dinner.

Salad Bowl

Salad Toppings

Finally, I picked up the recipe for the Chocolate Lava Cakes with Caramel Sauce.   I prepped the ramekins in which the cakes will be baked and then made the thick, “chocolatey” batter. I spooned the batter into the prepared ramekins – although not as carefully as I probably should have because I ended up with a little batter on the rims.  If I were cooking for company or for class, I would have used a damp dish towel to clean them up, but I decided to leave them with the rustic, homemade look!

Messy Chocolate Lava Ramekins

The recipe calls to let the batter rest in the ramekins for at least 30 minutes, which gave me time to make a simple caramel sauce with unsalted butter, light brown sugar and heavy cream.

Just as I was finishing the caramel, my iPad “rang” with a message from Jeff letting me know he and Kissy were on their way home.  Perfect timing!  I turned the oven to broil, took the foil off the lasagna and slid it into the oven so the top would get brown and bubbly.  When the top looked beautifully golden, I took the pan out of the oven and covered it to rest.

Brown & Bubbling Veggie Lasagna

I heard the garage door open while I was cutting the lasagna, dressing the lettuce and plating the food.  I love it when a plan comes together!  I had just enough time to snap some pics of the food before Jeff and Kissy made their way into the kitchen.

Veggie Lasagna & Salad

As Jeff and I ate dinner, we critiqued the recipes…..the lasagna was wonderful – a great meatless meal in my opinion.  Jeff, not surprisingly, said he’d like the lasagna better with some meat in it!  We both enjoyed the salad, but thought the dressing was missing a little something.  I’ll have to give the recipe another try or two and see if I can tweak it a bit.

No, you didn’t miss anything…..I haven’t said anything about the lava cakes yet.  In fact, as I write this post, they are still sitting on the counter unbaked.

After dinner Jeff had a meeting at church, so I am waiting to bake them until he’s on his way home so the lava is still flowing when we eat them.  I hope they’re as good as I am imagining them to be!

All in all, today was a great day.  We accomplished some basement cleaning, we have a new health plan for Kissy, and we had a Monday MmmMmmMmm.  Not only that, but we still have a tasty dessert to look forward to!

What did you have for dinner tonight?

A New Gadget – GEFU Spirelli

Oh My Goodness! If you eat gluten-free, you are going to LOVE this gadget!!

Let me start by saying that I have not been paid for this review.  The following are MY ideas about the product.

Those of you who are regular readers know that I am not necessarily a “gadget person.” At least not just for the sake of owning gadgets.  Because I don’t have a lot of space in my kitchen, I only buy things that do more than one job – and only after careful consideration.

I have owned this gadget for just over 24-hours and have already made a fabulous Asian Carrot Salad, Fried Sweet Potato Shoestrings, and a delectable Zucchini Pasta with Lemon Sauce.  For diversity of use, I give this gadget 5 M’s.

The gadget…..The GEFU Spirelli.  With the Spirelli you can cut thin or thick “ribbons” of veggies that can be used in many different applications – including as a pasta alternative.  There are two cone-shaped ends (making it look sort of like an hourglass) with blades in them – one for thin ribbons and one for thick ribbons.

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Let me warn you, however, that I had to go out to youtube and some other websites to learn the proper way to use it because the package instructions left A LOT to be desired.   The youtube video was helpful, but it wasn’t until I read a few users’ comments re: the Spirelli that I fully understood how to use it.

Relying only on logic, it seems as though you should try to hold the vegetable you are Spirelli-ing at an angle against the blade and turn the gadget; however you insert your veggie straight into the cone and twist the veggie with even pressure.  The Spirelli comes with a guard/lid/food holder, but from my experience and from what I read it is not very functional.

I tried a few carrots before I got the hang of it.  Once I mastered using the Spirelli I moved on to sweet potatoes and was able to get one ribbon of sweet potato that was 5-feet long.  I’m not sure when you’d ever need a 5-foot long ribbon of sweet potato, but it was impressive nonetheless!

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I tried a zucchini from my garden that I had in the fridge, but it was (1) too wide in diameter to fit into the Spirelli and (2) a little too mushy.  I even tried cutting the zucchini lengthwise so that the width was right, but it was simply too soft to work.  So I texted Jeff and asked him if he would mind stopping at the grocery store and picking up a zucchini on his way home.

Last night, as an accompaniment to pizza, I made Asian Carrot Salad by Spirelli-ing some rainbow carrots from the garden and adding a tasty peanut vinaigrette, green onions, sesame seeds and some chopped salted peanuts. Mmm mmm mmm!

