Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mexican Meatballs

One of my go-to easy weeknight meals is tacos. Even though it's one dish, they can be incredibly versatile because of what you put in them. Chicken, steak, shrimp, grilled veggies, the list goes on and on. Joanne even recently featured tofu tacos!

Typically when I have ground beef I make (wait for it) ground beef tacos. I mix the ground beef with my favorite salsa, or a heavy mix of tomatoes and spices and then throw it in tortillas. Tada! Hmmm, now I'm wondering if I shouldn't have shared that top secret with you. All my mysteries have been revealed!

I wanted to do something a little different with ground beef and thought meatballs would make a terrific taco filling. I mean, sauce them up with marinara and throw them in a sandwich bun and you have an Italian version of the taco anyway. So this just replaces the marinara with a salsa sauce and the bun with a tortilla.

I took the classic grape jelly meatball and tweaked it. A little less jelly and a lot less barbeque. Instead of barbeque, salsa makes an excellent substitute to give them a great taco-y flair.

Meatball Tacos
1/2 lb ground beef
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 egg white
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup salsa
2 Tbsp grape jelly
flour or corn tortillas
  1. Heat oven to 375. Mix the beef, crumbs, egg white, garlic and 2 Tbsp of the salsa in a bowl. Form this mixture into small balls.
  2. Place meatballs on a baking sheet and bake 16 minutes, flipping them halfway through so they cook all the way through.
  3. Combine jelly and salsa in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until it's reduced to 1/2 cup.
  4. Add the meatballs to the sauce and coat thoroughly. Place meatballs on tortillas and dress as desired.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grape Escape

Thatboy and I have a wedding to attend this weekend, not to mention Thatbrother's upcoming birthday, so I've been spending my lunches running around trying to get things together for the events.

Today I tried to take care of both by heading to the salon for a quick waxing, and picking up a gift for Thatbrother. The errands took me to a part of town with a farmer's market I hadn't ever visited. I think that's probably an omen. So I stopped to pick up some fruit.

This is one of my favorite things about living in California:

Summer grapes. If California is known for one thing, it's probably avocados. But throw in a second thing and you're bound to have someone bring up our fantastic wine. Which comes from grapes. Those same grapes which start showing up at our farmers' markets at the end of the summer. Sweet, juicy, and cheap, they're one of my favorite summer indulgences. Since they're easy to pack in a bag, Thatboy and I carry them around whenever we go out. I sliced a bunch of them up and threw them together with some of the other fruit I picked up (strawberries, watermelon, mango) for a giant fruit salad. Which we ate all of within a few hours of me making it.

Running all over town for these errands definitely reminded me it's still hot and summer. I knew I didn't want to turn on the oven tonight, so a stovetop chicken it was. And I went to my go to sauce - a quick and easy wine reduction. And of course I went with a California wine because of the whole grape thing. I threw in some fresh tomatoes, because they're also perfect at this point of the summer (sweet, juicy, and cheap just like the grapes). And the pièce de résistance was one of those "necessity is the mother of invention" type things. I had made scrambled eggs with mushrooms last week and had some mushrooms that I wasn't sure would last too much longer. So they got chopped up and thrown in too.

Chicken with Mushrooms
whole chicken, cut into eight pieces
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup white wine
1 tomato, chopped
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Brown the chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Remove the chicken from the skillet and add the onion to the pan. Smash the garlic with the side of a knife and throw them in too. Cook until the onion is translucent.
  3. Add the chicken back in with the wine, tomato, and mushrooms. Cover the skillet and simmer for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I've been remiss

I realized the other day that although I have a recipe for corn muffins in the blog, I don't have a recipe for corn bread. Which is weird because I think it's fairly well known that I love chili, and chili and cornbread go together like... well...chili and cornbread.

I have a bit of extra time tonight since I'm playing surf widow. It's a role I'll be playing all week. Poor Thatdog has been sitting by the door for a while now, just waiting for Thatboy to get home. So I thought this would be a good time to blog my savory corn bread recipe. I tend to go two ways with cornbread - sweet, which includes the addition of honey, and savory which includes the addition of corn, cheese, and jalapenos. Although this particular cornbread doesn't include jalapenos, if you want to throw them in, I typically do it at the same time as the corn and cheese get tossed in.

