Monday, August 23, 2010

Tears, Fears, Dreams, and Cream

My life has been full of these things lately! I have always, always been a crier. But I promise, I have been crying more lately than I ever have before! I mean happy, sad, sweet, anything and everything can bring me to tears. I cried at two OnStar radio commercials. RADIO! It didn't even have a visual. I cried on a McDonald's tv commercial. I cried when my coworkers jokingly hurt my feelings. I cried on several Food Network shows, and the Food Network was the only channel that didn't make me cry. I cried about a Camp Rock 2 song. Even though I've seen Gilmore Girls in it's entirety, every episode of every season, at least twice, and this particular episode even more, I cried. Cinnamon, the cat, died and I cried. I don't even like cats! And I knew the cat died! I've seen the cat die like 12 times. My car air conditioner broke in my car (and will cost a fortune to fix) and I cried. I had to ask my daddy for help and I cried. I chop onions and I cry. I chop my fingers while chopping onions and I cry (okay not really, I just scream and jump around). I cry! I have discovered this weekend that I think I have been more emotional since starting birth control for the Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome. Which, duh, makes sense. It has hormones. I am guessing this is normal. Maybe this is how I was supposed to be? All I know is I should be loosing weight with all the fluid that is leaving my body through my eyes. I even cried when I baby sat Macy and rocked her to sleep. As she finally fell asleep, I had an emotional break down and cried for 30 minutes! I've rocked lots of babies to sleep and never cried!

Now the Macy tears, actually stem from my greatest fear. Fears are funny things. Sometimes they drive us to action. Sometimes they cause us to be paralyzed from action. There are some culinary things I've always been afraid of. These fears are driving me to action. How silly to be afraid to make something because it seems fancy or like only grandmothers can do it. I've conquered my fear of whipped cream, homemade biscuits, and gumbo (recipe coming soon). I, in my silly quirkiness, am afraid of many things. I don't like bugs, dark, animals, snakes, spiders, scary movies, and I'm okay with not conquering these fears. Other fears are not so easy to overcome. I'm afraid of boys. That one, not so easy to conquer. But my greatest fear can't really be conquered. I just have to find peace to stifle the fear, which is almost as hard as finding courage to conquer conquerable fears. My greatest fear is that I'll never get to be a wife and mother, the two things I want more than anything else in the world. The good thing about fears is when they get to you enough, it drives you to dependence on and hope in God, which is really what you should have had all along. Because this fear is so big for me, I rarely let myself even pray about it. I don't want to be disappointed, so I don't even ask God for it or talk to Him about it. Well, as I held that precious baby that I adore and had another one of my many emotional break downs, I finally did. I was just honest and told God I was scared and wanted this more than anything. It felt nice.

When God brings peace to fears, dreams are fed. The next day, after my emotional break down and honesty with God, something really cool happened that I have to believe was God's way of telling me not to be scared! I was assigned yet another new client, which I was totally not excited about. The client has pretty severe dementia and slept the whole time, but his daughter and son-in-law were great. They are believers and were excited I was one as well. They happened to live in a neighborhood that I used to live in, in Slidell. I never mentioned my marital status, but I guess when I mentioned living there with a bad roommate they picked up on it. As I was leaving, my client's son-in-law asked if I minded if they started praying that God would send me a Godly husband. Of course I said not at all, pray all you want, PLEASE! He asked if they could pray for me before I left. They held my hands and prayed over me that God would send me a Godly husband. Strangers! I felt peace. I knew it had to be God telling me to not worry. So for now my dream to be a wife and mother remains. And that is just one dream. Every time I cook and blog and receive encouragement from others affirming the things I love to do, my dreams just bubble and fluff inside me. Fluff just like the whipped cream I conquered and that you will see in some of the following recipes!

Stuffed Bell Peppers

This is a recipe I got from one of Amy Ogea's cookbooks two years ago. Due to aforementioned car troubles, I ended up at the Ogea home on Monday night. Andrew had band practice, so since I had already prepared the peppers and they were ready to cook, I brought them over over and cooked dinner for Amy, Macy, and me! Yes, even Macy had a few bites of our yummy peppers!

6 Bell Peppers of any color (I used 4 because I wanted to have leftover mixture for my omelet for later in the week. I wanted to do one of each color, but they only had red and green. So I did two red, two green. Pick out fat ones that have a bottom that will stand easily. Don't be afraid to try them out in the store. It is allowed!)
1 lb ground meat (Usually ground beef, I used ground turkey because it's healthier and tastes just as good.)
1 cup cooked rice
1/2 medium onion, chopped (I used red, could use any.)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
Seasoning (I use Season All, but you can use Tony's or any all purpose seasoning.)
Mozzarella (Calls for shredded but I used fresh.)

1. Cut a thin slice from steam end of bell peppers to remove top (think pumpkin carving). Remove seeds and membranes, rinse. Blanch peppers (stock pot, cover with water, bring to boil, let boil 5 minutes, remove from hot water).

2. Cook meat and onions in frying pan over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes until pink is gone. Season meat with your all purpose seasoning of choice, especially if you are using turkey. The key to disguising ground turkey as ground beef is season season season! It, by nature, is not as flavorful, but if you season it correctly you really can't tell the difference and it's healthier. Drain and mix with rice, garlic, salt, pepper, and 1 cup of the tomato sauce.

