Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Andiamo, Bloomfield Twp, February 20, 2015

We had an appointment with our adoption caseworker in Ann Arbor late Friday afternoon. We knew we'd be really busy on Saturday, our 1 year anniversary of being legally married, as we were flying out to New Jersey Sunday morning. It seemed prudent, then, to go ahead and celebrate our anniversary a day early. I'd planned to stop in at Frita Batidos downtown Ann Arbor for a casual Cuban celebration. We'd never been and it sounded fun and yummy. However, when we drove by, it was completely slammed, with silhouettes of many people standing showing through the steamed-up windows. Between the crowded dining room and the walk we'd have, in the freezing cold, from the car, it seemed better to leave that particular restaurant exploration for warmer days.

I suggested that we just stop anyplace that looked good on our way home. However, I had spotted Andiamo on our way to the appointment and thought that, if we passed it again and it didn't look too crowded, we would stop there. I'd heard from several people that it's one of the better Italian restaurants in the Detroit Metro and had been interested in trying it. Jeannene was completely in favor. When we arrived, we were able to get a table in the comfortable, if a bit dim, dining room right away. Our service was good, although I found myself having to suppress waves of giggles over our waitress' atrocious pronunciation of the Italian dishes. When I pronounced "bufala" correctly while ordering the bufala artichokes, the waitress asked me about my accent. I said, "Southwest Ohio?" She said that wasn't it and that she thought I sounded British or something. I managed to keep my snort internal, but after she left, I started talking to Jeannene in my fake British accent.

So, we started with a basket of fairly good bread and very good grissini, along with the artichokes (which were disappointingly heavily breaded, but still tasty, with the bufala mozzarella and pomodoro sauce) and drinks. Jeannene had a Peroni, while I opted for a delicious glass of Ruffino Moscato d'Asti. I know, I know, moscato is a dessert wine. All you wine snobs out there are looking down your noses at me, I know, but I don't really like wine, except for sweet wines. The good news is, I won't make you drink it. The Ruffino, for those of you who do like moscato, is one of the most enjoyable moscatos I've ever had. It's quite floral and delicate. Heretofore, Elektra has been my favorite, by far, but this has it beat.

For my main course, I went with the waitress' suggestion to have the lasagna, which was nice and light, for lasagna. The pasta sheets were much thinner than usual and it wasn't so heavy on the cheese that it was hard to swallow. Despite the more dainty texture, it was still quite substantial and I could only eat half of it. I'd also had half of a gorgeous beet salad, a long line of earthy-tasting heirloom red and golden beets adorned with baby arugula, dollops of gorgonzola, crunchy toasted oats, chewy golden raisins, and both fig balsamic and cranberry vinaigrette. To me, that was the star of the meal. Jeannene got her veal parm fix and was well-pleased with both the meat and the deliciously flavored pasta and veggies that accompanied it.

Dessert was splendid, as well. They currently have a coastal menu available and, when the (very impressive, multi-level) dessert cart came around, it was hard to pick, but the coastal menu's key lime chiffon pie won my vote. Jeannene hates key lime anything, but gamely tried it. When she made her "Eewwww, this is sour!" face, I knew I'd like it. It was, in fact, the sort of key lime dessert I seldom encounter north of Florida and I was thoroughly delighted with my splurge. The little round had that distinct true key lime flavor, and plenty of it, in combination with a texture at once both creamy and airy, and a satisfyingly solid, down to earth graham crust.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

An Unnamed Chinese Restaurant in Lake Orion, Michigan, February 19, 2015

Oh, dear, was this a bad one! I still feel bad about taking my wife out to a restaurant she hated & I didn't like very much. We had intended to go to Panda House in Lake Orion, which she really likes, but we were running later with errands than we'd expected (curse you, Michael's!) and wouldn't make it there before they closed. So, I took us to a little place I'd been a couple of times and thought was okay, if not stellar, certainly better than the one I went to with my friend, Connie. Jeannene loved the crab wontons, but when her General Tso's chicken arrived, she took one bite, looked revolted, and said, "I'm done," pushing it away from her. It tasted okay to me, if overly sweet. She didn't even like the rice. I had ordered a pork & noodle dish and thought it was okay, if pretty oily-tasting (and not fresh oil, either). However, when Jeannene tried it and said it tasted like "rotting dog meat," I was completely done, as well. She is usually a reluctant Asian food eater and I suspect it will be a very long time before she allows me to talk her into Chinese food again. Sigh. At least the kids loved the very generous amounts of leftovers we had them come pick up from us!

Jeannene's Birthday Dinner, February 18, 2015

In our family, the birthday honoree gets to choose whatever they want for dinner, whether that's out to the fanciest restaurant, their favorite home-cooked dinner, or even junk food from the gas station, as our youngest chose several years in a row as a teenager. Jeannene decided this year that she really wanted my chicken enchilada casserole for dinner and chocolate ice cream cake from Dairy Queen for dessert. She loves corn and she loves Dole's chipotle cheddar chopped salad, so I had natural choices for sides. I also picked up some fresh pineapple, one of her favorite fruits. She always says, "It tastes like candy!" and I always crack up because, to me, it tastes nothing like candy! I think it cracks her up that I say, every time, "It does not taste like candy!" I also had chips and homemade guacamole waiting for her when she got home from work.

