Monday, January 31, 2011

Rich Meaty Chili and Grandma's Crusty Corn Bread

At the request of my dear husband, I've upgraded our chili recipe a bit.  You might remember the first chili recipe I shared - Cheap Girl's Chili.  It's a bean-rich dish.

Well, my mom and I started talking about our versions of chili once while J was in earshot, and he heard that mom uses two pounds of ground beef in her chili and only a few cans of beans.  Hmmm.  To most men, that would sound like an upgrade indeed.

When I announced I was going to make us a big pot of chili this week, he got this yearning look in his eyes, and I knew exactly what he wanted.  More meat, less bean, more juice.

I delivered.  It was a success.

Grandma's Crusty Corn Bread helped.  It's great topped with chili or drowned in honey.  I like it both ways.  J and I are trying to start a revolution: chili with cornbread is the new thing - not cornbread with ham and bean soup.  Join us in our mission!

Look at that nice, slightly crunchy crust on the cornbread.  You honestly can't do that with a box of Jiffy.

Rich Meaty Chili
2 lbs ground beef
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chili hot beans in gravy, partially drained
1 can Mexican chili beans in gravy, partially drained
2 cans stewed Mexican-style tomatoes, cut into smaller chunks
1 small handful brown sugar
1 8 oz can tomato sauce, no salt added
1/2 tomato sauce can filled with water
seasoning to taste: chili powder, cumin, paprika, onion powder, garlic salt, oregano, cayenne; salt and black pepper

1. Brown the beef and chopped onion together.  Drain.  Season with salt and black pepper.  Season with chili seasonings (or use Williams Chili seasoning packet).
2. Add beans and stir well.  Add tomatoes and stir well.  Let simmer for at least 1/2 hour.  Add brown sugar.  Taste.  Season more if needed.  Add tomato sauce and water.  Let simmer for at least 1/2 hour longer.
3. Serve with shredded cheddar and saltine crackers.  Cornbread is a delicious touch.

Grandma's Crusty Corn Bread
1 c flour
1 c corn meal
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 c milk
1/4 c oil

Mix together the dry ingredients.  Add egg, milk and oil.  Stir just until moistened.  Pour into a greased 9 x 9 pan.  Bake at 450 for 25-30 minutes.

I'll be honest.  My cornbread got thiiiiis close to crispy-crusty.

Auctions: Addictive

While we were back at my parents' house this weekend, Mom and I went to an auction.  For those of you not familiar with country auctions, they are used to sell off a (usually) deceased person's belongings that aren't wanted by family or friends.

We have some collectors out in the country.  That's all I'll say about that.

We arrived at 9:30 and didn't leave until 1:30.  Time just flies when you're shut in a big metal shed with seventy-odd other unwashed auction-goers.  Surprisingly, I did still work up an appetite during the course of our outing.

Chili-cheese nachos for $2.50, and a can of Diet Dr. Pepper to wash it down.  Good stuff.

At first Mom and I got sucked in by the utilitarian.  I bought this big Rubbermaid cooler (plus a smaller red one I've nested inside it) for $4.  It's sitting on top of a garden hose bin we got for $10.

Then we remembered what we came for.  Fun stuff!  I won a box of three little red metal International tractors for $4 for Mom when she went to the restroom.  At least, I thought I got them for $4.  Turns out they were "three for the money" which means you pay your winning bid for each item...  Oops.  Sorry, Mom.  I'm a relative newbie to the auction scene.

We also won the bid on these gorgeous blue bubble dishes.  $6 - what a steal, huh!  I adore old dishes.


Then they started selling the garden gnomes.  There was a table with at least fifty little pieces of yard art on it, so we scoped them out before even sitting down.  We each picked one up for $6.  Perhaps an overpay, but I was happy to get this one I had my eye on.

I thought it was all toadstools and mushrooms when it caught my eye before the bidding started on it.  Nope.  Cute smiling turtles.  Lesson learned.  I will carefully examine each piece before bidding from now on.

Still, it'll be a fun little item for our garden.

Mom got me this mint-condition old Pyrex mixing bowl.  She's helping me create a set.

I love using dishes that have some history - even if I don't know what it is.  This tomato-red bowl joins the mint green bowl I already have.  I think we're just looking for the big yellow and small turquoise bowl now.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Endless Amusement: Cows

The cows in the pasture behind my parents' house provide me with endless amusement when we go back to visit.  Right now there are mother cows, mid-sized calves (I'm not a farmer, ok?) and a bull residing in the pasture.