3. Heat oven to 350. Stuff peppers with mixture. Pour remaining tomato sauce over peppers. Cover tightly with tinfoil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and top with mozzarella. Bake for 15 more minutes until cheese is melted.

This recipe has several steps, but can be really easy if you do some prep work the night before. I use my handy rice cooker to cook rice the night before and went ahead and made my meat mixture and stuffed the peppers. I put them in my casserole dish and covered them with foil so the next day they were ready to go in the oven. Even if you do it all the day of, it's still not overwhelming. Sides can be simple because you have a starch and meat in the pepper. I peeled a cucumber. De-seeded half of it and left the other with seeds in. Chopped it up small. Mixed it with 1/4 of a chopped red onion. Finely chopped 5 good size basil leaves (lay them flat, roll them into a tight little log, and chop). Halved a handful of grape tomatoes. Added salt, pepper, a little Italian dressing. I didn't, but had I been serving more than just me and Amy, I would have served the meal with some french bread or focaccia bread to make the meal more complete.

Banana Pudding

So, when Amy and I hang out, we only watch two channels. The Disney Channel (to catch new episodes of Jonas of course and yes we are both adults) or the Food Network. Since no new episodes of Jonas were playing, the Food Network it was! People always say, "How do you watch the Food Network all the time and not get hungry?" There is only one show that makes me hungry! The Best Thing I Ever Ate is a horribly wonderful show! The way they talk about all their favorite things just makes me drool. This episode featured things with fruit. So I just had to make something! I had bananas starting to spot and then realized I had everything else to make banana pudding! I made mine in three containers. One to bring to the Ogea's, one to bring to work, and one little small one for me. Like I've stated in a previous blog, just because you bake (or make) doesn't mean you have to eat it all! Enjoy the stress relief and accomplishment of it, then give it away! There is just something about a task with an end, and a good end at that, that just makes you feel good about yourself. AND this one involves making your own whipped cream. Which sadly I must admit, this was my first time! I've always made banana pudding with cool whip. Doing my own whipped cream was always a scary task to me. But I've decided I'm taking on all of those cooking tasks I've though to be scary. It was sooo easy! Open, pour, whip, yum! I will never buy cool whip again (well I probably will, but I will never be afraid of whipped cream again).

1  pint whipping cream
1 (3 1/2 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding
1 1/2 cups water
1 (12 ounce) packages vanilla wafers
6 bananas, ripe and sliced in lemon juice (I used 5)
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk 

Whip cream until thick. In separate bowl, beat sweet condensed milk, water and pudding with a wire whisk. Chill 5 minutes. Fold in cream. Put 1 cup pudding mixture in bottom of a large glass bowl. Now a layer of cookies. Now a layer of sliced bananas. Repeat layers with cookies on top. Chill 24 hours.

Rolled Rice Omelet with Peaches and Cream

Okay, so I know "rice omelet" sounds weird. It did to me the first time too. But I really do love this. You might not, but I do! My brother and I cooked for ourselves a lot growing up. Eggs were always something we ate. One day in high school, our friend Joey introduced us to rice omelets. We had leftover rice, we browned ground beef, mixed it with the rice and ketchup. I used the left over turkey, rice, and tomato sauce mixture. I decided to try a rolled omelet verses the traditional. You can use any filling you like: ham and cheese, just cheese, spinach and mushrooms, etc. It's a cool way to make an omelet that can feed lots of people.

6 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup rice, meat mixture (or any filling you want!)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
(I also added 1 chopped green onion and a few chopped basil leaves.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Beat eggs and milk until fluffy. Add flour, salt and pepper and beat or whisk until smooth. (I added green onions and basil at this point as well.) Pour into a buttered or greased 9 x 13 baking dish or pan (I used spray and mine stuck a bit, I'd actually grease it next time with butter or shortening). Bake for 10 - 15 minutes or until eggs are just about set (Keep an eye on them at the 6 minute mark - depending on your oven, they could set that fast!). Sprinkle with whatever your filling is going to be. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake for about 5 minutes more or until cheese is melted. Starting at short side, roll up omelet while still in pan. Place seam side down on serving dish. Cut into slices.

This is a fun way to serve breakfast to a family. It fed me a dinner portion 3 times easily. With small portions it could feed 6 people with other sides. I chopped up two market peaches and whipped some cream to top the peaches. Breakfast for dinner is always yummy!

Chili Cheese Tomato Dogs

This was a quick and simple meal. I saw this, once again, on Best Thing I Ever Ate and it was something I wanted to try. It was the classics episode. One of them were talking about a chili cheese dog topped with a big slice of tomato. When planning meals, I decided I'd try it. It was okay because hotdogs are just okay anyway you make them for me. But the tomato was my favorite part! I used vine ripened tomatoes from the farmer's market. I used turkey hot dogs and turkey chili. I toasted my hot dog buns. Topped with a little cheddar, the chili, few chopped onions, mustard, and the tomato. Nice kid friendly meal made healthier. You really can't taste a difference in the turkey hotdogs and chili and once again, the healthier choice!

