Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pioneer Woman's Cooking Schedule

I love The Pioneer Woman. If I made her recipes every day, I'm sure my husband would be as big as a house, but they are always good, and her photography is amazing.

I had emailed her a few days ago asking what her schedule was leading up to Thanksgiving. I don't know if she saw the email or was planning to do it anyway, but she's posted her Thanksgiving Cooking Schedule. As someone who can easily get overwhelmed when there's a lot going on, I found it very helpful, and hopefully you do too!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Source: The New Best Recipe

This was my first dish from the cookbook and it HALFWAY did not disappoint. The meatballs were the bomb--very light and tasty. It was the sauce that confused me. For my tastes, meatballs should be accompanied by a sweet sauce to balance the meaty flavor, and my sauce had an almost tomato paste flavor to it. Hmmm. I am wondering if I had a bad batch of crushed tomatoes, or if I should have added some sugar to cut down on the acidic taste. The recipe says to dump out the vegetable oil after frying the meatballs, and then add in the olive oil to the same pan to make the sauce. If you also like a sweeter sauce, my suggestion would be to make the tomato sauce in a separate pan from the meatballs.



2 slices of white bread, crusts removed and torn into pieces
1/2 cup of buttermilk or 6 tablespoons plain yogurt thinned with 2 tablespoons of whole milk
1 pound of ground meat, preferrably 3/4 pound of ground chuck and 1/4 pound ground pork
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablspoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 large egg YOLK (no whites)
1 small garlic clove, minced fine or pressed through a garlic press
3/4 teaspoon of salt
Ground black pepper
1 to 1 and 1/2 cups vegetable oil for frying

Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced fine
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil leaves
Salt and ground black pepper
1 pound of spaghetti
Parmesan cheese for serving

1. For the meatballs: Combine the bread and buttermilk into a small bowl. Mix and let sit for 10 minutes, mashing occasionally with a fork, until a smooth paste is formed.

2. Place the ground meat, cheese, parsley, egg yolk, garlic, salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Add the bread-buttermilk mixture and combine until evenly mixed. Shape 3 tablespoons of the mixture into 1 1/2 inch round meatball. (Use a light touch--if you compact the meatballs too much, they become dense and hard. And, as I found, if you are TOO light-handed, they will be hard to turn over in one piece. Balance, people, balance.) You should have about 14 meatballs when done.

3. Pour the vegetable oil into a 10 or 11 inch saute pan to a depth of 1/4 inch. Turn the heat to medium high. After several minutes, test the oil with the edge of a meatball. While the oil sizzles, add the meatballs in a single layer. Fry, turning with tongs several times, until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Regulate the heat as needed to keep the oil sizzling but not smoking. Transfer the browned meatballs to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.

4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pot.

5. For the sauce: Discard the oil in the pan, but leave behind any browned bits. Add the olive oil and garlic and saute, scraping up the browned bits, just until the garlic is just golden, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the basil and salt and pepper to taste. Add the meatballs and simmer, turning them occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Keep warm over low heat.

6. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta to the boiling water and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until al dente, drain, and return to the pot. Ladle several large spoonfuls of sauce (without the meatballs) over the spaghetti and toss until well coated. Divide the pasta among individual bowls and top each with a little more tomato sauce and 2 or 3 meatballs. Serve immediately, topping with Parmesan if preferred. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cha-cha's White Chicken Chili

Source: All Recipes

My husband is gone this weekend, which means...I didn't shower till 1:00, I was in my robe most of the day, and I had a Gilmore Girls marathon. It also meant I wanted something low-key for dinner. White chicken chili is so easy and yummy!

We also just bought a Canon Rebel XSi (our Christmas gift to each other), so warning...this entry's going to be a little photo-heavy! Full directions are at the end.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Ready in: 30 minutes
Yields: 4 servings

Boil and dice 3 chicken breasts.

Chop up an onion.

Crush 3 cloves of garlic.

Heat one teaspoon of vegetable oil in a stockpot and add the onions.

Cook until tender. Add in one 4 ounce can each of diced jalapenos, chiles, the garlic, 2 teaspoons of cumin,

1 teaspoon of oregano,

and 1 teaspoon of cayenne, IF YOU DARE! Actually, I don't think it needs it. After you add the other ingredients, taste to see if it's hot enough for your taste. A full teaspoon of cayenne would make it FAR too hot for me!