I'm traveling, so I don't have the exact casserole recipe with me. It's pretty simple, though. You preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place 3 corn tortillas in a 13x9 pan. Top with layers of diced tomatoes, shredded cooked chicken, chopped green chiles, sliced black olives, sour cream, and shredded extra-sharp cheddar. Repeat the layers, using 9 tortillas in all. Bake for half an hour to 45 minutes, until the top is all bubbly & browned.

Mardi Gras, February 17, 2015

I love Mardi Gras and love to make a New Orleans-style dinner for the holiday. There are no pancakes for our Shrove Tuesday. I don't love pancakes in the first place and I can't imagine forgoing jambalaya to eat them for my supper. I also have to have a king cake, whether I make it or pick it up at the grocery or a bakery. Since our area is all about the paczki (seriously, people place orders ahead of time and stand in line in bitter cold, in the middle of the night, to get them---I can't think of any food I like that much!), this year, I made our king cake from the Mam Papaul's mix, the praline filling variety. I added some pecans to the filling for extra crunch---delicious! It always looks so festive, too. I always put the baby in the cake. This year, Jeannene got the baby and was absolutely delighted. In our family, getting the baby means good luck in the coming year.

For our main course, I made chicken & andouille jambalaya from Emeril's recipe. I used to use shrimp, too, but since the wife is squeamish now, I omit it. It's really good, though. You can find the recipe on the Food Network site. One of these years, maybe I'll get brave and make crawfish pie and do the king cake from scratch. By the way, if you're in Dayton, Ohio, for Mardi Gras next year, you should check out the Mardi Gras menu at Rue Dumaine. Chef Anne Kearney makes a superb crawfish pie. Of course, The Winds Cafe in Yellow Springs usually does a glorious table-side Bananas Foster, too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Corn Chowder, February 16, 2015

It's been bitterly cold here. It was 15 below when we awoke yesterday, so soup for supper was perfect. I have a Better Homes & Gardens Famous Foods from Famous Places cookbook from 1964 and the corn chowder recipe I chose came from the Publick House in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. You can still eat or sleep at the historic inn, which has been in operation since 1771 and is really lovely. They may even still serve corn chowder occasionally as the soup du jour. I changed some of the amounts, as well as the technique, to get the bacon crisper, and used chicken broth rather than water for a richer flavor. What resulted was a really cozy and delicious soup. With it, I served a spinach salad with blue cheese, dried cherries, and white balsamic vinaigrette (from a bag), Pugliese bread (from Trader Joe's), and canned peaches. Simple, quick, and yummy.

New England Corn Chowder
4 slices bacon (or 1-2 tbsp. olive oil)
1 onion, halved & thinly sliced 
2 cups chicken broth (you can sub water or veggie broth)
3 medium red potatoes, diced
Salt & pepper
2 cans cream-style corn
2 c. light cream (you can sub milk, even skim, and still have a good soup)
1 tbsp. butter (this can be omitted)

Cook bacon crisp in a large saucepan and remove to drain on paper-towel-lined plate. In same pan, cook onions until lightly browned. Remove excess fat. Add broth, potatoes, salt, and pepper to onions. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Add corn and cream. Simmer another 5 minutes. Add butter and stir to melt. Crumble the bacon into the soup just before serving. Serves 4-6. 

Logan's, February 15, 2015

On Sunday, we went to one of those paint & drink places to celebrate Jeannene and Bubbles' birthdays, later this week. Since we were already out and about, since neither kid had to work, and since it was, after all, Sunday, we decided to have Bubbles' birthday dinner early, too. We asked what she would like for her special dinner. Originally, she thought perhaps Chinese food would be good, but that changed to steak, so we took them to Logan's. It's close to home, not terribly expensive, and usually has pretty reliably good food.

We were seated fairly promptly and ordered drinks (I love their prickly pear margarita, not least because of the hot-pink-sugar-rimmed glass) and appetizers. Pie almost always chooses wings and this time was no exception. He ordered the "Nashville Hot" sauce with them, which turned out to be spicy and also a bit sweet. Bubbles & Jeannene nommed on fried mushrooms, which smelled incredibly mushroom-y & were reported to be terrific. Jeannene was happy Bubbles chose those, as I don't eat them. I would happily watch her enjoy them, but she never wants to get an appetizer I don't also like. I ordered fried pickles, something I never order when it's just the two of us. Unfortunately, the waitress reported to us that "something happened with the fryer" and the pickles didn't make an appearance. When our waitress brought our check, without the pickles on it, she also brought a box of fried pickles to go. When I happened to smell them as we got into the car, I was repulsed by the reek of old grease. We gave them to the kids, who don't notice such things, generally speaking, and would cheerfully eat them. Whatever happened with the fryer clearly was not good.

Our steaks and baked potatoes were great and cooked just perfectly. Jeannene and I got filet mignon, Bubbles chose the sirloin, and Pie got a ribeye. Bubbles liked her sweet potato fries and broccoli quite well. Jeannene mushroomed out with a grilled 'shroom skewer, I had a (very bland) salad, and I couldn't tell you what sides Pie had. He was all about the steak and told the waitress he didn't care which sides he got or if he even got sides, so I didn't notice what he had on his plate, besides a very rare steak. He adores it that way. Jeannene and I would have liked to get their little bucket desserts, but the kids were full and ready to go, so off we went.

