Real Food for Real Life

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grocery Challenge, Week 1

 Here it is, the tally for week 1, and yes, I do shop a lot.

Feb 21  Wal-Mart      $18.99
Feb 22  Kroger          $36.66
Feb 23  Target           $13.67
Feb 25  Kroger          $35.99
Feb 26  Aldi               $8.07
Feb 27  Aldi               $7.14
Feb 27 Minnich's       $11.00
Total Week 1            $131.52

I had no large shopping trips, but as you can see, those little trips add up pretty quickly. I did however, meet the goal this week and stayed within the budget.

During the Feb 25 visit to Kroger I kept track of how much I was spending, and when I got to the checkout I was only off by a few cents (I didn't account for the tax on a bottle of wine).

On the 26th I was in Aldi to buy meatballs (30lbs. worth!!) for our cub scout pack's Blue and Gold Banquet on Saturday.  Whilst there, my eyes were drawn to 8oz. packages of Dubliner cheese for only $2.69 each.  I bought three for the price that one package would have cost elsewhere.  Sometime in the next week or two the family shall dine upon burgers made with Irish whiskey (it's in the meat!), onions carmelized with Irish whiskey, and the whole wonderful mess topped with the Dubliner cheese (I can't wait!).

Friday, February 26, 2010

Go ahead, eat the cookies...

Skillet Sauerbraten with Spatzle

I had purchased a package of gingersnaps a while back with the intention of making sauerbraten, and the cookies sat in the pantry undisturbed until Christopher found them.  I told the boy that once I had made the meal that the cookies would be fair game.  After several days of him looking at the cookies longingly, I told the boy I would make the dish and then he could quench his desire for the darn things.  The recipe I usually use for sauerbraten uses a  rump roast and takes three days to make (marinate).  Not having the roast, or three days, I made a skillet version with similar flavors, but using quick cooking cube steak (I did have some of those in the freezer).  The only thing you can serve with sauerbraten is spatzle, a simple egg noodle, and one that is super easy to make at home.  The skillet sauerbraten did not have the same depth of flavor as the traditional version, but was still very tasty, and one worth remembering as a quick and easy recipe.  The spatzle, as usual, was fabulous covered in the pan gravy.  I am going to include the recipe for the traditional version as well because it is certainly worth trying if you have the time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

An epiphany...


You've probably seen them on the TV as well, all the "Lobsterfest" commercials that make us so badly want to eat at Red Lobster, that normally only okay chain restaurant.  Well, we had had it, one commercial too many found us at Red Lobster Tuesday night.  I had the Grilled Maine Lobster and Jumbo Shrimp, while Ben had the Lobster, Shrimp and Parmesan Scampi.  We both made the mistake of ordering the steamed broccoli which was mushy and tasteless. But the lobster was good, or absolutely divine as I have been hearing from my hubby for a few days now.  I thought he had tried lobster before and just wasn't a fan, but this was his first taste, and he threw his hands up in the air and started singing...
quque the video please  (epiphany chant)

Well, he is a convert, and as soon as the weather warms, we shall be throwing lobster tails on the grill,,,and he says that he will never look at those tanked lobsters at the grocery the same again...much like Roger from American Dad  about his beloved choco-o-diles , "These lobsters!  Oh my God!  Mary, these lobsters! Oh my God!"

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A comforting Sunday dinner...

Herb Roasted Chicken with Pan Dressing, 
Mac & Cheese with Crab, and Steamed Asparagus Spears

We had nothing to do on Sunday except relax around the house and enjoy each others company.  Earlier in the week I had scored a whole roaster for 71 cents a pound, and when I bought it I knew I wanted it roasted, with a simple pan dressing that I had made before that we all loved.  I also had had on my mind since we came home from Florida the mac and cheese my mother-in-law had made- she added crab of all things, and it was super rich and delicious (I had felt a little deprived when she elected to keep the leftovers for herself).  That mac and cheese with the roast chicken would put our Sunday dinner over the top so I purchased some crab as well.  We rounded out the meal with some simply steamed asparagus spears, yum, yum.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Grocery Budget Challenge

