Sunday, December 27, 2009

Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce

Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce

I haven't had Christmas Day yet. My sister and her husband have an "every other" arrangement with my parents and his side of the family. We had our Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Day so Christmas this year isn't on Christmas Day.

In previous years, it has been within a day or two, so it really hasn't felt much different. But this year, it's a whole WEEK later.

I took the week off of work to help my mom prep for our celebration, but we're pretty much already done! Now, I'm going a bit stir crazy and my sister won't even be in town until Tuesday.

I was busy on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day with holiday prep -- carrying gifts to my parents so my cat wouldn't destroy them, expertly rolling peanut butter balls for my mom's Buckeyes, googling "Chinese restaurants open on Christmas day" so we could have something to eat -- you know, the usual.

But I didn't have any plans today. I was going to clean my wreck of an apartment, but I mostly just goofed off and caught up on some of my DVR, including Ratatouille -- hands down my favorite Pixar movie -- while I folding mounds of laundry.

Dinner was also an old favorite -- Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce. OK that's not the actual name of the Rachael Ray recipe, but the title is annoying so I renamed it because it's my blog and I can do what I want.

I have tried this recipe many times and tried to lighten it with evaporated milk, 1/2 and 1/2, etc. with varying amounts of success. Heavy cream is the way to go. Trust me. I use less oil and less pasta and use the parm sparingly. Plus, I use whole wheat pasta. Plus, in my warped mind, the nutrition on the pumpkin cancels out the cream.

And... it's not like I make this every week or even every month. A little cream definitely belongs in a healthy lifestyle.

I first made this a two years ago and have been hooked on this ever since. I don't make many savory pumpkin dishes, but this is a keeper. The cinnamon and nutmeg aren't overpowering and it has just a hint of a kick. Did I mention is has cream? Yum!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chili Dogs!

Have I ever mentioned how much I secretly love chili dogs? Probably not, considering it's a secret love. Well, I do, and I don't care who knows it.

Hot dogs and I, well, we've always had a THING.

Chili Dogs

According to my mom, one of my first meals ever in a school cafeteria was a footlong hot dog. I was maybe five or six at the time. Why they ever thought serving FOOTLONG hot dogs to a 6-year-old was an excellent idea I'll never know, but that's besides the point.

Anyhow, I came home that afternoon, apparently shocked they made such a thing. I've been told the conversation with my mom after school went something a little like this:

Me: You should've seen it. That sucker was THIS BIG (outstretching my arms as wide as I could to demonstrate the apparent size of this footlong hot dog).

My mom: Really?

My sister (who, at 3 years old, was listening intently to our conversation): Sucker?!? I thought you said you had a hot dog!

OK, so maybe that's only funny to our family, but it's a story that my mom loves to retell. Usually, my hot dog condiments are standard: spicy deli mustard, ketchup and pickle relish. But then I met my first chili dog.

It was at Dairy Queen of all the places. It's the only thing I've ever eaten at DQ, besides their awesome Mint Oreo Cookie blizzards, of course. Somehow, the chili dog was pretty awesome.

I'm sure if I went back today and ordered one they'd be much less awesome. I'm not really a big fan of fast food anymore, and when I'm craving a chili dog I make one at home.

This one was a Kosher beef hot dog (the only way to go, imho) on an Ezekiel sprouted grain hot dog bun topped with Turkey White Bean Chili and 2% shredded sharp cheddar. Now how's that a use for leftovers?

On the side were my favorite oven fries from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. They come out super crispy every.single.time. This version had salt, pepper, and garlic powder sprinkled on them before baking.

And because I was nursing a super tired body and a bit of the "Margarita Flu" (as my dad calls it) from playing trivia the night before, I had a mug of Chai green tea.

Green Tea

It came with a gentle reminder:


I don't know about you, but I could definitely practice a little more patience!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I am the Leftovers Queen

Woo hoo! I made the Foodbuzz Top 9 with my last post! I am so ridiculously excited about that. So head over there and check it out.

Now I almost feel bad following up a stellar post with leftovers. Oh well, nothing much I can do about that, I suppose!

Last night's dinner was pretty boring, actually. Just leftover mac and cheese with kale and a sad looking side salad:

Leftover night

Oh, and a cup of Trader Joe's Cranberry Green Tea. If you can find it, it's delicious! It is kind of licorice-y, but I kind of like that. I was cold and tired so it was the perfect pick-me-up.

TJ's Cranberry Green Tea

After dinner I headed out of a night of trivia at a local bar with a college alumni group. We actually came in a close second, I think out of maybe 10 teams? Good thing the group I was with knew some of the answers. I may be the Leftovers Queen but I'm definitely not the queen of trivia. I should've known more with categories such as one-hit wonders, TV show theme songs and movie quotes. Too bad it didn't include quotes from Anchorman or Napoleon Dynamite because I can practically recite those movies.

