Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happy anniversary

Today, Dec. 21, is the two-year anniversary of this blog. Originally started as a place to keep track of what I made for dinner, I think it’s grown a bit. We’ve tried new things, added some to the blog, thrown others out, and branched into new areas. We have new foods in the repertoire and, I think, become a bit healthier along the way.

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog. Hopefully you have taken something away with you, and if nothing else, found at least one answer to the ever-constant question, “what’s for dinner?” Which, when placed atop others such as “how do we pay this bill?” and “why is that broken again?”, can sometimes be the straw.

Plans for the future? Well, we’re going to keep cooking. If I can put enough items together — and snag some volunteer testers on the way — we may do an e-cookbook down the line. Ideally, the e-book will contain many more photos, and details.

In the meantime, though, keep cooking, have a happy holiday time, and we’ll keep the fires burning in our tiny corner of the world.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Chicken ranch stew

This was yet another experiment in soup over the fire, and while it didn't turn out the way we had hoped, it was still pretty good. Bacon helped, as always! And so did a packet of ranch dressing mix. Who knew?

So, there are a lot of vegetables in this, and this time, I did cook the chicken ahead of time. The combination of vegetables was mostly a result of what was in the fridge. You could easily sub out the yellow squash for zucchini, and so on.

In hindsight, I might have added more ranch seasoning, or topped it with some dressing when it was done, but all in all, it tasted pretty good!

Chicken Ranch stew

1 large yellow squash, seeded and cubed
1/2 package baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 cup frozen corn
3 leaves kale, washed and torn
2 large red potatoes, diced
1 chicken breast
4 slices thick-cut bacon
4 cups water
1 cup white wine or light beer
1 packet ranch dressing mix
4-5 t. chicken boullion base

Heat up the fire, or have your fire-expert partner handle that part for you!

Prep all vegetables, set aside.

Cook bacon, and set aside to drain. Drain grease from pan, but leave dregs of meat. Pour in wine or beer, and deglaze pan, stirring to loosen the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add chicken and cook a few minutes on each side.

Add bacon, chicken and juices to Dutch oven. Add vegetables, boullion, dressing packet and water.

Cook over the fire for about an hour. Serve with crackers or bread — enjoy!

Friday, November 8, 2013


Jules would be 15 today.

Jules, our Yorkie, died last November. It seems rather late in the game to talk about this now, but it took us about six months before we could look at photos and videos of him, and laugh. It's a bit hard even now.

People say this all the time about their pets, but Juli (pronounced "July") wasn't really a dog. He was, at the least, an old wise soul in dog form, and, I believe, a true kindred spirit.

I had never met such a particular little creature until I met him. For some time — years, really — he wasn't entirely sure about my presence. The counts against me were, in truth, rather high — I was female, I had a cat, I treaded on his territory without invitation (his master's preference notwithstanding).

And yet, after dating and marrying my husband, this dog — his best friend — grudgingly accepted me in the best way he knew how. He barked loudly whenever I came home, just in case I was an intruder, and if I ever punched D in the arm in jest, he let me know that was not acceptable, thank you very much.

As he aged, he spent more time on the couch with me, gnawing his bone or sleeping. We had a mutual respect at the least. D was still his person, though, and could do no wrong. Juli knew him better than anyone, and defended him to the last. Dedication like that is rare at best.

We had to put him to sleep, after a brain tumor caused him to fall ill, and the decline was much more rapid than either of us expected. The night before, he couldn't walk, and medicine did the opposite of helping. We were up all night with him, trying to make him comfortable, and eventually that meant holding him in a towel without moving too much. When morning finally came, we called and then took him in.

And then, we came home. The house, though still at maximum capacity with a small puppy and two cats, felt unbearably empty.

D posted this on Facebook later that day:

"I want to thank my best friend, my dog Juli (pronounced like the month), for 14 loyal years and for being the best little companion anyone could ever ask for. We had to put Juli to sleep this morning after a brain tumor caused him to fall ill earlier this week. It was a very rapid decline and he was ready to go before I was really ready, not that I could ever be. Anyway, some of you knew him, or at least knew of him, so I wanted to take a moment to honor his memory here.

Goodbye, Jules. You were with me from the moment I arrived here and I already feel strange and out of place here without you. I already know I'll never have another pet that will be able to share a bond as strong and unique as the one we had. I will always love and remember you buddy!"