I have been reading a number of food blogs lately and noticed that many people are participating in what they are calling the "2010 Challenge."  Basically, they are setting a weekly grocery budget, and actually trying to stick to it, tracking their purchase amounts for the week.  Ben and I have talked many times of trying to use a budget but have never followed through with it.  While I do consider myself to be somewhat a budget shopper who likes to get a lot for my money, I rarely give myself any sort of limit on what I can or will send (for any given month I could not tell you what I have spent on groceries).  In an effort to figure out what I spend in a month and where, and to become a more thoughtful shopper, I have decided to take this challenge myself (for a little while anyway).  Starting today I will spend no more than $150 a week on groceries, this amount to include toiletries, cleaning and laundry products, and alcohol.  On Sundays, I'll give a breakdown on my spending for the week.  This should be interesting...

In this same vein, my friend Trish posted an article this week about food expiration dates, and how they really are not that useful in determining food safety, or even quality.  Being a lover of the grocery markdown, I felt validated in my views after reading this article.  If you would care to read the article as well, you can find it here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Another cold day (sigh)...

 I read an article in the New York Times (online edition) while I was in Florida about the Mexican soup pozole, which I adore, and a chili recipe inspired by this soup.  The recipe certainly sounded good, but not being at home, I merely bookmarked it for later.  Later was yesterday- snow still blankets the ground with more in the forecast (when will it end?), and, feeling chilled all day, I wanted something warm and soothing. I adapted the recipe to suit my needs and let it simmer all the day long in the crockpot.  The chili was every bit as tasty as anticipated, with an incredible depth of flavor; this recipe is a keeper.  It was "brothier" than anticipated, being more like a soup than a chili, so if you want that thick chili "mouth feel,"  I would recommend adding a few tablespoons of tomato paste.  If you are interested, you can read the original article and recipe here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

And the search revealed...

While we were in Florida, Nicole came home from school to dog and house sit.  Knowing that she would still be going to class and work, I wanted to leave her well stocked with leftovers and prepped veg so that she could easily feed herself.  After our horrid drive home Monday night, and the snow day on Tuesday, I wasn't leaving the house for a grocery trip.  After listening to Christopher wax poetic about the lack of milk and cereal in the house (I exaggerate not), I dived into the fridge to see what HAD been left by his dear sister.
First find- a half bag of broccoli spears.  Add to that the handful of baby carrots I found in the veggie bin and I knew that, whatever else, we were having steamed veg for dinner.  Second find- seven leftover corn muffins.  With the now very stale cornbread, my thoughts turned immediately to cornbread stuffing, and sure enough, I even had fresh jalapenos left as well (no danger in her eating those).  Cornbread to me says BBQ pork or chicken, and in the freezer I found a package of boneless country style pork ribs.  A quick defrost in the nukerator and the ribs were ready for a day spent in a spicy sweet bath (ok, a bottled marinade).  As the dinner hour approached, the stuffing baked in the oven, the veggies steamed in the microwave, and the ribs cooked on the Foreman grill (hey, the snow is realllly deep), and we were ready for dinner.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hanging loose in Delray...

 The view across the pool.

 It's Tuesday, another snow day (grrr), and we got back late last night from our long (5 day!) weekend in Delray Beach.  It was a beautiful sunny 72 degrees yesterday, which made leaving all the harder.  We came home to the third snow storm in ten days- how I wish we could have stayed.  I actually started this blog post a few days ago sitting at the counter bar at my in-laws house, but then my mother-in-law mixed up a pitcher of cosmos and, well, the writing ended pretty soon after.  Anyway, I'll just finish below what I started then...