Tonight's dinner will still be leftovers because it's been a crazy week, but tonight's should be exciting, I promise.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Two Budget-Friendly Meals

I have so much to catch up on! For one, I spent all last week dog sitting this cutie pie. She looks so sad that her parents were out of town:


I planned to blog all week and even snapped a few photos of the meals I made while at my parents, but realized I couldn't upload them or edit them because I shot them all in raw format and the software to convert them to jpegs is on my home computer. Oops.

But I do have good news. I found out Thursday that I do have a job and I get to continue doing pretty much what I do now. Plus, it happened to be a promotion! It is such a relief to go into the holidays knowing 100% that I have a job. I was pretty sure I would end up with something, but nothing is ever certain. In fact, I was nearly certain I wouldn't even have to reapply for my job to begin with, but I was wrong about that.

Either way, I'm still gainfully employed and with more money to boot. I feel so rich. I think I'll enjoy the feeling while it lasts because soon enough I'll probably be thinking.. darn I could use a little more money. Not that I would spend it. Ever since my sister and my brother-in-law moved into their house this summer, I have house envy! For me to buy a home responsibly that would mean 20 percent down and an 8 month emergency fund.. and um, that's a lot of money to come up with! I'm saving like crazy.. so someday!

I should actually talk about some food. Speaking of frugality.. I made two budget-friendly meals this weekend that I actually liked. The first was an actual recipe: Winter Lentil Soup. This is super cheap for several reasons: There's not a whole lot cheaper that dried lentils and canned diced tomatoes. Plus, seasonal veggies — like the sweet potatoes — are a great bargain right now. The only potentially pricey ingredients are the fresh herbs. But it's a soup that simmers a while, so dried is fine. That's what I used.

Plus, look at how pretty it is.

Winter Lentil Soup

The downside is that I ended up with a ton of leftover kale. So I made Annie's Mac and Cheese and stirred in sauteed kale with garlic.

Mac and Cheese with Kale

I put in a baking dish, covered it with the bread crumbs I made with the leftover bread from Saturday and leftover grated parm.. and baked it at 350 until the bread crumbs toasted up.. about 20 minutes. It was a little dry, so I might make the cheese sauce with more milk than it actually calls for knowing that it's going in the oven. Otherwise it came out great and not bad for a) repurposing the ingredients I had on hand and b) dressing up a boxed mac and cheese dinner. I usually just go with stirring broccoli in, but the kale and bread crumbs was a welcome change of pace.

I know there's lots of Annie's mac and cheese eaters out there.. how do you like yours?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chicken Vindaloo

Chicken Vindaloo

Today has been a weird day. I'm spending the week dog sitting at my parents while they're on vacation, and I left a zillion and one things at my apartment. I made one trip to bring my cat, then forgot my grocery list and had to drive back home. On my way to the grocery store I stopped to put gas in my car, but realized I left my wallet at the apartment and had to go back. On my way to the store (for the second time) my mom called to say she landed and reminded me about my job interview tomorrow -- which made me remember I left my portfolio from my last company at home. Grrr.

Guess who's getting up early to drive 20 minutes in the opposite direction of work? Me! I probably don't need the portfolio, but I like to appear super prepared.

While at home, I grabbed the leftovers from last night to take for lunch tomorrow - Chicken Vindaloo. I really liked this, but after a couple of bites I realized it need a little bit of this:

Best hot sauce. Overall, pretty delicious and simple! Now if I can only get the smell of curry out of my apartment. :)

Now I think I may crawl into bed early and get my beauty rest.

Hope everyone had a great weekend.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Turkey White Bean Chili

Turkey White Bean Chili

It feels like a heat wave — compared to Chicago at least. It's in the teens here, but compared to 3 degrees, it's almost tropical. What a difference 10 degrees or so makes.

I get cold easily, so it's the perfect time to be eating warm, comforting favorite like chili.

If you've been reading this blog a while, you may know I struggle with finding the PERFECT chili recipe. I like this one because it's closer to the style of chili my mom makes. But the Turkey White Bean Chili I made yesterday may be a close second if not dethrone my previous top choice altogether.

It has tons of chili powder, but isn't too spicy. In fact, it's just spicy enough that it has heat without being uncomfortable. I still might add some red pepper for more kick or even a jalapeno, especially if I'm planning to top it with cheese and sour cream. I like my food spicy.

The turkey doesn't taste like turkey here. In fact, you probably would think it was beef. The white beans are a new twist I actually liked. Kidney beans aren't my absolute favorite anyhow.

If you make the recipe as written, which I did, you get tons of chili. Perfect for chili dogs later in the week. I am ridiculously excited I am for that. I haven't had a hotdog in AGES.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chilly Chicago

Salmon cakes

Holy cow it's cold in Chicago. This morning I woke up to a brisk 3 degrees. To think, yesterday morning was a seasonably warm 50 degrees in Ohio.

I've been slugging back tea all afternoon in an attempt to stay warm.

Unfortunately I'm still stuck in the airport waiting, not so patiently, for my 9:30 flight. Only two and a half hours to go, and I've been here since 5 ish. They didn't have any 8 p.m. flights and I thought anything sooner might have been cutting it close if the workshop I was at ended at 5 p.m. like it was supposed to.

