Saturday, December 19, 2015

Hot Chicken Salad, December 19, 2015

We'd planned to have dinner out last night, but my poor sweetheart appears to have a touch of the flu and only wanted toast for dinner, so I drove through McDonald's. I should have had toast, actually, and cocoa. So, I was glad tonight to have a home-cooked dinner. It was a very retro sort of dinner, with the main course, hot chicken salad, coming from my mother-in-law's West Point Hostess cookbook. I'd planned to serve green salad with the casserole & potato soufflé, but we had already eaten it, so I just served some pineapple on the side. Not a very healthy dinner, at all, but really delicious and pretty easy to throw together. Boot is visiting for Christmas and he and Jeannene really liked it, especially the potatoes. He put his third serving of potatoes on a tortilla. He can eat like y'all would not believe, probably because he works out 4 or 5 hours a day.

Hot Chicken Salad
2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped
1 1/2 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. chopped pecans
3 tbsp. dried minced onion
3 tbsp. lemon juice
Salt & pepper
1 can cream of mushroom soup (the original recipe calls for cream of chicken, but I used what I had on hand and it worked out great)
3/4 c. mayonnaise (I use the olive oil mayo)
Potato chips to crumble on top (I used plain Lay's, but I think perhaps sour cream and onion or BBQ might be interesting)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix everything but the mayonnaise, soup, and potato chips. Put in 2-quart casserole. Mix the soup and mayonnaise and pour over the top of the chicken mixture. Do not mix it into the chicken. Top with an even layer of crushed potato chips. Bake about half an hour. Serves 6-8. 

Potato Soufflé
About 6 c. mashed potatoes (I just used a package of Bob Evans pre-made mashed potatoes)
8 oz. chive cream cheese (the sort in the tub)
2 eggs
1/4 c. sour cream
A pinch of salt
4 tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix well and place in greased (I use cooking spray) 1 1/2-2 qt. casserole or soufflé dish. Bake 45 minutes. Serves 6-8. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Longhorn, December 17, 2015

Last night, we had a little more Christmas shopping to do. When we were done, Jeannene was famished, so we went to the closest restaurant, which happened to be a Longhorn Steakhouse. I'm not sure I've ever been to one before and I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of peanut shells on the floor and the generally not-rustic appearance of the dining room. We ordered the cheddar dip with flatbread for an appetizer. It was tasty, but would have been infinitely better had it been hot, instead of lukewarm. My Moscow Mule, however, was perfect and Jeannene had a delicious seasonal local beer. We both got filet mignon and wedge salads. My side was a baked potato and hers was a pecan sweet potato casserole, which was tasty. The wedge salad really shouldn't have been called that, as it was more of a composed salad, with romaine leaves arranged artfully across the salad plate. It was nice and cold, though, so that was good. I was disappointed that the large amount of dressing basically drowned most of the salad. The lettuce was too delicate for that burden. My steak was good, although the blue cheese crust had to be scraped off, as the flavor and volume completely overwhelmed the flavor of the meat. Jeannene's filet, unfortunately, was cooked to medium, rather than the medium-rare she had ordered, so I had finished my steak before her replacement steak arrived. I think, after two mishaps like that, it might be time to cook tonight!

Ram's Horn, December 16, 2015

We were out Christmas shopping the other night and ended up at Ram's Horn, in Rochester, MI, for dinner. I decided just to order whatever sounded good, whether it went together or not. I got a cup of chili and an order of buffalo chicken potato skins. I'd forgotten their chili is basically just hot dog chili, which is a little weird to eat in a bowl. It's nice and spicy, though, so I appreciated it on the chilly evening. When my potato skins arrived, they were completely drenched in barbecue sauce. I thought, "Hmm, how is that Buffalo?" but contemplated just going ahead and eating it, thinking perhaps I had misread the menu. Then, I realized it was ridiculous to eat something I hadn't ordered and didn't want, especially since it was something so unhealthy. I asked the waitress about it and she said they only had regular and BBQ skins. However, she did check the menu and I had not lost my mind. She had not registered the addition of the Buffalo version to the menu. So, she had the kitchen make my order properly. When they arrived, they were quite yummy. Jeannene had already finished her breakfast, some layered concoction involving sausage gravy. I ended up bringing most of mine home.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Pot Roast, December 15, 2015

My house smelled completely heavenly all day yesterday, thanks to the pot roast in my slow cooker. This rendition takes minimal prep and, when paired with store-bought mashed potatoes & steam-in-the-bag corn, makes a very simple dinner. Plus, it makes its own gravy!

Slow Cooker Pot Roast
3 lb. boneless chuck roast
Garlic salt & pepper
1 onion, sliced
2 or 3 bay leaves
3 crumbled beef bouillon cubes
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I use low fat, low sodium)
1/2 c. dry white wine

Rub roast with garlic salt & pepper. Brown on all sides in a skillet that's been coated with cooking spray. Place in slow cooker and scatter onions over top. Top with the other ingredients. Cover with just enough water to cover everything. Cook 8 hours on low. Serves 6. 

Chicken Pot Pie, December 14, 2015

Our family birthday tradition is that whoever is having the birthday gets to pick whatever they want for dinner. Our boys both have December birthdays, so we often get to celebrate their birthdays with them. We had steak for Boot's 23rd while he was here over Thanksgiving weekend. For Pie's 21st, we thought we might go to Buffalo Wild Wings, as we did last year. Instead, though, he asked his mom to make him turkey sandwiches on cheap white bread with swiss cheese and squeeze mayonnaise. Not that there's anything wrong with turkey sandwiches---it just didn't seem like a very special dinner. He didn't want cake, either, asking that we skip it and just give him the money we would have spent on it. LOL. He got cake, anyway---a very small grocery store chocolate cake with chocolate ganache icing. Since I was making a chicken pot pie for a friend whose father-in-law passed away, I decided to make one for us, as well, in case we didn't want turkey sandwiches. Here's the recipe. This time, it took forever to cook. I may try it on 425 degrees next time. Might be time to get an oven thermometer!

Swedish Meatballs, December 13, 2015

I generally make special saffron & fruit buns for our St. Lucia Day breakfast. However, this year, we rushed out the door in the morning to pick up our son's biological mother so we could get Santa pictures & go to lunch, so just grabbed bagels on our way out the door. So, for dinner, I made my cousin Lenore's Swedish meatballs recipe, with egg noodles, and her sweet-sour cucumber slices---plus a salad. We also drank cranberry juice with scoops of raspberry sorbet. I don't have Lenore's permission to post her recipes, but you can find some good renditions out there. I like Martha Stewart's version of the meatballs, which you can find here. Just make sure you rinse the salt well when you make the cucumbers or they will be too salty!

Black Bean Chili, December 12, 2015

Whenever I make something vegetarian, Jeannene asks, "Where's the meat? Is there at least cheese in it?" She completely adored this vegan black bean chili (well, she did add shredded cheddar and sour cream---scallions are a nice garnish, too) and so did I. It's perfect for a chilly winter night. I made corn muffins (from a box) and a salad  (from a bag) to go with it. 

Black Bean Chili
1-2 tsp. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cans black beans

Heat oil in a soup pot. Cook the onions, peppers, garlic, and salt until veggies are softened. Add seasonings and cook a couple minutes. Add tomatoes & beans. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on lower heat 15-20 minutes. Serves 4-6.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Pollo Asado Rice Bowls, December 9, 2015

I love being brought meals because (aside from the obvious benefit of being able to keep up with a new baby AND the dishes) people bring us foods I wouldn't have thought of making. Last night's was delicious! Carol brought me a prepared mix of chicken (a breast), black beans, corn, tomatoes, and other yummy stuff to dump in the crockpot. She offered to cook it, too, but I saw no reason not to cook it myownself. The nice thing about crockpot meals is that the house is perfumed with scrumptious smells all day, too. Along with the main attraction, Carol brought us brown rice, tortilla chips, cheese, sour cream, and an avocado, which I made into guacamole. Great stuff!

Chicken Bacon Alfredo, December 8, 2015

There's a group of angels who live here in our little village. I haven't even met most of the MOMS Club members yet, but they have been generously and kindly bringing us dinner last week and this week. Tuesday night, Jackie dropped off a great, big pan of pasta with alfredo sauce, big chunks of chicken, and plenty of glorious bacon. It was scrumptious! To accompany, she brought bagged Caesar salad and we added some Pugliese bread Jeannene picked up from the grocery to go with Jarlsberg dip. I cannot say enough about my gratitude to these women and I can't wait for our wee boy to get his shots so we can go play with them!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

What I'm Cooking in December

I'd taken care to plan meals for November and December before our son was born, but we've been well-cared-for by friends and my darling wife has been cooking up a storm, too, so I've not made most of the things I intended to make. I am starting to feel more competent about getting things done and also caring for our wee boy, so I expect to begin cooking again next week. We have kind friends bringing us food the rest of this week. 

