Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Google 'The Soup Pickle Girl'. You won't be sorry.

I think soup kind of gets a bad rap. Lots of people don't seem to see it as a meal unless it's accompanied by half a sandwich, a salad, and/or breadsticks. And then there are people who only think it can be satisfying if it's made from potatoes or cream. Not me. When I make soup, I tend to stick with broth-based varieties. They're generally pretty low cal, filling, and warm you up all cozy-like without weighing you down.

Plus, soup's easy clean up. Important when you still feel like crap and your handsome dishwasher is out of town, having fun without you.

So because my sad excuse for chicken soup the other night got me in a soup-makin' mood, tonight is installment two of Sick Kid Soup. Joel McHale would be so proud. Fun Wiki soup fact: The word restaurant first originated in France in the 16th century to describe a concentrated, cheap soup designed as an 'antidote' for exhaustion (a 'restoring' soup, if you will). These soups were sold by street vendors, until some guy finally opened up a shop specializing in these soups. Ta-Da, the "Restaurant" was born.

You never know when you'll need to impress someone while watching Jeopardy. You're welcome.

Anyway, I'm definitely not at full power yet, so I decided to go with a low-involvement, low-prep soup: French Onion. Seems daunting, but is really easy. Slice some onions, let them caramelize down, add some broth, and simmer the hell out of it. That's basically it. You can totally handle that.

French Onion Soup
4 large onions, halved then thinly sliced (Use a mix of sweet and red onions)
olive oil
1/4 cup sherry, white wine, or vermouth
8 cups beef broth
fresh thyme
1/4 tsp each salt, pepper, and sugar
croutons or bread slices
Sliced cheese (Emmentaler, swiss, something in that family)

Heat a bit of olive oil(about half a tbsp) in large stock pot over medium high. Add onion, saute a couple of minutes until they start getting soft. Reduce heat to medium, add salt, pepper and sugar, and mix well. Stir every few minutes for about 25 minutes. You may get some browning and sticking in the pan, that's fine. Just let it do its thing.

When they're a brown mess, add wine and try to break up all the brown bits stuck to the pan. Take the leaves off a couple of thyme branches (just slide your fingers down it in the wrong direction and they should come right off) until you have about 1/4 a tsp or so, and add it to the mix. Add broth, stir well. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Let cook about 2 hours or until you can't stand it anymore.

If you have french or sourdough bread, toast a slice or two and cut into small pieces. (I use half a small piece of my bread ripped into pieces). Ladle soup into an oven safe bowl, add bread or croutons on top, and cover with one slice of cheese per bowl. I only had smoked gouda, and it was great.

Broil in oven a couple of minutes until the cheese is melty and gooey. Serve immediately. Based from a Cooking Light recipe, so I'm using their nutrition info.
For 1.25 cup serving, about 290 cals, 10g fat, 3g fiber, 33g carbs, 17g protein

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tomorrow, I remove myself from the couch.

I'm trying to get better, I swear. I'm just an impatient patient. On Sunday, I hid under sunglasses and a ponytail and painfully made the trek to the store for juice. And collapsed back on the couch immediately upon return. Yesterday, after basically two and a half days couped up inside, I made myself go into the office for a change of AD sent me home 2 hours later. Apparently I'm not useful when I'm hacking up lungs while staring confusedly at my monitor.

And so today was another day on the couch. I'm out of new Netflix discs to watch, so I finally tried the Watch Instantly function online. They don't have a ton of options, but I saw Smart People (eh, the story never got deep enough to matter), Confessions of a Shopaholic (I think it made me dumber. I almost turned it off twice...I sadly had nothing better to do), and Jesus Camp (I told the hubby I was watching a horror film). Kept me entertained, at least.

But after that much sitting my back is killing me, so I sucked it up a bit ago and took the chance that yoga would help more than hurt. Half an hour has never passed more slowly in my life. It was like the never-ending triangle sequence. But on the bright side, I got to use my new yoga mat. (Yes, I need two. One for upstairs, one for downstairs.) I love it. The hubby informed me that the tree design was the most zen like option, so he thought it was the best choice. Hee. Adorable.

I know I should have stopped there and counted it as my strenuous work for the day, but I don't always listen to my better judgement. So I decided to make soup.

Soup in a can is gross. Seriously. I cannot stand it. The only kinds I like are Campbell's Cream of Mushroom or Tomato. The condensed kinds. Made with milk. Period. I bought a bunch of soup for us sick kids yesterday, and literally poured two of them down the sink. Homemade soup is way too easy to have to eat that crap. Even for someone who gets winded from standing right now.

Normally, I'd probably make Cabbage Chicken soup, but we have basically no food in the house, so I had to do a pantry version instead. It was super simple, which is great for my half-functioning taste buds. If you have any carrot and celery, chop a handful up and toss them in before you add the chicken. Less than 10 minutes, and so much better for you than anything in a can.
Sick-kid Soup
3 cups chicken broth
3 oz raw chicken breast, cut into pieces
handful rice sticks or other pasta (about 1/2 serving)
dash pepper
dash sriracha

Bring broth to a medium boil. Add chicken and pasta, let boil again, and reduce to simmer for about 8 minutes or until chicken and pasta are cooked through. Add pepper and a bit of sriracha, stir well. Eat. Feel better.
About 200 calories, 3g fat

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Plain chicken broth is boring.