Cook the ingredients until tender, about 3 minutes.

Then, add in 2 cans of chicken broth

and 3 cans of white beans.

Let the whole thing simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, grate 1 cup of pepper jack cheese.

Remove from heat and add the cup of cheese, stirring slowly until melted. Enjoy!

Full directions:

3 chicken breasts, cooked and diced
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed (I prefer minced, actually)
1 4 oz can of diced jalapenos
1 4 oz can of diced chiles
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 teaspoons of cumin
1 teaspoon of cayenne (optional)
2 cans of chicken broth
3 cans of white beans
1 cup of shredded pepper jack cheese

1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot. Add in the onions and cook until tender. Add in the jalapenos, chiles, garlic, oregano, cumin, and cayenne if using. Cook for about 3 minutes. Add in chicken broth and beans, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Remove from heat. Add in cheese and stir until melted. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New cookbook!

I was so, SO excited to get this today in the mail! I ordered it from amazon.com for $27.10, including shipping, which is pretty darn good for a hardcover book with 990 pages of recipes, and best of all, technique. If there's one thing I'm lacking in the kitchen, it's the "science" of cooking. Here is an except from the book:

Simplest Roast Chicken

"We tried a simple, classic approach: we roasted the bird at 375 degress for one hour. The skin was golden and slightly crispy. At 160 degrees internal temperature, the juice ran clear, but the dark meat was still not properly cooked near the bone. We continued cooking until the thigh meat reach an internal temperature of about 170 degrees. At this point, the breast meat was close to 180 degrees, but it was still juicy. This was an interesting discovery. While the breast meat of chicken roasted at 450 degrees was a bit dry when the thigh registered 160 degrees, the bird roasted at 375 degrees still had juicy breast meat when the thigh registered close to 170 degrees. We also found that the commonly held indication of doneness, "until the juices run clear," is an imprecise measure."

Man, that is probably really boring to most people but exciting to me!

The only thing I don't like is there are no COLOR pictures. Of course you want to stuff as much information in a book like this, but I never quite realized how much I love color photos of food until now.

Look for many CI recipes in the upcoming weeks!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese

Source: Some article on msnbc I printed out in 2006

Nom nom nom. Nothing is more decadent or guilt-inducing than homemade macaroni and cheese. I love this recipe. I usually coat a couple of chicken breasts in olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake them, then chop the chicken and put it in with the mix. It makes me think I'm at least getting some protein in right before I fall into a carb coma.

Also, I used medium cheddar because it was on hand, and it is CRUCIAL to use sharp cheddar as the recipe calls for! The taste of fontina and gruyere is pretty mild, so you need the sharp cheddar to punch it up a bit.

Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese

Makes 6 servings

2 chicken breasts (optional)
2 1/2 cups of dry pasta, such as macaroni, gemelli, rotini, or cavatelli
2 1/2 cups of milk
1 slice onion
1 bay leaf
10 whole black peppercorns
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 1/2 cups)
3 oz fontina cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
3 oz Emmenthal, Gruyere, or similar Swiss-type cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup of bread crumbs

1. If using chicken breasts, coat in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-35 minutes. Let breasts cool and shred. Leave the oven on at 350, and butter a 2-quart baking dish.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and boil until it is about half cooked, about 5 minutes. Drain well, rinse with cold water, and set aside, tossing from time to time as it cools to avoid sticking.

3. Put the milk in a small saucepan with the onion slice, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Bring just to a low boil over medium heat, then remove from heat and let sit to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until it foams up and has a very slight toasty smell (it should not brown), 1 to 2 minutes. Strain the warm milk into the pan and whisk to blend. Continue to cook the sauce, whisking often, until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and gradually whisk in the cheeses until fully melted. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, then add the pasta and chicken ,if using, and stir to fully coat with the cheese sauce.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and sprinkle bread crumbs evenly over. Set the dish on the oven rack and lay a piece of foil on the rack to catch any drips. Bake until the macaroni and cheese is bubbling hot and the top is nicely browned, about 40 minutes. Let sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

New toy: Reynolds Handi-Vac

I've been eyeing this for a few weeks and it went on sale so I finally bought it! I hate freezer burn and it seems like it ruins the meat after awhile. The Handi-Vac retails for $10 and comes with 3 1-quart bags. It's battery operated and comes with batteries in it.