I like using sour cream instead of oil to keep the cornbread from being too dry. Buttermilk also works wonders for this, or some greek yogurt. You want something creamy and a tinge sour for this savory side. When I make a sweet cornbread, I usually use oil instead, because then I don't need the tang.

The most important ingredient is obviously going to be the corn. I prefer sweet corn and during the summer it's easy to find fresh, sweet corn. However, since my chili days are usually in colder non-fresh corn seasons, frozen sweet corn works almost as well.

Cheesy Cornbread
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sour cream
2 eggs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup corn kernels
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, sour cream, and eggs.
  2. Stir in half of the cheese and all of the corn. Pour into a greased shallow baking dish.
  3. Bake for 35 minutes or until cooked through. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Weekend Warriors

Thatboy and I spent all weekend at a Childbirth prep class. It was like camp. Except instead of singing fun songs and doing arts and crafts, we sat around watching babies being born, pulled out of uteruses (uteri?), and suckling at breasts. Which is probably the exact opposite of what camp was like for most of us. Unless you went to some bizarro camp, in which case WHO ARE YOU SICKOS?

Of course, now Thatboy is convinced that every move I make is a sign of early labor. I went to the bathroom earlier this evening and Thatboy got nervous. "If you start having an urge to clean the house I'm calling my parents." (Although the plus side of class is Thatboy finally decided I may be right in not having his parents come down and sit around our house waiting for me to go into labor, so they don't miss anything).

It was a long weekend. And in truth, I picked up a lot of good information to digest. Important things like "pack otter pops in a cooler to bring to Labor and Delivery because you can use them instead of ice chips." Otter pops? I love otter pops! We never had them growing up because I'm fairly certain they're just frozen sugar water. I asked Thatboy if I could have an otter pop every time I got through a contraction and he told me that was not going to happen. Although we'll see if he changes his tune when he has a woman in labor squeezing his closest nipple and demanding a pop when the time comes. (And by the way, the nipple squeezing thing was not recommended in class, but I personally feel like it should be a fairly effective way to make sure my needs are met.)

One of the things I think is most important to take away from any childbirth class is flexibility. Of course I'm referring to the ability to bend, stretch, and spread, but also the ability to realize there are going to be twists, turns, and unexpected events throughout the entire journey. And as someone with an anxiety disorder to begin with, I need to be prepared. This jambalaya is a fantastic practice for making due with the unexpected.

Jambalaya in my world usually means a fabulous spicy rice dish, filled with chicken, andouille sausage, and shrimp. (Not to be confused with paella which is a fabulous spicy rice dish, filled with chicken, Spanish sausage, and shrimp.) Except we used up our shrimp when I made shrimp and grits Friday night. And the closest thing I have to sausage of any kind are some nitrate-free hotdogs. Which sound less than appealing in a jambalaya. So what's a girl to do? Flexibility. Is this the best jambalaya I've ever made? No. I really do like it better with the sausage and shrimp. But if you don't like one or the other, or if you're ever stuck in the house with only chicken this is a good flexible way to use it.

Just Chicken Jambalaya
1 chicken, quartered
2 Tbsp canola oil
6 slices bacon
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
5 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup parsley, chopped fine
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 cups uncooked rice
  1. Preheat the oven to 325. Cook the bacon in a dutch oven and remove to cool, but don't drain! Add the canola oil to the bacon fat.
  2. Brown the chicken pieces in the oil and bacon drippings. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne.
  3. Remove chicken to cool. Chop the bacon and add it to the dutch oven along with the green pepper, celery, onion, and garlic. Cook 5 minutes or so until all the veggies are tender.
  4. Add chicken broth, parsley, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil and cook until the broth is reduced to 4 cups.
  5. By this time the chicken should be cool enough to touch. Remove the chicken meat from the chicken bone.
  6. Place chicken, dutch oven contents, tomatoes and rice into a casserole dish.
  7. Cover and bake for 1 hour. (If your oven is like mine, you may need to add more liquid during cooking as the rice starts soaking that stuff up.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

When a Plan Comes Together: Cannon Beach

When I first started planning our trip away I had a very tropical plan in mind. Cabo is only a few hours away by plane and the thought of lying on the beach drinking (non-alcoholic) margaritas sure seemed dreamy. Thatboy wasn't so big on the idea of Mexico. Thatmom suggested Denver, but that was also vetoed.

