Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Double bacon cheeseburger soup over the fire

This past weekend, we had double bacon cheeseburger in soup form, cooked over the fire. It was, without doubt, the best soup we'd ever made. Perhaps even the best meal.

Now, mind you, this takes a fair bit of prep work. It's best to have an extra hand or two. Preferably, someone to start and stoke the fire, and do the heavy lifting, while you clean and prep ingredients, because it's a laundry list. But it's worth it.

So, first, get yourself a lazy Sunday afternoon, and some decent weather, and then grab your fire pit, logs, tripod and iron kettle. Then prepare for the Best Soup Ever.

Double bacon cheeseburger soup (adapted from Closet Cooking)

1/2 lb. ground chuck, browned
6 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 T. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T flour
1 stalk broccoli, chopped
1/2 container baby bella mushrooms, chopped
3 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
Water for soaking
4 cups beef broth, divided (If cooking over the stove, you may need less.)
1/2 bottle dark beer
2 T. ketchup
1 T. spicy mustard
1 T worcestershire sauce
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes (don't drain)
1 to 2 cups shredded cheddar

Make sure you start about an hour before you want to cook this. Also, you'll want the fire started about a half hour before you're ready.

Brown beef and cook bacon. Set aside in small bowl. Chop onion, carrot, green pepper and garlic. Saute in olive oil until soft. Add flour and stir until combined. Set aside in large bowl. Chop broccoli and mushrooms. Add to onion mixture. Peel and chop potatoes. Put in bowl and cover with cold water until it's time to mix the soup. Mix beef broth, and separate into two containers of 2 cups each. (I used mason jars). Mix ketchup, mustard, worcestershire and tomatoes. Add to meat mixture. Crack the beer. Shred cheese and put in fridge. Now, crack yourself a beer because that was a lot of work, folks.

So, now you should have:

- A meat mixture bowl
- A bowl of vegetables
- A bowl of potatoes in water
- Two jars of beef broth
- One bottle of beer
- A container of shredded cheese

If cooking over the fire:

Make sure fire is going at a fairly good clip. Set chain so that fire will just lick the bottom of the cast iron pot.  You don't want the whole thing engulfed in flame.

Fill pot with the meat mixture, the vegetables, the potatoes (drained), one jar of the beef broth (2 cups) and 1/2 the bottle of beer. Set pot over fire on chain. You'll want this to cook about 20-30 minutes, max.

Once cooked, most of the liquid should be absorbed. Take the pot off the fire. Add remaining broth as needed, and cheese. Stir and cover. Let sit about 20 minutes or so inside. Serve with bread.

If cooking on the stove:

Set heat to medium high, and fill the pot with the meat mixture, the vegetables, the potatoes (drained), one jar of the beef broth (2 cups) and 1/2 the bottle of beer. Bring to a boil, and then set to simmer for 40-45 minutes. Add cheese and extra broth if needed. Stir and simmer another 10 minutes. Serve with bread.

Fyi, I served this with beer bread I'd made that morning. Excellent pairing! I really can't recommend cooking over the fire enough. We're fairly new to it, but everything we've made has been just awesome!

NOTE: for the fire, we use Cabela's cast-iron pot, tripod and lid lifter. They are awesome! No relation or sponsorship here, just a big fan.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Divine mushrooms

I'm not really one to say that mushrooms can be divine, so you know there must be more to it than just mushrooms for this recipe. Naturally, it involves cheese.

Every once in awhile, we do an appetizer night. This particular night also included a lackluster spinach artichoke dip, little smokies and elk sausage, but the mushrooms trumped them all. And like idiots, we only made about a dozen.


I had bought baby bella mushrooms at the store, and I'd seen the appetizer version before. All those had crab or other items in there. I didn't have any of that. What I had was cream cheese, cheddar and bread crumbs.

Well, folks, it turns out, that's all you need. It was ridiculous.

This will make enough for 1 package of baby bella mushrooms, capped, and a few crackers. Or bread!

1 package 1/3 fat cream cheese, room temp
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
1/3 cup bread crumbs

Heat oven to 350. Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.

Wash and de-stem all mushrooms. Place caps rounded side down on the pan.

Mix cream cheese, cheddar cheese and olives into a paste. Using a teaspoon, fill each mushroom cap full to the brim. Sprinkle over the bread crumbs.

Bake for 10 minutes, and let cool for five minutes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Italian beef and soup

Whew! We've made a lot of things over the past few days, and here's a few!

First, you'll want to make Italian beef, and I used to think this was super difficult, until I found Louie.

So, with Louie, all things are easy. Especially Italian beef. Get yourself a 3-lb. beef roast, and put it in your crockpot, then add Louie and about two to three cups water. Or...

You could add whole brussel sprouts to the bottom of the crockpot, place the beef on top, then add Louie, and cover with water. The water will reach almost to the top of the crockpot.

Either way, in 8-10 hours, you'll have Italian beef goodness.

If you prepare the beef the second way, you'll end up with a lot more water. That would be useful in making the soup, below. If you do, reserve 4 cups of that beef broth goodness, and put it in the fridge. 

If not, no big. Once the beef is done, shred in the crockpot with two forks. Then serve with buns or over noodles. Yum!

Vegetable Barley Soup

1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 container baby bella mushrooms, diced
2 T. olive oil
1 cup pearled barley
6 oz. amber ale or country ale
3 carrots, sliced
3 red potatoes, diced
4 cups beef goodness
10 brussel sprouts, halved

Heat olive oil in Dutch oven, and saute onion and garlic. Add mushrooms, and saute a few minutes more. Add barley and stir to coat, adding 1 more T. of olive oil if needed. Add in ale and let simmer. 