Chicken Scallopine, February 14, 2015

I decided to leave Valentine's dinner up to Jeannene. Since we celebrate our legal wedding anniversary a week after Valentine's Day, probably with a meal out, it made sense to just have a special dinner at home. Besides that, Jeannene loves to show her love by cooking a special meal---and I love to eat her special meals! I knew we'd likely have steak or pasta, as those are her favorites and her specialties. In this case, we had chicken scallopine, basil gnocchi with rosa sauce, and roasted rosemary & garlic purple cauliflower. I had every intention of making a special chocolate cake, but we were out of the house all day, so that didn't happen. Instead, we had chocolate chip cookies I baked on Friday for dessert. I did make us special cocktails, Raspberry Lavender Royales with champagne, Chambord, lavender syrup, and fresh raspberries. They were lovely! I am incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful wife who also happens to be an excellent cook. Everything was superb!

Church Luau, February 13, 2015

On Friday night, we bundled up against the Michigan cold and yet also wore our tropical best for our church's luau! Timberlands with a sundress? Sure! A turtleneck under a Hawaiian shirt? Yup! We both forgot until early last week that dinner was provided, so we were both thinking about what foods we might provide for a luau. I was thinking perhaps some roast pork or some sort of pineapple confection. Jeannene was all prepared to provide a Spam roast. However, we ended up not having to cook and the food, coordinated by our music director, was delicious!

The food was presented buffet-style. There was that ramen coleslaw sort of salad (which I love), macaroni salad (which Jeannene praised, but I refused to try), delicious meatballs in a sweet & tangy sauce, rice, roast pork (which was terrific!), chicken wings, Hawaiian rolls, yummy desserts (including lemon bars and a wonderful cake, the recipe for which I am going to try to weasel out of our music director---it's been passed down in his family), Hawaiian beers, and pineapple punch (I missed out on the spiked version, but the non-spiked version was really yummy!).

When we were done mmming, we spent the rest of the night laughing at the hula/imitate your pet contest, the limbo contest, the hula hooping contest, the 12 days of Hawaiian Vacation we all chimed in to sing (we were the "6 flower leis" table twirling our leis in the air, right next to the "5 bottles of rum" table, who raised their bottles high in a toast), and seeing our pastor in a grass skirt and music director in a coconut bra. Great food, great fun!

Friday, February 13, 2015

"Failed" Corn Dogs, February 12, 2015

Yesterday, I decided to try my hand at making corn dogs from scratch. I was a little concerned that they'd be all browned and lovely on the outside and undercooked on the inside, as I've had them at fairs that way. Or that the batter would be flavorless. Or that it would be sodden and soft, falling off and sticking in my throat like paper pulp. So many ways they could have gone wrong. In a way, they did go wrong, in that the ingredients I thought would easily make batter for 4 hot dogs really only made enough for two and a half or three. It probably would have been enough for 4, had I been able to handle it with any sort of grace, but it was stubborn and insisted on being where it wanted to be. So, two, it was, with the rest tossed, especially given that the wife had already suggested we simply go out to dinner. When I informed her that I already had the fries in the oven (the plan was corn dogs, crinkle fries, corn, and salad), she then said perhaps the corn dogs could be tried as an appetizer and I could eat the fries for lunch today if the corn dogs were inedible. Well, she didn't actually use that word, but the meaning was clear. She cracks me up!

So, I finished battering the dogs and popped them in the hot oil. They were done in no time and had turned a gorgeous golden brown. However, the bumpy texture, combined with the shape, was pretty unappealing, I have to say---so much so that I did not take a picture. But they smelled yummy and I was determined at least to try them. Since Jeannene was clearly skeeved out by them, I cut them into little corn dog bites and put them on a plate with ketchup and mustard. They were yummy, indeed! She didn't like them, not one tiny bit, but I thought they were great. So, I am passing the recipe along to you!

Homemade Corn Dogs
1 c. Bisquick
3 tbsp. cornmeal
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 c. milk (I might use a little more next time, to make the batter easier to work with)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2-4 hot dogs, room temp & patted dry (you could do veggie dogs)
Vegetable oil for frying

Mix dry ingredients together. Add milk and egg. Let stand about 10 minutes. Heat about 2" of oil in a large saucepan on medium-high to 370 degrees. Coat hot dogs in batter, then fry, 2 at a time, until golden brown. This will happen pretty quickly, so don't get involved in another project. Drain on paper towels and repeat, if doing more. Serves 2-4.

After that appetizer, we went to a local bar & grill called Christi's, which was packed with folks there, perhaps, for open mic night. We scored a table right by the fireplace, which was really wonderful, and a ditzy waitress, who kept forgetting to bring us things. She was really nice, just didn't seem to have much in the way of retentive brain cells. Menus? Oh, yeah. Sauce? Oh, yeah. Check? Oh, yeah. To-Go Box---Oh, never mind, we'll just go.