I hope you enjoy at least one yummy recipe. Maybe you get some meal ideas from my meal ideas. AND I hope you are inspired to conquer your cooking fears! But more importantly, I hope you are inspired to have hope, to dream, and to not be trapped by the fear of anything. God did not give us a spirit of fear.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sneak Peak

This weekend was my monthly pay day! Getting paid once a month... well it stinks! But it does help me budget. As I've mentioned, I plan out my meals for the month before pay day. I make my categorized, detailed grocery list with every ingredient I will need for every meal and staples for the month. On the Saturday after pay day, I MAKE groceries. Yes... make. The one oddly used Louisianian word that makes sense to me now. Grocery shopping for an entire month when you are OCD like I am is a job! Shopping makes it sound casual and fun. Making makes it sound like the work out it is!

My co-workers tell me all the time I'm gonna make some guy really happy. They say if a guy could see my typed printed out categorized grocery list chart (and typed fax cover sheets) that he'd be in love. I'm not so sure a guy would find that attractive. I'm thinking he might look at me like I'm crazy. I'm glad Tyler Duff likes it. We're doing well and very happy together. Though, he might be mad because I didn't plan any meals for him this month. It's okay Tyler Duff, autumn and winter are coming and those are your months!

So my making groceries day consists of a visit to Sam's first, then Wal-mart, then Rouse's. This month I added an additional stop, the Camellia City Farmer's Market! It was raining like crazy! But I was determined to go! All of the vendors weren't there because of the horrible weather, but I scored some red potatoes, tomatoes, peaches, and okra! I go to Sam's and catch the sales. Not everything at Sam's is in bulk! The monthly membership is so worth it if you don't have one. Produce is often cheaper there. I always get my chopped romaine there. 3lbs for 2 dollars! One little bag of lettuce is almost 4 dollars at Wal-mart. I get my organic milk there. I use organic because the shelf life is triple that of regular milk and it tastes just as good. Down fall is, it only come in 1/2 gallon and is 5 dollars a cartoon. I need three a month. Three at Sam's is less than 10 dollars, so I save! I get chicken there too if I am making a lot of meals with chicken that month. I just bring it home and divide them in ziplock bags for each meal.

Then based on what I found for cheaper on my list there, I head to Wal-mart and get most everything else. I get nothing that isn't on the list. This is why you save so much money when you plan! I don't buy anything that isn't a staple or a item for a meal I'm cooking. Each month I usually add to my list something extra to have something on hand in case a pot luck or party comes up that I'm asked to bring something to. Mainly for things like that I resort to baking though, I always have everything I need to be able to bake at least something. Keep all purpose and self rising flour, sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and some kind of chips on hand at all times. I never buy sweet snacks either. My deal with myself is if I crave sweet, I have to bake it. It detours mindless sweet snacking, because you aren't going to eat it unless you want to put forth the effort to make it. And then I bring it to work! So I get a small portion to satisfy my craving, and give the rest away.

As I am stacking the groceries in the buggy (or cart depending on where you are from), I am OCD about keeping like items together! I don't think I could let someone else help me grocery shop. I'd move everything they put in the buggy. Then when I check out, it's a whole other OCD workout. I strategically place the items on the check out grouped together how they should be bagged. And this time I brought my reusable bags, so I seriously am Crazy-OCD-Girl. There are a few things I get at Rouse's: cous cous, on sale meats, fresh herbs, and deli meat. So my groceries are officially "made" until September 15th and meals planned. I thought I'd give you a little sneak peak of what recipes you'll be getting this month. If you want to be invited over for a meal (and I like you), just ask!

1. Stuffed Ground Turkey and Rice Bell peppers with Tomato & Cucumber Salad
2. Rice Omelet and Fresh Fruit Salad
3. Pan Grilled Panini and Greek Salad
4. Chicken Gumbo with Rice and Biscuits
5. Twice Bake Potatoes and Salad
6. Chili Cheese Tomato Dogs and Baked Onion Rings
7. Spaghetti with Salad and Garlic Bread
8. Quesadillas with Black Bean and Corn Salad
9. Stuffed Turkeyburgers with Potato Salad
10.Turkey Breast with Roasted Chick Peas and Baked Sweet Potatoes
11. Kabobs with Roasted Pine Nut and Feta Cous Cous
12. Mexican Shepherd’s Pie
13. Lemon Poppyseed Chicken with Rice Cooker Apple Risotto
14. Hashbrown Casserole with Baked Apples
15. Sloppy Joes and Sweet Potato Fries

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Basics

I can't remember how old I was when I got my Easy Bake Oven, but I do know it was my favorite present when I was kid. I loved that thing! I didn't really dive into cooking and learning until I was in college, but I always had a basic grasp. Maybe you had similar jobs in the kitchen that I did: stirrer, ingredients fetcher, or egg cracker. Later, when I was old enough to use a knife safely, my job was always to make the salad. The things I remember making most are scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, Hamburger Helper, and cookies! Chocolate chip cookies, no bake peanut butter chocolate cookies, and Christmas cookies. Even though these things are some of the simplest things to make, I took for granted that knowing how to make them was a privilege!

When you go to college you have all these realizations that everyone didn't grow up like you. When I started college, I realized not everyone grew up in Crazyland like I did. No one's family is perfect by any means, but I realized some people actually grew up in Christian homes with parents that stayed married and homes that they weren't afraid to invite people to because of the Crazylandness. But, I also realized some funny things! I met people in college who didn't know how to wash clothes! I met people who didn't know how to cook anything at all. Did you know some people don't even know how to make sweet tea?!