It was a long winter. We didn't celebrate Christmas at home. Neither of us felt up to a tree, or decorations. Charlie, our cat, who Jules had befriended since kittenhood, was lost. He took to sleeping a lot, and eventually made friends with Augie, the puppy, in desperation. Augie never understood what happened. To this day, when he sees a Yorkie, he perks up, perhaps thinking Jules is home at last.

We didn't really talk about it with anyone, but it was shockingly hard, the loss. Reading Rainbow Bridge or watching Marley & Me were out of the question (note to anyone who goes through this: avoid!), and life was just... harder, somehow, in ways we didn't expect. Making dinner, coming home to no barking — it was the oddball things that were reminders of his absence.

A few months ago, we looked at some photos and videos of Jules that we took when Augie arrived. He was his usual snorting self, and just hilarious with the whole puppy thing in general. We laughed and then I think we were a bit sad again. It's not that we'll forget, or that we won't have a Yorkie again, but really, we just want Jules back, with his annoying habits and all.

So, Jules, happy 15 in spirit. I wish I could make you a carrot, apple and bacon salad and watch you go ape over it. Instead, we'll probably have a glass of beer, and remember when. We love you, buddy.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sweet potato quesadillas and homemade enchilada sauce

I've made this recipe roughly four times in the last month, which is extremely unusual. To boot, I find myself craving this particular dish, even right after I've had it.

The photo here was taken hastily before we devoured the last of this. The last few times, the meal has gone down the hatch before I remembered to take a photo. So this is my husband's plate, which I stole. You're welcome.

Anyway, this entry has a bonus recipe because I forgot to buy enchilada sauce, so I had to make some. I could have gone to the store, but my goal is to shop just once a week, so I thought, why not? Turns out? Pretty easy!

Sweet potato quesadillas

1/2 chicken breast, cooked and cubed
1 T. olive oil
1 large sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 in. cubes
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2-3 leaves kale, rinsed and torn into small pieces
1 1/2 c. red enchilada sauce, mild
salt and pepper
4 10-in. tortillas
2 cups Monterey Jack and/or sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Heat a large sauce pan to medium high heat and add olive oil. Add sweet potato, and cover, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 15 min. Season with salt and pepper.

Add kale and cover for about five minutes to wilt. Turn heat to low. Add chicken and beans, and stir. Add enchilada sauce, and cover. Let cook to meld flavors.

Remove filling to a bowl, and wipe out pan. Heat and add another glug of olive oil. Add tortilla. On one half of tortilla, sprinkle a thin layer of cheese. Add 1 1/2 c. of filling. Top with more cheese and fold over tortilla.

Brown quesadilla on each side. Serve with additional cheese and sauce.

And now, the enchilada sauce. Which, by the way, was a bit spicy on its own, but it turned out great in the filling.

Enchilada sauce

2/3 of a  can tomato paste
2 t. of chicken boullion base
1 mild red chile pepper, minced
1 cup water
1 t. cumin
1/2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. cilantro
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 pinch salt

Stir all ingredients together in a small saucepan. Heat to medium high, then simmer on medium low about 25 min., or until thickened.

This makes about a cup and a half of sauce. I used it all in the filling, but you could easily use just half and save the rest, or double it for a large pan of enchiladas.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ham and potato chowder

The soup obsession continues, but thankfully, the fall weather has arrived, making building fires much more logical. 

This was yet another riff on the Leek Soup mix. Knorr's packets are nothing if not adaptable. Actually, this took advantage of the last of the autumn sweet corn, with the hearty addition of ham and bacon. 

Ham and potato chowder

3 slices of cooked ham, cubed
5 slices of thick-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 lbs. of red potatoes, cubed
2 c. sweet corn, cut off the cob
3 leaves kale
3 carrots, sliced
1/2 package baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 packet Knorr Leek soup mix
4-5 cups water
4 t. chicken boullion base
1/2 c. white wine

Prep all ingredients, putting potatoes in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning. Add meat and vegetables into Dutch oven. Add packet and boullion. Add wine and water.

Prep fire and make sure your tripod is in place. Hang oven over fire.

Cook over fire for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the flame. Enjoy!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Apple tart

I came across this recipe on — where else? — Pinterest. I was looking for something simple and easy, and a way to showcase the fall apples without covering it in a glaze.

This recipe fit the bill. I don't use puff pastry very often, but it's pretty easy to work with.

Originally, this called for all goat cheese, and when I went to the store, my jaw dropped a bit at the price (hello!) so I mixed it with regular cream cheese.

This recipe is for two puff pastry sheets. I used the Pepperidge Farm pastry, which contains two, so go ahead and defrost both!