We have been in Delray Beach, Florida for a three days now, and while it is a little chilly here (in the 60's), it sure beats the teens and 20's at home.  Chris had us in the pool right after breakfast our first morning here, where we played for several hours (we were quite the prunes when we finally climbed out).  Everything is green and sunny, with not a hint of snow (can't say I miss it a bit).  I am in full vacation mode (to include afternoon naps!!).  Being in vacation mode, I have done no food prep more involved than spreading chicken salad on bread, but we have eaten at a few fantastic restaurants.

On Thursday night we ate at Anthony's, a coal fired pizza place on Federal Highway in downtown Delray.  This place features food cooked in a coal-fired oven and advertise their pizzas as "well done."We had salad and wings to share (wings were different than what I am used to, but not too bad), then on to the main attraction, the pizza.  The coal ovens reach about 800 degrees and cook a pizza in 3 or 4 minutes (or so I read on all the framed newspaper articles in the lobby), leaving the thin crust decidedly crispy, and just a little charred.  Ben and I shared a mozzarella, tomato, and basil za, while Chris shared a pepperoni one with his grandmother.  Pretty darn good was all I can say- although the half hour wait to get in on a Thursday was pushing it a bit (in my humble opinion anyway).

 On Friday night we ate at Cabana on East Atlantic Avenue in downtown Delray.  This Latin/Cuban restaurant is fantastic, and would have been worth waiting for (but we had reservations).  We had mariquitas (fried sweet plantains) and  "Cuban" empanadas to share, as well as mojitos all around (some of the best I've had- also very good was a Cuban place in Lido Beach, but I can't remember the name).  Chris even had a "virgin" mojito, but said he didn't like all the "mushy" bits (the mint), although the sugar cane swizzle stick was a hit.  We all had great food, and our waiter Juan was a hoot.  I had the Paella Marinera, an all seafood paella that even included a lobster tail.  This was sooo delicious, and there was so much that I had it the next day for lunch as well.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I'm just waiting to get all my recommendation letters and I will be ready to turn in my application pack for graduate school.  In anticipation of actually being admitted (keep your fingers crossed for me),  I have created two additional pages for this blog.  If in school again this fall, I'll be busy and looking for easy and quick, but still tasty and nutritious, dishes to feed my family.  To honor this, and hopefully help anyone reading who is looking for just these sort of recipes, I have compiled a listing of all the easy and quick recipes.  While I was at it,  I also added a page of kitchen tips.  These new pages can be found under the big pasta picture at the top of the page, along with the recipe index for every recipe in the blog, and contact info.  Hope you like the changes, and again, keep me in your wishes.

Welcome aboard...

She did it.  My friend Kristy has taken the plunge and joined me here in the blogosphere (now we can figure this whole thing out together).  You may (or may not) remember Christopher's Lego birthday cake- that was a Kristy creation.  Kristy does some of the most amazing cakes and she is going to now share them with the world.  Check out her new blog, Cakes by Kristy, or her her cake page on Facebook.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Murder Mystery Madness

My friend Arnita is getting ready to have a big murder mystery party (can't wait!) and she wanted some ideas for munchies to serve (we will both gladly give up "dinner" in lieu of a counter full of small goodies).  I also wrote a fewf days ago that I wanted to make this blog a resource for myself (and hopefully others as well) by compiling recipes here.  So in interest of helping Arnita, and building my resource, I am going to give you a bunch of easy finger food or "small dish" type foods.  

Apricot Baked Brie

1 8oz. wheel of Brie (or Camembert)
1/3 cup chunky apricot preserves
small handful slivered or sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Carefully remove the top rind from the cheese and place on a small ovenproof serving dish.  Spread the top of the brie with the preserves and sprinkle with the almonds.  Bake for 10 minutes or until the brie is soft.  Serve with bread, creacker, or fruit as sesired.

Buffalo Chicken Dip

1 8oz. pkg. reduced fat cream cheese, softened
2 small or 1 large can chunk chicken breast, drained
1/2 cup Frank's Red Hot
1 4oz. pkg. bleu cheese crumbles (optional)

Combine ingredients well and spread into a small baking dish (for easy cleanup spray with cooking spray).  Bake at 350 degrees, or until hot and bubbly.  Serve with tortilla chips.