I am probably just too old and cranky, but the music was pretty awful and pretty loud. I've never loved having to shout at my dinner companion for them to hear me, but I do know that if you go to a bar on open mic night, it's stupid to gripe about bad, loud music! The filler band's lead singer grated on my nerves, too, with a really unfunny joke. He said, "This is the only love song I know," and launched into a cover of Guns 'N' Roses' "Used to Love Her" (which then says, "but I had to kill her," if you're not familiar with the song, a horrible, misogynistic piece). I've always hated the song and, having been in conversations about Christian Grey and Gamergate/Anita Sarkeesian/Brianna Wu this week, it really struck a wrong note with me.

But this isn't a blog about feminist critique of open mic night choices. It's a food blog, so back to the food. We split the nachos, which were terrific, with plenty of toppings. We ran out of chips before toppings, rather than the usual other way around. I also tried a jalapeño slice and discovered I quite like jalapeños on my nachos. I've always avoided them, assuming they'll be too hot for me, but I thought, "What the heck! What's the worst that can happen? Not much." Now, I know. We also got the buffalo chicken flatbread appetizer to share. I wasn't very hungry by the time it came, so I had very little. Jeannene took one bite and was horrified to discover they're quite generous with the blue cheese. I thought that was a huge asset, myself, and would gladly have taken it home. However, it's probably better that I didn't. One day of corn dog bites and nachos and junk is quite enough! But, someday when I've eaten virtuously and gotten plenty of exercise, I will go back. They do have healthier options that are also tasty, but I like the bar food. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Pan-Latin Citrus Turkey Breast, February 11, 2015

Continuing the theme of multi-ethnic meals for the week, I made a Cubanish dinner last night. I say Cubanish because the turkey marinade wasn't very typically Cuban, what with the jalapeño and chile powder and basil. Really, using turkey wasn't very Cuban, either. It's not a popular meat in Cuban culture, generally speaking, but it was on sale at the grocery and looked pretty good. I like to start my meat (other than seafood) marinating either the night before or the morning I'm going to make the dish, so it has lots of time to soak up the flavors. If, however, you forget, a couple hours will do the trick. I prefer, honestly, a typical Cuban mojo for marinade, but it's fun to change it up sometimes.

Last night, I used Goya canned black bean soup to put over the rice, since we both like it quite a bit and our local grocery carries it. If you want to make yours from scratch, you can find the recipe here. I also used Goya frozen maduros (sweet plantains), as I've been having a hard time finding good ripe plantains anywhere near me. Jeannene had spotted these at a Mexican grocery near Pie & Bubbles' apartment & picked them up for me to have on hand. I baked them in the oven and they turned out great! For a salad, I put some slivers of sweet onion and chunks of avocado on butter lettuce, then dressed it with a lime juice, olive oil, salt, & pepper. Simple and delicious.

Pan-Latin Citrus Turkey Breast
2 large skinless, boneless turkey breasts
Juice of 2 limes
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a heavy knife blade
1/2 tsp. chile powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. salt

Mix everything but the turkey. Add the turkey and marinate at least a couple hours. Broil, grill, or pan-fry in olive oil until cooked through. Serves 2 or 3. 

Saigon Diamond, February 10, 2015

Tuesday night, Jeannene had to work quite late, so I was on my own for dinner. I went to pick up our pottery that we'd made & glazed, pondering the whole way there what sounded good for dinner. When I'm on my own for dinner, I often try to eat things that Jeannene doesn't really dig (sloppy joes, for instance). She is not a huge fan of Asian food, while I like it quite a bit. So, I stopped in Madison Heights on the way home. My intention was to go to a Vietnamese restaurant I'd been to before, so I could have more of their great fried spring rolls. Sadly, they were closed for an extended time, probably for the upcoming New Year. I honestly can't remember the name, but they're in the same plaza on John R with a fruit store. I know, that's not very helpful!

Luckily, I had passed Saigon Diamond on the way and noticed it. So, I flipped around and took myself to dinner there. The space was not terribly inviting, just a big, largely undecorated room, very functional. Big t.v.s blared the mayor of Detroit's annual address and a couple of guys sat slurping pho and chatting quietly. Despite the glaringly fluorescent surroundings, the service was prompt and friendly. I ordered their spring rolls and, because I seldom get to have them and I am an addict, bun chao gio, a noodle dish with more spring rolls and pork, as well as some veggies. The hot tea was piping and flavorful. The spring rolls, while not as good as the other place, were still delicious and quite long. I took most home, since I had one chopped up on my main course, and they made a great lunch yesterday. The bun chao gio was good, too. I'd not ever had mint tucked in among the veggies and that was a lovely addition. The pork was very flavorful and the noodles cooked perfectly.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pasta e Fagioli and Beet Salad, February 9, 2015

My library has a wonderful book discussion group----the genre is cookbooks! So, every other month, we get together in one of the meeting rooms to eat and talk about that month's selection. We all bring a dish from whatever it is, sample them, talk about the book and the author, and generally have a good ol' time. Our first meeting was in December and we could choose any cookbook by Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. No, it's not pioneer food. It's really yummy, pretty easy, and mostly unhealthy food good for people who are burning scads of calories every day working on a ranch. I did malted chocolate chip cookies for that one. You can find that recipe on Ree's website.

