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Monday, December 2, 2013

Changes

A lot has changed since my last post. 

I originally left to work on writing a cookbook. However, I ended up getting  separated and am now nearing the end of a divorce. 

I really didn't think that living alone would affect my cooking at all. I cooked for two when I was married, so how different could it be to cook for one?  I learned quickly that it's a LOT different!

At first I lived mainly on defrosted meals from Trader Joe's. In the area I live, that really is the best option for prepared meals. It was convenient during the time that I spent nearly every free moment packing, reorganizing and planning for the move. 

But it got old fast. The food was tasty and convenient; but there isn't much variety, and it doesn't taste like home. So I grabbed fast food one night. Easy peasy. So easy that it got old as well. 

And so I've started cooking again. The hardest part is having to do everything myself, because when you live alone there is no animal known as "you cook and I'll clean". But even that is a small price to pay for how much better I feel when I do cook. 

Cooking had always cleared my head. The routine tasks like chopping veggies give me time to think that is beneficial and productive in way that thinking while going for a walk or sitting quietly is not. It's also a creative outlet, and sometimes even an outlet for frustration if pulverizing anything to bits is involved. 

But mostly it makes me feel good. Emotionally and physically. 

What I've been making most lately is comfort food and long-standing favorites. Things like tortilla soup and quiche and chicken Alfredo. 

Tonight I made salmon patties, greens, corn and sourdough bread broiled with butter and parm. It was delicious and so very worth it. 


Sunday, April 21, 2013

No posts in a while...

I've not posted in a while because I've been busy writing a book! How exciting is that?!

Hope to be back soon!!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Grillin'

Yesterday we had absolutely gorgeous weather here in KY. So instead of a fussy Easter dinner spread, we grilled out some of our favorites!

The menu included BBQ burgers, corn on the cob, baby bella mushrooms, sweet onions and zucchini, all prepared on the grill. Plus BBQ baked beans, and macaroni salad. It was scrum-dilly-licious. And leftovers were amazing for lunch today.

For the BBQ burgers, we used hamburger parties we had in the freezer from having a cow slaughtered. Sounds brutal, but the meat is so much tastier than what you can get in the store. We sprinkled them liberally with BBQ rub and grilled them until they were meduim-well. The rub we had made up in the cabinet is the one we use most often: basic barbecue rub from The Barbecue Bible cookbook. Highly recommended!! It's good on everything. Make the whole recipe and put back what you don't use for other recipes. It keeps very well.

I like grilled veggies prepared very simply so that you can really taste the veggies and not just the preparation. I quartered and skewered the onions, skewered the mushrooms (stem to cap), and sliced the zucchini in half lengthwise. Then I drizzled them all with oil (canola, because we were out of olive), sprinkled with house seasoning, tossed them until they were coated and cooked them right on the grill until crisp-tender. There is no need to wrap them in foil - they get a better grilled flavor if the smoke and flames touch them.

For the corn, I would normally toss them right on the grill in the husks. But the ones I got yesterday were already husked, so I wrapped them in foil, sprinkled in a bit of salt, and grilled them that way. Fresh corn doesn't take long - maybe 5 minutes. You can put butter on it before the foil, but I find it melts off on the grill, so we prefer to butter it after.

The BBQ baked beans are the Neely's recipe. Easily Google-able, and easily the best baked beans I have ever had. I have used the recipe for years now and it's one of the only recipes I've never been inclined to tweak. Baked bean perfection!

The burger buns and macaroni were not homemade. They were sourced from a local butcher shop where we got the smoked pork for the baked beans. But hey - they rest of it was homemade and we love their macaroni salad.

Disclaimer on the pics: we don't usually use foil on the grill. However, our well-used grill was in pretty rough shape last year when we closed it for the season and we totally forgot about that until we opened it up for the first time yesterday and realized the grate had gotten rusty over the winter and was not usable. But we were hungry and not inclined to go shopping for a new grate, so we slapped some foil on it, poked some holes in the foil so the delicious smoke could get through, and went with it. Honestly, it didn't taste any different than when we cook the food right on the grate...it even had grill marks!!

Here's to a long and happy grilling season!!





