Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Some Like it Hot

I can say with pride that I am not a girl to get in a rut when it comes to my menu for the week.   New recipes are like Christmas to me, and, thankfully, my kids don't mind eating new things (most of the time). 
One year for Spring Break, we did a fun project that I called "Eat Around the World" where the kids helped navigate unfamiliar grocery stores, we purchased ingredients I had never heard of, and we prepared meals from different cultures.  We had so much fun tasting new things and learning just a little bit along the way.   A favorite night on this journey was Chinese food night.  (ok, it might have been because the kids' grandparents had just returned from China and brought lanterns and strange new snacks, but whatever)  I had to get over my fear of using ingredients that I was unfamiliar with for this project, and I'm so glad I did!  Now I'm completely fearless. (maybe not completely)  The point is, don't be afraid of new food.  Don't knock it til ya try it.  And you should try THIS.... (especially because it comes together in half an hour!)

Sweet and Spicy Chicken
serves 4

what you need: 1 skillet, 2 sauce pans, sharp knife, cutting board, gallon sized zippered storage bag, small bowl

4 chicken breasts, diced
1/3 Cup cornstarch
3 Tablespoons oil

1 1/2 Cups brown rice
3 1/2 Cups water

1 Cup water
3 Tablespoons Sriracha
1 Tablespoon minced garlic (the kind in the jar)
1/4 Cup soy sauce
1/4 Cup sugar
3 Tablespoons honey
1/2 Cup shredded carrots
1/2 Cup chopped green onions

2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons water

Begin by dicing the chicken. Pat it dry with a paper towel, then transfer to a zippered bag.  Add cornstarch and shake it up to coat the chicken.  Set aside.

In one of your sauce pans, over medium high heat, pour rice and water in and bring it to a boil. Allow it to boil a minute or two, then reduce the heat to low and put a lid on it for 20 minutes.

Go ahead and turn the heat on to your skillet, medium high, and add 3 Tablespoons of oil, so the oil can start getting hot and ready for the chicken its about to meet.

In the other sauce pan, start dumping in ingredients for your sauce.  Turn the heat on to medium and start with 1 Cup water, then Sriracha, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, honey.  Stir this around a bit and let the components start to get friendly.  In a small bowl, mix 2 Tablespoons cornstarch with 2 Tablespoons of water stirring til completely combined, then add to the sauce pan.  Stir this every few minutes so it doesn't get stuck in clumps.  We don't really like clumps.

Add the chicken (coated in cornstarch) to the hot oil and let them sizzle away.  Keep half an eye on these guys, stirring from time to time, but not constantly.  It will take maybe 15 minutes to get all nice and cooked through.

The sauce should be nice and thick by now, add in the carrots and onions, and stir around, they only need a few minutes in here.
Check in on your rice, it should be just about perfect. 
Transfer the chicken to the sauce and stir to coat.

Plate the rice first and top it with the sweet and spicy chicken - brace yourself for the love and adoration of those around you. Its a lot to take in.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

B-O-S..... B-O-S-S.... boss

I don't eat lettuce. Well, I don't eat iceberg lettuce.  I can't even handle the smell.  For those of you who doubt that iceberg lettuce has a distinct smell, get pregnant and take a whiff. Seriously. I can't. (excuse me) 

Now that that is out of the way....
I really do like salad (sans iceberg, mind you).  It had been close to 20 years since I'd enjoyed this particular salad and that's too long.  There was a boy I dated long ago and his mom (whom I adore) made this lovely layered. I can't believe I forgot about it. 
When I think of salad, I generally expect low calorie and at least sort of healthy.  -- Well this is healthy.  -If we are going to consider an entire pound of bacon thats topping  a salad dressed in mayo and sugar 'healthy'.  (and I am)
Sometimes folks like to have a side salad or a bit of greenery on their plate.  Unless you are at a pot-luck, this ain't that salad y'all.  (I don't say 'ain't' unless its absolutely necessary.)

This can be constructed in a trifle dish; its just that pretty.  However, I'm a little bit of a klutz so I like to prepare it in a casserole dish so that I don't end up with salad from hither to yon.  I don't know if it has a name, so I'm just going to name it, mmmkay?  I like to be the boss.