Then add vegetables and beef goodness (heavy broth) and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn to simmer. Let simmer about 45 minutes.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The kitchen

So, I thought all kitchens were the same, and had been forever and ever, until I read this article from Slate. It's about how Lillian Gilbreth revolutionized the kitchen layout.

"Under her arrangement, a person could mix a cake, put it in the oven, and do the dishes, without taking more than a couple of dozen steps."

What fascinates me, (besides how cake is always a motivator), is the idea that kitchens weren't always the two-step shuffle that most are now. You see this in older homes, this presence of odd furniture pieces in the kitchen, which sparks the inevitable "what is this thing doing in here?" response. Or, you see kitchens that are just not able to handle the size of modern appliances. When we were searching for a house, our budget was such that we came upon this situation multiple times. One kitchen had been reworked to the point where, if you opened the oven, it blocked a door. Yikes!

Rather than a "L", "C" or "U" shape, our kitchen is sort of an "I". From one end to the other, it's fridge, a bit of counter space, standard oven, counter over dishwasher, sink, pantry. I have one of those awesome space-taking soffits, never to be removed thanks to its electrical contents, and cabinets over each element, except the window over the pie-corner sink. The pantry is sort of a small sampler of our supplies. I keep a good amount of canned goods in the basement, a holdover from growing up on the farm, along with fermenting beer and liquor.

Shortly after we moved in, I bought a kitchen cart, which houses our silverware, mixing bowls, antique KitchenAid, toaster and coffee-maker, as well as bowls of potatoes and onions, and various at-hand paperwork in a mini kitchen-office tub. It doubled our storage in the kitchen, and also offered a respite for the counter. This was, as you can imagine, a total game-changer for the kitchen. It also saved the lives of several bowls that someone had determined we didn't need. :)

Over the years, we've replaced glass, added new hardware, shelves, extra doors and sliding drawers. Recently, a new window has made a difference -- for one, we can open it. More than that, though, we've constantly reworked the storage and placement of items to make sure they make sense for cooking, washing and baking said cakes. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but it seems the kitchen is constantly being adjusted and tweaked to fit one's current life and cooking style. We brew beer now, and those tools are present. We are more adventurous with recipes in general, and have more spices and ingredients to store.

 It's fall cleaning time, and that means going through the cabinets and storage bins and jars again. I wonder what kind of system we'll end up with this time. No doubt, I'll discover something we haven't used in awhile, and wonder at how we change in our food habits. Perhaps I'll get out a long-forgotten cookbook and once again, tweaking will begin.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tomatoes and lavender, a last hurrah

Tomatoes. They never really leave, do they? Even after the Actual Freeze the other night, they were hanging on, ready to go the distance. Even after the harvest, the seeds stay on, determined to fight through and regenerate in the spring.

The season was brutal for tomatoes this year. We had all the sun in the world, and too much heat, and no rain. The tomatoes, what arrived early, turned spotty and white. Then when the rain finally came, the plants soaked it in and bloomed in a second harvest. 

This year, we planted three Early Girls and three Big Boys, and none really distinguished themselves as such. They were the entire lot of tomato planting this year, save for a few brazen cherry tomato plants that wouldn't be squelched. Combined with donations from friends, we had enough for some red salsa and for some tomato basil jam. After the cold, though, the tomatoes were still kicking, trying to get some time on their side, determined not to be robbed of a full season. 

I picked the last of the green ones this weekend, and ended up with a bowlful. I suppose they, and the rogue reds, will end up in green tomato salsa. 

I also picked the rest of the lavender.

I plan to use it in some natural cosmetics and candles this winter. Even the leaves smell wonderful. I have bunches of it hanging in the kitchen. 

I wish I had a recipe for you, but the Bourbon Ribs recipe (written hastily in pencil on a sticky note) is still on the fridge from the other night. As it is, there are no photos. Even if the camera had been charged, we ate as if the rib wranglers were on the loose. 

So there it is. Lavender, green tomatoes and no ribs for you. Maybe next time!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

August "Augie" doggie

You might have noticed a dearth of recipes around here. That's because we had a new arrival on Labor Day.

His name is Augie, he's 10 weeks old, and in the past three weeks, he's almost doubled in size. When we picked him up, he was two handfuls of wiggles, licks and cute, and now he's surpassing our largest cat at a rapid rate. Which is no small feat.

He loves to run.

He loves to chew dirt.

And smell the flowers. Perhaps we should have named him Ferdinand.

He loves to chew squeakers and rawhide and grass and my good scarf. He's still not sure about the barks from next door, and will stick close to us when he hears those. He follows D around all the time, when filling tanks or just doing chores. Oddly, he's very good at amusing himself with a bone and will sit on the kitchen floor while I'm cooking, and not even beg for scraps.

He's always happy, always glad to see us, and always looking ahead for the next challenge. A good lesson, I think. Unless the next challenge is chewing my shoes. :)

Ch ch ch ch ch ch Cherry Bounce — Part 2!

Perhaps you remember that sometime around July, I received a boatload of cherries, and decided to make Cherry Bounce thanks to my literary obsessions?

Well, since then, the cherries, sugar, anise and whiskey have been fermenting away in the basement, happily turning a brilliant red. It's been about two months since we added the whiskey.

I decided it was time to bottle the bounce. I found some cute bottles at Marshalls and sterilized them. Then I assembled the tools -- the cherry bounce, strainers, a large bowl, the bottles and funnels.

I decided to pour the cherry bounce into the strainer in the large bowl, then ladle it into a funnel with a strainer into the jars.

By the way, I only had three of the fancy jars. I filled those plus two quart-size mason jars with the resulting cherry bounce.

Now, we just have to wait until the holidays to drink it! :) Happy Cherry Bounce!

Friday, September 14, 2012

And now for something completely different... from Pinterest

Are you on Pinterest? It's an addiction. I tend to "like" items rather than "pin" them, but I always think I won't get to the projects.