Monday, March 18, 2013

Lemon Pepper Tilapia

Simple food is so yummy! Tonight I did a baked lemon pepper tilapia without that chemical-laden, high-salt lemon pepper seasoning. And it was so much better.

Obviously you can do this with any fish, and with lime instead of lemon. We had it with roasted cabbage (left over from last night) and Parmesan potatoes au gratin.

Enjoy!!

Lemon Pepper Tilapia

1 lb. tilapia filets
2 tbl. butter, thinly sliced
2 lemons, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.

Spray a 13x9 pan with Pam. Lay the filets out in a single layer. Top filets with butter slices, salt, and then lemons. Top with black pepper.

Bake 25 minutes.


Parmesan Potatoes Au Gratin

10 russet potatoes, peeled, rinsed, and sliced thinly
2 tbs. butter, cut into chunks
Milk
Buttermilk
Parmesan

Preheat oven to 450.

Spray 8x8 pan with Pam. Put a single layer of potatoes on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Top with butter. Continue layers until you run out of ingredients. Pour milk in the corner until it is 1/2 way up the potatoes. Pour buttermilk in the corner until it almost to the top of the potatoes, but not covering them.

Bake uncovered for 40 minutes or until almost tender. Remove from the oven. If making the fish, drop oven to 400 at this point.

Sprinkle liberally with Parmesan and put in the oven for another 20 minutes, or until potatoes are completely tender and Parmesan is lightly browned.







Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patty's Day Corned Beef

So today, in honor of St. Patty's Day, I put corned beef in the crock pot for the first time ever. And it turned out really yummy! We had it with spicy brown mustard (we are inexplicably out of Coleman's) buttermilk mashed potatoes, roasted cabbage and Hawaiian rolls. Can't wait to have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

**Please Note: As you can see from the pic, the cabbage is overcooked. I would recommend *not* sitting down to play with your phone while its roasting. You just might forget about it - it happened to me. Haha! 'Twas a bit crispy, but still delicious.

The whole thing was very simple, more of a method than a recipe. But I'll share what I did below. Enjoy...and Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

Crockpot Corned Beef

Remove corned beef from package and place fat-side up in a crockpot. Pour 1 inch of water in the bottom of the crock. Sprinkle with seasoning packet (included). Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.


Mashed Potatoes

Peel and dice 8 russet potatoes. Cover with water, add a tablespoon of salt, and boil until tender (test with a fork). Drain and put in a large bowl with 1/2 a stick of butter and a generous splash of buttermilk. Beat with a mixer or a potato masher, adding more buttermilk as needed. The amount of buttermilk needed will vary, depending in how much water the potatoes absorbed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Roasted Cabbage

Slice a head of cabbage into 1" thick slices, from stem to top. Do not separate the leaves - leave them in planks/cross sections. Place cabbage planks on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with house seasoning (or salt and pepper) and bake at 450 until lightly browned in the edges and tender in the center.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Chicken Tostadas

We don't like Tex-Mex food...we *love* it! So last night I whipped up some chicken tostadas for us and they were super yummy. That's the thing about cooking for yourself once you get the hang of it: the food is always yummy because you make it like you want it!!

Below is our recipe/method. Endlessly variable, of course, so use whatever you have on hand or whatever you like. I really wanted sliced avocado on mine, but this was a spur-of-the-moment dinner and we didn't have any (its hard to find perfectly ripe avocados locally - we usually buy them a bit green and give them a few days to ripen).

Jen's Chicken Tostadas

1lb chicken breast - we had tenders, but it doesn't matter because they are getting shredded anyway
1 jar of salsa - we like Pace mild picante sauce
Tostada shells - crunchy fried flat corn tortillas, in the Mexican foods section at the grocery, they look like giant tortilla chips
Toppings - we used hot sauce, tomatillo salsa, shredded lettuce, shredded extra sharp cheddar, and sour cream

Put thawed chicken in a baking dish that has been sprayed with Pam. Cover with the entire jar of salsa. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes, take the foil off and bake until done - another 10 minutes for us. When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the oven and use a spoon to break it into bite-sized pieces and stir it up with the salsa it was cooked in. It will shred further as you stir it. We like some chunks remaining, but you can shred it completely if you prefer that uniform texture.

