Sunday, August 5, 2012

Paula Deen is NOT the kitchen devil!

In the last several years America has suddenly decided that it's finally time to get healthy.  So people are going from one extreme to the other with their eating habits.  Gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, etc.....And there was a time when Paula Deen ruled the world of Southern cooking.  Her butter-filled, cream-cheese infused, greasy, fattening dishes have suddenly, in America's eyes, gone from delicious to disgusting.  People blame her for obesity, etc.  (okay maybe not really, but I know she has gotten a bad rep!)  I just have to say that Mrs. Deen is not as horrible as some people seem to think.  The proof is in the fact that both of her sons have become successful cooks as well and have published several cookbooks --one of which is a cookbook I used to use frequently, but then neglected for awhile.  On a whim, I flipped through it the other night and ended up centering my entire week's menu around it.  First of all, let me say that more than half the recipes are legitimately healthy meals.  Yes, of course there are plenty of Southern dishes that are going to have your butter and cream cheese and create plenty of grease, but the meals I chose for the week are all reasonably healthy! (meaning their mother wasn't such a "bad influence" after all!)  If you haven't seen this cookbook yet, I'd encourage you to check it out for yourself.  It has some great dishes in it.

Today's recipe posting is from the dinner I cooked tonight.  The recipe did come from this cookbook, but I had to modify it a bit.  So I will put the recipe in my language, rather than post a link to it:

Bacon-wrapped Chicken with Chipotle-Cheddar cheese sauce:

1 package of chicken tenderloins (actual recipe calls for chicken breasts cut in half, but this was easier and I didn't have to cut the chicken)
6-8 slices of bacon
1 can cheddar cheese soup
1/3 cup milk
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs ground chipotle peppers** (the recipe calls for 2 tsp chipotle pepper sauce, but I didn't have that)

**the ground peppers can be very spicy so if you're sensitive to spicy I'd use less than a tablespoon

Wrap the pieces of bacon around each chicken tender and lay on a foil-lined baking sheet (I sprayed the foil).  Bake on 400 for 15-20 minutes, then set oven to broil and cook for additional 4-5 minutes.  (the kitchen was VERRRRY smoky so just keep an eye out).  Meanwhile, stir together and heat the soup, milk, Worcestershire and peppers in a saucepan on the stove.  Heat until simmering then cover to keep warm.  Drizzle over the chicken before serving.  The cheese sauce was very spicy and a little thick because I think I let it cool too much.

Enjoy!  And long live Paula Deen!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

And she bakes!!!

People I know who don't teach are always getting on my case about how much time we have off in the summer.  My response is typically, "It's not as great as you might think."  Even though this isn't actually 100% true (because, yes, it IS great!), I would have to say that overall, it does get awfully boring at times.  For the most part, I am bored. I find ways to fill my time.  I DON'T have tons of things to do during the way and I definitely don't have enough hobbies to occupy the extra time.  I'm not sure if this is something I should be sorry for, feel bad about, or if this makes me a loser, but for now I will settle for just having that much more time to be extremely lazy.

In the meantime, I have decided that this extra time has made me able to try baking.  For my birthday this year, my mother-in-law gave me the cutest cupcake holder and cupcake recipe pack.  The holder holds 2 dozen cupcakes and the recipe pack has about 12-15 different recipes in it.  I had looked through them upon receipt of them, but the other day I looked at them and decided I would actually try one of them!....and today I did!

I tried the Luscious Lemonade cupcakes with butter cream frosting.  And I am pleased to say they turned out amazing.
The cupcakes themselves were super simple to make.  But the frosting was quite an ordeal.  I was just pleased with myself that I was able to pull off a semi-complicated recipe.  I have NEVER been a baker and typically I am disappointed with anything that I try to bake, but this particular recipe I was pleased with.  It was enough of a success that makes me want to try another recipe again very soon.  There are so many flavors to choose from's just a matter of which one?????

Luscious Lemonade Cupcakes:
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
zest from 1 lemon
4 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin tin.  In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a big mixing bowl, add the sugar, lemon zest, and butter (room temperature).  Cream three minutes or until light and almost fluffy.  Add the extracts, eggs, and buttermilk, and stir until combined.  Add the flour mixture slowly, scraping the sides of the bowl, until thoroughly mixed.  Divide evenly in muffin tin, and bake 18-22 minutes.  Makes 12.

Buttercream Frosting:
In a large metal mixing bowl, whisk together 4 eggs, 1 cup sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Heat a saucepan of 1 inch of water until simmering.  Hold mixing bowl over water and continue to whisk until mixture becomes similar to the texture of a custard.  Remove from heat and beat with mixer for 5 minutes.  Then add 2 cups of butter (1 tablespoon at a time, which is 2 sticks) until combined.  Continue to beat until mixture thickens and becomes smooth and satiny. If for some reason frosting will not set, place in the freezer for 5 minutes.  It will NOT be the texture of a cake frosting.  It will be very smooth and buttery.  Delicious!!!

I used the Pampered Chef decorating "gun" to frost my cupcakes, so it looked really pretty but either way you could use a spoon or spatula to frost them.  They turned out amazing.  Can't wait to try another flavor!!!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Seafood, Pineapple Wine, and a New Menu!

Hello all....I'm quite sure very few, if anyone, has noticed my lack of blogging lately but for those possible FEW who have noticed....I have returned!

Shane and I got back from our honeymoon early yesterday morning.  For those who do not know, we went to Maui and it was absolutely spectacular, to say the least.  I saw some of the most beautiful scenery of my life, swam in the Pacific Ocean for the first time ever, and of course, ate some of the most delicious seafood I have EVER had.  If you ever get the chance to visit Hawaii, specifically the island of Maui, I would HIGHLY encourage you to go to Mama's Fish House in the little town of Paia, which is close to the airport in Kahului.  Yes, you will probably spend more money than you ever thought possible.  Yes, you will probably sweat a little when you get your bill.  But I guarantee you will have an immediate thought of, "It was TOTALLY worth it," when you leave.  The menu changes daily because the items are caught THAT morning.  Yes, it is THAT fresh.

For an appetizer, we got the Macadamia Nut Crusted Crab Cakes.  They were TO die for.

For our entrees, I got the Bouillabaisse, which the menu describes as Mahimahi, lobster, shrimp, scallop and shellfish simmered in a saffron broth, with garlic rouille.  (the garlic rouille was like a bright yellow butter that I stirred into the broth to thicken and flavor it--delicious!)  It was SO filling and the little octopus in it kind of freaked me out, but I'm glad I got it.  It was definitely an "adventurous" meal.  

Shane got Ono, which is a Hawaiian fish, also known as Wahoo.  (I didn't know this until recently, but maybe I'm the only one who didn't know!)  It was sauteed in a lemon-butter caper sauce and the fish seriously melted in your mouth.  
For dessert, we got the Banana Macadamia Nut Crisp, which was served with Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream.....seems pretty self-explanatory and needless to say, it was outstanding.

So that was our over-the-top meal we had in Maui, but it was also probably one of the best meals I have ever had in my life--at least that stands out in my mind!  

The next excellent tasting experience we had in Hawaii was our discovery of pineapple wine.  Unfortunately we did not have the time or money to try all the different types that the store had to offer, but we did, fortunately, select one particular bottle that we absolutely loved.  In fact, we loved it so much we brought home 6 bottles (to share, of course...except for 2 we are keeping for ourselves).  Anyway, if you enjoy a dry chardonnay or a sauvignon blanc (which is a very dry white wine, for those who don't know wine) you would LOVE Maui Blanc.  It isn't overly sweet at all (hence the dry factor) but it has a definite pineapple taste to it.  I don't enjoy sweet wine at all (except for maybe once in a while by the pool or if it is a homemade sangria) so this wine was perfect for me.  It offered just enough sweet to get the pineapple taste, but not too much where you feel like you're drinking straight pineapple juice.  
This is the only picture of the bottle that I have.  (The beer pictured with it is Primo beer, which is actually now brewed in California, but it was originally based in Honolulu and you can't find it anywhere around here.  It's very cheap and is pretty similar to any domestic lager.)