Tonight's choice was any cookbook by Lidia Bastianich. It required me to seriously step up my game. I had a difficult time finding a recipe that A. sounded good to me, B. wasn't insanely involved, and C. worked well for a potluck away from home. First, I checked out Lidia's Family Table. While I loved the stories, most of the recipes were ones I couldn't imagine making even for the family, much less to serve at a potluck. Next, I looked on Pinterest and decided there was hope, after all. I went back to the library and picked up Lidia's Favorite Recipes. I did find a couple of recipes to make. Neither one was at all for beginning cooks, but they turned out okay. But I would not go to all the trouble the recipes require for the end result. You know, actually, I liked the beet salad a whole lot and will likely make it again. I'll just do it my own way. The beet salad was the favorite, for a lot of book club members, of all the dishes presented. General consensus was that, although the food was quite good, we all felt that most of the recipes were too labor intensive for us. If, however, you love to spend hours fiddling around in your kitchen, Lidia's your woman! I'm a much lazier cook, so these recipes are not as she would make them, to be sure (and I think it needs some red pepper flakes). But, they turned out pretty good. By the way, if pink goo scares you, the step of making a paste of the garlic and raw bacon in the soup-making process might be a little much for you. But you can do it! It's just bacon. This combo, in addition to being suitable for potlucks, would make a great lunch or supper for company.

Pasta e Fagioli
1 lb. dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight in cold water & drained well
6 quarts water
3 large russet potatoes, peeled but left whole
3 sprigs rosemary
3 bay leaves
12 slices bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces (vegetarians & vegans can probably omit this, although it will alter the flavor)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 c. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, with their juice
Salt and pepper
1-4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 lb. ditalini (can sub 3 c. macaroni)
Grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano (vegans can skip this)

Bring beans, water, potatoes, rosemary, and bay leaves to a boil in a very, very large pot. Simmer while you prep the veggies & bacon. Process bacon and garlic to a paste in a food processor. Heat oil in large skillet. Add bacon/garlic and cook golden, about 5 minutes. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add carrots and cook until the onion starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, bring to a boil, and simmer about 5 minutes. Pour 2 ladlefuls of bean broth into the skillet and bring to a boil. pour skillet contents into soup pot. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper. Bring to a boil. Simmer on medium until beans are tender, 45 minutes to an hour. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until it's quite a bit smoother, although not entirely puréed. Lacking an immersion blender, you can remove about a third of the beans, allow them to cool, and purée them in a regular blender or food processor before returning them to the pot. You will also need to remove the potatoes and mash them, returning them, as well. They will already have fallen apart, but you don't want big hunks left. Cook the soup another 10-15 minutes, then let it rest off the heat, covered, another 10-15 minutes. While the soup is resting, cook the pasta al dente in salted water and drain well. Add to the soup. Let it rest another 5 minutes, then serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of cheese on each serving. Serves 12-15. 

Roasted Beet and Beet Greens Salad with Apples and Goat Cheese
8-10 small yellow and red beets with greens attached
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
4 oz. goat cheese (vegans can omit this)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice off the greens, leaving only a smidge of stem. Scrub well, poke several times with a fork, and place in a shallow baking dish with about 1/4" water in the bottom. Roast until they are shriveled, dark, and caramelized on the outside and tender inside (when tested with a knife). This will take 45 minutes to an hour and a half. Cool thoroughly. Rinse greens well. Cut off the tough stem bottoms and separate leaves from middle, more tender stems. Cook stems in boiling water about 7 minutes. Add leaves and cook another 15 minutes, until stems are very soft. Drain well and season with half the salt. Peel beets and cut off stems and roots. Cut into thick slices or thin wedges. Toss with greens. Whisk oil and vinegar with remaining salt and pepper. Drizzle on beets and toss to coat. Mix beets and apples, then crumble goat cheese onto the salad just before serving. Serves 4-6.

Next meeting's cookbooks are Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian and Del Sroufe's Forks Over Knives Cookbook. I am excited to check those out!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Slow Cooker Pot Roast, Sunday Dinner, February 8, 2015

Yesterday, as soon as we got up, I popped a roast in the crockpot. We wanted to have the freedom to go to the grocery in the afternoon and still have Sunday Dinner ready at a reasonable hour. This roast is ridiculously easy and truly delicious. I served it with mashed potatoes (Bob Evans from the grocery cooler, heated in the microwave), corn, rolls left over from the sliders Jeannene made the night before, and a teeny, adorable chocolate cake we found in the grocery store bakery. Oh, and Jeannene made gravy using the juices from the crockpot and a packet of beef gravy mix. It was all super simple, but it was a perfect, all-American Sunday night dinner.

Slow Cooker Pot Roast
3 1/2 to 4 lb. beef pot roast
1 envelope onion soup mix 
1 can cream of mushroom soup (reduced fat & sodium is particularly a good choice, given the onion soup mix)
1 2/3 c. water

Put roast in crockpot and sprinkle soup mix over the top. Cover with soup, then add water around the base. Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours. Serves 6. 

Valentine-Making Party, February 7, 2015

I love to have a Valentine-making party each year! I also love potlucks, because I get to eat things I normally wouldn't think to make. So, Saturday night, I combined the two. I decided to make red beans and rice, given the Valentine's Day theme and the color red. I'd considered making apple and brie toasts and lavender truffles, but, given the cold, something a bit less frouffy seemed in order. What, I wondered, would go great with red beans and rice? How about some Mexican Espresso Brownies? Perfect! I decided to play around and see what I could come up with. I used a box of Duncan Hines chewy fudge brownies and mixed them up according to the package directions, using melted butter instead of oil because I'd run myself out of oil on the fried chicken and forgot until the last minute. I like my brownies chewy much more than cakey, so I used just one egg, instead of two. Into the mix, I put 2 tsp. cinnamon, 2 tsp. chile, a big pinch of cayenne, and about a tablespoon of instant espresso powder. They were stellar, as were the red beans.