I finally did one project I'd admired. It doesn't look quite like the original, but not too shabby.

Here is the original from Stampingville:

Here is my rewind:

I used a framed mirror I found at the thrift store for 25 cents. Then I stamped the mirror surface with brown ink, and added stickers of grasses at the bottom of the frame.

I traced and cut out the butterflies from some textured white wallpaper, then brushed over them with a brown Prismacolor marker broad tip to highlight the texture. Then I bent the wings out. I glued brown crystals onto a few of them. I adhered them to the mirror with 3M mounting squares, because of the smooth surface of the mirror.

Finally I added a length of pale green textured ribbon on the left side, and left it all to dry overnight. Now, it hangs in my office!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Enchiladas for everyone

It has been quite the week. Both cars function properly, after a slew of repairs. We finally replaced three windows in the house, and I can open the kitchen window for the first time ever! This caused a flurry of cleaning, and resulted in takeout tonight. However, I made Empty the Fridge Enchiladas last night, and here's the recipe:

2 t. olive oil
1 cup chopped, cooked meat
1 cup chopped, cooked vegetables
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 12-15 oz. can enchilada sauce
2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
4-5 small tortillas.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 8-in. square pan with cooking spray.
In a large saucepan, heat oil. Add meat, vegetables and beans. Cook, stirring occasionally.
Shred cheese, and open sauce.
Pour 1/4 of the sauce into the pan, and tilt pan to coat.
Pour 1/3 of the sauce into the saucepan, and stir to coat.
Heat tortillas for 15 to 20 seconds in microwave.
Add a heaping 1/2 cup of filling to each tortilla, and a tablespoon of grated cheese, and roll up, folding in the sides. Place, seam side down, in the pan. Repeat until pan is full. Pour remaining sauce over the enchiladas and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 20 min.

I happened to have leftover pork chops, roasted zucchini and onions, and a cob of sweet corn, so that combination worked well with the red enchilada sauce. I also paired this with some herbed arborio rice. As leftovers, the mixture was highly impressive! I'm going back for seconds!

This is a take on this recipe from Tea and Cookies, just reworked for any combo!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hatch chiles are here!

HyVee just got in their Hatch chiles for the year, and I bought a huge bag. At 2.99 a lb., they are worth every penny.

Thanks to Darla, I have a major appreciation for real chiles, and now can no longer buy the chiles in the can.... unless it's Hatch green chile sauce, and well, that's okay!

Hatch chiles come from Hatch, N.M. They are produced by local farmers, and have a limited distribution. So, by buying these guys, you're not only saving money, but supporting an industry that has invested generations of time into a small pepper.

Each year, I buy a bag of these at the store, roast them carefully on the stove burner, chop them up and freeze them for chili and enchiladas all year. One tip — wear gloves! These guys pack a punch and can leave your hands feeling as if they are on fire!

For more information on Hatch chiles and the community, check out this article from The Denver Post.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

August travels

Not much cooking lately... we've been too busy traveling the countryside of Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, quaffing local brews and good food.

We ate at The Happy Gnome and The Muddy Pig, and there were others we missed, but these two really impressed, both in food and craft brew on tap. (Sweet corn bisque! Feta and olive tapenade bruschetta! Falling-off-the-bone pork ribs!!) I'm not sure what caused the plethora of interesting restaurant names, but most were in this Summit Hill area, which was very cute and included Northern Brewer.

We took the Great River Road most of the way back, and saw some great towns. McGregor, Iowa? Alma, Wis.? Shops, breweries, places to eat, great views. We'll be back, folks. No doubt about it.

The views from Route 52 northwest of Dubuque were also stunning. Rickardsville, Iowa – which boasts a population of 180-plus, about the size of the town nearest where I grew up – has the best views per capita of just about anywhere I've seen in Iowa.

And I would LOVE to show you the view, but my camera cord is hiding. No doubt in plain sight. Anyway, picture rolling green hills, sun shadows on valleys with farms tucked here and there, miniscule herds of cattle and a general sense of peace on the breeze. Is this heaven? Nope, still Iowa.

Anyway... in other news, we got home and life continued as per usual. I made a killer chicken tomato dish this past weekend, to reintroduce homemade food into the diet. I guess I could throw down the recipe while I'm here... :) We are overrun with tomatoes here, so thus, a tomato dish!

Killer Tomato Chicken with Pasta

Mince three cloves garlic and saute in 2 T olive oil. Add six small tomatoes, diced; one cooked chicken breast, diced; and 1/2 cup black olives, sliced in half. Add 1/2 cup of white wine, 3 cups water, 2 chicken boullion cubes, 1/2 t. Italian seasoning, 1/2 t. Greek seasoning (all the countries!) salt and pepper. Turn to low, and let simmer a half hour. Turn to high and bring to a boil. Add 1 cup of orzo pasta, and boil about 9 minutes. Serve over torn pieces of crusty bread in shallow bowls with a side of steamed green beans. Yum!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Homemade lavender lotion

I don't know about you, but it seems to me sometimes that lotion is kind of... pricey. Also, I don't like using lotion with all kinds of chemicals. Then, I think, well, I'll just get a natural/organic brand, but that costs more. What I want is lotion that has an ingredient list I know how to pronounce, without the expense.

Then I thought, why not just make my own? I have all these ingredients left from making lip balm this past Christmas. (Future blog post alert!) Surely, there's something in my box of tricks to create lotion.

I found this recipe from Care2, and I was surprised at the short list of ingredients: Almond oil (check), beeswax (check), water and essential oils (check!).

(Fyi on Care2 -- check their "About Us" page. Apparently they only have 50 employees, and they are shooting out some majorly green info at a rapid pace. They are also busy supporting all sorts of causes. Nice!)