Back then, in my not fully matured ways of thinking, I thought those kids were just spoiled and babied. In those days of thinking, I also thought nothing good came from my childhood. Now, I think those kids were blessed, and so was I. How great it must have been for those kids to always have clean clothes, tea already made, dinner cooked, to never have had to worry about anything that kids shouldn't have to worry about. How great was it that because of having to take care of myself often, I did know how to do laundry and could give pointers to those confused college kids that didn't? And the kids that grew up in Godly, christian homes, could show me what a family can look like.

The fact really is, no parent gets it perfect and most kids turn out okay! Not every latch key kid grew up in dysfunction, lots have the most loving parents ever. Every family has it's quirks. Some kids who have everything have unloving parents. The ultimate truth is, whether you grew up in dysfunction or not, "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, and who have been called according to his purpose." Your past is a part of you, but it doesn't plan, determine or define you, your present or your future. If you are a child of God and love him, He works it out! You encounter people that God uses to take care of whatever is missing. And despite how you grew up in your family of origin and what you learned to do and didn't, we all have different gifts. I liked cooking from an early age, BUT most of what I know now is from practice and learning. Whatever you know or have perfected, you know it because someone taught you! Even if you have natural ability, someone taught you to perfect it.

So I say all of that ramblingness to say, in case you didn't grow up with an experimenting spatula in your hand, today I'm sharing some basic "recipes" with you. Some simple classics that can be used all the time!

Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits
(from The Mixer Bible)

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces (I used salted and decreased salt to just 1 tsp)
1 cup buttermilk (I used 1 tbsp white vinegar and about a cup of milk. Put the vinegar in the cup and fill with milk to cup line. You can also use lemon juice. Buttermilk is best, but this is a good buttermilk substitute.)

Preheat over to 425. Spray your baking sheet or baking stone. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda. Use mixer on low (or hands) to mix in butter once piece at a time, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in buttermilk and whipping cream just until evenly moistened. Use an ice cream scoop or spoon to scoop dough onto prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Makes approximately 16 biscuits. Bake for 15 - 18 minutes or until golden brown on top. Let cool slightly and serve warm

Iced Coffee

I love love love coffee, BUT I can't make myself put hot liquid in my body in the summer. Before I learned how to make iced coffee, during the summer I drank diet pepsi for my morning caffeine. I love diet pepsi, but nothing wakes you up in the morning like coffee! A friend's dad from Boston told me how to make this. It's so simple!

Brew a pot of coffee on Sunday night. Let it cool, then pour in a container that seals that you'll probably only use for that, unless it's glass because plastic stains. He just poured the coffee left in the pot after his morning coffee in a container each day. But since I don't drink hot coffee in the summer, I just brew a whole pot on Sundays and use it all week. You can do whichever works for you. But whatever day you brewed it or started keeping the left over brewed, I'd only use it for 5-7 days. It looses it's freshness after that. So each morning, or whenever you want iced coffee, fill a cup with 1/2 to 3/4 ice. Pour 1/2 to 3/4 cold coffee. Fill to the top with milk, half and half, cream, creamer, whatever you like. I usually do a combo of milk and either flavored creamer or half and half. You can change the coffee/milk proportions to your taste, everyone likes their coffee different.You can add splenda or your sweetener of choice as well. Top with a straw (or not) and enjoy! Lots of people have asked for this recipe, so I share it with you. Never buy 5 dollar iced coffee again!

Sweet Tea

Everyone should know how to make sweet tea and some people don't! Whether you're a southern transplant or grew up on Red Diamond bought tea (which I'm not dissing, it's good!), you should know how to make sweet tea! Several people have asked me how I make my sweet tea, so here you go. Never buy pre-maid tea again!

You can use regular tea bags or decaf. I use decaf, because I try not to drink caffeine at night. You can use any brand, Luzianne is a favorite and Lipton, I use Great Value, but like them all. Use family size bags. You need a gallon pitcher unless you want to make less, then use a 2 quart. In a medium saucepan place three family size tea bags for a gallon pitcher or two for the 2 quart pitcher. Add water to 3/4 full. Put it on the stove over medium low heat. You want a low boil, not a full rolling boil. Heat it until it starts boiling. Let it boil for about 3 minutes then turn down to low/simmer. Let it steep for an additional 5-10 minutes on low. If you are in a rush you can skip the steeping step (that's fun to say), but it's best that way. For a gallon use 1 1/4 - 2 cups of sugar. For 2 quarts use 3/4 - 1 cup of sugar. Totally depends on your taste. I know people that use more than 2 cups but that is WAY to sweet for me. I use just a little under 2 cups for mine. Pour sugar in pitcher. Pour hot tea over sugar and stir. Fill pitcher with cold tap water and stir again. Serve over ice! The first glass is the best. Ahhh (the sound you will make after the first sip).

