Monday, December 10, 2012

Just Another Meatless Monday

The Hub and I have decided to ramp our veggie intake while reducing our protein, so at least 2 nights a week we will be having vegan fare.  To be honest as much as I love cheese, if we replace a traditional protein with it we might as well eat steak because of all the fats in cheese, so it's vegetable fare those 2 nights.  Several days ago I found a package of seitan while we were shopping at Earthfare.   Seitan is also called "wheat meat" and is a very chewy beef textured product made from  wheat gluten.  If you are industrious and feel up to making your own it is time consuming but certainly something that can be done in a home kitchen.  Just Google homemade seitan recipe.  I will pay the 5 bucks happily instead of spending time making it.  Now the only problem was deciding what to do with it.  I found a recipe for a fake Irish stew but that wasn't what our taste buds were screaming for.  We wanted something simple and easy to eat. Bingo!

Seitan Fajitas

1 pack prepared seitan  ( or 1 recipe of homemade seitan)
1 green bell pepper cut in thin slices
1/2 red sweet pepper cut in thin slices
1/2 yellow sweet pepper cut in thin slices
1 onion cut in thin slices
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon hot chili powder*
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 lime
olive oil for sautéing
2 large whole wheat flour tortillas, warmed

Cut or separate the seitan into bite size pieces.  Put about 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a saute pan and cook the seitan until it is lightly browned.  Remove from heat.  Spray another saute pan with pam and add an additional teaspoon of olive oil.  Saute the vegetables  starting with the onions, then the peppers and ending with the garlic.  When all of the vegetables are mostly wilted yet still have a tad of crispness add the seasonings and stir them through.  Put the seitan in the vegetable pan and stir until hot.  Right before serving squeeze 1/2 of a fresh lime over the mixture.  Serve in a warmed whole wheat tortilla with a slice of lime.
Add a side salad and call it a meal.

This is good enough to serve to all the carnivores out there.  The mouth feel of the seitan is pretty much the same as skirt steak traditionally used in fajitas.  I am going to add this to our monthly rotation because it had a delicious taste and it felt like we were eating the real thing.  Score!!!  The only thing I might do differently is to add some grated zucchini and carrots to the veggies just to up the vegetable content of  the dish. Might add a little cilantro too, because we really like it.

 Try this and you just might find yourself in a Bangles frame of mind singing "Just another meatless Monday whoaa-aa-oo"

* If you don't have hot chili powder use 1/2 teaspoon of regular chili powder and a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes.  If you don't keep red pepper flakes on hand request them the next time you go out for pizza.  One of those little packs would be more than enough.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Beans, Beans, Good for Your...Dessert???

I have tried a lot of odd recipes in my life but I usually know before I begin pretty much how it is going to taste and feel.  I read this recipe on the blog Chocolate Covered Katie and was intrigued enough to make it, but had absolutely no earthly idea how/if it would work, much less how it would taste.  So, of course I decided to experiment using my book club as Guinea Pigs.  I told them this was a trial and asked for complete honesty but did not reveal the secret ingredients until after they had tasted it.  Without further ado I give you Black Bean Brownies.

                                                                                            Black Bean Brownies

1 15 ounce can black beans drained and rinsed very well
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup quick oats
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients except chocolate chips in a food processor and blend until completely smooth. Blend until you think it is smooth and then blend some more.  Stir in the chocolate chips and pour into a greased 8x8 inch pan.  ( Or if you are like me an 8 inch round cake pan)  Cook for 15-18 minutes.  Let cool at least 10 minutes before trying to cut.  Makes 9-12 brownies.

I have eaten several vegan and or gluten free desserts before and thought they all tasted like sweetened muck with no real form or anything remotely close to whatever they were intended to be.  Sorry but if I eat frozen pureed bananas, and you call it ice cream it is still nothing more than frozen banana mush.  I tried these with the same skeptical attitude.  I have to admit I was blown away.  Though the consistency is different than a flour based brownie, the taste was very similar.  In fact these were  a denser chocolate flavor and very fudgy.  It is something I will make again, just because it is much healthier than a traditional brownie.  Since it uses coconut oil in the recipe there is a very subtle coconut undertone, but it is slight and does not overpower or take away from the chocolate flavor.  If anything it enhances it.  You could make this with another vegetable oil or margarine I would think but can't tell you how it would be since I have tried this only once.

These keep well in the fridge, but you do want to let them warm to room temperature before eating.  If you eat them cold the chocolate chips are hard and it makes the whole bite feel a little funny in your mouth.  I did not try rewarming them, but should have.  I think it would be a little better than room temp.  I served them completely plain, but will admit to taking a bite of this one after I snapped the photo.  It was not bad at all with a dollop of whipped cream.

So from here on I will keep an extra can of black beans in the pantry just in case brownie fever hits.  Try for yourself and you just might find it a little easier to justify eating brownies.

    Monday, November 26, 2012

    Leftover Leftovers

    Thanksgiving has come and gone and we are still eating and eating and eating the remnants of the day. A person can only eat so much turkey and dressing and green beans and pecan pie and roasted vegetables and, and, and, until you just want to quit eating anything  to have some relief from the same food.  Right  when I was cleaning the kitchen after Thanksgiving, I did what I always do:  removed all the meat from the turkey then boiled that carcass.  This year I got well over 20 cups of fantastic turkey broth which was deposited directly into the freezer in 5 cup bags.  Today I grabbed one so it would defrost in time for supper.  Most of the leftover turkey was frozen in individual packs with just enough in each  for a single meal for 2.  We will have it at least once a week until Christmas, at which time I will NOT cook another bird.   Even with the individual meal packs we still had enough left to eat about 4 times since Thursday.  I noticed there was about 1 cup of very scrappy bits left in the bottom of the zip lock bag.  Broth, turkey bits, leftover roasted carrots, mushrooms and onions,  and a few sweet potato slices.  Sounded like a soup night.

    Leftover Leftover Soup

    5 cups turkey broth
    1 cup leftover turkey bits and pieces
    1 cup leftover roasted vegetables ( I had carrots, mushrooms and onions)
    1 small leftover baked sweet potato cut in slices
    1/2 cup leftover cooked brown rice
    salt and pepper to taste
    Few shakes, thyme, parsley and a pinch of ground sage
    1/4 cup pearl couscous* ( also called Israeli couscous)

    Toss everything but the couscous in a large pot and bring to a boil.   Turn heat to low and let simmer for about 30 minutes.  Since everything is already cooked, the simmer just allows the flavors to meld.  After 30 minutes put the couscous in the pot and cover it.  Keep it on low for about 5 minutes and then cut the heat off but leave the cover on the pot.  Serve immediately with or without oyster crackers.  As you can see  in the picture I added a dollop of fresh leftover cranberry relish to mine.  The Hub decided to leave it off his.  I thought it added some flavor but I am a sucker for fresh cranberry relish.  He liked it fine as it was.

    The only downside is now I have about 2 cups of  soup so tomorrow I guess I will eat leftover leftover leftover soup for lunch.

    * I used the couscous because I bought it on an impulse and served it one night like regular couscous. We really did not like it at all but it is perfectly fine as a soup filler.  I am going to have to make a lot of soup because I have about a pound and a half of it to use.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    Ooh La La Y'all

    A couple of  days ago I was in the back yard doing a few chores when I noticed the herb pots were going crazy.  I guess the temperatures have been mild and we have had enough rain to keep them alive.  I had been ignoring them just assuming they were finished for the year but they were flourishing.  I managed to harvest quite a bit of basil, mint and the most beautiful tarragon of the season.  After washing, I chopped the mint and basil and froze it in ice cube trays for use later, but the lovely tarragon scent begged to be part of that night's supper. Tarragon reminds me of the flavors of France so my first stop was a French cookbook.  The recipes sounded fabulous but required a lot more time than I was willing to invest in a Monday night dinner. What to do, what to do?  It had to be a quick fix, but I wanted it to be extremely tasty.  A couple of google searches later found 2 recipes that could be combined and tweaked into something  possibly delicious.