Being sick is crap. I'm achy and uncomfortable, hot and cold, and increasingly annoyed that our one bathroom is up a set of the steepest stairs pretty much ever made. At least I'm a ton better today than yesterday, when the best part of my day was getting to eat soup in bed. I just feel terrible that the hubby seems to have caught it, too.

Good news? All either of us want to do is lounge, so we've each claimed a couch and seem to have settled in for the long haul. It's a big football day-fantasy playoffs-and we're stoked to see how much we(he) wins. But since I have the attention span of a hamster when it comes to football, I've also got a new book (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) to entertain me. You gotta love zombie slayers in petticoats.

Bad news? Being sick makes me want pho. And my place is closed on Sundays, even if I had any intention of changing out of slippers and walking the 30 feet to my car.

I actually finally tried to make it myself a couple days ago...and it wasn't a terrible first attempt, but it makes me crave the real thing even more. I'm not going to put the recipe, since I've got quite a bit of perfecting to do when it comes to the broth. I'm just kicking myself now that I didn't save any of the enormous amount I made.

I used chicken broth as the base rather than make my own stock, and I didn't have the right ratio of spices (which were anise, cloves, cinnamon, onion and ginger, which I was somehow totally out of), so it was a bit bizarre. But all our garnishes were impressive, so it was edible. So I'll keep trying. It gives me something to strive for, I guess...I won't lie, I was really hoping to nail it(pout).

But luckily for my ego, I also made some candied nuts to take to my parents' house, since I offered to do a fancy salad for Xmas dinner. And those, I nailed. (I think my dad's exact words were "If you ever just want to bring a vat of that stuff over...") And it was yummy. I think I make mine a bit differently than a lot of people, but the way I do it lets the nuts get toasty. Just make sure not to let it overcook and burn.

Candied Nuts
About 3 cups nuts (I like a combo of almonds and walnuts)
About 1.5 cups sugar
dash vanilla
dash allspice
good shake cinnamon
pinch salt
1/2 cup craisins

In medium saucepan, combine nuts and sugar over medium heat. Add vanilla, cinnamon, all spice, and salt. Stir constantly until sugar has melted and evenly coated the nuts (It takes a good 10-15 minutes, so have something good on tv to entertain yourself). Add craisins, and mix well. Turn off heat and immediately spread onto wax paper. Let cool, and break into small pieces. It keeps well in a big Ziploc.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I love LA. And nachos.

Lately the hubby has been on what the Parallel calls a 'kickassathon,' getting the internship he wanted, getting the grades he wanted, and winning a pair of Lakers tickets within the last month. He's pure awesome.

And lucky for me, he's legally bound to take me as his plus-one, which is how I found myself at Staples Center last night, rooting for my boys. Even though our seats were impressively far away, they were free, and we had a blast. Best date night in awhile. (It didn't hurt that we won, either).

But we bought Lakers fat-kid clothes for each other (warm up pants for me and a warm up jacket for him), wandered the arena, drank enormously overpriced beer, and, of course, gorged on stadium nachos.

Three words...Chicken Camacho Nachos. AKA, the granddaddy of stadium nachos. A little cheesy, but holy crap. I couldn't finish them. And I tried.
Mmm, mmmm, ridiculous.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Any excuse for risotto, really.

I admittedly didn't know much about Winter Solstice before today, other than it falls on December 21 and it's the shortest day of the year. But I don't like not knowing things, so I consulted my own personal holiday savior...Google.

Here are the Cliffnotes: Pretty much every ancient culture celebrated Midwinter with slaughters and music and feasting...with traditions like gift giving and other things which have actually evolved into many modern day Christmas traditions. Interesting. And now you know.

And since holidays are fun excuses for fancy meals, I went with it and created my own little Winter Solstice feast. Add a little music and I've got two outta three...and I don't slaughter, so that'll have to do.

It's not the easiest dish, but it goes much more smoothly if you do all the prep work ahead of time. Really, when it comes down to it, it's just fancy comfort food. Perfect for a winter feast, no?

Oh, and for you vegetarians out there...I know I label a lot of dishes as vegetarian even though I use chicken broth. I trust you know how to substitute veggie broth for chicken broth without me telling you, but I thought I would throw it out there anyway. Juuust in case.

Blue Cheese Fig stuffed Pork Chops
1 lb pkg Boneless pork chops
Fig spread/jelly (about 3 tbsp)
Crumbled blue cheese
salt and pepper
toothpicks (3 per chop)

This is an eyeball recipe...use as much or as little as looks right.

Heat oven to 450.
With a sharp knife, cut each chop down the side almost all the way through. Open the chop up(so it's butterflied), place between plastic wrap, and beat it with the flat side of a tenderizer (now that I have one!) til it's about a half inch thick or so. Spread a spoonful of jelly across the pork, sprinkle with some blue cheese (keeping it from getting too close to the edges), and fold the pork back together. Use toothpicks to "sew" up the open sides of each chop.