Apple tart, adapted from MyJerusalemKitchen

Two rolls puff pastry
4 oz. goat cheese
8 oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese, room temp
1/4 cup honey
juice of 1/2 a lemon
zest of 1 lemon
kosher salt
3 large apples (I used Jonamac) or pears, sliced 1/8 in. thick
1 T. cinnamon
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. honey
1/2 stick butter

Thaw the puff pastry in the fridge the day before you want to use it.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. 

Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Unroll one thawed pastry sheet on a lined cookie sheet. With a rolling pin, gently roll in all directions to stretch dough. Let rest. Fold edges of pastry in about 1/4 in. Repeat with remaining pastry.

Mix goat cheese, cream cheese, 1/4 c. honey, lemon juice, pinch of salt and half the lemon zest in a small bowl. Spread half the cheese mixture on each pastry, staying within the confines of the edges.

Take your slices of apple or pear, and begin laying them down in rows, slightly overlapping each slice. Continue until you have created four or so rows of fruit, and the entire cheese area is covered. Repeat on remaining dough.

Melt butter in microwave-safe dish and mix in honey. Brush fruit with mixture. Mix cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle over the fruit. 

Bake at 375 for about a half hour. Brush with more honey butter and garnish with remaining lemon zest.

This was good warm and also, just out of the fridge. You can take this to your holiday party or office potluck!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Michigan or bust... again

We went back to Michigan this year, and took the beast with us. “Vacation” became a bit of a loose term, trying to corral that guy, but there were good times.

This is Augie trying to get into the backseat of the car. After we told him no, he spent the rest of the trip trying to get into the front seat with us. Way to go, humans.

There was the lake, for one thing. Which we didn't spend too much time at, but we'll fix it next time.

There was the inlet with docks and shops and so on. Had a few great dinners -- one at Phil's, another at Saugatuck Brewing. Also found some super fun things for the dogster -- elk bones and the like.

There was beer, of course. This is a flight from Saugatuck's own. Excellent choices, all. Maggie's Irish Ale is my favorite though. Not to mention, they always have a few beers on nitro.

There were road trips to other breweries. Above is the beer menu at Bell's, flanked by the souvenirs of travel to various continents. We also took a short trip to Arcadia Brewing.

Arcadia has a fantastic drunken bean dip, by the way. No idea what's in it, except for black beans and one of their lighter beers, but man. Ridiculously good.

On the way back, we saw this guy, and had to take a photo of this metal chicken with the name “Saugy” on the front. Saugatuck's mascot, perhaps? We proceeded to call our pup Saugy Augie and laugh hysterically each time we said it. Augie was not amused.

On the way home, we stopped at Three Floyds brewery in Munster, Ind. They had these brisket tacos with sour cream, radishes and cilantro, in corn tortillas. Plans are to replicate this soon!

Anyway, we made it home, and are back to cooking, so you'll see some new recipes on here shortly. 

OH, and talk about burying the lede, but guess what? We have had 100 posts on this here blog! Yay! So, thanks for reading, and we'll see you next time!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Beef enchilada stew

I love enchiladas. My favorite are the green chile enchiladas, but most any will do when a craving hits. Aside from the Hatch chiles I roast and freeze every year, I'm not a hands-on enchilada sauce girl. I'm totally okay with what's in the can. This is a riff on the beef barley stew, which enchilada sauce as part of the base, and I used regular red enchilada sauce from the can, although I'd love to try it with the Hatch green chile sauce as well!

We cooked this soup (where else?) over the fire, and again, I did not cook the meat first. If you plan to cook this on the stove, I would brown the meat first. Otherwise, if cooking over the fire, make sure you have a high enough flame that it is touching the bottom of the kettle for the majority of the cooking time.

Beef enchilada stew

3-4 lb. beef stew meat
1 12 oz. can enchilada sauce, divided
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. soy sauce
1 green pepper
1 yellow pepper
2 carrots
1 chile pepper - Hatch or jalepeno
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
3 small tomatoes
4 leaves kale
1 cup barley
3 cups water
1 12-oz. beer, such as Miller Lite
3 t. beef base or boullion cubes
1 can black beans
1 t. salt
1 t. black pepper
1 t. Greek seasoning
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup light sour cream
Avocado slices, optional

Prepare fire or ask your trusty fire person to prepare it as you're putting the soup together. (I've asked my fire prep person to write a post on this particular issue, but have not received it yet... will keep ya posted!)