I'm calling this one Oreo.

When I walked up to the fence, they became skittishly inquisitive.  The reddish middle one - let's call her Belle - is feeling pretty brave.

Not so brave anymore.  Apparently, they don't learn to confidently slip through the fence to drink from my mom's fish pond until they reach full size.

I just love their faces.  Those big eyes with the long lashes.  This is Goldie.

And then one of the cats joined us, and the calves' interest was piqued.  Pumpkin remained calm and aloof.

The others moved on, but Belle (brave once again) and friend stayed behind to really check out Pumpkin the Cat.

Ah the joy of the simple things.  When I'm in the country, I feel like I could never leave.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Kind of Week It's Been...

It hasn't been a bad week.  Not at all.  It's been an invigorating, yet fatiguing, week of travel and work and planning and conversation.  It makes me even more excited for my part in the company I work for, and it makes me even more thankful that when the travel is done, I can sit cross-legged in my office chair once more, wearing my favorite, stretchy yoga pants, happy in the knowledge that Friday is here and it will go quickly.

I hope you get to put on your favorite, stretchiest pants sometime this weekend, too.  Probably not for work, but if so, cheers to ya!  There's nothing more liberating than saying "no" to your skinny jeans and saying "yes" to unrestricted comfort and freedom.  You know the weekend has arrived.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Steak Sandwiches

Yesterday we had a delicious lunch - The Pioneer Woman's Steak Sandwiches!

My parents gave me The Pioneer Woman cookbook for Christmas, and I asked my hubby to pick out the first meal he wanted me to make.  This was it.  Maybe he noticed the pile of meat.  Maybe he noticed it said "Marlboro Man's" and thought that looked like a good-enough recommendation.  We may never know.  He's a man of few words, my husband.

Ree was right.  It's a lot of butter.  But oh, what goodness.  And what a great use for the round steak sitting in our freezer.

And it was just as good when I reheated it for dinner tonight.  Welcome to my body, butter.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

This summer my friend had us over for lunch and made Chicken Lettuce Wraps.  I just thought that was something you ordered at PF Chang's, end of story.  But no - it is possible for the home cook to make delicious Chicken Lettuce Wraps!

I'll warn you about a couple things.

1.  It involves a lot of dicing.

2. Eating them is very messy.  All ten of my fingers, all the way down to my palms, were sticky.

Making Chicken Lettuce Wraps is not a science, so sorry, you do not get an official recipe.  Here are the ingredients I used, though.

Cut the chicken (about a pound for two people - you'll probably have some leftovers) into small pieces and cook over medium heat in a big pot.  Pour in about 1/3 cup of Honey Teriyaki marinade while it's cooking, so the chicken doesn't dry out and really absorbs all the flavor it possibly can.  Note:  While I'd normally use chicken breasts, I bought boneless, skinless chicken thighs at the store.  Less expensive and they worked just as well!

While the chicken is cooking, peel your carrots and zucchini.  Slice the carrots into really thin coins and add to chicken so they get a head start on the softer veggies.  I used just one zucchini.  Dice it.  Dice the mushrooms.  Dice about half of the water chesnuts (for some crunch).  Pour it all into the chicken/carrot mixture and turn up the heat a bit.  Add more marinade.  Maybe some freshly ground pepper.  Chop a green onion and add it to the mix.  Cook until it's bubbling and all the veggies are tender.  Chop another green onion and use as topping.

Serve on lettuce (iceberg is better than romaine because it wraps more easily - this might make them less messy!) with rice.  Sriracha sauce optional!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Planning: Super Bowl Party

I'm so excited!  We're having a bunch of friends over for the Super Bowl this year.  I want to get creative with some decor and plenty of tasty treats and drinks, so I'm starting early with the planning.

Honestly, I have almost as much fun planning things as I do actually doing them.  Except vacations.  I feel cheated if I plan one and then don't get to go.

Of course, the first things I had to figure out was when the Super Bowl was going to be on.  February 6, my friends, my fellow Super-Bowlers-but-not-huge-NFL-fans-normally.  So I've got a couple weeks.  Perfect.  Just enough time to drive my patient hubby to the point of distraction.

To keep us girls entertained:

Scorecards - for the ads.  Points will be awarded on humor, creativity/newness, and whether it actually makes you want to buy the product.

Trivia - from the Super Bowl website

Numbers Board - one of those things where you pick numbers and can win money at the end of each quarter.  My hubby is going to have to help with this one.