2 15oz. cans of chickpeas, drained
3 tbs, tahini (sesame paste)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth (this might take a few minutes).  The hummus will be thick; blend in small amounts of water to reach desired consistency.  Spoon into a small serving dish and refrigerate several hours to blend flavors.  Just before serving drizzle with a small amount of additional extra virgin olive oil.

Greek Cheeseball

3 8oz. pkgs. reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick of butter, room temperature
1 lb. feta cheese, rinsed, crumbled, and at room temperature
2 tbs. minced garlic

Combine all the ingredients in a mixer until smooth.  Form into a mound on a serving dish and garnish as desired (2 nice options are finely diced red bell pepper, or minced fresh parsley).  Chill to firm and blend flavors.  serve with pita chips.

Chili Spiced Peanuts

1 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
3 tbs. sugar
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. coarse salt
lime wedges

Roast the peanuts over high heat in a non-stick skillet for 3 minutes, or until toasty, stirring frequently.  Pour into a bowl and set aside.  Decrease the heat to medium and sprinkle in the sugar, cayenne and salt.  Melt slowly, stirring a few times as it melts.  Once melted and combined, stir in the peanuts and toss to coat well.  Pour the nuts onto parchment paper to cool, breaking up any large clumps.  Serve with lime wedges and squeeze the lime over the nuts right before eating. Recipe from the New York Times.

Bacon Wrapped Apricots

24 small fresh sage leaves
24 dried apricots
8 slices of bacon, cut cross ways into thirds
2 tbs. maple syrup

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place a sage leaf on each apricot and wrap each with a piece of the bacon.  Place seam side down on a baking sheet.  Bake until the bacon is beginning to crisp, 6 ro 8 minutes each side.  Remove from oven and brush with maple syrup.  Serve with toothpicks.  Recipe from Real Simple.

Cheddar and Chutney Sandwiches

small rolls of good quality
Major Grey's chutney
very good etra sharp cheddar

Cut each roll open crosswise and spread the bottoms liberally with the chutney.  Place a fairly thick slice of chheese on the chutney and cover with the top half of the roll. Recipe from Ina Garten.

Herbed Goat Cheese Sandwiches

8oz. reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
8oz. mild soft goat cheese, room temperature
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. minced dry thyme (or 1/2 tap. fresh)
3 tbs. minced fresh parsley
5 to 6 tbs. milk or half & half
3/4 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
good quality multigrain bread, sliced thin
1 cucumber, thinly sliced but not peeled.

Mix the cheeses and seasonings in a mixer or food processor until well combined.  Thin with a little additional milk if necessary.  Spread each slice of bread with the cheese mixture.  Top 1/2 of the slices with cucumber slices.  Top with the remaining bread and pressing lightly, trim off the crusts.  Cot the sandwiches onto halves, thirds, or triangles.  Recipe from Ina Garten.

Links to recipes previously mentioned:

Baked Brie 
Cucumber Dill Sauce  (with a little extra cayenne this makes a great dip)
Liptauer Cheese 
No-Recipe Meatballs 
Pork Meatball Banh Mi  (serve the meatballs as appetizers rather than on the sandwiches)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Game night...

We went to our friends Kristy and Ron's house last night for a grown up game night.  I love nights like this with good friends, food times, and good food to nibble on all evening.  Chris had received the game Apples to Apples for Christmas, and it is a fun game to play with your kids, but playing it with your ADULT friends takes the game somewhere else completely.  On the way home (late, very late) last night Chris asked, "Do they understand the cards better than I do?" to which I answered, "No sweetie, they just understand them differently than you do."  Therein lies the difference.