Now it's time to layer! We usually do a double-stack since that's what we like, but tostadas technically are only supposed to have one layer. So just do what seems right to you.

On each plate we put a tostada shell, top it with a nice scoop of chicken and spread that out - we like about an inch thickness of chicken over the shell. Hubby adds hot sauce to his chicken at this point. Top with another tostada shell, then evenly spoon tomatillo salsa over it, and top with lots of shredded lettuce, shredded cheese and a big dollop of sour cream.

Full disclosure: Hubby adores Chi-Chi's brand corn cake mix. If you haven't had it, it's a scoop of soft, sweet and slightly sticky cornmeal-based spoon bread that is studded with bits of corn kernel. I've made it homemade before, but the man loves the mix so that's what we make. We had that alongside the tostadas last night as well. You can make it in a casserole dish or muffin cups. I had never tried it in muffin cups before so I gave it a go and they turned out adorable. I forgot to snap a picture of them, though.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

In honor of Pi Day, I made a pumpkin pie smoothie for breakfast!

Ok, that's not technically true. The origins of my breakfast smoothie are actually rooted on an ER visit for my cat this weekend. He had some tummy troubles and long story short: he is fine and he HATES and refuses to even consider eating pumpkin purée.

I love the stuff, so I'm using up his pumpkin purée even though we're well outside pumpkin season. The moral of the story: when life gives you a constipated cat, make pumpkin smoothies! Or something like that... Lolz

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

1 cup plain soymilk (or whatever milk or milk analog you prefer)
1 cup canned 100% pumpkin purée (not pie filling)
1 ripe banana
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
Handful of ice (not necessary if your banana is frozen - mine wasn't)
Honey to sweeten to taste

Whir all in a blender until combined. This makes a couple of servings of you're having it with a meal. But I had the whole thing because I had it for a meal.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pepper Steak

I have really been craving old-school eats this week. Pepper steak sounded perfect tonight...and it was!

My mom used to make this when I was little and I have no idea how she made it. But the version I threw together tonight was amazing. Beefy and tomatoey, with lots of crisp-tender peppers over tender white rice. Winter perfection.

Recipe below - enjoy!!

Jen's Pepper Steak

2tbs oil
3 sweet peppers, halved, seeded, sliced into 1/4 inch thick crescents - I used multi-colored peppers, but all of one color is fine too
1 sweet onion, halved and sliced into 1/4 inch thick crescents
1-1.5 lbs round or sirloin tip steak, cut across the grain into 1/2 inch thick slices
1-14oz. can of diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup beef broth
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1tbs cornstarch
Soy sauce and black pepper to taste
Cooked rice - prepare according to package directions

Heat 1/2 of the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Sautée peppers and onion until crisp-tender. Remove to a dinner plate.

Add the rest of the oil to the skillet and cook the meat until there is very little pink showing. It will continue to cook after you take it out of the pan - don't cook it through at this point or it will be tough. Remove the meat to the same dinner plate as the peppers. If there is any juice in the pan from the meat, leave it in the skillet.

Add the tomatoes, stock and garlic to the skillet. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Mix the cornstarch with 1/4 cup of cold water until smooth. Pour into the tomato mixture and stir for a minute - the sauce will thicken.

Add the meat and peppers back to the sauce and stir for a minute or two, just until warmed through. Add soy sauce and black pepper to taste. Serve over white rice.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Purist Egg Salad

I am a purist when it comes to egg salad. I love it dearly - egg salad on wheat toast is one of my very favorite breakfasts and snacks. But I only love it when it is minimalist.

I'm the same with bread, I suppose. The only brand of sandwich bread I really like is Koepplinger's. It has a very fresh taste and you can actually read the ingredients label.

Below is my recipe. Not sure if you can even call it a recipe since its so simple, but this is how I do it, either way.

Purist Egg Salad
4 hard-boiled eggs*
2 tbs. mayo (Hellman's is my favorite)
Two-finger pinch if salt

Peel eggs and place in a small bowl (I use a cereal bowl at home). Use a fork to mash them up. Stir in mayo and salt. Taste it before you eat it - everyone likes a different amount of salt.