Anyway, I saw one of my friends posting on FB about not knowing what to make for dinner, so I thought I'd post what I have planned for December, in hopes that she will find some inspiration:

-Ropa vieja, black beans & rice, avocado salad, maduros
-Bean thread soup, potstickers, salad, mandarin oranges
-Matzo ball soup, latkes, applesauce, salad, sufganiyot
-Pot roast, roasted veggies, wilted lettuce, pear salad
-Black bean chili, corn muffins, honey apples
-Swedish meatballs, egg noodles, lima beans, salad, fruit soup
-Hot chicken salad, potato souffle, green salad, fruit
-Beer-marinated hangar steak, butternut mac & cheddar, roasted cauliflower
-Spaghetti, Caesar salad, garlic bread
-Cuban Nochebuena feast
-Spicy beef & noodles, snow peas, pineapple
-Chicken with white wine sauce, baked farro & squash, fennel salad
-Boeuf bourguignon, mashed potatoes, peas
-Cheese fondue with bread & veggies for dipping, green salad, chocolate fondue with fruit for dipping, champagne cocktails

Other things:
-Lucia Buns
-Various cookies & candies, if I get ambitious
-Spiced nuts
-Yellow pea soup (for my Red Tent Temple sisters)

Sloppy Joes & Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches, December 7, 2015

I went out by myself last night for the first time since before our baby was born, to get my brows arched and bangs trimmed, then to a cookie exchange at the library. I spent yesterday afternoon making the chocolate rum balls I learned to make from my almost-grandma. Every year, she had a wondrous "cookie factory" at her house and we would bake cookies and make fudge to plate up and take around to the neighbors. The rum balls were a perennial favorite and have become my signature Christmas treat. They do pack a bit of a punch, as the rum is not baked off! I included the recipe in a post about my own cookie factory a few years ago, along with a bunch of the other treats I make.

The other cookies at the exchange last night were:
-Cherry pie bars
-Lemon tea cookies (which were amazingly lemony!)
-Dutch cheese cookies with a cherry in the center
-Peanut butter blossoms
-Ritz smeared with peanut butter and dipped in chocolate
-Snowflake Ritz dipped in melted Andes mints and sprinkled with crushed candy canes
-Church windows cookies made with chocolate and colorful mini-marshmallows
-Rolled marzipan balls dredged in cocoa
-Cooked marzipan & meringue cookies
-Oatmeal raisin cookies from McDonald's
-Oatmeal white chocolate cookies dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes

You should have seen our sampling plates, piled high! I managed a bite of each cookie and brought the rest of my plate home. I was very ready for dinner!

Luckily for me, I have the best wife ever. She had not only cared for the baby, but she had done household chores and made dinner. She had a mug of hot cocoa with peppermint Kahlúa waiting for me, too. She detests sloppy joes, but made them for me because I love them and did pork tenderloin for her sandwich. We also had waffle fries & corn.

Cut-Out Cookies for Tanya

As we have a new baby, Elijah, who was born November 5th, I don't know if I'll manage cut-out cookies this year. Perhaps! I did manage some chocolate rum balls yesterday, so who knows? But, my friend, Tanya, asked if I happen to have a recipe for them and I do. I've never had a problem with it and it tastes quite yummy! This is the recipe I always use when I make cut-outs:

Cut-Out Cookies
4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 sticks butter, room temperature
2 c. sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. vanilla (you can use other flavors, too---I like a mix of citrus fruit juice, especially at Easter)

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Cream the butter and sugar until light yellow and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Add flour, with speed set on low, and mix until well-combined. Add vanilla. Form into 2 disks and wrap in plastic. Chill half an hour. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll dough out to about 1/8" thick, on a floured surface, one disk at a time. Cut out with cookie cutters and place on ungreased baking sheets. Chill about 15 minutes, so they're nice & firm. You can decorate them with sanding sugar before baking, if you want. Otherwise, use your favorite icing once they're baked. I like royal icing for these, but plain old powdered sugar icing is great, too. Anyway, bake these until the edges just start to brown, 8-10 minutes. Cool on wire racks before decorating. These are also good without any icing, sanding sugar, or anything. Makes about 30 2 1/2" cookies---or 15 larger ones. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Van de Kamp's Fish, October 29, 2015

My wife made a dinner last night that reminded me SO much of my grandmommy's dinners. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and have memories of many dinners with them. She often made Van de Kamp's beer-battered fish fillets, boiled potatoes, and some kind of frozen veggie---usually peas or lima beans. We would eat in the living room while we watched "Jeopardy" and shouted out answers. Last night, Jeannene made Van de Kamp's beer-battered fish fillets, Mrs. Paul's crunchy fish fillets (which, in my opinion, are not nearly as yummy), leftover potatoes from our baby shower at her plant, and lima beans. Well, I made the limas. And we sat and watched The Witches of Eastwick until she had to go to bed. Luckily, we did not make it to the gross scene during which one should never be eating! But I think I may have her intrigued enough to watch the whole thing with me someday, despite her hatred of Jack Nicholson!

Tuna Casserole, October 28, 2015

I like just about every tuna casserole I eat. Mostly, they have noodles or potato chip crumbles, or something else stirred in to bulk them up a bit. The one I made the other night did not, so I was a bit skeptical about it, but it turned out to be quite tasty. When I commented to my wifey that I would likely add noodles next time I make it, she said, "Oh, I wouldn't! It's great as is." I served it with a bagged spinach salad with blue cheese & cherries and Honeycrisp apple slices with caramel dip. 

Cheesy Tuna Casserole
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
A bit of butter or olive oil
1 can condensed cheddar soup (I use the Healthy Choice sort---or whatever it's called---lower sodium & fat)
1/2 c. milk (I used 2%)
A pinch of salt
1/2 c. chopped pimiento olives
1 large can tuna, well-drained
Shredded cheddar (optional---my wife loves as much cheese as possible)
1 c. crushed cornflakes
1/2 c. slivered almonds
1 tbsp. butter or olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sauté onion, pepper, and celery in butter or olive oil until softened. Add soup and milk and stir until smooth. Cook 10 minutes or so. Add salt, olives, and tuna. Put in a greased 2-quart casserole. Spread cheddar over casserole, if using. Cook cornflakes and almonds in butter/oil. Spread on top of the casserole. Bake 25 minutes. Serves 4. 

Panda House, October 27, 2015

When I was growing up, our family had Vietnamese friends who spoiled us with the generosity of their cooking and their kindness. While no restaurant meal ever seems to measure up to the cooking Phong, Anh, and Mui did for us, my grandmom and I liked to go out for Vietnamese food together after our friends moved to California. We also went out for Chinese fairly often. Now that my grandmom has died, I celebrate her birthday every year with either Chinese or Vietnamese food. I'm not very proficient at either cuisine, so we go out. However, when my wife has a heavy workload and is doing lots of long hours, she just likes to come home, get comfy, and eat here. So, the other day, I brought Chinese home. Pie and Bubbles joined us for dinner and they're sweet & sour fans, so she got shrimp & he got pork. I had beef with broccoli & my sweetie had her favorite standby, General Tso's Chicken. I also ordered some crab rangoons and potstickers.

The last couple times, I've been a bit disappointed, frankly, with the food from Panda House. It's not bad, it's just not awesome. Bringing it home didn't help the quality, as both appetizers got pretty soggy pretty quickly. Ah, well. I had a wonderful time chatting with the restaurant guy, a young half-Chinese, half-Vietnamese fella who is always really friendly. I spend a good chunk of the time admiring his tattoos. This visit, he told me about a good Vietnamese place in Madison Heights, on the corner of 13 Mile & Dequindre, and about a bakery on John R I should visit for red bean pastries.