My recommendation is to absolutely make all efforts to visit the island of Maui and experience the fantastic food, the beautiful beaches, and save your money so you can eat at Mama's Fish House, as well as the other fantastic restaurants that are all over the island.  Hawaii isn't cheap for sure, but we found that the average restaurants were no more expensive than any other "vacation town".  Its vacation!  Live a little!  

Moving onto the actual intended subject for this blog as a whole......back to cooking!  I haven't cooked in quite awhile for the obvious reason that we've been gone, but the week prior to us leaving, I was pretty much an invalid and didn't do much of anything.  I had a muscle spasm in my left arm/shoulder and it was so painful that all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and put heat/ice on it.  Anyway, thankfully that is all gone and 100% better so back to the kitchen I go!

This week/next week's recipes are all from Pinterest, except for one pork chop recipe that is from  I chose a few of them based on the fact that many of them have common ingredients.  

Tonight I'm doing the pork chops and green beans!  Hoping to please the husband since he had his first day back at work today. :)   

Monday, April 23, 2012

I must be crazy....

So after many many attempts at counting calories, going on a detox from certain foods/alcohol, etc. and failing miserably, I have now embarked on  yet another journey of trying to eat better.  I must be crazy because this means most of my recipes I so enjoy cooking have to be tossed out the window or modified so much so that they may as well be entirely different dishes.

While the main component of my diet is simply "no more bad sugars" or rather, "a lot LESS bad sugars", I still want to also cut back on greasy, rich foods and carbs as well.  I just can't bring myself to give up all carbs, all sugars, all dairy, etc.  I know there are people out there who do it and who completely change their lifestyle and I GREATLY admire those people.  But I have to ask, HOW DO THEY DO IT???  I just can't imagine never enjoying a dessert again or a glass of wine with my husband or a beer during a football game.  I can't imagine never slicing a piece of extra sharp cheddar or never ordering off a regular menu at a restaurant. Let me make it clear that I am certainly not insulting people who choose to have extreme diets or whose weight or health forces them to change their eating habits in a drastic way.  I consider myself extremely blessed to not be in a situation where going on an extreme diet is mandatory to my health.  And technically...yes...I pretty much do eat as I please and don't tend to put on much weight.  My family genes have blessed me with great metabolism.  But there are also things that I naturally don't eat that many people do, such as sodas, candy, sugary breakfast foods, and lots of processed foods.  I eat SOME of those things occasionally, but only very occasionally.   I  would say most of my issues stem from my weakness for red wine and eating heavy dinners most of the time.

So what exactly am I eating now that this journey has begun?  Well, thanks to a friend of ours who actually sells Advocare and is probably one of those highly respectable people who refrains from eating and drinking everything that you're not supposed to eat or drink, I was stalking her Facebook the other day and stumbled upon a recipe for a smoothie she makes regularly.  At first it sounded pretty awful, but it was intriguing enough to make me do some research.  What I discovered was that this particular smoothie is all a part of a special diet that a particular blogger calls the Green Monster Movement.  Using spinach or kale as the base food for the smoothie, you can concoct delicious drinks that not only make you feel very full, they're protein-packed with Super foods (that's Super with a capital S!), healthy fats, and lots of vitamins.  I gave it a try for the first time this morning for breakfast and I have to say that I am hooked!  I know I can't have one every single day or else I'll get tired of them and burn out quickly, but I absolutely can see myself having these for breakfast 4-5 days a week and replacing dinner with them 2-3 days a week as well.  And yes, I will absolutely have to allow myself at least 1 day a week where I don't mind what I eat.  I'm too addicted to good food to give it all up!!!  Call me a glutton, but I just can't help myself! Besides, Shane probably won't take too kindly to my sudden fondness for green slushy drinks in lieu of home-cooked meals.

Day 1: (today)
Breakfast: Green Smoothie
             Recipe: 1 cup almond milk (you can use soy, but almond is better for you)
                          2 cups fresh spinach
                          1 banana, sliced (I just pulled mine apart into 4-5 pieces)
                          1 Tbs. peanut butter
                          1 Tbs. protein powder (I found this in the vitamin section at the grocery store and the serving size says "1 scoop" but it didn't come with a "scoop" so I have no idea if 1 tablespoon is correct, but it tasted great to me!)  And can you taste the spinach, you ask?  The answer is NO!  All you can taste is the milk, banana and a bit of the peanut butter.

Snack: handful of unsalted almonds

Lunch: small can of Starkist tuna in water, an orange, and a cheese "snack-square"

Snack: more almonds

Dinner: another smoothie

I also drank water throughout the day and with my lunch I drank water mixed with a little bit of grapefruit juice.  I feel like it kinda took the edge off any typical cravings I would've had that afternoon.  Usually by 1 or 1:30 I am STARVING and today I wasn't!

It's almost 7 pm and by now I probably would've already had at least 1 glass of wine, but not tonight!!  I feel very full after my smoothie and since the smoothie tastes sweet, I feel satisfied enough that I am not craving sweets!

Tomorrow's plan: smoothie for breakfast, leftover Pei Wei shrimp Pad Thai for lunch (yes I know....not good, but at least my big calorie-intake is still early in the day) and for dinner I'm making chile rellenos.  This is one of my typical recipes, but it's super healthy.  Zero carbs, all vegetables, and only a small amount of cheese on top.  Shane FINALLY gets home from Chicago tomorrow and I refuse to welcome him home with a dinner of crushed up spinach, bananas, and milk.

Wednesday night I'll probably take a break from the smoothie, but stick to egg whites for breakfast and for dinner I plan on doing a salmon Caesar salad.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Delightful, Yet Unexpected, Discovery

So after going an entire week without cooking any meals at all, due to my husband going out of town and me going out of town as well, I finally returned to the kitchen this past Monday night.  I made the last 2 of the meals from my previous posting (Monterey Chicken = SUCCESS!; Vodka cream sauce/pasta=SUCCESS (it was nice and thick this time).  And last night I made a third meal that is an old standby, but never a disappointment:  Jalapeno Enchiladas.  I found this recipe in a cookbook that I borrowed/stole from my mom.  (I use the borrowed/stole phrase because I chose to believe she gave me the cookbook, although I'd be more than willing to give it back, although I don't plan on giving it back....:)  Anyway.......

1 lb ground beef
garlic powder
4-5 jalapeno peppers
1 can cream of mushroom soup, prepared
1 package flour tortillas
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Brown beef and season with garlic powder.  Seed the jalapenos to your taste.  (If you like spicy, seed 50% of them or less.  If you prefer mild, seed most of them).  Puree them in a food processor.  (if you don't have one, just finely chop them--I've done it both ways and it works fine).  Add the peppers to the prepared mushroom soup (I use a can of milk to cook the soup) and cook until simmering.  Once the soup is prepared, spoon the beef into each tortilla and roll up.  Lay into a greased 9X13 pan.  Usually I can cram about 8-10 enchiladas in a 9X13.  Pour the soup/pepper sauce over the top and top with shredded cheese.  Bake on 350 for 20-25 minutes.  YUM-O!

Now onto my discovery....