    Tarragon Chicken with Dijon Sauce  (How is that for an inventive name?  The folks on Madison
                                                                  Avenue are probably tracking me down as I type this)
    4 small chicken breast halves
    1 tablespoon butter
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 shallot, minced
    salt and pepper to taste
    1/2 cup white wine
    1/2 cup cream
    1 tablespoon dijon mustard
    2 tablespoons tarragon, chopped fine

    In a saute' pan, melt butter and add the olive oil.  Add the chicken breasts and slowly brown, turning once, adding the shallot when the breasts are turned. Salt and pepper as desired  Turn the heat to medium low and cook until the shallots are wilted.  Pour in the wine and cover the pan cooking on low heat until the chicken is just cooked. ( About 10 - 15 minutes depending on the breast thickness)
    Mix the cream and dijon mustard and pour it over the chicken.  Stir it picking up any brown bits in the bottom of the pan and incorporating it into the cream mixture.  Sprinkle the breasts with tarragon, cover and let it cook on low for about 2 minutes.

    I suppose you could serve it over rice, pasta, couscous, or mashed potatoes, but we live in the south and I happened to have grits handy so that is what I used.   Since we had some asparagus in the fridge along with a bag of small sweet peppers, the sides pretty much picked themselves.

    This was a tasty meal.  I thought the consistency of the grits was a perfect bed for the cream sauce, and the wonderful light licorice flavor of the tarragon was a nice pairing with the sharp dijon flavor.  It would work with or without the wine.  I didn't notice any particular flavor it added, but it did give some needed moisture.  The same amount of chicken broth would probably work just as well.  I used whipping cream, only because it was available, but next time I will use a lighter cream.  It should work just as well and would lighten the recipe a bit.

    This will become part of our meal rotation.  It really is tasty enough for guests, so if you are a tarragon fan and want to come over give me a call.  Just make sure you catch me before the frost hits and kills the gorgeous plants.

    Friday, November 16, 2012

    Another Pinterest Fail

    Tonight was a little cool and The Hub was watching a ballgame ( I really mean sleeping) and I was really bored, so I started flipping through my Pinterest pins just to see if there was something I could do to amuse myself. ( Other than the much needed house cleaning I should do, of course!)

    I thought about doing a project but everything seemed to require stuff I just don't have readily available.  Naturally the next step was to start  flipping through the pinned recipes.  I found this one and thought why not?  I like  an occasional Almond Joy as much as the next guy.   A quick look through the kitchen confirmed I had everything needed on hand so I began the very quick process of making....

    Almond Joy Hot Chocolate

    1 Cup almond milk
    1/4 Cup coconut milk
    1/3 cup chocolate chips ( milk or semi sweet both work)
    a drop or two of pure almond extract ( if desired)
    agave syrup as needed for additional sweetness

    Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.  WIth a wire whisk stir until the chocolate is melted and the drink is hot, but do not boil.  Remove from heat and test for sweetness, adding a little agave if needed.  Makes 1 large or 2 small servings.  Serve hot!

    This is supposed to taste like a molten Almond Joy.  I just didn't get that while drinking it.  You can taste the different components of almond, chocolate and coconut but not in the good way an Almond Joy delivers it.  I poured it into 2 demitasse cups because it looked a little rich.  Mistake number 1:  The cups were in the china cabinet and were cool.  I should have run hot water in over them to warm them. After a couple of quick sips the chocolate cooled quickly.  Mistake number 2:  I did not make fresh almond milk.  According to all the food blogs I should have, but I had a quart of Silk Almond Milk in the fridge so I used it.  If you are interested in making it fresh look here:    Mistake number 3:  Drink this as quickly as possible.  To say it thickens fast is an understatement.  I left for about 2 minutes to change over a load of clothes.  When I got back the hot chocolate  consistency was more like a thin pudding than a beverage.  That is when I just tossed the whole thing.   The only thing that really worked in the whole process was the demitasse cup, saucer and spoon.  I guess I will have to try some other  after dinner hot drink another day just to enjoy using them.

    If anyone tries this and likes it please let me know what I did wrong.  I really did want to love it.  Fortunately I can use the almond milk in cereal and  the leftover coconut milk will become Thai coconut soup for  tomorrow's lunch.

    Thursday, November 1, 2012

    Soup's On!

    I thought it had been a while since I last posted here and then I looked at the date and it has been several weeks.  Don't think I have been so lucky to eat out every meal the entire month of October because I haven't.  I have just tried very little new and/or different food.  It seems like we have been eating a lot of previously frozen soups and entrees.  I guess I am cleaning the freezer of all of our past meals, getting ready for an onslaught of holiday leftovers ?

    I was browsing through the old Junior League  "Magic" cookbook trying to find a different type of soup.  We eat boatloads of soup during the fall and winter.  It  is probably my favorite thing to eat  ( other than chocolate of course) and I keep a container in the freezer for all the odd bits of vegetables we have leftover from meals.  When it is full I toss a little leftover chicken in it and we have some variation of chicken and veggie soup.  But I wanted something different and more substantial, plus I didn't have quite enough in the  freezer container to make  a dinner soup.

    Thanks Junior League for the idea!

    Tamale Soup

    1 pound ground beef
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1 bell pepper, chopped
    1 16 ounce can stewed tomatoes
    2 cans undrained pinto beans
    1 can creamed corn
    1 can beef bouillon
    2 jars Derby hot tamales or 2  16 ounce cans of any brand, sliced
    salt and pepper to taste

    Brown beef, add onions and peppers and cook until the vegetables are nicely wilted.  Drain the meat vegetable mix and put into a large pot.   Add all ingredients except for the tamales and simmer for about an hour.  Add the tamales shortly before serving .  Put a lid on the pot and without stirring allow the tamales to warm on top of the soup.  Serve and enjoy.

    If you have been reading this you know I use recipes as guides only.  I had some frozen already browned beef so I used it. ( Check off another item from the freezer!)  I only had 1/2 of a bell pepper, but I also had a small jalapeno so I used it too.  I had portions of 3 different types of onions in the fridge so this had a combination of sweet and sharp onions. 

    Instead  of the stewed tomatoes I used a pack frozen this summer.  They were not cooked, just blanched and frozen, but I figured they would be stewed by the end of the cooking process. ( Maybe 2 cups of tomatoes?)  

     I did use the canned pinto beans.  I have been boycotting canned foods because of the  toxic inner plastic lining.  Fortunately Organic Harvest carries a brand that has no lining and the beans are organic. Add to it that they were on sale____bonus!  

    I can't find organic creamed corn, so I kind of cheated on this on.  I took a can of regular niblet corn ( organic and non GMO corn)  and added a tad of milk and cornstarch to it, heated it to slightly thickened and dumped it in the pot. ( And for the record, since I am avoiding all GMO corn I do buy organic cornstarch) 

    I have never even heard of canned bouillon so obviously I didn't use it.  I had a carton of vegetable stock I used instead.   I used the whole carton and it was about 2 cups of broth.  It probably thinned the finished product out a little but it's soup.  The soup didn't care, so neither did I.

    After letting it simmer for about 30 minutes I tasted it and found it to be a little boring.  A quick look in the spice cabinet was the remedy.  I have no idea how much I added but would start at 1/2 teaspoon of each and adjust to taste:  Chili powder, ground cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes, dehydrated garlic ( should have used real garlic at the beginning)  paprika,  ground chipotle, and a dash of pepper.  With literally just a few shakes of a few jars the soup took on an entirely different personality.

    My MISTAKE and I will not make this one again.  I used canned ( yeah I know I railed against canned earlier) Hormel tamales.  Next time I will run up to The Cool Corner and buy 3 tamales to slice.  The canned Hormel tamales tasted exactly like what they were_____canned tamales.  Buy decent ones from the start.  I think it will make all the difference in the world.

    Not only will I make this again, but The Hub specifically asked me to get everything needed so we can have it again next week.  Winner!  I love when someone makes a meal request.  I like cooking but sometimes hate deciding what to cook!

    For the two of us, I halved everything and it was enough for both of us for dinner plus about a cup for a future lunch.

    Now does anyone have any ideas for using leftover Trick or Treat Hershey Bars?