Sprinkle each piece with salt and pepper, and place in oven safe dish. Spray lightly with cooking spray. Bake about 12 minutes. Pull out, brush with a bit of jelly, and return to oven for another 5 minutes. Take out of oven and let sit for 10 minutes or so. Remove toothpicks, slice, and serve.
4 servings. About 250 cals, 8g fat, 1g fiber, 25g protein, 20g carbs

Winter Risotto
About 2/3 of a small head radicchio, thinly sliced
1 pkg cubed butternut or other winter squash (or a regular one, pre-cut is just a million times easier), cook according to directions
Half small brown onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
1 cup uncooked arborio rice
3 cups broth
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp fat free half and half
1/4 cup blue cheese
handful Parmesan cheese

Either mash or chop about a cup of the squash, set aside.
Spray dutch oven with cooking spray, heat over medium heat. Add radicchio and saute for about 3 minutes or until soft. Put in bowl, add large pinch pepper, mix.

Heat about 2 tsp olive oil in dutch oven over medium high, saute onion and garlic a couple minutes. Add rice, saute about a minute. Add wine, stir pretty much constantly until liquid is absorbed, then add 1/2 cup broth. Stir til absorbed, repeat 3 times (2 cups broth total). Stir in squash, then stir in 1/2 cup broth, let absorb (it'll take longer at this patient), then add the last 1/2 cup broth. When absorbed, stir in radicchio, half and half, and a large pinch each of salt and pepper. Turn off heat and stir in cheese.
Serves 4. About 275 cals, 8g fat, 3g fiber, 8g protein, 42g carbs

Friday, December 18, 2009

Maybe it's cause I don't call them Sammiches.

People tend to assume that when I gave up gluten, sandwiches would be the hardest thing to part with. For the husband, it would have been...he could eat a turkey sandwich every meal for the rest of his life quite contentedly. Not me...I miss vegetarian sandwiches on squaw, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, and once in a while, the old school sandwiches my mom used to make...chicken salad in particular.

Other than that...I'm eh. And I like to experiment and I like to eat with my hands so I should like sandwiches...Same goes with pizza. I can't explain it, so I won't even try.

Anyway, I got a craving for chicken salad the other night, and even though I originally intended to just serve it over lettuce for me, I decided to buck up and make a loaf of gluten free bread instead. (It's also good to freeze for breadcrumbs...there's no way I could eat another sandwich before it goes bad).

So here we go. Ate it with a side of cheddar rice cakes...which are deceptively addicting. Hubby ate his with sourdough and chicken barley soup. His was probably better, especially since my bread broke in half and I ended up with two tiny and hard to eat sandwiches...though...yum. Either way.

Chicken Salad Sandwiches
About 6 oz cooked chicken tenders, cut into small cubes
half a granny smith apple, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1/4 lg red onion, diced
salt and pepper (large pinch each)
small pinch of rosemary, crushed
About 2 tbsp light mayo
2 slices bread per person, your choice
Romaine lettuce

Combine chicken, apple, celery, onion and mayo in medium bowl. Mix well. Add more mayo if you like that sort of thing. Mix in salt and pepper and rosemary.

Smear some mayo on both slices bread, add a couple spoonfuls of chicken mix evenly across one slice, top with a piece of lettuce or two, top with other slice. In other words, make a sandwich.
Makes enough for about 4-5 sandwiches. Not including bread, About 122 cals, 3g fiber, 10g protein, 14g carbs.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I'll admit, I'm a little intimidated by homemade pasta sauce. For one, I can buy awesome sauce in a jar for like 3 bucks. Even though we typically still add fresh garlic and onion, it's seriously too easy. And for another, the hubby makes great homemade sauce, so I don't like to out-do him.

Except I totally do, I'm just afraid I won't.

Which is why I had to share my latest concoction, which I thought was a total success. Maybe not as good as the husband's...or Giada's...but this is my blog, damnit.

I didn't take a pic cause y'all know what marinara looks like. But in case you need one...thanks, Veer.

Homemade Mushroom Marinara
Olive Oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
half an onion, chopped finely
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
About 2 tbsp tomato paste
dried basil
dried oregano
red pepper flakes
Salt and Pepper
1 pkg. sliced mushrooms
About a tsp balsamic vinegar (or a tbsp sugar, either work)

Saute garlic and onion in a splash of oil, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, sauce and paste until mixed well. Add about a tsp each of basil and oregano, and about a 1/2 tsp each red pepper and salt, and about 1/4tsp pepper.

Bring to a simmer, add mushrooms and balsamic. Cover and let simmer on low as long as you want to, really, up to about an hour. I do about 30 minutes. I'm not blessed with patience...
In the whole pot, about 450 cals, 9g fat, 18g fiber, 17g protein, 78g carbs. Split it up as you wish.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


About a week ago, my sister called asking if I would come to her holiday/house-warming 1960's/Mad Men-themed party...she lives in LA, which is a good hour and a half to two hour drive, so I was hesitant to commit-especially since the hubby couldn't make it and I'd have to go alone. Until she told me her roommate was going to have to prepare for the whole party alone (my sis works Saturdays at her salon) and was freaking out a bit.

We know I like to entertain. And we know I like to save the day. So I agreed to not only come to the party, but to come spend the day with roomie (the opera singer, who is delightful, btw) cooking and cleaning and generally making things happen.

But after the grape leaves debacle on Friday, my confidence was just a bit off, and once my sis gave me the menu rundown, I realized I had signed up for my very own episode of Dinner Impossible.

So, hungover from the work party the night before, I made the painful drive-in the rain, no less-to Brentwood. (Which became far more painful when my flip-flop slipped on the wet tile outside their apartment while carrying my overnight bag, purse, and two huge bags of ice. Always graceful.) But roomie knows how to make things better, so I was greeted with a mimosa at the door.