  On my last trip to Kroger I had found a small wheel of brie at a reduced price, and not being afraid of the grocery markdowns (in fact, I love them), I grabbed it right up.  I had visions of a baked brie, all bubbly and good, not like the disaster I created the last time I tried this (never having done it before, I thought I would be nice to my family who don't like the rind and remove it- that was a big no,no).  I originally planned to top the Brie with some chunky apricot preserves and slivered almonds, but while getting ready yesterday morning I was watching Ina Garten's program The Barefoot Contessa.  She was making a puff pastry appetizer using goat cheese, pesto, sundried tomatoes, and pine nuts that looked delectable.  Considering that I still had pesto in the fridge that needed to be used, and I had both the tomatoes and the pine nuts in my pantry, I had a (I hoped) delicious change of heart.  I baked this up and took it along.  The brie was very well received- I shall definitely make it again.  Note- the brie I used was a 50% less fat version, that while still quite tasty, did not result in a super soft and creamy interior- the decision on the trade off is entirely yours.

Baked Brie

1 8oz. wheel of Brie (Camembert would work too)
1 prepared pie crust (purchased or home made)
prepared pesto
sundried tomatoes, finely diced
pine nuts (pignolias), toasted
1 egg, beaten(you won't use it all)

Consider this recipe as a "Master recipe," one that you take the technique and change up the toppings to whatever suits you, sweet or savory.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.Open the pie crust on your counter and lay the brie wheel in the center.  Top the Brie with a few tablespoons prepared pesto, some finely diced sundried tomatoes, and some toasted pine nuts.  Lift one edge of the pie crust to the center of the wheel and then start lifting and folding, completely encasing the Brie
  Brush the surface with the egg, brushing a little under the folds to help seal them.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

 Remove and let cool slightly before serving.
Kitchen Tip -Toasting Nuts

Toasting any kind of nut before using in your recipe will bring out a fuller flavor, and could not be any easier.  If using a small amount, just put in a small dry skillet and toast over med-high heat for a few minutes until golden, stirring often as to not burn the nuts.  If needing a larger quantity, just spread on a dry baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for a few minutes, or until golden, again stirring frequentl to avoid burning.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Grillling in the snow?

 Bruschetta Burger (many apologies for the out of focus photo)

While I had planned on last night's bruschetta burgers for dinner, I had not planned to grill in the midst of a snowstorm...the answer lay in my George Foreman grill.  While I do not use it a lot, this little appliance has been most helpful for grilling needs during inclement weather, and those times when you are grilling so little that it is not worth the bother (not to mention the expense) of using an actual grill.  I had four nice chuck patties (80/20), that I squished into oval shapes to better fit the mini ciabatta rolls that I had.  A note about the ciabatta rolls- I got these partially baked rolls at Aldi, and I find them perfect for all kinds of sandwiches, and they are cheap at $1.69 for a package of four (and the package will keep for a long time stashed in the fridge).  Anyway, back to the burgs- four minutes in the Foreman gave me a perfectly cooked "medium" burger, and another minute gave me a well done burger for the boy.  I layered these burgers onto the rolls with the leftover caprese salad from Thursday's dinner and some pesto mayo.  Delish, delish, delish, definitely and upscale take on the simple burger (but yet, still so simple to prepare).  The pesto I mixed with the mayo was from the stock I put away this summer in the freezer (I'll share below), but you can very easily use any prepared pesto from the grocery.
I was digging through the fridge looking for side dish inspiration (I did not want fries with the Italian flavors of my planned burger), when I spied a the bowl of leftover plain spaghetti from this week's spaghetti and meatballs.  In the veggie drawer I found bits and pieces of red bell pepper, red onion, steamed green beans (also left from a dinner earlier this week), and black olives.  I sliced everything up, tossed it with bottled Italian dressing (we like Kraft Tuscan House Italian), and dubbed it "clean out the fridge" pasta salad.  Pasta salads, like noodle bowls, are wonderful in that you can put just about anything you like in them.  This salad is going to pull triple (or quadruple) leftover duty- for today's lunch I am going to toss what is left with some shreds of leftover paprika roasted chicken.  I've said it before and shall again- leftovers are great.