When I was making lip balm, beeswax was the hardest thing to source. Shoot for a local source if you can. Here in the QCA, that means local beekeepers, local stores or even Hobby Lobby.

If that doesn't work, try Amazon. A pound should run anywhere from $7 to $15, or more if it's a local source. You'll need 2 tablespoons, so you'll have a lot left! One tip — go for organic yellow beeswax, not bleached! At 2 tablespoons, it won't affect the color, and the less synthetic material, the better.

Also, you can get the beeswax pellets, but they cost more. I like to grate my own. You'll want to dedicate a grater for this particular job.

I use the Now brand of oils, and for this recipe, used 100 percent almond oil. This costs about $10.

Essential oils -- I either buy mine at a local health food store, or online at The Ponte Vedra Soap Shoppe. I used 20 drops of a 1 oz. container of Lavender essential oil, which cost about $7 for 1 oz. There are 600 (!) drops in 1 oz.!

Be sure not to use synthetic oils -- they are invariably cheaper, but they don't deliver the goods, and can affect the final product and you!

I used tap water for this  -- seemed to be fine, but filter away if you want to!

So here is what I made and how I made it. Note use of hand mixer, rather than blender:

You'll need:

2 T beeswax pellets (grate, then measure)
3/4 cup of almond oil
1 cup water
20 drops/1 teaspoon essential oil
A hand mixer or blender

Melt 2 Tablespoons beeswax in 3/4 cup almond oil in a small saucepan on low heat. Once beeswax is melted, remove from stove and cool 1 minute. Add water to 4-cup mixing bowl. Begin blending the water with a hand mixer on high speed. Pour oil and beeswax mixture into bowl in a steady stream. Mixture will emulsify when about 3/4 of mixture is in there, so just keep at it even if it looks wrong at first! Once blended, remove mixer and add essential oil. Pour lotion into glass jar and store in fridge.

Fyi, I totally thought this would not work. Oil and water emulsifies into lotion? What?? But sure enough, it worked beautifully. I'm a believer!

Total costs for items used: Beeswax - 25 cents; oil - $4; essential oil: 20 cents; water: free; jar: 50 cents (or in my case free, but if you had to buy it, that's about what a jar costs). So, about 4.95 for ... wait for it.... 16 oz. of lotion! Yep, that's a 16-oz. Ball jar there, full of handmade, synthetic-free lotion.

AND, keeping it in the fridge is great — cool lotion feels awesome, especially in this heat. I used it this morning, and it is totally worth every penny. :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ch ch ch ch ch ch Cherry Bounce — Part 1

When life hands you a bowl of cherries, you could blog about it until you exhaust every cherry metaphor out there. You could eat them all, or make pie. Or, you could make Cherry Bounce.

Cherry bounce is the oldest drink in the United States. Martha Washington made this stuff, people. It's a vintage vintage, if you will.

I first heard of cherry bounce after reading The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. At one point in the series, (spoiler alert!) the characters end up in the U.S. colonies pre-Constitution. Cherry bounce, according to the book, was made in a keg with cherries, sugar and grain liquor.

Then a friend of mine mentioned that her sweet cherry tree was already producing fruit, keeping with the trend this year of every plant being a month ahead of schedule. So, I decided to look up cherry bounce.

I found a recipe at Beekman 1802. The Beekman boys are all-natural folks, and seemed knowledgeable enough on the subject. I only needed the ingredients of old -- the cherries, sugar, and some grain liquor. I also decided to add star anise.

So, I took my cherries -- four quarts, unpitted -- and divided them among four large sterilized Mason jars. Then I funneled in about 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar in each one.

Then I put the lids on each one, dated them, and put them in the basement to wait.

I have to admit -- not having to pit the cherries? Best part about this deal so far.

About two and a half weeks later, I noticed a syrup around the cherries.

I brought them upstairs, and broke out two 750 mL bottles of Jim Beam. As soon as I uncapped the jars, each one began to fizz! Weird!! It freaked us out. :)

After we stopped being mesmerized by the fizzing, I measured out about 300 mL of bourbon and poured it into the first jar. It came all the way to an inch below the edge of the jar, and I decided that was about right, even though I still had a little bourbon in the measuring cup. I poured bourbon to this level in each jar.

Now, as I was pouring, I noticed there was still sugar in the bottom of each jar. I'm going to pretend that is not an issue. I shook up two of the jars, but the sugar settled. Whatever.

I'm so glad I left dishes in the sink before I did this. It really makes the photo, don't you think? :)

Finally, I wiped down the lids and edges of the jar, and re-capped the bottles. I dated the lid, and then set them downstairs in the darker part of the basement again. We'll see how it goes. As of right now, about two weeks later, it's looking deliciously red... mmmm!

Monday, June 18, 2012

A big week, and a potluck request

I haven't been cooking much lately. There was a bridal shower at work, and then a friend of mine had a baby, which involved spending about 10-plus hours at the hospital and an early run to Starbucks. This was totally worth it, however. The newest Amazon is a beaut!

I have three bags of grain waiting to be ground up and processed into wort for beer, and about six cups of currants in the fridge that need to be cooked into jam, as soon as I get the other ingredients. This weekend involved grilling and vegetables, all of which I've written about here already. So, this week, you might get a jam recipe with a canning tutorial, if we're all very, very lucky. Also on the list is banana bran muffins, cornmeal waffles and beer, apparently.

In other news, I'm looking for a potluck dish. It has to taste good, weather heat well and feed about 75 people. Ideally, it will be easy, take less than 15 ingredients and fit into the two disposable pans I bought for the occasion. Magical powers optional.

Any ideas? I'm open! Post away!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Decant, decant, decant: An addiction to Mason jars

I read a ton of home renovation articles. Pinterest is my new mistress, and Country Living has taken out a mortgage on my email inbox. Midwest Living claims my living room table. It's a sickness.