Red Beans & Rice
1 lb. dried red beans
4 c. water (plus more for soaking)
1 onion, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. salt
1/4 lb. diced ham (you can sub bacon or salt pork or omit altogether for a vegan dish)
2 tsp. cumin
Cooked rice

Soak beans in cold water to cover by at least 4 inches for at least 8 hours. Drain and mix with rest of ingredients, except rice, in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 6-8 hours. Serves 6. 

My sweet wife's contribution was yummy little shredded beef sliders with honey chipotle sauce. Ken & Meghan brought brownies, too, but theirs were topped with York mini patties before baking (in a heart-shaped pan!) & then they were sprinkled with Valentine sprinkles. Meghan's always got adorable desserts! They also brought delicious honey garlic meatballs. Brenda & Kenny brought an Italian sub they sliced up into teeny individual subs, along with some chicken salad (oh, yum!) and palmiers for dessert. Frank & Connie brought all the makings for Bananas Foster and we had quite a show, what with the flames and the cinnamon sparkles! 

Game Night & Potluck at Church, February 6, 2015

Friday night, the Faith Formation team at our church put on a game night & potluck. We had good fun and some yummy food. Our contribution was a cheese plate (a log of Montchevré goat cheese, a wedge of Fromager d'Affinois double-cream, a block of Cabot extra-sharp cheddar, and a wedge of rosemary and olive oil Bellavitano asiago), along with purple and green grapes and a couple of demo-baguettes. There were all kinds of good dishes to be had. I think my favorite was a tater tot hot dish and Jeannene really dug a Mexican-style quinoa and black bean casserole.

Steak with Creamy Paprika Sauce, February 5, 2015

My wife really loves steak. I like it, too, but she adores it. So, every so often, I like to throw it into the mix when I'm planning dinners. Last week, she found some terrific-looking ribeyes at the grocery, so I made them with a creamy paprika sauce. I did egg noodles and lima beans to accompany the steaks. Ribeye is normally my favorite cut of steak, with filet mignon a close second, so I was really looking forward to dinner. Sadly, every bite I took had a bunch of chewy stuff and I finally gave up in disgust. Jeannene's, however, was really delicious. She offered to give it to me, because she's sweet like that, but I was already put off steak for the moment. I'd better get my steak appetite back, though, because we're going out to a steakhouse for Bubbles' birthday dinner later this week! Anyway, I do highly recommend this sauce, just on a good piece of meat. It would, by the way, be stellar over pork chops, as well. 

Steak with Creamy Paprika Sauce
2 steaks of your choice
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 large onion, halved, then thinly sliced
1 big splash dry red wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
2/3 c. sour cream (I used reduced fat, but wouldn't recommend fat-free)
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Pat steaks dry. Season with half the salt and half the pepper. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté steaks until they are cooked to your preferred doneness. Remove to plate and let stand, loosely covered with foil, 10 minutes. Wipe skillet, then heat butter in it until it has melted. Cook the onion 3-5 minutes. Add wine and scrape bottom of pan to deglaze. Add garlic, paprika, remaining salt, & remaining pepper and cook about 30 seconds, stirring. Add the other ingredients, mix well, and bring just to a simmer. Add any juices that have collected on the plate from the steaks. Serve over steaks. Serves 2. 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Fried Chicken, February 4, 2015

I very seldom make such a thing as fried chicken. It's messy and uses a ton of oil and isn't very good for me. Furthermore, I sometimes get weird about chicken with bones in it and fried chicken is, traditionally, bone-in. However, I made it last week, with macaroni and cheese (I tried the version with egg in it this time---it was yummy, but not as good as my go-to stovetop mac & cheese) and a Dole Spinach Cherry Almond Bleu salad (to which I added some walnuts I'd sautéed in butter and brown sugar). I ended up getting wigged out about the chicken and not eating it. Jeannene assured me that it was really good, but I just couldn't eat it. Isn't that ridiculous? Next time, I think I should probably make boneless fried chicken. I know all the cool foodies look down on skinless, boneless chicken, but I do believe that's the direction I need to go. Ah, well, I cook with canned soup, too, so there you go.

Spicy Fried Chicken
3 eggs
1/3 c. water
1 c. hot sauce (I used Louisiana Hot Sauce; use your favorite)
2 c. self-rising flour
Garlic powder
1 chicken, cut into pieces
Oil for frying

Beat eggs with water in a large, shallow dish (a pie plate is good). Add hot sauce (adjust for your taste buds, depending on how spicy you like it). Place flour in a similar dish. Season chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Dip in egg, then dredge in flour. Heat oil to 350 degrees in a deep pot (making sure not to fill the pot more than half full). Carefully add chicken and fry until golden brown and crisp, 8-10 minutes for white meat, 13-14 for dark meat. Serves 4. 