To keep the guys entertained:

The game on the big screen.  Duh.  Of course that's the reason we get together for things like this.  Of course.


Numbers Board - there has got to be a different name for this.

Next up... thinking about the menu and decor, and actually get things ready for our entertainment.

My Kitchen Philosophy: Real Eating

In the years I spent single, cooking for myself, my friends, and my family (when they agreed to be my guinea pigs and allow me to make messes in their kitchens), I learned a few things about cooking.

Mostly, I learned what I won't do.

I won't... Spend a fortune on fancy ingredients like truffles or Kobe beef or organic asparagus year round.  Of course, on the right day and on the right item, I'll put my money where it needs to be.  Vanilla, for instance.  You can't buy cheap vanilla and get away with it.

I won't... Spend hours tracking down fancy ingredients in my semi-small, semi-remote town.  I just have other things to do.  That leads me right into the next one...

I won't... Spend much time painstakingly cutting and rolling and braiding dough or mincing three onions or rolling fifty tiny meatballs.  I love being in the kitchen.  But I don't want to spend all evening there, or all day before a party.  Kitchen time in moderation.

I won't... Follow a complicated recipe.  I have tried and almost every time, I fail.  I dump everything together when I'm supposed to mix the wet ingredients alone and add vinegar after adding the dry ingredients, or I cook the egg before adding it to the stir-fry rice, or whatever.

So my Kitchen Philosophy was born.  I believe very strongly in Real Eating.

Real Eating is probably different for everyone.  But for me, Real Eating is defined as -



Reliable (Good Every Time I Make It)

Sometimes I break every single one of these rules.

Because really, cooking is not about following the rules!  It's about having fun with the food that fuels our bodies, and showing our love for the people in our lives by cooking for them.  In my attempts to do these things, I have spent an afternoon with my mom and sister-in-law making a Jamaican feast that we ate in thirty minutes, spent an afternoon with my grandma making and braiding Swedish rye bread, and carefully created a layered red velvet cake for my mom (it was a crumbly mess, but it tasted good).

So maybe I'm saying forget philosophy.  Remember why you cook.  And have fun doing it!

Addendum:  After this completing this post, maybe I should change my kitchen philosophy to "Real Crazy Eating!"

Friday, January 21, 2011

Broccoli and Stuffing Frittata

On Thursday I faced another Dinner Dilemma.

I didn't want another turkey sandwich, even a grilled one.  I didn't want leftover rice.  I didn't want a hot dog.

So I dug around in the fridge and came up with these ingredients.  Please note how I've strategically obscured the milk's "best by" date.

Eggs, milk, shredded cheddar, stuffing, broccoli.

I've got a couple things to say.

First, I'd like to say that my time in the kitchen would be made a lot easier if I could crack an egg without getting most of my fingers dirty.  Maybe in another fifteen years I'll have achieved that.

Second, I'd like to say that this scrap dinner was a complete success.

Start with the crust.  Spray a pan with cooking spray and layer in the stuffing.

Mix a few eggs with a splash of milk, Mrs. Dash Original Blend, salt and pepper.  Stir in the broccolli, and pour that on the stuffing.  There was more broccoli than I'd expected - but I like broccoli, so I went with it.

Sprinkle shredded cheddar generously on top and then some more stuffing.

Bake at 350 for about thirty minutes or until the eggs are set.

So satisfying!  I want leftovers just so I can get creative making another frittata.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Swiffer Wet Jet

I think this is going to change my life.

I think I might actually mop my kitchen floor.

And then I opened it.  This small pile didn't look very life-changing.  How did I ever think a life-changing appliance could fit in that one, smallish box?

But I like instructions.  I'm rather good at following them.  In my family, we've had multiple discussions about this.  You're either a rule-follower or a rule-breaker by nature.  My mom and I are rule-followers, hence our sister-skill of following directions well.

My kitchen floor needs this to be life-changing.


Sometimes it has to get worse before it can get better.  I will teach my children life lessons as I teach them to clean...

Yes, my Christmas tree is still up.  But can you see that the ornaments have been removed?  I'll be honest - what you can't see is the way they landed in the downstairs guest bedroom like an angry elf threw them there, along with fifty feet of garland, a Hobby Lobby aisle's worth of glittery gold picks, and several plastic storage totes eagerly waiting for their loot.

But enough about that scary room downstairs.  This is about the kitchen.  And the kitchen floor looks nice, very nice.  You'll have to take my word for it, I suppose.  Our floor is quite clever and hides cleanliness as well as it hides debris.