I attended a writing workshop for my job, and it was a great reminder of how I WANT to write but often am too rushed to give it the thought it requires. Definitely guilty of taking the easy way out of a story just to get the copy up on time and move on to the next assignment. Unfortunately, with too much to write and too few to write it, sometimes speed trumps all.

I'm definitely a copy churning queen, but I'm looking forward to putting the ideas I got today into practice and become a copy churning queen with INTERESTING stories, too. Given the bad news I received two weeks ago, hopefully I'll still have a job in the New Year and hopefully still be writing. Neither are givens.

Obviously, since I'm traveling I didn't cook. I didn't even pack a camera. My small carry on and laptop bag are STUFFED. So I'll share a photo of these salmon cakes I made last weekend. I have the recipe, but I'll have to add it in tomorrow when I get home. They were just "meh" anyhow. I really want to love Clean Eating magazine, but their recipes are sometimes all over the map. In case you're wondering, those are Green Giant boxed teriyaki veggies on the side.

Question: Since I spent most of the day in a writing seminar, I have writing on the brain. We talked some today about how, since blogs grew in popularity, the definition of "the media" and "journalist" has changed. People, who have no formal training in journalism are now taking that role, thanks to blogs. I know most bloggers aren't writers in their day jobs so... if you have a blog, do you consider yourself a writer? Or, if you don't have a blog, do you consider bloggers to be writers?

I write for a living in a corporate setting, so I'm lucky to be a "professional" writer. I've considered myself a writer, though, since I was 12. That's when I discovered my passion for it, and even competed in fiction writing contests. (Yeah, I was THAT nerd.) Is it odd I knew what I wanted to do for a living when I was 12? Anyhow.. tell me your thoughts.. I'd love to know.

In the meantime, I think I'll get another cup of tea.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

I apologize for the long absence. I received some potentially awful news at work last week, and it has taken me a week to process it and regroup.

I've also struggled with what to say about it, if anything at all. Obviously, this is mostly a food blog, but obviously — stress and emotions in general — can make a direct impact on the food choices I make in a day. So in my mind, it's completely relevant.

I'm not much of an emotional eater, truthfully, and I'd like to think I can *mostly* handle bad news with poise. All things considered, I handled the breakup of my 3-year relationship last year well. Externally, at least. I took a day to cry it out, and then it was business as usual. Eating-wise, when under that much emotional stress I completely lose my appetite. So there wasn't any gallons of ice cream consumed or anything like that.

This time it's a bit different. Unlike a breakup, which is final, things are a bit in limbo at the moment. In a month's time things can go really, really well, but things could also end up in the toilet. While I'm fairly sure things will be fine in the end, there's no certainty and that's the bit that's driving me nuts.

My stress levels are much better this week, but last week was all kinds of a mess. I abandoned my usual healthy routine. I did make it to the gym over the weekend and yesterday, but a wrench was thrown into my plans for today and I'm traveling for work the rest of the week.

My schedule for the next few weeks, actually, is just as crazy. That's why I'm thankful for meals like this Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage. It's practically a 15-minute meal. You can't beat that with a stick.

I wasn't in love with the broccoli rabe, but I don't think that's the fault of the recipe. I remember liking it in this dish, but for some reason, I found it to be way too bitter this time. Does anyone know how to cut back on the bitterness? Other than that it was pretty tasty, but I don't think you can really go wrong with turkey sausage, garlic and pasta.

On the side was a frozen vegetable medley from Aldi's. Trader Joe's actually used to carry it, and probably still does. I can't remember what the blend I bought is called, but it was always called the Brittany Blend at TJ's. It's yellow and green beans with baby carrots - two of my favorite veggies!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Putting up the tree

Tree 2009

I usually like to keep this about food, but I don't have any food to share today. Last night I made a Moroccan Couscous dish and it was NOT picture worthy. Not even close.

On Thanksgiving Day my sister and I were watching a TV show about extreme restaurants. One of them was this place in Taiwan called Modern Toilet and they served the food out of dishes that were shaped just like toilets. Their most popular meal? The chicken or beef curry that looked a whole lot like poo. When I finished making dinner, well, let's just say it wasn't far off from the look of the chicken curry from that show.

So, tonight I'm sharing my main project for the day: putting up my Christmas tree.

I don't always put it up this early, but I figured I had better do it when I had the time. I haven't had it up in two years! Two years ago I was working 65 hours a week on average between working at my day job and my evenings/weekend job at Kohls. I was working so much I couldn't find enough time to put the tree up. Last year, I was at my parents for most of December while I was packing up to move at the end of the month.

I'm in and out this month with a short trip to Chicago for work and dog sitting for a week, but I can enjoy it for most of the month.

There are a few things I love about my tree. First, a lot of it is handed down.

There's my gram's tree skirt she made. My mom made one just like it for our tree growing up. My sister has that one and I have the one that was always under my grandma's tree:
Gram's tree skirt

It's not exactly my taste, but it reminds me of being at Gram's on Christmas Day, and that's what's important. (Note Bella under the tree.. she has a fascination with it.)

