Cooking

#MicroblogMondays: The Oven

Sunday night, we were doing a million things since Monday marked our household’s return to work and school. We were prepping ingredients for beef stew, a hearty multi-day meal that would relieve us from cooking and be perfect for the polar vortex due later this week.

I slipped the beef into the oven and was surprised and aghast to smell something charred and smoky coming from the oven an hour into the stew’s first cook. All the liquid had evaporated and was charring on the bottom of the pan. Baffled, I separated the meat, scrubbed the pan and added triple the liquid I normally did. The beef and its veggies seemed to perform as expected the next hour.

An hour later, I put a pan of 4 burritos into the oven for 20 minutes at 350. Twenty minutes later I start to smell the charred, smoky smell again. When I took out the burritos, I saw some of the cheese had blackened. Technically the dish still had another 10 minutes, but there was no way I was risking that.

I was confused. Neither recipe was a new recipe. I make beef stew every few months and hadn’t deviated. Same thing for the burritos. Plus, I’m a good cook. I’m no Food Network Star, but I can follow & tweak a recipe into something pretty good. I take pride in my cooking, so the oven trouble inexperienced was disconcerting. I chalked it up to chance and the weather. It had been an odd winter day with temperatures in the 70s and rain & severe storms. Maybe cooking on this day was like making fudge, in which the temperature and humidity mattered?

Tonight I turned on the oven to bake mini pizzas for Daniel’s lunch and the oven flashed “Failure!” That was odd. Jimmy reset it and we were able to finish the pizzas. A pan of rolls did not fare as well and soon, the oven had that familiar charred, smoky smell. And it was beeping “failure” messages again. Clearly, something was wrong with the oven. I felt vindicated because I now knew that it wasn’t my fault we had the cooking issues the night before. The bad news was that our oven was obviously on the fritz.

We bought that oven over Thanksgiving weekend in 2008. I remember it because we were just out of the first trimester with Daniel and had blood drawn a few days earlier for the quad screen. I was a panicky mess. Our microwave had broken that week, so we needed to get a new one. Thanks to Thanksgiving sales, Jimmy wanted to get a new, matching stove too. I vividly remember sitting in the rocking chairs outside of Lowes as we debated the pros and cons. I was at the point of our pregnancy in which I wanted to bury my head in the sand until someone told me everything would be OK. Maybe I thought I would hate the stove if bad things came to pass; it would be the Stove of Doom (I wasn’t very rational at that time). I agreed to buy the microwave and stove. I also decided to resume my anti-anxiety medication.

There isn’t any real point to that story except I have vivid memories of buying it thanks to the time in our life it was. But I need a stove/oven that works. And I’m glad my cooking doesn’t suck suddenly. Damn it.

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We Should Have Called it BaconFest

Today was “Fall Feast” with my Triangle Fight Club (not what you think. Ha!).  I’ve posted before about our annual cookie exchange, but we also try to get together sometime in October or November for a seasonal meal.  I think we chose to have it in Fall because everyone is so busy in summer, making it impossible to schedule something but mostly because we all love the Fall and its flavors.

We don’t always manage to get around to the Fall Feast before the demands of the holidays are upon us, but this year, somehow we managed to pick a date and stick to it.  We had a small group this year with only 4 of us able to attend, but as usual, the table was groaning with a variety of yummy things.  We have stellar cooks in the group and apparently we were craving bacon since three of the dishes featured bacon.

Gnocchi, pumpkin-sausage manicotti, Mediterranean quinoa, spinach-bacon quiche, spiced apples, fruit, hummus, crackers and bread along with sangria.  We filled our plates and sat outside to enjoy the beautiful, slightly chilly Fall day.

YUM!

Too soon it was time to bring the meal to an end. It was Sunday, after all, and we all had various school and work days to prepare for.

I don’t see these ladies often enough; they’ve been with me through wedding planning, the wedding, infertility and finally parenthood. Twenty pounds lighter and much less gray in my hair.  We all look different, yet the same in all the ways that matter.

We have tentatively set the date for our annual cookie exchange and are researching how to make it revolve around our master, bacon, from cocktails to cookies.