Anyway, the one bit of advice about home decor and organization that seems to stick with me is this: Decant, decant, decant.

I think it was an article about bathrooms, and it talked about the idea of trying to store items that have to be in sight. Now, I don't know about your bathroom, but ours is about the size of a closet. Storage is a joke, so everything is out in the open. However, this article made a point that not everything has to be in its original package....

It started there, with a squat, clear Presto jar full of cotton balls and q-tips. Then makeup brushes, and jewelry. It's shocking how much better the place looks with things contained in jars. Honestly. And now, of course, it's out of control, and it's really to do with the Mason jars.

When my grandma died, we ended up going through her basement, and there were a ton of jars, and not just any Mason jars, mind you -- these were the blue Mason jars.

These things are collectibles, and they had the original Presto white porcelain lined metal lids. Some even had the glass lids with the metal see-through screw tops. It was a canning nerd's dream.

Anyway, as you might imagine, I took a ton of them home, and they sat on my kitchen window. I didn't want to use them for canning. It seemed like a waste. But they were pretty with the light coming through.

Then, when the cat pulled the bag of whole wheat noodles from the pantry today -- again -- I had a thought. Why not use these guys?

So, today, I decanted rice and pasta. I have jars with orzo, arborio, barley, wild rice and egg noodles. And now, I keep thinking of the jars in the basement... and what to do with them. I might be addicted.

Sausage and mushroom risotto

Refrigerator dinners do not usually end up as risotto, but it just so happened this past week that I had everything I needed on hand: Protein, veggies, boullion, wine and arborio rice.

I am trying to eat more vegetables, so there is half a box of mushrooms and a whole zucchini in this. You could easily replace the zucchini with another green vegetable, about 1 1/2 cups chopped or so, such as broccoli or asparagus.

Usually I like to make risotto out of barley, but for some reason, I'm having a hard time locating pearled barley in the local store. Barley has a lot more fiber and is generally better for you, although it lacks that creamy texture of arborio rice. And by some twist of fate, I had recently bought a packet of the arborio rice.

I actually remembered to get sausage out of the freezer to thaw in the fridge the night before. I can only claim insanity on this. Also, I had bought mushrooms for kabobs which we never made. In other words, the stars aligned for this dish alone.

I should mention that in no way did I think this would end up on the blog, so as a result -- no photos. :( Lesson: always keep the camera by the stove... ? Maybe I should get a camera canister?

Anyway, here's the recipe, as I made it.

Sausage and mushroom risotto

1 lb. mild ground sausage
4 cups water
2 chicken boullion cubes
1 beef boullion cube
4 T olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 pack baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper
1 green zucchini, cut into quarter slices
8 oz. mozzarella cheese

Heat 4 cups of water in microwave or on stove. Add all boullion cubes and whisk to dissolve. Set aside.

Turn large burner on stove to medium-low. Heat 2 T. olive oil in the largest saucepan you have. Do not skimp on the size here, as there are several ingredient to fit in the pan.

Add onion, mushrooms and garlic to the pan. Saute til onions turn translucent. Push mixture to the sides of the pan, creating a small well.

Add remaining olive oil to middle of pan, and add rice to the pan. Stir to coat rice with oil. Once coated, stir entire mixture together. Saute until rice is translucent save for a small dot in the middle. Add salt and pepper.

Add wine to pan, and stir. Cook until liquid is absorbed. Add 1 cup of broth, and cook until liquid is absorbed again. Add zucchini to risotto, and another cup of broth. Cook until absorbed. You'll know when the risotto is ready for more broth, as you'll be able to scrape a line down the center of the pan.

While this is cooking, turn small burner to medium. Place sausage in medium skillet and break up into pieces. Brown and drain. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate, and press with a double layer of paper towel to soak up grease. Set aside.

Add the third cup of broth, and cook until liquid is absorbed again. Add last cup of broth and the browned sausage to risotto. Stir.

Shred mozzarella onto a plate. Once risotto is bubbling, taste with small spoon to check seasoning. Top with mozzarella, and turn off heat.

This took about an hour to make, and that's a lot of time for a weeknight. However, the result was a one-dish meal that was worth the wait. :) To save time, you can brown the sausage ahead of time, and pre-prep vegetables. Or, you can wait for the weekend. Either way, enjoy!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Roasted vegetables

We roast vegetables all the time here at Casa TinyCounter, but the most recent roasting surprised us both with the flavor. We used a mixture of things we had on hand, and popped it in the oven to cook while we sat outside and waited for the grill to warm. Going back in the kitchen, the aroma was awesome! This is what we did.

Roasted Vegetables

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced into chunks
1/2 yellow onion, peeled, cut into 1/2 in. chunks
1/2 zucchini, unpeeled, cut length-wise and then into 1/4 in. slices
1/2 yellow squash, unpeeled, cut length-wise and into 1/4 in. slices
1 green pepper, sliced, and cut into 1-2 in. chunks
2 small sweet hot orange peppers, sliced and cut into chunks
2 T. olive oil
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prep all vegetables. Coat pan with olive oil. Spread vegetables on top. Drizzle with more oil and toss with salt and pepper.