Tonight for dinner I made Zucchini “Pasta” with Lemon Sauce and it was delicious.  I used the Spirelli to cut my ribbons in under 60 seconds.  Then I sautéed them in a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil.  While they were cooking I looked up Giada DeLaurentiis’ recipe for Lemon Pasta and adapted the sauce to the ingredients I had available.  Can I just say mmm mmm mmm?  Wow.  Since I’m not eating gluten-free, I found that a light sprinkling of seasoned bread crumbs gave the pasta a nice mouth-feel.

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For ease of use, I give the Spirelli 4 M’s out of 5; however for instructions to help you learn how to use it, I’d give it only 2 M’s out of 5.  If the instructions were more explicit, I would have been up and running a lot more quickly and would have avoided becoming frustrated with the product.  I must admit, the foot-stomping-brat in me was ready to throw it down and yell; but after a few minutes on the internet I was de-frustrated!!!

Overall I’d say the Spirelli will remain in my gadget drawer for a long time.  I can see myself using it over and over again.  Although I own a mandolin, I have never had luck julienning carrots on it.  The Spirelli makes that task soooo easy.  And anything that helps me turn vegetables into a pasta substitute is a good thing.  As much as I LOVE pasta, it’s not something I want to (ok, well I DO WANT TO, but I know I shouldn’t) eat frequently.

This is a terrific addition to your gadget drawer and overall I would give the GEFU Spirelli 4 1/2 M’s out of 5!

Spirelli Review GraphicHave you tried the Spirelli?  What do you think?  What have you made with it?

Asian Carrot Salad

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: salad carrots

Ingredients

    For the Salad

    • 6 carrots, julienned
    • 6 green onions, sliced thin
    • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
    • 1/3 cup chopped salted peanuts

    For the Dressing

    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 Tbsp fresh ginger root, grated
    • 1/2 cup olive oil
    • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
    • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
    • 1/2 cup soy sauce (low sodium is best)
    • 3 Tbsp honey
    • 2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
    • Sriracha to taste

    Instructions

    For the Dressing

    Mix together all ingredients EXCEPT the olive oil.

    When the dressing is well combined, SLOWLY drizzle in the olive oil while whisking briskly to create an emulsion.

    Check for seasoning.

    Add salt and pepper if needed (keep in mind, the soy sauce is very salty and the Sriracha will add heat).

    For the Salad

    Toss together the julienned carrots, green onions, and sesame seeds.

    Toss with enough dressing to coat (save remaining dressing for use on other salads)

    Sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

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    Zucchini “Pasta” with Lemon Sauce

    by mmm mmm mmm

    Ingredients (Serves 4 – 6)

    • 6 Medium Zucchini, julienned with Spirelli cutter

    For Lemon Sauce

    • 2/3 cup olive oil
    • 2/3 cup grated parmesan
    • 3 lemons, zest and juice (about 1/2 cup juice)
    • salt and ground black pepper to taste
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

    Instructions

    Saute julienned zucchini in olive oil over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes.

    While cooking zucchini, whisk the lemon juice and parmesan in a large bowl/ Slowly drizzle in olive oil while briskly whisking to create a smooth emulsion. Add a hint of salt and pepper and half the lemon zest and chopped parsley.

    Toss the pasta with enough lemon sauce to coat. Sprinkle with the remaining lemon zest and parsley.

    *If you’re not eating a gluten-free diet, a dusting of seasoned breadcrumbs gives the pasta a nice mouth-feel!

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    10 Recipes on My “Must Try” List

    It’s no secret that I spend a lot of time poring over magazines, cookbooks, Pinterest, and other websites and blogs looking for recipe inspiration.  I wish I had more time and money to try all the recipes I’ve pinned, bookmarked, tabbed, etc.; but I thought since I don’t have an unlimited supply of either time or money (if you have ideas of how I can accomplish this, let me know) I’d share with you some of the recipes I’d like to try SOMEDAY.

    Perhaps if I spent less time looking for recipes and more time making them, I could fit it all in.  But then, oh horror, I might miss something!!!!

    Be assured that I will try these recipes ONE DAY and when I do I will write  ‘Recipe Reviews’ and let you know my thoughts, but for now just sit back and drool with me!  Let’s get started…

    ONE. I wish I was one of those people who could skip past a recipe with “Cheesy” or “Bacon” in the title, but I am not.  These just sound incredible to me…..

    Cheesy Bacon Bombs from www.ohbiteit.com.

