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!