I started doing some research on "romantic cities." I know most people love San Francisco for that kind of trip, but frankly, you couldn't pay me enough to make an additional San Francisco trip given that we're outside the city multiple times a year to visit the inlaws.

Portland came up on the radar and sounded like a good idea, but the more I researched, the more I thought maybe outside Portland would be nicer. Something along the Oregon Coast, which was supposed to be beautiful. I narrowed down the possibilities to Cannon Beach. I showed a picture of the gorgeous coastline to Thatboy who immediately began to hyperventilate. "THAT'S THE GOONIES BEACH!" Goonies is only Thatboy's favorite movie of all time. Even still, I was a little skeptical that he could recognize a beach from a movie based on a single picture of rocks. But you know what? He was totally and completely right. And totally and completely on board with the entire idea of Cannon Beach.

(This is in German, but will give you an idea for the area. The following scene was filmed in Cannon Beach at Ecola State Park. There's a little artistic licensing with regard to the fact that Haystack Rock appears both behind and in front of Mikey, but I'll remind you that Goonies is a work of fiction.)

Where we stayed:

Given that we were married at the Surf and Sand, this seemed like a fitting place to celebrate and anniversary! And the place was absolute perfect. Steps away from the beach, complete with a fireplace across from the bed and fresh coffee from the roasters across the street.

Thatboy was SO excited about the tempurpedic mattress. He talked about it all night and how he always wanted to try one out. And then we couldn't sleep that night. He was disappointed, but spent the next day telling me how he agreed with me that our next bed would be a Westin Heavenly bed. Which is my bed of choice.

Our view of the famed haystack rock from the bed. Our last night there it started getting grey and rainy, so we curled up in bed, watching the rain and the rock in front of the fireplace.

What we did:

Well obviously the first thing we did was take pictures with the giant Seaman outside the hotel on the way to the beach.

See that sweater there? Thatboy made me wear it. I got about as far as the beach before it had to come off because it was so warm and beautiful out. We were even able to walk in the water a bit.

And walk on the beach we did. When we first arrived at the beach, the fog was obscuring Haystack Rock for a bit.

But as if on cue, when we arrived on the sand, the fog started rolling away to give us the view we were looking for.

Thatboy spent his time walking up the beach and looking for the Fratelli's restaurant. When he wasn't holding up an imaginary coin with holes that fit the locations of the rock. I should probably point out that he had specifically asked if I could schedule in some time to look for One-Eyed Willie's treasure.

Of course, we had to take in the local wildlife...

Seriously there were a gazillion dead birds on the beach - or I should say dead bird wings. Anyone with a clue as to the cause of dead bird wings all over? My theory is sharks, Thatboy disagreed but couldn't come up with a better explanation.

We headed over to Ecola State Park for some good hiking and other Goonie views.

This is apparently the scene where One-Eyed Willie's ship heads out into the ocean. Which Thatboy tried to explain to a little girl. Except neither she nor her mother had ever seen the Goonies and couldn't understand what Thatboy was talking about. And I'm sure it sounded far dirtier than it actually was.

We went on a 3 mile hike, with the first half being almost completely uphill. The second half was described as "treacherous." Thatboy called me superwoman a couple of times as we meandered our way through dense forest, overgrown brush, and over giant tree trunks. The goal of the hike? A view of Tillamook Lighthouse. (Which would be ever so much better if I had my camera and not just my little bloggie). By the way, click on that lighthouse link. The story behind it is truly worth of a Hollywood epic. It's amazing and jaw dropping.