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Grab And Go Morning

    The Hub wakes each morning at about 5 with a spring in his step, raring to see what adventures the day will bring.  I  usually go to sleep a couple of hours before he wakes, so I am not apt to rise and cook him breakfast.  In all of our married life I would guess the number of pre-work hot breakfasts I have made him would number somewhere in the 50's...maybe.  If only Pinterest had been around longer my numbers might be in the 100's by now.  While trolling the food and drink category I spied this recipe for an easy pre-made breakfast omelet muffin.  Despite the confusion over what to actually call it I followed the link to My Kitchen By the Lake.  There was the answer to the residual guilt I have felt for all of these years, sleeping instead of cooking. ( If you really believe I have felt guilt over not waking at 5 a.m. when normal people should be sound asleep,  I have some prime land on the edge of a swamp I would like to talk with you about purchasing) 

    Breakfast Omelet Muffins

    1 lb Italian Sausage
    1 cup broccoli florets ( or other vegetable)
    8 large eggs
    1/4 cup milk or half and half
    1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil ( That is 1 1/2 teaspoons Beloved Sister )
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    salt and pepper to taste
    Freshly grated parmesan cheese as desired

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees

    Brown the sausage in a saute pan over medium heat.  Remove from heat and stir in the vegetables to wilt.  Whisk together the eggs, milk, oil and baking powder.  Season as desired.  Spray a 12 count cupcake pan with pam ( even if it is nonstick).  Spoon the sausage/veggie mixture evenly in each cup.  Ladle the egg mix over  each cup.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Pop in the oven and bake 15-20 minutes.

    Let cool and pack in a single layer in zip loc bags.  2 quart size bags worked fine. Put them in the fridge until time to eat. These are supposed to be equally good frozen and reheated.  I am not sure I am going to try that with this batch.

    I only used the recipe as a suggestion.  Instead of sausage I substituted cubed ham and chose onions, mushrooms and peppers as the vegetables.  I sauteed them to a very wilted stage then tossed the ham cubes over and stirred until it was uniformly hot.  Probably unnecessary since I was going to bake it all but I wanted the veggies to be smothered in ham flavor.  In addition to the salt and pepper I added about 1 teaspoon of parsley flakes and 1 teaspoon mild chili powder.  We prefer Western omelets over traditional ones. ( OK I prefer them.  I don't like eggs and try to always disguise the egg flavor and texture.)  I had some sharp cheddar grated but forgot about it so I have sans cheese biscuit omelet muffins.  When they had cooled a little I took them out of the pan and put them on a wire rack to cool.  One of them was stuck so I am sure it was a divine message from above telling me to try it.  Honestly, it was delicious, and this is coming from someone with no regard for eggs at all.  They were light yet held together perfectly and the chili powder and veggies added plenty of flavor and texture to cover the egginess.    The cheese probably would have sent them over the top.  I will do it next time

    I guess the true test will be in a few hours when The Hub is awake.  I plan to write him a note reminding him that I slaved all afternoon ( 10 minutes prep time)  just for him.  He will need to put them on a plate and zap them for 1-1 1/2 minutes, or take a couple to work and zap them there.  Whatever he does I will not know because I intend to still be asleep with the rest of the civilized world.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    The Man In Brown Cometh

    Don't you love the day when something you ordered finally arrives.  This morning as I was getting out of the shower I heard the doorbell ring.  Yikes!  At first I thought I was being Love Bombed by my mom, but then I heard the familiar sound of the UPS truck pulling out from the front of the house.   Since Son3 left for school and there are no picky eaters left I have been trying a few new things and bought a few new toys.

    The first purchase was a food dehydrator.  I have been drying almost around the clock since I got it.  For the record 3 1/2 boxes of sliced mushrooms reduces to fit into a 1 cup container.  5 pounds of potato slices will fit in a quart freezer bag.  The list goes on and on.  I am really glad because I can take all of the fruits and veggies that used to wither and be thrown out and dry them instead.  My produce waste has decreased considerably.  I also learned I can dry all my vegetable peelings and  feed them to the chickens and pigs.  Of course I have no farm animals living with me in Suburbia, but it is good to know the next time a random pig shows up at my doorstep.

    Today Brown brought me a tortilla press.  I had decided a while back to start making our tortillas.  We never use a full pack of them and about 1/2 of the package will dry out before I think about doing anything with them.  In addition to the food waste I have become an ardent package reader.  You would be surprised at what all is added to corn tortillas.  In their real food state they have just 2 ingredients, Masa Harina and water.  Masa is merely dried corn treated with lime and water, which is dried again before grinding finely and water is just water.  I had the Masa and a new press so it was inevitable that I would have to use it tonight.  Fortunately I had just pinned a recipe for Chicken Tacos with Cilantro Pesto.  It is from What's Cooking Chicago and you can find it right here


    Cilantro Pesto

    1 cup cilantro leaves
    2 1/2 tablespoons E.V. olive oil
    2 tablespoons slice toasted almonds
    1 1/2 teaspoon lime juice
    1/2 cup shredded asiago cheese ( Parmesan may be substituted)
    1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/4 chicken broth

    Mix everything in a blender or Magic bullet until it is well blended and a little creamy looking.  Set aside.

    Slice  3 large chicken breasts into strips.  Salt, pepper and add a little garlic powder.  Spray a pan with Pam and quickly cook the chicken.  When it is cooked through ( about 5 minutes) add the pesto to the pan and heat through.  Place on top of warmed soft tortillas and tops with whatever additional taco toppings you wish to use.

    Corn Tortillas

    1/2 cup Masa Harina
    1/3 cup water.  

    In a mixing bowl, stir until it holds together and is smooth.  Roll 4 walnut shaped balls.  Remove 1 from the bowl and cover the remaining with a damp paper towel.  This step is important, so learn from my mistake rather than your own.  Press according to the instructions with the tortilla press.  Mine said to line both surfaces with plastic.  It made removal a piece of cake!  Cook on a hot griddle for about 40 seconds, turn and cook the other side for about 20 seconds.  when all 4 are cooked set aside until right before ready to serve.  Cook again  30 seconds per side. Easy, easy, easy!

    I have been buying sales items for a while now and freezing them for later use.  I ran across cilantro a few days ago for 59 cents a bunch.  I think I bought 5 of them, washed and removed the leaves, then minced them and stuck them in old plastic ice cube trays and popped them in the freezer.  I did not dry the leaves before chopping so there was a fair amount of liquid  in them.  When they were frozen I took them out of the trays and put them in a ziploc bag.  I figured each cube is about 1/4 of a cup so I used 3 of them for the recipe.  I halved everything but decided I had rather have a little too much cilantro then not quite enough hence the 3 cubes.  Since I had moisture in the herb already I did not add the chicken broth.  We didn't miss it.  Other than that omission I followed the directions completely.  I took out a bunch of green onions to slice over the tops of the tacos but I forgot to do it so we only had a dollop of Daisy Light sour cream. ( Read the labels on your sour cream.  Daisy is the only one I will buy anymore).  personally The Hub and I like a little heat and when I make it again I will add 1/2 of seeded pepper just for the kick it will give.  I will also cut back on the salt a lot.   It was too salty for us.  It is a very fast entree.  I spent about 10 minutes prepping and another 10 cooking.  I am adding this to the quick dinner rotation.

    Now back to waiting for another delivery!


    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

    New Life For An Old Stand-by

    I am pretty sure everyone in the free world has had a stuffed bell pepper before and also guess you are in either of two camps.  There are those who love them and those who hate them.  I have never met a stuffed pepper indifferent person, but maybe there are a few out there.  I fall into the love them category  It is probably my favorite vegetable.  I love them minced  and added to everything , love them sauteed with other foods, cooked or raw makes no difference.  In fact I have been known to sit at the table with a knife and eat an entire bell pepper like others would eat an apple.

    Yesterday Publix had a really good deal on a bag of bell peppers.  I got 7 huge peppers for $1.99.  There were 5 green and 2 yellow peppers in said bag, but they were very ripe and needed to be eaten in a couple of days.  Even pepper loving me can't finish 7 in two days, so I decided to bake a couple of stuffed peppers for supper.    We are trying to eat healthier and have many servings of vegetables and fruit daily.  I was wondering what to serve with the stuffed peppers to amp up our vegetable intake when I spied my Magic Bullet  on the kitchen counter top.