Maybe My Favorite Salad In the History of Ever
what you need: 9x13 casserole dish (or trifle if you're brave), serving tongs, knife and cutting board, sauce pan with boiling water, medium sized skillet

4 eggs
4 cups salad mix (I like the baby greens, personally)
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1 1/2 Cups frozen peas
1 lb bacon
2 Cups shredded cheddar (or run a block of  cheddar through a food processor like me)
1 1/2 Cups mayonnaise
1/2 Cup white sugar

In the sauce pan with boiling water, boil the eggs for 12 minutes, then transfer to ice water.  Allow the eggs to cool.  Cut bacon into 1 inch-ish pieces and toss them in to a skillet on medium-high heat.  Let those guys cook up and get crispy, about 15 minutes, stirring and turning every few minutes. When the bacon is nice and crispy, set it on a paper towel and get rid of some of that grease. Chop the broccoli and cauliflower into small pieces - as small as you like. Your eggs should be cooled off by now, peel them and give them a rough chop. Begin layering in your dish of choice.  I started with the mixed greens and then layered so that the colors alternated so the layers were more visible. I'm weird that way, ok?  It really doesn't matter. The part that matters, if you are serving this immediately, is that you put the hot bacon on top of the frozen peas - no body wants pea flavored ice cubes. (am I right?) And that the dressing  (mixed in a small bowl - the mayo and sugar) goes on top.
Ok, so here's how I would do it; mixed greens, cauliflower, broccoli, cheddar, peas, bacon, dressing.

This whole thing is stressing me out - because I want you to get the colors right.  I need order in my life, and so do you. And you need to eat this. 

PS... use real bacon. Please. Its healthy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

six-foot-four and full of muscles

song lyrics occupy a good 90% of my brain space.  for this reason, nearly every conversation includes them and every time i cook, i'm singing something.  when i make brussels sprouts, i sing about them.  sort of. (that's not weird, right?) the only song i know that involves brussels sprouts (sort of) is by Men at Work - the song is "Down Under". 
"buying bread from a man in brussels. he was six-foot-four and full of muscles. i said 'do you speaka my language?' he just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich," -- and i do it with my best aussie accent.  --and its beautiful.  --and the song gets lodged in my mind for days.

anyways. i like brussels sprouts very much and i want to eat them right this minute. but i wont because its breakfast time and that's weird.  they make for a lovely side dish and they're super easy to prepare.  and they're pretty.

brussels sprouts
what you need: sharp knife, cutting board, medium sized sauce pan, wooden spoon

3 C brussels sprouts
2 Tablespoons bacon grease (hallelujah!)
1 1/2 C water

Heat the bacon grease in your skillet over medium high heat. Meanwhile, trim the ends of the brussels sprouts off and peel the outside layer away - discard that part. Toss the brussels sprouts in the hot grease, season with salt and pepper to your liking and brown them up a bit for five or so minutes, stirring occasionally.  Just when you think 'oh no they're going to burn', pour in the water.  Let these guys simmer away for about 20 minutes and then serve 'em up.  and sing Men at Work songs. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Order Up!

When using obscure things like tarragon, its good to have order.  Ok, I don't know of a time when its not good to have order, but anyway, just go with it. 
My spice cabinet is in alphabetical order and I sort of freak out when things get moved around.  I need order. Particularly on days when I have a melt-down at the store.  (completely hypothetically....) Say, for example, that I waited later than usual to go to the grocery store.  Then, lets say, maybe I decided not to bring a list because I was just grabbing a few things for dinner and for the kids' lunches.  --which is totally out of my comfort zone, since my list is typically made according to the menu of the week with required items listed in the order in which they appear, beginning with produce and ending with dairy.  Always.  Except when its not. Lets say that maybe the store is so freaking crowded that there are no grocery baskets. (I should have left, but I was feeling brave.)  This means that I must only purchase the items that I can carry.  (I
can't breathe... hypothetically) I would start walking through the stupidly crowded store aimlessly, trying to remember what in the world I was there for.  This is when experience would kick in.  There are recipes that I have made a million times and I don't even have to think about them.  --that's a good thing since I don't even know my name by this point -I would assume. Hypothetically.
Typically, I make chicken salad in the summer time.  So what. Desperate times....
Ok, so here you go. Chicken salad in January.