Where we ate:

Bill's Tavern:

As soon as we arrived in Cannon Beach, Thatboy wanted to go find a place where we could sit down for some local beer. A quick walk into town found us at Bill's Tavern. Which turned out to be an excellent choice. First, because they obviously care about the well being of my unborn child.

Second, because they brew their own beer, which Thatboy always appreciates. AND he really liked one of their beers, which is even better!

Third, because while Thatboy was trying all their beers, I was drinking some of their "other brew" - root beer! Now, I preface this by saying I'm not usually a rootbeer girl. I don't drink soda in general, and when I do, it's usually not root beer which is a little overpowering for me. But since they made their own, I figured I'd give it a shot. I'm so glad I did. It was the best root beer I've ever had in my life. Sweeter than any rootbeer I've ever had and the anise bite that kicked in toward the end was subtle and perfect.

: The food here was so good! Thatboy won the ordering with his mushroom ravioli topped with dungeness crab. Creamy and rich, he couldn't finish it after being so full from the beers at Bills and the free beer that magically showed up on our table when the bar poured him two by accident. I also went for dungeness crab, stuffed along with spinach and cheese into my roast chicken.

Pig and Pancake
: The name says it all. While Thatboy enjoyed his taco omelet, the real star here was definitely the pancakes. I got buckwheat, which should definitely be more common. Way too much of a portion, but since I love cold pancakes I was able to wrap up my leftovers for some after-hike snacking.

Bruce's Candy Kitchen:

Okay we didn't really eat here, but after watching them make fresh taffy, and tasting it, we knew we'd be bringing a giant bag home.

We're still making our way through the fabulous taffy. So far Thatboy's favorite has been the "butter" flavored. He'd like a whole bag of them on their own. I'm really into the peach.

The Lumberyard: We visited the Lumberyard after spending 4 hours running around Ecola State Park. We were hungry! We both wanted to order burgers. The smallest burger on the menu was the 2x4, which came with 2 patties. I really don't need 2 patties. I'm not a Big Mac/Double Double kind of girl. When our GIGANTIC burgers showed up, Thatboy noted we probably should have just split one. Ummmm did I mention the 4 hours at Ecola Park? The 3 mile strenuous hike? We both completely finished our burgers. And most of our fries. (Actually, Thatboy might have eaten all of his fries)

Sleepy Monk Coffee
: We grabbed some coffee and breakfast at the coffee shop that had been supplying us with our coffee during the trip. Thatboy wishes we had a coffee shop like this by us, with giant tables and oversized pillows. I was dumbfounded by the gorgeous pastries, trying to figure out which I wanted, switching my mind numerous times before deciding on the marionberry bar. Which was unbelieveable. Buttery, sweet, like a crisp you could pick up with your hand. Only more buttery. Did I mention the butteriness?

We had such an amazing time on this trip we were sad to have to leave and head home. But we're already planning a return trip. And one after that. And pricing property in the area so we can return again and again. We've even mapped out a driving route so we can bring Thatdog with us next time. It was the perfect little getaway, and the last we'll have for quite a while since we're definitely nearing the homestretch.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When a plan comes together: Portland

Thatboy's original plan for my birthday this year was to take me away for a spa weekend. But the first week of June turned out to be a real downer for us here in Thathouse and that weekend was cancelled.

Around the same time I started thinking about how our lives were in the process of changing again, which seems to happen every couple of years. With that in mind, I really wanted to go away one last time with Thatboy while it was still just the two of us.

August seemed like a perfect time. First because we'd be celebrating our five year anniversary, but also because I'd still be able to travel! I started doing research on places we could go that were only a couple hours away by plane and we decided on the Oregon Coast.

Our actual anniversary weekend was out because of my shower. So we planned to head north the second weekend in August. But then UDubb mentioned that her parents were hosting an engagement party for her and Thatbrother in Portland the third weekend in August. For those of you who are not great at geography, Portland is not far from the Oregon Coast. So we decided to put our trip off for a week and combine the two.

First stop - Portland.

