Monday, July 11, 2011

The Blog is Back ... with Cheese. Again.

Tonight, after a stressful day at work, and several days of philosophizing over what to do in life and how much money to waste and what to do to make our most inner beings happy, I made up a dish.


Yes, I realize that there are too many "ands" in that, but whatever.  After ingesting no mind-altering substances for nearly a month, I decided that a glass of wine was in order ... and that I should start blogging again and stop worrying about money and which manilla folder I should put paperwork for X, Y and Z in.  My husband, who recently crashed a motorcycle, was my top priority, but now that he can wash his own hair again, I feel like I can relax a little bit.  For those of you who know my loving husband, he is doing great after getting a giant pin in his elbow and a massive skin graft on his knee.  His bike, unfortunately, is still totaled.  And I am almost qualified to be the nurse that changes the bed pans.   

I also wanted to share that I tried my mother's sweet and sour recipe again--only this time with pork.  It wasn't quite there, but better.  The extra gob of ketchup helps a lot, but I didn't get the sauce to thicken up like I remember it.  I'm almost thinking I should add the cornstarch at the end, like I normally do when I use it in other recipes.  Next time I'll try that and report back.  For the recipe, see this post. 

So back to this casserole.  Easy stuff.  I had some of my favorite meatballs frozen from my last batch ...

1 lb ground meat
1 clove garlic minced
1 egg
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2-1/4 tsp. parsley (I use the equivalent amount in dried usually)
salt and pepper
1 c. breadcrumbs (I use Panko style)
3/4 c. lukewarm water
1/2 c. olive oil

1.  Mix the beef, garlic, egg, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper.
2.  Mix in breadcumbs.
3.  Slowly add in water.
4.  Make balls and fry in oil until brown; drain.
5.  Simmer in sauce for 15 minutes.

Normally I cook half of them all the way, and then I freeze the other half after the browning process.  The best way to do this, is place them on a cookie tray or something else flat and put them in the freezer until they stop being soft enough to stick together, then throw them all in a freezer bag.  When you thaw them out later, you can toss them in the pot of sauce until hot.  Try it.  Its amazing.

So for the casserole, I cooked the meatballs in the sauce, proceeded to accidentally slice them with the wrong side of a jacked up paring knife, and layered them with cooked macaroni noodles, shredded cheese and my favorite jarred pasta sauce in a casserole dish, dumped a bunch of cheese on top and placed it in the oven at a random temperature--like 350ish?--for about ten minutes.  I would have used the broiler, but my Corning-wear clearly states not to put it in the broiler on the bottom of it and I wouldn't want to break the rules.  Or my baking dish. 

The casserole turned out yummy, and was a much needed break from boring old spaghetti and meatballs, with basically the same ingredients. 

PS:  I promise to post more!! :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Old Fashion Split Pea Soup

Pea soup is sort of a tradition in my family. My grandmother made it, my mom made it an now I make it. I don't know that my mother ever really taught me how to make it; I'm sure she explained it to me several times, though, and eventually I figured it out. The only regret I have with regard to this soup is that I never had the opportunity to make it for her while I still could. It's pretty basic, and I think its instict ... at least it seems to be, because I can't ever find a recipe for pea soup that even gets close to what I remember eating while I was growing up.

It was always a competition between my mom and my grandma over who could make the best pea soup. I suppose I'll have to ask my dad to be the judge of that! I think he is the only one to have had mine, my mom's and my grandmother's! I'll have to see what he says... he did ask me to make it for him again the next time I visit.  Along with the same meatloaf I make for him every time I visit (another recipe I'll have to share--although this one I took from a Food Network Magazine and modified to my own liking). 

But anyways, back to the pea soup!  As I was saying, it's pretty basic. 

First the ingredients (vegetables are approximate, and can vary per preference):
1 onion
2 potatoes 
4-5 large carrots
4 tablespoons of butter approx.
1 bag of dried green split peas
6+ cups of water
1 ham hack, cut into a few pieces
salt and pepper to taste

I always start with one onion--I like white ones--dice it up and throw that into a pot with a big scoop of butter.  I also chop up a few carrots and a couple of potatoes--enough so that there are about equal amounts of each vegetable.  I just use the regular old boiling, baking and mashing variety.  Peel the carrots and potatoes and dice everything up nice and small, throw it in the pan with the butter and onions and saute it for about ten minutes until everything starts to soften.