Never regret where you came from. It makes you who you are. Use who you are to help others. Whether it's sharing a skill, a hug, your ability to understand, or a recipe, share yourself with others. God gives us all different backgrounds and experiences so we can grow together, learn from each other, and all fit our crooked little puzzle piece perfectly in the body of Christ.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Semi Homemade

There is nothing exceptionally special about the two meals I bring you in this blog. However, I thoroughly enjoyed them both and perhaps they'll give you some more dinner ideas! There is no such thing as too many recipes or too many ideas. Variety is important to enjoy food and want to eat healthy food as opposed to fast food. Variety makes you anticipate cooking and gathering around the table (or your favorite chair if you live alone like me!).

It's no secret that I love the Food Network. It inspires me to make great things and try new recipes! But, one of the most practical shows on the best channel ever, whether she annoys you or not as she does some people, is Semi Homemade with Sandra Lee. Making fancy meals with finesse (which is the Food Network's favorite word) is super fun! I love love love doing it. Including extravagant meals every once in a while is great, but doing it all the time just isn't practical! Unless you have some kind of super power and no jobs or kids or other responsibilities, you just can't always make everything from scratch. Most of us do things the semi homemade way. AND there is nothing wrong with a box! Hamburger Helper really is one of my favorite things to eat. Don't start throwing stones! I grew up on the stuff. Once every three months or so, I love me some Hamburger Helper.

For Sunday cooking day the planned meal was a Tony Chachere box mix red beans and rice. It was really good! I added some chicken green onion jalapeno sausage to it. I made some Glory Foods Southern Style turnip greens to go with it. Which by the way are the best non homemade turnip greens ever! They really are good. And you just can't have red beans and rice and turnips without cornbread! I mixed up a batch of Jiffy cornbread muffins. Yes, I could have made all these things from scratch. But you don't have to do that every time. Quick fixes are great! Use them.

For Tuesday cooking day the planned meal was a really simple and pretty healthy meal, but really yum! I used one of the two packets in a poultry shake-n-bake (Wal-mart brand) box and mixed it with about 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, the shake on top your spaghetti and pizza kind, in the bag that came with the box. I wisked two eggs in a bowl. I dipped four turkey breast cutlets in the eggs and then gave each a good shake in the shake-n-bake/parmesan mixture. I quartered a medium sweet onion and put in in the sprayed baking dish with the turkey cutlets. I cooked them per package instructions. They were so moist and flavorful and just good!

I also sliced up 5ish potatoes in round chip-like pieces. I put them in a sprayed baking dish with a quartered red onion and sweet onion. I chopped three small garlic cloves, drizzled olive oil, sprinkled sea salt, cracked black pepper and a lot of Greek seasoning. I also sprinkled on probably about 4 tablespoons of shredded good parmesan (the rest of what I had left). I tossed and stirred the mix and baked them in the oven as well with the cutlets at 400. I put them in first, cooked them probably for 40 minutes.

I cooked steam in the bag whole green beans. The steam in the bag vegetables are so good! They have less sodium and taste so much more fresh. Both of these meals fed me four times and I didn't get tired of either of them. They will definitely find their way back on the rotation. Don't be ashamed of the box! Don't only rely on the box, but the box is our friend.

Take 3

I made over Sunday dinner yet again! Recap: I made a Sunday dinner of pot roast, veggies, and rice with gravy. I used left over rice as a spring board and inspiration for my diner party meal and made chicken fried rice as an entree. On Friday (cooking day number 3), I used the left over roast! One of my favorite things my mom made when I was growing up was beef taquitos with guacamole. Until recently, and I don't know why, I was scared to make the taquitos myself. I've made guacamole a lot, but never braved the taquitos until the last time I made pot roast. I was so incredibly tired of roast leftovers. Roasts are big! And I'm only one person. After the third or forth time, you start developing that never want to eat this again feeling. In order to not swear off roast forever, last time when I got to that point, I decided to just try it. They turned out great! Taquitos will always be a roast makeover meal for me now.

Beef Taquitos with Guacamole

Chunky Guacamole (Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens cookbook)

2 medium roma tomatoes, finely chopped
1/4 of a small red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil (I use 1 tablespoon of sour cream instead)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 ripe avocados , halved, seeded, peeled, and coarsely mashed (You know avocados are ripe because they just barely push in when you squeeze them)

Mix all ingredients except avocados in a bowl. Gently stir in mashed avocados. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for up to a hour. Chilling is a must! The flavors get all happy and married.

Taquitos (My guestimation made up recipe)

Approx. 2 cups of chopped and shredded roast beef
9-10 tortillas (I use flour)
1/4 of chopped onion (optional)

Take your left over roast and shred and chop it pretty small. If you like onion you can add it to your beef mixture. The onions don't get cooked really, they stay pretty crisp. I like it with onion, but if you don't like raw onion you can nix the onion. I don't add anything else because the left over pot roast is flavored so well. You can add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste if you like. Could even add some chopped bell pepper or lime juice. I like them simple because I love them with the guacamole. The flavors of the guacamole compliment it well.

I cover a small section of my island with plastic wrap and then start building the taquitos. I use a 1/4 measuring cup, but don't fill it completely, just a little under. Scoop a little less than a 1/4 of a cup of the meet onto the bottom of the tortilla and roll! These aren't supposed to be super thick. Do it to your preference and what you like, but traditionally they are supposed to be thin. Close each one with a tooth pick.