Where we stayed:

Hotel Modera

Maybe it was the long day, or the fact that neither of us got much sleep the night before, but Thatboy and I slept like logs in this bed. We were out all night. It might have been the best sleep we've had in months! (Certainly the best sleep we had on the trip!) Since we were only here for a night we didn't take advantage of most of the amenities.

What we did:

Saturday Market - Thatmom had been to Portland years ago and as soon as we made the decision to attend the engagement party she began raving about how we must must must attend the Saturday Market while we were there. It seemed to Thatboy and I that this decision was based upon some fresh walnuts she had purchased there. But since we had plans to do everything we wanted for the rest of our trip, it was easy enough to accommodate her wishes.

The problem? It was probably the hottest day Portland has had in ages (according to UDubb's family, hottest this summer at least). It was naked children hot.

And the Saturday Market? Crowded -

(And this was before entering the wall of people). I was generally unimpressed with the market. Thatmom remembered it being better. The only person who was happy was Thatboy who managed to pick up two pieces of "original art." (He proceeded to talk about his new acquisitions for hours later, always using the term "original art.")

Engagement Party -

This was the first time Thatboy and I had the chance to meet UDubb's family and high school friends. They were warm and lovely, but we didn't expect any less.

Powell's Books - Thatboy loves bookstores. He's spent 3 hours in a Barnes and Noble once. The only thing he loves more than bookstores are independent bookstores. So I knew when we had some time to kill Sunday morning before brunch that we would have to make a stop. Thatboy weaved his way through aisles, stopping to show me a find every now and again. I hung out in the kids section and picked up a bunch of favorites for Thatbaby.

Where we ate:

Saturday Market - Thatboy had heard we should get Thai food in Portland. So we did. And we were disappointed. The Thai we have at home was much better than what we sampled here. Although I had one of those moments where my "spice eyes" were bigger than my "spice stomach" so my meal was mostly just heat. Although, I had to do something to counteract the soggy noodles.

UDubb's Parents' House - You probably won't be invited to eat here. Which is a shame, because it was quite a spread. UDubb's father is a fabulous sushi chef, and he had Thatbrother work as a sous chef. Thatbrother made sure there were California rolls for me since I don't like fish. There was a ridiculous amount of fruit and salads, chicken, beef, AND salmon. And UDubb's mom even made delicious chocolate chip cookies. For beverages, Thatbrother made sure that the party was well supplied with local brews that don't distribute out of state. (And of course, Thatboy fell in love with one of them)

VooDoo Doughnuts -

Sunday morning we woke up ridiculously early to get Thatmom to the airport, and didn't have plans until our 11 AM brunch at UDubb's brother's house. "That doughnut place is open 24 hours, isn't it?" asked Thatboy. And so we made our way over to VooDoo Doughnuts. In San Diego we have some great doughnut shops. But none with flavors like these! The Voodoo Doll is filled with raspberry jelly and dipped in chocolate. The Grape Ape is dusted with grape powder. The Mango Tango is filled with mango jelly. And the Dirty Snowball is a chocolate doughnut topped with marshmallow, coconut, and peanut butter. The verdict? Our faves were the filled ones.

UDubb's Brother's House - Another place you probably won't get to experience. UDubb's brother made us all eggs and sausage. The entertainment at this place is phenomenal, headed by UDubb's Star Diva niece.

Up Next - we leave Portland behind and head to the coast.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Meatless Monday!

You know how I don't participate in Wordless Wednesday? Well I tend not to participate in Meatless Monday either. It's not that we don't have meatless meals - we do. All the time. In fact, this past week we had meatless meals twice. I just never manage to think about blogging about them until Monday has come and gone and by then, well, what's the point?

It's easy to have a meal without meat though, especially in the summer when the produce is gorgeous enough to make a meal on it's own. And I'm very lucky to have married a man who doesn't balk at the idea of salad for dinner. I mean sure, he's likely to ask me where the protein is when I hand him a pasta and cheese dish, or a salad dish without chicken, steak or shrimp, but he doesn't complain. And one of these days I think I might actually be able to convince him that cheese is a protein.