Bake at 400 for 40-45 minutes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How to detail a car, or create your own sauna

1. Make sure it's 90 degrees or hotter.
2. If you plan to clean the outside and inside of a car with a partner, volunteer for the inside.
3. Gather cleaning materials -- old rags, windex and armor all wipes.
4. Grab a bag for garbage. Forget it inside the house.
5. Since you don't have a vacuum, make the car owner promise to vacuum later. If that's you, make yourself promise. Then forget.
6. Get in car.
7. Sweat profusely. Remind yourself that people pay big bucks to sit in a sauna like this. Yours is free.
8. Clean windows.
9. Forget the rag outside. Open door and get sprayed by your partner, who is wielding the garden hose.
10. Get back in the car. Dry off.
11. Spray windex on windows. Wipe down. Make more streaks. Repeat.
12. Use armor all wipe to wipe down the dash. Use about 16 wipes, actually.
13. Wipe down the steering wheel, then remember you're not supposed to, because it makes it hard to grip.
14. Grab windex, and re-clean steering wheel.
15. Clean radio, vents and console. Try not to be grossed out.
16. Pocket all change.
17. Realize you're cleaning all the dust into the grooves. Find a golf tee. Use it to clean out cracks.
18. Place golf tee carefully back where you found it, to avoid a phone call from the golf course later.
19. Lunge over to the other side of the car and clean the glove compartment and other door. Pull muscle.
20. Open glove compartment and close it. You didn't sign up for that part.
21. Get out of car. Get sprayed, again.
22. Get into back seat. Wipe down the doors, and windex windows. More streaks.
23. Stuff all garbage and wipes into a rag, since you forgot the garbage bag. Spill it. Pick it up.
24. Get out of car. Drop half of the cleaning materials.
25. Windex outside of windows, so that the inside streaks really show up.
26. Help finish waxing. Sort of.
27. Switch cars.
28. Start over.
29. Drink water. Notice water glass is near the hose where your partner is washing out the rags. Pour water out and get a different glass.
30. Admire cars. Pass out.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

It's almost time for the weekend, and this one is three days long! Time to get out the grill and party down with your bad self. Do you know where your dancing shoes are?

I have not been at the stove much. I have, however, been crocheting up a storm. We have a new store in town, and I think it's great -- lots of neat colors and patterns! Knit & Knot, I'm talking about you! I made it halfway through a blanket and ran out of yarn. Luckily, they are open til 8 p.m. Awesome.

This week, I'm also loving this article from Self Magazine on Miranda Lambert. Also, her workout! I have high hopes for this one! :)

The small microcooker from Pampered Chef makes vegetables in record time. No commissions here, just going by my experience! Broccoli takes less than 5 minutes to steam in this, which is awesome for when I get home late or decide to work out and still want to eat before 7:30 p.m.

Want to cook chicken faster? Forget pounding, just cut a chicken breast in half horizontally. Works great if the chicken breast is still slightly frozen... I got this idea from The Pioneer Woman's chicken bacon ranch panini recipe... which also looks like a good idea!

Feeling overwhelmed by housework? Check out the FlyLady. She's got the plan for what ails ya. No perfection, just good ideas and a little dose of happy.

So, that's it for today -- more recipes on the horizon, I hope!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pasta and garlic bread hits the spot

I made pasta and cheesy garlic bread the other night, and while it's nothing special, I thought I would jot down how I made the sauce.

The Sauce

1 t. olive oil.
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef, 90 percent lean
1 can Hunt's tomato sauce, 26 oz.
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 T. Greek Seasoning
1 t. Italian seasoning
salt and pepper

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil and saute onion and garlic in Dutch oven until starting to brown. Push to sides.
Add ground beef and break up to brown.
Add tomato chunks and stir to heat. Add sauce and seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.

While sauce is simmering, boil 6 cups water, and add half a package of rotini. Cook until al dente, about 8 minutes or so. Add to sauce.

Cheesy garlic bread

I had half a loaf of sourdough french bread from Greatest Grains, a local health food store, so I thought I would make garlic bread. I cut the bread into 1-in. slices, buttered both sides, then placed them on a cookie sheet. I topped the bread with a sprinkle or two of garlic salt, then with shredded mozzarella. Bake for 5-10 minutes at 400 degrees, or until slightly browned.

I paired these with steamed broccoli and salad. This made for a pretty quick dinner!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hello, Chicago! Restaurant show brings it again...

I went to the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show for my day job. Lots of people and lots of walking, but really cool products.

Look at how big this show was! It was at McCormick Place in Chicago, which required a train trip from the Northwest Suburbs, followed by a bus shuttle from the Allegro Hotel. Then, finally, to the show!

This is a Thermapen(tm) from ThermoWorks, Lindon, Utah. It is amazing. If you read Cook's Illustrated, you've probably heard about it. The handheld base has a needle-like metal probe that rotates out from the base. The rotation trips a switch in the base that automatically turns the thermometer on. Then you dip the probe in your soup, roast or whatever, and it gives you a digital temperature in 3 seconds. I watched it happen! AND it comes in all these colors. Now, you do have to pay for all this, but come on.
How cool is that?

Tea drinkers, unite! And grab your K-cup makers! Twinings tea has new K-cups. Their website includ English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Green Tea, Pure Camomile, African Rooibos and Pure Peppermint. They also had Chai and Bedtime Blend K-cup teas available at the show. Instant tea? Awesome.

Remember hypercolor t-shirts that changed at inopportune times, like when you were sweating? Well, Go-2 Products has a better use for color-changing technology, like super-long straws that change in your drinks!

I tasted A LOT of stuff at the show, including a velvety risotto by Stouffer's, which I plan to recreate soon. But the Minute Maid Frozen Orangeade was the best. It's similar to the frozen lemonade, but better. Apparently it's really new, but keep an eye out for it!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

Hi all,

This post idea comes from the Radical Self Love guru, Gala Darling, and if you haven't checked out her site, get to it — good stuff all around.

As for me, here's a series of things I'm loving lately...

All grammatical mistakes aren't mistakes! As an honest-to-goodness professional writer, it's great to see this article in print — thanks, Cracked! Props to Casey for passing this on.

Cocoa-roasted almonds. Saw these bad boys in Walgreens the other day, and had to pick them up. I try to eat almonds, but I'm really not a fan... until now! Also, the whole package only has 2 grams of sugar -- how do they do that?? — this chick makes me think I could actually make my own clothes. I even bought the fabric!