Heat your oil. I use a combination of vegetable and olive oil. I probably cover the pan 1/2 inch thick. It's not deep frying, a pretty shallow fry. I am totally not an expert fryer. I just guess on what to do. I keep my oil heated between medium and medium high heat. Don't over crowd you pan, they shouldn't touch. Fry them just a minute or so on each side. They should be golden brown. Toasty, but not dark. Put them on a napkin covered plate to let the excess oil drain.

Make the guacamole first so it can be chilling and developing its yummy flavor while you prepare and cook the taquitos. Serve taquitos with plenty of guacamole for dipping! I also made a corn salad that I didn't like. But you could serve with black beans, refried beans, corn, mexicorn, cucumber and tomato salad, corn salad, or anything else with a fresh and/or mexican feel. For a fun, simple, extra touch to any side or salad, slice up a tortilla in very thin strips and pieces. Fry them in the oil, let the excess drain off, pat them to remove even more oil. They add a fun extra crunch and really spark up the presentation. I used one flour tortilla and one sun dried tomato wrap.

I try to make a Mexican meal at least once a month, because I LOVE Mexican food. Tacos are everyone's default, but try this! It's just as easy and really good. It could also be an appetizer at for a party. Slice the taquitos and add individual toothpicks, but don't forget the guacamole! Taquitos and guacamole are married! They need each other. I leave you with a vital Mexican food tip! Have you ever made Mexican food and just felt like it was missing something? The something is always lime! Add lime to your rice, your chicken for your quesadillas, squeeze it on your tacos, squeeze it on top of your taquitos!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chopsticks and Cheesecake

You know how I love to make things over? Well, any time I have a meal with just plain white rice, I always plan to make extra and later that week make chicken fried rice. So, when I was planning my meals and knew I wanted roast with rice and gravy, I knew the following cooking night I'd make chicken fried rice. I learned to make fried rice from Tyler Florence and watching them do it at hibachi grills. It was a trial and error process that I think I've perfected pretty well. My friend Molly loves it, and I always invite her over when I make it now. So I invited Molly, and her boyfriend was in town, so then it was a dinner party! Hey... three can be a party. In the words of my dear friend Stacy, "If there is dip, it's a party." And there was!

So me, in all my perfectionistic, over-achieving wonder, just had to try my best to impress and out do myself. Had it just been me, or just me and Molly, chicken fried rice would have been plenty. But that would just not do for MY dinner party! I found it a challenging task to figure out what to serve with chicken fried rice as an entree. Meat and starch are covered in the entree. I didn't want to do stir fry veggies because fried rice is sort of stir fry, AND I just don't have that many skillets (now accepting hand me down skillets, or any kitchen tool, donations, hehe). Other chinese-y/asian-y things are fried (egg rolls, wontons, crab ragoon, etc), and I just hate frying. A. Frying is greasy and fatty. B. Grease pops and hurts! C. Your entire house ends up smelling fried. I will shallow fry on occasion and just air freshen my house like crazy and wear a full body protective suit (I exaggerate a tad). You can get egg rolls and such prepackaged and bake them, but it's just not as impressive when they ask how you made it to say, "Oh, I just bought it and heated it." FYI, I am not dissing prepackaged stuff at all! Works great, yummy stuff, easy, I use it often. I just wanted to impressify (my blog, I can make up words) my dinner party up. I haven't gotten to entertain in a while and I just had to!

I tossed around a few things, but the final menu was:

Entree: Chicken fried rice
Side: Roasted mini vegetable kabobs with fresh pineapple, zucchini, red onion, and red, green and orange bell pepper marinaded in pineapple and lime juice with chopped garlic, soy, salt and pepper
Sauce: Homemade sweet and sour
Appetizer/Side: Crab ragoon dip with baked parmesan wonton chips
Dessert: Mini cheesecakes alternately topped with mini semi sweet chocolate chips, mini white chocolate chips, and homemade caramel sauce
Utensils: CHOPSTICKS! I found chop sticks for cheap at the grocery store!

Everything came out so good! It was so fun to cook. I actually took the day off of work to cook all day! I have to use my vaca days before the end of September anyway and it was a fun use of time for me. And don't be intimidated, it wasn't an all day meal. I just wanted to spend a relaxing day cleaning, doing food prep, watching the Food Network, etc. Most of my recipes came from For those recipes, to save your eyes from miles and miles of my typing, I'll post links and note changes. If it's pink, it's a link (and it rhymes just on time)! *It's late and I've written a lot today. What can I say, I'm cheesy and can't pass up a rhyme.*

Chicken Fried Rice

Okay. This is going to be a very "little of this little of that" recipe. I tried to pay attention to how much of what I used, but really have no idea. It will have to be a to your taste trial and error project for you too :).

Make rice the day before! It makes the process much quicker. I use a rice cooker. Cheap tool that makes perfect and effortless rice. Use how ever much you want to make. I made ALOT this time to take to work the next day. I used about 9 cups of cooked rice and it made about 12 servings. You probably don't want that much unless you're feeding an army. I'd probably use 4ish cups of rice if you are making it for an entree for your family. Think 1ish cups of cooked rice per person. Just use your eyes. Consider your eyes your best measuring tool for this dish. 