So tonight I did a rather easy meal:  salmon, grilled on my awesome 2-burner grill pan; green beans, and mashed potatoes.  The potatoes were from a small bag I bought at Kroger this past weekend.  Anyway, I boiled the potatoes, not really knowing what I would end up doing with them but ultimately decided to just go ahead and do mashed potatoes.  Once I had mashed them and thrown a bit of butter over them, I suddenly realized I had nothing else to stir into them to make them creamy.  I don't keep regular milk on hand, unless necessary, and I had zero sour cream or even Ranch dressing.  So as I stuck my head inside my eyes fell onto a container of ricotta cheese.  Bingo!  So I ended up dumping the remains of this 16 oz. container into the pot of smashed potatoes and mixing well.  I added some garlic salt and a bit of chicken stock (also something I did not realize I had).

The very best pancakes I have ever had in my entire life were made with ricotta cheese.  They were SO fluffy and perfect.  Now I know why.  The potatoes were FANTASTIC.  And I give all the credit to the ricotta.  Thank you, Ricotta!  You made my potentially bland, non-smooth potatoes, fluffy, creamy, and delicious.  People often dog ricotta bc it is so "rich", but truthfully it doesn't have much flavor at all.  It merely adds a richness and texture to your food that other types of cheeses, sauces, or liquids can't do!  I will definitely keep ricotta at the forefront of my mind from here on out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bored, bored, bored, bored BORRRRRRED!!!

In response to my last blog, here is a quick update on how the meals turned out:

Zucchini Spaghetti with Saffron Stock (Rachel Ray)

This meal is definitely one of those meals that you read the recipe and the ingredients, think to yourself This sounds so yummy and tasty, but then you follow the recipe to a T and when you taste's just "Meh!"  There's not as much flavor as I anticipated.  I've made it before, and I remember the exact same result!  Not sure why I thought it'd be different this time...maybe because it was a dish I made in my "early days."  Or maybe I thought I just had missed something.  But either way it just didn't turn out as good as I'd hoped.  If you don't already have Spanish saffron on your shelf, I'd say it's not worth it.

And as for the Chile Rellenos....unfortunately those didn't happen because Kroger's poblano peppers totally sucked.  Instead I did stuffed bell peppers, which turned out great!  Here is the recipe:

1 lb ground beef
2 T chopped onion
1 small can tomato sauce
1 can corn, drained
salt and pepper, other seasoning
1 cup prepared instant rice
4-5 green bell peppers

Boil peppers in an inch of water for 5 minutes.  Cut off the tops and discard the inside membranes.  Spray a glass baking dish and stand peppers up inside the dish.  Brown the beef and saute the onion in with the beef. Drain beef and return to skillet.  Add tomato sauce, corn and rice and cook until heated through.  Season as desired.  I use salt, pepper, garlic powder, and crushed red pepper.  Once the mixture is heated and has simmered for awhile, spoon the mixture into the peppers until almost overflowing.  Top with grated cheese and bake on 350 for 25 minutes or until cheese is just beginning to brown.

Ginger Cilantro Tilapia
Now THIS was a true winner once again, except this time I prepared the sauce and threw it into a skillet with some shrimp.  I had planned to serve it over pasta, but because we had just had pasta (the zucchini spaghetti) the night before, I ended up using it as filling for tacos instead.  I made some Jasmine rice and spooned a bit of that onto a corn tortilla and then added the shrimp with the sauce.  They were awesome!  For those who aren't sure about fish, you really should try this dish because the sauce has a strong enough flavor to take any "fishy" taste out of it.  Tilapia isn't fishy at all in my opinion, but some people are sensitive about seafood!

Monterey Chicken

Because my hubby is out of town (as if you didn't already know that from my pouty Facebook postings), I haven't made this dish yet!  I plan to make it for his homecoming Thursday night. :)  Stay tuned.

The Best Pork Chops You Will Ever Taste

I think it might be a slight exaggeration....or perhaps this person has never had good pork chops.  But they were VERY good.  The recipe was super easy to throw together and I could see myself actually modifying it and changing it up a little.  I served it with bacon-wrapped asparagus and homemade garlic mashed potatoes.  Which, by the way, I have found after many different types of potato usage, that Yukon Gold potatoes make THE BEST mashed potatoes, hands down.

You Won't Be Single for Long Vodka Cream Pasta

I haven't gotten around to making this one yet....We actually don't have any vodka at the present and I'm waiting for Shane to get back in town anyway.  I've made this dish many times and I would highly recommend it.  It's incredibly easy.  However, read, read, and reread the recipe before and during the cooking process because I guarantee you WILL miss something the first time.  Do NOT use chicken broth instead of chicken stock.  I did this one of the times I made it (in desperation since I had nothing else to make) and the sauce was SO watery.  Also, you absolutely HAVE to let the vodka reduce.  If you don't strictly follow the recipe, the sauce will be too thin.  Homemade vodka sauce is not as thick as the store-bought stuff to begin with, but it really is a trick to get it just right.  Another trick is that I use more than the amount of heavy cream listed on the recipe.

Please try the vodka sauce if you never have had vodka sauce is excellent!

A super yummy wine to try:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Menu

Tomorrow's grocery trip will include collecting necessary items for the following meals:

Zucchini Spaghetti with Saffron Stock (Rachel Ray)

Chile Rellenos (a modified Rachel Ray version....recipe to come)

Ginger Cilantro Tilapia (A Pinterest winner!  I'm planning to use shrimp and serve it over pasta.  I tried it with tilapia and it was delicious, but I think it'd be awesome with shrimp!)

Stuffed Peppers (recipe to come)

Monterey Chicken (found on Pinterest)

The Best Pork Chops You Will Ever Taste (at least according to Pinterest!...We shall see!)

You Won't Be Single for Long Vodka Cream Pasta (yes that's what it is called!!)

This is probably close to the order I will cook the meals in, although it is subject to change.  I will post about the Montery Chicken and the pork chops after I fix them and let you know how they turn out!

New wine to try:

$11.99 at Kroger....Spicy with a delicious aftertaste.  Goes great with sharp cheddar!

Happy Weekend!!!!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Perfect Combination

This post will be very short because I only want to talk about my newest discovery.  It is made with milk chocolate, which I absolutely can't STAND the taste of (by itself)  but it is also made with red wine.  Yes, that's right, I have discovered chocolate wine.  And while that may sound disgusting to skeptics, I am here to tell you it is possibly the most delicious sweet drink I have ever tasted.  And beware of just any ol' chocolate wine.  Most of that stuff IS, in fact, disgusting.  I have tasted chocolate wine a long time ago and wanted to spit it out, but this particular wine I tried recently is specially made and it actually does taste like chocolate AND wine....only better!  I drink it over ice, but you could probably enjoy it straight up.  If you're looking for something extra strong a little vodka mixed in would make an excellent chocolate martini.  This wine is only found around here at Spec's Food and Beverage at Walnut Hill and 75 in Dallas.  This is a far drive for many, but if you are ever up for an adventure and want to see some unique wines and beers and other beverages, I would recommend taking a little trip out to Spec's...and definitely purchase a bottle of Cocoa Vino while you are there.  I have only tried the plain chocolate flavor, but I have sampled the cherry and the mint and both are good...I just would prefer the plain chocolate flavor.

Here is a link to the Facebook page if you are interested in reading more about it.  

If you DO happen to read this post (all 5 of you...) and you do try this wine, I would love to hear your feedback.  I think it's fabulous!  