    TWO. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I am not afraid of making homemade pie crust (in fact, if anything the filling always scared me more than the crust); but this looks this idea is so yummy and cool I just know I need to give it a try.

    Cinnamon Roll Pie Crust from www.taste-for-adventure.tablespoon.com.

    THREE. Since we have an abundance (some would say “over-abundance”) of tomatoes in our garden right now, I should make this soon.  The flavor combination sounds delish to me.

    Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart with Rosemary and Mascarpone from www.theendlessmeal.com.

    FOUR. Another great idea for tomato season that combines my love of shrimp and my love of feta cheese with my current profusion of tomatoes!!!

    Roasted Tomatoes with Shrimp and Feta from www.myrecipes.com.

    FIVE. I am not typically a casserole gal.  I much prefer my food in separate piles on my plate to it being all in one pile; however this sounds too good to pass up to me.

    Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole from www.recipesweet.net.

    SIX. Anything that promises to be a HEALTHY alfredo is worth a try if you ask me!  I cannot imagine it will be as good as regular alfredo, but even if it’s only half as good (and it’s healthy) it’s a win!

    Healthy Fettuccine Alfredo from www.pinchofyum.com.

    SEVEN. I LOVE chickpeas.  In fact, I must confess, there was a time I was probably addicted to them!  Hummus, yummus!  Fried Ceci, yes pleasi!  And now….

    Cilantro Lime Chickpea Salad from www.ohsheglows.com.

    EIGHT. I have written previously about a culinary rut Jeff and I got into for a while….we were relying very heavily on quesadillas for dinner.  They were fast and usually easy – since we used a lot of leftovers.  But had we tried this quesadilla, we probably would not have felt like it was a rut.

    Peach and Brie Quesadilla with Honey-Lime Dipping Sauce from www.cookinglight.com.

    NINE. Oh, this next one combines three of my favorite things in one dish and makes me think of a salad I had at one of my favorite restaurants, The Salvation Café.  I love the peppery bite of arugula, the luxurious texture of goat cheese, and the earthy taste of beets!!!

    Beet, Arugula and Goat Cheese Sandwich from www.bsinthekitchen.com.

    TEN. OK.  If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, I would choose Parmesan cheese.  I love the salty, nutty, butter combination and I truly think it is the world’s most perfect food.  So it’s no surprise that I would add the next recipe to my list of “must try’s.”

    Parmesan Pudding with Pea Sauce from www.marthastewart.com.

    Well, I cannot promise to stop trolling for recipes, but I can promise that someday I will make the 10 recipes above and let you know how they turn out.  Hmmmm….maybe I should do a “10 recipes in 10 weeks” series.  I’ll give that some thought, just as soon as I put down the latest issue of bon appetite magazine!

    Monday Recipe Love MMM Your Review Leftovers

    I know it sounds confusing……but it’s really not.  It’s a Monday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post all rolled into one!!! Except….oh, no….the holiday weekend has messed me up…..Jeff just reminded me, IT’S NOT MONDAY.  Ugh….Ok, so it’s a Tuesday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post!!!

    Coming up with new and creative ideas for dinner can be just as difficult for someone with a passion for cooking, eating and entertaining as it is for the Average Jane or Average Joe.  Sometimes the creativity just isn’t there and/or sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking.  But when you’ve got leftovers on hand and you’ve just tried a RRREEEAAALLLYYY good recipe, it’s a bit easier.

    On Sunday Jeff and I went the home of our friends Lu and Mark for a cookout.  A bunch of folks gathered for an impromptu celebration of Mark’s birthday. And of course, when friends get together you can count on two things – at least with our group of friends – lots of laughs and some darn good food.

    Lu made an appetizer platter with a few new-to-her recipes including Pickled Deviled Eggs and Pickled Brussel Sprouts – both mmm mmm mmm.  I made an Ina Garten / Barefoot Contessa recipe that I recently wrote about when our friends Barb and Scott invited us to their lovely home for dinner.  The recipe is Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes…….I raved about it when Barb made it and my friends raved about it when I did too!

    crostiniLu and Mark also grilled hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, Maureen and Andy brought their yummy mac and cheese, Ev and Jeff brought peach cobbler, and Tim and Jack ran out for glazed donuts when everyone was talking about the Luther Burger craze.  Luther Burgers are allegedly named for Luther Vandross and are cheeseburgers served on sliced glazed donuts.

    Well, my assessment of the Luther Burger – five M’s – MMMMM!