Chicken Salad
what you need: mixing bowl, can opener, knife, cutting board, spoon

2 (12.5 oz) cans of chicken
1 Fuji apple, diced
1 C red seedless grapes, halved
1/4 C celery, diced
1/2 C pecans, chopped
1/3 C mayo
1 teaspoon tarragon
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

bread or croissants

Open and drain the cans of chicken. Break up the pieces so it looks more shredded than chunked. Cut up the apple, grapes, celery, pecans and transfer them to the mixing bowl, stirring around carefully.  Add mayo and seasoning and mix together well.  This will make about 8 sandwiches, and its easy to half or double as needed.  When you need something that comes together quickly, this fantastic little number will save the day. (it saved me in my hypothetical story, anyway....)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Wrap it up

A hundred years ago, when I was a bank teller, I met a super-cool lady named Judy.  She worked at the same bank, but I don't remember what her job was.  (it was a hundred years ago) Every once in a while, we would have a pot-luck lunch and everyone would bring lunch so we would all eat together in the teeny tiny break room.  We were a close group.  Any time we had the opportunity to eat together, we would ask Judy to make burritos.  No matter what the theme of the day was, Judy made burritos.  I love the way food makes me think of people. Its the same way fragrances can transport me in time.  These will always be Judy's Burritos for me. You can call them whatever you want, you don't know Judy, so it doesn't matter. 
For my family of four, I make the whole recipe and serve the burritos alongside Mexican rice - and then I still have half of the batch to freeze and save for another day. Its perfect. (probably won't work that way when my kids are older and hungrier, but I'll take what I can get)

Judy's Burritos
what you need: medium sized skillet, wooden spoon, large mixing bowl, 9x13 baking dish, 350 oven, foil

1 - 1 1/2lb ground beef
1 (16 oz) can refried beans (or you can make them yourself if you have that kind of time)
1 jar (3 cups) Pace Picante sauce (only use 2 Cups for the filling, reserve 1 Cup for the topping)
2 Cups shredded cheddar - plus more for topping
8 burrito sized flour tortillas

In a medium sized skillet, brown the ground beef over medium-high heat.  Rinse the grease off with warm water -- make sure to drain out all the water.  Transfer the meat to your mixing bowl and add the refried beans, picante sauce and cheese. --if you feel moved to add more cheese I don't think you will regret it.  Mix this all around so its friendly and mingled together.  Spoon about a cup of the filling you just prepared into a tortilla.  As for the placement of this filling, I'd say make a line running the length of the tortilla just an inch or two off center, leaving about half an inch on each end so you can fold the tortilla over and tuck it in as you roll that baby up.  Place the burritos in your 9x13 dish as you get each one finished.  You will have a very tight fit when you get all 8 burritos snuggled up in that pan.  Cover the dish with foil and bake at 350 for an hour. When you serve them, spoon a bit of picante sauce over each one and top with cheese.  Seriously.  These guys are super tasty, super easy and super filling. If you want to kick 'em up, add some taco seasoning to your meat and top 'em with sour cream or guacamole. 

Also- if you want to maintain your friendships, you might want to keep some gas pills handy. Just a word to the wise.  Have a nice day.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Can't Stop Won't Stop

Recovering after the holidays is tricky business.  After weeks of cooking for other people and digging through pounds of sugar, flour, butter and chocolate chips, I have re-surfaced ready for 2015.  Its not as if I wasn't cooking for my family during the holidays, I was just cooking things that weren't very pretty.  The recipes are tasty, but the pictures aren't super. I don't like ugly food as much. --speaking of food I don't like as much, lets talk briefly about chocolate gravy.  I like gravy as much as the next girl, and I like chocolate more that I like breathing, so it seems that the two should be married.  but not. I am just a little freaked out by the whole chocolate gravy idea. I haven't tried it, I admit, but I can't bring myself to do it. Anybody have a comment about this? I'm looking for help here. Anyway. That's neither here nor there. I do like cake.
A long, long time ago (probably close to 20 years if I had to really think about it) I encountered this cake that I fell in love with.  Clearly, that meant I had to replicate it.  I mean, what's not to like: yellow cake, with a sugary crunch with bananas and strawberries between the layers and a lovely glaze to finish it off.  "shouldn't be too hard," I thought.  And I was right! so go make this cake and make someone happy when you share it with them. 