Then there's the angel on top. I don't think my mom used this one every year, but we topped our family tree with it for a while at least:
Angel tree topper

Besides the handed down decorations, I love the ornaments my grandma bought me every year. I don't think I have them from birth on, but pretty darn close. These are my favorites and have the year marked on every one of them. I always put them up high so the cat can't rip them down because they're irreplaceable -- most are limited edition Hallmark ornaments, but some are one of a kind ornaments she found at craft fairs.

Two of my all-time favorites:
First Christmas
My very first ornament from my first Christmas

Santa ornamentSanta ornament v. 2
The Santa ornament that goes down the chimney. How fun is that?

The rest of my tree is pretty typical: cat-friendly beads that Bella won't tear down or choke on and cheap glass ball ornaments that I get from Meijer or Target.. basically ones I'm not sad over if they break. It's still looking a little bare, but I wanted to decorate it with what I had before buying more.

I should be back tomorrow with some actual food, but I hope you enjoyed the distraction!

Have you put your tree up yet? What are your favorite parts of your family's tree?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

The table

My sister survived her first official Thanksgiving. I pretty much stayed out of the kitchen. If there's one thing I've learned through the years, it's when my mom's trying to cook, you have to stay out of her way. And my sister isn't any different.

Plus, I'm just not "neat" enough to be in her kitchen. I'll admit it, I'm a bit of a messy cook and being in her kitchen was just too much pressure!

While the turkey was in the roaster, she laid out some "appetizers." Not fancy, but we're not a fancy food kind of family. It was perfect munching food, though!

Cheese and Crackers
Cheese and crackers

Chips and guacamole

Meanwhile, my parents' dog waited paitently in the next room waiting to hear "oh shit.." It's her signal that someone dropped food. If you're in the kitchen and yell it she'll come running and then search for food on the floor.


Before we knew it, it was time to eat!

Spinach Salad
Spinach salad from a kit -- I tossed it.. my only contribution

Dinner plate
My plate: roll with butter, mashed potatoes, stuffing, carrots and turkey

The stuffing is my grandma's recipe that, unfortunately, we weren't able to learn from her before she got Alzheimers. We found her recipe, but as with all of her often-made recipes, they usually strayed from what was written. Plus, we don't even have baking instructions -- just a list of ingredients. I think it was closest it's ever been to what I remember her making.

And the carrots? It's the ONLY vegetable everyone could agree on. I'm not a huge fan of broccoli, my brother-in-law doesn't like green beans, my dad won't eat asparagus, and my mom won't eat brussels. She also turned her nose up sauteed or creamed spinach. She's not a huge fan of carrots, either, but took one for the team.

After dinner, we Wii bowled until our dinner had settled, then we dug into dessert: pumpkin pie. I didn't take a picture, but it was delicious as always!

Best part, I beat my brother-in-law at Wii for the first time ever. It's a once in a lifetime kind of feat. I had to get evidence of because it's likely to never happen again. The proof? The very next game I "bowled" a 204 and he beat with with a score of 250. Oh well, there's always the one time, right?

I won!

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From the Archives: Stuffing-Topped Chicken Thighs

Stuffing-Topped Chicken Thighs

This week has flown by! I can't believe it's already Wednesday.

I took the night off from cooking last night by making a fried egg sandwich with center cut bacon and low fat cheddar cheese. Deliciousness. I didn't snap a picture because a.) I make them all the time and b.) something sooo simple almost isn't blogworthy.

But I didn't want to leave you hanging, so here's one from the archives to get you ready for Thanksgiving: Stuffing Topped Chicken Thighs and Creamy Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

I remember not really digging the mashed potatoes, but the stuffing topped chicken was great, especially if you're like me and LOVE a good Thanksgiving-inspired meal.

Tomorrow I'll be up in Cleveland at my sister's house for the Eating Olympics Thanksgiving. We're having all the usual suspects: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and rolls. I'm sure there'll also be pumpkin pie. Besides eating, drinking and probably some napping I'm sure there will be some marathon Wii tournaments — it wouldn't be a family gathering without it.

What are your plans for the holiday?

Hope everyone has a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pita Pizzas with Red Pepper and Spinach

Pita Pizza

Busy week so far. Every time my boss is out the day flies by and I never seem to get everything done in a day. But I always learn a lot because it's sometimes a sink or swim. Today I was editing down a long video clip for the web for the first time. Exciting stuff.

And now my cat Bella is monopolizing my lap.

These Pita Pizzas are a great weeknight meal after a long day at work. They're light, but pretty tasty and there's not a whole lot faster. It's also built-in portion control. What's better than that?

These have spinach and red pepper and provolone cheese. They originally called for dill Havarti, which would actually probably be better, but I wanted to use what I had in the fridge.