Creamy Stove-Top Mac & Cheese
8 oz. macaroni
2 tbsp. butter
2 eggs
3/4 c. evaporated milk (put the rest in coffee)
1 tsp. salt
A good grinding of pepper
1 tsp. dry mustard
1-2 tsp. worcestershire sauce
Pinch cayenne or dash hot sauce
2 c. shredded sharp cheddar
8 slices American cheese

Cook & drain macaroni. Stir in butter. Whisk everything but cheese together. Stir into macaroni. Add cheeses, a little at a time, and stir to melt completely. Serves 4-6. 

I made myself a baked apple for dessert. Jeannene didn't want one, so I just did one for me, a cinnamon red hot glazed one. The concept was great, but the actual result was an undercooked, dry apple with no filling. Not so great. It was okay, but nothing I'd bother with again. Perhaps if I pass along the recipe to y'all, though, you will figure out a way to make it super. I am far from an expert when it comes to baked apples! I think the best one I ever had was the one somebody brought me as a birthday gift when I was turning 5 or 6. 

Cinnamon Red Hot Glazed Apples
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. cinnamon red hot candies
1 c. water
4 apples
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar, red hots, and water in a pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer a couple minutes. Turn off heat. Peel the top third of each apple and core them, but leave the bottom intact. Brush apples with lemon juice. Place in small baking pan that's been greased. Cut the butter in 4 and place inside the apples. Brush well with sugar mixture. Bake 1 hour, basting often with sugar mixture. Serves 4. 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Artichoke & Garbanzo Soup, February 3, 2015

Tonight, I was pretty sure we were ordering pizza. Jeannene came in, took one look at the soup I had on the stove, and said, "So, should we just order pizza?" She is seldom a fan of dishes I make that have no meat in them and no food group is subject to her skepticism like a broth-based vegetarian soup. I popped a ciabatta loaf in the oven to finish baking, anyway, and waited for Jeannene's verdict. Finally, I decided to give her a sample, to elicit a decision, one way or another. I was almost positive we'd be calling Jet's & I'd be eating soup for lunch the rest of the week. I pulled the bread out and asked if she would like some. She said she would---then, she said, "The soup will be okay, too. It's good." Hurrah! Turns out, it was really very good. The whole time we were eating, Jeannene was making happy little "Mmm" noises and dipping her ciabatta cheerfully into her soup. For dessert, I had a bowl of frozen sunshine, a funny little retro fruit salad that is quite refreshing and delicious.

Artichoke & Garbanzo Soup
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 small carrots, peeled & chopped
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. coriander
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 potato, chopped
1 tsp. salt
32 oz. broth (I used beef, but feel free to use veggie broth)
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cans artichoke hearts, drained & chopped
1 can garbanzos, drained

Heat oil in a soup pot. Add onion and sauté 5 minutes, until softened. Add carrots, cover, and cook a few more minutes. Add cayenne, coriander, & garlic. Cover & cook a few more minutes. Add potato, salt, and broth. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until potatoes are nearly tender, 10-15 minutes. Add the rest, adjust seasonings, and heat through. Serves 8. 

Frozen Sunshine
1/2 c. sugar (this can be reduced)
1 tbsp. lemon juice 
6 oz. frozen orange juice, thawed
6 oz. water
15 oz. crushed pineapple
15 oz. peaches, drained & chopped
4 bananas, sliced (optional)

Mix sugar, juices, and water. Add fruit. Put in muffin tins with paper liners. Cover and freeze. Thaw for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serves 12. 

Pork Chops & Sauerkraut, February 2, 2015

Last night's dinner was by special request from Jeannene. It used to be that she didn't really like the sauerkraut much when I made pork chops and sauerkraut. Now, she is crazy for it and loves the pork chops done that way. So, she asked me to make it again---we just had it New Year's Day---and she was wishing she had more sauerkraut. I was feeling lazy, so I just microwaved some Bob Evans already-made mashed potatoes to go with it, along with some corn. Truly yummy!

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Super Bowl Junk Food, February 1, 2015

My wife really likes to watch the Super Bowl. I'd be just as happy settling in with a book or an art project. But, since we are doing the whole football things, I've gotten into the habit of making chili every year for it. One year, my Buffalo chicken chili actually even won a contest. I'm not much of a chili specialist or a from-scratch kind of girl when it comes to chili, but I like my chili quite a bit. I can't exactly give a recipe because I just throw a bunch of stuff together. Most of you probably have a great chili recipe of your own, but if you want to know my throw-together version, what I basically do is:

Cook some ground beef (I like 90% or more lean). Drain it. Add canned diced tomatoes (1 can to 1 lb. beef), canned kidney beans (same), jarred salsa (same---I like Newman's Own medium salsa), a bunch of chopped garlic, chile powder, cumin, and a smidgy bit of cayenne. Then, I cook it until it's nice and hot. I like saltine crackers crunched up in mine. Jeannene likes tortilla chips. We both like cornbread. We had all three here tonight, along with shredded cheddar and sour cream. Jeannene made the Chi Chis sweet corn cake mix for the cornbread. I tend toward Jiffy cornbread.