This makes two servings, so I pile 1/2 the egg salad in a piece of toast and save the rest for the next day. It keeps very well in the fridge.

*to hard boil the eggs, put them in a pan, cover them with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 1 minute. Cover with a lid, remove from heat, and allow to cool to almost room temperature. Drain water, cover with cold water and allow to cool completely. Remove from water and store in the fridge.





Friday, March 8, 2013

Homemade Pizza Night

There's not a lot we like to do more than come home from work on Friday, get showered and into fresh pajamas, and chill out on the couch with a pizza and Netflix.

Homemade pizza is such a treat. It's fresh, delicious and faster to make than you would think. And if you make it at home, you get to control everything! Great for control freaks like me. ;o)

Below is our recipe. We like thin crust. If you like it thicker, make a double batch of crust.

Enjoy!!


Jen's Homemade Pizza

Crust
1.5 cups flour*
1/2 pack of "rapid rise" active dry yeast
2-finger pinch of salt
1/2 cup very warm tap water
1-1.5 tbs (generous splash) extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Preheat oven to 450. Stir together dry ingredients. Add water and oil and stir together with a wooden spoon. If it gets too dry to stir, knead it with your hands. Form into a ball, cover with a towel and set aside for 10-15 minutes.

After it has rested, roll out the dough and place on pizza pan. If any holes form, squish them shut. Bake for 10 minutes or until firm but not browned. Remove from the oven and add toppings.

We both like chunky marinera sauce; I like pepperoni and veggies with no cheese. Hubby likes pepperoni and sausage with lots of freshly grated mozzarella. So, we each get 1/2 with our favorite toppings.

After your toppings are on, put the pizza back in the oven until the cheese is melted and the crust is nicely browned.

*we always have self-rising flour at the house. But this dough is raised with yeast, so you can use all purpose flour. Whatever you have in the cabinet is fine.







Spring Cuppy Cakes

Cupcakes are kind of my thing. If there is one thing in life I *know* I'm good at, it's making cupcakes!

I make them for family and friends, for work and church events, and I even sell them on occasion (read: when I have time). But I almost never make cupcakes for home.

Hubby and I are both the kind of people who will eat one or two pieces of a sweet treat, then we are done. So making an entire batch of cupcakes for the two of us is usually just a lot of waste.

However, hubby requested an actual dessert today and I really wanted one too. I had some of my homemade buttercream leftover from my last cupcake venture (cake ladies always seem to have icing lying around), so I picked up a box of Jiffy yellow cake mix for us.

If you don't know about Jiffy, look for it in your grocery by the cake and muffin mixes. It comes in a small box and is basically half a cake mix - it makes 1 layer of cake or 12 cupcakes. If you can't find it, you can just use half a regular cake mix, or half a recipe of a scratch yellow cake.

The sun is shining and the first 60 degree days we have seen in a while are forecasted for this weekend. The springy weather put me in mind of springy tropical things, so I jazzed up the cake mix to match my mood.

I have two icings listed; this is because hubby and I prefer different toppings on our cupcakes. Hubby likes mounds of rich, meltingly creamy homemade all-butter buttercream; and that is the frosting I'm known for. But my personal preference is a thin layer of strongly-flavored glaze. You can certainly make both types, but if you prefer one over the other, just double the icing recipe you like best and make them all the same.

I hope you enjoy these as much as we did!

Tropical Cupcakes
1 box Jiffy yellow cake mix
1 egg
1/4 cup crushed pineapple, with juice
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup flaked/shredded coconut

Combine everything except coconut in a bowl and mix for 2 minutes with a hand mixer. Stir in coconut until combined.

Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Divide the batter equally among the twelve liners. Bake 15-20 minutes - a toothpick inserted in the center should come out dry. Cool completely.

Lemon Glaze (my favorite)
Juice and zest of half a lemon
1-1.5 cups Of powdered sugar

Zest lemon into a bowl and squeeze in the juice. Add a cup of powdered sugar and stir until smooth. You want a glaze that is slightly thick, but easily pourable; the texture is nearly identical to that of milk/white gravy. Add more sugar if needed to thicken it (some lemons are juicier than others, so the amount of sugar needed will vary from lemon to lemon).