Bruschetta Burgers

4 ground chuck patties (or whatever you like)
coarse salt, fresh ground black pepper, & garlic powder
4 small ciabatta rolls, toasted or warmed somehow
2 tbs. (about) light mayo
1 tbs. (about) prepared pesto
fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
ripe, red tomatoes, thinly sliced
baby spinach, a good handful

Season the burger patties with salt, pepper, and garlic powder- grill as desired.  Toast the ciabatta rolls and split horizontally.  Mix the mayo and pesto- spread on the top half of the rolls.  On the bottom half build your stacks- spinach, tomato, burger, mozzarella, and top bun with pesto mayo. Eat (yum, yum).

"Clean Out the Fridge" Pasta Salad

leftover pasta
leftover bits of veg
leftover bits of meat and/or cheese (optional)
bottled Italian dressing

There is obviously no recipe here- just cut your leftover bits to match your pasta- if using long pasta like spaghetti, but your bits into strips, if something like a shell then dice it up (especially nice if the shells can capture the bits inside.  The key is to use a tasty salad dressing- none of that generic (and tasteless) Italian stuff.


2 packed cups of fresh basil (tiny stems okay)
1/2 cup walnut pieces (or pine nuts, but they can be pricey)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
3 large garlic cloves, peeled  (about 1 tbs. if using jarred, pre-minced)
extra virgin olive oil

Rinse and dry the basil leaves (they don't have to be perfectly dry).  Toss into a food processor with the nuts, garlic, and cheese.  Pulse until chopped fine but not pureed.  Dump into a small mixing bowl (and repeat if making multiple batches).  Mix in olive oil to desired consistency.  Use immediately or package for freezing- if stowing in the fridge, cover with a piece of plastic wrap in contact with all the top surface (keeps it from turning a yucky color).
On the olive oil- I only mix in enough to make a paste and then package it into 1/2 cup portions for freezing.  If I find that leaving it as a paste gives me more options for its use- I use it thick for mixing into mayo or cream cheese (try that sometime for a taste treat on your morning bagel), or for rubbing under the skin of a whole chicken before roasting (try that one too).  If I want to use it as a sauce by itself I can thin it with more olive oil, or alternately, a little white wine or even warm water.  I make large quantities of pesto in the fall when my huge pot is short for the world- a great way to use it up and have some on hand to get me through the winter.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Wishing for summer...

I can't wait for summer, and that's not just because we are in the middle of a winter storm.  I bought a small package of fresh basil yesterday at Kroger and it was $1.99!!  It made me really miss the huge pot of basil I grow every summer right outside my kitchen door.  I miss not only the fresh basil in abundance, but garden tomatoes, grilling, and not feeling like I'm freezing in my 68 degree house.  Along with the fresh basil, I was on a mission to get a small piece of lean beef for dinner, but everything looked fatty, chewed up, or too expensive.  I ended up leaving the store with a whole beef tenderloin (the smallest one I could find), a relative bargain at $5.99 a pound. I trimmed the tenderloin into a nice little roast (we'll have that sometime soon) and used the 1/2 pound or so I trimmed off to make the pasta dish for dinner.  This pasta dish is so easy and tasty- I used to make it with the beef to mushroom ration reversed, but now go with less beef.  This dish could easily go vegetarian with the substitution of another bell pepper or an onion for the beef.  I had some decent tomatoes in the fridge (okay, decent for the dead of winter), as well as some fresh mozzarella, so I made a caprese salad to go with the pasta.  I am making bruschetta burgers for dinner on Friday night so I will use the leftover salad on the burgers.