Oh, and I volunteered to host 🙂

Thanks for a wonderful day, ladies!

My quiche recipe is Paula Deen’s (I was only slightly embarrassed to say that before; now I’m mortified). The major change I made was to sauté everything. I sautéed red onion and spinach (I also needed to use about 5 cups of fresh spinach) in the bacon grease. I also added gruyere cheese to the swiss cheese (I forgot we had thrown out my broken grater, so I had to use a zester, which worked OK).  I’m not a fan of swiss cheese, so I’d like to find a milder cheese.  I did NOT make my own crust because I’m a slacker like that.

Quiche!!

Fudge and Shortbread: Baking a Difference for the Garden State

Bake Sale for Sandy Relief

I believe I am a bit selfish and self-centered.  I admit it.  While I don’t think I have many of the stereotypical (usually negative) traits of the only child, I do have a few.   I may admit it, but I’m not proud of it, and along with other changes I want to make and goals I want to pursue this year, I want to be more giving, more selfless, more a member of the broader community.

My bloggy friend Justine of A Half-Baked Life lives in New Jersey and after experiencing Hurricane Sandy and seeing the devastation it brought to many areas of the state, came up with the idea of an online auction of baked goods with proceeds going to the United Way to benefit Sandy relief efforts.  I signed up immediately.  I like to bake, and this is my season of baking and frankly, baking something for auction was an easy way for me to contribute something to the cause.

I have relatives in New Jersey who were without power for a week; while their experience is minor compared to the utter devastation experienced by other residents, being without power for a week is unimaginable in this day and time.   I also have great empathy for the victims.  North Carolina has had its fair share of storms that wreaked havoc and while I’ve had the great fortune not to lose a home (knock on wood), I’ve been through several storms that left us without power for several days and brought our city to a standstill.  I’ve also seen landmarks that I had visited or saw from my vacation window year after year disappear in the blink of an eye in the wrath of a storm.

Finally, it’s a hell of a time to lose everything.  That sounds trite because when is it a good time?  But now, with the economy sputtering along and as we move into the holiday season, it seems like the worst time to be in need of so much.  As we move from holidays celebrating thankfulness and gratitude to ones celebrating giving and joy, I can’t think of a better time for us to continue to remember and help Sandy’s victims.

For the auction, I’m making a batch of key-lime fudge and dark chocolate-espresso shortbread.  I’ve made these recipes for years and give them in goodie bags every Christmas, so they are tried and true recipes (just ask my in-laws!).  They represent opposite sides of the taste spectrum, but they are decadent and oh-so-good.  If you are interested, I encourage you to bid on them. Bidding starts at $20.  If you’d still like to donate without bidding on an item, you can do so here.

Bidding is open now and will continue until 11:59 PM EST Monday, November 26.

Let’s do some good.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving flowers and figurines

20 pounds of turkey is in the oven, with its cavity stuffed with onions, celery, lemons and herbs and a paste of rosemary, garlic and olive oil smeared under the skin.  Nothing like violating a turkey first thing in the morning:  I feel like I should have introduced myself first or at least bought the turkey a drink.

The world’s tiniest sous chef helped me break the green beans; he took his responsibility very seriously!

sous chef with his green beans

Helping prepare the green beans

The dressing and sweet potato casserole have been assembled and ready to bake later on.  Now it’s time to clean, and if I’m really doing well time-wise, I might even get to take a shower before the guests arrive.

Even though our table will be short one guest this year, we know she will be with us in spirit.

Carnations for Mum

Carnations were Mum’s favorite flower

It’s been a terrible, horrible, no-good year, but we still have so much for which to be thankful.  Today we will acknowledge our blessings and hopefully that knowledge will stay with us every day.

May you all have a happy Thanksgiving.  Eat lots, be merry and hug your loved ones.

Friday Fun, Frustration, Frivolity and Food

Preschooler kitchen destruction

Kitchen destruction at the hands of a sick 3-year-old

You’d think that since I had nothing to do today but chase around a 3-year-old who behaved like I had given him mass quantities of speed, I could have completed this post earlier today.  Funny that.  It turns out that 3-year-olds have a finite limit for how long they are willing to have you out of their sight and attention.