The next step would be the bag of split peas.  I rinse them, do a little sorting and throw them in with however many cups of water the packages instructs (it was six cups the last time I checked; I usually throw in a splash over just for good measure and so the soup is not too thick).  I toss this all in the pan with some ham hocks that the butcher every so kindly chops up into about six pieces so I can get the meat out easier.  Bring the soup to a boil and reduce the heat, simmering while covered for the allotted time on the package--between 30 and 45 minutes.  I tend to go to at least 45 minutes to be sure that everything gets nice and mushy. 

A lot of recipes say at this point to put the soup in a blender and blend it up real smooth (minus the ham hocks, of course!), however, I like there to be some chunks in my pea soup.  I'll mash it up with a potato masher and then take maybe about a third (or however much fits into my blender), blend that, and then mix that back up with the soup for a nice texture.  Season with some salt and pepper to taste, remove the meat from the ham hocks, mix it all up and there's your soup!  Serve with some bread or a sandwich, or all on its own.  Leftovers freeze very well. 

My husband and I just love pea soup made this way.  Although, keep in mind that if you plan to stuff yourself with it, you might want to get some Beano first ....

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Woes of Cupcakes and Blogging.

Dear friends, I am a terrible blogger.  My biggest problem is that I am terribly inconsistent.  How am I supposed to have a following if I don't blog?!  Anyhow, I've admitted to myself that yes, I'm a terrible blogger, and now I must prepare myself to remedy that.  I have a few things up my sleeve--one being a book of recipes hand-written by my mother-in-law's mother.  I hope to type these up and print them in book form for the family.  And I may need some help interpreting some of the handwriting!  I'm also exploring eating well on a budget.  Those who know me are always telling me how horribly cheap I am.  It's my Scottish blood--we hate to part with our hard-earned money.  As I work through these two personal goals of mine, I look forward to sharing the journal on this blog, as well as taking whatever feed back you, the readers, have to offer.  So ... here goes!

White chocolate raspberry cupcakes

First let me catch you up on my challenge for this past weekend.  I baked, from scratch, a double batch of white chocolate raspberry cupcakes from to take to a barbeque.  While most people told me they thought they were really good, I wasn't very happy with them myself.  In fact, I sort of thought of them as a failure--something I wasn't really excited to eat myself.  The cake was a little dry, and the cream-cheese frosting was too cream-cheesy.  I did add extra raspberry extract to the frosting and a splash of red food coloring, but other than that, I followed this four-star recipe to the T.  Some of this could be my personal taste, but I love just about anything baked, especially if it has sugar in it, and even more so if it has chocolate in it.  Okay, so white chocolate is a bit on the borderline for that one.  But still.  And everyone was drinking.  Really, lots of things are really good when you've had a few, so maybe they weren't all that good. 

Let me back up a little.   I never know how to store cupcakes or muffins.  I'm really an eat-it-right-out-of-the-oven kind of girl.  I don't even need a plate.  The problem with this theory, is that it doesn't work when you have to transport food designated for consumption at a later date.  So how do you store cupcakes or muffins?  It was suggested to me that sealing them in Tupperware was the culprit.  Betty Crocker suggests loosely covering them with tin-foil or plastic wrap. thinks that outside of the refrigerator, they should be sealed in an airtight container.  Hmm.  And someone on Yahoo Answers recommends a glass container.  I think next time I'll try the tin-foil or plastic wrap and go from there.

I also was very excited to share my inexpensive steak and potato dinner from last night, but I excitedly ate it all before taking a photo!  Will try again next time :) 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

On a Misson!

At the bookstore

I made a (not so) quick stop over at the used bookstore near my work in search of a couple of books on my list. I am currently on the hunt for From a Baker's Kitchen: Techniques and Recipes for Professional Quality Baking in the Home Kitchen by Gail Sher, and What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke. The store didn't have either book, however, it was easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of books!

Does anyone have any other recommended reading for cooks?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New York Reuben

New York Reuben

Apparently no one knows where the Reuben sandwich originated.  A quick web search will tell you that there are multiple stories of this sandwich's origin.  Even the Random House College Dictionary might be incorrect.  After some light reading I have concluded that the Reuben sandwich was created some time between 1914 and 1956, in either Nebraska or New York, by a man with either the first or last name of Reuben.  Possibly.

Regardless, it's a delicious sandwich.  My history with the Reuben sandwich is slightly more definitive.  Within the last two years my husband ordered one at a restaurant.  After stating that I'd never had a Reuben before, he offered me a bite, which I accepted.  It was decent.  Sometime later we were on vacation, hungry and traveling through the small town of Arco, Idaho.  It was around 9 pm or so, still completely light out, and the entire town had gone to bed.  One small deli remained open.  That night we split a fantastic Reuben sandwich in our hotel room.  Almost a year later I have fond memories of our visit with the sweet college girl in sweats that built our sandwich and how that night I added that sandwich to my list of favorite restaurant foods.