Portabella and Beef Pasta

12 oz. pkg. of your favorite long pasta (this is a good chance to use a whole wheat pasta)
8 oz. lean steak beef, cut into thin strips
4 portabella caps (12 to 16 oz.), wiped, halved & sliced thin
1 bell pepper (red, yellow or orange is best), sliced thin
minced garlic, to taste
extra virgin loive oil
coarse salt & fresh ground black pepper
1/4 to 1/32cup grated parmesan (to taste)
fresh basil, thinly sliced

Season the beef with salt, pepper, and as much minced garlic as you dare.  Start the pasta- while the pasta is cooking heat a large nonstick saute pan over medium high heat.  Once the pan is hot, saute the pepper strips quickly in a little olive oil until crisp tender, remove to a large serving bowl and keep warm.  Saute the mushrooms in a little olive oil in two batches, removing to the same serving bowl when tender but not dry.  Quickly saute the beef just until done, only a minute or two (don't overcook), and remove to the serving bowl.  Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the serving bowl (don't worry about rinsing).  Toss everything together with as much grated parmesan as desired.  Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve family style. 

Caprese Salad

8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced into 14 inch rounds
ripe red tomatoes (summer tomatoes are best)
fresh basil, thinly sliced
coarse ground black pepper
balsamic vinegar, for serving
spinach or other salad greens, for serving (optional)

Nothing is easier than this salad.  Layer your tomatoes in fans or stacks, on a bed of greens if desired.  Sprinkle with fresh ground black pepper and thinly sliced fresh basil (DO NOT use the dried stuff here), but don't salt as this will bring out the juices in the tomato slices.  Just before serving, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar (or whatever you like) and salt if desired.

Cool stuff...

If you have been reading the blog over the last few days, you have undoubtedly noticed a lot of changes.  Not feeling so well this week has given me time to poke around and see what I can do to make the site better, and I think I have.  The overall layout I find more aesthetically pleasing, and I think you will find it to be more user friendly.  At the top of the page, directly under the photo of spicy red pepper sauce (one of my all time favorite foods), you will find a recipe index.  Now you can easily find any recipes you liked, or just see if any sound intriguing, without having to look through old posts.  I have changed the recipe tags to large groupings, like crockpot cooking,or kitchen tips, in case you are looking for inspiration in those areas.  I hope to make this site a go-to resource, even for myself, so that if I am away from home (like in that South Carolina condo one day), I can find favorite recipes without having my cookbook collection handy.

Poking around other food blogs, I noticed that a lot of them were linked to a site called The Foodie Blogroll.  I entered my blog to the site for consideration and was accepted.  A few days later I received an invitation to list my blog with another site called Petichef.  You will see widgets for both of these sites in my sidebar.  This is all kinda cool and may expose my blog to a wider readership.  You may have also noticed that I have finally figured out how to make embedded links part of my post- this also should make the site easier to use.

I hope you find the changes helpful, and as always, if you have any suggestions for improvement (or a recipe that you really, really want covered), just let me know.  If you are a regular (or even just occasional) reader, please click "follow" and let me know you are out there- by clicking "follow" you aren't bothered by pesky emails or such- but, if you do wish to receive an email update for new posts, click on "subscribe" in the sidebar.  If you know anyone who you think might enjoy the site please share the link with them.  Thanks for reading everyone, I'm having a great time with this :) 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Paprika Roasted Chicken and Root Vegtables

The weather continues to be cold and dreary, and the need is strong for comforting food.  I had purchased some very nice split chicken breasts (99 cents a lb. at Meijer) that needed to be used, and remembering a paprika based roasted chicken recipe I had read on Epicurious, I decided to vary it and make it my own.  The addition of the root vegetables was a natural, but obviously use what you like and what you have.  Knowing how much Christopher likes carrots, cooked and raw, I ended up adding extra carrots.  Since I was working with split breasts, I trimmed off the ribs and excess skin and tossed those in the freezer to make stock at a later date.  Almost as soon as the pan went in the oven, the house was filled with a wonderful smell and I couldn't resist peeking as the chicken became beautiful and golden.  We had the chicken and veggies with a simple green salad and it tasted every bit as good as it smelled.  A note for children or sensitive palates- Ben and I loved this chicken, but Chris thought it was a little too spicy- if you have any concerns about a little heat you might want to cut the amount of cayenne.