And then we did work.

Roomie and their friend (I'll call her the cancer researcher...I love these UCLA peeps) had already been busy bees-she's a list person, too, so there was a ton already crossed off...the eggs were boiled and peeled, the jello shots were setting, the macaroni salad was done, and mini cucumber sandwiches-crusts cut off, natch-were in the fridge. (The 60's had the most ridiculous food.)

So by the time my sis got home, we had finished the deviled eggs, started the meatballs, made the mini-pigs in a blanket (using flavored sausages, brilliant roomie that she is), cleaned the kitchen, polished off 2 bottles of champagne, rolled the goat cheese balls, rearranged the fridge, started the ham rolls, chilled the beer, and set up the bar area. And had the mini quiches and spanakopitas ready for the oven. And THEN we got ready. (Full costume is my baby sis and me hamming it up, per usual.)

It was quite the spread when all was said and done. I especially loved my sister's gingerbread house (detail obsession obviously runs in the family). But the party was a success, the food was great, and we learned the important lesson that soda water really does get out everything. Which is helpful to know when people are drinking rum punch at 1am.

My only singular contribution was goat cheese balls, a new recipe the parallel excitedly sent me last week. Good stuff. I recommend either doing 4 big balls, or little tiny bite sized ones. Ours were a bit too big for the Triscuits. But totally interesting and a good conversation piece nonetheless.

Rolled Goat Cheese Balls

2 11oz logs goat cheese
big handful Wasabi peas (should be in the dried fruit or asian aisles)
5 or so gingersnap cookies
Parmesan cheese (about a 1/4 cup)
Fennel seeds (about a tbsp)
Anything else you want to roll them in. Go crazy. (I did a mix of parmesan, red chili flakes, garlic salt and green onion, but goat cheese will go with just about anything.)

Crush peas in a food processor or blender (a couple layers of ziplocs and a hammer also work, though it's not what I'd recommend). Spread on a plate. Crush cookies, spread on another plate. Mix cheese and seeds on a third plate. Use whatever you want on the fourth plate.

Roll the cheese into balls with your hands, and divide them into four piles. Roll each set of balls in a coating, and line them up pretty-like on a serving tray. Do this as last minute as you can so the coatings don't get warm and melty. We actually rolled the balls and stuck them in the fridge a couple hours in advance, and then just rolled them in the coatings at the last minute.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I have a problem saying no.

I inherited the inability to say no (thanks, mom), and tend to stretch myself far too when we decided to make our work holiday party a Mediterranean themed make-a-food-and-bring-a-wine ordeal, I was both stoked and stressed.

Everyone at work thinks I can cook. I talk a big game, people...and sometimes, I really do make magic. But not always. Unfortunately. And I'm fine when that happens at home. It just stresses me out when other people will be judging me. Which is probably some sort of cosmic karma for being a McJudgerson all the damn time.


The bossman tries to stick to a vegetarian diet, so I wanted to bring something he could eat. Figured Chickpea Stew would be good*...but as I never leave well enough alone, I also volunteered to bring stuffed grape leaves.

Stuffed grape leaves are kind of a pain in the ass. Chopping and mixing and rolling-even getting the leaves out of the jar can be annoying. But it's also actually pretty fun. And totally something to be done in advance. So Thursday night, I got to work. And I was so proud of how good they looked, even after using a jar full of the most bizarre sized leaves. The problem? They were dry, dry, dry. Ground turkey is already not the moistest meat out there, so you really do have to be careful to not overcook them. And I forgot the plate. Don't ask me why it works, but it does. And I knew better, which makes it that much more frustrating.

So this is one of those examples of do what I say and not what I do. I really should follow my own recipes.
*Speaking of, the stew turned out great. I used crushed tomatoes instead of diced, used 2 Serrano chilies instead of Jalapeno, and will be doing that from now on.

Stuffed Grape Leaves (Egyptian, not Greek)
1 jar grape leaves, rinsed (they'll be near the olives at the store)
1 pkg lean ground turkey
1 cup uncooked white or basmati rice
1 half onion, chopped finely
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 egg
Juice of one lemon, plus slices to garnish
3 cups chicken broth

Mix rice, turkey, onion, minced garlic, and spices(including salt and pepper). Use your hands...this is the fun part.

Take a grape leaf and spread it out on a cutting board. Place about a finger's width worth of rice mix across the leaf. Roll it up like a burrito, tucking in the sides first and then rolling lengthwise, keeping it fairly tight.

Repeat with remaining rice/leaves. Place in stock pot in a circular pattern. Tuck in the garlic slices randomly between rolls. Make more than one level if you need to.

When you're done, tuck the egg in the middle. I don't know why. Tradition? I'll ask Miss Lucy- she's the Egyptian responsible for me knowing it. Whatever it is, it's fun to make people eat it afterward (It tastes fine, I promise).

Cover with chicken broth and lemon juice. Place a heavy plate over rolls to keep them in place. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer about 30 minutes. Serve with lemon slices. Can serve warm or cold.
Makes about 2 dozen medium sized rolls. Roughly 50 cals per roll, 1g fat, 6g carbs, 6g protein.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I'm a fan of goals.