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Day Off, A New Home, and Fontina Cheese

Thursday, Shane took the day off so he could take the pup to the spay/neuter clinic and to take care of some other things.  I had been in Dallas so I drove in to Grapevine to meet him for lunch.  We met at Flip's in Grapevine, which at one point was labeled as our "second home" back in the day.  It was so close to my old apartment in Grapevine and they have great food and cheap drinks.  After lunch we decided, on a whim, to go look at some townhouses.  They are in a complex where I lived a few years ago when I first moved to Grapevine.  The complex was super old, but very clean, well managed, and well kept.  I remembered them having 2-story townhouses and I was curious what the rent was.  I assumed it would be outrageous and/or none would be available, but we are absolutely DESPERATE to find a place to live in Grapevine and the longer we stay here in our current apartment, the  more money we throw away in month-to-month rent and the more traffic Shane is forced to sit in.  We have been hoping and searching and waiting for a rent house to pop up.  We even considered buying for awhile, but once our lease ended here in Ft Worth, we realized time was running out and rushing to BUY a home was probably the stupidest thing we could ever do.  And even though people LOVE living in a house and I do look forward to the day when we do purchase our very first home together, I am forced to list the WONDERFUL things about apartment life:

  • No yard work (not that I would be doing it, but still...)
  • You pay rent and utilities and that's it! (no property taxes, no mortgage, no refinancing, no school taxes, etc.)
  • If something breaks, someone else fixes it...and pays for it!
  • If it's terrible, you just wait till your lease is up and move somewhere else! 
  • Did I mention no yard work?
  • Amenities like a pool and workout center (which I realize apartment pools can sometimes be crappy, but when you don't have a house with a pool you will take anything!)
So with that being said, Shane and I have found our next home.  It's a two-story 1300 sq foot townhome in the heart of Grapevine.  The location is PERFECT and will put him barely 30-35 minutes away from work and I'll be 30-35 minutes away as well.  I will have zero traffic both coming and going and he will have just a little bit coming home.  We'll also be closer to my family, not too far from his, and close to many of our friends!  This was really a fabulous find and we are excited.  Our official move-in date is May 18th, but we will have access to the FW apartment until May 31st.  This will be nice since moving is so stressful, time-consuming, and we will both be very busy during that time with end of year activities at school and Shane possibly traveling for work.  We appreciate your prayers as we start to slowly pack up our things to get ready for this next chapter!  

Onto the "cooking" portion of my post....which is what this entire blog is intended for in the first place...Thursday night I tried out a Rachel Ray recipe that has been in my recipe drawer for probably 2+ years.  Drunken Pork Chops and Savory Green Rice with Fontina. I'd never tried it because one of the ingredients in the side dish was unfamiliar to me and I am usually turned off by "scary", unfamiliar ingredients....What ingredient is it, you ask?  Well, I'll tell you and you will probably laugh at why it was unfamiliar to me....It was Fontina cheese!  And yes I HAD heard of it, but I had never actually seen it and I also assumed it was outrageously expensive.  But alas, I decided to get adventurous and set out to cook this delicious dish.  The pork chops were EXTREMELY easy.  I will also mention that one of the ingredients in the pork chops, anchovy paste, was also "scary", but I actually left it out.  Truth to tell I probably would've bought it, but I forgot about it when making my grocery list!  Next time I will definitely be trying it with the paste....why not, right?  Not sure what it would do to the flavor though....Oh and I used dried rosemary, not fresh.  The dry red wine I used was also very delicious, which brings me to my next raving.....Fontina cheese....a fabulous discovery....

Fontina cheese is actually a cheese meant for fondue because it melts very quickly and easily.  It has a mild flavor, but it is very creamy and DELICIOUS.  I could probably eat an entire block.  One small bite of this cheese and a sip of wine, just before you swallow the will float away on a cloud to Fontina Paradise.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Meatloaf, Pesto, and the Trials and Tribulations of Baking

It's Spring Break and I have definitely not been taking a break from time in the kitchen!  After a busy weekend, I was more than ready to get busy on last night's dinner.  As I've said in the past, there is nothing quite as satisfying as spending the afternoon in the kitchen preparing a delicious meal for your husband....anticipating the look on his face when he gets home and the big smile I know I will see is worth all the time and effort it takes!

Last night I made meatloaf.  Yes...I know that's not anything spectacular, but by golly I would put my meatloaf up against ANYONE's.  And this I guarantee!  I'm sure there are MILLIONS of meatloaf recipes floating around out there and I have tried other meatloaf recipes that were very good, but this one is just the best.  And it shouldn't be surprising that it's the best because it's my great-grandmother's recipe.  And yes...I am sharing it with all of you.'s probably nothing you haven't seen before, although...again....I think it's better than any meatloaf I've ever tasted!

Here is the recipe:

1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 lb. ground beef (I use 80/20 every time)
1 egg
1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
garlic salt

Combine all above ingredients (that's the WORST part of preparing can't avoid putting your hands in that nastiness!), shape into a "loaf" and place in a sprayed baking dish.  Bake for 20 minutes on 375.

Meanwhile, prepare the glaze:

in an 8 oz measuring cup, put 2 TB Worcestershire sauce(by the way, I STILL don't know how to pronounce that word), 2 TB apple cider vinegar, and 1 TB dark brown sugar.  Then fill the measuring cup the rest of the way with ketchup.  Stir.  When the oven goes off, take the meatloaf out and spread glaze on top.  I always pour a little water around the edges to make a gravy.  Then put back in the oven and bake for 1 hour (can be baked a little longer if you want the meat to stick together better).  It is DELICIOUS!  My husband absolutely loves this dish almost better than anything else I make.

For a side dish, I tried out a Pinterest recipe.  Easy Cheesy Zucchini Bake

It was super fast to put together and tasted delicious!  It could actually probably be a meal by itself if you are feeling vegetarian!  

As a third side dish, I relied on trusty Ranch Style Beans.  These are Shane's absolute favorite bean and I was more than happy to simply open the can and pour them in a pot!  They are quite yummy.  

The second part of my blog involves my adventures today in the kitchen.  After spending much time scoping out the beautiful pictures of cookies, cupcakes, and cakes on Pinterest, I stumbled upon a rather simple looking recipe for sugar cookies.  I was first intrigued by the fact that the recipe claimed they would be "soft, pillow-like" cookies that were "heaven on a plate."  They were also four-leaf clover shaped with light green frosting.  I thought, Perfect!  St. Patrick's day is coming and I can impress Shane's co-workers and can bring the cookies to my sister's house this week for Girls' Night!  

It was today that I learned the many reasons I do not bake....regularly.  In fact, I probably bake 1 time for every 10 meals I cook.  It's just too much trouble.  The mixing, the stirring, the egg cracking, the measuring, the pouring, and the stressing out about over-cooking or under-cooking....and not really being able to tell if you've done either one until they are either too done or they fall apart when you try to "test" them with your finger or a toothpick.  It's just nothing but one big headache.  But, nevertheless I tried my hand today at baking the "World's Softest, Most Delicious Sugar Cookies Known to Man".  (that's not what they're actually called, but in my mind that is how they would turn out!)  

So first off, here is the recipe:  Sugar Cookies
As you will see from the website, the cookies are absolutely beautiful.  And I'm quite sure that the woman who has that cooking blog has probably made these cookies more than a dozen times and has practiced and practiced until she got it just right.  I'm also certain she has flour in her hair, ears, and on her clothes 24/7....:::as I brush off a forgotten remnant of flour at this very moment....oh and the dog just licked a piece of cookie dough off my pantleg....lovely!  Thanks Johnny....:::

I would say the absolute worst thing about this recipe is dealing with all the flour.  Ahh's the curse of the kitchen.  No matter what you try to do to prevent just gets EVERYWHERE!  You can arm yourself with paper towels, sponges, put the trash can right by you, make slow movements, quick movements....doesn't matter!  It still ends up!  I WISH I had taken a picture of the aftermath of these cookies because it would be a constant reminder not to make these cookies again any time soon.  