Marty, my fellow Listen to Your Mother: Raleigh-Durham co-producer, and I optimistically scheduled a conference call for late this morning so we could discuss the manual, potential venues and our charity.  She had her almost 3-year-old at home with her, and I of course had Daniel.  It was a very amusing video chat as about every 5 minutes, one of us had to look away to shout, “No!  Don’t do that!” or “Hi sweet pea.  Yes, say hello.  Can you return to your movie? Mommy won’t be much longer.”  Somehow we managed to conduct a lot of business over the course of an hour before we both accepted that the natives were restless and signed off.  I’m happy to report, though, that we hope to be able to announce our venue and performance date very soon!

We were supposed to travel to my hometown to have Thanksgiving with my mother and stepfather this weekend, but we cancelled due to Daniel’s illness.  I feel bad about it (because I always feel guilty), but I think we made the right decision.  The last thing we want to do is to have to subject a sick 3-year-old to a different routine and a location other than home.  Or maybe that’s just us.

Hopefully my mother and stepfather will be able to join us for Thanksgiving on Thursday instead, and I have to admit that it is not unwelcome that we have another quiet weekend at home to clean and get ready.  Or just relax before the onslaught of cooking and cleaning begins next week.  Oh, we are hosting by the way.  Perhaps I neglected to mention that?

Daniel is having a lot of fun with family relationships and gender right now.  He occasionally refers to himself as a girl, me as a boy, Jimmy as a girl and the cats, oddly, as girl-boy (for our cat Bit, that’s actually more accurate than he knows because s/he may identify as a girl while being a boy.  Or we might have confused her by referring to her as a “she” early on due to not realizing she was a boy).  He also called his grandmother his sister and his father his sister.  It’s been fun. Imagine if we were Egyptian royalty or polygamous and had explain sister-wives!

Speaking of Thanksgiving, while Daniel was “napping” (read: destroying his room and throwing his stuffed animals everywhere.  Remember that scene from Poltergeist when the researchers from the parapsychology department opened the children’s room and found the items spinning around?  Yeah, that), I succumbed to the allure of searching for Thanksgiving recipes.  If you follow me on Pinterest, I apologize because I think I pinned 20 recipes in a 2-hour period.

We are huge fans of Thanksgiving in this house now that we are adults (and this rumination is partially in response to JJiraffe’s post on Thanksgiving today).  Jimmy and I both liked Thanksgiving as children, but I admit that it was more like, “yeah, yeah, Thanksgiving.  Let’s get on to Christmas!”  Now, though, we have new appreciation for the holiday.  First of all, other than the 4th of July, I can’t think of a more seminal, meaningful holiday to celebrate as a nation.  Also, now that I have much more to do for Christmas than decorate a tree and show up at someone else’s house for dinner, I appreciate a holiday that is about food and fellowship only.  It’s like a chance to exhale before the end of the year.  Finally, we adore Autumn, and Thanksgiving is sort of the culmination of Autumn with its emphasis on the harvest.

Anyway, my massive Pinterest pinning was more wishful thinking than reality because my husband is a creature of habit, and no holiday brings that out more than Thanksgiving.  Over the years, we have fine tuned our menu and recipes, and I, to my chagrin, don’t have many opportunities to experiment because Jimmy really likes what we’ve come up with.  And I’m OK with that.  I have free rein at Christmas, so I can let him have the menu he wants at Thanksgiving.  In truth, we both want to make traditions for our family, and our Thanksgiving menu is one tradition that we have created so far.

So here is a rough outline of our menu:

  • Herbed turkey breasts
  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Sweet potato casserole (with marshmallows!)
  • Green beans (leaning towards a bacon-balsamic-shallot sauce)
  • Corn pudding
  • Collard greens (Southern girl FTW!)
  • Cornbread dressing
  • Rolls (frozen; I haven’t mastered yeast yet)

I’m thinking about adding a glazed carrot or butternut squash dish as well.  I don’t make dessert.  I LOVE making desserts, but I find I run out of time and energy, so my mother-in-law usually makes or brings one.