    I  recently bought one at Bed Bath and Beyond.  I had been reading about all kinds of breakfast smoothies, green drinks , and the occasional margarita on blogs and nearly all of them used a Magic Bullet instead of a blender.  Now I understand why.  The MB is a very powerful blender, chopper, whipper, and  ice crusher.  It is a one handed operation that processes and is clean in the time it would take to set my regular blender up.

     I rummaged through the fridge to see what fresh veggies lived there. It was sparse choice day, since I had only carrots and cauliflower in the crisper.  I grabbed a couple of carrots and loped off about 1/4 of the cauliflower.  After a good scrubbing and thorough washing I chopped them in pieces about 1 inch big.  In went the carrots and I started the MB.  After some serious whirring I had what I fondly call carrot dust.  It was not liquified carrots, but instead this very fine dry to the touch carrot bits.  It really did look much like carrot colored corn meal.  I did the same thing to the cauliflower and mixed them both together in a bowl.  I put them aside and  put 1/4 cup of quinoa in a bowl.  I added 1 cup of very hot tap water to it and let is sit for about 30 minutes.  I found about 2/3 of a cup of ground turkey in the freezer and had already taken it out and defrosted it.  I mixed the turkey and the powdered veggies together in a bowl and then strained the water off the quinoa.  I added the quinoa to the meat veggie mix, 1/2 of a small onion, diced  and added 1 heaping teaspoon of Penzy's Bangkok seasoning. ( Only reason that seasoning was used was because it was the first one I saw when I looked in the spice cabinet. When it was well mixed I added about 3 tablespoons of veggie broth and stirred until everything was blended.  I cut the tops off 2 peppers and quickly cored and seeded them.  They were stuffed to overflowing and set in an oven proof baking dish in a 350 degree oven.  I covered them tightly with foil. Since the quinoa was uncooked  I figured the moisture in the mix with the  foil cover would steam the grain nicely.  After cooking about 30-35 minutes it was ready to eat.  We had one full veggie serving with the pepper alone and another full serving in the stuffing.  After I took them out of the oven we put a little ketchup on top and added a large green salad to the meal. ( Cha-ching!  Another vegetable serving!)

    It is something I will do again.  It was light and very tasty, but we could taste neither the carrots nor the cauliflower.  I guess the pepper flavor was intense enough to overpower the other vegetables. Who knows?  Next time I might used grated zucchini or even fine ribbons of kale.  Guess I will just have to wait until I am actually doing it and see what I have on hand.

    In the meantime I have a few peppers and a new food dehydrator screaming to be used.  I am going to try my hand at drying some peppers to toss in soups and casseroles  this winter.

    I think I am feeling kind of like a mad scientist now.

    p.s.  Please ignore the ketchup made with high fructose corn syrup on top of the pepper.  It hardly qualifies as "real food".  I only have about 1/4 cup left in the bottle and then we are switching to an organic ketchup made with cane sugar instead.
    Or I might try my had at making my own before the tomato crop is gone.  Who knows?

    Oh and one other quick thing.  Take 1 cup of cottage cheese and top it with 3 sliced green onions, 1/2 cup of chopped bell pepper and 1 small can of drained pineapple tidbits.  Stir together for a delicious quick lunch.  And yes, I know it sounds gross but give it a try.  It is really good

    Monday, September 10, 2012

    Eggsactly What We Wanted For Dinner

    For the past two weeks I have been slowly feeling my way into the world of cooking for two.  Fortunately The Hub is not picky about what I cook, and if we want delicious food we just go out to eat.  This week we decided to eat in for the entire week.  Oh no!  So far I have opened cans of soup or thrown a chicken breast on the grill  and tossed a quick salad and called it a meal.  Tonight we both wanted something tasty but did not want tons of leftover food.  Here leftovers spend some quality time in a plastic container as they get shoved deeper and deeper into cold air.  They reappear much later in some unrecognizable form to be  tossed down the disposal.  I am seriously trying to limit edible waste so the plan is to cook what we will eat with something left for my lunch the next day.  Well that was supposed to be the plan and I came close to succeeding.

    I mentioned in a previous post that we are starting to eat "real food".  We are using food that is as close to its' natural state as possible.  That means no more pre-shredded cheese or mixes or all of the wonderful convenience products that I have used forever.  The internet is a great and valuable tool but it has opened doors to information I had never thought about before.  I am about to rant gently so feel free to skip the next paragraph.

     I am not sure who  the brains behind our genetically modified foods are but I wish they had left our food supply alone.  Corn and soybeans are planted and used in almost every packaged product we consume in some form or another.  Both of these are planted commercially with an altered gene which creates a natural pesticide to keep the corn and soy critters at bay.  It seems like a good idea in theory, but every time we ingest those products we get a little of the natural pesticide in every bite.  At least when they sprayed the  pesticides on the food  we had a fighting chance of washing it off.  Now it is part of what we eat on a molecular level.  So we have sworn off all corn and soy products unless they are certified organic.  It's a shame because that also means I have to bid most chocolate goodbye.  Almost all of them contain high fructose corn syrup, all of which is made from GMO corn.  Its tragic for me, the chocolate lover.  I have become a label reader, so farewell Hersheys and most other commercial candies.  Hello imported Belgian chocolates!  There is an upside to everything!  Rant over.

    Tonight we were both craving something spicy.  Something spicy didn't narrow our options down very much so I started thumbing through recipes torn from old magazines.  I have no idea how old this is or what the original publication was.

    Mexican Egg Casserole

    3 oz. uncooked chorizo (Yes I admit I bought chorizo at a regular store)
    6 oz. uncooked ground turkey
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1/2 red  bell pepper, chopped
    1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 cup baby spinach
    4 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
    4 eggs
    2/3 cup skim milk ( Must be a pretty old recipe if the milk is skim and not fat free)
    1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    ground black pepper to taste
    1/2 cup swiss cheese, grated
    1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
    1/2 cup pepper jack cheese, grated

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9x13 inch baking dish with Pam.  Place the bread cubes in a single layer covering the bottom of the pan.  Whisk the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and mustard and set aside.
    Brown the meats in a large skillet until they are cooked through.  Add the onion and peppers and cook until they are crisp tender.  Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the spinach and cook quickly until it wilts.  layer half or the meat and veggie mixture over the bread, then pour half of the egg mix over the meats.  Add 1/2 of the cheeses over the egg mixture then repeat with the remainder of the meat/veggie mix, eggs and top with the rest of the cheese.  Cover the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.

    For just the two of us, I cut the recipe in half (mostly) and we had enough for supper tonight and I will  have it for breakfast tomorrow and the next day.  I can't tell you how delicious this was and I am NOT an egg person.   I used the full amounts of the chopped vegetables the recipe called for.  Since it was the evening meal I wanted it vegetable dense.  I also used 2 cups of spinach rather than one for the same reason.  There was more cheese than we like.  We both like the cheese to only compliment the casserole, not overwhelm it, so I used only about 1/2 cup total. I also just used cheddar and threw a few pieces of pickled jalapenos in  skillet when I was cooking the peppers.  It worked just fine.

    There are a couple of things I will do differently next time and it was so good there will be a lot of next times.  I will separate the eggs and beat the whites until they are really foamy. The yolks and milk and seasonings  will be whisked in a different bowl  and then the foamy whites will be gently folded in.  I think it would have been a little nicer if the egg mix had air in it.  As you can tell by the photo, it was so vegetable dense it flattened the egg mix out a little.  The added air should compensate for the additional vegetable weight.  Still it was fantastic and hopefully no waste!

    Besides cooking for two I am having to get used to a quiet house.  When 4 o'clock rolls around something is supposed to happen, and it doesn't.  I am adapting, but I do miss Son3 coming home from school and having a bowl of ice cream while we talked.  Anyone have a cure for 4 pm silence?

    p.s. If you notice the two perfect biscuits in the photo you might recognize them as a heated frozen product.  Though I am on the real food track I am also a pragmatist and  we are going to eat what I  already have in the freezer.  Plus who wants to make real biscuits?  Was just looking at Pinterest.  No wonder this recipe looked good when I saw it.  I pinned  a lightened version of this same recipe just a few days ago!  I wonder how many other old magazines recipes are making the Pinterest rounds right now

    Saturday, August 18, 2012

    Playing With Real Food!