Spoon over cooled cupcakes and let dry. It will get a smooth glossy layer on top.

Lemon Buttercream (Hubby's favorite)
1.5 cups buttercream frosting*
Juice and zest of half a lemon
Powdered sugar

Stir together the frosting, lemon juice and lemon zest. This will thin out the frosting, so stir in powdered sugar a little at a time until it is back to its normal thickness.

Spread it on with a butter knife or pile it into a gallon zippy bag, snip off the corner, and pipe it on.

*you can use whatever vanilla frosting you have on hand. If you want to make your own buttercream, check out the basic recipe at www.wilton.com It has never failed me.







Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rustic (and fast) Dinner

Tonight's rustic dinner is the result of strong cravings on my behalf, no doubt inspired by the cold rainy/snowy weather we're having tonight. And I did the grocery shopping after work, so a delicious filling dinner really hit the spot after a long day.

What you see on the plate is the breast and wing of a roasted chicken (check the labels - some stores really do cook then like you would, with no weird ingredients), roasted broccoli and cauliflower, cheesy garlic toast and marinara for dipping. Oh my yum this was good! And I have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

The chicken was store bought, so I just cut it up. I dug the frozen veggies out of the trunk as soon as I got home, tossed them with some EVOO and house seasoning and let them roast at 450 oven while we carried in the rest of the groceries and put them away. As soon as they brown around the edges, they are done.

And yes, you read it right, the veggies were frozen. You CAN roast frozen veggies. They aren't quite as tasty as fresh, but they are still soooo yummy and if prep stands between you and roasted veggies...buy frozen!

A few minutes before the veggies were done, I popped in the bread (garlic oil and shredded cheese - whatever is in the fridge is fine) and let the cheese get toasty.

That's it!! Here's to grocery night dinners!





Wednesday, February 27, 2013

House seasoning

I refer to house seasoning a lot in my recipes and posts, probably because I use it a lot! It has pretty much replaced plain salt/pepper in most all of my cooking and its good on everything. Meat, fish, veggies, you name it. If salt and pepper is good on it, house seasoning is better on it.

I cannot take credit for this one. I discovered it a few years ago in a Paula Deen cookbook. It's just 4 parts salt, one part ground black pepper, and one part garlic powder. Mix it up, put it in a container in the cabinet, and use it wherever you would use salt and pepper. It will keep for as long as the garlic keeps - but we've never had one get stale.

You can use any salt you want, I suppose. We've tried it with several types, and table salt is my favorite, mostly because it stays mixed up better and tends not to settle. If you make it with a larger salt like Kosher or flake, remember to shake it up before each use.

Green Scrambles

Green smoothies have been popular for ages now. But do you know what I'm into? Green scrambles! They are fast, filling, high in protein and most importantly: absolutely delicious!!

I used to make these with fresh spinach all the time. But last week my grocery store was out of fresh spinach - I think they actually pulled it off the shelves due to the recall - but either way, I got a bag of frozen chopped spinach instead.

Wow! Frozen chopped spinach is every bit as delicious as fresh, but it is super-easy to work with and won't go bad. So I have a new favorite!!

Below is the recipe I've been using for my morning scramble. Hubby does not share my love of greens, so this is a recipe for one. And it's fast! I let it cook while I'm packing the rest of my lunch, then I pop it in a to-go bowl and leave for the day. It reheats well, too.

Mushroom & Spinach Scramble

2 large button mushrooms, or 3-4 small ones
1 pat of butter
1tsp EVOO
2-3 cup frozen chopped spinach
House seasoning
2 eggs
Cheese (optional)

Rinse and finely dice the mushrooms. Cook mushrooms over medium-high heat in the butter and oil until they just start to change color, stirring occasionally. Add in the spinach and house seasoning (to taste) and cook until it is heated through and any liquid is cooked off. Crack the eggs into the pan and stir constantly until cooked through (this won't take long since the pan is hot). Top with cheese, if desired.