I’ll post next week what exact recipes I use for the potatoes, green beans and corn pudding.

I’m getting really excited.  I’m even thinking about making a decorative arrangement for the table (vs buying some carnations and arranging mini-pumpkins around it and calling it a day).  I’m even pondering a few crafts with Daniel.

So, yay, Thanksgiving!  It took me many years, but I finally appreciate you and want to give you your due.

The Icing on the Cake

A work of art

This was Daniel’s birthday cake.  In case you couldn’t tell (ha), it was homemade. When we’ve had birthday parties for him, I’ve bought cakes, which I sort of didn’t want to do because as I’ve written many times, I like to cook and I also like the idea of everything I serve at a party being homemade (it just seems to be polite and respectful of my guests.  And maybe I’m showing off).  Of course I break this “rule” quite often, especially when I’m making a big meal like, say, Thanksgiving and decide that while the idea of homemade pumpkin cheesecake or sweet potato ice cream sounds great, enthusiasm can carry you only so far.

We didn’t have a big party for his birthday this year, so it was really important to me to make a cake for him so it would seem like we put some effort into making his birthday special (I suffer from acute guilt in general; my mommy guilt is epic).  I also realize that when he gets older, mommy making his cake will likely seem embarrassing and the allure of the store-bought cake will be something that makes his birthday special. Hmm.

So we made him this cake, and when I say “we,” I mean me and Jimmy.  I made the cake.  I’m embarrassed to admit the cake is from a mix because Daniel wanted a chocolate cake, and the homemade cake I made didn’t turn out right which sort of made me wonder whether my cooking skills have atrophied (see previous post).  I also made the icing.  Jimmy decorated the cake.  Ok, I did pipe the sloppy blue beads around the base.  You may have guessed that while I may enjoy baking cakes, decorating them is not a core competency of mine.

I came to this realization painfully.

Several years ago I took a cake decorating class.  I’m not sure why except I had the time and was bored I suppose.  This was pre-child, pre-grad school, post-newlywed time.  I think I may have signed up for the class because I had concluded I lacked creativity and was taking fun classes like paper making and fiction writing in order to awaken any creativity that might be slumbering.  Learning how to decorate cakes seemed like it would be fun, and I think I was also curious about how those techniques were done.   I bought the Wilton tackle box chock full o’ decorating goodies and prepared to be initiated into the mysteries of torting, levelling, piping and spreading.

In retrospect, taking the class was a stupid idea.  I am very uncoordinated, so any technique involving dexterity was doomed.  I’m also a perfectionist, so anything I could not do well nagged me.  I hit the first roadblock right away: spreading the icing on the cake, the base layer for the delightful decorations to come. I carefully followed the recipe for “Faux-tercream” (we used shortening instead of butter for our practice buttercream).  I plopped a large spoonful of icing on top, picked up my spatula and prepared to achieve the desired smooth canvas.  But I never could.  I spread and smoothed and smoothed and spread but no matter what I did, I couldn’t achieve the smooth look or crumbs contaminated the icing.  Frustrated, I searched sites for techniques and other icing recipes.  I tried using a crumb coat.  I refrigerated the cake.  Nothing worked.  I could get the icing sort of smooth, but it still looked sloppy. After watching my attempts, Jimmy offered suggestions and annoyed, I suggested he give it a try.  He did, and I’ll be damned if his didn’t look better.

Though I hated bringing such a sloppy product to class, I soldiered on, determined to master the borders and other decorations.  The borders were a bit easier to grasp, but again my lack of coordination came back to haunt me.  I could make a few consistent-sized dots or scallops before my hand squeezed the bag too hard or not hard enough, my border taking on a ragged look.  Some border elements would be flush against the cake while others had noticeable gaps.  The next obstacle were icing roses.  Roses are my favorite flower, and I was excited to learn how to make them.  I made very few attractive roses.  While my classmates made crisp, gorgeous buds, mine were flaccid and poorly defined.