    But I digress……

    Tonight I was stumped about what to make for dinner, so I did what all self-respecting cooks do when they don’t know what to make….I stood in front of the open fridge hoping inspiration would jump out at me….and it did. I spied the container with the leftover whipped feta, a package of chicken, the leftover marinated tomatoes and a head of broccoli Jeff picked from the garden yesterday.

    Here’s what I did:

    1. I cut the chicken into cutlets – with my palm on top of the chicken piece and my knife parallel to the cutting board I cut on a very slightly downward angle (to avoid the knife going into my hand).  Then I pounded the cutlets, breaded them (first in seasoned flour, then in egg wash, and finally in seasoned bread crumbs), shallow fried them and set them on paper towels to drain.

    2. I ran out to the garden to pick a few extra tomatoes and followed Ina’s recipe to make some extra marinated tomatoes.

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    3. I made the pesto with some arugula, spinach, the broccoli, lemon juice, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  I tasted it for seasoning and then set a pot of water on the stove to boil so I could cook the pasta.

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    4. While the water boiled and the pasta cooked, I spread the remaining whipped feta onto the cooked chicken cutlets and placed them in a 250 degree F oven to stay warm and for the cheese to soften.

    Chicken with Whipped Feta

    Just after I drained the pasta and mixed in the pesto, I heard the garage door go up.  Jeff’s timing is exceptional – particularly when food is involved!  While he changed, I plated our food – the pesto pasta next to the feta smeared chicken, which I topped with the marinated tomatoes.  We both raved dinner and Jeff complimented me on taking Ina’s Crostini recipe and adapting it for a main course.

    Chicken with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes

    As far as the recipe goes, Barefoot Contessa’s Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes gets 5 M’s out of 5!


    It is easy to make, takes only a few ingredients, yields incredible flavor, pleases a crowd, adapts well to other preparations and holds well for leftovers!!!  So, whether it’s Monday or Tuesday, I hope you love your leftovers, try a new recipe and end up with an MmmMmmMmm!!!!!

     

    Dinner Mmm

    Barefoot Contessa Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta

    Ingredients

    • 6oz good feta cheese (crumbled)
    • 2oz cream cheese (at room temperature)
    • 2/3 cups good olive oil (divided)
    • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed (I also used the zest of one whole lemon))
    • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 tablespoons shallots (minced (2 shallots))
    • 2 teaspoons garlic (minced (2 cloves))
    • 2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
    • 2lb ripe heirloom or cherry tomatoes (1/2 inch dice)
    • 3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves (julienned)
    • 20 - 25 diagonal baguette slices (toasted)
    • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (toasted)

    Directions

    1. For the whipped feta, place the feta and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until the cheeses are mixed.
    2. Add 1/3 cup of the olive oil, the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and process until smooth.
    3. For the tomatoes, up to an hour before you're serving, combine the shallots, garlic, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes.
    4. Whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
    5. Add the tomatoes, stir gently, and set aside for 10 minutes.
    6. Stir in the basil and taste for seasonings.
    7. To assemble the crostini, spread each slice of bread with a generous amount of whipped feta. With a slotted spoon, place the tomatoes on top. Put the crostini on plates and scatter with the pine nuts. Sprinkle with extra basil and serve.

    Monday MmmMmmMmm: Pork Roast, Potatoes and Green Beans

    I am NOT a morning person.  I know this admission completely shocks some of you….not!  But what will shock you is that I was up at 6:38 a.m. this morning…and I had all my prep work done for dinner by 9:00 a.m!  I don’t know what happened; but I find it’s best not to question a morning of good fortune.

    When my eyes opened at 6:38, my first inclination was to slam them shut and go back to sleep for another few hours, but after drinking a few sips of coffee and reading a few pages of the book in which I am currently engrossed; I hopped out of bed and started cooking.  I started by slicing a bunch of potatoes (white, red and sweet) into very thin slices and stacking them in little piles like decks of cards.  I put the decks of potatoes on their sides into mini loaf pans I had sprayed with cooking spray and spooned about 1 Tbsp of butter over each one.  I then topped them with minced thyme, kosher salt and pepper.  I baked them about 3/4 of the way in the morning, knowing I would finish cooking them just before Jeff arrived home from work.