    Tonight there were just the two of us for supper.  It is really not unusual for a Saturday night with a teenage son.  All young people feel the need to be doing something on the weekends that does not involve parents, and I completely understand that, but this Saturday night is different.  It is the last Saturday night he will live with us because Son 3 leaves for college next Saturday morning.  I know he will be back on occasion, but he is going to a distant school and will not be here until Thanksgiving. When he arrives we will feel like he has come home but it will feel like a visit to him.  It's the normal progression of life and I accept it and am thrilled for the opportunities that he will have.  At the same time our nest will be empty and it will take a little while to get used to.

    So tonight while planning our last Saturday night meal, knowing he would not be here I realized___Hey! We can have whatever we want and don't have to consider another palette.  I am seeing glimmers of an upside to this change in life.

    We were going to cook a hamburger patty on the grill and have a side salad.  It sounded fine to both of us, but before I began to cook I made the mistake of browsing a few websites I have been following recently concerning "real food".  I was under the impression that " the real food movement" and " the slow food movement" were one in the same.  As usual, I was incorrect.  Slow food simply is preparing dishes from scratch, no cream of anything  soup or packs of frozen birds eye mixed veggies in an asian sauce.  It's simply using your ingredients and creating fabulous foods.  Chocolate truffles?  No big deal just whip them up and enjoy.  Flans, crepes, steaks, rolls, souffles, soups, or cream brulee?  You want it, just make it.  There are no restrictions as long as you make it yourself and buy local as often as possible.

    The real food movement is much more restrictive.  You may use purchased products providing they have no more than 5 ingredients, no additives, no preservatives, no sugar, corn syrup, white flours, butter, soy, oils that are not cold pressed, non organic products.... It seems that whole grain flours are fine, but they prefer that you grind and use yours within 20 minutes of grinding.  Don't know abut any of you but I have no wheat fields in my backyard and I have never seen bushels of wheat at Publix.  While I really do agree with most of what THEY say, it is just not something I feel we could do totally. I am willing to try it in a modified way though.  I guess it is the "Slow mostly real food movement",  but right now it is a movement of two and The Hub only joined because I do all the cooking so he has no options.

     I remembered some Bing cherries we had which needed to be used tonight.  I had a small handful and they were either going to be eaten today or trashed.  I also had some cilantro with a tiny bit of life in it.  Add to that a husband who wanted a little pre dinner cocktail and we have tonights starter.

    Cherry Cilantro Mojito

    8-10 fresh cherries, pitted and halved
    8-10 cilantro sprigs
    3 limes
    3 - 4 ounces rum
    2 tablespoons agave (Some sweetener that is supposed to be much better for you than sugar)

    In a large thick glass muddle the cherries and cilantro,  Squeeze the limes into the glass and toss in the skins.  Muddle again to get the oils out of the skins.  Strain and pour  into 2 cocktail glasses.  Add 1/2 of the agave to each glass and give it a quick stir.  Fill with ice and add the rum.  Pour in the seltzer and garnish with a whole cherry and sprig of cilantro.  If you stir prior to serving it becomes this beautiful pink.  If you serve it without stirring there is a deep pink syrup in the bottom fading to clear seltzer on the top. It still needs to be stirred before drinking but it is a lovely presentation.  This was fantastic and we have no picture because it was gone before I even thought about writing of it tonight.  If you want something a little different try it.  It was a great ending to a muggy summer day.  This fit in the real food movement completely. (except for the rum?)  I am not sure what their stance on spirits might be.

    We both love fried green tomatoes, which fail miserably in the real food movement but I found  method  that gives the flavors without frying or the dreaded white flour batter.

    Green Tomato Casserole

    4 green tomatoes sliced very thin
    1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
    freshly ground pepper
    sea salt
    1/2 cup panko (  Japanese bread crumbs. Should be organic and whole grain...Good luck finding that)
    olive oil in an olive oil mister
    2 tablespoons butter in pieces (  Uh oh!  This is obviously slow cooking and not real food)

    Using the olive oil mister spray the bottom and sides of a small casserole dish.  Put a layer of tomatoes in the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add a very thin layer of parmesan cheese and sprinkle about a tablespoon of the bread crumbs over the cheese.  Repeat as many times as you need to, ending with the tomatoes and cheese. Reserve the remaining panko  for later.  Cover the casserole with a lid ( no aluminum foil in the real food cooking movement)  and cook at 350 for about 40 minutes.  Take the lid off and sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the top.  Dot with butter and bake, uncovered until the topping is light brown and crispy.

    In reality I do own an olive oil mister but didn't use it.  I sprayed the dish with butter flavored Pam, and when it was time to dot the butter over the top I sprayed it with the Pam again. ( real food super fail!)  I cut the recipe in half because I only had 2 green tomatoes.  If /when I make it again, I will do the same. We both ate a serving and there were no leftovers which makes it a nearly perfect dish.  It was extremely tasty and gone before I thought to take a picture of it.

    I found this recipe on a site that was not as strict about what is allowed.  I guess they are the Methodists of the movement because they allow raw sugar as long as it is pure cane sugar instead of raw beet sugar.  Also as mentioned above, I have no fresh wheat so I used King Arthur milled whole wheat flour.   I am sure all the nutrients evaporated into thin air 20 minutes after it was milled but it is what I have.  I did have locally grown peaches and organic fat free milk.  Does that count?  I also have Amish butter ( This particular woman lets you use butter provided it is made from raw milk and has nothing  added.  I have no idea where the cows the Amish get milk from live or if they only eat organic grains and organic grasses, but I am relatively sure it was not churned electrically)  I know she would prefer I churn it  myself right after milking Bessie.

    Peach Cobbler

    2 cups peeled chopped peaches
    2 tablespoons agave
    1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
    1 cup raw sugar
    1 cup organic skimmed milk
    1 teaspoon baking powder ( must have no aluminum in it)
    1/4 teaspoon sea salt
    3/4 cup butter

    Peel and chop the peaches and let them sit in the agave for about 10 minutes.  Stir a couple of times while sitting.

    Melt the butter in an 8x8 glass baking pan (  It seems we should only cook in glass or stainless steel)

    In a small bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Stir with a fork to combine.  Slowly add the milk in and stir until the batter is thoroughly moistened and free from big lumps, but you don't want to mix to much because you don't want the batter to become glutenous.

    Pour the batter over the melted butter and spoon the fruit on top of the batter.  Pop it in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.  This is a much darker cobbler but tasted very good.  Again we have no picture because The Hub served his own bowl and scooped the entire middle of the cobbler into his bowl.  He left four ragged corners and I tried to get a picture but...well, you can imagine.  Serve it with a little ice cream.  You probably should make your own,  I bought mine at The Pig.  For a healthier version of a traditional dessert it was quite good.    I can see making it this way every time we have it.  But I must confess, I only tasted the cake part.  It's an excellent dessert for me to make since I loathe cooked fruit and will not eat it.

    So with the imminent departure of Son3, time on our hands, and a willing partner who has only refused to eat what I cooked once in 38 years, we begin a different chapter in life and the way we live.

    Tuesday, August 14, 2012

    Pinterest Fail!

    About a week ago I wrote about taking supper to a friend recovering from surgery, but I did not include everything I took her.  I made a cake that is going around Pinterest right now and just in case you see it and think ," Oh my what a simple way to make coconut cake.  Sounds delicious, I must try it now", DON'T!

    Easy Coconut Cake

    Bake a yellow cake mix according to the package directions.  While the cake is still warm, poke holes in it with a wooden spoon handle.  Combine 1 cup of cream of coconut with 1 cup of sweetened condensed milk.  Pour it into the holes of the warm cake.  Let the cake cool then put it in the refrigerator until it is cold.  Spread Cool Whip* over the top and cut into squares to serve.

    This tasted slightly of coconut, but flavor of the milk overpowered it..  It was mushy and not at all appetizing and was not visually attractive.

    There are countless variations of this cake on Pinterest right now, coconut, banana pudding, chocolate overload and german chocolate just to name a few.  I have tried 3 of them and 2 out of 3 are really not good.  You might wonder why any sane person would try it after having a bad experience  with it before. Let me explain the reasoning  behind my madness.