There's a little hole in each bag and you put the device over the hole and press the blue button. You have to press down pretty hard and sometimes wiggle it a bit so it gets the right suction.

Due to the way that it sucks out the air, it shouldn't be used for foods with liquids--the meat below had a little sauce left and I had to stop suctioning so it would pull the liquid out of the little hole.

Overall, I would give it a B+. It seems like it takes a little work to get the hole in the bag aligned right to work with the suction device, but it's a great price if you'd like to vacuum seal your foods!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Blue Monster!

Source: My hubband

My husband not only excels in making cereal, grilled cheese, and canned soup, but in creative drink-making. This one is very tasty! He himself named it "The Blue Monster!"

The cast of characters:


1 and a half shots of vodka
1 shot of Pucker Island Blue
7Up or Sprite to taste

Mix all ingredients in a glass and enjoy!

Gary's Turkey Burritos

Source:All Recipes

A healthy twist on Mexican! This is delicious, filling, and easy to make!

Gary's Turkey Burritos

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Ready in: 35 minutes
Serves 6


1 pound of ground turkey
1/2 can of diced tomatoes with chiles (or jalapenos, however they come)
1/2 can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon chili power
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 small onion, diced
1 can of fat-free refried beans
1 can of corn, drained
1/4 to 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream (optional)
6 10-inch tortillas


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.In a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground turkey. Stir in diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, seasonings, corn and onion. Reduce heat and let simmer, about 20 minutes.

3. In a separate skillet, heat beans over medium-low heat. Spoon a portion of beans in the middle of the tortilla, then top with meat mixture.

Repeat with all tortillas, fold center and ends, and place in a baking dish, seam side down. Sprinkle tops with cheddar cheese. Bake for about 5-8 minutes, or until tortillas are warmed and cheese is melted. Top with sour cream, if desired. Enjoy!

Fresh Guacamole

Source: All Recipes

There are two things that will happen to you if you move to California: you will grow to love sushi and avocados. I had lukewarm feelings about both when I moved here, to the point of I was constantly saying at restaurants, "WHY DO THEY PUT AVOCADO ON FREAKING EVERYTHING?" I now realize it is a brilliant campaign by the California Avacado Commission to transform everyone into avocado lovers! Damn you, all powerful commission!

In any case, I have no idea when/if avocados are in season elsewhere, but fresh guacamole dip is TO DIE FOR! This recipe is a winner. I forgot to buy roma tomatoes so I ended up using half a can of canned, which I wouldn't suggest. Fresh tomatoes make all the difference! I would add half the lime juice and then taste--I don't like too much lime juice. And if you some queso cheese, sprinkle a bit on top before serving! Yum!


Prep time: 10 minutes
Ready in: 10 minutes
Serves: 4


3 avocados--peeled, pitted, and mashed
(Slice the top of the avocado lengthwise until you reach the pit, then twist. You'll have 2 halves. Remove the pit, and scoop out the innards.)
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup diced onion
3 tablespoons of fresh chopped cilantro
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
1 pinch ground cayenne pepper (optional)


In a medium bowl, mash together the avocados, lime juice, and salt. Mix in onion, cilantro, tomatoes and garlic. Stir in cayenne pepper, if desired. Refrigerate one hour for best flavor.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Baked Pasta

My lovely cousin Christine, who was a lovely bridesmaid in my wedding (far left):

started her own cooking blog, Steen's Cuisine, and the timing could not be better. I asked the hubs what he wanted to eat this weekend, and he said something mostacholi-like. The Baked Pasta from BHG listed on her blog sounded delicious, and it was, as well as very simple! As we were eating, Kevin said, "You can make this again." LOL...he has also demanded credit for picking the pasta sauce, Ragu Roasted Garlic. That is his highly recommended sauce for this dish :)

I used grated Parmesan cheese, which meant that there was a lot more Parmesan than mozzarella in the dish. I thought it tasted GREAT, but when putting the final layer of cheese on the dish, I added more mozzarella.