Mix 2 T. of the enchilada sauce with the Worcestershire and soy sauce. Dredge meat in mixture and let marinate while prepping vegetables. Seed and dice peppers. Slice carrots about 1/4 to 1/8 in. in width. Put on gloves to seed and dice hot pepper. Tear kale into small pieces, discarding the tough inner stem. Mince onion and garlic, and chop tomatoes. Put all vegetables into the kettle. Add barley, water, beer, beef base and black beans. Add meat and stir in seasonings.

Cook over the fire for about 45 minutes. On stove, bring to boil, then put to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Check carrots for doneness.

Let cool slightly, and serve warm. Garnish with cheese, sour cream and avocado, or even fried tortilla chips!

A new season, a new look

Forget New Year's - fall is the time for new beginnings! I'm experimenting with some new layouts and logos here, so pardon my dust as I renovate this blog ever so slowly...

There are a few new recipes coming soon, but in the meantime, there are flowers.

And peppers and pumpkins.....

And casseroles. Recently, we tried this one from Smitten Kitchen, and substituted kale, monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, and unsweetened almond milk. It was excellent. 

Lastly, there are dogs, who like the rest of us, are enjoying the weather, the much-needed rain and butterflies...

Hope your fall is coming up red and orange leaves!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Baked oatmeal with peaches

Good morning, peaches!

It seems a basic thing, oatmeal, but this version is so much more. Oats, brown sugar, all the usual suspects, but mixed with milk and eggs, it balances on that fine line between breakfast and dessert. 

I used one peach, but wish I had used two. The tartness of the peaches set off the sweetness of the brown sugar and oatmeal perfectly. I used my usual cinnamon and sugar mix of 1 part cinnamon and two parts sugar for the topping.

(Do you have a cinnamon and sugar shaker in the pantry? If you don't have one, I highly recommend it. Sometimes, cinnamon toast will wait for no woman to mix the two -- best to have it at the ready! I used an old cinnamon container with a shaker top.)

A note on the oats: The original recipe called for quick-cooking oats. I don't usually have those on hand, so I used old-fashioned. I liked the texture, but if that's not your bag, try the quick cooking. The cooking time, etc., should be the same.

Baked Oatmeal, adapted from Taste of Home

3 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. kosher salt
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup soy or almond milk
7 T. butter, melted
1 t. vanilla
1 peach, sliced
Cinnamon and sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and let cool. Whisk dry ingredients in large bowl. Whisk eggs and milk in separate bowl, and add butter and vanilla. Pour egg mixture into dry ingredients, and mix well. Spoon into buttered 9-in. deep dish pie plate or 9-in. square baking pan. Top with sliced peaches and cinnamon and sugar. Bake for 40 min. Let cool 5 minutes and serve warm with additional milk, if desired.

Great with coffee! 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Baked mac and cheese


Normally for baked mac and cheese, I use this recipe from Food Network. However, the other night, I was a bit short on ingredients. I had no regular sharp cheddar in the house. Instead, I had a block of Kerrygold's Dublin Cheddar.

Now, normally this isn't the kind of cheese I use for cooking. It's meant for eating plain, because it's really good. I can usually find it for cheaper at Aldi, and use it for appetizers. However, I want to tell you, it rocks in this mac and cheese! It's a bit sharper than the usual, but pairing it with the Monterey Jack I had on hand balanced the flavor.

I also used a type of pasta called veggie pasta, which apparently has a serving of vegetables in it. I don't know about that, but it worked well in the dish. And I couldn't help reverting to childhood for a moment, and adding sliced cooked hot dogs. Farmland's cheese dogs to be precise. Made the dish!

So, here you go -- nostalgia in a pan.

Baked mac and cheese

12 ozs. macaroni (veggie)
2 eggs
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1/2 c. butter, melted and cooled
1/4 t. cayenne
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack
1 1/2 cups shredded Dublin Cheddar
1 cup sliced hot dogs or grilled chicken
2 T. butter, melted
3/4 to 1 cup whole wheat seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 t. paprika

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and butter a 9-in. square pan.

Cook macaroni until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Drain. Beat eggs and add milk. Whisk in butter and cayenne. Shred cheese.

Layer half of the pasta in a buttered pan. Top with half of meat and 1 cup of shredded cheese. Top with remaining pasta, meat and cheese. Pour milk mixture over casserole, and top with remaining half cup of shredded cheese. Melt 2 T. of butter, and add bread crumbs and paprika. Top casserole with bread crumb mixture, and bake for 40 minutes, or until bubbly.

I paired this with steamed broccoli and cartoons. Highly recommended!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Beef stew over the fire, without scallops

It's a working title, but I'll explain....