So my main kitchen goal, really, is that every meal will be a home run. If I had my way, everything that I served to the hubby would be met with excited eyes and a happy tummy...though I guess if that actually happened, it would be a lot less to strive for. And that's no fun.

So. Tonight I made a variation of my stuffed chicken. I thought it was fabulous, the hubby not so much...but I made his without the sun-dried tomato, so I'm honestly not all that surprised. That's what he gets for being fussy. (I'm so's the only thing he won't eat.)

The combo of ingredients came to me last night during a newly returned bout of's quite easily the best outcome from my staring at my ceiling at 4am. And if I have a thought about a food that far in's happening. Went well with wild rice and broccoli...pour a little of the prosciutto sauce on the broc.

I wish I had a dessert that went as well...I'm trying to avoid the ice cream, and the only other thing that sounded good was Frosted Mini Wheats (I like them-and all cereal, really-dry). but because "babe, it has wheat in the name," I was only allowed to have one. But he offered to pick me the perfect one, which I present to you now. It was marvelous. Enjoy it while I make friends with a handful of chocolate chex.

Only-good-with-tomatoes stuffed chicken
4 chicken breast steaks
olive oil
7 cloves garlic, minced (divided)
2 oz chopped prosciutto
small handful sun dried tomatoes(not in oil, get the ones in bags in the produce section)
1.5oz goat cheese
handful basil, sliced
salt and pepper
1/2 cup white wine

In small bowl, mix cheese, 4 cloves garlic, basil, and a pinch each salt and pepper.

Slice lengthwise about halfway through each chicken breast, and then if it's thick enough, slice horizontally into each side of the slit, making pockets. (If that makes sense). Stuff tomatoes into each side pocket, and then fill the main slit with the cheese mixture. (This is the weirdest description I've given yet, I think.)

Heat splash of olive oil on large skillet over medium high. Saute garlic and prosciutto about 2 minutes. Add chicken, slit side up, and brown about a minute. Add wine, shake pan a bit to spread throughout evenly. Bring to boil, cover, and turn to medium low. Cook about 12 minutes or until cooked through.
Serves four (aim for 6oz breasts). About 335 cals, 10g fat, 2g fiber, 14g carbs, 49g protein.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In case you don't know what to get me for Xmas...

I'm so in love with Joy Behar today. I'm not much of a 'The View' watcher (I just can't deal with Elisabeth Hasselbeck), but the woman has always amused me. And I just stumbled across my favorite thing of the day and had to share.

I guess she has her own show now, and while interviewing blogger and activist Andrew Sullivan, who has recently distanced himself from the Conservative movement, Joy gave him a gift basket as a bribe to officially join the Land of the Left. In it? Gluten-free goodies, Michael Moore's Sicko on DVD, a Dixie Chicks CD, and a Cheech and Chong DVD.

Priceless. I'm so amused right now. Best gift basket ever.

Cooking light to make me light.

Taking medication that makes you gain weight is crap. Seriously, it's horrible. Especially when you've worked all year at maintaining your previous weight loss. But since I'm now off said meds, and am trying to knock off these extra five pounds, I'm sticking with Cooking Light meals this week.

I bought a bag of pre-cubed sweet potatoes a couple days ago, so I knew pork would go well...but pork can be boring, so I turned to for inspiration.

Did my thing and added/substituted what I had, and was very happy with the result. Heads up, it makes a lot of chutney. And for the potatoes, I boiled them in water about 6 minutes, drained them, and mashed them with a 1/2 tbsp butter and about an 1/8 cup 1% milk, a big pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper. And they were really, really good.

Pork with Apricot Chutney
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp cider vinegar
pinch salt
1 lb boneless pork chops
Cooking spray
1 cup dried apricot, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup cider vinegar
small handful craisins or raisins
large pinch each nutmeg, all spice, cinnamon and a couple cloves (or 1.5 tsp pumpkin pie spice)
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 small apple, chopped

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine sugar, cumin, pepper, vinegar and salt in a shallow dish. Mix well. Add pork to dish, turning to coat. Cover and let it marinate in the fridge until ready to cook.

In saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water, apricot, craisins, nutmeg, cinnamon, all spice, cloves, and mustard. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover, and cook 20 minutes. Add apple and 1/2 cup water, simmer covered another 20 minutes. Uncover and let sit until ready to eat.

In the meantime, place marinated pork on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for about 20 minutes. Serve with a scoop of chutney. Serves 4. About 255 cals, 5g fat, 3g fiber, 30g carbs, 26g protein

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mr. Luva-luva

I finally got the itch tonight to recreate the Spicy Lover, the spicy-as-hell-with-a-touch-of-sweet cocktail I had in Vegas a few months ago. I knew it was tequila, lime, agave nectar, chili, cucumber, and cilantro...the amounts, I had no clue. So I guessed, and the results were worth sharing.

If you don't like spicy stuff, I'd guess it would still be good without the hot sauce...I'll totally try that next time. But for now, I'm gonna call it the Mr. Boombastic.

Mr. Boombastic
2 oz tequila(I use 1800 silver)
about a tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp hot water
about 2 tbsp cucumber (2 medium thick slices, chopped small)
2 dashes hot sauce (tabasco or tapatio work well)
Juice of one lime
4 ice cubes

Mix sugar and hot water in a shaker. Stir til disolved, add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Serve in a Martini glass.
(I don't give calorie info for drinks. It takes all the fun out of it.)