    I tried the chocolate overload first, because I am a chocolate freak.  The process is the same as for the coconut cake with the following substitutions.  Use a swiss chocolate cake mix and mix chocolate fudge ice cream topping  with the sweetened condensed milk and pour it over the cake. Top with whipped topping. The result was a gooey messy cake with no real substance to it.  The sweetened condensed milk diluted the chocolate flavor and all you really taste is sweetness.  Not what I was looking for.

    The second cake was the german chocolate  version.  Again the method is the same, but use a german chocolate cake mix and mix 1/2 cup caramel topping, 1/2 cup butterscotch topping and the sweetened condensed milk. Toast 1 cup of pecan halves and arrange on top of the cake after pouring the sweet goodness over it.  Again spread whipped stuff on the top.  This one was delicious.  The caramel, butterscotch and the milk flavors were complimentary.  None fought with the other for the pronounced flavor.  The toasted nuts added to the texture and gave another flavor component.  It was kind of like eating a cake "Turtle".  I made it for 2 different events and  it got rave reviews both times.

    I suppose that is why I was hopeful for the coconut cake.  If you really want to make it, toast some coconut and spread it on the cake prior to using the Cool Whip*.   

    The only upside I can think of for this dessert is the plates I used to serve the cake.  Several years ago I was looking through Tuesday Morning.  I like to go and rummage through their home items because once in a while you stumble on something you have never seen before that screams for you to purchase it.  Such was the case with these  plates.  I can't stress my disdain for things that are Melamie other than the practicality of using them outside.  I don't like the way they feel or sound or anything about them, unless they are rectangular  maroon plates with Elvis on them.  That changes everything disagreeable  about the dishes into a "must have".  There were 2 of them siting together and after about a half hour of searching I found 2 more stragglers.  I NEED at least 8 more but think it probably will not happen.  I did take another shot so you can see The King's head poking out from the top of the cake.

    Such a waste when dessert comes and the only thing exciting is  young Elvis!

    * Cool Whip rant: Why would anyone want to use it when whipped cream takes just a couple of minutes to make. You can use about half as much because it is such a richer taste.  Rant over.

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Tipsy Chicken?

    Monday I had the privilege of taking food to a friend who had recently had some surgery.  She was doing great  thanks to new robotic procedures.  I was happy to be able to help out and also glad that it gave me an excuse to try a couple of new dishes.

    I took them a very simple crock pot main dish.  I wanted something that I could put on in the morning and pretty much forget about until shortly before time to take it, plus I wanted it to be something everyone here would eat also.  ( The old cook once for everyone thing).  I knew it would be chicken, but wanted it to be just a bit different than what we usually eat.  The result is Beer Crock Pot Chicken.

    Beer Crock Pot Chicken

    1 can or bottle of beer ( I used Sam Adams Cranberry Ale)
    8 small chicken breasts ( I used boneless, bone it will require a little more cooking time )
    1 teaspoon garlic powder (thought I had fresh garlic but didn't so had to punt)
    1 teaspoon Italian spices*
    1 teaspoon oregano
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

    Put everything in the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours, on high for 4-6 hours. ( Every crock cooks differently so you will have to make the call on the exact time.  On low, mine took 7 hours)

    When the chicken is all nice and done remove about 1/2 cup of the stewing liquid.  Let it cool  and whisk in 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour. ( Use cornstarch if you prefer)  Pour all the liquid from the crock pot into a boiler and put on a medium heat on the stove top.   Stir in the broth/flour slurry and whisk until the mixture thickens.  Continue cooking on low a couple of minutes stirring constantly.  Add 1 tablespoon of butter and stir to incorporate.  Pour it over the chicken breasts to serve.  I made couscous and served the breasts on top of it.  I did leave a couple of pieces sauceless.  For anyone who needs/wants to know the points value with no sauce is 3 per serving.  The sauce as made would increase the value to 4 points.

    The picture is not from Monday night.  I actually doubled everything so I would have leftovers and made 2 crock pots full.  (An aside:  If you are thinking of getting one of those 3 crock pot in one units, I would recommend it strongly  I can't tell you how much it has simplified my life on several occasions. Since it has both a cook and warming feature, I have used it to both cook and/or as a buffet warming server.  Well worth the price and if you wait till it is on sale and use a Bed Bath &Beyond coupon you can snag one for about 30 bucks)
    This is a lunch rerun today.  I actually think it tasted better the second time around.

    This is just one breast cut in half with some pickled okra and tomato slices.  Delicious!

    *  The Italian seasoning was a mistake.  I thought I was adding dried parsley but picked up and dumped the Italian seasonings  before I realized my mistake.  ( If I ever took the time to actually measure instead of dumping I probably would have noticed.  My Bad!)  Instead of using the traditional French seasonings  ( bay, parsley, tarragon and thyme)  originally planned I had to punt.   Hence the added oregano.  If the French thing had worked out I would have finished the sauce with a couple of tablespoons of cream rather than the butter.  Oh well, that's least my life!

    Friday, August 3, 2012

    Cake and Coffee for Breakfast???

    This morning I was wondering what to have for a quick breakfast before I went to meet 2 of my new favorite little girls.  I had gotten all my morning stuff done but still had not eaten and it was getting late. I needed something quick and on the low point side of life.  Eureka!  I had some leftover Angel Food cake.  OK!  I'll admit it is not a particularly good  breakfast, but I really needed to eat something and it had to be available right then. ( Truth be known I have eaten much worse, like a Reese's Cup or some Oreo's)  Plus this is not just any Angel Food cake.  This is the cake that is making the Pinterest rounds.  Almost daily I see it pop up on a board of someone I am following.

    Pineapple Angel Food Cake

    1 box of angel food cake mix
    1 large can of crushed  pineapple in its own juice

    Ignore the directions on the back of the cake mix.   Put the cake mix in a regulation mixing bowl. Pour the entire contents of the crushed pineapple into the mix.  Stir with a wooden spoon until it is well blended. Spray a 9x13 non-stick pan with Pam ( I really messed up here and used a regular pan). Bake at 350 degrees until it springs back when touched.  In my oven that is about 25 minutes. ( I know because I cooked it the recommended 30 minutes and burned the bottom a bit)  You know your own oven so start checking at 25 minutes and adjust the time as needed.  DO NOT eat this cake warm.  The first time I tried it the cake was still warm from the oven.  It was chewy and tasteless. I told everyone at our dinner how bad it was. ( For the record I was eating this while they had peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream.)  I put a piece of foil over the baking pan thinking I would  probably have to toss it out the next day.  The next afternoon I cut a small bite of it to see if it was a "keepit or coaster".  It is the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde of cakedom. Turns out that cooling completely changed both the flavor and consistency.  The aroma had fully developed and the pineapple flavor permeated the entire cake.  The texture was like a traditional Angel Food cake but has a bit more moisture.  If you like pineapple I can't imagine not liking this cake.  Each bite is filled with flavor.  Another upside of this particular cake is the WW point value.  This is another 4 point dessert that is company worthy. ( Serving=1/12 of the cake)  To serve it to guests I would add a dollop of  lightly sweetened whipped cream.  If you use that fake stuff fine, just don't let me know it.

    I think the only thing I will do differently when I make this again will be to measure the cake mix and just use half of it.  An 8x8 pan should work perfectly.  A 9x13 cake is just too much Angel Food cake ( Now if it were chocolate cake my family would be fighting over who got the last piece.)  Even after deciding it was worth saving I still had to toss about 1/4 of it.  Like all Angel Food cake, in a super humid deep south environment, it wept and who likes wet cake?  I am also going to try it using mandarin oranges packed in juice.  I will need  to measure the fruit vs juice in the pineapple and adjust accordingly, but I think it should be a pleasing taste.  I might try strawberries also.  I think any soft fruit with the same amount of liquid would probably work.

    So I guess I follow the  breakfast advice of Marie Antoinette!

    Thursday, August 2, 2012

    Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries

    The Hub and I are getting a little preview of the next phase of life.  It is going to be different and take a little time to get used to being just 'us' since we have had at least one of our kids living with us for the past 37 years.  Thanks to Son3's surprise entrance into our family, our empty nest was delayed by 16 years.  The past 18 years have crept by and rushed by all at the same time.  Moments of colic seemed to last an eternity, elementary school seemed to pass at a normal pace, while the years between the first day of middle school and high school graduation were a blur that we remember mostly as going to and from one event to the next.