It was shockingly cold here this past weekend. In fact, for runners and walkers of the Bix 7, it was the coldest race on record. 56 degrees at 7:30 a.m.! Ridiculously awesome.

On a day in July that barely breaks 70 degrees at the high, soup over the fire is expected — nay, demanded. I decided on a sort of beef stew. Really thick, with some beer bread to boot.

It surprises me now, but I sort of did this by feel. I have a recipe for you, but when I was throwing it together, it was a second-by-second decision of what to put in, or not. We forgot the green beans, which was a bummer, as we had some in the garden. You could also add a can, though.

In fact, this is a riff of sorts on a family favorite, Beef Barley Soup, which my grandma made in glorious quantities when she was alive. My aunt sent us the copy of the Chicago Tribune recipe once upon a time, though I haven't made it in years.

In any case, it hit the spot, and the fire was welcome for the heat as well as its cooking abilities.

At one point, however, D insisted upon adding scallops. He's become a bit obsessed with seafood lately, and we happened to get some at the market that day. I tried to be open-minded. Really! And whether it was the look on my face, or the dawning of logic, I can't say. But we decided against it. (Scallops? In beef stew?!? Nope.)

Beef stew, then, without scallops

1 lb. beef chuck roast, cut into 1-in. cubes
2 T. flour
1 t. salt
1/2 ground black pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 12-oz. bottle of stout (I used Stockyard's Oatmeal Stout)
1 small onion, diced
3 carrots, cleaned and sliced into 1/2 in. rounds
6 large brussel sprouts, quartered
two leaves kale, torn
three small tomatoes, diced
5 large mushrooms, sliced thick
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced, put in cold water, then drained before adding
1/2 cup pearled barley
1/2 t. rosemary, ground
1/2 t. thyme, ground
1/2 t. pepper
1 t. salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 can of tomato paste
4 cups water
4 t. beef base, or 4 cubes beef boullion

Cut beef into cubes, then pat dry with paper towel, and toss with flour, salt and pepper. Heat a cast-iron skillet to medium-high heat and add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Sear meat on all sides. Put beef into Dutch oven. Add beer to skillet, and scrape browned bits off bottom. Reduce a few minutes. Add to Dutch oven. Add remaining ingredients to Dutch oven and cover. Cook over the fire 45 minutes to an hour, checking the water level every 15-20 minutes.

Fyi, putting the diced potatoes in cold water helps prevent browning while you're cutting everything else up. This made a rather thick stew, which is just what we like. It was actually better the following day as leftovers. Serve with garlic beer bread just out of the oven.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Carrot cake for doggies

Three weeks old

We had a birthday here recently. Augie turned one in July. He celebrated with carrot cake (for doggies) and the next day, he tore up a pillow. Maturity is a fickle thing.

The recipe I used for the carrot cake was pretty straightforward, although I tweaked it a bit. I forgot the vanilla, and I used whole wheat pastry flour. Augie loved it, however, and was straining for it before we could take a picture!

One year and a party hat!

Carrot cake for doggies

1 1/4 cups shredded carrot (about two large carrots, I think)
1 egg
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup oil 
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 t. baking soda

Mix ingredients, and put in greased 8x5 in. loaf pan. I baked this for about 30-35 minutes on 400 degrees. My oven runs a bit hot, though.

I mixed up some peanut butter and honey to put on top, but I think I could have skipped that. I cut the remainder in slices and put it in the freezer for future treats!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chicken fajita soup

A few weekends ago, we decided to cook over the fire. Which is getting to be a bit of a habit. I sense a cookbook forming at some point, if we don't just stop this silliness... 

What I liked about this recipe was that I could prep all the ingredients ahead of time. I ended up doing that, because the weather didn't cooperate with us on the Saturday, so we ended up cooking on Sunday night. 

I liked the idea of chicken fajitas in soup form so that's what I attempted to make. You'll notice the lack of kale and seafood. It took willpower.

I think our only complaint was that the soup was too watery. I'd started with six cups of water. I'd keep it to four at most, which I've noted below. Remember that the peppers will release water, and you'll also get juice from the chicken as well. I'd also salt it well, and taste often, to see that you have enough seasoning. I also can't believe I didn't add garlic. Add garlic!

Normally I would cook the chicken ahead of time, but I think it would have made it tough. Do as you will. With a good consistent flame that touches the bottom of the Dutch oven, your soup should be boiling or at a high simmer most of the time. Our chicken cooked very fast!

