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!  :)