My favorite salads consist of greens, fruit, nuts, and cheese. I think the nuts help with the whole "where's the protein" question. And since it's summer, grilled fruit is ever so seasonal. And it's a nice change to have warm fruit instead of warm chicken or steak. I used a pear here, but this would work equally as well with a stone fruit like peaches, nectarines, or plums. Even grilled apple could be delicious. Like most salads, the elements are easily interchangeable. Don't like blue cheese? Try it with chevre, feta, or even some nice romano. And of course the dried cherries could be apricots, cranberries, or raspberries. Mix, match, go crazy. And meatless.

Grilled Pear Salad
1/2 cup balsamic vinaigrette
2 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp pecans, toasted and chopped
2 Tbsp blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup dried cherries, chopped
1 pear
juice of 1/2 lemon
butter lettuce

  1. Heat your grill or grill pan over medium heat. Mix 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette and the sugar in a sauce pan and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.
  2. Mix cherries, pecans, and blue cheese.
  3. Slice pear in half. Sprinkle with lemon juice and 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinaigrette on each half. Grill each pear about 3 minutes per side.
  4. Arrange lettuce on two plates and top each plate with a pear half. Place the blue cheese mixture in the center of each pear and drizzle the vinaigrette mixture over all.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tipsy Dinner

On Friday I mentioned that I tend to go with white wine when I cook chicken. But moving unearthed a ton of alcohol that I can't drink. Including a giant bottle of vermouth. Which is fantastic for martinis, but doesn't do much good sitting in the liquor cabinet. (On a side note, all our alcohol has officially been moved out of the nursery and into the cabinet - yay!)

Vermouth is a great alternative to white wine, although I'd be willing to bet most of you are more likely to have wine on hand than vermouth. So really, I'm reaching out to all you martini drinkers, alcoholics, and James Bond wanna-bes (shaken, not stirred). Here's another alternative to just drinking that stuff. Cook with it! For those of you who don't have giant bottles of vermouth in your childrens' bedroom, this recipe can just as easily be made with white wine.

The cinnamon and tomato paste are my nod to Greek dishes, and if that's your thing, you could also use Ouzo instead of wine or vermouth. Although I'm tempted to believe that most of you are even less likely to have Ouzo than you are to have vermouth. Even in Thathouse I think we parted with the Ouzo prior to moving because it just doesn't get used enough to justify moving it. Thatboy spent a night pouring out our bits and pieces of unconventional liquors, but not before making him a mixed drink encompassing all of them. I warned him to leave the Ouzo out (like leaving rootbeer out of a suicide), but as usual, he didn't heed my warning. He only had a sip before dumping his concoction down the sink.

Chicken in Vermouth
3 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1 lb chicken tenders
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1/2 tsp tomato paste
  1. Melt both butter and oil in a skillet. Saute the onions until they are translucent.
  2. Brown the chicken tenders with the onions, then remove the chicken from the pan.
  3. Add the vermouth to the onions and bring to a boil.
  4. Lower heat to a simmer and stir in tomato paste, a dash of the cinnamon, and salt.
  5. Add the chicken back in, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Low and Slow

As I mentioned the other day, Autumn is quickly approaching and our schedule is getting more and more preparatory. And since I'm a crazy planner, I'm already making a million lists. One of those lists is a list of foods I'm going to stick in the freezer next month to make our lives a little easier.

Since chili is one of my favorite foods, and the quintessential fall dish, you know it's on my list of foods to freeze. And it freezes beautifully, like most soups and stews. I went back through the blog to find an easy crockpot chili to make my life even easier. Because that way I can put it up separately from dinner and have even more to place in the freezer. Or put it up while I'm at work. OR if I'm really ambitious, put it up after a midnight feeding and have dinner ready to go for that night. Really, a crockpot chili is an indispensable recipe to have in your arsenal.