Yesterday, I got the chance to go to the restaurant with the mother of our wee boy after her final OB appointment before the baby is born next week. She'd never had Vietnamese food, so it was a pleasure to introduce her to it at Pho Hang. We had her 18-month-old with us and all three of us really liked it. We started with cha gio, Vietnamese fried spring rolls, one of my favorite foods in the world. These were very good, but I prefer the version at Thuy Trang over on John R. They're closer to the amazing spring rolls the Phus made for us. Because I can never get enough of spring rolls, I ordered the roast pork and spring roll noodle dish, served with fish sauce. Our baby's mother is a soup girl and ordered a bowl of beef pho. She was hoping for a side of shrimp fried rice, but they only do it as an entree, so I urged her to order it, anyway, so she could have leftovers later. She loved everything. It's so much fun introducing people to new foods! I can't wait to start introducing our wee boy to all kinds of yumminess!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Leo's, October 26, 2015

I'd planned to make tuna casserole last night, but then our hair salon was unexpectedly able to fit us in yesterday evening---great place, with hours until 10 p.m. some evenings and complimentary wine---so, we decided to eat next door at Lili's. However, we'd forgotten that Lili's closes at 8, so we ended up at Leo's, instead. It was a serendipitous thing because we each got what we were hungry for and it was really good. I had a breakfast sandwich and hash browns while my sweet wife was delighted by a tuna melt. Simple is good. And we even got to see a guy who looked like a biker but was wearing a fuzzy skunk hat!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Beef Tips & Noodles, October 23, 2015

Since we intended to run around Friday night picking out nursery furniture, I popped dinner in the crockpot in the morning and we were able to eat quickly and hit the store. It was delicious & homey, a great fall meal. I made the beef tips in the crockpot, then cooked egg noodles at the last minute. I also made applesauce from scratch and baked an acorn squash.

Beef Tips
1 lb. beef tips
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 packet of crockpot pot roast mix
3/4 c. 7-Up
1/2 green pepper, chopped

Mix everything together in a crockpot that's been coated with cooking spray. I know the 7-Up sounds really weird, but it works. However, if you like, use beef broth, instead. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tequila Lime Chicken, October 22, 2015

After a string of dinner failures, starting with last week's chicken tetrazzini and continuing through gloopy pumpkin pecan bread pudding and sausage & bean soup that tasted like hot dog water, I relegated myself to supplementing Jeannene's dinners until Wednesday. Wednesday, I meant to make last night's dinner, until I realized that I had forgotten that the chicken needed to marinate---so, I made scrambled eggs & toast, instead. Last night, I was relieved that dinner turned out yummy, with an especially delicious side of garlic spinach. The rest of the dinner was tequila lime chicken and rice pilaf (from a box---Near East is my favorite brand). It was pretty healthy, too!

Tequila Lime Chicken
Juice of 4 limes
Juice of 1 orange
1/2 c. tequila
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
A pinch of salt
A good grinding of pepper
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Mix everything but chicken. Add chicken and marinate overnight. Broil until cooked through, about 9 minutes per side. Serves 3. 

Garlic Spinach
A drizzle of olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of a pot)
A package of baby spinach
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
A squeeze of lemon juice
A little butter (optional)

Heat the oil and sauté the garlic in it for about 30 seconds. Make sure it doesn't burn! Add the spinach, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Stir to wilt the spinach. Stir in a little butter at the end, if desired. It's quite good even without, though. Serves 2. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Green Tomato Bounty! And Rhubarb, Too!

Last week, a friend from church found out I collect Boyd's Bears and invited me to come over and pick some of hers to take home with me. I was bowled over by the kindness of that invite and will be going later this week to see her collection. Today, I received a Facebook message from another church friend, asking if I like fried green tomatoes. I responded that I love them. Her husband is a tremendous gardener and had just brought in a couple dozen green tomatoes---did I want some? Did I ever! Not only did they extend that lovely offer, but they threw in a couple of beautiful ripe tomatoes and a bunch of rhubarb! The best part of all, though, was getting to visit with them, meet their gorgeous German Shepherd, and have a tour of her quilt studio! She is terribly creative and makes beautiful pieces of art in fabric.

Because of their generosity, we get to have fried green tomatoes and rhubarb cake! I told her I would post my tomato recipe before I actually make them, so that she can use it, too. The tomato recipe is my adaptation of the Neelys' recipe.

Fried Green Tomatoes
6 green tomatoes, sliced about 1/4" thick
Salt, pepper, and a smidge of cayenne
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. buttermilk
Dash hot sauce (I like Louisiana Hot Sauce best, but use your favorite)
3/4 c. cornmeal
1 1/2 c. panko
Oil for frying

Sprinkle tomatoes with salt, pepper, and a little cayenne---or a lot, if you are a big fan of very spicy food. Whisk the buttermilk with the hot sauce. Mix the cornmeal with the panko. Dredge the tomatoes in flour, then dip in buttermilk, and coat in panko. Fry until golden on both sides---make sure your oil is nice and hot before you put the tomatoes in or they will be greasy and soggy. Don't be afraid to get them deep golden. Place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Adjust seasonings, if needed. Serves 4-6. 

These are good with remoulade or

Basil Mayonnaise
2 c. fresh basil
1 c. mayonnaise
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper

Pulse together in a blender or food processor (of chop basil finely and whisk together by hand). Also good on sandwiches. 

My favorite thing to do with rhubarb is to my my friend Shawna's rhubarb dump cake:

Rhubarb Dump Cake
1 lb. rhubarb, cut into 1/4" pieces
1 c. sugar
3 oz. strawberry jello
1 box yellow cake mix
1 c. water
1/4 c. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13x9 baking pan. Put the rhubarb in the bottom. Sprinkle with sugar, then jello, the cake mix. Pour water and butter over the top. Do not stir! Bake 45 minutes. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Chicken Tetrazzini, October 15, 2015

Oh, man, y'all. Last night's dinner was really not good. I made chicken tetrazzini from the Baton Rouge Junior League's "River Road" cookbook, with a bagged salad and Pugliese bread. The main course was incredibly bland, to the point that I didn't even bother eating it, and the raspberry dressing that came with the salad tasted like cleaning fluid or nail polish or something was in it. My sweet wife made me a couple slices of Pugliese toast and I was through. She didn't like dinner, either, but she didn't say anything about how awful it was until I had soundly condemned it. Isn't she sweet? Tonight, she is responsible for dinner, thank goodness!

Chili's, October 14, 2015

Last night, we attended a "Bringing Baby Home" class. Afterward, it was Jeannene's night to choose dinner and she chose, much to my surprise, Chili's. She often doesn't think she likes Chili's, even though when we go there, she does like it. She had fajitas, which smelled fabulous. I chose mini burgers, which were great, although I ended up eating only half the bun, as there was SO much of it! The leftover sliders are lunch today, along with part of a black bean quesadilla from Wednesday's lunch at Midtown Detroit's Cass Cafe. I just wish I had some of their amazing curried lentil soup left!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Red Tent Food: Pumpkin & Butternut Soup, Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake, October 13, 2015

Once a month, at the new moon, my Red Tent Temple women gather. I prepare some kind of food to nourish bodies and spirits. Last night, it being October, I made a pumpkin and squash soup and a chocolate chip zucchini cake. I added some store-bought wheat bread, some lentil crackers (we have at least 1 member who is gluten-free), and some Lucy's pumpkin cookies, also GF.

Pumpkin & Butternut Soup
1 tbsp. butter (if vegan, sub olive oil)
1 tsp. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
30 oz. pumpkin (canned)
3 lb. butternut squash cubes (I buy them pre-chopped)
6 c. vegetable stock
A couple pinches salt
A good grinding pepper
1 c. milk or half and half (skim is fine---and this can be omitted altogether)
Sour cream, croutons, and shredded parmesan for garnish

Heat butter and oil in soup pot. Cook the onions until translucent. Add all but the milk. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on medium-low for 20 minutes or so. Blend smooth, either in a blender (carefully, in batches) or with an immersion blender. Return to pot, add milk, and adjust seasonings. Heat through. Serve with garnishes. Serves 8-10. 

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 stick butter, softened
1/4 c. oil
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 medium zucchini, shredded (about 2 c.)
1 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar, butter, oil, vanilla, and eggs. Add flour, cocoa, baking soda, and buttermilk. Fold in zucchini, chocolate, and nuts. Pour into a greased, floured 13x9 pan. Bake 35-45 minutes. Serves 16. I have not frosted this, but I think cream cheese frosting would be yummy on it. 

Savannah Red Rice, October 12, 2015

A tasty one-dish dinner---you can also add a salad and some fruit, if you wish---I chose pineapple. My wife also had some cottage cheese to cool her palate. I didn't find it particularly spicy---in fact, some folks will want to serve this with additional hot sauce.