I don't normally like nontraditional crusts with pizza. I like regular pizza crust. Anything else just felt diety and reminded me what I was missing. But somehow, this time it worked for me. Maybe it was the unique toppings. It wasn't trying to be a pepperoni pizza. You know?

Pita Pizzas with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers
Adapted from Everyday Food. Serves 1

1 small pita
1/2 cup baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup or so roasted red peppers, sliced
1/4 cup shredded provolone
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425.

Layer the spinach, peppers and cheese salt and pepper. Bake 5-6 minutes until the pita begins to brown up and the cheese melts.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Let's Talk Toast

Toast with cream cheese and pumpkin butter

I first signed up for Weight Watchers back in college after having gained the Frosh 35. I was a sophomore at the time, so I was stuck eating cafeteria food. I didn't have to think too much about meal planning beyond finding the a healthier option for lunch and dinner.

It wasn't until senior year when I finally moved out of the dorms and had a full kitchen for the first time. I struggled with what to make. I didn't have the cafeteria to fall back on when I didn't feel like making something and as a 20-something who had never cooked a day in my life, my options were limited. When my weight started creeping up, I headed back to Weight Watchers. And that's when I discovered the weekly meal plans on their website.

They were nothing fancy. Wraps, canned soups and the like -- but it incorporated all of the healthy guidelines and were simple to prepare. Not much cooking required. It also helped me realize a side to a sandwich should be fruit and veggies -- not a bag of chips.

I've mostly given up the meal plan ideas in favor of something a little more interesting, but a few things stuck. For one -- toast with cream cheese.

I love bagels and cream cheese. I sometimes cave and get one from the cafeteria at work when I forget my breakfast. But before Weight Watchers, I never thought of toast. This week I used up all of my usual 7 grain cereal, so I decided to fall back on one of my college classics.

This time, though, I added a touch of sweetness with the last of the Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter and 1/2 a grapefruit cut up on the side. It was perfection.

What's your favorite breakast? Do you always eat the same thing or do you like to mix it up?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Crockpot Brats and Sauerkraut

Brats and Sauerkraut

Have you ever had one of those days where the moment you get out of bed things just seem "off" and all you really want to do is crawl back under the covers? Of course you have.

Today was one of those days for me. It was like my head was detached from my body all day long. I absolutely was not with it at all.

First, getting out of the door was a monumental challenge of epic proportions. And I'm not even making that up. My alarm went off and all I can remember was thinking "what is that freaking noise and why won't it go away?" Then I must've figured out how to turn it off while I was still mostly asleep.

So, I was late. And while stumbling around trying to make breakfast I realized I was out of my 7 grain hot cereal. Bummer. When I finally did make it out the door I forgot my badge. Normally, I'd just say "screw it" and face the humiliation of wearing an "associate" sticker all day long but I really wanted to workout @ work and I needed my badge to get in the locker room.

I finally make it to my parents and realize I left my lunch sack with the other 1/2 of my breakfast, lunch and a snack on the counter at home. Boo.

Then I get to work and realize I mispacked my gym bag and didn't have my face wash or deodorant, so working out and then going back up to work would be one stinky and unpleasant situation. D'oh.

All I kept thinking was that I better not have had a power surge/outage like the last time I tried using my Crockpot. Otherwise I might just lose it. Luckily, something finally went my way and dinner was on the table with ZERO effort. Love it!

There's no recipe to this dish — it's just one of those meals I remember eating a lot of growing up. It's definitely no fuss. Step one: throw brats in Crockpot. Step two: cover brats with sauerkraut. Step three: Turn on the Crockpot. Voila.

My slow cooker always burns the edges of stuff, so unfortunately it wasn't quite the brats of my childhood. But it wasn't so bad. Maybe I just need to add some liquid. On the side I had some sauteed spinach for a little something green on the plate. It was a simple comforting meal after an off day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Black Bean Burgers

Black Bean Burgers

I'm not a huge fan of fried foods. Most are too heavy for me. But I LOVE french fries. I quelled my french fry craving with a big batch of oven fries.

I cut up a couple of potatoes, brush them in olive oil, lay them on a single layer on parchment paper and bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Stir, then bake 15-20 minutes more, checking on them every 10 minutes. They get super crispy and delicious.

With my fries I made black bean burgers. I think they could use even more chili powder, but the lime zest really made these. They were a little too moist so I added more bread crumbs to bring them together, but they came out great. Probably my favorite homemade vegetarian burger. I had mine with deli mustard and hot sauce, but the toppings suggested with the recipe would be even better.

I liked them so much I may even ditch the box of Morningstar Farms black bean burgers in the freezer. It's proof that sometimes, homemade is best.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Harvest Soup with Apples and Bacon

Harvest Soup with Apples and Bacon

Last night, I fulfilled a childhood dream. I ate my dessert before my dinner. I didn't make it home from work and the gym until just after 7 p.m. and I was STARVING. Dinner was at least 30 minutes off, so I grabbed a fudge bar from the freezer to munch on while my dinner was cooking.