I hung in there for the entire 8 weeks even though my poor cakes were the least attractive in the class.  I usually took the finished product to work, and they enjoyed the fruit of my labors no matter how poorly decorated.  I was very frustrated, though.  I didn’t expect to become an expert cake designer, but it bothered me that I couldn’t bend the icing to my will.  I also discovered that cake decorating was not helping me nurture my creativity: the blank canvas of an iced cake was just as daunting as everything else I had attempted.  By the last class, I was tense.

For our last project, we were going to make a two-level cake using dowels.  I brought a 6-inch layer, a 9-inch layer and the dowels as instructed. Unfortunately, our teacher had forgotten to tell us to cut our dowels to the appropriate height ahead of time.  The only tool she had for cutting was a dull cake knife slightly shorter than a saber with which we had to hack at the dowels.  And we needed 4 dowels.  We took turns with the knife and while we waited, we decorated our cakes.  The teacher clucked disapprovingly at my smoothing job.  My roses were wilted. My colors were garish.  It was a hideous cake.

I took my turn with the knife and started hacking.  Perhaps I was taking out some of my frustration on the dowels; perhaps it was the pesky lack of coordination.  Hack. Hack. Hack.  Suddenly, my thumb was bleeding all over my dowels and the table.  I grabbed a paper towel to put around my thumb, but it just was too much and I ran to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall and sobbed.  I sobbed for the icing that would never smooth properly.  The roses that refused to bloom.  The borders that were never even and flush. And I sobbed because I was the moron who thought taking a cake decorating class was an awesome idea.  Did I mention that the class was taught at night at a high school?  I also sobbed because I was humiliated that a cake decorating class had reduced me to sobbing in a stall with lilliputian-sized doors in the girls’ bathroom.

I finally got it together and returned to the classroom.  I finished my cake, managing to avoid adding any blood to the already grotesque monstrosity, and left.

And that experience is why I don’t decorate cakes. Jimmy and I have mutually agreed that we cakes need to be iced, he does it.  It’s galling, but I’ve grudgingly accepted it.

Oh well.  You can’t be good at everything, right?

What is one thing you wish you could do that you have never been able to master?

Cooking with Toddlers: Crepes

I had never eaten a crepe before I met Jimmy…I think.  Considering that I went to France after I graduated from high school, that seems improbable, but since I vividly remember eating my first escargot but have no memory of eating a crepe, it must be true.  Thanks to their heritage, his family celebrates Candlemas Day in the traditional French way by eating crepes.  Three and then four generations of family would gather in the kitchen at his mother’s or grandmother’s house, watching deft hands expertly flip the thin, golden pancakes.  Eventually, the “kids” (me, Jimmy, his brother, and his sister-in-law) would take a turn at flipping the crepe high into the air and catching it in the pan.  The first time I flipped a crepe, I was scared to death because I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the family, but I succeeded.  I also remember my sister-in-law snarkily correcting a grammar mistake I made at one of these events before she decided to pretend to like me (Think I can hold a mean grudge? That incident was 15 years ago!).

Once the crepes were ready, we descended on them like vultures, topping them with Nutella, powdered sugar, jam or nothing at all, rolling them up and gorging on them.   One crepe was carefully placed on the highest surface in the kitchen to stay there until next Candlemas Day for good luck.

Over the years as the “kids” moved away, we didn’t get together to celebrate Candlemas Day as often.  In 2001, Jimmy’s grandmother sent us the recipe for crepes, and I started making them a few times a year.  Because of Mum’s death this year, I thought crepes would be a meaningful, appropriate recipe for me and Daniel to make as we continue our culinary explorations.

Since liquor is used in the recipe, these crepes are dessert crepes.  If you want savory crepes, omit the liquor and prepare as indicated.  This recipe makes a lot of crepes, and they are easily stored in the freezer or refrigerator.   As usual, Daniel loved helping make the batter (he really loved the flour!); he would not eat one even when tempted with Nutella filling.  That was ok with Jimmy since he was able to eat them all 🙂

Oh! Look at the flour! It goes everywhere if I blow on it!