Chicken fajita soup

1-2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into strips
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 shot tequila
Juice of one lime
1 onion, diced
4 peppers, one of each -- red, orange, yellow and green -- sliced into strips, then cut in half
1 pkg. baby bella mushrooms, quartered
1 15-oz. can black beans
1 4-oz. can green chiles
1 12-oz. can diced tomatoes and green chiles
4 cups chicken broth, or four cups water and four chicken boullion cubes
1 t. cumin
1 t. fajita seasoning
salt and pepper to taste

Season chicken with salt and pepper, and marinate in the lime and tequila overnight, or at least a half hour. Add to Dutch oven. Chop all vegetables, and add remaining ingredients to Dutch oven. Cook over the fire for an hour or so, checking liquid levels every 20 minutes.

Prior to cooking - pretty peppers!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Toasted Orzo with Sausage

Do you like my 1970s Corelle pattern? 

Orzo. I love it in its white, enriched version. I love it in cold salads.

When you get the whole-wheat type of orzo, because you're trying to be healthy, well, it's different. Chewier? Something.

However, last night, I found a new way to make whole wheat orzo taste as good as the other. I toasted it before adding the liquid, and it was nutty, buttery -- just what I wanted.

I adapted this from a recipe I found on, and for a 25-minute dinner, it wasn't too shabby.

Toasted orzo with sausage

2 T. olive oil
1 1/4 cup whole wheat orzo
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
salt and pepper
2 cups roasted potatoes, green peppers and onion
1 cooked garlic and onion bratwurst
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup peas

Heat olive oil in large saute pan on medium. Add orzo, and stir to coat. Let this toast, stirring occasionally, for about 7-8 minutes. Add in chicken broth and wine. Stir, then cover, turn down the heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes.

Slice the bratwurst, and add to the pan. Add in the potato mixture and tomatoes and peas. Let simmer another five minutes, and uncover if additional liquid hasn't reduced. Serve warm.

I paired this with some steamed broccoli, and it worked out great!

If you don't have leftover roasted potatoes, peppers and so on in your fridge already, here's a quick recipe for that. Do this first, and let the potatoes sit and cool before adding them to the dish.

Roasted potatoes

2 T olive oil
salt and pepper
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 green pepper, cored and cut into squares
1/2 onion, cut into chunks

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss vegetables with oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a cookie sheet, and roast in oven about 35-40 minutes, or until starting to brown.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Buffalo chicken soup over the fire

This cooking over the fire thing is turning out to be a bit of an obsession... it starts so innocently. We talk about grilling, or cooking something different. Pretty soon, the question arises. "We should have soup!" "Yeah. And we should cook it over the fire!" Geez.

A few weekends ago, we added a twist. "Do you think we could make a soup that tastes like buffalo chicken?" "You mean, like wings?" "Yeah!"

Challenge accepted!

To create a buffalo chicken wing soup, I studiously avoided googling the phrase. I consulted a tomato soup and a recipe for chicken fajita soup, and decided to use tomato juice and chicken broth as a base. Then I decided to use the same flavors I'd use in buffalo chicken dip -- red hot sauce and ranch dressing.

Vegetables were a bit of a debate. I started with the celery, onion and carrot trifecta. Then I added sweet orange peppers, corn off the cob and kale. Then I added two cans of diced tomatoes, garlic and a small can of green chiles. What we ended up with was really good, if a bit hot. Note -- really consider how much heat you can take before being liberal with the hot sauce!

Buffalo chicken soup

2 large chicken breasts
1 cup Frank's red hot sauce or similar, divided
1 T. olive oil
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 small sweet hot peppers
1/2 bottle mild beer
2 ears corn, cut off the cob
2 leaves kale
2 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes
1 4-oz. can green chiles
1 46-oz. bottle tomato juice
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup ranch dressing
1/2 avocado, sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet, and sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes. Then take out, and cut into slices. Top with 1/2 cup of the hot sauce. Bake for an additional 15 min.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a saute pan, and cook celery, onion and carrots for about 4 to 5 min. Add in garlic and sweet peppers, and cook four more minutes. Add beer to pan, and stir. Turn off heat.

To Dutch oven, add the sauteed veggies, as well as the corn, tomatoes and chiles. Shred chicken and add to pot. Pour over the tomato juice, remaining hot sauce and chicken broth. Place over the fire for about 45 minutes to an hour. There will be plenty of liquid, so extra time shouldn't hurt.

Once it's cooled, ladle the soup into shallow bowls and top with ranch dressing and avocado. Serve with beer bread or crackers or tortilla chips.

In retrospect, I might lower the liquid by about a cup and add some black beans to the dish. C'est la vie. Overall, we were pretty happy with the result, and plan to make it again! 