Savannah Red Rice
1 tbsp. olive oil (or a coating of cooking spray)
2 green peppers, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 c. cooked rice
16 oz. can stewed tomatoes
8 oz. tomato sauce
A good shake of garlic Tabasco
A good shake of garlic powder
Salt and pepper
1 lb. kidney beans or cooked sausage, if desired

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sauté onions & peppers in olive oil. Add the rest. Mix well & bake in a greased 2-quart casserole for half an hour. Serve with shredded cheese, if you wish. My wife does wish. Serves 6.

Pork and Rice Noodles with Peanut Sauce, October 8, 2015

The other night, we had a delicious meal of pork and rice noodles with peanut sauce, sesame soy roasted broccoli, and mandarin oranges. It was pretty quick to throw together and delicious! We both oohed and ahhed quite a bit over the broccoli, especially. You could easily make this vegetarian by subbing tofu---and strict vegans can omit the honey.

Pork and Rice Noodles with Peanut Sauce
1/2 c. boiling water
1/4 c. peanut butter (reduced-fat is fine)
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tbsp. tamari
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. garlic chili paste 
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. cornstarch
4 boneless pork chops, cut into strips
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
6-8 oz. rice noodles, cooked and drained

Mix together everything but the pork, pepper, and noodles. Heat through and stir to incorporate peanut butter well. Cook pork and pepper strips, in a large skillet that has been coated with cooking spray, over medium-high heat until pork is completely cooked through. Add peanut sauce, tossing to coat pork and peppers. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer a minute or so. Add to pork and sauce and toss well. Serves 4. 

Sesame Soy Roasted Broccoli
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss broccoli florets with a smidge of sesame oil & a splash of tamari. Roast, on a baking sheet, 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Baked Bean Soup, October 7, 2015

I didn't get home yesterday from a day with our baby's bio mom until quite late, thanks to insane Detroit traffic, so I was very happy to have a dinner planned that was easy and quick to throw together. It is great comfort food, too! I made a pot of baked bean soup, with Jiffy corn muffins, sliced honey crisp apples, and Marzetti caramel apple dip.

Baked Bean Soup
1-2 tbsp. olive oil or butter
1 package kielbasa ( I like the turkey kind, but use what you like), sliced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 large can baked beans (I like Bush's)
1-1 1/2 c. milk or half and half or some combination thereof---even skim milk works
Salt & pepper
A few dashes hot sauce

Heat oil/butter in a soup pot. Cook the meat and veggies 5-7 minutes. Add beans and simmer another few minutes. Add a cup of milk---and more if the soup is too thick. Add salt & pepper, along with hot sauce, and heat through. Serves 4. This can be made completely vegetarian by adding another can of beans in place of the kielbasa---or you can use veggie sausage. If you're vegan, use olive oil and sub soy milk or nut milk for the regular milk. 

Feta Turkey Burgers, October 6, 2015

Tuesday night, I made feta turkey burgers and served them with veggies, yogurt dip, and kettle chips. It was a very simple and very yummy dinner!

Feta Turkey Burgers
1 lb. ground turkey breast (chicken is fine, as well as beef)
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Salt & pepper
4 oz. crumbled feta
Leaf or romaine lettuce
Sliced kalamata olives

Mix turkey, seasonings, and feta. Form into patties, making sure feta is mostly tucked into the meat, rather than jutting out in big hunks. Cook through until nicely browned, using either a grill, broiler, or skillet coated with cooking spray. Serve in pitas with lettuce and olives. The yogurt dip I made for the veggies turned out to be stellar with the burgers. Serves 4.

Yogurt Dip
1 c. Greek yogurt (0% fat is just dandy for this, but use a fuller fat version if you wish)
1 jalapeño, seeded, deveined, and chopped (add another, if you like spicy)
A big pinch of coriander
A medium pinch of cumin
A wee pinch of ground fennel seeds
1 shallot, chopped
A handful of mint, chopped
A handful of parsley, chopped
Several peanuts, chopped
A splash of key lime juice
A splash of olive oil, if desired

Mix together, either by hand, for a chunkier dip, or in a food processor/blender, for a smooth dip. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cheddar Brats, September 28, 2015

I was going to make Persian meat & celery sauce over rice for dinner tonight, but Jeannene spotted cheddar brats on sale in the grocery the other day and developed a great hunger for them. So, tonight, we had those with my homemade stovetop mac & cheese and a green salad. I had a little leftover apple crisp for dessert, while Jeannene munched on a chocolate-covered Twinkie.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Beef Vegetable Soup, September 27, 2015

My wife loves to make soup and she does it wonderfully! She can never replicate what she's done and she can never tell me so that I can tell you. So, all I can tell you is that I awoke this morning to the sound of Jeannene puttering around happily in the kitchen, getting our supper soup prepped. It was full of veggies, both fresh (carrot, zucchini, and yellow squash slices) and frozen, as well as hearty chunks of beef. She served it with slices of Health Nut bread, a big bowl of grapes, and lovely composed Caesar salads. My contribution was a bowlful of addictively delicious herbed sourdough pretzel pieces and my grandmommy & mom's apple crisp for dessert. I decided this year that apple crisp is always going to be our first night of fall dessert. I was in a hotel in Miami, unexpectedly, for the first night of fall this year, so tonight was apple crisp night. Pie's girlfriend loves all things apple and she was completely swooning over this. It's my favorite apple dessert, for sure. Humble and delicious!

Herbed Pretzels
1 bag (16 oz) hard pretzels, broken into pieces
1/2 c. garlic-infused olive oil (you can use less)
1 packet dry ranch dressing mix
1/2 tsp. dill
1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Toss everything together and spread on a large baking sheet in an even layer. Bake about 25 minutes, stirring at 10 minutes and 20 minutes. Serve while still warm. 

My Grandmama's Apple Crisp
7 large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (choose a variety of apples with good flavor---I used Honeycrisp, Gala, and Granny Smith tonight)
A little butter, if apples are not very juicy
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 c. flour
1 c. brown sugar
1 stick butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1 tsp. cinnamon
A pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Layer apples in a 2-quart casserole. Dot with a little butter, if needed. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Mix the other ingredients together with a pastry blender or two forks. You'll want it to resemble coarse crumbs. Spread over the apples. Bake 30-40 minutes. Allow to settle for about 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6-8. 

Kielbasa & Kraut, September 26, 2015

I always make pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day, but I forget to make it the rest of the year. I love it so much, as does the wife, so I need to make it more often. Last night, we had kielbasa and kraut, with baked acorn squash on the side. A simple and scrumptious fall meal!

For the main attraction, I cut a couple links of kielbasa on the diagonal so I had thick, chunky slices. I coated a big skillet with cooking spray and browned the sausage pieces. Then, I stirred in a large can of well-drained sauerkraut and cooked it to heat it through and get the kraut a bit browned, as well.

The acorn squash, the orange variety, I sliced in half and scooped out the seeds and stringy part. Then, I mixed a couple tablespoons of room temperature butter, a couple tablespoons of maple syrup, a couple tablespoons of brown sugar (I favor the dark kind for most things), and a little salt and pepper. I filled the squash cavities with the mixture and rubbed it along the cut edges, too. Then, I popped it in a pre-heated oven, on a baking sheet covered with foil, and roasted it for about an hour. Jeannene's half got the bulk of the sweet, buttery filling---mine was still really deeeeeee-lish! It really doesn't need much at all to make it wonderful!

Banana Bread Oatmeal

I've been making a pot of soup for supper on the first rainy day of fall for the past few years. However, I decided I want to have something cool to do on the very first day of fall, whatever the weather. So, I decided that this year, I would begin a tradition of making oatmeal in the crockpot the night before, so we can have it for breakfast on the first day of fall. Things worked out so that I was with my father in the hospital in Miami on the actual first day of fall this year, so we celebrated this morning. All I had to do last night was coat the crockpot with cooking spray, mix everything together, and tip it into the pot. This morning, the house smelled heavenly and all we had to do for breakfast was scoop some from the pot into our bowls. Well, I stirred a little brown sugar into our bowls and topped the oats with banana slices and walnuts, but that hardly counts as work! My great-grandma Mil used to make banana bread and my grandmom used her recipe often. I loved arriving at her place & being offered a slice, so this kind of felt like a hug from my grandmom.