While I have a fabulous recipe for crockpot chili, it's been ages since I've made it. I wanted to mess with the recipe a bit, playing with the spices to make it a little heartier for freezing, which sometimes dilutes flavor. Adobo is one of my favorite tricks for this, and adding tomatoes with green chiles also helps kick it up a bit. And of course, a boat load of garlic is pretty much required.

Crockpot Chili
1 lb ground beef
1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cans kidney beans
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp adobo sauce
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp salt
1 can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles

  1. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Saute peppers and onions until tender. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Place mixture in crockpot.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients and stir into the beef in the crockpot.
  3. Cook on low for 6-7 hours.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Second Catch

The last cacciatore I made was less than spectacular. Cacciatore is literally a hunter's stew, but in my mind, the tomatoes and tomato flavor are what really set it apart. Charring the tomatoes was a great way to ruin an otherwise easy and memorable dish.

I call this an easy dish, because even though there are a lot of ingredients, the actual cooking is one of the most basic preparations. One where you let the stovetop do the work while you read a magazine, write thank you cards, or catch up on television. Tonight Thatboy flipped on "Ludo Bites" drawn both because it was on the Sundance Channel and because he has a thing for Chef Lefebvre ever since Top Chef Masters last year. One of the things that really resonates with me, and something I strive to do better at, is the concept of "mise en place" - or having everything ready to go before starting to cook. In Lefebvre's kitchen, he spends the day before dinner service chopping and prepping. In my kitchen, I think "Hmmm, the onions will take a few minutes to cook, I should chop the tomatoes while the onion is cooking." Which always results in me never being ready to add the required ingredients at the right time. Don't do that. Really, part of the ease of this dish is having everything ready so you can just drop it right in and walk away.

There is always debate about what wine to use in recipes, with chicken I tend to gravitate towards a white (unless I'm purposely doing a red wine sauce) and of the white family, I like a nice pinot grigio for it's dryness and ability to not overpower the dish the way a chardonnay would. Of course, this is a fabulous reason to open a bottle to serve alongside this dish, pairing the hearty chicken with a lighter summer wine. Or it would be if some of us weren't so concerned about future children's brain development.

Classic Chicken Cacciatore
1/2 cup crimini mushrooms, chopped
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup pinot grigio
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp allspice
2 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
salt and pepper

  1. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven and brown the chicken.
  2. Add the onion and continue cooking for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the wine and bring to a boil.
  4. Lower heat to a simmer and add the rest of the ingredients. Cover and cook for 40 minutes. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Photography Perils

You know what doesn't photograph well? If you haven't guessed from the above picture, lasagna. As Garfield so wisely put it, I've never met a lasagna I didn't like. You know it's going to be delicious no matter how it looks on the computer screen. And yet, it's just about always a big ole sloppy mess.

I know that part of the problem is that I take a picture of it hot and ready to serve. I'm sure if I waited and refrigerated it I could make it a nice little cube without the insides dripping out. And yet, cold, refrigerated, coagulated cheese isn't exactly a pretty sight either. I'm at a loss friends. You'll just have to take my word that this lasagna is delicious, covered in cheese. And as always, I urge you to pick up the fresh stuff. It makes a world of difference.

Thatboy believes that all lasagna should have meat in it. While I don't agree, it's easy enough to accommodate him. If you don't love meat, you can just as easily do this with a regular ole tomato sauce. It will be just as fabulous.

In unrelated photography news, the low quality pictures you've already come to know and love are about to get even worse! If you can imagine. While uploading pictures to my computer, my trusty "old red" seems to have shorted herself out. She's currently at the "ole red" factory getting some sort of rejuvenation therapy. And while she's away, all I've got is my little no-flash bloggie, and my little camera phone. Wish me luck!