    Potato Decks in Mini Loaf Pans

    Potato Decks with Butter Thyme Salt and Pepper

    Potato Decks Baking

    Just before I finished prepping the potatoes, I set a large pot of water on the stove to boil.  After the potatoes were in the oven, I began cleaning green beans and by the time they were clean, the water was boiling so I slipped the beans into the water and prepared an ice bath to shock them after blanching.  I cooked the beans for approximately 4 minutes and removed them directly to the ice bath to cool – not only does the ice bath stop the cooking immediately, it also maintains the bright green color of the beans.  After they were cool, I spread them on a sheet pan I had covered with a towel, gave them a quick pat to dry them, and slid the pan into the fridge to keep the beans cool.

    Ice Bath for Green Beans

    Blanched Green Beans in Ice Bath

    Green Beans Drying

    With the green beans and potatoes prepped, I turned my attention to the pork roast I had pulled out of the freezer to thaw over the weekend.  The first thing I did was make parallel cuts across the top of the roast about 1 inch deep so that the seasonings I would slather onto the roast would penetrate deep into the meat.  I then dried the roast with paper towel, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and set it into a hot roasting pan containing olive oil to brown.  The sizzle of the cool meat hitting the hot pan was mesmerizing and the smell of the meat browning was heavenly.

    While the meat was browning, I raced out to the garden (don’t tell my mom I walked away from the stove) to pick some onions, which I washed, peeled and cut into wedges.  After the meat was browned on all sides, I dropped the cut onions and some cherry tomatoes into the roasting pan and slathered the meat with some sun-dried tomato butter I had in the fridge.  I had previously made the butter for another recipe and had some left-over.  In addition to butter and sun-dried tomatoes, the concoction also contained parmesan cheese, herbs, lemon zest, salt, pepper and garlic.  Like the potatoes, I slid the roast into the oven and cooked it part way, knowing I would finish it just before Jeff walked through the door.

    Browned Pork Roast Surrounded by Onions and Cherry Tomatoes

    Roast Slathered with Sundried Tomato Butter

    The rest of the day was filled with exercise, showering, grocery shopping, balancing the checkbook, uploading some photos from my camera to my computer, cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming the downstairs, etc.  By the time I got everything done it was time to reheat the potatoes and the roast.  While they were reheating, I cut the green beans into bite-sized pieces and made a light apple cider vinaigrette to serve over the cold beans.

    Everything was coming together nicely when Jeff got home.  He had just enough time to change his clothes before we sat down to eat.  My final step of preparation, which I did while Jeff was changing clothes, was to whir up the pan drippings and softened onions and cherry tomatoes with an immersion blender to create a nice sauce for the roast. The good news is there is enough sauce that we will also have some later in the week over the spaghetti squash I couldn’t resist buying at the farm stand yesterday.

    I haven’t had spaghetti squash in years and am already plotting how I will ‘love my leftovers’ when I make it!  I think there will be some beans for protein and some green veggies (perhaps the other half of the bag of green beans or some broccoli) added to the sauce that will top the squash.  We’ll see what inspiration comes….

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    Dinner was great – well-balanced, colorful, and filled with flavor.  Like my friend Marisa, I love Mondays – particularly when they include a Monday MmmMmmMmm!  TGIM!

     

    Love Your Leftovers (and your garden): Veggie & Chicken Topped Zucchini Pancakes

    What’s for dinner?

    I’ll bet this question is uttered in every household in the world at least once a week, if not more often. And if you answer this question, I’ll bet what happens to me also happens to you – you get in a rut. We all get in ruts from time to time, whether it’s with the food we eat or in some other area of life.

    For Jeff and I, the dinner rut has been quesadillas for quite some time. If we can’t decide what to make for dinner, we fall back on quesadillas. We scrounge through the fridge and fill them with whatever we find. The beautiful thing about quesadillas is that they are soooooooo incredibly flexible. They can be filled with any kind of meat (or none), any kind of veggies (or none), beans, sauces, cheeses, etc.

    In keeping with our rut, Jeff suggested chicken quesadillas for dinner on Thursday night. And I agreed…..that is until I looked in the fridge.

    But I am getting ahead of myself. I began my dinner preparations in the garden. I picked a zucchini, an eggplant, some Hungarian peppers and some cherry tomatoes. These things would make a great veggie filling for the quesadillas. I also had two ears of cooked corn on the cob left over in the fridge, which I knew I would add to the veggie filling.

    One the way from vine to table (800x530)

    After I came inside, I washed the produce I had picked and set it all on one of the dining room chairs to photograph. I know that stopping to take pics during a recipe is not “normal” for everyone, but in our house nearly all food prep stops multiple times for photo ops. So anyway, I photographed the produce and turned my back for just a second to put the lens cap on my camera and make sure it was securely stored out of harms way. MISTAKE. When I turned back around, the cherry tomatoes and one of the Hungarian peppers were missing from the chair and there was dog “schlark” (drool) all over the chair. Kissy, who has been known to eat tomatoes right off the vine, decided she needed a snack. Ugh…….

    from Vine to Plate (800x530)So I must admit, I was too lazy to pick more tomatoes so I scrapped them from the recipe. But I was not too lazy to re-wash the produce!