    I am very proud of the young man he has become and am thrilled he gets to follow his dream of going to Juilliard . I am happy he is closer to realizing a career  he is passionate about, and sad because I know he cannot live here and be the professional he want to be. I guess life is filled with double edged swords.

    Meantime, in these precious few days before he goes, he is spending less and less time around the house.  It is normal and we remember it from our older two sons but it is an adjustment.  One of the biggest changes for me is the art of cooking for 2.   I knew I would have to take something out of the freezer to defrost for supper.  All these years I have been packing frozen foods for 3 and one of the three was a teenaged male.  This summer I have been freezing in packages for a couple.  When I went to the freezer and pulled out a pack with 2 chicken breasts, I realized this is our life now...a ziplock bag with 2  pieces of chicken.  The upside of it being the two of us is that everything I cook can contain mushrooms, onions and squash.  I can have huge chunks of tomatoes and asparagus and Son3 unapproved desserts.  In fact, we can have anything we want!

    Today I was looking through the fridge and noticed an entire clamshell of cherries that had gotten pushed far back.  They had maybe one day of life left in the so they needed to be eaten right now!  I had a serving of cherries with my lunch, but there was still a boatload of cherries remaining.  You know how sometimes things just seem to happen as if they were meant to, even though you are doing nothing to facilitate it.  Today had one of those serendipitous moments.  I was on the computer following link after link looking for a different way to cook the chicken breasts when I literally clicked on a site and the first recipe on it was Cherry Custard. ( Thank you Gina at  The minute I saw it I knew I was going to try it.

    When I was reading Gina's description of the custard she mentioned that it was much like a clafoutis.
    Last year I had made the traditional French version of one and though it tasted really good we were not fans of taking a bite of it, chewing and then having to spit out the seeds.  This version is pitted and contains no added fats. ( Though the butter in the original  recipe made the batter very rich, and brown, and crispy, and delicious.)

    Cherry Custard

    1 1/3 cups pitted cherries cut in half
    2 large eggs, beaten
    1/4 cup raw sugar
    1/4 cup unbleached flour
    pinch of salt
    1/2 cup fat free milk ( Who was it that thought they had to rename skimmed milk?)
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    confectioners sugar for dusting

    Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 4 ramekins with Pam and dust with a small amount of flour.  Put 1/3 cup cherries in each ramekin.  Set aside

    Whisk the eggs, flour, sugar and salt until smooth.  Add the milk and the extract and whisk until smooth.  This made 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of batter.  I put 1/4 cup in each ramekin and just eyeballed the remaining 2 tablespoons between the 4 cups.  Put them in an 8x8 square pan and put enough water in the bottom of the baking pan to come a little under halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Bake for about 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let them cool to a nice warm before serving, because the fruit will be hot and will burn you.

    Before serving dust with a tiny bit of the powdered sugar.  I used maybe 1/8 teaspoon.  I had mine plain and it was very good.  The Hub had his with ice cream and I think it was much better than mine.  I am pretty sure I drooled a tad when I saw the ice cream begin to melt a little.

    This was very good.  There are a couple of things I will do differently when I make this again.  When I made the original one the cherry pits filled the batter with this delicious cherry almond flavor.  Next time I will use half vanilla and half almond extract.  The second difference will be the type of cherries I use.  I only had Rainier cherries, which are my favorite for eating, and they were delicious.  I think for the aesthetics of the dish bing cherries would have been a better choice,  After all, we eat with our eyes first.  Just in case anyone wants/needs to know this dish was a mere 4 WW points.  I had to cover the leftover custards and put them in the fridge quickly before I could justify eating another one.

    Since cherries are still in season I will  buy and freeze them in 1 1/3 cup packages.  I ordered a handheld cherry pitter from Crate and Barrel last year  and today is the first time I have used it.  Wow!  It made pitting the cherries a snap.  It might be my new favorite under $10 kitchen gadget, even if it has only 1 real use.  If you see me tomorrow, it will probably be at Publix buying cherries by the dozen.  Maybe Aldi's has them on sale this week!

    Using the Bill Cosby logic there is fruit from the cherries, dairy from the milk and protein from the egg.  It is virtually a complete meal. Wonder how this would be rewarmed with some steaming coffee for breakfast?!?

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012

    Walk Like An Egyptian

    When I first wrote that title I summoned my inner Bangles and started singing the song, but then I spied something shiny and the next thing you know I was singing Steve Martin's "King Tut".  If I were in the first grade again I am pretty sure Mrs. Green would send a note home to my folks to have me tested for ADD.  Since I am old enough to have never been impacted by a diagnosis, I pretend I have no issues. ( but I am always fearful of being mid sentence and seeing a flash or shadow or glint, then having no idea  what I was saying)

    Wednesday nights have evolved into a dinner with the parents night.  The Hub, Son3 and my dad play a par 3 golf course after The Hub get home from work.  When they finish playing we eat together at my house.  To be honest, I am a much better cook than my mom ever was, so everyone enjoys it a little better here.   Plus Son3 can eat and be sociable for a little while and then disappear to do whatever he wants.  It works for all of us and mostly for my folks who are dreading Son3's upcoming college move to NYC.  I will miss him when he leaves, but my mother doing advanced mourning and is already counting the days until Thanksgiving when he will come home.  ( It would probably be better to wait until he actually leaves to begin the "get back" countdown, but ... oh well!) 

     Tonight I made what is called an Egyptian Greek Meatloaf.  I happen to love meatloaf so when I saw this I decided I had to try it.  (well, a modified version)  I am not claiming it is Egyptian or Greek or has origins in any other country, just relaying basic information with personal opinions.

    Egyptian  Greek Meat Loaf  

    2 lb ground beef
    3 or 4 cloves minced garlic
    3/4 cup dried bread crumbs
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
    1 teaspoon dried mint
    1 egg
    1 3/4 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 teaspoon pepper

    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    2 tablespoons dried oregano
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 teaspoons dried mint
    dash of salt
    1/4 teaspoon lemon zest ( optional but really good!)

     For the meatloaf: Mix together in a bowl until all the ingredients are well combined.  Put the mixture in a loaf pan or shape in an oval and place it in a baking pan with sides at least 1 inch high.  Bake at 325 degrees, uncovered, for about 1 hour.  

    For the topping:  Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside

    After 1 hour remove the meatloaf from the oven and pour the topping over it.  Cover with foil and return to the oven for about 20 minutes.  Take it out and let it rest for about 10 minutes but baste it with the baking juices a couple of times.  Slice and serve.

    I served this with brown rice, steamed carrots and broccoli with sliced tomatoes instead of a salad.   The verdict was an overwhelming thumbs up.   Looking at the picture you can tell we ate all evidence of the carrots and broccoli.  I know to take the picture before we eat, but we had company so it didn't happen.

     Unless your garlic cloves are jumbo sized I would opt for 4 cloves.   I used just 3 and would have liked  a more intense garlic flavor.  It is up to your personal preference though.  Although the salt seems like a lot you might want to use the recommended amount.  I cut it in half and everyone had to salt it at the table.  It was kind of surprising because we never use a salt shaker.  I had only about 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs and had no bread in the house to make more, so I substituted some quick oatmeal.  I probably should have put it in the blender to make it a tad finer.  Make sure you have bread crumbs so you don't have to punt.  I can't think of anything else I would do to improve it, but for serving it might be prettier to put several paper thin lemon slices on the top of the meat loaf during the last 20 minutes . This is good enough to serve to company even if you are not related to them.

    It makes 6 large portions, 8 regular portions  or if you are doing WW it serves 16.  Now I know it is a small portion, but honestly, hadn't you rather have a small portion of deliciousness than a large serving of bland?  For those on WW I calculated the points at about 8 per serving.  Yes I know it is a lot of points but it was so worth it.  For reference, the picture was taken on a breakfast plate and the portion I based it on was just 1 of the pieces.  If you make it while counting points take smallish bites and savor it. When I make it again, I will leave off the rice and have a gigantic salad so I can have a little larger piece.  What am I talking about?  I have leftovers in the fridge!