This week, however, I added that sandwich to my list of favorite meals to make at home.  It was a sandwich so fantastic that I ate until it was gone, despite my full stomach.  It was a sandwich so amazing that my husband requested it again.  Soon.  And our roommate requested it for his birthday.  Wow.  I'm blushing.

We may all know what a Reuben consists of--it's fairly simple:  Rye bread, sliced corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and either Russian or thousand island dressing.  For an pretty darn good ingredient ratio, Family Circle does a splendid job breaking it down.  I looked at several recipes and theirs was my favorite.  Once I figured out how much of what I would need to get, the rest is pretty basic--you can put your own spin on it, or leave it be.  Really, there isn't much to alter in a sandwich with so few ingredients, but I made the most of choosing the best ingredients to up my sandwich's yum factor.  For this I headed to Plowboys in Fountain Valley, home of my favorite butcher counter, deli counter and produce department.  The corned beef was lean, the Boar's Head Gold Label Swiss was just the right strength, and the sauerkraut was New York style (wahatever that means).  And since it was St. Patrick's day, I walked out with the last loaf of rye bread.  On a side note, I am told that Russian rye isn't as strong as Jewish rye, so depending on your taste buds, one may make a better sandwich than the other.  My lucky loaf was Russian and we were very pleased with it, as it was a more milder taste than what we expected.

Now for building the sandwich ... since I based mine on the Family Circle recipe, I'd recommend reading through that first if you want to try this.  Then I played it by ear.  I used more meat per sandwich, less cheese (although I'd be tempted to add more next time), and more sauerkraut.  I toasted two slices of bread for each sandwich, topped one slice with dressing, meat, warmed sauerkraut and cheese, and then toasted them in the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese was melted and bubbly.  I then added the second slice of bread for a complete sandwich and served with a side of red potato salad.  Yum.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two Quick and Yummy "Comfort Food" Recipes

As anyone reading this blog can tell, the last couple weeks have been busy ones outside of the kitchen.  In fact, I didn't do a lot of cooking, and when I did, it was mostly what I call "short-cut cooking" ... using ingredients or whole entire meals right from a box, can or jar.  Or between two slices of bread.

I did, however, come across two really great classics with a healthier twist than something from a box.  I know Hamburger Helper is easy, but these were also easy, easy to manipulate, and taster ... in my opinion.  First, my husband requested sloppy joes--which I have to admit I've never made.  Not once.  Not ever.  Not even from a can.  The second was a beef stroganoff.  I love the idea of beef stroganoff, however, every recipe I've tried (including the boxed kind) I've always found to be too heavy, too rich or too salty.  This one I though to be the best of all the ones I've tried.

I found both recipes using the Whole Foods Market recipe app on my iPhone.  It has a lot of really cool features and good recipe choices, so if you have a smart phone and like food, I recommend it.

All Natural Better-Than-Boxed Beef Stroganoff

I made a couple of minor adjustments in both recipes. In this one I substituted real garlic for dried and skipped the onion; for the noodles I used traditional egg noodles.  And while the cheese on top was super good, I didn't use quite as much.  If you make this, keep in mind that the serving sizes are SMALL.  The recipe tells me this serves six, but my husband and I ate the whole pot between the two of us.  For a family, I'd recommend doubling the recipe and maybe a side salad if you're super hungry or have teenagers.

Old-Fashioned Sloppy Joes

I personally loved this recipe.  It is quite the comfort food!  I used a white onion instead of a yellow one (just personal preference), but basically followed the recipe exactly and they turned out fantastic.  I really do hate when you try a recipe and it doesn't at all turn out as described, or it is just plain old bad!  The beauty of this recipe, though, is that I keep ALL of those things on hand, and only needed to run by the store for some meat and buns.  I used only one pot and the work required was so minimal--I'm likely to make this again sometime soon just because it requires so little thought!  Unlike the stroganoff, we had some leftovers and they kept well and were still great two days later.

Overall, I was impressed with both recipes and have already recommended them to several people.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chocolate Cheesecake Squares ... preview.

We have both had a crazy, busy week .. but we promised desert! Actually, I promised cupcakes, but instead we brought some very yummy chocolate topped cheesecake bars. Here's is my preview ... Sara's Review is soon to come:

Chocoloate Cheesecake Bars

Chocoloate Cheesecake Bars