Casseroles may not be fancy, but they are wintery and delicious.

I'm seriously kicking ass at time management this weekend. We had plans with the new parents for a 7pm dinner last night, so my goal yesterday was to have the house done by 3 so I could start cooking. We got a bit of a late start at noon, but after a trip to Home Depot/Target (they're next to each other), we got the house clean and vacuumed, the bedroom, bathroom, and office organized, the tree up and decorated, the patio cleaned and lights strung up...and my chicken was in the oven at 3:05. Crackheads on a mission. Awesome.

And, sidenote, I think the decorations are working. Between the tree, the red and silver everywhere and my holiday-scented febreeze plug-in, I'm feeling a little less grinchy today. Plus a little elf left us new ornaments on our front door last night, which was a fantastic surprise. (Thanks again, K!)

Anyway, deciding what to make for dinner was surprisingly hard...when people come over, I like making 'fancy food,' especially when I know they're up for anything. But I also know the new dad is a big casserole after much deliberation, I decided it would be ok to make a casserole as long as there also were homemade appetizers- I went with jalapeno poppers. After learning my lesson last time, I used gloves while seeding them...unfortunately all we had were football gloves. (I sanitized them before and after, it's ok.) Super sexy. But they worked.

So here is one of my oldest go-to recipes; it's the only other casserole I like making, and a surefire hit with the dudes. After starting with chips and homemade salsa and the poppers, I served it with homemade Spanish rice and canned whole black beans heated with a pinch of salt, chili powder and cumin. It was a massive amount of food. And went down well with cranberry margaritas(for a festive touch) and beer. It's not the healthiest thing I make, but once in a while won't hurt.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole
2 large chicken breasts (boneless/skinless)
Olive Oil
Half a red onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can chopped green chilies (I use the larger can)
1 regular container light sour cream
salt and pepper
chicken broth
About a block of Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
10 corn tortillas, quartered (the Handmade Trader Joe's brand is by far my fave)

Bake the chicken at 375 for about 30 minutes. When done, let cool, and then shred the chicken into small pieces using two forks or your hands (or you can just cut into bite-sized pieces).

Heat a small amount of olive oil (a tsp or so) over medium. Add onion and garlic, saute about 2 minutes or until they start getting soft. Turn off heat, stir in can of chilies, sour cream, and a big pinch salt and a pinch of pepper. Add a small pour of chicken broth, stir, and add more broth until it's saucy while still fairly thick.

In a large baking dish, ladle in a spoonful or two of sauce and spread across bottom of pan. If it's hard to spread, add a bit more broth to the sauce. Just don't get it too watery, otherwise it'll fall apart when you serve it. Though it tastes just as good, so don't worry too much if you do.

Layer a third of the tortilla across the sauce, covering as much of the area as you can. Next, sprinkle a third of the chicken evenly across the tortillas, and cover with a big handful of the cheese. Spoon across about a third of the remaining sauce, spreading as evenly as you can. Repeat twice (tortilla, chicken, cheese, sauce, tortilla, chicken, cheese, sauce).

Cook at 400 for 40 minutes or until bubbly and a bit golden brown on top.
Eight servings. Per serving, 425 cals, 18g fat, 2g fiber, 28 protein, 36 carbs.

Spanish Rice
olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
big pinch salt
pinch pepper
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
1 can minced tomatoes with green chili, undrained

Heat splash of olive oil, add onion and garlic, saute about a minute. Add rice, saute another minute or so, add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to simmer. Cook about 15 minutes. Let sit til ready to serve.
4 servings. Per serving, about 220 cals, 4g fat, 2g fiber, 7g protein, 43g carbs.

Friday, December 4, 2009

And at 11:25 she rested.

I feel like a crackhead. You know, the kind that moves furniture at 2:30am in the apartment above you? I hate that guy. But things must be done, and I've been on a mission.

Since the hubby is out of town, I decided to take the opportunity to deep clean the house. (That's weird, right? I don't feel like that should be a normal reaction to a night home alone).

As part of my attempt to de-grinchify myself, I decided to decorate for winter, so I needed to start with a clean slate. And yes, winter. One step at a time. Maybe I'll even listen to Afroman's Christmas CD while we decorate the tree. Seriously, check it out. Good stuff. If you have a sense of humor, anyway.

Whew, the husband just got home and rescued me from WE's Platinum Babies. (I mean...really? You're killing me here. Like I can't watch this. This chick has an aromatherapist!) with the end of the Laker game (the rerun). Kobe...You're amazing. The hubby's right...he's got his "mad dog-lower jowl-scowl on". And that's when we win. XO, Kobes.

Annnyway, easily distracted. I gotta stop writing while the tv's on.

So no joke, I was housewife supreme tonight. After I got off work at 5, my goal was to do my errands and make it home by 6:30 so I'd have time to do yoga, eat, and clean. So I hit Trader Joes, Target, Cost Plus, and Vons, and walked in the door at 6:35. Check.

Yoga? Oops. Not so much.
Eat? I'm eating popcorn for dinner right now.
Clean? Ohh, lemme tell you. Tonight I:
Cleaned out the fridge, got out the lights and decorations, decorated the living room, dusted downstairs, completely cleaned the kitchen, including the floor and appliances, did 3 loads of laundry, changed the sheets, got 8 months of filing done, organized the Tupperware cabinet, cleaned out and reorganized the bathroom cabinet, made a pitcher of fresh iced tea, made fresh salsa, did/put away the dishes, found a place to hang my apron, and organized the fridge magnets. The small things count.