Paprika Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables

3 to 4 lbs. chicken parts with skin
1 lb. carrots, peeled & cut into chunks
1 lb. small red potatoes, quartered
1 lb onions, peeled & cut into 1/2" wedges
4 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
3 tbs. sweet, smoked Spanish paprika
1 tbs. honey
1 tbs. minced garlic
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 500 degrees with the rack in the upper third.  Spray a roasting pan or large baking dish with cooking spray.  Mix the olive oil and all the seasonings in a small bowl; it will form a paste..  Prepare the veggies and toss in the pan with some of the seasoning paste.  If you have ready to use chicken pieces (whatever you like), place them in the pan.  Rub the chicken pieces thoroughly with the remaining seasoning paste and nestled, skin side up, into the veggies.  Roast until the chicken is cooked through and the skin nicely browned and crisped, 30 to 35 minutes.  Serve the chicken with a big spoonful of the roasted veggies.

Even trimmed, these breasts were huge, and we still had half left after dinner.  Once the meat was completely cool I lifted it off the remaining bone (very easy at this point), and sliced it very thinly.  The slices will be used for salads and sandwiches over the next couple of days (but I have claimed the remaining roast vegetables for myself for lunching this week).

Monday, February 1, 2010

A whole weekend of nothing...

One of a set of small plates my sister in law brought me from a trip to Japan.

Here it is, already Monday...the trend of not cooking continued through the weekend, but not by busy schedules or happy events. I woke up Saturday with a feeling of unwellness, a feeling that only increased as the day progressed. We were supposed to entertain friends Saturday night- canceled- and I was supposed to have lunch with a few of the girls on Sunday- canceled- what a bummer. This morning I have put some frozen meatballs and sauce in the crockpot so I can at least feed my family tonight. By adding some beef broth, canned tomatoes, and barley to some bags of frozen goodies from the freezer, Ben made a wonderful soup in Saturday, and soup is exactly what I needed (thank goodness again for both crockpots and well-stocked freezers). Still not well today, so off to the doc with me this afternoon- can't risk being ill for our trip to Florida in less than two weeks.

The sushi on Friday night turned out surprisingly well. I cheated for this first time and used imitation crab sticks (I know, shame on me), and paired them with strips of avocado and red bell pepper. I followed the directions on the back of the nori package and spread the first sheet with two cups of the prepared rice. This resulted in huge a huge roll with TOO much rice. I made two more rolls, using half the rice, and these turned out quite nicely (a helpful tip is to cut the roll with a serrated knife). The pieces looked very nice, and tasted pretty good too, but the nori seemed very tough, almost like it was too thick (I did check to ensure that I was only using one sheet). I made the mistake of not purchasing a good quality soy sauce for dipping- the Kroger brand sauce is much too salty and shall only be used for cooking. The wasabi was hotter than any we had had before and I thought Christopher was going to fall off his chair, he was laughing so hard at our reactions (I swear, it made my ears hurt and Ben's eyebrows were sweating). Overall, not bad, but I think we will stick to eating our sushi out...

We finished dinner with noodle bowls made from leftover roast. The wonderful thing about noodle bowls is that you can put just about anything in them and they turn out good. I brought some chicken broth to a simmer and added to it some minced garlic and ginger, along with the leftover sauce from the pork. Once it was simmering I added the pork, cut into matchsticks, and some thinly sliced bok choy. When we were ready to eat I ladled the "soup" over some prepared ramen noodles (Meijer had been out of both udon and soba noodles). Chris declared this delicious (the ramen was a plus in his mind) and went back for seconds (and thirds on just plain noodles).

Here's the leftover noodles and soup (I again forgot to take as photo while serving).

Well, before I managed to get this posted today, I not only made my visit to the doctor, but Ben made it home bearing not only my prescriptions, but also a box of Kroger fried chicken (gotta love him for trying to take care of things), so the spaghetti and meatballs shall have to be tomorrow's dinner...
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