Banana Bread Oatmeal
2 c. steel-cut oats
6 c. water
12 oz. evaporated milk (I used the nonfat sort)
3 bananas, mashed
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Brown sugar
Banana slices
Your favorite nuts

Grease your slow cooker. If you have one with a timer, so much the better. My new one has one and it really helps prevent the blackened, rock-hard edges I got all last winter with our crockpot oatmeal. Mix everything but the brown sugar, banana slices, and nuts together. Put in the crockpot, cover, and cook on low 6-8 hours. Mix in some brown sugar (it's really yummy without it, too, though). Top with banana slices and nuts. Serves 6-8. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Cheesy Tuna & Shells, September 17, 2015

After making Jeannene sick with an overly spicy, overly greasy burger the other night, I was glad she liked last night's tuna casserole! I thought it was really yummy, too. I served it with a Caesar salad and apples.

Cheesy Tuna & Shells
1 tbsp. butter or olive oil
1/4 green pepper, finely chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 can cheddar cheese soup (I use Healthy Request)
1/2 c. drained diced tomatoes from a can (or fresh, if you have them)
7 oz. tuna, well-drained 
2 c. cooked shell pasta

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter or heat olive oil in pan. Add peppers and onions and sauté until onion is translucent. Add the rest and mix well. Bake in a casserole dish about half an hour. Serves 4. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Corn Chowder, September 13, 2015

Last night was the inaugural gathering of the women's Red Tent Temple I am starting in Rochester, Michigan, and I made a pot of corn chowder to share with the women who came. I also brought some lovely apples, a loaf of wheat bread, a couple different kinds of gluten-free crackers, a bag of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, and a batch of from-scratch gluten-y chocolate chip cookies. Sue brought red velvet brownies with white chocolate buttercream. Ooh-la-la!

Corn Chowder
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 white onions, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
12 small red potatoes, quartered
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 cans white corn (or yellow or corn cut from 9 ears)
6 c. low sodium vegetable broth (you could use chicken broth, if you have no vegetarians eating)
6 c. 1% milk (you could use whatever kind of milk you like, or even half and half)
4 tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional, but nice for added umami flavor)
6 or 7 scallions, sliced, for garnish

Heat olive oil in a soup pot. Sauté onion & garlic until onion is softened and translucent. Add potato, salt, and pepper. Cover and cook about 5 minutes. Add corn & broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and add milk. Cook on low until potatoes are tender. Add yeast and adjust seasonings. Cook another 10 minutes or so. Serve with scallions for garnish. Serves 12-14. 

Perfectly Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
12 oz. chocolate chips (the better the quality, the better the cookie)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the baking soda into the flour. Beat the butter and sugars together until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add salt, vanilla, and eggs. Beat well. Add flour, in 2 or 3 increments, mixing between additions. Add chocolate chips. Drop onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool a couple minutes before removing from the baking sheets. Makes 2 and a half to 3 dozen. 

Pumpkin Apple Bagels, September 6, 2015

While I was readying the crockpot pulled pork after church the other week, I also fixed us some pumpkin apple bagels for lunch. We were headed out to a festival, but I thought it was a good idea to get something in our bellies beforehand so we wouldn't get hangry. These fit the bill, but they are very filling, so I really could have done with half. 

Pumpkin Apple Bagels
1/4 c. apricot jam (I love Kissell's Apricot Rosemary Spiced Jam more than I can say)
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
A dash of cinnamon
2 smallish apples, sliced
2 bagels (you could also do the same thing with toast or English muffins)
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 c. canned pumpkin
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
A handful of walnuts, coarsely chopped

Heat jam with lemon juice, 1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon, stirring occasionally, until bubbly. Cool, then toss with apples. Toast bagels. Beat cream cheese with pumpkin, sugar, and 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice. Spread on bagels. Top with apples and nuts. Serves 2-4. 

Pulled Pork, September 6, 2015

On a busy Sunday, it's nice to be able just to stick something in the crockpot and be assured you'll have a yummy dinner that night. This is especially true if you have people coming to dinner, as we do nearly every Sunday. Sunday dinner ended up being cancelled on the 6th, but dinner sure wasn't. We had leftover mashed potatoes and corn with this, so it practically a no-effort meal. I was too tired to take the extra step of making the cooking juices into serving sauce and waiting 20 minutes, so I just opened a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce to serve with our pulled pork. However, I am including instructions, should you wish to make your own. By the way, this is also great the next day for lunch on hamburger buns. You could also toss it on nachos.

Crockpot Pulled Pork
3 lb. boneless pork shoulder roast
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato soup (I use Healthy Request)
2-3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 pinch salt
2 tbsp. flour (if making sauce)
1/4 c. water (if making sauce)

Place pork in crockpot and toss in the onions and garlic. Mix everything but the flour & water and pour over the roast. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Remove from crockpot and tent with foil. Mix the flour and water. Whisk the mixture into the cooking juices. Cook on low 20 minutes. Shred pork, once it's cooled a bit, using either 2 forks or your hands. Serve with sauce. Serves 6-8. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Pecan Waffles, September 10, 2015

I do breakfast for dinner every so often, but it's very seldom anything like waffles or pancakes. I like them quite a bit, but I almost always require a savory breakfast. However, Jeannene adores the sweeter breakfast possibilities and I figured the bacon would help make up for the sweet. I served some honeydew with the pecan waffles I made last night, as well.

I don't make waffles often at all and haven't over the years. My pancakes are okay but not amazing and I never made really crisp waffles until last night. I think I never let the batter rest properly before or something. I also hadn't heard the trick of not stacking the cooked waffles while keeping them warm, but I ran across that somewhere and remembered to try it this time. With the finished waffles kept warm on a pizza pan, instead of stacked on a plate, in a 200 degree oven, they were wondrously crisp when we were ready to eat! Huzzah! I like to eat my waffles with Grade B maple syrup that's been warmed. They are, however, also great with fresh fruit.

Pecan Waffles
1 1/4 tsp. yeast 
1/8 c. warm water
1 tbsp. + 1/2 tsp. sugar
3 eggs
1 pint buttermilk
1/6 c. oil
Heaping 1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch salt
A handful or two of pecans, broken into pieces

Mix yeast, water, and 1/2 tsp. sugar. Let stand until it get foamy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the buttermilk and oil. Mix the flour, soda, baking powder, and salt together. Add the eggs, then the yeast, and mix well. Add pecans. Let stand at least 1/2 hour (you can do this the night before, if you're actually having them for breakfast. Just bring the batter to room temperature before cooking). Preheat waffle iron (I like to use my Belgian waffle iron when I'm making them for Jeannene, because that's her favorite, but I also have a wonderful regular waffle iron that makes heart-shaped waffles---use what you like best) and oven (to 200 degrees). Grease iron (I just use cooking spray). For a Belgian waffle iron, I use about half a cup of batter for each waffle. Otherwise, 1/4 c. to 1/3 c. seems to work best. When each waffle's done, place it on a baking sheet to keep warm. Serves 3. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Chicken Noodle Soup, September 1, 2015

Since I had what was left of the chicken I roasted last week, I figured I might as well make chicken noodle soup for supper last night. I just threw the chicken and veggies I'd bagged up into a pot, covered them with water, threw in some carrot rounds (3 carrots) & celery slices (2 stalks), and cooked them on medium to medium-low for quite awhile (you can just do about 45 minutes, though, and you get a pretty decent broth). About 10 minutes before serving, I removed the chicken (you have to be careful that you don't accidentally leave bone bits or other yucky parts in the pot) & let it cool while I tossed some "dumpling" noodles into the pot of soup and cooked them for about 7 minutes. Then, I picked the remaining chicken off the carcass and threw it back into the pot. I adjusted the seasonings with some salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Then, I served it piping hot with some Pugliese bread and applesauce.

Dessert was scrumptious chocolate banana bread with dark chocolate chips. This is really gooey and cake-like and unruly when still warm. The cooler it gets, the more tidy and bread-like it becomes. It's still quite good when completely cool---and looks more like you expect bread to look, you know, holding its shape and everything. I sent a loaf to work with Jeannene and we kept one at home. The recipe makes one loaf.

Chocolate Banana Bread with Dark Chocolate Chips
4 bananas, very ripe
1/3 c. brown sugar
A hearty shaking of lemon zest (I had dried on hand)
1 stick butter, room temp
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
A pinch of salt
A heaping tsp. baking powder
1 c. flour
1/4 c. cocoa
6 oz. chocolate chips (I had dark on hand, but you could use whatever you like---even PB or cinnamon or butterscotch chips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mash bananas in a large bowl. Mix in brown sugar, lemon zest, butter, vanilla, and eggs. Stir salt, baking powder, flour, & cocoa together. Add to banana mix, along with chocolate chips, and mix well. Pour into a lightly greased loaf pan and bake 1-1 & 1/2 hours. It's done when it feels springy in the center. Cool at least 5 minutes before serving. 