Now, as I sit here and type out all the negative things about the mess the flour made, I will tell you the very BEST thing about this recipe.....the frosting.  O...M...G!  Not only was it super easy (also uses another dreaded ingredient...powdered sugar--which also gets EVERYWHERE!), it is so pretty and smooth and delicious and everything that frosting should be!  The website also has the frosting recipe.  This is something I WILL be making again and I'll make it in batches so I can dye it different colors.  This time, of course, I just dyed it green.  

The most challenging part of this recipe is the rolling out of the dough.  I had never done this before so it was definitely an experiment and a learning experience.  In a few words, I sucked at it.  For once, I actually DIDN'T have enough flour so the dough stuck to the rolling pin while trying to roll  it out.  After a few tries I finally got the dough to cooperate and was able to get it smoothed out--which, by the way, you have to roll it out THICK like the recipe says or it won't work.  Despite my "success" at rolling out the dough, there was quite a bit of wasted dough.  So much of it stuck to the rolling pin and so much of it stuck to my hands, to the kitchen counter, to the stove, and to every other surface of my kitchen....that I ended up losing patience and stopping after a few rounds of rolling.  And cookie cutters.....these are not as friendly as they seem either!  No one told me once you press the cookie cutter down on the dough that it wasn't possible to just tear away the scraps surrounding the'd think it would be....but it's not!  The dough just kind of sticks...and then the cookies fall apart when you try to move them from the counter top to the cookie sheet.  So all the pretty little butterflies, tulips, and daisies actually turned out looking like puffed up little cloud cookies or, maybe just deformed plants and butterflies.  

Here is what they looked like right after being taken out of the oven: can kind of see the tulip-shapes.....I guess those turned out the best.  

Once the cookies cool, you can frost them.  This was the best and most fun part.  I also ended up making use of the leftover dough that I had lost patience with.  I came up with my own little version of cookie-cutting.  Who says you can't use a shot glass for a cookie cutter??  I just patted out the dough flat, dipped the shot glass upside down in flour, and cut the cookies with the shot glass.  They made perfect cute little round cookies that turned out quite adorable:
These will be going with Shane to work tomorrow.  The frosting hadn't quite dried yet when I took this picture.  I also did a taste test and found that the recipe's claim of "heaven on a plate" is quite accurate.  

The larger cookies...well....let's just say that I can't claim talent in cookie decorating.  Again.....this is why I am not, nor ever will be, a baker!  Needless to say, I have no picture of these... 

Tonight's dinner.....well since I spent 4 hours in the kitchen making these blasted cookies, dinner is waiting a little while, but I am quite excited about it.  It's a Rachel Ray Repeat from a long time ago and I've wanted to make it again for quite awhile.  

I LOVE pesto and sometimes making a pasta dish is a great way to mix things up and divert from having the usual meat with 2 sides.  I'll post about the success of this meal along with results of upcoming dinner this Thursday night:  Drunken Pork Chops with Green Rice.  (a Rachel Ray that I've yet to try!)  

Happy Eating everyone! 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tasteless Tuesday....and Monday...and Sunday....

Every time I get sick I feel like I forgot what it was like the last time I was sick.  I think to myself, You've been through this will pass....just take your medicine and your vitamins and drink lots of water....this too shall pass.  But every single time, it never fails, I am always shocked by how awful I can feel! 

This time my dreaded allergies got the best of me and after spending most of Sunday lying around feeling extremely tired and yucky and being up all night long unable to breathe, I called in to work on Monday and went to the doctor.  Sinus infection....I had all the classic symptoms.  There was NO way it was anything but that.....and come to find out, I don't even have one!  (at least according to the Minute Clinic doctor I don't....I beg to differ!)  So after waiting at Walgreens pharmacy for 45 minutes I got my Flonase, Mucinex, and DayQuil Sinus and laid on the couch for the rest of the day. 

My point in all this???  I CAN'T TASTE OR SMELL ANYTHING!  AND IT REALLY SUCKS!!!  I have no desire to eat anything because I know I can't taste it anyway, so why bother???  Natural hunger doesn't even kick in.  I just would prefer not to bother!  Why bother?  It's pointless!  I haven't eaten today since lunch (which I could partially taste, by the way) and I don't even feel the slightest bit hungry....or do I?  I guess I wouldn't know!  I'm completely bummed!  I made my homemade spaghetti sauce for this week and am half tempted to freeze it just so I can actually eat it when I have my sense of taste back. 

On a lighter note, Sunday night's dinner was a great success.  Another Pinterest recipe....Avocado Chicken Parmigiana.   It was positively delightful!  Fortunately my sense of taste had not abandoned me when I made this meal.  It seems like it would be a little bit of a pain, but really it wasn't at all.  The only thing I was disappointed about was the avocados.  I didn't do a very good job at picking them out this time so I had to throw out almost an entire avocado.  Luckily though I got an extra just in case that happened. 

Tomorrow night (tastebuds permitting) will be the spaghetti and Thursday it's another Pinterest experiment....Cilantro chicken tacos in the crockpot! 

Here's to hoping the Flonase does its job at some point...........

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Meal Planning: A True Science

Okay so it's not a true science or even remotely close to any science.  But there is an art to how I decide to cook what I cook and when I decide to cook it.  Yes, there are times where I feel especially lazy or especially inspired and I cook just whatever I have available or, on a rare occasion, go to the grocery store in the middle of the week for the sole purpose of grabbing the ingredients for a single meal.

This week has been a very rare occasion all around because I haven't actually cooked at all since last Friday night.  I'll admit it feels very strange as I feel a mixture of guilt, missing cooking, and also enjoying the lack of responsibility....seems like a paradox of feelings, but that's how it is!

The reason I haven't cooked is simply because I haven't been grocery shopping.  You all by now probably have come to an understanding of how I feel about the grocery store.  It's not the shopping itself I can't stand.  It's the people at the store, the waiting in line to check out, the walking to the car with your cart, the returning of the cart back to the cart stand, the way other people DON'T return their carts, and....worst of all.......the dreaded...

unloading of the groceries........dun-dun-dunnnnn.......

I don't feel that I should have to explain further why I can't stand going grocery shopping.  Unfortunately picking out all the yummy food just doesn't suffice compared to all that other nonsense.  But nevertheless it needs to be done soon or my husband will wonder where his wife went.

So without further ado I decided to take a risk at giving TMI and am putting my grocery list on my blog for all to see.  I also have my menu for the next week or so (maybe more) planned out.  I'll post recipes for fork-worthy dishes later.  My advice to anyone planning a menu for a week is to plan very wisely.  (duh)...but what I mean is you will NEVER cook every single meal you think you will cook.  You have to plan for at least 1, if not 2, nights of unexpected plans coming up and not being home for dinner.  You also have to think about perishables (uh-oh there's that P word again) and how long they will sit on the counter or in the fridge before you use them.  You also have to think about the types of food you plan to cook.  Don't plan several recipes in a row that have rice as a side dish or the same meat for every meal.  You'll end up feeling sick of it after the first 2 meals and ditch your menu, which ends up costing you more money in the end.  Also, don't ever think that dried ingredients aren't (almost, for the most part) just as good as fresh.  I would say the only exception to this would be cilantro (you can't beat fresh cilantro) and onion.  Fresh herbs don't last long and it makes it hard to plan ahead when all your meals must include them.  They add flavor, but most dishes taste just as good without them.  (and again, this is in MOST cases--not all!!!!)