    Friday, June 29, 2012

    Some like it hot and some like it hotter

    My recent trip to the Farmer's Market on Findley also included a quick look in the back at the Hispanic  section.  The bonus find was a medium size basket of tomatillos for 3 bucks.  You know tomatillos are those things that look like green tomatoes in a light brown husk.  For the record they are not in the tomato family at all, but are kissing cousins of the gooseberry. ( For the record, I have no idea how or why I retain crap like that.  If it is totally useless info it stays with me forever, but if it is something important like where my keys are hiding it is gone.)  Back to the gooseberry tomato things- I immediately started thinking about salsa verde, and a couple of days after I got home it happened.  I wanted something simple, tasty and something that required no cooking.  I found several recipes and this is a combination of a couple

    Tomatillo Salsa

    1/2 pound(ish) tomatillos raw cut into chunks
    1,2,or3 serrano peppers coarsely chopped (Only you know your personal tolerance for heat.  I am a 2 seeded with the ribs removed pepper gal.  I like heat but I don't like it to stay around more than a minute after the bite is gone. If you are a wimp and like just a tiny bit of heat opt for 1/2 seeded and ribless jalapeno.  Remember the more seeds and pepper ribs the hotter it will be.)
    1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves
    juice of 1 lime
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    2 small cloves garlic
    1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt

    Now for the hard part.  Plug in your food processor and put everything in the bowl.  Turn it on and let it pulverize or chunkify it . (That is a word cause I just invented it)   I like mine a little more blended because the ingredients marry each other and nothing stands alone.  If you prefer to have a mix with different notes singing then blend it less.

    I served this the first night over fish tacos ( Yum!).  The next day I forgot to eat lunch and was really hungry so I pulled out 6 saltine crackers and sprinkled them with goat cheese crumbles, topped with a drizzle (glob) of the salsa. Last night I put a tad on a hamburger for a little kick. Tonight I wanted just a little something salty so I got some regulation Tostidos and dipped the edges of each in a little of the sauce.  There is just enough left to have as a topping on a Spanish omelet in the morning.

    I am going to the market again on Tuesday and hopefully will find a great deal again.  I am going to need a salsa verde fix again next week.  I think I am going to get an ice cube tray and try freezing a batch. I would love to be able to defrost a single cube and taste this summer fresh spicy flavor in the dead of winter

    Friday, June 22, 2012

    Put Up or Just Be Quiet

    Today was one of those days that start out really fun and productive and then never seem to end.  It began with a trip to the Findley Avenue Farmer's Market and ended in the kitchen well after midnight , freezing, feeding the pantry,putting food up, or whatever term you use for preparing the summer's produce for use in the winter.

     Millie and I had a little "venture" ( as her young niece calls it) traipsing through the produce at the market.  OK so we didn't even begin to traipse, at least we were there supporting local farms and farmers with the intent of buying more than we needed for today.  We officially jumped into the "Slow Food Movement" feet first.  We not only bought from local farmers, but we got to talk with them and hear their stories.  When I buy a bell pepper at Publix I have no idea where it came from,  I know the things we bought were from Chilton county, when they were picked and who raised them.

     A lot of people like to buy at the produce stands in various parts of the city ( Andy's and Murphee's in particular).  I have nothing against buying there and go to them weekly, but sometimes I want okra by the basket or a bushel of corn and at their prices it just isn't practical.  I also want my produce to be as fresh as possible before I freeze it, and sometimes the local marts refrigerate it overnight. I want something that spent most of the previous day on the vine.

    The prices today were not at good as they will be a little later when the produce starts flooding in, but the things I got were certainly beneath what I would pay elsewhere and the product was better.  A bushel of sweet corn was 15 dollars, but that bushel has over 60 ears.  At Andy's I recently paid 50 cents per ear, so doing the simple math I got these for half of their price.  Millie and I split it so we each had  only 1/2 bushel to process.  I can't speak for Millie, but after shucking all of my corn I only had an inch or so loss off of a couple of ears of corn.   We ate 3 ears for supper, so that leaves 27 processed and resting in my freezer.  While sweet corn is available I will continue to buy it fresh, but sometime this winter when I am dying for some summer goodness, I will slip out an ear  and remember how good it tasted.

    I also found a basket of okra for 15 dollars.  I know it sounds like a lot of money for a basket of okra and it is, but it is a little early for okra.  I paid a premium for something we love.  After fixing a mess ( I do love Southern vernacular)  for supper, I processed and froze 3 bags for winter time oven fried okra.  There was also enough for 2 small bags  for boiling.  Only one of us eats the  vile slimy disgusting boiled stuff, but I am not naming names.  The best way I have found for freezing okra is to cut it like you are going to fry it, coat it in cornmeal , put it on a cookie sheet and pop it in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Take it out and bag it in freezer bags.  I know I am supposed to put the bag on ice to cool it but I never do.  I have a marble slab that I toss it on and it cools quickly that way.

    I have the ultimate pan for okra in the oven.  During Christmas when most women are asking for baubles and gems and furs and beautiful people stuff,  I was asking for a stainless steel cookie sheet.  I actually asked my parents, and after opening gifts they had to tell me there was no such thing as a stainless cookie sheet but they bought the next best thing.  It is a huge odd shaped jelly rollish pan, but way to big for a jelly roll, with a tiny waffle design stamped in the bottom.  It is  weird pan and I only use it for oven fried okra, but it is perfect for it.  ( I should have expected an odd item from the folks.  When I was in college I asked them for a styrofoam ice bucket.  My dorm had crunchy ice in the cafeteria and if you had an ice bucket you could fill it up after dinner was served.  Who would not want to eat crunchy ice through the night?  I only asked for styrofoam because I wanted something inexpensive, not because I had a thing for the material.  Long story short, Christmas morning imagine my surprise when I opened, not an ice bucket, but a foam minnow bucket. Close but no cigars!

    We found bargain peaches today, $6.00 for an overfull basket of ready right this second peaches.  The minute I got home I had to start processing them.  They were actually a tad ripe for slicing and freezing, so I sliced them and let them take a lemon juice bath.  Then they were smushed a little with a spoon, sugared and, discounting enough for a  dessert cobbler , there are 6 future cobbler packs in the freezer.  While I was peeling all of the little lovelies, I noticed they were creating this  beautiful puddle of juice. ( I am so glad I slice over a bowl and not  the sink)  Hmmmm, with all of the juice and the peels I thought why not make a little jelly.  Then I found 4 peaches that were too ripe to even slice.  I put the peels, juice, a little water and the ultra ripe peaches in a pot and let it simmer until the fruit was cooked and  all the color and juice had cooked from the peels.  After straining and sugaring the juice, I put it along with the very cooked peaches a large pot on  low heat.  I mashed the peach pulp with a potato masher and stirred everything together, then forgot about it.  I am not sure how it happened, but somehow or another I managed to remember it was cooking about the time I had this perfect caramel peach preserves.  Evidently I smelled it before the sugar burned just in time to salvage it.  If anyone asks I am going to swear I did it on purpose .  For the record it is a tad thick but delicious.  I now have one pint in the freezer and the other in the fridge ready for toast tomorrow,

    Caramel Peach Preserves

    Save the peels and peach juices from peeling a  basket of peaches.  ( If you ere not freezing peaches you could make a peel container in the freezer and just add  to it every time you had a peach.  When you have a boatload of them continue with the recipe.

    Cook the peels and peach juices  in enough water to equal about 3 cups.  When all the color has cooked out of the peels strain the liquid and return it to the pot.  Add the flesh of about 4 peaches and cook until the fruit is mushy.  Mash it with a potato masher and add 2 cups of sugar and about 1/2 more cup of water.  Cook on heat  low until the mixture is thick.  This is where the caramel part gets tricky.  Check it every 5 minutes and pay attention to the smell.  When you smell a faint caramel smell remove from the heat and ladle into canning jars.  There is a fine line between caramel and burned sugar so pay attention to you nose.  Like I said before it was just sheer luck I thought about it before it burned.  Don't be like me!

    Mine is a very dark ruby color, but whatever variety of peach I bought had a very rosy skin.  I would imagine the color would depend on the color of the peach skin.

    Now I need someone who likes to clean to undo the mess I have made!