We usually do a bunch of appetizers, as well. I made guacamole (mashed avos, garlic powder, salt, lime juice). Jeannene made that Velveeta/Rotel/hot sausage dip. She also picked up some Buffalo chicken dip from the local grocery---the kids love it, so she wanted to make sure she had some on hand for their Super Bowl experience with us. They aren't much for football, but they sure do like food & on their budget, their meals tend to be a lot better when they visit us! Jeannene also made spicy garlic wings and parmesan garlic wings, which Pie plowed right through. Y'all should have seen the bone pile on his plate!

I forgot that Jeannene had picked up some Super Bowl brownies at the grocery, so I baked a pumpkin apple spice cake, from scratch! I'm not much of a baker, so it was fun to have it turn out pretty good. I think it'd've looked lots better had I left it unfrosted, but everyone really liked the frosting, so I was happy with a funny-looking cake. It was beautiful when it first came out of the bundt pan! The snowplow folks came to do our driveway shortly after I got it frosted, so it was fun to be able to send Jeannene out with big slices of cake for them!

Pumpkin Apple Spice Cake
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1 c. oil (you can sub applesauce)
1 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs
2 c. flour
15 oz. canned pumpkin
2 medium tart apples, peeled & diced (I used Honeycrisp)
1 c. chopped walnuts or pecans (I used a mix)
16 oz. powdered sugar
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature (neufchâtel is okay as a sub)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugars, baking soda, salt, & spices together. Add oil, 1 tsp. vanilla. Add flour, half a cup at a time. Add pumpkin. Add apple & nuts. Pour into a Bundt pan that's been greased & floured. Bake 1 hour. Beat powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and cream cheese until smooth. Let cake cool 5-10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate. Allow to cool completely, then frost the cake. Serves 12. 

Cheddar Cheese Soup & Chicken Avocado Salad, January 31, 2015

We got in fairly late last night, after a long day of pottery painting and grocery shopping, and I did not want to cook. We'd considered stopping for dinner out, but we've eaten quite a few meals out lately and home cooking sounded better. Luckily, I had a Rachael Ray meal planned, so it wasn't too much work or too much time before we ate. For some reason, I'd had in mind that it was a rice salad, so I was a little disappointed in the salad, but Jeannene completely loved it. I'm also not a big iceberg person, unless it's a wedge salad. The soup, though, was the very best cheese soup I've ever had. It even surpassed our favorite-ever beer cheese soup from 101 Beer Kitchen in Dublin, Ohio. It's really important, if you're making this soup, to use the highest quality cheese you can. I think using extra-sharp cheddar is crucial. I've made some adjustments to the spices, as I don't like it quite as spicy. Feel free to adjust to your tastes.

Cheddar Cheese Soup
2 tbsp. butter (or olive oil)
1 large onion, chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper
1-2 tsp. cumin
2 tbsp. flour
32 oz. chicken broth
1 c. heavy cream
4 c. shredded very good quality extra-sharp cheddar (I like Cabot & Tillamook, the sharper, the better)

Heat butter in a soup pot. When the butter has melted, add onion, garlic, pepper flakes, salt, pepper, & cumin. Cook a few minutes, then stir in flour. Cook another minute, then whisk in the chicken broth and cream. Bring to a simmer, then cook another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whisk in the cheese, a little at a time, stirring until melted. Serves 4. 

Chicken Avocado Salad
2 tbsp. olive oil plus extra
1-2 tsp. cumin
1-2 tsp. coriander
Salt & pepper
4-5 thin chicken cutlets
1 & 1/2 limes
1 avocado, diced
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
Cherry tomatoes (optional)
1/4 c. chopped cilantro leaves (opt)

Heat 2 tbsp. oil in skillet on medium-high heat. Mix cumin, coriander, salt, & pepper. Rub on chicken. Cook chicken through in oil, 2-3 minutes per side. Squeeze juice of 1 lime over the chicken, allow to cool, then cut into bite-size pieces. Toss with avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, and cilantro. Squeeze juice of 1/2 lime over the salad. Drizzle with some olive oil, then sprinkle with salt & pepper, tossing to coat. Serves 4.

Monthiversary Dinner at Sullivan's, January 30, 2015

We tend to go out to celebrate our anniversary once a month and Friday was the day for January. I asked my dear wife where she'd like to go and, instead of responding with her usual, "I don't know. Where do you want to go?" sort of answer, she said, "Let's go to Sullivan's!" This great little Irish spot in Oxford has quickly become a favorite of ours. We started with the Irish guillotine, thickly sliced potatoes with bacon, good cheddar, and big pieces of scallion, which was yummy. One of the women who works there, when I mentioned wanting a mimosa, but not exactly wanting a mimosa, suggested prosecco with cranberry juice, instead of orange juice. That was delicious. Jeannene had a Magner's cider, one of her current favorites.

I knew the last time I had dinner there that I would have a burger the next dinner visit. I saw someone else's and it looked great. It was, indeed, perfectly cooked and featuring gorgeous marbled Irish cheddar. The chips were great, too, especially when sprinkled with malt vinegar. Jeannene had the fish & chips, which was truly excellent---perfectly battered and tender, almost silky, inside. The service, as always, was top-notch.

Neither of us was hungry for dessert, but Jeannene was really curious about the Guinness chocolate cake, so she ordered some to go and we shared it on the couch later. It was really lovely to behold and not bad tasting, either. I'm picky about cake, but I liked it better than many cakes I've had. Jeannene loved it.