Beef Lasagna
16 oz fresh ricotta
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup parsley, minced
1 Tbsp basil, chopped
1/2 lb ground beef
2 cups tomato sauce
8 0z lasagna noodles
2 balls fresh mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Combine ricotta, garlic, parsley, and basil.
  2. Cook ground beef in a skillet over medium heat. Add the tomato sauce and heat through.
  3. Place about 1/2 cup of the meat sauce at the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish - enough to cover.
  4. Cover meat sauce with a layer of lasagna noodles. Spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture on top, then 1/3 of the meat sauce and 1/4 of the mozzarella.
  5. Repeat with noodles, ricotta, meat, and mozzarella twice.
  6. Cover final layer with noodles, remaining mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese. Bake 40 minutes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wordy Wednesday

Around the blogosphere there are many who participate in "Wordless Wednesdays" where they post a single fabulous picture. My Wednesdays should be wordless - it's Thatboy's late night. He doesn't get home before 7. But if you know me, you know that I don't need anyone around to have a conversation. Thatdad used to call me "Babbling Brooke" once I got started.

So I don't come off as completely insane, I usually spend Wednesday nights talking to Thatdog. He doesn't seem to mind. In fact, I think he enjoys our Wednesday nights together. Or I would think that if his canine ears weren't so perceptive. Thatboy drives a very loud car. When he gets within a quarter mile of home, Thatdog can hear it and goes nuts - whining and sitting at the door. Traitor. So it's quite obvious he's just biding his time with me until his real favorite arrives. His real favorite who also happens to be the person NOT in charge of his feeding. His real favorite who DOESN'T take him running every morning. His real favorite who DOESN'T talk to him for an hour in the kitchen while chopping vegetables, placing food in the oven and washing dishes.

Then again, I can easily become his favorite again by dropping a piece of cheese on the floor. Oh how quickly they turn. Except this dinner is cheese free. Just meat and veggies. And while chicken is one of Thatdog's alltimefavoritefoods, he doesn't get any chicken when it's been cooked with onions. Which is probably why Thatdog prefers the company of Thatboy on nights like tonight when I make the kitchen smell so good, and yet he can't partake.

Baked Chicken

whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
4 Tbsp flour
4 Tbsp oil
1/4 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 green pepper, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
3/4 tsp oregano
salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 325. Dust chicken pieces with flour.
  2. Heat oil in skillet and brown the chicken pieces.
  3. Place chicken in oven proof casserole. Cover with remaining ingredients, cover, and bake for 1 hour.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I am ever so proud of myself. When I first moved out on my own, some family friends gifted me two recliner chairs. They weren't especially attractive, but I was a struggling student, and beggars can't be choosers. I have been trying to get rid of them ever since Thatboy and I got married and moved in together, but he's in L-U-V with these chairs and kept insisting they stay. And I have to say, when I was battling the pinched nerve in my neck a few years back they were the only place I could sleep.

BUT with this new move I was finally able to convince Thatboy it was time for the chairs to find a new owner. And today, the lovely donation people came to pick up the chairs. THEY'RE GONE! Before you feel too bad for Thatboy, I should also point out that I am ever so proud I managed to find him a new pair of sandals he's been looking for forever. I found them, now I just need to go pick them up when they get shipped to the nearby store. See? Shoes for chairs? Sounds like a pretty good trade to me.

Waiting for the pick-up guys gave me some time to play in the kitchen (really, a 3 hour window???????). Which meant I could get dinner going and try something completely different. Maybe not completely different, because I've done cold terrines before and this isn't so different. Because it's made with the stovetop and refrigerator it doesn't heat up the whole house, and cold meals are perfect for summer. Which is why last night we had another cold dinner - gazpacho. Although is anyone else nervous that summer is almost over? Autumn is right around the corner!

Cold-Pressed Veal (from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
3/4 lb veal, cut into cubes
1 celery stalked, chopped
1/2 onion
salt and pepper
1 sprig tarragon, chopped
1/2 pkg gelatin
1 1/2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 sprig parsley, chopped

  1. Cover veal, celery, onion with water in a pot. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer 40 minutes.
  2. Strain, but reserve the veal broth. You can ditch the celery and onion.
  3. Grind the veal and tarragon in a food processor.
  4. Soften the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water.
  5. Boil the veal broth until it is reduced to 1 cup and add the gelatin, vinegar, and parsley.
  6. Stir in the veal mixture and add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Pour the mixture into a loaf pan and refrigerate overnight.