It was a great idea to eat a snack. Between all the peeling and chopping, the "30 minute" meal I made tonight took much longer. Probably didn't help that I got distracted by So You Think You Can Dance and forgot to set the time on my soup. Oh well. Soup's forgiving, right?

This soup was exactly what I needed, though. Super creamy, smoky and earthy without being heavy or full of fat and calories. Plus, it makes great use of fall's produce - sweet potatoes, turnips, butternut squash and celery root. I've never used turnips or celery root and you know? Celery root smells EXACTLY like celery. I guess I should have guessed as much, but I didn't really expect it. I wonder if I could have saved a bit of money and just used celery?

Anyhow. I wasn't sure about the soup on the first bite. It was pretty squashy tasting. But it really grew on me and I ended up going for a little bit of seconds. I'm even looking forward to the leftovers tomorrow.

Harvest Soup with Apples and Bacon
From Everyday with Rachael Ray

8 slices center cut bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 granny smith apples, 2 1/2 peeled and chopped (reserve the other half)
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
8 ounces celery root, peeled and chopped
8 ounces turnips, peeled and chopped
3 sprigs of fresh thyme (I used a little bit of dried instead)
32 ounces chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large dutch oven, cook bacon over medium-low heat until crisp, stirring occaisionally. When bacon is done, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel.

Add onion and cook over medium heat until soft -- about 8 minutes. Add the chopped apples, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, celery root, turips and thyme. Cover and cook unitl vegetables are crisp tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the broth and 5 cups of water, cover, and bring to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Discard the thyme stem if using and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender or pour the soup in a blender and carefully puree it until smooth. Finely chop the remaining 1/2 of the apple and top the soup with the crumbled bacon, diced apple and thyme leaves.

Serves 8.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chicken Enchiladas

Chicken Enchiladas

I am so glad to be back in my normal routine. Yesterday was my first day back in a week. Almost strange to be back in the office.

I didn't make it to the gym at work but I stopped by the Y on my way home for a quick jog on the treadmill while watching Jeopardy. And thanks to my co-worker and the eagle-eye associates at my company I was actually able to get one right for a change. A week or so ago I ran a photo of a flag from our image library of an American flag. I didn't even notice because the photo was a close up shot, but the flag was upside down. And as people pointed out, that's a distress signal. So when it was an answer on tonight's show.. I knew the question. Who would've thunk it. I feel so smart now.

And besides the fact I left my toast in the in toaster yesterday morning and ended up eating a package of McDonald's cookies for breakfast, my eating was even pretty much on track.

I got home really last night and I planned chicken enchiladas but I couldn't remember where I got the recipe from. So I improvised with my favorite recipe for Chicken Enchilada Verdes by swapping in some canned red enchilada sauce for the salsa verde. It actually worked out pretty well. On the side was the organic canned refried black beans I found rolling around in my trunk a few weeks ago (must've fallen out of my grocery bag) and a little sour cream.

Chicken Enchiladas
Serves 4

1 cup onion, chopped
1 can red enchilada sauce
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/3 cup (3 ounces) low fat cream cheese, softened
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
8 small corn tortillas
1/4 cup shredded pepper jack

Heat the oven to 300 degrees.
Combine the onion, enchilada sauce, garlic and cilantro in a food processor and process until smooth. In a small bowl, combine cream cheese and chicken and stir in 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce mixture. Reserve the rest of the sauce.

Meanwhile, put the tortillas on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake in the oven for four minutes or until the torillas are soft and pliable.

Remove tortillas from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425.

Fill each of the 8 tortillas with 1/4 cup of the chicken mixture and roll up, placing seam side down in a baking dish coated in cooking spray. Cover the enchiladas with the rest of the sauce and top with shredded cheese.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 18 minutes, or until heated through.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fast food

Rotisserie Chicken, Cornbread Stuffing and Green Beans

Sometimes, as healthy as I prefer to eat, I cheat. I get lazy. I choose something simple just for the sake of having dinner on the table. I'm human.

I'm sure everyone can relate at some point.

Having taken Saturday to recover from my sister's wedding, I lounged around yesterday downloading photos from my camera and uploading them to flickr for my family to see. Before I knew it, it was nearly 5 p.m. and I hadn't stopped at the store to pick up groceries for the week and I still needed to check on my parents' dog.

I made it to the grocery store around 7 p.m., tired and hungry. Besides getting what was on my list, I ended up with frozen green beans, a rotisserie chicken, and cornbread stuffing from a box that was on an endcap. I pulled together a quick gravy with chicken stock, too. Not the most inspired meal, but good enough -- and it even looked pretty.

Now that things have calmed down and I'm caught up on my chores, I'll be back to my regular routine. Hope everyone's having a great Monday!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Microwave Caramel Corn

Some of my favorite recipes are ones that are handed down. Many, like my grandma's stuffing, are tied to some of my best memories. Others, like microwave caramel corn, are simple recipes that taste like I've slaved forever in the kitchen.