On another note...being the cooking neophyte that I am, I am always excited to share a new tip, no matter how simple. I have a garlic chopper, and I used to just put the garlic in the chopper, papery shells on, and then pick them out. THEN I was reading a Rachel Ray cookbook and one of her tips was to lay the garlic buds on a cutting board, put the flat part of a large knife over them, and then hit them with the flat of your hand to "pop" the shells off, like so:

So it may be one of those things like "tongs" that everyone else already knew about, but I like to pretend I am spreading knowledge :)

Baked Pasta

8 ounces of dried pasta (I used mini penne, but just about anything would work)
16 ounces of Italian sausage or ground beef (I used 4 Jennie-O sweet Italian sausage links, squeezed out of their skin)
3/4 cup of chopped onion (1 medium onion)
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 26 ounce jar of your favorite pasta sauce
1 and 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese (combine the cheeses)
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper (I used 1/2 because I LOOOOOVE pepper)
Fresh chopped parsley to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Boil water and prepare pasta. While the pasta is cooking, cook sausage, onions, and garlic in a skillet until meat is done and onions are tender. Drain the meat and pasta.

2. In a 3 quart casserole dish, combine the pasta, meat, 1 cup of the cheese mixture, and black pepper. Stir gently to combine.

3. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in oven for 30 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of cheese and parsley. Bake another 5-7 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A few of my favorite things

I was going through my kitchen the other day and thought I would post the things I absolutely CANNOT live without.

OXO Tongs--it's not so much the brand that matters, but up until a couple of months ago, I had not figured out it's so much easier to turn over chicken breasts and steaks in a pan with tongs than a spatula. Me=not smart.

Pyrex storage containers--you will never, ever use Tupperware again if you get a couple of sets of these! I registered for one set and loved it so much I bought another after our wedding. They're glass, the contents can be reheated in the microwave, and they never stain.

simplehuman dish rack--this thingamabob is so cool. It's metal, has slots for dishes and silverware, a little rack you can pull out for glasses, and my favorite, a little tab that sticks out that drains the water into the sink.

See, isn't that cool? It, and the cup holding tray, swivel back to the center of the rack so you can easily store it. I seriously love this thing. I hand wash our everyday china because the pattern is so pretty and I have no doubts this will last forever.

Henckles 7" Sontaku knife and sharpening steel--every kitchen needs a good knife like this, and you must invest in a sharpener, too! I sharpen it about every other time I use it, 6 times each side.

All-Clad 3-Quart Stainless Steel Saute Pan--ever since I bought this baby I haven't even used my other All-Clad 12" fry pan. If you have to pick one, this is the one. It's deeper to accommodate dishes with a lot of veggies or a sauce.

What are your favorite kitchen tools?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday Gumbo

Source: All Recipes

My husband has grown very fond of the Cheescake Factory's version of this dish, and I've never made gumbo before, so I decided to give it a go. It was VERY tasty! The only thing I did not like was the Italian sausage. I picked up a different brand of Italian turkey sausage than I normally do, so I'm not sure if that was the problem, but the sausage had a heavy licorice flavor. Weird. While eating, I actually thought it would be better with kielbasa--I'll try that next time! The original recipe calls for slicing the sausage and then cooking. If you've never sliced raw Italian sausage before, it's pretty difficult. I would suggest browning them on the outside and THEN slicing.

Sunday Gumbo

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Ready in: 1 hour

1 pound of Italian sausage links (or Kielbasa!)
1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cubed (I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs because they are so much more tender and flavorful!)
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery hearts, chopped
1 teaspoon dried majoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cans of chicken broth
2/3 cup uncooked brown rice
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 pound of shrimp
2 cups frozen sliced okra


1. In a Dutch oven, brown sausage and chicken in oil. Remove with a slotted spoon. Slice sausage and set entire mixture aside and keep warm. In the drippings, saute the pepper, onion, and celery until tender. Add in garlic powder, thyme, majoram, and 1/4 tsp of the cayenne pepper. Stir in the broth, rice, meat mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Stir in tomatoes, shrimp, and okra. Add additional cayenne pepper to taste. Bring back to a boil, and reduce heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes until shrimp turn bright pink, stirring occasionally.

This is very hot (temperature wise) if you serve it immediately! I would let it sit for a few minutes before serving.