This really can be whatever you want it to be! You can add anything you like. Doesn't have to be chicken fried rice, can just be fried rice, vegetable fried rice, shrimp, whatever! I always use chicken or just veggies. Use the amount of chicken (or ingredients) that you want. I usually think 1/2 to 3/4ths of a boneless chicken breast per person cut into little bite size pieces. I always use carrots. You want them to be finely chopped. You should know by now, I hate chopping carrots and chop them no other way than with my mini-food-chopper-processor-thingy. Again its to your taste. I usually do 1/4th whatever the amount of rice you have ratio. Always always use onions, chopped. I do about equal amount of onion and carrot. 2-3 gloves of garlic chopped. I start the onions, garlic, and carrots in a little olive oil in the biggest skillet (or wok, which I don't have) that you have. Salt and pepper them. Then add your chicken. I add Chicken Magic seasoning. Cook until chicken is done. It's perfect okay and yummy for the veggies to maintain some crunch.

While chicken is cooking, add a little vegetable oil in a separate pan and get it hot. Wisk 3-4 eggs in a bowl, pour in hot oil and scramble. Set to side. Add some butter, margarine, or oil to the chicken veggie pan (I do a little smart balance). Dump the rice in. Add soy. Again, use your eyes. You want it a light brown color, light! Don't add too much, people can add their own. Aim for the color of fried rice that you've had. Constantly stir, this is the "frying" the rice process. If it seems too dry, add more butter.

Taste and add salt, pepper, soy, whatever you think it needs. Add in scrambled eggs once you think it tastes good and stir. Turn off pan and pour in about a handful of frozen peas and stir. The heat of the rice cooks them just enough, you don't want them mushy. Stir in 2-3 chopped green onions, saving some of the tops. I top with sesame seeds and green onion and done!

Mini Veggie Kabobs

I found mini skewers at the grocery store. I soaked them. And added a piece of onion, fresh pineapple, either red, green, or orange bell pepper, and zucchini, all cut into 1/2-ish inch pieces. I just poured some pineapple juice, probably about 1 cup, the juice of one small lime, zest of half of the lime, little soy, few cloves of chopped garlic in a bowl. I poured the mixer over the kabobs in a baking dish and sprinkled with sea salt and cracked pepper. I marinaded them for a few hours. I roasted them at 375 until they were roasty, still crunchy but the edges getting soft and toasty.

Crab Ragoon Dip With Baked Parmesan Wonton Chips

This is so good! It was Molly and Shawn's favorite part. It's basically the inside of those yummy fried crab ragoon things you get at chinese restaurants, but healthier (because it's not fried). I made it exactly like the recipe in my Kitchenaid mixer. I tossed it all in and just kept mixing until the crab was pretty finely mixed in. Get the flaky crab and not the sticks. I saved out a few pinches of green onion tops to add on the top. I didn't put sweet and sour sauce on top, that was weird to me and it didn't need it at all. I separated it in mini individual bowls and heated those right before serving. I topped with green onion tops.

I sliced the wonton wrappers in half diagonally to make triangles instead of strips. Sprayed the pan, sprayed the chips, sprinkled on shredded parmesan and sea salt. You really only have to cook them for 5 minutes like it says. They really do make great chips! I think I like them better than homemade pita chips because they are so thin and crispy.
Sweet and Sour Sauce

Ignore the chicken part of the recipe and just skip to the sauce, though the chicken looks like a good recipe too, but fried and I hate frying! This sauce would be really good on chicken nuggets. Made it exactly as directed. I dipped my veggies in it. You could also put it on your rice.

Mini Cheesecakes

These are so good and perfect! I didn't use the fruit topping because I don't really like canned fruit toppings. I topped mine with either mini semi sweet chocolate chips, mini white chocolate chip, or homemade caramel sauce (which was super easy to make and soooo yummy!). Note that it says 1 16 oz package of cream cheese. I just saw the 1 package part and didn't have enough. Had to run to the store. I've never seen a 16 oz package, so 2 - 8 oz packages. I doubled it and took them to work. Foil liners work best I think and they mold best if you actually use your muffin tin. I did one batch in the muffin tin and one on a cookie sheet because I only had one muffin tin. They were all yummy, but the muffin tin ones were prettier and perfect. If you use the mini chips, I sprinkled them on right when the cakes came out. With fruit or caramel wait until they cool. Cooling for an hour before eating is vital! They really set and are super yummy!

Whew! That's a lot to digest (literally hehe). The entire meal is good for a dinner party, but the individual parts are great alone, with other meals, etc. If you make anything, make the cheesecake and crap ragoon dip! SO so good. Entertaining is so fun, IF you don't get stressed out. To prevent the day of party stress, make a cooking itinerary. I did it! Be specific with every detail: cut up veggies for rice, cut up veggies for kabobs, make tea, etc. Sit down with your recipes and plan it out before hand. It will all come out and be ready at the same time if you do this. Do prep work in advance. Veggies can always be cut the night before and many things can be made, mixed, cut, or prepped the day before. Make it fun! Add special simple touches like chopsticks. It will cause you be more excited about your meal. Be confident in your cooking and if you mess up, you are the only one that cares! So don't fret over it. Enjoy it! Feel good about your work, and then rest your feet!