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

What I'm Cooking in September 2015


-Chicken noodle soup, Pugliese bread, fruit
-Cowboy steak with gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, cinnamon peaches with sugar biscuits
-Chicken allegre, dilled pea salad, smoked gouda macaroni
-Veggie cheese pie, salad, fruit, Latin Lover cocktails
-BBQ pork roast, baked potatoes, sweet corn, mocha chocolate chip cake
-Mexican casserole, chips & guacamole, salad, fruit, spice cookies
-Pecan waffles, bacon, fruit
-Thai chicken & green beans, rice, fruit
-Summer corn soup, bread/rolls, chocolate chip cookies
-Kibbeh, roasted cauliflower & hazelnut salad, hummus & pita
-Fried catfish, tomato pie, cheese grits
-Chili dog bacon cheeseburgers, veggies & dip. spicy fries, chocolate peanut butter cake
-Spinach & artichoke melts, curried rice salad, marinated veggies
-Ham loaf, garlic & herb mashed potatoes, lima beans, white sangria
-Seashell tuna casserole, salad, fruit, herbed pretzels
-Cheese ravioli with brown butter & sage, roasted cauliflower, salad with Green Goddess dressing
-Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn, apple crisp
-BBQ pork chops, cheddar-colby macaroni, green salad, caramel apple salad
-Savory pancakes, sausage, fruit
-Persian beef & celery sauce over rice, artichokes, fruit
-Ribeyes, baked potatoes, broccoli, cranberry applesauce

-Sweet & sour meatballs
-Hot chocolate supreme
-Frost on the Pumpkin Pie
-Cheddar cheese ball
-Creamy orange dip
-Apple bagel sandwich
-Tunisian chicken salad
-Olive cheese puffs
-Mini raspberry swirls

First Rainy Day of Fall Soup:
Cuban Cabbage Stew

Bucatini Alfredo with Chicken & Broccoli, August 31, 2015

In the car on the way home from visiting our son on Sunday, we were playing various games to keep ourselves entertained. Jeannene came up with the game of, "My Ideal Meal" and we each had to come up with what our ideal meal would be. Jeannene started with her ideal dinner: caprese crostinis to start the meal, then bucatini Alfredo with chicken and broccoli, a Caesar salad, Pugliese bread, and a Bumpy Cake. I said, "Not my flourless chocolate cake?" She responded that Bumpy Cake is easier, but yes, my flourless chocolate cake. But Bumpy Cake is one of her very favorites, so that would be good, too.

Well, I was picking up chicken & pitas for lemon cumin chicken last night when I decided that, since I was buying chicken anyway, I might as well make her dream dinner for her. She was having an inordinately rough day at work. I figured it would be a nice end to the day. Luckily, we'd picked up some bucatini on our drive home because our local groceries don't seem to carry it.

Bucatini Alfredo with Chicken & Broccoli
8 oz. bucatini (or your favorite kind of pasta), cooked and still hot
1 1/2 sticks butter, cut into pieces
1 c. whole milk 
1 c. grated, good quality parmesan
Salt & pepper
Some chicken, cooked and cubed
Some broccoli florets, cooked (and not overcooked!)

Stir the butter and milk into the pasta on medium-low heat until the butter melts. Stir in the cheese until it melts. Season with salt and pepper. Toss in chicken and broccoli. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Grab It & Growl, August 30, 2015

Since we had a late lunch at Sonic, we weren't hungry for dinner any time before we went to bed at 9. Jeannene had to arise early, early for work, so she was asleep by 9:30. I ended up snacking in bed on a handful of trail mix, a mini Babybel cheese round, and 2 clementines. Don't be too jealous! (actually, it was perfect & scrumptious, if a bit unorthodox)

Sprague Farm & Brew Works, August 29, 2015

Our oldest is marvelous at picking perfect places to eat. Whenever we visit him, we always go to Flip in Edinboro, PA, for breakfast. This past trip, he even chose what we would each order: a Fat Plate for his mom (country-gravy over a whole host of yumminess including scrambled eggs) and a Johnny Smash for me. He also got a Johnny Smash---basically eggs, hash browns, cheese, and onions all smashed up together. My darling girl always has to order the cinnamon flips, too. These are like a heavy, cinnamon-y beignet.

We asked him also to choose dinner and, after sifting through the possibilities, decided we'd like Sprague Farm in Venango, PA. He warned us ahead of time that it wasn't going to be anything like what we might expect, but that it would be good. We pulled into the lot of what appeared to be a farmhouse with some gravel for parking and a bunch of cars also parked on the grass.

We followed Boot to a large barn, admiring chainsaw art (my favorite was a wonderful lion throne that looked fit for Aslan---or, at least, a Pevensie) and petting kitty cats. One gorgeous white cat was tucked beautifully underneath a bush. As we entered the barn, we heard live music drifting from the back. People inside Beerhalla (think Valhalla on earth, with beer) were drinking the house-made beers and wines and relaxing to the sounds of the band.

There is no formality whatsoever at Sprague's. Classmates of Boot's leaned over the balcony railing to shout a hello and little kids ran around. You find seats where you can---Boot says it's usually crammed with people, but the local fair was keeping people otherwise occupied and we were able to snag 3 stools at a rough-hewn counter. It was fun to look around and see all the random items displayed, from a stained glass window to a sign explaining that the cat and its housekeeper live there to an old tapestry depicting creatures from Indonesian mythology to old advertising signs. Eclectic is definitely the word!

You check out the whiteboard by the kitchen (called Bitchin' Kitchen), which closes at 8 or 8:30 on Saturdays. They'll have a few things listed---some sandwiches, maybe, some pizza, perhaps. Everything looked like something I'd be happy to eat, but the pizza from a wood-fired oven sounded best of all. I released all control of what I was going to eat to the others, offering to hold our seats while they ordered for us. Soon, we were all nomming on a basket of house-made cheese (cheddar and swiss, from the cows out back), meats (salami, pepperoni, and ham chunks, also from the farm, according to Boot), and warm, soft pieces of pretzel, all served with mustard for dipping. It was a terrific appetizer. We also shared one of the best Buffalo chicken pizzas I've had the pleasure to eat. Boot informed us that everything is made on the premises, with no artificial crap.

Oh, and for drinkers, you go up to the bar, which is the big window cut out next to the kitchen window and order what you want. You can have a mason jar of beer or jelly glass of wine for there or you can take a can of beer home. Boot had a rich porter called HellBender in honor of a giant salamander, while my wife opted for the grapefruit saison, which she loved enough to buy a big can of it to bring home with us. Boot chose the Niagara wine for me, since I'm not a beer guy, and it was lovely. A great night with my family!

Gas Station Food, August 28, 2015

There's this gas station on the way to NW Pennsylvania from SE Michigan. I know that it comes after Toledo and before Sandusky, but that's about it. Inside is a Subway and a little mom & pop restaurant where we've eaten with Boot before. I Googled and it might very well be Joe's Pizza Kitchen in Oregon, Ohio, but I can't say that with any real degree of certainty. Anyway, I remembered having a really great fried bologna sandwich there, with tater tots, and Boot had really enjoyed his pizza, too. Jeannene, I think, had a patty melt that first time.

This time around, she got the fried bologna and I had the special, a sloppy joe with a ridiculously generous portion of mac & cheese. I could cheerfully have eaten Jeannene's fried bologna sandwich, if I were a person devoid of compunction. They do those just right. My sloppy joe was quite good, too, although not quite as tangy as I prefer. The mac & cheese was pretty flavorful, too.

The atmosphere, well, it's a bunch of booths in a gas station. But the food is so good and the service so quick that it makes an ideal spot for us to stop on the way to see our boy.

Roast Chicken, August 27, 2015

When your wife brings home a beautiful roasting chicken and requests in her sweetest tone to have it roasted and presented to her for dinner in the next couple of nights, it's delightful to comply! She was looking for homey and I was happy to oblige. I'd been planning pork chops & sauerkraut, so it was to be a comfort food night, anyway, and I'd not yet bought the pork. So, I brushed the chicken with melted butter, rubbed it with herbes de Provence & garlic powder, salted and peppered it, replaced the innards with a big handful of fresh rosemary, and stuck it in the oven surrounded by baby carrots, quartered red potatoes, and onion wedges. Half an hour at 425 degrees, another hour at 350 degrees, and our meat thermometer reported that supper was ready. Of course, I had to let it stand another 10 minutes for the juices to settle back into the meat. It was tender and scrumptious!