My sister got married on Friday and she decided to make caramel corn for her favors. It's not a difficult recipe and it's one my mom has made for as long as I can remember. She passed the recipe along and now I make it for parties and other various functions. It's always a huge hit. Best yet, it doesn't take much effort. It takes less than 10 mintues start to finish. That's why I volunteered to help my sister make it for her wedding.

It's super easy, unless you need 100 gift bags. Then you'll need four hours of nonstop cooking and approximately 15 batches of caramel corn. I think I can now make this popcorn in my sleep.

Putting my sister to work on her wedding favor. Don't be fooled, I did most of the work ;)

I'm sure there are fancier ways to make caramel corn, but my mom's method uses the microwave. Just pop the popcorn (we air pop it), make the caramel by melting together brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt in the microwave. Add some baking soda and vanilla, pour over the popcorn in a paper bag, and microwave the coated popcorn, shaking at regular intervals. Problem was, it needed constant babysitting and when we had one batch in the microwave we were pulling together the ingredients for the next or washing the bowls (we only had two!)

Caramel Corn
Cooling off

While I was cooking Allison and occaisonally her fiance scooped the popcorn into gift bags for the guests.

All packed up

The day of, we put the popcorn on the tables for guests to munch on while they were waiting for dinner. I know a lot of people who have favors left over. Not my sister. People were actually grabbing extras on their way out -- and asking for the recipe.

On the tables.

Congrats Allison and Chris!

Microwave Caramel Corn
16 cups popped popcorn (we fill up the air popper cup with kernels)
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Add the sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt to a large microwaveable bowl. Heat in the microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes. Stir. Heat on HIGH for 3 minutes more, stirring after each minute.

Add vanilla and baking soda; stir. Put popcorn in a large paper bag (think grocery store bag) and pour caramel over the popcorn. Fold the bag down and shake. Put the bag in the microwave and heat on HIGH for 3 minutes total. Shake after the first minute, the second minute, after 3o seconds and after 30 more seconds.

Pour on to foil to cool.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Golden Winter Soup, Brussel Sprouts and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Brussel Sprouts

I tried a new vegetable tonight: Brussel sprouts. I've always been afraid of brussel sprouts. Maybe because I grew up hearing how awful they are.

Now, I hear how awesome they are. I finally worked up the nerve to try them for myself. I covered them olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them at 400 for about 30 minutes.

The verdict? Meh. I didn't really like them. They just didn't live up to the hype.

But I'm not giving up.

I served them along with Golden Winter Soup, which I originally made last winter, and goat cheese toasts. The I loved the soup and goat cheese bruschetta. The brushcetta was fantastic. But then again, I love vinaigrette and goat cheese. You really couldn't go wrong.

Soup & Veggies

What foods or dishes have you tried that didn't live up to the hype?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Just monkeying around


Today was mostly a quiet day. I worked from home today because my mom has the flu (maybe even of the swine variety) and I had a sore throat yesterday and most of today. It's exactly how my mom's started, so I wasn't taking any chances.

With my mom sick and my sister's wedding in about three days, rest and fluids and vitamins are key. Plus, I figured my co-workers would appreciate not getting H1N1. I'm nothing if not considerate.

Thankfully, I'm feeling better. I even went with my dad to pick up the wine for my sister's wedding on Friday. Good thing I went. Did you realize you can only buy eight cases of wine at a time? We had 8.5 so we put the .5 on my card.

I came home to make dinner, but it was a complete disaster. I tried to make a sweet potato gratin, but it was a soupy mess. Not photo worthy or even that tasty. It was super rich and not really in a good way.

I didn't mind not taking a photo, though, because this baby wasn't even charged up.


But it is now!

I've spent all evening playing with the manual functions and shooting in raw. I can't even begin describe to how ridiculously excited I am. I can't wait to actually photograph my food with it. In the mean time — a monkey. Get it? I crack myself up sometimes.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Chard

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Chard

I finally found some butternut squash so last night's dinner - Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Chard.

This was fantastic, sweet and smoky. The chicken took longer to cook than the recipe said, but it was still fall off the bone tender.. and juicy too. The vegetables were really good, too. Especially alongside some creamy polenta. Definitely a make again.

Yesterday was a pretty lazy day otherwise. I worked out and finished my first sewing project -- the one I started in my sewing class last week. It's supposed to be a sewing kit. I guess you keep threaded needles in the felt "pages" so you have them to do quick handsewing? It's cute, but I'm bummed we didn't make the potholder we were supposed to make. I could totally use more potholders!

Sewing kit collage

Cute, huh? I messed up a little, but overall, I think I sewed it pretty well for my first project.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gnocchi with Sausage, Chard and Sundried Tomatoes

Gnocchi with Sausage, Chard and Sundried Tomatoes

There was a run on butternut squash, apparently. I didn't pick up at Meijer because Aldi had it the past few weeks. Why pay more if you don't have to? Well, Aldi didn't have any. Even Kroger was COMPLETELY out. I even asked them to check the back.

So, my plan to make a braised chicken dish was foiled. I ended up pulling together a dish with sweet italian turkey sausage and chard/spinach combo and sundried tomatoes. I used this dish as inspiration, changing it slightly.