Seafood stew: Scallops and shrimp in a tasty experiment

We had meant to go over to the seafood place for months. Years, even. We sped by from nearby Menards with wood in the back, lattice, tools, you name it. Always, we said, "next time, we should stop by the seafood place."

Lo, one Saturday, we did.

We had to fix a few drainage pipes in the yard, because over the winter, this happened:

Grr. I shake my fist at you, tree.

The giant tree took two drainage pipes with it when it fell over, which meant they had to be cut when the tree people pulled out the stump with a truck. Took two tries. Broke a rope. Luckily, we didn't break anything else. We were left with a hole and two pipes to repair, but we'll take it, considering.

So, after we picked up our 10-ft. pipe, we headed over to the Great Midwest Seafood Co. I stared at mounds of oysters, crab, shrimp and fresh fish thinking to myself, "this is short ribs all over again. I have no idea what I'm doing." In the end, we went home with a half-pound of cooked, cleaned shrimp and  half pound of scallops, and no idea what to do with either. I did, out of desperation, buy a canister of Old Bay seasoning.

On the way home, we theorized about a fish stew, preferably over the fire. We are obsessed with soup over the fire, and there was only the chance of rain. Once we decided on a broth/tomato base, I began to theorize over flavors and vegetables. Vegetable and chicken base, wine, lemon, kale - definitely. Fresh tomato? Beans, I thought. Cannellini? Corn, we both decided. Now, to find such a recipe that surely didn't exist.

In fact, it did. Sort of. Four cookbooks later, I stumbled upon the Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew from Cook's Illustrated. Perfect, I thought -- all the ingredients we wanted, and then it was just a matter of adding the shrimp and scallops.

It seems like a lot of kale, but it cooks up beautifully. I decided to use corn off the cob, because when cut, it produces a sort of milk that I thought would help add to the broth. Adding the seafood at the end seemed to ensure that it didn't get tough, but still flavored the soup with sea.

Seafood stew

1/2 lb. bacon, cut into small pieces
1 onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3-4 carrots, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 lb. brussels sprouts, halved
1 lb. kale, taken off the stem
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes, or two fresh tomatoes, diced
2 cobs corn
1 can white beans, drained
1 can kidney or black beans, drained
1/2 lb. cooked, cleaned shrimp
1/2 lb. scallops
1/2 lemon
1 T. plus 1/2 cup white wine
1 t. Old Bay
salt and pepper
4 t. chicken or vegetable boullion or base
4 cups water

Render bacon on low to medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add diced onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Saute about 5 minutes and turn off heat.

Toss shrimp and scallops with the juice from 1/4 of a lemon, 1 T. wine and 1/4 teaspoon of Old Bay. Heat 1 T of butter in a small saucepan, and add shrimp and scallops. Cook about 2 minutes, then transfer to bowl. Put in the fridge.

Cut corn off the cob into a large bowl. Prepare brussels sprouts and kale, and add to bowl, along with tomatoes and beans. Add in bacon and sauteed vegetables.

Heat water, and dissolve boullion.

Once your fire is stoked and ready, add everything but the shrimp and scallops to the Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper and add the boullion and half cup of wine. Stir to combine, and place over fire for 30 minutes.

At the 30-minute mark, check your liquid level - if you need more, just add a half-cup of water or beer. (Guess which one we had on hand?) Then add the shrimp and scallops and cook another 15 minutes.

We ate this with crusty French bread slices and it was wonderful!

A note: The Great Midwest Seafood Co. is indeed great. Stocked, clean, friendly employees (owners?) They have no idea who we are or that I write this blog, but they will see us again soon.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Incredible egg cups

Do you like my fancy egg plate? 

And so, back to the usual....

Recently, I realized I never posted what I've been eating for breakfast.

I pinned this recipe on Pinterest a long time ago, and have tweaked it since to fit whatever I have on hand. It makes about 8-10 egg cups. I cool them and put them in a freezer bag, and ever since I started doing that, I have eliminated random trips to the vending machine at work and also, toaster pastries which were doing nothing for my morning!

By the way, I did try it with wheat bread, but I like it better with the crescent rolls. Probably not as healthy, though!

Egg cups

1 can reduced fat crescent rolls
1/2 onion, grated
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 cup frozen broccoli, or chopped steamed fresh broccoli
3-4 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 t. Greek seasoning
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Grease muffin tin. Divide the crescent rolls among about 8-10 cups. You don't have to cover the entire inside of the cup, just the bottom and a portion of the sides.