CJ's, August 26, 2015

Last Wednesday, the wife texted from work saying she wanted to go out to celebrate a good visit from the folks at corporate HQ. We thought we'd either go to Sagebrush or CJ's in Lake Orion. Sagebrush sounded good to me, but I suspected they would be, as always, packed. They were, with a 45-minute wait on a Wednesday night! The food there is good, but it definitely doesn't warrant, to my mind, a long wait like that on a weeknight. I will cheerfully wait that long if a place is fabulous, but if there are other good places around, I'd just as soon pop over to one of them. Being as CJ's is right next door, we took our business there, instead.

There are two sides to CJ's, the bar area, which is dimly lit and loud, and what I think of as the breakfast area, which is more brightly lit and much more tranquil. I sampled the chili (isn't it nice that they're willing to bring soup samples---I can't tell you how often I've made the mistake of ordering chili in Michigan without checking to see that it's what I think of as chili, rather than a bowl of coney sauce) and pronounced it good. So, my supper was that and a grilled cheese. I'd've liked them to come out at the same time, since Jeannene had also ordered an appetizer, but no big deal. We munched on tempura shrimp with our soup (she had German tomato soup, which has cabbage and ground beef in it---we'd never heard of it before & found it quite yummy). When my grilled cheese came, Jeannene had a plate of fish tacos to enjoy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Artichoke Mozzarella Brat, August 25, 2015

Last night was a final gathering, at our pastor's home, for our book discussion groups at church. We've spent the last year reading and discussing Emerging Church theologian Brian McLaren's book, We Make The Road By Walking, which is a terrific read and helped us think a lot about ways we can be more intentional about our own spiritual paths and the direction our congregation is walking, too.

I was greeted at the door by our pastor, who was taking orders for main course---burgers, apple gouda  brats, or artichoke mozzarella brats. I'd never heard of an artichoke mozzarella brat, so I chose that. It was so very delicious! We had all kinds of wonderful sides to choose from---veggie trays, fruit platters, salad, salt & vinegar kettle chips, and so forth. I opted to take my plate out to the deck, to join 3 other women from the church. It was so nice to sit outside and enjoy great conversation with these women. My wife and I are fairly new to the church, so it's always great to get the opportunity to get to know people better.

Dessert was also a display of many options. I chose to have a sliver of cheesecake and a small square of the most spectacularly good rhubarb cake! The woman who made it said that her husband has been growing tons of rhubarb this summer---so much that she has run out of things to do with it. I am so happy I got to sample some of it in cake form. Really amazing!

Grilled Cheese & Chicken Soup, August 24, 2015

I went to a henna workshop Monday night, so my darling took on dinner and had it all ready and waiting for me when I got home. Not only was it lovely to arrive home to a hot dinner, but the dinner itself could not have been more perfect for a cool August night. She made us grilled cheese sandwiches & Mrs. Grass chicken noodle soup, with the "golden egg." Yum yum!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sunday Dinner: Steak, August 23, 2015

I always joke that when it's Jeannene's night to do dinner, it's almost guaranteed that we'll have steak or pasta. Those are definitely her favorites. A few weeks ago, she was marinating steaks (I believe she used some sort of Montreal Steak Seasoning & beer) for Sunday Dinner when we got word that our youngest was ill. Dinner was off and we stuck the steaks in the freezer, going out to dinner, instead. This week, she pulled the steaks, t-bones, from the freezer, and broiled them (she ran the grill out of propane on the chicken wings she made for appetizers) for Sunday Dinner. They were much appreciated and now Pie and Bubbles have all our leftover steak to top salads later this week.

We did a really pretty simple Sunday Dinner, no dessert, although a bit appetizer heavy. Jeannene tends to go kinda crazy on those each Sunday. In addition to the wings, she also did a Velveeta queso blanco dip with Tostitos Scoops. That was stellar and I was glad the kids wolfed it because it kept me from doing so! Jeannene fried up some pierogies and I did a beautiful salad with the veggies on hand from the farmer's market, which happened to be zucchini, yellow squash, & an orange bell pepper. I chopped those and added them to some butter lettuce and sliced Bunny Luv carrots, my favorite brand. We always have a bunch of dressing on hand---Pie and I chose the Newman's Balsamic Vinaigrette, his first time trying it---he was delighted with it! I think Bubbles and Jeannene went with ranch.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

51 North, August 22, 2015

Since summer is waning and our time to eat outdoors is growing short, I decided to treat my sweetie to dinner alfresco. So, when she got home from work yesterday, I asked which patio she would enjoy---or whether she'd like me to make dinner to eat on our own patio. She immediately suggested 51 North, a brewery in Lake Orion that has a lovely patio, complete with planting boxes filled with herbs and a couple of hops-covered pergolas. We've not eaten there yet this summer and it's always wonderful to sit there.

I honestly am not a huge fan of most of the food there, although the salads always look good. It's not that the food is bad. It's just not amazing and there aren't many category options---mostly burgers and pita pizzas. We do love the steak bites, served with little toasts and blue cheese dressing, and the potstickers are good, as well, although we usually ask for soy sauce instead of either of the sauces that come with them. Neither of us is a big fan of ginger in savory dishes, so the pineapple ginger sauce isn't our thing, although I suspect a lot of people really love it. The Asian sauce is fiery and, again, not for us, but probably terrific if you like hot.

The beers here are quite creative and they offer generous flights. I can't recall all the beers Jeannene had in her flight last night, but I know one was peppery and hot, another was coffee-based, one was quite smoky, and another was very tangerine-y. The servers are incredibly knowledgable about the different beers and it's fun to talk with them about brewing techniques, different experiments they're doing with flavors, and so forth.

If you just want drinks and appetizers in a great atmosphere, this is a stellar place in the summer. It's in a former filling station and feels cold, cramped, and loud in the winter, so we tend only to go in summer. There is live music sometimes, as well, and when you're on the patio, the garage doors are open and you can hear the music, too. Last night's band was quite good, mellow and warm.

Chicken Pot Pie, August 21, 2015

A couple weeks ago, Jeannene suggested that it was about time for me to make my chicken pot pie again. Friday night, it seemed sufficiently cool and pot pie-ish to fulfill her request. I learned to make my chicken pie from my friend, Teresa, in Tennessee. It's good, although I think I used a bit too much chicken this time. Jeannene disagrees. Since I'd just been to the farmer's market and had all kinds of marvelous produce, I added a tomato and cucumber salad and a corn and zucchini sauté to complete the meal. I experimented with putting a little oregano in the tomato and cucumber salad and discovered I didn't like it at all, but add it, by all means, if you like it. I felt it muddied the clarity of the flavors. I also had some parmesan & onion hanky pankys ready to pop out of the oven when Jeannene came home. These little toasts go by all kinds of names, but I like the playfulness of hanky pankys. My favorite version is my aunt Holly's Gloria Hardingtons, which I have written about here before. There is also a version involving sausage and Velveeta, which I have not yet tried. Honestly, I've been reluctant to try any but the Glorias because they are so stunningly good. But this parmesan version was pretty tasty, too. This is the basic recipe for the appetizer, which should be enough for 7 people. You can easily cut the amounts if you're just making it for 2 people, but in my experience, when making these type of appetizers for larger groups, it's actually better to double the recipe, just because people love them so much.

Parmesan & Onion Hanky Pankys
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 c. mayonnaise 
1/4-1/2 c. grated parmesan
Pepper & a little garlic powder
14 slices cocktail rye

Preheat broiler. Mix everything but rye together. Broil rye until lightly toasted. Turn over and spread with topping. Broil until bubbly and nicely browned. 

Chicken Pot Pie
2 pie crusts (I use the pre-made refrigerated kind)
1/2-1 pound chicken breast chunks, cooked (I used about 1 & 1/2 this time, too much for me)
1 can Veg All, drained (You can use other mixed veg)
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup (I almost always use low fat, low sodium versions of the soups)
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put one crust in a pie plate. Mix the rest together & pour into crust. Top with second crust, crimping & sealing. Cut slits to vent the top (or use mini cookie cutters for make designs). Bake 1 hour. Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

Tomato & Cucumber Salad
1 large tomato, diced (I like to use an heirloom tomato here)
1 cucumber, peeled & sliced thickly
3 or 4 leaves basil, sliced in chiffonade
1/4 red. onion, diced
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. oregano, opt. 
1-2 tbsp. olive oil

Mix everything together and let stand 5 or 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4-6. 