P.S. I've noticed sometimes bloggers write these disclaimers that explain they are not being compensated for mentioning this product.  Is that really even necessary in my case?  I mean, two people (thank you) read my blog.  But still, I suppose I will say "Swiffer Wet Jet is not paying me to write about their product.  I noticed it was $5 off this week at Target (Target is not paying me either) and decided it was a good time to buy this and clean my gross floors."

P.P.S. The Swiffer Wet Jet has a delightfully fresh, clean scent.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

BBQ Meatballs

My mom has the best BBQ meatball recipe ever.

That's a big statement to make, I realize.

Try them, and you will see.  This is all you need.

Those ingredients, after being properly mixed and rolled, become this.  Yes, it makes a lot - which is nice because you can freeze 'em and pull out later for an easy dinner!

Bake them, and you get this tasty result.  They're topped with BBQ sauce, obviously!

Which is how, this cold, almost-snowy evening, we came to be eating this tasty dinner.

Mom told me - and this came as a giant surprise to me! - she often uses storebought BBQ sauce instead of making it.  Try making your sauce first, just once, and then if you don't like doing it, feel free to go back to buying your sauce.  Tonight, in fact, we had our meatballs with storebought sauce.  It's whatever floats your boat, really.  Sometimes I just like the satisfaction of knowing I made it myself.  And I think it's better.

BBQ Meatballs
2 lbs hamburger
1 13-oz can evaporated milk (or 1 cup milk)
2 eggs
1 c oatmeal
1 c chopped onion
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp chili powder
Mix all ingredients and shape into walnut-sized balls.  Place on cookie sheet to freeze.  If you're cooking them right away, put them in a baking dish with sides.  Top with barbecue sauce and bake for 1 hour at 350.

BBQ Sauce
1 1/2 c brown sugar, packed
2 c ketchup
1/2 Tbsp garlic powder
1/2 c chopped onion
1 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
Mix sauce ingredients together.  Pour over meatballs and/or reserve some for later use (cook it before eating so the flavors mix).

Hint from Mom:  Pour some BBQ sauce in the bottom of your baking dish before putting the meatballs in it.  It helps keep them from sticking gummily to the dish.

Snowed-In: Fantasy or Fact?

Tonight we're pretending we're snowed in!

It's not a complete fantasy.

The sidewalk and driveway are so slick I could barely walk out to check the mail.  And it's supposed to start snowing tonight.  And my hubby's theology class was cancelled.  And I'm assuming my vinyasa yoga class was cancelled.

So we're just pre-empting the actual arrival of the snow a bit with all our plans.  We may have had to work all day, but we are taking full advantage of being kept at home this evening.

Cuddling up on the couch with a movie and our previously-planned meatballs...  A little DVR'd American Idol premiere...  Nasty winter weather outside...  Perfect evening for a couple homebodies like us!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuna and White Bean Salad

What to eat, what to eat...  I raided the cabinets and fridge for this one, pulling together pantry items and suspiciously aged leftovers to create an awfully good open-face sandwich.

This is one I'll make again!

It's not a neat and tidy meal to eat, but then I'm not an especially neat and tidy girl, so I was fine with that.  Proceed with caution if you have bad reactions to crumbs all around your plate!

Ingredient List:
1 can light tuna in water
1 piece of celery, chopped
2 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped
3/4 c leftover beans from last week's Roasted Chicken recipe
freshly ground black pepper
bottom half of French bread, hollowed out to hold the tuna salad
1/2 c leftover healthy marinara sauce

Mix the first five ingredients.  Pile it lavishly on the bread.  Stick it in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Dunk random bites into the marinara sauce.  It adds just enough spicy kick to make things fun.  By the way, I think the marinara sauce's time in the fridge really intensified its spiciness!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Extreme Chocolate Craving = The Perfect Brownies

Tonight, I had an amazingly powerful craving for chocolate.  When you want chocolate as badly as I did, nothing else will satisfy you.

My dear, sweet, smart husband recognized this need and kindly ran to the store for eggs and sugar so I could satisfy this chocolust.  Because boxed brownies just weren't going to do.  Not that I could make them anyway, without eggs.

No, I wanted - no, I needed - real chocolate intensity.  And I got it.