Nail polish, in particular the New York City Ballet collection by OPI. Great color! Now, when to get to Ulta to buy it...

Biking. Although, currently, I rock a 6-speed Mango beach cruiser with a blue Schwinn helmet. I'd rather have one of these bikes...

Chocolate Brix Bar — I received one of these for watching my friend's cat. How nice is she?? :) It's huge! I'm sort of hoarding it right now. Actually, I hid it. From myself.

When you need to glue something, like jewelry, or that purse holder your friend has that broke, the go-to is E6000 glue. Accept no substitutes.

This article from about how it takes a really long time to carmelize onions and no one tells you, and other recipe lies... hilarious! And true, sadly. Found that one out the hard way!

This song from the "127 Hours" soundtrack — Never Hear Surf Music Again by Free Blood. Awesome.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Risotto with a quick twist

Sometimes, there isn't enough time for full risotto. Translation: Sometimes I don't want to eat at 8:30 p.m.

Good news is, you can cook up arborio rice without the stirring. Twice the amount of water as rice and away you go, creating risotto out of components instead of the usual slog of stirring. About a half hour later, you have dinner. And a side. And a night to yourself, with a glass of wine to forget that it's Monday and that there are four more days of work ahead...

Smoked sausage risotto

I used turkey kielbasa for this -- works just as well as the regular, and less cholesterol.

1 turkey kielbasa sausage
1/4 cup arborio rice
1 cup water
1/2 cup white wine (chardonnay)
1 T. olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. greek seasoning
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 cup shredded monterey jack cheese

You'll need two pans for this -- a smaller saucepan and a larger saute pan.

In the smaller sauce pan, bring the cup of water to boil, with some kosher salt. Once it boils, add the arborio rice, and stir 30 seconds to a minute. Cover tightly, and turn to low. Let simmer 18 minutes.

Chop vegetables. In separate large saute pan, toss olive oil, onion, red bell pepper and garlic. Saute about 5 minutes.

After 18 minutes is done, add sauteed vegetables to small saucepan along with wine. Cover and turn to medium low.

Slice sausage into 1/2-in. slices. Add sausage to the now-empty large saute pan. Turn to medium and brown on each side. Once browned, add rice and vegetable mixture back into saute pan. Season with Greek seasoning, salt and pepper. If dry, add a bit more wine. Turn to low and let simmer.

Turn off heat. Add cheese and stir. Serve with steamed vegetables as a side. Enjoy!

Note: Almost all the dishes I make have leftovers. Not this one -- you may want to double the rice portion, at least, if you're serving more than two adults.

Sewing project and chocolate cake

I haven't cooked anything much lately, save for a chocolate snack cake, so instead, I've been working on a new project: Sewing a skirt.

I was led to believe I could do this myself by this website: Untrained Housewife. In one of the posts, Sarah Tennant explains how to make a paneled skirt without a pattern. She makes it sound so easy, in fact, that I actually bought the fabric. And a zipper. And this baste/bias tape stuff.

So, I wanted to check the validity of this whole thing, and on another site, I learned you have to wash and dry the fabric ahead of time, which I thought was probably a good idea. Last thing I need is another skirt that doesn't fit.

Then I measured myself, which was humbling, and set about making a pattern out of newspaper, which we keep on hand for the grill. (I think we both find it fun to burn the dregs of the places we used to work.)

I let that sit for awhile, and then on Saturday, I traced the pattern on the fabric, and cut out the panels. I was all proud until I realized I still had to cut out the panels for the skirt liner.

Then, I woke up on Sunday morning realizing I would probably have to iron the edges of the damn panels, or mark them somehow to make sure I sew them straight. Because, naturally, I am doing this without a sewing machine.

After that I guess I have to insert a zipper, attach a waistband and hem the thing. Which means I'll debut this piece of finery sometime in 2013.

Someday I would like to know why I have to make things to prove to myself why the finished product is worth the money. (See also: Beer, scarves, jewelry, canned pie filling...)

Chocolate Snack Cake
(For when your sewing projects hit a concrete wall....)

1 pkg. Pillsbury Moist Deluxe chocolate cake mix
1 15 oz. can pumpkin

Mix together. This will look all wrong, until suddenly, it morphs into a mud-like substance. Success!

Pat into a 9 in. pan with a spatula. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.

Courtesy of

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lemon Poundcake with Toasted Pecans

As with many things, what I often start out to make never turns out as intended. So it was with this recipe. This is why you should read the entire recipe before you bake!

For instance, I didn't have any oranges or limes, or pistachios that I knew of, so I ended up substituting all lemons, and toasted pecans, and I had just enough eggs. However, all's well that ends well, and so it was with the Lemon Poundcake.

This is adapted from Orangette's Pistachio-Citrus pound cake, found here:

Lemon Poundcake with Toasted Pecans

2 cups flour
1 t. kosher salt
1 t. baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
lemon juice from two lemons
Zest from two lemons
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and butter a 9-in.-by-5-in. loaf pan. Cut a strip of wax paper to fit the bottom of the pan, and up the narrow ends, leaving paper hanging over the edge. Press this down into the greased pan, and butter the paper too.

Chop up the pecans, spread them on a cookie sheet, and bake them in the heating oven about 10 minutes or so. Set aside to cool.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt and baking powder. In your electric mixer, beat the butter til light and fluffy about 2 minutes. Add in the sugar, and beat in. Then add the eggs one at a time. I did all this while the mixer was running at low speed and it worked fine. Add in about half to 3/4 of the juice and zest, and keep mixing. Then add the flour mixture about 1/3 cup at a time.

Now, what I should have done here is take the bowl out and mix it up a bit. I had clumps of sugar stuck to the bottom, and didn't realize it until I poured it into the pan. So, mix this up a bit and scrape the sides.