So here I am, shoveling popcorn in my mouth for dinner at 11:30pm. I somehow forgot to eat. Crackhead. Seriously.

Oh well, I'll be eating plenty tomorrow. I've got a Mexican feast planned. Stay tuned.

Yes, I hand-address envelopes. You should too.

How is it Friday already? Time flew this week for me. Good projects at work-the company Christmas cards and a kid's puzzle book, which is especially fun cause I get to be super cheese. I named one puzzle A-maze-ing! Amazing, indeed.

Anyway, because time flew, I didn't really think about the fact that my own holiday cards should probably go out sometime during the holidays (I think last year's ended up as 'Hope you're having a Happy New Year' card)...which stressed me out for the two minutes it took me to order the cards I made but never got around to actually ordering a week or so ago. And then I discovered that you can pick up your prints the SAME DAY from Target. Hel-lo.

I'll use any excuse to go to Target, I really will.

But that all meant dinner last night needed to be speedy, cause it was envelope addressing time. So I ran to the store to get some ground turkey for meat sauce, and noticed the mushrooms looked good...and so did the bell peppers (talking about it earlier apparently inspired me), and before I knew it, I had made a cacciatore of sorts. Not as speedily as I would have hoped, but it was really good. We decided it would make an awesome chunky pizza sauce. Mmmm. I'm gonna try it tonight while the hubby's at football ( never ends). And then I'm going to get around to actually addressing envelopes.

Turkey Cacciatore
1 pkg Italian-seasoned lean ground turkey
1 pkg mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 green onion, roughly chopped
1/4 to 1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jar pasta sauce (I like Newman's Own or 5 Brothers mushroom options)
red pepper flakes to taste (I do about a 1/2 tsp)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine

Heat a large soup pot, and add the turkey. As you brown it, break the meat into pieces and cook until none is pink anymore. Add mushrooms, onion, garlic and bell pepper, saute with meat about 2 minutes. Add sauce, red pepper, vinegar and wine, mix well. Return to simmer, cover, and cook at med-low for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Serve with pasta and garlic bread. (If you can. Though I usually let myself have an itty bitty slice on pasta nights. Eh.) If you like cheese, I thought our romano/asiago/parm blend was good.
Makes about 5 servings. Per serving(no cheese), about 270 cals, 10g fat, 5g fiber, 27g protein, 30g carbs

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Back to normal. As close as we get, anyway.

Time to get back to cooking.

After being cold for 3 days last week (I'm being dramatic, their house was always toasty), I wanted some summer food...did a little Cooking Light recipe searching and found Thai Cabbage Slaw. Perfect to use up the half head of cabbage in the fridge.

The store was out of red cabbage, and I'm not the biggest bell pepper fan (I like them raw alone or with spinach dip), but I had cucumber, so I substituted there. I also added sriracha instead of chili paste, and added seasoned grilled shrimp on top. But you can leave it off if you want to keep it veggie. I bet it'd be good with a spicy thai tofu soup.

Thai Slaw with Grilled Shrimp
Juice of a fresh lime
3 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp limeaid (optional)
1 tsp creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 a head of green cabbage, chopped
half a cucumber, halved, seeded, sliced
1 cup carrot, chopped
handful chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbsp chopped dry-roasted peanuts
handful chopped fresh mint

garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp limeaid (or 4 tsp water mixed in 3 tsp lime juice and a dash of brown sugar)
red chili flakes
salt and pepper
1/2 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (if you don't know what that means, ask the butcher for cleaned, peeled, raw shrimp. Trust me. You don't wanna learn how to do it tonight. It's gross and not fun.

In large bowl, mix together lime through garlic. Add cabbage, cucumber, carrot and cilantro, mix well. Cover and stick in the fridge for an hour. Toss with cilantro, peanuts and mint, serve into bowls.

Heat grill.
In a large ziploc, add together garlic clove through shrimp. Shake well (or use a bowl and mix well if you need to). Quickly skewer shrimp and grill a couple minutes per side or until cooked through. They cook pretty quickly, but metal skewers are always better because they don't burn. If you only have wooden, soak them for at least 10 minutes before you use them.

Serve over slaw.
For an extra large serving spoonful and 3oz shrimp, roughly 285 cals, 6g fat, 9g protein, 6g fiber, 20g carbs

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I'm the hyperbole queen.

I may have stumbled across today's best thing ever.

I never was taught how to diagram a sentence, but I know when something's wrong with it. Blogging doesn't count. This-and often at work when I'm writing copy-is where I can write conversationally. Incorrect, formally speaking? Usually. More entertaining? I hope so. I know better. I just choose to write how I think. But I still get tripped up on things, and that's where Google comes in. And that is how, following a lead to check my grammar on something, I found my new favorite blog.

Why? Cause it was made for me. Just read this paragraph I found:

"P.S. You may find it amusing to know that I, like David Ogilvy, have never learned the formal rules of grammar. I learned to write by reading obsessively at an early age, but when it came time to learn the “rules,” I tuned out. If you show me an incorrect sentence, I can fix it, but if I need to know the technical reason why it was wrong in the first place, I go ask my wife."