Step 1: The planning of the list
The first thing I do is obvious.  Take inventory.  What do I need?  What do I already have?  What do I have that I can use in multiple recipes?  These are questions I have to answer before I can plan meals.  Typically I take out my recipe box and just start thumbing through it.  I try to find 3-4 recipes that share a few common ingredients.  This helps keep me from having to buy things that will just end up going to waste.  Seems kinda obvious, but this was something I seriously had to learn over time.  I shudder at how much money I used to spend on groceries when I first started cooking.  I didn't think about stocking up or keeping things on hand.  I just bought whatever I needed for whatever recipe I was making--no matter how rare the ingredient was or how pointless and tasteless it was.  The most elaborate purchase I've ever made was buying Spanish saffron.  It was $18.00 for a teeny tiny little bottle.  (although it made a DELICIOUS saffron stock and I have since gained a huge appreciation for saffron and try to find other recipes that use it)  Anyway, I try to think about recipes that I know my husband loves and usually I try to pick out at least 1 new one.  It is almost guaranteed that I plan a meal that will create massive amounts of leftovers.  This is so I can freeze them for a future meal and/or my husband can take it for lunch.  Let's just say the man RARELY has to go out to lunch.  I also like taking leftovers for lunch.  However, I don't typically enjoy having leftovers for excessive amounts of cooking!  I try to plan a couple of meals that have absolutely no perishable items whatsoever.  (i.e. meats that can sit in the freezer until ready to cook, casseroles, or pastas).  This way I know I can cook those later in the week and/or even wait until the next week to make them.

Step 2: The writing of the list
After deciding which recipes I want to cook, I start writing out my list.  As I look at recipes, I jot down any ingredients I know I do not have.  After that I make my "regular" grocery list.  This includes breakfast foods, snacks, canned vegetables, and other random staple items.

Step 3: The re-writing of the list
Yes, that's right.  I write my list twice.  The first time I just jot things down as I think of them--sort of like a rough draft.  Then I do a final copy in my neatest handwriting.....omg such a dork....organized by sections of the grocery store.  Since I, sadly, have the layout of Wal-Mart memorized, I usually organize it from top to bottom in the order that I walk through the store.  Produce first, then meats, then dairy, then I go up the aisles.  Canned foods, pasta/rice, spice aisle, bread aisle, etc.....I know I'm not the only person who does this.....And it really really does make it SO much faster and it keeps you from forgetting things!  There's nothing worse than being all the way over in produce and realizing you forgot the sour cream.  They're on opposite sides of the store!  (which means walking through the thundering herd to get to it)

At long list for the "week"  (and by week I mean for sure a week and then some--I try NOT to go to the store every single weekend)

Spinach (fresh, bagged)--I like to take spinach salads in my lunch sometimes
Bagged salad (spring mix)
cherry tomatoes
2 white onions
3 avocado (trick: if you are uncertain as to when you will use them--get them when they're still slightly hard so they have time to soften); Avocados are perfect when they give a bit to pressure and not too bumpy
package of Bella mushrooms
fresh basil
green onions
tangelos (Wal-Mart doesn't have these, so I'll be going to Kroger.  They look like boobs with giant nipples but they taste 2000 times better than oranges.)
Granny smith apples (favorite apple!)

chicken thighs (boneless)
chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)-- I buy the large bag of frozen
ground turkey (for turkey tacos--easy and healthy!)
ground Italian sausage (for spaghetti sauce)
salmon (frozen)
tilapia (frozen)
2 lb. ground 73/27 beef chuck (for meatloaf)

grtated mozzarella cheese
sour cream

corn tortillas

green beans
pinto beans
Fire roasted diced tomatoes with garlic
large can of tomato sauce
1 small can tomato sauce
2 cans tomato paste
2 cans green chiles
spaghetti sauce

plain breadcrumbs
tortilla chips
taco seasoning
Diet tonic water
paper towels
Lean Cuisines

Meals I plan to cook:

  • Avocado chicken parmigiana (new recipe from Pinterest!)
  • honey-soy broiled salmon with zucchini bake (both Pinterest recipes)
  • spaghetti (with homemade spaghetti sauce)*
  • cilantro-lime chicken
  • fish tacos 
  • turkey tacos  (yes....I know....lots of tacos)
  • meatloaf*
  • cheesenip chicken*
*favorites of the hubby

This is probably the approximate order I plan to cook them in, but of course this is subject to change. :)  Happy eating, everyone!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Afternoon Well Spent

As much as I love cooking, cleaning up is my very least favorite thing to do....However I am OBSESSED about making sure my kitchen looks clean every single night.  I can't rest if there are dirty dishes, crumbs on the counter, empty cups lining the edges of the sink....I even stress if the spoon rest has a bit of residue on it.

With all that said, I did something a little different this week than I have ever done before.  It wasn't planned, but it worked out that way due to my dog deciding to have horrible diarrhea problems.  After spending half the day at staff development on Monday morning, I rushed home at lunch to check on the pup....only to discover he had christened the entire outside of his crate and the sides of my dresser....and the walls.....and the carpet.....and a lot of his bed.  Needless to say it was AWFUL and I feel fully prepared for parenthood and all the poop that comes with that.  I couldn't leave him unsupervised due to the fact he was needing to go outside to poop aka squirt every 20-30 minutes so I had to stay home the rest of the afternoon, rather than returning to school.  I used this afternoon at home to my advantage though...I decided to camp out in the kitchen!  And what an adventure it was.  During my day in the kitchen I made the following meals:

Dinner Club Enchiladas:

This is what the dish looks like pre-cooked and before you top it with shredded cheddar cheese.  These are probably the most unhealthy enchiladas ever, but they are absolutely fabulous and fool-proof.  It's impossible to mess them up bc they are just that easy:

2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
1 can Rotel
1 lb. ground beef (I used 90/10 just to make myself feel less guilty)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 pckg taco seasoning
1 cup sour cream
1 package flour tortillas (soft taco size--NOT fajita size)
shredded cheddar cheese

Brown the ground beef and onion and drain.  Heat soup and Rotel (stir together) in a small saucepan until it bubbles then reduce heat.  Stir in sour cream and continue to heat.  Add taco seasoning to beef and onions (add water to the meat as directed on taco seasoning package).  After sour cream/soup mixture is heated through, spray a 9 X 13 Pyrex and preheat oven to 350.  Spread a small amount of the sauce onto a tortilla, then add a couple of spoonfulls of beef/onion on the tortilla.  Roll it up and place in the Pyrex.  Repeat this process (sauce first then meat) until the dish is filled.  Usually I am able to fit about 9-10 enchiladas in a 9 X 13 dish.  Pour the rest of the sauce over the top of the tortillas then top with cheese.  Bake for about 25 minutes.  

Bobby Deen's Light Baked Spaghetti

This was a recipe from my wonderful Food Network magazine.  Here is the link: Light Baked Spaghetti

And finally.....The Grand Finale:

Rachel Ray's Fragrant Fried Rice Pilaf....This was absolutely the world's most pain-in-the-butt meal to make.  I'd made it before, but I'd forgotten what an ordeal it was.  It's not that it is just uses A LOT of dishes, cutting boards, knives, spoons, bowls, etc......It's extremely tasty though.

All in all, I enjoyed my afternoon in the kitchen.  It was definitely a huge release and even though I didn't sit down for over 3 hours, I enjoyed every minute of it.  This week has been nice bc I come home and dinner has already been prepared!  I just have to take it out of the fridge and warm it up and/or bake it.  By the way....the spaghetti bake, when I baked it ahead of time, I did everything but top it with cheese before covering it with foil and placing it in the fridge.  Same with the enchiladas.  