Corn & Zucchini Sauté
2 tbsp. butter or olive oil
1 zucchini, diced
1 onion, diced
1 jalapeño, seeds and membranes removed, minced (or to taste)
Salt and pepper
Garlic powder
Kernels cut from 2-3 ears corn (you can do this with frozen corn, but it's not the same. I only make it in season)

Melt butter in skillet and add everything but the corn. Cook until veggies are tender, then add corn and cook another few minutes, until corn is tender. Serves 4. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Vaca Frita, August 20, 2015

I've had vaca frita (literally, "fried cow") in Cuban restaurants and really liked it, but had never made it at home before. I cooked & shredded the beef before going to a picnic with my friends, then marinated it when I got home. When Jeannene got home from work, all I had to do was fry it. It's not so healthy, but really yummy for an every now & then treat. I had some guacamole & tortilla chips waiting for her when she arrived. Not a Cuban dish, but she loves guac, so I decided to make it to go with our Cuban food. I'd made a Cuban green bean salad for the picnic, so I served that, instead of my usual avocado & onion salad. I also made black beans & rice.

Vaca Frita
2 1/2 lb. flank steak, cut in half
2 bay leaves
1/4 c. lime juice
1/ c. lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt & pepper
Olive oil for frying
1 lg. onion, halved and sliced
Lime wedges

Cover beef with salted water. Add bay leaves and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, on low for 90 minutes. Allow to cool, then slice into 2" wide strips and shred those so you end up with 2" long shreds. Mix the juices, garlic, salt, & pepper. Mix with beef and marinate at least an hour. Squeeze dry. Fry in a bit of olive oil for about 7 minutes. Add onion and cook another 5-7 minutes, until crispy. Serve with lime wedges. Serves 6-8. 

Cuban Green Bean Salad
2 lb. green beans, trimmed and halved
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/3 c. Spanish olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Heaping tsp. sugar
Heaping tsp. salt
A bit of minced parsley (dried is okay, if you don't have fresh)
1 small onion, sliced

Drop beans into boiling, salted water and cook about 8 minutes. Make sure not to overcook them. Mix everything else together. Drain beans and toss with dressing. Marinate at room temp at least an hour. Serves 6-8. (If you want to make these ahead of time, they are also good cold.)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Grillin' with Greg, August 19, 2015

Our pastor went to our denomination's national gathering in June. The idea of pastors going is that they will bring back info from the gathering about what kinds of resolutions were passed and what happened. Not all pastors do this, but not only did our pastor, Greg, provide us with info about what the national body is up to, he fed us. Smart guy. About 50 of us got together for burgers and dogs from the grill, complete with all the usual bottled condiments plus onions and green peppers. He used to work the grill for a ball team, so he definitely know what he's doing. We had a gorgeous salad, a couple different kinds of kettle chips, pretzel rods, and a lovely array of desserts. I was thrilled to get a lemon cupcake because my wife doesn't like lemon. What she really loves is Bumpy Cake, a Ho-Ho cake sort of concoction, and that was there, too. We, of course, supplied some big ol' pickles for people's munching pleasure.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Potato, Pea, & Onion Frittata, August 18, 2015

I'd planned to make vaca frita, a traditional Cuban dish that requires hours of cooking time, for last night's supper. However, I unexpectedly got to meet my friend, Kerry, and her 11-year-old daughter at the Toledo Zoo, a couple hours from home. Luckily, I had the ingredients to make a frittata, which I paired with a bagged Caesar salad, peaches, and a batch of truly scrumptious s'mores bars (Betty Crocker Hershey's S'mores Bars). Frittatas are great life-saver meals because I almost always have some veggies, some eggs, and some cheese on-hand and they are so quick.

Potato, Pea, and Onion Frittata
4 or 5 smallish new potatoes, finely diced
1/3 c. frozen peas, thawed
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
8 eggs
Salt & pepper
A handful grated parmesan
A handful grated cheddar

Preheat broiler. Cover potatoes with water. Add salt and bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes. Heat oil in 10" oven-safe skillet (I like my cast iron skillet for frittatas). Cook the onion translucent, then add potatoes and cook another 7 minutes or so. Make sure the potatoes don't get browned and crispy. Add peas and cook a minute. Beat eggs with salt and pepper. Add cheeses. Pour into skillet with veggies. Cook until the bottom is set, 5-7 minutes. Broil until the top is set and golden-brown. Loosen the edges gently and invert onto a large plate. Cut into wedges to serve. Serves 6.

Broadway Grill, August 17, 2015

I'd planned a dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches, along with homemade onion rings & 3-bean salad. At the last moment, though, that just didn't sound like what I wanted. I didn't know what I did want, but it wasn't that. Luckily, Jeannene had commented, the last few times we'd passed The Broadway Grill, that we should go back there sometime. It'd been quite awhile since we'd eaten there. When I told her I wasn't in the mood for our dinner & I wanted to go there instead, she was delighted.

Since she's been jonesin' for wings, I agreed to an order of wings as an appetizer. I am not as wing-mad as she is, but the couple I had were tasty---not the best I've had, but good. Our waitress, who was very friendly and happy to make recommendations for us, brought our soups just about the same time as the wings, so we had a lot on our hands right away. My beef vegetable soup was yummy and her bean soup was good, too. I ate all of mine and wasn't hungry for my California club when it arrived, so I have it for lunch today. Jeannene loved her ribs, most of which also came home with us, and she said her baked potato was the best she's had out in years.

I was considering dessert, but they were out of the strawberry shortcake, which was what I really wanted. I thought about a teeny sundae, but they only have chocolate syrup and not hot fudge, so we just came home. Dessert's not so good for me, so why eat it unless it's exactly what I want?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Chicken & Rice, August 16, 2015

My dear wife needed a cozy, home-cooking, comfort food sort of dinner last night. This chicken & rice, a recipe from one of my former parishioners, Roselyn Faulkner, fit the bill perfectly. I made some fresh green beans to go with it and put out a veggie tray left over from Saturday night's picnic. Roz says the dish is great to take to people who are recuperating from surgery or sickness and also that it freezes nicely. How many people it feeds depends on how many chicken breasts you use, 1 per person. It's incredibly easy and quite comforting.

Roz's Chicken & Rice
1 c. rice
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I use Healthy Choice)
1 can cream of chicken soup (likewise)
1 can cream of celery soup (and likewise)
1 soup can of water
2-3 tbsp. dry onion soup mix (optional)
4-6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix soup and water with rice, as well as onion soup mix, if using. Pour into greased 13x9 baking dish. Place the chicken breasts on top of the rice. Season with salt and pepper. Top with dots of butter. Bake about an hour. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Pizza in the Park, August 15, 2015

My dear friend from my hometown lives, with her husband and adorable little boys, only half an hour from us, as we discovered last winter. We got together back then, just the two of us with her boys, for lunch at her place. I got to meet her husband briefly then, but we've been meaning to get together, all of us, for dinner ever since. Tonight, we finally did, meeting at a wonderful park with big trees and a great playground for the boys. Nicki suggested meeting for a picnic supper and I loved the idea! She and Gus brought pizza from Buddy's and Chips Ahoy, while we added some veggies and dip and a bowl of grapes to round out the meal. It was a yummy meal and a fantastic visit!

Roman Burgers, August 14, 2015

Last night, we had burger night, but with a bit of a twist. One of the sub shops we used to go to when we lived in Cleveland had Roman burger hoagies. I decided to try my hand at making them. I'd meant to do a salad with them, but I forgot to pick up salad greens at the grocery, so it was just the burgers with crinkle fries.

Roman Burgers
6 tbsp. dry breadcrumbs (Italian, if you have them on hand)
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 c. water
1 lb. ground beef (I used 90% lean---you could also use frozen Italian-seasoned veggie burgers & omit the breadcrumbs and water)
1 (10 oz) can tomato soup (Healthy Choice works great)
Salt & pepper
6 slices mozzarella cheese (low-fat is good)
6 burger buns 

Mix breadcrumbs with 1 tsp. Italian seasoning & water. Add ground beef and mix well, but not over-much. Form into 6 patties (or 3 oblong ones to put on hoagie buns). Brown in a skillet coated with cooking spray. Mix soup with remaining 1 tsp. Italian seasoning. Pour over burgers. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes. Place a slice of cheese on each burger and cook another couple minutes. Serve on buns with extra sauce from the pan. Serves 3-6.