 

Stirring the batter

 

Taking his job very seriously!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbsp melted butter
  • 3 Tbsp rum or grand marnier (I always use grand marnier because I like the citrus flavor)

Directions

  • Place ingredients in blender or bowl in the order in which they are listed
  • Blend for 2-3 minutes
  • Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight
  • Oil an omelet pan or small saute pan and heat on medium-high
  • Place no more than 1/4 cup of batter in the pan and swirl it around so it spreads out
  • Once the edges begin to crisp and the batter is setting, gently flip it over.  It should be a light golden color
  • Place the finished crepe on a plate, pour in more batter and continue

 

Almost ready to flip

 

Since the hallmark of a crepe is its thinness, don’t be afraid to mess up when cooking them.  Even though I’ve made them for years, I still ruin the first 2 or 3 crepes (at least) before I get in the groove.  Experiment and figure out what works best for you.  This recipe is very versatile, and crepes make a great base for many other recipes.

 

Done! Ready to cool and eat!

 

Cooking with Toddlers: Yogurt Cake

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that one of my lingering takeaways from Bringing Up Bebe had been how French families bake with their children from a very early age and how capable even the youngest toddlers were of preparing a batter.  It’s not so much the baking that struck me per se but the idea that my son, not quite three, might be capable of more than I often give him credit for.  I think that I too often fall into the mode of thinking that my son is too young to be able to do XYZ and therefore delay pursuing it.

As a result of reading the book, I decided to start baking with my son as often as possible in order to attempt to instill patience, an understanding of cooking and an appreciation for food.  I really like to cook.  The first career I ever wanted was to be a singer (??? Ok, I was 5 years old), but my second career (at the advanced age of 8) was to be an artist (never mind the fact I have no artistic ability) AND a chef.  I’m not at all the caliber of a restaurant chef, but I’ve always enjoyed cooking and watched my mother cook amazing homemade meals. Since Jimmy and I have started making many of our meals and sauces from scratch, I’m really excited that I might be able to pass along an appreciation of cooking and food to Daniel at such an early age.

The first recipe we made was yogurt cake, inspired from Bringing Up Bebe.  I didn’t use the recipe that Druckerman included but thanks to the awesome power of Google, I used Chocolate & Zucchini’s recipe with a few minor variations.  Due to limitations such as Jimmy buying a ginormous container of yogurt, we couldn’t use the yogurt container as the measuring cup.  Details, schmetails!

Yummy, yummy, yummy in my tummy

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt and was a bit liberal with it)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp rum
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Line bottom of round pan with parchment paper and grease sides (I confess I did not do a good job with this part, so my cake looked a little misshapen)
  • Combine yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, oil, rum, and lemon extract
  • Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in another bowl
  • Combine dry and wet ingredients until just combined
  • Pour batter into prepared pan
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes (we found 32-33 to be perfect)

Verdict

I loved making this recipe with Daniel.  He was able to participate throughout the entire process and had a good time.  The cake was amazing.  It was lighter than a pound cake but denser than the basic yellow cake, and I think the addition of lemon extract really helped.

Horrific picture of me; adorable sous chef

Mixing the batter

The cake cooked quickly. That first night, Daniel had a small bit and then refused to eat any more (grumble).  I had a few pieces over the next few days before declaring myself done.  I took the leftover cake to work, and my coworkers happily demolished it.

Parchment paper fail, but it got the job done.

Yogurt Cake and chocolate syrup FTW!

I would definitely make the cake again.  The yogurt cuts the sweetness but adds a depth to the cake that is rather unusual and very nice.  In my Googling, I saw several variations on the recipe that included more exotic ingredients such as fruit and nutella, so it looks like it is a very versatile recipe.

Enjoy!

Low-Carb Jambalaya

Jambalaya

Spinach, tomatoes, broth and veggies make a great winter soup

Even when temperatures have been closer to spring than winter recently, Jimmy and I have craved homey, substantive meals.  I think these meals fortify the soul as much as the stomach, which we have needed.  Jambalaya is a perfect example of this type of meal and as a bonus, it can scale easily to make a meal for several days.