The Perfect Brownies
Preheat oven to 350.
Grease a 9x9" baking pan (aluminum is best, for thorough cooking throughout and perfectly done bottoms and edges).
In a large bowl, melt 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter.  Stir in 2 cups of sugar and 1/2 tsp. salt.
Whisk in 3 eggs, one at a time.
Stir in 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 cup flour.
Transfer the batter to the pan and bake until just set, 25 to 30 minutes.
Let cool and then cut.  Store tightly covered.  If they last that long.

I'm the kind of girl who licks the bowl.

Decadently rich, gooey, perfectly flavored...

And then we added ice cream, too.  Shamelessly indulgent.


Roasted Tilapia, Roasted Carrots

Tonight's dinner had all the elements of a delicious meal... tilapia, carrots, roasting.  Yet it fell short of the mark.  I know why it fell short, and fortunately, it is preventable.

Overseasoning.  I am finally to the point in my culinary career that I recognize overseasoning for the sin that it is.  In my enthusiasm for the meal, I just got carried away.  Plus my sweaty workout clothes were getting to me, and I wanted to move on to step two: the shower.

A Roasted Dinner... Roasted Tilapia, Roasted Carrots... and Stovetop Stuffing (last-minute decision to add a little bulk to the meal)

Sigh.  The other issue I have with this meal is that it's all in the same color family.  Where is the green!?

But moving on to a more positive note, the carrots were delicious.  Do you know how to roast carrots?  It's so easy, and they just become something you've never tasted before when you roast them.

Roasted Carrots
Peel your carrots, slice them (on a diagonal looks pretty) into about 2 1/2" pieces.  Try to make sure they're all about the same size, so they cook evenly.  This means you might have to chop some of your pieces in half lengthwise.

Put them in a baking dish.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat (or if you have a dish with high sides, shake back and forth vigorously!).  Season with freshly ground black pepper and salt.

 Roast at 425 for 35-45 minutes or until fork-tender.  Season with dried dill, if you like.

You can never have too many roasted carrots.  I did about a pound and three quarters, and between the two of us, we polished them all off.  Sure, we have hearty appetites.  But they're also somewhat discerning!  We did not finish the Stovetop...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

My mom's birthday was this weekend, and she loooooves red velvet cake.  Last year, I made my first attempt at baking the cake she loves so dearly.  Taste: A, Looks: C+.  Crumbly red cake plus creamy white frosting equal smears of pink frosting across what should be a pristine, snowy surface.

I was primed for improvement this year, but I was also short on time.  I decided cupcakes were the answer.  The Barefoot Contessa's cupcake recipe, to be specific.

Thank you, Ina.  Your recipe saved my sanity and took care of my mom's unspoken birthday wish.

You've got a couple options if you want Red Velvet Cupcakes of your own.

1.  You can buy The Barefoot Contessa's mix at the store.

2.  You can buy The Barefoot Contessa's book "How Easy Is That?"

I think you should buy the book.  The Barefoot Contessa's approach to cooking and baking will change the way you operate in the kitchen.  She speaks to my heart with her straightforward, simple recipes - that give you delicious results without requiring you to scour the gourmet food aisles.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Roasted Chicken with White Beans and Tomatoes

New-recipe success story tonight!  I found this recipe in Real Simple's January 2011 issue and decided to give it a shot.

Of the three recipes I've tried from the magazine, this is the final one and the only resounding success.  So I was feeling nervous!  Was I going to regret my choice to ignore the Friday siren's call of Papa John's pepperoni pizza with black olives?

As I was making this recipe tonight, I was really hoping we'd like it.  It's inexpensive, calls for just a few ingredients, and the prep is fast, although you should allow for the fact that it has to cook for at least 35 minutes.

Here's what the final product looks like.

It would be gorgeous with a green salad if you wanted to serve it for guests - or if you eat with your eyes as well as your mouth and nose.  We did not have any lettuce, so we made do with bread.

I'll give you my recipe; for the true original, just go to Real Simple's website.

Roasted Chicken with White Beans and Tomatoes
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 cans white northern beans
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. pepper + to taste
1/2 tsp. salt + to taste
1 Tbsp. olive oil, approx
1 c. chicken broth

Rinse and drain your beans; rinse your tomatoes.  Combine them in an ungreased 9x13 baking dish.  Add the olive oil, oregano, thyme, 1/4 tsp. pepper, and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Toss to combine.  Pour in chicken broth.
Spread the chicken thighs out on top of the bean/tomato mixture.  Rub each thigh with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Cook for 35-45 minutes at 425.
Suggestion: serve on top of french bread so it can soak up the juicy goodness.
Serves 4