On a side note....

New wine to try:

Only $7.97 at Wal-Mart!

Happy eating, everyone!!!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Got Balsamic?

As any experienced cook would say, it is important to have a well-stocked pantry and fridge with plenty of versatile ingredients that make it easy to throw together a quick meal and/or help save you money at the grocery store when preparing for the week's menu.

You should avoid buying a bunch of perishable items unless you have specific plans on when to use them.  Onions and peppers typically will last in a refrigerator for about a week before the peppers start to shrivel in appearance and the onion begins to get soft spots.  Herbs, especially cilantro and parsley, usually last about 3-4 days before they start to brown and get soggy.  This is all speaking from my own experience.  I did no research to discover this!

As far as purchasing items that have extremely long shelf lives, the following list is my definition of "the best" on-hand ingredients.  I use all or most of these in many of my recipes and I have found that keeping my fridge and pantry stocked with these items makes it so easy to create, substitute, and even change up other recipes.  
Green onions are my ultimate "stand-in" for any recipe that calls for scallions or leeks, which surprisingly, is quite a few!  I've never been able to find "scallions" at the grocery store, but I do know they are small onions.  These skinny dudes are super cheap, add great flavor to pasta sauces and are also used in soup, salad, and last-week's BLT smashed potatoes (as a substitute for leeks, of course).  They take 2 seconds to chop and they typically last a week in the fridge.  I find that I can almost always use every bit of the bunch when I buy them.  

Minced garlic--not fresh--is something I literally cannot cook without.  Despite the fact that many people often complain about different foods tasting "too garlicy", for me, I can't ever seem to get enough garlic.  If a recipe calls for 2-3 cloves of garlic, (which isn't very much) I usually put at least 2-3 heaping spoonfuls of jarred garlic in.  Yes, I do use fresh garlic from time to time but to me it is not worth the constant upkeep.  Fresh garlic sprouts so quickly, not to mention it is a HUGE pain to chop, press, or even peel.  Even my garlic press does not help with this task.  So I am definitely a huge fan of the jarred minced garlic.  It lasts longer and, to me, makes food taste just as good as fresh garlic.  
Balsamic Vinegar--which actually is made from a reduction of cooked white grape juice, rather than vinegar (yes, I DID do research to discover this one), is one of my favorite flavors.  Too much or too little can keep a dish from tasting as it should, but when measured just right, it has the ability to completely transform a simple chicken dish or even when reduced with a little bit of honey and melted butter, it makes an amazing sauce to pour over salmon.  It also goes well with tomatoes and mushrooms and can be mixed with olive oil to make a salad dressing.  It's pretty inexpensive, unless you buy the extremely top-of-the-line brand, and it also lasts for months.  I always keep a bottle in my pantry.

On-Hand Cans:
Allen's Italian Green Beans--GREATNESS;  This is my fall-back for any time I make something that needs a green side.  All you need is a little crushed red pepper, black pepper, and a tiny bit of salt and they taste perfect.  Best canned green beans around! (and I'm not posting anymore pictures because I am sick of having to put pictures all in a vertical line--gotta figure out how to use this blogger!!)

Old El Paso brand Spicy Refried Beans--favorite kind of bean and I always make them with chile rellenos, enchiladas, or tacos.

Rotel--you can make queso, add it to mashed potatoes, rice, or chicken.  You can also put it in meatloaf to add a kick!

This week I am trying out a few new recipes.  One of them is a new twist on spaghetti bake from Paula Deen's son, Bobby Deen.  Unlike Paula, he actually makes dishes that are lower in calories!  This spaghetti bake features green pepper, Italian chicken sausage (which I couldn't find so I got Italian ground turkey), and other fresh ingredients.  I am anxious to try it!  Other dinners this week are repeats, but from long ago.  Stir-fry shrimp with capers and zucchini; Dinner club enchiladas, Balsamic and mushroom chicken (see, told you!), and for a lazy night....a DiGiorno pizza.  ;)

Eat well, friends!!!  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kitchen Tables....pointless furniture?

My husband and I celebrated Valentine's Day at home this year, as we have done almost every year in the past during our dating relationship.  Neither of us was ever big on going out to fancy restaurants, on special or non-special occasions. I've always just cooked dinner for him, which of course is more than fine with me (and him!)

As much as I cook, mealtime is never a formal occasion.  In fact, I can't even remember the last time we sat at my dining table, which is actually one of the largest pieces of furniture that I own!  I love my table, but sometimes I wonder why I even have it.  We NEVER sit there!  We always eat in the living room and watch TV.  Not because we don't have anything to talk about, but just because it's comfortable, easy, and usually our favorite shows are on around the time we get to finally sit down and eat.  We enjoy the down-time together and usually one of us ends up with the remote, flipping back and forth between what one of us wants to watch and what the other one wants to watch.  It's cooperative TV-watching if you will. :)

Since last night's dinner was quite elaborate (even for me!) we did, in fact, sit at our kitchen table!  I even decorated it with some heart-shaped tea lights that one of my students gave me.

The meal was delicious and I felt proud of myself.  We had flank steak and BLT smashed potatoes with a side of steamed broccoli.  ("BLT"stands for bacon, leek, and tomato).  Here is the link to the recipe: Steak 'n taters

Sitting at the kitchen table sharing dinner with my husband was probably the best conversation I had enjoyed in weeks.  There was no distraction of the TV, the dogs were in their beds rather than sniffing around the coffee table like usual, and we were left with nothing to do but stare at each other and talk.  And I don't mean that in a cheesy way, I mean that even if we didn't want to that was all we COULD do.  It was awesome and definitely something I want to make a habit of.  Kitchen tables are so often neglected by couples, which I believe, if they were utilized more often, marriages would last longer.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Impress your Valentine...

After a friend at work asked me "what to make" for dinner tonight, I hardly had to think at all before one of my favorite recipes popped into my head.  Most of you probably already at least know someone who makes this or even have your own recipe, but like I've said before...I don't cook anything super special!  anyway, here is a GREAT and easy recipe for Valentine's Day.  Pair it with a Caesar salad and a glass of red wine (preferably one of the suggestions from the previous post ;) and you're golden!

Spaghetti Bake
1 pound
4 cup bag (any brand will do)

This is my personal favorite, but any flavor sauce will work!

12 oz pckg, any brand

And last but not least, you need your garlic and seasonings.  I use lots of garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, crushed red pepper, and some basil.  Prepare the noodles as directed on the package and allow them to sit in the hot water before draining while you prepare the rest.  Brown the Italian sausage in a large, deep skillet with some olive oil and garlic.  Once sausage is brown, drain and return to the skillet with the garlic.  Add the entire contents of the jar of sauce, stir, and then lower heat to medium-low and let simmer.  Season to taste as desired.  I also like to put a splash of red wine in my sauce, but just taste to what you like! (or better yet, what your Valentine likes!)  Once the sauce has simmered for about 10-15 min you are ready to bake.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and drain the noodles.  Grease a 9 X 13 Pyrex and pour noodles into bottom of the baking dish.  Spread them out to cover the bottom of dish.  Then add a thin layer of the mozzarella over the noodles.  Carefully pour and spread the sauce and sausage mixture over the top of the cheese and noodles.  Add a final, generous layer of mozzarella cheese to the top of your dish and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the cheese begins to brown on the top.


Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours...(tomorrow).


Sunday, February 12, 2012

For the Love of Labels

I'm a huge sucker for cute or pretty labels on bottles.  Olive oil, soda, even bottled water gets to me (something about the Goldfish on the inside of a Smart Water bottle....).  But I think I am most intrigued/tempted by wine bottles.  If a wine bottle has a cute animal, a beautiful ancient looking castle, or something bright and colorful on has to taste good!  Right?  No....