Simply Simple

Tyler Duff made me my favorite meal that he makes me for Sunday dinner last Sunday (Sunday is a cooking day, in case you forgot!). Sunday dinner, I've come to realize, is different for everyone. My entire life growing up I thought everyone ate the same thing on Sundays! I didn't realize until high school that it wasn't a universal Sunday dinner. In my family every Sunday (with some rare exceptions) we had roast and rice and gravy. Some of the fixins (sides for you non-southern folk) varied, but always roast and rice and gravy. And what is Sunday dinner without rules?! Sunday lunch was at Mamaw's, but you only got to eat if you went to church. You better not show up if you didn't go to church and you better not sit in anyone else's chair! Oh, and Papaw's rules: You must eat your green beans and help with the dishes (well only the girls got the privilege of helping with the dishes).  Don't even think about eating one of Papaw's mini Snickers (always kept in a jar in the fridge) if you didn't eat your green beans and help with the dishes! Then the cousins would sit on the porch swing or climb on the hay bales while the grown ups watched football. And a nap was always included somewhere in there.

Sundays are different for me now, but I think fond memories of Sunday dinners may be why I choose for Sunday to be one of my cooking days. People change, life has its seasons, and we grow up whether we want to or not (even if we still wear pig tails, sleep with stuffed animals, and anticipate Camp Rock 2), but Sundays still involve family for me. They might not share my genes, but they are my family just the same. Every Sunday I get to see so many lovely faces of my church family. And some Sundays even involved Sunday lunch with them too! I wonder if the reason why Sunday naps feel better than all other naps is because they are mixed with a side of nostalgia and happy place? Hmm... Maybe. And maybe that's why roast and rice and gravy is such a comforting meal to me, that extra secret ingredient of nostalgia. Well Tyler Duff makes a killer roast! This isn't my Mamaw's recipe, but it's an incredibly easy and yummy one! I found it on my favorite site of course ( It has 1,215 reviews! I had to try it. I've since shared it with many people who all say this is the only way they make roast now. It doesn't get much simpler than roast, and this recipe is the simplest of simple!

To Die For Crock Pot Roast (link)

1 beef roast, any kind
1 package brown gravy mix
1 package Italian dressing mix
1 package ranch dressing mix
1/2 cup water 

Place beef roast in crock pot. Mix the dried mixes together in a bowl and sprinkle over the roast. Pour the water around the roast. Cook on low for 7-9 hours.

That's it! I always put veggies in too, which taste so good with the flavors. I've done a different combination of new potatoes halved, regular potatoes quartered, baby carrots, pearl onions, regular onions quartered. This time I wanted rice and gravy so did whole carrots, celery, and onions. All of it's good. It makes it's on gravy too! I use it as is, but you could take the gravy and add flour to thicken when it's finished if you want. Don't use a little bitty roast, or it may be too salty (according to reviews).

You're Sunday nostalgia may be different than mine, but we all have it. Whether your Sunday dinner was roast and rice and gravy like me, fried chicken, classic spaghetti, chicken and dumplings, red beans and rice, or whatever, you will still love this roast! You can have it on Monday or Thursday too, it will still be just as yummy! Add some simple nostalgia to your life this week. It just makes you feel good. Make your Sunday dinner, take a Sunday nap, or sit on a porch swing (for 5 minutes since it's so stinking hot right now!).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Keeping Up with the Joneses

As soon as I knew I was making my proxy family/mom's famous and loved Breakfast Casserole, I giggled knowing I was going to get to name a blog post that. If you know the Joneses, my Joneses, you'd definitely want to keep up. One of the best families I know. The family of my best friend Molly. They've taken me in as theirs many times. I had one of the best Christmases I have ever had with them. Ms. Susan and Mr. Jamie are both amazing cooks! Mr. Jamie makes the best salsa I've ever had. I could literally eat a gallon. Everything Ms. Susan makes is the best. And they have the best sweet tea! Their house is always cozy and inviting. Always amazingly decorated, smelling yummy, best sheets, best home. They are an amazing, Godly family that I am happy to be an honorary part of. They mean the world to me.

For years, Molly had this cookbook I was so jealous of! Ms. Susan made it for her. She wrote all of their family recipes in it. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to take it from Molly. Well, for Christmas two years ago Ms. Susan made me one! It is the best Christmas present anyone could have give me! I cherish it! And today, I made Ms. Susan's Breakfast Casserole! I brought it to our SHE Women's ministry team breakfast meeting. Everyone loved it, as always. No one has ever had Ms. Susan's Breakfast Casserole and not loved it. It's so simple, but the flavors are just perfection together. It literally melts in your mouth.

Susan Jones' Breakfast Casserole

2 packages of canned crescent rolls (Can used reduced fat ones)
1 package ground country style sausage (Could use turkey sausage, though I haven't tried that yet)
1 package cream cheese (Can use 1/3 less fat or fat free, though for flavor I'd recommend at least 1/3 less fat)

Brown sausage. Mix sausage with cream cheese. Preheat oven to crescent roll package temperature. I spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with a little cooking spray just to prevent sticking, very light because crescent rolls have their own oil. Unroll one package (do not separate) and press to bottom of dish. Just kind of mash any gaps or creases together with your fingertips. Spread sausage mixture on top of that. Top with other package of not separated rolls. Tuck edges in and mash gaps and creases. Bake per crescent roll package instructions, or until golden brown. Serve warm!

Everyone who eats this yummy dish you make will know that you are... keeping up with the Joneses.