Me. Too. Just replace "wife" with "mom" or "google," add a couple years of formal writing classes in college, and that's me (sort-of?). I'm such an advertising nerd. Also a fan of sharing the left field thoughts that come out of my head. You're welcome.

Leftover Cranberries?

Take a hint from the pro*. Freeze them. And then drink them.

Cranberry Margaritas
Frozen cranberries, about a cup or more
About a cup orange juice
3-4 oz tequila
1-2 cups ice cubes
1/4c sugar, or to taste
dash vanilla
dash cinnamon

*I am not claiming to be a pro in the culinary sense. I am, however, an undisputed pro at drinking.

White or Dark?

I was the only one who wanted a turkey this year, so we compromised on prime rib and cornish game hens. Which, it turned out, everyone loved. I'm glad we made two. As for the prime rib, let's just say 6 pounds was a bit more than 4 people could eat, even over the course of 3 days.

Hens usually come frozen, so make sure and give yourself enough time to defrost before you cook them, either in the fridge for a day or two, or for a few hours in a sink full of cool water. Or both.

Prime Rib
Prime Rib, any size, with string still tied
Sage, about 3 tsp
Thyme, about 3 tsp
Salt and Pepper, about 1 tsp each
Garlic salt, about 1 tsp

Mix all the spices together and then rub all over meat. Let sit in fridge in roast pan, bone side down, until ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 400, then put meat in oven. Reduce heat to 350, and cook for about 15 minutes a pound for medium rare, which prime-rib really should be. Let rest about 10 minutes before cutting string and slicing. (Excellent job for husbands/men/meat-lovers)

Cornish Game Hens

Two defrosted Game Hens
Sage, about 2 tsp
Thyme, about 2 tsp
Salt and Pepper, about 1 tsp each

Cornbread stuffing, optional

Rinse the birds, make sure the cavities are empty (sometimes the...insides...are in a baggy. Throw away immediately. Or cook, if you're into things like hearts. Buh.) Dry a bit with paper towels. Mix the spices together, and rub over birds and insides. Stuff loosely with stuffing if you'd like.

Cook breast side up, loosely covered in foil, in a baking dish or roast pan for 45 minutes, then remove foil and cook an additional 30 minutes. The legs should feel loose when they're done. If you have a meat thermometer, make sure it's about 160. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before cutting.

Yes, I used gluten-free Cornbread mix

I found a recipe for apple chicken-sausage cornbread stuffing a few years back, and have no idea where. But it's easy to recreate. And super yum. I get a lot of requests for this one.

Cornbread Stuffing
A pan cornbread, fresh or store bought, left out overnight to harden up.
1 package chicken apple sausages, pre-cooked (or raw, if that's all they have)*
Half an apple (Fugi, Granny Smith or similar), diced
Half an onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
Olive oil
Chicken broth, about a cup
Ground Sage, about a tsp
Ground Thyme, about a tsp
Salt and Pepper, half tsp each or so

*If the sausages are not pre-cooked, remove the skins by slicing down the center of each and kind of just emptying the innards into a skillet. It's kinda gross. (Which is why I try and buy pre-cooked.) Brown the sausage until cooked through, and discard the grease. If you found pre-cooked, just half each sausage longways and then chop before browning.

Crumble the cornbread. If it's too soft, stick the big crumbles in the oven at 250 for about 15 minutes to toast them up. Put in large bowl.

Brown or cook the sausage in a tad of olive oil. Add onion, celery, and apple. Saute about 5 minutes or until everything is a bit softened. Remove from heat and let cool a couple minutes before you add it to the cornbread. Add the spices and about a half cup broth. Mix gently. If it seems dry, add a bit more broth at a time. It shouldn't be wet, just a bit damp. Pour into greased baking dish, bake at 350 about 40 minutes. Cover it with foil half way through to make sure it doesn't burn on top.

This made more than what fit in the baking dish (don't pack it in there), so I stuffed the birds with the rest. Works great either way.

Not too tart, not too sweet...

A lot of people don't like cranberry sauce, but I think that's cause they've never had fresh. The husband lu-uh-uhves it, so it's a necessity on our holiday table. And it's surprisingly easy. It's awesome on ice cream, too.

Cranberry Sauce
2 cups fresh cranberries (freeze the remaining cranberries for later)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
dash cinnamon
dash vanilla

Over medium heat, cook all ingredients, stirring frequently. After a few minutes, the cranberries start popping open. Continue cooking until well blended and saucy, about 5 minutes. Serve hot, warm, cold, or anything in between.

Dessert's the best part anyway.

Roma's Pecan Pie*
1 cup Karo® Syrup
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
6 oz bag of pecans (chop roughly)
1 unbaked 9-inch deep dish pie crust (you can get the frozen or refrigerated kinds)

Mix syrup through pecans. Pour into pie crust. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Quickly cover exposed pie crust with strips of aluminum foil (so they don't overbrown), and let bake for another 40 minutes. Let cool at least 2 hours.

*This is my grandma's prize-winning pecan pie. Which she stole from the back of the Karo syrup bottle. Awesome. I added a hint more vanilla, cause I love it, and I may have added a dash of cinnamon...I don't remember. But I was throwing cinnamon in everything this weekend, so I suspect so. Oh, and I substituted Karo Lite syrup. And no one knew. Shhh.