    Sauteed Veggies and Chicken (800x530)

    Back on track, I began sauteing the veggies and cutting the chicken to add to the saute. I also grated three kinds of cheese – Monterey Jack, Cheddar and Parm – for the quesadillas. Finally I reached into the fridge for the tortillas and a container of leftovers caught my eye. Hmmmmmm ……. interesting ….. zucchini pancakes – my mind started spinning.

    For something different, I decided to reheat the pancakes and top them with the veggie and chicken saute and some grated cheese. As I was building my pancake stacks, I realized they might need a little zing, so I pulled out some BBQ sauce from The Shed which is now available at Karn’s (a local grocery store).  The discovery that Shed Sauce is available locally has my Facebook newsfeed atwitter (haha).

    Reheating Zucchini Pancakes (800x530)

    Reheated Pancakes Topped with Veggies Chix and Cheese (800x790)

    with a splash of BBQ and a slice of tomato (800x530)

    Many folks from our church – Daybreak Church in Mechanicsburg – have had the opportunity to eat at The Shed while on missions trips to Biloxi and because they loved the sauce so much have been ordering it online. So now that it’s available in a local grocery store, all those Shed lovers are really excited – Jeff included. As an aside, food network is launching a new show about The Shed on August 4th (tomorrow).

    Anyway…..I topped my pancake stacks with a drizzle of “shed sauce” and out of the corner of my eye I spied a full-sized tomato on the counter. I thinly sliced it, added it as the final layer of my stacks and seasoned the tomato slices with salt and pepper.

    I slid the stacks into a 350 degree F oven, set the timer for 10 minutes and sat down with a book.  After 10 minutes I checked the stacks and decided they needed a little time under the broiler.  I turned on the broiler, set the timer for 3 minutes and waited.

    Well, I’m sure you know what I’m going to write and what Jeff said in reaction to dinner……..mmm mmm mmm!

    Veggie & Chicken Topped Zucchini Pancakes (800x530)

     

    Close Up LYL (800x530)

    Don’t dread your leftovers…….love ’em!

    Love Your Leftovers: Savory Veggie Waffles

    Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I often go on a bender, cleaning out my fridge and making dinner from the dribs and drabs in small containers.  It’s both a culinary challenge and a great way to avoid wasting food and money!

    Last night Jeff gave my dad a ride to pick up his car.  Finally – and just in the nick of time – the air conditioning is fixed!  Woooohooooo!  While they went to pick up the car, my mom and I turned leftovers into a delicious meal.  Savory veggie waffles and a refreshing summer salad.

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    Monday’s MmmMmmMmm

    It’s no secret that I was frustrated with the meat industry on Monday, so it should come as no surprise that we had a meatless meal on Monday evening.  It was so good I thought I’d share the pics and recipes with you.

    After ranting and raving about the meat industry changing the names of 350 cuts of meat, there was no way I could bring myself to cook beef or pork.  So I pulled out the quinoa and went out to the garden…and I’m glad I did.  While the quinoa cooked, I picked some beet greens and the last of the fresh peas.

    I’ve been working on a recipe for Quinoa Cakes for the last several weeks and have made a few different iterations, changing ingredients based on what I have on hand and what is in the garden.

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    Monday MmmMmmMmm

    Is there a better way to spend a Monday night than with sharing some laughs and good conversation with friends over pizza, wings and beer?

    A group of us got together at Al’s of Hampden on Valley Road in Enola last night to find out. Al’s Monday Special: 35 cent Wings (1 doz minimum) / 50% off ANY Pizza (4pm-10pm – Dine-In Only) just sweetened the deal!  We met at 6:00(ish) and were off and running (or should I say chewing).  Typically when we go to Al’s we spend a good 15 minutes engrossed in the “what should we order” conversation; but last night it seemed to go much more smoothly.  Of course, we ended up with about 5 numbers on our table and our food came in stages over about a 30 minute period.  The beautiful thing about this group is that once we said a blessing over the food, everyone who had food dug right in and those who didn’t have their food did the talking.  Emily Post may have been offended that we didn’t wait until everyone had their food to begin eating; but no one at our table seemed to mind!

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