I’m always trying to reduce the carbs in my diet, so this dish is more like a soup, but you could add rice easily for a more authentic jambalaya dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 package boneless chicken breasts, baked in the oven (350 degrees for 1 hour; this a great make-ahead tip. I usually cook the chicken the night before and use it the next day)
  • 1 pound Italian sausage (we like hot)
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 squash, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 can Italian-diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • Tobasco sauce
  • 1 tsp basil or thyme
  • 1 tsp garlic powder

Directions

  • Melt 2 Tbs butter in pan.  Add pepper and onions.  Saute over medium heat until soft (around 5 minutes). Set aside
  • Break sausage into chunks and cook over medium-high heat until done
  • In a stew pot combine peppers, onion, broth, tomatoes, 3-4 dashes tobasco, garlic powder, basil and thyme (if you have a pot large enough,  you could saute the veggies in it and then add the rest of the ingredients instead of dirtying another pan)
  • Bring soup to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 25-30 minutes
  • Add chicken and sausage
  • Before serving, add baby spinach and stir until it begins to wilt

As with all my favorite recipes, this recipe is very versatile.  If you don’t want to add spinach, you don’t have to, but I find that it adds an extra layer of substance and flavor to the dish.  I’ve thought about adding a second can of diced tomatoes too and may do that the next time we make the recipe.  If you like spicier foods, feel free to add more tobasco.  You could also add any vegetable you like.  I’m a big fan of zucchini and squash, so those are the ones I chose.  It just occurred to me that this dish is very similar to one of my favorite summer side dishes: ratatouille.   It’s a great dish to allow you to have some veggies when all you want to do is ingest carbs!

Enjoy!

Do you have a go-to meal when you need something hearty?

Awesome Coconut Shrimp

 

Yummy shrimp

Note:  This recipe was originally adapted from Southern Living.

Every year I make coconut shrimp for the Christmas celebration with J’s family.  We always have heavy appetizers before we open gifts (it’s really to help us hold the gin gimlets I suspect), and the coconut shrimp have become my addition.  They are so anticipated that I have family members taking the plate from me at the door before they greet me.

This Christmas we moved our gathering from 1pm to 11 am, so that meant I was opening beer (for the shrimp!) and preparing them at 8am.  I also may have almost set my kitchen on fire due to an exploding spoon, but everything was fine.

J and I had coconut shrimp at our reception and it was after our wedding that I started making them, so it is fitting I share this recipe with you in our 10th anniversary year.  It’s a very easy recipe and a show-stopper.  Best of all, I very seldom have leftovers to take home!

Ingredients

  • 1 package tail-on, raw shrimp (you can use fresh shrimp but you must leave the tail on.  Under no circumstances should you use the pre-cooked shrimp because they will make the final result tough. If you use frozen shrimp, which I do, thaw them -duh!)
  • 1 cup beer (I like Yuengling but any beer other than Guinness will work)
  • 1 cup Bisquick
  • 1 cup flour
  • Salt, pepper and red pepper
  • 1 package coconut (I get the biggest to ensure I have enough coconut)
  • Vegetable oil

Directions

  • Thaw shrimp if frozen.  I rinse them in cold water until they are pliable and then dry them in a paper towel
  • Put flour, salt, pepper and red pepper into one bowl
  • Add Bisquick and beer in another bowl and stir until combined
  • Put coconut in another bowl
  • Dredge shrimp in flour
  • Dredge shrimp in beer batter
  • Place shrimp in coconut and cover it, patting the coconut to adhere if necessary
  • Repeat process until all the shrimp are battered
  • Heat oil in a deep skillet or pot (I use a 4 qt pot)
  • Place 4-5 shrimp in oil at a time.  Flip them if necessary but they should become golden in about 2 minutes.
  • Remove shrimp to plate to drain.

 

Shrimp battered and ready for the oil

 

Sauce

I make a citrus-mustard sauce for the shrimp:

  • Orange marmalade
  • Chili sauce
  • Dijon mustard

Feel free to play with the proportions.  I find that about a 1/2 cup of marmalade and a 1/2 cup of mustard with about 1/4 cup of chili sauce works well, but it truly depends on how sweet, citrusy or hot you want the sauce.