Yes, I've been tricked by the lure of the cutesy wine label many a time.  By the way, the Jade Mountain wine, beautiful as the label may look, is NOT good.  (no flavor, very dry, unimpressive)

Other wines with lovely labels and lovely taste include:
My husband even loves this wine and he really isn't much of a wine-drinker.  It's a little on the dry side, but has a very nice finish and tastes better on the 2nd day actually!  

One of my favorites....
The 2007 Cabernet is, in my opinion, the BEST-tasting Cabernet.  Kroger usually has it on sale, but you can find it at Wal-Mart as well for around $10 a bottle.  

The latest discovery and total impulse buy due to cuteness of the label:

I found this wine surprisingly sweet, but also robust with lots of berry flavor.  The after-taste was very smooth and it too tasted better on the 2nd day. 
 Read all about Purple Cowboy wines on the website: Purple Cowboy wine

Best Cheap Wine:
$4.50 at Kroger...haven't tried the Chardonnay but the Merlot and the Cab are really good!

What are your favorite wines?  I'd love to know your thoughts!  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Food-aholics Anonymous

Food, food, food, food, fooooooooooooooood....................

So I started my Lose It app on my iPhone last Saturday.  It's a very easy-to-use app in which you input your weight, height, your "goal" weight and how fast you want to reach your goal.  Your goal will determine how many calories you are alloted a day, which also determines how quickly you will meet your goal.  Grant it, I know I am not obese or even overweight, however, by my own personal standards, I could stand to tighten up a bit and I KNOW I've gained at least 3-4 pounds since my wedding day, which was only 4 months ago (today actually!) and I really liked the way I looked then.   I was super happy with myself.  The greatness of this app is that most common foods, even brand name foods, are in the app so you really can track your calories almost 100% accurately.  I've never been a huge health nut, but counting calories is entirely different than eating healthy.  Numbers are numbers.  Yes, it's not going to help me if all my calories come from sugar, but if you're counting calories you are naturally going to make better choices.  Although Super Bowl weekend was a horrible time to start, so far since Monday (so....the last 3 days almost) I've done really well and have ended each day under my budget.  How?  You ask....Well, it's because the Lose It App not only counts the calories you gain, it also counts the calories you burn!  So if I exercise I can log that and it deducts it from my calories consumed and adds it to my calories allowed for the day!  And even though the purpose of working out is not so you can eat more, the purpose of ME working out IS so I can eat more!  There, I said it!

Hi, my name is Natalie and I'm addicted to food!

Hey, they say the first step towards recovery is admitting there's a problem, but my biggest problem is that I don't really see a problem....Food is glorious! 

As I type this I am sitting at my desk at school.  (it is after-school hours, mind you)  But I am choosing to blog now so that I don't sit holed up in my little corner of the sectional tonight, ignoring my husband like I did last night.  (poor guy)  My tutoring group has all gone home and all that's left to do is clean up a little and then head for the homefront.  It's times like these that I wish I had a personal dog-walker.  When I get home all I want to do is put on my sweats and head to the kitchen!  At least while I walk the dogs I can think about what to make choices are limited as all I have in the fridge to work with is sour cream, cheese, a package of chicken breasts, and a little bit of cilantro.  Gotta get the creative juices flowing........because God forbid I make a trip to the grocery store tonight! (::gasp::)

.........:::sigh::::Kroger, here I come.............

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Trial 1: Chilaquiles Verde no habla Espanol

Those that know me well know how much I enjoy cooking.  Those who do not know me well also may know this due to my many postings on Facebook of meals I cook.  Before I begin to regularly update this blog (which I DO, in fact, plan on doing) let me warn you:  I WILL be posting pictures of food I cook and I will be mostly talking about food.  If this is going to be irrittating, boring, or bizarre for you then please read no further! 

My husband and I actually got into a slight argument after a rather messy, "multiple dish" dinner the other night.  He made a comment (from his "spot" behind the sink after dinner--God bless that man!) that "maybe you should start making easier dinners." To this remark I replied, "What?"  (not because I was so angry about his remark but because I honestly did not fully hear him).  He repeated what he had said and added, "I just mean it seems that your dinners use a lot of dishes and seem a little complicated sometimes."  I proceeded to get defensive and tell him I would stop cooking dinners so often and would try to make things simpler, such as Hamburger Helper or more casseroles.  His point, after the fact, was simply that he did not expect me to make such lavish meals.  This was when I voiced to him what my Facebook postings and constant state of mind between the hours of 5 pm until around 7-7:30 pm each evening are really saying.  "When I cook meals--complicated, messy, and involved as they may be, I feel a self-satisfaction that I cannot explain.  It's like therapy to me!"  Luckily this was a good enough response to him so he let it rest and then quickly followed his comments up with "I mean, not that I'm complaining that you cook for me all the time!"  (yeah, NO KIDDING, Buddy!) 

I was glad to have said that out loud to my husband bc it truly made me realize how much cooking means to me.  Silly as it may sound to many, I feel like it may be the only thing I am truly "good" at.  And, honestly, I don't even claim to be good.  I know better cooks out there! (::cough::my mom::cough::) Everything I cook is a recipe I got from a family member, friend, magazine, or website.  I have come across a few "self-discovered" recipes just by chance, but there is nothing I do that is original or "never-been-done."  I just simply enjoy cooking.  I love the way it feels to plan a meal, to shop for the ingredients, to put it in the oven--just knowing it will taste delicious; and I love the look on my husband's face when he comes home from a long day at work and I tell him "Dinner will be ready soon."  Growing up I was never good at sports or really anything other than talking a lot and I guess I had a bit of a musical side (took piano lessons for 8 years).  But most of my friends were at least somewhat athletic and could claim a sport for a hobby.  I never had tht and I still, to this day, avoid playing sports to avoid utter humiliation.  But I would go up against anyone in the kitchen because I feel good when I am there.  I know it's nothing spectacular, but to me...I feel just about on top of the world when I taste a meal that I have prepared--after a long day at work, mind you.  Call me a Martha Stewart, Domestic Wannabe but I's pure therapy! 

So this post is just getting started seeing as how I have not even posted about the meal I prepared tonight.  Actually, it was probably one of the most simple meals I've cooked in a long time.  I have a strategy for  planning my meals.  I typically purchase enough food for at least a week's worth of meals, if not a week and a half.  I purposefully plan all my meals with perishable items to be cooked early in the week and/or early in the grocery-store "cycle" (as much as I do buy and cook food I try to avoid the grocery store as much as possible).  Tonight's meal was nearing the end of my "cycle" so it was down to the canned stuff.  And let me tell you, don't knock the cans!  Before I go further I must give credit to Pinterest for this meal.  I found this recipe during my many explorations of the Food and Drink boards on the site (which is all I really ever look at anyway--imagine that).  Anyway, the recipe is a Campbell's Recipe called Chilaquiles Verde Bake.  Apparently this is a traditional Mexican dish which consists of corn tortillas and sauce.  This was an amazingly easy recipe and the prep time was all of 5 minutes.  In fact, it took less time to put it together than it did to throw away the cans and clean up the accidental cheese spill on the floor.  (luckily the dog helped me with that one) 

The recipe calls for garlic powder and chili powder.  Sadly, I had just run out of chili powder and I haven't had any garlic powder in months, so I subbed the garlic powder for garlic salt (really, what's the difference??) and the chili powder for ground chipotle peppers.  It was mucho bueno! 

Link to the recipe:
Chilaquiles Verde Bake

Adios for now, everyone!  Live long and eat well!  :)