Now fold in about half the pecans or a bit more, and pour into the greased pan. Sprinkle the remaining pecans on top.

Bake the cake for about 90 minutes, rotating halfway through if you remember, which I didn't until about 60 minutes in. It turned out fine. Cool 10 to 15 minutes. Run a knife on the long ends of the pan, and carefully lift out of the pan with your wax paper handles. Cool on a rack for about 30 minutes. Wrap in wax paper and put in the fridge.

Now, you'll notice you still have some juice and zest left. Mix the two in a medium bowl, and add powdered sugar about 1/4 cup at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition, until you have glaze-like consistency. If you get it too thick, and you don't have any more juice, just add vanilla. Put this in a container, and put in the fridge for later.

The next day, cut up the bread and place on a platter. I cut it in 1/2 in. thick slices, and then cut the slices in half. Drizzle the glaze over the bread, and serve with coffee.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kansas City or bust!

There's been a dearth of recipes here, and that's because I went to Kansas City for work. I'll spare you the boring part, but I did have two really awesome meals there. The first was at Hereford House.

I had the Kansas City strip, medium rare, with mashed potatoes, and perhaps the most decadent carrot cake ever. The frosting/cream cheese goodness was a full inch-thick layer sandwiched between the cake layers. Best. Idea. Ever. Must try!

The next night, we ate at The Smokehouse.

I had the pulled pork platter with some awesome coleslaw and fries, with Bell's Oberon Pale Ale on tap. It hit the spot, and we know I don't say that much about dishes with coleslaw.

On the way home on I-35, we hit rain and lightning...

... but we managed to make it home, and even stopped off to get gas and food, and... clothes and stuff. You know, the necessities...

:) So, back to the stove!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Roasted vegetable spaghetti

I wasn't even going to write a post about last night's dinner, until several co-workers commented on the scent wafting from my leftovers.

I needed a quick dinner last night. I had a customer come over to pick up some jewelry, and she and I got to talking. Pretty soon it was 615, and no dinner was in sight.

I had a mishmash of veggies in the drawer, and decided to roast them. Then I needed a quick pairing. Spagetti with roasted red pepper sauce and sausage seemed the most likely candidate.

These dishes can be served separately or together. I mixed them in a bowl, and it was a good thing. It didn't even need cheese -- although, cheese is never a bad idea!

Roasted vegetables

8-10 1.5-in. diameter Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
8-10 small sweet peppers, trimmed and cut into 1-in. chunks
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-in. chunks
2 small Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 onion, peeled and cut into 1-in. chunks

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat jelly roll pan with olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Prepare vegetables. Fill pan with an even layer of veggies, and toss over another tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes.


1 28 oz. can Hunt's Pasta Sauce
1/4 cup bottled roasted red peppers, diced
1 brat or sausage link, cooked and sliced thin
1/4 package whole wheat spaghetti

Fill a large pot halfway with water. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Cover and turn burner on high to boil.

Put sauce, peppers and sausage in separate pot, and turn to low to heat and meld the flavors. I should mention I used a seasoned brat that we had grilled and frozen earlier in the week.

Boil pasta 6-7 minutes. Drain pasta water first into a small measuring cup, and drain the rest into the sink.

Use reserved pasta water to thin the sauce if necessary.

You'll notice the spaghetti takes a lot less time than the veggies. I started the sauce and pasta when I had about 20 minutes to go on the timer for the veggies. You can use that extra 15-20 minutes to do the dishes, shine your sink or get to that wine in the fridge that's going stale. (Don't want to waste that!) Enjoy!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Formaggio Risotto

Tonight, all I wanted was macaroni and cheese. However, all we had was leftover grilled chicken, arborio rice instead of pasta, and a myriad of cheeses. So, I ended up cracking the book that Liz lent me: Risotto, a Williams-Sonoma cookbook.

A tome of all things risotto, this is an adaptation of the most basic of the repertoire. Technically, it's called Risotto with Four Cheeses, but I only used three.

I paired this with the chicken (see note: re: hubby needs meat; Also see: is apparently German?) and some steamed broccoli. The combination of cheeses was awesome, which was unexpected. With the mascarpone the original recipe called for, or cream cheese I used, you can get away with some fairly strong cheese flavor.

Anthony Bourdain happened to make risotto on TV while I was posting this. So, a note from Bourdain on risotto: "You should never be able to mound risotto. Risotto should be soupy." That is this risotto in a nutshell. Get out the shallow soup bowl and your favorite spoon to dig in.

If you want the real recipe, by the way, check out Risotto, and flip to page 18. I'm sure there will be more adaptations to come!

Formaggio Risotto with chicken

5 cups chicken stock
1 cup cubed cooked chicken
3 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1/2 onion, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, preferably chardonnay
1/4 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup Irish cheddar, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
Parsley for pretty

Simmer 5 cups water for stock, and add 5 chicken boullion cubes. Or you can go boil a chicken. Your call.

Cut up chicken and place in a shallow bowl. Add 1/2 cup stock from the saucepan to chicken.

Heat oil and butter on medium-low. Add onion, and saute 4 minutes or until soft.

Add rice and stir to coat. Saute 3 minutes, or until rice is translucent with a white dot in the middle.

Add wine and stir until absorbed.

Add wine a cup at a time, and stir. Stir occasionally until rice absorbs broth, but top of rice is still shiny. Repeat with remaining broth, EXCEPT reserve 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup at the end.

Once stock is absorbed, about 20 minutes, remove pan from heat. Add cream cheese, stock and shredded cheese, stirring to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with parsley and serve warm.

Serve with a vegetable -- steamed broccoli or asparagus -- and a glass of white, since you already opened it and all. :)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

An early spring of flowers

The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming and it's .... just now April. Happy Spring!