(beck's version of) Leo's Cake
what you need: three 8 inch round cake pans, 350 oven, stand mixer, small sauce pan, spoon

One yellow cake mix
4 eggs
10 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/4 Cup milk
6 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 teaspoons shortening, divided

2 bananas, sliced
10-15 strawberries, sliced
1/2 Cup milk
2 Cups powdered sugar

In your stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the 4 eggs on the lowest speed. When the eggs are well beaten, add the cake mix, followed by the butter and then the milk (you will want to turn the mixer off and back on for each addition, unless you want to throw cake batter all over yourself and the room you are cooking in -- which I assume would be your kitchen, but who really knows). Leave the mixer on medium high speed for a few minutes while you prepare your cake pans.  Most of the time, I would tell you to give them a light coating of shortening followed by a dusting of flour, but in this case, I want you to use sugar. Two tablespoons per cake pan, please. Roll them around til the sugar just coats the sides and bottom leaving a bit of loose sugar for good measure.  Turn off the mixer to avoid the catastrophic kitchen coating of cake mix I mentioned before.  Pour the mix in to the three prepared pans and then pop 'em right in your 350 oven.  Leave them there for about 20 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched and a tooth pick comes out clean when you poke them. Let them rest in the pan for a couple of minutes, then turn them out on a cooling rack.   Allow the cakes to cool completely.  Slice up your bananas and strawberries.  Over medium heat, place a sauce pan with the milk and powdered sugar.  When the sugar and milk are completely combined and make a glaze, remove the sauce pan from the heat and set it aside.  Begin assembling the layers of the cake by placing strawberries and bananas on each layer and then drizzling the glaze right on top.  Stack them up and serve this lovely confection to people you love -- or to people you want to fall in love with you -- either way. It works both ways.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Buckeyes! (not the Ohio State kind)

The marriage of peanut butter and chocolate is one for the history books. They just belong together. Its natural and its beautiful. I know, they both wander about attaching themselves to someone else from time to time, but they always end up together.  It seems like a story line for Hollywood. But its not. Its more for me.  Because it makes me happy. 
Around here, OSU it doesn't mean Ohio State, and there is never any mention of a buckeye.  That doesn't mean that we don't value buckeyes or that we deny the good luck they bring. ok, I say luck, maybe more like happiness and joy.  These little bits of goodness are easy peasy, but a little time-consuming.  Your best bet is to make up the peanut butter mixture and grab the bowl and a tray, then plop yourself in front of the tv or grab some friends and start rolling it in to balls for the next hour or so. (ok, maybe not that long)  Here are the details:

Buckeye Balls
what you need: medium sized sauce pan, cookie sheet, mixing bowl, hand mixer or stand mixer, rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fork

1 1/2 Cups Peanut butter
1/2 Cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 Cups powdered sugar

6 ounces chocolate almond bark
2 tablespoons shortening

In a mixing bowl with a hand mixer, or in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, mix butter, peanut butter, vanilla together.  Add powdered sugar one cup at a time.  It gets sort of grainy looking, like wet sand.  That's when its ready.  Roll this mixture up in to balls, about one teaspoon at a time; set aside.
Over medium heat, melt the chocolate and shortening, stirring pretty much constantly with your spatula, but it only takes a few minutes.
Drop the peanut butter balls four or five at a time in to the chocolate mixture pulling them out with a fork one at a time.  Let excess chocolate drip off before placing them on a cookie sheet to cool.  This will make close to 8 dozen and you will eat them happily as you rest your hands from all of the peanut butter ball rolling you've just done. And you will be smiling as you slip in to a sugar coma.