Not bad! I liked the chard better than the spinach, but overall, a pretty tasty meal. Not bad for a dinner on the fly.

In other news, I FINALLY ordered a digital SLR. I have wanted this camera for approximately two years but could never justify the cost. My point and shoot is at least 5 years old and is on its last legs and I have been tossing around the idea of replacing it. I broke down and ordered the DSLR because my sister's wedding is this coming weekend and she's not having an actual photographer. I'm in the wedding party so I can't be taking tons of photos, but I figured she'd like a few quality images to print. Plus, well, I really wanted that camera. Should be here by Wednesday, but I'm secretly hoping it will be early.

Anyhow.. off to enjoy the beautiful Indian summer weather. Hoping it's this nice on Friday for my little sis's wedding! That would be fantastic.

Gnocchi with Sausage, Chard and Sundried Tomatoes
Serves 2

1 link Italian turkey sausage, casing removed
Swiss chard, tough stems removed, leaves roughly chopped (I used about 3/4 a bunch)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup or so sundried tomatoes (plump dried ones in water or use jarred)
1/2 package dried gnocchi
Parmesan cheese for topping

Heat a medium skillet coated in cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add turkey sausage and cook until browned, breaking it up as it cooks.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add gnocchi, cooking according to package directions. Drain, reserving a 1/2 cup or so of the cooking water.

When the sausage is done, remove from the pan and set aside. Add a bit of oil if necessary before adding the chard and minced garlic. Cook until garlic is soft and chard is wilted.

Add the turkey sausage back to the pan with the sundried tomatoes and the gnocchi. Add a little of the reserved cooking liquid as necessary to pull together the sauce, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Top with parmesan, if desired.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Triple-Corn Spoon Bread and Fancy Grilled Cheese

Corn Casserole

Sometimes I have brilliant ideas. When I made my grocery list for the week I saw Jiffy mix was on sale (as if it's normally expensive!) and what I grew up calling "corn casserole" came to mind. Oh, corn casserole, I love you. You are super sweet and make a great side dish next to baked ham. You make my holiday meals complete.

I wasn't planning on ham and it isn't a holiday, but I figured it would be good enough on its own with a side salad or some green beans. So, I put it on the list. If anything it's a cheap meal.

Turned out to be the best idea I had all week. Tuesday I had a sewing class and tonight I'm off to a happy hour so the leftovers have REALLY come in handy.

Last night, I was fed up of corn casserole, so I made "fancy grilled cheese," which was extra sharp cheddar, bacon and pear. DELICIOUS! It was salt, sweet, cheesy.. perfection. It's my new favorite grilled cheese.


Pear and Bacon Grilled Cheese

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beef Stew and Stuffed Shells

Beef Stew

A few weeks ago we were talking about costumes in the breakroom and I casually mentioned I went as a nurse one year.

"Like a regular nurse?" my coworker asked. As opposed to a "slutty" nurse, I guess. It does seem like that's all you can find in the costume stores.

But, no, I went as a regular nurse. I wore scrubs, tennis shoes and had a stethoscope. My college has an infamous street party every year and each year I chose costumes that would allow me to layer if it was really cold out so I could spend the most time uptown drunk with my friends. "Slutty" costumes didn't cover much and honestly just look uncomfortable. Maybe I'm weird, but if I'm planning to drink heavily -- I'm going to comfortable doing it :)

My sister actually wore that costume to a Halloween party this year. But not before going through every costume my mom had saved from our childhood. Even the devil costume she wore when she was two. a devil. Sad thing is, the little hat still kind of fit our heads. Wish I had taken a picture. The cape didn't fit, of course, but it didn't stop us from trying.

Most of our costumes were sewn by my mom. Each year we'd pick out a pattern at Jo-Ann Fabric and she'd make it. It was one of my favorite memories. That's why I want to learn to sew. My mom gave me machine last year for Christmas, but I haven't yet learned to use it. I finally signed up for a sewing class and I have one on Tuesday. I don't think we're actually making anything (supplies were pins, scissors, felt, 1/4 yrd of cotton fabric and 1/4 yrd of some kind of batting) but maybe I'll finally figure out how to thread the darn thing.

Anyway, besides the costume hilariousness, I did tons of cooking.

First up, Beef Stew. A cold front moved in and I made it afterall. I did it on the stovetop because I had time, but there's a slow cooker version, too. It's the same recipe except it goes into a slow cooker on low for 7.5 hours instead of a dutch oven for 2.5. It's a standard beef stew that totally hit the spot. I used lean top round and less of it, opting for a few more veggies than it called for to round it out.

Stuffed Shells

Tonight's dinner was ricotta-stuffed shells. The recipe calls for making your own marinara, and if have the time, it's worth making it and having it on hand. I frequently make that marinara for lots of dishes. If you don't have the time, you can used jarred. It takes a weekend recipe to a weeknight recipe by using prepared sauce.

It wasn't anything exceptional, but it's a good solid recipe.