Mix up the remaining ingredients, and pour into the cups about 3/4 or a little more full. Have extra? You can pour it in the cup and bake it without the crescent -- just make sure the tin is well greased first.

Bake about 20 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Turn out on wire rack. Once cooled, put in freezer bag and freeze for later. Microwaves in about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Instead of broccoli, you can also use spinach, kale or asparagus. You can also change the type of cheese -- parmesan is great! I eat this for breakfast with fruit, or for an afternoon snack to up my protein and veggie quotient for the day. It's wonderful with coffee!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Like a marathoner

I remember when a friend of mine was in labor, and we were talking about how the birthing process is the total opposite of how flight or fight works. It's incredible pain (we both thought it would be, anyway, at the time -- she knows better than I do now) and yet, you have to run at it like a marathoner, even as it gets worse, because it's the only way to get to the other side.

I thought about that today. A high school classmate died last weekend. I didn't know her very well at all. And yet, what I remember is a person who was always (always!) smiling. Who said hi and how are you to a girl who was never smiling, really. And who was sincerely nice and meant it. Who had wonderful family and friends. Who, I learned, had two beautiful children. Who will go on without their mother and miss her everyday. Who will have a totally different life now.

I thought about that with the Boston Marathon. My brother in law ran it a few years back and for a few moments I couldn't remember for sure -- he's not there right? Right?? And he wasn't. But, oh, so many were. And now some are not here anymore. Others have had incredible pain and loss, and they will have a totally different life. Still others will struggle to recover from the very experience. We, all of us, will look at the world differently, yet again.

It hurts our hearts to know that there is pain in the world, and it hurts worse when it becomes a reality for those we know of, and certainly those we know. It's not fair and it's certainly not how we picture it, but sometimes, you have to run toward the pain like a marathoner. Because it's the only way to get through the tunnel. For some of us, that tunnel is the darkest of places. We are taking it on faith that there is a light at the end. That there is, in fact, an end.

Maybe it's not an end so much, as the start of something else. A new time in life. A new marathon to run, perhaps. So, we go on, with tears, remembering the previous race, wondering what we're in for with this one. Hoping, always, that it will be better this go 'round. That it won't be so painful. Loving, again, despite the risk of loss.

Hope. Faith. Love. Run toward it like a marathoner.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Las Vegas eats and treats

That is one honking electric bill.

Well, I just downloaded all the photos from my camera since January. So, here are a few from Las Vegas! I was there for work, but I thought I'd share what all we ate, because if there's a famous restaurant in the U.S., there is probably a facsimile in Vegas.

Pizza at Grimaldi's

First up was Grimaldi's. I hadn't heard of this place before reading Gala Darling's blog, but when I read that she cut a Grimaldi's pizza in lieu of cake for her wedding, I was intrigued. And, it was awesome. We started with the antipasti platter, and then had individual pizzas, which we could have shared with each other! Crisp crust and a fantastic tomato sauce with seasoned toppings. Excellent!

Next up was Bouchon Bakery. Now, I've heard the waffles at the Bouchon restaurant are to die for, but what I was interested in was the macarons. Call it homesickness for Paris. In any case, but raspberry and the chocolate macarons were chewy, crunchy and downright delicious. I heard later that they have a peanut butter and jelly macaron. Darn it! :)

The colorful ceiling at Senor Frog's

We bowed to convenience one night and went to Senor Frog's. That place is crazy! And they try to be! But the enchiladas are great, and they are nothing if not bent on making sure service is stellar. So, despite the crazy karaoke and dancing, it's kind of a neat place to eat. Maybe because they are crazy? :)

At the end of the week, we finished off with a short tour of the Palazzo. One great stop was Bauman Rare Books. I had just missed seeing a first edition of Pride and Prejudice (grr!), but did see some quartos from Shakespeare. It was breathtaking. Other books I saw included a hand-illustrated, hand-tied book of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Awesome!

It's always a bit too early in Las Vegas.

Not many people saw awesome about rare books in Vegas. But isn't that why Vegas is great? You never know what you'll find.

Anyway, from there, we went to Godiva, which I highly recommend, and then we had lunch at i"heart"burgers. I had the i"heart"bacon burger, which has a "blend of brisket and applewood-smoked bacon, crispy bacon, bacon mayo, smoked gouda and onion strings." Artery-clogging, I know. But sooooo good!

Sadly, from now on, a simple bacon cheeseburger will probably never be enough for me. But that's the kind of sacrifice I'm willing to make. So, there is a short list for your next Vegas trip! Recipes next time!